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My 10- I mean 12- favorite movies of the decade (OK, technically 13)

December 16th, 2009

Not a “best of” list and certainly nothing critical, just the 12 movies that I enjoyed and connected with the most over the past 10 years. Yeah, I know lists are dumb but why should professional writers (a profession I can no longer claim) have all the fun? Time permitting I’ll do albums, songs and comics shortly, but for now, the movies, because, after all, I am in movie school.

I went with 12 because I really wanted to include the two that just missed the top 10. Also, I haven’t had enough time to really digest and appreciate “Inglourious Basterds”… but I suspect it’ll weasel its way onto this list as time goes on. Likewise when I finally get around to rewatching “Goodbye, Lenin.”

So here we go…

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12 High Fidelity– Rob Gordon is the guy John Cusack was born to play, and in some ways has been playing his whole career. I mean, is it any stretch that Lloyd Dobler might leave Diane Court, move to Chicago and drift from one relationship to another, stagnant at a record store? Or Martin Blank, three years after his last kill, might do the same?

Killer soundtrack and Jack Black’s performance aside, “High Fidelity” is more than a “perfect romantic comedy.” It’s a movie about the male psyche, the collector nerd, the impulse to rank and rate. Which includes, of course, this list.

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11 Superbad– True story: in 6th grade I transferred middle schools because I was drawing dicks… it’s more involved than just that but I promise, I was drawing dicks. They didn’t look as good as Jonah Hill’s illustrations, but man did I relate to and know these three friends, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and McLovin. Not quite nerds, not exactly the quarterback leads of most high school movies. “Superbad” is the most honest and dead-on high school comedy of the decade, probably the most since 1999’s “Election.” OK, the cops might be a little over the top but in later years—and to a lesser degree—these were exactly the kind of things that happened to my friend who was very much McLovin.

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10 The 25th Hour– I’ll say it, I don’t care. This is Spike Lee’s best movie. It’s not as overt as his more celebrated work, but it’s certainly his most mature and at times even subtle. The bathroom sequence is among his best scenes, rivaling the pizza parlor wall of fame in “Do The Right Thing” and that ending, delivered by Brian Cox… wow. Both of these, powerful in their own right, have nothing on the real heart of the story, what it’s really about: post 9-11 New York, moving on and coming to terms with what happened and what comes next.

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9 Ratatouille– I’ve taken myself out of the rank ‘n rate game for the Pixar movies amongst my friends. They’re all pretty spectacular—it’d be like ranking the planets in our solar system. All are mind-boggling and we’d be lucky to see any of them. So all that said, I’m going with Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille.” It may not have the emotional weight of “Up,” storytelling scope of “Wall-E” or excitement of “The Incredibles”— I just connected to it more than any of the other Pixar movies to day. What I love most about “Ratatouille,” more than the amazing visuals, more than the clever, creative story, is the message, that anyone can cook. Yes, it’s a very clichéd, Hollywood outlook (“Marty, if you set your mind to it you can accomplish anything”), but if my experiences are any indication, it’s true. Hard work, hours in the kitchen learning a craft, yes, anyone really can cook.

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8 The Royal Tennenbaums– Or, as it may be called some years from now, “The Live Action Fantastic Mr. Fox.” I’ve grown to dislike movies that are quirky for the sake of quirky, cute for the sake of cute and awesome music covering a shoddy story (“500 Days of Summer,” “Garden State”). But Wes Anderson is so fucking charming in his movies I’ll forgive him for basically setting these trends. His soundtracks serve a purpose, his characters are weird, yes, but fleshed out, believable and empathetic. “Tennenbaums” remains his best work, a sort-of New York fable about a family that peaked too soon. Bonus points to any Richie, Chaz or Margot Tennenbaums I’ve seen at Halloween parties along the way.

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7 Spider-Man 2/X2– because they’re really the same movie. The super hero sequel that betters the original, expands the story palate to an epic scale and features more than a few nerd-out moments. From Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House, to the moment when Mary Jane sees Peter without the mask, from Stryker’s attack on the mansion, to Willem DaFoe’s cameo, from Colossus’s insistence on helping Wolverine to Bruce Campbell—these movies gushed love to the source material without being dumbed down for a mass audience. OK, my classmates will give me flack for these two sequels over “The Dark Knight,” but you know what? “The Dark Knight,” while epic and awesome in its own right, forgot how to have fun. I can’t think of a bigger smile on my face after a movie than the first time I walked out of “Spider-Man 2” or a bigger nerd moment than the last frame of “X2.” “The Dark Knight” left me wanting more, but c’mon, it was kind of a bummer. These movies fired on all cylinders and even the lackluster sequels don’t change that (for the record, “X3” was WAY worse than “Spider-Man 3,” which was only OK).

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6 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind– Maybe I over-identified with Jim Carrey’s emotionally distant cartoonist character, maybe I fell in love with how simple and imaginative Charlie Kaufman’s story was, but this is a masterpiece which would probably top my “best of the decade” list. I saw this a couple days after a friend died in college with my then-girlfriend. I wasn’t in any mood to see anything with big explosions and this movie really hit all the right notes—depressing, hopeful, a really solid meditation on relationships and life. I referenced it in my finished-but-unpublished comic short “Landed,” about that same relationship. One day in the near future I’ll put that comic out and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

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5 Almost Famous– the movie that changed my life, literally. I was a junior in college when I saw this, with a couple high school friends, home for Thanksgiving break or something to that extent. I mean, who wouldn’t want to travel the country with their favorite band, sing “Tiny Dancer” on a bus, write for RollingStone or watch Billy Crudup become a Great Golden God at a house party? Yeah, most people who saw this movie. But when I hit the rewind button (remember VCRs?) the thought hit me—maybe I couldn’t write for RollingStone, but I sure as shit could write album reviews for The Diamondback, the University of Maryland student newspaper. I was already a cartoonist there and had a pretty good relationship with the editors. A phone call later and I had my first album review—which led me to the University of Missouri which led to many adventures, including drinking with Reel Big Fish, hanging out with Melee, one of my favorite young piano-pop bands backstage at the 9:30 Club, and, my favorite, a pretty stellar interview with Ben Folds, not to mention countless of other newspaper adventures. But I should have listened to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs—I came too late to the party. In this case, newspapers. But I still had my fun. Oh, and the movie’s pretty great too.

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4 Wet Hot American Summer– At some point I stopped convincing myself that I liked this movie and actually started loving this movie. Josheiserike.com Web master Eric Lightman reveres this movie and it’s easy to see why: it’s sharp, funny and really captures what it was like to grow up at summer camp—from the counselors who were more interested in making out with their girlfriends than lifeguarding, to the romantically-challenged camp director, from the “indoor kids” to the way that a day at camp can feel like a lifetime—this movie was honest and hit all the right notes. Just like I knew the kids in “Superbad,” I definitely grew up with the characters in “Wet Hot American Summer.” Writer Michael Showalter and writer/director David Wain were my first “celebrity” interview. I had no idea what I was doing, which resulted in an amazing 45-minute “make fun of Josh” session. Best bonus ever: the movie’s fart commentary track.

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3 Borat– my sophomore year roommate introduced me to Sacha Baron Cohen’s BBC sketches of Ali G. Six years (and two HBO seasons) later Baron Cohen hit the American zeitgeist with “Borat.” It’s the best and smartest comedy about race in America since “Blazing Saddles” and just as politically incorrect for its time. “Bruno” was good, not great, and it’s nothing short of a travesty that we’ll never get a “real” Ali G movie. But “Borat” is great, unflinching and hysterical. The hotel scene might be the funniest sequence I’ve ever seen in a movie.

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2 Donnie Darko– I’m not entirely sure what this movie is about but it’s certainly awesome and infinitely rewatchable. It’s essentially some comic book logic tangent universe where Donnie Darko must set things right. Very quotable, the Gyllenhalls do wonders as siblings and small role from Seth Rogan (who reportedly had no idea what this movie was about). The Gary Jules cover of “Mad World” is also a pitch-perfect ending.  But what I do know is “Donnie Darko” is a clever mixture of high school dramedy, science fiction, psychological thriller and family drama. I’ve never seen anything else like it.

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1 Forgetting Sarah Marshall– yes, I’m serious and here’s the thing—people have favorites because these movies, albums books or whatever strikes a chord with them or resonates in a way that’s meaningful to their life. Yes, some people appreciate some of it as high-quality art, but I’d argue it’s the personal connection that makes it so meaningful. And for me, that movie is “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Is it the most artistically accomplished movie of the last 10 years? Does it have the best and most memorable performances or script? Not by a long shot. But due to my own experiences throughout the decade I haven’t connected with and enjoyed movie more that “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

In 2005 I had an awful, awful break up in Hawaii. A year and change later when I heard producer Judd Apatow was doing a break up in Hawaii movie I wondered if he was secretly cribbing from my life.

When the movie finally came out in 2008 I had long moved on and gotten over this relationship. Before I saw it people told me “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was about me– the tall, goofy Jewish guy who is writing a musical and has a bad break up in Hawaii. (Granted, my musical isn’t Dracula, but more on that in the next decade). Then I read the backstory– writer/lead actor Jason Segel wrote this script after a real-life break up with “Freaks and Geeks” costar Linda Cardellini. Forget my own circumstances– this script was raw, honest and really captured what it was like to go through an awful break up… for the first two thirds, anyways. There’s a moment after the double date sequence, and if you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about, when it no longer becomes  Segel’s story about his break up with Cardellini but more of a male fantasy. Which is fine, because movies aren’t real life and everything needs to wrap up nicely after the two hours.

I didn’t have the zany supporting characters to entertain me (Paul Rudd, Russell Brand) or a hot desk receptionist to fall in love with but what this movie does is allow me to laugh at my own experiences in this decade. There’s no other movie that speaks to me in the last 10 years as much as this one.

Jason Segel, thank you for getting dumped.

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