Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weekly Top Tens Part 1: The Ten Best Remakes of the Decade

Following last week’s three part top ten about book adaptations this decade - the top ten, bottom ten and ten I would like see – this week, I decided to concentrate on remakes. There was no shortage of remakes to choose from – we seemingly get dozens each year – but only a few have been truly special, although many have been downright horrid. Yet still, there are 10 films (in fact more than 10), that I would love to see remade. For the most part, these are films that I think if updated properly, would be relevant to modern times. But before we get to them, let’s get to the best ten remakes of the decade.

10. The Ladykillers (Joel & Ethan Coen)
I know that even among Coen diehards, I am one of the few defenders of this film. It’s not that I think it’s as good as Alexander Mackendrick’s sublime original with Alec Guiness, just that there are few films this decade that made me laugh more consistently than this one. I loved seeing Tom Hanks return to his goofy comedy roots – doing a demented Colonel Sanders impression as the leader of a group of men trying to rob a bank by using the house of an old lady. The rest of his band of misfits, who one by one meet hilariously tragic ends – JK Simmons, Marlon Wayans, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst make for the most inept, hilariously mismatched group of thieves ever assembled. And nothing will dissuade my belief that the great Irma P. Hall deserved an Oscar nomination for her amazing, uproarious performance as the old lady Marva Munson. Every line reading in the film by her is a comic masterwork, none more so than when she dresses down Marlon Wayans for using the N-word. “Niggas! Two thousand years after Jesus, thirty years after Martin Luther King, the age of Montel; sweet Lord of mercy is that where we at?”. Pure comedic genius.

9. Funny Games (Michael Haneke)
Often, I find it futile, and a little silly, when directors remake their own movies. But Michael Haneke’s Funny Games in the rare exception to the rule. It makes much more sense that his film – about violence in the media, and more importantly they way we consume it – be an American film, with a cast of movie stars rather than a small cult movie from Belgium. Even though this is nearly a shot for shot remake of his original, I found this film much more disturbing, much more penetrating. Perhaps it’s because having a previous on screen relationship with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the couple being terrorized by a couple of teenage psychos (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), but the violence in the film – almost all of it off screen – is more difficult to take this time. That the film failed to penetrate into the American consciousness like Haneke wanted is not really his fault. To most, Funny Games will represent a blip in a brilliant career coming out of his hugely acclaimed Cache before his Palme D’Or winning The White Ribbon, but to me, it’s a worthy film by one of cinema’s greatest directors.

8. Halloween (Rob Zombie)
Even if Rob Zombie’s remake of the John Carpenter classic is not the best horror remake of the decade (see number 4), it is perhaps the only one that tried to do something completely different from the original film. Carpenter’s film, a masterpiece of horror and suspense, opens with a brief prologue of Michael Myers as a young kid when he kills his sister before being sent to the mental hospital. Zombie expands this – from about five minutes in the original to almost half the movie – and essentially makes a biopic about Myers. Before we can see him hack people to death, we have to learn to understand him. The first half of the film is brilliant – the second a well executed slasher film. I cannot wait to see what Zombie does next. He’s the best American director of horror working right now.

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton)
I maybe in the minority on this one as well, but I’ll take Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over the trippy, psychedelic version of the 1970s any day. Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka, as a freaky, overgrown man-child in the Michael Jackson vein, is pure genius. Freddie Highmore has the kind of sweet, open face perfect for Charlie. The rest of the cast – Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor and the great Christopher Lee as Willy’s demented dentist father among them – are all brilliant. Burton’s visuals are never less than astonishing in this film, and every frame is filled with imagination. I love it.

6. Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe)
A remake of an already pretty good Spanish movie (Open Your Eyes) by Alejandro Amenabar, Crowe made a distinct departure from his usual romantic comedies to make this dark, science fiction film. Tom Cruise gives one of his best performances as a rich playboy who comes undone when the girl he sleeps with sometimes (Cameron Diaz – never better) decides to get some revenge on him. Penelope Cruz, reprising the role she played in the original, is the weak link in the cast, but overall Vanilla Sky is a movie that if you give into it, and get on its wavelength is utterly fascinating and involving. One of the more underrated films of the decade.

5. Ocean’s 11 (Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh followed up the best year of his career, where he won the best director Oscar for Traffic and was also nominated for Erin Brockovich, by making this seemingly meaningless heist movie with an all star cast – George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts being just the tip of the iceberg. But Ocean’s 11 has got to be one of the decade’s most entertaining films. The sequels are mildly amusing at best, and I can’t stand to sit through them a second time, but I have lost count as to how many times I have watched this one. Whenever it’s on TV, no matter at what point I come in, I often stay until the end. Old school Hollywood filmmaking at its best.

4. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder)
I think Zack Snyder was smart enough, even in his debut effort, to realize that he would never be able to match George A. Romero’s original in terms of social commentary or consciousness; so instead, he decided to simply make a balls to the wall horror film. The result is one of the most entertaining and gruesome films of the decade. Lead by surprising strong, realistic turns by Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley, the movie starts out with a bang, and doesn’t let up for its entire running time. The film never cops out, or shies away from the more disturbing moments (they kill a freaking zombie baby for Christ’s sake!) and ends on a perfect, nihilistic note. Just great moviemaking from start to finish.

3. The Manchurian Candidate (Jonathan Demme)
Jontahan Demme’s remake of the John Frankenheimer classic is great for several reasons – the performances by Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight and especially Meryl Streep (who for once deserved an Oscar nomination she didn’t get instead of the other way around) were all brilliant, Demme’s surefooted direction constantly escalates the tension as we are drawn closer to its inevitable conclusion, the screenplay is tightly wound and pitch perfect. But the biggest reason this remake worked is because Demme and company updated the original story and turned it into something relevant to modern audiences. Many remakes are content to simply redo the original, but this one expands on it. While, in the end, it may not be quite as good as the original film, it is still an excellent film unto itself.

2. King Kong (Peter Jackson)
Damn if that giant monkey doesn’t make cry everything I watch this film. Taken from his home and treated as nothing but a sideshow, Kong truly does love Naomi Watt’s Ann Darrow, and there are moments of sheer unadulterated joy in the film, undercut by the tragic knowledge of what it to come. Is there a more magical movie moment this decade then the two of them sliding around the ice in Central Park? The finale is truly thrilling and heartbreaking, where Kong looks at Ann with those huge, expressive eyes, uncomprehending as to what it happening, before finally letting go. It’s the most heartbreaking moment in recent years. So while I admit the film is too long (and feels it on repeat viewings, especially in the first hour), and while Jack Black and Adrian Brody are merely adequate as the male leads, I love Peter Jackson’s King Kong with all my heart – and more than I love The Lord of the Rings.

1. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese, along with screenwriter William Monahan took what was essentially a tightly wound Asian action movie, Infernal Affairs, and turned it into something operatic in its scope and sense of tragedy. The film expands the universe created in the original film by adding elements of the tragic surrogate father-son relationships both main characters have – who cannot stop themselves from following their idols orders even as it pushes them closer to death and farther away from their true selves. The classic Scorsese elements of guilt, and to a lesser extent redemption, course through the movie as well. And the sly War on Terror allegory that most people missed is utterly brilliant. Oh, and did I mentioned that this is far and away the most entertaining film of the decade? A masterpiece.

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