Decade in Review
Ten Years of Cinema Revisited 2000-2009 (Part Four)
Lists like these are always a purely subjective enterprise, and never has that been clearer to me then it has as I’ve reviewed the entries in my Top 50 Films 2000-2009 features written roughly a decade ago. Looking at this fourth part, I can’t really quibble about any of the films filling slots 20 thru 11. I love them all and love them dearly, and I’ve watched each of them multiple times since their original theatrical release.
But would they all be in these slots now if I were to attempt this task again now? No. Of course they wouldn’t be. Opinions do change over time, so it’s not exactly surprising my personal evaluation of the 21st century’s first decade of cinema wouldn’t prove to be more than a little bit malleable. I mean, George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. is an incredible masterstroke of filmmaking excellence, but that doesn’t mean I’d still put it in the eleventh slot if I went about doing this ranking over again today. It’s also likely David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También would move quietly into the top ten. The rest of these would also likely move around a little, but probably not too much, my affinity for each title not swaying a single solitary little bit over the last ten years.
As I’ve stated in my previous installments of this series, these were my selections for my favorite films of 2000-2009 slots 20 thru 11 along with the original blurbs I wrote for each of them in January of 2010. As I have stated before, these thoughts I had a decade ago happily remain mostly unchanged.
20. Memento (2000) (D. Christopher Nolan)
Told in reverse, Christopher Nolan’s explosive second film could have been nothing more than an engaging B-thriller and not the intelligently eccentric masterwork it proved to be. What could have been a gimmick instead becomes an insightful device to look deep into the heart of darkness in order to rip it open, the tragic aftershocks of doing so ricocheting through my consciousness with a lethal mesmerizing fury that’s glorious.
19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) (D. Peter Jackson)
This second chapter in Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy classics is by far my personal favorite. Rich characterizations abound (that last scene with Gollum in the woods is bone-chilling), while the central battle of Helms Deep is one of the most exciting cinematic clashes of armies I’ve ever seen. What Jackson achieved with The Lord of the Rings trilogy is extraordinary, The Two Towers his crowning masterwork. [Theatrical Review]
18. Mulholland Dr. (2001) (D. David Lynch)
First question: Whatever happened to Laura Harring? Naomi Watts got all the publicity but this magnetic actress is every bit as good as she is. Second question: Whoever thought that David Lynch’s twisted and surreal dreamscape of an idea was worthy of a for television series? I get that “Twin Peaks” had its weirdness, but what goes on here goes way beyond anything that landmark show offered up, and the executive who gave this one the green light is just the kind free-thinking risk-taker I want to be friends with. That this never made it on-air and ended up being a theatrical release doesn’t change my opinion on that front whatsoever. Final question: What’s really going on inside this amnesia-fueled psychedelic thriller? I still have no idea, and I’ve watched this one at least a half-dozen times since its initial release, and I continue to get a visceral kick out of Lynch’s weirdly fascinating psychological puzzler every time I throw it into my DVD player and push play.
17. No Country for Old Men (2007) (D. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s morality play of crime and punishment is unnerving in its visceral exactitude, the pair’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel as good as anything the pair has ever directed. In the end, it isn’t the chilling visage of Javier Bardem’s demonic Anton Chigurh that stuck with me but instead the sight of a quietly devastated Tommy Lee Jones wrestling with his own mortality, the pain he feels at the realization his experience as a detective and lawman means nothing in the face of ultimate, immeasurable evil hauntingly palpable. [Theatrical Review]
16. Spirited Away (2001) (D. Hayao Miyazaki)
Japanese maestro Hayao Miyazaki crafts another instant classic, this sensational tale of a young girl wrestling with her own careless petulance in the face of a world where her parents have been transformed into swine a visually opulent, emotionally authentic marvel. This is a movie that digs into the deeper recesses of the human condition utilizing fantasy, magic and folklore and a means to do it, and by the time Spirited Away was over the only thing I felt was a sense of profound joy that I was lucky enough to have watched it.
15. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) (D. Guillermo del Toro)
Who says fairy tales only have to be for kids? Guillermo del Toro’s macabre, Oscar-winning wartime fantasy is spectacular proof of that. The chills it sends down spines, the sights it asks viewers to see look at and ponder, the flood of emotions it challenges all who see it to feel, all of those are nothing less than magnificent. Its final moments are such a stunningly triumphant celebration of selfless sacrifice I get goosebumps just thinking about them again now. This movie is a constant wonder, and I feel like it will only grow in impactful resonance as the decades pass. [Theatrical Review]
14. In the Loop (2009) (D. Armando Iannucci)
While I haven’t had the time to marinate on this slam-bang political comedy as I have many of the other films on this list, I can still say with little doubt that Armando Iannucci’s stupendous satire is one of the best of its kind that I’ve ever seen. I look at this gloriously profane stunner and want to stand up and cheer, and like Network, M*A*S*H and Dr. Strangelove before it, this is a timely and prescient riot I’ll watch multiple times over the coming years.
13. There Will Be Blood (2007) (D. Paul Thomas Anderson)
I wasn’t prepared for There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson displaying an almost Kubrick-like storytelling dexterity that took me by surprise. With Daniel-Day Lewis’ titanic performance added to the mix, this movie just didn’t drink my milkshake it spat it up and then drank it all down again for a second time. An unforgettable gem that will spark discussion and debate long after many of the other films on this list have been sadly forgotten.
12. Y Tu Mamá También (2001) (D. Alfonso Cuarón)
After The Little Princess, anyone with half-a-brain should have known just how dynamically talented a filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón was. Even so, I can’t say I anticipated his ambitious and erotically charged coming of age road trip masterpiece Y Tu Mamá También. Cuarón’s opus forgets about subverting genre convention and instead goes full-throttle forward in its journey to obliterate them, the movie’s scale small even as its themes are as massive as the surface of the Earth.
11. Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) (D. George Clooney)
I am a sucker for a good journalism movie. I am a bigger sucker for a great one. George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. belongs to that latter group, and like Call Northside 777 and All the President’s Men before it, this tale about newsmen making a difference is every bit as thrilling as the latest James Bond adventure. What Edward R. Murrow accomplished during the height of the McCarthy era is a shimmering reminder of the power of the Press, the resulting motion picture analyzing this significant moment in American history nothing less than perfect.
– Majority of this feature originally published on Jan. 14, 2010