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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ; )
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.
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.
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.
- the new world
- finding nemo
- the wrestler
- 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