Thursday, August 6, 2009
We are fast approaching the end of the 2000s, and it's time to look back and assess what memorable motion pictures should be showcased as the best this decade has had to offer. I've contributed several posts to Ibe Tolis' Film for the Soul and his Counting down the Zeroes project. But in the lead up to the end of 2009, I want to take the time to give you my 10 best for each year. I'll probably tackle a different year every two to three weeks, list my ten in alphabetical order, and offer a few brief insights into why I feel each film belongs on my list (unless I already wrote a review for it, in which case, I'll simply link back to the review). For those who are just dying to know what movie I consider to be the very best for each year, just take a look at the photo I lead into each article with and that should tell you. In January, I'll post my ten best for 2009, culminating with a follow-up announcement of my 10 best films for the decade. And that list won't necessarily feature one picture from each year. And now, the best films of 2000... Before Night Falls, director Julian Schnabel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, dir. Ang Lee - A departure for Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), for many Americans this film was an introduction to the beauty of the wuxia martial arts genre. Lush and romantic, the movie featured world famous actors Chow Yun-Fat (Hard-Boiled) and Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies), relatively unknown here until this picture, and introduced audiences to Zhang Ziyi (Memoirs of a Geisha), the deceptively delicate yet strong-willed actress. Extra points go to Lee for his insistence on presenting the story in Mandarin. High Fidelity, dir. Stephen Frears - Surprisingly relatable (never been that into John Cusack) film that connects because of its verisimilitude. Cusack stars as record-store owner Rob, who is dealing with the fallout of a major breakup from the wonderfully genuine Iben Hjejle as Laura. Features an actually hilarious Jack Black, as Barry, on the cusp of becoming a mainstream jackass. What guy of Rob's generation hadn't made a mix tape for the object of his love? What collector doesn't order and reorder their collection (in this case, record albums) based on any number of things beyond the easy title or artist? Or spontaneously try to put their life into quantifiable OCD-like lists like Rob's "Top 5 Most Memorable Breakups" or Barry's "Top 5 Records to Play on a Monday Morning?" And it's the only film ever to feature a cameo (with dialogue) by Bruce Springsteen. In the Mood for Love, dir. Wong Kar-Wai - One of the most romantic movies ever made, Wong's film picks up on the tiny details that make love soar, like the shared experience of pain whispered in the late hours of the night; the longing to reach out and touch the one you are in love with; the stolen glances between a couple who bond over the infidelities that their respective spouses have participated in, yet are unwilling to commit themselves. The ineffable quality of forbidden love wafts around this film with more potency than it ever has for the master of modern romance. Memento, dir. Christopher Nolan - I've gotta admit... when I first saw this film with its conceit that every successive scene actually takes place BEFORE the previous one, it didn't strike me as clever as much as it did gimmicky. But seeing it again and again has changed my mind. For one thing, it places you in the same frame of mind as its protagonist, Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man who suffers from a form of amnesia that only lets him remember things that happened in about the last ten minutes. Most impressive though is how the movie plays when seen in chronological order, a hidden feature on the Special Edition DVD. This gives you a whole new take on how sympathetic one should actually be towards Leonard. Now, that is clever. O Brother, Where Art Thou? dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen - In this tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey with a great bluegrass soundtrack, George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson play fugitives from a chain gang hiding in plain sight as musical group the Soggy Bottom Boys. With well-placed references to cinema (title refers to a film within a film in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels), Greek mythology (John Goodman's one-eyed Big Dan is a stand-in for Homer's Cyclops), and Southern legend (the Soggy Bottom Boys' guitarist is found standing at a crossroads, where he claims to have sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical skill, like the legendary Robert Johnson), this enjoyable romp has enough to entertain on many levels. Traffic, dir. Steven Soderbergh - Though flawed, Soderbergh's movie is an epic for our time. Focusing on the Mexican front in the war on drugs, it still also proves to be timely. A who's who of fine actors (Don Cheadle, Albert Finney, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones) isn't enough to distract from what is a spectacular breakout performance by that year's Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor, Benicio Del Toro (Che), as an incorruptible Mexican police officer caught alone behind the lines. And any film that gives a role to the underappreciated Steven Bauer (Scarface) gets points in my book. Unbreakable, dir. M. Night Shyamalan Wonder Boys, dir. Curtis Hanson - Michael Douglas (Wall Street) at his most appealing, playing a quirky college professor struggling to regain the success that he had achieved early in his life. Now he faces a divorce, an affair with his boss's wife, and can't finish his second novel. Nice little movie by Hanson (8 Mile) that got lost in the shuffle after his success with L.A. Confidential (1997). You Can Count on Me, dir. Kenneth Lonergan - An actor's showcase for all involved (the ensemble cast includes Laura Linney, Matthew Broderick, and Jon Tenney), but most especially for Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac) as wayward brother Terry. His performance, if not his character's name, conjures up images of Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), and lives up to the comparison. Playwright Kenneth Lonergan's directing debut. Mr. Lonergan, where's your follow-up movie? For more of this continuing series, click here.