Thursday, June 11, 2009

Weekly Top Ten: Pixar's Best Films

Okay, so what if Pixar only has 10 films in total to their name, they still do deserve a top ten list ranking them, don’t they? None of Pixar’s films have been anything less than very good, and I would consider at least 7 of them great. So the purpose of this list is simply to rank them in my own order of preference. I am quite sure you could juggle the list around, and you’d still be pretty much on the money.

10. A Bug’s Life (1997)
There is nothing wrong with A Bug’s Life. It is a perfectly good animated film about an ant who goes on a journey of self discovery, and tries to save his home and family from the evil grasshoppers (led by the brilliant Kevin Spacey, doing some great voice work). It’s just that for me there is not much about A Bug’s Life that distinguishes it from the computer animated films made by studios that are not Pixar. Put Dreamworks name on this, and it’s one of their best. With Pixar’s name on it, it is just slightly disappointing. Still very good though.

9. Cars (2006)
Cars was a fun throwback. A nostalgic, romantic yearning for a time and place that is long gone, and in truth probably never really existed in the first place. It is also fast paced and fun, and features some great voice work, especially by Paul Newman. If I have a quibble with the movie it’s that out of all of Pixar’s films this one really does seem like the most kid-centric. I know all of these films are aimed at the family market, and the kids (especially boys) absolutely love this movie, but for me, it’s one of only two Pixar films I cannot imagine myself watching over and over again.

8. Monster’s Inc. (2001)
There is nothing wrong with Monster’s Inc. It is in fact a great little film, and is easily better than Shrek (which beat it out at the Oscars that year for animated film – for shame!). This was the first Pixar film that to me, really went after you emotionally. You fell in love with Sully and Mike, and of course little Boo, and if you don’t mist up a little bit at the end when Sully comes back and Boo says “Kitty”, then you have no heart at all. John Goodman, Billy Crystal and Steve Buscemi, as the bad guy, all give great voice performances, and the movie is a real charmer.

7. Toy Story (1995)
The movie that started it all is still a great little movie. It’s just that when compared to what came later, it isn’t quite as good as the rest. But Buzz Lightyear and Woody the Cowboy will always be two of the most iconic characters in the Pixar oeuvre, and they are surrounded by a cast of memorable toy characters (my favorite being the Piggy Bank, voiced by John Ratzenburger, the only guy who has been in every Pixar movie). It’s charming and heartfelt, and has some great action set pieces in it. No wonder people still love it so much.

6. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Everything that they did in Toy Story, they did in Toy Story 2 better. The animation is better, the characters better defined, the emotions stronger, the action better. It even had better villains with Wayne Knight’s toy collector, and Kelsey Grammer’s Prospector Pete. This is also the first of the Pixar films that has a rather downbeat ending – the first time Pixar seemed to trust its audience enough to not make everything so happy. The toys realize that at a certain point in their “lives” they will be discarded – but they are okay with that. It’s better to be loved for a little while, then to be admired forever.

5. Up (2009)
Pixar’s most recent film is one of their very best. Truly, you could put my top five in any order, and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. This is the first Pixar film to deal with real people – not animals, or toys, or robots or superheroes – but real people going about living their lives. Carl Frederickson is one of their most poignant characters – a man who was handed one disappointment in life after another, and once he loses his beloved wife, feels he has nothing left. Russell, the little boy he befriends, has his own issues – he just wants his father to love him and be proud of him. The adventure they go on – which is thrilling – and the other characters the encounter – including the most lovable talking dog ever (“Hello my name is Dug. I just met you and I love you”) are almost beside the point. These characters are as real, and as well defined, as any live action humans you see in the movies in any given year.

4. Finding Nemo (2003)
For me, Finding Nemo represented the moment when Pixar completely elevated their game to an entirely new level. Finding Nemo represented a major breakthrough for them in terms of creating an entire, visually spectacular undersea world, and then populating it with a marvelous, eccentric cast of characters. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen Degeneres) were two of their most memorable characters, and little Nemo and his aquarium friends were all amazingly well done. The movie is better written than any of the previous Pixar films, and reaches new heights in terms of the emotions generated by the film. Truly, this is a special film.

3. Ratatouille (2007)
Somehow, director Brad Bird was able to make a film about a rat who wants to be a gourmet chef, and not make it stomach churning. Remy the Rat wants the finer things in life. He is tired of eating garbage with his family, and so when he finds himself in Paris, he heads to a struggling gourmet restaurant and turns it around, by becoming a puppeteer, to a novice chef who has no idea what he’s doing. The result is one of Pixar’s most charming, most enchanting, and funniest fables about staying true to yourself, and knowing who you are. It also contains the most scathing portrait of a critic ever put on screen in the form of Peter O’Toole brilliant Anton Ego. An absolute masterpiece.

2. The Incredibles (2004)
In terms of pure excitement in filmmaking, Pixar never did anything better than The Incredibles. This is the most action packed, most fun of any of their films. And yet, they never let all that action get in the way of the characters, or the poignancy of the story. Mr. Incredible is a sad character, who misses the life he once had. He loves his family, but needs some excitement in his life. How many animated movies deal so well with a mid-life crisis on screen (or for that matter, how many live action movies do?). The voice work by the entire cast is wonderful, and this film brought the visuals to another entirely new level. A film I never tire of.

1. Wall-E (2008)
How could my number 1 be anything but Wall-E? A year after I saw this film for the first time, I still get misty thinking about the moment when Wall-E remembers who Eve is, and grasps her hand in the finale. The first act of the film, told entirely in the silent movie tradition, is poignant and sweet and brilliantly well executed. When they get to the spaceship, the movie becomes a little more formulaic, but is never less than exciting, and in moments like Wall-E and Eve’s ballet in space, becomes truly heartwarming. This is not just Pixar’s best film, it is one of the best films of the decade.

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