The Intermittent Kevin

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Best movies of the Aughts, Part 1

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Sorry, Ker. Sorry, Terl.

I spent a little time on the drive down to San Antonio the other night discussing the films of the decade with my wife, since so many professional critics have had their crack at it (here’s Ebert’s).

It’s hard to concoct such a list off the top of one’s head; we couldn’t even remember which movies came out in the last ten years—it’s a long time. Slight difficulty is added by the fact that 1999 was one of the best years for movies ever, too. So those are all out.

But using a complex system of red felt pen and index cards, we perused the Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for the last ten years, the IMDB Top 250, and our own foggy memories. This list is semi-collaborative, though MB had a few differences.

One more note: it’s funny how tastes change over time. I made annual “best of” lists from 1999-2002, and flicks that were somewhat down the list at the time (I marked Almost Famous as the 6th-best of 2000) have not only held up but proven themselves to be classics.

Okay, enough talk, let’s get crackin.

Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuarón)

The feel-good movie of the year.

I’ve loved Alfonso Cuarón as a director ever since I saw Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke, which was not a very good movie but was mesmerizing to look at. He’s had an extremely versatile body of work, and Children of Men might be his finest.

Rarely has science fiction ever felt so real, and because of that, so scary. The near-future London of the story feels absolutely lived-in, down to the billboards in the background and faded 2012 Olympics sweatshirts. (I am Legend, with Will Smith, was almost as good in this respect.) And besides the production design, you have Cuarón’s trademark long takes, which he uses to terrifying effect (the car ambush scene tightens my chest to even think about).

It’s not pleasant to watch, but it’s the most accomplished science fiction of the decade. Which, for this decade, is saying quite a bit.

Fun Fact: On two occasions in the movie, characters are seen eating oranges shortly before disaster strikes, an apparent reference to the same narrative trick used in the Godfather films.

Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

I'm always home, man, I'm uncool!

Walking out of this movie, I thought aloud that it was the most sentimental movie I’d ever seen. “No,” my date corrected me, “it’s the most sentimental movie you’ve ever liked.” Well-said.

The blatant sappiness grows on you after repeat viewings, though; one especially addictive moment has the protagonist William fall head-over-heels in love with Penny Lane as she has her stomach pumped and vomits into a bathtub. The biggest kudos for this movie go to the actors, though. Not everyone can own a line like “I am a GOLDEN GOD!”

Fun Fact: The director’s cut DVD, simply called Untitled, runs a half-hour longer and is even better.

Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann)

...Yeah, I picked a movie where the moon has a moustache.

This movie gets a lot of credit for its theatrical accomplishments—set and costume design, musical production numbers—but like its predecessor, Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge! goes a little too far over the top to be thought of as a flawless movie. What’s it doing on this list, then? The extra points come for the sheer no-compromise ballsiness of director Baz Luhrmann, right down to the exclamation point in the film’s title. Kudos to Fox, really, for letting Luhrmann do his thing with such abandon.

Fun Fact: A third of this film’s budget went to obtaining song reproduction rights. The “Elephant Love Medley” alone references 13 songs.

Wall•E (2008, Andrew Stanton)

You mean *you* don't have a Lego Wall•E?

To keep things interesting, I decided up-front that Pixar would get only one entry on this list. So it was a matter of deciding between Wall•E, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo—all nearly flawless pictures. The robot movie gets my pick mostly for its opening act, a 20-minute, dialogue-free masterpiece of storytelling. The fact that I was crying like a baby at the end helped its score, too. “They made you like a cockroach!”, my wife astutely pointed out.

Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, Peter Jackson)

I’m not gonna waste time defending the “best” of the three chapters (I liked Return of the King, but your opinion may differ). It matters not; Lord of the Rings is one long story, and New Line execs famously bet the future of the studio on Peter Jackson being able to produce it.

Now, the cheese factor is cranked up about 10% through the entire trilogy. There are multiple occasions where I suppress a giggle (I find Sauron’s eye looking around Mordor like an evil spotlight to be inexplicably hilarious). You’ve probably gathered by now that I’m not particularly devoted to “perfect” movies in this list. But the vision was unflinching, the love for the source material was passionate, and the dedication of the entire cast and crew was remarkable. Not since the days of Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia—maybe not since the days of Birth of a Nation in 1915—have we seen epic moviemaking on this scale. It might be awhile before it happens again.

Fun Fact: Peter Jackson was so cautious in seeking the green light for LOTR that he pitched it as a two-picture deal to New Line. The studio executives actively suggested that he make a trilogy instead.

You Can Count On Me (2000, Kenneth Lonergan)

Yeah that's a Culkin, bear with me though...

So there’s two kinds of good movies. On the one hand you have films that advance the art, break down barriers, and question the conventions that we’re used to (Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction). On the other hand you’ve got movies that simply take those conventions and execute them to near perfection (Casablanca, When Harry Met Sally). This tiny little movie falls into the latter category.

Not many folks have seen this one, so I’ll spend a whole half-paragraph summarizing the plot. An orphaned brother and sister reunite in a small upstate New York town after many years apart. She’s a damaged single mother who never left the family home; he’s a drifting loser who’s spent some time in the joint and needs to borrow money. His quick visit turns into a longer stay, and they expose their flaws to each other (and to us) through one family drama after another.

That’s pretty much it; it’s a little movie in more ways than one. But the dynamic between the two leads (played by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo) is pitch-perfect. Intimate character details are revealed in the slightest of glances and briefest of lines. And if I’m boring you to tears, I should mention that the movie’s also damn hilarious, and the dialog is sharp as a tack. Matthew Broderick is awesome at playing a douchey version of Matthew Broderick.

Sad Fact: Kenneth Lonergan hasn’t released another directorial effort before or since. He shot Margaret, starring Matt Damon and Anna Paquin, in 2005 but it’s been stuck in legal and/or creative limbo ever since.

Halftime! On to Part Two…

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Written by Kevin Miller

January 3, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

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