There’s been a lot of these lists floating around lately, obviously due to the impending end of the so-called Noughties. (Personally, I much more interested to see if that name sticks.) For something so recent, everyone’s list is bound to be different. We don’t have the benefit of time depth to lend an objective weight to the proceedings. We don’t have the hindsight of sixty years to realize how influential something like Citizen Kane became. We can’t know what films will stand the proverbial test of time to become the eventual classics our grandchild will moan and fidget through. We can’t know what blockbusters and Oscar-winners will simply drop from remembrance all together (although my money’s on Transformers and Crash, respectively). It’s simply too soon. Thus, I’m hedging my bets.
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Eternal Sunshine is a classic story wrapped up in a brand new box. It’s boy meets girl. Boy wants desperately to forget girl. Boy starts to. Boy panics. Boy meets girl again. But it’s with a beautiful sense of whimsy that only Michel Gondry can really bring to life (it was hard to keep The Science of Sleep off this list) that we are allowed to wallow in our own sense of nostalgia and regret, no matter how hurtful and wrong we might realize that is. Pain is beauty as we realize that we tend to forget our own history and thus condemn ourselves to making the same mistakes.
9. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Brokeback Mountain should have beat Crash in the Best Picture race. That’s my humble opinion. Further solidifying Ang Lee at the top spot on my personal list of directors who really understand character, Jack and Ennis’s love story is easily the most heart-wrenching of all time. To label it a ‘Romeo and Juliet” story doesn’t really do it justice. Romeo and Juliet were two teenagers, metynomic devices for the moral. As tragic as it is, it’s a happy ending because the Montagues and Capulets resolve their differences. Jack and Ennis are not Romeo and Juliet. They are real people, and that is what makes this film so tragic. There is no happy ending. There is only to pain and regret. Which, in and of itself, speaks volumes.
8. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
I’m ignoring here those people in the back of the room shouting “It revived the zombie movie for the 21st century!” Yes, it did. I’m not arguing with you. I’m just saying that it will be remembered for its comedy, not its horror. In one fell swoop, it immediately rendered the flat, childish humour of the “Frat Pack” moot and outdated (to me at least, even though some people still find Ben Stiller funny). It was the signal of a changing tide. Though still full of bodily fluids, it was not a gross-out flick. Shaun of the Dead ushered in the new era of postmodern comedy: intelligent, self-reflexive, intertexual, of course, bloody hilarious.
7. The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001/2/3)
Peter Jackson’s epic is to the fantasy genre what coal dust was to the peppered moth. What else can be said about The Lord of the Rings? It’s something of a no-brainer isn’t it? I feel like I’ve written a lot already about how it’s more or less killed the fantasy genre… so thus, to borrow a Darwinian analogy, it simply forced it to evolve. Nothing can really compete with this tale of hobbits and elves and dwarves and orcs and men, and Middle Earth because it is at once something so fantastic and universal, but intensely personal. (Let’s just ignore the Deus Ex Army of the Dead, and the endless questions as to why the damned Eagles didn’t just save everyone to begin with, shall we?) It’s so sweeping and layered that you feel it kind of encompasses…. everything. Best Picture, indeed.
6. Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
It would seem strange to refer to this film with something as trite as “uplifting,” but alas, it kind of is… yet also, sincerely depressing. Very few works of art can tread that careful line, but Schnabel’s phenomenal achievement succeeds admirably. Mathieu Almaric’s lead performance as Jean-Do, left completely paralyzed save for one eye which he used to blink his memoirs, is so extraordinary one might think it were the stuff of miracles. With ONE EYE he manages to convey the complexity of emotions one feels in reliving a life cut short.
5. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
Of all the dystopic futures that ever appeared in celluloid, from Metropolis onwards, Children of Men is one of the most hauntingly real. From Theo’s battered London 2012 t-shirt to the endless stream of shrapnel scarred buildings, the violence and chaos that masks the underlying prevalence of the absolute fear that motivates this society. From set pieces such as the cruelly empty primary school to Cuaron’s intense unending shot, we are dragged along for a ride that was oh-so-sadly overlooked during the 2006 awards season.
4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
Anchored by brilliant performaces by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood stands apart from its time and place. It’s easy to see Daniel Plainview as the postmodern Charles Foster Kane; as both Anderson and Welles show us a man achieving all the highest material values of his society, while succumbing to the lowest human weaknesses. It is simultaneously the story of one man’s ascent and descent through entrepreneurial success and emotional failure, the story of the multi-faceted goods and evils of the American Dream, and especially the more intricate allegory for the western world’s ruthless exploitation of others in the name of oil. Adapted from portions of Upton Sinclair’s excellent novel Oil!, the new title says it all: “there will be blood…” not only in the course in this story, but for as long as the story of oil is told.
3. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
Wall-E is easily the most explicit but sweet movie Pixar (and subsequently Disney) have ever produced. On one hand, it’s as if Al Gore met a magical wizard in a bar who gave him the power of a decent parable. On the other, it is the familiar, heart-breaking Pixar formula blown-up to a macro-scale. By Pixar Formula, I mean, of course, their uncanny ability to make us suddenly sit up screaming, crying for our lost childhoods. With Wall-E, it’s that same formula, compounded with an intelligent trope of social commentary, as we weep for the childhood of Mother Earth, as well as a time when the projected future was something that would improve humanity, not allow it to become a blobby cesspool of laziness and isolation. It wouldn’t be ‘best of the noughties’ without an entry from Pixar.
2. Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie) (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
I’ve told this to many people as I’ve violently trust this DVD into their hands: if you don’t love this film, you have no soul. Twee? Yes. Quirky? Check. Take from that what you will, but there is an intricate beauty in this story of a lonely woman (stunningly gorgeous pixie that she is) as she lives out her quest to make the world a better place. Jeunet’s masterpiece grabs your heart, and twists in the most simplest of places. As lovely as it is to look it, it is the loveliness of the characters, especially the man of glass and the grocer’s assistant, and the tiny details with which they are rendered that holds on to you. Think of them with me, the details: the cracking of a spoon on creme brulee, dipping your hands in to a bag of grain, skipping stones in the canal….
1. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
The first time I watched The Lives of Others, I was alone and popped in the DVD, not sure what to expect, even though I’d heard good things. When it ended, I immediately thought, ‘That may just be the best film I have ever seen. Ever.’ This is a redemption song just as much as it is a political thriller just as much as it is a commentary on a time and place just as much as it is a portrait of a relationship. I knew that this film would top this list, but sitting here, trying to write about it, I’m at a loss. It’s kind of like trying to write a logline for the Bible: “One man’s journey to salvation…” Hm, true perhaps, but doesn’t quite fit. Haunting, fascinating, gorgeous, thought-provoking… all true, all just small fragments of what could possibly be said about this masterpiece.