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John Rhys-Davies

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The Oughts in Film: Part V (10-1).

We come to it at last, the great battle of our age. In a perfect world, I would’ve gotten these up before 2010 hit. (Then again, in a perfect world, we’d have had a health care bill last July and I’d be going to work by eco-friendly jetpack.) In any case, here they are. No cheating! Please be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, before perusing the…

Top 100 Films of the Decade:
Part V: 10-1

[The Rest of the List: 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1]
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009]

10. The Dark Knight (2008)

From the original review: “Holy Catastrophic Wreck of a City, Batman! After two viewings, I’m happy to report Christopher Nolan’s moody, sinister The Dark Knight was well worth the wait, and bears the high expectations set for it quite impressively. In fact, at two and a half hours (which zip along, and even feel somewhat truncated at times — see below), this sprawling Gotham crime saga is almost too much movie to take in the first time around…Most importantly, if Begins, as I said in 2005, was ‘the Batman movie that fans of the Dark Knight have been waiting for,’ this is undoubtedly the Joker movie we’ve all been hoping for as its companion…Heath Ledger here is a true force of nature, embodying to a tee the malevolent, frighteningly insane jester of The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns.

From the year-end list: “Yes, it’s the obvious fanboy pick. And, admittedly, TDK had pacing problems — it was herky-jerky at times and the third act felt rushed. Still, in a not-particularly-good year for cinema, Christopher Nolan’s operatic reimagining of the Caped Crusader and his arch-nemesis was far and away the most enjoyable experience i had at the movies in 2008. And if Candidate Obama was America’s own white knight (metaphorically speaking) this past year, Heath Ledger’s Joker was its mischievous, amoral, and misanthropic id. If and when the economic wheels continue to come off in 2009, will stoic selflessness or gleeful anarchy be the order of the day? The battle for Gotham continues, and everybody’s nervously eyeing those detonators. Let’s hope the clown doesn’t get the last laugh.

And let’s be honest: The Joker’s had a good year in 2009 (and, at least so far, our “white knight” of 2008 has been looking a little more Two-Faced than some of us anticipated back then.) In a decade that saw more comic book movies than even comic book fans might have asked for, Christopher Nolan’s grim and relentlessly-paced crime noir was the pick of the litter. Yeah, some problems here persist — The movie is a little overstuffed in its third act, and Bale’s bat-rasp doesn’t get any less goofy. Still, even more than Batman Begins, this was a full-immersion Gotham experience.

As per Nolan’s usual m.o., The Dark Knight didn’t shy away from grappling with larger themes amid all its impressive action setpieces. For example, there’s much ado here about the compelling need to maintain convenient myths — be it that Harvey Dent is a saint, or that Rachel will come back to Bruce, or that, as the Joker puts it, when bad things do happen, “it’s all part of the plan.”

Or, to take another example, TDK dwells more substantially than most any other comic films out there on the heavy price of vigilantism. Consider the bad behavior “the Batman” engenders among gun-toting do-gooders in hockey pads. And once Gordon, Dent, and Bats bend one rule — extradition — to get the mob’s moneyman back from Hong Kong, it’s Katy bar the door, basically. Next thing you know, Bats is “burning down the jungle” to get his man, including setting up a warrantless wiretap operation over in the basement at Wayne Enterprises. After all, once you’ve decided to go outside the law — say, to fight crime in a big bat suit — where does it all stop?

Of course, in the end the most memorable aspect of TDK was Heath Ledger’s twisted, anarchic, and thoroughly menacing take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Mark Hamill’s cartoon work notwithstanding, this was the Killing Joke-type Joker I had wanted to see on-screen since before the original Burton Batman. Particularly as compared to Jack Nicholson’s indulgent performance back in the day, Ledger brought us a better class of criminal — I just wish he could’ve stuck around for more.

9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

From the year-end list: “Amazing film. Nothing bad to say about it. Go now.

I haven’t seen Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in many years, so I can’t really vouch for how well its blend of wire-fu enhanced wuxia and ancient Middle Kingdom lore holds up in 2009. (I do know it’s better than Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Fearless, and Curse of the Golden Flower, to take several later examples of the genre.) Still, even coming as it did after The Matrix, also choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, Crouching Tiger was an absolute jaw-dropper. And unlike Quentin Tarantino in the uneven Kill Bills, Lee wisely let Yuen’s choreography provide the kinetic energy here, rather than opting for frenetic and choppy editing.

Speaking of QT, I’m sure he and countless other kung-fu aficionados out there could plausibly tell you that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was nothing compared to Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Fist of Legend, or any number of other wuxia epics I haven’t seen. Point conceded. Nonetheless, I found Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a breathtaking movie experience. And, with Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi on hand, I’d put the acting (tho’ not necessarily the martial arts) talent here up against any possible contender.

8. Before Sunset (2004)

As with Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046, I first saw Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset back-to-back on DVD a few years ago. And, while Before Sunrise didn’t do much for me (I’m guessing the problem is that I should have seen it back in 1995, when I was a more idealistic 21), I thought Before Sunset was stunningly good. (For this one, I was juuust right.)

Basically told in real-time one Paris afternoon, Before Sunset brings Jesse and Celine, the lovers of the first film, back together ten years after their fateful night in Vienna. As it turns out, one of them didn’t show up for the romantic rendez-vous made at the end of Sunrise, which complicates things from the start. And, with ten years passed, both are now a little older and wiser in the ways of love. And by that, I mean they’ve become damaged, compromised, brittle, and gun-shy around each other.

Nonetheless, they shared something once upon a time in Vienna, and so they spend the next ninety minutes together — getting up-to-date, confessing recent disappointments, licking old wounds. Life didn’t turn out at all like they figured…and why is that, honestly? When and where did everything start to slip, and what might’ve happened if they had followed through on the promise made, and broken, ten years earlier?

In a way, there isn’t much “movie” here at all — It’s just two old lovers, chatting for ninety minutes as they stroll about the City of Light. Still, Before Sunset is a powerful film if you let it work on you. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are both engaging and excellent, and not a false note is struck as each, slowly and almost despite themselves, lets their guard down around the other again. Ok, the great in media res ending of Sunset may veer a bit toward wish-fulfillment mode. But, y’know, why the heck not? After all this time, they still believe. (In fact, the ending to Before Sunset is remarkably like another film coming up…soon.)

7. No Country for Old Men (2007)

From the original review: ““Seen the arrow on the doorpost, saying, ‘This land is condemned’…” Well, Bob, East Texas may seem rough, but trust me, West Texas is even worse. I’m always going to have a soft spot for Miller’s Crossing, and The Big Lebowski is its own strange and beautiful beast, but the Coen Brothers’ tense, brooding No Country for Old Men, which I caught this morning, is right up among their best work, and that is no small thing…[I]f you harbored any doubts about the Coens after their botched remake of The Ladykillers, fret not. The brothers are back in form.

From the year-end list: “[T]he Coens’ expertly-crafted No Country works as both a visceral exercise in dread and a sobering philosophical rumination on mortality and the nature of evil. (And in his chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem has crafted a movie villain for the ages.)…No Country for Old Men seems so seamless and fully formed, so judicious and economical in its storytelling, that it reminds me of Salieri’s line in Amadeus: ‘Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall.’ A dark journey that throbs with a jagged pulse, No Country for Old Men is very close to the best film of the year, and — along with Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski — yet another masterpiece sprung from the Coens’ elegant and twisted hive-mind.

The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world.’” The Coens’ best film in a decade full of superior offerings, No Country for Old Men, as Matt Zoller Seitz eloquently argued in Salon last week, was a culmination of sorts for the brothers.

On its face, No Country is another sordid crime saga like Blood Simple or Fargo. But it’s also, like Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Serious Man, and much of the Coens’ oeuvre, a philosophical rumination on what propels people along the paths they choose. When Anton Chigurh flips a coin to decide Carla Jean’s fate, who, really, is doing the deciding? Chigurh or the coin? “The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you.” “Well, I got here the same way the coin did.” Um, ok then. Is it Carla Jean, perhaps? After all, she could’ve picked tails. And, for that matter, Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn could never have taken the money in the first place. In fact, as soon as he does, he starts referring to himself as a dead man…So he knew the score.

But then again, as Tom Reagan asks in Miller’s Crossing, “Do you always know why you do things, Leo?” So maybe it was always out of their hands to begin with. After all, Ulysses Everett McGill’s travels through the South in O’Brother are dictated by the Fates. The Dude…The Dude abides. And Anton Chigurh himself takes a side-impact car crash like he takes anything else — It’s simply the way things are. As another character reminds us in No Country, “You can’t stop what’s comin’.” Or, to switch back to A Serious Man, that whirlwind’s getting closer, and you can’t stop it. So heed the words of the Jefferson Airplane, and find Somebody to Love…

The world of the Coens is all of a piece, and, for all its darkness, No Country is one of its purest expressions. (There’s a good bit of overlap in the world of Cormac McCarthy as well. No Country ends with Tommy Lee Jones talking about a dream he had, one in which his father carries fire into the dark. A father “carrying the fire” also figures very prominently in The Road.) In the Coens’ world, as in ours, the only predictable thing about life is that it is finite, so take things as they come and live it well. As Marge Gunderson puts it in Fargo, “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.” Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you. Abide.

6. United 93 (2006)

From the original review: “Whether or not the world really needed a film about the events that took place on United Flight 93 the morning of September 11, 2001 is, I suppose, still an open question…That being said, having run the gauntlet earlier this week, I can now happily report that United 93 is magnificent, and arguably the best possible film that could’ve been made about this story. Both harrowing and humane, it’s the movie of the year so far.

From the year-end list: “A movie I originally had no interest in seeing, Paul Greengrass’s harrowing docudrama of the fourth flight on September 11 captured the visceral shock of that dark day without once veering into exploitation or sentimentality…While 9/11 films of the future might offer more perspective on the origins and politics of those horrible hours, it’s hard to imagine a more gripping or humane film emerging anytime soon about the day’s immediate events. A tragic triumph, United 93 is an unforgettable piece of filmmaking.

If ever there was a counterpoint to the cosmic shrug favored by Anton Chigurh, it can be found in Paul Greengrass’ harrowing docudrama United 93. Here, as we all know, ordinary Americans refused to simply accept the dismal hand fate dealt them. Inasmuch as they could, the passengers of United 93 turned to face events square on — They rose up, fought back, and, at the cost of their lives, saved the United States Capitol that Tuesday morning in September.

As I said at the time, I wasn’t entirely sure a film should be made about United 93, particularly so soon after the events at hand. But, if a movie was ever going to be made about that flight, let it be this one. With clarity, conviction, and compassion, Paul Greengrass manages first to bring the horror and chaos of the day back to life here, in a way that is as non-exploitative as possible. (Unlike Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, which pretty much recreates the collapse from the inside, the initial impact on the towers here is shown merely as a blip on a radar screen.) And with the wave of fear and sheer confusion of that day vividly recreated — you can feel it gnawing at your gut at this point — Greengrass then lets the tale of United 93 unfold, so you really understand the dimensions of those passengers’ heroism that day, a heroism borne of survival instinct and a horrible recognition of the stakes involved.

It really is an amazing achievement how well Greengrass threaded the needle here. While being respectful of those lost that day, United 93 works as both art and history. It doesn’t go out of its way to demonize the terrorists or lionize the passengers — he just lets their respective actions that day speak for themselves. (The fateful words “Let’s roll,”, for example, are muttered almost as an aside, and are all the more powerful for it.) In short, what could’ve been a needless and even offensive film in other hands became, under Paul Greengrass, an outright classic.

5. In the Bedroom (2001)

From the year-end list: “I can’t remember another film this year that resonated so strongly. While I think last year’s award hoopla erred too far toward the histrionics of Sissy Spacek and away from the nuanced performance of Tom Wilkinson, the moral center of the film, In the Bedroom nevertheless powerfully depicts how ostensibly ‘good’ people eventually find themselves contemplating and acting out evil deeds. Plenty of complex and memorable scenes throughout, such as Wilkinson watching the distracted guests at his son’s funeral, or his pained attempt to forge a connection with Marisa Tomei, a woman he has nothing in common with except loss. A very, very good film that, if anyone has the stomach for a double dose of grief, bookends nicely with Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.

Ok, 2006’s Little Children was a bit of a dud. Still, In the Bedroom, based on the Andre Dubus short story “Killings,” was an extremely auspicious debut for writer-director Todd Field, previously best-known for his small role in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. With a strong sense of place — in this case, a small Maine lobster-town, probably not too far down the road from various Stephen King short stories — In the Bedroom is a powerful and morally complex study of how “good” people are, through rage, grief, and slowly curdling despair, eventually driven to dark deeds.

As I said above, Bedroom is a movie that resonates strongly in the details — say, Tom Wilkinson eyeing his son’s girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) with a combination of atta-boy pride and vague jealousy, or the nervous silence that descends around Wilkinson’s usual poker table after his son’s murder, or the way Wilkinson and Spacek tend to bury their grief — and their eventual plot — under mounds of everyday routine. More than most movies I can think of, In the Bedroom felt like a literary experience, one crafted by a filmmaker with a discerning, novelistic eye. So if any director can salvage something out of Cormac McCarthy’s heavy-handed Old West Grand Guignol, Blood Meridian, it might well be Field — It’s slated for release in 2011.

4. The New World (2005)

From the original review: “[A] masterfully crafted tale of discovery and transformation, passion and misunderstanding, intimacy and heartbreak, love and loss, and worlds Old and New. In short, it’s the best film of 2005.

From the year-end list: “A movie which seemed to divide audiences strongly, Terence Malick’s The New World was, to my mind, a masterpiece. I found it transporting in ways films seldom are these days, and Jamestown a much richer canvas for Malick’s unique gifts than, say, Guadalcanal. As the director’s best reimagining yet of the fall of Eden, The New World marvelously captured the stark beauty and sublime strangeness of two worlds — be they empires, enemies, or lovers — colliding, before any middle ground can be established. For its languid images of Virginia woodlands as much as moments like Wes Studi awestruck by the rigid dominion over nature inherent in English gardens, The New World goes down as a much-overlooked cinematic marvel.

The best way to sum up Terrence Malick’s achievement with The New World is to go back to the Gatsby quote I used in the original review: “For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

That’s the extraordinary sensation at the center of Malick’s film. I’m still not quite sure how he pulled it off, but The New World feels like arriving on the threshold of some strange, danger-ridden, and wondrous alien planet called…America. (Put another way, before Pandora, there was Jamestown.) The New World is a First Contact story that somehow manages to maintain the momentous portent of this historic moment, when Old and New Worlds collided. And, perhaps as impressively, it does it without taking sides. Half the time we’re as inclined to side with Pocahontas and the sensible Powhatans, who, unlike the new, scurvy-ridden English arrivals, have the sense to prepare for winter (or at least to stop panning for non-existent gold when the frost sets in.) More than The Thin Red Line, more than Badlands, more even than Days of Heaven, I would say this is Malick’s magnum opus.

3. I’m Not There (2007)

From the original review: “[T]o be honest, it’s hard to imagine how this film plays to people who aren’t all that into Dylan…But, if you do have any fondness for Bob, oh my. The short review is: I loved it. Exploding the conventional music biopic into shimmering, impressionistic fragments, Todd Haynes has captured lightning in a bottle here. The movie is clearly a labor of love by and for Dylan fans, riddled with in-jokes, winks, and nods, and I found it thoughtful, funny, touching, and wonderful. Put simply…I’m Not There is my favorite film of the year. I can’t wait to see it again.

From the year-end list: “Admittedly, it was a wonderful confluence of my interests. Nevertheless, Todd Haynes’ postmodern celebration of Bob Dylan, brimming over with wit and vitality and as stirring, resonant, and universal as a well-picked G-C-D-Em progression, was far and away my favorite film experience of the year. It seems to have slipped in a lot of critics’ end-of-year lists…but so be it — You shouldn’t let other people get their kicks for you anyway. A heartfelt, multi-layered, six-sided puzzle about the many faces and voices of Dylan, l found I’m Not There both pleasingly cerebral and emotionally direct, and it’s a film I look forward to returning to in the years to come. Everyone knows he’s not a folk-singer.

I was riding on the Mayflower when I thought I spot some land…” Speaking of the New World, welcome to Bob Dylan’s Old, Weird America, here brought to life as the Halloweentown-like hamlet of Riddle, where Richard Gere hides out as the sixth and oldest Bob among us. Hiding, as always, right there in plain sight.

So, in retrospect, Todd Haynes’ ode to the many facets of Bob Dylan probably turned out to be more inside baseball-ish than I originally assumed. I’ve since watched the movie with various folks who couldn’t care less about the man, and they just found the whole enterprise weird, inscrutable, and mostly uninvolving. And, hey, if you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. Still, for those of us who’ve imbibed the Dylan Kool-Aid (See also: J. Hoberman)…wow. Haynes’ movie is a lovely gift, and way more intriguing than any standard-issue biopic I can imagine.

Basically, I adore this film. Each fragment of Bob here feels perfectly cast — Marcus Carl Franklin as the impossibly talented wunderkind…and fake, Christian Bale as the take-no-prisoners true-believer with his finger-pointin’ songs, Heath Ledger as the womanizing romantic and survivor of Blood on the Tracks, Ben Whishaw as the know-it-all, Rimbaudian interviewee, Richard Gere as the John Wesley Harding, Old Weird America Bob, and, of course, Cate Blanchett as the electric Blonde on Blonde non-blonde. Not to mention Charlotte Gainsbourg as Suze/Sara, Bruce Greenwood as Mr. Jones, Julianne Moore’s riff on Joan Baez….it’s an embarrassment of riches here.

To me, I’m Not There is a fascinating, inspiring movie, one as much about Dylan’s primordial American landscape as it is about the man from Hibbing, Minnesota. In defiance of the usual staid biopic routine, Haynes managed to create an ambitious, open-ended film that does justice to both a notoriously mercurial artist and his impressive body of work, one that deserves its place on the shelf right next to Dylan’s music. So, yeah, I’m Not There may be preaching to the converted here somewhat. But as a member of the choir, I say press on, brother Haynes, press on.

2. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

From the original review (FotR): “Post-Film Update: They did it! They pulled it off!

From the extended edition review (FotR): “The Galadriel/Lothlorien stuff works much better now, with both Galadriel and Celeborn taking on the flavor of Tolkien’s tome. Moreover, all of the underutilized members of the Fellowship – Boromir, Gimli, Merry, Pippen, and even Samwise – are given more characterization. And it just seems to take longer to get from place to place, which might take away from the film’s dizzying pace, but definitely captures more of the feel of the book.

From the year-end list (FotR): “ Suffice to say, it was everything I had hoped for and more. NOT for fanboys and fangirls alone – In fact, given its epic breadth and cinematographic sweep, I’d put it up as a worthy successor to the works of David Lean. Mr. Lucas, the bar has been raised.

From the original review (TTT): “After two showings yesterday, I must say I’m delighted and (still) surprised at how wondrous this second chapter turned out…[O]verall a deliciously good second installment in the Tolkien trilogy. And, with the ends of both the Isengard and Cirith Ungol storylines to be packed in with all the multitudinous events of ROTK, I see no way the next one can clock in under 210 minutes. Should be grand!

From the extended edition review (TTT): “All in all, as with Fellowship, the extended Two Towers DVD includes a better, richer film loaded with tons of fascinating extras. If you’re a fan, I’m sure you’re getting it anyway…but if you’re a casual Rings admirer, the TTT:EE is just as worth picking up as the FOTR:EE.

From the year-end list (TTT): “No surprise here. Although Fellowship may have delivered a bigger emotional impact, Peter Jackson and co. handled massive expectations with aplomb and deftly translated J.R.R. Tolkien’s most unwieldy tome (Silmarillion notwithstanding) into the action-epic of the year.

From the original review (RotK): “Return of the King is an amazing conclusion to a trilogy that’s surpassed all expectations and, I say this without hyperbole, redefined the medium — From the technical breakthrough of Gollum to the seamless intertwining of jaw-dropping FX and character-driven emotion throughout, these films have expanded our vision of the possible and set a new standard for epic filmmaking.

From the extended edition review (RotK): “As with the FotR:EE and the TTT:EE, the Extended Edition is clearly a better film than the theatrical cut, with richer, denser characterizations, more Tolkien lore, and an improved sense of flow…All in all, RotK:EE, like its predecessors, is a wonderful gift to the fans of Tolkien and Middle Earth. And, although we have come now to the end, these three DVD sets (which look great on the shelf together) will now live on forever as a beacon of hope to fandom.

From the year-end list (RotK): “If you didn’t see this pick coming, welcome to GitM…Even in spite of the pacing problems mandated by the TE running time, Return of the King is a marvel, the perfect ending to this epic for the ages and easily the best third-movie in a series ever. There’s so many ways these films could’ve turned out atrociously…The fact that they didn’t — that they instead shattered all expectations while staying true to Tolkien’s vision — is a miracle of inestimable value. In the post-Star Wars age, when epics have been replaced by ‘blockbusters,’ and most event movies have been hollowed-out in advance by irony, excessive hype, dumbing-down, and sheer avarice, Peter Jackson has taught us to expect more from the cinema once again. Beyond all imagining, he took the ring all the way to Mordor and destroyed that sucker. So have fun on Kong, PJ, you’ve earned it.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky. Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone. Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die. One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne, In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them, In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

If you get any goosebumps while listening to J.R.R. Tolkien read the last paragraph, then, you were probably like me at the start of this decade: looking for any news you could find about the forthcoming (live-action) movie version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson of Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, and Bad Taste. On January 12, 2001, you probably also filed into the earliest possible performance of New Line’s (very quality) Thirteen Days to catch the highly anticipated trilogy trailer.

And when December 19, 2001 at long last rolled around, you may too have buried your Phantom Menace butterflies deep down inside, took up what fanboy or fangirl standards you possessed (I myself wore the One Ring…on a chain, of course), and filed in to Fellowship to see what Jackson had come up with. At which point we — you and I both — were confronted with…blackness.

I amar prestar aen, han mathon ne nen…The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” And just about right then and there, it was clear: Holy Sh*t! They did it!

Yes, there would be gigantic battles soon thereafter, massive CGI-enhanced affairs to rival the most vivid fever dreams of Led Zeppelin. And, of course, there would be elves, dwarves, and right twee little ‘obbits. But the decision by Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens to start their grand adventure with that sharp, Tolkienesque twinge of melancholy indicated right away that they had not been turned by the Nazgul of Hollywood, nor by the power of the effects at their disposal. Rather, they had stayed true to the sad and cautionary spirit of Tolkien’s tale.

Do I have quibbles about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings? Of course. Fellowship of the Ring is just about perfect to me, with the small-but-notable exceptions of Weathertop and the Ford at Bruinen. (Aragorn just should not be able to take out five Nazgul like that. And — weirdly, given his horror background — PJ somehow missed the real darkness of Frodo’s turning after his Morgul wound: A growing part of him wants to go with the Riders. “Come back, come back…to Mordor we will take you.“)

And, as the story moves forward into The Two Towers and Return of the King, more minor problems emerge. (The “Choices of Master Samwise,” Denethor’s lack-of-palantir and the too-bright-by-half Shelob’s lair, for example.) Plus, however anti-climactic and un-filmic, a strong argument can be made that the excised Scouring of the Shire — nobody wins a war, the thing you fought for is destroyed by the fighting for it — is half the point of Tolkien’s tale…although I can see why it got left out.

But those quibbles aside, The Lord of the Rings was so much better than any of us really had any right to expect. In fact, the trilogy has so many secret weapons that it’s hard to enumerate them all. There’s the variegated natural beauty of New Zealand standing in for Middle Earth, as photographed by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. (I would argue that the most powerful moments in the Fellowship prologue are those accompanied by simple nature shots: “Darkness crept back into the forests of the world. Rumor grew of a Shadow in the East, whispers of a nameless fear…“)

There’s Ian McKellen’s turn as Gandalf, a performance that’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else pulling off as well. There’s the hauntingly beautiful music of Howard Shore, who was operating on another plane in these films. There was the art direction help by John Howe and Alan Lee — two artists who had spent their lives dreaming up Middle Earth. With PJ, RIchard Taylor, and the enterprising elves of WETA, they helped bring Tolkien’s words to life as never before. And, speaking of WETA, they and Andy Serkis brought us Gollum, a CGI-creation like none we had ever witnessed.

Ultimately, Lord of the Rings is the story of creatures, living long after the calamitous events that shaped their age, that now must face the End of their World. And, more than the calamity itself, the real story is about the characters’ various responses to this time of testing. PJ et al got this. More than most films of its ambition, its crafters understood that emotional scale was as important as visual grandeur — that, at its heart, the trilogy isn’t so much about wizards and warriors as it is about friendship, the nature of evil, and persevering in dark times. And because they got that right, The Lord of the Rings is an epic unmatched in fantasy cinema before or since.

A final footnote: While the tone and thematic weight of the story is quite different, one hopes the old gang — with their new Hobbit friend, Guillermo del Toro — can bring about similar magic when they tackle “the incident with the dragon” in short order. The road goes ever on…next stop, December 2011.

Speaking of which, here we are at the Crack of Doom at long last. So, to number 1 and the end of this Oughty Age…

1. The Hottie and the Nottie (2008)

A surprising heartwarming tale about body image and the perils of celebrity, The Hottie and the Nottie is…pretty obviously not on this list. To be honest, I never saw it. But I feel totally ok about presuming that it was an abomination in the eyes of the cinema Gods. Sorry, just seeing if anyone made it down this far. Ahem. #1 is in fact…

It’s coming…

It is…

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

From the original review: “I thought Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind lived up to the hype and then some. One part Annie Hall, one part Sliding Doors, three parts Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine is an exceptionally strange take on the romantic comedy…(It probably helped that I tend to be a fan of almost all the folks at work here…Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah “Bad Frodo” Wood, and David Cross…Sunshine is a fun, thought-provoking look at relationships and memory.

From the year-end list: “The one true classic of 2004, Eternal Sunshine has only grown in my estimation since its initial release in March. (David Edelstein’s take on it as one of Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell‘s remarriage comedies is well worth reading.) A heartfelt examination of love, loss, and memory, Eternal Sunshine was also a strikingly adult take on romance and relationships…With great performances from a caged Jim Carrey and an electric Kate Winslet, the film managed to be both an earnest, passionate love story and a wistful paean to those person-shaped holes we all carry in our hearts and memories…(Why even bother? We need the eggs.)

Happy is the blameless vestal’s lot, the world forgetting by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.” That poem by “Pope Alexander” is the epigram of, in my humble opinion, the best movie of the decade. I first saw Eternal Sunshine, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s second collaboration after 2001’s smart but very uneven Human Nature, in the stress-case period just before my orals exams, so I didn’t give the film the review it deserved. (Although I tried to rectify that oversight some with 2004’s end-of-year list.) Suffice to say, Eternal Sunshine is a masterpiece — beautiful, heartfelt, incisive, and humane.

Like the best science fiction, Eternal Sunshine uses a sci-fi premise — a friendly neighborhood clinic that can erase bad relationships for you — to capture something elusive about our human condition, in this case about memory, love, and regret. Is it better to have loved and lost, or never to have loved at all? While various techs (Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson) handle the details of the medical procedure at hand (and conduct their own affairs of the heart), that’s the question Jim Carrey’s Joel wrestles with as he remembers — one final time before the lights go off — his days and nights with Kate Winslet’s Clementine.

I’ll concede that certain dream-elements of Eternal Sunshine don’t quite work — the baby-Joel under the table and in-the-sink stuff, for example. And you could argue, and some do, that all of the techie shenanigans outside Joel’s mind are superfluous, although I enjoy them all the same (and, of course, they set up the final payoff involving the leaked tapes.) In fact, I tend to like the film’s ragged, organic, and hand-crafted feel all around.

Still, the movie’s real strength is its acute inquiry into the Ballad of Joel and Clementine (not to mention Joel-and-Clem, as a unit, and Joel’s in-head Clem to boot.) And this is where Eternal Sunshine is dead-on and so often devastating. Note the perfectly-selected bric-a-brac stuff — all the random, built-up detritus of a life together — that Joel must collect and hide away forever to get his mind wiped. Or his gloomy gus, self-lacerating inner monologue when he first meets Clem on the Montauk train. Consider the moments that signify the end is near — such as the usual jokes getting old, or that grisly conversation in the Chinese restaurant. And consider too the details Joel remembers and cherishes, like their trip to the frozen Charles, or that night they saw the elephants, or kissing under the sheets, or just Clem resting her cheek on his, one bright and lazy winter morning.

Given that the bottom eventually drops out, was it all worth it, in the end? Both Joel and Clementine have to answer that question with open eyes as Eternal Sunshine comes to a close. And this is where people tend to either find the movie dark and gloomy or legitimately romantic, in a way few movies are. I go the latter route — Joel and Clem know what’s 99.44% likely to happen this time: The same thing that happened last time. “I don’t see anything I don’t like about you.” “But you will! But you will, and I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that’s what happens with me.

And, yet, they take the plunge anyway, partly because the good times were good. Partly because love in the real world is never a meet-cute ’til the happily-ever-after anyway. It’s negotiation, conversation, laughter, and crumbling defenses, a give-and-take process of two people slowly falling together. And partly because maybe, just maybe, the bad times were not inevitable, and things will break a different way this time. Screw Anton Chigurh –There’s no fate but we make.

In all too many ways, from 9-11 to the Great Recession, the Oughts were ten years to forget. (And, on a personal level, it’s safe to say I spent much of the past decade glum about one break-up or another.) But would we be better off forgetting the Oughts completely? Surely, there were flecks of gold throughout these past ten years, however dismal and Dubyaesque the decade often turned out to be. Regardless of how things pan out at the macro level, whether for good or ill, there are always small moments to cherish, days to remember fondly, and films to treasure. In fact, I’ve put one hundred of my own here. And of those, for me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shone the brightest.

So, we finally made it. That’s the end of the list, folks, hope y’all enjoyed it. Fare thee well, gone away, there’s nothing left to say.

Hey, wait a sec, that reminds me

Special Award. The Wire (2002-2008)

From the series-finale review: “Pour a glass of Jamesons and give the devil (way down in the hole) his due: The Wire, a television show with a better claim than most to the title of “Best Ever” (and definitely the best show ever made about American politics), ends this evening…And you know the only thing better than having enjoyed all 60 hours of the show? Having never seen it at all. If that’s you, pick up Season 1 and start from the beginning — you’re in for a real treat.

I’m not about to do a Best of the Decade TV retrospective here at GitM, partly because I don’t feel like I watch enough TV to really judge. (Although, looking at other lists, it seems I caught a lot of the good stuff: Deadwood, Arrested Development, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, etc.) Besides, after this ridiculously extended movie project, I’ll be damned if I feel like going to the pop-culture-nostalgia well again just yet. Still, call it a 60-hour-movie if it helps square the circle, but The Wire must get its props.

With a journalist’s eye for detail and the gallows humor of good homicide po-lice, David Simon, Ed Burns, & co. used the rhythms of a cop show to hook us on an in-depth, comprehensive, and scathing diagnosis of life in the 21st century American body politic, as represented here by the failing city-state of Baltimore. Here, the Institutions are the new Gods, and people get crushed whenever they try to flout their dictates. In fact, people are worth less and less every day — Because, wherever you are in the game, there’s always someone else younger, hungrier, and/or less principled gunning for your spot.

That may sound heavy and edutainmentish, but it wasn’t. Week after week, The Wire was also the funniest hour-long on television. It built, slowly, gradually, inexorably — By the end of Season 1, I liked the show quite a bit but thought Deadwood probably edged it out in terms of quality. By the end of Season 3, I thought it was far and away the best show on television and was awestruck by its ambition. And we still had two more seasons to go.

David Simon and the gang eventually got so sick of being called “Dickensian” all the time that they turned it into a joke in Season 5: The Baltimore Sun is only interested in “the Dickensian aspect” of the streets, meaning simple, manageable problems that could be solved if, as per many Dickens tomes, only some highly convenient and thoroughly implausible Benefactor came out of nowhere to take the trouble.

Heh, point conceded. Still, as many others have noted, the term applies regardless. Just as Dickens brought industrial corruption and the plight of Victorian London’s social underclass to life at the close of the 19th century, The Wire is the piece of journalistic fiction generations one or two hundred years hence will look to to understand the urban landscape of the Oughts. And more likely than not, then as it is now, the game will still be the game. Always.

Top 100 Films of the Decade:
No-Frills Version

100. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.
99. SW: Revenge of the Sith.
98. Unbreakable.
97. Borat.
96. The Quiet American.
95. The Savages.
94. About a Boy.
93. The Matrix: Reloaded.
92. L’Auberge Espagnole.
91. King Kong.
90. Capote.
89. Star Trek.
88. Inside Man.
87. Munich.
86. Meet the Parents.
85. Sin City.
84. Bloody Sunday.
83. The Squid and thr Whale.
82. Primer.
81. American Psycho.
80. Brokeback Mountain.
79. Drag Me to Hell.
78. Michael Clayton.
77. The Fountain.
76. The Fog of War.
75. The Queen.
74. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
73. U2 3D.
72. Ocean’s 12.
71. In the Valley of Elah.
70. Boiler Room.
69. Jackass.
68. Secretary.
67. (500) Days of Summer.
66. Lord of War.
65 Bamboozled.
64. Master & Commander.
63. Mystic River.
62. HP IV: Goblet of Fire.
61. Iron Man.
60. Batman Begins.
59. Good Night, and Good Luck.
58. District 9.
57. Wonder Boys.
56. The Man Who Wasn’t There.
55. The Descent.
54. Ballets Russes.
53. Battle Royale/Infernal Affairs.
52. Zodiac.
51. 28 Weeks Later.
50. The Proposition.
49. The Bourne Trilogy.
48. The Prestige.
47. WALL-E.
46. The Royal Tenenbaums.
45. 24 Hour Party People/Control.
44. Coraline.
43. O Brother Where Art Thou?
42. Shaun of the Dead.
41. The Pianist.
40. Knocked Up.
39. Sideways.
38. Let the Right One In.
37. Intolerable Cruelty.
36. X-Men 2/Spiderman 2.
35. The Wrestler.
34. The Hurt Locker.
33. A Serious Man.
32. The Cooler.
31. Moon.
30. Requiem for a Dream.
29. Sexy Beast.
28. Milk.
27. Layer Cake.
26. Garden State.
25. Donnie Darko.
24. High Fidelity.
23. In the Mood for Love/2046.
22. The 25th Hour.
21. Mulholland Drive.
20. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly.
19. The Incredibles.
18. Memento.
17. In the Loop.
16. Traffic.
15. Lost in Translation.
14. Syriana.
13. Children of Men.
12. Letters from Iwo Jima.
11. The Lives of Others.
10. The Dark Knight.
9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
8. Before Sunset.
7. No Country for Old Men.
6. United 93.
5. In the Bedroom.
4. The New World.
3. I’m Not There.
2. Lord of the Rings.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Special Award. The Wire.

The End of All Things.

(But, wait, there’s room for a little more.) I could say that I haven’t posted here in two days because of the increased end-of-year work burden or the recent cable Internet outage at home base, and yes, those both played their part. But, to be honest, I’ve been spending most of my hours since Wednesday afternoon perusing the long-awaited Return of the King: Extended Edition. (Thank you, NYC fanboy underground…strangely enough, I ended up being one of the first to procure the precious, and have thus been answering spoiler-filled queries over at Tolkien Online the past two days.)

So, how is it? As with the FotR:EE and the TTT:EE, the Extended Edition is clearly a better film than the theatrical cut, with richer, denser characterizations, more Tolkien lore, and an improved sense of flow. Whatsmore, to my mind the two biggest problems with the RotK:TE have been rectified: 1) Denethor’s screen time has been doubled, and — while he still doesn’t get his palantir — the Steward is now much more multifaceted and grief-stricken than before. 2) Both Frodo & Sam’s journey through Mordor and the time between Pelennor Fields and the Black Gates have been extended, giving the Land of Shadow much more heft and menace. As you’d expect, there’s lots of great stuff here for fans of the book…Voice of Saruman stands out in particular as a scene laden to the brim with Tolkien’s prose, and such iconic moments as the Crossroads and Sam seeing the star in Mordor now get their rightful due.

That being said, some fans are going to be disappointed by the short shrift given to certain chapters (and by King Elessar’s blatant disregard for the rules of parley.) The Houses of Healing and the Eowyn-Faramir romance are touched on very lightly, and there is NO new footage included after the Crack of Doom. (I’d guess this is probably PJ’s payback to all the “multiple ending” critics, but still, I was very much looking forward to more Grey Havens…particularly more of Frodo’s final words. (“It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”)

In fact, the extended RotK is the first time I’ve felt that PJ & New Line may be deliberately holding back on some of the choice footage. On the writer-director commentary, PJ admits to not including certain very memorable scenes (the Watchers of Cirith Ungol, the various weddings and epilogues) in this cut for “pacing reasons” (?), and that perhaps they’ll show up on the “25th anniversary” version. I don’t want to ascribe nefarious motives to the guy after all he’s done to create these amazing films, but this sounds to me suspiciously like a ploy to sell some HD-DVD box sets in a few years.

But, still, that’s the ring talking. All in all, RotK:EE, like its predecessors, is a wonderful gift to the fans of Tolkien and Middle Earth. And, although we have come now to the end, these three DVD sets (which look great on the shelf together) will now live on forever as a beacon of hope to fandom.

Fruits of the Palantiri.

Several choice clips from the RotK: Extended Edition materialize online, including more from the Gandalf-Witch King fracas, a longer Paths of the Dead, and a quiet moment between Faramir and Pippin. (Also, the Merry-Pippin post-Pelennor sequence has gone from day to dusk, thanks to the magic of digital grading.)

Gimli Sells Out.

“[Gollum] never hesitates to exploit a wedge issue, be it Frodo’s trust of Sam or the distribution of lembas bread, and is savage in combat until defeated, at which point he whines endlessly about how unfair it all is.” Salon ruminates on the current political applicability of Lord of the Rings, and notes how John Rhys-Davies, decrying the threat of Muslim civilization, is all the rage on the conservative circuit right now. Tsk, tsk, what would Sallah say?

2003 in Film.

Well, it’s that time of year again, New Year’s Eve. So, without further ado…

Top 20 Films of 2003:
[2000/2001/2002]

1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. If you didn’t see this pick coming, welcome to GitM. Ever since this blog started four years ago, I and it have been breathlessly awaiting Peter Jackson’s trilogy, and, boy, he delivered in spades. Even in spite of the pacing problems mandated by the TE running time, Return of the King is a marvel, the perfect ending to this epic for the ages and easily the best third-movie in a series ever. There’s so many ways these films could’ve turned out atrociously. (To take just three examples, think Brett Ratner doing the Pullman books, or the Wachowskis faltering on the early promise of The Matrix, or how Chris Columbus has made the magical world of Harry Potter so four-color monotonous.) The fact that they didn’t — that they instead shattered all expectations while staying true to Tolkien’s vision — is a miracle of inestimable value. In the post-Star Wars age, when epics have been replaced by “blockbusters,” and most event movies have been hollowed-out in advance by irony, excessive hype, dumbing-down, and sheer avarice, Peter Jackson has taught us to expect more from the cinema once again. Beyond all imagining, he took the ring all the way to Mordor and destroyed that sucker. So have fun on Kong, PJ, you’ve earned it.

2. Lost in Translation. It was fun for a while, there was no way of knowing. Like a dream in the night, who can say where we’re going? I still think Sofia Coppola cut a little close to the bone here in terms of autobiography, particularly given her recent split with Spike Jonze. Still, I find this tale of chance encounters and foreign vistas has a strange kind of magic to it, and it has stayed with me longer than any other film this year. Bill Murray comes into full bloom in a part he’s been circling around his entire career, and while I suspect he’ll get some stiff competition from the Mystic River boys come award-time, I’d say he deserves the Oscar for this one. Lost in Translation has its problems, sure, but at it’s best it’s haunting, ethereal, and touching like no other film in 2003.

3. Intolerable Cruelty. I expect I’ll be in the minority on this pick – This more-mainstream-than-usual Coen joint only got above-average reviews, and hardly anyone I’ve spoken to enjoyed it as much as I did. Still, I thought Intolerable Cruelty was a pop delight, 99.44% pure Coen confection. George Clooney is used to much better effect here than in O Brother (gotta love the teeth thing), and everyone else seems to be having enormous amounts of fun along the way. Light and breezy, yeah, but I thought it was that rare breed of romantic comedy that actually manages to be both romantic and hilarious. In the post-Tolkien era, it’s good to know we can always rely on the Coens for consistently excellent work, and I for one am greatly looking forward to The Ladykillers.

(3. The Pianist.) A 2002 film that I caught in March of this year, The Pianist is a harrowing and unique survivor’s tale that’s hard to watch and harder to forget (and I can’t have been the only person who thought post-spider-hole Saddam bore a passing resemblance to Brody’s third-act Szpilman.) Speaking of which, I said in my original review of Adrien Brody that “I can’t see the Academy rewarding this kind of understatement over a scenery-chewing performance like that of Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.” Glad to see I was wrong.

4. Mystic River.: The waters of the Charles are disturbed, something is rotten in the outskirts of Boston, and it’s safe to say the Fates are wicked pissed. Much like In the Bedroom in 2001 (and Clint Eastwood’s own earlier Unforgiven), Mystic River is inhabited and propelled by a spirit of lumbering, impending, inexorable doom…what Legolas might call a “sleepless malice.” It is that existential malice, rooted so strongly in local color, that gives this River its considerable power. And unlike Cold Mountain, where stars stick out here and there with showy turns, the ensemble cast of Mystic River never overwhelm the strong sense of place at the heart of the film — indeed, they sustain it with consistently excellent and nuanced performances. Big ups for all involved, and particularly Tim Robbins and Marcia Gay Harden.

5. X2: X-Men United. Laugh if you want, but I can’t think of any other movie where I had more fun this year. Arguably the most successful comic film since Superman 2, X2 improved over its rather staid predecessor in every way you can imagine. From Nightcrawler in the White House to the assault on the mansion to Magneto’s escape to Ian McKellen and Brian Cox chewing the scenery in inimitable fashion, X2 was ripe with moments that seemed plucked directly out of the comics, if not straight out of the fanboy id. To me, my X-Men.

6. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It’s a long title, it’s a long movie. But a good kinda long…in fact, as I said in my initial review, it seemed to move to the langorous rhythms of a long sea voyage, one that I may not take again for awhile, but one that I still thoroughly enjoyed. And I’ll say this for Russell Crowe…somewhere along the way in each of his films, I tend to forget that he’s Russell Crowe. His Capt. Jack Aubrey was no exception.

7. The Matrix Reloaded. If we can, let’s try to forget the resounding thud on which the Matrix trilogy ended. For a time there, five short months, the fanboy nation was abuzz in trying to figure out exactly where the Wachowskis were going after the second chapter. Previous Matrices, previous Ones? How was Neo manipulating the real world? What was Smith up to? It all seems kinda pedestrian now, of course, but at the time Reloaded was a sequel that outdid its predecessor in pizazz while building on the questions that animated the first film. I won’t defend the first forty-five minutes or the ridiculous rave scene. But, right about the time Hugo Weaving showed up to do what he does best, Revolutions found a new gear that it maintained right up until the arc-twisting Architect monologues at the end. And, as far as action sequences go, it’s hard to beat the visceral thrill of the 14-minute highway chase.

(7. The 25th Hour.) Another 2002 hold-over, and the best film yet made about the aftermath of 9/11, (which only seems natural, given that it’s by one of New York’s finest directors.) Haunted by might-have-beens, what-ifs, and what-nows, The 25th Hour feels real and immediate in its attempt to grapple with both 9/11 and the slamming cage in Monty Brogan’s future. Only once, with the Fight Club-like fracas in the park, does the film flounder. Otherwise, it’s a thought-provoking meditation throughout.

8. The Last Samurai: Breathtaking New Zealand landscapes, furious suicide cavalry charges, rustic untainted pre-modern villages…no, it’s not Return of the King, just the warm-up. [And, as I said earlier, I prefer my anti-modern nostalgia hobbit-like (peaceful, environmental, epicurean) rather than samurai-ish (martial, virtuous, stoic)] While I think Cold Mountain got the Civil War right, I ultimately found this film to be the more engaging historical epic of December 2003. So take that, Miramax.

9. Finding Nemo. Oh, my…I almost forgot about Nemo. (Just like Dory sometimes.) Pixar’s films have been so consistently good that there’s a danger of taking them for granted. They hit another one out of the park in this tale under the sea. As with the Toy Stories and Monster’s Inc. before it, just an all-around solid kid’s movie filled to the brim with eye-popping wonders.

10. Dirty Pretty Things. Although it becomes more conventional as it goes along, DPT starts very well, features a star-making turn by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and manages to include a Audrey Tautou performance that isn’t fingernails-on-the-blackboard bothersome. As with Hugh Grant in About a Boy last year, that deserves plaudits if nothing else.

11. L’Auberge Espagnole. Hmm…two Tautous in a row….perhaps I should stop playa-hatin’. At any rate, while Lost in Translation trafficked in existential detachment, L’Auberge Espagnole showed the fun Scarlett Johannson could’ve been having, if she’d just lighten up and get out of the hotel once in awhile. This paean to the pan-Continental culture of the EU captured the excitement and possibilities of youth in a way that was both sexier and funnier than any of the teen shock-schlock emanating from our own side of the pond. Road Trippers, take a gander.

12. The Quiet American. A bit by-the-numbers, perhaps, but Phillip Noyce’s take on Graham Greene’s novel was blessed with timeliness and two great performances by Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, both of whom expertly exemplified their homelands’ diplomatic tendencies without becoming overly tendentious. I’m not sure if giving away the end before the credits was the right way to go, but otherwise the film rarely falters.

13. The Fog of War. From Alden Pyle to one of his real-life counterparts, Robert McNamara, who now only remains quiet when questioned about his own culpability over Vietnam. Despite this central failing, a spry McNamara succeeds in penetrating the fog of time to examine how he himself became lost in the maze-like logic of war. If you can withstand the frequent Phillip Glass-scored barrages, it’s worth a see.

14. Pirates of the Caribbean. My initial upbeat opinion on this one has faded somewhat over the autumn and winter months. Still, at the time PotC was a surprisingly good summer popcorn flick, and rollicking fun for about two of of its two and a half hours. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were great fun, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom make for great eye candy, and Sam Lowry was in it. I’m just going to assume it was much, much better than The Haunted Mansion.

15. The Station Agent. Ok, it’s got Sunday afternoon bored in front of the IFC Channel written all over it. And not much happens for the last forty minutes or so. Still, The Station Agent proves that if you write a few interesting, well-rounded, complicated characters and throw them in a situation together, the story almost writes itself.

16. American Splendor. The first of a couple of movies that I seemed to like less than most people. Sure, I thought Splendor was well-done, but it never really grabbed me, and I’d be more impressed by its breaking-the-fourth-wall daring if it hadn’t already been done twenty-five years ago in Annie Hall. (Similarly, I thought this kooky underground comic world was captured better in Crumb.)

17. Spellbound. Could you use it in a sentence? Again, people seemed to love this flick, and I was definitely entertained by it. But, when you get right down to it, what we have here is kids spelling for two hours…I couldn’t imagine ever sitting through this one again. And, as I said in my original post, I thought Spellbound was more manipulative than it lets on. Less kids and more complexity would’ve made the film more satisfying. S-A-T-I…

18. Cold Mountain. I’ve already written about this one at length today, so I’ll just refer you to the review. To sum up, occasionally beautiful but curiously uninvolving and way too top-heavy with star power distractions.

19. 28 Days Later. Great first third, ok second third, lousy finish. The film was much more interesting before our team makes it to Christopher Eccleston’s countryside version of Apocalypse Now. And I can’t stand horror movies where the protagonists make idiot decisions, like driving into tunnels for no reason or taking downers when surrounded by flesh-eating, spastic zombies. But the cast — particularly Brendan Gleeson — do yeoman’s work, and the opening moments in an empty London are legitimately creepy.

20. T3: Rise of the Machines. Before he was the Governator, he was the T-1000 one (last?) time. Let’s face it, this movie is mainly here by virtue of not being bad. I mean, c’mon, it was better than you thought, right? Well, me too. Claire Danes was insufferable, but Nick Stahl and Kristanna Loken give it the ole college try, and the story takes a few jags that weren’t immediately apparent. Bully to Jonathan Mostow for not running James Cameron’s franchise into the ground.

As Yet Unseen: 21 Grams, Bad Santa, The Cooler, House of Sand and Fog, In America, Love, Actually, Something’s Gotta Give.

Best Actor: Bill Murray, Lost in Translation. Sean Penn, Mystic River. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dirty Pretty Things. Michael Caine, The Quiet American.

Best Actress: Scarlett Johannson, Lost in Translation (who’s sort of here by default…I expect competition from Diane “Something’s Gotta Give” Keaton, Samantha “In America” Morton, Jennifer “House of Sand and Fog” Connolly, and Naomi “21 Grams” Watts.)

Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River, Sean Astin, Return of the King, Billy Boyd, Return of the King, Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai.

Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain, Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River, Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent.

Worst Films: 1. Gods and Generals, 2. Dreamcatcher, 3. Scary Movie 3. 4. Underworld.

Worst Disappointments: 1. The Hulk, 2. The Matrix: Revolutions, 3. Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

Ho-Hum: 1. LXG, 2. Bubba Ho-Tep, 3. Big Fish, 4. Masked and Anonymous. 5. Tears of the Sun. 6. Veronica Guerin, 7. The Core.

Many Happy Returns.


Wow. If you haven’t seen Return of the King yet, go now. If you have seen it, see it again…There’s so much going on that the film, as great as it is the first time, improves vastly with a second viewing. The rest of this post is going to be full of huge, major spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back here in three hours and twenty minutes, give or take.

I went into my second viewing of RotK knowing I already liked it better than TTT (which I also thought was superb) and wondering if it was better or just equal to FotR. By the end, I had decided the question was moot. On one hand, Fellowship and King are two very different films: the former a road-trip, men-on-a-mission travelogue of Middle Earth, the latter a full-on, apocalyptic war movie. On the other hand, Fellowship, Towers and King are the same movie, the three chapters of what has to be considered the best ten-hour film ever made.

So, in short, I loved it. As in the past two years, my inordinately high expectations were met, even surpassed. Of course, I had some problems with the film (which I’ll get to in a bit), but I’d be doing PJ & co. a great disservice if I didn’t make it emphatically clear that the positives far outweigh the negatives. In that spirit, some of the stuff I really liked:

Fear and Loathing in Minas Tirith: I thought one of the biggest surprises of RotK was seeing PJ’s background in horror films come to the fore. To take just one example, one of my major concerns going in was that Shelob wouldn’t seem qualitatively different from your average Kong-sized monster (for example, the Watcher in the Water in Fellowship.) After building Her Ladyship up since the end of Towers, it was crucial that She seem more ancient and malevolent than anything Frodo and Sam had yet faced, with the possible exception of the Balrog. And, while I think her lair was too brightly lit (there’s not much point in having the light of Earendil if we can already see around the place), Shelob seemed just as cunning and dastardly as I’d hoped. (It was also a nice touch for PJ to have a little fun wth the purists, and make it seem Frodo had escaped.)

From cascading heads to Grond to the pyre of Denethor to everything having to do with Minas Morgul and the Witch-King, PJ’s horror maven cred was put to great effect in Rotk and greatly enhanced the apocalyptic dread necessary to make the third book work. In fact, I thought Jackson made a great decision to place one of the most chilling moments in the movie right at the beginning. “We even forgot our own name…

The Tides of War: Another concern I had going in was that Jackson would short-shrift Tolkien’s characters in favor of long, drawn-out, and indistinguishable battle sequences. And, while some might think this is in fact the case (no Houses of Healing, for example), I was surprised by how engaging the battle scenes turned out. When you think about it, Pelennor Fields is written a lot like Helm’s Deep…a siege that, just when all seems hopeless, is turned by the arrival of the cavalry. But it is to Jackson’s credit that I not only found myself enthralled by the ever-changing course of combat but also oblivious to the memory of Helm’s Deep. There are plenty of searing images herein — the Ride of the Rohirrim (made sublime by the return of Howard Shore’s Rohan theme), the chunks of masonry flung from Minas Tirith, the berserker trolls leading the charge at the gate, the Nazgul air support diving down over the White City like Stuka bombers. Speaking of which, there’s a shot of a fell beast lunging for the head of one of Faramir’s retreating Gondorians that made me swing my head out of the way both times.

High Fidelity: One of the main reasons why I found RotK more enticing than TTT (other than the obvious plot resolution here) is that it seemed a return to Tolkien’s vision after the warg attack/Helm’s Deep-wallowing of TTT. (There are some notable exceptions, of course, which I’ll get to in a bit.) In particular, the Professor’s inimitable turns of phrase breathe through many more scenes here: “Did you think the eyes of the White Tower were blind?” “No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No long, slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like the heathen kings of old.” “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey!” “Don’t go where I can’t follow.” “We set out to save the Shire, Sam, and it has been saved, but not for me.” Towers has its share of great Tolkien moments too, of course, but — as in Fellowship — I was continually reminded during King of how great the original books are, and how unique and absorbing Tolkien’s deliberately archaic prose can be.

The Crack of Doom and Beyond: “I’m glad you’re with me, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.” And, of course, there’s the payoff. While I thought Frodo and Sam hopped and skipped across Mordor entirely too quickly (I expect this will be rectified in the EE), I thought the failure of Frodo at the Sammath Naur was dramatized just about perfectly, right down to the evil smile on Frodo’s face and Gollum’s ecstatic Superbowl dance. As for the “too many endings” issue that seems to be a focal point of the criticism, I did feel it went on a bit long the first time (perhaps because it was nearing 3:30am by then), but thought it was paced very nicely the second time around. And, though the Scouring of the Shire (while critical to Tolkien’s narrative arc) seems justifiably expendable here, the film just couldn’t do without the Grey Havens. In fact, if anything, I thought Frodo should have been more recognizably damaged at the end of the film. He seemed all smiles at the Green Dragon and Sam’s wedding, which to me is something of a problem…I figured the idea, as befitting Tolkien’s “Lost Generation,” was that he never really made it back, and I don’t think this is emphasized enough in the film. Still, for the most part, I thought Jackson handled the resolution quite well, paying homage to the arch-Christian overtones of Frodo’s death and rebirth without necessarily wallowing in them.

Miscellany: The categories above just can’t do justice to all the moments and flourishes I loved about RotK. All of Smeagol/Gollum’s scenes were top-notch, even the film-added-framing of the fat one. I loved the dressing of the witch-king and his sonic scream atop Minas Morgul. The lighting of the beacons was great. Theoden seemed like he was missing a scene (he goes from anti-Gondor to pro-Gondor too quickly), but Bernard Hill was a standout (along with Billy Boyd’s Pippen and Sean Astin’s Sam…heck, everyone was good, except for a few minor players.) Minas Tirith was a marvel (and, unlike the too-small Edoras, seemed like a capital city.) Merry and Pippen at the gate of Isengard. “In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t speak at all, Peregrin Took.” Peter Jackson dolled up as a Corsair Captain. LotR: Return of the Moth. The angelic eagles come to rescue Frodo…

Well, I could go on for awhile here, but perhaps it’s time to accentuate the negative a bit.

Editing/Pacing: In the theatrical Fellowship, only one scene seemed cut all to hell, and that was Lothlorien. Here in Return of the King, though, the movie keeps eliding over cut moments in a way that can be seriously distracting. I’m not going to harp on this too much, because I expect a lot of this will be solved by the Extended Edition. But, still, it was clear here more than ever before that we weren’t seeing the whole story. How did Theoden change his mind about coming to Gondor’s aid? Why does Denethor talk about the “eyes of the White Tower” without showing his palantir? (For that matter, does Aragorn challenge Sauron in the palantir?) Why does the Witch-King claim he will “break” the white wizard without confronting him? (It was even in the trailer!) Why set up a head orc like Gothmog (Slothmog, the Elephant Man) and not show him killed? Where were the Easterlings (whom Frodo and Sam saw entering the Black Gate in TTT)? Why do Sam and Frodo get in and out of orc armor? How do they cross Mordor in a day? What happened to Eowyn and Faramir? Where was the Mouth of Sauron? Who’s wearing the three Elven Rings?

And so on and so on. I know PJ has to make some cuts for the theatrical version (although some might say that he’d have more time here if not for the warg attack/Aragorn’s fall in TTT), and some of the cuts — Voice of Saruman, the Scouring — just make cinematic sense. But others not only seem integral to Tolkien’s book but also integral to the story Jackson is telling here (particularly Denethor and the palantir.) Speaking of which…

The Steward of Gondor: I’m not going to complain too much about what’s not in the film until I’ve seen the EE. But, as for what’s actually in the film, Denethor is the biggest problem. I’ve never really been bothered about the changes made to Faramir (or, as the purist wags refer to him, Filmamir/Farfromthebookamir) in TTT…they heightened his dramatic arc. But I think Denethor kinda gets screwed here, and only in part because of the lack of palantir. John Noble is surprisingly good as the Steward, and does a great job with what he’s been given. But the single worst moment in the movie for me is Gandalf clocking Denethor to take over command of the White City. It’s goofy, it’s slapstick, and it cheapens both characters (Is all of Gondor really just going to stand around and let Gandalf exercise what is now basically a coup?) Similarly, I thought the pyre of Denethor was handled quite well until the last few moments, when Gandalf/Shadowfax kick Denethor to his doom!! That’s completely botched…Gandalf was trying to prevent Denethor’s suicide, but here he acts like the wizard Kevorkian. If the palantir is reintroduced in the EE, some of this is forgiven, but still…those two choices are the only times I was taken out of the film.

Miscellany: Not much in this department. I thought the whole Paths/Army of the Dead subplot was a deus ex machina and, as others have noted, Haunted Mansion goofy…but, y’know, that’s also a problem with Tolkien’s book. (I did like Stephen Hunter’s take on ’em here, though.) Very occasionally, one of the minor players came off like community theater (I’m thinking particularly of Shagrat (or is it Gorbag?), the orc who explains that the Shelob-stung Frodo isn’t dead.) As in TTT, we seem to spend a lot of time in Osgiliath, and perhaps some of it is unnecessary given the other cuts. Hugo Weaving has a Father of the Bride simper on his face at the coronation that’s completely un-Elrond-like. Um, yes, Legolas, we are talking about a diversion. Etc. etc.

But let’s not miss Fangorn for the Huorns. Return of the King is an amazing conclusion to a trilogy that’s surpassed all expectations and, I say this without hyperbole, redefined the medium — From the technical breakthrough of Gollum to the seamless intertwining of jaw-dropping FX and character-driven emotion throughout, these films have expanded our vision of the possible and set a new standard for epic filmmaking, one left by the wayside since the days of David Lean. I am eternally thankful to Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Alan Lee, John Howe, Richard Taylor, Barrie Osborne, Andrew Lesnie, and everyone else involved in The Lord of the Rings for making these films as good as they are. When so many eagerly-awaited movies have proven disappointments, perhaps none so glaring as the Star Wars prequels, it’s a beautiful thing that these films came along, surpassed even my extremely high expectations, and restored to me the type of cinematic thrill I once feared I might have grown out of. In sum, Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King — inarguably the best fantasy trilogy in the history of cinema — are a priceless gift not only to filmgoers and fantasy readers but to the memory and words of J.R.R. Tolkien himself, and it is one I will love and cherish until the end of my days.

It’s funny, though. I expected to suffer from some form of fanboy post-partum after seeing The Return of the King. But, in fact, I’m thrilled…I can now go see this movie any time I want to. And then there’s the Extended Edition to look forward to in November, and perhaps, some day in the not-so-distant future, The Hobbit (Being the tale of Bilbo Baggins and the Finding of the Ring of Power) will make the screen. Even after the end of all things, the road goes ever on.

But We Wants it Now, Preciouss!


So the main reason it’s been so quiet around here this week is that, through a fanboy nation connection that shall remain safely anonymous, I’ve managed to procure a copy of the Two Towers Extended Edition two weeks before its release date. The rest of this post is going to involve considerable spoilers, so if you don’t want to know, just skip on down to the next entry.

The film: As in the longer Fellowship, the additional 43 minutes of the extended Two Towers mostly offers new character beats (for example, as in FOTR:EE, hobbits now act more like hobbits) and a more languid pacing in various locales (such as the Dead Marshes, where new footage helps lend the feeling that it’s not just a hop-skip-jump from the Emyn Muil to the Black Gate.) And as with FOTR, I think after a few viewings that almost all of the inclusions help the film — in fact, some even seem necessary.

What exactly is new, you may ask? Well, I don’t want to give away everything, but both the beginning and the end of the film have been extensively reworked. Frodo and Sam now spend more time lost in the Emyn Muil, using Galadriel’s rope to climb down a jagged rock face, looking gloomy in the rain, and exchanging a Shire moment over a little box carried by Sam (I had hoped that it might be full of seedlings and dirt, but alas, it’s just salt.) Smeagol and Gollum get into it earlier now too, arguing over whether to honor an oath made on the precious. And we see more of Merry and Pippen’s Uruk-Hai captors, and why they turn on each other so quickly at the borders of Fangorn (The reason in the book is alluded to but not specifically stated.)

As for the end, the inclusion to Helm’s Deep noted here is indeed present. Also, Merry and Pip indulge in some Flotsam and Jetsam-style pipeweed shenanigans, and Faramir sends off Frodo, Sam, and Smeagol with a word of warning about the caverns near Cirith Ungol (This last part is troubling to me, actually, since it occurs before Gollum talks about her. Of course, Gollum’s had the plan all along – perhaps he’s just letting Smeagol know in the final scene. Still, Faramir’s comment seems like premature foreshadowing.)

In between, there are a number of small and moderate changes along the way. Faramir is fleshed out more — word has been out for awhile about his flashback scene with Boromir and Denethor, and he also gets to ruminate on the death of a Southron, as in the book. Those who found his characterization jarring in the theatrical release, however, will probably still feel that way — particularly after you see what the Men of Gondor do to Gollum on Faramir’s watch. Over on the Rohan side of the Anduin, Theodred’s death is given more dramatic weight, and Eowyn is given some nice character beats — one in which she complains about getting cooped up in the Glittering Caves, another where she stumbles onto Aragorn’s real age (87, important because it establishes Aragorn as being not only Numenorean but also between worlds…he’s too old for Eowyn and too young for Arwen.) Finally, fans of the Ents will be greatly enthused by the Extended Edition — there’s several more scenes involving Treebeard & co., and one very nice nod to the Old Forest of Tom Bombadil that really should’ve made the original cut.

As for me, my favorite inclusion at the moment is two scenes involving Gandalf (one of which was featured prominently in the original 4-minute preview and the TTT video game.) I thought these two scenes — where Gandalf discusses his broader strategy against Sauron and Saruman’s machinations (something notably missing in the theatrical release) — helped to tie the first two films together and passed along information that seems absolutely crucial to non-readers of the trilogy.

The Extras: Owners of the extended Fellowship won’t be all that surprised by what’s on the second set of discs — exactly the type of well-made, in-depth documentaries that we’ve come to expect. What may be most interesting here are the claims by multiple people that the post-production on TTT was a “nightmare,” the most stressful point in the entire making of the trilogy. I haven’t watched nearly all the extra stuff yet, but some of the enthralling discoveries made so far include:

  • Small glimpses of RotK footage, including a nice pan over Cirith Ungol in the Tolkien documentary and unfinished footage of Gandalf & co. approaching Isengard in the book-to-script video. Update: Footage which, as it turns out, they might as well have kept in Towers after hearing this shocking revelation about who’s been cut from the theatrical release of RotK. Trust PJ and all that, but still…this is bad news. I wonder how they’ll manage to introduce Pippen and the palantir now.

  • Intriguing discussion (by Tom Shippey and others) on the Dead Marshes as indicative of Tolkien’s memory of WWI battlefields.

  • The revelation that a longer Gandalf-Balrog battle, including an underwater fight and the Endless Stair, was stripped out due to CGI “budgetary constraints” (Budgetary constraints? Are you kidding me? C’mon, y’all, you’ll make it back.)

  • Lots of funny and/or revealing interactions between members of the cast, including Viggo Mortensen’s penchant for painful head butts at inappropriate times, a Serkis-Astin feud at the Black Gate involving a hobbit wig, and the bicycle seat torture inflicted by Misters Monaghan and Boyd by a colossal Treebeard puppet.

  • A honest discussion about the changes made from book to script for the Two Towers, one that explicitly notes fanboy discontent over Faramir’s shift and Arwen’s early role at Helm’s Deep. (Apparently, Liv Tyler cried after reading snide comments about “Liv Tyler, Warrior Princess” all over a fan site — most likely AICN, since that used to be posted all over the place there.)

  • A fascinating look at Elijah Wood in evil, Gollum-like make-up, from a deleted scene which would have occurred in the supply cave, after Frodo snatches the ring away from Faramir’s sword.

  • The Gollum acceptance speech at the MTV Movie Awards, occupying the Easter Egg spot where the Buffy ‘n’ Black Council of Elrond parody resided on FotR.

The Upshot: All in all, as with Fellowship, the extended Two Towers DVD includes a better, richer film loaded with tons of fascinating extras. If you’re a fan, I’m sure you’re getting it anyway…but if you’re a casual Rings admirer, the TTT:EE is just as worth picking up as the FOTR:EE. And they look great together on the shelf.

Now, does anyone out there have tix to an advance screening of Return of the King…?

So here are the answers to all the riddles…

So, seen TTT yet? After two showings yesterday, I must say I’m delighted and (still) surprised at how wondrous this second chapter turned out. [As with FOTR, I spent the first showing half-reeling from information overload and half-running aggravating fanboy self-diagnostics the whole time. (“Wow! I like it! Do I like it? Do I really like it? I want to really like it. I think I like it. Wow! Hey, that wasn’t in the book! Was it? I’m not sure. Do I like it?“) The second time I could just sit back and enjoy it for the glorious epic it is. Be warned – although TTT is seamlessly integrated with the first movie, it’s not Fellowship. But then again, it really shouldn’t be. Anyway, there is much I love about this second installment, particularly… [The post from now on will feature TTT SPOILERS.]

1) Gollum (“Leave and never come back!“): My biggest concern entering the back-end of the trilogy was that Smeagol would come off cartoony and Jar Jar-ish. He doesn’t…at all. (As one wag put it, the Jar Jar in this film is Gimli.) In fact, I’d say Smeagol’s moonlit and schizophrenic soliloquy stands as the showstopping highlight of a film filled with amazing moments and indelible images. Kudos to Andy Serkis and the WETA gang for what they’ve done here. By the end, I wanted to see more Gollum and less preparation for Helm’s Deep (But to be fair that’s the same problem I have with Tolkien’s book – The events east of the Anduin seem so much more interesting and important due to the presence of the ring.) And, speaking of the eastern theater…

2. Faramir: (“Time for Faramir Captain of Gondor to show his quality.“) The dramatic alteration to Boromir’s bro seems to be the change most bothering the Tolkien fan nation. To be honest, I preferred Faramir this way. In the books, he alway came off to me as an Aragorn clone…in this version, I think he shows more depth, and it keeps the ring interesting. The detour to Osgiliath was jarring at first, but it makes sense…not only in giving Frodo and Sam more to do but also explaining why Sauron might concentrate so heavily on Gondor in ROTK (Y’all know what I mean.) As for Faramir’s change of heart at the end of the film, it seemed a bit too quick to me the first time around, but the second time it made more sense. By then, Faramir has already discovered the ring has (a) possibly killed his brother and (b) driven this creature with “an ill-favored look” thoroughly batty. When he witnesses trance-Frodo trying to give the Ring of Power to a Nazgul rather than trying to wield its vaunted power, I could see how he’d put it all together.

3. Rohan: (“Forth Eorlingas!“) Theoden, Grima, and Eowyn all do very well here, as does the magnificent set design of Edoras. I could look at Grima most of the time and not think Brad Dourif, which is no small achievement (the accent helped.) And Theoden seemed legitimately staggered by the forces arrayed against his kingdom. (“Such reckless hate…how did it come to this?“) I wish they’d kept the scene of Eowyn dispatching some wayward Uruk-Hai in the Glittering Caves, but perhaps it’ll make the extended cut.

4. Gandalf the White: (“I did not brave fire and death to bandy craven words with a witless worm.”) The transition (and dislocation) from grey to white was handled quite well, I thought, and Ian McKellen was superb once again. I’m even more annoyed now with the Academy for passing him over last year in favor of the admittedly good Jim Broadbent (who won for Iris but no doubt got most of his votes for Moulin Rouge), since the Gandalf scenes are too slim here to warrant nomination.

5. Treebeard and the Ents: (“That does not make sense to me. But, you are very small.“) Looked a bit fake, sure. And they fell out of the picture for a good two hours in the middle there. But, the payoff at the end was huge and, as I said before, I’ve never been enough of an Ent fan to feel slighted anyway. And, speaking of ents…

6. Magnificent moments: (“Stupid fat hobbit!“) How ’bout the Ent on fire taking advantage of the flooding Isen? There are so many stand-out scenes in the film that I could never list them all here. I love the wide-angle shot of a flaming ball(rog) descending into the underground sea. The dialogue between the orcs and Uruk-Hai was great fun. (“How ’bout their legs? They don’t need their legs.“) The exorcism of Theoden was a novel take on the healing, and the subsequent mourning of Theodred was well-handled. Arwen at the grave of Elessar was very touching. Much of the battle of Helm’s Deep was not only surprisingly easy to follow but also pure eye candy, from the Olympic-torch-wielding Uruk Hai to Legolas’ dispatching of the mega-siege ladder. Don’t forget the wonderful shot of Frodo confronting the fell beast on the Osgiliath roofs. And, then of course, there’s pretty much everything involving Gollum. Of course, though, they’d take away my fanboy cred if I didn’t have a few…

7. Quibbles: (“So few…Lord Aragorn, where is he?“) I really could have done without the whole Aragorn-falling-off-the-cliff bit, and Brego the Wonder Horse doesn’t help matters. There’s already too many “dead-not dead!” moments in the trilogy (and too many deus ex machinas, while I’m at it), and PJ really shouldn’t have tested the audience’s patience by throwing in one more. Also, while I like seeing what the elves were up to, the Galadriel speech came across like a recap for the plot-impaired. We’ve been watching the movie for two hours now, so if we haven’t figured it out by now…Same goes for the Middle-Earth map brought out right thereafter – It would have been much more useful earlier, I’d think. Other questions…Why is so much footage from the early previews missing? (“Sauron is not yet so mighty that he does not know fear…“) How does Grima just miss the fact that 10,000 Uruk Hai have lined up outside Orthanc? Why isn’t the back of Haldir’s head split open during his death scene? And when the Ents attack, why does Saruman seem like he just lost a contact?

And so on and so on. But I’m nitpicking what I thought was overall a deliciously good second installment in the Tolkien trilogy. And, with the ends of both the Isengard and Cirith Ungol storylines to be packed in with all the multitudinous events of ROTK, I see no way the next one can clock in under 210 minutes. Should be grand!

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