Onwards and upwards with my list of the decade’s best films.
A MIGHTY HEART (2007)
Angelina Jolie gives a ferocious performance in what seems to me to be an unfairly maligned drama. Winterbottom keeps things taut and realistic, without resorting to cheap theatrics to amp the stakes. The overall effect is tense, heartbreaking and chilling.
Swanberg’s look at the way technology improves and impedes our ability to communicate is immediately dated but only because it captures a specific time and culture so perfectly. Raw and cheap but hardly amateur, it contains truths about my generation that Hollywood still has no clue about.
THE NEW WORLD (2005)
Malick proved he still has the goods, seven years after The Thin Red Line. Some of the most arresting visuals put on screen in the 2000’s, matched with a fine performance from Q’orianka Kilcher and a fascinating new perspective on an age old story.
KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON (2006)
I would consider myself merely a casual Nirvana fan and admirer so this in-depth look at Cobain was nearly all new information to me. Taking hours of personal interview tapes, Schnack ingeniously uses no actual footage of the man or his band but instead fills the frame with gorgeous images from his childhood, formative years and anything else he may be talking about. It’s hypnotic.
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Far from perfect, Nolan’s blockbuster gets so much right that it’s a rare time where I can forgive the grievances and just sit back and marvel. From the unconventional score to the reliance on practical effects and stunt work to the well-publicized performances, I was consistently impressed and this is coming from someone bored to tears by Batman Begins.
LA SCIENCE DES RÊVES (2006)
A rumination on dreams sounds like a nightmare to watch, and Gondry does allow himself to go overboard with the imagery for sometimes no reason, but it’s all grounded by a marvelous Gael García Bernal performance and his budding relationship with Charlotte Gainsbourg. Their dynamic never quite goes the way you expect and as it plows along, Gondry’s indulgences become more and more poignant.
LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE (2000)
A look at the world of modern day gleaners, living off the land and waste of others would have made a fine documentary on its own. But this is a Varda film and she can’t help but throw herself in the mix, contemplating her own life as a gleaner of images. I always admire films that could only possibly be made by one person and this is one of those.
Everyone I know whose opinion I respect hates this movie and I’d be lying if it didn’t make me second guess my feelings toward it. I get it, Patrick Marber’s hyper-realistic dialogue either rubs you the wrong way or it doesn’t and it hooked me from the start. Strong work from the four actors as well.
STELLET LICHT (2007)
A film about Mexican Mennonites with a six minute opening shot of the sun rising is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but for patient viewers, few experiences could be as rewarding. Hints of Dreyer and Bergman but undeniably modern as well, the questions of love, family, fidelity, life and death are all explored.
LÅT DEN RÄTTE KOMMA IN (2008)
Horror movies are kind of like rap music, in that when they are done right, there are few things more visceral or exciting. Unfortunately, they are rarely done right. But here, Tomas Alfredson seems totally uninterested in scaring the audience and much more concerned with the story of a budding young romance, achieving success on both counts in the process. Has snow ever seemed more menacing?
WONDER BOYS (2000)
I haven’t revisited this one in a long time but if memory serves me, it’s a real joy. Michael Douglas wears existential crisis well and Tobey Maguire was still doing his doe-eyed innocent thing but doing it well. A smart script by Steve Kloves kept me on my toes and may have wrapped things up a bit too nicely in the end but the time spent with all the wonderful characters was worth it.
LA NANA (2009)
Catalina Saavedra towers over any other female performance this year as the titular maid. The plot is standard character redemption stuff but Silva’s handling of her transformation from raging bitch to tolerable human being should be studied for its subtlety and realism.
Again, Hollywood needs to study what is being done here. Humpday proves that no high-concept conceit is too ridiculous to buy as long as the reactions by the characters are honest and realistic. I didn’t see a funnier film all year and it goes places with “bromance” that films like I Love You, Man wouldn’t even consider. They are too busy throwing in things like “bad man-date montage”.
MOARTEA DOMNULUI LAZARESCU (2005)
When arguing that other countries have much better health care programs than the U.S., this film makes a case for excluding Romania. Patience is required as it takes a good hour to really get a grasp on what you’re watching with Puiu taking his sweet time showing the way bureaucracy fails one old, sick man, but by the end it lands a sucker punch that few other films can match.
JACKASS NUMBER TWO (2006)
Allow me to reprint an excerpt from an essay I wrote after the release of this gem: “It’s no coincidence that the final image in the film is a direct homage to Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.. Just like Keaton, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Monty Python before them, Johnny Knoxville and co. prove that comedy is a celebration of anarchy. Chaos and misfortune are what truly make us laugh as long as there are no innocent victims and we empathize with the characters. In Sherlock Jr. and The General, the person on the end of all the 2×4’s to the neck and the gallons of water dumped on the head was always Keaton himself. What are these guys doing that the great clowns of the past aren’t but taking out the extraneous plots that tie the gags together?” Further reading- “And let’s not lowball these guys as filmmakers either. You could study this film and easily learn a lot about selling a gag. Set-up, revealing the stakes, payoff; the execution is nearly flawless in every bit. Just because there is poop and farts and a guy chugging an entire beer through his asshole doesn’t mean that there isn’t craft and a story isn’t being told.”
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (2004)
Alright, these two films back to back make me look like a dickhead member of Alpha Beta Douchebaga. But again, I don’t understand why milquetoast assembly-line comedies like The 40-Year Old Virgin get acclaim while daring humor like this doesn’t. Action movies, musicals, American foreign policy, Hollywood, Broadway, nothing is safe. And it’s marionettes for Christ sake!
No distributor wanted to touch this with a ten foot pole and if you’ve seen the film, you know why and it has nothing to do with quality. Bronstein’s uncompromising portrait of an outcast has you ready to cry uncle after the first five minutes spent with him. But the more the film progresses, the more we come to understand and identify with the character and his struggle to connect. It’s a movie that absolutely could not have been made by anybody but Bronstein and his refusal to judge or comment on that character is what makes it work.
A lot of people dismiss this movie for being too confusing. Good! I don’t understand what it takes to invent time travel and Carruth has no interest in dumbing down his dialogue so that I can keep up. Maybe it doesn’t even make sense to him but his conviction in the storytelling comes through loud and clear. As does the feeling of events spiraling helplessly out of your control.
MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)
The first fifteen minutes of this thing are a mess. Luhrmann maybe thought he needed to ratchet it up to 11 so that you’ve adapted to the style by the time the story really kicks in and that’s exactly the case. Inventive doesn’t even describe the conception and execution here, completely revitalizing an entire genre in the process. But it would all be bells and whistles without Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman nailing their doomed romance.
DANCE PARTY USA (2006)
Okay, okay, so I’m in this movie. If that invalidates my entire list for you, so be it. But Katz made a film about high schoolers that has no interest in bullies, the prom, sexual hijinks or anything else regularly associated with the subject. Instead he focuses on one prick and the girl who may or may not help speed up his maturation. Slice-of-life, coming-of-age, whatever you want to call it, Katz nails the defining moments that turn us into who we eventually become.