(Yes, yes, first post in eons, you’re not a real blogger, etc.)
Lists of the finest films of the decade have started popping up all over the tubes, and I felt compelled to join in. I love lists such as these, despite their relative meaninglessness. How can anyone accurately catalogue the most important films in such a recent period, let alone the ‘best’?
I’ve compromised and created a list of ten movies from 2000-present that were revelations for me as a movie lover. This is the decade I fell in love with the movies, and while several older movies have impacted me at least as much, I am happy to celebrate these contemporary films.
10) Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Buzz around high school said this was ‘the most depressing movie ever.’ A friend loaned it to me at the end of the school day, and throughout that afternoon’s play practice I excitedly said ‘I can’t wait to get depressed!’ I sneaked the DVD into the computer room at home, and was amazed from the very start. This was the first time I noticed the power of camerawork in storytelling and tone. Someday I may call it self-indulgent instead of expressionistic, but for a few years this was my favorite movie. It is still a powerful story of self-destruction and depravity. That evening I went back to the well, turned the speakers on low, and was fortunately interrupted during a quiet, tame scene by my mother–‘What are you watching in here? What is this? UN-Rated!?’
9) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Several friends berated this movie as silly. Tired jokes were made about flying in trees. I was enchanted. Here was an action movie with the fighting done in character. Its mysticism and appreciation for silence were eye-opening. In a mere two hours this movie opened the gates for me to foreign film.
8 ) Billy Elliot (2000)
Where Requiem enlightened me to the many possible types of shots, Billy Elliot was my teacher in composition and staging. Its use of color is also commendable. Right after watching it the first time, I spoke with my theater director, bubbling over with delight for the film. In cinematic terms I didn’t know yet, I tried to explain the scene in which Billy dances before his father, energetically daring to approach a yellow line on the gymnasium floor. For a cherry on top, the film introduced me to the great, infectious glam rock band T. Rex.
7) Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
This ridiculous and carefree comedy didn’t broaden any horizons for me, but it played a special role in my life. During my first bout of serious depression the docs prescribed Prozac and comedies. I suffered through several duds that distracted me well enough, but Kung Fu Hustle was the miracle drug. In one rental period I watched this movie nearly a dozen times, especially repeating the absurd fight scenes. Everything about the movie is silly, but it’s also produced and choreographed better than most of its serious peers. And the world would be an emptier place to live in without a dance interlude led by axe-wielding gangsters in formal attire.
6) Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
I will only revisit most of these movies every couple years, but this one? I could rewatch this sexy pulp every week. First movie I ever saw alone in the theaters; went probably four times total. Nearly all my favorite cinematic genre types are here: the Spaghetti Western, the revenge (justice?) mission, the deadly and broken romance now haunting and tense, and the pseudo-philosophizing of pop culture. Throw in some babes, swords, cars, a poisonous snake, and some badass villains–you got yourself a movie.
5) L’Enfant (2005)
Movies that create tension and build suspense frighten and interest me a great deal more than those that shock and horrify. This movie tunnels into a moral darkness that passes beyond bleakness. Surrounded by a barren post-industrial world, the protagonists steadily fall into ruin in despairing scenes filled with dread. The directors are not sadistic with their characters however, and the viewer slowly sympathizes with the man who has sold his infant child. Indeed, it was the unexpected combination of Marxism and spirituality that affected me the most. Such a pairing is virtually unthinkable in American discourse.
4) The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007)
Yes, I believe that everything Brad Bird touches turns to gold. Both of these movies sport the Pixar premium for animation, story, and character. And while I love almost all of the studio’s movies, these two put the wind in my sail. The Incredibles is a better deconstructionist superhero story than any adaptation of Watchmen will ever be, and it’s a thrilling ride to boot. What other ‘children’s’ movie can you name that makes a homage to Boogie Nights? Ratatouille tells a rich story with relatively complex morality, and its thematic subject is one of my absolute favorites–the development and value of aesthetics. The scene of Anton Ego’s dinner critique made me cry. Don’t judge me. /geekout
3) The Wire (2002-2008)
Watching a season of this series is akin to reading an epic novel. The detailed development of its characters and the scope of its vision are together unparalleled. Plus, its insight into the intertwining of public institutions is more usually found in a history text–but don’t let that make you think it’s dry. Each season has a different style and tone, delving into neo-realism and satire, buddy movie and picaresque. All this is envisioned with a critical eye, and rests on Classical Greek tragedies. David Simon loves this city, and word of mouth says that its real residents love the show–but they’re both fully aware of Bodymore, Murdaland’s corrupt condition. No other story in movie or television has gripped me with such power for so long, and it is a superior witness to contemporary urban life in America.
2) Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Growing up, my strongest love for movies was via fanboyism–infatuations, really. I could identify every alien and tech device in the Star Wars trilogy, and rejoiced in the Lord of the Rings films. Nowadays I still enjoy those movies, but their faults are visible. I never regretted being a geek, but it took Pan’s Labyrinth to vindicate my fascination with those fantasy films. Juxtaposing a rebellion against brutal fascists with a young girl’s development as a fairy tale heroine sounded like an odd pairing at first, but now no other story could make sense. The fantasy world here is hidden, oppressed. In this story the more fully realized world is the cold and violent one of the revolutionaries. Some characters appear simplistic, especially the ruthless Captain–but could we believe his evil deeds without such a vile nature? The mythos is pagan in characterization and design, but its absolutism and esteem of myths’ revolutionary power are reminiscent of del Toro’s old Catholicism. Finally, it must be said that the movie is beautiful. I will watch any movie del Toro directs for its visuals, even if every other element stinks to high heaven.
1) No Country For Old Men (2007)
I hereby pronounce this film the most important American movie since The Godfather. Really. Where the Godfather was anthropological (and great for every other reason), NCfOM is literary. It doesn’t quite deconstruct the Western genre so much as disassemble it, finding that the old tropes and form don’t match or fit. Death stalks through this wasteland, and his victims do not find a heroic end. This is a cop-out, but rather than try to explain the movie’s quality (two other posts on this blog pertain to it), I’ll direct you to one of its greatest defenders, Jim Emerson
Honorable Mentions, in no particular order:
The Pianist (existential survival), Finding Nemo (cried in first five minutes, awesome visuals, super cute & fun), WALL-E (apocalypse for kids, agrarian, silent film), Black Hawk Down (real soldier movie, stuck in front row seats opening night), Cache (sustained suspense ex nihilo), Spirited Away (re: CT, HD experience but animated, character development), Amelie (happy-go-lucky romance, colors + camera), Goodnight & Good Luck (polemical vs. television trends, period quality), Donnie Darko (possible explanations from any critical lens), Zodiac (unseen terror, due process), American Splendor (4th-wall breaking, underground culture), Iron Man (popcorn fun), A Prairie Home Companion (intro to good Altman, folk music)
Final thoughts–There are several movies from this decade that I have yet to see and expect to be great. Bahrani’s work immediately comes to mind. There are plenty of other great movies that didn’t make the list, only because of the list’s nature.
Mayhaps I became more judgmental in tone as the list came closer to my favorites, but they are dear to my heart. After around eight years of actively pursuing great movies, I’m glad to say that I still enjoy them immensely.
Did you have any similar experiences at the movies this decade?