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I'm an author, historian (Ph.D., WVU), musician, professor, and mountaineer. I have published two books, To Live Again, a classical myth set in contemporary Appalachia, and Defending the Homeland, a collection of essays on radicalism and national security. Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Top Films of the Decade: Part II

And here we go with Part II....

2004 – Sideways

This is a great “buddy” movie set in California’s gorgeous Napa Valley. I saw the film with one of my oldest friends and it hit home for both of us because there were so many incidents in the film which resembled our experiences over the years. My friend felt that he was Miles and I was Jack. Although, other friends of mine tell me that I have a little in common with both the main characters (Miles is also a writer). There is a serious thematic underdone to this story combined with a lot of great humor. The wine flows and the jazz soundtrack really compliments the characters and the story (not everyone liked the musical score, my friend DePalma sneeringly refers to the jazz soundtrack as “that f&%#ing Pink Panther music”). One of the stronger messages in the film deals with how our lives turn out differently than we expect. Nothing in life ever goes according to plan and we can never accurately predict how our plans will develop. In the case of this story, Miles had been saving a special wine for his tenth wedding anniversary. Instead of sharing the wine with his wife, he is divorced, and drinks the wine alone out of a Styrofoam cup at a burger joint. Anyone who has had their expectations in life dashed can relate.

If you are under the age of twenty-five you probably will not “get it” when you watch Sideways. When I was eighteen I read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and I thought, “This is it? Really?” You see, I didn’t “get it.” I understood the story on an intellectual level, but not an emotional one because I simply did not have enough life experience. I returned to The Old Man and the Sea ten years later and now I think it is absolute brilliance. The story had not changed ... I had. I’m glad I was old enough to appreciate Sideways when it was released.

2003 – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

This is an extremely underappreciated film. I went to see it in the theatre thinking I was about to watch an action flick. I was dead wrong. It is so much more. First, the story is a vivid portrait of what life on a naval vessel in the early 1800s would have been like – the griminess, the close quarters, the class divisions, the call of duty, the superstitions, and the subculture of a ship at sea. Second, it demonstrates how advances in sea navigation made exploration and discovery possible in the early modern era. I really enjoyed how a portion the tale mimicked Darwin’s first trip to the Galapagos.

But the heart of Master and Commander is built around a lasting friendship and a passion for music. Even though Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin have decidedly different ideals and their personalities clash, it is their mutual love of music that truly binds them together. While watching the scenes when Jack and Stephen play songs together I couldn’t help but think of all the jam sessions I’ve had with good friends in the past. There is a special bond that musicians share with one another. An unspoken conversation takes place. If you do not play, then you cannot possibly comprehend. Music represents a spark of Divinity in all of us. If you are lucky enough to have the gift of music within you, don’t ever let it go.

The use of Vivaldi and Bach in the film is really wonderful as well. I’ve attached a link to one of my favorite songs used in the film, Corelli’s, “Adagio from Concerto Grosso.” Check it out. If you don’t find it moving, then you must not have a pulse.


2002 – Road to Perdition

“Natural Law: Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.”

This is an extraordinary movie. I think I’ve watched it about a dozen times and if I were to make a list of my top twenty-five films of all time, Road to Perdition would be on it. This is a father/son story combined with a revenge tale. One thing holds true with nearly all revenge tales: if you seek vengeance, it may be granted, but the price you pay is your own life. This tale is no different. I’m not certain, but I believe the revenge motif began with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To be or not to be. If you seek revenge, apparently that is the question. The combination of acting, visuals, and music when Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) takes out John Rooney (Paul Newman) is perfection. This is also a film with strong moral message and the ending is stunningly powerful.

2001 – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I admit it. I am a Lord of the Rings geek. It was very tempting to put each of these three films in my list, but I decided to go with only one. I own the extended version of this film. A friend wanted to borrow it but I would not let him because it is mine. My own. My precious. When I first read the books over ten years ago, I thought that it would be impossible for anyone to ever make a film that would do the story justice. Peter Jackson proved me wrong. Although the film trilogy still does not compare to Tolkien’s masterpiece, they accomplished much more than I ever thought possible. This is partly due to the fact that they use most of Tolkien’s own dialogue in the script, the cinematography of New Zealand is stunning, and the musical score is absolutely fantastic. Perhaps I’ll write a more detailed blog on Tolkien’s work some other time. This tiny commentary will have to do for now. Even though the high fantasy aspect of the film is not for everyone, The Lord of the Rings is indisputably one of the best trilogies in motion picture history.

2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?

What can be more wonderful than watching a Homeric Epic set in the American South during the Great Depression? Whatever it is, it must have R-U-N-N- O-F-T. I love the idea of taking classical myth and putting it in a modern setting so much that I did the same with my first novel, To Live Again. Aside from the mythological references, there are so many great quotes from this film. I’m a Dapper Dan man… This place is a geographical oddity, two weeks from everywhere… I’m the paterfamilias… So long boys, see you in the funny papers… You made a deal with the devil and these boys just got saved, I’m the only one at present unaffiliated… We thought you was a toad.

Once again, the music helps move the story. One also has to love the scene with the sirens and John Goodman as the Bible-selling Cyclops. But despite the music and the clever, quirky humor, my favorite part is after the TVA flood. Clooney’s character, Everitt, states that they are entering an age of reason right before seeing the blind man’s prophecy (a cow on the roof of a shack) come true.

This is one of my two favorite Coen Brothers’ films. This other, of course, is The Big Lebowski. The Dude abides. The Dude abides.

Honorable Mention

The Two Towers/Return of the King – See the above explanation for details.

Gladiator – Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott, and Rome. You can’t go wrong with this one. Gladiator is another story that follows the revenge motif mentioned above.

Black Hawk Down – Another Ridley Scott film. I remember the anger and frustration I felt when this actually happened in 1993. This is the best combat film of the decade.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – “I’m kind of a big deal. People know me. I have many leather bound books. My apartment smells of rich mahogany.” This movie is made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – A complex tale about the purpose of memory in our lives. This is Jim Carrey’s finest work.

The Dark Knight – The confrontation between the Joker and Batman in the prison is one of the most iconic film scenes of the decade.

Iron Man/The Incredible Hulk – When I was a little kid I read comic books all the time. I love the fact that Marvel is trying to recreate the Marvel Universe with these new films and I can’t wait to see how they take Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers, and tie them all together. If they can pull it off, it will be fantastic.

Open Range - I am a sucker for good westerns and I think this is the best one of the decade. This is Kevin Costner's most solid work in a long time. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have Robert Duvall as your costar.

Team America: World Police - From the twisted, clever minds of the creators of South Park. You just have to see this movie to believe it.

Until next time. Cheers and Happy New Year.

1 comment:

  1. The dude does abide. Didn't you see Oh Brother with me, Eugene, Myers, and DePalma in Mo'town?