Onwards and upwards with my list of the decade’s best films.
GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000)
David Gordon Green
Poetic, deliberate and spiritual, the story is… not the point. Completely devoid of stereotypes, Green painted a picture of a very different South than Hollywood was doling out and he did it with brazen confidence, mostly non-professional child actors and gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Tim Orr.
ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)
Authenticity drips out of every line and frame of Almost Famous. Capturing a time, a place and an essence, Crowe manages to be semi-autobiographical without being cynical or sentimental and is aided by wonderful performances across the board, but particularly Frances McDormand and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
FINDING NEMO (2003)
Sharp screenwriting is matched with Pixar’s most eye-popping visuals in this story of a father learning to let go of his son. Mixing humor and heart is Pixar’s bread and butter, but it could hardly have been more successful here, with Ellen DeGeneres providing the vocal performance of the decade as Dory.
One word that can describe fewer and fewer independent films these days is “unassuming”, and it may be difficult to assign it in hindsight to an Oscar winning success story like this, but Carney’s ode to music and romance certainly fits the bill. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova make one of the decade’s more adorable couples and the film’s dedication to the music and the role it plays in their relationship is extremely admirable.
SÅNGER FRÅN ANDRA VÅNINGEN (2000)
If you happen to know a thing or two about the political infrastructure of Sweden, you’ll probably get an added kick out of Andersson’s satire. If not, don’t worry, you can still enjoy his impeccable visual humor and his ode to the lonely hearted. If I can get my next film off the ground, you can expect a number of things to be stolen from this film.
SOMERS TOWN (2008)
Some people may call this film too “slight”, but that word was never a pejorative to me in film. A young runaway makes friends with a poor, Polish immigrant in a working class British town, shot exquisitely in black and white. What more do you need?
Not your typical thriller. A couple receives strange and threatening videotapes and try to figure out what it means. Amazingly, the thrills in the film come more from analyzing how the couple reacts and how it strains their relationship than anything else. Imaginatively filmed and presented to avoid any cheap suspense and the result is all the more eerie for it.
ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (2005)
As someone who typically finds the word “quirky” to be a glaring red flag when it comes to movies, I was quite surprised by how taken I was with this. Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe it but the key is that as a filmmaker, July genuinely seems to both love and belong with each and every one of these characters. Bonus points for realistic children characters, not just mini-adults played by children. ))((
Lee Isaac Chung
Midway through watching this film, I pinpointed why I liked it so much. For films from Africa to make it to the U.S., they usually have to be about some sort of political strife or have some lesson for us Westerners to glean. This film felt like a regular movie from a different region that had little or no interest in appealing to other audiences. Which is why I was so shocked to find out it was made by a Korean dude from Arkansas.
MONSTERS, INC. (2001)
The cream of Pixar’s crop. Billy Crystal and John Goodman bring their characters to vivid life and no animated film features better action sequences or a more emotional climax. Not to mention I think it’s their most creative idea and as funny as anything they’ve ever produced. All in all, a top drawer production.
WENDY AND LUCY (2008)
Heartbreaking portrait of life on the poverty line without really being a portrait of life on the poverty line. Literally, it’s a movie about a girl losing her dog and her car breaking down, but anybody who lives their life from check to check will find themselves uncomfortably familiar with the hopelessness that often comes along with life’s curveballs. Michelle Williams is completely natural and subdued, carrying the film with the ease of a movie star but none of the self-consciousness.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)
18 year old Chad would have told you that this is one of the best movies ever. Period! Now, I think Aronofsky maybe uses his sledgehammer sometimes when he could have used a chisel, but I still find his whole approach kind of admirable. Tackling addiction with the fury of a hapless addict, he throws everything but the kitchen sink into selling his characters’ plight and it’s nothing if not effective.
Gus Van Sant
Van Sant harnessed his inner Béla Tarr for a detached view of high school shootings. I wish the Hitler and gay shit wasn’t in there but everything else sings and I can forgive those few moments. Deeply unsettling and only Van Sant can make something so simultaneously mundane and ethereal.
DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT (2006)
A suicide bomber prepares to blow up Times Square. Who is she? Why does she want to do that? Who cares? Loktev refuses to give us an inch more than the immediate facts and the camera constantly prods Luisa Williams’s face looking for clues, but our own projections are all you’ll see. Bold, experimental, topical filmmaking at its finest and least patronizing.
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001)
Forget Judd Apatow. David Wain and “The State” is what’s really responsible for all the best emerging comedy talent this decade. This irreverent spoof of camp comedies from the 80’s is pure madcap insanity. We’re talking about a movie with a talking can of vegetables. See!. And why didn’t this scene win Paul Rudd an Oscar?
MURDER ON A SUNDAY MORNING (2001)
Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
HBO produced, Oscar winning documentary follows the case of a 15 year old put on trial for murder and the court-appointed attorney who desperately works to prove his innocence. It’s the exact opposite of the flashy graphics and montage-obsessed aesthetic that most popular documentaries took to this decade and it’s one of the most riveting and frustrating movies I’ve ever seen.
Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
A monumental leap forward for the directing duo behind Half Nelson, there’s not a false note to be found in this wonderfully original story about a Dominican baseball player attempting to adjust to life in America and the minor leagues. More than once, I thought I had the story pegged only to discover that I wasn’t even close and the filmmakers were taking a much more challenging road and the final shot is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.
LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
I only saw this movie once, when it came out, and I thought it was pretty great but not exceptional. My memories of it are not very specific but the overall feeling of the film is so vivid that thinking back on it is almost no different than thinking back on some actual trips to other countries I’ve taken. That’s how perfectly Coppola nailed an emotional state.
ZIDANE, UN PORTRAIT DU 21e SIÉCLE (2006)
Douglas Gordon, Philippe Parreno
If you love both soccer and experimental filmmaking (and I do), then there is no better film for you. An uninterrupted look at one player playing an entire soccer game with minimal narration and an epic soundtrack by Mogwai. I waited two years to see this movie and it lived up to all expectations.
MAN ON WIRE (2008)
I read about this film playing at Tribeca and I thought, “Oh, he walks on a wire between the two towers, that’s cool”. When I finally saw it and it got to the part where he actually walks, I was weeping. Marsh makes you understand what that walk really is, which is an expression of art. A dream realized. A limit undone. The real gold comes from the subject himself, in both the manic energy he brings to his recollections and the wonderful archive footage he had taken during the planning stages.