The Top Five:
5. Sin City (Robert Rodriguez / Frank Miller, 2005)
A unique, one-of-a-kind experience (though admittedly not to everyone's taste), taken almost shot-for-shot from Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel series. The cast acted out scenes, on minimal sets, with backgrounds added digitally during post-production to match Miller's panels. Then the images were converted to stark blacks and whites, with colorized objects dotted throughout the film. The result is one of the most visually striking movies I've ever seen. Director Robert Rodriguez seems liberated by the process; as usual, he shot and edited the movie himself, but here, unlike the gee-whiz, Hey-guys-I'm-making-a-movie mentality of his Mariachi and Spy Kids trilogies, he's got such firm control over his environments that the effect is breathtaking. And while I don't think there's really much to it beyond its visual style, as an exercise in literal book-to-screen translation, it's to kill for.
4. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)
Pity poor Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) – he just can't seem to balance his personal life with his duties as a superhero. He's failing his college courses, the love of his life (Kirsten Dunst) is getting tired of his excuses, his best friend (James Franco) blames Spider-Man for the death of his father and won't let it go. Add a new villain into the mix (Alfred Molina, nicely cast as Doctor Octopus), and it's no wonder Peter comes up impotent. Sam Raimi's super-sequel is yet another leap forward in the evolution of the Comic Book movie: leaner, zippier, more elegantly-structured than the "origin story" that preceded it. Plus, by the end of the movie, Peter Parker will be elevated to the level of pseudo-tragic hero – the drama's been heightened. My favorite bit: Doc Ock's early hospital rampage, a killer throwback to Raimi's Evil Dead days.
3. Road To Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002)
2. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)
1. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
I know what you're thinking - figures, right? But Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins has an epic power that's hard to shake. This is a Crime Drama dressed in cape and cowl, a morality tale about the nature of heroes. More than that, it's the first film with comic book characters in which choices have consequences. At its heart, The Dark Knight is the story of three men - Batman (Christian Bale), police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) – pushed to their limits by an evil they can't control. More like evil incarnate: Heath Ledger's Joker is a force of nature, anywhere and everywhere, and he's accompanied by a single, ominous musical chord (courtesy composer Hans Zimmer) whenever he's poised to strike, like the shark from Jaws. This Joker gets under our skin precisely because of what he represents - he's the embodiment of all the fear and vulnerability we've felt since 9/11. The movie, too, raises ethical questions about the lengths to which our heroes must go to halt terror in its tracks. No small feat for the Comic Book movie of the decade.
Phew - that one took forever. Here's hoping our next entry will come a little quicker. Stay tuned for the next week or so - Documentaries are up next! (Don't pretend you're not excited.)