Sunday, January 3, 2010

tMF Top 50: Best Movies of the 2000s (10-1)

tMF Top 50: Best Movies of the 2000s (10-1)
We finally made it.  The best of the best.  Before we get to the top ten best films of the decade, take a minute to review the rest of the list:

#50-41 | #40-31 | #30-21 | #20-11

These are the films that mean the most to me. They have kept me up at night causing me to ponder endlessly about them, its characters, its themes and its mood: What was it that made feel (enter whatever emotion)? They successfully have managed to penetrate my body, settling there ever since I first viewed them and will probably be established within me for the rest of my life. I also believe they helped shape the decade in film by bringing new dimensions to historic genres. This decade alone allowed us, encouraged us and eventually forced us to view romance, relationships, corruption, greed, dreams and hope in a fashion that movie goers never perceived prior to it. Ambiguity, dislocated narratives, identity crisis, relationship unorthodoxies and dystopian visions flourished magnificently instead of catastrophically because the times were craving a new perspective to lead them unabashedly into the new era. The heightened ambition that filmmakers discovered within themselves led them to believe that anything was possible. Finding a way to propagate this abundance of creativity and rebellion through cinematic realism could only be accomplished by a visual flair that had the capability of enlightening the soul, driving crazy the mind and piercing the heart with emotional gratification. All fifty of these films accomplish this in one way or another, but this selected ten are intellectually crafted and have become incomparable. By fostering a new sense of imagination, all of these films pay tribute to a primordial concept; showing man as he truly is and the world as it truly is.

10. Lost in Translation (2003)

You can always guarantee that the live relaxing music will be going on at the bar located in the Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. Bill Murray as actor Bob Harris and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte have never been better as the two strangers cross paths thanks to the bar at the Hyatt Hotel. It’s not so much the characters themselves that drive the movie but rather the location; Japan. What director Sophia Coppola captures on camera not only manages to swamp our two main characters but also us, the audience. Japan is used to its fullest capabilities as the two karaoke, go to strip clubs, parties, and the Hyatt bar not only to have fun but learn more about each other as they spill their personal lives to one another. True love never looked so empty. Both of them are in Japan because they have to be: Bob (50-years-old) is shooting a commercial for whiskey (“For relaxing times, make it Suntory times”) and Charlotte (23-years-old) is along for the ride with her husband who’s a photographer and really has no time for her. What unfolds is magical, as Bob wants his youth back (a bossy wife and two children), Charlotte gives him just that, and she wants answers to life’s biggest questions. The movie moves along at a very nuanced pace as Coppola focuses on the struggles that these two go through and how their lives mirror in similarities. Never once does the movie fall off its narrow and unique track for a quick or cheap laugh involving any sexual actions between the two. Lost in Translation is a subtle comedy about life itself. Oh and yea, the infamous whisper scene will still jar your emotions.

9. You Can Count on Me (2000)

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan never made another film since. His 2000 masterpiece You Can Count on Me is an unequivocal landscape of human behavior being acted out in guaranteed perfection. These behaviors form a free-flowing fountain of shattering emotions, making each remark and expression made by an individual relevant to a film that focuses on regret and optimism.  A truthful rendering accounting the relationship between a sister (Laura Linney) and her wearisome brother (Mark Ruffalo owns the movie) during the middle stages of their lives is unlike any other brother/sister film out there. Lonergan uses the films nuanced pace to convey how devastation mounts slowly, concluding with a heartbreaking scene that’s unshakeable. They are two adults who act like sheltered children when the world offers struggles that they can’t begin to fathom. Sometimes opportunity literally knocks at your door. A charmer of a brother who is swimming in a pool of trouble makes a return home after another one of his long stints of absence. People don’t want to face these problems. They don’t want to face the harshness reality offers, but that’s inevitable because of the character’s motives and their given situations. By not becoming familiar with these obstacles life offers, souls tend to drift elsewhere and eventually leading them to look for answers in all the wrong places. A big gap in one character’s life is the absence of God, or any religion for that matter. There’s no exact direction home without a specific guidance. That, then, results with the human instinct exploring other contaminated arenas for answers.

8. The New World (2005)

Terrence Malick, to cinema, is a gift from Heaven. Each of his four films play out like it was created by a higher-being, channeling techniques and stories that shun away normalcy while welcoming grace. Be it either the tough, subtle romance found in Badlands, the groundbreaking cinematography of Days of Heaven, or the voice of haunted men’s conscience being heard in The Thin Red Line, Malick’s repertoire is abundantly full of artistic imagination that is hard to match. His latest feature combines all of what his previous films succeeded at and adds even more. The New World happens to be his masterpiece. An immediate sense of solitude pervades our mind. We become isolated within this film. This is an enormous effect to achieve, and to the extent of such comfort and tranquility it does it with is only a testament to Malick’s great filmmaking. The New World is a novelty amongst modern day romances, even though it takes place in 1903 when the English wanted to expand over into America’s untouched lands which denounced greed, jealousy and corruption. The movie is a metaphor for love seen through the prism of unabashed, violent colonialism. Watching the British establish a small territory in the American wild, with John Smith (Colin Farrell) as their most reliant soldier, moving out the Native Americans, isn’t what Malick is concerned with. He acutely charts love’s passionate progressions which lead Mr. Smith to meet a tribe’s most beautiful woman, Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher). This astute depiction of love that is forbidden warrants the film’s title; a new world is experienced by both Smith and Pocahontas. Both are foreigners to this arena of love and in turn they can’t begin to interpret it. Making their romance more touching is the fact that neither agrees upon something which would wholly benefit their self. So compassionate and true is their love because of Malick’s technique of letting the souls of his lovers speak. They spill out their deep romantic confessions in a sensual and poetic manner in form of a voice-over narration. The love portrayed here is the same is it was in Malick’s Badlands and Days of Heaven; a disastrous relationship which begins in a feeling of everlasting contentment.  He allows the human senses to suffice and swallow the film.

7. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Bruised and beaten, battered and torn; these pitfalls and toils our two main characters sustain throughout the course of Paul Thomas Anderson’s  widely controversial and thematically charged film is a process that each one has to endure if they hunger for eclipsing the other. One is an oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the other a young, radical preacher of the Third Revelation Church (Paul Dano). It is capitalism versus religion; self-interest versus equality; maturity versus immaturity; man versus child. Each works in particular fields that demand pristine rhetoric, which leads them to persuade the aimless and feebleminded: townsfolk who need guidance and flock to anyone or thing that seems fresh and has promises that can prospect hope. The oilman appears to be a representation of an anti-Christ coming to a desperate land and promising them hope due to their significant wealth in oil, which only the oilman can get to; they need him and he needs them to fulfill his greed. The preacher, who represents all religious views, is overtaken but not without a fight. There Will Be Blood is a metaphor for a plague intruding on an innocent land. Capitalism and industrialism are ideas that seem eminent when compared to religion. And Anderson isn’t hesitant to acknowledge the actual bleakness of such ideologies. His direction doesn’t cease to match the intensity of the film or of Day-Lewis’ frightfully potent performance. His camera pans the barren lands in a graceful manner fluently charting the early stages of capitalism and an alternate perspective of colonialism. But the core of the film focuses on two individuals descending morally as they try expanding their ego by overpowering the other.

6. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Surrounding David Lynch’s mesmerizing film is a bubble that can’t be pricked at on initial viewings. Only after the second viewing can you begin to digest what you just witnessed. Quite frankly, there hasn’t been anything quite like Mulholland Dr. It takes a wide turn in a thinning medium to which the outer world, the realistic world, bears a decreasing relevance. What unfolds is a hypnotic labyrinth consisting of revenge, lust, grave obsessions and jealousy, all in which take place inside the bubble that can’t be pricked; the dream world. Nothing in Lynch’s masterpiece is to be taken as a waking moment. He demonstrates – at Tinseltown’s disposal, the Hollywood that feeds him – illusions that dreams offer. Characters pop in and out, just like in our real dreams, which are all clenched in the grasps of dread: A director can’t cast his own actress because the mafia is telling him who to pick, a petrified man can’t face his reoccurring nightmare, an amnesiac, gorgeous brunette is walking the streets desperately trying to seek shelter from the people who tried killing her and a perky blonde, free of all the dread around her, walks around Hollywood trying to make it as an actress and also helping the brunette find out who she really is. All in which tie together with stunning perfection. Isn’t this what cinema is all about? It is supposed to evoke situations that defy our everyday lives, and to even defy logic. Mulholland Dr. does that and more. It is able to bind itself to the side of the viewer, creating an ultra rare movie experience that makes you one with this spellbinding picture.

5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ang Lee expresses undeviatingly the most profound and poetic wielding of nature and human nature put on film this decade. His presentation of nature (the grandiose sky under which rolling hills of green and infinite pine trees call home) as a small beacon of light amidst a derailing and venomous society full of prejudices is as commanding a commentary on the deviances of society as any sociologist could project. The story of two ranch- hands, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), who feel isolated because of the love they have for each other, is a touchy subject. But with Lee’s broad sense of creativity he renders a 1963 society in Wyoming to originate an epic depiction of loss while trying to achieve an abstruse happiness. Society’s prejudices toward homosexuality serve as a massive roadblock for Jack and Ennis, and they surely aren’t prepared to gather up their true feelings and toss them away to benefit society.  By trying to conform strictly to the norm (they both marry women and have children) they lose a sense of themselves. Loss always seems to be expanding in their souls, lingering in the back of their minds even in their scarce hours of bliss when they are devoid of one another. Conformity doesn’t prove to be the camouflage they were hoping for. It only swells the yearning of their souls and clarifies happiness as a sentiment that is forbidden to them.

4. Memento (2000)

Why must a film always abide by the rules given to them by previous films? We, both audiences and critics alike, are starving for a new twist on an old genre. Anything that can emerge the blood flow from the dull and limp state it is already in is fine by me. Memento is a film that is very curious. Never does it fail to keep us enthralled. Even after the tenth viewing the film is as fresh as the first viewing. It brings together elements and camera techniques that are much more elaborated upon rather than that of previous thrillers. Situations piled upon situations, presented in a stylized manner (told from beginning to end) produces a convincing neo-noir film that can also rival the greatest revenge and obsession films out there. Christopher Nolan knocks it out of the park, laying claim to a film that is as original as you’re going to get. As scenes unfold backwards we can’t quite piece them together until previous scenes are revealed to us. This puts us in a different state of mind while trying to follow the plot; the mind we occupy is the mind of our main character, Leonard Shelby, who has short term memory loss and is trying to find his wife’s killer. Nolan has balls, guts personified, to ignite his film, representing a firecracker waiting to blow the arm off of its holder, with the supposed “villain” getting his brain blown to pieces against a wall. Memento transcends the Hollywood formula in exchange for an artful and mesmerizing look at one man’s deformity and bloodlust, and another man’s corrupt state of mind. Surrender yourself to Nolan’s flawless direction and you’ll see through it all the sins that mankind can possess (even that motel manager is sneaky).

3. The Lives of Others (2006)

Detect, listen and report: Sounds fairly simple for Stasi officer Wiesler, who happens to be working for the German Democratic Republic in West Germany 1984. But his sincere sentiment proved to be his ultimate down fall. The GDR was a group so sophisticated and secretive it was hard to distinguish who was actually part of such an organization. They concealed their workers to such an extreme that most of them couldn’t experience society. Wiesler has been told to wire a playwright’s apartment and listen intently, trying to uncover any dirt on him that will benefit Wiesler’s boss who happens to be after the playwright’s girlfriend. Also, GDR’s main concern was to abolish any art that deemed unworthy to them. Anything bashing their way of government was confiscated and destroyed, even humans. With this set-up first time German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck exquisitely crafts a thriller that expresses and derails every human emotion possible. A master class of observing is what Donnersmarck goes after and he chooses a lonely soul in need of companionship to observe, who in turn is observing a romantic couple.  But what happens when the observing becomes more intimate and alters a life dramatically? The film is a magnified study on the premise of the consequences that transpire when one decides to uplift their veil and impose upon a private life, willfully defying all one has learned.

2. Children of Men (2006)

In 2006, director Alfonso Cuaron fully envisioned a dystopian society that happens to resemble the state of mind our current society is heading for.; angst, frustration and desperation. His cruel and amazingly fluid direction of this kind of world is meant to scare and awaken society. Coming up with the most hopeless of situations possible to depict an environment forever instilled in a chaotic state of being is what Children of Men succeeds most at. Trust, morality and virtue have all pretty much become imperceptible. Not only have ethics and morality become fragile but mankind as well. Corrosive behavior eats endlessly away at any valorousness displayed, condemning all individuals to be a bunch of vapid beings. This is the most veracious and plausible depiction of our future every to be put on film. In 2023 England is the only country able to stand on its own, and women have been infertile for the last twenty years. Clive Owen (in the performance of his career) plays Theo, a man captured by a terrorist organization who is told he needs to obtain papers that would permit someone out of the country. Theo becomes more involved than he wants to be when he finds the person who needs the papers is a young African American who is pregnant. Children of Men is a great film. Its splendor comes within its realization that there is hope, that it isn’t unapproachable or unfathomable even in the bleakest scenarios. Having faith is a valuable asset and the film acknowledges that. Even if faith may seem to be delusional we need to embrace it. The circumstances of us not doing so can be demoralizing. A line from one of the songs that run throughout the film sums this up completely: “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind. Ain’t life unkind?” Curaon has created an unflinching film on how to go about preserving faith and hope. When individuals see this hope appear, which is fleeting, all tends to be forgotten for a short period of time.

1. No Country for Old Men (2007)

An active upheaval is prevailing in the realms of evilness. A wickedness that stealthily emerges from a metaphysical time and place to wreak an obscure havoc that man can not contemplate.  Two men get mixed up with this essence of evil. Through this simple premise the result is a creation of a perfect film that chronicles the implications of iniquity from two different perspectives: One from an old man who knows the consequences of evil and the other coming from a Vietnam vet who acts superior to it. An old small town sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), whom this new and scarier country has left behind, in 1980s Texas tries to tame and catch this evil but has been around long enough in his job to realize you can’t tame an evil this sinister. Bell encountered such crimes before, but this one in particular seems to have sprung out of nowhere. It takes the form of a man named Anton Chigurgh (Javier Bardem). As he searches for stolen money, he posits a cataclysmic evil in Bell’s state of mind, wiping out vehemently all who stand in his path eventually leading him to the man who possesses the satchel of money. That man is Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), the vet, who is ignorant to the masses of evil and respects his own means of conquering it. Each character is perfectly drawn out, each representing some topic that can be interpreted in numerous ways through theological and psychological references. No Country for Old Men contains not one false note, with scenes that defy the conventions of cinema (a shootout in the streets at the darkest point of morning and the perfectly nuanced conversation that captures a man’s life inside a gas station). The Coen Brothers have crafted a significantly despondent film which searches for answers that might lessen the despondency and give way to hope. But that never transpires.  And that happens to be the greatness of No Country for Old Men, that it never reduces itself to that state, never giving a concrete answer, leaving the film and its characters living on forever in our memories.

Sound off: Which films shouldn't have been included?  Which films were left off?  Tell us what you think.

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