Favorite Movies

My favorite movies of the last decade plus, in reverse chronological order:

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Corey says: An animated (!!) documentary film about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The filmaker has said that if he had made a straight documentary full of interviews, nobody would have watched it, and there would have been no film to show the things he remembered and wanted to show us. It had to be told with animation. SFGate says, "Less is more here. Violence permeates the movie, but Folman's feature is festooned with long stretches of introspection. In fact, it's the introspection - as much as the brilliant animation, and the unimaginable horrors of warfare - that pushes 'Waltz With Bashir' into the category of unforgettable filmmaking. It's not just Folman (or, at least, the animated Folman) who tries to reconcile his time in Lebanon, it's his fellow ex-Israeli soldiers - all middle-aged, all out of the military - who look back and cringe or cry or laugh with nervousness.".

Children of Men (2006)

Corey says: A good story, great cast, but what stands out in my memory is the filmaking craftsmanship, famous for its long takes. This movie will be required viewing for all future film school students. I know that makes it sound dry and academic, but that's not the effect in the movie. The end result of the craftsmanship is intense, thrilling. A dark but beautiful dystopic vision of what the world might be like in a couple decades. NYT says: "Children of Men" may be something of a bummer, but itís the kind of glorious bummer that lifts you to the rafters, transporting you with the greatness of its filmmaking.

Junebug (2005)

Ebert says: "Junebug" is a movie that understands, profoundly and with love and sadness, the world of small towns; it captures ways of talking and living I remember from my childhood, with the complexity and precision of great fiction. It observes small details that are important because they are details. It has sympathy for every character in the story and avoids two temptations: It doesn't portray the small-town characters as provincial hicks, and it doesn't portray the city slickers as shallow materialists. Phil Morrison, who directed this movie, and Angus MacLachlan, who wrote it, understand how people everywhere have good intentions, and how life can assign them roles where they can't

NYT says: Without condescending to its characters or becoming overtly political, the beautifully acted film distills antagonistic red-state, blue-state attitudes with a sad understanding that no amount of polite walking on eggshells can dispel the tension between them

Grizzly Man (2005)

Corey says: I am attracted to misfits. Heck, I married one. This is a movie about a misfit lost soul, Timothy Treadwell, who feels more at home with grizzly bears than in town. Most of the footage was shot by Treadwell before he was killed by the very bears he filmed. Amazing, glorious, painful to watch. Werner Herzog is the director, who has a gift for telling the stories of outliers.

The Syrian Bride (2004)

Corey says: Israeli film, in Arabic and Hebrew. Folks caught between political and cultural conflict. The film is sad, warm, funny, not polemical. If you watch this film, make SURE you watch the special feature where the actress says she identifies with her character in the movie who is being held back by cultural traditions, and then they interview her REAL parents who say they aren't happy that their daughter is an actress but what can they do, even if they tell her no, she won't listen.

Walk on Water (2004)

Corey says: Israeli film, with parts set in Germany, dialog in Hebrew and German. About an Israeli secret agent guy who is tired of war. Becomes friends with a couple of tourists from Germany. The scenes of life on kibbutz match my memories.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

Corey says: Documentary about a rock band going through therapy. It's very funny. I recommend this to all the CLASSICAL musicians I know. It doesn't matter that the musical genre is heavy metal - the human issues remain the same, the challenge of collaborating. Applies to software development too, and pretty much any sort of team-like work experience. Misayo also loved this movie.

Yes (2004)

Corey says: The entire script is in rhyming iambic pentameter. One reviewer wrote, "It's as if William Shakespeare, Igmar Bergman, and Dr. Suess had collabororated on an anti-war project". It's sexy, political, passionate.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

NYT says: So many of us have joked -- and in our darkest moments, wondered -- exactly what family films would reveal about us and those bound to us by blood. The director Andrew Jarecki has made exactly that self-absorption the heart of his engagingly evenhanded and intelligently assembled first feature, the documentary ''Capturing the Friedmans.'' Essentially, that's what the film is about, the American middle-class obsession with documenting innocuous daily life with eight-millimeter cameras, and now videotape. Mr. Jarecki assembled film from a continuing familial tragedy and shrewdly wove it into a grim, watchable wormhole narrative about a family's decades-long tumble into shattering denial, lies and abuse. When ''The Friedmans,'' which received the documentary Grand Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, played at Park City, Utah, the room was utterly silent. In all likelihood, the unspoken question -- what do those home movies say about us over the years? -- crept into the minds of audience members.

Corey says: I think my jaw was dropped for the whole movie. To me the movie was amazing, and yet, all you actually see is just the day-to-day life of the family. I guess the amazing part is getting to actually see the real day-to-day life of a family.

Adaptation (2002)

Ebert says: What a bewilderingly brilliant and entertaining movie this is--a confounding story about orchid thieves and screenwriters, elegant New Yorkers and scruffy swamp rats, truth and fiction. "Adaptation" is a movie that leaves you breathless with curiosity, as it teases itself with the directions it might take. To watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation.

Corey says: My favorite movie of the 2000's. This is the movie I find myself most frequently recommending to others. Highlight of this movie: Meryl Streep saying, "You ruined my life, you fat fuck!". You can't summarize the plot of this movie and end up with a summary that makes any sense. As evidence, here's the NYT review writer trying, and the result is almost non-sensical:

NYT: But all of this is much too straightforward. Yes, ''Adaptation'' is, most obviously, a movie about itself, as gleefully self-referential an exercise in auto-deconstruction as you could wish. But it is also, more deeply, a movie about its own nonexistence -- a narrative that confronts both the impossibility and the desperate necessity of storytelling, and that short-circuits our expectations of coherence, plausibility and fidelity to lived reality even as it satisfies them. Common sense suggests that there could never be such a movie, but if there could, it would have to be one of the slipperiest, most fascinating and, by any sane reckoning, best movies of the year.

Spellbound (2002)

Corey says: Documentary about the spelling bee. Profiles 8 kids and their families before and during the competition one year. Very funny, emotional, and exciting. One of the themes for the film makers is how new immigrant cultures get assimilated into the American experience. But for me, what I related to most was the experience of having talented kids, of sitting in the audience when your kid is on stage. If you are a parent and have ever been in the audience tensely watching your kid onstage, you will feel this movie in your gut.

You Can Count On Me (2000)

Ebert says: Beyond and beneath, that is the rich human story of "You Can Count on Me." I love the way Lonergan shows his characters in flow, pressed this way and that by emotional tides and practical considerations. This is not a movie about people solving things. This is a movie about people living day to day with their plans, fears and desires. It's rare to get a good movie about the touchy adult relationship of a sister and brother. Rarer still for the director to be more fascinated by the process than the outcome. This is one of the best movies of the year.

Election (1999)

NYT says: This story might have lent itself to pratfalls and broad gags, but Mr. Payne keeps it chillier. He sees the frailties of all the film's characters, even if its plot is supposedly about winners and losers. And for all its nicely malevolent humor this is a story that ultimately leads to disillusionment. As in ''Citizen Ruth,'' Mr. Payne has trouble resolving real issues with a simple ending. But the sentiment voiced by McAllister is ''It just makes me sad.'' Mr. Broderick knows how to make a fool of himself in very funny ways, and he gives a sneakily good performance here. Ms. Witherspoon, narrowing her eyes into slits whenever Tracy is thwarted, charges through the film with all due comic monstrousness and turns her character into somebody everyone knows.

Corey says: If you like Reese Witherspoon in this picture, I also recommend the very weird Freeway, the favorite movie of Isaac's violin teacher. Both she and the move Freeway are twisted. I mean that in the nicest possible way. And then maybe Man in the Moon, which she made when she was 14. Alexander Payne also directed Sideways

Magnolia (1999)

Ebert says: "Magnolia" is operatic in its ambition, a great, joyous leap into melodrama and coincidence, with ragged emotions, crimes and punishments, deathbed scenes, romantic dreams, generational turmoil and celestial intervention, all scored to insistent music. It is not a timid film.

Corey says: Probably Misayo's second favorite movie. Maybe because one of the characters - there are many main characters - is a hospice nurse, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Do you like Tom Cruise? Then I recommend this movie. Do you absolutely HATE Tom Cruise? Then I recommend it more so. It works either way. Paul Thomas Anderson also dircted There Will Be Blood.

Limbo (1999)

Corey says: This is a movie by John Sayles. After I watched it I went on a Sayles spree: Passion Fish, Lone Star, Casa de Los Babys. All these movies have complex, realistic characters, intelligent dialog, and they connect the personal with the social/political without being too didactic. Each one is rich in the local color of wherever it was set: Alaska, Louisianna, the Tex/Mex border, and Mexico, respectively.

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Ebert says: There will be no victory at the end, we sense. This is not one of those Grisham films in which the lawyers battle injustice and the creaky system somehow works. The parents who have lost their children can never get them back; the school bus driver must live forever with what happened; lawsuits will open old wounds and betray old secrets. If the lawyer wins, he gets to keep a third of the settlement; one look in his eyes reveals how little he thinks about money.... This story is not about lawyers or the law, not about small-town insularity, not about revenge (although that motivates an unexpected turning point). It is more about the living dead--about people carrying on their lives after hope and meaning have gone. The film is so sad, so tender toward its characters. The lawyer, an outsider who might at first seem like the source of more trouble, comes across more like a witness, who regards the stricken parents and sees his own approaching loss of a daughter in their eyes.

Corey says: Probably Misayo's favorite movie. Either this or Magnolia.

Before Sunrise (1995) (and then Before Sunset, 2004)

Ebert says: "Before Sunrise" is so much like real life - like a documentary with an invisible camera - that I found myself remembering real conversations I had experienced with more or less the same words...about two nice kids, literate, sensitive, tentative, intoxicated by the fact that their lives stretch out before them, filled with mystery and hope, and maybe love."

Corey says: Romantic like real life is romantic, not like Hollywood. Especially captures the way that travelling when you are young can open you up to intense romance -- especially with somebody with an accent. I say the following with humility: My wife came here from Japan, her first foreign travel experience, and met me soonafter. So for her, I was that intense romantic experience and a guy with an accent.

Any of the "Up" series - 28 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up.

Ebert says (about 28 Up): This film began 28 years ago as a documentary for British television. The assignment for Michael Apted was to interview several 7-year-olds from different British social classes, races, backgrounds and parts of the country, simply talking with them about what they found important or interesting about their lives. Seven years later, when the subjects were 14, Apted tracked them down and interviewed them again. He repeated the process when they were 21, and again when they were 28, and this film moves back and forth within that material, looking at the same people when they were children, teenagers, young adults and now warily approaching their 30s. We have always known that the motion picture is a time machine. What is awesome is that we can see so clearly how the 7-year-old became the adolescent, how the teenager became the young man or woman, how the adult still contains the seeds of the child.