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Archive for December, 2009

The 100 best movies of the decade.

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

The 100 best movies I saw in the 2000s:

1. “The Departed” (2006). A cop goes undercover as a gangster, a gangster goes undercover as a cop, and from that point on we’re dealing with Shakespearean issues of identity and true self while the blood splatters the wall at every turn. Martin Scorsese’s masterful interpretation of the 2002 Hong Kong classic “Infernal Affairs” is an exceedingly violent, profane, grim, darkly funny and thrilling gangster epic, filled with juicy performances from perhaps the best ensemble cast in a crime pic since the “Godfather” movies, including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. Great, juicy performances, a brilliant screenplay and enough twists and turns to leave you breathless.

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2. “In America” (2003). In this beautiful, heart-wrenching, fictionalized version of his own story, director Jim Sheridan explores the theme of “aliens” in America while continually referencing another alien: “E.T.” There are at least two scenes in this that will make you cry, unless you’re dead. And maybe even then. “In America” is the equal of Frank Capra’s best work.

3. “Traffic” (2000). Stephen Soderberg’s sprawling masterpiece about the myriad ways in which drugs have invaded our culture is a triumph of style and content. Soderbergh changes filters on his camera as he traverses back and forth between three equally compelling stories about the war on drugs, told from perspectives ranging from the most powerful corridors of Washington to the seediest back alleys. One of the best ensemble casts of the decade (Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio del Toro in an Oscar-winning role) in a film that defines the drug culture on a grand scale and on a very personal, family level.

4. “Memento” (2001). Ingeniously inverted puzzle that goes from finish to start, like Hitchcock walking backwards. The only thing better than the first time you see it is the second time you see it.

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5. “House of Flying Daggers” (2004). The most beautiful film of the decade. Set in 9th century China, Zhang Yimou’s martial arts opera stars the achingly beautiful Ziyi Zhang in a gorgeous explosion of action, romance, music and breathtaking action sequences. The plot becomes insanely complicated, but who cares?

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6. “Mystic River” (2003). If Clint Eastwood had never acted in a single frame of film in his life, he’d be an American treasure for his work behind the camera. This is a profound, authentic, devastatingly honest piece of work.

7. “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). “The Usual Suspects” meets “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with a whole lot of 21st century Charles Dickens as well. Danny Boyle directs with kinetic style as he jumps about chronologically and tells the story of an 18-year-old from the ghettos of Mumbai who somehow knows all the answers on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” At times excruciatingly realistic, at other times venturing into pure fable territory, “Slumdog” survived all the hype and scored all those Oscars, every one of them well deserved. One of the most exhilarating viewing experiences I’ve ever had.

8. “25th Hour” (2002). 8. “25th Hour.” Spike Lee’s overlooked masterpiece stands as the definitive time capsule of New York in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Works as a social commentary, a crime story, a buddy film and a story about the bond between father and son.

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9. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000). Ang Lee’s most accomplished film. Epic, exotic, romantic, gorgeous—and filled with breathtaking fight sequences.

10. “Hotel Rwanda” (2004). One of the most heartbreaking and inspirational movies I’ve ever seen, based on a true story. Don Cheadle deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of a good man catapulted to perform great deeds during a time of horrific genocide.

11. “Minority Report” (2002)

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12. “Gangs of New York” (2002)

13. “Syriana” (2005)

14. “Michael Clayton” (2007)

15. “Zodiac” (2007)

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16. “No Country for Old Men” (2007)

17. “The Dark Knight” (2008)

18. “Brothers” (2009)

19. “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)

20. “Gone Baby Gone” (2007)

21. “21 Grams” (2003).

22. “Up in the Air” (2009)

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23. “The Lookout” (2007)

24. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

25. “Munich” (2005)

26. “In the Bedroom” (2001).

27. “The New World” (2005)

28. “The Queen” (2006)

29. “Love, Actually” (2003)

30. “The Claim” (2000)

31. “The Hurt Locker” (2009)

32. “Babel” (2006)

33. “Lost in Translation” (2003)

34.  “Finding Nemo” (2003)

Finding-Nemo

35. “The Aviator” (2004)

36. “Crash” (2005)

37. “Y tu Mama Tambien” (2002)

38. “Donnie Darko” (2001)

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39. “Flags of our Fathers”/”Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006)

40. “The Wrestler” (2008)

41.“Vanilla Sky” (2001)

42. “Sideways” (2004)

43. “Eastern Promises” (2007)

44. “The Contender” (2000)

45. “A Beautiful Mind” (2001)

46. “United 93” (2006)

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47. “In Bruges” (2008)

48. “Nine Lives” (2005)

49. “(500) Days of Summer” (2009)

50. “Best in Show” (2000)

51. “Wonder Boys” (2000)

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52. “Adaptation” (2002)

53. “Elephant” (2003)

54. “A History of Violence” (2005)

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55. “I’ve Loved You So Long” (2008)

56. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)

57. “Almost Famous” (2000)

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58. “Rabbit-Proof Fence” (2002)

59. “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)

60. “One Hour Photo” (2002)

61. “Amores Perros” (2001)

62. “The Barbarian Invasions” (2003)

63.“Mulholland Drive” (2001)

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64. “Finding Forrester” (2000)

65. “Capote” (2005)

66. “The Terminal” (2004)

67. “City of God” (2002)

68. “Notes on a Scandal” (2006)

69. “Gran Torino” (2008)

70. “Kill Bill Vol. 2” (2004)

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71. “Cast Away” (2000)

72. “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003)

73. “Breach” (2007)

74. “You Can Count on Me” (2000)

75.  “The Visitor” (2008)

76. “Monsoon Wedding” (2002)

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77. “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005)

78. “The Lives of Others” (2006)

79. “Up” (2009)

80. “Monster” (2003)

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81. “Avatar” (2009)

82. “The Good Shepherd” (2006)

83. “Milk” (2008)

84. “Juno” (2007)

juno-top

85. “Collateral” (2004)

86. “Sunshine” (2000)

87. “Happy Accidents” (2001)

88. “About Schmidt” (2002)

89. “Snow Angels” (2007)

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90. “Whale Rider” (2003)

91. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)

92. “Dinner Rush” (2001)

93. “Frozen River” (2008)

94. “Frost/Nixon” (2008)

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95. “The Deep End” (2001)

96. “Walk the Line” (2005)

97. “Blood Diamond” (2006)

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98. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008)

99. “Signs” (2002)

100. “About a Boy” (2002)

The (s)hit list, continued.

Monday, December 28th, 2009

60. “Mr. Deeds” (2002)

Mr. Deeds

61. “Fly Me to the Moon” (2008)

62. “Tranformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009)

63. “See Spot Run” (2001)

64. “Rush Hour 3” (2007)

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65. “Dumb and Dumberer” (2003)

66. “Thunderbirds” (2004)

67. “Harold and Kumar Escape…” (2008)

68. “The Man” (2005)

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69. “The Shaggy Dog” (2006)

70. “Funny Games” (2008)

71. “New in Town” (2009)

72. “From Justin to Kelly” (2003)

From Justin To Kelly

73. “Monkeybone”

74. “Perfect Stranger” (2007)

75. “Guess Who” (2005)

76. “The Guardian” (2006)

77. “Over Her Dead Body” (2008)

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78. “2012” (2009)

79. “Saving Silverman” (2001)

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80. “Just Married” (2003)

81. “Taxi” (2004)

82. “Bewitched” (2005)

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83. “Flyboys” (2006)

84. “Love Happens” (2009)

85. “Tomcats” (2001)

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86. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003)

87. “Connie and Carla” (2004)

88. “The Legend of Zorro” (2005)

89. “The Wicker Man” (2006)

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90. “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (2008)

91. “Whiteout” (2009)

92. “Witless Protection” (2008)

93. “Step Up” (2006)

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94. “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” (2007)

95. “Daddy Day Camp” (2007)

96. “Four Christmases” (2008)

97. “Because I Said So” (2007)

98. “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” (2005)

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99. “Swept Away” (2002)

100. “Deck the Halls” (2006)

The best (and worst) of 2009.

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

In case you missed my picks for the best and worst movies of the year…

1. “Brothers.” A brilliant, beautiful, harsh, gut-punching, 21st century war story with Biblical overtones. Some critics said Jim Sheridan’s adaptation of the great Danish film to be too glossy and heavy-handed, but I found it to be just as profound as the original. Either you buy Tobey Maguire’s tightly wound performance or you don’t. I thought his performance was pure truth. A perfectly realized screenplay, intense performances from all the leads, amazing work by the supporting cast, including the two little girls. Reminiscent of classics such as “Coming Home.”

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2. “Up in The Air.” It was just about a coin flip between my first two picks. Jason Reitman’s third film is a nearly flawless blend of comedy and melancholy, with George Clooney in an Oscar-worthy performance. A smart, insightful, of-the-moment film that also touches on universal themes. Reitman smoothly shifts gears from wickedly cynical to flat-out funny to unabashedly sentimental, never striking a wrong note.

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3. “The Hurt Locker.” Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who was embedded with a U.S. bomb-disposal squad in 2004) give us a searing, sometimes unbearably tense depiction of war as a drug. Jeremy Renner has done some fine work before, but he delivers perhaps THE breakout performance of the year as a legendary bomb-squad specialist who is completely comfortable dodging enemy fire while defusing explosives in the most hellish environment imaginable–but utterly lost when he returns home and has to go grocery shopping with his wife. Heartbreaking, thrilling, gritty, sad.

4. “(500) Days of Summer.” A worthy descendant of “Annie Hall,” from the unconventional storytelling techniques (two characters have very different perspectives on the same scene) to the romance that bends and breaks in unexpected ways. Director Marc Webb has fun playing with familiar romantic comedy elements without being condescending. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are immensely appealing, the soundtrack is filled with hipster treasures, and the ending is just perfect. What a sweet and smart film.

5. “Inglourious Basterds.” Brad Pitt is hilariously over-the-top as the (non-Jewish) leader of a band of bloodthirsty Jewish soldiers who engage in the systematic slaughter of Nazis. A spectacular cinematic mash-up that blends elements of spaghetti Westerns, 1940s film noir and movies such as “The Dirty Dozen.” I don’t see how Christoph Waltz doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the Nazi who takes pride in being called “The Jew Hunter.” He owns every scene he’s in.

6. “Up.” Leave it to Pixar (specifically Pete Docter and Bob Peterson) to give us a love story that continues to bloom after one partner has died, not to mention a buddy movie with one buddy about 70 years older than the other. The first 20 minutes of this film, including a montage that seems inspired by “Citizen Kane,” are as heartbreaking as any extended sequence I’ve seen in any film in the last 10 years. Amazing that an animated film with funny-looking squared-off little characters could be so moving. From that point on, “Up” goes from greatness to mere “very goodness,” with Pixar continuing its remarkable winning streak of clever, funny, innovative, visually gorgeous instant classics.

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7. “Avatar.” Yes, I rolled my eyes at the New Age/Mother Earth philosophy, the solemn references to the “Tree of Souls” and all the heavy-handed messages about the Evil Earthlings who could learn a thing or two from the Noble Natives, but is the futuristic-Western plot of “Avatar” that much different from the storyline for “Star Wars”? I don’t think so. The basic story is a 22nd century version of “Dances With Wolves,” but we’re not here for plot, we’re here for the cool-ass CGI/motion capture/movie magic/3D stuff. This is one of the most visually arresting films I’ve ever seen, with James Cameron and an army of technicians filling every inch of the screen with amazing sights and sounds. For two and a half hours, it never disappoints.

8. “Adventureland.” I loved this film. The TV ads and the previews for “Adventureland” emphasized the slapstick stuff, but writer/director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) actually delivered a fresh take on a coming of age story that’s a lot more than the sum of its trailer parts. “Adventureland” is set in the pre-texting, pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook era of 1987, when you’d actually have to call a girl’s house and ask her mother if she was home. Kristen Stewart is a lot more appealing here than she is in the “Twilight” movies, and Jessse Eisenberg gives his best performance to date as the boy who falls for her. We meet what appears to be a stock supply of summer-movie characters, but every story plays out in an unexpected fashion. Rent this movie, please.

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9.  “An Education.” Carey Mulligan has a brief shining moment as a young war widow in “Brothers,” but it’s her remarkable work as a 16-year-old schoolgirl in this British period piece that announces the presence of a major young talent. Set in 1961 London, “An Education” benefits from Nick Hornby’s pitch-perfect adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir. Peter Sarsgaard is suitably slick and borderline creepy as the 35ish smooth talker who seduces Mulligan’s Jenny, a whip-smart teenager bursting with enthusiasm for conversation, cigarettes, literature, French films, jazz—and yes, a connection to a man who understands her, unlike those croak-voiced boys who wobble about on their bicycles while trying to get her attention. There’s more than a touch of Audrey Hepburn to Mulligan’s onscreen presence.

10. “The Informant!” One of the most entertaining movies of the year–especially if you get a bigger kick out of a well-delivered line of dialogue than another CGI explosion. I’m not sure why filmgoers didn’t respond to Steven Soderbergh’s offbeat satire, based on true events. (Maybe it’s because it was an offbeat satire, based on true events.) Matt Damon packed on the pounds, sported a cheesy mustache and created one of the most original characters of the year: Mark Whitacre, a corporate whistle blower/compulsive liar who is scary-smart and amazingly dim, sometimes in the same moment.

And the worst, with the worst of the worst being first:

1. “All About Steve.” This entire movie should be put on medication. It’s a creepy, smarmy, utterly charmless and laugh-free comedy, with Sandra Bullock in an astonishingly embarrassing performance as an apparently insane woman stalking Bradley Cooper. With each wrong turn, your jaw drops. If all films were as bad as “All About Steve,” movies would be outlawed.

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2. “The Ugly Truth.” A grotesque sitcom featuring a shrill performance by Katherine Heigl as an uptight producer of a local morning TV show, and a floundering Gerard Butler as a macho pig who becomes an unlikely—VERY unlikely—television star due to his Neanderthal rants about how men are from Mars and he’s just not that into you and—well, you’ve heard it all before. Of all the bad movies that seem to know nothing about how television really works, this is one of the worst. I hated the premise, I hated the execution, I hated the stupid ending—and I was stunned by the tastelessness of the scene in which a little boy plays with a remote control device in a restaurant, unwittingly bringing Heigl to an orgasm because she’s wearing vibrating panties. Good God.

3. “Old Dogs.” When Robin Williams and John Travolta were handed the script for this depressingly lazy and shockingly inept wannabe comedy, they should have called each other and said, “Let’s just go on vacation.” Guys. You’ve got all the money in the world and plenty of talent. Why burn up audience goodwill on insulting garbage like this?

4. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” The first one was big, loud and stupid, but entertaining. The sequel is bigger, louder, stupider and dull beyond belief—and it goes on for two and a half hours, which feel like two and a half days. They’re going to keep making “Transformers” sequels forever, aren’t they? Noooooooooooooooooo please nooooooo!

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5. “2012.” I heard from more than a few moviegoers who thought my reaction to this film was too harsh, given that Roland Emmerich wasn’t trying to do anything more than destroy the world in creative fashion. But I can’t deny how much I loathed every dopey, obnoxiously clichéd moment in this disaster of a disaster film. This is a slick, cynical, occasionally sadistic movie in which cities and human beings are wiped out for our enjoyment, while a bunch of talented actors ham their way to a paycheck. Throughout the viewing experience, I almost sprained my wrist due to checking my watch so many times, praying it was nearly over.

6. “Love Happens.” Yeah, and there’s another four-letter word that happens too. Jennifer Aniston is listless as she repeats a role she’s done a half-dozen times before, Aaron Eckhart is miscast as a sensitive widower-turned-motivational speaker, the script is formulaic, and the big weeper scene takes place on the wrong stage at the wrong time and is executed in excruciatingly heavy-handed fashion. In one of the worst roles in his terrific career, Martin Sheen plays an ex-Marine who has glow-in-the-dark teeth and a perma-tan, despite living in Seattle. Perhaps upon retirement, his character opened a tanning salon/teeth whitening parlor.

7. “Whiteout.” Here’s the problem with staging a prolonged battle between the heroine and the killer in a whiteout—IT’S A WHITEOUT, SO YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING. After a cliché-filled setup that plays like a slasher movie at the South Pole, Kate Beckinsale comes parka-to-parka with the mysterious killer who’s been offing folks left and right, but we can’t really tell what’s happening because of all that snow. Nice touch, folks. This movie also contains what might be the most bizarre scene of the year, when Beckinsale shares a tender, teary exchange with father-figure Tom Skeritt—as he prepares to amputate her frostbitten fingers. Sniff, sniff, snip, snip. Yow.

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8. “Fame.” A bland, sanitized, unnecessary and almost instantly forgettable remake. A bland, sanitized, unnecessary and almost instantly forgettable remake. A bland, sanitized, unnecessary and almost instantly forgettable remake. Oh, am I repeating myself? Well, they would have been better off copying the original “Fame” scene by scene and note for note than going forward with this bland, sanitized, unnecessary and almost instantly forgettable remake.

9. “Twilight: New Moon Saga.” I’m not with Team Edward or Team Wolfboy. I’m with Team Give Me a Break. Granted, I’m not the target audience for this melodramatic teen-soap vampy silliness, but still, I was cringing at the stilted performance by Robert Pattinson, the one-note sullenness of Kristen Stewart’s Bella and the shirtless howling antics of the pecs-flexing Taylor Lautner and his fellow werewolves. A plodding saga with long stretches of dullness followed by unimpressive action sequences? Count me out.

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10. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” What a disappointment. Let’s start with a back story that doesn’t really explain the genesis of the Human Can Opener. How can you have an “origins” movie that doesn’t outline the origins? After about a hundred years of fighting in every conflict from the Civil War to Vietnam, Wolverine (who for some reason stops aging just when starts looking like Hugh Jackman) tries to live a normal life with the woman of his dreams, but his brother wants to kill him, and the government wants to turn him into a weapon, and blah blah blah here comes another bland, CGI, PG-13 fight sequence followed by a plot twist we can see coming a mile down the road. This guy’s a lot more interesting as part of the X-Men band than as a solo act.

The (s)hit list: worst movies of the decade.

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Let’s start the countdown of the worst movies of the 2000s with these gems:

80. “Just Married” (2003)

81. “Taxi” (2004)

82. “Bewitched” (2005)

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83. “Flyboys” (2006)

84. “Love Happens” (2009)

85. “Tomcats” (2001)

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86. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003)

87. “Connie and Carla” (2004)

88. “The Legend of Zorro” (2005)

89. “The Wicker Man” (2006)

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90. “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (2008)

91. “Whiteout” (2009)

92. “Witless Protection” (2008)

93. “Step Up” (2006)

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94. “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” (2007)

95. “Daddy Day Camp” (2007)

96. “Four Christmases” (2008)

97. “Because I Said So” (2007)

98. “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” (2005)

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99. “Swept Away” (2002)

100. “Deck the Halls” (2006)

The best and worst films of the 2000s.

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

My picks for the 10 best and 10 worst films of the decade will be in the Jan. 3 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times—but for the next few days, I’ll counting down (up?) from my lists of the best 100 and worst 100 movies of the 200s.

Let’s start with some good ones:

80. “Monster” (2003)

charlize-theron-hot-monster-comparison

81. “Avatar” (2009)

82. “The Good Shepherd” (2006)

83. “Milk” (2008)

84. “Juno” (2007)

juno-top

85. “Collateral” (2004)

86. “Sunshine” (2000)

87. “Happy Accidents” (2001)

88. “About Schmidt” (2002)

89. “Snow Angels”

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90. “Whale Rider” (2003)

91. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)

92. “Dinner Rush” (2001)

93. “Frozen River” (2008)

94. “Frost/Nixon” (2008)

frost-nixon-langella-sheen

95. “The Deep End” (2001)

96. “Walk the Line” (2005)

97. “Blood Diamond” (2006)

poster

98. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008)

99. “Signs” (2002)

100. “About a Boy” (2002)

 
 
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