End of the line! These movies are all the shit.
4 LUNI, 3 SAPTAMÂNI SI 2 ZILE (2007)
Head of the new Romanian cinema class and another film that showcases breathtaking economy with the shot selection (something I’m a sucker for). Perfectly scripted and performed and a great example of a film that knows exactly what it wants to be and can be without reaching for an inch too far. Anamaria Marinca got a lot of good ink for her performance in this but for my money, the movie belongs to Vlad Ivanov, who owns the screen every second he’s on it.
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)
Everyone knows that actors really want to be directors but rarely do they possess the visual imagination, storytelling ingenuity or playful sense of timing that George Clooney showcased here. Any Charlie Kaufman script is a daunting piece of material to conceptualize, but Clooney owns this story from the first beautiful, stylized frame to the last. Utilizing camera tricks from the olden days of live television is just one of the genius (and appropriate) ways he makes the movie sing.
NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS (2008)
Greta Gerwig, Joe Swanberg
As a veteran of not one, but two long distance relationships as well as a cripplingly difficult to navigate transition period towards friendship after a breakup, I felt like I was watching something a little too close to home. The performances of Swanberg and Gerwig are so natural that I honestly felt like I was seeing things I didn’t believe were possible to capture on screen. Just as James Cameron may have proved that no special effect is too outrageous to put on screen, these guys proved that no moment was so intimate that it couldn’t be captured as well.
The only thing with Judd Apatow’s name attached to it that came out like a diamond, in my mind. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are pitch-perfect and only once with the period blood does the film feel like it’s reaching a little for a laugh. Otherwise, it’s purely from the characters interacting and reacting to the situation. The story of two friends realizing how hard it will be to live without each other was also refreshingly played out. And of course, there’s McLovin’. Is there a better film introduction to a nerd than him walking in the classroom throwing up the West Coast sign and saying, “Gangstas”?
PARANOID PARK (2007)
Gus Van Sant
When a film like this comes along, and a filmmaker shows you how the tools that are inherently exclusive to cinema can be used so perfectly to illicit the feelings and emotions of a character, I really rediscover my passion for the art. In particular, the sound design goes leaps and bounds beyond what other filmmakers even consider doing. But the cinematography, editing and music selections are also flirting with insanity. Yet somehow it all forms a perfect whole and a telling portrait of one teenager’s struggle to deal with his mistakes.
Lars Von Trier
A story goes that Von Trier picked up Paul Bettany from the airport when he arrived in Denmark but stopped to buy six or seven porn magazines from an airport shop. No explanation. They then drove to the hotel and Von Trier got Bettany settled in his room, leaving the porn on the bed while doing so. He then went and got Nicole Kidman to introduce the two and when he brought her in, the first thing he said was, “Nicole, look at Paul’s enormous stack of porn.” This movie is as good as that story.
I ♥ HUCKABEES (2004)
David O. Russell
Not many comedies stand up over repeat viewings, let alone demand them. Russell’s existential detective farce is the exception. Brilliantly cast and brimming with ideas and energy, there were few films that were as joyous to watch. Mark Wahlberg, in particular, has never been better and with Three Kings as well, proves that he should work with Russell every chance he gets.
BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (2006)
I saw this at a test screening, nine months before it opened and I hadn’t seen a frame or heard a thing. No buzz, no hype and I hated Ali G Indahouse so expectations were extremely low. Two hours later, I thought I had witnessed the birth of a new type of film comedy. I don’t know how it holds up because I have no interest in seeing it again for fear of spoiling the amazing experience I had watching it. My friend Keegan described it as Breaking the Waves meets Bowling for Columbine meets Jackass and he nailed it. Social commentary, excruciating truth and toilet humor all rolled into one melting point held together by a remarkable performance by Sacha Baron Cohen.
Gus Van Sant
A movie about two friends getting lost in the desert has no right to be exciting and Van Sant agrees. Quiet, patient and breathtakingly beautiful, his interest lies in capturing the experience of his characters as honestly as possible and the result is unlike any other moviegoing experience. I feel like I know what it’s like to be lost in the desert simply because I watched this film. If you think a movie can’t be boring and brilliant at the same time, then this one may not be for you.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Anderson has apparently never seen a romantic comedy before. How else can you explain his approach to one bearing not one single hallmark of the genre. Wildly original in both its characters and its execution, Adam Sandler will never have a better part and he nails it. The camerawork, lighting, editing, score and costumes are also absolutely top-notch. What other mad genius would think to use a Shelley Duvall song from Popeye as the centerpiece to his soundtrack?
A seriously unpleasant moviegoing experience, why would anybody want to watch a film like this? To be startled by fearless direction and fierce originality. McQueen creates some of the most indelible images of the decade with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and it’s a good thing too since pure visual storytelling makes up roughly 80% of the runtime. The only dialogue, more or less, all comes from one, genius 17 minute static shot. Structured in a completely unique way where the protagonist switches from reel to reel before settling on a spectacular Michael Fassbender who carries us through a gutting finale.
A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
No other big budget Hollywood film came within miles of the artistic risks that Spielberg takes here. Of course, Stanley Kubrick’s indelible fingerprints are all over the place, but I honestly believe that the film needed the melding of his cold calculation with Spielberg’s overt sentimentality to truly work. Haley Joel Osment is a wonder as a robot Pinocchio and his transformation through the wildly different three acts is a master class of subtlety. Janusz Kaminski, John Williams, Michael Kahn and the rest of Sir Stevie’s crew are reliably excellent as well.
Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (2001)
A small, Mexican film made international stars out of Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, earned its director a job with the Harry Potter franchise and probably influenced American cinema more than any other foreign film this decade. A bluntly sexual tale of children becoming men during a road trip is the stuff that National Lampoon executives blow loads over but is handled with delicate sincerity here in rapturous long takes from Emmanuel Lubezki, who would take these ideas one step further with Cuarón in Children of Men.
BEFORE SUNSET (2004)
Less than a handful of sequels not only improve on their predecessor but actually improve their predecessor by existing and this is one of them. Nothing but conversation for 90 minutes and you learn everything you could possibly need to know about these characters, about regret, about getting old and about the human need for connection. If the first film was romance as a balloon being slowly blown up, then this one is a look at all the broken pieces on the ground after it popped.
ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003)
David Gordon Green
Still just scratching the surface of the independent film world in 2003, I had never seen anything like what Green accomplished in this film. Falling in love actually captured on screen, not just alluded to with slow motion, string swells and montages. More than that, a broken heart captured with equal realism. Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel and Danny McBride are all movie stars now but they felt like me and my friends then and all of a sudden I had deeper standards for what I needed to see in movies.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson
The highest ranked of only three Best Picture nominees on my list, I can’t believe the Academy actually saw fit to nominate Anderson’s magnificent opus. Incidentally, it lost to the only Best Picture winner this decade that I didn’t think was a total waste, but No Country for Old Men just missed my top 100. Anyway, you all know the drill (pun intended!)- Daniel Day-Lewis is epic, Anderson is just getting better and better as he goes along, and just when you think his camerawork couldn’t be more confident, he pulls out shit like this. If ever there was a film that felt like a classic as you were watching it, this was it.
UNITED 93 (2006)
I never thought Hollywood would be able to make a film about 9/11 that wasn’t awful. I just didn’t think they had enough grace, taste or smarts to pull it off but Universal proved me wrong with the hiring of Greengrass. Completely non-judgmental, unsensational and specific, the movie works both as a harrowing thriller and a look at how multiple systems failed during that fateful day and why. Possibly the best last shot of the decade as well. If it hadn’t ended right there, it wouldn’t have made the list.
DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)
Lars Von Trier
Bjork gives the performance of a lifetime and has vowed to never act again after the experience of giving it. The similarities between her and Marie Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc don’t end there, as Von Trier glues his camera to the singer’s face as she experiences horrible injustice after horrible injustice. Cleverly combining his Dogme aesthetic with old Hollywood musical conventions and with a terrific song score by Bjork herself, a harsher juxtaposition didn’t hit the screen all decade.
YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000)
The fact that this movie is stamped so indelibly with Lonergan’s voice probably has much more to do with his writing than directing, but he sure didn’t get in the way of the material or his actors. And what actors! Mark Ruffalo gives perhaps my favorite performance of the decade and Laura Linney has never been better. The direction is simplicity itself but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Notice the way he stages scenes, often beginning them just after the moment that every other filmmaker would consider the meat (a marriage proposal being one example). It’s a movie brimming with honesty, heart, and brains, and I have stolen from it in every script I’ve written.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)
Movie of the decade. First off, an ingenious sci-fi concept treated as it should be- as background. Second, inventive direction in every scene with wonderful practical effects and a sense of playfulness rarely seen in the genre. Third, and most importantly, a beautiful relationship brought to life by Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in career-best work. Watching them fall out and back in love was one of the biggest thrills the screen offered in the past ten years. This was the film I saw with my girlfriend on the day we broke up after four years together and it couldn’t have been more fitting or more of a slap in the face. But that’s its beauty. It’s any and every part of a relationship all rolled into one, cinematic mesh.