#4. Almost Famous : I’ve long since been a huge fan of Cameron Crowe’s films for a variety of reasons. Crowe’s films are typically well-written, well-acted, quirky and they all feature excellent music. Without question, Almost Famous is the best of his illustrious career. Almost Famous is a semi-biographical movie about fictional teenage writer William Miller who gets the ear of Rolling Stone magazine. Impressed with his work and mistaking Miller for someone much older, the magazine hires him to do a story on the fictional band “Stillwater.” Despite being underage, Miller embarks on a trip around the country, riding along with the band and its groupies. Among those groupies is the lovely Penny Lane (played quite well by Kate Hudson), with whom Miller promptly falls in love. Miller’s adventures mirror those of Crowe, who as a teenager traveled the country writing for Rolling Stone. Along the way Crowe interviewed some of the most influential bands of the 70s such as Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and the Allman Brothers. Like several other movies by Crowe, his wife and Heart lead guitarist Nancy Wilson provides a wonderful score. The soundtrack is filled with some of the greatest songs of the last 30 years. In sum its a great movie, tells a great story, and is just downright fun from the beginning to the end.
#3. No Country for Old Men : Not since Hannibal Lecter have we seen a villain as treacherous and deadly as the sociopathic Anton Chigurh. As the most celebrated movie in the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) canon, No Country for Old Men, is a thriller that revolves around a mysterious suitcase full of money, the lowly guy that found it, and the small town Texas sheriff, who sets out to find them both. Javier Bardem plays Chigurh, Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, the guy that finds the suitcase, and Tommie Lee Jones is the sheriff. Based upon a novel written by Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men is generally dark in tone, which is a departure from many of the Coen brothers’ other movies. Although there are some similarities (excellent dialogue), the movie has a element of terror that is unseen in their other films. Visually, the film brilliantly captures a vast desolation rarely seen in movies. Tommie Lee Jones is great as the wise old sage, on his way out of the game. Brolin turns in a strong performance of his own, establishing a relevance among other Hollywood actors otherwise unseen, and Bardem is simply brilliant. As the villain, Bardem is quite captivating, going from charismatic to terrifying in one fell swoop. As an enormous fan of the The Big Lebowski, its hard to imagine the Coen brothers making anything better, but this one comes damn close.
#2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind : I really struggled with this one. For several weeks I had this one as #1. Yeah, its hard to imagine given how many great movies I’ve chronicled, but this truly is a great movie. From beginning to end its brilliant, and in all aspects. Technically its well shot. In particular, the dream sequences are visually quite striking. The acting is top notch, as the chemistry between Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet is strong. But what really sets the movie apart is the story. Written by Charlie Kaufman, the Director Michel Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth, the movie is about Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Winslet) who date each other, break up, and then decide (separately) to get the memories of the relationship erased from their collective minds. Without spoiling the rest, I’ll simply say that they way in which the two meet and then date probably says more about relationships than perhaps any other movie I’ve ever seen. Although they both use a method to forget each other that is clearly impossible, seeing the lengths to which both are willing to go to mitigate the emotional pain says a lot about the power of human emotion that comes from relationships. The movie takes you on quite a ride but its funny, painful, and captivating the whole way through.
#1. Kill Bill, Parts 1 & 2 [2003-2004]: During my childhood I spent many afternoons with my two brothers, glued to the television watching Kung-Fu theater. As such, my appreciation for martial arts movies was cemented quite early in life. So it was with much anticipation that I awaited the release of both installments of Kill Bill. After all, Quentin Tarantino is the greatest filmmaker of our time, so it would only make sense that Kill Bill was a masterpiece. Well, Tarantino’s project did not disappoint. Uma Thurman stars as the protagonist – Beatrix Kiddo, or “Black Mamba” – who embarks on a mission to settle scores with her former cohorts who together operated as a group of world class assassins. The late David Carradine stars as “Bill,” and is the leader of this group. At its core, Kill Bill is a movie about revenge, but there is much more to this movie than just revenge.
What I like most about Kill Bill is that it is an homage to so many genres of film. Most importantly, the old kung fu films of the 70s and 80s that I grew to love. But Tarantino takes the many influences that shaped him as a filmmaker and then blends them with his own brand of filmmaking.
As is customary of Tarantino films, the story telling is out of sequence. But what makes it all the more compelling is the scope of the characters. Considering the lengths that Tarantino goes to develop the various characters, its no surprise that it took two movies to tell the story. Aside from the storytelling, the dialogue is, not surprisingly, top-notch, and the action sequences are amazing. Tarantino weaves in vivid animation sequences to give the movie even more life. Set to a a great score by the incomparable Rza of Wu Tang fame, Tarantino goes to great lengths to tell his story.
Over time, I may grow to like this movie even more. As it currently stands, I’d say Kill Bill is a close second to Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s magnum opus.