Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Best Films of the 00s

Because what's the point of having a blog if you can't make the occasional dumb list? Starting at the top, with the single best movie of the decade, which is....

Full Frontal: I've defended this at great length before, and I continue to think that this is the single best summation of The Way We Live Now, a funny, sharp, compassionate look at life inside the mediascape, with a visual palette that gets more interesting with every viewing. This movie always makes me feel like Martin Donavan in Surviving Desire---You don't think this is the best movie of the decade? Then watch it again. (Honorable mention to the deliberately slight but completely unique Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience---would that more major American directors were trying to make movies about real people in these unreal lives).

Werckmeister Harmonies: The cinematography, like the story, grounds itself so firmly in reality that it's able to transform into myth. The long takes, the focus on just getting from Point A to B, and the deep, sharp photography have been major influences this decade, and the performances are still riveting. Even Tarr hasn't caught lightning in a bottle like this since, but Werckmeister is probably the most genuinely magisterial movie we've had in a while.

Mulholland Drive: It's not Lynch's best because it's elliptical and beautiful, though it is. All his films are. It's his best because production circumstances forced Lynch to think through his story a lot more than he's used to, and the result is the rare Lynch movie that's more than the sum of its parts, where all the images and sounds cohere into a narrative that's at once scary and genuinely moving.

The Gleaners and I: Deceptively casual, this is one of the smartest of the current crop of docu-essays. Without pretension or ego, Varda bats around capitalist excess and cinema convention and like a master juggler, makes it look easy.

A Mighty Wind: In the commentary, even Christopher Guest seems a little surprised at just how moving this turned out to be. It starts as just another Guest-style parade of goofballs, but somehow turns into a touching portrait of aging---the way we form communities to keep out the cold, the way we end up at once just who we were at the start and also unrecognizable, and the way our best intentions fail us. That it does this while still being very funny is what makes it a masterpiece.

Up!: Any best-of-the-decade list has to contend with the massive achievement of Pixar, cranking out a long string of critical darlings that are also massive hits. It's a little early to say for sure, but Up! may be their best one yet, combining a thoughtful story with relentless visual inventiveness that never strays too far from character. It's the kind of animated film that makes all live-action films seem a little lacking in expressive resources.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy: We may never, as Lester Bangs says, agree on anything like we agreed on Elvis, but the LotR trilogy comes close. And just like the LotR books are a sort of compressed history of Middle Earth, so are the LotR films a compressed history of film. They deploy every special effects technique ever invented, from Meliés-style forced perspective to artificial-intelligence-driven CGI (with plenty of models, makeup, and mattes in between), and also makes use of every directing technique ever conceived, from the Griffith-esque battle scenes to contemporary digitally-controlled camera swoops. Like Joyce's Dubliners, If every other film was destroyed but these, you could still extract everything that had ever been.

Y Tu Mamá También: A strong reminder---as if we needed one---that the quality of the plot is only tangential to the quality of the film. In summary, it sounds like a perfectly average teen sex comedy, but the Nouvelle Vague-influenced technique turns it into a casually funny, honestly sad portrait of how relationships are inextricable from the social circumstances in which they form, a subject few movies even know how to approach.

The Man Who Wasn't There: Maybe the Coen's most complete statement about the relationship between crime and storytelling. There's plenty of jokes, but they don't overwhelm the sadness at the movie's heart, and the retro visuals are both arrestingly sharp and endlessly worthy of close analysis.

A Prarie Home Companion: Not just because Altman will be missed, though he will be. PHC stares unblinking into the void and doesn't bother with self-protective laughs or self-indulgent despair; it just shrugs, smiles, and keeps on singing. Maybe the culmination of Altman's echt-Midwestern no-big-deal sensibility, which so often produced masterpieces that don't take themselves too seriously.

Runners-up: Spirited Away, Donne Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Grizzly Man, My Winnipeg, Spider (much more uncompromising than A History of Violence), The Incredibles, Lost In Translation, Waking Life, The Hurt Locker