Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Films of the Decade

Here is my list of the top 25 films of the 00's - in no particular order. Following this list are honorable mentions.


The biopic of cartoonist Harvey Pekar has incredible performances by Hope Davis and Paul Giamatti, an interesting and heartfelt story, and is creatively told with a mixture of illustrations and live action.


I heart the concept of an existential comedy, and I loved this movie. David O. Russell showed that he had chops and Mark Wahlberg showed he can do "weird". Forget the drama behind the making of the film and just enjoy the finished product.


Any film that I can watch repeatedly and still marvel at the production and cry like a baby, even if it's the 15th time I've watched it, belongs on this list. Most importantly, when I saw it in the theater I was so bedazzled I felt like a little kid again, and that feeling is priceless.


Several years ago I sat down to watch Adaptation. Then, when it ended, I immediately watched it again. Though a little convoluted at times, Spike Jonze's follow up to the brilliant Being John Malkovich is so strange that I think it's been marginalized by many, but those of us who hung in there reaped the benefits of having seen this amazing film.


There is so much to love about this film: Wes Anderson's exquisite direction and attention to each and every stylish detail, the brilliant script by Anderson and his buddy (and cast member) Owen Wilson, the great ensemble cast full of strong actors who don't outshine each other... I could watch this movie weekly if I had to.

CITY OF GOD (2002)

City of God is gritty and fast paced, with an incredible amount of depth. I was completely blown away by the power of this movie. I don't know that a lot of people have seen it, but it's a critical favorite for good reason.

KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003)

There is nothing I didn't like about this movie - it was fast, it was flashy, it was badass and had a great premise. Though I did like Vol. 2 (it's in my honorable mentions) Kill Bill Vol. 1 was superior and made me jump with excitement - literally.


Despite the interesting premise, I was still wary of seeing this film because it starred Will Ferrell. (I just don't get his appeal, though I recently watched Elf and thought it was really cute) I'm thrilled that I did, because this is an amazing movie, aided by an amazing performance by Ferrell. There were times when I was laughing to the point of tears, and several times I was actually sobbing "real" tears. Who would have thought he had so much depth?


This was my favorite film of 2006 because it offered so much - family dysfunction and redemption, flawed characters, actors playing against type (Steve Carrell) and was both hilarious and heartbreaking. Plus, any film that heavily refers to Marcel Proust gets my vote.

VOLVER (2006)

There are fewer director/actor duos who can consistently make magic nowadays, but Pedro Almodovar and his muse Penelope Cruz created an enchanting movie in Volver. Cruz is captivating and devastating as a mother who has to help her daughter with a desperate situation, while dealing with the death of her own mother. See this movie, then work your way back through Almodovar's filmography.


I will see anything that Alexander Payne directs, and Sideways is one of his best, if not the best. Paul Giamatti gave an unforgettable performance as sad sack writer and wine lover Miles, and Payne provided a supporting cast that made us go, "Really?!' especially when it worked so beautifully. Thomas Haden Church is still doing a steady amount of work, and Sideways resurrected Virginia Madsen's career from a purgatory of Lifetime network movies. With it's jazzy score, beautiful scenery, and, most importantly, a heartfelt story, Sideways is absolutely unforgettable.

HERO (2002)

Though the plot of Hero, told Rashomon-style is satisfying enough, with enough aerial acrobatics and cool fight scenes to get the blood pumping, Yimou Zhang's film is really a work of art. The colors, imagery and cinematography brought me to tears at some points, and truthfully, though I did really like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I think that Hero completely blows it out of the water.

SIN CITY (2005)

Speaking of great imagery, Sin City is rife with outstanding visuals, without losing the story or the action. I actually wanted to watch it again almost immediately so I could study the images without having to bother with enjoying the film. With a huge cast, including an almost resurrected Mickey Rourke, Sin City is brilliant. And I'm still waiting for the promised sequel.


Arguably the best of the decade, though I'm not attributing rankings to my list, Michel Gondry's masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has an amazing amount of goods to offer: Brilliant performances by actors seriously playing against type (who would have thought Jim Carrey would make me cry other than out of disgust for his crappy comedies?) a beautiful love story, and some of the most creative visuals since, perhaps, Terry Gilliam directed Brazil. This is a film that I want to watch often, but find that I deprive myself from seeing it too frequently because I want to savor every moment.


I've often been asked, as a fan (and practically scholar of) Coen Brothers films, what my favorite one is. I always answer that, for me, choosing a favorite is like choosing which of your children are your favorite; I love them all. Indeed, there are three Coen Brothers films on my list. However, when I came out of the theater after seeing No Country for Old Men for the first time, I was in shock over how powerful it was; its excellence; Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and yes, what I considered to be one of the most brilliant endings to a film I've seen in years. After doing several pitch-black comedies, the Coens returned to their original formula of suspense and despair that we first saw in Blood Simple. I loved this movie, and in a year of very strong films, thought it was the best.


I wasn't remotely surprised that I liked Far From Heaven as much as I did, considering it was a throwback/homage to the great melodramas of the 1950's, particularly those of the great Douglas Sirk. Sirk took cheesy material (a woman who deigns to date her gardener, a woman who gets blinded in an accident and is then attended to by the guy who caused the accident because it prompted him to go to medical school - that kind of thing) and wrapped it in a beautiful, colorful package that made the films credible. In Far From Heaven, director Todd Haynes takes painstaking detail in capturing the 1950's, and is supported by a great story that is not only not cheesy, but challenging and poignant. Julianne Moore's housewife is dealing with her husband's (Dennis Quaid) family-shattering secret while finding herself attracted to an African American gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Far From Heaven is like having the best of both worlds - a nice story wrapped in a beautiful package.


I don't remember what exactly made me watch this film, perhaps I had read about it somewhere, but after I did, I felt like I was holding a really special secret. Written, directed by and starring Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know is one of the sweetest loves stories I've ever seen. Dealing with loneliness and the trepidation of human relationships, the film even has a hilarious subplot involving a six year old boy having an Internet romance with an older woman. (Trust me, it's not as odd as it sounds) I have lent this film out dozens of times to people who have asked for movie suggestions; it is absolutely phenomenal.


The same week Mulholland Dr. was released in the theater, a friend of mine asked me to go see A Beautiful Mind. I told her that I would go see it with her under the condition that she would see Mulholland Dr. with me later in the week. Needless to say, we walked out of the film with me saying, "You got the better end of the deal." and her saying, "What the hell did I just watch?" I've actually been a huge David Lynch fan from the beginning, (though I still can't watch Dune) even though when I was 10 and too young to realize that the director of the movie I was watching, The Elephant Man, was about to shape the interests, education and general future of my life. I love that Lynch is able to provide such strong work in his third decade of film making, and Mulholland Dr., with its blink-and-you'll-miss-it imagery, general bizarreness and surprisingly lucid storyline ranks among his best.


With an excellent soundtrack nearly as famous (or more, depending on who you ask) as the film itself, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a Coen Brothers film more in the Raising Arizona and Hudsucker Proxy style than No Country For Old Men. A clever retelling of Homer's Odyssey, this film is not only enjoyable from start to finish, but its performances, especially that of George Clooney, who made people sit up and notice something about him other than his ER hearthrob status, nearly hide the fact that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a masterpiece - just look at Roger Deakin's unbelievable cinematography if you want some evidence. Every time I watch this movie it puts a smile on my face, and then I proceed to hum the great bluegrass music for the next week.


A strong cast, with a great story, (from the Christopher Buckley novel of the same name) Thank You For Smoking was Jason Reitman's directorial debut, and it really showed what kind of talent we had to look forward to, with Juno and the recent Up in the Air. A satire about tobacco lobbyists that somehow never becomes condescending, Thank You For Smoking is incredibly enjoyable and proves that Aaron Eckhart can be a good actor, if given the right material. I can't wait for more Reitman films - what a talent.


Director Todd Solondz is a fairly controversial figure in the film world, perhaps mostly because he provides us with some of the most depressing, painful and dark material being produced in American cinema today. I recognize all of these traits in his films, but I am still drawn to them because they are always compelling, usually offer some of the best performances by actors, and they will always make you think. Storytelling is a perfect example of these traits, and one of the two different halves of the film are stronger (the second) than the other, but when the film ended I was so taken aback that I found it stayed with me for days, no matter how much I tried to shake it. And that's remarkable storytelling.


Paul Thomas Anderson's departure from everything he's done before worked majestically, which makes me a bigger fan than I ever was. Other than coaxing great performances out of his actors, making a solid film, and his uncanny ability to fit music into his films (this time it was a great haunting cello score), this was barely recognizable as an Anderson film. Daniel Day-Lewis is bafflingly good as Daniel Plainview, and Paul Dano was able to become more than "that guy from Little Miss Sunshine". Anderson continues to take chances in his films, this time having nearly the first fifteen minutes unfold with no dialogue, and ended There Will Be Blood with one of the greatest final lines I've heard.


I have to admit that if it hadn't been nominated for an Oscar that year, I probably wouldn't have seen Pan's Labyrinth, possibly even up until now. I would have missed a fairy tale for adults that is horrifying, beautiful, heart-wrenching and full of historical intrigue. I was an inconsolable wreck at the end of this movie, to the point where I had to stay in my theater seat during the credits simply to regain my composure, but the film is so much more than a hankie-fest; director Guillermo del Toro gave us such startling images in Pan's Labyrinth that, coupled with it's story, when it lost to The Lives of Others for the Best Foreign Film Oscar I was shocked. The latter film is good, but Pan's Labyrinth blows it out of the water.


When I told a friend that I was seeing a Lars von Trier comedy, it took a few moments for the shock to subside before I could tell him more about the film. Famous for putting his actors through the wringer in dark (sometimes almost unwatchable) movies, von Trier lightened it up a bit with the dark comedy The Boss of it All, which I had the privilege of screening at the 2006 Milwaukee International Film Festival. The film, about the owner of an IT firm who acts like just another employee, has been telling his fellow employees that all decisions made have been by "the boss of it all". When he decides to sell the company, he hires an actor to be "the boss of it all" with disastrous results. An excellent film, The Boss of It All is definitely worth seeking out.

MEMENTO (2000)

At this point, the novelty and mystique of Memento has passed, with I'm sure dozens of films adopting the non-linear film style but Christopher Nolan's unbelievably brilliant film is still breathtakingly good; a decade later, Memento still stands apart, and I think it will for decades to come. Part film noir, part revenge fantasy, Memento not only introduced us to a different way of telling a story, but introduced us to an excellent and prolific filmmaker.


Since I was barely able to narrow down my full list to a Top 25, I wanted to give a special notation for the following movies, which were also on my original list:

  • Good Bye Lenin!
  • Big Fish
  • The Station Agent
  • About Schmidt
  • Shaun of the Dead
  • The Darjeeling Limited
  • Michael Clayton
  • Lars and the Real Girl
  • Juno
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Match Point
  • Kung Fu Hustle
  • Mean Girls
  • Donnie Darko
  • Ghost World
  • Burn After Reading
  • Snatch.
  • Best in Show
  • 28 Days Later...
  • Nine Lives
  • The Squid and the Whale

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