As I said before, I realised after posting the first installment of this list that I had missed off some films, and decided to pay homage to those movies in the intros. I’m annoyed at not including Christopher McQuarrie’s Way of the Gun as it’s a very impressive directorial debut that vanished after release and is only now starting to attract any attention years later.
Not enough attention, though. If you’ve not seen it and feel like watching a really uncompromising crime thriller that occupies a middle ground between Walter Hill’s Johnny Handsome and Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, then this is the movie for you. Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe play two scumbag criminals who kidnap a pregnant woman and end up bringing down a world of pain on themselves. It’s a gratifyingly dark movie, one of those movies made with the input of some well trained combat veterans (like Mamet’s Spartan and Michael Mann’s Heat) which is reflected in some tight and well-thought-out setpieces. It also features some superbly choreographed gunfights and one of the best opening scenes of the decade. I like this movie well enough to really regret missing it out, but if I were to include it now I would have to remove another movie from the list and I can’t really do that. If I were doing it over again, Way of the Gun would be definitely be included, and quite high up too.
Okay, remember the rules. Nothing from 2009 because blah blah and yes, some movies are a little lower than you would expect but I only saw them once and don’t feel familiar enough with them to assess them correctly, so I’m going with first impressions. Got that? Good.
75. Red Road
The feature debut of Andrea Arnold is one of the smartest thrillers to come out of Britain in decades. A sly commentary on the UK’s obsession with CCTV as well as being a gripping tale of revenge, the movie comes into its own with a surprising redemptive finale. Kudos also to Kate Dickie, who plays haunted protagonist Jackie with equal parts sensitivity and menace.
74. Speed Racer
Widely loathed by audiences and critics everywhere, the Wachowski’s put their reputations on the line with the boldest cross-format adaptation ever. Making the visual conventions and storytelling shortcuts of anime into vividly coloured flesh, Speed Racer offers the most consistently mindblowing visual assault of recent times, while the enthusiastic cast provide the heart. A pure triumph. Shut it, haters.
73. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
It might be an impossibility to make a starring vehicle for John C. Reilly — complete with songs — that could fail. Certainly this was not a financial success, but in time a cult will gather around Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow’s faux-biopic, and it will get its due for its perfect use of the genre’s conventions against itself. (Check out John Michael Higgins’ expression at 3:02. Genius.)
72. A Scanner Darkly
Perhaps the definitive Philip K. Dick adaptation, perfectly capturing his absurdist prose and paranoid, reality-denying worldview. Richard Linklater found the ideal vehicle for the unworldly rotoscoping animation that Bob Sabiston utilised so brilliantly in the also-impressive Waking Life (another contender for this list). Perfectly cast and beautifully animated, A Scanner Darkly humanises Dick’s abstract musings, something that his other interpreters have struggled with.
71. Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki’s hallucinatory childrens’ tale has the nightmarish morality lessons of Disney’s Pinocchio, and the matter-of-fact oddness of Lewis Carroll. By turning the real world upside down and creating a dreamland governed by rules and laws that have only a distorted relation to our own, Miyazaki has created a hazy fable for the ages.
70. The Wrestler
For much of its running time Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Robert D. Siegel’s tight screenplay looks like a standard comeback tale, but by the end we see what it really is: a tragedy about a man whose inability to adapt to the world around him dooms him. The final image is heartbreaking, iconic, and unforgettable. It also features what might be the comeback performance of the decade from a never-better Mickey Rourke.
Alexander Payne’s delicate tale of friendship took critics by storm but in the most memorable Academy Award snub in recent memory, Paul Giamatti’s performance was not even nominated for an honour. For shame. His depiction of a man attempting to fend off the pain of life through booze and defensive snobbery is heartbreaking, his redemption quiet but moving.
68. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
One of the most underrated SF movies of the decade, Mamoru Oshii’s meditation on transhumanity may have fewer wow moments than his original adaptation of Shirow Masamune’s manga, but it follows the same themes into deeper holes. It’s easy to get happily lost in them.
Funding problems almost shut production down on this adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s novel, but it made it to cinemas, to an indifferent audience. Ralph Fiennes gives the performance of a lifetime in an exaggerated nightmare world of poverty, insanity, murder and grime. Cronenberg’s emotionally claustrophobic vision lingers long after the credits roll.
66. Iron Man
Possibly the most ambitious film project since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Marvel Studios’ attempt to create a complete onscreen universe a la the 616 got off to a terrific start last year. The Incredible Hulk was fun, but Iron Man was a near-total success. Light, exciting, and endlessly entertaining, it also propelled Robert Downey Jr. to the superstardom he has always deserved.
65. The King of Kong
Forget superhero movies. One of the decades greatest showdowns was between gaming enthusiasts Billy Mitchell and Steve Weibe. The roles of hero and villain were delineated so completely that Seth Gordon didn’t even need to meddle with the events through editing. We instantly knew who to root for, and who to hiss. I’d feel sorry for Billy Mitchell after news leaked of booing and hissing during convention screenings, but I don’t think he cares. He’s very successful, after all.
64. Spider-Man 2
Sam Raimi made a great origin film for Spidey, and then built upon that success to deliver a crowd-pleasing action epic, skillfully constructed for maximum emotional impact. For such a hectic film, praise is due to Raimi for making the quiet character revelations as memorable as the incredible setpieces. And when I say incredible setpieces, I’m thinking of the best superhero/supervillain fight yet committed to film:
Ray Lawrence again, adapting Andrew Bovell’s play about the emotional turmoil affecting a policeman and the people around him. I’m ashamed to admit that my favourite part of this unmissable movie is not the sensitive direction, the thought-provoking screenplay, or the uniformly brilliant performances, but that Anthony LaPaglia’s character is called Leon Zat. What a name.
David Mamet’s best work is often about men and their self-aggrandising hostility towards each other. That gruffness is greatly softened here by the casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry, a man whose reflective stillness and sense of honour sets him apart. Mamet expertly tightens the screws on his hero until he explodes with righteous fury in a finale of enormous emotional power.
61. Lost in Translation
After the inevitable backlash against Sofia Coppola’s semi-autobiographical tale of connection in a strange land, it’s easy to forget everything that made it work so well. It occupies a kind of netherworld between comedy and tragedy, reality and movie exaggeration, at once dreamlike and bluntly mundane. And oh my, that glorious soundtrack…
Ah, that worked out a lot better. WordPress worked fine. It was just Microsoft and their insistent Windows updates that nearly ruined it all. More tomorrow…