|09:48 pm - BEST MOVIES OF THE AUGHTS|
Originally, I had hoped to have this list posted during the NFL Playoffs (that’s January for non-sports fans). And yet it took me until the NBA Finals (June) to get it done. It was not merely because I was
lazy short of time, but also because our reactions to movies are very emotional. And just as our emotions fluctuate wildly, so do our preferences when it comes with respect to feature-length films.
See, it’s much easier to make a respectable list of the best TV shows of the decade because there are so many hours’ worth of content that you can step back and judge without passion. The TV show from my best-of-the-‘00s list that had the smallest quantity of televised hours was the BBC version of The Office: 13 episodes that lasted about 7-and-a-half hours. A movie – even a bloated epic – has less than half that amount of time to hook you in, keep you engaged and leave you feeling satisfied at the end. Because of that time crunch, in order to really feel invested in a movie, you have to do some of the work yourself by comparing it to your own deepest personal thoughts or experiences. When a movie speaks to some sort of specific feeling or situation that you are familiar with it’s ridiculously easy to fall in love with that film. I think that’s why you see so much disparity in a lot of people’s “best-of” movie lists and why those people defend their lists so passionately.
Now, not only could you forgo titling this list “The Ten Best Movies of the ‘00s” in favor of “The Ten Movies from the ‘00s that Sean Found Most Deeply Affecting” you could also name it “The Ten Movies Made from 2000-2008 that Sean Found Most Deeply Affecting” because it’s impossible to gauge how movies stack up against each other without the benefit of at least a couple of years of hindsight. Which is too bad since 2009 was actually a pretty good year for movies. So why don’t we start the list making with...
The Best Movie of 2009: Away We Go. I’m glad that I wasn’t able to see this episodic story about a young couple who travels to a number of different cities in order to figure out which one is the best place to raise their soon-to-be-born child until after I had my own kid. Without two years of child-rearing under my belt I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate just how ridiculous the ridiculous advice the couple receives is and how wise the wise advice is. The line that totally floored me is when an experienced parent tells our protagonists went something like, “It's all those good things you have in you. The love, the wisdom, the generosity, the selflessness, the patience. When you blink, when you blink! And it's 5:30 and it's time to get up again and you know you're going to be tired all day, all week, all your fucking life. And you're thinking what happened to Greece? What happened to swimming naked off the coast of Greece? And you have to be willing to make the family out of whatever you have.” This movie was neck-and-neck with (500) Days of Summer and The Cove for me, but ultimately Away We Go is as funny as it is moving and that’s why it’s my favorite movie of 2009.
Biggest Surprise of 2009: Inglorious Basterds. I disliked the script when I read it two summers ago, but there’s a reason Quentin is a director and I am not. The movie he had in his head is way better than whatever reverie I had conjured up. He knew exactly the kinds of performances he needed from his actors to make their characters feel like real people instead of the feeble cinematic archetypes that we saw in Kill Bill and Death Proof (God, those movies suck).
Best Ending of 2009: A Serious Man. A lot of people got up in arms over the “ambiguous” ending of the Coen Brothers’ latest opus. The uproar was so great that I doubted my own ability to process a film’s narrative. But a quick search of Teh Internets confirmed that, yes, I can correctly interpret the most on-the-nose movie of the Coens’ career. The film is just one part of a triptych, which includes No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading, that concerns the consequences of our moral actions (why, yes, I did receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from film school. Why do you ask? Well, since you are asking, I’ll tell you that A Serious Man states that if we do bad things we will suffer bad consequences, Burn After Reading states that if we do good things we will suffer bad consequences, and No Country For Old Men says that it doesn’t matter what kinds of things we do because Death is coming for all of us regardless.).
Best Demo Reel of 2009: Avatar. The Jurassic Park of the ‘00s. It brought 3D and photorealistic performance-capture to the mainstream – which is important – but five years from now when somebody comes along (and maybe it will be Cameron himself with the sequel) and uses the same tools to tell a better story, Avatar is going to have all of the resonance of The Jazz Singer.
MY TEN FAVORITE MOVIES OF THE 00’s
#10. The Ring (2002) I wasn’t a big fan of this one when it first came out, but on subsequent viewings I realized that this movie wasn’t really a horror film, but more of an expertly plotted mystery. I only wish that they had kept the scenes that imply the girl from the movie is the anti-Christ. Then it would have worked as a (quite creepy) horror film as well. (Additional TMI fact that makes the movie feel more personal to me: The Daughter was conceived in the apartment building that Naomi Watts’ character lives in! Sorry if you barfed.)
Action Movie of the Decade: Children of Men (2006). Sorry Hurt Locker. You’re more of a suspense movie than an action movie. Sorry The Incredibles. Your philosophy of genetic objectivism creeps me out. But you, Children of Men, with your long takes of organized, bloody chaos, your shocking plot twists and your global warming allegories are pretty damn great.
#9. High Fidelity (2000) Has any movie, anywhere, better captured the mindset of those of us who are obsessed with pop culture? It’s also nice that the movie says that it’s okay to be one of those obsessive types (provided that you can, you know, find balance in your life). Also has one of my most favorite lines of the decade when John Cusack screams at the woman who just dumped him, “Charlie, you fucking bitch! Let’s work it out.”
#8. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) I got pretty annoyed when I saw a lot of decade lists lump all three parts of the trilogy together and count it as one film – but then I remembered that they actually did screen all three of them together as one big event when Return of the King came out. I’m afraid I watched these movies to death in the early aughts and as hard as the filmmakers tried, they couldn’t completely overcome the flaws inherent in Tolkien’s original novels, so I don’t love the films (all of which finished either #1 or #2 on my year-end lists) as much as I used to. But I did love them as they came out and they were the last movies that instilled such a fevered anticipation in me that I made the effort to see them on opening day. And then, of course, The Wife and I would see them again with our extended families on Christmas Day which made for a nice little tradition that I’ll remember until the Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease start poking holes in my brain.
Christmas Movie of the Decade: Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). The Wife and I walked out of this. It is absolutely horrible. A career nadir for everyone involved who wasn’t in the make-up or art direction departments. However, I think the film presaged the last decade’s economic meltdown. In the story, the Grinch learns that the gifts aren’t what make Christmas special. What makes Christmas special is spending time with your friends and family. After this realization the Grinch returns all of the present he stole from Whoville. In the book it is a moment in the book that is given two whole lines of text. More important is the fact that the Grinch stays in Whoville and becomes an active member of the community. That’s the book. In the movie, though, much more importance is placed on the Grinch successfully returning the presents to Whoville. Whomanity won’t truly be happy until they get all of their stuff back. This obsession with materialism is basically what fueled the sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps and other banking-related malignancies that continue to wreak havoc on our economy today.
Actually Good Christmas Movie of the Decade: The Ice Harvest (2005). Another Christmas movie that deals in the greed that always seems to surface at Christmas time. And as dark and brutal (but funny!) as this flick is, at least it says that there is no use in having a ton of riches if there is no one there for you to share them with.
#7. Little Children (2006) Another film that I love because of the way I feel it parallels my personal life. There are a number of arch and melodramatic moments in this one, but that’s okay because Todd Field perfectly captures the angst of being a stay-at-home parent.
Best Director of the Decade: Christopher Nolan. Look at this filmography: Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, the trailer for Inception. The quality of those films ranges from “great” to “classic.” The day Nolan makes a merely good movie is the day he disappoints us.
Worst Director of the Decade: M. Night Shyamalan. Look at these titles: Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening. Those movies run the gamut from “laughably awful” to “coma inducing.” They not only erased the considerable goodwill engendered by The Sixth Sense, but made The Sixth Sense look like a total fluke. And it’s just plain sad that some of the best scores of James Newton Howard’s career are utterly wasted in Shyamalan’s drek.
#6. Milk (2008) I was worried about this movie. It was so hyped, but was that just because of the sentiment dredged up by Prop 8? Biopics, you see, have a tendency to be boring or sanctimonious and Gus Van Sant (especially when he goes all experimental) is hit-and-miss for me. Gratefully, it was not hype. With an outstanding script by Dustin Lance Black (who also gave the best Oscar acceptance speech of the decade), Milk surprised me by being so entertaining while still following the strictures of the biopic and imparting an political message.
#5. The Forty-Year-Old Virgin (2005) People in Hollywood always knew that Judd Apatow was really funny (that’s why they kept giving him money to make failed TV shows), it just took the rest of the country some time and the perfect vehicle to realize it as well. There was a time – about the middle of 2006 – that The Wife and I perform this entire film for you beginning-to-end because we had seen it so much.
Second Best Comedy of the Decade: Role Models (2008). The first time The Wife and I saw this and the writing credit came up (“David Wain & Ken Marino & Paul Rudd”) she said, “That must have been to work on.” So, yes, we expected to get a lot of laughs from a movie that promised to merge the comedic sensibilities of Judd Apatow and The State. What we didn’t expect was to also be drawn into the world of LAIRE and be emotionally invested in the outcome of a bunch of people whacking each other with foam-ended sticks.
#4. Before Sunset (2004) I saw Before Sunrise in the theater three times. A heterosexual teenage male shouldn’t have seen that movie once by accident on cable let alone three times in the theater. But that flick said everything about idealized romance that I wanted to hear at that time. Roughly a decade later, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke reunited to make a sequel. I was excited, but also very nervous. What if they couldn’t recapture the magic of the original or, worse, tarnish the first film by failing to live up to my insane expectations in the same way that The Matrix sequels did?
Obviously that didn’t happen since Before Sunset is number four on my list. The film didn’t just match the quality of Sunrise, it also added layers of complexity to the 1995 original. When I first saw the end of the sequel – Ethan Hawke says “I know,” and then the end credits start – I jumped out of my seat and stood upright in the aisle. I was so energized by the fact that the film not only worked, but worked so well, that I couldn’t stand still and I had to tell somebody about how I felt. Unfortunately, I had gone to see it by myself so I wandered the theater like an imbecile hoping to bump into somebody I knew before I realized I had a cell phone. Then I called everybody who I thought would care (most of them, it turned out, didn’t).
Best Documentary: Beyond the Mat (2000), King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007), The Cove (2009) (tie). That feeling of exhilaration that I described above hit me in waves while I was watching my favorite documentaries of the past decade. The Cove is one of the most exciting records of a tragedy that I’ve ever seen. I still find it hard to believe that the events and participants of King of Kong are real and not the invention of a genius screenwriter. And Beyond the Mat actually made me care again (briefly) about professional wrestling. Aside from being documentaries, these three films are related in that they are all about manufactured events. I’m sure that says something about me, but I’m not sure what it is.
Best Scene: “Whoop That Trick” - Hustle & Flow (2005), Sneeze - The Lake House (2006) and Confession - JCVD (2008) (tie). I caught all three of the movies for the first time on disc and at the end of each of these scenes I immediately hit the scan-back button so I could watch them again. I thought I was too old and crotchety to get moved by hip-hop, but Hustle and Flow proved me wrong, Jean-Claude Van Damme proved that he could be compelling on screen without doing spin kicks and Keanu Reeves...well, he remains Keanu Reeves and I love him for that.
#3. Donnie Darko (2001) Remember the second-to-last scene in The Godfather Part II? It’s a flashback of the four Corleone siblings on Christmas Eve waiting for their father to arrive so that they can begin the celebrations. The main conflict in the scene is Michael revealing that he is going to join the army against his family’s wishes. Just as Sonny is getting really heated up, the front door opens off-screen signaling the arrival of Vito. Michael’s sister and two brothers leave to greet their father, but Michael stays behind in the dining room, smoking a cigarette by himself as the sounds of everyone else happily welcoming Vito drift in. It’s a breathtaking scene that perfectly sums up Michael’s character and the familial sacrifices he’s always been willing to make in order to achieve his own goals. Now, originally, Vito was supposed to come into the dining room and interact with his children, but Coppola couldn’t convince Marlon Brando to return for Part II, so he had to reconceive the scene. Which means that the defining scene of the Godfather saga is the result of a compromised director trying to do the best with what he had.
That pretty much sums up the entirety of Donnie Darko as well. After reading (or more accurately, trying to read) a number of his screenplays, trying in vain to understand anything about Southland Tales and suffering through The Box and the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, I feel confident in saying that Richard Kelly isn’t much of a storyteller when left to his own devices. However, force him to compromise during the editorial process and scuttle some of his initial music choices and Kelly will make something as ambiguous, moody and immensely pleasurable as the theatrical cut of Donnie Darko.
DVD Box Set of the Decade: The Budd Beotticher Collection (plus Seven Men From Now for the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott-Burt Kennedy completists out there). These movies had never been released on video before. The only way you could see them whenever you wanted to was if you had access to a recording of one of the films’ infrequent television airings. The USC film school library had such recordings and I used my last day as a student to watch a crappy VHS tape of The Tall T on a 19” television and I loved every second of it. The movies in this box set look at least as good as they did back when they were first released in the 1950’s and 60’s and the wealth of extra features is remarkable. They’re also good for making annoying John Wayne fans STFU when they see what true frontiersman badassery is in the form of Randolph Scott.
#2. Sideways (2004) A dramedy about a failed writer who loves visiting the Santa Ynez Valley and ends up drinking too much of the wine he finds there, but finds redemption in the love of a woman who is way out of his league? The only thing they got wrong is that Paul Giamatti doesn’t look a smidge like me.
#1. Shaun of the Dead (2004) The stones on this movie are incredible. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg set out to make a zombie flick that was funny, scary, romantic, thrilling, heartbreaking and whimsical which is an impossible thing to pull off. And yet somehow they did. Easily the most rewatchable movie of the decade as well as the most quotable. It doesn’t hurt the I share a name with the main character, was roughly the same age as him when the film came out and was undergoing similar struggles with maturity. This is the film The Wife and I show to people when we’re considering whether or not to be their friends.