This was a tough list to compile. When 2000 began, I was a seventeen year old high school senior, working at a movie theater in Virginia Beach, VA and fresh off seeing The Green Mile and thinking it was amazing. The first film I saw in the new decade was Next Friday on January 20, 2000 and according to my planner, I gave it a B-. Throughout the last ten years, I went to film school, became aware of and attended film festivals, made a film of my own, and made friends with a number of successful and non-successful filmmakers. My taste has twisted and turned and would be virtually unrecognizable to my 17 year old self. I wonder if this was the last time a decade will pass with such formative changes in my life taking place.
For the most part, it’s 27 year old Chad who this list represents, although a few films probably slipped through the cracks from previous incarnations. Some of the films I haven’t seen in years and have to trust my initial feelings on and some are recent additions that may sour in time. All of the films mean a great deal to me and are worth checking out if you haven’t seen. So without further ado….
LA PIANISTE (2001)
A dynamite, international star-making performance from Isabelle Hupppert makes this romantic tragedy what it is. Taking a decidedly unlikeable character and forming someone unmistakably human, she and Haneke turn in a fascinating and indicting look at sexual repression.
WERCKMEISTER HARMÓNIÁK (2000)
Ambitious, bold, boring, beautiful, pretentious. All of these things can describe this one film, and Tarr has a way of making even those adjectives with negative connotations seem perfect. I’ve since seen his earlier, more naturalistic work and much prefer that, but as far as existential, Hungarian poetry on screen goes, you can’t do much better than this.
CAST AWAY (2000)
Zemeckis and Tarr right next to each other might not happen on very many lists. I haven’t seen this film since 2001, but I remember being surprised at how well handled the stuff on the island was done. No score, fantastic sound design, a phenomenal Tom Hanks performance and a dedication to chronicling the minutia. Even when he’s back in America, I thought the scene with Helen Hunt was terrifically thought out and played. Hollywood entertainment has rarely been this adventurous since.
A film drenched in its Mississippi roots without feeling like a Southern caricature, Lance Hammer’s debut is a remarkable tale of family resilience and bonding through grief. Non-actors turn in stilted, yet emotionally powerful performances in one of many late decade titles to poignantly look at the economic troubles faced by Americans.
SANG SATTAWAT (2006)
I’m not going to lie and say that I understand everything that’s going on in Syndromes and a Century. Beautiful vignettes that sometimes repeat with different actors or sometimes play out in slightly different forms all lend to the theme of distorted memories. A singing dentist is the highlight.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003)
All I really want in a documentary is an interesting story told and if there are two sides to the story, I don’t want to know which side the filmmaker falls on. Jarecki unfolds the story of the Friedmans in such a way that we are always second-guessing the subjects, the film and ourselves.
BIKUR HA-TIZMORET (2007)
It seems that the only movies that make it to America from the Middle East have something to do with the political conflict there, either directly or thematically. The Band’s Visit falls into the latter category and thankfully, keeps the preaching to a minimum. Instead, you have a gorgeously shot story of a group of men stranded in a strange land just passing the time.
MINORITY REPORT (2002)
Can we please just pretend that the last three minutes of this movie don’t exist? If so, it’s a big-budget science fiction spectacle as best as you can hope to find. Spielberg and Kaminski do wonders visually, Cruise is pitch-perfect and a handful of sequences can be studied in film classes for decades (the mall chase, the spiders, etc.)
CHOP SHOP (2007)
An anti-Slumdog Millionaire focusing on the day to day life of a poor orphan in Queens working at a car repair lot and trying to save money for a taco truck he can run with his sister. Director Bahrani clearly loves his characters and treats his audience with respect by showing hardships but not worst case scenarios to drum up instant sympathy.
A satire of male models seems like a black hole of comedy but Stiller manages to find enough material to more than sustain the runtime. Will Ferrell isn’t annoying, Owen Wilson is Owen Wilson and David Duchonvy has never been better. One of the most quotable films of the decade and one of the last times Stiller managed to be endearing.
GEGEN DIE WAND (2004)
A film about identity from a German-Turkish filmmaker that focuses on the connection and relationship between two desperate characters. Phenomenal acting from the two leads and a story that never quite goes where you expect add up to a wonderful and hopeful journey in the end.
THE PUFFY CHAIR (2005)
After seeing this movie for the first time, I thought it had a lot of great moments but was brought down by the brother character and his quirky bullshit. The second time, he didn’t bother me at all. Few American films dare to deal with a doomed relationship with this type of fine toothed comb, painting both characters as neither right nor wrong. Just wrong for each other.
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002)
The first movie I ever saw in Los Angeles and I haven’t seen it since. People I trust tell me that it’s not actually good but I remember being riveted from starting frame to finish. Chiwetel Ejiofor was brilliant and the script kept to a satisfying Hollywood structure but still managed to surprise me. It did everything a thriller should, and not cheaply, I thought.
THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE (2000)
The closest any animated title has come in the new decade to capturing the madcap insanity of Chuck Jones and Bugs Bunny. Wonderful humor coming from great characters and spot-on voice work, including the one and only time anyone has harnessed David Spade’s smarm for good and not evil. It’s a delirious cartoon in the greatest sense of both words.
FA YEUNG NIN WA (2000)
Wong Kar Wai
Wong Kar Wai’s impeccable style doesn’t always work for me and has a nasty habit of distracting from his substance when it’s at its worst. That’s not an issue here, as Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung give beautiful performances in a rare look at adults with a little bit of self control.
TROUBLE THE WATER (2008)
Carl Deal, Tia Lessin
Deal and Lessin should thank their lucky stars that they ran into Kimberly Roberts because her first hand footage of Hurricane Katrina is leaps and bounds more visceral, interesting and emotional than anything they could have hoped to capture. Never reducing itself to over politcizing or an overkill of news clips, the film wisely focuses on just one family’s story and tells us everything we need to know.
ÊTRE ET AVOIR (2002)
Charming French documentary about a tiny schoolhouse in the countryside and an amazing teacher who still teaches with compassion, love and attention to each student. The subject is matched by the filmmakers, who opt for a laid-back, direct cinema approach that never gets in the way and never calls attention away from what’s important.
LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE (2003)
Wall-E got acres of credit for having about twenty minutes of dialogue-free storytelling but The Triplets of Belleville goes the distance. Gorgeously designed and executed, and featuring a host of interesting characters, it’s probably even better when you see it stoned.
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGANDY (2004)
There was enough deleted footage to make an entire other movie, which leads me to believe that Adam McKay had no idea what he was doing. But he cast this film to perfection and the resulting anarchic lunacy creates one of the most vibrant comedies of the decade. Will Ferrell’s persona never again matched a character or circumstance so well, while Paul Rudd and Steve Carell stand out from the supporting cast.
THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001)
The Coen Brothers have had quite a decade but this is the only title to make my list. While always getting technicians to hit the top of their game, this really is career best work from Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell, and Billy Bob Thornton fits seamlessly into the classic noir tropes. Probably the only time a Coen Brothers film has actually managed to move me.