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Thursday, December 31, 2009


ModFabulous: The Best Films of the Decade

The first decade of the new millennium...what shall we call it? Does it even deserve its own monicker, like "the Gay 90's," the Roaring 20's," or the "Me Decade"? Possibly...the rise of global economy (and that of its bastard stepchild, global terrorism), the democratizing force of the internet, the devastation of climate change, the political mistakes, and the financial disasters all made the last ten years culturally significant enough to warrant, at the very least, a nickname.

Nowhere was the effect of rollercoaster change more evident than in the entertainment industry. Popular music lost its rudder thanks to file sharing, television rose to new heights in the competitive arena provided by cable, and performing arts slid further toward cultural obsolescence. The cinema, in large part, abandoned art for the sake of the marketplace: independent cinema went from boom to bust, world cinema found itself exiled to the arthouses, and experimental cinema? What's that?

Which means compiling a best-films-of-the-Rollercoaster-Decade was far easier than I expected...frankly, the candidates were relatively small in number, compared to the 90's, 80's or 70's. Does that mean it was a bad start for 21-st century cinema? Well, that's for better, brighter, and more talented writers than I to decide. (Incidentally, many spectacular critics on the web are doing just that, so please surf and enjoy the debate...especially fine work has just been completed by ModFab's buddy Nick's Flick Picks, required reading for any film lover.)

First, the ones who didn't quite make the Top Ten:

The Runners-Up:
30. The Asssassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
29. No Country For Old Men (2007)
28. House of Flying Daggers (2004)
27. There Will Be Blood (2007)
26. Best In Show (2000)
25. Wall-E (2008)
24. Far From Heaven (2002)
23. Kal Ho Naa Ho: Tomorrow May Never Come (2003)
22. Marie Antoinette (2006)
21. Oldboy (2005)
20. Chicago (2002)
19. Up in the Air (2009)
18. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)
17. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
16. Things We Lost In The Fire (2007)
15. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
14. Bad Education (2004)
13. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
12. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
11. Before Sunset (2004)

By my accounting, the weakest years were the most recent (2008 and 2009), each with only one Top 30 entry, Wall-E and Up in the Air. Nick posits a theory about distance and memory for this fact, and he's at least partially right...although it can't be denied that almost all art forms (theatre, music, and dance as well) were better at the beginning of the decade than at the end. The next five, had the list gone on, would have been chosen from among Amores Perros, Black Hawk Down, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Talk To Her, and Elephant.

2004 came out on top with six releases in the top 30 (five of which were in the top 15). In my view, that establishes it as the high point of the decade. And with no further ado:

THE TOP TEN OF 2000-2009

10. City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002)
Fernando Mereilles' brutal and poignant immersion into the slums of Rio de Janiero captured both the horrors of urban poverty and the delicacy of the masculine psyche in the new millennium. That it did so with bracing imaginative storytelling (and superb cinematography and editing) makes it required viewing for 21st-century film students.

9. Memento (2000)
By the end of the 2000's, Christopher Nolan became of Hollywood's most in-demand directors (thanks to his excellent reimagining of the Batman franchise, in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). But his first step onto the international stage, the time-twisting whodunit Memento, remains my favorite Nolan masterpiece. Absorbing plotting and a career-topping performance by Guy Pearce are among the film's many charms.

8. Raising Victor Vargas (2003)
Peter Sollett's shot-on-a-shoestring debut, about the turbulent romances among a group of poor Hispanic teens in New York City, benefits mightily from a number of great performers: Victor Rasuk, a dazzling young talent; Melonie Diaz, one of Hollywood's most underrated supporting players; and Altragracia Guzman, whose old-country grandmother remains one of the decade's greatest tragi-comic performances.

7. O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
With the sad deaths of Altman and Kubrick, is it yet time to crown the Coen Brothers the greatest living American filmmakers? In a career studded with genius, the gifted duo graced us with four superb additions to their canon: 2001's The Man Who Wasn't There, 2007's No Country For Old Men, 2009's A Serious Man, and this colorful, imaginative adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. A Georgia boy myself, I felt warmly drenched by this film's sweet Southern flavor.

6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
No one will be more surprised than I was to discover Hedwig was my favorite gay film of the decade -- I didn't care for the stage musical when I saw it in the 90's, and assumed that Brokeback Mountain would score higher. But this film grew on me; I think it benefits from DVD (which brings the scale down) and multiple viewings, where John Cameron Mitchell's nuances as actor and screenwriter reveal themselves more ingeniously.

5. Solaris (2002)
Tarkovsky's sci-fi classic was given a sumptuous existential overhaul by Steven Soderbergh, who coupled the original's quiet elegance with a heartbreaking romanticism. I sat in the theatre for nearly fifteen minutes after seeing this film, unable to move. It still moves me in ways I can't fully explain.

4. United 93 (2006)
You know how it's going to end before you even enter the theatre. And yet, Paul Greengrass -- one of the decade's greatest emerging auteurs, who has yet to make a film I don't like -- captures the mounting tension of 9/11 as if it were happening in the now. Of all the artistic efforts to pay tribute to the terrible events of that day, United 93 is without a doubt the most accomplished and affecting.

3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2, 3)
Yeah, it's probably cheating to lump all three of these films together -- for the record, my favorite of the bunch was the first, The Fellowship of the Ring -- but the achievement of the filmmakers was so grand, so majestic, and so powerful, it can't be seen as anything but the sum of its parts. We may never see its like again -- a blockbuster epic fantasy with intellect, technical precision, and heart abounding.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Looking at the many best-of-decade lists emerging on the internet, I'm pleased to see that most of them include Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's exquisitely quirky romance. It deserves its place of honor; no film captured the desperate need for love with more inventive imagination. A classic for our times, and maybe for all time.

1. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring (2004)
When I began this list, I was only sure of one thing...that the most dazzling, gorgeous, powerful film I saw in the past ten years would be at the top of the list. Korean director Kim-ki Duk is easily the world's most underrated filmmaker, and this staggeringly poetic tour de force is his greatest effort to date. One boy's development into conflicted manhood -- driven by the stern lessons of his guardian, his love for a challenging woman, and the harsh cruelty of the outside world -- find poignant balance in a floating temple in a secluded lake. Do yourself a favor and rent it...you won't be disappointed.

Tomorrow, my favorite films of 2009. Until then, enjoy your New Year's Eve celebration!

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Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Thanks for those sweet mentions, ModFab, and thanks for all of these fantastic write-ups... I'm getting all sorts of great ideas from the music digests, and of course I love seeing your film picks.

Happy New Year to you and your slim, healthy, setting-your-own-blog-schedule self! And to that lovely hubby of yours. Hope I get to see you two soon...

1/1/10, 12:31 PM  

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