Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top Films of the 2000s--10 to 1

10. Tell No One (2006)
The decade's best thriller. Guillaume Canet's film of a man who discovers his wife is still alive after a decade, an unsolved murder for which he is a prime suspect, we can properly describe as Hitchcockian. That's an overused comparison, but this film just takes you along in a rush of adrenaline. Eventually, you just stop figuring it out and allow it to carry you along. I guess a movie like The Usual Suspects might be a useful comparison, but Tell No One is better.

9. Vera Drake (2004)
Mike Leigh's tour de force on an illegal abortion provider in 1950s England who eventually gets caught and sentenced to a prison when a procedure goes wrong. Imelda Staunton plays a character who only wants to help people and is absolutely devastated when her life is destroyed. The opening scene of a rich girl getting an abortion from a real doctor and a poor girl forced into coathanger land is a devastating critique of the connections between class and control over women's bodies, something anti-abortion fanatics never want to talk about. Mike Leigh is a wonderful director and this is his best film.

8. Tony Takitani (2004)
Arguably the most obscure film on this entire list. Jun Ichikawa's adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story is the best film on loneliness I have ever seen. Simple and barely long enough to be considered a feature film, it's 75 minutes leave you absolutely heartbroken and devastated. For the lonely, shy man, could there be something worse than finally leaving your isolation behind, only to have your new life ripped from you by tragedy?

7. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson's fantastic film about oil, There Will Be Blood is probably the best film about America writ large of the decade. Its historical arc, its examination of a core American character, its dissection of greed, resource use, religion, and the growth of the nation--all of this makes it one of the most important pictures of recent years. Daniel Day-Lewis is utterly fantastic in his second role taking on an American archetype (with his role as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York being the other).

6. 2046 (2004)
Wong Kar-Wai's follow up to In the Mood for Love, Tony Leung continues his character from the previous film, floating through life as a man with a broken heart who is unwilling to make any kind of emotional commitment as a result. The filming of his science fiction story only strengthens the great sadness of this film. Utterly wonderful.

5. Yi Yi (2000)
Edward Yang's final film was a huge sprawling movie following an extended family through a year of marriage, affairs rekindled, coma and death, and a young boy learning about the world. The perfect film. The scenes where the father meets his ex-lover in Tokyo and you hear their conversations about the past with the camera following his daughter on her first date may be the single best scene of the 2000s. Absolutely brilliant, one of the must watch films in the genre's history.

4. Talk to Her (2002)
I'm kind of surprised that Pedro Almodovar only has one film on my list--Bad Education and Volver were both quite excellent; had this list extended to 60, the former almost certainly have made the cut. But Talk to Her is Almodovar's crowning achievement. If the scene from Yi Yi described above is the decade's best, I'd probably rank the silent film inside the film, with the man entering the woman's vagina and living there, a scene that both represents unbridled love and the violation of a helpless young woman, as second.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michael Gondry's adaptation of a Charlie Kaufman script deserves the widespread love it receives. Jim Carrey (who is actually good) and Kate Winslet's failed relationship combines with the use of technology and computer graphics to create a true love film for the 21st century. Never has a film used computer graphics to such a powerful effect--instead of a cheap way to cut corners or visuals for visuals sake, here is a film that takes the new possibilities of technology and uses them to strengthen a story, creating a terrifically powerful piece of art.

2. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Wong Kar-Wai's film of neighbors who realize their spouses (never seen) are cheating with each other is a tour de force of love unfulfilled. The two being cheated upon fall in love themselves, but for reasons of guilt, honor, shyness, etc., refuse to consummate the relationship. Beautifully shot, with more images of women in tight early 60s dresses than I've ever seen. After the failure of My Blueberry Nights, Wong's first film in English, some critics questioned whether Wong had fooled us with his Chinese films and whether his whole body of work was superficial. This is absurd--My Blueberry Nights just isn't good. All directors drop stinkers every now and again. While not every early Wong film works that well, the majority are fine pieces of work, culminating in In the Mood for Love and 2046.

1. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The best film of the 2000s. An absolutely devastating love story in 1960s and 70s Wyoming. Heath Ledger's performance will be remembered forever, while Michelle Williams and Jake Gyllenhall both provide fantastic supporting roles. It's a great film partially because it takes on a taboo-form of love (especially in that time and place), but more because it creates the single greatest love story of the decade.

Another word about Ledger's performance. I talked to people who didn't find it believable, particularly his way of talking and his lack of emotion. I openly scoffed, because I know these people. I'm related to western cowboys. I have an uncle for instance who talks exactly like this. For him, words are something to be avoided at all costs; to speak is a real chore and you'd better listen because he is just going to mumble out the minimum. Ledger nails this type of American and what it must be like for one of them to discover he is a homosexual, deeply in love but unable to follow through with a meaningful long-term, emotionally satisfying relationship.

That Brokeback Mountain lost the Oscar for best picture to Crash, an utterly loathsome movie, is the greatest award show ripoff of the decade. Not only was it the best picture of that year, it is the best picture of the entire decade. One of the great films in history, everyone involved should remain deeply proud of their work until the day they die. If the 2010s bring us to a film this great, this emotionally draining, this honest, and containing this level of performances, I'll be awfully surprised.

That the top 6 films all revolve around failed relationships may be coincidental, or it may say a lot about me.