1. The Departed – See now, aren’t you glad Martin Scorsese didn’t win an Oscar for The Aviator? I mean, sure, it would be fairly hilarious if Clint Eastwood (or any actor-turned-director, really) beat him again, but barring that unlikely event, won’t it be infinitely more satisfying to see him win for a movie everyone liked? Granted, it’s not Raging Bull or even Goodfellas, but it’s a little late for those. And sure, it’s weird that it’s a remake and that it takes place in Boston and that the violence seems more Tarantino than Scorsese. But that just proves he can adapt. Something that doesn’t seem to come all that easily to everyone.
2. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown – What a year for animation. Ice Age 2 had a hard enough time beating out its like-produced competition this year, never mind getting ahead of almost all of the other movies that came out in general. It wasn’t quite as refreshingly dark as Monster House, as technically dazzling as Cars or even as funny as Over The Hedge (though it was close), but it did all these things and a lot more exactly right. The first Ice Age was great, but no longer are these characters bogged down by revelatory back stories or intra-group conflict. Here they are free to interact in a whole new set of circumstances and allow what we already know about them to dictate what they do and how they interact. The climactic rescue is one of the most tension filled scenes to come out this year, animated or not. And it’s not because the people at Fox know how to work their computers any better than the people at DreamWorks or Disney, it’s because you know the animals that are about to drown.
3. Bubble – There’s this scene toward the end when one of the characters (and I’m sorry, but I have to be vague) is having a conversation with another one and all he says through the whole thing is, “I don’t know.” In, like, fifty different ways. It’s amazing. It’s almost as exciting as the end of The Departed. And this movie is full of things like that. I’d end this with some sort of command like, “just go watch it” or something, but not only is it going to be hard to find, I really don’t think you’re going to like it. Which is too bad. For you.
4. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Unlike with Bubble, I don’t feel the need to be vague: I’ve never liked Geoffery Rush, but holy crap was it one of the best movie moments ever when he comes down the stairs. There was such potential for this to become a giant mess after the first one’s near-perfection of the adventure genre. And I guess, in a near-perfect way, it was a giant mess. But in becoming so, it might just surpass the first one. Things it did better: making everyone pay for the supposedly triumphant things they did in the first one, portraying pirates as the terrible people they actually were, and making Orlando Bloom not seem boring.
5. Children Of Men – I’m not entirely sure what Children Of Men is trying to warn us of, as is generally the intent of realistic science fiction (or, I guess, any science fiction), but I suppose that’s for the best. That could only have gone wrong. And it allows the philosophic debates within the movie to take on their own world’s resonance rather than our’s, and that’s hardly ever the way that goes. Of course, this makes it sound as though I’m praising this movie for not doing things I wouldn’t like rather than doing things I did like, which just isn’t the case. It didn’t have any sword fights on the top of a rolling waterwheel or end with everyone getting shot in the head, but it was still just as good an action movie as the others (slightly) ahead of it on this list.
6. Blood Diamond – Not that it was really ever in question, but when Djimon Hounsou seethes and Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t look like a pathetic excuse for an actor on screen next to him, it’s clear he ought to win an Oscar, even if for some reason it isn’t this year. Similarly, this movie asks us to care about how diamonds are mined without irony, and isn’t ever stupid (until it literally asks us to care in text form at the end.) And while that might seem like something you ought to expect rather than be surprised by, we all know better.
7. Lonesome Jim – When I watched this movie, the DVD somehow skipped the entire first track. And when I realized this and went back to watch it, I was a little disappointed because everything that was said in that chapter I was able to get from the rest of it. But even so, it plays just as resigned and frustrated as its characters.
8. Invincible – There’s absolutely nothing you don’t expect going on in Invincible, and not because it’s a true story (which has been called into question.) But it executes every unsurprising thing perfectly. It’s never dull, it always looks great and treats every relationship as such and not simply as a driving force and/or obstacle for Mark Wahlberg’s main character. Now of course, every relationship is a driving force and/or obstacle, but there’s something wonderful about the fact that such a thing can work. That being formulaic, if handled properly, can elevate a movie and not just allow it to revel in mediocrity.
9. Flags Of Our Fathers – Maybe it’s because I watched it after Letters From Iwo Jima, but I don’t get why this is the forgotten of the two. Before I saw either, I figured it was the idea that watching the losers of a battle would be more interesting. But while Letters From Iwo Jima was certainly about the loss of a meaningless island (among other things, of course), Flags Of Our Fathers was about a lot more than winning one. It wasn’t really even about that at all, but rather winning over a country with false pride and reluctant heroes. In fact, it kind of renders that term meaningless by the end. And if it weren’t for Adam Beach, one of the worst actors living today, playing a central, if not the central character, I’m sure this would have placed much higher.
10. Winter Passing – I’ve spent the better of part of this year hoping enough good movies would come along and knock this out of the Top Ten. At first because it seemed wrong and maybe too much like Lonesome Jim and Friends With Money. But through the award season I’ve been hoping the same thing for a different reason. Because I don’t have anything to say about it and therefore no longer have any way to justify its appearance. The easy way out of this would be to switch it with United 93 or Over The Hedge, but I must have placed it ahead of those for a reason even if I can’t remember what that reason was at this point. So I’m trusting myself. Maybe that was Winter Passing’s lesson. But that seems unlikely.
(Friends With Money, United 93, Over The Hedge, Borat, Cars)