Staggering as it is to think about we are in the final month of the first decade of the new millennium. Knowing that, I’ve taken it upon myself to recap some of my most favorite and most detested happenings of the last ten years.
In that spirit, here are my top five favorite movies released between 2000 and 2009.
5. Memento (2001)
Before reviving the Batman franchise, Director Christopher Nolan blasted onto the scene with this tale of Leonard (Guy Pierce), a man who can’t make new memories after goons attack him and leave him unconscious on the floor next to the body of his dead wife.
The movie focuses on Leonard’s quest to get revenge on the killers, which proves to be difficult as he is unable to obtain any new information for more than a couple minutes. He keeps things strait by taking pictures, notes and tattooing important information on his body.
The movie makes things equally tricky for viewers, as it tells its primary story backwards, so we, like Leonard, are unaware of why certain things are happening and we have to pay close attention and keep them in mind so as to keep up with the tricky plot. The result is a movie that is occasionally confusing, but ultimately a smashing success. What I liked most about Memento is that it never cheats and offers a very satisfying conclusion that rewards the patience that is obviously needed to stick with this story.
4. No Country For Old Men (2007)
This 2007 Oscar Winner, which focuses on a cat-and-mouse game between a vicious killer (Javier Bardem) and a small-time criminal (Josh Brolin) who has stolen money from him and the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) who is tracking them both, is easily the most suspenseful movie I’ve seen in some time.
Directors Joel and Ethan Coen took Cormac McCarthy’s book and turned it into a completely gripping and enthralling movie with moments so chilling they burn themselves into our brains long after the movie ends. Certain scenes, most notably a standoff between the killer and the thief in a hotel room, are so powerful they’re like upper eyelid adhesive. I don’t think I could have blinked during this scene if I wanted to.
I know some people weren’t happy with the abrupt way this movie ends. But even if you don’t buy the conclusion (I finally did on my third viewing), it’s impossible to deny the overall power the movie possesses. After making one of the best movies of the 80’s (Blood Simple) and the 90’s (Fargo), it’s only natural to leave a spot for the Coen Brothers on this list of this decade’s greatest cinematic triumphs.
3. United 93 (2006)
Judging by its tepid box office reception (it was outperformed by the Robin Williams comedy RV in its opening weekend) and the reaction I got when trying to praise it to friends (“calm down Toby Keith,” one such acquaintance said to me), there seems to be a real sense of uncool about this movie, a dramatic retelling of what went on in the lone flight which didn’t hit its destined target on September 11.
Whatever objections anyone may have, I’m telling you to throw them out, because this is a powerful, moving and altogether brilliant retelling of the most memorable event of most of our collective lives.
One reason for public reluctance towards this movie may be that it’s too intense for some people to handle. This isn’t Pearl Harbor where a tragic event is used simply as the backdrop for a dumb love story. Writer/Director Paul Greengrass takes us right inside the plane while passengers digest what is happening before deciding to take action. This mixed with the “it’s too soon” argument is likely what kept people away. Their loss.
I also loved that Greengrass didn’t kick up dramatic side plots to tug at our heartstrings. There’s no backstory of any kind, as we simply see what occurred on that day and how these people reacted. There also aren’t any recognizable movie stars in the film (though it did mark the big screen debut of Olivia Thirlby, who played the best friend role in Juno, arguably the decade’s most overrated film), and several key roles, most notably FAA operations manager Ben Sliney, were actually played by the people who occupied the roles they played during the actual attacks.
United 93 is a special movie in that it successfully depicted tragic world events without exploiting them with hoaky melodrama. For anyone who said it was too soon for a 9-11 movie, if at any point you shake off this notion, this is an absolute must see.
2. Oldboy (2005)
This 2005 Korean revenge movie about a man being locked up in a secret prison for 15 years before being released and given five days to uncover why he was locked up is the most twisted, disgusting and morally reprehensible movie I’ve seen over the past decade. It’s also the most ingenious.
The film was directed by Park Chan-ook as the middle chapter of his Vengeance Trilogy, and he isn’t shy about showing some of the most grotesque imagery imaginable. This movie features teeth being pulled out by hammers, a tongue being cut off with a pair of scissors and an octopus being eaten alive. It also features some, shall we say, unnatural sexual practices.
Despite these disgusting elements, they work in this movie because they all go towards enhancing the story. This isn’t Saw or Hostel Territory where we’re just being subjected to brutal torture so the filmmakers can get a sick kick out of making us squirm. The violence in this movie almost serves as a psychological experiment Park is conducting with both the audience and the characters.
But it isn’t the violence that makes this movie brilliant. When we finally uncover the reasoning for the main character Oh Dae-su’s imprisonment, we are left with an ending so surprising my jaw nearly unhinged. It’s not shocking in a big “he was dead all along” sort of way, but through a string of subtle surprises that each add a new layer of devastation to the characters and the story that leaves the audience feeling jolted in the best sort of way.
Ultimately, the greatest accomplishment of this film was that it went for absolute broke and came out like a trillionaire. Normally with movies this audacious, even when they are good, there is at least one major flaw that prevents greatness from occurring. Oldboy is the rarest of exceptions, and as a result, you feel excited because you know there are filmmakers out there capable of such brilliance; even if they leave you a bit revolted in the process.
1. Adaptation (2002)
This entire list thus far has been soaked in dread and despair. Therefor it’s only fitting that my top choice is a movie that made me feel so wonderful I wanted it to turn into a real person so I could kiss it on the mouth.
Adaptation is a movie within a movie, as it tells the story of its own screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt the Susan Orlean book The Orchid Thief into a movie. This plot reeks of pretentiousness, but is handled brilliantly, primarily because Kaufman paints himself as a sad, lonely, chronic masturbator who very few people would feel inferior to (trust me though, you are inferior).
The three lead actors, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper (who won an Oscar for his role) are fantastic in capturing the manic energy that lies within their characters, who all find their stories interconnected as this trippy mindgame comes to a bizarre close.
It’s hard to really explain this movie in a way that makes sense, but it’s much more than the story of a screenwriter trying to adapt a book into a movie. Simply put, the movie is about life. It’s a film I’ve watched probably close to 20 times and never once have I found it to be tiresome. Not simply because there are layers one doesn’t always catch with initial viewings (there are tons by the way), but because this movie clearly appreciates why people, through various ups and downs, are willing to go through hell to do what they love.
Though there’s plenty of credit to go around, the most praise has to go to writer Kaufman and director Spike Jonze for taking what I found to be an intriguing, but ultimately boring book, and turning it into a movie of complete and utter wonderment. This is the rare movie that actually feels alive while you’re watching it, and part of that comes from the fact that it truly seems to understand what it’s like to be alive. It perfectly captures both the agony and elation that comes from pursuits of love, lust, passion and just general happiness.
Throw in a few side-splitting sodomy jokes and you’ve got Adaptation, the finest film of the last decade.
I’ll return (like it or not) later with a list of my most hated things of the last 10 years.