Thursday, June 04, 2009

Best of the Decade: Film

This list is not even remotely objective. These are the films that I've derived the most enjoyment out of over the past ten years. There's a good chance that Where the Wild Things Are will make honorable mention by the end of the year, but more on that later. These are the best movies released between 2000 and 2009. Go rent them if you've been missing out.

Top 10 Films of the Decade (2000-2009):

10. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Other than the obligatory Oscar for Return of the King, this was the only time the Academy Awards got the Best Picture correct in the past 10 years. All it takes is a story by Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers. What took Hollywood so long to figure this out? Not unlike Chigurh, the Coen/McCarthy team is an unstoppable force.

9. Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan Gosling's performance as a drugged out schoolteacher is the most compelling piece of acting I've seen this decade (at least in a lead role, the top honor goes to a supporting actor). His charm is so endearing, and his weakness is so powerful. Complimented with a perfect soundtrack from Broken Social Scene and some of the most realistic cinematography of urban decay ever filmed, Half Nelson is nearly perfect. The more you watch it, the more impressive it becomes.

8. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

The most entertaining documentary of the decade. Sure, the directors might editorialize certain scenes to make the story work for their benefit, but the editing is what makes this such a fantastic piece of storytelling. Hours upon hours were filmed, but cut down to a mere 79 minutes, King of Kong proves the virtue of gathering more than enough food for the winter. They clearly established a villain and a hero, and propelled their story so seamlessly it felt like we were watching a live sporting event. Go Wiebe!

7. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

It takes something really special to challenge a film staple. Lord of the Rings stormed this decade with the intention of becoming the greatest film trilogy of all time. This meant that Star Wars and The Godfather were being challenged. Personally, I think Lord of the Rings wins. I guess the ending of Return of the King was too long, but who cares, after 9 hours of relentless adventure and fantasy, an epilogue is necessary. These films are cultural behemoths, and will forever be remembered for their ambition and boldness. A "no duh" for this decade's big films.

6. I Heart Huckabees (2004)

Now it's getting personal, or should I say, existential? There aren't many movies about philosophy, and the few that do exist aren't very successful at being simultaneously philosophical and entertaining (I'm looking at you, Waking Life). I Heart Huckabees is brutally misunderstood, embarrassingly self-aware and unassumingly hilarious. When I need to laugh at myself, I put this one on. It's probably the smartest piece of self-deprecating humor an intellectual can interact with in a movie. If you didn't get it, you're not smart enough. I mean, come on, what books do you read anyway?

5. Synecdoche New York (2008)

Speaking of existentialism, never before has it been so beautifully and dreadfully realized in film than in Charlie Kaufman's masterpiece, Synecdoche New York. This film is staggering. Through dream-logic narration, the depression seeps in slowly. By the end of this film, life and death are contemplated thoroughly and with serious conviction. Another movie that will be misunderstood, but those who connect with it will be unable to forget the intensity of its meta-emotive surrealism for the rest of their brief, meaningless lives.

4. I'm Not There (2007)

The Bob Dylan movie! That title would have suited it fine, but I'm Not There works just as well. He's the most interesting living figure of our time, and a typical biopic just wouldn't do him justice. What Dylan requires is symbolism, homage, mystery, discomfort, ambition and subtlety. Among other things. There will not be a better film made about his life. When he dies, and once the evening news historians explain to this stupid country just how important he was to our cultural, political and artistic development, people will go back to this one. There's a lot to learn here folks, don't be afraid of the metaphors.

3. O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

Replay value like Tom Petty's greatest hits. The Coen's writing in top form, dialogue for the 19th century and one of the best soundtracks since The Blues Brothers. O Brother is beyond fun. "Damn. We're in a tight spot," grumbles Everett. And with that line, suddenly we don't hate George Clooney so much anymore. This is a movie that reminds us why we love movies. It's entertainment in the highest regard of the term. Leave the theatre with quotes to repeat, songs in your head and a smile on your face. I'm not really a believer in "redemptive film," but in this case, I wouldn't have it any other way.

2. The Dark Knight (2008)

It's not just Heath Ledger's Joker. It's not just the stunningly dark cinematography of Chicago. It's a story. So deep in its philosophical undertones, so rich in its drama, The Dark Knight is a modern mythology perfected through motion picture. A beautiful opera for our generation. We can learn so much about ourselves, about the nature of good and evil and the human condition through this story. Psychologically, this is a lucid dream come true. It's more than entertainment. It's more than just a movie. It's a visual fairy tale for the 21st century human being. Kubrick would have been proud.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Charlie Kaufman deserved his Oscar for this one. Enjoying practically universal praise, Eternal Sunshine gave audiences a feeling that they never knew was possible to experience at the movies. Paired with the whimsy of Michel Gondry, and the pure talents of Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, this film remains a genre unto itself. I believe that this is the best film of the decade because of the changes that it heralded in the public consciousness. For whatever reason, Americans were OK with this bizarre trip of metaphysical romance. It was an artsy movie that not-so-artsy people respected and actually enjoyed. And even the film buffs couldn't discredit this. It is a daring piece of art, that transcends taste and celebrates emotion. For a film about losing one's memory, it certainly did a bang-up job of being memorable. "Remember me. Try your best." Oh, don't you worry about that Kate. You're not going anywhere.

The Top 10 Films of the Decade. Listed.

1 comment:

John Pattison said...

Great list. Ballsy even. But you should make room on your list for "Royal Tennenbaums" and either "Lost in Translation" or "Almost Famous."

To free up a couple slots, I would drop "I Heart Huckabees," which I thought was overrated, and "King of Kong," though I agree it is the most entertaining documentary of the decade.