10 February 2010

Film: Best Movies of the Decade, Part 2

Michael Clayton

(2007, Tony Gilroy)
At first, it's just another legal thriller. Nothing more special than a pretty good John Grisham adaptation. But upon further viewings, this is a deeply complex picture, where good and evil get blurred, often in the same people. Tilda Swinton won the Oscar (over a much more deserving Cate Blanchett), but it's Clooney and Wilkinson who shine here--as the titular bankrupt (morally and monitarily) attorney and his deranged but compassionate mentor. This is a film that will blow you away (pun partially intended).

Moulin Rouge!
(2001, Baz Luhrmann)
Perhaps the most flawed film on this list. Yet it's also perhaps the most entertaining. Baz Luhrmann's wild, kaleidoscopic musical is unabashedly romantic, and completely engrossing. It would make this list for the "Elephant Love Medley" alone.

Mystic River
(2003, Clint Eastwood)
A Shakespearean tragedy in Boston. Often depressing, but occasionally humorous and always revealing, the movie has much to say about manhood. And how ignoring problems don't make them go away. But at the end of the day, this is still a mystery told exceptionally well.
Further Viewing: Million Dollar Baby (2004), Gran Torino (2008)

No Country for Old Men
(2007, Joel and Ethan Coen)
When I first saw this Coen Brothers masterpiece (of which there are many), I thought there was something missing. I thought they had kind of missed the point of Cormac McCarthy's novel. But that was all in my interpretation. It turns out it wasn't their fault that their cat-and-mouse game is so engrossing, the subtext of the difficulty of living in a dark and fallen world can be missed. But it was right there all the time. This is a richly rewarding experience.
Further Viewing: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Burn After Reading (2008)

Rachel Getting Married
(2008, Jonathan Demme)
Now this is what you call a return to form. Having essentially made just OK films after The Silence of the Lambs (1991), this was the first movie to make any kind of waves. The same things that made that Oscar-winner so great apply here: an impeccable, believable cast (led by a brave female lead--here it's Anne Hathaway, showing unexpected maturity), a script filled with tension and of course Demme's subtle touch. It's less about the wedding and more about family secrets that try to remain buried but can't help but be uncovered.

The Royal Tenenbaums
(2001, Wes Anderson)
Thanks to Anderson and Owen Wilson's screenplay, the film succeeds with every style of humor: sight gags (the falcon, Ben Stiller's kids), sex (Margot's secret file), drugs (Owen Wilson's entire performance), racial ("What are you gonna do about it, Coltrane?), etc. But it's the heart of the story--Gene Hackman's desire to piece back his family--that makes it so memorable.
Further Viewing: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Shaun of the Dead
(2004, Edgar Wright)
Is it wrong that a movie wants to be more romantic comedy than zombie splatterfest? Nope. And this is the rare movie that can pull off both. And I hate to use this word, but it's an effective "bromance" as well.
Further Viewing: Hot Fuzz (2007)

(2001, Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson)
Momentarily proved that Pixar didn't have a strangehold on great animated filmmaking. Unlike past masterpieces of animation, not every detail serves or accentuates the story. This is more about telling Disney to suck it, and the creative team does so with gusto. Future versions would rely more and more on pop culture references (though part 2's COPS parody still brings the laughter), but the first film struck the perfect balance of fairy tale, anachronism and inner-beauty message.

Slumdog Millionaire
(2008, Danny Boyle)
Did the illiterate slum kid cheat on Who Wants to be Millionaire? Is he just lucky? Or is it his destiny? The game-show plot device here actually serves the story. It never feels like a gimmick. In fact, everything in this film feels realistic, right down to the glorious Bollywood number at the end. Jai ho!
Further Viewing: 28 Days Later (2003), Millions (2005)

State and Main
(2000, David Mamet)
As brutally funny and well-acted (and ad-libbed) as any of Christopher Guest's pictures, but tailor-made especially for film geeks. The behind-the-scenes of The Old Mill will resonate with anyone who's ever worked on a project where no one was a team player. Alec Baldwin (as a leading man with an appetite for teenage girls) and William H. Macy (as the stressed director) are just two standouts in an impeccable cast.
Further Viewing: Heist (2001), Spartan (2004)

There Will Be Blood
(2007, P.T. Anderson)
Easily the weirdest movie to be nominated for Best Picture, at least this decade. A period piece/capitalist horror flick/anti-religion propaganda. In other words, a masterpiece. The two leads (Daniel Day-Lewis--in what may be the finest bit of acting this decade--and a completely overwhelmed Paul Dano) are both men completely full of it, but also masters of manipulation. Their battle of wills carries the movie until it reaches its violent end.
Further Viewing: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

This Film is Not Yet Rated
(2006, Kirby Dick)
OK, so it's not the most hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. But Kirby Dick has a reasonable ax to grind. The MPAA, which rates the movies you watch, has a history of being incredibly hypocritical and overly accommodating to big studios. Is there a guidebook for the reasons behind its ratings? Nope. Can you write the members? Nuh-uh. He raises lots of good questions. And hopefully we'll eventually get the answers.

Touching the Void
(2004, Kevin MacDonald)
Re-enactments are usually reserved for Maury and Unsolved Mysteries. But this docudrama actually worked, mainly because it was so realistic. In 1985, Joe Simpson broke his climbing in the Andes with his partner Simon Yates. Since they were tethered together, both would likely die, unless Yates cut Simpson free. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. It simply has to be seen to be believed.

United 93
(2006, Paul Greengrass)
In a fragmented political climate, Greengrass made a completely apolitical movie based on the most harrowing event of the last decade. Here, he simply shows heroism--not hero worship. It's an incredibly subtle touch at a time when it was needed the most.
Further Viewing: The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

(2009, Pete Docter)
As adventurous as Indiana Jones and as touching as Forrest Gump, yet balances the two unbelievably well. If the first 10 minutes don't make you tear up, there's probably something wrong with you.
Further Viewing: Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Up in the Air
(2009, Jason Reitman)
So rarely does a movie perfectly embody the era in which it was made, but Reitman's third film (and his best--a feat in and of itself) gets everything about 2009: the layoffs, the culture of isolation and the growing anti-marriage sentiment. And then it reveals the hollowness of each of those things.
Further Viewing: Thank You for Smoking (2006), Juno (2007)

V for Vendetta
(2006, James McTiegue)
Is V for Vendetta as good as Network or A Clockwork Orange? Well, no, but it does belong in the same league as those '70s masterpieces. Like both of those unsettling works that all but predicted the future, the Wachowski Brothers' best film grows more relevant everyday. A pitch-black political thriller that's closer to happening than anyone would like to admit. ¡Viva la revoluciĆ³n!

(2008, Andrew Stanton)
Pixar's best movie? Maybe. The first half-hour is Chaplinesque beauty. After that, it becomes a scathing indictment of a lazy humanity. Both work. Another scary but realistic vision of the future.
Further Viewing: Finding Nemo (2003)

Where the Wild Things Are
(2009, Spike Jonze)
Recently surpassed The NeverEnding Story as my all-time favorite live-action kids movie. But calling it a kids movie sells it far short. I doubt many kids enjoyed this. Like all of Spike Jonze's films, this is an endeavor far more interested in identity than plot, but it all works. A challenging movie that never got the respect or audience it deserved.
Further Viewing: Adaptation. (2002)

(2007, David Fincher)
Unlike any other crime thriller because it's less about who did it and catching him and more about the obsession of finding out who did it and catching him. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and particularly Anthony Edwards shine as the stakeholders in solving the Zodiac killings. But it's Brian Cox and John Carroll Lynch who stand out the most. This is as intelligent as filmmaking gets.

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