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Shane Steinberg | Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It has been said that the “Golden Days” of cinema have long since passed. Sure, “Citizen Kane” is but a memory that can be bought as a 60th anniversary DVD, and the raw essence of romance has never again been so vividly depicted as it was in “Casablanca,” but that doesn’t mean that brilliance in filmmaking is a lost art.It seems that the original classics were the first films to combine all the elements of masterful filmmaking. They will always be put on a pedestal that new movies, no matter how masterful, are incapable of reaching. Why? Sadly, because we all (especially many top critics) have a preconceived notion that nothing can top the great films of the past.Yes, the caliber of movies as a whole has suffered in recent years, but the ‘masterpiece’ is still very much alive. It took 20 years for the film industry to realize that “Citizen Kane” was worthy of being called “the greatest film of all-time,” so perhaps all is not lost. Maybe one day a modern film will be put on the same pedestal as the classics. The following is a list of the five 21st-century American films most likely to attain legendary status down the road. 5) United 93: Paul Greengrass’ heart-wrenching docudrama is undying in its commitment to telling the arresting true story of what happened to the doomed heroes aboard United Airlines flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. Both impossible to watch, yet too difficult to turn away from, “United 93” is pitch-perfect and represents the most inexorably true account of 9/11 to grace the silver screen to this day. 4) Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: Everything about the last installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is epic. Clocking in at a lengthy 3:30, Peter Jackson’s send-off to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved classic manages to tie together every element of the journey while achieving the type of metaphorical brilliance the first two films lacked.3)There Will Be Blood: This one is destined to be studied by film students for years to come. Paul Thomas Anderson’s unrelenting work details the life of a genius oil man, Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel-Day Lewis in one of the most searing performances in movie history. His greed and moral corruption lead him down a path of conflict with religion and humanity alike, is, in its purest form, an aesthetic revelation the likes of which haven’t been seen since “Citizen Kane”.  1 (tie) Mulholland Drive: David Lynch’s masterpiece is film at its very best. From the bewildering opening scene, when Lynch first immerses his audience in a fever hallucination of a film, until the perfectly measured ending, a spine-chilling air of brilliance engulfs the theater. This incredibly tantalizing dive into the heart of insanity and the subconscious becomes more ingenious as it unravels, and once solved, all that is left is the overwhelming feeling that what Mr. Lynch has created is so beyond perfect, it’s downright scary. 1 (tie) No Country For Old Men- The Coen brothers’ jaw-dropping neo-western veiled as a thriller brilliantly blends all of the themes that the Coen’s have played around with ever since their directorial debut in “Blood Simple”. Both awe-inspiring in a “Popcorn movie” sense and undeniably triumphant in an “Oscar season movie” sense, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel about life, death, and the loss of innocence, is incredibly measured and flawless from head to toe. Javier Bardem’s turn as a psychopathic killer tasked with hunting down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a foolhardy southerner who is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when he stumbles across a satchel filled with $2 million is enough to send shivers down even Hannibal Lecter’s back.  Simply put, with “No Country for Old Men” the Coen brothers have not only managed to top “Fargo”, but they have made perhaps the finest film of the 21st century.  

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Analise Lipari | Monday, October 6, 2008

Any listing of “classic” films, particularly if they were released in the last 10 years, is immediately ripe for debate. Subjectivity can take precedence over real criticism, as can the lack, by default, of historical perspective. Can a film qualify for classic status if it’s still making money at the box office? What will we think in five, 10, even 20 years of “the next big thing?” Who knows who will still be relevant to our cinema sensibilities in a generation?That being said, trying to piece together an American film canon for the new millennium is an admirable effort, albeit a complicated one. Precluding any film released in 2008 (why judge a year when it isn’t even over yet?), as well as any foreign films – which deserve their own countdown – here is an admittedly tentative list of five classic films since 2000.Big Fish (2003): Steeped in Southern Gothic sensibilities, yet with a wry sense of humor, wide-eyed wonder and a mythic backbone, “Big Fish” is arguably Tim Burton’s strongest film since 2000. A father-son relationship told in memories and tall tales, “Big Fish” is a joy to watch and experience. The film shines, sometimes literally, as it tracks Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney) through his storied life. His son, Will (Billy Crudup) is grappling with his father’s legend, hoping to find the truth of the enigmatic man who raised him. The film’s sense of the unexpected, delight in small moments, and sweeping emotional strength is pitch-perfect.Brokeback Mountain (2005): It’s been called revolutionary. Groundbreaking. Historic, even. But what “Brokeback Mountain” really is, at its heart, is simply a love story. It is a tough, powerful love story, told by director Ang Lee with skill and sensitivity. It would be easy to see a film like “Brokeback Mountain” falter in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. The story could be sensationalized, the subject handled with clumsiness or prejudice. But it wasn’t; the film’s leads, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, were both compelling, complex characters in their own right, turning something “sensational” into something tragically ordinary. Truly an instant standard.Monsters, Inc. (2001): You might think that “Finding Nemo” is a more likely choice among the Disney/Pixar film canon. Sure, the heartwarming tale of a lost clown fish with a malformed fin is compelling, and the voice talent (Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres) is top-notch. Still, its 2001 predecessor, “Monsters, Inc,” is more deserving of a top spot. The concept is witty and charming, and the film’s style is at times angular and artistic, and furry-soft with blue and purple spots. Heartwarming, but never cheesy – a tricky balance – funny, sweet and just right.Donnie Darko (2001): When was the last time you saw a “teen” film that discussed, among other things, philosophy, family, the search for God, psychology, time-traveling, moral ambiguity and demonic rabbits? This 2001 cult classic starring Gyllenhaal is a touchstone for the thinking filmgoer. With a skilled ensemble cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Noah Wylie, Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze, the film is remarkable in its scope and haunting in its style and tone. It raises questions without answers, and almost requires a second, if not a third, viewing to try and grapple with its complexities.Sideways (2004): Based on a Rex Pickett novel, “Sideways” is an existential road trip with a top-notch wine palate and an endearing sweetness at the heart of its cynicism. Miles (Paul Giamatti, excellent as always) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) are touring California wine country before Jack settles down and gets married. The pair meet two women, Stephanie (Sandra Oh, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Maya (Virginia Madsen), and alternately bicker and bond as they taste wine after wine after wine. Madsen won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for this film, and her performance is a humble anchor for Giamatti’s neurotic Miles. See “Sideways.” Relax, maybe with a glass of wine, and enjoy one of the funniest character studies to come out of American film in years.