Friday, December 17, 2010

MY FAVORITE MOVIES: 2000 to Present

Nostalgia is a disease found among those who insist on boring everyone else.  It’s common to car lovers who never learned to use a manual transmission but always wanted to own a 1955 Thunderbird, among baseball fans who disparage modern players yet never themselves could throw a ball from third to first, and among movie goers who can’t distinguish between period pieces and real history.  Most movies that we are seeing today are little better and certainly not worse than movies that have been shown in any other era.  What certainly sticks out about today’s movies are an increasingly number of popular films that were made outside of Hollywood.  The most important movie made during this decade was an independent film that depicts the crucifixion of Christ and was shunned by every Hollywood studio.  Also, a number of foreign films are finally being seen in large number of theatres instead of just the avant-garde movie houses that usually only last a few years before being run out of business.  Here, in order, are a list of my ten favorites and some honorable mentions:
(1) The Passion of the Christ: A movie that comes close to being upended by its violence and the demented fanaticism and monomania of its Producer and Director, Mel Gibson.  Even so, it’s beautifully filmed and contains amazing characterizations of Pontius Pilate and his wife.  It was too much religion for Hollywood to stomach.  Almost by accident, it made Gibson and the independent studio that produced it millions.  Sadly, it’s a movie that’s been used by religious nut cases for their own political purposes and criticized by people on the other side who have never seen it.  Its real appeal is for those who struggle and will continue struggling with belief rather than for those who unquestioningly accept or reject any religious teaching.
(2) About Schmidt: This one portrays a legitimately unhappy person.  It does so by using an almost forgotten technique called honest storytelling.
(3) Downfall: This German movie was criticized for making Hitler seem all too human.  It does show his human side, but it does not fail to portray him as a monster.
(4) Constant Gardener: This is a deeply flawed soap opera, but it is rescued in the end both by its indictment of the drug companies exploitation of African nations and by showing the amazing beauty of the African people.  It’s too bad that the heroes in these kinds of movies (including this one) are generally white Anglo-Saxons.
(5) Children of Heaven: This Iranian movie contains a more sympathetic look at poverty and what defines success than any recent movie made in America.  It does it without cynicism and without talking down to its audience.
(6) March of the Penguins: Almost too cute to be effective.  It’s still a goofy bird movie that shows the magnificence of nature and Antarctica.
(7) Enemy at the Gate: This movie showing the Battle of Stalingrad makes one understand why the Russians and Germans so hated each other.  The cat and mouse game played out by Jude Law and Ed Harris is the backdrop of much chaos and passion.
(8) King of Masks: A recent Chinese movie that would be great for children if it didn’t also include themes of cross-dressing, child slavery and the oppression of women.  It does have a happy ending.
(9) Munich: For once, Steven Spielberg actually goes out on a limb and makes a controversial stand.  Unfortunately, this movie almost bleeds to death in its own self-righteousness.  Coming close to being the rewriting of history, it nevertheless manages to remain one of the most thought provoking of all recent movies.
(10) Wallace & Grommit: Attack of the Were-Rabbit: A totally original type of movie using Claymation and containing the kind of sentimentality that ruins almost all other family movies.  At least here the sentimentality is straightforward and the humor is actually funny.
Some honorable mentions include the quirky Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl starring Johnny Depp; the New Zealand film, Whale Rider, that contains tremendous acting by the native people; and the sad and, unfortunately, not altogether incisive, Hotel RwandaTeam America, which I believe was made by the creators of South Park, has some humorous moments (including a great sequence about Kim Jong Il), but it’s extremely inconsistent.  The Incredibles is more consistent and less biting.  I’m undecided concerning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  It may be a brilliant piece of filmmaking with great action and special effects, but it’s at times pretentious.
Significant omissions from this list include every movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture since 2000.  I’ve never seen A Beautiful Mind, but all of the other Oscar winners were too pompous or lame to be included on any favorite movie list.  Again, movies are not in a state of decline, but winning an Oscar (especially since about 1990) is no endorsement.  What about other omitted movies?  Almost Famous is a feel good movie for rock star groupies showing the naïveté of a character played by Kate Hudson and little else.  And Mystic River has a farcical ending that destroys any sympathy that I have for the character played by Sean Penn (though the acting by Tim Robbins and Sean Penn is fantastic).
I’d still like to see A Beautiful Mind and hold out hope that it’s better than other recent Oscar winners.  There are also a number of foreign films I’d still like to see that do not get play here in the U.S.  I might see Super Size Me at some point, but I say that with some reservation.  The movie sounded like an interesting experiment, but the premise that a diet of fast food only is bad for you is not going to throw me into a state of panic.*  And there are probably some quality American movies I have not seen out of fear of wasting my money.
* Editorial Comment - I’m curious as to what industry has produced more revenue: the fast food distributors, or those companies that pander to America’s obsession with obesity by pushing diet pills, supplements, narcotics, support groups and counseling (not to mention psychiatric care for anorexia and bulimia), advice books endorsed by celebrities, plastic surgery, liposuction, stomach stapling, diet fads, exercise videos and exercise equipment specifically aimed at reducing the size of the buttocks and thighs.  Since more than half of the world is fortunate enough to be underfed and malnourished, it’s makes sense as to why Americans feel sorry for themselves for eating too much.  Thank God the media is there to deal with our confusion!  During a recent expose concerning obesity shown by either NBC or ABC television, the blame for the obesity epidemic was put squarely on the shoulders of the American Farmer.  This was a startling revelation to me since most of the farmers I know are up to their necks in hock.  It just goes to show that those dastardly farmers would even prefer going belly-up to helping our youth shed a few extra pounds.  RSM
November 13, 2006 
© Robert S. Miller 2006

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