The Intermittent Kevin

As rarely and randomly updated as most blogs

Best movies of the Aughts, Part 2

with 3 comments

Without further ado…

Best in Show (2000, Christopher Guest)

You should love your pets; you just shouldn't... LOVE your pets.

I wanted to make sure a straight comedy got in here. The latter half of the Aughts saw the triumphant return of the rated-R comedy, from Knocked Up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to The Hangover. Any of these are worth considering; but I’m going a different route with Best in Show, Mr. Guest’s finest outing at his trademark mockumentary format.

Just like a well-done documentary, it lets you make fun of the ridiculous characters while empathizing with their love—irrational, like all love—for their dogs. A few of the humorous bits are a bit too broad (you’re gay, we get it) but you’re usually giggling too much to care.

Life Imitating Art: When the owner of the poodle playing Rhapsody in White was presented with this movie, she didn’t read the full script. When she realized that her dog would not be winning ‘Best in Show’ at the end of the movie, she quickly pulled the dog out of production. The crew had to get a different poodle and spray paint its fur so it looked exactly the same.

Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

My tastes obviously run a bit conventional—you won’t find too many artsy subtitled films around these parts—but I assure you this is not just my token foreign film. Amélie (actual translated name The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulin) was a magical movie that made the obsessive-compulsive neurotic introverts of the world feel a little more normal… or at least, a little more convinced that they weren’t the only weirdos out there.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the first of two French directors I’m gonna throw at you, infused his playful little tale with all sorts of quirky coincidences and apparent non-sequiturs. I still haven’t decided their meaning, except maybe to convince us that the director himself is as strangely compulsive as the characters he’s set into orbit. Which is fine by me.

Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

No, that's NOT the reason it's on the list. ...Really!

Keeping with the “conventional” theme: I don’t have the most patience in the world for deliberately obtuse storytelling. This means that me and David Lynch don’t especially get along all the time. But somehow Mulholland Drive clicked for me. Like Lost, it spends its first half throwing multiple threads of a mystery onto the floor. Then like any good mystery, it pulls the threads gradually closer together—an attraction that’s mirrored by the two leads, Naomi Watts and Laura Herring*—only to explode the whole thing into surreal fantasy at the end. How Lynchy of them.

In all the craziness, though, there’s a good bit of brilliance, and (if I’m not over-analyzing too much) an interesting reflection on the conceit of storytelling itself.

*That’s NOT the reason it’s on the list!

Fun Fact: The afore-mentioned “first half” was actually filmed on its own in 1999 as a pilot for a TV series. The studios weren’t interested, so a year later, Lynch and company went back with more money to complete the story as a self-contained movie.

Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)

Tattooing the grocery list maybe wasn't the best idea.

When I mentioned to a friend that this movie was one of my very favorites, he was singularly unimpressed: “It’s a gimmick… any movie that loses 90% of its value on a second viewing is no good.”

Fair enough; the fact that this is a basic revenge story told in reverse does kinda scream gimmickry. But Memento is also a thoughtful reflection on grief and our basic inability to let go of loved ones we have lost. Our protagonist Leonard, through his short-term memory loss, keeps forgetting and then remembering that his wife is dead, and Guy Pearce does an appreciable job helping us connect with that. “I can’t remember to forget you,” he tells her.

And even if we disregard this accomplishment and return to the gimmick, we should give the movie credit for pulling the gimmick off so damn well. Others have done it; heck, Seinfeld did so three years prior. But never has it been more useful in understanding the lead character’s predicament. More bluntly, never has it been less gimmicky than here.

Even better: Christopher Nolan made a name for himself with Memento, and we might never have had The Dark Knight without it.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris)

National Lampoon's Vacation: The Next Generation

Who’da thought that the pedophile movie of the year—the love story to our great nation’s oh-so-terrifying children’s beauty pageants—would be a feel-good family hit? Here’s the reason why: it’s also a love story to our great nation’s dysfunctional families, which are in even greater supply. Greg Kinnear’s family has nothing going for it: the members dislike each other rather sincerely, and over the course of the film, their hopes and dreams are taken away from them. Abigail Breslin’s Little Miss Sunshine pageant becomes their Wally World, the only thing they have left, the quest that they must complete for the sake of itself.

Bonus points for Steve Carell, apparently a controversial casting choice, who proves the maxim that if you can do comedy well, you can do tragedy equally well.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)

Kate Winslet: hot. Kate Winslet with red hair: infini-hot.

Behold the second French director, Michel Gondry, who’s even more of a nut than the other guy (go rent The Science of Sleep if you doubt me).

If Little Miss Sunshine was a tribute to dysfunctional families, then here’s your tribute to dysfunctional relationships. Charlie Kaufman, the decade’s hero of postmodern storytelling, picks up Memento‘s narrative magic wand and makes his own out-of-order romance. The moral of the story reminds me of the website and accompanying novel, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About (go ahead, I’ll wait). They all say the same essential thing: every relationship, even the most functional one, is spackled with bitter, petty, and ridiculous conflict… but it doesn’t mean that love can’t work. It’s a good thing to be told.

Honorable Mentions

*Sigh* alright, that’s 12 movies, I gotta cut myself off at some point. But there are many other worthy flicks on my candidate list, some of whom it physically hurts me to exclude:

Traffic (2000, Steven Soderbergh)
Waking Life (2001, Richard Linklater)
Chicago (2002, Rob Marshall)
The Pianist (2002, Roman Polanski)
The 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee)
Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
Finding Neverland (2004, Marc Forster)
Garden State (2004, Zach Braff)
Love Actually (2003, Richard Curtis)
Brokeback Mountain (2005, Ang Lee)
V for Vendetta (2005, James McTeigue)
Wedding Crashers (2005, David Dobkin)
A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)
The Departed (2006, Martin Scorcese)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, Larry Charles)
Juno (2007, Jason Reitman)
Waitress (2007, Adrienne Shelley)
There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Rachel Getting Married (2008, Jonathan Demme)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)
District 9 (2009, Neill Blomkamp)
Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
Up in the Air (2009, Jason Reitman)

Which ones did I miss?

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Written by Kevin Miller

January 3, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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3 Responses

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  1. You’re list is dead on!

    Andrea Penna

    January 4, 2010 at 12:23 am

  2. Any best-of-decade list that doesn’t include Kill Bill looks like a bunch of cryptic bleeps and scribbles to me. I don’t understand it! 🙂

    Jeff

    January 4, 2010 at 9:28 am

    • Kill Bill was very good… I liked Inglourious Basterds even more, though.

      Kevin

      January 4, 2010 at 9:36 am


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