Tim’s Picks of the Decade
(In no particular order and totally non-definitive.)
Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo Del Toro understands that the purpose of fantasy has always been an escape mechanism. Set in Franco’s post-civil war Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth follows a young girl, Ofelia, as she shifts between a mystifying dream world and an oppressively cruel real life living under her despotic and cruel army officer step dad. Pan’s Labyrinth is a thoughtful examination into the duality between our fantasies and the harsher realities of life and how the two can intermingle and bleed into one another. Pan’s Labyrinth is sublime, beautiful, and easily the best fantasy film of the decade.
Zodiac – Zodiac begins as a lurid, sensationalistic serial killer film that takes a left turn in the second act to become an indictment of America’s fruitless obsession with unsolved crime cases. Zodiac is powerful, mesmerizing and could very well be the highlight of David Fincher’s career.
Grizzly Man – More commonly known as “that Discovery Channel documentary about the nature nut killed by bears that he befriended in Alaska,” Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man is pieced together from the recovered documentary tapes of the deceased “Grizzly Man” Timothy Treadwell. Grizzly Man gives us a glimpse of the majestic beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, astonishingly poignant interaction between man and beast, and surprisingly delicate insight into the fragility of the human mind. But most importantly Grizzly Man reminds us that sometimes nature is best left untamed.
Changeling – Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is more emotionally resonant than any current socially conscious “in film.” Eastwood tackles such topics as the abuse of authority, misuse of mental services, and the marginalization of women in America’s past without standing on a soapbox. Plus, Angelina Jolie turns in one hell of a performance.
City Of God – Fernando Mereille and Kátia Lund’s sprawling tale of life in a Brazilian favela has the classic bell-shaped curve narrative arc of the gangster film; a young upstart’s ascent out of poverty, seizure of power at the top, the glamorous lifestyle, and the eventual fall. Filled with violence, corruption, betrayal and all of the other staples of the genre, City Of God takes the conventions of the gangster film and places them into a new and exciting environment. Impeccably filmed, City Of God is a must see.
21 Grams - 21 Grams centers on a car accident that brings three people from different walks of life into each other’s trajectory in unexpected and grim ways. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu uses the fragmented narrative technique, as seen three years later in Paul Haggis’ Crash, to a much more satisfying end. Tragic and ultimately human at its core 21 Grams serves as a reminder that despite life’s seeming madness and cruelty, people are all interconnected and that our actions all have consequences upon one another.
Wordplay – Something as mundane as crosswords may not seem like great documentary material but Patrick Creadon’s film depicts the joi de vivre in solving these daily puzzles. Wordplay is absolutely delightful for puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike.
The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan delivers the best comic book movie of all time, bar none. Stripping away the cartoony aspects of the characters, The Dark Knight pits two psychologically damaged individuals against one another within what feels like a very real, very dangerous Gotham. At any moment during The Dark Knight’s entire 152 minute runtime, the film feels like it could degenerate into anarchy, but somehow Nolan strikes the perfect balance between order and chaos.
Broken Flowers – Bill Murray is one of the best actors at displaying the emotions of disaffection, loss, depression, and cynicism behind a biting, sarcastic veneer. Jim Jarmusch gets one of the top performances of Murray’s career as a middle-aged bachelor visiting a string of old flames in search of a son that he is rumored to have fathered. Broken Flowers manages to be both heartwarmingly funny and melancholic at the same time.
Borat – Ignore the meatheaded frat guy and the punkass teenager doing his best “I like sex” impression of Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen’s character still remains laugh out loud funny while simultaneously exposing many of America’s misconceptions, odd social mores, and prejudices on-camera. Maybe the meatheaded and punkassed impersonators are unaware of the irony in their behavior that might make them the butt of Sacha Baron Cohen’s next joke.
The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford – Americans’ love folk legends. We love the idea of mythical characters that are larger than life, above the law, and that transcend boundaries. Andrew Dominick’s film is a self-reflexive look at the creation of American myth itself. Dominick examines the fact and fiction that swirls around Jesse James and his death. He dispels our romanticized conceptions of the Wild West antihero and gunslingers in general. We see the process of how myths are originated while Dominick creates a new set of mythos himself. The Assassination of Jesse James feels like visual poetry. Breathe slowly, look deep, and just absorb every moment of the pastoral beauty of this awe-inspiring film.
Punch Drunk Love – It is interesting to see how the viewers’ perception of Adam Sandler’s manchild characters change based on the context. In Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, Sandler’s arrested development is goofy and funny. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, Sandler’s immature behavior and violent mood swings are sad and disturbing. Punch Drunk Love is an excellent example of a typecast actor breaking new ground (something Sandler never repeated) under the direction of a daring filmmaker.
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead – Clint Eastwood is not the only director to get better with age. Sidney Lumet’s film is a nasty and mean-spirited look at familial relations and greed. After a drought of quality films in the 90’s, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is Sidney Lumet back in top form.
28 Days Later –The terror in zombie films sometimes has less to do with the undead themselves, but with the increasingly tense personal turmoil mounting between the survivors (and yes, true, the threat of getting your brain eaten). Danny Boyle delivers a horror film that capitalizes on the potentially corrosive dynamics between survivors in times of crisis. In addition, 28 Days Later has the most convincing atmosphere of any horror film of the decade, most notably when Cillian Murphy’s character roams the empty streets of London accompanied only by the brooding guitar score done by John Murphy of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Some critics qualified their reasons for liking 28 Days Later by claiming that it really isn’t horror. Fuck them.
The Departed – “I’m gonna go have a smoke right now. You want a smoke? You don’t smoke, do ya, right? What are ya, one of those fitness freaks, huh? Go fuck yourself.”
The Wrestler – People often dismiss wrestling because of the planned endings, faked hits, stage personas, and of course the tight spandex. Darren Aranofksy powerbombs these preconceptions through a table with The Wrestler, a film with more heart than any other movie released this decade. Mickey Rourke’s character puts his body and soul on the line for his fans every night while losing everything else in in the process. No wonder so many wrestling legends die young.
Unbreakable – Nowadays, M. Night Schyamalan is often disregarded as a one trick pony and/or a hack but back in 2000 he crafted what is possibly his finest film. Unbreakable relies on more than just a twist to carry the movie (even though the twist is fabulous, especially for comic fans.) Meticulous framing, a great story arc, and subdued performances from Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson reminds us of what M. Night Schyamalan could have been.
Grindhouse – Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double feature was by far the most entertaining theater experience of the decade. Fake trailers, trademarks, concession stand ads, and films modeled after the heyday of 70’s exploitation gave brave (and patient) filmgoers a wholly unique ambience. Unfortunately due to poor turnout, the proposed sequels will not see the light of day. Shame on those of you who did not attend.
Clerks II – The perfect ending for (and rebirth of) Dante and Randall’s stint at the Quick Stop. The original Clerks conveys the angst, indecision, and apathy of trying to figure out where you belong in life. Clerks II is a reminder that sometimes everything you need is right under your nose. I would marry Rosario Dawson’s character in a heartbeat.
No Country For Old Men