Saturday, June 26, 2010

Best of the 2000s: Movies

Isn't this a little late? Yes. Pretend I'm a contractor for the Big Dig. I'll get the job done, but only several months later and with outrageous cost overruns.

It just popped in my head the other day: I forgot to give my loyal audience my top movies of the last decade! For shame!

So here you are.

10. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006): There were two movies that made it hurt to laugh last decade and this was one of them. Borat's chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, twisted world view dovetails nicely with the seedy underbelly of America. What the movie tells us - through real people - is that plenty of Americans think just like this guy. It felt wrong to laugh at this movie, but laugh I did.

9. Downfall (2004): I've told plenty of people to watch this 2 1/2 hour movie with German subtitles, but no one seems to listen to me. This is far from a popcorn flick, but it contains the best leading role performance of the decade. Bruno Ganz nails Hitler, with his descent into madness, paranoia and depression. His left arm quakes, spittle flies from his mouth and he stalks around his bunker hunched over in physical and mental agony. Little by little, he realizes his dreams for a world empire are crumbling. I saw this movie years ago and his performance still sticks with me.

P.S. If you've ever seen the "Hitler reacts" videos on Youtube, they come from this movie.

8. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004): Endlessly quotable and irreparably silly, this is the best comedy of the 2000's. It's not as sweet as 40-year-old Virgin, but it is funnier. The non-sequiters, the winking parody of TV news and classic inflated male ego humor of Will Ferrell and the gang produces a laugh a minute. That's a comedy's only job.

7. The Departed (2006): Initially, this Oscar-winner left me a little cold. Terrifically entertaining, but not quite as deep as I had hoped. Jack Nicholson phoned in his performance in this one. He wasn't playing Frank Costello, he was playing Jack Nicholson playing Frank Costello. His villain belonged in a comic book. On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio proved to me he was much more than the hear throb from Titanic. He outshined an All-Star cast in this Boston mobster epic. I can't say this about many movies, but this remains very re-watachable.

6. Bowling for Columbine (2002): Michael Moore is kind of a parody of himself these days, but he's famous because he makes damn good movies. This was his coup de gras. Using the Columbine massacre as a springboard, he delves into America's crazy culture of gun fetishization, constant fear, paranoia and violence and how this atmosphere contributes to tragic events like that school shooting. Pick apart a fact here or a fact there all you want, the main thesis of the film is correct. The movie works like a great editorial. It has a point to make and it makes it convincingly and memorably.

5. Brokeback Mountain (2005): The movie is a punchline now. Whenever I say I like this movie, I always hear, "Gay! Gay!" Robbed of the Oscar by the much, much inferior Crash, Brokeback Mountain proved to be more than just an ending for a joke. It's a gut-wrenching tale of a forbidden love that came along in a time when homosexuality was hotly debated in our culture and out politics. Through all the bluster surrounding its release, the movie simply showed how two men dealt with their passion for each other and how it wrecked them from the inside. Heath Ledger proved himself a real actor in this one. The last song and image still haunt me.
4. No Country for Old Men (2007): I'll spare you the fancy film buff talk about deep themes and the human condition. This Cohen Brothers film was by far the most suspenseful movie of the decade. Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh chilled me to the bone as he killed and hunted without one hint of human emotion. Many ripped the ending, and though it was far from perfect, it held true to the movie's purpose. Violence is dealt out in our modern world randomly and unfairly.

3. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004): The second in Quentin Tarantino's homage to martial arts films, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is one of those movies that if I happen to find it on a random day, I have to finish it. It has all the Tarantino elements: Random outbursts of violence, long patches of clever dialogue and a diverse cast of morally ambiguous criminals. The scene where Beatrice Kiddo is being buried alive and then calls back to her tutelage under Pai Mai to escape is perfect. Just perfect. This movie has style, sex appeal, violence, witty dialogue, a great revenge plot, Michael Madsen ... what more could you want?

2. Mulholland Drive (2001): Great movies are supposed to be an experience - visceral, emotional, indelible - and this film from surrealist David Lynch put me through one I will never forget. The first time I watched this movie I was with a bunch of friends, who like me were utterly confused and flabbergasted by the ending. I literally had no idea what I had just seen. Usually, I dislike movies that try to be confusing and surreal just for the sake of it, but this one left me feeling more haunted and inquisitive than betrayed or angry. So I read up online about it that night and then watched it again.

I did not get much sleep that evening.

Like a great puzzle, once you solve it, the whole act of putting it together garners more meaning. This is a freakish, burrow-your-soul forray into Hollywood culture. Through all the weirdness - the cowboy, the blue box, the tiny old couple, the monster behind the dumpster, the dwarf in the wheel chair, the Silencio club - Mulholland Drive is a bruised and nostalgic look at how Hollywood seduces and how Hollywood destroys. The final third of this movie still leaves me shivering when I think about it. I usually try not to.

One last thing, Naomi Watts is my favorite actress because of this movie. She pulls off the switch in characters so effortlessly that it amazes me to this day. She's willing to do risque, off-beat roles and Betty/Diane tops them all. Definitely Oscar-worthy. Like this movie. When surreal and ridiculous is done well, it really resonates. Why else would I still remember the very night I first saw it, almost ten years later?

1. The Dark Knight (2008): The 2000s was a decade for the superhero epics, the comic book remakes, the special effects fantasy extravaganzas. Lord of the Rings. Spider-Man, Sin City. Iron Man. The list goes on. None of them could approach the raw brilliance of this gritty look at the Batman saga. This is more than a superhero movie. Much, much more. It's about terrorism. It's about the roots of evil and chaos. It's about how society keeps chaos at bay while also cultivating it. It's about how bad one has to be to actually do some good.

Batman has always been my favorite superhero. He's a film noir symbol who was always seeped in a more realistic, less idolized world than that of Superman or Spider-Man. This sequel from Christopher Nolan maintained a fierce loyalty to this interpretation. Obviously, we know how that was achieved. Heath Ledger as the Joker.

It's probably the most memorable and impactful character performance since Forrest Gump or Frank Slade. Ledger took the Joker from a cackling cartoon to a full-fledged nightmarish psychopath. Every single second he's on screen you can't think of anything else besides: My God! He's nailing this beyond belief! Just take all his scenes and put them together and you probably have the 11th best movie of the decade.

Besides Ledger's Hall of Fame offering, Nolan gives us an excellent, thought-provoking script and some of the best action scenes in film history. The attack on the Harvey Dent convoy in the streets of Chicago is exactly what an action scene should be.

The one flaw I would point out is the Two-Face subplot, which felt rushed. Besides that, nothing in this movie bothered me, not even the Rachel Dawes stuff. The Dark Knight never bores and never stoops to just another comic book rehash that is supposed to make millions and then go away until the next sequel.

It didn't win the Best Picture Oscar. It wasn't even nominated. It may always been seen as an action movie. That's not fair. Look behind the gloss and the special effects and the entertainment value. There's a real movie underneath, a movie that pretentious art-house fanatics such as myself can debate over while wearing berets and eating arugula.

Missed the cut

25th Hour

The Lives of Others

City of God

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Mystic River



Almost Famous
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  1. You actually have a really interesting selection of films, with some surprising choices in this list. That said, Kill Bill? I really love Tarintino, but Kill Bill just did not do it for me. Good film, but not great.

  2. And to think all this time you've been telling me you thought Mr. Woodcock was the best movie of the decade.