Little Jimmy's Top 50 Films of the Decade (Part Two)
For the introduction and entries 26-50, click here.
25. Requiem For a Dream
(Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
I swear, watching the almost unbearable final 30 minutes of Aronofsky's brutal and stylized portrait of four junkies being thoroughly eaten alive by addiction (make that Addiction) makes me feel like my heart is in a giant vice. The first time I saw Requiem For a Dream a small part of me wanted to bolt out of the theatre, but since a.) I couldn't breathe or move and b.) couldn't "abandon" these characters, and c.) I was just as stunned as I was horrified by what I was watching, I did not. What an amazing and intense movie, possibly one of the most visually stunning, accurate and relentlessly bleak films about addiction ever. But definitely not for the squeamish.
24. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
(Judd Apatow, 2005)
Although Judd Apatow has become a superstar in the past couple years, producing and/or writing something like 80 comedies a year (okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but still), to date, he's only directed three feature films, two of which (the overrated Knocked Up and the touchingly personal Funny People) I've found deeply flawed for different reasons. His debut film, however, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is his one film I not only find hysterically funny from beginning to end, but a film that grows on me more and more with each subsequent viewing. Although Apatow's never been known for slim editing, Virgin, although long for a dick joke-centered comedy, doesn't wear out its welcome for me the way his other films do (as much as I liked Funny People, I have to admit I was repeatedly checking my watch during the final hour).
23. High Fidelity
(Stephen Frears, 2000)
Of course a film with characters listing their "Top Five" everythings would be on my Top 50 films list. Clearly High Fidelity is way up my alley. John Cusack (who co-wrote the screenplay) is perfectly cast as Rob, who plays the sad sack record store owner/Peter Pan-esque fanboy like an older and spiritually broken Lloyd Dobbler (his lovable nonconformist character in Say Anything). Director Stephen Frears & Co. transplanted Nick Hornby's British novel about a thirtysomething record store owner dealing with his recent breakup (and thereby all of his Top Five breakups) from London to Chicago yet kept the book's essence, which accurately portrays how guys think ("No woman in the history of the world is having better sex than sex you are having with Ian...in my head."). This is one of those movies I don't think I'll ever tire of watching.
22. Audition (Ôdishon)
(Takashi Miike, 1999/2000)
Takashi Miike's disturbing and unsettling masterpiece about a widower hosting a set of auditions for a phony film to find a new wife is tough to categorize and almost demands little be known about it before watching it. Audition takes its time establishing believable and likable characters, setting up events that go from believable to nightmarish, and steadily building tension to make the final 15 minutes of the film absolutely terrifying. Audition reminded me that I could still be surprised by film.
21. Kill Bill (Vols. 1 & 2)
(Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004)
I'm combining Quentin Tarantino's two-part epic mashup action/revenge flick as one entry. With Volume I serving as the first part and Volume II serving as the second, third and fourth parts (as much as I love Vol. I, as it stands alone, it feels more like a spectacular prologue when compared to Vol. II), the whole story taken as one 200-plus-minute film works both as a meticulously-crafted love-letter to the Westerns, Asian martial arts films, revenge movies (a genre that never really caught on in mainstream American film the way it did in Eastern cinema) and grindhouse films Tarantino grew up on as well as an unpretentious ultra-fun action film that holds up on its own with its own mythology (the way Lucas created a unique mythology based solely on spare parts with the original Star Wars).
20. The Incredibles
(Brad Bird, 2004)
The first of Pixar three films on this list. Although it could be argued that all the Pixar films I saw this decade (namely, all of them except for Cars) merit spots on this list, but due to space limitations, I narrowed it down to my top three. In addition to The Incredibles being a damn fun superhero movie (taking its cues from the graphic novel Watchmen and Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," in a family friendly yet non-obnoxious way), it's an astute portrayal of how our current culture champions mediocrity and shuns greatness.
(Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, 2009)
The second Pixar film. That opening prologue? Masterful filmmaking. Simply masterful. Who woulda thunk that a children's movie could convey so much story and pathos in such a short period of time (and without and dialogue) when so many so-called serious adult films can't come even close? People who've been watching these Pixar movies, that's who thunk it.
(Steven Soderbergh, 2000)
What an amazing movie. Based on the BBC miniseries Traffik and released before David Simon's and Ed Burns' seminal television series, The Wire, director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan weave an intricate yet epic tapestry showing virtually all the players in the cocaine-dealing game, from the politicians to the drug kingpins and their wives to the street dealers to the informants to the DEA Agents to the addicts. Yet at no point does it feel either too thin or bloated, and at no point do any of the major characters feel like two-dimensional caricatures or straw men. It's paced and structured beautifully. Like The Wire, it manages to show how much of a fraudulent joke the War on Drugs really is, yet doesn't shy away from showing drugs' destructive effects. And beyond that, it's just masterful and engaging storytelling.
17. INLAND EMPIRE
(David Lynch, 2006)
Rightfully described by one critic as "Mulholland Dr.'s evil twin," David Lynch's most jarring, prickly and perplexing film in decades (which is really saying something) shows the thin membrane separating the Hollywood A-list actress and the Polish streetwalking prostitute. This is a film I found (even as a dyed-in-the-wool Lynch fan) hard to sit through upon my first viewing, yet a movie that festered within my thoughts for months after seeing it in the theatre. As Manohla Dargis wrote, it was one of the few films to come out in 2006 that deserved to be called art.
16. Where the Wild Things Are
(Spike Jonze, 2009)
I loved Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's 10-sentence children's book. It's simply a delightful and amazing film that stays true to the vision of the original book as well as to Jonze's. I loved the way Max acts like a real nine-year-old boy. I loved the overall lack of typical Hollywood film plot. I loved the acting in it. I loved how the movie doesn't engage in your typical stupid Hollywood moralizing. I loved this movie. I'm so glad it was released.
15. Inglourious Basterds
(Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Simultaneously gonzo and restrained, Quentin Tarantino’s World War II/spaghetti western/foreign drama/revenge fantasy mashup is his best film since Pulp Fiction. Inglourious Basterds is an excellent showcase for Tarantino's strengths as a filmmaker: seemingly inconsequential fun popcorn entertainment with undertones of genuine substance and pathos.
14. Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)
(Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
Although I'm not really wild about her reviewing work, I think Salon.com film critic Stephanie Zacharek hit the nail on the head when she wrote that director Guillermo Del Toro was "one of the few young filmmakers working in the mainstream who actually has any vision, as opposed to just a knack for dreaming up cool effects." This stunning and haunting fairy tale about a young girl in fascist Spain conjuring a fantasy world for herself to cope with the horrors of her life. It's geared for adults (it earns it's R-rating) yet still has a childlike sense of wonder and fantasy. It also shows the power and importance of fantasy in a real world bereft of hope or joy. It has true vision, as well as some very cool effects.
13. Children of Men
(Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
Like District 9, Alfonso Cuarón's dystopic science fiction film (based very loosely on a novel by P.D. James) gets to have its cake and eat it, too, by offering very thoughtful science fiction and intense action-packed sci-fi. Those action sequences alone, particularly the one in the car (done all in one take), damn near alone make the movie worth watching, but those amazing action sequences only augment an already compelling narrative (they’re not the film's raison d’être). This is the way the world ends: not from a lack of oil, or water, or even from mankind’s inability to reproduce. It’s simply the knowledge that the cycle of life will not continue that creates pandemonium and the dissolution of civilization.
12. The Wrestler
(Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
Although many people would rank Requiem For a Dream as Aronofsky's best work (hey, I put it on the list), The Wrestler had a far greater and longer-lasting impact on me. Maybe it's because I'm a big softie that has a soft-spot for down-on-their-luck
losers underdogs. Mickey Rourke didn't just portray has-been wrestler Randy "The Ram," he is Randy. I can't imagine anyone else in that role. (Considering the Oscars are always useless, and proved themselves to be especially so this past year, so it's dumb of me to complain about this, but yes, Rourke was absolutely robbed.) In many ways, The Wrestler is as raw and intense as Requiem (albeit not as relentlessly bleak), but really humane and, in its own odd way, heartwarming. At least, as heartwarming a movie where the protagonist may be committing suicide in the end can be.
(Andrew Stanton, 2008)
The third Pixar film on this list is actually several clicks above the other two for a reason. Not that it's necessarily much better than Up or The Incredibles, but ultimately WALL-E had a substantially larger emotional impact on me. I'm always impressed with the genuinely adult sensibilities that the Pixar films have (rather than many other children's films that merely sneak in raunchy jokes), and was amazed at its truly bitingly satirical take on humanity. Yet despite its well-deserved bitch-slap towards us lazy, waste-spewing, planet-destroying, consumerist humans, the film's ultimate faith in humanity and happy ending (hey, this is still a kids film, after all) doesn't feel false or shoehorned. It's about humanity's folly, not crime, and posits that we people can get our acts together, even though it may take a long, long, long time. (And like with Let The Right One In, if you can see this on Blue Ray, do yourself the favor.)
And now, dear readers, we get to the Top Ten Films...
(Christopher Nolan, 2000)
I remember being utterly hooked and absorbed from frame one from Nolan's daylight noir about a detective/avenging vigilante with short-term memory loss trying to find the man who raped and murdered his wife when I first saw it in the theatre. Deploying a "tell the story backwards" method (deployed a few times before, most memorably in Harold Pinter's play, Betrayal, but for different means) kept me engaged all throughout, something I can't often say about 99% of most movies I see (often, I find my attention waning and my eyes wandering towards my watch towards the middle to end of the second act). Nearly a decade (and countless re-viewings) later, Memento still hasn't lost its ability to hook me in from beginning to end. But for me, it's not just about the structure, as superb as it is; or the puzzle, as fun as it is to contemplate. For me, it does what all great noir does best: show ordinary people's capability for extraordinary evil. The way normal people delude and misguide themselves to do what they want; the way
they we internally justify immoral behavior to ourselves; and how we need personal goals and missions (make that Missions) to keep ourselves sane and retain our identities. Our memories are a huge building block to our identities, so what happens once that's taken away?
9. The Dark Knight
(Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Bringing the high watermark for what we can expect, if not demand, from our summer blockbuster entertainments. With his sequel to his franchise-rebooting Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan elevates the stakes of the superhero movie to that of an epic Shakespearean tragedy. It's the best superhero movie ever made (and I'm saying this as someone who grew up on Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie). More aesthetically connected to Heat and The Departed than to Iron Man or, well, Batman, The Dark Knight has the gritty look and feel of being in the real world instead of a comic book reality (its Gotham City is unmistakably Chicago). It eschews the simple Good vs. Evil paradigm found in all other superhero stories to tell a story about the consequences of adhering to a rigid moral code. It deals with characters making dubious choices for the "greater good" and is unafraid of getting into ethically murky waters (those who think that this film unequivocally approves of wire-tapping or believes that might makes right need to put their heads on their desks, take a deep breath, count to 10, then re-watch it). It makes the audience uncertain as to what will happen next (I didn't think any of the characters -- even Bruce Wayne -- were "safe"). It has amazing action sequences. And oh, yes: it has, from the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, one of the best performances in a film, ever.
8. Waking Life
(Richard Linklater, 2001)
As many of us no doubt remember, 2001 ended up being a real bummer of a year, to put it mildly. The terrorist attacks had happened, but added to that, our shitty President looked as though he was going to use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to kickstart his shitty Nixonian Empire. And added to this, nobody seemed to have a problem with this. I had no choice but to conclude in the end of 2001 that the human race was an infestation of hateful retards, eager to shut off their brains and just let fascism take over with simple-minded propaganda. (That midtown New York in 2002 looked like the militarized zone of a third world dictatorship, with troops holding automatic weapons bigger than them at the train stations didn't help, either.) Thank God I saw Linklater's dreamtastic, thoughtful, thought-provoking Waking Life just before the year's end, which reminded me there was hope in humanity yet. Not to sound pedantic or reductive, but Linklater's film is a love-letter to thinking, and reveals the joys in contemplating different philosophies and worldviews. And still, it accomplishes this without being insufferably pretentious or impenetrable. And might I add, with the rotoscoping technique this film uses, it's simply a delight to watch. Hey, with movies like this coming out, there may be hope for humanity yet.
7. No Country For Old Men
(Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2007)
I thought the Coen Brothers, masterful filmmakers who are sometimes too clever for their own good, made some very good -- and very so-so -- films this decade, but only No Country For Old Men did it for me the way their previous masterpieces (Fargo, Blood Simple, even The Big Lebowski) did. With Tommy Lee Jones' mournful opening voiceover narration set to images of the landscape, the Coen Brothers are repeating themselves...except...not really. The opening evokes the opening of earlier films, yet their typical sense of irony has been removed. Which isn't to say it's not funny; the Coens' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's book about a relentless psychopathic killer hunting down the man who stole
his his employer's money is very funny (as well as tense, thrilling, scary and depressing). The movie has the perfect blend of McCarthy's and the Coen's styles. Many people called this a perfect film. I wouldn't say that (simply because I don't believe in such things). But it may be a perfect book-to-film adaptation. And it's perfectly paced. And perfectly cast. But quixotic debate about perfection aside, it's one of the best films to come out in the past 10 years.
6. Ghost World
(Terry Zwigoff, 2001)
Terry Zwigoff & Daniel Clowes' Ghost World is probably more in sync with how I see the world than any other film. Good lord, I understand too well when Steve Buscemi's character Seymour goes, "I can't relate to 99% of humanity." (Some friends and colleagues of mine often wonder why I date so rarely. Just pop in this movie and let it serve as my answer.) I often don't know whether to laugh or to cry or to tremble with rage when the ragtime blues guitarist plays to an apathetic room ("They could at least turn off the game while he plays!") yet "Blueshammer" (a shitty "blues" band consisting of white frat boys in mullets) brings the house down. Ghost World earns its deep-rooted, unironic misanthropy, and amazingly isn't glib about it: the movie calls Enid on her bullshit and Seymour is fully aware that his problems with the world are his, not the other way around. For good or for bad, even when I feel like I can't relate to 99% of humanity, I always relate to this film.
5. Mulholland Dr.
(David Lynch, 2001)
What started as a pilot for a television drama for ABC (!!!) turned out to be David Lynch's best, and most defining (dare I say, Lynchian) film of his to-date. I agree whole-heartedly with Roger Ebert when he wrote that Mulholland Dr. is the film Lynch has been working toward all of his career. Ebert writes: "He takes what was frustrating in some of his earlier films, and instead of backing away from it, he charges right through." And since I'm a huge Lynch fan, and I consider this his best film (yes, it's even better than Eraserhead or Blue Velvet), of course this makes it into the Top Five. Whether it's a death dream from a down-on-her-luck actress plagued with guilt for having her ex-girlfriend killed, a meditation on the "before" and "after" effects Hollywood (both as abstract idea and as real-world town and industry) has on the individual, or an examination of the artifice of movies ("There is no band"), or a completely non-narrative free-for-all on whatever's floating around in Lynch's head, this gorgeously shot, confounding, compelling and viscerally charged film shows us the powerful grip movies have on our imaginations, for good or for bad. Not to mention it introduced the talents of Naomi Watts to the greater world.
4. Synecdoche, New York
(Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut may put some folks off, but it's a movie that, like Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, haunted me for months after I first saw it and like INLAND EMPIRE, Synecdoche, New York is a true work of art. It's hard to put into words how much Kaufman's film affected -- and continues to affect -- me, but I'll try. It's one of the few films that conveys how we, all of us, live our lives: how we don different personas and personalities over time, how we compartmentalize the people and events in our lives, how we shed the bits of our fabricated personality as we grow older, how we hide behind artifice, how death is inevitable and life is short and fleeting, how we retrench into our minds as things don't go our way. Despite its seeming bleak and hopeless tone, this film gives me a great deal of comfort and gave -- and continues to give -- me a better understanding of my life and the world around me.
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
(Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
As if I could choose which one of Peter Jackson's three films was the best of the bunch (or hog two more slots on this list, let alone rank them). They're all great and all part of one great story (even J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as one big book). Apparently there's now some backlash against the three films, which baffles me. (Okay, that's a little disingenuous. I get it, in the way that all critically-acclaimed blockbusters get a negative revisionist stance from critics and audiences.) Just as I'm not on the hater bandwagon with Lost in Translation, I never even once considered to join said bandwagon for The Lord of the Rings. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King aren't just the pinnacles of special effects (although they certainly are; I'll even assert that I prefer the look of these films to that of James Cameron's Avatar, since they blend the best of new technology [CGI] with old-school effects [miniatures] and creative and practical innovation [forced perspective]), but also wonderful examples of characterization and storytelling, exemplified by Gollum (who's both a marvel of special effects as well as an emotionally complex character; both heartbreaking and repugnant, sympathetic and vile). The first time a bunch of us watched the nearly four-hour extended edition of Fellowship, Patrick described watching it as a "feast." I couldn't have put it better myself.
2. Punch-Drunk Love
(Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
When I first saw Paul Thomas Anderson's thoroughly amazing oddball movie, I felt like I was watching a movie made specifically for me. That feeling hasn’t changed during subsequent viewings. Though having loved his previous three films, Punch-Drunk Love is Anderson's first film where he seems to come out from under the shadows of his influences (Scorsese, Altman, Demme) and stands on his own with a cinematic voice that's all his own. There are so many emotionally charged scenes in this film where you don’t quite know what you’re feeling: it’s simultaneously funny, creepy and sad when Adam Sandler’s novelty plunger-peddling Barry Egan confides to his brother-in-law that he spontaneously cries, then…spontaneously cries. I don’t know if there’s been a character I’ve empathized with more than Barry. I remember, while watching it the first time, sharing Barry's rage and frustration in the scene at the phone kiosk asking his sister for Emily Watson's number, angrily thinking, "Give him the fucking number," a few seconds before Sandler hisses, "Give me the fucking number!" (Mildly embarrassing personal aside: at the time the film had come out, I was getting several increasingly angry calls a day from collection agencies, so the numerous threatening calls Barry has to brush off from the phone sex girl hit way too close to home for me.) It's so off-the-wall yet so true to life. And, that screaming fight over the phone between Adam Sandler and Philip Seymour Hoffman is damn near worth the price of admission alone.
...and the Number One Film of the Decade is...
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Michel Gondry, 2004)
Yes, I'm apparently going with the general critical consensus on this one. No, I don't care. Why? That's simple: I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the best film I saw during the decade. It's really difficult to encapsulate why I love Eternal Sunshine so much beyond offering technical and structural superlatives (Charlie Kaufman's script is amazing, Michel Gondry's directing work is astounding, Jon Brion's score is one of his best, the acting, including the best performance of Jim Carrey's career, is great) and explaining how well it executes its brilliant themes (the connection between memory and identity, the subjective nature of life, how we need people to help establish and define ourselves, and how that need simultaneously hinders our identities as much as solidifies them). I could go on about how intellectually stimulating it is as well as viscerally compelling and emotionally devastating it is. I could go on about how it's also one of those films that felt like it was made specifically for me (I don't think I've ever seen any film encapsulate "the Dining Dead" aspect of a relationship so succinctly). I could mention that, like many great works of art, the film takes the personal and makes it universal (something Kaufman is masterful at). I could bring up that it defined this decade of movie-going for me (I often see many films, before and after, through the lens of Eternal Sunshine, including such films as disparate as The Station Agent, Memento, Mulholland Dr. and even other films Kaufman's worked on, like Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York) I could also get into how, despite the unique quirks, problems and peaks that Joel and Clementine display as a couple, their relationship (and breakup) is something that virtually anyone watching can relate to. But I think a capsule can only scratch the surface of how much this movie means to me, or how much it apparently means to many, many other people. So how about I just close by saying it's all those things, and much more, and end with a prosaic fanboy question: holy shit, isn't Eternal Sunshine the best film you saw this decade? (Cue the open floodgates of contrarian snark here. I don't really care.)