It's finally come to the end of the first decade of the 21st century and every film writer out there has been putting together their "best of" lists to celebrate/commemorate the last 10 years. So I thought I'd jump in with my own list, one which I've tried to make with equal weight given to both the technical best films and my personal favourites.
We're finally into the top 10, counting down from numbers 10 to 5. So without further ado, here's the penultimate fourth part of my list of the top 25 movies of the decade, 2000-2009. Enjoy.
10. Pan's Labyrinth
There's always a danger with a film like Pan's Labyrinth if you didn't see it before all the hype around it built up. I didn't see Guillermo del Toro's Spanish language fantasy-drama until it hit DVD and needless to say my expectations were high.
However, the quality was there and my super high expectations were met. Del Toro's film is a true masterpiece if ever there was one, exquisitely mixing real life drama and other-worldly fantasy that ranks up there with some of the most visually stunning images ever put on film. Everything from the costume, set, and creature design to the acting and the grizzly yet strangely hopeful story is just magnificent.
Del Toro truly has one of the great imaginations working in film today, and I'm glad his transition into more Hollywood fare (with the Hellboy movies, as well as the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit) hasn't hindered his ability to draw back and make something like this. Filled with amazing creatures, striking visuals, and a certain dreamlike quality, Pan's Labyrinth is undoubtedly one of the films of the decade.
9. Requiem for a Dream
Along with another film on this list, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Darren Aronofsky's bewildering piece of genius is one of the most harrowing, emotional gut-punch movies I've ever seen. Headlined by four great performances, with a particularly mind-blowing one from Ellen Burstyn (she got nominated for an Oscar for it), it features all manner of visual trickery, from clever time-lapsed shots to effective use of the "SnorriCam" (that's when the camera is attached physically to the actor and it gives the full headshot appearance that follows them everywhere).
On the surface all this stuff seems gimmicky, but the story of addiction (of any kind, not just drugs) and the full-on nature of it (it doesn't spare us any of the gory details of the things these four lead characters go through, for example) makes these visual tricks almost a necessity to get across the true feeling of what's happening.
Aronofsky has always been a fascinating director, from his "basic as basic can be" mathematics-centred psychological drama, Pi, to his unflinchingly raw The Wrestler (I thought he mis-stepped with the overly ambitious The Fountain). But so far he hasn't been able to top his 2000 tale of addiction that is Requiem for a Dream. A completely unforgettable film, its distressing and even disturbing nature belies its rewatchability.
Arguably the cleverest film on this whole list, Christopher Nolan's master work Memento has one of the most unique storytelling devices of all time: the whole movie is told in reverse order, meaning the last event is what we see first and the last scene is actually first in the true chronological story order of things. It really is something you need to see to really understand, and even then you might still be lost.
It makes an otherwise "great" story into one of the most interesting narratives, as we're right along with the main character of Leonard Shelby as he tries to catch the man he thinks killed his wife (he has a condition that means he can only remember things for a few minutes at a time before his memory gets wiped clean). We're just as in the dark as Leonard, and it makes for one of the most compelling mystery-dramas there's been in quite some time.
It's admittedly a hard film to keep up with, and requires multiple viewings to truly "get." But on top of that, rewatches also allow for even those who "got" the film to notice little things they might not have the first time around. The performance of Guy Pearce as Leonard is arguably the best he's ever given, and there's fantastic support from Joe Pantoliano as Leonard's friend, who may or may not be what he seems, and Carrie-Anne Moss as a suspicious (in every sense of the word) "friend."
Although Nolan went on to have huge mainstream success with Batman Begins and mega-blockbuster The Dark Knight (which also featured earlier on this list), I still think Memento is his greatest film so far.
7. City of God
Fernando Meirelles' harrowing tale of crime, drugs, and gang violence in the slums of Brazil (in a place known as "the City of God", hence the title) is small but ambitious filmmaking at its best. It's hyper-stylish and vibrant, with a glow of heat covering almost the entire film that really puts you in the times and places where it's set.
It's a fascinating piece of cinema, from its frantic pace to its intoxicating atmosphere that really draws you in and makes you feel part of a world that, although on Earth, seems strangely unlike anywhere you've ever seen. It sprawls a couple of decades (the '60s and '70s), and gives us a glimpse of gangster life that isn't the suits and "cash-flashing" that something like Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas showcases.
It's an often violent film, with the young folks (sometimes kids) we follow forced to commit unspeakable acts of violence, and sometimes they just commit these acts because that's all they know. Uncompromising, shocking, daring, and even genuinely funny at times (in that blackest of black comedy ways), City of God is absolutely unmissable.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This is one that I imagine many other people will have on their list and for good reason — it really is one of the best of the decade. Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation before this, but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is his greatest achievement. There's such a grasp of real life, real life people, and real life relationships that give it that emotional hook that so few movies of this type are able to capture.
Having said that, I don't think Eternal Sunshine can really be classified in with other movies just because it has similar themes. The marriage of Kaufman's surreal yet weirdly relatable style with the imagination of director Michel Gondry makes for a strangely perfect mix, allowing for a simultaneous detachment from reality, as well as an solid grounding in it.
Gondry employs all manner of visual trickery, including people and objects disappearing right before your eyes to sets magically appearing to reverse within just a few seconds. It really is a wonderful film to just sit back and look at, never mind listening to the extremely well written dialogue, or investing in the characters.
The performances are also something which make this such a memorable film, with Jim Carrey proving that he can be more than just a zany comedic actor (he almost went there with The Truman Show and Man on the Moon, but this was the first he went completely serious) by restraining himself to play a relatable everyman in Joel Barish. And, of course, there's the great Kate Winslet in one of her many performances overlooked at the Oscars.
Along with Before Sunset, I think this may be one of the great love stories of the 21st century on film. A wonderfully strange, or strangely wonderful, film full of those little moments that make a film truly special.