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 down to the last five of my list, counting down to my number one film. So without further ado, here's the fifth and final part of my list of the top 25 movies of the decade, 2000-2009. Any feedback and opinions are very much welcome. Enjoy.
5. Donnie Darko
Probably THE cult film of the 2000s, Richard Kelly's bewildering and brilliant Donnie Darko is strange and other-worldly, but almost always accessible to a more mainstream audience (hence its popularity beyond most cult films), something which is belied by just how downright confusing it is (I've seen it countless times and I still haven't fully got a grasp of it). The latter is because of the emotional hook it has, which is also the reason why Kelly's follow-up film, Southland Tales, and even his most accessible film to date, The Box, beyond that haven't connected with audiences in the same way.
It's a film that perhaps a younger audience (under 30) will connect with simply because of the issues it deals with, from teenage angst and loneliness, to the meaning of life from the perspective of someone younger, all dealt with while utilizing visual trickery (the gel-like tubes that come out of the characters' chests, for instance) and communicated with smart and witty dialogue that rings true.
It's perhaps a fluke on the part of Kelly that he was able to bring so many different things together in such a weird and wonderful package as this. But that doesn't really matter when you're looking at the film in its own context and not comparing it to the director's subsequent work. It's a film I personally connected to on quite a deep level at a fairly young age and so for that I will always hold a special place for it in my cinematic tastes. But objectively I still think it borders on a genius piece of work for the 21st century because of the kinds of ideas is brings up and precisely how it deals with them within the framework of a single narrative.
4. Mulholland Drive
The second film of David Lynch's to appear on this list, Mulholland Drive may not be the auteur's greatest technical achievement (that title still goes to Blue Velvet), but it's certainly my favorite and the most affecting, both on the surface (because of the style) and deep below (you're never really sure what's going on – but whatever it is you can feel it's significant).
Admittedly it's a confusing film, which may be down to the fact that originally it was supposed to be a TV series for ABC (they didn't pick it up) before Lynch took it and moulded it into film form. But what a film he managed to get out of, at once a damning look at the Hollywood star system and at the same time a deeply emotional tale of one woman's dreams – both personal and professional – and how they come crashing down, plus much more beyond that (get two people to watch the movie at the same time and chances are you'll get a different interpretation from both afterward).
Naomi Watts is breathtaking as the lead character of Betty (or is it Diane?), giving the performance of her career – I believe this is about the time when people started to truly take notice of her. There's great support from the likes of Justin Theroux (providing a lot of the more blackly comedic moments of the film), Laura Elena Herring as the amnesiac woman who sets off everything at the beginning, and the legendary Ann Miller as Co Co ("You can call me Co Co, everybody does!"). And the characters are classic Lynch, from the straight and serious (Theroux) to the weird and wacky (the seemingly random cowboy, for instance).
Long-time Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti provides the ominous and haunting score that perfectly echoes what's happening on screen. But most of all it's the direction of Lynch that's the true star here as he hits us with one surreal, meaningful, and memorable scene after another. A significant sequence in Club Silencio is arguably the greatest scene of the last 10 years. And that's saying something.
My top foreign language film of the decade, Park Chan-wook's Korean style-meets-substance tale of vengeance is one of the great modern films, in any language. It has a simple enough premise: a man is one day kidnapped and imprisoned in a mysterious room for 15 years, only having human contact when his unknown captors pass food to him through a slot in the door. One day he is mysteriously let loose and receives a phone call from the man who imprisoned him. He is told he has five days to find out why he was kidnapped or the woman he now loves will be killed.
But it's a lot more than that: Along with dealing with the central theme of vengeance (a theme which ties it together with two other films of Park's – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – into what is referred to as simply "the Vengeance Trilogy"), it also deals with sacrifice, trust, betrayal, and a whole host of other themes that can resonate with anyone, no matter if they speak the language.
Director Park Chan-wook is very stylish when it comes to how he chooses to tell the story, not only employing nifty visual effects that blend seamlessly with what's real but the way he has decided to put it together (the editing and so forth) is entirely memorable, adding to why it stands out from the crowd. Its sister film, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, is the most visually stylish of the trilogy, while Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is rooted most in reality and deals more in substance than in style. Oldboy is the perfect marriage of those two extremes, giving us something as enthralling visually as it is narratively.
To top all of it off it has one of the most heartbreaking and devastating twist endings I've ever seen, one that is arguably the best of the entire last decade. It's not conceited or "just for the hell of it," but makes you reflect on all that you've seen before (as all good movie twists should) and has that added emotional hook that most movies with twists don't tend to have.
All in all Oldboy is a masterpiece of filmmaking (I have not even a second of hesitance in calling it as such), mixing true-to-life emotion and feelings with a fascinatingly stylish visual palette that makes it strangely easy on the eyes. As with the rest of Park's Vengeance Trilogy, it's not always the easiest of watches but, really, it has to be like that — in fact, that's part of the reason it works so well.
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Now we come to my personal favourite movie of the last 10 years (I'm saving what I think is the technical best for number one), Andrew Dominik's absolutely magnificent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I saw the film when it came out in theatres, not having read much about it and only really knowing it had Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck starring. What I saw absolutely blew me away, everything from the gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins (if there's a better cinematographer working today, let me know), the exquisite score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (easily my favourite film score of the least ten years), and the performances of Pitt and Affleck (as well as all the supporting performers).
I could tell on first viewing that this was truly a special film, but also knew it would take multiple viewings to take it all in. At a sprawling 150-plus minutes and with a pace a snail would even call slow, this isn't what you would call "entertaining" in the purest, popcorn movie sense. But that's not what movies should be all the time; there's certainly a place for movies like that (and they have just has much importance as anything else in the world of film) but Jesse James isn't one of them.
It's something for people who just like to sit back and let a movie soak over them for a good two hours and a half, just to be with it. So in that way I can totally understand that this isn't a movie for everyone. However, for me it's one of the most rewarding films I've seen in literally years, one that I find haunting and compelling, with a tone that's so perfectly judged that I could watch it for 24 hours straight and still be totally taken in by it in the last hour as I would be the first.
Brad Pitt gets the top billing here, somewhat understandably because of both his character and his celebrity status as an actor. He restrains his usual bravado performance, really disappearing into the role and even managing to make you forget a lot of the time who it is you're watching (for someone of Pitt's status I think you'll agree that's a tough task). The supporting performances of Sam Rockwell, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Schneider, and Sam Shephard (amongst others) are all fantastic right across the board. But it's the performance of Casey Affleck that stands out. He finally gets to show off that he's not just the brother of Ben Affleck but actually one heck of an actor who manages here to just about act circles around Pitt (I have absolutely no idea why he wasn't counted as a lead actor — the movie is really about Robert Ford).
I've read some people who say that the movie isn't compelling because the title gives away the ending. But that's entirely missing the point. It isn't about the fact that Robert Ford assassinated Jesse James in the end, but rather how it gets to that point, the relationship between the two men, why Ford did what he did and how. These questions and more make it as compelling as it needs to be, and even after subsequent viewings when you know the answers, you still have the visuals, the score, the acting, and everything else to appreciate.
For my money The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is slow-burning filmmaking at its best and it is my personal favourite movie of the last 10 years.
1. There Will Be Blood
So here we are at number one on my list of the top 25 movies to have been released between the year 2000 and 2009 — Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. The film stands out immediately as featuring what I believe is the single greatest performance of the last 30 years, by Daniel Day-Lewis, since Robert De Niro in Raging Bull back in1980. I may even go as far to say it's the best performance of all time, it really is that good.
To look at Day-Lewis in interviews or accepting one of his many awards (he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this), you would never believe it's the same man who delivers the performances he does. From My Left Foot (which he also won the Oscar for) to Gangs of New York to There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis disappears into the roles, always totally transforming himself into the look and mind of the character at hand.
Here he plays the power- and money-hungry oil prospector, Daniel Plainview, a man so ruthless that he doesn't even let his own flesh and blood get in his way of success. Day-Lewis truly makes the role his and convinces that he is the character he's playing, putting on a distinct and memorable accent and an icy exterior. People will be studying his performance in acting classes for years to come.
Beyond Day-Lewis, Anderson has crafted just about the strangest, most peculiar, and most fascinating film I can remember, utilizing the striking and odd musical score of screeching violins, banging metal drums, and ominous bass tones by Johnny Greenwood (of the band Radiohead) to create a mood and atmosphere that's unmatched in the 2000s.
It's also an entirely unconventional film, with the plot snaking its way along in a fashion that's as unpredictable as it is enthralling (the first 10 minutes, for example, is without any dialogue whatsoever). By halfway through (at least on the first viewing) it's impossible to tell which direction the film is going to go and in a way it reinvents the language of cinema. What happens is not what would happen in a perhaps more generic picture, but Anderson chooses to tell the story his way, no matter if it deviates from the norm (and that's almost always the case throughout). By the bewildering (and weirdly comical) final scene it feels like you've spent a lifetime of your own with Plainview, and even if he's not a nice person, we oddly root for him right to the end. It's really interesting how Anderson is able to get that from you with a character so uncompromising and inherently unlikeable.
If there is one movie from those years I think people in 40 or 50 years time will be teaching in film schools, it's this. There Will Be Blood is a cinematic experience like no other, breaking every rule in the book and still prevailing as the single greatest film to come out of the 21st century so far.
Honourable mentions: The Wrestler, United 93, Kill Bill Vol. 1, This Is England, The 40 Year Old Virgin