PG Cooper: My Top 25 Films (2000-2009) Part II

Posted: November 22, 2010 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

20. Rachel Getting Married

Release Date: October 3rd, 2008

Written by: Jenny Lumet

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, and Debra Winger.

One of the biggest Oscar blunders of recent memory is the lack of nominations for Rachel Getting Married. Apart from the very deserving Anne Hathaway receiving a Best Actress nomination, the film had zero nominations and I don’t understand why. Regardless, this is a great film.

The main character of Rachel Getting Married isn’t actually Rachel (surprise!). The film follows Rachel’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway). Kym is a former drug addict and has been in and out of rehab several times. Though currently, Kym seems clean for good. She is released temporarily from rehab so she can attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. The interaction between Kym and the rest of her family is fairly awkward and gets worse from time to time as the story progresses.

I know the plot sounds simple, but it’s really hard to talk about the story without giving away major plot points. This is a brilliant story. Throughout the film, you slowly watch the events unfold and you never lose interest. There’s a lot of twists and turns as the story progresses. There’s one major twist midway through the story that turns the movie completely inside out. What’s great about it is it doesn’t change the way things occur, but instead changes the way you perceive everything in the film. Jonathan Demme does an excellent job directing. The film utilizes a hand-held camera style (though not like Cloverfield where the camera is itself a character). You feel like a fly on the wall just watching real events play out in front of you. But what ultimately makes this film great is the acting. As I already mentioned, Anne Hathaway is brilliant in it and in my opinion, should have won the Oscar for Best Actress. You will hate her in some scenes and love her in others. It’s just a really moving performance. Rosemarie DeWitt is also quite good as Rachel. Her character is a more thankless role than Hathaway’s Kym, but she’s just important to the film. Another great performance comes from Debra Winger as Kym’s mother Abby. She isn’t in the film a lot and throughout the movie you’re not quite sure what to think of her. Towards the end of the film, she has a scene with Kym that’s simply breathtaking and changes everything (not the same “twist” I mentioned earlier). The supporting cast here is really good. The movie focuses on the wedding and the preparation and you see a lot of people doing various things. All these people really help sell the atmosphere and environment. As a film, Rachel Getting Married stands equal to Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece, The Silence of the Lambs.

19. District 9

Release date: August 14th, 2009 (US)

Written by: Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

Directed by: Neil Blomkamp

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, and Eugene Khumbanyiwa

There’s been a lot of films involving aliens and giant robots and such recently. Most of them amount to nothing more than standard action fare. But every now and then, you get an action film that’s actually intelligently written. Which brings us to District 9.

District 9 tells the story of an alternate history where in 1982, an alien spaceship came over Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship is filled with alien refugees known as prawns. This select group of prawns are essentially the “worker bees” of the species. They have great technology and are physically much stronger than humans, but they aren’t very intelligent and lack organization. As a result, it’s easy for the humans to boss them around. The humans end up placing them in a slum known as District 9. Eighteen years later, a government organization known as MNU (Multinational United) is in charge of alien rights on the planet. So MNU wants to relocate the aliens to an even worse slum known as District 10. So they assign bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to evict the aliens. While there, an accident occurs that leads to Wikus being an outcast and fugitive on his planet. The only option Wikus has is to take refuge in District 9 with the very creatures he was evicting.

Personally, I think the story here is awesome. It’s a nice twist on the whole alien invasion genre. The aliens haven’t come to earth to conquer it and wipe out the human race. They aren’t even on earth by choice. Instead, they’ve crashed on the planet and now they’re stuck. What’s also interesting is that it’s the humans who are the antagonists. The prawns are placed in District 9 by the government after all. This part of the story is presented in a documentary style and contains fictional interviews and news reports. I love this because it did a great job of creating the film’s world. Eventually we cut to 2010, with Wikus evicting the aliens and eventually becoming a fugitive. It’s hard to talk about what happens without spoiling things, so I’ll just say what happens is really clever and well written. While at the beginning, Wikus isn’t exactly the greatest human being, you end up getting really attached to his character and rooting for him the whole way through. This is in part do to Copley’s excellent performance. This part of the story is shown in a more standard way, which makes sense considering there’s no way they’d be able to take a hand-held camera to some of the places Wikus goes. There isn’t a lot of other human characters in this. David James plays a good bad guy as a soldier who has to capture Wikus, but that’s about it. The other main character is a prawn named Christopher, the only prawn from the ship who is actually fairly intelligent. Speaking of the prawns, director Neil Blomkamp does a good job of getting you to care about the prawns and you are on their side by films end. On top of the story and acting, the action scenes here are just top-notch. The shoot outs here usually involve standard weapons going up against the alien ones, and these scenes are awesome. All the special effects here are great as well. There were a few moments where the CGI could have been better, but you’re so invested in the story you may not even notice. Also, it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed by the effects considering the film’s budget was only $30 million. Although the film has developed a little bit of a backlash in recent memory, I say District 9 is among the best science-fiction films of the last ten years.

18. V for Vendetta

Release date: March 17th, 2006 (US)

Written by: The Wachowski Brothers

Directed by: James McTeigue

Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, and John Hurt

I should state right now that I do read comic books and graphic novels. I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore comic book reader, but I’ve read a fair share. One of my favourites is Alan Moore’s classic “V for Vendetta”. Despite Moore removing his name from the film adaptation, I was still very excited to see it. And while the movie does differ from the source material, V for Vendetta is still a great film.

V for Vendetta tells the story of a dystopian future set between 2028 and 2038 where the British people are oppressed by their government and have been for decades. In this future, a freedom fighter (or terrorist depending on your point-of-view) known as code name V (Hugo Weaving) has started a rebellion against the government and has started to gain the attention of the people. One of these people includes a young woman named Evey. Though Evey is initially just thrown into circumstances by mistake, she ends up becoming V’s protegé. Aside from the main plot, both V and Evey each have a dark back story.

The best thing about V for Vendetta for me, is the character code name V. V is a fascinating character who is just a joy to watch. He’s a rather hard character to understand with his mysterious back story and sometimes unclear motivations. All this is brought to life very well by an excellent performance from Hugo Weaving. Throughout the film, you never see V’s face. All he has to use is his body language and voice. Natalie Portman is also quite good as Evey Hammond. You sympathize with her and her plight. Portman has to go through some pretty intense stuff in the film, and at times it’s hard to see her go through with it (I mean this in a good way). The rest of the cast is all good, but none of the performances are on the level of Weaving or Portman. I also love the atmosphere here. It isn’t obvious that it’s a dystopian world, but the more time you spend in the film’s world, the more you fear it. Plus, the action is just so cool. If you can’t appreciate the story or the acting or the world, you can at least enjoy watching V slice and dice people with his daggers.

17. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Release date: September 21st, 2007

Written by: Andrew Dominik

Directed by: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Sheperd, and Sam Rockwell.

Before I saw this, I had no idea what to expect. I haven’t seen too many westerns, I know nothing about Jesse James, and I (at that point) hadn’t seen any other films with Casey Affleck. As I was putting my copy from the library into my DVD player for the first time, I had no idea I was about to see one of the finest films of the decade.

The film tells the story of Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) and his relationship with Jesse James (Brad Pitt). As a child, Ford idolized James and would read dime books based on his exploits. As a young man, Bob actually meets Jesse and attempts to join his gang with the help of Bob’s brother Charley (Sam Rockwell). But James is annoyed and somewhat disturbed by Bob’s obsession and sends him away. As years pass and circumstances change, Bob begins to realize that Jesse James isn’t the hero he thought he was as a child. Bob ends up striking a deal with the police to kill Jesse James in exchange for Bob’s freedom.

The immediate thing you notice about the film is the visuals. During some scenes, the edges have a blurred effect to create the effect of an old-time camera. And throughout the film, the color palette is mostly brown and black. Both these look gorgeous. First time watching, I just could not get over how beautiful everything looked. The story here is also really good. At first glance, it’s simple and the title does reveal that Robert Ford does in fact kill Jesse James. However, there is some very clever themes present in the story. The central theme is how the public perception of someone becomes who they are. The title itself refers to Robert Ford as a coward when in fact, Jesse James was a coward too. But Robert Ford was loved by the public and thus became a legend. Hell, I never knew anything about Jesse James, but I had heard of him. I can’t say the same about Robert Ford. I also have to praise the script here with its great story, and its solid dialogue. But the best part about the film, by far, is the performances from Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Both these performances are brilliant and each character is fascinating. The scenes between the two of them are the highlight and heart of the film. I can’t say I’d recommend this film to everyone. The short pace and long run time might turn a lot off. But for me, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is nothing short of brilliance.

16. The Aviator

Release date: December 25th, 2004

Written by: John Logan

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, and Kate Beckinsale.

I’m not gonna lie, I love Martin Scorsese. It’s hard not to love him. The man has made some damn good films in his career and The Aviator ranks among the best of his works.

The Aviator is a biopic depicting the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) between 1927 and 1947. It shows his success as a film director and producer, his innovations in aviation, and his near downfall at the hands of his OCD. The central conflict revolves around Hughes’ airline TWA being threatened by rival airline Pan Am. The chairman of Pan Am Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) has his friend Senator Brewster (Alan Alda) set up a public hearing charging Hughes with war crimes in order to crush TWA. The film also deals with the women Howard was close too at the time including Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale).

From what I’ve seen, this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance. Being the lead in a biopic, a lot rests on your shoulders. DiCaprio manages to carry the load though playing a very complex and intriguing character. As the film progresses, the pressures of work and Howard’s OCD begins to break down his sanity over time. Watching DiCaprio slowly descend is fascinating. On top of that, it’s just enjoyable watching DiCaprio’s performance. Howard is just a fun character to watch. I don’t mean to take credit away from the other actors here; everyone in the film is quite good. Especially Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn. But this is undeniably the Howard Hughes show. DiCaprio shouldn’t get all the credit though. The script by John Logan is really well written and the dialogue stands out. And of course, I’ve gotta give credit to Scorsese. He always manages to get great performances out of his actors. Scorsese actually brings a lot to this. One detail I love (and I know not everyone was crazy about this) was the color scheme. Basically the colors appear how they would have in films made in that time period. I know some felt this to be distracting, but personally, I found it captivating. Scorsese also does a good job of playing up the paranoia that Hughes feels. Beautifully shot, intelligently written, brilliantly performed, and just overall extremely well done. The Aviator brought out the best from everyone involved.

  1. ianthecool says:

    I hated Jesse James. I could not keep interest during that film. I’m not an impatient movie viewer by any stretch and I love watching longer sagas. Yet this one was so slow in both pacing and tone that I could barely keep my eyes open.

  2. pgcooper1939 says:

    Yeah, I remember you mentioning that a while back. How do you feel about the rest of the list?

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