A blog about movies and filmmaking.

A movie a year for a decade

In awards on December 2, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Well, it’s fun list time. Everyone’s getting their decade “Best of’s” and “Most under/over rated movies” completed, turned in and flamed over their choices and omissions. Despite the fact that the decade didn’t officially start until 2001, and won’t end until the final days of 2010 (we don’t start counting numbers with zero, for the people forgetting their elementary math classes); but, I’ve decided to join in. Not with the best movies of the past ten years, but with the best movies from the past ten years, one year at a time. One movie, for each of the past ten years. Sadly, they’re mostly all mainstream fare; some more well-known than others, and I’m sure a lot of people – if a lot of people were to read this list – would deride me for the omissions and the gall to rate certain movies over others.

Fortunately, a lot of people do not read the blog, so it’s just you and me. Let’s get started, shall we.

2000: CAST AWAY – This Tom Hanks starring movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis brings the duo from FORREST GUMP back together again, in a whole new way. The draw to this movie was the fact that 2/3 of the movie was set on a desert island, with Tom Hanks alone – no pirates show up, no wild, indigenous species (human or otherwise) wreck his life, and he’s not secretly on the other side of some exclusive vacation resort – for three years; and how he survives, copes and ultimately escapes.

It’s a powerful movie, and gives us one of the best non-living supporting characters ever put on-screen. (It’s a volley ball.)


2001: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – Everyone knows about this series of movies, but it’s the first one that I probably enjoy the most. It’s our introduction to Middle Earth, the characters and the plight of what’s to come. The fact that a fairly untested – if well, regarded – filmmaker like Peter Jackson was able to pull of the effects, the heart and the misery of the movies is a testament to the movie studios that financed it as well as the family of J.R.R. Tolkien, who saw what this man planned to do and allowed them the rights.

There are many amazing things about this movie. First of all, I love how they were able to combine the mixing of practical and computer effects, using miniatures and forced perspective (sometimes to wonky results). But, the attention to detail, from Legolas walking over the snow while everyone else is hip-deep, or the score – like in the mines of Moria, to just the magnificence of scale and wonder (the giant figures on the river, and the Balrog).

You shall not pass!

2002: THE 25th HOUR – This movie, directed by Spike Lee, is one that I don’t think a lot of people know or remember. But, from it’s opening credits of the lights commemorating where the Twin Towers once stood in Manhattan, to the montage in the middle denigrating everyone, then the final moments of fantasy as the main character’s father describes a life other than the one he’s headed for; this movie was powerful. It opened and poured salt in the wounds of 9/11; it covered the pain of leaving your friends and family to go to prison – or some other place that you don’t want to go; and it was a look into our modern lives. How we hold onto material objects, fantasies, and integrity.

I consider it to be my favorite, and possibly Spike Lee’s best movie.

Here's Champagne for my real friends, and real pain to my sham friends.

2003: BASIC – Another movie that is overlooked. This John McTiernan directed (he did DIE HARD, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and THE 13th WARRIOR), John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, starrer is about a DEA agent brought into a military base in Panama, when a group of Army Rangers on a training mission all seemed to go crazy and kill each other. Even the group’s leader, played by Samuel L. Jackson, seemingly bites the dust. The movie is a twisty-turny thriller about drugs, betrayal, and of course we have no idea what’s going to happen until the final moments play the amazing “Black Betty” performed by Peter Beckett.

And that was a looong day!

2004: MAN ON FIRE / ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND – Okay, I just couldn’t choose between these two movies. One is a violent voyage through Mexico City, as a man on a mission – to get revenge for the kidnapping and seeming murder of a little girl – rips the city apart. It’s not Denzel Washington as a villain, like in the equally good, TRAINING DAY, but I don’t think you can really call him a hero in this either. The other is a fantastic voyage of heartbreak, and misery as all the moles are shown on relationships and our incapability to let go of the painful moments involving the ones we love.

MAN ON FIRE, directed by Tony Scott, is an amazing portrayal of a man seeking redemption through the only means he knows how. When Creasy (Washington) is brought to Mexico to work as a bodyguard and driver for young Pita (Dakota Fanning), he is a broken, shell of a man. We don’t know, and never find out his history. But, he’s an alcoholic who fantasized about suicide and can’t deal with personal relationships. In a way it develops into a love story between this man and little girl. And when she’s taken away, the world that he had slowly awoken to comes crashing down. A lot of attention is paid to the violence in this movie – and there’s some horrific stuff that happens – but it’s the heart and the sacrifice, that make this movie memorable to me.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, amazingly enough, fits pretty well with MAN ON FIRE, in this way. Sure, there’s none of the violence – at least physical – but this Michel Gondry directed, Charlie Kaufman scripted movie follows along the same lines. A man (played by Jim Carrey) who falls in love with a girl (played by Kate Winslett), they share a life together – or a few years – then they she has an operation that has erased him from her memory. So, to pay her back, he signs up for the same thing. Only once the procedure begins we travel through his mind, and see his memory erased and his ultimate fight to try and retain his memories of the woman. It’s powerful stuff, as has come to be expected from Kaufman, and it’s the way that the leads portray their relationship, that makes this movie real and relatable.

2005: MUNICH – Spielberg has created some of the most touching, most enthralling and adventurous movies of the modern era – if not ever. In the 2000’s he hit kind of a dark corner, starting in 2001 with AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, where he channeled Stanley Kubrick and created a dark vision of a future, where artificial beings had more heart and caring than the humans that were their masters and destroyers. But, it comes to a head in MUNICH, where he combines the most grown-up sensibilities of his greatest movies (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), and this new-found dark edge.

The story about the Israeli group created to revenge the 1972 Olympics murder of a group of Jewish athletes, and how they go down the rabbit-hole of setting out on a specific mission and wind up in a deeper mess than they’d bargained for, should sound slightly familiar. But, it’s the performance of Eric Bana as he sees what he’s becoming, that gives the movie it’s heart. His supporting crew of Ciaran Hinds, Daniel Craig and Geoffrey Rush are all magnificent too.

I worry.

2006: CHILDREN OF MEN – This movie has probably affected me more than any other movie, I’ve ever seen. I came out of the theater and pronounced that you have to see this movie if you love movies, if you have kids, or even if you care about humanity at all. The powerful story of a future where humanity can no longer reproduce, told through the eyes of Theo (Clive Owen), as he tries to help a “fugee” named Key get to a boat, might very well be one of the best movies ever made.

The stylistic feats shown in the movie – in a number of long, one-take shots – help create an unblinking reality. The movie doesn’t use these tricks to glorify the violence – that they’re usually used for – but to show how traumatic and scary it truly is. Whether it’s the unexpected explosion of a coffeeshop a second after the main character walks out; or the minutes long scene in a car as the main characters are attacked. These moments are not created to look cool, or to show-off. They’re imperfect, and don’t give us the moments we expect from action/sci-fi movies. We are helpless to save a woman bleeding to death, we only have a ringing in our ears as a young woman comes out of a smoking building holding her amputated arm in her other hand.

Then there’s the final instant of the movie, where the screen goes dark and we hear the sounds of children playing. Is it hope, and the beginning of humanity anew; or is it the final memory of a man who won’t know what the answer is? If I had to pick a best movie of the decade, it would probably be this one.

But, this stork sure tastes good.

2007: ZODIAC – David Fincher has been a favorite director of mine, actually since ALIEN3, which I’m aware of being the lone fan of. But, it’s in ZODIAC that he seems to reach a full maturity, that his other serial killer/dark-themed movies hadn’t really shown. The movie moves beyond the murders, and into a procedural on obsession and celebrity. Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. When his newspaper gets a letter from the Zodiac killer with a cypher, to hopefully declare his identity, the cartoonist is sucked in and seemingly won’t ever be released from this mystery’s grip. The flip side is the focus on the celebrity and near-worship of serial killers. Whether it’s the mysterious killer claiming to be responsible for victims he didn’t kill, or the effects of his threats like a newspaper staff wearing buttons declaring that they’re not Paul Avery (including Paul Avery, played wonderfully by Robert Downey, Jr.). The third aspect to this movie, is the procedural from the sleuth Graysmith and the police’s side of the story. Bungled crime-scenes, unreliable witnesses, and of course bureaucratic red-tape, all helped to keep this murderer free and the mystery in real life unsolved.

It’s Fincher’s probably least stylistic movie (which he returned to in a fashion with THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), but I think it’ll probably be his most memorable.

Do you have any animal crackers?

2008: THE DARK KNIGHT – Okay, here’s where I get predictable. This movie blew my mind. It’s a super-hero movie, that’s deadly serious, (nearly) fatalistically real, and had a fantastic through-line of, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” And that’s the part of the story that hooked me, and made it not only one of the most thrilling movies, but most tragic. The story of Harvey Dent, is the backbone of this story, despite The Joker’s headlining and acquiring the most praise. “I believe in Harvey Dent” was the motto for the character’s campaign, and the wish-fulfillment that Batman saw as perhaps the person that could do what Batman had intended. So, it’s this all-purpose hope invested in this normal everyday person, that leads to disappointment and ultimate downfall. Sounds kind of like the investment, and idolizing people had for Barack Obama. And now we see where that got us.

But, it’s also the lesson that Batman winds up taking from this, that made me feel that this is the perfect capper to the Batman franchise, and I don’t think that we need any more movies – at least until they’re ready to reboot the franchise in a decade or so. (I know this is wishful thinking.)

Wanna see a magic trick?

2009: STATE OF PLAY – It’s hard to say, with three weeks left if this decision will stand. I mean there is still the blue-alien adventure of AVATAR to arrive. But, this movie about journalism and politics really struck a chord with me. Maybe it’s the way that journalism is fading away. Newspapers closing down, writers being fired both in print and online, and the insurmountable leap of accepting online journalism as legitimate. These are topics at the heart of STATE OF PLAY. There’s also the murder-thriller aspect, but what’s really on the line is the sort of baton-handing from one medium to the next.

Russell Crowe’s Cal McCaffrey starts the movie off as the normal, movie cliche of a news reporter. Buying his tips and using wordplay to get his information from uncooperative mouths. Then he moves into the real world, when he stops into the office of the newspaper he works for, where they’re being bought out by some large media company; and he’s introduced to the head of the online branch of the newspaper, in the guise of Rachel McAdams. At first he chides her for thinking she’s a real journalist, then he schools her in how to seek out the full truth instead of just running with the latest bit of gossip to come over the wire. And in the end, idyllically, they’ve formed a partnership, that might someday become the happy medium in the news industry.

And I think that any and all comparisons to ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, that this movie received is well earned. The only drawback to the analogy, and weakness in the movie, is that it chooses fiction and allegory for it’s story instead of actually running with the real life equivalents that it’s based on.

Got a pen?

So, that does it. That’s my top ten of this last decade. One per year. This isn’t to say that these were all my favorites, but these were the movies that I felt best represented the movies that came out in their respective years, and still affect me today. Will the list be the same in the future? Probably not, but I’ll bet that a majority will still be near the top.

  1. I am a horrible person for only having seen ZODIAC once. I remember loving it though. MUNICH as well — a lot of these films are ones that I need to revisit.

    • You’re not horrible, just deeply flawed. 😛 Also, I see that I’ve started a trend; now EVERYONE is listing The 25th Hour as one of the best of the 00’s…Bunch of coat-tail riders!! STOP SUCKING AT MY POWER TEAT!! (Yeah, this is why no one comments on my blog.)

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