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November 24, 2009


Coming up with a Top 10 Movies list every year is hard enough

Best Movies of the Decade

So doing a Top 10 list covering the last 10 years... I give up.

By which I mean, I'll do it, but I'm probably forgetting about all the best movies, and it's hard to judge comedies, dramas, and documentaries on the same scale. But assuming the movies that haven't come out yet this year--like Brothers (sorry I got busy with your hotter brother while you were dead, honey!) and Nine (Daniel Day-Lewis nails everyone in the whole world, while singing)--aren't going to blow my mind, I'll take a stab at a list.

But first, a bunch of other lists. A lot more of these will come out in the next few weeks, but so far, there's not much consensus on what the best movies of the decade are. A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips from "At the Movies" are doing a countdown of their Top 10 lists week by week, and they've gotten up to #6 so far. Already there's a lot of room for controversy: I've got some picks in common with each critic, but Million Dollar Baby?, 25th Hour? That movie was not that good--I liked it at first, but it doesn't hold up to repeated viewings. Last week, A.O. Scott picked The Best of Youth, which I've never heard of.

A writer from Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt, posted his Top 10 list, which is impressively unconventional. Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon hasn't come out yet, so no comment on that one, but he's got another Haneke movie on there, too, half of his picks are foreign, and he includes Far From Heaven (?) and Letters from Iwo Jima (?!!), a movie I more or less forgot all about 5 minutes after walking out of the theater.

A few other lists: a short one from Cinematical (with a surprise Anchorman in the top comedy spot), Top 50 from Paste Magazine, a list I like a lot except for the top 2 selections (Amelie and City of God--yawn), and a gutsy Top 100 list from the Times of London: in addition to all the usual stuff, they've got Bad Santa, Capturing the Friedmans, Casino Royale, and Grizzly Man.

So here are the movies that would be on my own top movies of the decade list:

Kill Bill, Vol 1 and 2: gorgeous, eye-popping, emotional, wildly stylish, tense, funny, and unstoppable. The coolest movie I've seen in at least 10 years.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: even if you literally get your memory erased, you still can't get over that one who dumped you. A wistfully beautiful and optimistic movie about brains and broken hearts.

No Country For Old Men/A Serious Man: I suspect A Serious Man might be a tiny bit better, but I have to see it again.

Mulholland Drive: like having a really stylish, self-perpetuating anxiety dream after watching too many movies. Naomi Watts is the greatest.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days: a slow, intense buildup to the most harrowing day ever. Quietly eloquent movie about the abuse of power and all the crap vulnerable people have to deal with.

The Piano Teacher/Caché: Two jaw-dropping movies by Michael Haneke, I can't decide which one is best.

The Descent: a smallish horror movie not a lot of people saw, but it's so amazingly great as both an action/adventure movie and as a standard attack-of-the-cave-monsters movie. Really holds up.

The Bourne Identity: the first one was the best. Has some of the greatest city-based action scenes ever.

Ghost Dog: this movie's tones and styles are all over the place, but it gets them all right. It's smooth, light, cool, dark, touching, cartoonish, funny, and sweet. Makes me feel cool just watching it.

My Winnipeg: I only recently got into Guy Maddin, and this one is the best I've seen so far. Originality isn't everything, but there aren't any other movies out there like this. Surreally nostalgic and really funny.

A few other stand-outs: The Departed, Pan's Labyrinth, Brokeback Mountain, Shaun of the Dead, The Royal Tenenbaums, Almost Famous, and United 93. I was going to say Being John Malkovich, but it came out in 1999.

You know what would be a good idea? Doing a Top Comedies of the Decade list. I'd put Wedding Crashers, Shaun of the Dead, Dude, Where's My Car? (really), Superbad and Dodgeball on there.

A few movies that are gonna keep popping up on other people's lists are Zodiac, Lost in Translation, and The Dark Knight. Eh.

OK, what did I forget and what are your favorites?

categories: Movies
posted by amy at 2:58 PM | #

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I was going to resist the urge, but you just make it look so fun!


Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at November 25, 2009 10:06 AM

That's a great list. I watched Full Frontal about a year after it came out, and because of the weak reviews, had really low expectations.

I don't know why that movie wasn't a lot more successful than it was--it's fantastic. Really funny, amazing ensemble cast with lots of stars, and sharp insights into how our media works. What's not to love? It's probably my favorite Soderbergh movie of this decade.

I still laugh when I think of Catherine Keener bouncing that inflatable globe off her interviewee's body and demanding "Name all the countries in Africa!"

Posted by: amy at November 25, 2009 12:12 PM

Yeah, I'm still sort of mystified why it was so universally trashed. Did you see my video essay and accompanying loooong appreciation of it?

Video essay here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixAxaiQJ2f0&feature=player_embedded

Essay with video here: http://thatfuzzybastard.blogspot.com/2008/12/full-frontal.html

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at November 26, 2009 12:42 AM

"Um, I don't think you're allowed to do this."

Yeah, I'm still kind of baffled by the universal drubbing FF received. And I'm equally unimpressed (though less surprised) by the universal praise for the way less interesting Che.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at November 26, 2009 9:53 AM

I like your video commentary, and now, of course, have to go back and watch FF a second time.

Soderbergh gets another jab at Julia Roberts (and Hollywood in general) in during that almost-kiss with Blair Underwood at the end of Rendezvous--it's a reference to The Pelican Brief, right? That movie obviously would have incorporated a romantic relationship had Julia Roberts' co-star not been played by Denzel, or any black actor, as I think Blair Underwood's character actually points out in FF.

By the way, a friend had a theory that no black movie star can kiss a white actress on screen unless he's Wesley Snipes, which I think held true through the 90s, at least. Even in Full Frontal/Rendezvous, Soderbergh cleverly uses Blair Underwood's arm as a shield so you can't see the two of them kissing.

I don't think I watched any of the extras the first time I saw it on DVD, but this brief review means I definitely will this time around:

"As expected, tons of deleted material appear on the Full Frontal DVD, including an excised storyline where Keener's character gets arrested in the porno shop."


Posted by: amy at November 29, 2009 2:22 PM

Hunh---he hated Schizopolis, but liked FF? That's sort of surprising.

And yeah, that's totally a reference to The Pelican Brief, one of the more infamous cases in recent memory. In the book, the characters do indeed sleep together when they share a hotel room while on the run from the bad guys, as every thriller in history has led us to expect, and the omission is quite striking in the movie. I even think Underwood's rap earlier in the movie has a line like "Can a brother kiss a Pretty Woman under a pelican moon?"

Y'know, I've never watched any of the FF extras either. I mean, I knew about "the rules" beforehand, but that's it. I think it's that every time I put the disc in, I end up just wanting to watch FF again.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at November 29, 2009 9:46 PM

Really, you two. Mulholland Drive? I mean, it's creative and strange and you don't know what it means until suddenly it's over, but I saw it four years ago and I still don't know what it means. I don't think David Lynch does, either.

Anyway, this was a great way to waste half an hour. First, while I think comedies like Tootsie and Airplane! are among the best movies ever made, it's hard to say now that the great comedies of the 2000s (at least Knocked Up, The Hangover, Juno, and Wedding Crashers) will still be funny in ten years. I hope so. But I thought Flirting With Disaster and There's Something About Mary were brilliant and we haven't heard about those in ten years now.

Anyway, here's my list. Amy will kill me for #1, but I thought the cleverness of the plotting and the special effects overcome the sappiness.

Benjamin Button
City of God
Donnie Darko
Eternal Sunshine
Kill Bill
Lord of the Rings
Mystic River
Spirited Away

My runners up would be Adaptation, Atonement, Brokeback Mountain, History of Violence, The Lives of Others, No Country for Old Men, and Volver.

Posted by: T-Rock at November 30, 2009 2:53 PM

Actually, as I said on my site, the reason I put Mulholland up there was that it was the first time a David Lynch movie *did* make total sense. The delayed production forced him to actually analyze his standard automatic writing approach, and the result was the rare Lynch movie where all the beautiful pieces actually fit together.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at November 30, 2009 5:41 PM

Yeah, I'm nuts about Mulholland Drive. After a couple of viewings, all the strange tangents and circular storylines do actually come together into a strangely cogent narrative. I can think of 2 or 3 different explanations for what's going on in this movie, and all the pieces actually make sense within those constructions. If you've seen the much crazier Lost Highway or Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive feels like a Ron Howard movie compared to those.

I like your list, T-Rock, and many of your picks would fall in my runners-up, esp Spirited Away and Wall-E. I did think Benjamin Button was a little sappy and oh my god it was so long, but there were some fantastic moments that made it pretty great.

But oh man, do I ever hate Mystic River. Except for Kevin Bacon. He was good, I wish he'd had more scenes. Like, all of Sean Penn's and Tim Robbins' scenes, maybe.

Posted by: amy at December 1, 2009 12:17 PM

I thought throwing Spirited Away in there would buy me some credit that I could squander with Benjamin Button. I didn't think it was long at all, but I also like The Last Emperor and The English Patient, which everyone seems to think are too long. My tip: once your Diet Coke is empty, you can urinate in the cup!

I would say "I should watch Mulholland Drive again" but that's not going to happen. I did put "Full Frontal" on my Netflix queue, though.

When I think about Mystic River I only think about Laura Linney, the Lady Macbeth of South Boston. But unlike you, I've never been a downtrodden New England fishwife, so it doesn't hit as close to home for me.

Posted by: T-Rock at December 1, 2009 3:55 PM

Amy, I'm so, so with you on Mystic River.

(to the tune of Mr Sandman)

Mystic River,
Dark as can be,
The feel-bad movie of 2003
It proves man will do things a beast would
If he's in a movie that's made by Clint Eastwood
Mystic River,
Maybe I'm dense
But did that ending remotely make sense?
Though critics may not agree
Mystic River mystified me!

(can't take credit---it was in The New Yorker years ago and I've never forgotten)

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at December 2, 2009 9:07 AM

As long as I can nap briefly during movies that are over 2 1/2 hours long, I have no problem with them. And if long movies are in Asian languages that I don't understand at all, tuning out for a few minutes is sometimes literally irresistible. I decided to stop feeling bad about falling asleep during movies, and took little naps during The Last Emperor, Seven Samurai, and Farewell My Concubine, and I like all those a lot.

Full Frontal is all fragmented and cut-up like a lot of other smallish movies Soderbergh does. It's like a combination of Out of Sight, The Limey, and The Girlfriend Experience, but with more funny parts and Catherine Keener.

Posted by: amy at December 3, 2009 1:42 PM

Mystic River: Laura Linney is the new Catherine Keener!

Actually, the reason I even thought of Mystic River is because I associate it with The Departed, which I also liked. But The Departed is a remake of a Hong Kong movie that I thought was more profound (it was somewhat spiritual, which is odd in an Asian movie) and I thought the whole idea of an Irish gang smuggling microchips was pretty implausible.

I was hoping to see Red Cliff tonight, a five hour Chinese movie that has been cut down to 2.5 hours for the US, but the only show is at the same time we have to go to a birthday party, so instead we're seeing Up In The Air. With Jason Bateman - the male Catherine Keener.

Posted by: T-Rock at December 4, 2009 10:54 AM

I want to see Red Cliff too, hopefully it represents John Woo's return to form. It looks like he's going the same route as Zhang Yimou has recently--big epic action movies set in dynastic China. But Yimou was clever enough to get there without the unfortunate Ben Affleck detour.

That Fuzzy Bastarrd and I caught This Is It last night, it's better than you would think.

I would have liked Laura Linney's bloodthirsty Lady M scenes late in Mystic River more if they had made any sense in the context of her character, who seemed like she made a pretty sudden and not-believable shift from downtrodden fishwife to revenge monger. It felt like there were some scenes missing that might have explained her change. Also, why is there a parade at the end of that movie?

Posted by: amy at December 4, 2009 11:22 AM

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