Wednesday, January 26, 2011

the best movies of the decade

this is evening i had the opportunity to have dinner with a director from the sopranos and all the talk of movies had me thinking about finally getting to this post that i've had floating around for at least six months now (and i need something light to write about tonight).

so, as the first decade of the new millennium wrapped (a year ago), here are my picks for the best movies of 2000-2009.  (besides, the oscar nominations came out a few days ago, joel and i have been texting continuously, and i still don't have a pick for my favorite of 2010.  give me a few months.)

when i made my list, i wrote down the movies that, without question, belonged on this list.  and i came up with nine.

9. hero, directed by zhang yimou, 2002.
when discussion amongst the film students began that zhang yimou was directing a kung fu action movie, we were all puzzled: it sounded completely out of character for one of the world's most powerful dramatic directors who, at that time, had been focusing on intimate stories with non-actors.  with a complete stylistic reversal, he showed himself a master of any genre.  every element of cinema came together to tell an operatic chinese legend.  the man who had been harassed by the chinese government for so many years amazed the world when he directed the opening ceremonies of the beijing olympics in 2008.

8. traffic, directed by steven soderbergh, 2000.
like zhang yimou, soderbergh can move from genre to genre and do it all, but traffic is his masterpiece.  brilliant and bold cinematography is used to keep interwoven story lines distinct, the cast of half a dozen (or more) a-list actors are managed without anyone rising up as a leading star, and the complex issue of drugs across the country is acknowledged to have no easy any answer but still remains hopeless.  and luis guzman holds every scene opposite don cheadle.

7. millions, directed by danny boyle, 2005.
happy, magical, fun, hopeful.  a little boy sees saints.  they talk to him.  they help him do the good deeds that he wants to do but with the limited abilities of an 9-year old.  when he finds a duffle bag full of money, he and his 11-year old brother keep it a secret and so begins a look at the contrast between practicality and altruism.  all with the kinetic jubilance of danny boyle.  rarely has faith and Christianity been so positively portrayed by one of the best working directors today.  i couldn't stop smiling for days after i first saw it.

6. spirited away, directed by hayao miyazaki, 2001.
for those who love animation and children's stories but need a break from idealized disney princesses, meet hayao miyazaki.  spirited away is the story of a young girl, but she isn't the most beautiful or even the most lovable girl you've ever met.  rather, she's probably like most of the 10-year old girls you have met, generally well-behaved but annoyed and whiny at her parents for moving her from her friends and really freaked out when she gets trapped in a mysterious spirit world.  the story is entrenched in japanese myth but no prior knowledge is required to appreciate the story, only openness to new ideas.  i about died when, in the theater, i heard a girl behind me whisper, "this movie is so weird! it doesn't make any sense."  true, japan doesn't explain every aspect the way that we american audiences are used to, but sit back and let your imagination realize how big the world really can be.

5. up in the air, directed by jason reitman, 2009.
i had picked pixar's up as my best movie that year, feeling bad for choosing pixar three years in a row (i have since redacted my choice in 2007 as well), but there was nothing else better.  i hadn't even given much thought to up in the air, expecting a wise look at how corporate america treats their human resources and so was caught completely off-guard when i popped it into my clearplay.
even as a movie about corporate america, it is witty and clever and brilliant without ever being too smart for its own good.  but subtly it slips into being a movie about family, relationships and love, profound without a trace of sap or cliche.  amidst all of the different attitudes about life circulating, the movie willfully acknowledges yes, marriage and family is a headache and nuisance, but there's something about it that still makes it the best way to be.  it's the most pro-marriage and family movie i know of since sunrise (1927).  possibly my favorite screenplay on this list.  i've recommended it to everyone who has a clearplay.  ; )

4. amelie, directed by jean-pierre jeunet, 2001.
what if you said, i'm going to make the happiest, most hopeful, magical, i-do-believe-in-love movie possible?  you'd be a copycat, because it's already been done.  deliriously whimsy, this is nice people doing nice things to each other.  the only villain in the movie (apart from the shopkeeper, but that's a side plot) is amelie's own fear of rejection, and she takes the risk anyway.  maybe it's because i relate to her playful method of games and trinkets in attracting the attention of the one she likes, but this movie makes me not only fall in love every time, but believe in it when i'm all burnt out, if only because it refuses to accept love as being anything less than magical.

3. the lord of the rings, directed by peter jackson, 2001-2003.
what could have been another moderately well-reviewed box office success was revealed to be, what my elitist film professor dean duncan described as, "a near-perfect movie."  not only did it please tolkien purists as well as those who didn't know the difference between an orc and an elf, but it's is excellent film making, character development, and storytelling.  it took me a little while to warm up to "fellowship" (i had just read the book for the first time), but once i realized how wonderful it was, there was a great excitement of knowing that we had two more movies to look forward to.  wizards and warriors were seen as "art" and the academy that normally (and rightly) gives their highest honor to small character dramas made one of their best choices ever and awarded "the return of the king" the best picture of 2003.  this is a timeless trilogy.

2. the royal tenenbaums, directed by wes anderson, 2001.
a few months ago, when i posited the question of what would be my choice if i could only take one movie with me to a desert island, i fumbled for an answer.  this is my answer (this, or maybe the next movie on this list.)  unique, nearly bizarre characters that are believable only because the rest of their world is equally abstract struggle to understand what it means to be a family; a real family, populated with people with real quirks, eccentricities, hopes and hurts.  and the movie says that yes, it is possible.  it hurts and takes some room, but things can get worked out, patched up, and feel better than before.  production design to die for, music that extracts deep feelings from a delightful script, and lines that get funnier and more quotable with each viewing (trust me) all make this one of my most favorite movies ever.
plus, the tent scene in richie's room is one i love so much that i feel guilty talking about it again here.

1. wall-e, directed by andrew stanton, 2008.
if you have any questions about this, you must be new to this blog.

here are the others that, although they didn't bring the same reaction to me as these nine did, were still strong contenders for this list and could very easily be up here without any complaint from me.
these are movies that i love and that prove what a cinematically wonderful decade this was.
they are in no particular order and i regret that i don't have time to annotate even a line about why i love each of them.

  • up
  • babel
  • the new world
  • finding nemo
  • the wrestler
  • adaptation 
  • punch drunk love
  • lost in translation
  • there will be blood
  • hot fuzz
  • united 93
  • little miss sunshine
  • a prairie home companion
  • o brother where art thou?
  • shrek 2


Em said...

I'm happy that enough of those are pre-2006 for me to have seen most of them. Something about parenting killed the cinephile in me.

Jack said...

great list. i'm glad to have watched most of the top movies with you, and many of the others listed. thanks for introducing me to some great cinema that i never would have seen otherwise. so glad you have the cleanflicksed amelie and royal tenenbaums so we could enjoy without distraction. i hope clearplay has updated their editing of the latter, cause it was embarrassing to show it to my parents and not have it truly clear to play.

The Former 786 said...

I have many thoughts, so I am going to organize them in numerical order.


1. I need to watch The Sopranos. I wish Clearplay had it, but they're too busy editing Firefly (a noble effort, but. . .)

2. I hope this continuous texting gets me back in the rankings. :)

3. Hero. Visually, this movie is amazing – I will not deny that. But this could have been bumped out by O Brother, Where Art Thou?

4. I need to watch Traffic. That’s all there is to it..

5. Luis Guzman? Seriously? I can’t stand the man. He’s like the male version of Rosie Perez - loud with terrible acting.

6. Love Millions. Love, love, love Millions. I need to own this movie. I don’t know why I don’t. And Hollywood may be doing its best to be better at racial sensitivity and gender stereotypes, but they have only gotten worse when it comes to religious figures.

7. I also need to watch Spirited Away, apparently. But after Grave of the Fireflies, I don’t know how well I’ll handle Japanese animated feature films. *sniff* Since I haven’t seen it, I would have to give the award to Moulin Rouge!, probably.

8. I was very skeptical of Up in the Air at first. It had a very negative tone and was anti-family, but then the mood shifted and all of a sudden I was feeling, if you’ll pardon the phrasing, uplifted. I also love how the director used real people who were laid off and told them their “performance” was for a documentary. That brought some real power and emotion to this film.

9. I want to watch Sunrise again. Great movie. I should own that one, too.

The Former 786 said...


10. Amelie (both the film and the character) is so cute. If only more people would give movies with subtitles a chance. *sigh* I never noticed the lack of an antagonist before, though. Great insight.

11. I’m amazed how Peter Jackson pleased both sides of the fence. Amazed! That never happens! Now let’s hope all the hold-ups with The Hobbit will end and we can see if he can do it again! Also, counting this as one movie is kind of cheating, but I will allow it.

12. The Royal Tenenbaums is a lot of fun. I enjoy it. I own it. And I can see why you would put it on your list. But it probably wouldn’t have made mine. Shrek 2 probably would have pushed it out. However, now I’m wanting to watch it again, if only for the soundtrack and Margot getting her finger cut off.

13. I understand you love WALL-E a lot. I understand many people love WALL-E a lot. But Up gets me every time I see it and it would have won out in my mind. Nonetheless, I respect your valid opinion.

14. I would like to see a line annotating why you love each one of them. And why they weren’t chosen. Post idea!

15. Need to see Babel, The New World, Adaptation, Punch Drunk Love (Luis Guzman? Again??), There Will Be Blood, United 93 (maybe) an A Prairie Home Companion.

16. It still boggles my mind that you like Hot Fuzz more than Shaun of the Dead. To each their own, I guess.