Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Top Twenty Movies of the Decade

The Top 20 (Fantastic) Movies of the Decade

IMDB published their list of the top grossing SF and Fantasy movies of the decade a few weeks ago and I thought they might be worth a look. For some reason I can’t imagine they have omitted THE DARK KNIGHT and SPIDER-MAN. And AVATAR came out just after the list did so it isn’t included even though it would sit at the top already. In case you don’t have IMDB Pro- here’s the list (with short commentary or links to longer previous reviews).

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen-
Haven’t seen it. Probably will.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith-
The best of the prequels even if everybody in the world already knew the ending. Jon Stewart interviewed George Lucas on The Daily Show the other day and Lucas is sticking by his guns that the difference between the original trilogy and the prequels is mainly that the fans of the originals aren’t 12 years old anymore. I hate to say it, but I think he’s right. I took my teenaged daughter to the re-release of the originals in the 90’s and she was totally underwhelmed. Part of that, I think, was that she had grown up seeing so many movies that used the same tricks, often better. And part of it was that she’s a GIRL (never really SW’s main audience). As they say, the golden age of science fiction is twelve. I think the last Indiana Jones movie got a lot of grief for the same reason. I didn’t think it was any sillier than the others, it just could have never lived up to the memories the audience had of the originals. All in all, EPISODE III isn’t as bad as the first one, but truthfully, none of these movies are great works of art. Arguably they aren’t even great works of pulp adventure. But this one isn’t too bad if you don’t expect anything more from it than that.

What saved this movie is that it struck the right note of being funny and lighthearted without making fun of itself. Why it and the sequel are so far up this list is a mystery for all time, however.

Iron Man-
Three words: Robert Downey Jr. Full review here

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones-
If not for Jar-Jar and Mannequin Skywalker in the first one, this would be the worst Star Wars movie of all time. As it is, it’s only half as bad because it only has one of them. True, Mannequin is being played by a different actor, but the “acting” he does is so wooden it’s easy to think that it’s the same person years later. Isn’t helped by the dialog in the romance scenes, which has been given so much hate over the years that there’s no need for me to pile on. This movie’s place on this list is proof that you can slap the name Star Wars on just about anything and it will sell.

The Matrix Reloaded-
The reason this movie is here and not the third one (REVOLUTIONS) is because everybody loved THE MATRIX and couldn’t wait for the sequel. After seeing this, they just didn’t care anymore. Personally I think it was a missed opportunity that could have easily been fixed by combining both the sequels into one 2-hour movie. I was impressed that the Wachowski brothers tried to take their concepts a little deeper, most filmmakers would have been happy to just have Neo and friends have new adventures in Matrixland, but the movie winds up being boring because it’s too long. The audience leaves every fight and chase more exhausted than the characters doing the fighting and chasing. Fortunately the ANIMATRIX collection exists as the true sequel.

Star Trek-
There are three attempted reboots (not counting the Star Wars prequels as a reboot attempt) on this list and of the three this is the only one that works. And the funny thing is that it’s because it’s not really Star Trek. Oh, the set pieces are all there, the Enterprise, the characters we love, the rousing space opera, but ST was never about running around and blowing shit up and this is. Still, it was a welcome change from the snoozefest that Trek became at the end. Where Lucas sucked all the fun and humor out of Star Wars, Abrams put it all back into Star Trek. I just hope that JJ Abrams and Co. can overcome the urge to redo Khan for the sequel. Isn’t ripping off that plotline once already enough? Full (kinda) review here.

I Am Legend-
Where Will Smith’s other foray into literary SF this decade decided to throw the source material away to ill effect, here staying closer to Richard Matheson’s book pays off. In fact, the weakest part of the whole thing is that they changed the ending and thus eviscerated the whole subtext. Luckily the original ending is on the supplemental materials included with the Blu-Ray, so you can see more of what the writer intended.

X-Men: The Last Stand-
Another movie that would have been better served by staying closer to the original material. Too ambitious, too scattered, and too many mutants. Wolverine pared down the cast and at least tried to have a story, so maybe they learned their lesson.

The War of the Worlds-
Of the two literary SF adaptations Spielberg and Cruse did this decade I prefer Minority Report over this one. But this is a pretty good movie hurt first by the fact that Tom Cruse is only able to play Tom Cruse in movies. He isn’t so much an actor (he once was, remember TAPS?) as a special effect. I can’t see him as anything but Tom Cruse. Even in Valkyrie, with the limp and the eye, it’s was just Tom Cruse trying to kill Hitler. So that’s a problem. The second problem is that the source material is so dated. Wells novel was kick-ass over a hundred years ago but the alien invasion thing has been done a thousand times since then and the shock has worn off. In spite of this Spielberg stays pretty close to the original (except for the obligatory kids in danger fetish he has) and more or less pulls it off.

This is the one with the aliens and the crop circles by M. Night Shyamalan and Mel Gibson. Is there anything else that needs to be said?

I didn’t think Pixar could make a better movie than The Incredibles, but somehow they did. One of the best movies of the decade and it should have won an Oscar. Full review here.

X2: X-Men United-
X-Men movies carry their quality rating as their sequel number.

Superman Returns-
One of the movies in the reboot trifecta that stayed too close to the series it was trying to kick-start and failed as a result. Brian Singer didn’t so much make a Superman movie as he made the third movie in the original 1978 Superman movie series. Most people take issue with Lois Lane’s kid, but I could have forgiven that. The real problem for me was Lex Luthor. From his continuing obsession with real estate (That’s the best you can do? Really?! A supervillain that wants to be a land baron? And of an ugly piece of rock in the middle of the ocean? Shit!) to Kevin Spacey’s pseudo-Gene Hackman portrayal (in which none of Hackman’s charm and wit was evident) Luthor came off as a buffoon. Comic books are only as good as their villains and this one wasn’t much of a match for the most powerful superhero of all time.

Monsters vs. Aliens-
Didn’t see it. Probably won’t.

Men in Black II-
Another sequel that was a missed opportunity and got such big box office numbers because people loved it’s predecessor. The first MIB was original, inventive and funny. This one wasn’t, wasn’t, and wasn’t. You’ve got to bring the FUNNY, Barry!

The Day After Tomorrow-
Like comic book movies, disaster porn is another up and coming sub-genre. I expect that just like it did in the ‘70s, disaster movies will blow themselves out in a couple of years.

Jurassic Park III-
Honestly I can’t remember much about the Jurassic Park sequels. But hey, everybody loves dinosaurs, even creationists.

Planet of the Apes-
And the third fumbled reboot. Frankly I never cared much about the original series of movies. The central conceit was kind of silly and there is good reason Pierre Boulle isn’t considered a great SF writer. Still, the original had the benefit of Rod Serling’s scripting and that classic final scene. This one has been hated on a lot but I never really understood why. The plot isn’t any more of a mess than the original, and the ape costumes and acting are (at least) up to the level set in the previous series. (Can you say Tim Roth vanishes into the role when he’s hidden under 40 pounds of make-up?) And anyway, who goes to a Tim Burton movie for the story? You go to see his visual styling. And in that respect, I thought this movie was fine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine-
This is another movie that wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. I don’t know what people expected. Sure, it wasn’t SPIDER-MAN II, THE DARK KNIGHT, or THE INCREDIBLES. Hell, it wasn’t even WATCHMEN. But it wasn’t DAREDEVIL or CATWOMAN EITHER.

Now you can take what you want from this collection of movies. John Scalzi takes the idea that almost everything on it is that Hollywood has no originality left.

If you remove remakes, sequels, and comic book adaptations out then all you are left with is SIGNS, WALL-E, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, AND THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. But saying that Hollywood has no originality isn’t really very, uh, original, is it? OTOH, his generalization isn’t without merit. The first thing that leaps out at you is that movies made from comic books have become a serious sub-genre. Eight of the movies are made from comics. (Yeah, Transformers is actually a comic and cartoon made from a line of toys, but if you want to swap out those two for DARK KNIGHT and SPIDER-MAN you are welcome to.) And if you look at the release dates you see that this trend is accelerating. Countering this trend is the fact that only two works of literary SF that were made into movies hit the top twenty. Hell, the X-Men alone beat that! And while these two adaptations are pretty good (not great in either case) the other notable big budget literary adaptation was I, ROBOT, and it was an unmitigated disaster.

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