20 Best Movies of the Last 20 Years, Part 2: 15-11
Part one of this list featuring movies 20-16 can be found here.
The list can be discussed on the BSL Board here.
The Tree of Life (May 27, 2011)
‘The Tree of Life’ got off on the wrong foot when it premiered at Cannes to a mix of boos and applause which in turn had initial reviews being mixed. But it went on to win the Palme d’Or (best movie in competition at Cannes) and was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. It was the first Terrence Malick movie I’d seen so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for. What I was in for was a completely original film that is part ‘Planet Earth’ style documentary, part small drama about a family living in Texas in the 1950’s and somehow it works seamlessly together. Having seen more of Malick’s films since then I’m not always a fan of his meandering and ponderous pacing but it worked perfectly here. Buoyed by beautiful cinematography and excellent performances by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain I was fully invested in the characters at the center of the story.
Even the kids (Hunter McCracken and a young Tye Sheridan) give great performances which is vital because the relationship between the kids, especially Jack who is our entrance point into the film when he’s older as Sean Penn, and their father is some of the best stuff in the movie. To me this is a near masterpiece with the only thing holding it back being an ending that tries to bring everything together but instead gets into the pretension that Malick can be accused of. It left me on a down note but much like ‘No Country For Old Men’ it is easily forgiven with some time and is something that may play better on re-watch. Its not a movie for everyone but it hit all the right notes for me and is at least worth a shot for those that haven’t seen it.
Black Swan (December 17, 2010)
Directed by one of my favorites, Darren Aronofsky, I was still pleasantly surprised by this one. ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Requiem For A Dream’ were two other films of his in the running for this list but it was the movie that went behind the scenes of a production of Swan Lake that managed to make the final cut. Much more than that simple synopsis, its a tense psychological thriller that had moments of terror better than most horror movies that came out that year. Natalie Portman gives a powerhouse performance that was rightfully rewarded by the Oscars for Best Actress. It was nominated for five Academy Awards overall including Best Picture.
Diving deep into mental illness Aronofsky does a great job of showing what the world looks like from the perspective of someone spiraling into a breakdown. The world of ballet is the perfect place to show the dedication towards perfection. You can feel the pain as Portman’s character repeats the crazy dance moves over and over again. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel are both fantastic as well as a rival dancer and instructor respectively. Its hard to tell whats real and whats not as the film heads towards its grand conclusion. This was an ending that leaves you exhilarated. The best movies leave you feeling something and it can’t be denied that ‘Black Swan’ accomplishes that.
Cast Away (December 22, 2000)
Tom Hanks is one of the best actors from over the past twenty years and this might be the best performance of his career. Playing a character who’s plane crashes and gets stranded on an island forced him to get away from the charismatic dialogue reading and give an almost silent, physical performance and he knocked it out of the park. The moment when the plane crashes is thrilling but its once he gets to the island that it gets really good. I like the creativity of FedEx boxes washing up on the shore with different items as they were transporting packages when the accident happened.
Its like Tom Hanks was playing a character on the television show Survivor, learning to catch his own food and build his own shelter, but instead of it lasting 39 days he went over four years before attempting to find his way back to the mainland. The other standout character was a beach volleyball that has his name printed right across himself, Wilson. Similar to Will Smith’s character in ‘I Am Legend’ talking to mannequins when perusing a store it makes sense that he would need to talk to something to try and keep his sanity. I would’ve liked to have seen more on the aftereffects of this experience but that could be its own movie. Hanks was nominated for Best Actor and it was deserved as he really did carry the movie on his shoulders.
The Dark Knight (July 18, 2008)
Widely regarded as the best superhero film ever made, the second installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy surely is something special when it comes to the genre. It takes itself seriously as an action crime flick from the opening sequence in which Heath Ledger’s Joker leads a bank robbery in a scene reminiscent of ‘Heat’. Speaking of Ledger his performance here is as iconic as it gets as one of the greatest villains in film history, winning the Oscar for best supporting actor posthumously following his tragic death earlier in the year. Every scene with the Joker is hard to rip your eyes away from the screen. Hes completely captivating and the way he affects Christian Bale’s Batman rings true following the first film in the series ‘Batman Begins’.
There are plenty of nitpicks that can (and have) been made but for me they were things that I didn’t notice until they were pointed out to me or I just didn’t care enough about them to let it effect my viewing experience. The highs are so high that little logical issues don’t take the air out of the film as a whole. The set piece in China doesn’t hold up very well on repeat viewings but everything else does for the most part. The car chase ultimately resulting in a big wheel being flipped head first is a standout as is the “pencil trick”. Then there is the Two-Face arc in the third act which probably could’ve carried a movie of its own but is still effective in a short burst. I guess the only other negative to come from ‘The Dark Knight’ is that there have been many comic book films in its wake that tried to copy the formula used by Nolan and nobody has come close to replicating it.
X2: X-Men United (May 2, 2003)
I would consider ‘The Dark Knight’ the best comic book movie ever made if it wasn’t for this one. The first X-Men movie pretty much kicked off the success of the genre that has carried on to the dominance it has in movie culture today. Bryan Singer did a great job of correlating being a mutant in the movie world to being gay or any other member of society being treated as an outcast in the real world. While the first movie was solid the sequel improved on it in every way. It kicks off with one of my favorite opening scenes when a mutant that had yet to be seen, Nightcrawler, raced towards the President in the White House using his teleportation and acrobatic abilities to avoid danger and take out everyone along the way. It was a thrilling and creative way to start the movie and there are plenty of great set pieces along the way.
Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine eight times and none are a better encapsulation of the popular character from the comics than this. The action scene in the middle of the movie where Xavier’s mansion gets invaded and Wolverine goes into berserker mode is still one of my favorite moments. Another one that stands out is when the police surround our heroes at Bobby Drake’s house, Wolverine gets shot in the head and Pyro unleashes his powers and joins Magneto and his crew. Speaking of which the movie has great villains and ends on a big note that has you looking forward to the next sequel. (Just ignore the fact that the next sequel would be a disaster.) As great as ‘The Dark Knight’ is ‘X2’ manages to be just as entertaining without doing everything in its power to make you forget that its a comic book movie. It leans in to its origins and makes everything thats great about an X-Men comic book translate onto the big screen.