Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 50 Best Films of the Decade (50-41)

I turned 18 in 2000 and spent the better part of the last 10 years watching movies, often more than one a day. Narrowing down a list to 50 was particularly difficult, not just because there were so many good films, but that so many of them resonated and stuck with me throughout the years. This list, therefore, can never be a definitive representation of my real thoughts about the movies listed. More accurately, these are the films that I watched repeatedly, that struck a chord and shaped my outlook.

I'm also going to forgo the usual "honorable mentions" list, as there were literally hundreds of films that I saw and loved that didn't make the top 50, any of which might be on the list in a different time.

Without further ado, counting backwards:

50) Dancer In The Dark (2000) dir: Lars Von Trier

This film somehow survives as the least draining and depressing film Von Trier ever made, and that's just because it has some nice songs in it. Dancer In The Dark explores a young woman's imagination, and Selma Jezkova's is a colorful one indeed. She sees Technicolor Hollywood musicals in a grim, dreary world of deceit. Get performances by Bjork, David Morse, Catherine Deneuve and Peter Stormare round out this sorrowful depiction of rural American life.

49) The Return (Vozvrashchenie) (2003) dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Many of the films on this list concern the relationships between estranged fathers and sons. However, unlike the more whimsical take we get from Wes Anderson, Zvyagintsev gives us a harrowing "adventure" in the Russian wilderness. A father returns to take his two sons on vacation in a remote area of Russia after having disappeared 12 years earlier. Zvyagintsev's follow-up film, The Banishment, is still unavailable in the U.S.

48) Death Proof (2007)/Inglourious Basterds (2009) dir: Quentin Tarantino

Okay, I promise I'll only cheat a few more times during the list. Death Proof was technically part of Grindhouse, though I own the DVD separately from Planet Terror, and Inglourious Basterds is a different film altogether, however I'm still struggling with only having a few 2009 films on this list (things take time), so let me put these two together. In Death Proof, Tarantino made a straight-up, 70s B-movie with A-list talent. Most other filmmakers would have made a boring dud, but Tarantino's sharp dialogue keeps us glued until the final car chase, which is really worth waiting around for. With Inglourious Basterds, he does about 10,000 things in one. It's a jumble of WWII archetypes, with a brilliant villain, and some of the best structural set-ups of any film in recent memory.

47) Sexy Beast (2002) dir: Jonathan Glazer

One of only a few debut films on this list, Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast is a heist film that's barely about the actual heist. It's all about Ray Winstone's Gal and Ben Kingsley's Don Logan. In the best performance of his career, Kingsley plays a temperamental (to say the least) criminal who flies to Spain to recruit the retired Gal for one last job. What happens when he receives a decisive "No" becomes one of the most quotable and memorable sequences of the decade.

46) Talk To Her (2002) dir: Pedro Almodovar

My favorite among Almodovar's many great films of this decade, Talk To Her, analyzes the relationship of two men and a woman in a coma. There's a level of un-reality in this film, as there is in Volver. We're not sure if we want Alicia to come out of her coma, as perhaps the relationship between her and Benigno is better as long as things remain unsaid, or unheard.

45) The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) dir: Joel Coen

Back in the early part of this decade, each new Coen brothers film release was an event, if only because us college-folk thought another Big Lebowski was on the way. That's not what we got, but The Man Who Wasn't There is the Coen's ingenious take on old American noir. It's grim and futile, but like most of the more nihilistic Coen films (Barton Fink, No Country For Old Men) extremely funny.

44) The New World (2005) dir: Terrence Malick

The Thin Red Line (1997) contrasted the beauty of nature with the frenetic confusion of war. In The New World, we got to really see the beauty the way John Smith must have seen it, or at least as portrayed by Colin Farrell, a much better actor than he's given credit for. Slow and bright, like all of Malick's films, this story is perfectly suited to his lens. (Note: I've only seen the theatrical 135 minute version, not the extended 172 minute edition.)

43) Collateral (2004) dir: Michael Mann

It was a big deal in 2004 that a major filmmaker was shooting an entire film digitally. This format was frightening to see on the big screen at first. But nobody ever captured the grainy, subdued look of Los Angeles the way Mann does in Collateral. Add that to its exciting premise and a story carried by two top-notch performances by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

42) L'enfant (2005) dir: Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Bruno and Sonia are a young couple in love. He's a petty thief always looking for an easy way to score, so when Sonia presents him with their newborn child, Bruno sells it for a quick buck. Sonia freaks out and Bruno goes in search of the child. This is a film with a clear look at youth, and the fighting forces of responsibility and frivolity.

41) Undertow (2004) dir: David Gordon Green

The best film by one of the decade's greatest new filmmakers, Undertow is equal parts drama, adventure and suspense. Green captures the mood of a decaying South better than most, and Undertow gives us a character in Deel Munn who is greedy, ruthless, and fascinating. We identify with the two runaway children, but want to see more of Munn each minute.

The rest of the list is coming tomorrow.

1 comment:

rednikki said...

I really liked the second half of Death Proof, but I felt the first half could have been significantly trimmed without losing anything.

I was actually one of the only people who saw the 172-minute director's cut of The New World in the theater. I saw it at a sneak preview at the Arclight, where they told us that the version we were going to see was not the release cut, and that we were the only theatrical audience who would see it the way Malick intended.

I've never seen the release version, so I can't compare the two. I will say that the director's cut was dreamlike, or perhaps hallucinogenic. It reminded me of certain kinds of ambient music; it washes over you but it doesn't seem directed or particularly focused in any way. It's more a series of experiences than a narrative. In my head, the experience pairs somewhat with David Lynch's Inland Empire, although Inland Empire is both less coherent and much less pleasant.

I saw Collateral just before moving to Los Angeles. I'd like to see it again now. I really loved it then, but I wonder how my perspective on it - not opinion, just perspective - would change now that I know the area.