Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2000s: the decade in movies

top to bottom: numbers 2, 29, 28, 5, 10, 6

31 films to remember from the first decade of our 21st century. The number is arbitrary, but from such arbitrary elements we forge our lists, striving to bring some order to the recent past. If one thing is certain about the last decade in movies, it’s that no amount of industry tumult—the ungovernable internet; the vagaries of home video; the strikes; the ostensible death of cinema-going which thankfully never happened—hasn’t had the slightest effect on our capacity to make great movies. What has changed is our ability to get great movies seen. The studio juggernauts, with their advertising budgets equal to the gross national product of numerous small countries, have arguably never been worse, while the best independent and foreign releases became only more confined, not just to art houses but often only to festivals. Clearly, as we look to the future, those of us passionate about movies are placing our hopes that all these new delivery systems will somehow make great movies easier to discover, and that the digitization of theatres might make bringing small movies to big screens more economically feasible. In any event I'm voting to keep us all going out to the movies.

top to bottom: numbers 7, 9, 26, 19, 17, 22

But enough industry—let’s talk about the work. Frankly, the below list wasn’t so much finished as abandoned. Even as I build this post I keep thinking of titles that I can't believe I've forgotten. But after a while I simply couldn’t keep mulling over my hundred-strong short list any longer without going into a trance. A trail of masterpieces lies beyond these 31. I decided to allow only one movie per director, simply so as to cover more ground, which meant the decade’s best filmmakers—Almodóvar, David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, Michael Haneke, Werner Herzog, Lucrecia Martel—could have just as easily had another title on this list. Some wound up without a movie included at all, despite the fact that the last decade of movies from Gus Van Sant (see the previous post), the Dardenne Brothers, Aleksandr Sokurov, or the deliriously prolific Steven Soderbergh was sometimes revolutionary and in every case consistently impressive—it’s this very consistency that made it so hard to pick one film that stood out.

top to bottom: numbers 4, 16, 24, 15, 13, 31

Great movies can do so many things, from entertaining to beguiling us, from enlightening to devastating us, from blowing our minds to re-awakening our senses. Some of the movies on this list—see, for example, numbers 5, 7 and 10—do many of these things at once with exhilarating verve. Some of them, we might argue—see, for example, numbers 19 and 28—do only one or two of these things but do them so gloriously as to tower above other movies that merely do countless things deftly. There are plenty of critically lauded crowd-pleasers I could have put on my list that more of you would surely have recognized, just as there are plenty of ultra-severe, verging on alienating works I could’ve listed out of sheer admiration for their audacity and perverse rigour. I hope the titles you know provoke you to reconsider, and that the ones you don’t provoke you to track them down. In the end I chose the movies I chose because they usurped the choicest real estate in my imagination and still haven’t moved away; because they continue to fascinate me even after the initial dazzle faded away; because they continue to move me long after first catching me off guard; because they thrill me shamelessly; because they make me afraid of the world while still wanting to fight for it; because they make me in love with the world even when it seems to love no one; because they allow me to keep dreaming, even when I’m wide awake.

top to bottom: 11, 21, 23, 12, 3, 25

(Incidentally the ranking of these titles, a practice I don't usually subscribe to, is also arbitrary. I did it mainly because there's too many titles here not to organize. The first five or six definitely feel like they're in the right place, and the subsequent 11, say, feel like they're grouped accordingly. But really, what the hell is difference between 22 and 28?)

number 1

In the Mood for Love (Wong, 00)
Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 01)
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong, 06)
Code Unknown (Haneke, 00)
The Holy Girl (Martel, 04)
The Intruder (Denis, 04)
Zodiac (Fincher, 07)
Summer Hours (Assayas, 08)
There Will Be Blood (PT Anderson, 07)
A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 05)
Silent Light (Reygadas, 07)
The New World (Malick, 05)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 04)
Wendy and Lucy (Reichardt, 08)
Fat Girl (Breillat, 01)
No Country for Old Men (Coen, 07)
Volver (Almodóvar, 06)
Encounters at the End of the World (Herzog, 08)
Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai, 03)
George Washington (Green, 00)
Birth (Glazer, 04)
The Royal Tenenbaums (W Anderson, 01)
Brand Upon the Brain! (Maddin, 06)
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Mungiu, 07)
Children of Men (Cuarón, 06)
Colossal Youth (Costa, 06)
I’m Not There (Haynes, 07)
The Limits of Control (Jarmusch, 09)
Three Times (Hou, 05)
Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr, 00)
Before Sunset (Linklater, 04)


Paul Matwychuk said...

Well, this is a pretty impeccable list... but of course, I'd expect nothing less from you. (I probably should have put IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE on my own best of the decade list too, dammit.) And hooray! ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD made the cut!

I'm especially eager to catch up with the work of several of the international directors you celebrate here, like Pedro Costa and Hou Hsaio-Hsien. I also wish Claire Denis' recent output wasn't so difficult to track down here in Edmonton. It's a shame, isn't it, that excellence should be so elusive?

JB said...

Hey Paul.

Thanks again... Listmania!

I briefly mulled over GRIZZLY MAN in place of ENCOUNTERS, but the latter seems like it's building on the strengths of the former, so I went with that one. Plus, there's something wonderful about seeing Herzog warm up so much to a community of people--of misfits, of course. And his lifelong quest for new images could end with ENCOUNTERS without disappointment. Thankfully, it hasn't ended. Apparently, he's on fire these days.

A caveat with Costa: if you track down COLOSSAL YOUTH, which I happily watched trapped in a theatre, it can be a bit like running a marathon: it asks for stamina, and sometimes you get pissed off with it, but in the end you feel like you've just been through something tremendous. You might want to warm up with CASA DE LAVA, which is, well, shorter, and improbable as it might sound was loosely based on I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. I especially liked that one.

Brian McInnis said...

Wow. Really lack-luster #1 choice. I could hardly stop laughing watching 'Mulholland Dr.'. One of the worst crafted, scored, edited, lit, shot, and acted films I'll ever see.

Brian McInnis said...

Hey, so '2000s' is actually a millennium, not a decade.

Brian McInnis said...

So neither 'The Heart of the World', nor 'Sexy Beast', nor 'Adaptation.', nor 'Kill Bill Vol. 2', nor 'Cha no Aji', nor 'Broken Flowers', nor 'Capote', nor 'The Fall', nor 'Medicine for Melancholy', nor '24 City', nor 'Synecdoche, New York', nor 'Doubt', nor 'Inglourious Basterds', nor even 'Lost in Translation' or 'Punch-Drunk Love' struck you as being as good as fucking 'Before Sunset'?