Hey. I’m counting down the best films of the decade. What are you doing?
You can start at the beginning with part one here. Otherwise….
CONTROL ROOM (2004)
Any political documentary from the mid-part of the decade is probably worthless. So much junk just infiltrated the market that anything with a thought-out perspective and focused narrative stood out like a sore thumb. Interestingly, the subjects of this film form a parallel, taking a look at the reporters of Al-Jazeera trying to present unbiased reports on the Iraq War.
IN AMERICA (2002)
The magical negro stuff with Djimon Hounsou is unfortunate but if you eliminate that, you’re left with pure magic. Sarah and Emma Bolger give two of the finest child performances I’ve ever seen and the sequence with the E.T. doll is more riveting than anything in any summer blockbuster could hope to be.
THE BROWN BUNNY (2003)
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Vincent Gallo is a narcissist beyond what filmmaking has seen in a very long time. Which is exactly why he’s so valuable. He’s also got great ideas about loneliness, isolation and regret that are all explored in this drowsy, melancholy anti-road movie.
WEDDING CRASHERS (2005)
There’s a lot that’s wrong with this movie. Cardboard villain, transparent structure and the dreaded foul mouthed grandparent. Still, it gets one major thing right, and more right than any other Hollywood film this decade. The pairing of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson created the type of chemistry that I thought went out with the Marx Brothers. I would watch them do anything, so long as it was together, and the main romance between Wilson and Rachel McAdams was also strongly handled.
TREELESS MOUNTAIN (2008)
So Yong Kim
Most of the good stuff from In America, without Djimon Hounsou. Two more unbelievable child performances in a story about child abandonment that doesn’t go looking for cheap sympathy. Instead it shows you the power of spirit and the bonds of family.
This unassuming charmer effectively started the “competition documentary” that has spawned countless imitators. Blitz merely found the inherent drama where others hadn’t thought to look and crafted a story about American idealism through the eyes of some of its brightest children. But it’s the parents who provide much of the emotional backbone to the story through everything from comic relief to harsh juxtaposition of opportunity.
LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
Curtis essentially took the climactic moment from every romantic comedy and distilled it into one delectable stew and somehow came up with a product that works. In a way, by focusing solely on the crowd-pleasing moments it almost becomes experimental. Not every story hits but enough does to ensure that I felt warm and gooey from literally the first frame to the last.
DU LEVANDE (2007)
Andersson calls this “a film about the grandeur of existing” and it may well be as pretentious as that makes it sound. Finding humor in tragedy and loneliness is really one of the only things that ties the series of vignettes together but it’s so watchable because of the aesthetics. Beautiful static frames and very deliberate blocking that can get a laugh out of someone just appearing in a doorway. The sound design, the editing, the timing of the dialogue is all slightly surreal and it’s not for everyone but I could watch it all day.
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005)
Baumbach’s personal screenplay rings much truer to me than Kicking and Screaming or Margot at the Wedding and Jeff Daniels turns in a career best performance. Jesse Eisenberg does his thing, which he does well, but the fact that Baumbach managed to get as much truth out of this crumbling family based on his own, when he’s so emotionally close to, but chronologically removed from the material, is what’s truly amazing.
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (2007)
Exactly what I never knew I always wanted a documentary on Antarctica to be. Inherently fascinating, Herzog doesn’t shy away from the scientific aspects of why the continent is unique but is definitely more interested in the philosophical questions that arise when confonted with the “edge of the world”. Throw in lovingly humorous looks at the locals and you have everything that a documentary should be.
POOTIE TANG (2001)
If you’re wondering why Chris Rock can be so funny in standup but never translate that to movies, then you haven’t seen Pootie Tang. Wicked sharp and undeniably stupid at the same time, sending up blaxploitation movies, celebrity culture and capitalism, I don’t understand why this hasn’t become a cult classic on DVD. Watch this and if you don’t laugh, I can’t help you.
IN A DREAM (2008)
I can’t speak highly enough of this documentary. Zagar initially begins making it about his father and his art but it quickly turns into something else when the elder Zagar admits to cheating on his wife with his assistant. The camera continues to capture the family trying to save itself from that fissure and continues to asses the artist’s relationship to his art. The beauty of the elder Zagar’s work is matched by the beauty of the cinematography, editing and music.
ROGER DODGER (2002)
Kidd took one of the oldest stories in the book — two people with opposite worldviews form an improbable connection and teach each other lessons about life — and made it fresh through restraint, focus and wonderful characterization. Campbell Scott gives a fantastic (pre-Don Draper) performance as a lonely lothario earning his living in the advertising business. Jesse Eisenberg, as his innocent nephew, debuted the screen persona that he still carries to this day and has never been better.
CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO (2007)
There’s nothing particularly ambitious or unique about this documentary but something about it struck my core. Following the lives of four actors getting by dressing up as superheros and taking pictures with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s beautifully made and as it moves forward, goes deeper into the lives of the people than I ever expected to get and revealing some startling stuff. I watched it twice in two days.
THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)
Young Thomas Turgoose explodes off the screen in this semi-autobiographical tale of a British youth falling into the ska/skinhead scene in the early 80’s. We watch through his eyes as the innocence of the movement falls into the wrong hands and turns violent. The ending feels a bit forced to me, but Turgoose’s wide-eyed performance more than makes up for it, as does the feeling of 100% authenticity throughout.
M. Night Shyamalan
Shyamalan’s reputation as being a bit of a joke began here and while he’s certainly earned it now, I think any ties with Unbreakable are a bit unfair. Unlike his following films, this one is impeccably thought out, staged and performed, with some of the most interesting camera direction you’re likely to find in a huge budget Hollywood film. His obvious creative freedom let him explore sound design, editing and lighting with fascinating results. Even the “twist”, which is really just a new bit of information at the end, not anything that forces repeat viewings, goes down fine with me.
ARUITEMO ARUITEMO (2008)
Still Walking is a family drama with very little drama and a whole lot of family. Every relationship is given the screen time and breathing space to form something interesting and unlike a day spent with your real family, it felt like the time zoomed by enjoyably.
David Gordon Green
Another film that grew on me with a second viewing. Green maybe tries to get a little too Malick-y on this Malick produced effort, but his poetic dilly-dallying mixed with murders, robbery and deep woods chases really works for me. Hopefully this isn’t his last truly adventurous film, although it appears to be for now.
I thought for sure that I would hate this movie. I wanted to hate it. I think Caouette has terrible taste as a filmmaker and I hesitate to even call him a filmmaker. He’s annoying, egotistical and possibly even a big phoney. But the film got me, and as a portrait of someone who is all of those things, it’s a perfect success.
MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY (2008)
A simple story about two people trying to get to know each other after a one night stand is given added depth by a look at the gentrification and racial divisions of San Francisco. Beautifully shot on HD by James Laxton and featuring strong performances and pitch-perfect music selections, Jenkins has crafted something strong and unique, both in the context of the mumblecore movement and in African American cinema in general.