The Potato’s “Best” of The Decade

Ok, so there are too many films.  I wish I had a team of researchers to track down every film I have ever seen so that I could come up with a really awesome list.  In fact, I’m making it one of my resolutions for 2010.  I really do need a team of something…but I digress.  The only two criteria for the list are that the film must have been released between the years 2000 and 2009, and the film must not suck.  That’s it.  I also tried to pick films that hold some sort of significance in the film world/pop culture.  Some of my favorite films didn’t make the list, and other critically acclaimed films didn’t make the list.  I suppose I would need a top 50 in order to capture them all, but who has time for that?  In chronological order, here’s The Potato’s “best” films of the decade list:

Memento (2000)

Christopher Nolan payed homage to the classic Hitchcockian thriller while also managing to reinvent the genre.  With this film, Nolan declared that he would be one of the directors to watch in the coming years, and he delivered on that promise.

The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Peter Jackson captured lightning in a bottle three times with his Epic-with-a-capitol-E fantasy series.  In the post-9/11 world, we prefer even our diversions to be as realistic and as dangerous as ever, but LOTR dared audiences to suspend disbelief and use their imaginations once again.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson was considered a director to watch back when he released 1996’s Bottle Rocket and 1998’s Rushmore, but this is the film that made even the mainstream film fan stand up and take notice.  A director with uncompromising, intricate visions, Wes Anderson has never been better.

28 Days Later (2002)

The film that changed horror, reinvigorated the zombie craze, and the film that made people finally appreciate how great a director Danny Boyle is.  It’s scary, it’s intelligent, and it’s a ride from start to finish.

The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum (2002, 2004, 2007)

The film series that changed spy films, action films, and Bond films.  It also made Matt Damon both an action hero and earned him a spot on the moviestar shortlist.  The Bourne series convinced us that we want our heroes to be recognizable, fallible, and still extraordinary.  They are also action films that film buffs can enjoy openly.  Also, the film Casino Royale, in its current form, wouldn’t exist without this series.

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Charlie Kaufman is one of the greatest screenwriters working today, and this film is the reason why.  Michel Gondry is one of the greatest directors working today, and this film is the reason why.  Both have had success before and since, but Eternal Sunshine is an achievement that transcends any lines or labels such as “indie” or “mainstream”.  The film immortalized Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey as one of the great complicated screen couples, and it revolutionized the way we think of storytelling and how it relates to human nature.

Spider-Man 2 (2002)/The Dark Knight (2008)

So this is another listing cheat.  I wanted each film to have their own spot, but we all know that superhero films have pretty much blanketed the Hollywood landscape, and we don’t need another reminder.  These two films, however, are both superb and also changed how superhero films are made.  While on both sides of the spectrum (Spidey being more comic-book-ish, Batman being darker and more realistic), both films are the benchmarks of the genre, and have not been topped since.

The Incredibles (2004)

The film that changed mainstream animation.  Pixar and Disney proved with this film that even adults could enjoy PG-rated animated action.  The visuals are eye-popping, the voice talents are awesome (with special shoutouts to Jason Lee and Craig T. Nelson as Syndrome and Mr. Incredible, respectively), and the music is super cool.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

The film that changed comedy, and also made the name “Apatow” into an adjective.  The film introduced us to Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, and reintroduced us to Paul Rudd.  The film speaks for itself, since nearly every critically acclaimed comedy since has been compared to it, and will be listed as one of the most influential comedies ever made.

No Country For Old Men (2007)

The film that finally made me a forever Coen brothers devotee.  I was always a fan, but had never fully appreciated their genius until this film.  It also introduced us to one of the scariest film icons in decades, in the form of Javier Bardem’s sublime portrayal of assassin Anton Chigurrh.


I’m sorry, Mr. Soderbergh.  If I had a top 20, you’d rule it for sure.  Same goes for Mr. Tarantino, Sr. Del Toro, Mr. Reitman, and Mr. Abrams.

Traffic (2000)

Kill Bill vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004)

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Juno (2007)

Star Trek (2009)


The Potato celebrates “Humpday”

Every film invites the audience to emotionally include themselves in the events unfolding on screen. While Hollywood is now using 3D technology and IMAX screens to draw audiences in, sometimes all you need is a good story about people we can relate to on some level. When I turned on 2009’s “Humpday”, I expected to watch a comedy about two random dude friends who decide to make porn together on a whim. I had seen the trailer months ago and had decided that it would be a rental, as the trailer played up its bromantic comedy elements, and I had already seen “I Love You, Man” a few months prior. As I scoured my Netflix instant play options for something new, I noticed that “Humpday” was available for streaming. After some technical difficulties with the internet connection, I was ready to experience 100 minutes of male bonding gone awry.

You first! No, you first!

The plot is simplicity itself: Ben is just a normal suburban guy with a great wife, a good job, and a white picket fence existence. Andrew is an artist who travels the world looking for the great inspiration that will allow him to finally complete an art project. When Andrew unexpectedly drops in on Ben and his wife Anna (at 1:30 in the morning, no less), it shakes up all their worlds in ways that no one could anticipate. During a drunken stream of consciousness, Ben and Andrew decide to shoot an amateur porn scene together on the pretense that two straight male buddies having sex on camera could be the “next great artistic statement” and of course, Anna has no idea of their plans.

As the viewer, you have to believe that these two guys would come up with such an idea and actually want to realize it. I think that the film being set in Seattle helped me believe the premise right away. If it were set in a place more thematically obvious like San Francisco, the film could almost be read as satire. Putting the film in Seattle allows the viewer to believe that these guys could be open minded enough to shoot a pseudo-gay art-porn scene while not having to pay lip service to any gay stereotypes. Not to say that San Francisco is full of gay stereotypes, but some viewers who have never been to San Francisco or only have a limited exposure to alternative cultures might unfairly judge the film or write it off as just “another one of those crazy indies.”

As Ben and Andrew respectively, Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard have great chemistry. I could see how these two disparate characters would be friends, and their performances suggest a past that the characters shared without having to use a lot of expository dialogue to explain it. Duplass reminds me of John Krasinski while Leonard’s performance has shades of Owen Wilson (with a sprinkle of Zach Galifianakis, and I’m not just talking about the beard). As Ben’s wife Anna, Alycia Delmore gives a very honest performance. Anna serves as the female perspective to all the male-centric craziness that it happening around her and Delmore’s performance keeps the viewers (and the male leads) grounded in reality. She’s the one that gets to ask the questions that we all want to initially ask: “Hey, what do you mean you’re going to make a porn with your best friend? What the f*ck is up with that?” I only wish that Delmore had more screen time, as her character unfortunately takes a back seat to her male co-stars. I would love to see these three do another movie together.

Alycia Delmore

Writer-director Lynn Shelton frames the actors in simple, home video style scenes that feel intimate almost to the point of sheer discomfort. I kept listening to the dialogue but sometimes I couldn’t look at the screen as they were saying it. I was so embarrassed for these characters at times because they felt so real and familiar. It very much feels like you are in these conversations, and that you are a party to the events that are unfolding in front of your eyes. Shelton directed the film from her own script, but I wonder about how much the actors improvised because the dialogue feels very natural and flows as real conversations would. The opening scene with Ben and Anna in bed together is one of the most true to life moments between a man and a woman I have ever seen in a film, and it’s not even that shocking or important to the story. It isn’t necessarily a film about sex or pornography or even art. It’s about all of these, and none of these. It’s a film about two men discovering what it means to be close friends, and the crazy ends that some friends will go to understand the nature of that closeness. Mainstream films like “The Hangover”, “Pineapple Express”, and “I Love You, Man” deal with the same issues but use homoeroticism as more of a sight gag than a statement, which is fine because these films do it well and it’s good to laugh at masculinity sometimes. “Humpday” plays less like an addition to the new bromantic comedy pantheon, and more like a deconstruction of it. The film simultaneously questions male masculinity while reaffirming it as well. The film ends in exactly the way that it should, but you have to see it to believe how it all turns out. All around, “Humpday” is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, and I recommend it to anyone who loves independent film as well as people who might have thought “I Love You, Man” played it a little too safe. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Twice Baked Potatoes: Sure Things For Summer

The Twice Baked Potatoes series is back with a vengeance, and this time it’s all about saving our summers.  If you’ve seen The Hangover 10 times already, Public Enemies has left you with summer blues, or if you’ve seen Transformers 2 and the IMAX ticket prices have plucked your pockets to their linty bottoms, stay home and fire up these five classic crowd-pleasers:

5) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure


"Bill, check it out! We're in the middle of a war, dude!"

Keanu Reeves sans the matrixey philosophical mumbo jumbo, various historical periods getting a gnarly awesome 80’s treatment, and one of the hottest moms in movies, time has been very good to this 1988 comedy. I showed this movie to my little sister (born in 1991) a few years ago, and it became one of her favorite movies.  It’s goofy, it’s a romp, and its vibe is totally infectious. Napoleon eating/hogging a giant ice-cream sundae and getting a prize for it?  I’m there, dude.

4) Re-Animator

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

If you’re looking for some horror that’s heavy on both cheese and gore, look no further.  It’s the horror film that all the buffs talk about, but don’t let them scare you away, because this film is on the level.  My lady showed me this one a few months ago, and I couldn’t stop laughing/cringing.  The movie is self-aware yet feels completely authentic.  It plays like a 50’s matinee fixture with 80’s sprinkled on top.  When the corpses are reanimated and they go into their cyclone of mad zombie rage, it feels like Christmas.

3) Encino Man

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

It’s the 90’s time capsule that made stars out of Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore.  A caveman that gets frozen for a few million years, geeks thaw him out and teach him to be cool so that he can make them cool.  If you’re not on board already, move on to number 2, because it only gets weirder.  Parents, if you’re kid is currently in junior high, please pass this one on to them.  Pauly Shore teaching Brendan Fraser about the four basic food groups at 7-Eleven = priceless.

2) Almost Famous

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet.  Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet. Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

Music makes everything feel better, and Cameron Crowe’s love letter to 70’s classic rock, rock journalism, and teenage self-discovery makes for a great way to fill two hours.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might sing along (or hum, if you don’t know the words.  I’m horrible at learning lyrics, personally.  Movie quotes stick to me like velcro, go figure).  Billy Crudup keeps the movie grounded, Kate Hudson is the spitting image of her moviestar mom, and Jason Lee turns out his best performance.  Look out for Philip Seymour Hoffman as legendary rock scholar Lester Bangs.  He only gets a few minutes of screen time, but that’s all he needs.

1) Back To The Future

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about?  I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about? I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

The best time travel movie of all time.  I am forsaking many great films to make that statement, but I can’t deny this film’s super-classic status.  If you’re like me, you’ve seen this film more than a few times over the years.  It’s charm will keep you smiling from beginning to end all over again, and its Freudian elements give the film enough quirk to sustain the neurons as well.  The film’s cinematography, musical score, screenplay, and performances are all top notch.  But like the film does with its own science, you can just ignore all that technical nonsense and enjoy the ride.  One of the best soundtracks ever, by the way.