05 October 2010

Remember That Past Decade? 9 Films That I Underrated

Hello, dear readers. Now that one of the nuttiest Summers on Record is done and over with we here at Norwegian Morning Wood can get back to the stuff that matters. That is uh...needless countdowns and arbitrary rankings of pop topics. Oh wait...we did that all the time this Summer...

But since the time of ranking the top films of the 2000s apparently isn't over yet, I thought it was time for another round. I put a tremendous amount of effort into some rankings last December and looking back on it I'm not really satisfied. In fact, I hate all of my top picks. For these reasons today I'm presenting to you all out there Nine Of the Greatest Film of the Past Decade, all worth more of a check-out than my arbitrary The Dark Knight (2008) and The Return of the King (2003) rankings. So fuck that shit, check this out (and we'll see if I'm content):

#9: Minority Report (2002)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Philip K. Dick (short story), Scott Frank & Jon Cohen (screenplay)

Remember a time when no one really knew how fucking crazy Tom Mapother was? When Colin Ferrel wasn't annoying and irrelevant (I beg to differ). When Spielberg was making Spielberg-like action films without irony or homages to himself? This was Minority Report. It's one of Tom's last great roles playing a Tom Cruise-character, not playing against type or beefed up with irony. He's got enough grief, anger, defects and charm to be very watchable. It's also got elements of instantaneously classic Sci-Fi Noir, iconic spider-thingies, cool guns and cars as well as an accurate look at the future of individualised advertising seemlessly integrated into culture. The epic sense of the film contains a convoluted but rational twisting, intricate plot that just barely escapes being a mind-fuck. It's one of the last great Action/Science-Fiction films, really.

#8: American Gangster (2007)

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Steven Zaillian & Mark Jacobson

I feel like this is a great film underrated by internet snobs. The dichotomy and contrast between Denzel and Crowe's characters is sweet. In fact, Frank Lucas may be one of Denzel's most intricately crafted characters - an utter ruthlessness hidden behind layers of pride, family, tradition and honour. He's a man of integrity, which facilitates his criminal rise rather than hinders it. Crowe's honesty and almost arbitrary commitment to doing good also fights with some of his own horrendous personal relationships. The hypocrisy of the characters continues throughout the film's plot - Denzel exploits black people in order to be ranked among the richest and most powerful among them. He also seeks to outrank and outgun the Italian mafia among other crooks - is this the American dream? An individual fight for personal gain without regard for any other ideal. It's also notable that this is a very aptly directed film with incredible production. Nearly every scene is a genuine location shoot, Ridley used barely any sets or extra production. Also, Denzel's murder of Idris Elba is one of the best on film for the decade.

#7: Up (2009)

Directed by: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Written  by: Bob Peterson & Pete Docter

There is more raw character development and touching story in the heartbreaking first five minutes of Up than most films contain in their entire lengths. For that alone Up deserves a mention here. I ranked Wall-E (2008) in my last compilation, but it's a tough call between Up (and Toy Story 3 [2010]) over Pixar's best feat. It's endlessly incredible that this studio keeps churning these things out. Up works because it's such a simple story that continues to grow organically from the characters. Carl Fredrickson's vows and actions are believable because of that opening scene that sticks with the viewer as much as the old man. There is of course the annoyance of children and dogs that tend to put this film an arms length for most rational minds, but for that final catharsis of Carl's grumpiness that directly stems from that integral first five, its worth it.

#6: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson

Can you tell I'm a fan of character, yet? I'm not a huge Wes Anderson fan, but The Royal Tenenbaums is so delicately and tightly set up and executed that it deserves its spot here. It's an interplay of seemingly arbitrarily quirky characters, though it never feels forced or random for the sake of random. It's about the expectation and failure of greatness, which then of course interplays with a subtext of the greater importance of family, understanding, forgiveness and love. It is fantastically cast and acted, one of Paltrows, Hackman's and Luke Wilson's best roles, along with uncharacteristic turns by Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller. Anderson's unmistakable style and ironic tone throughout also rank it among his best work. There is an unprecedented level of attention and detail in the direction, script and set design. I'll also give a nod to Owen Wilson's undervalued work as a screenwriter.

#5: Adventureland (2009)

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Greg Mottola

This, Zombieland (2009) and The Social Network (2010) should establish Jesse Eisenberg as one of the most talented actors of his generation with subtle degrees of variation on the awkward but sure likeable nerd. I'll probably need to do a Compare and Contrast profile with Eisenberg vs. Michael Ceratops pretty soon, but for now that's neither here nor there. He captures the unsteadiness necessary with the coming-of-age character here but also displays just enough confidence throughout to allow his arc to be believable. Kristen Stewart is also sweet here, further establishing her anti-princess persona in a way that furthers the story in a very natural way. Ryan Reynolds arguably playing the most realistic version of what any Ryan Reynolds-Character would be like in real life is also a delight to watch, almost simultaneously playing for and against type. It's a true drama pretending to be a comedy with people like Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig being wacky to serve the story rather than detract from it. Brilliant.

#4: Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Directed by: Stephen Chow
Written by: Stephen Chow, Huo Xin, Chan Man-keung & Tsang Kan-cheung

This is the only truly live-action cartoon ever made. It's also a simple story filled with some of the best martial arts sequences of any nation's films in the past decade. It's consistently funny, action-filled as well as constantly innovating and inventive with truly vile villains that are deeply thought-out and rendered human through varying degrees of hubris. Again, it's a relatively simple set-up and execution, but that's the beauty. It's extremely creative, investing, well-paced and edited. The ending is also incredible. It was tough to call this one over Chow's Shaolin Soccer (2001) but the sheer goofiness and enjoyment from watching this flick is unparalleled.

#3: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Directed by: Walter Salles
Written by: Che Guevara & Alberto Granado (story), José Rivera (screenplay)

I enjoyed this film less for the exploration of the slow development of early philosophies of Che Guevara and more for a view of the grim revolutionary as just a dude trying to get laid in Chile. It's about the humbling of youth amidst an unaddressed and uncared for crisis, as well as leveling a global revolutionary's ideals to simple care for fellow humans. The key is developing an ability to identifying with each other - lepers, travelers, homeless, poor wage workers and communists alike. The two lead characters are also deep and complex, showing wide range of emotion and interests, along with playing off each other like long friends. Gael Garcia Bernal in particular as a young Che is spectacular.

#2: The Hurt Locker (2009)

Directed by: Katherine Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal

This was truly the Best Picture of 2009, there's no doubt in my mind. The Hurt Locker is a constantly gripping character suspense-drama. It's crazy good. It becomes one of the most thrilling films I've seen in years through its impeccable character development, realistic base in contemporary events and a true connection to the matter at hand. Bigelow offers incredible direction, really getting into characters while providing tons of action. The production is also outstanding, many of the sets were real - that's real sweat, heat and frustration on the actors' faces. Renner also owns, the ending is incredible in particular to his character and in a way elicits what the film is really about - the mindset of a people at war, not the war or the danger itself. It takes a gander into both the lives and minds of those defending our freedoms - although are they really out there for us or themselves? The Hurt Locker is a near-perfect film in tension, plotting and character.

#1: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Ron Hansen (novel), Andrew Dominik (screenplay)

The longest title ever describes this film perfectly. Some will complain of its length and pacing (Reading the title basically matches the pace of the film - I'll admit to falling asleep a few times before really getting into what this film was), but its core is an excellent piece of filmmaking. The cinematography and scope is constantly brilliant. Very nuanced performances from both Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck emerge within a plot that is allowed to set and build to its eponymous action. The character of Robert Ford incredibly complex and Casey nails it. Their relationship, apparently for once very accurately close to real-life events, is one of adoration, jealousy, paranoia, trust and betrayal. It sits and broods and develops while both actors slip into their skins. Pitt is hollow and jaded, the perfect actor to play someone expected to have this raucous public life but is really just human. Casey is this misguided newcomer, angry without knowing exactly why. It's an incredible film on these handfuls of levels. I'll also point out that the train scene shown above was shot with completely natural lighting. Awesome stuff. It's a film difficult to sit through but worth the patience. James' death ironic, pathetic, simultaneously justifiable, horrific and cowardly. It brings great insight to every character involved. This might just be the Best Film of the 2000s.

Honourable Mention:

I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) on F/X recently, seeing it again reminded me of how good this Apatovian Comedy is. I've never seen another film so driven by character action, reaction, subtext and emotion. Literally this film is built on the organic growth of character, it fills every scene mostly using dialogue to spread its funny instead of outrageous sight gags or zaniness. It's spectacular.


  1. I'd challenge your assertion that Kung Fu Hustle is the only true live-action cartoon ever made. Jackass: The Movie (and of course it's sequel and the show that spawned it) pulled some of their stunts directly from Looney Toons - rocket skates, self-electrocution, alligator tightrope, firecracker wake-up, and probably many more.

    Obviously this example is not in the same vein as Kung Fu Hustle, but both films present outrageous depictions of cartoonish behavior while set in a realistic world.

  2. Haha, I would actually agree with that one, previews of Jackass 3-D seem to even push that reality/cartoon envelope even further


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