This week we're taking a step back to take a brief look at one of last year's high-profile releases (Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones," finally playing wide release), but in the coming weeks we'll start in on the films of the new year, beginning with the God-goes-nuts actioner "Legion" (if they actually make this work, I'll be amazed) and the Gibson-goes-nuts actioner "Edge of Darkness."
Also, my recently published ranking of the past decade's best films was largely well-received, although it also created a few more waves than I anticipated.
"The Lovely Bones"*** 1/2 (out of four)
2009, Peter Jackson, U.S., PG-13
Consequently, it looks like I've got some explaining to do. See below.
Jackson was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel about the aftermath of a young girl's murder.
In films ranging from "Heavenly Creatures" to "The Lord of the Rings," he has always displayed a keen eye for the fantastical, and as much of the film takes place in the limbo between earth and heaven, Jackson is given ample opportunity to showcase his considerable talents.
In fact, Jackson emerges as the film's saving grace, since the plot is sometimes problematic and some of the performances aren't exactly up to par.
As the creepy-as-hell child killer, Stanley Tucci mesmerizes with every subtle glare and grunt, and he'll certainly get a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his work here.
Former Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement") also impresses as the archetypal virginal innocent, but Mark Wahlberg's turn as her protective father steps on the entire movie.
It's almost like he's doing an impression of Andy Sanberg's Mark Wahlberg impersonation from "Saturday Night Live." Thankfully, Jackson brings so much to the table that Wahlberg's shortcomings soon become an afterthought.
"'Kill Bill' as No. 1?" Hell yes. I realize that to non-movie buffs, this may seem like a strange choice. However, for those attuned to Quentin Tarantino's singular style, and for viewers with more than a passing interest in the history of cinematic images, there really was no other reasonable choice for Film of the Decade. Not to get all snooty, but if you're not thinking about Tarantino's films in terms of intertextuality, then I think you might simply be missing the point.
Yes, I've seen both "No Country for Old Men" and "Brokeback Mountain." Several times, in fact, and I hold them both in very high regard. However, they both missed making the top 100 list. Some glib thoughts as to why: "No Country for Old Men" would be resting happily somewhere in the 50s or 60s if it wasn't for the woefully miscalculated final act. For the first 100 or so minutes, the film is a masterpiece of mood and aesthetics. Then, for the final scenes, the Coen Bros. chose to abandon the tone of the rest of the film, and instead descend helplessly into a void of obtuse meanderings and false profundity. (I realize they were just "following the book," but part of being a great filmmaker is knowing when to drastically alter source material when necessary.) To the extent that I understand and appreciate what the Coens were trying to accomplish with the concluding scenes, I don't think they succeeded. As for "Brokeback Mountain," I just think the female characters were a little short-changed, considering how central they should have been to the film's primary conflict. Rather, they seemed to exist on the sidelines, and consequently the film feels a little incomplete.
Seems I peeved a lot of people with my inclusion of "Pineapple Express" (now somewhat of a moot point, since I realized the other day that I forgot all about "SS21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine," a riveting documentary which, had I remembered to include it, would have bumped "Pineapple Express" off the list). Lesson learned: Sophisticated metaphysical genre riffs disguised as dumb stoner comedies don't go over well with the Lodi crowd.
The inexplicable photograph from "Leatherheads" that ran on Page 3 was the unfortunate result of a last-minute art switch. Our apologies.
To make up for it, here are my complete break-outs on the decade's best performances and scenes (along with a ranking of the top films of the 1990s, just for fun), which had to be trimmed last week due to space issues:
1) Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood"
2) Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in "Requiem for a Dream"
3) Heath Ledger as The Joker in "The Dark Knight"
4) Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in "Gangs of New York"
5) Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in "The Aviator"
6) Andy Serkis as Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings"
7) Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in "Inglourious Basterds"
8) Keisha Castle-Hughes as Paikea in "Whale Rider"
9) Russell Crowe as John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind"
10) Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in "The Wrestler"
11) Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon"
12) Tom Wilkinson as Matt Fowler in "In the Bedroom"
13) Paul Dano as Paul and Eli Sunday in "There Will Be Blood"
14) Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder in "Michael Clayton"
15) James McAvoy as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan in "The Last King of Scotland"
1) The extended action set pieces of Quentin Tarantino
* Showdown at House of Blue Leaves ("Kill Bill")
* Ship's Mast ("Death Proof")
* La Louisiane ("Inglourious Basterds")
* Revenge of the Giant Face ("Inglourious Basterds")
2) Winter ("Requiem for a Dream")
3) Finished ("There Will Be Blood")
4) "The Times, They Are a-Changin'" ("Watchmen")
5) Randy's comeback ("The Wrestler")
6) Masters revealed ("Kung Fu Hustle")
7) Frank's last stand ("In the Bedroom")
8) Hotel takeover ("Munich")
9) Koro's plea ("Whale Rider")
10) Baptism ("There Will Be Blood")
11) Lair of the Pale Man ("Pan's Labyrinth")
12) Fraternal reunion ("A History of Violence")
13) The Battle of Carthage ("Gladiator")
14) Remy's reckless rant ("Gone Baby Gone")
15) Midnight phone call ("Frost/Nixon")
Best Films of the 1990s
1) "Pulp Fiction" (1994, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)
2) "Exotica" (1995, Atom Egoyan, Canada)
3) "Magnolia" (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S.)
4) "The Sweet Hereafter" (1997, Atom Egoyan, Canada)
5) "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992, James Foley, U.S.)
6) "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" (1990, James McNaughton, U.S.)
7) "The Usual Suspects" (1995, Bryan Singer, U.S.)
8) "Drunken Master II" (1994, Liu Chia-Liang, Hong Kong)
9) "Se7en" (1995, David Fincher, U.S.)
10) "Reservoir Dogs" (1992, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)
11) "Braindead" (1992, Peter Jackson, New Zealand)
12) "Fight Club" (1999, David Fincher, U.S.)
13) "Breaking the Waves" (1996, Lars von Trier, Denmark)
14) "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999, Stanley Kubrick, U.S.)
15) "The Celebration" (1998, Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)