Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best of the Decade: Fantasy Movies

Well, after several days of sleeping like I've been bitten by a tsetse fly, I'm starting to feel like myself again. If you have the nasty cold that's been going around the last few weeks, I sympathize completely and hope you feel better soon. Anyway, finally feeling better, I decided it was time to get back to my 'Best of the Decade' series before the decade actually ends (well, at least before the end of the month).

So, without further ado, Uncle P's picks for the Best Fantasy Movies of the Decade:

10. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Pixar's only entry on this list is also one of their most delightfully silly movies. Monsterland powers itself on fear and scaring little kids is what Sully (John Goodman) and his buddy Mike (Billy Crystal) do best. That is until Sully stumbles upon the closet of a little girl too young to scare. When Boo (the name Sully gives her) crosses over, all sorts of silly nonsense ensues, including a brilliant homage to a Warner Brothers' classic:

Monsters, Inc. is sweet, scary, exciting and a pure delight.

9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh star in director Ang Lee's Chinese fairy tale about a magical jade sword, unrequited love and flying martial arts. It set a new standard in wire-flying stunts and proved Michelle Yeoh could make us understand everything she was thinking without understanding a word she was saying. Originally written in English and translated into Mandarin, Crouching Tiger... is a visual and romantic feast. You may want to turn down the volume - or do your best to ignore the terrible English dubbing - for this gorgeous fight scene among the treetops of a bamboo forest:

8. Enchanted (2007)

Disney finally embraces its ridiculousness in this story of a an animated princess (Amy Adams in an Oscar-worthy performance) who is sent to the real world by a jealous evil queen (Susan Sarandon), where she meets the true love of her life (Patrick Dempsey). James Marsden, Idina Menzel and Timothy Spall round out the excellent supporting cast in this delightful parody with heart:

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ( 2004)

I must admit that I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan. I find the books derivative and just a bit too cutsie, especially when it comes to Rowling's bad puns in naming characters and places. Still, director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) managed to produce a dark and scary movie with his entry in the series, elevating it from kiddie schlock to artful fantasy in the process (to be honest, this is the last film I saw in the series, as Rowling's rambling story simply couldn't hold my interest):

6. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

In his second film based on the Darkhorse Comics character, Guillermo del Toro amps up the visual effects to the point where watching it on the big screen almost tires one's eyes out. When an ancient tribe of magical beings attempts to retake the Earth, it's up to hellboy (Ron Perlman) and company to stop them. An astonishing film to watch, which requires multiple viewings in order to take everything in:

5. The Illusionist (2006)

Writer/Director Neil Burger's stunning love story about a poor boy in love with an aristocrat is shot in sepia tones and irising transitions, giving the audience the feeling they are actually witnessing events taking place in the 19th Century. Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell star in this lush, romantic tale that deserves more love than it gets:


4. Stardust (2007)

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite modern fantasists, and his novel is beautifully translated by director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) in this near-perfect fairy tale starring Clare Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Mark Strong and the adorable Charlie Cox. Sadly ignored at the box-office, I think Stardust was the victim of poor marketing. It deserves to be seen and loved as much as I love it:

3. The Prestige (2006)

Christopher Nolan made my favorite film of 2010 (Inception) as well as the best superhero movie, ever. So it's no surprise that his tale of rival magicians at the turn of the last century should land so high on this list. Featuring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine and David Bowie, The Prestige is a story about competition, revenge, love and weird science, all told in the way only Nolan could tell it. Complex, moving and deliberately confusing (as the best magic tricks always are), The Prestige required at least two viewings before I could decide where my sympathies lied. A smart and breathtaking movie, The Prestige is another under-appreciated gem that deserves more fans:

2. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro makes his second appearance on this list with his dark fantasy about a young girl trying to escape the horrors of both Franco's regime and her stepfather's cruelty. Another movie my dear K hated because of its depictions of man's inhumanity to man, Pan's Labyrinth is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on how far we can go to rid ourselves of both physical and psychological pain. It is also one of the few films I can remember seeing that featured a scene which raised a collective gasp from every member of the audience. A stunning masterpiece from a director at the top of his game:

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 - 2003)

Kiwi director Peter Jackson managed to turn J.R.R. Tolkien's supposedly 'unfilmable' epic tale and caught our collective imaginations in doing so. I hope I don't need to tell how truly amazing these films are (or attempt to summarize their collective plots). Gorgeous and exciting, TLOR's last film, 2003's The Return of the King is the only film to win every Oscar for which it was nominated (including Best Picture), and tied both Ben Hur and Titanic for most Oscars won at 11. Let's hope Jackson's 2 movie version of Tolkien's prequel The Hobbit, fares as well:

Honorable mentions:  King Kong (2005); Howl's Moving Castle: Amelie; Pirates of the Caribbean; Shrek; Big Fish.

More, anon,

*Watch for more links in this post, soon.

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