Everyone’s doing decade-end top-ten lists, and I keep reading them and not seeing anything I thought was awesome, so I decided to do my own, one each for movies, music, and books. I’ve decided to post them in that order, if only because the book one will probably be the most difficult. Always is. Love books, after all.
Rolling Stone named There Will Be Blood as its number-one movie of the first decade of the millennium, which I think disqualifies the rest of the list (which, in addition, ends with the mind-numbingly endless Lord of the Rings trilogy, or, as I like to refer to it, “That Fucking Day I’ll Never Get Back”). It’s filled with the usual suspects, No Country for Old Men and A History of Violence and Mulholland Drive; lots of, you know, arty sort of movies people always mistake the boringness of for things like subtlety and craft.
Gag me with a spork.
This past decade was pretty awesome for movies, though you wouldn’t know it from most top ten lists. There was a lot of stuff blowing up in ways we’d never seen shit blown up before. There was a whole lot of being really, really ridiculously good looking (spoiler spot!). We didn’t just believe a man could fly; we believed a man could build a suit that would enable him to fly.
Which was totally rad.
So I started to think about a top-ten list. I started to make up a top-ten list, in fact. And then it got long, when I realized how many absolutely awesome movies had been made in the last decade, and how many were going to go ignored. So I’m going with two top-ten movies of the past decade list: the absolute top ten, and then the top ten movies that didn’t make the top-ten list itself. I figured I’d start with the latter, all of which you can call number eleven.
In no particular order:
Nicolas Cage plays both screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s fictional twin brother Donald in this utterly surreal send-up of adapting a book (The Orchid Thief) into a movie, the entertainment industry, and meta-fictional takes on screenwriting and story structure. And if that sentence didn’t just blow your mind, the movie, which is hysterical in places and just totally odd in others but mostly (mostly!) works, totally will. If you’re into that sort of thing, which is why it’s number elven.
—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet start to court each other after meeting just a little while after having their memories of breaking up with each other erased from their minds. Another Charlie Kaufman flick (this one directed stunningly by Michel Gondry), and another that warps and wraps around itself. Totally brilliant, and one of the best and most poignant portrayals of a fucked-up relationship in cinematic memory. Woody Allen spent his entire career trying to be this smart (and never actually managed it. What? Yeah, I’ll say it).
—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—
Let’s be honest, here: the first two were perfectly adequate, but Columbus never quite fully captured the actual spirit of the books (which is a shame, because the series is bookended by two spectacular installments). Cuaron’s Azkaban was the first that went balls-out, but it might have gone quite too hard, and it also left out a good deal of book material that really might have brought it together. Goblet is mostly famous for being an early apperance of Edward Cullen, and it’s quite good, with some real emotion there, but the Tri-Wizard tournament bogs it down, for the most part.
But finally, finally we have Phoenix. Which starts with Dementors draining Dudley and just continues to get better. Yates, who’d previous only done television work, for the most part, brought to it not just a new spirit, which allowed a better, more mundane sense of the wizarding world, but also a new vision; even the transitions, with the shouting newspapers, are among the best in the entire series. Add to that that the young actors are maturing and getting better at their craft (Radcliffe, in particular, continues to improve as an actor. Which is rather a relief; one problem with Goblet was that he wasn’t quite up to the role, yet. That changed in Phoenix). Excellent performances, excellent execution, excellent all around: the scene of the young wizards expectoing their patronae is among the greatest I’ve seen, perfectly capturing both the glee and the wonder inherent in such a moment. Brilliant.
—The Bourne Identity
Like here, in The Bourne Identity. Was there a better start to a spectacular franchise all decade (there were several, in fact, but they make the top ten). Damon delivers a paradox of a restrained action performance; his Bourne can kill anything that moves and knows it, and his entire performance, beginning to end, is a study in concision, precision, and kinetic energy. Flat-out phenomenal.
Pixar. All that needs to be said, really; as a brand, they are quite simply unstoppable, and may well be the single name that most guarantees a quality movie. Even their missteps (I’m looking at you, Wall-E. I don’t care what everyone else said) are cinematic gold. But The Incredibles was SuperPixar; “Pixar does superheroes” is the sort of conceptual, developmental pitch you know made some studio head somewhere ruin his pants. Or hers. The entire movie is worth it for the “100-yard Dash” sequence alone, but more than anything, it is about being extraordinary in a mediocre world. About not holding back. And about being incredible. Awesome.
—Thank You For Smoking—
I may be biased here; I use Thank You for Smoking to teach my composition courses when I can. It’s smart and funny and deliriously, spectacularly well written. It’s a great movie on crack, and Aaron Eckhardt delivers quite possibly the best movie of his career (if you don’t count The Core ftw! [That’s totally a joke]). Satire hasn’t been this good in a while.
—Good Night, and Good Luck.—
Speaking of smoking (there are so many cigarettes in this movie it’s like a two-hour commercial for Pall Mall. Well. Kent, anyway). In 2006, George Clooney got the wrong Oscar when he won for Supporting Actor in the Syriana in a year when the MPAAS knew that, for some ungodly reason, Brokeback Mountain and Crash were getting all the critical attention. Shame, too, because Good Night, and Good Luck. is far superior to either (which admittedly isn’t saying much, but most of all is a terrifically crafted movie about integrity, journalism, and the Constitution disguised as an Edward R. Murrow biopic. Perhaps the MPAAS knew it was too overtly political, as well as too timely and appropriate, and so it busied itself patting its own collective back for “racial awareness” everyone says Crash is about (it’s not. It’s just a bad movie disguised as a message). I don’t know, but what I do know is that Good Night, and Good Luck. is flat out terrific, subtle and superbly acted and insanely well written.
Finally, someone (Christopher Nolan and David Goyer) understood the Batman story well enough to actually tell the damned thing. This wasn’t a comic-book movie; it was a movie based on a famous hero whose most effective stories, up until then, had been told in the pages of comic books, and there’s a huge difference there. Batman is rooted in social injustice, guilt, and the sort of deep-seeded misery that used to carry the great film noirs, but Batman Begins told that story, about those things, and made it fun and exciting, rooting it in a character we cared about, sympathized with, and, most importantly, liked. West was too corny, Keaton too detached, Kilmer too odd, Clooney too playboy; in Christian Bale, the story found a hero we could hope to be. Bale’s performance is a master-class in acting, too, with notes of both humor and deep anger; Bale’s Wayne is a guy you want to have drinks with (because you know he’ll pay, or maybe even buy you the bar) but you know never to fuck with (as we see proven in the terrifically overrated The Dark Knight). When you make a movie in which Michael Caine and Liam Neeson are not the actors who deliver the best performances in it, you know you’ve got gold, and here you do. It’s seems paradoxical to call a movie with so much blowing up (not to mention a man in a bat suit) subtle, but Nolan is a master of direction; it’s rather amazing that, as strong as Nolan’s other movies were (Memento and The Prestige were both excellent), this here is the one that demonstrated him as a great director. That he wasn’t at least nominated for this movie demonstrates just how out of touch with quality the MPAAS actually is.
—Snatch or Sherlock Holmes—
Because if Sherlock Holmes doesn’t demonstrate itself as one terrific flick, Snatch certainly was, from Statham’s smirking Turkish right on down to Brad Pitt (wtf? ftw!) performance as a completely incomprehensible gypsy (wtf again!) who specializes in bare-knuckle boxing, and if your head didn’t spin at that idea, well, this movie will spin it for you. Benico Del Toro plays a four-fingered courier with a gambling problem who loses a diamond that serves as the Macguffin pretty much every character in the movie is after whether they realize it or not (and the genius is that only a couple of them do). Utterly quotable–
“Protection from what? Ze Germans?”
“It was at a funny angle.”
“It was behind you!”–
this flick is hyperkinetic as a kid with A.D.D. on a sugar high.
“All. Bets. Are. Off.”
Unless, of course, Sherlock Holmes is better. And I kind of hope it is. Because if this decade was nothing else whatsoever, it was Robert Downey, Jr.’s, comeback as probably the best actor of this generation. Marlon who? Laurence British whosajammer?
As is evidenced here; that Zodiac (not to mention: Fincher!) was ignored by the Oscars demonstrates . . . oh, you get the picture about the Oscars. Here’s a movie mainly starring Jake Gyllenhaal who makes you completely forget Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain as he investigates the San Francisco serial murder known as the Zodiac killer. Here’s the thing, though: the Zodiac case was never, ever solved. We have no idea whodunit. And neither does Jake. Nor Mark Ruffalo, who’s also in it, nor even Robert Downey, Jr. (who probably should know simply on account of how awesome he obviously is). I think that’s why this movie works so well, structure-wise; it’s a bit messy, for lack of a better word, and it seems to lack real plot points, or the beats that turn a story/screenplay/movie so it can be easily divided into acts. Not so much here, but I think it works because the case is messy; nobody knows who killed all those people, and the killer, so far as anyone actually knows, could, in fact, actually be out there somewhere. Which makes this extraordinarily creepy, and is Fincher’s version of The Departed; finally he stopped trying to direct a damn vision and managed to put a great story on film without a bunch of special effects and crazy imagery (I mean, I liked Fight Club as much as the next guy, don’t get me wrong, but subtle it was not).
So those are my number eleven. I’ve got the top-ten list filled out for the most part (in fact, I had to bump The Departed completely off the list to get room for Harry Potter, which got bumped off the top ten).
Post that bit after I format it. Any guesses? I think you already know two of them.