Top 10 Films 2000-2009
10) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Terry Gilliam films are not for everyone. They are enigmatic, and unorthodox. Few directors would make a film about a travelling sideshow, co-starring the world's shortest man. The Imaginarium is a film about the artist's quest for immortality. While Parnassus strives for authenticity, he is tempted by the lure of popularity. Clearly, this was a very personal film for Gilliam. As a director who works far outside of the mainstream, he is constantly faced with this tradeoff. As usual, Gilliam's efforts were complicated by a production disaster. This time, it was the death of Heath Ledger. Remarkably, all of the non-CGI scenes had been shot at the time of his death, so Gilliam was able to complete the film with the help of a few prominent surrogates. Somehow, everything came together. As abbreviated as his role ended up being, this was ultimately Heath Ledger's film. His entrance into the film is the most spectacular I've ever seen, and he owned the film even after he disappeared.
9) The Orphanage (2007)
The nomenclature for the "Horror" genre might as well be changed to "kinda sorta scary stuff that makes me jump outta my seat." That's about all you will usually find. There is a difference between fear and horror. The Orphanage is one of the only recent films that is both terrifying and horrifying. South American magical realism is one of the most interesting genres alive today. I was very torn between including this, or Pan's Labyrinth to represent the genre. Though Pan's Labyrinth may have had deeper philosophical implications, The Orhpanage created far more suspense, and was much more tightly constructed. Every scene contributed to the mystery, and the film ended on precisely the type of note that the genre aspires to. The blurring of imagination and reality was masterfully crafted. The idea of salvation through imagination has rarely been so maserfully illustrated.
8) Atonement (2007)
I know, I know. Just another conventional love story right? Not even close. Sappy romances are not my thing. They are typically contrived, and formulaic. Atonement did not fall into this trap. Based on one of the best novels of the decade, Atonement had far more depth than one would expect from a popular romance. Giving the audience multiple perspectives on events gave us an unusually adept insight into the minds of the characters, and showed us just how devastating a simple missunderstanding can be. Joe Wright has an uncanny eye for perspective and detail. Some directors would would stick in a a whole scene to talk about how nervous the protagonist is about a date--or worse, use a voice over, when all Joe Wright has to do is show the flicker of a lighter to convey the same emotion. Joe Wright is the closest thing our generation has to Orson Welles.
7) The Wrestler (2008)
Darren Aronofsky is one of the most talented directors around. The Wrestler is his masterpiece. The film is about a broken down wrestler trying to make his way back to the top. The film is a model of techincal perfection. The music, the cinematography, the acting--everything conspired to bring out the overwhelming sadness of the story. Against the backdrop of New Jersey, the story was bleak. However, there always seemed to be a glimmer of hope right around the corner. Mickey Rourke played the role admirably, and it is a crime that he was deprived of the Oscar. I can only think of one better comeback role in recent memory. Speaking of comeback roles, Marissa Tomei's performance was also Oscar worthy. She may already have an Oscar, but this time she actually deserved it. At it's core, The Wrestler is an elegy for the 80s. The decade was gaudy, and self absorbed. It was the first in a series of generations composed largely of perpetual adolescents. The Wrestler is a film about what happens when that adolescence ends.
6) The Dark Knight (2008)
Simply put, The Dark Knight is the greatest action film ever made. It had a complexity that is unmatched in the genre. Christopher Nolan delved even deeper into his examination of the tension between truth and justice than any of his previous films. At it's heart, the film is deeply Straussian, and forces us to contemplate whether sometimes the truth is not good enough. Perhaps we need a noble lie to inspire us to be better than we really are.
5) JCVD (2008)
I have never been more surprised by a film than I was by JCVD. The film more effectively blurred the line between documentary and fiction than anything I've seen. This is largely due to the fact that the film mirrored Jean Claude Van Damme's real life struggles. Here we have a man who has just lost a custody battle over his daughter, and who's celebrity has faded. He has never made a film he is proud of, and he approaches an art house director to see if he can make a serious film. Van Damme proved that he is more than a man with a mean roundhouse kick. Most of his lines were unscripted, including a powerful 6 minute monologue where he shatters the fourth wall, and appeals directly to the audience. Like The Wrestler, JCVD was a cinematic redemption. Only this time, it's real.
4) Boy A (2007)
Boy A takes a brutality honest look at the possibilities, and perils of rehabilitiation. Through a series of flashbacks, we get a sense of how Jack had come to be an ex convict. I can't think of a film with a linear, coterminal flashback sequence that worked out this well. Boy A succeeded where Godfather 2 failed. The urgency of the present is matched by the urgency of the past. Andrew Garfield is likely the best young actor in Hollywood. Though his rehabilitation is quite evident, he never let's his troubled past escape us. The justice system has suceeded against all odds to rehabilitate him, but not to prepare him to deal with his own terrible legacy.
3) Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Many critics consider Synecdoche to be the best film of the decade. It is a film that delves deeply into our notions of individualism, and comes to some troubling conclusions. Maybe we aren't so special. The artist, the performer, and the man on the street are all actors in their own insignificant stories. No matter how hard we try, we all end up as disapointments. All we can do is keep on striving towards the impossible ideals with which we have been furnished. Even if you disagree with the premise, it is certainly a compelling examination of secular man's search for meaning.
2) Fateless (2005)
Based on the Nobel Prize winning Holocaust novel Fatelessness, Fateless is arguably the greatest literary adaptation of all time. I suppose it didn't hurt that the Imre Kertesz, the author of the source material, wrote the screenplay. Fateless departs from the conventions that we associate with Holocaust films. Much like Empire of the Sun, the plot unfolds from the point of a child, unaware of the seriousness of the events. The film is as apolitical as one could imagine. It wasn't about the evils of the Nazis, or the missfortunes of the Jews. Rather, it was about the banality of evil. No one involved quite understands why they are doing what they do. Everyone has their specific role. Persecutor, and persecuted are equally prisoners to their circumstances. Every single character added something. The reactions of Georgi's grandparents as his father is reporting for the camps was absolutely heartbreaking. Daniel Craig's brief appearance was easily his finest role. Bleak as it was, Fateless was never quite devoid of hopefullness. Perhaps one day the guilt of the survivors will be forgotten. Alas, that may be the greatest tragedy of all.
1) Adaptation (2002)
Adaptation is one of the most complete film experiences imaginable. It is not only Kaufman's funniest movie, it is also his most intelligent. Adaptation delves into the mind of a creative genius attempting to do the impossible: make a film about flowers. He wants to eshew all of the conventions of film. No one should fall in love. No one should change. Nothing should happen. While he is trying to adapt The Orchid Thief (an extraordinary book by Susan Orlean), his brother (and alter ego) Donald is breaking into Hollywood writing a completely non-sensical screenplay which (surprise, surprise) the production companies love. Kaufman's hopeless project takes an abrupt turn after a workshop with a writing coach, recommended to him by his brother. The irony of the film is complete when he enlists his brother to help deliver the type of film that the audience actually wants.