THE FILM YAP » The 365 Best Films of the 2000s We Never Shut Up About Movies Wed, 19 Nov 2014 14:08:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Heroes of the Zeroes: Zoolander Fri, 17 Dec 2010 05:01:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009. “Zoolander” is the final entry in the series. In reverse alphabetical order, every entry can be found starting at this page.

Rated PG-13

Ben Stiller often forgoes go-for-broke comedy in favor of getting rich. Not in 2001’s “Zoolander,” where his sharp directorial incisors chomped at fashion’s vanity and vapidity.

Gags about white co-opting of black culture sowed seeds for “Tropic Thunder.” Bulimia was endorsed in ersatz fashion. Cell phones were prophetically puny. There was enough room in an orgy for Sherpas and Finnish-dwarf musicians. And the “Derelicte” campaign inspired by the homeless … well, not far off.

Not only Cuba Gooding Jr. and Billy Zane’s best Zeroes work, “Zoolander” remains Stiller’s flat-out funniest film — down to the DVD menu.

Male modeling’s addlebrained ambassador, Derek’s crinkled forehead simultaneously signifies idiocy, curiosity, sadness and anger. Stiller so drastically contorts his face it’s a wonder his puss didn’t freeze in pursed-lip ridiculousness — the crux of Derek’s “looks” like Blue Steel, Le Tigre and Ferrari.

When Derek loses popularity to free-spirit upstart Hansel (Owen Wilson, also markedly goofy-looking with his knobby nose), he learns aging models have become patsies for major assassinations … and he’s next.

As villainous fashion designer Mugatu, Will Ferrell concocts an odd, comic variation of Vincent D’Onofrio’s “The Cell” psychopath. Like the Hannibal Lecter of effeminate girly-men rogues, Ferrell makes maximum impact in minimum time — his climactic squealing freak-out one of Ferrell’s most gaspingly funny bits.

Stiller is preferable in goofy character mode than as an interchangeable nebbish. His accountant and agent might not have much appreciated the underperforming “Zoolander,” but fans of his fearlessness on the fringe in the 1990s sure did.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Zombieland Thu, 16 Dec 2010 05:01:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

Equal parts John Hughes and John Carpenter, 2009’s “Zombieland” perfected the romantic zombie comedy elements of the good, but insanely overpraised, “Shaun of the Dead.”

That its climactic sequence takes place in an amusement park — coincidentally the first time a film has successfully pulled that off — is fitting. Much like a rollercoaster, this is a loosey-goosey exercise in controlled fear and nervous laughter — with Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin battling the undead in a world overrun by zombies.

As rambunctiously funny as “Zombieland” is, it’s not without weight. Opening with a slow-motion tableau of terribly messy blood, vomit and bullets set to Metallica, it’s post-apocalyptic and postmodern all at once.

Eisenberg has settled into playing earthy, earnest men of words and convincingly grapples with an amusing central question: Can one learn to live when surrounded by the undead? Comparatively, Harrelson has a double-barrel hoot with his Snake Plissken vibe, but his rambunctious sass conceals a burden on his soul.

Stone’s husky-throated sweetness and gravitational sexual pull lures Eisenberg. If anyone gets short shrift, it’s Breslin, although her lament in a zombie-riddled world — being deprived of an enjoyable childhood — is more abstract.

In his directorial debut, Ruben Fleischer told this story with an equal knack for visual flair and effective performances (plus the Greatest. Cameo. Ever.).

Even at their most worrywart moments, these characters are proactive, and “Zombieland” legitimately sells facing fears, taking stances and being brave when a life’s on the line that’s not your own.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Zodiac (2007) Wed, 15 Dec 2010 05:01:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

The still-unidentified Zodiac — a serial murderer who made Northern California his own private ant farm throughout 1968-69 — had but five confirmed kills.

But add as (mostly) living victims Robert Graysmith, Paul Avery and David Toschi — a code-breaking cartoonist, a crime reporter and a San Francisco police inspector.

All were brought to their knees giving futile chase to a manipulative, media-savvy madman with bizarre cryptograms as menacing as his homicides — during which he often offered illusive safety or made targets complicit in their demise.

David Fincher’s 2007 “Zodiac” drilled into dark pathologies of each man’s process — anxiety, compulsion, uncertainty, miscommunication, territorialism — and directed Jake Gyllenhaal (Graysmith), Robert Downey Jr. (Avery) and Mark Ruffalo (Toschi) to stupendous specificities.

It also tracked how, with homicidal tendencies in hibernation, the Zodiac’s rampage was easily compartmentalized into crowd-pleasing pop culture via “Dirty Harry.”

“Zodiac” is not without wry humor or unexpected character details (the Zodiac’s targeted couples display power dynamics before they’re stolen). But the onus of obsession is Fincher’s foremost goal — desperation for definitive answers that obscures danger.

“Zodiac” rides in a paranoia rumbleseat all along, but floors it over potholes during a spine-tingling climactic basement scene — evocative of how discovery and understanding come to supersede sanity, safety, justice or reason.

So insistent, and successful, is Fincher at duplicating that hypervigilance that, by film’s end, you may try writing a “k” in two, not three, strokes to see the difference — damning and admiring how Fincher’s indisputable masterpiece has dragged you down that rabbit hole.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Zathura Tue, 14 Dec 2010 05:01:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated PG

“Zathura” understood kids’ inclinations to transform dens into forts, view a cocked thumb and forefinger as a laser gun or attempt to make the biggest explosion sound ever with their mouths.

Reminiscent of 1980s movies with effects that didn’t come at creativity’s expense, director Jon Favreau’s 2005 fantasy knew bad-guy aliens didn’t need to run amok down the street to inject tension a la “Jumanji,” to which this was a quasi-sequel.

Despite the best creature-stalking sequence since “Jurassic Park,” tension derived more from bickering brothers with age-based differences than any interstellar dangers.

Ten-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and 6-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) are antagonistic brothers who are temporarily left at home alone after they inadvertently ruin one of their dad’s work projects.

Danny finds a board game in the basement called Zathura. Upon starting to play, the house becomes a suburban-style spaceship and the brothers must work to get back home.

The game’s attention to rules (specifically turn-taking and cheating) is both a challenge to Danny and Walter and a source for several laugh-out-loud bits. And MTV personalities attempting to act rarely succeed, but “Punk’d” lackey Dax Shepard is heroic, helpful and humorous in a role offering a great twist.

“Zathura’s” copious excitement comes from wowing sights of a living-room meteor shower, a renegade robot in need of reprogramming and meat-eating, planet-burning lizard aliens called Zorgons.

But its appeal comes from knowing kids could act out its astronaut character by strapping on a backpack and letting their boundary-free imaginations rip.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: You Can Count On Me Mon, 13 Dec 2010 05:01:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“You Can Count On Me”
Rated R

“You Can Count On Me” shared its title with the damnable-earworm theme of “My Two Dads,” and its warm-fuzzy DVD art didn’t help further distinguish it from saxophone-added ’80s-sitcom pap.

Those looking beyond that would find, in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 film, a compelling, sometimes comic story about compulsively contradictory siblings.

Sammy (Laura Linney) is a single mom to young Rudy (Rory Culkin) and an officer at a Catskills-area bank where things are shaken up by new boss Brian (Matthew Broderick, hitting nice notes of disappointment with his corporate banishment).

Sammy handles disruption poorly, having exhausted such reserves as a child when her parents died in a car crash. Atop workplace drama, Sammy’s estranged brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo), arrives to plea for cash. At Terry’s welcome-back lunch, Lonergan widens the onscreen gulf as conversation turns corrosive.

Deciding to stick around for a bit, Terry embraces his black-sheep burden as a cautionary tale for Rudy — oddly endorsing responsibility while casually shirking it himself. (To see an early Ruffalo’s young-Brando swagger and scrappiness, look no further.)

In that regard, Terry leads by example better than Sammy — her needling as much an attempted absolution of her own misdeeds, which escalate.

The score of Bach’s unaccompanied-cello suites befits siblings accustomed to life alone — their passages of mourning and joy given life by characters with the right proportions of antagonism and affection.

Unresolved yet complete, “Count” is about replacing fear with truth as the operant bond between uncle and nephew, mother and son, brother and sister.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Yi Yi (A One and a Two) Sun, 12 Dec 2010 05:01:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Yi Yi (A One and a Two)”
Rated R

Translated from Chinese, “yi yi” means “one-one.” Applied to 2000’s “Yi Yi (A One and a Two)”, it hardly expressed equivalency.

The subtitle of late Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s last film helped: It’s the graphology notion that a Chinese character for “one” can also mean “two,” or, in life, how two people differently interpret the same circumstance. So it goes for those satisfied, or dissatisfied, with their station as “Yi Yi” opens.

So much of life offers small returns on small risks; it’s no wonder, for better or worse, gambling instincts occasionally surface. Relatable is this itch — spread across a Taiwan family’s familial, social, parental, marital and business connections — to reach out for what we’ve loved, set free and had come back, perhaps still not meant to be: jobs, lovers, freedoms, opportunities.

What’s introduced in “Yi Yi’s” first 15 minutes is stunningly sustained for 158 more via harmoniously scripted, directed and acted discourse. A thematic twin to “Synecdoche, New York” and “The Best of Youth,” “Yi Yi” blends the Coens’ karmic rubicons with Robert Altman’s ensemble heart.

Yang films much of “Yi Yi” through storefront and high-rise windows, emphasizing Taiwan’s alluring sprawl and embedding a metaphor for the Jians’ skewed reflections on long-abandoned paths.

Muddied by memory, we can’t ever truly see the past behind us — delicately intoned by Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), the youngest, possibly wisest, Jian. Accept no cheap imitation of life, says this empathetic, enriching, engrossing epic in which delight and distress reside together in the same heart.

Here’s the first 10 minutes of the film, as posted on YouTube:

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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Yards Sat, 11 Dec 2010 05:01:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Yards”
Rated R

Director James Gray is enamored with nocturnal mysteries playing out beneath urban-streetlight shadows. Oh, how those fixtures seem to swallow more light — and, with it, dreams — than they emit.

Pitch-black night felt like a character unto itself in 2000’s “The Yards,” a crime drama in description only.

How “The Yards” makes that shift through character rather than pure plot is hard to disclose without divesting twists. Inspired by a scandal involving his father, Gray lets personal insight color these Shakespearean shenanigans of privilege, panic and power.

Paroled for a theft he didn’t commit, Leo (Mark Wahlberg) returns to Queens seeking work from his uncle Frank (James Caan) — whose contracts to repair New York’s subway trains have taken a hit from city-mandated diversity initiatives.

Frank has nothing for Leo, but Leo’s Puerto Rican pal Willie (Joaquin Phoenix) takes him on for freelance felonies. Willie sabotages Frank’s competitors’ work to win back bids and, hopefully, Frank’s approval to marry his daughter, Erica (Charlize Theron), on whom cousin Leo retains an icky crush.

When a raid ends in murder, Leo takes the fall, goes on the run and must again choose to squeal or stay mum.

If Leo’s silence is his downfall, Willie’s upward-mobility ambition becomes a tragedy all its own. How can either man expect to move into management positions in oak offices?

By the time “The Yards” barrels toward its conclusion, Grey has exposed everyone’s flaws — no true hero or nefarious villain, only shards of ambiguity falling where they may.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Y Tu Mamá También Fri, 10 Dec 2010 05:01:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Y Tu Mamá También”
Rated R

Not for nothing does a “Harold and Maude” poster turn up in 2001’s “Y Tu Mamá También.” Like Hal Ashby’s cult classic, Alfonso Cuarón’s film offered, to borrow Spanish-language sass, a chingale to horny-teen genre expectations as a story of sex and separation.

Granted, “También” enjoyed modern-day luxuries of copious nudity and pulse-racing sexual content. However titillating, this ravenous eroticism added steamy authenticity to “También’s” intimate drama.

Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) are Mexican teenagers enjoying a break from monogamy as their girlfriends summer in Italy — anything to avoid adulthood about to strike. Clearly, it’s a matter of time before an unidentified, unseen, omniscient and frighteningly reliable narrator turns observations about life’s follies on them.

To us and to Luisa (Maribel Verdú), Tenoch’s cousin by marriage, the duo is one entity. To them, she’s a sexual idol on a libidinous pedestal, the white-stag older woman. Abandoned by a cheating husband and indulging her caretaker complex, Luisa joins the boys down a road they don’t know, through a dilapidated countryside they’ve never visited, to a possibly fictitious seaside destination.

Regretting her sheltered sexuality, Luisa offers herself to them out of a curiosity, abandon and fairness these jealous boys struggle to appreciate. The trio is top-notch, but Verdú also has a terrific moment alone delivering a farewell in a phone booth.

Ultimately, “También” became a brisk road picture whose camera rode the breeze itself and whose soul, in a subtly stinging coda, knew the limited-time warranty on certain joys.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: X2: X-Men United Thu, 09 Dec 2010 05:01:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“X2: X-Men United”
Rated PG-13

Juggling at least seven different plots, 2003’s 133-minute “X2: X-Men United” wasn’t much for the whole brevity thing as was its 104-minute predecessor.

Good thing, as Bryan Singer’s introductory “X-Men” film felt tentatively truncated in hesitant hopes these mutants at large would generate a franchise.

Singer’s first blockbuster foray into directorial carte blanche effortlessly entertained, thanks to brisk pacing and Singer’s own sure-handed direction. (When Singer bailed on a hastily thrown-together third installment to film “Superman Returns,” that job went to Brett Ratner — a director marking the franchise only with feces.)

Struggles with rage, alienation and faith rarely shine through explosions and rescues, but Singer paid as much attention to storytelling as spectacle — allowing “X-Men’s” messaging to make its points without sappiness.

Ramping up the political undertones of human-mutant relations, “X2” puts harmonious coexistence asunder after a presidential assassination attempt. Fearing war, X-Men leader Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) uncovers a mutant-genocide plot hatched by General William Stryker (Brian Cox), who harbors personal hatred for the species.

Though blockbuster bloat was inevitable (a pull-out-all-the-stops finale goes on too long and romantic entanglements ensue among nearly every X-Man and Woman), “X2” dexterously balances action, comedy and drama.

A battle between Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) evokes the climactic brutality of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and the introduction of another wheelchair-bound mutant proves a powerful, uncommonly somber moment.

As its mutant characters differ from humans, “X2” evolved differently from most other comic-book cash cows into something sadder, saucier and significantly smarter.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Wrestler Wed, 08 Dec 2010 05:35:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Wrestler”
Rated R

Once a pro-wrestling god, Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) now grapples in school gyms, minimizing pain while bleeding for audiences numb to vintage spandex-and-oil simplicity.

The obligation of a good show is the least Randy can shoulder for fans following him past his prime. But Randy’s physique has calcified into a repository for steroids, UV rays and hair dye, and crossed-out phone numbers on his estranged daughter’s (Evan Rachel Wood) photo remind him of so many wasted chances.

There’s little glamorous in repetitively tilting at windmills — Darren Aronofsky’s tragic motif. After tracking insurmountable monoliths of science, addiction and artistic creativity, Aronofsky turned to universal inevitabilities like advancing age and brutal pain in “The Wrestler.” (To “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler’s” feminine counterpart, Aronofsky added madness.)

It’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight’s” athletic twilight cross-trained with Willy Loman’s quest for greatness. Appropriately, Aronofsky trimmed stylistic flourishes to brilliantly focus on smaller stories of those on society’s periphery, in finite occupations.

Low-hanging ceiling tiles in a cramped venue absorb sound and Randy’s majesty, and Marisa Tomei shines as a stripper approaching a sell-by date for base pleasures. Screenwriter (and Onion maven) Robert Siegel also turned his observant eye on hardship, not hilarity.

No stranger to limited-term resurrections himself, Rourke delivered relentless, fruitless, optimism. There was no character to root for more strongly in spite of himself in 2008, and “The Wrestler” spat and bled Randy’s physical poetry — an elegy of emasculation and exhaustion building, in its final shot, to all the exhilaration he needed.

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