9/10ths Full of Movies Part One. A to CAs we move bright-tailed and bushy-eyed into a shiny new decade it seems the right time to reflect on the past ten years in movie land. This is a subjective and incomplete list, so please point out any glaring omissions or mistakes as you see them...
A is for Apples
Long before Christian Bale gargled gravel for the Batman reboot he shocked and astonished us in the stylish and disturbing American Psycho in 2000. Will Smith demonstrated he could actually act in Ali and the elfin Audrey Tatou entranced us with the gallic quirkiness of Amelie in 2001. Two jokes ambled through 2004, the first being the genuinely funny Anchorman (a film Will Ferrell has been living off ever since). The second was Alien vs Predator; a film so dreadful that even Lance Henriksen had the grace to look embarrassed. David Cronenberg's A History of Violence helped legions of Viggo Mortensen fans to forgive him for making the hapless Hidalgo. The end of the decade saw the Coen Brothers cement their reputation as the best filmmaking brothers EVER with A Serious Man. On a slightly more bombastic note, James Cameron made minds boggle with the sheer beauty and technical prowess of Avatar. A film so stunningly gorgeous in 3D that we forgave it's Dances with Wolves' plot and one-dimensional character work.
B is for Barges
B made a blistering start to the Noughties when Battle Royale showed us one way to deal with pesky hoodies in 2000. James Bond was left quaking in his over-shined shoes by Jason Bourne as the Bourne Identity (2002), the Bourne Supremacy (2004) and the Bourne Ultimatum (2007) bucked the normal trilogy trend by getting better with each instalment. Bowling for Columbine spent 2002 reminding us why Michael Moore is famous while monster movies got an insane gallic polish with the unique Brotherhood of the Wolf (period monster movie with a fung-fu American-Indian). Elvis got a makeover too with the now ageing rocker battling a ancient evil mummy in his old people's home in Bubba Ho-Tep. 2003 stands proud as it produced the only Christmas film I have ever really liked in the deliciously rude Bad Santa. Batman finally shook off the horrific memories of Batman Forever (Nipples. Really?!!) with Christopher Nolan's 2005 reboot Batman Begins. The same year saw Brokeback Mountain confirm Ang Lee as possibly the oddest director at work in the decade (seriously, look at the range of movies he makes). Frank Langella creeped us out while Richard Kelly messed with our minds in 2009's The Box.
C is for Cauliflower
In 2000 Mel Gibson took time out from being a complete arse to lend his dulcet tones to Chicken Run. If Nick Park only makes one film every five years, then thank heaven they are as good as this. The climactic action scene in the pie machine is utterly thrilling (and I'm not joking). Ang Lee (see comments above) introduced us to the delights of wushu in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 2002's film honours were stolen by the searing Brazilian masterpiece City of God and in 2003 William H Macy finally got to headline a movie in the criminally underrated The Cooler. Keanu Reeves showed us that Neo really was as good as he was going to get in 2004's Constantine and Bond, James Bond finally gave in and turned to the Bourne-side in 2006 in Casino Royale (or Bond Begins). Finally, the indisputed master of stop-motion Henry Selick got the recognition he deserved with the creepy 3D goodness of Coraline.
D is for Daffodil
Richard Kelly is a unusual director who makes unusual and on occasion totally incomprehensible movies. He kicked the decade off with the wonderfully weird Donnie Darko in 2001 which was notable for it's combination of twisted time travel/teenage angst and great performances particularly Patrick Swayze's dodgy motivational speaker. Robin Williams is guilty of many cinematic crimes, however, he did redeem himself slightly by taking on some very dark straight roles in the Noughties. One of which was the underrated black comedy Death to Smoochy in 2002. Horror slunk into the Ds in the genuinely terrifying The Descent(2006) and the surprisingly decent remake of Dawn of the Dead in 04. While we're on the topic of horror in 2004, Bruno Ganz gave a stunning performance in Downfall's portrayal of Hitler's last days. Forget the zombies, Ganz's Hitler was a genuine human monster, flipping between kindly old man and raving hateful killer. 2006 saw Da Vinci Code madness sweep the globe. Sadly, the movie of the hopeless book was possibly the most ludicrously boring film of the decade. On the upside, Martin Scorsese finally won his richly deserved Oscar with The Departed. Science fiction boggled our eyes and brains with the gravelly Dark Knight (2008) and the gooey District 9 (2009) rounding the decade off quite nicely.
E is for Elephant
In 2000 Julia Roberts showed that she could still act quite well thank you very much as the crusading Erin Brockovich. The following year, two very contrasting war movies jostled for space in the multiplexes. The achingly British Enigma provided a who's who of UK actors while Enemy at the Gates featured a brilliantly tense duel between two top WW2 snipers in the ruins of Eastern Europe. In 2004 we fell hopelessly in love with Kate Winslet after her marvellous performance in the really quite weird Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If our politicians had listened to the impassioned voices behind Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room in 2005, perhaps we may have avoided sinking into the financial catastrophes we currently wallow in. Viggo Mortensen made us forget the noblility of Aragorn as the brutal Russian mob enforcer in David Cronenbourg's savage Eastern Promises (2007). Speaking of brutal, Brian Cox took time out from playing crooked CIA agents to make the criminally underviewed prison break drama The Escapist in 2008. Watch out for the twist, its a real kick in the guts...
F is for Flan
It's hard to remember now, but before 2001 the best adaptation of JRR Tolkien's works was an odd and unfinished Ralph Bakshi cartoon from 1978. It's easy to forget how much of a risk New Line took in giving Peter Jackson (best known for very gory low budget horror movies) millions of dollars and a free creative hand. Luckily for them (and us) Jackson created something rather special and it all started 2001 with The Fellowship of the Ring. In 2003 Pixar continued their unfeasibly long hot streak and took the story of a lost fish and made us all laugh like drains and cry like babies in Finding Nemo. Forget pesky things like facts, documentary maker Michael Moore knows exactly how to pitch righteous rage. Fahrenheit 9/11 released in 2004 savaged George Bush and the policies that led to the Iraq war. While Bush won the next election many people think that Fahrenheit 9/11 helped start laying the groundworks for Barack Obama's massive landslide victory in 2008. On an altogether lower key note, Johnny Depp cast aside his eye patch and pirate swagger to play JM Barrie in the beautifully crafted Finding Neverland (2004). And finally, the award for most confusing and bizarre mainstream film of the decade goes to Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (2006). Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz searched for the Tree of Life and mused on death, life, religion, time and many other things in a gorgeously shot piece of sci-fi.
G is for Guinea Pig
G got off to a good start in 2000 with Ridley Scott's epic Gladiator. We were definitely entertained, but the legion of inferior cash-ins on the sword'n'sandal revival were underwhelming (Alexander or Troy anyone? Thought not). In 2001 Robert Altman visited Gosford Park to explore the class system with a great ensenmble cast and a Cluedo setup.
Is there anything that George Clooney can do wrong when it comes the movies? He's a movie star, an accomplished actor and on the evidence of Good Night & Good Luck (2005) an excellent director. One of the most unsettling and extraordinary films of 2005 was Werner Herzog's documentary following the life of utterly bonkers self-styled wildlife champion Timothy Treadwell. Grizzly Man showcases Herzog at his very best, he shows Treadwell warts and all yet never judges leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions.
H is for Hod
2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon opened the door for Zhang Yimou to dazzle our eyes with his wushu antics. 2002's Hero used a Rashomon setup, gorgeous visuals and spectacular fight scenes to tell the story of a would be assassin. House of Flying Daggers (2004) was an equally beautiful, if slightly inferior tale. Also in 2004, Guillermo del Toro finally brought one of his most beloved characters to the screen. Mike Mignola's Hellboy as portrayed as by Ron Perlman was a reassuringly blue collar hero in a very enjoyable film. However, it wasn't till 2008 that del Toro truly did Hellboy justice. Hellboy 2:The Golden Army was a stunning spectacle dripping with creativity and fun. The Troll Market and the death of the elemental are among the best scenes of the decade. Two much loved books were brought to life in Howl's Moving Castle (2004) and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Hotel Rwanda (2004) and The Hurt Locker (2009) approached two very different conflicts in two very different ways. The Spaced collective brought us 2007's Hot Fuzz which had style and laughs in spades and concluded with an epic punch up between James Bond and Tim from Spaced in a model village. Priceless.I is for Igloo
Robin Williams is superb and creepy as the main protagonist in Christopher Nolan's Alaskan set Insomnia (2002). Also notable as Al Pacino's last decent performance in a movie. In 2004, Pixar wowed us yet again with their first film featuring people (albeit super-people) - The Incredibles. In 2006 we were treated to not one, but two period dramas about stage magicians. The Illusionist saw Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti starring in the superior of the two. Robert Downey Jr continued his movie rehabilitation in the ridiculously fun Iron Man (2008). Indiana Jones came out of retirement and looked for a crystal skull, however all he reminded us of was how good he used to be. The man behind some of the best swearing on the small screen took his character to the movies in 2009. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker ate up all the scenery and most of his co-stars as the awesomely foul-mouthed spin doctor in In the Loop. 2009 was also notable for the last screen appearance of Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
J is for Jigsaw Puzzles
Weirdly, there seemed to be a paucity of decent movies beginning with J during the Noughties. There was plenty of dross - Jackass 1-3 , Johnny English, Jersey Girl anyone? Thought not. 2001 saw Steven Spielberg returning to improbable science and large teeth with the third in the Jurassic Park series. The dinosaurs were bigger, Sam Neill was back and William H Macy (yay!) made the best of a terrible moustache. In 2005 the war movie got all confusing and two-sided in Sam Mendes' film version of Anthony Swofford's biographical account of the Gulf War Jarhead. I really wanted to like it but despite stunning cinematography it seemed to lack something important. According to women's magazine everywhere, late 2007 belonged to Diablo Cody and her all-conquering Juno. Apparently, the world was astonished that a woman who used to be a stripper was capable of stringing a few words together in a screenplay. As it happens, that screenplay turned out to be rather good and combined with excellent performances made Juno a worthy entrant into the movies of the noughties.
K is for Kaleidoscope
Looking back from the dizzying heights of Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, it's hard to believe that Robert Downey Junior's stock used to be so low. Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) in 2000 began the revival in many ways. It was ludicrously entertaining particularly when Val Kilmer's immensely camp Gay Perry is on screen. Tarentino split one film into two with Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2 (03 & 04)with stylish and verbose yet curiously empty results. In 2004 Stephen Chow made us laugh and whistle appreciatively at his utterly bonkers Kung Fu Hustle in which the fight scenes were astonishing, the visuals spectacular and spirit of the movie completely insane. The cartoonish chase scenes especially were reminiscent of Looney Tunes but fitted perfectly into the Hong Kong lunacy. The king of the modern epic returned to the history trough with Kingdom of Heaven (05). Ridley Scott shot the Crusade story with his customary gorgeousness but it did lack a convincing hero (Orlando Bloom - really?) and is much better in it's longer Director's Cut version. The other king to return in 2005 was Kong in Peter Jackson's punishingly lengthy retooling of King Kong. While at least an hour too long it was still a magical movie experience (Kong fighting Tyrannosaurs!!).
L is for Lemons
The Coppola clan found a new star in Sofia and her bittersweet tale of a pair of lonely Americans in Lost in Translation (2003). Bill Murray as the down-at-heel actor and an idealised Tokyo were the two standouts in a touching and funny story. In 2004 the talented Anderson (Wes as opposed to Paul WS) brought us the almost too whimsical Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, also tempting a stellar turn from a be-whiskered Bill Murray. Continuing the theme of comics turning in good dramatic performances, Steve Carell showed us that he was capable of more than shouting and falling over in the surprisingly dark yet affecting Little Miss Sunshine (06). The same year saw three movies tackle some of the darker periods in world history in the Last King of Scotland, The Lives of Others and Letters from Iwo Jima. Ulrich Mühe and Forest Whitaker turned in contrasting Oscar worthy turns as a Stasi operative and Idi Amin respectively. Clint Eastwood also drew a marvellous performance from Ken Watanabe in the stronger of his two Pacific war movies. The end of the decade saw possibly the best horror movie of the whole ten years and certainly the best film of 2009 in Let the Right One In. Ignore the upcoming US remake and revel in the unique vampire movie premise and unsettling atmosphere of the Swedish original. It couldn't be further away from the teenage nonsense of the Twilight series which makes it a Good Thing.
M is for Millstone
The first half of the Noughties seemed heavily weighted with films beginning with M. The decade began back to front with Christopher Nolan's reverse masterpiece Memento. Pixar made us a little less afraid of the monsters in our closet in Monsters Inc. (01). It was also notable Billy Crystal's last decent contribution to movies. In 2002 Steven Spielberg just about avoided ruining the otherwise brilliant Minority Report with a stupid mawkish ending (it really should have ended two or three minutes earlier). However, he did much better with Munich (05) coaxing a potent performance from Eric Bana in the lead role. The Noughties seemed awash with sequels and threequels that really should have been just one stronger film. The two Matrix follow-ups, Reloaded & Revolutions (03), illustrated this better than most. While both had some stunning set pieces they also had far too much fluff such as the cringeworthy underground rave scene and overly long ramblings of the Architect. In 2003 and 2004 Clint Eastwood showed just how good he is behind the camera with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby helping us forgive his involvement in Space Cowboys. Just before he bulked up to play the rebooted Batman in 2005 Christian Bale lost 60 pounds to play the tormented insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. I've never been able to look at a game of hangman the same since...
N is for Niggles
In 2006 I unlocked the hitherto impossible scientific dream of slowing time while watching Terrence Malick's dreadful The New World. It's 90% people walking through grass looking pained, 5% noble savage cliche, 3% Pocahontas and 2% Dancing with Wolves. Despite a running time of 135 minutes, it genuinely felt like watching a five hour epic. Ray Liotta has recently become a parody of himself in several truly appalling movie and TV appearances (including Hannah Montana!) while coasting lazily through them all. However, 2002 saw his last great performance in the dark and ethically muddy Narc. Along with most of the world I lauded Jared Hess for his second directorial effort Napoleon Dynamite (04). However, in hindsight this was a mistake as I now find the film irritating and sloppy. In 2005 I took a risk and paid to see a film at the cinema about which I knew nothing at all. That film turned out to be the brilliant and bonkers Russian epic Night Watch which has since become one of my top five films. Telling the story of a supernatural cold war between the forces of good and evil, Night Watch packed in more verve and creativity than a dozen 'Hollywood' blockbusters. The best movie beginning with N in the decade (and one of the best films hands down) was the peerless No Country for Old Men (07). It was the Coen Brothers at the top of their game and especially in the scene between Chigurh and the gas station owner which is a masterpiece of humour, threat and sparse wordplay.
O is for Orangutan
As we finish N with the Coen Brothers, so we also begin O. George Clooney simultaneously played up to his pretty boy image while also putting it permanently behind him in the wonderful O Brother Where Art Thou (00). As mentioned back in February in Part Three of this series Robin Williams plays creepy very well. His portrayal of the lonely and disturbed Seymour Parrish was almost unwatchably unsettling in 2002's One Hour Photo. Despite Quentin Tarentino's output declining in quality he still has an eye for a good thing and has taken to promoting films by talented directors from all over the world. One of the first was the brutal and beautiful Old Boy(03) by Chan-wook Park which had live octupi, hammer related dental action and a twist gut-wrenching enough to leave the viewer feeling physically sick. 2003 also saw Kevin Costner spearhead the periodic attempt to make westerns popular again by directing and starring in Open Range. Sadly he was unsuccessful in that goal, although he did succeed in creating a classic character-driven Western that is all the better for its over-familiar plot devices. While we're on the subject of old school movies, 2007's The Orphanage combined chills without excessive blood spills in a story driven haunted house tale that lingers in the mind long after the film has finished.
P is for PomegranateAll the way back in the dim and distant early noughties Vin Diesel was being touted as the next Sly/Arnie/Bruce style big action star. Looking back over the troughs of Babylon AD and The Pacifier (avoid) its hard to believe, but his performance in the hugely underrated and exciting Pitch Black (00) show why the comparisons were made. John Hillcoat is a director very few people have heard of, which is a shame as he made a savagely brilliant Australian 'Western' in 2005's The Proposition. Nick Cave provided the sounds and the excellent screenplay while Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone caught the eye in a starry cast for such a relatively little known film. 2006 saw a pair of superb 'P' films slink through the back door into the multiplexes like a recalcitrant teen after curfew. Christopher Nolan of Batception fame delivered possibly his worst film (that is of course relative as his worst is significantly better than 72.8% of Hollywood's best) with an intriguing tale of warring Victorian stage magicians in The Prestige. While Nolan was making a film about fake magic Guillermo del Toro brought us a story of real magic and at the same time created one of the greatest films of the last twenty-five years in the matchless Pan's Labyrinth. Two worlds collide as the adopted daughter of a cruel military officer in fascist 1940s Spain discovers a world of fairies, fauns and monsters. Make no mistake though, Pan's Labyrinth is definitely not for children with its shocking violence and genuinely unnerving sequences. However, it is astoundingly beautiful to watch, while the creature design is nothing short of genius.
Q is for QuillsUnsurprisingly, there were relatively few decent films beginning with Q over the last decade so I have to be a little creative. 2000 brought us the third best Star Trek film ( for the record - 1st is Star Trek 2: Wrath of KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN and 2nd is the rebooted JJ Abrams Star Trek) which ironically wasn't a Star Trek film at all. Galaxy Quest was a glorious spoof that captured the spirit of the Trek phenomenon better than most of the films and most of the recent series too. Alan Rickman's pissed off Alexander Dane/Dr Lazarus is exactly how I imagine Leonard Nimoy/Michael Dorn must feel most of the time. James Bournd returned for his second outing as the all new 'gritty' British super-spy in Quantum of Solace (08).
Timothy Dalton ever gets cheesed off at his Bond treatment. .REC (07) was an inspired zombies-in-an-apartment-block film which had one drawback for the moron world - it wasn't in English. So Hollywood released (within a YEAR!) a shot-for-shot remake in English called Quarantine which surprised everyone by not being dreadful. The Spanish version was definitely better though.
R is for RelativismTalking of zombies, the last ten years have been riddled with zombie movies some of which have been excellent (28 Days Later) some of which have been awful (Flight of the Living Dead). A consistent contributee to the genre has been the Resident Evil franchise which started averagely with Resident Evil in 2002 and deflated gradually but entertainingly through RE: Apocalypse (04) and RE: Extinction (07). While we're on the topic of deflating gradually the Lord of the Rings trilogy came to a spectacular yet curiously underwhelming close with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003. Despite being endowed with at least four endings too many, it was still sad to see the end of the journey. Pixar like a challenge - bugs, monsters, superheroes, undersea environments, talking toys or talking cars - anything is worth telling a story with. 2007's Ratatouille told the story of a rat who dreams of being a gourmet chef in Paris. Huh? Sounds like a crazy idea for a film, but Pixar created an absolute delight of a movie - funny, moving and sweet without being syrupy. Très Bien. At the completely opposite end of the scale The Reader (08) is the uncompromising tale of a young German man who has an affair with an older woman who he finds out in later life may be a Nazi war criminal. Kate Winslet gives a searing performance as Hanna Schmitz and deservedly won a hatful of awards. Sadly it was also the last film worked on by Anthony Mingella and Sydney Pollack who both died before it was released.
S is for SquirrelsPossibly the weirdest film I saw in the early noughties came from Hong Kong; it was the utterly scattershot and visually brilliant Shaolin Soccer (01). The same year saw a Japanese animation take the world by storm. Spirited Away from anime genius Hayao Miyazaki won the Oscar for best animation (the only non-english animation to do so), became one of the highest grossing films of all time and opened the world of anime to a whole new audience. 2002 brought us two very contrasting sci-fi films. First of all, George Clooney starred in Steven Soderbergh's stately remake of 1972 Russian meditation on life and death Solaris. Then the dire Star Trek 10: Nemesis nailed the franchise's movie coffin firmly shut until 2009's JJ Abrams reboot Star Trek raised it from the dead. The law of diminishing returns as applied to movie quality was admirably illustrated as the Spiderman Trilogy (02, 04 and 07) went from good to mediocre to utterly appalling over three films. The Station Agent (03) was the perfect example of a movie in which very little happens yet still manages to be utterly enthralling. The story of a isolated man who inherits a disused rail station office is beautifully played by a great cast, especially Peter Dinklage in the lead role.
Spaced crew introduced us to a new genre of film in 2004 with the rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead. Paul Giamatti got a rare lead role in the merlot hating Sideways (04) but was unfortunately totally upstaged by the similarly underrated Thomas Haden Church. 2005 saw two much loved franchises sign off from cinema land. George Lucas brought his turgid Star Wars prequels to a welcome end with the slightly-better-than-the-others Return of the Sith. The other was the much lower profile but far superior Serenity. Based on Buffy creator Joss Whedon's short lived sci-fi series Firefly, Serenity was everything the new Star Wars movies should have been. Sadly, most people ignored it at the cinema and only a strong DVD showing has saved it from oblivion. Danny Boyle proved his extraordinary range by delivering the incredibly beautiful Sunshine(07) and the delightful Slumdog Millionaire (08).
T is for TumericEdward Norton isn't a man known for a lack of intensity. In 2002 he starred in Spike Lee's captivating 25th Hour about a man spending one last day with his friends before starting a lengthy spell in jail. In the same year, the Lord of the Rings trilogy reached it's high point with the epic Two Towers. Danny Boyle (see above comment on range) brought zombie movies kicking and screaming (literally) into the noughties in 2002 with the rage fueled 28 Days Later. Juan Carlos Fresnadilo then turned things more spectacular for the 2007 sequel 28 Weeks Later. The novel approach for taking out a field of zombies with a helicopter deserves particular mention.
The most extraordinary film of 2003 was the docu-drama Touching the Void. Combining footage of actors and talking head contributions from the two climbers involved the film told a story so incredible you could be forgiven for thinking it was made up. Joe Simpson's crawl off Siula Grande with a broken leg is still regarded as one of the most amazing mountaineering stories. While we're on the topic of mountains, Tommy Lee Jones is famous for being the third craggiest man alive today. In 2005 he directed and acted in a film almost as craggy as himself, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. It was a western of sparse beauty and Jones also managed to coax a superb acting turn out of himself.
U is for UkeleleIt's getting hard to believe that M Night Shyamalan used to make good films. His recent output has been awful, but the noughties began with arguably his best work, the hugely underrated proto-superhero film Unbreakable(00). The actions of terrorists on the 11th September 2001 profoundly influenced the ensuing decade and it's not surprising that the movie world has been generally reluctant to mine such a recent tragedy for inspiration. There have been some exceptions to that including the appalling World Trade Center (06) by Oliver Stone (read my thoughts from 2007) and the infinitely superior United 93 from the same year. Bourne helmer Paul Greengrass told the story of United Airlines Flight 93 whose passengers and crew decided to fight back against their hijackers. United 93 is a difficult film to watch but is a captivating and heartbreaking memorial to the heroism of the passengers on the plane. In 2009 Pixar gave us the story of an old man who refuses to let his house to be demolished, so he ties helium balloons to it and floats away to have adventures with talking dogs and a pudgy boy scout. Up's audacious opening which follows the main character from his childhood through falling in love and getting married to the death of his wife is one of the most devastating emotional sequences I've ever seen in an animation. This gives rest of the film a certain poignancy that frames the laughs and the thrills perfectly.
V is for Velma
Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta. As with all Moore adaptations, it can't come close to matching the complex and rich source material but the Wachowskis had a damn good go. In a post-9/11 climate pitching a movie where the central hero is a bomb-wielding terrorist is a fairly bold move. The end of the decade saw a mini rush of viking movies. Pathfinder (07) and Outlander (08) mixed native americans and entertaining aliens respectively with our Norse friends to mixed affect. However, 2010's Valhalla Rising took a different path and told the tale of a mute viking warrior in an intriguing exploration of good and evil. One Eye, a mysterious man of almost supernatural strength, escapes from his captors and throws his lot in with a group of Crusaders. What ensues is not an action movie, but a bleakly beautiful (if occasionally brutal) journey into the heart of darkness (*cliche alert*). The film is very ambiguous about One-Eye; is he just a man caught in the wrong place, or is he an instrument of vengeance on the repulsive crusaders sent to take them to hell?
W is for WallabiesNick Park is to the movement of plasticine figures what Miyazaki is to hand drawn animation. In 2005, his favourite characters Wallace & Gromit finally made their big screen bow in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; a film crammed with the cream of British voice acting that oozed fun and old-school creativity. I may have mentioned how good Pixar are at delivering gems to the cinematic table. Wall-E (08) failed to break that trend with it's audaciously dialogue free yet beautifully compelling opening and the cutest movie robot EVER. I may have also made reference in the past to my regard for the frankly bonkers Russian masterpiece Night Watch. Director Timur Bekmambetov made his Hollywood debut in 2008 with an adaptation of Mark Millar's graphic novel Wanted. Liberally sprinkled with stardust (Freeman, Jolie & McEvoy) it was a stylish and beautifully shot movie, but lacked the exuberant joy of his earlier Russian language films.
Micky Rourke's face is an extraordinary thing, it seems to erode faster than the years progress - almost as if he has a Dorian Gray-style portrait that works in reverse. The Wrestler(08) was a film that suited his lived-in fizzog perfectly, director Darren Aronofsky had a first stab at his Black Swan story with the tale of a faded professional wrestler that was both delicate and brutal. 2009 brought two contrasting adaptations of beloved books to mixed critical reactions. Where the Wild Things Are bottled both the spirit of Maurice Sendak's original book and the essence of childhood; as a result watching it was like reliving all the wonderful memories of long summer holidays. Zach Snyder's Watchmen on the other hand was a very different kettle of badgers; crunchingly violent, morally ambiguous and visually stunning. Adapting Alan Moore's legendary graphic novel was always going to be nigh on impossible and many directors have tried and failed in the past, but Snyder made a noble effort. While Watchmen doesn't come close to doing the novel justice, it was still a superior action movie.
X is for XylophonexXx: The Next Level (05). The hero of xXx was essentially an extreme sports version of Her Majesty's finest spy but the films were stymied in their success by two factors. Firstly, the launch of the infinitely superior Bourne franchise in the same year and secondly, that they were moronically* awful on just about every level. Bryan Singer holds a rare accolade, he is one of the few directors that has delivered a sequel that is superior to it's predecessor. X2:X-Men United (03) was an exciting and well-made comic book movie that helped open the doors to the current torrent of comic adaptations. Sadly, Singer then bailed and handed the reins to 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand to another which resulted in the law of diminishing returns reasserting itself. And finally 2008 brought something that no-one had been asking for; another X-Files film, in this case the massively underwhelming I Want to Believe. There were no aliens, just a creepy Billy Connelly pretending to be a psychic.
*I'm not sure this is an appropriate adjective, but I rather like it so it's going to stay...
Y is for YamEwan McGregor chose to mix his noughties Alec Guiness impressons in the Star Wars prequels with the odd appearance in far more subtle fayre. In 2003 he took the role of mysterious drifter Joe in Young Adam, a bleak and downbeat film that showcased his considerable acting chops. The elder statesman of the Coppolla clan shyly offered up his odd but striking meditation on time and love Youth Without Youth (07) to somewhat mixed critical reception. While Francis Ford makes some bold choices and the source material throws up some fascinating possibilites, the film was terminally dull. Also in 2007 Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (the intensity levels on set could probably have powered Michigan for a month) starred in a remake of classic 1957 western 3:10 to Yuma. Bale was especially good in the role of disabled rancher Dan Evans and Crowe clearly revelled in the chance to play a proper bad guy. Erstwhile comedy cult leader Danny Wallace spent an extended period of time saying 'Yes' to everything and recorded the ensuing shenanigans in a book. Hollywood couldn't resist such a quirky concept and proceeded to turn it into big, shiny, sugary Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man (08). Surprisingly, it turned out to be a rather sweet and genuinely amusing tale helped significantly by a tuned-down Carrey and a luminously quirky Zooey Deschanel.
Z is for ZoetropeBen Stiller lit up 2001 as a really really ridiculously good looking male model in the comic tale Zoolander. Featuring Owen Wilson as a fellow dopey supermodel and a magnificently silly turn from Will Ferrell as the dastardly Mugatu, Zoolander was riotously entertaining. From the ridiculous to the sublime with Takeshi Kitano's 2003 epic Zatoichi which was based on a series of 26 classic Japanese TV and film dramas (imagine Inspector Morse crossed with Robin Hood - with samurai swords). The film unashamedly plunders elements from the great Japanese directors of the past and is as equally comfortable with comedy slapstick as with blood spurting violence as it follows the adventures of a blind swordsman committed to helping the poor and weak. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (06) is a leftfield choice as the vast majority of football films are dire (When Saturday Comes, Escape to Victory, Goal, There's Only One Jimmy Grimble are best avoided). However, Portrait focuses it's attention entirely on Zinedine Zidane's performance in real time in a single game for Real Madrid as captured by 17 different cameras. With a soundtrack provided by Scottish musical wizards Mogwai, the film stands as the perfect record of the man's peerless talent and penchant for self destructive on-field misbehaviour. David Fincher has made a career out of showing the dark and often horrifying results of men's obsessions in films like Seven and Fight Club. In Zodiac (06) he explores the effect of Robert Graysmith's (an excellent Jake Gyllenhal) obsession with cracking the unsolved Zodiac killings of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fincher expertly marshals a stellar cast and delivers a slow-burning masterpiece of modern cinema.