The purpose of “Best of ” lists is to prompt reflection and discussion. Yet, often they become the focal point of divisiveness in which readers react vehemently if their personal favorites are ignored. So, in the spirit of this on-line magazine (remember the name gang), let’s clarify a few things.
This is in no way intended to be a definitive list of the best films of the last 10 years. Undertaking such a project would be foolhardy and arrogant. No, this is simply my list on what I feel were the most significant movies made from 2000-2009 and is intended as nothing more than one critic’s opinion, as well as a starting point for further discussion of this topic. Post your own list, defend films I did not mention, and weigh in on what you feel were those movies that made an impact when they were released and continue to resonate.
To be sure, there are a myriad of ways to reflect on the significant entries in the art form. A list citing film that made a significant impact on cinema, for good or ill, would have been an interesting approach (Transformers anyone?) while separate lists for the best films in each genre would be, though time-consuming, equally fruitful. (The Hangover is certainly one of the best comedies of the decade, but does it make the grade as one of the decade’s overall greats?)
The approach I took was relatively simple: I chose films that had an impact on me when I first saw them and still move me today while yielding further gifts on repeat viewings. Obviously, the passage of time plays a factor here as I may wind up eating crow regarding the films I cited from 2008 and 2009. (Will I like Up in the Air as much five years from now as I do now?) However, that is the inherent risk with making lists such as this and the fun of it as well as they should be considered, to some degree, a fluid undertaking.
That being said, here’s the first part of my list, 23 out of 44 films humbly submitted for your perusal and comment.
Requiem for a Dream: This masterpiece from director Darren Aronofsky charts the rise and terrible fall of four people who find their lives ruined when they become slaves to addiction. Harrowing, visually stunning and ultimately moving, Aronofsky’s style and pacing grabs us and never lets us go as we willing allow him to take us on this journey through the dark side of the human soul.
Amores Perros: This film not only heralded the arrival of the new Mexican Cinema but also used the hyperlink narrative format better than any film (yes, even better than Pulp Fiction) as it told this intertwining tale of love gone wrong in Mexico. Bracing, invigorating and unforgettable.
Ghost World: Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of the cult graphic novel about two high school outsiders (Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch) who revel in pointing out the hypocrisies of life is the rare film that perfectly captures teen angst and expectation in all its pain and optimism.
The Man Who Wasn’t There: This is the Coen Brother’s overlooked masterpiece with Billy Bob Thornton in the title role as a man unsure of his place in life who gets involved in a noir mystery which the film perfectly evokes. Far better than the overrated Fargo.
Monsters, Inc.: Pixar can do no wrong and this tale of overcoming you fears is not only a touching tribute to friendship but features the funniest animated sequence of the decade. (Try not to piss your pant as you watch Sully’s reaction when he things his young friend Boo is being mangled in a trash compactor.)
Mulholland Dr.: A David Lynch masterpiece of paranoia as Naomi Watts stars as a young actress who begins to question her own identity. At times maddening yet ultimately rewarding as we come to learn that we often do ourselves the most harm.
The Royal Tenenbaums: Director Wes Anderson’s best film, this tale of a dysfunctional family that stumbles its way towards love is filled with moments of grace, great pain and laughter…just like your own family.
Vanilla Sky: Cameron Crowe’s remake of Abre Los Ojos works well as a mystery as Tom Cruise stars as a man suffering from amnesia trying to reconstruct his memories. However, it soars as an exploration of pop culture and its effects on us, for good or ill.
About Schmidt: Alexander Payne’s look at life’s third act finds Jack Nicholson as a recent widower and retiree adrift in a world he doesn’t understand. Not only is it a revelation to see the actor so vulnerable but the film’s poignant look at our golden years poignantly points out its never to late to find redemption.
Adaptation: Spike Jonze’s serpentine tale features Nicholas Cage at his finest as twins who are polar opposites that get involved in a story about an eccentric orchid farmer (Oscar winner Chris Cooper) and a New York publisher (Meryl Streep) looking for a fresh start. This twisting tale ends up being a moving dissertation on the importance of artistic expression and living a full life.
Antwone Fisher: Denzel Washington’s moving tale of one young man’s (Derek Luke) search for the family he never knew is one of the most moving film’s ever made as it takes an unflinching look at the devastating effect of domestic abuse and the healing that is possible when it is confronted and put to rest.
Minority Report: Steven Spielberg proves here that big-budget summer films can contain action and brains as well in this prescient tale of a Big Brother police system that predicts murders and arrests the perpetrator before the crime is committed. Tom Cruise is the cop on the run when the system goes bad. Films are rarely this exciting while posing important questions about the society we live in.
Punch-Drunk Love: P. T. Anderson funnels the rage in Adam Sandler’s persona to wonderful effect in this look at how one man is able to put his rage over his unfulfilled life to rest by allowing himself to love and be loved.
American Splendor: This brilliant look at the life of cult cartoonist Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) combines interviews with the film’s subject with cinematic recreations and sublime animated sequences to create a bold, post-modern look at one man raging against the universe.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: The culminating chapter n Peter Jackson’s wildly ambitious trilogy is not only big-budget filmmaking at its finest, but is also a moving tale of love, courage and sacrifice.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Michel Gondry’s unconventional love story looks at a man (Jim Carrey) who has his memory erased so that he can forget his former girlfriend (Kate Winslet) only to find out that while his memories may be gone but his feelings necessarily aren’t. Challenging in the way good art should be as this is a reflective piece of work that resonates long after the film ends.
The Incredibles: Pixar strikes again in this tale of a superhero family, rusting in retirement, who find the courage to be the best they can be, though the run the risk of being shunned by a society that fears them. Part James Bond adventure (dig the John Berryesque score), part superhero homage, part family sit-com, the domestic dynamic at its core makes it tick.
Million Dollar Baby: Clint Eastwood’s tragic tale of a young boxer (Hilary Swank) who finds success and failure in the ring is an old-fashioned tale told in a quiet sure manner that ultimately proves moving. Hearkening back to the days of classic Hollywood, this sort of bare-bones filmmaking deserves to be heralded in the age of Transformers.
Brokeback Mountain: While some have dismissed this as “the gay cowboy movie” there’s no denying the power of this tale of a love affair stifled by fear, thanks in large part to the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee’s ability to transcend the material so that we all might relate to it.
The Constant Gardener: This adaptation of the John Le Carre novel is an intriguing mystery of industrial espionage as well as an indictment of how civilized countries ignore or abuse third-world nations. However, Ralph Fiennes haunted performance as a widower trying to uncover the facts about his wife’s death (Rachel Weisz) gives it heart.
The 40-Year Old Virgin: The Judd Apatow era begins here with this tale of a man (Steve Carrell) who actually thinks sex should mean something in this hedonistic age. At times raunchy and outrageous, the film’s heart is what makes it touching and memorable.
A History of Violence: Repression has always been one of director David Cronenberg’s favorite themes and its front and center in this tale of a small town guy (Viggo Mortenson) who comes face to face with a violent past he thought he’d successfully blotted out. Gripping and unflinching in its look at violence and our fascination with it.
Syriana: This look at the oil cartels, how they hold the world hostage and its tragic repercussions is purposely impenetrable as it shows how convoluted and unstoppable the modern world of energy brokering has become. A film that perfectly speaks to our times with fine turns from George Clooney, Matt Damon, Geoffrey Wright and Christopher Plummer.
Check back tomorrow at 11 a.m. for the second installation of Chuck’s top films of the decade.