Latest update to the list!
1. V for Vendetta: It's a fairy tale dressed up in stylish graphic novel clothes. Cupid and Psyche, one more time, Beauty and the Beast, yet again, Phantom of the Opera without the singing...and it's fantastic. A wonderful piece of work beautifully filmed by the Wachowski Brothers. Highly recommended. Rating: 10/10
2. Miami Vice: Got to see Miami Vice on DVD just last night at our Reese Family Christmas. I am a huge Michael Mann fan. I also watched Miami Vice religiously and dressed like Sonny Crockett back in Junior High School. I say that right off the bat because I know I love this film based on my bias. I love it for all the reasons I loved the original Vice. Mann's films are first and foremost about style. Substance is always there, but it's delivered in a manner which will either hypnotize you or lull you to sleep, "Last of the Mohicans" being the exception to this rule. While this film was generally panned by critics, I love it as an "extended 12 inch remix" of the original series. It followed one of the classic plots of the series; Sonny and Ricardo go undercover to break up a smuggling organization. Only this time things are longer, darker, richer, more violent, and done with a 21st century hip instead of an 80's one. Really, it's a "day in the life of" movie. There are no deep mythic concepts to draw upon (at least upon the surface--give me another, closer viewing and I'll likely find some), it's just a great cop drama. Rating 9/10
3. The Prestige: A movie that haunted me after I left the theater - its moral ambiguity, clever narrative sleight of hand and very capable performances followed me outside, and are lingering with me today. Also by contrast is the fact that I did not particularly like The Prestige in the sense that I think its a movie I'll ever see again. I might pick it up on video because I think it could be useful for teaching, with its themes of obsession and reality, or its non-linear storytelling. It is, however, a noteworthy film. I recommend it only on the basis that I could not anticipate other people's reactions to it anymore than I have finished formulating my own. I will not call it brilliant - it is a clever film to be sure, but like the Nolan brothers' earlier work Memento, I can't be sure if I've been enlightened, or just tricked.In addition, I have to say that while I was hoping to see some real magic, by the time it arrived on the screen it seemed anachronistic. It lacked the Borghesian subtlety and ambiguity the insertion of real magic into such a production necessitated. So one point off for being clever instead of brilliant, and one for being anachronistic instead of ambiguous. Rating: 8/10
4. Silent Hill: Rating - I haven't watched a film that gave me the creeps like this one did since I saw "The Ring" and I haven't seen a film expression of horror and nightmare as stylish as this since "The Cell". This video game adaptation by Christophe Gans is beautiful in a gothic sublime sort of way. I loved the first three quarters, but once our intrepid heroine descends beneath the town, I have to say that the film seemed to run off its course a bit, and in the last 10 minutes, was far too predictable in a Hollywood movie sort of way. I hate to break it to the writers of this moody, atmospheric piece, but the "twist" ending in horror isn't a twist anymore. A happy ending is. And to add, in my own opinion, backed by far too much immersion in narrative and literary theory, it was actually what this film's themes on mother-daughter ties, sisterhood, and revenge as redemption demanded. With a different ending, I would have given this film a 9. As it stands, I can only give it a 8. Points all lost for the gratuitous and unimaginative ending. Rating: 8/10
5. Superman Returns: I wanted to let this film be my top movie of the year, but there were two things that kept me from being able to...an unecessarily long (ala King Kong) length (hey guys, Lord of the Rings was long because the book was, all right!? More footage does not equal better picture!) and a narrative element involving paternity that left me cold. Other than those minor foibles, I loved the movie, and Bryan Singer has done what I had hoped he would do - give us a Superman film that didn't suck. Loved the crashing airplane sequence. If I had a list for favorite scenes of the year...then Superman diving like a base-jumper to catch up with the plane would have been number one! Rating: 8/10
6. Underworld: Evolution: I've decided I didn't "get" the first Underworld movie. It had a much more epic scope than I was expecting, and while I found some of the narrative decisions contrary to where I'd have taken it, it was a very cool movie. Evolution is exactly what the sequel is...moving the chronicle of this world of vampires and werewolves along in an extremely satisfying manner. Maybe it was the mood I was in the day I watched it, but I have absolutely no complaints about this movie. It excels at being what it is - a B genre flick. Rating: 8/10
7. Pirates of the Carribean-Dead Man's Chest: Like I said in my prediction...Johnny Depp. And the man delivers. However, the film suffers from the same problem any "second" film does in a trilogy - we've already been introduced to the film's secondary world so that what was surprising and fresh in the first seems familiar. And familiarity can breed contempt. Thankfully, Bill Nighy as Davey Jones and his fishy crew provided enough effects eye candy on a regular basis so as to not keep making comparisons to the first film, while the action integrated enough new stunt work and swordplay to keep things interesting. Orlando Bloom's got enough distance between Legolas and any other character he plays now, and I found him easier to swallow as William Turner. Given Jack Davenport's complaint that everyone else got to have all the fun playing pirate-like in the first film, it was good to see Norrington's dark side this time around. All glowing praise aside though, while I realize this is a 'middle' film, it really did meander far more than it needed to. It was like Jack's wandering compass was a metaphor for the film's storyline. It went all over the place, but in the end, we hadn't really gone anywhere. I do like knowing there'll be a third installment next year. If film companies keep this up, will we be seeing a return to the serials of yesteryear? Rating: 7/10
8. X3-The Last Stand: It was good, but not great. Too many new characters introduced at the expense of already well developed ones. Ostentatious and simultaneously pointless use of powers, especially on the part of Magneto. Moving the Golden Gate Bridge is cool, but what's the point? Rogue got the shaft, to be sure. In my estimation, the trilogy had been building around her story. She was our point of focalization, and without her in that place, the whole storyline denigrated into one big mess. For the record, I think a more satisfying ending would have been Rogue returning to the team, powers intact at the point where Phoenix is stripping the skin from Wolverine. Rogue sneaks up behind, pulls off the gloves, and sucks enough of Phoenix's power for Jean Grey to regain control, allowing Wolverine to step in and do her in. That would have set any future sequels up for Rogue to have had the kind of power she had in the comics from draining Captain Marvel. And one more thing. Where the hell was Nightcrawler? Still, Wolverine got to cut loose twice, and there was a fast-ball special from Collossus...and Kelsey Grammar's Beast was spot on. Final word: I can only hope they're done, or they get a more competent director/screenwriter for a fourth installment. Rating: 6/10
9. Poseidon: Ship gets hit by rogue wave. Chaos ensues, followed by acts of bravado and more pandemonium as the ship slowly sinks. Yeah, its formula, and yes it wasn't as good as the original, and the characters were cardboard, but who cares? It delivered what it promised in my esteem. Thoroughly enjoyed it, like I sometimes enjoy a bacon double cheeseburger from Burger King. You know it ain't gourmet, but it's exactly what hits the spot. Rating: 5/10
10. Ice Age: The Meltdown: Okay, I laughed at Sid the Sloth. And Scrat. But the rest of the film was mediocre and at times, just plain ridiculous. The animation wasn't up to par, and while I normally love Queen Latifah, I have to say she was the wrong choice for voice in this case. Rating: 4/10
And just for the record...I saw Clerks II, but there's no way in hell it's going on any top 10 list of mine. If this movie was Kevin Smith's apology for Jersey Girl...he's not done apologizing. My rating? 0/10.
Predicted List 2006
Note: Films can change positions on the predicted list until I see them. Then their position becomes fixed.
1. Superman Returns: I have to give the number one spot to my number one superhero since childhood. I still buy Superman shirts regularly when my old ones wear out, much to my wife's chagrin. I'm not thrilled with the little 'S' on the costume...I like a big shield. Might be compensating for something, but frankly my dears, I don't give a damn. Previews are making a believer out of me to be sure. I watched A&E's "Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman": special...it brought tears to my eyes...seriously.
2. Pan's Labyrinth: Pan's Labyrinth, however, is the best surprise of the year, sneaking into 2006 on December 29. Billed as an 'adult fairytale', the only thing I needed to know was that Guillermo del Toro is the man behind the film. I loved his work on Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy and was unaware of Pan's Labyrinth until you wonderful people who visit Gotthammer brought it to my attention. I checked out the trailer and was blown away. Too bad the number one position is already fixed...
3. Miami Vice: It's a Michael Mann film...I have yet to see a Michael Mann film I didn't enjoy profusely. They almost always make it into my top 10 list for the year they're released. And I watched the original series religiously, in addition to dressing like Crockett in Junior High.
4. V is For Vendetta: The trailers moved this one from a 5 to the 4 spot...I've not read the graphic novel, but from what I've seen, this looks like one of the best films of the year. Very cool visuals.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - Jonny Depp. That's all I have to say. Jonny Depp. It will be cool. Jonny Depp.
6. The Illusionist: The 'narf' in "Lady in the Water" left me cold enough to dump M. Night Shyamalan's latest prior to viewing, in trade for a different film starring Paul Giamatti, which intrigues me far more. The trailer reminded me of elements from a number of books I've enjoyed in the past few years, and is set in a period I love; turn of the century, 19th-20th. I've also been waiting for Jessica Beil to get a decent script, and this might be it. And Edward Norton is always good, even when the film he's in sucks.
7. Poseidon: Man who made "Perfect Storm" does capsized ship again...only this time it happens at the start of the film and the cast has a hope in hell of making it out. Loved the original, and Kurt Russell's one of my faves, so could be good!
8. X3: The Last Stand: Yeah, I know - the trailers are amazing...but there's no Brian Singer dammit...this could go very badly, you know?
9. The Prestige: I dropped Denzel and his Deja Vu movie because...well, I just like this style of narrative better. It's a personal bias, plus I really like Christian Bale's performances in the films I've seen him in. As I alluded to in my predictions about "The Illusionist", I've read a couple of works in this genre recently, specifically "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" as well as "The Book of Dead Days", and this film seems to capture some of that energy, given that it's based on a book in the same sub-genre.
10. Casino Royale: The Bond Franchise needed a face lift...and it looks like it's a gritty one. Here's to hoping they've returned to adapting the original books and letting James be a jerk, not just a suave ladies man with too many gadgets and not enough kickass. The buzz is that director Martin Campbell is leaning more towards character development than gadgets, so that bodes well. I'm keeping this one on the list for now.