Monday, June 6, 2011

Top five most underrated films since 2000

UPDATE: I feel like 2001's Ghost World belongs on this list somewhere but I can't decide what to bump off. So let's just count Ghost World as an unofficial number six.

UPDATE OF AN UPDATE: I forgot about Wonder Boys from 2000, that should be on here too. This list is harder than I thought.

Each year, some films just get lost in the shuffle. Whether it's because it was overshadowed by bigger projects, misunderstood or, frankly, just not watched, some films never really get the credit they deserve. In order to limit myself, I decided to look at the past 10 years and decide which movies never had a chance. These are all masterpieces in their own right, yet somehow they were left behind. None of these films really won awards, some were not even nominated for any. Yet, as some films fade away and are forgotten, I hope these five movies have some sort of staying power. In that respect, maybe they'll finally get the respect they deserve. I tried to keep the list diverse in its selection. I also avoided movies with cult followings because, cult followings validate it a little. I want to find movies that are in more need of appreciation.

5. 25th Hour (2002)

Set during a drug dealer's last day before being sent to prison, 25th Hour is a simple yet effective reflection on one man's life gone wrong and his relationships with those closest to him. Edward Norton gives a bombastic performance as Monty Brogan, the drug dealer on his way to Otisville. Although it is a personal and simple tale, Spike Lee milks every scene and gimmick for all it's worth. The result is both astounding and intense. Every actor in the film gives the performance of their lives, all culminating in a heartbreaking ending. And no scene could rival Norton's "Fuck You" monologue, a tirade of post-9/11 anger and Monty's own regret. As a Lee fan, I can honestly say that this could be his best film (behind Do the Right Thing of course).

4. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Have faith in Ridley Scott. The man who brought us Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator (a new classic if there ever was one), did it again with Kingdom of Heaven. A parable of modern Middle East relations, Kingdom of Heaven tells the story of a knight and his defense of Jerusalem during the crusades. Orlando Bloom gives a valiant effort as the main character, but supporting cast, such as Liam Neeson (amazingly badass), Jeremy Irons (awesome voice), Edward Norton (here he is again) and Brendan Gleeson (always enjoyable to watch), steal the show. Norton especially is memorizing as the dying leader of Jerusalem. Even through a mask he gives a powerful performance. The problem with this film was the studios. Looking for another success like Gladiator, the film was cut up and advertised poorly. Thankfully, the director's cut DVD restored the film to its amazing glory.

3. Road to Perdition (2002)

It's the ultimate father and son tale. Road to Perdition could be described as a depression-era retelling of Lone Wolf and Cub. Tom Hanks, at his most badass, goes across country robbing banks with his son and running from the mob that betrayed him and killed his family. Road to Perdition was the only film on this list to win an Oscar, for cinematography. And it deserves it, all thanks to Conrad Hall. The movie becomes a living Hopper painting. Cinematography, however, would be moot if there wasn't unbelievable actors to shoot. Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law (in his most un-Jude-Law performance), Daniel Craig and Stanley Tucci are brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes. However, the film was lost in the shuffle of a busy year. With Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Pianist, The Hours, Adaptation. and the overrated Chicago all out the same year, it never really had a chance.

2. Unbreakable (2000)

Superhero movies, nowadays, are dime a dozen. The genre has already blown up, been reinvented and become a joke. Few of those superhero stories, however, are as methodological as Unbreakable. It's not just a story of a man learning he is a superhero, it's a story for every person in an existential crisis. It's about finding meaning in your own world. And it does all of this with a magnificent score by James Newton Howard (a score that I would say is the most underrated, if it wasn't for my next pick). The film both celebrates the comic book hero and deconstructs it in one fell swoop. Samuel L. Jackson also gives his most subdued performance as the purple-wearing mentor to Bruce Willis. The problem with Unbreakable was, it was M. Night Shyamalan's first film after The Sixth Sense. And, like most sophomore attempts, it was seen as disappointing. On the other hand, I see it as Shyamalan's masterpiece. Even more so than Sixth Sense. And, to me, it shows the quality that Shyamalan has lost in his most recent years.

1. Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

With a run time that seems as unnecessarily long as its name, Assassination of Jesse James represents, to me, pure cinema. It's a story that is told perfectly by director Andrew Dominik. It's a film so gorgeous that you can pause it at anytime and be amazed at the cinematography (the train robbery scene is especially memorable). Though it clock in at almost three hours, the film tells an important story. It's about two men who find their own legends intertwining. The story deconstructs, not only westerns of the legend of Jesse James, but also the very idea of legends themselves. It does not judge who was right or wrong, but instead gives us a film to watch and marvel at. The film is a perfect mix of directing, cinematography, acting and music. Casey Affleck shows why he is a much better actor that his brother (his brother has grown into a fine director though). The whole cast gets a quiet moment for each character to shine. And Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who made an amazing soundtrack to The Proposition, tops themselves with the beautiful yet subtle Jesse James soundtrack. The music and the movie is haunting. And after watching it, you wonder why it took two years for it to be released.

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