Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Best Movies of the '00s: Part 1

Back at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, it seemed that every movie critic in the country and every movie blogger in the blogosphere became obsessed with putting out “Best Movies of the Decade” lists.  I was fascinated by this fervor, eagerly reading scores of these lists, agreeing and disagreeing with placements, and searching out films listed that I had never heard of before.  I immediately started work on my own list, but quickly realized that there were far, far too may gaps in my knowledge of movies of the decade for me to put together anything like a comprehensive list.  Also, I had nowhere to put it.  Since the time I first started this blog, I’ve been planning on doing this list, it’s just taken me a really long time to get around to it.  (So no, if you were wondering, this isn’t some silly attempt to fit my list to the mathematically correct decade of 2001-2010.  I only considered non-documentary feature films theatrically released between 2000 and the end of 2009.)
The last decade--the 2000s, the Aughts, whatever you want to call it--encompassed my entire adolescence.  Consequently, I was at once extremely limited in what I saw theatrically in the first half of the decade, and entranced in a perhaps outsized way by many films other might consider childish or unsubtle.  My movie-watching habits and tastes have changed and matured a great deal, even over the last year, so the order of this list has undergone a great deal of shuffling.  In the end, though, I wanted it to reflect my own tastes over the decade accurately.  I didn’t want to make it just a record of my opinion over the past two weeks, but over the past several years.  So while many of the films up high on the list may be difficult, adult, or obscure films that I have only just begun to appreciate, I resisted the logical urge to knock off too many old favorites.  Why deny that I really loved certain movies when they came out, even if I can’t muster quite the same enthusiasm right this minute?  But don’t take this the wrong way: I don’t mean I put actually bad movies on this list or anything, just that a few got to stay on there or maintain their positions for sentimental value.  I also resisted putting films on the list just for their objectively “worthy” qualities, but tried to keep it to movies that meant something to me personally.  For instance, I’m perfectly fine with people proclaiming Polanski’s The Pianist a masterpiece--objectively, I think it’s definitely excellent, and I initially put it on my list.  But it didn’t make a strong enough impression on me to keep it on their in the end.
Of course, I keep seeing new movies from the past ten years that I think ought to be on the list.  I’ve even seen several recently that are absolutely among the best movies of the decade, and that I really have no justification for not including.  But I had to make the cut-off somewhere and I didn’t want to keep rearranging everything, so I disqualified any movie I saw for the first time in the last three months (which also gave me time to start writing up little blurbs in spare moments over that span).  That means that I’m Not There, That Evening Sun, Russian Ark, Into the Wild, Hunger, and Lost in Translation, all of which are truly excellent and would have placed, are all disqualified.
Finally, there are, of course, numerous other films I have yet to see that featured on quite a lot of people’s lists.  Many of them look very good, and I hope to get to them eventually, but I simply haven’t gotten around to it yet.  A small sampling of the most highly-regarded films that I have yet to see are as follows:  Mulholland Dr.,  Inland Empire,  Far From Heaven,  Talk to Her,  Sideways,  Before Sunset,  4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,  United 93,  American Splendor,  Moulin Rouge,  25th Hour,  Waking Life,  A Christmas Tale,  Amores Perros,  Requiem for a Dream,  Traffic,  Half Nelson,  Munich,  Capote,  Gosford Park,  Synecdoche, New York,  The Lives of Others,  Little Miss Sunshine,  Crash,  Memories of Murder,  Syndromes and a Century,  The Squid and the Whale,  In Bruges, and Elephant.  I haven’t seen any movies by Lars Von Trier or Tsai Ming-Liang made last decade, and I haven't seen any movies by Michael Haneke, the Dardenne brothers, Guy Maddin, Olivier Assayas, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, or Jia Zhang-Ke at all, nor any of the movies from Iran or the Romanian New Wave.  Sorry.  I’ll get right on that.
So anyway, after all those caveats, how is this even a legitimate list?  . . . Let me get back to you on that.  But here it is anyway:  My list of the 60 best movies of the last decade.  (Why 60?  Why not?)

60.  The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005, Admamson)
No films could never live up to the brilliance of the books, and the sequels quickly descended to mediocrity, but this first one managed to capture a feeling of childlike wonder and magic in a way no other film of the decade quite achieved.

59.  Casino Royale (2006, Campbell)
Bond was given a new look and a new life.  He was no longer cheesy but cool again, and even emotional.  The poker game may be ridiculous, but the action sequences had never been better.

58.  Zoolander (2001, Stiller)
It's about narcissistic stupid people, but it's not narcissistic or stupid, just funny.  Who doesn't remember David Bowie's proclamation, "It's a walk-off!" with a chuckle?

57.  Hotel Rwanda (2005, George)
A powerful portrait of the Rwandan genocide, focusing on an African character in an African issue movie, for once, not a blundering Westerner learning Third World facts.

56.  Old Joy (2006, Reichardt)
Two old friends, both stuck in ruts. Nothing is really solved, many things are left unsaid.  But in the silence between words, we understand their pain and simple melancholy.  The catharsis of the end may not last for the characters, but it is an experience they will never forget, and we are better for having lived it with them.

55.  Unbreakable (2000, Shyamalan)
M. Night Shyamalan has become hated and mocked, but for a string of films at the beginning of his career he was the unmatched king of the Twilight Zone.  This is one of the finest explorations of the superhero yet made, substituting quiet and emotional connection for the chaos and frenetic action of most superhero movies to get at the heart of the archetype.


  1. Zoolander and Narnia made the list, but not the Pianist... Bonus points for surprise!

    I'm liking it so far. Can't wait for the next installment! It's a good thing Tree of Life wasn't made in 2009, because then I wouldn't have the anticipation of wondering what film would take the number 1 spot. Right now, my best guess for your #1 is The New World. Hints?

  2. Glad you're liking it, Daniel! I'm not gonna tell you the #1, but I will say The New World is up there pretty high, and that I think you'll like the top few. And yeah, if The Tree of Life were in this decade...

    I do already have the next part up, I just haven't posted it to Facebook yet, so if you see this first, go right ahead. And, you know, feel free to check out the rest of the blog :)

  3. Stephen I'll admit I'm not a fan of OLD JOY and CASINO ROYALE (I've stated my position at WitD) but both films have plenty of admirers so I'm fine with that. The rest of the presentation is fine enough, but of course I have teh advantge of having seen the subsequent posts before this. Ha!

    1. Thanks, Sam! That's funny about you reading through the posts backwards. Must have been kinda weird. :)