Now… As I am returning to the wonderful world of blogging, I wanted to do so with something IMPORTANT. (Read: pretentious). And so, here you have my personal list of THE TOP 25 FILMS OF THE FIRST DECADE OF THE 21st CENTURY.
I’ll quote William Goldman – There is no “best,” there is only what we favor. And there you have it. But, as far as I’m concerned, these 25 films are the essentials. It wasn’t easy to pare it down to 25 – this has been a good decade. It saw the vindication of the Coens, after a couple of movies where we thought: Uh-oh. So, that was good news. And, by the way, that film is actually NOT on my list. It’s also a decade that brought us comic books and old TV shows as a fountain of resources.
It’s a decade where TV began to overshadow cinema in terms of quality of storytelling. Just watch 24 or Lost or The Shield and etc and tell me it’s not every bit as good and even better than films of their respective genres.
But there was still greatness to be found at the movies and here are some humble examples.
But first, a word about ranking…
Basically, I didn’t have the balls. My good friend (and fellow Chewer) Chris Olson did a decade list of his own. 100 films. And he RANKED them. (Check it out, by the way. PM him, friend him, whatever… It’s a great list) But I can’t do that. So there is no number 1 film on this list. (Spoiler: It’s There Will Be Blood).
What I decided to do is list these 25 ESSENTIALS in alphabetical order and leave the ranking to the experts. These are all films I genuinely feel are very special and specific and they contributed in one way or another to shaping the cinematic landscape for this decade and beyond. That’s why they’re here.
Oh… And you may wonder about something. Most of the films on the list are American films. There’s no real reason for that. It’s not that I don’t watch or care for cinema made outside the US. We had great films from all over the world… I toyed with including Irreversible until I remembered that it really isn’t that good (and there’s another film with the same gimmick that is better). And Michael Haneke’s superb Caché almost made the cut too. That being said, more than one film on this list is in a language other than English.
Also… This is 25 films and I wrote about each one and blah, blah, blah, so this is long. Grab a pot of coffee… Take your laptop into the john… Whatever. (A link is provided at the end for Page 2. Don’t worry. That’s just the kind of guy I am.)
Anyway… Here we go.
A THROUGH G
The best film ever made about the creative process. Even now, as I write this, I’m wondering if I should have that chocolate chip cookie NOW or if I should wait and reward myself with it when I’m done with this paragraph. And as I (slowly but surely) hammer out the first draft of my new screenplay, I am haunted with thoughts of Nicolas Cage jerking off to Meryl Streep. (Whatever that means to you is fine by me) It’s so hard to just create something interesting. Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze illustrate that fact beautifully. Plus, given the shenanigans that Cage has provided for us over the past 10 years, it’s nice to be reminded once in a while that he’s a good actor.
What I can tell you is this: Christian Bale gives a towering performance. And his Patrick Bateman leaps onto the screen as one of the great characters of all time. It’s both a spot-on caricature of yuppie douchebaggery and a poignant, very human portrayal of a pathetic man. Mary Harron’s adaptation of the brilliant novel is an under-the-radar masterpiece. I don’t think enough people really appreciate how funny and on-the-nose it is about what it portrays. And how mass murder is staged like slapstick comedy because that is how it exists in a soulless age. Remember that business cards are a metaphor for penises? Anyway, that’s the 80s in a nutshell. And Mary Harron made the best movie about that hilariously schizophrenic decade.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS
There is an in-joke on the boards… Well, ok, it’s more of a private joke… Ah, fuck it I think it’s funny – about a movie that SHATTERED someone to the point they were SHAKING. In any case, that’s what this superb documentary did for me. This has been a good decade for docs. Michael Moore gave us a couple of good ones. Super Size Me is a personal fave. But this is a triumph above all those because it hits so close to home for the viewer. It’s not about Big Issues… It doesn’t try to FUCK THE MACHINE. It just shows us a family… A family that could be our own. We all have demons and here is a family ultimately decimated by those demons. The crime is horrendous (as is the clear mishandling of the case) and if they’re guilty of it that’s awful. But that’s not really the point of the film and it is all the more brilliant and heartbreaking for that.
THE DARK KNIGHT
Oh yes. Absolutely. And why the fuck not? This has all the elements you look for in great cinema. An engaging story? Check. Interesting characters? Check. Great performances? Good Cinematography? Musical score? Check etcetera… It’s terrific genre entertainment. Tim Burton’s Batman was a shot in the arm back in 1989, but it took some 15 years for the doors it unlocked to actually open. And it hasn’t exactly aged like good Scotch and it’s a little silly with all the prancing and dancing and a plot that never makes any sense… I guess time will ultimately tell for the staying power of The Dark Knight as well, but it does play almost like a more cerebral remake of the Burton film. And it is a potent example that “comic book” or “superhero” doesn’t have to be trapped in a paradigm. These can be tools used to just craft a superior crime thriller. One of the best, in fact.
Lars Von Trier might very well be a fucking asshole. I don’t know, I’ve never met the man. And I think it’s both pretentious and annoying that he doesn’t make films outside of Europe simply because he’s afraid of flying. It’s like a forced idiosyncrasy that he seems to have fabricated only to compete with Herzog for MOST ASSHOLE BATSHIT FILMMAKER AWARD. Anyway, eccentricities are annoying as hell, but let the baby have his bottle. Some people think he’s a douchebag for trying to make a trilogy about a country he’s never visited because he’s too chicken shit to get on a fucking plane. And I haven’t seen the second chapter of this trilogy – Manderlay. (For reasons I will not go into at the present time, I have glimpsed one scene… The one where Bryce Dallas Howard gets royally poled by Isaach De Bankolé. But that is all I have seen.) My point? I don’t know that Dogville is really about “America” anyway. I feel it’s very much about humanity in general and the social hypocrisies that drive us as people. I also know that Nicole Kidman’s performance as a nubile object of lust and abuse is a career best for her. And few films have mesmerized me as this one did and continues to.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
And then Jim Carrey starred in the best film ever made about relationships. And he gave a great performance. Maybe he’ll top it, I don’t know. But he’s never been better. And it’s the only time I can think of where he’s been asked to just give a real, honest performance, free of artifice. Even in The Truman Show (and The Majestic too) he seemed to be doing this weird riff on Jack Lemmon. And the less said about The Number 23 (the movie, not the actual number) the better. But he’s wonderful here. And Kate Winslet is also perfect. We inherently feel why these two kids would be in love and our heart breaks for them both. They are truthful. And so is the movie. I first saw it when it came out – not long after the end of a relationship that I now realize was one of the great times of my life – and, even though the end was painful, it came after something I will treasure forever. That’s what this movie shows us. Pain sucks. But, to paraphrase Bill Shatner, we don’t want our pain taken away we NEED our pain! Now, as I slog through an uncomfortable divorce, the movie’s themes resonate deeply once again. You can have your Annie Halls and When Harry Met Sallies. They’re nice movies. But, for me, there’s Modern Romance and there’s this. Because life is not a fairy tale, much as we’d like it to be… But it’s still poignant and beautiful. There is beauty even in pain.
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN
But sometimes fairy tales are just fine. And, if that’s what you want, this will do. Probably the comedy of the decade for me. It struck a chord and I still quote it regularly. But, more than being a very funny movie with an abundance of laughs in every scene, it’s a great film about growing up. Steve Carrell’s virginity is a metaphor for his holding on to childhood and being terrified to let go. That’s a very real and human theme… All disguised as a raunchy comedy. But the disguise sucks because you see right through it. Raunch movies aren’t supposed to have such wonderful characters. Real people that you wish you could know personally and hang out with on a regular basis. Even now, every time I listen to Michael McDonald (which is something everyone should do – regularly), I can’t help but think of my good friend Paul Rudd being tormented by the concert DVD that plays ad nauseum at Smart Tech, and I begin laughing my balls off. Or Jane Lynch telling my buddy Steve Carrell that she’ll haunt his dreams. Or my bro Seth Rogen and his wonderful anedote about Tijuana… Or my man Romany Malco and his pussy on a pedestal theory… It’s just a movie that sticks with you. Judd Apatow has produced and/or written and directed several fine films. And he’s positioned himself as Harold Ramis crossed with James L Brooks. But he has yet to top this one. … Oh – and, for all the praise the film gets, do people realize just how amazing Jackson DeGovia’s production design is? Production design is seemingly only “noticed” in fantasy films and period epics. But it is essential here. Next time you watch the movie (and you should), remember what I said.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
It’s possible that Leo DiCaprio was miscast. I go back-and-forth on that. I know that Cameron Diaz definitely was. I like her but, GOD, she was awful here! It doesn’t matter though. Because Martin Scorsese threw himself into making an old-fashioned studio epic with a pulse as only he could. There is an anecdote about George Lucas visiting the set at Cinecitta, walking around the spectacular recreation of Lower East Side NY in the mid 19th century… He turned to Marty and said: “You know? You can do all of this with computers now.” And THAT is why you won’t see any of (gasp) THE PREQUELS on this list and the main reason this film is proudly included. It’s a work of true passion. Warts and all. Yes, Daniel Day Lewis is amazing – one of the great screen villains. He eats Leo for Brunch and Dinner. But what stays with me is the passion. I used to go to South Street Seaport in NY regularly and visit the museums there, checking out THE NEW YORK EXPERIENCE. I used to live in Chinatown. That’s the five points right there. I saw this movie and wanted to cry. I mean that in a good way.
I always tell people that this movie is ME in a nutshell. Like if someone ground me into sand and used that to create the elements to make the movie. It’s not just that I identify with Enid Coleslaw (though I very much do), it’s that the movie connects with me on such a deep level that I can’t begin to articulate it. But beyond this actually being one of my favorite films, it’s just a great movie that takes you on an almost hypnotic coming-of-age journey at the edge of the 21st Century – as nostalgia gives way to kitsch as lifestyle and the birth of retro-cool as mainstream. If that makes any sense… But this movie claims all that for itself and encases it in a sort of time capsule – making the movie ageless. So, it will always feel vibrant and NOW. Almost ten years later, it remains as potent and funny as ever. And Bob Balaban has this great line that goes something like: “Well, if that…uh…if that’s…if, uh…if that’s…uh…ok.” That is, for me, the funniest screen moment of the decade. And how Thora Birch didn’t go on to have a great career after this is a mystery for the ages. You know what? Fuck all of you assholes for not making her a bigger star. Scarlett Johansson? Please.
Do you remember how thrilling this was back in May of 2000? I do. Haven’t forgotten the rush I got from seeing this for the first time (of many) in a great big theater in NYC. It was Ridley Scott back in action and kicking ass… The emergence of Russell Crowe as a marquee superstar… It’s basically Spartacus re-worked as a graphic novel – but it works. Everything works. Even Oliver Reed’s cgi inserted head, where he just says “shadows and dust” for no reason before getting a couple of swords shoved up his ass. Even that monstrosity works. It’s like this classy picture made for the WWF crowd. But there’s no shame in that. It set the gold standard for high-end entertainment.
This was the deacde, I think, when a lot of people realized that Clint Eastwood was God. Many of us already knew this inherently, of course, but – in the last 10 years – he kind of drove the point home with Maxwell’s silver hammer. I knew this list HAD to have an Eastwood. So, if Unforgiven is one of the best films of the 90s (and it is), then it’s only fitting that the other side of the coin be included here. It’s not BIG MOVIEMAKING, just this small, dear story about a great character. But it observes a whole career in much the same way Unforgiven did. If it’s true that this will be Clint’s final bow in front of the camera, then that is a little sad. Because he’s probably the last of our living acting legends. You can throw Kirk Douglas up there if you want, but when was the last time he did anything. Stroke shmoke… He hadn’t really done dick before that happened outside of a great Tales From The Crypt episode. No. Clint is our last living legend who is still out there making movies… He does one, two a year. And he’s getting to age 80 and still going strong. He’s God. And now he has the Christ metaphor to prove his point. If it is his last acting role, then what a fine swan song it is. Unforgiven closed the book on a persona – Gran Torino slams it shut and ties a ribbon around it.
Click ahead to PAGE TWO for the rest of this shit.