SHOT: "Green Grass"
In a movie full of memorable images, it was this one that stuck with me. Perhaps because it was different to everything else?
PERFORMANCE: Gwyneth Paltrow
The Royal Tenenbaums
There are several reasons why I have been and still remain a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, but basically it all centres around this amazing performance in Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums. I fell in love with it during an appearance of hers on Letterman where they showed the finger clip (you'll know the one if you've seen the film) and then when I actually saw it I just thought she was so spectacular (in a film that was filled to the brim with spectacular).
This is not my favourite scene from Rob Marshall's Chicago, which is a big ol' hint at at least one entry later in the countdown, but my admiration for Renee Zellweger's big "Roxie" moment has grown over the years. There's something so wonderfully dazzling about it. From her costume to the framing (that moment with the mirrors!) to the comedy routine at the start, to the big Roxie sign to even singing Zellweger's delivery, which some have claimed to be one of the film's biggest weaknesses, it all just sparks here. Feels like it balances being stage and screen evenly. Love it.
MUSIC: "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again"
Home on the Range
The film is woeful, but features two standout songs on the soundtrack. One by kd lang ("Little Patch o' Heaven") and the other is this by Bonnie Raitt. It's the only moment that truly works in this Disney hand-drawn animated "effort" and then, furthermore, outside of the film it works as a beautiful ballad. Gorgeous stuff. You can listen to it here.
PERFORMANCE: Julianne Moore
Far From Heaven
The word "divine" seems appropriate to describe Julianne Moore's performance here. Her best performance ever is in Todd Haynes' [safe], so I suppose it's only fitting that her next best was in another Haynes film. Just sublime.
PEOPLE: Meryl Streep
Adaptation, The Hours, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Prime, A Prairie Home Companion, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, Julie & Julia and Fantastic Mr Fox
What a diverse range of movies - drama, comedy, romantic comedy, animation, musicals and fantasy - and it's hard to doubt her position as one of the most powerful women in Hollywood and, perhaps, the most bankable. There's no one like her.
Can someone give Kerry Armstrong a meaty script again. It's been too long since she's been able to wrap herself around dialogue like this.
"You know what’s so easy, Leon. It’s so easy to go out and find somebody. You know what’s hard? What’s hard is not to."
PERFORMANCE: Ziyi Zhang
It's surprising how easy it is for actors to be noticed in a Wong Kar-Wai film since his films are so overflowing with visual godliness that it could be easy for the actors to not, if not drown, find it easy to stand out. And while people like Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung have given incredible performances in Kar-Wai films, I was all about Ziyi Zhang in 2046, truly making good on the promise she made with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is what should have gotten awards bodies talkin' and not that silly Memoirs of a Geisha.
I still remember watching the Screen Actors' Guild Awards and laughing at their use of a clip for Zhang's nominated Memoirs performance, a clip in which she didn't speak a word. That in itself spoke volumes. She gives a better performance in 2046 with just her laugh than in all of that other film that we shall never speak of again (okay, no, it comes up again later, blegh).
MUSIC: "Far Away Home"
Just try and tell me this wasn't one of the best original songs from a film this past decade. Just try it. It's impossible.
CRAFT: Visual Effects
Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham & Andy Jones
I'm not one of those people who has decided that Avatar wasn't a good movie, or that the visual effects weren't some of the greatest things I had ever seen in my entire life (cinematic or not) or that the 3D wasn't impeccable and truly film-changing. If you do, then so be it, but just so we're clear - Avatar was bloody incredible, awe-inspiring and a truly cinematic work of art.
SCENE: "You Got Me"
Dave Chappelle's Block Party
This movie was one of the most joyous and, yes, life-affirming positive movies of the decade and the highlight was this performance by The Roots, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. There are no clips on YouTube of this though! Bastards.
MUSIC: "The Wrestler"
You know what my favourite part of this exceptional song is? That opening prelude with the synths and the lone piano key. The rest of it is genius too. Bruce is God.
SCENE: "Dawn of the Dead"
Dawn of the Dead
I'm trying to think of another movie this decade that had a more immediate, startling and downright full-throttle opening ten minutes than Zach Snyder's (what happened to him?!?) Dawn of the Dead. My mind drifts to Moulin Rouge! and that's about it. What an incredibly well-directed movie this was? The best remake of the decade (give or take The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
PERFORMANCE: Diane Lane
That train sequence alone deserved some sort of Oscar, don't you think? Looking back on this now with hindsight of Diane Lane's dismal career it's an even more impressive feat, but I was already fully on board and didn't need years to realise that I would give her the gold prize if I had a vote.
You just know that when Tom Ford was making A Single Man and he made that – admittedly, very well done – scene where Colin Firth speaks on the phone to his partner’s homophobic-but-won’t-admit-it family that he had this scene from Brokeback Mountain in mind. Beautifully done by both Ledger and especially Anne Hathaway, it is perhaps the finest moment in the entire film and the one I find my mind drifting towards more and more whenever I think of the movie.
CRAFT: Production Design
Synecdoche, New York
How does Mark Friedberg not have an Oscar nomination by now? Synecdoche, New York is the top of the pantheon of his work, but how about Far From Heaven, Across the Universe, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Pollock or The Darjeeling Limited? No? Shame...
SHOT: "Blue Converse"
Because everything that Sofia Coppola was trying to do with Marie Antoinette is here in this one shot of a pair of converse shoes set to the music if Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy". Thanks to JD at Valley Dreamin' for providing me with the still! I was very specific about the shot I needed.
SHORT: "Carnivore Reflux"
Dir. James Calvert & Eddie White
Just watch. It's insane and I love it. I find it fitting that they go the Aussie actor John Waters to narrate this since I reckon it would be right up the alley of American trash director (I mean that lovingly, of course) John Waters.
PEOPLE: Keira Knightly
Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Love Actually, Pride & Prejudice, Domino, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Atonement & The Duchess
When I use Atonement for a Black+White Friday installment I wrote that I thought Keira had the sort of face that would have worked in any era (except maybe the '70s) and it's that classical embodiment that I respond to so clearly. It helps that I think she's given some truly great performances, but she has placed so highly because I think she has the makings of a true great, one of those actors that will just keep going and being incredible for decades and decades no matter the "haters" say about her. It helps that she rocks a corset like almost no other and period costume dramas will be around until the apocalypse.
SCENE: "The Bridge of Khazad-Dum"
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
What an epic moment in a truly epic film. "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" Although, wasn't it lucky for Aragorn and Frodo that the bridge collapsed forward and not to the side? LUCKY!
CRAFT: Adapted Screenplay
Look, I'm not saying this is one of the best screenplays of the decade, I doubt I'd even call it the best adapted screenplay of its year, but Tina Fey really crafted something special here, didn't she? It is, essentially, the Heathers of my generation (with a lesser bite, obviously) and filled with so many memorable lines that it's impossible to list them all.
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."
SCENE: "La Vie Boheme"
Although Christopher Columbus tried his hardest during several other musical numbers to ruin them with his inability to direct (musicals or otherwise, da doom ch!), "La Vie Boheme" is about as fool proof as you can get. Just as exciting and invigorating as it is on stage.
PEOPLE: Geoffrey Rush
Quills, The Tailor of Panama, Lantana, Frida, Swimming Upstream, Ned Kelly, Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Intolerable Cruelty, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Candy & $9.99
I adore this man. Sure, he can be a ham, but sometimes that's just what I like. He should've gotten his fourth Oscar nominated for Pirates of the Caribbean, and I like that he has continued to make Australian films. I should mention that The Life and Death of Peter Sellers received a theatrical release in Australia, hence it's eligibility.
SHOT: "One Last Job"
Road to Perdition
In one of the best looking films of the decade, it was this moment that I wanted to frame and put on my wall most of all.
PEOPLE: Rolf de Heer
The Tracker, Alexandra's Project, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, Ten Canoes & Dr Plonk
It's hard to imagine this past decade without the output of The Netherlands born, Australian raised director. He got the best performance of David Gulpilil's career in The Tracker, gave ripping yarns in Alexandra's Project and the oft-delayed The Man Who Read Love Stories, made the first ever film all in an Australian indigenous language and then made a true, honest to god proper silent movie using original black and white stock and a hand-cranked camera in the form of Dr Plonk. In fact, Ten Canoes was so good that even the making of documentary that he directed - The Balanda and the Bark Canoe - started winning awards! An icon of Aussie cinema and he just keeps getting better.
SCENE: "Horror Hospital"
Everything that I loved about this sequel is in this scene. Well, that and the big "who is Spider-Man" reveal scene, but I only placed this one.
PERFORMANCE: Jamie Lee Curtis
A tour de force of comedy acting, and I am not being ironic or using hyperbole or anything like that. Curtis should have three Oscar nominations, don't you think? BTW, Lindsay Lohan is more than a formidable combatant for Curtis here. Just throwin' that out there...
Lost in Translation
The word "dreamy" gets thrown about a lot in regards to the work of Lance Acord and there's good reason for it. The way his camera lingers on certain moments and images, the way he uses light and all those interesting compositions (the dinosaur, anyone?) just help make Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation even better.
Omnibus films are so hit-and-miss that when there's a really good short to be found within it I tend to respond to it much more. Such was the case with the Mexican submission to 9'11"01 that is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It features not much more than a black screen for the entirety of its 11 minutes and 9 seconds and makes vital use of sound. You can watch it below, but if you have not seen this film please be aware that Iñárritu's segment is quite disturbing so don't watch if the topic of 9/11 is still raw.
EXPERIENCE: Fright Factor
Alexandra's Project (the hand), Antichrist (the scissors), The Descent (the crawler), Hidden (the splatter), INLAND EMPIRE (the face) Ils (the intruder), Japanese Story (the watering hole), Lake Mungo (the video phone), Match Point (the gun) and Paranormal Activity (the body).
This "experience" includes no graphic representation because it'd be spoiler central if it did and while I'm not adverse to spoilers in this feature I think this would be excessive. This "experience", however, is dedicated to all the movies that made me (and, in most cases, the rest of the cinema) gasp in terror right there in the cinema in front of friends and witnesses.
Far From Heaven
Isn't this just one of the most beautiful films you've ever seen?
PEOPLE: The Lovely Laura Linney
You Can Count on Me, Mystic River, Love Actually, Kinsey, The Squid and the Whale, Jindabyne, The Savages, Breach & The Nanny Diaries
This was original a singular performance citation - for "Sammy Prescott" in You Can Count on Me if you must know - but then just kept remembering her other great performances and, well, I caved. She is Lovely. She is Laura Linney. She is The Lovely Laura Linney.
SCENE: "Painting Griet"
Girl with a Pearl Earring
It's weird to say, but this features one of the greatest zooms I've ever seen. The music, the cinematography, Scarlett Johannson's face, the tear...
CHARACTER: "Elle Driver"
Played by Daryl Hannah
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & Kill Bill, Vol. 2
"I love that word, gargantuan. I so rarely get to use it in a sentence." Much like my love for Daryl Hannah.
MUSIC: "Belleville Rendez-vous"
Performed by Béatrice Bonifassi
The Triplets of Belleville
Gosh, whatta song, yeah? And because you just can't have enough of this song, I'm sure, I've included the film version, a music video of the English language version as well as the delirious Oscar performance from 2004.
"Is she black? Is she white? We don’t care, she’s exotic. Let’s see more of her breasts."
There were so many incredibly hilarious moments from Glitter, but I felt a bit bad including so many bad things in the countdown. I love the film so much, but my favourite bit has got to be this line from a music video director. Before Mariah started telling everyone who'd listen, was anybody even aware that she was half black? That's what makes this line so funny, who would actually notice that about her when, ahem, they have her breasts to stare at?
PEOPLE: Steven Soderbergh
Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean's 11, Solaris, Bubble, The Good German & The Informant
And to think, I didn't even get around to see Full Frontal, The Girlfriend Experience and Che (parts one or two). Soderbergh was surely one of the most fascinating people of the decade. Slipping and sliding between good mainstream (Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11), bad mainstream (Ocean's 12), good arthouse (Bubble) and bad arthouse (Many hated The Good German, but not me). He was getting George Clooney to make movies like Solaris, making no-budget movies next to huge budget movies, getting career peak performances out of the likes of Julia Roberts and Matt Damon while repeatedly confusing the masses and irritating film cinephiles. Job well done, Mr Soderbergh. It takes balls to have the career he has, especially after winning an Oscar (although Erin Brockovich is far better than Traffic)!
SHOT: "The Road"
I couldn't decide between the entire scene or just this shot. I decided that this one single moment better encapsulates why the film is so good. Plus, it's sort of the single shot that has become a symbol of the film. The long stretches of nothingness, the blood and pain, the foreboding sky and it was even used on the UK Quad design.
CRAFT: Original Screenplay
You Can Count on Me
Do I need to reason this? Really?
DIALOGUE: Smiley Face
"That is where corn chips come from. Hmmm... Maybe ol' Professor Hardwood is onto something. He probably really loves corn. And all corn-related products. I mean, isn't that what you're supposed to put in a frame? Things you love? I'm gonna do that. When I get home, I'm gonna frame a bunch of stuff I love. Like lasagna. I love lasagna. It's so good and cheesy. You know who else loves lasagna? Garfield. Man, that cat really loves lasagna. Maybe I should put a picture of Garfield in a frame. You know, as a kind of shorthand way of saying 'I love lasagna.' That would be so fucking inside. Or how 'bout a photo of President Garfield? Oh shit, that would be totally meta! People would be all like 'Jane, why do you have a photo of President Garfield on your mantle?' And I'd be like 'Because I like lasagna, of course.'"
SHOT: "Frozen Horses"
What a tourist attraction!
DIALOGUE: Best in Show
"We have so much in common, we both love soup and snow peas, we love the outdoors, and talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about."
PERFORMANCE: Marcia Gay Harden
I don't "get" Marcia Gay Harden. How can someone be so inconsistent? She gave two of the greatest performances of this decade with this Oscar-winning turn in Pollock as well as Mystic River (#178 on the countdown) and yet she's also given some of the truly worst performances too. American Dreamz, Mona Lisa Smile, American Gun, Into the Wild... she has 42 credits to her name this decade! That's crazy. Oh well, at least we have this blazing performance, yes?
TREND: Australian Film in 2009
Balibo, Beautiful Kate, The Boys Are Back, Bright Star, Cedar Boys, Charlie & Boots, The Combination, Disgrace, Further We Search, Lake Mungo, Lucky Country, Mao's Last Dancer, Mary and Max, My Year Without Sex, Samson & Delilah and Three Blind Mice
It was such a pleasure to come across 2009 and see so many Australian films routinely passing the test. 2009 was the first year of the decade to feature a roster of great Aussie flicks longer than the a list of bad ones. Yes, there were bad ones - Van Diemen's Land, Last Ride, Beautiful, etc - but just look at that list up there and it makes me care not one bit. 2010 is looking just as good!
SCENE: "Amelie Likes..."
I'm sure it's ripped off from somewhere, and the die hard Amelie haters will be quick to point me to where and to try and rip my head off for even daring to like this movie, but what an ingenious what to start a movie?
CHARACTER: "Miranda Priestly"
Played by Meryl Streep
The Devil Wears Prada
MUSIC: "These Days"
Performed by Nico
The Royal Tenenbaums
Apart from anything by, say, Quentin Tarantino or Sofia Coppola I think it's safe to say that this was the greatest song cue of the decade. Gwyneth Paltrow gliding towards Luke Wilson to the sound of Nico's classic cover of Jackson's Browne's "These Days" brought about a rash of imitators, a flood of instant Velvet Underground hipsters (even though this was a Nico solo track) and further enhanced the "song score" trend that has, in a lot of cases, all but replaced music scores.
Children of Men
Not just for the one-shot takes. I suspect some are going to say this is too long. To those people I say "oy! do your own list."
SCENE: "The Trolley Crash"
Julie Taymor's Frida is, without a doubt, one of most visually intriguing and audacious biopics in many years. It's such a shame them that Taymor decided to treat the life of Frida Kahlo so traditionally in a structural sense. We see old and dying Kahla slipping into flashbacks of all the vital points of her life as if being guided by a golden man called Oscar. So, yes, boring film thematically, but it is visually lush and stunning, never more so than this early scene of a trolley crash. Glitter. Gold. Glass. Birds. Skeletons. It's wacky and insane and that's why it's here.
Tune in again soon for the next installment in which I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion, indulge in a trips around Paris and Asia and "all that jazz" and Cate Blanchett pops in for a guest appearance.