or…just my favorites…
10) The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
Apocalyptic in its tone and unyielding in its violence, The Mist is a potent Bush-era horror movie, filled with untrustworthy military figures and religious zealots who pose an equal or greater threat to the protagonists than the vividly imagined monsters.
9) Junebug (Phil Morrison, 2005)
The rare Southern film that doesn’t kiss the South’s ass nor does it pay insipid tribute to “family.” A movie that understands the complexities of dysfunctional families and of a region still coping (or not coping) with the legacy of slavery, Junebug achieves its power from its wellspring of seemingly average yet complex characters and locations.
8) Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007).
Out of all the movies that have been made as homages/pastiches over the past decade (and that includes Tarantino’s 00’s output) this is my favorite. The film is fun from the first frame on, an ode to exploitation cinema from direct-to-video action to grindhouse horror. It features inventive action sequences and gore gags as well as iconic characters, played exuberantly by an ensemble cast, including standouts, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, and Josh Brolin.
7) Kissing Jessica Stein (Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, 2001)
Comedy may be one of the most sexist genres, and so Kissing Jessica Stein is an especially refreshing rom-com, written by two women (who also star) that doesn’t rely on penis jokes, male sexual hangups, and sexist characterizations to deliver laughs. The movie’s queer content is legitimately felt but can also be read as a larger metaphor for the female (queer and straight) struggle to assert itself, sexually and professionally, amidst the conformity of upper-middle-class society. The movie has delightful, witty dialog, and Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergenson possess hilarious comedic timing and chemistry, not to mention Herman-Wurmfeld’s camera-work, which is lively, sensitive, and always assured.
6) Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004).
A week-long road-trip through California wine country with two endearing yet deeply flawed protagonists- a whip-smart, neurotic writer and alcoholic (Paul Giamatti) and a washed-up, sex-addicted actor (Thomas Haden Church) is ultimately about friends who are screwed up in opposite ways and thus compliment and learn from each other. The cinematography, camera-work, and music make wine country look intoxicating, and the screenplay is both sharp and poignant.
5) Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
The best performance by an actress this decade is Ellen Burstyn’s in this as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely Brighton Beach widow who tries to fill her emotional void with a fantasy of being thin on television. In Goldfarb’s character, we see a legitimate existential crisis which propels the terrifying chaos of drug addiction. Clint Mansell’s score and the editing set a new standard for film music, and the Darren Aronofsky synthesizes frenetic, post-MTV editing and camera techniques into a legitimate aesthetic.
4) Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
A satire of Hollywood movies as well as a funny Woody Allen-esque neurotic comedy (with Nicholas Cage doubling as twins- one insecure, the other hyper-confident) Adaptation. does justice to the real people within an unadaptable non-fiction book (The Orchid Thief) while showing the burdens of the artistic process, presented as an amalgam of creation, adaptation, and masturbation.
3) A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
Cronenberg expands into conventional narrative drama, yet doesn’t shed his interest in the vulnerabilities of our bodies (exemplified in his trademark, unforgettable violent imagery and truly erotic sex scenes) and delivers a powerful message about America’s problematic conflation of heroism and violence.
2) American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000).
A feminist/liberal skewering of the Reagan 80’s, Harron’s satire-as-horror-movie disturbs and amuses in both its text and subtext. Christian Bale as mass murderer Patrick Bateman captures the vapidity of consumerism and the evil of corporate greed run amok, merciless to the public and accountable to no one. The last scene features a Reagan speech– Harron and co-script-writer, Guinevere Turner drawing a direct link between the psycho of their film and the psychos in political and economic power.
1) Mulholland Dr (David Lynch, 2001).
How can a film make so little logical sense yet so much emotional sense? Lynch toyed with movie-as-wet-dream before in Lost Highway, but Mulholland Dr expands upon that inferior yet fascinating film’s themes, bringing the critique straight to Hollywood and its chew-em-up/spit-em-out culture. Lynch also defuses his trademark misogyny by making the protagonist a lesbian, and acknowledging his own moral culpability by positing the Lynch doppelganger (played by Justin Theroux) as a chief purveyor of the fucked-up, sexist Hollywood system. This is my favorite film of the 00’s because the more I watch it, the more I realize how Lynch has created a universe unto itself, an alternate reality that is almost more in keeping with science fiction than conventional narrative drama- and how this universe is rooted in a deeply emotional, tragic place. Each time I watch Mulholland Dr, I am swept away- haunted, titillated, and moved.
Moon, Far From Heaven, Let the Right One In, Dogville, Gosford Park, Beau Travail, Eastern Promises, Zodiac, Audition, Wolf Creek, Milk, There Will Be Blood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Royal Tennenbaums, Fahrenheit 9/11, Donnie Darko, An Inconvenient Truth
Best performance by an actor:
-Sean Penn in Milk
Honorable Mentions: Christian Bale in American Psycho, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Nicholas Cage in Adaptation
Best performance by an actress:
-Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream
Honorable Mentions: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr, Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, Nicole Kidman in Dogville, Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher