Giant-Size JET #1 - The 100 Best Movies of the 00s, Part 10
Theda B. Geer
1925 - 2010
And now, the end is near...and so I face...the final curtain. My friend, I'll say it clear...I'll state my case, of which I'm certain. I've lived...a life that's full. I traveled each...and ev'ry highway. And more...much more than this...I did it my way.
Ladies and gentlemen, I now present JET's Top 10 Movies of the 00s.
10. Once (2006)
How can I best describe the experience of watching John Carney’s Once for the very first time? Try this. Imagine that going to the movies is like browsing through a rummage sale. You find a lot of junk, a few things that are kind of cool, and a couple items you really like. Just as you’re about to leave, you dig through a ratty-looking shoebox and discover a small, absolutely perfect jewel. That’s Once. On the surface, Carney’s movie doesn’t seem like it should be remarkable. But it weaves a spell thanks to a seamless blend of wonderful music, natural performances and a simple, yearningly romantic tale of unrequited love. It’s an insightful examination of the evolution of a relationship and the baggage (old relationships, family, friends, ambition) that both drives people together and pulls them apart. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova create real sparks together, whether they’re making beautiful music or just gazing out at the sea. A rare and beautiful treat, Once is a movie to be cherished. Watch it with someone you love.
9. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Philip Seymour Hoffman has always been among the most reliable of character actors but the past decade saw him come into his own as a leading man of astonishing range. Both Capote and the criminally underrated Owning Mahowny came within a hair’s breadth of this list. As good as Hoffman is in all these, nothing can top his work as the deteriorating director attempting to stage his own life in Charlie Kaufman’s dazzling, dreamlike Synecdoche, New York. Kaufman’s script is challenging and densely layered. His direction blends realism and fantasy so effectively that you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins…or if there even is any distinction at all. Without Hoffman, the film might have been completely impenetrable. But with him guiding us through, we experience an entire lifetime of complex emotions. Synecdoche, New York is a work of staggering ambition. Even if Charlie Kaufman never directs another film, he’ll have made one that can be returned to again and again.
8. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Joel and Ethan Coen made more complex, serious films than this in the past ten years. But nothing else came close to being this much fun. Who else but the Coens would take Homer’s The Odyssey, Preston Sturges and bluegrass music, put them all into a blender and emerge with something so irresistible? George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson are a classic comedy team. It’s a pleasure to watch the three of them stumble their way through the Deep South. Roger Deakins’ color-saturated cinematography is a marvel to behold. You could turn the sound off and still get lost in his warm, perfectly composed images. Of course, no one would ever turn the sound off of this movie. The music elevates O Brother from comic romp to a multi-faceted delight. The Coens keep you riveted to the screen from start to finish. You don’t want to miss a single joke, character or note. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the Coens at their crowd-pleasing best, with dialogue that’s just as musical as its songs. It’s a movie to sing along with. (By the way, fans of the soundtrack should also check out Down From The Mountain, the companion concert film to this.)
7. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Although you can never predict exactly what David Lynch is going to do, I suspect that he’s finished with traditional filmmaking. Not that Lynch’s work has ever been traditional. But these days, he seems more interested in the immediacy offered by digital video, the internet and other forms of self-distribution than being shackled by celluloid and studios. If so, it’s kind of a pity. To me, Lynch’s best work has always been done within the confines of collaboration or a genre. It inspires him to find a way around rather than to plunge straight through into his own, sometimes difficult-to-fathom imagination. I hope that Mulholland Dr. isn’t the last great work we’ll see from Lynch but even if it is, it’s a stunner. Lynch reworked a failed TV pilot into this mindbending film noir. By having to rethink the material and turn an open-ended story into something self-contained, he came up with a lush, hallucinatory vision that unfolds with the unassailable certainty that can only come from dream logic. Trying to explain the film robs it of its power, in much the same way that telling someone about a dream you’ve had never fully conveys the impact it had on you. In a movie overflowing with captivating scenes, perhaps none is more powerful than Rebekah del Rio performing “Llorando” at the Club Silencio. It may be the most haunting sequence Lynch has ever filmed and I sincerely hope we’ll see its equal in the future.
6. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Let me say right off the bat: Little Miss Sunshine shouldn’t work. I’m not saying it shouldn’t work as well as it does. I’m saying it shouldn’t work at all. It’s a messy black comedy about a dysfunctional family with incidents and behavior that are so far removed from the way normal humans would act that you’d be a fool to call it realistic. But it does work and beautifully. Little Miss Sunshine is a harmonic convergence of script, directors, actors and crew. Michael Arndt’s screenplay doesn’t show us how a real family would act under these conditions. It shows a family acting on the outrageous impulses we’d momentarily consider but immediately dismiss. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris understand this and stage things in a state of heightened reality. Everything feels just a little too bright to be quite real. Finally, there isn’t a weak link in the cast. This is true ensemble acting, a real give and take between performers, and it’s a pleasure to watch Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin volley back and forth. Movies like Little Miss Sunshine make me giddily happy. I’ve probably watched this ten times now and I never tire of it.
5. United 93 (2006)
9/11 cast an enormous shadow over the entire decade. As the tiniest, most insignificant example, this list would look very different if those events had never happened. Some of the movies on here would never have been made. Others would have been made quite differently. It was inevitable that filmmakers would attempt to dramatize that day but who could have guessed that someone could do it so sensitively, so intensely and so effectively as Paul Greengrass did with United 93. By focusing on the one airplane that did not hit its intended target, thanks to the heroic actions of the passengers on board, Greengrass made a film that was terrifying, tragic, infuriating and inspirational. In short, everything a movie about this event needed to be. If any mere movie can be described as important, it’s this one. United 93 does a better job of helping us understand, and helping us feel, what happened on board that airplane than any book or television news segment ever could. If you want to point to something that shows what film can do that no other medium is capable of, this is the one.
4. Memento (2000)
It isn’t all that unusual for a movie to play games with its audience by withholding information or scrambling the linear narrative. But for a movie like this to stand up to repeated scrutiny…well, that’s almost unprecedented. Christopher Nolan’s ingenious thriller is a marvelous puzzle. After you watch it once, you immediately want to go back and see it again with a more critical eye, actively trying to find flaws in its structure. Try all you want but Nolan’s gift for playing with the unreliability of memory keeps you guessing. Memento is intricate and fascinating but it’s no mere gimmick. This is one movie where the style is the substance.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson’s first two movies, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, didn’t exactly blow me away. They were entertaining enough and Anderson certainly knew what he was doing behind the camera. But the characters struck me as just a bit too arch, the dialogue just a little too aware of its own cleverness. With The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson rose to a whole new level. Suddenly, Anderson’s characters became real despite the fact that he hadn’t changed his approach to them at all. Instead, he changed the world the characters inhabit to fit them. This should have distanced us even more but actually, it brings them closer to home. Instead of seeing our world, we’re seeing the world through the Tenenbaums’ eyes and their conflicts, dysfunction and attempts at reconciliation echo our own. The Royal Tenenbaums is a perfect balance between Anderson’s slightly skewed imagination and a mature, humane, sympathetic look at family dynamics. It’s a rich, witty and detailed world to get lost in.
2. Ghost World (2001)
I’ve seen enough coming-of-age pictures to choke a guidance counselor. But no movie has done a better job capturing that weird quasi-state between your teens and adulthood better than Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are a perfect match. We immediately grasp how long they’ve been friends and how deep the relationship goes. When they begin to drift apart, it’s painful but inevitable. Birch’s relationship with Steve Buscemi (absolutely amazing as a misanthropic record collector) is a natural extension of her losing touch with Johansson. Ghost World could have been turned into a straightforward, mainstream teen comedy. But Zwigoff remains faithful to Clowes’ original vision, capturing the odd characters, absurd asides and attention to detail that make his work ring true. Ghost World is a unique and haunting film, laugh-out-loud funny, heartbreakingly sad, and altogether unforgettable.
1. City Of God (2002)
Ten years ago, when I wrote my 100 Best Movies of the 90s list, I picked Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy for the top spot. (That’s right, I put three movies at number one. Sue me.) It was an easy call to make. In fact, I knew they’d be at the top before I even started the rest of the list. This time, I wasn’t sure what would be number one until I finally sorted the top ten. I was a little bit surprised when City Of God kept floating up to the top. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. It’s an epic story, spanning three decades, following the paths of two boys growing up in one of Rio’s most dangerous slums. One becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer. Fernando Meirelles has made a vibrant, spectacularly intense film pulsing with life and energy. The images come bursting off the screen, wonderful to look at but never getting in the way of telling the story. Characters are fully developed human beings with hopes, dreams, fears and strategies. And the city itself is no mere backdrop. It’s a living presence, shaping the destinies of these people and in many cases, defining their lives. City Of God is a masterpiece, an extraordinary work of art that captivates its audience from the very first frame. I shouldn’t have been at all surprised that this was my favorite of the decade. Thinking about it now, it seems obvious.
Well, that's it! Thanks for playing along over the past ten days. As I said at the outset, I don't expect you to agree with all my choices but I do hope you enjoyed hearing why I made them. If you did, I hope you'll considering joining us over at the JET Facebook page. Personally, I'd like to watch every one of these movies again right now. But there are new movies to consider and when JET returns next week, I'll finally start checking out the movies of 2010. Plus, more recommended viewing from you guys in Tales From The Queue! Miss it not, young Padawans.