01 January 2010

My top 101 films of the decade.

As seen on Twitter. Figured I might as well save the list (and these one-line appreciations, which are as twitted except where e.g. 'you' and 'to' have replaced 'u' and '2') for posterity; it goes to 101 because I realized after I'd begun that I'd somehow overlooked one picture.

1. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan) Now. Where was I?
2. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001, Joel Coen) My New Year's resolution is to travel the world and pummel everyone who thinks this is an empty genre exercise.
3. Afterschool (2008, Antonio Campos) The only film of the last few years to demonstrate an inkling of where we are now and where we're headed.
4. Dogville (2003, Lars von Trier) One of the boldest, craziest ideas in the history of cinema, faultlessly executed (unlike Manderlay).
5. Silent Light (2007, Carlos Reygadas) As close as this hardcore atheist is ever likely to come to a religious experience. Breathtaking.
6. State and Main (2000, David Mamet) The greatest comedy of our time and the only worthy heir to Preston Sturges I've ever seen. Nobody noticed.
7. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai) My one film at the top in common with everyone else. Unmoved by its lush sorrow? You must be dead.
8. The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan) A brilliant stealth essay on both the truth of materialism and our desperate need to reject it.
9. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee) Happy to see that others are finally beginning to recognize this film's pungent, grief-stricken power.
10. Primer (2004, Shane Carruth) Homemade sci-fi—a heady amalgam of the mundane and the esoteric in which I always get blissfully lost.
11. Everyone Else (2009, Maren Ade) Devastating portrait of a singular couple. Seen only once, could climb into top 10 on second viewing.
12. Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2005, Michel Gondry) A celebration of celebration, and one of my most joyous moviegoing experiences ever.
13. Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff) Brilliantly mordant take on a subject that cinema has largely ignored: the death of a friendship.
14. My Kid Could Paint That (2007, Amir Bar-Lev) Did she or didn't she? Who cares? 00's best traditional doc concerns the primacy of narrative.
15. Pulse (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) The most terrifying movie I've ever seen, in part because it makes even basic coherence seem defunct.
16. Gerry (2002, Gus Van Sant) Vaudeville—both verbal and formal—in the middle of nowhere, as a private joke turns into a cosmic joke.
17. Tropical Malady (2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Romance. Mystery. Fist-licking. Wilderness. Wildness. Duality. Awe. Fist-licking?
18. Hero (2002, Zhang Yimou) First viewing was at the Rotterdam fest, where it was (understandably) subtitled in Dutch. Nothing was lost.
19. Paranoid Park (2007, Gus Van Sant) Adolescence as a perpetual state of free-floating guilt and shame; cinema as sheer expressionism.
20. Devils on the Doorstep (2000, Jiang Wen) I like my futility-of-war pictures like I like my women: darkly gorgeous, bleakly funny.
21. Adaptation. (2002, Spike Jonze) I'd thought Being John Malkovich was the most insane script that would ever get made. I was mistaken.
22. Songs From the Second Floor (2000, Roy Andersson) One-of-a-kind visionary spectacle that juxtaposes the apocalyptic with the pathetic.
23. Julia (2008, Erick Zonca) Maybe you have to despise the cranky-adult-grows-by-bonding-with-cute-kid genre as much as I do for maximum enjoyment.
24. Rachel Getting Married (2008, Jonathan Demme) I'd given up hope of Demme making another great film. Certainly not one this emotionally raw.
25. An Amazing Couple [Trilogy Two] (2002, Lucas Belvaux) But with an (*), as the hilarity of this farce depends on the other two films.
26. Late Marriage (2001, Dover Kosashvili) Even better than Two Lovers, which is essentially an uncredited remake (minus the sex scene of the decade).
27. Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) No, not the second one. Apart from weak CGI action, this is the perfect comic-book movie on every level.
28. Cowards Bend the Knee (2003, Guy Maddin) Maddin's most consistently wonderful foray into autobiography; also, the decade's best title.
29. Who's Camus Anyway? (2005, Mitsuo Yanagimachi) Anxiety of influence + creeping paranoia; a simulacrum of reality that The Matrix would envy.
30. Home (2008, Ursula Meier) Spiky family dynamic meets outsized metaphor in the best commercial release of 2009 that almost nobody saw.
31. Time (2006, Kim Ki-duk) In its hyperbolic, abstract way, one of the most truthful films about romantic relationships ever made.
32. Dogtooth (2009, Yorgos Lanthimos) Look for this nasty shot of deadpan perversity to show up on many of next year's top 10 lists.
33. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson) Wes' messiest and most heartfelt film written off as a misfire. Unfathomable.
34. Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez/Rob Zombie/Edgar Wright/Eli Roth/Quentin Tarantino) [TWEET MISSING]
35. 8 Women (2002, François Ozon) The decade's most glorious (and, to me, most oddly moving) act of genre exhumation. Sorry, Todd Haynes.
36. Irreversible (2002, Gaspar Noé) Formal tour de force + two nigh-unwatchable sequences obscure heartfelt inquiry re: thought/impulse.
37. Training Day (2001, Antoine Fuqua) Denzel trashing his image made this one of the decade's few genuinely exciting studio thrillers.
38. The Wayward Cloud (2006, Tsai Ming-liang) In which Tsai dares to take his unique worldview to its bleakest possible extreme.
39. Burn After Reading (2008, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen) A cavalcade of idiocy, yet way more trenchant than the Serious film that followed.
40. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch) Quite possibly the most brilliant act of reconstructive surgery in film history. No hay banda!
41. The Emperor's New Groove (2000, Mark Dindal) Closest thing to vintage Looney Tunes in my lifetime—how did it happen?
42. Joshua (2007, George Ratliff) Expertly uses horror-film tropes to explore the scariest parental prospect: a child not in your image.
43. Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott) Yes, really. A rousing resuscitation of a long-dead genre, featuring the greatest star turn of the decade.
44. Harmful Insect (2001, Akihiko Shiota) As mysterious and elusive as its title, aestheticizing teen anomie in umpteen dynamic ways.
45. Code Unknown (2000, Michael Haneke) Kaleidoscopic narrative works as a thematic whole while also dazzling in its constituent parts.
46. Lorna's Silence (2008, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) Their best since La Promesse, largely because they ditched their tidy formula.
47. The House of Mirth (2000, Terence Davies) You won't find many literary adaptations on this list, but then few are so tonally precise.
48. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (2003, Kim Ki-duk) Unlike most spiritual films, finds the right balance of cruelty and grace.
49. Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt) Restored my faith that you can still make a no-budget character piece that doesn't reek of self-regard.
50. Dallas 362 (2003, Scott Caan) Caan's crazy, go-for-broke sensibility plays like frathouse Desplechin, makes even Kelly Lynch shine.
51. Humpday (2009, Lynn Shelton) Perfectly captures a very particular, uniquely male brand of well-intentioned idiocy. Also funny as hell.
52. Daughter From Danang (2002, Gail Dolgin & Vicente Franco) A human train wreck to rival The Forest for the Trees, but it's really happening!
53. WALL•E (2008, Andrew Stanton) More love stories should begin with the girl repeatedly trying to blast the boy to smithereens imo.
54. Revanche (2008, Götz Spielmann) Slow, gradual build—not to dramatic fireworks, however, but to sublimated rage. A film that simmers.
55. What Time Is It There? (2001, Tsai Ming-liang) At once Tsai's most romantic and most melancholy film; probably also his funniest.
56. Bus 174 (2002, José Padilha) Unbelievably gripping real-life story captured by a zillion cameras and nicely contextualized by Padilha.
57. The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese) I'm gonna watch it you wanna watch it what're you one of those art-film freaks go fuck yourself.
58. Before Sunset (2004, Richard Linklater) Don't really believe the swoonworthy ending, but it says a lot that I want to believe it.
59. You Can Count on Me (2000, Kenneth Lonergan) Mark Ruffalo as Terry remains as close as I've ever come to seeing myself onscreen.
60. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson) In which PTA finally tones down the hotdogging and achieves more than isolated effects.
61. Duplicity (2009, Tony Gilroy) Smart, crackling espionage thriller conceals a surprisingly tart disquisition on the nature of trust.
62. George Washington (2000, David Gordon Green) Squalid-lyricism-a-go-go, with a dreamy, shambling rhythm that transcends faux-Malick.
63. Distant (2002, Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Just tell him the guy in the hat enjoyed the hell outta those stunning foreground/background shots.
64. Sita Sings the Blues (2008, Nina Paley) Turning heartbreak into art isn't easy. Turning it into rousing entertainment is miraculous.
65. Bad Santa (2003, Terry Zwigoff) Takes a much-deserved steaming dump on the execrable a-little-child-saved-me genre. Awesomely profane.
66. The Headless Woman (2008, Lucrecia Martel) Psychic rupture conveyed entirely via composition/sound design; social critique in margins.
67. On the Run [Trilogy One] (2002, Lucas Belvaux) Oddball amalgam of violent-radical procedural and a portrait of ideological solipsism.
68. Down in the Valley (2005, David Jacobson) People seem unable to look past the goofy conceit and see that it's Red River for our time.
[Lies awake in bed, silently staring at the ceiling. Then, to self.] "All right." 69. No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
70. Up (2009, Pete Docter) FYC: Bob Peterson, Best Supporting Actor. Dug and Alpha. Do you not agree with that which I have said to you now?
71. Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet) Désolée, les haters. Tautou's a vacuum but the film's thornier and more self-critical than most allow.
72. Raising Victor Vargas (2002, Peter Sollett) Young love on the Lower East Side, made big-grin winning by a remarkable ensemble cast.
73. Brick (2005, Rian Johnson) Quickly transcends its gimmicky premise, depicting adolescence as a maelstrom of ardent bewilderment. Yes.
74. Turning Gate (2002, Hong Sang-soo) Hong's bifurcated, first-and-second-time-as-farce approach yields its most rewarding echoes.
75. The Forest for the Trees (2003, Maren Ade) "Horror movie" finds heroine descending ever deeper into the basement of social ineptitude.
76. Intacto (2001, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) I'm nearly always thrilled by movies where I have no idea wtf is happening. This = the champ.
77. The Host (2006, Bong Joon-ho) Awesome monster movie + potent political allegory + wacky comedy + grim melodrama + what am I forgetting?
78. An Injury to One (2002, Travis Wilkerson) Arresting documentary that straddles an unusual line between agitprop and avant-garde.
79. Day Night Day Night (2006, Julia Loktev) Wanted: Suicide bomber. Must be ideologically opaque, super hungry, totally out of change.
80. I ♥ Huckabees (2004, David O. Russell) Insanely strives to turn Being and Nothingness into a screwball comedy, kind of succeeds!
81. Spartan (2004, David Mamet) Title, meant as noun, is even more apropos as adjective. Lean, mean and knife-blade keen. Kilmer owns.
82. The Brothers Bloom (2008, Rian Johnson) Inventive and hilarious, but also canny about the emotional detachment of the con-man genre.
83. Charlotte Sometimes (2002, Eric Byler) One of the decade's least-heralded Amerindies, despite being sharply written, exquisitely shot.
84. Funny Games (2007, Michael Haneke) Just like the original, interrogates our relationship to screen violence in a truly challenging way.
85. Gone Baby Gone (2007, Ben Affleck) Will he ever make another film this good? Maybe not, but he's earned years of respect anyway.
86. The Duchess of Langeais (2007, Jacques Rivette) A rare literary adaptation with some bite. R.I.P. Guillaume Depardieu, great at last.
87. Container (2006, Lukas Moodysson) Not for every taste, to say the least, but for me the disjunction of image and voiceover has cumulative force.
88. 3-iron (2004, Kim Ki-duk) Begins as a beguiling enough tale told with superb visual economy, turns into something truly bizarre.
89. BirdWatchers (2008, Marco Bechis) Probably the least-seen film on my list. Remarkably non-patronizing depiction of an "alien" culture.
90. Eureka (2000, Shinji Aoyama) Visually spectacular, awesomely disorienting portrait of collective catharsis. What happened to this guy?
91. Road to Perdition (2002, Sam Mendes) The closest Mendes has come to (cine-)excellence, precisely because it's just an exercise in style.
92. Raja (2003, Jacques Doillon) Colonial romance: "(S)he must be assuming X in his/her position, ergo I must perform countermeasure Y."
93. In My Skin (2002, Marina de Van) Best portrait of body horror/fascination this side of Cronenberg, bravely eschewing all psychology.
94. In the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerin) Ah, the pleasure of solitary peoplewatching. Ok, girlwatching. All right, girlstalking.
95. The Day I Became a Woman (2000, Marziyeh Meshkini) Bike segment remains one of Iranian cinema's greatest moments; rest more than solid.
96: Little Otik (2000, Jan Svankmajer) Obviously Svankmajer works best in miniature, but this hilariously grim fable feels, uh, fully fleshed out.
97. Volver (2006, Pedro Almodóvar) His best film ever, in my opinion (so you can see I'm not exactly a huge fan). Emotionally windswept.
98. Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog) Would've made a fascinating doc in anyone's hands. Herzog adds the perfect layer of sympathetic awe.
99. The Boss of It All (2006, Lars von Trier) Only Lars could willfully undermine such a sure-fire comic premise and still make it work.
100. The Secret of the Grain (2007, Abdellatif Kechiche) Most artful use of cacophony in recent memory, building to transporting finale.
101. Chopper (2000, Andrew Dominik) Given his subsequent career, not sure where Eric Bana found this performance. Comedy at its blackest.

20 comments:

Victor said...

OK, I've never asked you this explicitly, bu this formulation is nuts.

How can a film be about "the truth *of materialism*" when its very premise depends on magic really being true, and not an illusion or trick. THE PRESTIGE has a profound critique of truth, like much of Nolan's work. But where, exactly, does the film state or show that materialism is true.

The Hunting of the Snark said...

I agree 101% with every one of these, in that exact ranked order. High fives!

md'a said...

How can a film be about "the truth *of materialism*" when its very premise depends on magic really being true, and not an illusion or trick.

Because the film distinguishes between ordinary magic, which is an illusion, and what several characters term "real magic," which is not (and which is created by science). Because the film has Angier desperately searching for some elaborate explanation for Borden's Transported Man ("the prestige is the same man") only to have Cutter repeatedly insist that the simplest and most mundane explanation is the true one, which is in fact revealed to be the case. I went into all this on the Movie Nerd Discussion Group at the time.

"The audience knows the truth: The world is simple. And miserable. Solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second...then you can make them wonder."

No matter what your personal beliefs, I really don't see how you can interpret this climactic speech as anything other than what I said: a statement about both the truth of materialism and our desperate need to reject it. (As you're doing now.)

Victor said...

Part I

If you say you went into this on MNDG in 2006, then it slipped my mind (tho IIRC we both required multiple viewings to see THE PRESTIGE as great). And let's not assume I have any desperate need to understand a movie I love in philosophical terms I accept as themselves, mmmkay.


Because the film distinguishes between ordinary magic, which is an illusion, and what several characters term "real magic," which is not (and which is created by science).

Except that this distinction is itself an unscientific one, untenable if materialism be true. Your bud Dawkins would be the first to insist on this (and rightly, as far as that goes). If materialism is true, there is no "real magic," only "illusion" (itself created, demystified and explained by "science").

To the extent you insist on this understanding, it weakens THE PRESTIGE as a work of art, because the film then would have cheated by introducing, while blessing via science, something impossible according to science. Any game can be won if you can cheat by stipulating the impossible (indeed, "cheating" doesn't mean anything under those terms).


Because the film has Angier desperately searching for some elaborate explanation for Borden's Transported Man ("the prestige is the same man") only to have Cutter repeatedly insist that the simplest and most mundane explanation is the true one, which is in fact revealed to be the case.

That's not relevant. Yes, Caine says the simplest explanation is true, i.e. that there are two Christian Bales. And he is correct with respect to Bale's trick. But that has nothing to do with Jackman's trick, which is really what is problematic for your take on the film.

Indeed, if one were to push this, Jackman discovered "real magic" precisely because he DIDN'T accept the simplest explanation. And he accordingly found something true, both greater than materialism and impossible according to it. Further, it is actually Bale's (Bales') naturalistic way of doing the Transported Man trick that exacts the (definitely) more-elaborate and (arguably) more-costly ruse, though both create misery for both men.

What Tesla's machine does is make the whole science-vs.-magic an illogical way of approaching the film. Which man's way of doing the Transported Man trick is scientific? Bale's at least is physically possible, given what we know of the material world, but it is the one that is wholly illusion. Jackman's is impossible, but it is the one that is a product of science and is a genuine transportation of matter (if memory serves, Jackman at one point even barks out to the audience,"this is not magic, this is science").

It's now coming to me why I never bought your take -- I don't see how one can say that THE PRESTIGE sets up any kind of conflict/polarity between "science" and anything else, with one character or event, etc. representing "science." It drives one into too many antinomies like that.

Victor said...

Part II

"The audience knows the truth: The world is simple. And miserable. Solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second...then you can make them wonder." No matter what your personal beliefs, I really don't see how you can interpret this climactic speech as anything other than what I said

Simply that Tesla's machine is impossible if the world is solid all the way through.

Keep in mind also Tesla's note to Jackman, which seems just as plausible a thesis statement (on the down side, it's not a main character's dying words; on the up side, Tesla hasn't driven himself mad like the two magicians). Paraphrasing, he says, "in science the extraordinary is simply not allowed" (indeed, his science is crushed by a lynch mob, not a scholarly paper) "but in the field of entertainment, it is." He also advises de-facto that science be restricted on moral grounds -- that his machine be destroyed because it will bring only misery. A prediction the rest of the film's events definitely backs up and a reaction that is the eventual denouement.

md'a said...

To the extent you insist on this understanding, it weakens THE PRESTIGE as a work of art, because the film then would have cheated by introducing, while blessing via science, something impossible according to science.

Lol bud. Cheated? A movie does not constitute a scientific theorem. Obviously it doesn't prove anything; that's just what the film is about. The fact that Tesla's machine is (currently) not something science can achieve is irrelevant—in the world of this film, that machine was created, very explicitly, by a scientist. It clearly does not represent anything supernatural. In fact the theater owner, after being awed, tells Angier that he'll have to "dress it up...give them reason to doubt it," i.e. create the illusion that it's an illusion. (That line makes zero sense otherwise.)

Anonymous said...

Of course you realize that now people will start pestering you to tweet Top 100 lists for previous decades.

This comment being first instance of said pestering.

md'a said...

Of course you realize that now people will start pestering you to tweet Top 100 lists for previous decades.

That would entail rewatching a whole lotta films. I was only able to do this list because I started using the retarded 100-point system in mid-2002. Maybe I can get you the '90s in five years...

TheMusketeer said...

At least this list didn't include Juno.

Roryism said...

I cheered when I saw Kairo(Pulse) so high, I usually have to defend myself when I list it as one of the best films of all time.

Farmboy said...

I'm with Mike on PRESTIGE. Of course the film is to some extent about the two different approaches to The Transported Man. But the difference clearly isn't that Jackman's approach is in some way supernatural, or immaterial. On the contrary, the film goes to great lengths to posit it as rooted in science. I'm sure the famed Arthur C. Clarke quote about science and magic sprang to most minds here.

Were the point of the film that 'real magic' existed, then Jackman's quest might have ended in him discovering that Bale actually, inexplicably, teleported himself (or he simply would never have found out how he did it, thus somewhat more subtly/elegantly implying that he somehow wielded true magic). On the contrary, every trick in the film has an ultimately mundane - if, in the case of Jackman's Transported Man, science-fiction - explanation that is expressly hidden from the audience - because they want to believe that magic exists.

This is also why you can't possibly maintain that the Baurdrillardian "All reality is, in a sense, an illusion" is anywhere close to the film's main theme. I've always thought of Nolan as more of a radical Modernist than a post-modernist anyway: Memento's theme, too, is more about taking epistemological queries to such extremes that they may fracture/call into question the nature of identity, but stops short of doing the same to reality itself. To simplify: worlds may collide, but in the end they are little more than different interpretations of the same consistent reality.

As Mike says, if Jackman's version of Transported Man constituted 'real magic', he wouldn't need to dress it up in any way. He could simply state "Look folks, this machine and what it does to me... it's actual, real, man-made magic!" (And yes, in the Arthur Clarke sense, he'd be kind of right).

Stephen said...

I don't know, I be more amazed by seeing and knowing an actual matter cloning device that worked than a simple magic trick.

Farmboy said...

"I don't know, I be more amazed by seeing and knowing an actual matter cloning device that worked than a simple magic trick."

Well yes... and I suppose that's sort of Victor's point (although not really much of a counterargument against Mike's). A sceptic in the audience might believe it's Angier who 'simply' has a twin brother.

Anonymous said...

No 140 character summary for #69?

As end-of lists go, this one is pretty good. I've seen roughly half of them. My Netflix list just grew a whole bunch.

md'a said...

No 140 character summary for #69?

It precedes the entry rather than follows it. Really just an acknowledgment that it's the consensus choice for the Coens' masterpiece of this decade; I have two of their films ranked higher so including No Country as well felt oddly grudging.

BenV said...

Came here via /Film. A lot of agreement on my part, as well as a hell of a lot of stuff I need to check out. The very best kind of list.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I can get you the '90s in five years...

That's cool; I can wait.

In the meantime, I don't suppose there's any chance you'd want to at least share your Best-of-the-90s Skandies ballot...?

Sean said...

Continuing Mike's "lol bud" post, just imagine that, instead of matter duplication, it was any other now-mundane 20th century technology. Let's say he invented the transistor radio. Such a film would bore us because, even though it's science fiction to the characters, it's science fact to us. Priest and Nolan's trick is keep it "science fiction" for us while requiring us to demystify it.

Granted, it would be hard to come up with a trick based around transistor radios that has the same awesome moral weight as Angier's cloning/drowning apparatus, but it's perfectly reasonable in the story world to think that Angier would capitalize on the tech simply to outdo Borden rather than become a technology magnate.

Mike, thanks for the great list; it's time for me to get my Netflix account.

BT said...

I must have missed this somewheres: What was the film you realized you'd left out, Mike?

Atli Sig said...

Will you not be tweeting/blogging about those recent repeat viewings of older films? I'm curious to know why your opinion of Bug's Life lowered so much.