Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Danny's BEST OF 2009: The Year In Movies

- If it seemed like a lot of 2009 movies were included in my recent Best of the Decade list, it's because 2009 was, despite rumors to the contrary, a great year for film. Okay, so maybe there weren't quite as many triple-A titles as in other years, but if you focus on genre filmmaking, for example, there was a lot to like. In the 00's, we've seen the Western make a comeback, we've seen the superhero film get a shot in the arm, and in 2009, we saw the rebirth of real sci-fi at the movies. Avatar, District 9, Star Trek, and Moon - all phenomenal films that took us to different times and strange new worlds. At the same time, there was The Hurt Locker, a movie that, finally, gave us a cinematic look at the Iraq war that was both gripping and provocative. Tarantino delivered his long-awaited WWII epic, Inglourious Basterds. And the Coen Brothers delivered their latest, a hilarious and brilliantly-written film called A Serious Man. This was a year where some of the greats gave us some of their greatest films, and also when fresh, new voices emerged, sometimes from out of nowhere, and created some of the year's most memorable movies.

In fact, I'd say that 2009 was definitely a year of surprises. Part of what made seeing movies like The Hurt Locker, Moon, District 9, and Paranormal Activity so enjoyable was that I really didn't quite know what to expect going in. It's one thing when a blockbuster movie lives up to or exceeds the hype, but it's that rare thrill when a movie seems to come out of left field and then proceeds to blow you away.

As always: I saw a lot of movies this year, but inevitably there will be some that slip through the cracks. By the same token, there are some movies on my list that may surprise you, but I'll argue passionately in their defense. More and more, we live in a world where people are quick to jump on and off bandwagons. A movie bombs at the box-office? It must suck (wrong in the case of The Road - it was excellent). A movie star is overexposed? Then let's not even give his new film a chance (Seth Rogen may have been overexposed, but Observe & Report was perhaps his best work to date). Avatar was the ultimate example of these extremes. Months ago, fanboys hyped it as the movie to end all movies. But after a trailer or two, everyone seemed ready to bash it - it was just Smurfs in space, apparently. Then, the movie came out, and everyone is calling it the best thing since Star Wars. The truth? Avatar was a great film with some incredible visuals, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it an all-time classic. At least ... not yet.

I do want to emphasize this though: it speaks to how deep my list is this year that there are Honorable Mentions which still manage to fall in the A- range. Some years, you've got a few top contenders, and everything past 7 or 8 represents a steep drop in quality. Not so this year. When I look at some of the movies that didn't even make the Top 30 - like Thirst, Zombieland, and Bad Lieutenant - those are movies that I immensely enjoyed, and that I highly recommend. In other years, they could easily have been ranked higher. There are some absolutely great, soon-to-be-classic movies in the Top 10 and even Top 20. Choosing between them was definitely a difficult task (and as I alluded to above, you'll notice that a full thirteen films from this year made my Top 100 Movies of the Decade list - not too shabby!).

So here's my list ... hope you enjoy.


1.) The Hurt Locker

- I've talked a lot about The Hurt Locker in the last few weeks and months, but I'll go on record as saying this: I hope it wins big come Oscar time. The movie simply works on so many levels: a fantastic script, a phenomenal cast, and you-are-there direction that easily ranks as Kathryn Bigelow's most impressive work to date. There's a lot to like about this movie - the riveting action scenes, the insightful look at the kind of stress that soldiers must endure while fighting on foreign soil, in harsh desert environments - but I think what put the movie over the top for me was the ending. Few films are ever able to end with that proverbial exclamation point, but The Hurt Locker concludes on a haunting note that forces you to put the entirety of the film in a new perspective. In a year filled with impactful movies, The Hurt Locker, I think, was the year's best.

2.) A Serious Man

- I talked about this in my original review of A Serious Man, but I'll say it again: when I watch a new film from the Coen Brothers, I often catch myself just sitting back in awe at the genius I'm watching unfold on screen. A Serious Man is another classic from the Coens - a darkly hilarious look at a suburban Jewish family in the 60's, in which the Coens ask a variation on the classic Jewish question: "why do bad things happen to good people?" The fruitless search for meaning in chaos makes for a movie both funny and profound. And this is a movie in which the writing, direction, and acting are all deserving of nothing but the utmost praise and admiration.

3.) Inglourious Basterds

- In real life, Quentin Tarantino's unbridled enthusiasm for film is infectious, and that same sort of enthusiasm and excitement is captured in his latest movie, Inglorious Basterds. This is a movie that seems to be speaking directly to the audience: "you've gotta see this," and "you're not going to believe what's about to happen here." Tarantino's pulpy WWII epic is a lot of fun, but at the same time, there is some real gravitas behind the snappy dialogue and over-the-top violence. There's big themes at work in the subtext of Inglourious Basterds, and the movie transcends pulp fiction (the genre, not the movie) to become one of Tarantino's greatest films.

4.) District 9

- I was floored by District 9, plain and simple. I went in expecting a nice little low-budget sci-fi flick, something meditative and cerebral. And District 9 was smart, it was thought-provoking ... but man, it also kicked more ass than any other action movie this year. This one was a lesson to all the overbudgeted blockbusters out there ... *this* is how you make a kick-ass sci-fi film, *this* is how you combine a great script, quality acting, badass action, and a unique premise to really make something special. I can only hope that people were taking notes.

5.) Observe & Report

- Here's a movie that, on the surface, looks like every other lame Hollywood comedy. But listen up people, Paul Blart this is not! This is a film from the twisted minds behind The Foot Fist Way. This is a comedy that's pitch-black and just plain %&#$'ed up. It features a remarkably good performance from Seth Rogen. If anything, it's like Taxi Driver if someone were to remake it as a black comedy. There weren't a ton of great comedies in 2009, but trust me on this one, Observe & Report stands out from the pack, because, well, it's awesome.

6.) The Road

- I know that The Road received some mixed reviews, but to the detractors I'll say this: to me, Viggo Mortensen's breathtaking performance in The Road is right up there with his award-worthy turns in films like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. I mean, the guy is ridiculous - intense as hell and going all out to convincingly play the part of a desperate man navigating through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The Road kept me on the absolute edge of my seat, and to me it has to be ranked right up there among the year's best.

7.) Anvil: The Story of Anvil

- As someone who took a big risk to live the dream of working in entertainment, I totally loved the story of Anvil. Anvil was a metal band that enjoyed a moment in the sun in the 80's, but quickly succumbed to the harsh realities of showbiz. But Anvil kept the dream alive. They kept playing, kept rockin', kept putting out albums, and remained convinced that one day yet they'd make it back to the bigtime. This is the story behind this epic rock doc - it's funny, it's sad, it's inspirational - and it's one of the year's best. Absolutely crazy that this isn't in the running for Best Documentary at the Oscars.

8.) Precious

- Precious was hard to watch at times, but rarely are movies this powerful, this moving. It's a film that shakes you, that wakes you up. It doesn't provide easy answers or a happy Hollywood ending. But it does make you mad, make you wonder about a society that can let people like Precious slip through the cracks. Precious is a powerful tale of poverty and perseverance, made all the more impactful thanks to a couple of dynamite performances from an unlikely cast of actors.

9.) Up In the Air

- Up In the Air could have been a formulaic romantic comedy, but it ended up as something far better, far more substantial. Because this isn't just a story about a guy who ends with a girl. Instead, the lense is pulled back, and it becomes a story about a certain kind of man, a certain kind of lifestyle. And then you pull back further and you see that this is a movie not just about one guy, but about our society, about the way we live now. Again, potential for disaster in the wrong hands, but director Jason Reitman, aided by a stellar cast, shows that he has the chops to make movies that rise above cliche and formula. It's what makes Up In the Air such a standout.

10.) Avatar

- When you get past all the hype, I think that Avatar is genuinely a great sci-fi / action film - in fact, it's one of the best there's been in years. I think a lot of that is because director James Cameron has an uncanny sense of how to build up a story arc. So many movies feature a couple of cool scenes but end up being anticlimactic. Avatar, on the other hand, is the real deal. It doesn't waste time with an "origin" story. It immerses you in the world of Pandora and gets down to business, culminating in an action-packed finale that is truly the epitomy of cinematic spectacle. Avatar is a badass action flick and a visual treat, but most importantly - it tells a simple, iconic story that works impeccably - because there is a master storyteller at the helm.


11.) Star Trek

- JJ Abrams just seems to have this innate sense for creating pop art done right. Star Trek captured the spirit of the classic series while giving it a shiny new coat of paint. The end result is one of the best sci-fi blockbusters in years.

12.) Moon

- Moon was like one of those great Twilight Zone episodes with an absolutely killer twist. Old-school science fiction, the likes of which we haven't seen in theaters in years, Moon is also notable for an award-worthy turn from Sam Rockwell. It would be spoiling things to explain why, exactly, he's so great in this one ... suffice it to say, he needs an Oscar nom.

13.) Drag Me to Hell

- Drag Me to Hell is up there with the Evil Dead films in the Sam Raimi cannon. It's madcap horror-comedy done to perfection, and it was one of the best times I had in a theater all year. Raimi was clearly in his element here, and I can only hope he's got one or two more of these up his sleeve. And how about Alison Lohman in the lead role? Awesome.

14.) Crazy Heart

- An incredible performance from one of my favorite actors - the great Jeff Bridges - highlights this superb film about a hard-drinking country music singer, whose rugged lifestyle is quickly catching up to him. Bridges is phenomenal. Funny, heartbreaking, and completely enveloped by the part of "Bad" Blake. More than that though, the movie is an engrossing tale of redemption and missed chances in life and love.

15.) Watchmen

- Let's face it: no movie adaptation was *ever* going to live up to the legendary reputation of Alan Moore's groundbreaking comic book series, but man, Zack Snyder and co. gave it their best. Sure, certain scenes in the film didn't quite click, and certain roles might have benefitted from stronger casting. But I give the movie credit for its ambition and faithfulness to the comics. It got a lot right, and certain moments were far better than I imagined they could be. At the end of the day, I still rank Watchmen up there with the elite comic book movies ever made.

16.) Taken

- There was nothing fancy, nothing flashy about Taken. It was quite simply 110% percent pure, unfiltered badass. Liam Neeson ruled it. The story was simple but effective. The action was riveting, and the gravitas-infused dialogue was pure awesome-sauce. Taken is a modern-day action-movie classic.

17.) Adventureland

- A great coming-of-age comedy the likes of which you rarely see anymore, Adventureland was a retro-blast of 80's nostalgia with some real heart and soul. Some great performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Ryan Reynolds help make this a film with characters that feel real, and situations that anyone who's ever worked a college summer job will relate to.

18.) Coraline

- A trippy fantasy story rendered in stunning stop-motion animation, Coraline melds the unique sensibilities of author Neil Gaiman with the impressive visual stylings of director Henry Selig. Coraline creates a dark and magical universe for us to become immersed in, and the result is one of the most interesting and vividly-realized animated films to come along in quite some time.

19.) The Princess and the Frog

- I wouldn't quite put it up there with some of the all-time Disney classics, but I do think that The Princess and the Frog succeeded in recapturing that old-school Disney magic. Not only was it a pleasure to see a hand-drawn Disney film in theaters again, but I was also impressed with how the movie seamlessly combined classic Disney themes with more modern sensibilities. Unlike previous princesses, this one had to work hard for her happy ending.

20.) Up

- The first fifteen minutes or so of Up rank right up there, I think, with the best work Pixar has ever done. After that, the movie becomes a bit more standard kids'-fare, but it's still a really well-done, thematically-complex film. I don't rank it on the same level as last year's Wall-E, but Up is still a fine effort from Disney and Pixar.

21.) The Invention of Lying

- I love how absolutely fearless this movie was. It felt really rebellious, really un-Hollywood. Ricky Gervais frames this high-concept comedy as a more-amitious-than-usual romantic comedy, but it also isn't afraid to ask the tough questions - namely, if nobody could lie, then how many of our social and political institutions would come crumbling down around us. Politics, religion, entertainment - no subject is safe here. It's a pretty remarkable little film.

22.) Pirate Radio

- Like School of Rock, Pirate Radio is a movie that will rock your world if you're a true-blue fan of rock n' roll. While some took issue with the movie's loose interpretation of history, I personally saw it as a rock fable that was more about the idea than the specifics of what actually happened. Nonetheless, this is a great movie - very funny, lots of heart, and overflowing with the spirit of rock.

23.) Paranormal Activity

- I love the fact that the year's scariest movie was made on a micro-budget, outside the studio system. It's proof that a great idea and clever storytelling always wins out in the end. And Paranormal Activity is just a great horror flick - a completely intense, edge-of-your-seat movie that doesn't rely on copious gore or big f/x to work. Just simple tension-building and creepy atmosphere. The underdog, viral success of Paranormal Activity is surely one of the year's biggest stories at the movies.

24.) The Lovely Bones

- Peter Jackson tried something a bit different with The Lovely Bones, and to me, he succeeded in crafting a movie that worked both as a tense thriller and as a moving meditation on life and death. Mixing sweeping fantasy visuals with the cold nostalgia of 1970's suburbia, the movie looks amazing. I commend Jackson on a job well done, and for having the guts to do a movie like this given his blockbuster-filled resume.

25.) Bruno

- A hilarious film almost as uproariously funny as Borat, Sacha Baron Coen's follow-up film is yet another biting satire of American culture. Some of the comedian's shock-tactics may be questionable, but the end result is not: one of the year's funniest films.


- Fanboys
- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
- Zombieland
- Thirst
- The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
- Sherlock Holmes
- I Love You, Man
- The Informant
- G.I. Joe
- Jennifer's Body
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- (500) Days of Summer
- House of the Devil
- A Christmas Carol
- Extract
- Public Enemies



1. Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

2. Sam Rockwell - Moon
3. Viggo Mortensen - The Road
4. Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
5. Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man


1. Gabourey Sidibe - Precious

2. Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds
3. Alison Lohman - Drag Me to Hell
4. Zoe Saldana - Avatar
5. Kristen Stewart - Adventureland


1. Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

2. Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker
3. Fred Melamed - A Serious Man
4. Brian Geraghty - The Hurt Locker
5. Bradd Pitt - Inglourious Basterds


1. Mo'Nique - Precious

2. Diane Kruger - Inglourious Basterds
3. Anna Kendrick - Up In the Air
4. Paula Patton - Precious
5. Susan Sarandon - The Lovely Bones


1. Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker

2. Neil Blomkamp - District 9
3. Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
4. Joel and Ethan Coen - A Serious Man
5. James Cameron - Avatar


1. A Serious Man
2. Inglourious Basterds
3. The Hurt Locker
4. Observe & Report
5. District 9
6. Up In the Air
7. Precious
8. Adventureland
9. Star Trek
10. Moon

- And that just about wraps up my year in film. Don't worry, I'm not quite done with BEST OF 2009 lists yet. Stay tuned for a couple more entries about the year that was. In the meantime ... HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Danny's BEST OF 2009: The Year In Television

- It's been an interesting year for TV - in many ways a disappointing one, but also a surprisingly encouraging one in some respects. Mostly though, it was clear this year that the recent golden age of TV that characterized the mid-00's was officially over and done with. Sure, there were plenty of bright spots. We still had old favorites like Lost and The Office, and new series like Modern Family proved that there was still room for great new scripted series in the network TV wasteland. But the times, they are a-changing. This year, we saw less and less great TV, and more and more stuff that seemed to be on air solely to fill up space. Sure, TV has always been a business ... but, for a while there, it seemed like the creative ambitions of television rivaled those of cinema. Even when things didn't work, there was still a sense that TV was getting increasingly out-of-the-box with its programming - more mature, more sophisticated. It used to be that the networks aspired to match up to the HBO's of the world. Now, network TV is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from bottom-of-the-barrel basic cable. That said, cable is thriving now more than ever. Is it really due to some kind of creative resurgence? Shows like Mad Men seem to say yes. But also, it speaks to the ever-more-fragmented TV market. Broadcast networks aren't truly reaching mass audiences like they used to, so in a more level playing field, cable's lucrative dual-revenue stream always wins out. In fact, as the Comcast takeover of NBC Universal showed us, cable is everything these days - it's where the money is. And man, is it ever all about the money. Economic recession hasn't helped the penny-pinching, but it's a sad day when so much potential creativity is stifled in the name of the almighty dollar. No ratings? Fine, then simply try to squeak out every penny you can from the old model by going cheap.

But you also have to wonder ... does anyone really know who's watching anymore? I've talked about this before, but you have to ask how reliable any of this information is to begin with. People are DVR'ing, watching online, downloading, catching up on DVD and blu-ray. You have to question how accurate a Nielsen rating is, how much it really captures what shows people are really interested in or passionate about.

It's funny, because I'm writing this at home in Connecticut, and from a media perspective it can be like being in another world. When I talk to my parents and other older relatives, they are still slaves to the on-screen menu guide. They watch whatever happens to be on when they sit in front of the bedroom television. And yet ... when I talk to younger kids, new NBC Pages coming in to interview with us ... some don't own a TV, don't subscribe to cable. Everything is done online, on the computer or iPod. For those that are big TV watchers, the thought of sitting down to watch a show when it actually airs at 8 or 9 pm - well, that doesn't even cross their minds. The new generation is all about personalization, customization - and it's a time-shifted world we now live in. The question is whether networks are actually going to program for the audience that doesn't watch their shows in the traditional manner. CBS has made a nice business of appealling squarely to the AARP crowd, for example. On the other end of the spectrum, a show like Gossip Girl gets a relatively small Nielsen rating, and yet, clearly, people are watching it - it's one of the most-buzzed-about shows on TV.

It's interesting though, because I look at a show like Glee and I think: "what took so long?" Glee works so well in part because it actually feels new and fresh and unpredictable. Kids, teens, twenty-somethings - they love it, it speaks to them - and guess what? - it's one of the year's biggest TV success stories. It's a testament to the fact that if you put the right show out there, the audience will come. It used to be that you'd look at the movies and say "if only there was something at the theater as compelling as Lost or 24." Now the pendulum has swung back in the other direction. People are flocking to high-concept films like The Dark Knight, Twilight, Avatar ... and you wonder when TV is going to feel relevant again as compared to the movies (then again, HBO does have True Blood, CW has The Vampire Diaries, etc.). I'm not saying that TV has totally lacked ambition, but it does sometimes feel that way. And sadly, two of the Fall's biggest and most ambitious new series, Flashforward and V, somewhat fizzled after much-hyped debuts. I still hold out a little hope for V though - maybe it can come back with a bang in the new year?

In the end though, it may all come back to the that old nugget of wisdom: "nobody knows anything." TV execs can only achieve so much by sticking to formulas and creating shows by committee. This year, two of the best and most successful new shows - Glee and Modern Family - are the kind of risks, maybe even happy accidents - that shouldn't really exist but, luckily for us, they do. And you want to celebrate that, but then you see that *the* most successful new show is ... a spinoff of NCIS. Funny, because I've never personally met a single person, ever, who watches NCIS. Can pop-culture really be that fragmented, that I, a plugged-in twenty-something, has never met or talked to a single person who claims to watch TV's highest-rated drama? Yikes.

But that's what TV is now - small niche audiences. It's less about reaching the masses and more about demographics and psychographics. However, what strikes me as sad sometimes is that smart, ambitious, creative programming is now, apparently, considered niche. What's still mainstream? American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, and the dozens of other shows that rip those shows off. Still, I like to think that those are just the shows being watched the old-fashioned way by the old generation - the shows whose ratings are easily tabulated, but that have no real lifespan beyond that initial airing. The cool kids are watching the good stuff online, on Hulu, on their XBOX or PS3, or via DVD marathons.

And as always, I'm here to give some kudos to the good stuff. The shows that kept me riveted, that filled up my DVR week after week. The shows that made me laugh, that made me smile. The shows that, yes, made me think. I said in my opening paragraph that there was a lot to be encouraged about this year, and that's true. There were signs of life in the TV industry. Great shows - hilarious comedies and gripping dramas. And the beginning of 2010 has a lot to look forward to - 24, Chuck, and the final season of Lost. Set your DVR's folks. Speaking of which ... as always, my disclaimer is that I can't watch everything. The latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, I'll be watching that one as soon as it hits DVD. I recently started to get caught up with True Blood, so that's another one I'll be able to weigh in on eventually. One of these days, I'll get around to watching Dexter or Breaking Bad or Battlestar Galactica, but hey, I am only one man. So with that said, here's my list of the year's best -- enjoy:


1.) Eastbound & Down

- I picked up a DVD of this HBO comedy series on a whim, and it blew me away. Like a cruder version of the original UK Office, Eastbound & Down is a mini-epic both hilarious and tragic. As disgraced former major league baseball star Kenny Powers, Danny McBride has created a character as memorable and awkwardly hilarious as Ricky Gervais' David Brent. Eastbound & Down is vulgar, dark, and very much R-rated, but it has a surprising amount of depth to its story and characters. This was the best and funniest comedy of the year, and one of those shows that just felt like an instant classic by the end of Episode 1.

2.) The Office

- The Office had a pretty amazing batting average this past year. I thought the show did something pretty brilliant - they went a whole year with Pam and Jim together without any melodrama. This allowed the show to go dark, so to speak. The Office did stories about Jim's promotion and the subsequent challenges of being middle management. Stories about Michael Scott going off and starting his own rival paper company. Stories about Dunder-Mifflin going under. The Office went back to basics, and was darker, funnier, and fresher than it's ever been.

3.) Fringe

- Episode to episode, week to week, no drama kept me on the edge of my seat this year more so than Fringe. What started out as an interesting if not wholly captivating sci-fi show blew up in 2009. Suddenly, its multidimensional mythology kicked into high gear, and the show began trumping Lost in terms of killer cliffhangers and mind-bending twists. And as always, I have to mention the stellar cast, with John Noble consistently ruling it as the show's resident mad scientist, Dr. Walter Bishop.

4.) Lost

- Lost didn't have quite the string of mind-blowing episodes that it did last year, but it still had an incredibly solid season, with a number of fascinating twists and unexpected turns. The death and resurrection of John Locke, the stranded survivors stuck in the 1970's with the Dharma Initiative, and the much-anticipated reveal of Jacob and his secrets. Lost was very continuity-heavy this year, but it still managed to have those great character moments that originally set the show apart. Most importantly, it set the stage for what should be one hell of a final season.

5.) Flight of the Conchords

- Okay, so the songs may not have been quite as memorable in Season 2 as they were in Season 1, but Flight of the Conchords still brought the funny in 2009. The fact is, few things crack me up more than the deadpan kiwi antics of Bret, Jermaine, and their hapless manager Murray. Some of the episodes in this season were just classic, and if this is really it for the Conchords, I'd say they went out with a bang.

6.) Modern Family

- The best new series of the season, Modern Family has so much potential, it's crazy. It's amazing too, because so often, a new comedy series takes several episodes, if not a full season, to really find its footing. Modern Family came out of the gate swinging though, with an exceptional pilot that brilliantly set up the series and its characters. The show seamlessly combines new-school humor with old-school sitcom charm, and, wow, we're still only halfway through Season 1 at this point.

7.) 30 Rock

- Did 30 Rock slip a bit this year? I think that's fair to say. But I also think that rumors of 30 Rock's creative bottoming out have been greatly exaggerated. The fact is, it's still one of the funniest, smartest, and most entertaining series on TV. And one of the most quotable. As long as Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, and the rest of the great ensemble cast are there to provide me with my weekly dose of classic comedy moments, then 30 Rock remains must-see TV.

8.) Chuck

- 2009 was the year that Chuck went from being a pretty good show to becoming a great one. Chuck had a string of awesome episodes in late 2008, and then finished off its second season with a bang in 2009. The show just seemed to really start clicking, mixing action, humor, and heart like no other show on the air. I loved the recurring guest roles from Chevy Chase and Scott Bakula, and their presence helped to deepen the show's mythology and really raise the stakes for Chuck. The S2 finale was completely kickass - one of my favorite TV episodes of the year. Bring on Season 3!

9.) 24

- 24 had its ups and downs this year, but overall, it was an incredibly solid year for the Jack Bauer Power Hour - especially considering the disappointing outing the show had in 2008. The return of fan favorite Tony Almeda brought back some energy to the show, but overall, this season of 24 flat-out upped the ante. Jon Voight was great as a recurring villain, a fun new companion for Jack was introduced in the form of Renee Walker, and lots of great 24 characters - Bill, Chloe, Aaron Pierce(!!!) - returned. The highlight of the season? The insane two-parter in which Tony Todd and his troops laid siege to the White House. Truly epic TV, brimming with gravitas.

10.) Prison Break

- Prison Break's final season was a roller-coaster-ride, to be sure. It meandered at times, but man, the show began firing on all cylinders as it approached its series finale, which was an absolute classic. Prison Break Season 4 introduced some great new characters like Michael Rappaport's Agent Self and Kathleen Quinlan as Michael and Lincoln's terrifically evil mother. But in the end, the epic conclusion to the season and the series cemented Michael Scofield as one of the great TV heroes, and Prison Break as one of the great action-adventure shows of the decade.


11.) The Prisoner

- I am not a number! There was, to be sure, a degree of skepticism surrounding AMC's remake of the cult-classic 60's TV series. But in the end, I came away a huge fan of the miniseries, and I was really impressed with its intelligence and ambition. It was surreal, non-linear, mysterious - a big risk for any TV show. And yet, I think they pulled it off, and did a nice job updating the old show's themes of paranoia, conformity, and surveillance for 2009. Plus, Ian McKellan was pretty great as #2. A very satisfying head-trip, indeed.

12.) Glee

- If nothing else, I give Glee huge points for being so unrelentingly original. In fact, the show proved so unpredictable that it was hard to know what you'd be getting week to week. A dark teen comedy? A peppy musical? An over-the-top comedy? But Glee has so much energy that, when all of those disparate elements were working in sync, it really was an infectiously joyful show to watch. And as the series went on, it did seem to find that tonal balance more and more. Ultimately, it was hard not to get caught up in the hype.

13.) Michael & Michael Have Issues

- As a huge fan of The State, Stella, etc., I was pumped for Michael & Michael. I love the random, absurdist comedy of Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, so I was eager to see them return to TV in this Comedy Central series. The new show was hit or miss at times, but it produced some absolutely hilarious moments. Just the random back and forth dialogue between the two Michaels made this one of the year's funniest half-hours.

14.) Parks and Recreation

- Most improved show of 2009? Parks and Recreation. The NBC sitcom started out a bit shakily in its first season, but it was like a whole other series in Season 2. Parks & Rec smartly began to focus on its ultra-talented ensemble cast rather than on Amy Poehler alone, and that allowed people like Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, and Chris Pratt to really shine. In fact, there have been weeks this season where Parks outshines the likes of The Office and 30 Rock ... not too shabby.

15.) King of the Hill

- One of the greatest shows of the last decade, King of the Hill finally rode off into the sunset in 2009 not with pomp and circumstance, but with the same kind of quiet dignity that Hank Hill would have been proud of. While FOX's other Sunday night mainstays struggled creatively in '09, KOTH was, as always, consistently entertaining, with a handful of classic episodes sprinkled throughout the year before all was said and done (the Propane Convention, anyone?). It was sad to see KOTH finally end (and heartbreaking to hear about Brittany Murphy's passing this December - so funny and memorable as Luanne for all those years) ... but it's good to know that KOTH went out with its head held high.

Special Mention -- Pushing Daisies

- The facts are these: Pushing Daisies was technically cancelled in 2008, but it's final four episodes aired in Summer 2009, and what a final four they were. While Season 2 did get a bit over-cluttered with a number of overlapping plot threads and several intertwining mysteries, I felt like the show wrapped up in fine fashion. Right up until the end, Pushing Daises looked spectacular, felt like no other show before it or since, and had a top-notch cast that I hope we'll be seeing much more of in the years to come. It's a true shame though that this wonderfully-written whimsical show couldn't find a bigger audience. It definitely deserved better.

Special Mention - Late Night With Conan O'Brien / The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien

- I stuck to scripted shows in my Best-Of list, but I wanted to give a shout-out to my man Conan O'Brien, and the great year he's had - filled with memorable TV moments. Because the fact is, while others were garnering attention through personal scandal or primetime time slots, Conan made a smooth transition from Late Night to The Tonight Show, where he's gotten better and funnier each week on the air. But man, that final series of Late Night shows in January and February were classics, and Conan's speech on his final show was one for the ages. It was the end of an era to be sure, but only months later, Conan kicked off his version of The Tonight Show with a bang, literally running from New York to LA as Cheap Trick's "Surrender" played in the background. Even Conan diehards will admit though that there were some rough spots in the initial transition. But I will say this: Conan has really been kicking ass for the last month or two. The show is getting into a nice groove, and personally, I think that when the hype has died down and the smoke has cleared, Conan will once again be king of late night. Seriously though, take away the hype and the politics, and you have to admit: Conan had one heck of a year in 2009.


1. Chuck Bartowksi - Chuck
2. Michael Scofield - Prison Break
3. Olivia Dunham - Fringe
4. Sawyer - Lost
5. Jack Bauer - 24


1. Christina Rose Scofield - Prison Break
2. Jonas Hodges - 24
3. Ben Linus - Lost
4. David Robert Jones - Fringe
5. Sue Sylvester - Glee


1. Jenna Fischer - The Office

Runners-Up: Tina Fey - 30 Rock, Amy Poehler - Parks and Recreation


1. Jane Lynch - Glee

Runners-Up: Ellie Kemper - The Office, Rashida Jones - Parks and Recreation


1. Danny McBride - Eastbound & Down

Runners-Up: Ty Burrell - Modern Family, Steve Carell - The Office


1. Rhys Darby - Flight of the Conchords

Runners-Up: Nick Offerman - Parks and Recreation, Ed Helms - The Office


1. Anna Torv - Fringe

Runners-Up: Evangeline Lilly - Lost, Elizabeth Mitchell - Lost


1. Yunjin Kim - Lost

Runners-Up: Kathleen Quinlan - Prison Break, Annie Wersching - 24


1. John Noble - Fringe

Runner-Up: Josh Halloway - Lost, Wentworth Miller - Prison Break


1. Jeremy Davies - Lost

Runners-Up: Lance Reddick - Fringe, Michael Emerson - Lost

Special Mention: Sir Ian McKellan for his captivating turn as #2 on The Prisoner miniseries


1. Lost - the final season is sure to be epic

2. Chuck - Season 3 is potentially make or break for the series, so expect the show to pull out all the stops

3. Smallville - the show has slowly but surely been improving over the last month or so, and 2010 will bring the much-anticipated Geoff Johns-penned Justice Society two-parter

4. 24 - with a new NYC setting and a revamped CTU, I can't wait to see what surprises 24 has in store for 2010.

5. Happy Town - still no official word on when ABC will begin airing this Twin Peaks-esque drama, but I have seen the pilot, and it is really, really badass - can't wait to watch this when it finally premieres

- Thanks again for reading. I'll be back soon with more Best-of-2009 lists, so, as always ... stay tuned.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas In Connecticut - featuring: a SHERLOCK HOLMES Review!

Well, I left LA on Thursday afternoon, and as I checked my bags in the Burbank airport it was 70 degrees and sunny. Now, here I sit in Bloomfield, CT, where it's actually not exceedingly cold, but it is dark, and there is a thick, fresh layer of snow and ice covering the front yard and driveway outside my bedroom window. It's Christmas time in Connecticut.

So before I go any further, Happy Holidays to everyone reading this!

Anyways, I'm definitely suffering from a little blog-writing fatigue, as I finally wrapped up my Best Of the Decade series, which culminated in a giant-sized Best Movies of the 00's post. If you haven't read it yet, be sure to do so, and check out my previous Best of the Decade posts as well, covering TV, music, comics, and games.

Of course, my usual Best of the Year posts could seem a little anticlimactic in comparison, but, don't worry ... I think that 2009 has been a pretty fascinating year that warrants some interesting discussion. If anything, the Best Movies of 2009 lists that I've seen so far have been such a mixed bag ... I'm definitely eager to weigh in with my personal picks.

Now, as many know, Jewish tradition states that on Christmas, we of the Jewish faith are commanded to head to our local theater and see a movie. And so it was that on Christmas afternoon, 2009, my Dad, my Brother and I headed to Hartford to take in a showing of Sherlock Holmes. And here is my review:


- Many of us think of Sherlock Holmes as a dry detective, strolling around London with a magnifying glass and making droll observations to his faithful friend Watson. But, if you've read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, you know that Holmes was, in fact, an early prototype of the pulp hero. He was a master of disguise, a trained martial artist, a recluse and a junkie, and he even had his own rogues gallery of villains, like his arch-nemesis Moriarty. So while some may see Guy Ritchie's action-packed Sherlock Holmes flick as something of a modernization, in many ways its less reinvention and more a return to the character's roots. As a film though, Sherlock Holmes was a fun cross between traditional Hollwood buddy-action movies and Guy Ritchie's usual brand of new-wave crime stories. The movie is simply a great time, and leaves you eagerly awaiting the inevitable sequel.

The heart of the film is really the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law really do a great job of making you root for these characters. RDJ is in top form, with his usual quick-witted delivery and comic timing in full effect. This is a film that was going to live and die by how well the leads pulled off its many rapid-fire exchanges, and luckily, both are up to the task. Like I said, RDJ is great - he makes Holmes eccentric and stubborn but also likable. Jude Law is a great sidekick as the straight-arrow Dr. Watson - Holmes stalwart companion who has hopes of settling down with his bride-to-be, but keeps getting pulled back in to Holmes' crazy adventures despite his better judgement. It's a fun dynamic between the two actors, and it keeps the movie consistently entertaining.

The rest of the cast is pretty decent, but there aren't any true standouts beyond the two leads. Rachel McAdams is serviceable as Irene Adler, the American femme fatale who is essentially the Catwoman to Holmes' Batman. McAdams is fine, but the character is more of a plot device than a fully-fleshed out love interest / rival. Mark Strong is pretty good as the villainous Lord Blackwood, but he never truly owns the role. He does have some fun moments though, playing a secret-society-spawned megalomaniac with evil ambitions.

What I really enjoyed though was Guy Ritchie's direction. His Victorian London is dark and thick with atmosphere. And I loved the way he got inside the mind of Holmes, rewinding and fast-forwarding certain scenes to show us the mental muscle behind the master detective's actions. Occasionally, Ritchie will pause the action to show us how Holmes mentally dissects his opponent in a fight - making the smackdown that follows all the more badass and rewarding. I also really liked how the movie sprinkles various clues throughout the film. I at times got frustrated during the film, thinking that Ritchie was leaving too many loose ends and too many plot points unexplained. I was happy to realize though that everything comes together quite tidily in the end, and you realize that the feeling of confusion was intentional. Holmes' subsequent mystery-solving is all the more impressive for it.

Again, I think the character moments between Holmes and Watson are really what make this movie click. RDJ is just plain fun to watch as Holmes. On the other hand, the plot is interesting, but rarely does it 100% grab you. And there are times when the movie starts to lose steam, as there isn't enough momentum in the script to really hold your attention. While the chemistry between Holmes and Watson is great, less so the chemistry between Holmes and Adler, or Holmes and the evil Lord Blackwood. More intriguing are the hints of a greater evil lurking in the background. If anything, the movie got me excited at the possibility of a sequel featuring the ultimate Holmes vs. Moriarty battle of wills. Hopefully, a great actor who can go toe to toe with RDJ is cast for that iconic role.

In the end, Sherlock Holmes was a really fun action-adventure-buddy movie with a bit of a detective-fiction twist. In many ways, it's a superhero movie, and I think Guy Ritchie shows that he has the chops to do films that fall outside his usual world of scrappy indie crime flicks. The action was fast and furious (although some iffy CGI pops up from time to time), and the witty banter top-notch. Sherlock Holmes nicely kicks off a fun new potential movie franchise, and has me excited to follow the further adventures of the original dynamic duo.

My Grade: B+

- Okay, I'm off. Keep reading for more, including my picks for the Best of 2009!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best of the 00's - Danny's Best Movies of the Decade!

Welcome to the final entry in my Best of the Decade series! It's been a lot of fun writing these posts over the last few weeks, and I love all the feedback and comments I've been getting via email, Facebook, etc. So far, I've covered TV, music, comics, and games - so if you haven't yet read my previous Best of the 00's blogs, well, go and catch up! Now though, it's time for the big one. I always knew going into this that the movie post would be the 500 lb gorilla. On one hand, there are so many movies to consider for a list like this that it's hard to even know where to begin. On the other hand, I've been writing about my favorite films here since 2004, so I had the ability to go back and look at previous reviews and Best-Of lists. It was interesting to see how my opinions have changed with the passage of time, and it became interesting to see which movies have stayed with me and which have sort of faded away. But after much deliberation and internal back-and-forth, I'm finally able to bring you my take on the very best movies of the decade. So sit back, relax, enjoy, and be sure to leave your comments!


- I know there's been talk of where the 00's stand in terms of cinematic history. Some say the decade was disappointing, that the overall quality of films in the 00's wasn't on par with the 70's or the 90's, and so on ... But for me, personally, the 00's were the best decade for movies ever. No, I'm not saying that this decade saw the greatest movies released as compared to other, more notable, more revered, more revolutionary eras of cinema. I'm simply saying that this was the decade where I became a real movie fan. As a kid, I wasn't exposed to that many films other than the standard stuff that all kids of the 80's and 90's watched. Even in high school, my tastes began to broaden, but I still didn't realize the breadth of what was out there. I was stuck in the proverbial suburban wasteland, and I didn't really know where to turn or who to turn to to find the good stuff.

But when I got to college, things began to change. I was in BU's College of Communication and surrounded by people who loved movies and TV and pop-culture. With DVD's exploding in popularity, not to mention all the opportunities that BU's vast online network provided for, I started to really get into film in a big way. I began taking classes about film and film history, and eventually, I changed my major to film and television. I took classes on film noir, Japanese cinema, and more. I watched The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown, Yojimbo and Akira. I took screenwriting classes in which we watched all manner of classics, from Glengarry Glen Ross to Five Easy Pieces to Body Heat. I discovered the Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson, David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson. And I started really going to the movie theater, not just to see the same stuff that everyone else was seeing, but to see Wet Hot American Summer and Amelie and Adaptation and Memento. And some movies, some movies became *events.* The biggest of all was The Lord of the Rings. Those movies were adventures, journeys, an experience. I remember being absolutely blown away by Kill Bill ... as soon as I walked out of Volume 1, Volume 2 became my most anticipated movie.

And then I moved to LA, where practically every day I'm surrounded by movies and the movie industry. Los Angeles is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to seeing films - with so many great theaters playing huge blockbusters, indie films, classic films, you name it. I've seen films here that I likely wouldn't have been able to see anywhere else, and I've seen them with audiences comprised of fellow film fans. It's an amazing experience, being in a theater with other enthusiasts, all of them anticipating some buzzed-about new film, or hoping it will be great but fearing that it could disappoint. Seriously though, living in LA I sometimes feel like a kid who never ate candy suddenly thrown into a candy store. At the same time, working in entertainment, it's easy to become cynical about movies. You see so much crap thrown out there, so many movies made by committee, that you can easily become jaded. And it's true, this was a decade in which the emergence of CGI technology gave filmmakers an easy out from actually telling a great story with great characters. It's like we're supposed to be so dazzled by the shiny objects on the screen that we forget about little things like plot and character. In the past, the technology was always in service to the story. Now, too often, it's "hey, let's put some giant robots onscreen, and figure out the rest later." Like I said, it's easy to become cynical. But then I go out and see a movie like There Will Be Blood, and it's like a shock to the system. A reminder of what it's all about. When I see a No Country For Old Men, a Dark Knight, a Hurt Locker ... I come out of the theater feeling floored, and I can't wait to experience that feeling again. So despite some voices to the contrary, movie magic was alive and well in the 00's. If you knew where to look, if you knew where to turn to find the good stuff, then there were whole worlds of great stories and amazing characters to discover.

And that brings me to the list. It should be pretty straightforward, although I'll point out that there were a few instances where I grouped movies together. In most cases, it's because they're seamless stories within a single franchise. I'll also mention that, yeah, I've seen a lot of films, especially in the last few years. But like everyone, I have gaps. There are many great movies from this decade, some obscure, some more mainstream, that I haven't seen. Don't think I didn't give it the old college try though ... over the last few months, I've gone back and watched several key movies that I missed the first time around (although there are many more I didn't get to). Some made this list, others didn't. And then there are those hard-to-rank movies - comedies, action films, cult-classics. I tried to present a diverse and varied list here - to me, for example, a great comedy deserves to rank highly when appropriate, even if the Oscars don't tend to agree.

For the sake of inclusiveness, I go beyond even my Top 100 list and include some other favorites as Honorable Mentions. What can I say, I've never been good at keeping things short. That said, I'm keeping all of my movie descriptions to two sentences each, for the sake of brevity. And like I said, it's interesting to see which movies have and will rise up in the cannon and which fade as time goes by. In any case, I hope you enjoy the list, and here's to a new decade of incredible movies.


1. The Lord of the Rings

- The Lord of the Rings was *the* epic movie franchise of the decade. Incredible direction from Peter Jackson, coupled with mythic storytelling and monumental acting from a superb cast, gave us places, characters, and magical movie moments that we'll never forget.

2. Memento

- Christopher Nolan blew my mind with his twisting, turning, backwards-moving film noir mystery. Rarely have I ever been so riveted or utterly enthralled by a movie, so much so that it's a film I can easily watch over and over again.

3. No Country For Old Men

- The Coen Bros. floored me with this movie, plain and simple. The dark fable of a merciless killer named Anton Chigurh took the Coen's trademark dialogue, directorial prowess, and storytelling acumen to new heights of artistry.

4. There Will Be Blood

- There Will Be Blood was a megaton bomb of a movie. Director Paul Thomas Anderson crafted a timeless, iconic tale of American greed and corruption made all the more powerful by a singularly incredible performance from Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role.

5. Mulholland Drive

- David Lynch has crafted many memorable, uniquely surreal films in his career, but Mulholland Drive is likely his very best - a nighmarish noir that goes through the looking glass to paint a disturbing picture of Hollywood and the American Dream. Naomi Watts has never been better or more entrancing, in one of the decade's greatest performances by an actress.

6. Gladiator

- Are you not entertained?! This was the rallying cry of Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's 00's masterpiece, an epic tale that was both intelligent and nuanced, but also 100% badass. Gladiator is one of those movies that you can't help but become engrossed with, no matter how many times you've seen it - the climactic payoff is always worth the wait.

7. Wet Hot American Summer

- One of the funniest films ever made, Wet Hot American Summer makes me laugh harder than almost any other movie, perfectly encapsulating the absurdist humor of the comedy troupe The State. Endlessly quotable and infinitely rewatchable, this is my favorite comedy of the 00's.

8. Kill Bill (Volumes 1 & 2)

- A white-knuckle rush of blood-soaked awesomeness, Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino's homage to vintage action and martial arts movies, and it just plain kicks ass. With intense fight scenes, a too-cool soundtrack, a great rogues gallery of villains, and an iconic turn from Uma Thurman as The Bride, Kill Bill is a nonstop assault on the senses.

9. A History of Violence

- The 00's were a decade in which a lot of us were forced to grapple with mankind's seemingly unstoppable tendencies towards violence and bloodshed, and here was a movie in A History of Violence that brilliantly examined our duality through the prism of one man's case of mistaken identity. David Cronenberg directed one of the decade's most interesting and thought provoking movies, and it featured yet another amazing turn from one of this decade's most reliably great actors in Viggo Mortensen.

10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

- Eternal Sunshine is a mind-bending movie that brilliantly examined the nature of memory in our lives. Can we erase memories? Can we forget about those we once loved? Can we wipe the slate clean and start fresh? It's a fascinating premise, and the movie's artful direction coupled with great performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet followed through on the potential of the setup.

11. Munich

- Steven Spielberg's best film of the decade, Munich is a powerful and intense reminder of the price of violence, and the danger of an eye-for-an-eye mentality. It's also a riveting take on one of the defining moments of terrorism in this century, and works as a fascinating reflection on events of this decade.

12. Donnie Darko

- It's still to-be-determined whether or not writer/director Richard Kelly has another masterpiece somewhere inside of him, but until that time comes, Donnie Darko remains his crowning achievement. A trippy rumination on time-travel, fate, and the mysteries of adolescence, Donnie Darko is a retro-80's-throwback, a sci-fi mystery, and a dark social satire all in one.

13. A Mighty Wind

- In the late 90's and early 00's, Christopher Guest was quite simply on a roll, and A Mighty Wind was likely his funniest and most ambitious film. A folk-music mockumentary both hilarious and full of heart, A Mighty Wind had ultra-catchy tunes, and underrated performances from Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and many other extremely talented comics.

14. Slumdog Millionaire

- Danny Boyle's modern-day fairy tale was an absolute stunner, both a dark tale of poverty and crime and also an uplifting fable that reminds us that yes, anything is possible. One of the biggest and best creative voices of the decade, Danny Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire with his finger on the pulse of the times.

15. The Departed

- Martin Scorcese had a somewhat uneven decade, but The Departed was a triumphant return to his crime-drama roots. Darkly funny, artfully violent, and featuring an all-star cast of some of the best actors of yesterday and today, The Departed was a well-deserved Oscar-winner for one of the all-time great directors.

16. The Hurt Locker

- Few movies of the 00's have managed to create riveting storytelling out of the real-life horrors of the Iraq War, but The Hurt Locker blasted into theaters in 2009 with something to say and something to prove. Director Kathryn Bigelow created a movie that works both as an ultra-intense action flick as well as an impactful statement on why we are so often compelled to go to war - and in doing so, she crafted one of the decade's finest films.

17. The Wrestler

- The aging superstar who wants one more shot at glory: it's a classic story, but few films have ever told it better than The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke turns in a career-defining performance as a pro-wrestler trying and failing to find meaning in his life post-retirement from the ring.

18. The Dark Knight

- Comic book fans have always known that the medium's most beloved characters deserved, and were capable of, better than the shoddy film adaptations Hollywood had become content to churn out year after year. Finally, The Dark Knight proved once and for all that comic book movies could also be great movies, period.

19. Wall-E

- One could endlessly debate the relative merits of Pixar's various animated features, but to me, Wall-E is the crown jewel of their 00's output. Wall-E is a visual wonder, full of animated artistry depicting a beautifully bleak dystopian future, but it's also thought-provoking science fiction at its best.

20. City of God

- A sprawling saga of violence and corruption, City of God is the riveting and violent tale of life and death in the nightmarish, crime-ridden slums of Rio de Janeiro. Thanks to kinetic direction and a number of memorable performances, City of God was an out-of-nowhere classic, a hard-hitting look at the struggle of youth desperately trying to escape a life of poverty and crime.

21. Little Miss Sunshine

- Few movies manage to be both relentlessly dark and at the same time joyously uplifting, but Little Miss Sunshine pulls it off. Featuring a great script, an amazing ensemble of actors, and some of the decade's most memorable movie moments, Little Miss Sunshine is one of those films that takes you on a roller-coaster-ride of emotion, and ultimately leaves you smiling.

22. Oldboy

- Chan Wook Park created one of the all-time crazy-ass cult classics in Oldboy, a movie that is consistently surprising, thoroughly entertaining, and also, straight-up insane. This twisted tale of revenge goes places that few other movies would dare, and features some of the most iconic scenes and most memorable plot reveals of any movie of the decade.

23. Adaptation

- Writer Charlie Kaufman entered the 00's riding high on the success of his screenplay for the surreal Being John Malkovich, and his follow-up film was no less impressive, or strange. Adaptation is classic Kaufman - a twisty, complex, meta-narrative that nonetheless works as a rather elegant examination of the creative process.

24. The King of Kong

- Sometimes, even the humblest pursuits can be the subject of an epic story when told through the right lens, and The King of Kong is a perfect example. Some might find it difficult to believe that a documentary about a would-be Donkey Kong champion could be one of the most fascinating and fist-pumping movies of the decade, but there's no denying the sheer awesomeness that is The King of Kong.

25. Pirates of the Caribbean (trilogy)

- Pure blockbuster filmmaking at its finest, the Pirates movies are flat-out fun. Some will tell you that the sequels don't measure up to the simpler, less bloated story of the original ... but personally, I love the swashbuckling adventure and comedic action of all three movies equally.


26. Napoleon Dynamite

- Hilarious, quirky, and oh-so-quotable, Napoleon Dynamite was a breath of fresh air when it debuted in theaters.

27. A Serious Man

- With A Serious Man, the Coen Bros. did it again - in the tradition of The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and Barton Fink, this is a darkly hilarious comedy with a nihilistic edge.

28. Big Fish

- One of Tim Burton's best, Big Fish is a dazzling fable that reminds us of the power of tall tales, and that packs a surprisingly powerful emotional punch.

29. Inglorious Basterds

- Tarantino's latest tour-de-force, Inglorious Basterds is a movie about the power of movies, and a howlingly entertaining ode to the legend of World War II and the pulp fiction it inspired.

30. Batman Begins

- Before The Dark Knight became a sensation, Batman Begins brought the iconic hero back from cinematic purgatory, finally delivering the Batman film that fans had been clamoring for.

31. Punch Drunk Love

- Paul Thomas Anderson's funny, awkward, and semi-disturbing portrait of a man with some serious issues, Punch Drunk Love features a surprisingly affecting performance from Adam Sandler that matches the trippy, surreal style to a "T".

32. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

- My favorite Wes Anderson film of the decade, The Life Aquatic is Anderson's quirky-yet-earnest comedic style taken to its logical extremes. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jeff Goldblum are all in top-form.

33. Amelie

- The quirky little French film that could, Amelie is a clever and hard-to-resist look at love and fate, with a captivating performance from breakout star Audrey Tatou.

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

- The 00's saw a brief revival of the Western, and the best of the bunch was this hard-hitting, beautifully-shot picture that featured one of Brad Pitt's career-best performances.

35. United 93

- Absolutely gripping, this you-are-there thrill ride is so tense, so nerve-racking, that by the end of the film you'll feel as though you barely escaped by the skin of your teeth. A powerful testament and tribute to the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.

36. 28 Days Later

- Cutting edge filmmaking from Danny Boyle, this zombie apocalypse thriller is one of the slickest, scrappiest, smartest, and coolest horror flicks of the decade.

37. Zodiac

- An engrossing meditation on mystery and obsession, David Fincher's movie about the infamous Zodiac killer makes you feel as immersed in the case as the characters in the film.

38. Lost in Translation

- An entrancing movie about oddball relationships and being a stranger in a strange land, Sophia Coppolla's breakthrough film remains one of the most interesting movies of the decade.

39. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

- Ang Lee's martial-arts epic brought the wonders of wire-fu to America, and you couldn't help but get caught up in the graceful action and mythic storyline.

40. Grizzly Man

- Werner Herzog is one of a kind, and perhaps only he could properly relay the real-life story of man whose unhealthy obsession with wild grizzly bears ultimately proved to be his undoing. Funny, odd, tragic, and strange.

41. District 9

- District 9 was a wake-up call to Hollywood, a beacon of originality, inventiveness, and big-budget sci-fi action on a not-so-big budget. While other movies had more hype, District 9 flat-out brought the awesome-sauce.

42. Spiderman II

- Improving on the original Spiderman film in nearly every way, the sequel perfectly captured the spirit of the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko comics, with a snappy script, high-flying action, and great character moments.

43. Sweeney Todd

- A delightfully dark musical of the macabre, Sweeney Todd proved a perfect match for Tim Burton's gothic sensibilities, and Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, and the rest of the cast were to die for.

44. Hero

- Zhang Yimou's Chinese epic features a classic story told form multiple perspectives, incredible martial-arts battles, Jet Li at the top of his game, and incredible cinematography and fight choreography.

45. Juno

- I'm not afraid to admit it: I love Juno. The quirky teen coming-of-age story benefits from an awesome cast (Ellen Page is fantastic), a bouncy script (screw the Diablo Cody haters), and a cool style thanks to director Jason Reitman.

46. The Fountain

- Talk about epic - Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain spans time, space, and the universe itself to deliver a cosmic tale of eternal love. Totally mesmerizing, it's one of the decade's most unique and ambitious films.

47. Master and Commander

- This one is an example of great filmmaking, plain and simple. A commanding performance by Russell Crowe, outstanding direction from Peter Weir ... this is a movie that embodies the spirit of adventure of the high seas.

48. The Royal Tenenbaums

- A funny yet heartbreaking work from Wes Anderson, this one is a showcase both for Anderson's unique style and for the incredible troupe of actors who bring his oddball world to life.

49. Shawn of the Dead / Hot Fuzz

- I'm sorry, I just couldn't pick one of these over the other, so here's a double-listing for Edgar Wright's two equally brilliant satires, each starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. One is a horror-comedy that posits that most of us are not too far removed from zombies (very true), and the other is an action-comedy that pays hilarious tribute to the excesses of Hollywood action flicks, and to the poor saps (like us) who love them.

50. Eastern Promises

- David Cronenberg's ultra-badass followup to A History of Violence covers similar thematic ground, but it's also one hell of a movie in its own right - featuring yet another amazing performance from Viggo Mortensen, as a conflicted Russian gangster who may not be what he appears.

51. School of Rock

- A funny and infectious love-letter to rock n' roll, Richard Linklater's uplifting film was a perfect fit for the eyebrow-raising, energy-filled comedy of star Jack Black. A traditional comedy that still felt fresh and new thanks to Linklater's unique combination of humor and heart.

52. Michael Clayton

- Despite it's deceivingly bland title, Michael Clayton is definitely not your average thriller. A cutting look at the evils of corporate America, Clayton is full of twists, turns, and intensity, and features a career-best dramatic performance from George Clooney.

53. Observe & Report

- One of the darkest and most twisted comedies I've ever seen, Observe & Report is a hilarious yet disturbing look at an oddball mall-cop with delusions of grandeur. Seth Rogen may have suffered from overexposure in the latter half of the decade, but he turns in a stunning performance in this one that you've got to see to believe.

54. Speed Racer

- Some dismissed Speed Racer as being empty entertainment for the ADD generation, but I couldn't disagree more. To me, Speed Racer was a brilliantly-directed future-shock roller-coaster-ride from the Wachowski Brothers - in its own way every bit as mind-melting as any of the Matrix movies.

55. The Road

- The Road marks yet another absolutely spellbinding turn from Viggo Mortensen, as well as another hard-hitting adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Set in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, The Road is a harrowing tale of survival and hope in the face of chaos and desolation.

56. Hustle & Flow

- Whoop that trick! Hustle & Flow not only features a star-making turn from Terence Howard, but it also tells a gritty yet inspirational hip-hop fable that is both memorable and heartbreaking.

57. Cars

- To me, Cars was a nostalgic trip down the highway straight towards the last exit of the American Dream. Thematically, it's one of Pixar's most interesting films, and visually, one of their most stunning.

58. The Prestige

- If anything, the 00's showed us that Christopher Nolan knows how to spin a great story full of unexpected twists and turns. The Prestige - a magical mystery featuring the high-voltage pairing of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman - was Nolan at the top of his game.

59. Ratatouille

- Everyone's a critic, and yet few would argue that Ratatouille continued Pixar's 00's streak of high-quality animated films with enough depth and texture to entertain kids and adults alike. Ratatuille looked spectacular, but it also expertly conveyed a moving message about the importance of doing what you love.

60. Precious

- Talk about powerful ... Precious was a movie that absolutely pulled no punches in its ugly and disturbing look at the life of a troubled inner-city teen. Precious proved that there can be hope in even in the bleakest of situations, but it also didn't shy away from grim reality - reminding us that true happy endings aren't as easy to come by as Hollywood would have you believe.

61. Requiem For a Dream

- A nightmarish journey into the lives of addicts and lost souls, Darren Aronofsky's tour de force film is an absorbing and powerful cautionary tale. With a number of noteworthy performances and a killer musical score, Requiem is a movie that's hard to forget.

62. Borat

- Sacha Baron Cohen emerged as one of the decade's funniest provocateurs with Da Ali G Show, and he brought his shcok-comedy to the big screen with Borat. While some of the comedy was dervivative of his earlier material, Borat remains side-splittingly funny and absolutely brutal in its portrayal of America's uglier side.

63. The Man Who Wasn't There

- The Coen Bros. did it again with The Man Who Wasn't There, a wonderfully strange film noir featuring a great turn from Billy Bob Thornton in the lead role. Like so many of the Coens' works, the script here is simply a work of genius - every word carefully chosen, every line of dialogue beautifully composed.

64. Superbad

- Every generation needs its classic teen comedy flicks, and Superbad was likely the defining film of its genre of the 00's. A raunchy teen romp for the Facebook era, Superbad featured Michael Cera and Jonah Hill as two geeky dudes embarking on that time-honored teen tradition - the quest for booty. Also: McLovin!

65. Rocky Balboa

- Many, including myself, scoffed at the idea that Sylvester Stallone was dragging Rocky back from movie purgatory for one more go-round. But to my surprise and delight, Rocky Balboa kicked ass - a moody throwback to the original film, it got you pumped, on your feet, and ready to throw some hurtin' bombs like only a great Rocky movie can.

66. Almost Famous

- Cameron Crowe's rock n' roll coming-of-age story is the perfect movie for anyone who's ever dreamed of escaping a normal life in favor of something a little wilder, a little more dangerous. Crowe both breaks down and mythologizes the mystique of rock n' roll fantasy, and in doing so creates a film both personal and universal.

67. In Bruges

- This film snuck up on me, and it took me repeat viewings to realize just how badass of a film it really is. A crackling script and kinetic direction are some of the highlights of this darkly funny crime flick, a badass romp with a surprising level of tragedy and pathos.

68. Ghost World

- Terry Zwigoff's bittersweet tale of teen outcasts melds indie-comic quirkiness with understated humor. Steve Buscemi has rarely been better, and Thora Birtch and Scarlett Johanssen impressed in breakout roles.

69. V For Vendetta

- Remember, remember ... that V For Vendetta was an overlooked and surprisingly high-quality adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel. Hugo Weaving's performance as the title character was amazing, and the anarchic message of the story seemed appropriately cathartic for our tumultuous times.

70. Walk The Line

- Johnny Cash had an unexpected moment in the spotlight in the 00's, and Walk The Line was a fitting tribute to a man whose somber music proved as relevant as resonant as ever in this decade. Walk The Line made a whole new generation into fans of the Man In Black.

71. Up In the Air

- A fitting film for our times, Up In the Air is a poignant look at a man who lives in the air, from hotel room to hotel room, without any real human or material connections to keep him grounded. In an age in which people are increasingly mobile, plugged-in, and detached from real connection, Up In the Air is a fascinating character study of what some of us could - or have already - become.

72. Sin City

- An ultra-stylized adaptation of Frank Miller's crime-noir comic books, Sin City looked unlike any movie before it, translating a particular visual and aesthetic style from page to screen with uncanny accuracy. Maintaining Miller's flair for colorful language and over-the-top, hard-boiled characters, director Robert Rodriguez raised the bar for comic book adaptations.

73. Gran Torino

- Sure, Clint Eastwood has made a number of critically-acclaimed dramas over the last decade, but it was undeniably awesome to see him get away from dry melodrama and instead take one final shot at embracing his inner badass. A pulpy tale of a grizzled old warrior's final curtain call, Gran Torino is a fitting reflection on the culture of violence that Eastwood himself helped to perpetuate.

74. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

- The Coen Brothers' oddball comedy is a folky take on Homer's The Odyssey and a screwball adventure all in one. It's the kind of movie that seemingly only the Coens can pull off - and the fact that its bluegrass soundtrack went on to be a smash hit is, in some ways, a tribute to the film's infectious charm.

75. About Schmidt

- Some actors age gracefully, and others do it kicking and screaming. That's partly what's made Jack Nicholson so fascinating in his late-period work - he may be older, but he still has that child-like, mischievious gleam in his eye. About Schmidt is Nicholson in fine form - a cross-country journey that's both funny and moving.

76. Anvil: The Story of Anvil

- This inspirational rock doc is the true-life story of a rock band that had a brief moment of glory, but then faded into obscurity as the cold reality of showbiz set in. Many of us reach those moments in our lives where we see the window closing on opportunty, so it's awesome to see a band that never stopped rocking, through the good times and the bad.

77. Pan's Labyrinth

- Guillermo del Toro is probably one of the most interesting and creative directors to break out in the 00's, and you get the feeling that his great masterpiece is still yet to come. That said, Pan's Labyrinth is darn close - a visual stunner bursting with imagination.

78. Anchorman

- Will Ferrell was everywhere in the 00's - he starred in his share of very funny comedies as well as a number of clunkers. But to me, his best comedy of the decade was Anchorman - a hilarious parody of 1970s's era media-industry (mustache-clad) machismo.

79. King Kong

- I know there's been something of a King Kong backlash in recent years, but I stand by the quality of Peter Jackson's passion-project remake of the classic film. The movie was, perhaps, too ambitious for its own good, but that ambition also means its filled to the brim with cool concepts, amazing set-piece action sequences, and unbridled imagination.

80. Burn After Reading

- For some reason, the Coen Brothers' comedies tend to get dismissed by critics even as they eventually go on to become cult classics. To me, Burn After Reading is a hilarious and oddly profound sendup of how people and governments can make much ado about nothing - and it has a whole host of amazing performances to boot (Pitt, Clooney, Malkovich, McDormand, and Jenkins, just to name a few).

81. Collateral

- Michael Mann made a number of ultra-slick, high-octane dramas in the 00's, but his best was Collateral. A dark and intense morality tale, Collateral transformed Jamie Foxx from comedian to serious actor, and is also perhaps Tom Cruise's best and most memorable role of the 00's.

82. The Incredibles

- The Incredibles may be a riff on well-worn thematic territory (The Fantastic 4 say hello), but Pixar and Brad Bird create such a vibrant animated world that it's hard to care. Featuring a great cast of characters and rollicking action, The Incredibles was another winner from Pixar.

83. Avatar

- Time will tell how James Cameron's sci-fi epic will hold up, but I do think it deserves a spot on this list for sheer visual and storytelling ambition alone. Thanks to unprecedented digital and motion-capture f/x, the alien world of Pandora is brought to life with an astonishing vibrancy and attention to detail, and the badass action sequences are vintage Cameron.

84. 300

- A pure adrenaline rush from start to finish, 300 is balls-to-the-wall action the likes of which has rarely been seen in cinema. Director Zach Snyder created a stylized world in which his 300 Spartans kicked ass and took names in beautifully brutal fashion.

85. Moon

- Moon is one of those great dark horse movies that seems to come out of nowhere, taking you to a place you never expected to go. An old-school science-fiction fable straight out of The Twilight Zone, Moon floors you with its various twists and turns, even as star Sam Rockwell wows you with his incredible acting versatility.

86. American Teen

- At a time when teen life seemed documented only through the MTV-ified lense of a hundred godawful reality TV shows, American Teen came along and showed an earnest, warts-and-all portrayal of a group of average American teens - their hopes, their dreams, and their failings. By subverting the classic Breakfast Club stereotypes, this documentary paints a complex, funny, and moving portrait of what it is to come of age in American suburbia.

87. The Last King of Scotland

- A fascinating look at dictator Idi Amin's reign of terror in Uganda, The Last King of Scotland features, I think, one of the greatest performances of the decade, with Forest Whitaker absolutely tearing the house down as Amin. James McAvoy is also great in this film, which rightfully won Whitaker an Oscar, but was perhaps overlooked in terms of being simply a great movie on the whole.

88. Bowling For Columbine

- Despite what you may think of Michael Moore's politics, you have to admit that he brought documentary filmmaking back into the mainstream, and into relevancy for Gen Y, with Bowling for Columbine. A funny and fascinating and at times disturbing look at the culture of violence in America, Bowling For Columbine sought answers to a tragedy that deeply affected our generation, and whose aftermath carried over well into the 00's.

89. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

- A hilarious break-up comedy starring Jason Segal, Forgetting Sarah Marshall worked so well because it never pandered to the usual Hollywood comedy cliches. All of the characters were three dimensional, and that made the comedy all the more effective and genuine-seeming. Also: Dracula - The Musical. 'Nuff said.

90. Best In Show

- Another comedy classic from Christopher Guest, Best In Show shows off Guest's knack for gently mocking strange subcultures (in this case, the oddball world of competitive dog shows), all the while paying a strange sort of respect to them. This one is also a great showcase for Guest's troupe of ultra-talented improv comedians, including Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, and Michael McKean.

91. Star Trek

- In an era when many a big-budget blockbuster turned out to be soulless, lowest-common-denominator dreck, Star Trek surprised the cynics (like me) with a rip-roaring adventure that captured the spirit of the original while also managing to feel fresh and new. JJ Abrams worked his magic in this one, reinvigorating the Star Trek franchise for the decade to come.

92. Son of Rambow

- Son of Rambow is a movie that brilliantly taps into the childhood desire to create. A funny but heartfelt film about two troubled kids living vicariously through the movies, Son of Rambow made me want to go out and write my own cheesy homage to 80's action flicks, just like the kids in the movie.

93. Rescue Dawn

- Werner Herzog delivered one hell of a harrowing story with this film about a group of soldiers struggle to survive after crash-landing in the Laotian jungle during the Vietnam War. Outstanding performances from Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, and Jeremy Davies highlight this intense thriller.

94. Let the Right One In

- Think you've seen every variation of vampire movies there is to see? Think again. This haunting Swedish film tells the story of a lonely boy whose new best friend is a girl who also happens to be an ancient vampire. It's a mesmerizing, disturbing film ... oh you crazy Swedes, you.

95. Drag Me to Hell

- The Evil Dead films are rightly considered cult classics, and for years, fans clamored for director Sam Raimi to return to his horror-comedy roots following his forays into the Hollywood mainstream. Finally, Raimi answered the call with Drag Me to Hell, an absolutely insane, over-the-top horror flick that is the work of a master at the top of his game.

96. Monsters, Inc.

- Yet another Pixar classic, Monsters, Inc. is a visually-amazing journey into a strange-yet-familiar world of monsters and things that go bump in the night. As always, the movie's cartoonish facade belies an unusual depth and thematic texture - Pixar just has that amazing ability to make films that work brilliantly on multiple levels.

97. Gangs of New York

- Scorcese's American fable is best known for its iconic performance from Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher, but it's also a pretty amazing historical epic in its own right. Scorcese directs with style and aplomb, and, to me, it's a worthy addition to the great director's cannon.

98. Black Snake Moan

- Director Craig Brewer followed up the acclaimed Hustle & Flow with this underrated piece of pulp fiction - the down n' dirty tale of a bluesman (Samuel L. Jackson, in maybe his best-ever role), who gets mixed up with a troubled girl who seems to have a bit of the devil inside her (Christina Ricci - similarly great). Awesome.

99. Minority Report

- Steven Spielberg delivered with Minority Report, a sci-fi thriller that was unusually grim n' gritty given the director's usual stylistic tendencies. Featuring intense action and some ultra-cool high concepts, Minority Report was one of Spielberg's best of the decade.

100. Walk Hard

- It's sort of odd ... of all of the Judd Apatow-produced movies this decade, Walk Hard may have been the biggest commercial flop ... and yet, it's also one of the funniest. The movie is just flat-out hilarious - a pitch-perfect parody of musical biopics, full of both spot-on satire and random absurdist comedy.


- Up
- Sky High
- Grindhouse
- Bubba Ho-Tep
- Clerks II
- The Darjeeling Limited
- Farenheit 9/11
- War of the Worlds
- Children of Men
- Black Book
- Intolerable Cruelty
- Star Wars: Episode III
- Hot Rod
- Role Models
- Iron Man
- Hellboy (I and II)
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona
- Coraline
- Taken
- The TV Set
- Eagle vs. Shark
- High Fidelity
- Pineapple Express
- AI: Artificial Intelligence
- Brick
- Watchmen
- Adventureland
- The Invention of Lying
- X2: X-Men United
- The Incredible Hulk
- Frost/Nixon
- Pirate Radio
- Paranormal Activity
- Snatch
- Crank (1 & 2)
- Rambo
- Shadow of the Vampire
- Doomsday
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
- House of Flying Daggers
- The Last Samurai
- Knocked Up
- The 40 Year Old Virgin
- Talladega Nights
- Stardust
- Spirited Away
- Iron Monkey
- Nacho Libre
- Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
- Miami Vice
- Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
- Mean Girls
- Shrek
- Enchanted
- Fanboys
- The Lovely Bones
- Milk
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Thank You For Smoking
- Waltz With Bashir
- Ocean's Eleven

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best of the 00's - Danny's Best Videogames of the Decade!

Welcome back to my Best of the Decade series. We've covered a lot of ground so far, and now it's time to cover a medium that, over the last ten years, has entered into the same popular conversation as movies and television. It's a digital age, baby, and with that in mind, this series would be woefully incomplete without talking about the best in videogames from the 00's. So press *START* and strap in, because it's game on.


- For better or worse, videogames grew up in the 00's. They grew up right alongside a generation of kids who had been raised on Nintendo and Sega and Sony, and as Gen Y graduated and entered into the pop-cultural mainstream, so too did gaming. And yet, some people still don't get it. They act shocked every time a new game outgrosses blockbuster Hollywood movies, and act surprised when a game console's popularity is the deciding factor in determining which storage medium will be the wave of the future. If not for the unparallelled popularity of the Playstation 2, DVD's might never have taken off like they did. If not for Sony's decision to back Blu-Ray as the medium of choice for its PS3, then who knows how the hi-def wars might have ended. The popularity of online gaming via the XBOX paved the way for the still-to-be-determined future of digital distribution. And for all the hype about the iPhone as a gaming platform, people tend to forget how many tens of millions of units the Nintendo DS has sold since its inception - making it the best-selling game console, by far, of this decade.

As nice as shiny new hardware is though, real gamers know that at the end of the day, it's all about the games. Whenever a new generation of console wars heats up, business analysts and corporate types start predicting who will come out on top and whose console will be the next to bomb. But they're not there, in the trenches, so very often the predictions have little merit. Playing a great videogame can be one of the most powerful and involving media experiences one can have, and in many ways, the rest of the media world is still catching up. Games are where the action is. TV is trying to catch up. Movies are trying to catch up. Games, in the 00's, were already way ahead of the curve.

Are games better now than they used to be? It's hard to say. Gaming is a time-intensive and expensive hobby, and as my friends and I have grown up and gotten jobs, etc., it's harder to invest the kind of time into these things that we did as kids. But what's the trade-off? You could buy a Wii, play a bunch of lame "games" like Wii Fit or Wii Sing or whatever else, and get your daily dose of gaming in bite-sized, "casual"-friendly increments. But that to me isn't where the beating heart of gaming lies. It's in interactive storytelling, immersive adventures, innovative play mechanics, new worlds both realistic and abstract. And that's why we now have this weird dichotomy in the world of games - the whole "hardcore" versus "casual" thing. To me, that's a cheat. The reality is that few of us have the time to play as many games as we'd like, and the truth is that most games today are way too long and complex. But ... even if I can't plow through all the games I'd like to, I still want to be in the know, I still want to be a part of the conversation. I'd rather take three months to traverse through the glorious world of Uncharted, a little bit at a time, than waste time on the latest real-world thing that is now simulated via a Wiimote (seriously, I'm just waiting for "Wii-Potty-Training").

Growing up, there was a canon of games that all of us played. Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Street Fighter. The classics. Nowadays, it's a much more fractured marketplace. Whole genres have sort of walled themselves off to be accessible to only the hardest of the hardcore. Online play has only made things worse. Think you're pretty good at a given game? Go online and test out that theory, and prepare to get pwned by some twelve-year-old in Cheboygan.

And yet, games still have a magic to them that make it a joy to be an enthusiast of the medium. And people are catching on. Haven't played Guitar Hero or Rock Band? Yikes, I'd say you're out of the loop. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and Resident Evil have become a part of the pop-cultural fabric. Videogames in the 00's aren't just spaceships and knights and soldiers anymore. There's something for everyone. There's still a core gamer demographic, sure. And there's a subculture around games that is one of the most intelligent and passionate of any medium. But slowly, sometimes reluctantly, core gamers have begun to share their medium with mom and dad and even grandma. At the same time, like I said, all of us kids who grew up playing Mario and Zelda ... well, maybe the biggest surprise to many was that most of us never stopped. It proved that games were not a fad, and not just some toy for kids. We were the pioneers, the ones who discovered this great new thing and kept the fire burning.

Games in the 00's covered countless genres - some old, some new, some that nobody could ever have anticipated. There were games with graphics that were unimaginable ten years' prior, and games with mechanics that I never thought I'd see. Controllers rumbled and plastic guitars were the new must-have peripheral. Downloadable levels, characters, and even full games became standard, and new types of smaller-scale games (and old-school classics) thrived thanks to the new online marketplace. Touch-screens and motion controls became standard. Portable gaming surged. First person shooters became bigger and bloodier than ever, and the concept of open-world gaming took off in a big way. Forget Level 1 and Level 2 - here was a whole city to explore and conquer at your leisure. Yep, we've come a long way since Pong.

Gamers reaped the benefits from the corporate warfare for their gaming dollars, as increased competition among the big players forced each to up the ante. Sony dominated much of the decade, but eventually lost ground to Microsoft and Nintendo. The Playstation and PS2 ushered in a new era of 3D gaming. The XBOX 360 brought online competitive play and digital distribution to new levels of popularity, and the Wii saved Nintendo just when it seemed on the verge of collapse, bringing easy-to-play, family-friendly games to the mainstream masses. Sega was the biggest casualty of the decade - despite the Dreamcast system being a fan-favorite, it tanked at retail, forcing Sega to become a software developer only. This led to Sonic and other Sega games appearing on competing platforms, including those of longtime rivals Nintendo and Sony. In related news, thousands of gamers' heads simulteously exploded when they saw Sonic the Hedgehog on Nintendo consoles.

Games are now bigger than ever, and this is only the beginning. It's a fascinating industry, and an incredible medium. I can barely imagine what games will be like in another ten years, but that's what so great about the universe of videogames, there's always something amazing, and often, unexpected, just around the corner.

Now, for my list. Keep in mind, it's impossible for even a dedicated and passionate gamefan to play everything that's out there. Depending on which consoles you've owned, which genres you prefer, your favorites will likely be a bit different than mine. Personally, I'm not a shooter guy. I love action, adventure, old-school platforming, fighters, and the occasional Japanese-style RPG. I love games that stretch the imagination and take you to far-out places. I love great characters and the thrill that comes with helping them navigate through an epic journey. I haven't spent much time with Halo or Gears of War, or Mario Galaxy or Knights of the Old Republic, or Call of Duty. I'm not an MMO player, and I don't ever want to even try playing World of Warcraft, for fear that my life as I know it will instantaneously be sucked away. I haven't, unfortunately, played Ico or Shadow of Colossus. And I am eagerly anticipating diving into Brutal Legend, but haven't gotten around to it yet. And FYI, this list groups multiple entries in a franchise together when appropriate, and separately when one installment towers over others. So here they are - the games that I loved the most in the 00's ...


1. God of War (series)

- The decade's most badass, most awe-inspiring games were, to me, the first two entries in Sony's God of War franchise. From the minute I first took control of the series' vengeance-seeking protagonist, Kratos, it was abundantly clear that GOW was something special. The controls? Spot-on, with a real-time even mechanism that added an extra dosage of drama to big battles. And the combat? Absolutely brutal. Rarely has a game made you feel so in-control as you unleash unholy amounts of pain on your enemies. And those enemies - wow. The boss battles in this game are some of the most impressive ever in gaming, with screen-filling battles and epic encounters aplenty. Everything about the GOW games is simply huge, over-the-top, and downright awesome.. With gigantic worlds to explore, ultra-intense and cinematic combat, fiendish puzzles, and unprecedented graphical prowess, God of War I and II (and Chains of Olympus on the PSP) were the epic adventures of a lifetime, and the upcoming God of War III should only add to the legend.

2. Guitar Hero / Rock Band (series)

- Many of us with little to no musical talent have always dreamed of rock n' roll superstardom, and Guitar Hero brilliantly replicated the experience of being a guitar virtuoso. The gameplay was simple to learn but difficult to master, but the formula was spot-on. Guitar Hero started it, Rock Band perfected it, and in the 00's, a new genre of videogame was born.

3. Resident Evil 4

- The original Resident Evil games on the Playstation were completely revolutionary for their time, virtually creating the "survival horror" genre, and bringing a new level of creepy thrills to gaming. The series then had a bit of a slump, but man oh man, did it come back with a vengeance. Resident Evil 4 completely changed up the series gameplay style, emphasizing faster action. The result was an action-adventure game for the ages, and a new landmark moment for one of gaming's most storied franchises.

4. Uncharted (series)

- When I first got my PS3, the game I was most chomping at the bit to play was Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. A true next-gen, Indiana Jones-style adventure, Uncharted was one of the most cinematic games I'd ever played. Ironic too, that it came out in close proximity to a rather disappointing big-screen Indiana Jones film. It felt like a transitional moment, the moment where games, not movies, were the place to experience the next great blockbuster adventure story. With gorgeous graphics and intense gameplay, Uncharted picked up the ball from the likes of Tomb Raider and ran with it. Uncharted 2, meanwhile, was an even bigger smash - refining the first game's formula to achieve inarguable gaming greatness.

5. Metal Gear Solid (II, III, and IV)

- The first Metal Gear Solid game was a landmark game in the late 90's - never before had a movie-like story been so seamlessly integrated with intense, innovative gameplay and stealth maneuvers. In the 00's, the saga of Solid Snake spiralled into an epic, complex mythology, as series creator Hideo Kojima worked tirelessly to ensure that each new MGS game wasn't just a product release, but an event in and of itself. At times, Kojima's tendency towards storytelling excess would get the better of him, but in the end, the MGS games were fundamentally awesome interactive experiences. Snake? Snake! SNAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!

6. Final Fantasy (IX, X, and XII)

- When it comes to epic role-playing adventure, the Final Fantasy franchise has been synonymous with mind-blowing graphics, operatic, emotional storytelling, and involving, customizable gameplay. In the 00's, Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) released three bonafide epics. FF9 was a throwback of sorts, one final PS1 adventure that was similar in style to the old-school FF games. FFX, the first on the PS2, was a graphically-incredible, next-gen upgrade, and FFXII, an interesting experiment with gameplay and story.

7. Devil May Cry

- When I first played Devil May Cry, I was in awe. One of the first games to truly show off the graphical might of the PS2, DMC was great-looking, but also 100% certified badass. From the wizards at Capcom, this goth action game had you traversing through a gigantic castle disposing of enemies via stylish and deadly combos that had you controlling a veritable ballet of destruction.

8. Ratchet & Clank (series)

- Pure, unabashed fun. That's how I'd describe the Ratchet & Clank games, which take the old-school imagination and wonder of games gone by, pairing classic sensibilities with absolutely stunning graphics. The massive worlds of Ratchet & Clank overflow with artistic awesomeness - the gaming equivalent of the Pixar movies. And the gameplay is just perfection, with ultra-smooth controls, and a variety of crazy weapons and gadgets at your disposal.

9. Grand Theft Auto (series)

- I'm not a huge fan of the GTA aesthetic. When did games become all about emulating true crime and real-life? Games like GTA can make me miss the old days, when games were less gritty and more fantastical, but at the same time, I can't deny that GTA games were not only a ton of fun and ultra-immersive, but also did a ton to advance the kinds of play mechanics and world-structure that we expect out of action games. And while I don't love the wave of lame urban crime games that GTA inspired, I do give this franchise a ton of credit for bringing a new kind of true-to-life genre storytelling to the world of gaming. Definitely *the* pop-culture breakthrough franchise of the decade, in my opinion (Halo notwithstanding).

10. Bioshock

- Like I said, I'm not a huge first-person-shooter fan. But I have to admit that Bioshock transcended the FPS genre to be something much more - a story-based game that sucks you in with intriguing characters, gripping plot twists, and a fascinating world to navigate and explore. The underwater world of Rapture, a would-be utopian society gone awry, is a scary, tension-filled place to play in, and rarely has a game brought its setting to life so fully - with sights, sounds, and backstory creating a living, breathing place.

11. Soul Calibur (series)

- My favorite fighting-game franchise of the 00's, Soul Calibur gives each and every battle a melodramatic fantasy flair. From the over-the-top announcer to the sweeping musical score, everything about this series screams *epic.* Rarely has a fighting franchise made locking swords feel so visceral, with every clang and clash of blades registering in your brain with a resounding "ka-chang!"

12. Castlevania DS (series)

- One of the best games of the 90's, and probably ever, was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the original Playstation. A 2D sidescroller with classic gameplay and a symphonic musical score, SOTN became a huge fan-favorite, and publisher Konami took notice. Taking advantage of the Nintendo DS's 2D prowess, Konami went on to craft three pseudo-sequels on Nintendo's handheld, and each brought something new to the table while still retaining SOTN's unbeatable gameplay and gothic atmospherics.

13. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

- Until the Sands of Time came out, the Prince of Persia franchise was essentially DOA. But the talented folks at Ubisoft crafted a stunning puzzle-action game that not only placed you in beautifully-rendered Arabian environments, but also introduced an innovative time-manipulation mechanic, allowing you to slow down and speed up the action at will. One of the defining action games of the PS2 era.

14. Psychonauts

- Tim Schaefer is one of the rare personalities in gaming whose name is as meaningful when attached to a game as a bigtime movie director's is when releasing their latest blockbuster film. All of Schaefer's games have his trademark sense of quirky humor, his outside-the-box play mechanics, and his amazing sense of storytelling. Psychonauts was no different - an ultra-imaginative trip inside the human brain that felt like you were playing through some great, long-lost ride at Epcot Center, only way funnier and cooler. A bit rough around the edges, sure, but the sheer ambition and inventiveness of Schaefer's games makes each one a must-play.

15. Little Big Planet

- One of the most innovative games of the last few years, LBP mixed classic platforming gameplay with ultra-realistic physics models to create an entrancing experience. The graphics were ultra-sharp and stylish - with the entire world of LBP seemingly a collage of real-world items and materials. The music was catchy, the levels diverse. And the kicker? LBP allowed users to create their own levels, and to share those levels with the larger LBP community. Never before has a platforming game opened itself up in this way, and the result was thousands of cool new levels to play, with more created and shared and enjoyed every day. Awesome!

16. Kingdom Hearts

- Squaresoft and Disney? WTF? What seemed like a crazy clash of styles turned out to be like peanut butter and jelly, and the result was that, somehow, this game reminded many a cynical, jaded gamer what true Disney magic was all about. Seriously, Square's amazing artistry and storytelling made for so many ultra-cool gaming moments, with every beloved Disney character - from Aladdin to Simba to Jack Skelington - introduced with awe-inspiring aplomb. The gameplay grew a bit repetitive at times, but the overall experience of playing through Square's epic take on the Disney universe was one of the best and most mesmerizing of the 00's.

17. Beyond Good and Evil

Another unique title from Ubisoft, this one from noted game designer Michel Ancel. Something I love about games is that they are still a niche enough product, and the core audience is used to enough weirdness, where, sometimes, they can just be completely out-there. Beyond Good and Evil is set in a unique sci-fi world complete with talking animals and evil overlords. And yet, you don't play an action-hero, but a photographer, tasked with documenting all of the nefarious goings-on of the would-be conquerers with your trusty camera. This unique slant on things made for some really cool gameplay, and the overall art and aesthetic of the game world made for a unique and engrossing play-through.

18. Jak & Daxter

- Along with Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter was one of the killer app franchises of the PS2 - a huge platforming adventure from the geniuses at Naughty Dog. The size and scope of the world in the original Jak blew me away. I never dreamed that action games could be this epic when I first played Super Mario Bros. back in the day, and rarely have they been as epic since. While the series faltered a bit in later iterations, and has yet to make the jump to the PS3, the original Jak & Daxter remains one of the all-time classic 3D platformers.

19. SSX Snowboarding

- I still remember the feeling of awe and exhileration when I first popped SSX into my then-brand-spankin'-new PS2. I had *never* seen graphics so smooth, never seen a game so bursting at the seams with color and music and cool-factor. I wouldn't say that I ever truly mastered SSX, but man, it was fun to try. And man, did that snow look good. "Sweeter than candy."

20. Professor Layton and the Curious Village

- Puzzles. Brainteasers. Riddles. Such a simple concept, and yet, rarely have they been so elegantly translated into videogame form. This Nintendo DS title is such a joy to play, from the eye-catching hand-drawn graphics to the soothing music that plays throughout. And man, those puzzles! Frustrating yet rewarding. It's all good though, because Professor Layton makes the whole process utterly infectious.

21. WWE Smackdown (series)

- Let's face it: most of us guys harbor fantasies of stepping inside the squared-circle, hearing the adulation of the frenzied crowd, and proceeding to pretend-bash some guy's head in with a steel chair. Wrestling games have long been a staple of the gaming world, but rarely have they been more fun, more authentic, or more customizable than THQ's Smackdown series. Not only did THQ and developer Yukes render each WWE grappler with amazing detail, but they created a complex yet easy-to-use system by which players could create their own wrestlers to boot. So if you wanted to create your own larger-than-life alter ego, so be it, or, if you wanted to create every old-school wrestler from the 80's, you could do that too. At the end of the day though, I think back to the many epic matches that myself and my brother and my other friends have enjoyed in the Smackdown series - ladder matches, cage matches, and everything in between - and I realize that not putting it on this list would warrant a Stone Cold Stunner, bah gawd.

22. Batman: Arkham Asylum

- It was the singular dream of geeks everywhere: a Batman videogame that actually kicked ass. There've been decent Batman games before, but it wasn't until 2009 that Batman: Arkham Asylum came along and redefined what a superhero game could be. Featuring a great, tension-filled storyline penned by Paul Dini, and key voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series (Kevin Conroy! Mark Hammil!), and gameplay that mixed action, stealth, puzzles, and gadgetry, Arkham Asylum actually made you feel like you were Batman, living in the world of the comics and movies.

23. Mass Effect

- I'll admit, I've only scratched the surface of Mass Effect so far, but I can completely appreciate its massive scope, its intelligent and sophisticated sci-fi storytelling, and its multifaceted gameplay. Developer Bioware knows how to do these kinds of games better than anyone, and they know how to create these intricate worlds packed with all manner of intriguing characters and interesting stories. There's a reason why Mass Effect 2 is now one of 2010's most-anticipated games.

24. Okami

- Japanese games certainly became more of a niche product in the 00's. Once the dominant-source for AAA game development, Japan seemed to become increasingly marginalized this decade, as their quirky aesthetics became farther and farther removed from American sensibilities. Sadly, Japanese developers began to find it tough to compete with the big budgets of American blockbusters, and as someone who was raised on Japanese games from Capcom, Konami, Technos, Square, Nintendo, etc, I still love games that have that unique Japanese quirkiness. Enter Okami - a beautiful game from Capcom that brought Japanese mythology and folklore to life, with a vivid, painterly art style, and innovative gameplay that saw you "paint" your commands onto the screen.

25. Scribblenauts

- This past year, Scribblenauts debuted on the Nintendo DS, and the sheer craziness of the premise practically made it an instant classic. The concept? You can create *any* object to use in the game - anything at all that you can think of. Want a jetpack? A sword? A T-Rex? Santa Claus? Type it in, and it appears on-screen like magic. Absolutely incredible. As you play, you begin to realize some of the hidden parameters / limitations of the game, but that initial feeling of total freedom, of being limited only by your own imagination, holds steady. Definitely one of the most unique games I've ever played.

And there you have it, my picks for the best games of the decade. I still have one more Best of the Decade entry to post, and it's a big one, so stay tuned!