24 December 2009

The best of the decade

The Lord of the Rings

In the first decade of the new millennium, Hollywood finally got serious about the fantastic. Wizards, vampires, robots, superheroes, hobbits and other mythical creatures emerged as box office stars, while filmmakers showed they do not have to sacrifice artistic vision to entertain.

My picks for the best movies released from 2000 to 2009 are as follows.

1. The Lord of the Rings (2001-03)
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s revered fantasy trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001; The Two Towers, 2002, The Return of the King, 2003) stands as one of the great achievements in film history—grand, thrilling, heartwrenching pictures unlike any others. From the stunning visuals to the assured storytelling to the impeccable casting, Jackson maintains complete command of the sprawling tale (surpassing 11 hours if you watch the extended versions), his vision direct and true.

The top 9 of '09

The year drawing to a close has not been the most memorable one at the movies. The biggest blockbuster of 2009 was by far the worst movie I had the misfortune of seeing (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). But Hollywood also showed it still knows how to entertain on a level that only it can.

I have not yet had a chance to see many of the films making the rounds as awards season heats up (including The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air), so those will be considered as they expand into wide release or become available for home viewing.

Here are the best of what I have seen in 2009.


1. Avatar

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Purists beware: Sherlock Holmes bears the stamp of its director, Guy Ritchie, much more so than that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created the famed British sleuth and his trusty sidekick, Dr. Watson.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing—Ritchie’s film is an entertaining romp through 1880s London with just enough of the grit and grime he typically brings to his modern British gangster movies (which include Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) to counteract the largely computer-generated cityscape.

As the title character, Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t look the part and, in fact, he doesn’t even play the part as written by Conan Doyle. Important characteristics are there—Holmes’s deductive reasoning, his focus on seemingly insignificant details, his ability to form a short biography after briefly observing an individual, his need for constant brain activity (he fills the void between cases with drink, as opposed to morphine and cocaine as in Conan Doyle’s stories), his ongoing game of one-upmanship with Scotland Yard.

16 December 2009


Filmmaker James Cameron proclaimed himself the “king of the world” when “Titanic,” which had already sailed to the top of the all-time box office, won 11 Academy Awards. Twelve years later, in his first narrative film since then, he may not be the king of THE world, but he’s certainly the king of A world.

That would be Pandora, the alien setting of “Avatar,” a movie that raises the special effects bar to a new level. It’s actually a moon dominated by lush forests, floating mountains and exotic creatures—all bathed in a gorgeous neon glow and all the work of the computer wizards of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning effects house, WETA Digital. The level of detail is unprecedented. It is not just pretty scenery for us to “ooh” and “ah” at—Pandora is alive. It looks a feels like a real place with real inhabitants.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


The opening of “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” sets the tone for the entire film.

Simple white titles appear on a black screen. We hear the voice of Hugh Grant as Paul Morgan leaving voice mail messages for his estranged wife, Meryl. Separated for three months, he begs for a chance to see her and talk to her.

Since the movie is ostensibly a romantic comedy, I presume this is meant to be funny, especially when Paul runs out of time on his first message, then calls back and continues. The problem is, I couldn’t picture a desperate husband while I heard this; I saw Grant sitting in a studio, reading from the script.

The Blind Side


Question: When is a sports movie not about sports?

Answer: When the story behind the sports is as compelling as the life of Michael Oher, currently a starter in his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens.

Based on the 2006 book of the same name by Michael Lewis, “The Blind Side” is an overwhelmingly sentimental movie. But thanks to earnest storytelling by director John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie”) and a knockout performance by Sandra Bullock, its emotions are honest and earned.

Life was hard for young Michael Oher, known for obvious reasons as “Big Mike.” One of 13 children born to a drug-addicted mother, he grew up in Tennessee knowing nothing other than poverty, receiving little education and spending time both in foster homes and on his own.