Best films by decade: The 2000s (6-10)

6 Aug

The tiny little robotic savior of the human race.

6. Wall-E/Werckmeister Harmonies—A wonder. Wall-E is the last of the garbage gathering robots, left behind by the humans who abandoned Earth to an environmental end-times event. Wall-E spends his days roaming an urban wasteland with his only friend, a cockroach, making enormous mounds of compacted trash, and his evenings watching old movies and marveling at the cast-off products of the now absent human race. Through his eyes, we get to rediscover the immense magnitude of the human imagination. But his discovery of a small sapling, followed by meeting an advanced searcher robot Eve, whisks the shy little robot away on a cosmic mission to save the last humans, grown lethargic and sickly through inactivity. The result is a love story, a comedy, a science fiction thriller, and a space odyssey of the first order. The best film from Pixar, which is high praise indeed.

Confronting the problem of evil and suffering in the dense but spectacular Werckmeister Harmonies.

Werckmeister Harmonies—A wonder of a different sort. Bela Tarr isn’t for everyone, and many of his movies aren’t for me, either. He’s slow, ponderous and often intent on punishing the viewer with glacial pacing. He’s similar to Tarkovsky—operating with a very different cinematic language than the one we’re used to—with the same dedication to his art and craft. Satantango is almost eight hours, with incredibly long shots of cows and pastures; The Man from London is a thriller with no thrills; but Werckmeister Harmonies is stunning. It’s beautiful, moving, unsettling and even scary as hell. The movie follows a youngish man with strange, perhaps mystical talents, as he and his fellow townspeople are invaded by a traveling circus populated with eerie freaks. The town falls apart with the circus presence, led by a shadowy figure called the prince, transforms them into a mob of rapists and murderers. The movie is an astonishing piece of formalism, the whole shebang something like nine or ten long takes. It’s a superb film, but also trying and bleak. Not for the faint of heart, but for those willing, an unforgettable movie experience.

Sexual yearning and obsessive love painted with bold Spanish colors.

7. Talk to Her/Volver—Almodovar emerged as one of the major artists of the decade with three fabulous films and a handful of very good ones. Talk To Her is his most serious movie, following two men and their obsessive love for their women. It’s a great movie, a real tearjerker, and a departure from his usual garish style. Some of his fans didn’t like it, but I believe it was the beginning of a renaissance in his career. He made Bad Education next, a twisty little thriller about sexual abuse in Catholic schools in Spain, and the ruined sexuality of the little boys grown up. Bad Education is a very good movie, complex and tricky, but Volver is a great film.

Penelope Cruz gives her best performance of her impressive career in Volver.

Volver—follows Penelope Cruz, a battered housewife who kills her bully of a husband and then sets out to start over a new life for herself. She takes over a closed restaurant, and it’s clear that Almodovar has taken the basic premise of Mildred Pierce, but allowed for his heroine to carve out meaning and success instead of failure and regret. Cruz gives the performance of her career, and the movie feels like an Iberian hybrid of James Cain and Douglas Sirk.

Portrait of a crumbling family or a cunning, barely concealed evil?

8. Capturing the Freidmans/Fog of War/Bowling for Columbine—Documentaries before the 2000s, with a few exceptions, were guided by a firm set of rules. They looked plain. They resolved their conflicts with talking head interviews and often bland voice-overs. They lacked style. All of this changed in the oughts, and half a dozen other documentaries could justifiably be on the list. Capturing the Friedmans is a bold exploration of a crime, its consequences for a community and family, and the delusions, lies, and false memories that carry misinformation along. At the center of the film is the accusation of a horrible crime. Arnold Friedman, a bookish computer tutor caught with child pornography, is accused of abusing his students in a series of bizarre sexual games. Through testimony and old family videos, the filmmaker examines the collective derangement that can seize hold of an entire town. The truth is lost, and regained, by the end of the movie. Unbelievable.

The architect of the Vietnam War explains what he’s learned from his mistakes.

The Fog of War—The Fog of War is a superb examination of U.S. foreign policy during the Vietnam War, juxtaposed with the invasion of Iraq, through the voice of Robert McNamara. Called by some the architect of Vietnam War—including Halberstam in his book The Best and the Brightest—McNamara is intelligent, charming, learned, and almost wise. The lessons he’s learned through his former mistakes are illuminating, chilling, haunting. His mercurial intelligence leads him into some harsh self-scrutiny, and by the movie’s end his inner demons—those goddamned regrets—are exposed. Directed by the great Errol Morris, a fantastic stylist and a superb interviewer.

Michael Moore gets a gun in a bank, and examines our hysterical, and terrifying, contradictions.

Bowling for Columbine—Michael Moore is the best political filmmaker we have, a satirizing humorist with a surgeon’s eye for obscure film clips. Here he investigates America’s internal contradictions through the massacre at Columbine high school. He’s tendentious, scabrous even, and unafraid to make bold, sweeping claims. The movie sort of falters right near the end, but in its sweep and tone, it captures the feeling of the early 2000s in the way that is indispensable. It’s funny, shocking, but always entertaining. Unforgettable.

A film of lust, yearning and unparalleled beauty.

9. In the Mood for Love/Cache—An unabashed blast of romantic yearning. Wong Kar-Wai is one of the great filmmakers, but he’s made a number of mediocre films. This is, alongside Chungking Express, his best film, a beautiful meditation on lust and almost-love. Two neighbors discover their respective spouses have left them for each other. They re-enact their ex-lovers’ courting, and begin a sly courtship of their own. The simplicity of the story belies the magic, the titillating artifice, the glamour and the period details that make this a bewitching movie experience. Moody, erotic, and powerful.

History isn’t just in the past, it carries an axe.

Cache—The turning point for Haneke, and his first great film. The movie begins with a four-minute shot of an exterior apartment. The calm steadiness of the shot first makes you squirm, then scrutinize. You begin to look for meaning. The shot, it turns out, is a videotape sent to a struggling married couple, and it’s the outside of their apartment. It’s a riff on David Lynch’s Lost Highway—Haneke is a self-professed big Lynch fan—although Haneke moves his movie into a very different direction. The video tugs at the strands of their relationship, sending the husband into his childhood memories, and into the collective guilt of France. Haneke uses his old obsessions—human cruelty, casual violence, the audience’s duplicitousness with the onscreen nastiness—to scrutinize a not-so-decent man under the microscope. A deeply unsettling and disturbing movie experience, but the first time Haneke uses his vast talents to do more than shock and satirize; here he also tells a moving story.

Two men spend their lives pursuing an elusive killer. With kung fu and jokes.

10. Memories of Murder/The Host/Wolf Creek—Bong Joon-ho is the best of a very talented bunch of South Korean film directors, with three superior films under his belt (Mother is the third). The first was Memories of Murder, a South Korean Zodiac, the story of the first serial killer of the fledgling republic and the men who obsess over catching him. It’s haunting, thrilling, scary, and at times hilarious. Like Zodiac, the movie unfolds in docudrama style, ensnaring the viewer with the same labyrinthine complexity of a real murder case. Great acting, superior pacing.

A mutated sucker fish amok in South Korea, and one hell of a wild ride.

The HostJoon-ho’s second film is a monster movie of the finest order, probably the best of its kind since Jaws. The movie follows a city besieged by a mutated sucker fish gone amok, and an eccentric, in-fighting family trying to rescue their little sister from its lair. The same funny/scary/thrilling tone is there—and this is the hardest tone for a movie to sustain—and the movie ratchets up the unsettling discomfort into a climax of fog and fire. Much better than it sounds.

Nature offers little solace, aiding and abetting a vicious psychopathic killer.

Wolf Creek—Australia has for three decades had a strong film culture, and the 2000s were no exception. (The excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood documents, hilariously, the country’s turn toward genre filmmaking in the 1970s.) The Box was superb, Animal Kingdom was good, but Wolf Creek was near perfection. This nightmarish horror film—think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Picnic at Hanging Rock—is as much about the obliterating power of nature as it is about the perverse inner sickness that lurks in the hearts of evil men. Three students making their way through the outback breakdown near a giant crater in the desert. They are rescued by a jolly redneck, who tricks them into a murderous cat and mouse game. The movie’s viciousness is balanced by the director’s superior technical skills and a sumptuous painter’s eye for the rugged land. Beauty can eviscerate. Nature can destroy. Fascinating and intense.

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3 Responses to “Best films by decade: The 2000s (6-10)”

  1. keithsterlingcox August 9, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    You got some great films here. I will try to use it as a movie suggestion box (for the ones I haven’t seen). But I got to quibble about one thing. Amelie has to be higher than The Host. Why not replace The Host with Mother. I would be okay with the list then.

    • simoneandthesilversurfer August 9, 2012 at 4:55 am #

      I saw The Host first. It has something to it. You know you’ve experienced something. As for Amelie, the first time I saw it, I loved it. But I watched it again eight years later. It’s very good, but it has these little overly precious moments that don’t really work. And, Caro’s World War I film was so miserable that I’ve re-evaluated his work. It’s atrocious.

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