Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Films of the 2000's: #20-1

Previous installments: #60-41 #40-21

20. Bamboozled (2000)
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mos Def

Some people are put off by Spike Lee going off the rails (especially during the ending) with this dead-on satire of race and American television. I can see where those people are coming from, but I have to say Bamboozled's tendency to veer towards the erratic is more interesting than something technically perfect like 25th Hour which lacks a certain something special. Lee's ballsiness to tackle the painful history of blackface and minstrel shows and then turn it into a modern day critique on the connection between racism and social fads is something we should cherish and celebrate.

19. City of God (2003)
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino

A fascination with all things Meirelles was quickly born the day I saw City of God for the first time. His mix of realism, documentary-style aesthetics and a preference for rich, complex narratives are the perfect match for my usual taste in movies.

18. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Director: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Mary Louise Parker

A visually stunning, nearly three hour Western about the final years of outlaw Jesse James and his relationship with eventual murderer Robert Ford doesn't sound like something I would usually enjoy. But, lo and behold, this movie cast a spell over me, entrancing me from the opening image to the final frame. Brad Pitt is, if nothing, solid and steady as a Jesse James struggling with getting older and keeping his place in the world. Casey Affleck, however, is the one who really makes the film, using his in-bred awkwardness and uneasy speaking voice as the vital starting off point for his characterization of Robert Ford as a love struck young man hoping to get in good with Jesse and eventually become him. Without a doubt, it's the best performance of the entire decade.

17. Dogville (2004)
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Patricia Clarkson, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall

Lars von Trier's uncompromising and scathing attack against everything American, complete with no sets and a bare minimum amount of props, really shouldn't be as interesting or captivating as it ultimately is. Seeing Nicole Kidman's (in what is far and away her best performance) eventual fall from charity case to town slave is a harrowing experience. Only good ole Lars, the sadistic bastard he is, would be ballsy enough to make a movie about it.

16. Hairspray (2007)
Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden

"Again, again!" my friend and I shouted at the projectionist during the ending credits of Adam Shankman's adaptation of the Broadway phenomenon both times we saw it in theatres together. I don't know how Shankman does it, but he has somehow crafted a film so infectious, so bubbly, so bright that you can't help but want to watch it over and over again. I still think screenwriter Leslie Dixon is the uncredited hero of the film, perfectly adapting the tricky Broadway staging to suit the needs of the film medium. With so many other musicals this decade slavishly devoted to original Broadway casts, staging and directing, Hairspray is refreshing in the respect that it has fun reveling in the fact that it's a movie rather than stuck on the stage. Bonus points for Nikki Blonsky, one of the best acting finds of the decade, and for providing me the perfect vehicle to start my lusting for both James Marsden (I could use a stiff one, Corny!) and Zac Efron (you are also the fella's choice).

15. Mysterious Skin (2005)
Director: Gregg Araki
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbett, Michelle Trachtenberg

Sexual abuse affects the lives of two Midwest teens in two drastically different yet equally destructive ways: one (Gordon-Levitt) becomes a gay hustler Gus Van Sant would lust over while the other (Corbett) becomes obsessed with UFOs. Raw and uncompromising, Araki's film makes the sexual abuse of children never less than horrifying, yet never comes close to the point of exploitation. Completely shocking and disgusting but never distasteful: now there's a combo you don't see every day.

14. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Dame Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy

One of the most intelligently made camp films ever made. Screenwriter Patrick Marber crafts an unique thriller out of the story of one lonely spinster becoming obsessed with her female co-worker. Dame Judi Dench, always a treat even in movies as middling as Chocolat and Mrs. Henderson Presents, really challenges herself here, focusing on the damaged, lonely woman underneath the twisted villain.

13. Ocean's 11 (2001)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts

Ocean's 11, with its slick production, all-star cast and obvious intentions of being a big popcorn hit, is not normally something I would particularly enjoy. Soderbergh, however, captures something very rare in the movies: coolness. Clooney and Pitt, decked out in stylish Italian suits and radiating old-school movie star charisma, lead their rag tag collection of criminals to pull the perfect casino heist with just the right amount of wit, sexiness and suspense.

12. Rachel Getting Married (2008)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Debra Winger

A recovering addict returns home to her dysfunctional family for her sister's upcoming wedding. Sounds familiar, right? In Rachel Getting Married, all notions of familiarity are thrown out the window. Channeling Robert Altman rather than your typical familial drama, Demme spends almost uncomfortable amounts of time on scenes like the rehearsal dinner, getting to core what makes this family tick. The acting is top notch all-around, but the revelation is truly Anne Hathaway, proving that after steadily working her way up through Havoc, and Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada, her moment as an actor has truly arrived.

11. Atonement (2007)
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan

If I hadn't cried like a little girl during Up, Atonement would have taken the title as the film that left me the biggest emotional wreck. My friends and I literally sat in the theatre for a couple minutes after the movie ended, not saying anything, trying to compose ourselves enough to talk about the movie. I still get a little upset thinking about the horrible situation James and Keira's characters had to endure for the sake of love. And it's surprising how random shots like Keira staring off in the distance after emerging in her green dress or the shot of her spread eagle in the library getting fucked by McAvoy stick in my head a couple of years after last seeing it.

10. Mean Girls (2004)
Director: Mark Waters
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Tina Fey, Amanda Seyfried

The most quotable movie of the decade. Don't believe me? "Oh my God Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white!" "I'm sorry I called you a gap-toothed bitch. It's not your fault you're so gap-toothed." "Oh my God! Danny DeVito, I love your work!" And those are just the ones off the top of my head. Tina Fey is the auteur at work here, crafting a teen film that, instead of avoiding clichés altogether, incorporates them and openly mocks their ridiculousness. It may sound ridiculous to the non-believers, but I think that Fey's screenplay is so perfect it belongs in a Holy Trinity with All About Eve and Network as the best screenplays ever written.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst

The fact that Eternal Sunshine has become one of those movies that hipsters claim as their favorite to try and prove they like edgy cinema should not distract from how amazingly original this film truly is. I can truly say I've never seen another film that discusses the journey of a relationship in such a heartbreaking yet funny and honest way. This is the one Kate Winslet performance I can get behind whole-heartedly and without any hesitation. And whenever I see Jim Carrey re-hashing his same tired schitck movie after movie, it makes me sad that he's practically given up, given how incredible he is here.

8. Children of Men (2006)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine

I first saw Children of Men with my parents and brother. My mother was offended by all the swearing (Yeah, I don't know either. I seriously should start writing down my mother's opinions on movies) and tuned out early on. My brother was ambivalent, not really saying much either way. When I said that I really liked it, my father looked at me like I had just told him I voted for George Bush. Like most folks, the massive, intricately choreographed long takes were what sucked me in. Never before (or after) had I seen a film use a long take quite as skillfully as Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki do here. They're the sick, twisted heart that makes this apocalyptic thriller all the more chilling and grave.

7. A Christmas Tale (2008)
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Consigny, Mathieu Almaric, Chiara Mastroianni

Another familial drama, this time done by Arnaud Desplechin, the French master of complicated, complex emotions and relationships. I remember watching this movie, not expecting much and then totally being gobsmacked by A Christmas Tale. The family is so intricate, and Desplechin overstuffs the film with so much, the film feels more like a 500 page novel. But A Christmas Tale is smart because, like a good novel, it leaves you wanting more, never fully answering any question it brings up. This film was over two and a half hours long, and I felt like I could have watched them for five (and then hope and pray for a sequel of some sorts). And that cast! What a fantastic collection of the best French actors around (and what a perfect role for living legend Catherine Deneuve).

6. The Departed (2006)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg

One word, and one word only, defines The Departed: badass. Everything about this movie--from the acting, the characters, the story and the filmmaking--can be summed up using that word. I was on such an adrenaline high after watching this movie on Valentine's Day 2007 (see what a romantic I am?) I wanted to gun some motherfuckers down like Leo and Mark.

5. Chicago (2002)
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah

The musical is back! Moulin Rouge! may have kickstarted the film musical trend that punctuated the decade but it was Chicago, for me anyways, the one that defined it. Rob Marshall's recent failures may have somewhat diminished the fierce originality of this adaptation of the Kander & Ebb Broadway classic. The frantic editing may have given some people a headache, but it perfectly suited Marshall's overall vision of completely divorcing the film from any previous memories of the stage show. Catherine Zeta-Jones, aided by a sharp comedic timing and general fierceness sorely missing from any performance of hers before or since, completely stole the show in what is perhaps the best Oscar win of the decade.

4. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart

Every time this movie comes on, whether a friend is watching on DVD or it's on TV, no matter if I had just seen it five hours beforehand, I have to sit down and watch it again and again. Julia Roberts, in a perfect synthesis of her movie star persona and a newfound emotional depth and maturity, has never been as radiant and mesmerizing on-screen as she is here. Erin Brockovich mines new depth and even comedy from the tired "one woman fighting the system" clichés that many directors and writers would have pounded into the ground.

3. Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox

I watched this movie with my family and, of course, they all hated it. I, on the other hand, positively adored everything about it. My mother didn't understand, asking me something to the effect of, "How could you, of all people, like this? You hate violent, bloody movies!" And she was right. Up until that point, I was a big girl who cringed whenever blood came on the screen. With Kill Bill Volume 1 and its cartoonish, fake fountains of blood, I silently cheered to myself every time The Bride sliced off the arm or torso of one of the Crazy 88's. In a strange way, Kill Bill Volume 1 became a sort of milestone in my film watching, a separator between my old sensibilities about what qualified as "good" filmmaking and my newfound appreciation for films that fascinated me beyond a great story and acting. Quentin, Uma, Lucy (even Go-Go!) opened my eyes to whole new possibilities of great filmmaking and for that I'm eternally grateful.

2. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway

When Milk came out last year amid all of the Prop 8 controversy, I was happy to see many of the younger gays cheer on and become so attached to the film's ideas about equality and good ole fashioned gayness. I liked that film well enough, but I couldn't really get into it because I already had my defining movie: Brokeback Mountain. Yes, as odd as it may sound, a film about two emotionally distant cowboys in love with each other, kept apart by an oppressive society and their own repressed emotions somehow made me more accepting and confident with my own budding homosexuality. The film's incredible pop culture power--both in this country and within my group of friends ("That's so Brokeback!" became our expression of choice for gay-related moments and subjects and my friend had a cowboy looking outfit that I affectionately called her "Brokeback outfit)--was unlike anything I had ever seen and made it possible for me to experience this movie with friends and family who never would have cared in a million years if it had been stuck in the "gay ghetto." For better or worse, Ennis & Jack, their forbidden love, the shirts in the closet, Alma's crying face and Lureen's breasts have all become a part of me.

1. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Director: Michael Moore

Any political mindedness (which, admittedly, isn't very much) I gained during the 2000's can be attributed solely to Michael Moore and the impact Bowling for Columbine had on my burgeoning 14 year old mind. I had never seen anything like it: a documentary that manages to be both hilariously entertaining and cleverly insightful, a film that connects our insanely violent culture to lax attitudes about gun control and a history of using force to get what we want, a filmmaker who takes the auteur theory to drastic lengths, inserting himself and his one-sided attack quite literally into the documentary. After the film ended, I was pissed; not at the film, but, rather, at how fucked up this country was. At 14, I had never stopped to consider any of what Bowling for Columbine was telling me to think about and take action against. When I finally did, I was shocked at what I discovered. By golly, 95% of the people in my high school were ignorant hicks who worshiped Bush like he was a fucking prophet or something. I had no idea and, at that moment, realized that the small rinky-dink town I lived in was not some place I wanted to stay in. Also, for a brief time, my adoration of Michael Moore and this film led to me seriously considering taking up film in college so I could make documentaries like him. Obviously, that didn't work out, but I still admire Moore in ways I don't with many other modern directors. He may come across as smug, overbearing and obnoxious to some, but I love the fact that he's so passionate about what he's saying in his films, he'll go to any length to get his point across in the way that makes the biggest impact. If that means pushing the very definition of a documentary to the breaking point by mixing in traditional narrative devices, then so be it. Bowling for Columbine does not apologize for the hybrid that it is. Funny, thought-provoking, rebellious, bull-headed, style-bending: this film, my favorite of the entire decade, brought that and more.


Vance said...

Man, there are 6 films here I still haven't seen.

Glenn said...

Loved this list. Most of the films found in the top 20 match with movies that would make my personal list (although only if mine was a top 50, for instance).

Loved the inclusion of movies like Chicago, Hairspray (the adaptation of a musical this decade without a doubt, even if I think Chicago is the better film), Mean Girls, Erin Brockovich, Mysterious Skin, Bowling for Columbine and so on. Brilliant films, the lot of 'em!

Dame James said...

Vance: Oh, don't even worry about it! I'm so behind on the decade (especially the early years) it's not even funny.

Glenn: Thank you so much! I'm glad we can agree on so many of these titles. I can't wait to see your list once you get around to posting it!

I think the adaptations of both Chicago and Hairspray are so brilliant it's nearly impossible for me to choose between them. I will say that I do enjoy that Hairspray's choices are less in-your-face and are just as smart as Chicago's dramatic change in structure.

seanisbored said...

All of the movies here ('cept no.7 which I haven't seen) would easily make my top 50. Great choices and the commentary reallly made me want to watch them all again.

Completely agree that Tina Fey's script for Mean Girls is a masterclass in screenwriting. They should use it in all the class like with Tootsie. :)

seanisbored said...

To weigh in, Hairspray > Chicago.