Saturday, June 19, 2010

Top 100 films of the 2000s: overview

Before I finally reveal my somewhat final list of my top 100 films of the 2000s, let me say a few things about it. First of all, I feel it's about time to construct some sort of list as I have been wanting to for awhile and I've caught up on a lot of films lately so I feel I've seen enough to make a list. Now there are a handful of movies from the decade that I still haven't seen and when I do wind up seeing them and I think it's top 100 worthy, you will all be the first to know.

Secondly, you will notice my list may be a little indie/foreign heavy. Now this isn't just because I have some indie bias or anything. I'd LOVE for there to be many great studio films on my list, but the simple fact is that there aren't many. Don't blame me, blame Hollywood. And at the same time, praise the foreign and independent market for making some great films.

Overall, I'd say the 2000s had a lot of great films but only a few true classics.* Unlike the 90s, where I'd say over half the movies of my list could be considered definite classics, the 00s list is just odd... which is also what made the decade so unique. You had great films made from many different countries with big budgets, average budgets, miniscule budgets and you had people pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. That is part of why I want to make this list... to celebrate those filmmakers who went that extra mile. So, this will be a multi-part unveiling much like the '90s list. I hope you enjoy it. I know my list may be a little typical with some snobby arthouse fans, but... cut me some slack. A good film is a good film.

* Upon further review of my list, I feel I should somewhat retract my statement on how there are only a few true classics from the 2000s. As I mention on my list, the top seven films on there could all easily be number 1 and I would argue that my top 20 could be put up against many other decades and it wouldn't look bad at all by comparison.

the list:

top 100 films of the 2000s: #1

1. City of God, 2002, Brazil
Dir: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund
Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Alice Braga

City of God is one of the greatest films ever made. It features great, realistic performances from a very young cast all around and it is shot so vibrantly and so fluidly that you instantly feel as if you're in the action from the very beginning. The picture that City of God paints is by no means a pretty one. City of God perfectly captures the slums of Rio de Janeiro as a very dangerous, cruel place where the kids are forced to be part of a gang or else they won't last long. But within this mean, violent place is this rather positive story about a boy's dream of becoming an aspiring photographer and the ways he manages to avoid being sucked into a world of crime that is so popular in this neighborhood of Rio.

City of God opens appropriately enough with a chicken on the loose and a couple of armed gang members chasing it so they can eat it. The chicken stops and suddenly the narrator, Buscape has found himself trapped with gang leader Ze Pequeno and his group of young men and Buscape is afraid that they're going to kill him. And thus beginning the wild journey, told by Buscape, of growing up in Cidade de Deus.

The story not only involves him, but also the rise of Ze Pequeno and how, when he was much younger, he joined up with three older gang members who forced him to be a lookout while they subsequently robbed a hotel. But Ze Pequeno quickly demonstrates how he came to be a feared legend in the neighborhood with his penchant for bloodlust when he takes over the robbery and kills every person inside the hotel. From then on, Ze would become the leader of a group called Caixa Baixa.

We discover just how these people lived, how they managed to steer clear of cops, and just how terrible of a person Ze Pequeno is who reminds me of a much more heartless version of Tsotsi (from the movie of the same name). We learn about the disturbing events that eventually escalates into a war between the two main gangs in Cidade de Deus. And that whole war sequence is just an absolute marvel to watch. There are a lot of scenes in here where you can't believe what is happening, especially one scene where a kid, who can't be any older than 8, is forced to shoot his friend in the foot. Not only do you have to praise the child actors in that scene, but you wonder "how in the world did they pull that off so convincingly?"

Because the most shocking thing about City of God is that it's all shot on location. It's easy then to see how they were able to pull it off but it would seem like it would be a very difficult film to shoot in the midst of one of the most violent neighborhoods in the world. Fernando Meirelles hasn't been able to surpass this film but the way he was able to make this movie and just how great it turned out grants him endless praise.

But like I said, there is a faint amount of optimism within this movie that keeps you from being totally depressed and that's Buscape's incredible journey through all this madness. His levelheadedness is crucial in a movie that has characters that are anything but levelheaded. However, there's also that ominous hint within the movie that lets you know that Cidade de Deus will perhaps always remain the way it is without direct government intervention.

With City of God, you get the best of everything. It's a movie that has, deservedly so, received instant classic status and it remains one movie that you absolutely must see. It's a movie that will always seem fresh, dangerous, and brilliant no matter how many times you go back to it and that's why it remains the greatest film of the decade.

top 100 films of the 2000s: #2

2. There Will Be Blood, 2007, USA
Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano

There are scenes, images, pieces of dialogue that remain clear as day for me when I think about There Will Be Blood and that's because it's really a movie that exceeds on nearly every single level. But more than that, it's the scope of the film that I remain in awe of, the way Paul Thomas Anderson almost seamlessly tackles everything that he had set out to do when he was making this movie.

With Hard Eight, you knew PTA was a man of enormous potential; Boogie Nights and Magnolia proved he can create truly original movies on a truly epic scale; Punch-Drunk Love showed his romantic and clever side; but the one thing There Will Be Blood demonstrated to me, more than any of his other films, is that he is a fucking mad man. Rest assured that I mean that in the most complimentary form. But keep in mind that this Daniel Plainview character, while performed to perfection by the great Daniel Day-Lewis, came out of the mind of Paul Thomas Anderson. That's quite a scary thought, is it not?

I had been an avid follower of Paul Thomas Anderson for quite some time now and I was before this movie came out. I was already familiar with all of his movies by the time TWBB came out and so when I went to see There Will Be Blood in theaters, I knew that I was going to be in for a treat. What I didn't know, however, was just how different the film would be from his other work.

It was as if There Will Be Blood was a completely different side to him. It was slow, the pacing was deliberate, the style was formal, the cinematography was cold, yet authentic and allowed for some of the most beautiful images captured on film (i.e., the oil rig explosion). That, along with the accompanying music from Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood was just so out there and so unexpected. It was hard to not completely embrace this movie as soon as it finished.

There Will Be Blood was praised almost universally but it definitely was not without its detractors and that's to be expected. For some people, the movie didn't sit too well with them; for others, the unconventional pacing of the movie was perhaps a turnoff. But believe me when I say that There Will Be Blood is everything a true masterpiece should be. It should take you out of your comfort zone, it should leave you scratching your head, it should make you have more questions than answers... the whole point is to come back to the movie again and again. In doing so, you will get even more out of the film than the first or second time you saw it. It's so layered and rich with context that you can't possibly get everything out of one viewing. If you find everything you're looking for in a movie after just one viewing, then what reason is there to see the movie again? What's the point if you're just watching the same movie over and over? A truly great movie is a slightly different and more enlightening movie every time you see it.

One complaint about the movie which has some validity to it is the performance of Paul Dano. Now Paul Dano has two roles in this movie and he was originally just supposed to have the small role, but when the other actor dropped out of the larger role, Paul Dano was supposed to fill in the much larger shoes of Eli Sunday. Even Quentin Tarantino thought it was the only real flaw within the film, but after seeing the film a couple of times, I really dig Paul Dano's performance in the movie. The one criticism was just how weak of a match he is to Daniel Plainview but I felt that was the point. Nobody can possibly match Daniel Plainview and if they did, then the ending really wouldn't fly too well. But as it is, it makes the ending even sadder and more unfortunate as we witness a truly evil man who, in the end, gets what he wants.

And that's the essence of There Will Be Blood. It's a criticism on capitalism, but it's not a movie that simply says "capitalism is bad." It demonstrates the negative effects that a capitalistic society can have on men of a larger stature. Daniel Plainview definitely deserves a great amount of respect just because of the struggle he went through in order to get on top. But the movie kind of asks, "what if you're already on top?" And if you're a man like Daniel Plainview, someone who has a genuine disdain for people, you will turn into a monster. Overall, what There Will Be Blood says is that we're allowing those monsters stay alive and because of that, we're also allowing the smaller, weaker Eli Sundays of the world to die. Of course Eli Sunday wasn't a perfect man either, but nonetheless...

All of this, in effect, is part of what makes There Will Be Blood such a masterpiece and it will be treasured for years to come. It also showed that compared to other contemporary filmmakers out there, Paul Thomas Anderson really is of another planet. We couldn't be more thankful for that either.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

top 100 films of the 2000s: #3

3. Amores Perros, 2000, Mexico
Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Emilio Echevarria, Gael Garcia Bernal

If you're in a happy mood and you see that a movie made by Alejandro González Iñárritu is playing at a local theater, a movie channel, or on instant netflix... steer clear from it. It will depress you. Alejandro González Iñárritu, a mouthful of a name first of all, made his debut in cinema in 2000 with Amores Perros and it was the first of his death trilogy; three movies that deal with accidents, death, and the effect that tragedies has on people. Amores Perros remains, by far, the most powerful and touching film on said subject and you just may cry during or after this movie, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Amores Perros is told in three stories: there's the story of Octavio and Susana, Susana is the sister-in-law of Octavio but Octavio is in love with her. He doesn't like the way his brother Ramiro treats her and he wants her to run away with him and start a new life together. Then there's Daniel and Valeria: Daniel is a rich, successful magazine publisher and Valeria is his hot supermodel girlfriend. They wind up living together and all appears to be well until Valeria's leg is severely broken which may cause her to never model again. Then there's the last segment which tells the story of hitman El Chivo, a haggard-looking man who pushes a cart through the streets and takes care of a lot of dogs. He has been trying to contact his estranged daughter for quite some time now. He has been hired by a businessman to kill his partner, but an accident occurs that interrupts him.

That accident involves three central characters to this movie: Octavio, Valeria, and El Chivo. The accident significantly impacts these characters who all have different backgrounds and wealth statuses. These characters aren't just connected because of the accident but also because of the dark lives they live and the secrets they withhold from people. The movie quite seamlessly moves from one segment to the other which each one becoming more emotional and heartbreaking than the next. By the time you get to the end of the last story, you have just gone through a 2 1/2 hour epic that affects you deeply. Amores Perros sticks with you. You live inside this movie because the characters are so wonderfully written and Alejandro González Iñárritu makes you care about all of them despite how dark and despicable their actions may be.

There's no doubt about Alejandro González Iñárritu's talent while watching this film. It has an appealing, grainy look that kinda reminds me of the Mexico scenes in Traffic. I'm sure Mexico looks a lot brighter and prettier in real life, but according to Soderbergh and Alejandro González Iñárritu, it doesn't.

There aren't many crazy tricks to this film. It was the first film that showed just how much talent there is in Mexican cinema and it's still the best of the bunch. Amores Perros just happens to be perfectly executed in every way, easily making it one of the best films of the 2000s.

top 100 films of the 2000s: #4

4. Children of Men, 2006, UK/USA
Dir: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Caine

There's a war going on. A war between insurgents and the country's soldiers. Theo (Clive Owen) has lost Kee. Kee recently had a newborn baby son and Theo has been trying the best he can to protect her and her son. When he finally tracks her down inside an abandoned building in the midst of all the fighting and the shooting, he quickly and hurriedly tries to help them escape the building and the country as fast as possible so they can reach a boat to safety.

Then the baby starts crying. When the soldiers and insurgents hear the baby's cries, the fighting immediately stops. Theo, Kee, and the unnamed baby are walking through the soldiers as they stand there astounded by the sight of this newborn crying baby. There it is. Hope. A reason to live, a reason to continue on life.

Children of Men doesn't just remind us how valuable our lives are. It tells us something about life that we may not have realized... that is, children are our reason for living. Without children, without the ability to procreate and continue human life, there is no point. Nothing that we do will be remembered. It will just cease to exist along with the rest of the human race. And in the midst of all the chaos and turmoil that comes along with a world where there's no children, the presence of a newborn child, just one child can make all the difference. That scene, that moment, is one of the most powerful and affecting scenes that I had ever seen in film up til that point. It represented so much to me, there was so much meaning to that scene that it has stuck with me forever.

But that's what Children of Men does to you whether you react to it negatively or positively. Either way, the film evokes a powerful and strong reaction because that's the nature of the film. And it gives away this message in not just its story and performances, but in its brilliant stylized camera work and cinematography. Children of Men is like an action film where the main character has no weapon. In the film's action/fighting scenes, the main objective for Theo is to run. There is no time to fight back, he and Kee must escape and there's no way out of it.

At the end of the first act of the film, you know that this movie isn't fucking around. In just one long single-shot escape sequence, Children of Men tells you that you better get ready. Get ready because this movie is not going to unravel the way you think it's going to unravel.

The film simply doesn't stop in its relentlessness until the very final scene. The final scene doesn't make everyone happy, but I love it more and more every time I see it. Because overall, this is a movie about hope even if the movie doesn't wear that theme on its sleeve. There's a glimmer of hope within everyone in this movie. The main characters all find a reason for being once they realize that there's hope for the future. Basically, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but by the end, they might not have reached that light. But the light is still there and the very end of the movie suggests that they may have finally reached it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

top 100 films of the 2000s: #5

5. Talk to Her, 2002, Spain
Dir: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti

While Talk to Her is a bit more straight-forward than Mulholland Drive, its story is no less bizarre, wonderful, and wholly original. It was the film that really put Pedro Almodovar above and beyond his already legendary status. Almodovar had already gained quite a reputation for himself as one of the masters of Spanish cinema, but Talk to Her is his masterpiece.

The movie starts out innocently enough about a man, Marco, who falls for a female matador, Lydia, and they wind up striking a romance, but Marco's life turns upside down when his girlfriend Lydia winds up comatose after being gored by a bull. Marco winds up striking a friendship with a caregiver at the hospital, a man named Benigno. Benigno has obsessively been taking care of a beautiful young comatose dancer named Alicia. Benigno comes across as very helpful, harmless, and kind and he seemingly does a superb job with taking care of Alicia. His attitude encourages Marco to stick with Lydia even though her condition appears to be hopeless.

But there's something about Benigno's behavior towards Alicia, something quite disturbing. And once you begin to figure out where the story is about to go, you really cannot believe what you are watching. I mean, really, you do not know where this movie is going and a part of you doesn't want to know where it's going.

The reason why this is such a big win for Almodovar is not just the wonderful colorful cinematography that is present in all of his films and his masterful camerawork and the bold, graphic, yet fitting sexual imagery that runs throughout this film. It's disturbing, it's shocking, it's beautiful. But that's not all. It's how he writes his characters, especially Benigno. Benigno comes off as such a nice, pleasant character and yet his questionable actions totally fit within his persona. And that's what makes his actions even more disturbing and hard to come to terms with.

The films starts to become hard to watch after awhile but you have to watch because it's unlike anything you've ever seen before. What starts out like such an ordinary story, almost immediately becomes more than that. It's an extraordinary film that tackles themes of loneliness and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. By the end of the film, I was just so thrilled and satisfied with the overall product of the movie that I remembered why I became such a film buff in the first place. Talk to Her is the reason why I continue to watch movies.

top 100 films of the 2000s: #6

6. Mulholland Dr., 2001, USA
Dir: David Lynch
Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring

Mulholland Drive is such an amazing, mind-blowing film and it just might be my favorite David Lynch film ever. It's really close between this and Blue Velvet, both are great for their own reasons, both are incredibly bizarre. Mulholland Drive is the most bizarre and head-scratching film I've ever seen, so how the hell is it not number one? Because the top five films on this list are really that goddamn strong. I've had a hard time attempting to figure out how to place the top seven films on this list and basically, the higher the film, the more it stuck with me and the more of an emotional impact it had with me. So yeah, it's hard to judge something like that, but ultimately, it had to be done.

So why do I love Mulholland Drive so much? It's the blatantly fearless approach to the material, it's the way you can find a completely different interpretation of the film no matter how many times you see it. It's as if David Lynch has created a plot (or lackthereof) that has an endless amount of possibilities and interpretations and no matter how hard anyone tries to successfully decipher the material, there are always going to be things about the film that will remain unanswered. And David Lynch is perfectly fine with that no matter how much it frustrates/baffles/pisses us off. I can't do anything but applaud such an approach.

But it's also a film that I fully expect people to dislike. Some people don't like it at all and I understand that. But whenever I've heard people state their reasons for disliking the film, it just made me like the film even more. You see, I like that this film gets people out of their comfort zone, it certainly got me out of mine. I remember seeing this film back in high school and it was my official introduction to David Lynch. Everything I thought I knew about film was completely turned upside down once that final act came in.

Basically, for the uninitiated, the film starts out being about a young woman named Betty who aspires to be an actress. A mysterious woman with amnesia is found in her apartment and Betty tries to help her figure out who she is. That's basically the framework in which the film operates for a good amount of time, there's also this other story about a filmmaker whose film is being controlled by mobsters who insist on him casting a specific actress for the film. There are also these other little pieces in the film that doesn't really seem to add up and it becomes quite clear during a second viewing (after you saw all the shit that went down in the last act) that this has to be a dream. It has to be someone's dream anyway, then you start to put pieces of a puzzle to that interpretation... but the thing is, it's endless. There's too much in this movie to consider before really coming up with a straightforward interpretation of everything. After awhile you just kinda have to give up and let David Lynch have his way with you.

Mulholland Drive is the culmination of all the themes that David Lynch was trying to explore throughout his career. The movie will drive you batshit crazy, but there's also something to be said about the tender, touching "relationship" between Betty and the mysterious woman eventually referred to as "Rita." Mulholland Drive is about the Hollywood dream; it's about the essence of Hollywood. Just the idea that there is this place that you can go to and you can be famous and make millions but there's also the politics involved, there's also the fact that there are way more people who fail in Hollywood than succeed. Mulholland Drive is about someone who has failed in Hollywood but still dreams of what it would be like to succeed. And in the same way, the movie is also about love. It's about wanting to be loved. Or it's about something completely different, I really have no idea. Those are just my two cents on the matter.

David Lynch is a tough character to figure out, whether it's his films or his persona... and I think the only way to know what Mulholland Drive is trying to say is if you are the man himself.

top 100 films of the 2000s: #7

7. The Lives of Others, 2006, Germany
Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Muhe, Martina Gedeck

I remember the first time I heard about this movie, it was during the 2007 Academy Awards when they announced "The Lives of Others" had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. My first reaction was, "huh?" Because, if you remember, that was the year of Pan's Labyrinth. I had already seen that movie by then and thought it was amazing (as you can see with its high placing on the list). So by the time I rented "The Lives of Others" on DVD, I was waiting to see just how this movie could've possibly beaten "Pan's Labyrinth" during the Oscars, a movie that seemed like such an easy shoo-in if I ever saw one. But then I actually saw "The Lives of Others."

By the time I finished watching this movie, I knew that I was in the presence of a true masterpiece. And I sat there on my bed, cause I watching it before I went to sleep, just in awe in what I just saw. With The Lives of Others, it doesn't immediately dazzle you with excellent visuals and creative visionary effects like with Pan's Labyrinth. The strength of Lives is its story and how it slowly and wonderfully unfolds. How we are introduced to this man, Gerd Wiesler, a member of the secret police of East Germany and the very subtle change of heart he has while he's assigned to monitor the life of playwright Georg Dreyman who is seemingly a genuine supporter of the Communist regime. Wiesler goes along with the monitoring of Dreyman until he realizes the real reason why his superior is insisting on Dreyman being monitored.

So, ultimately, Wiesler slowly becomes disillusioned with the hypocrisy and abuse of power that his superior is taking place in and he winds up taking a liking to Dreyman. So when Dreyman's begins to do things that would put him in serious danger with his government, Wiesler feels compelled to protect Dreyman and lie in his reports about what Dreyman is doing under his watch.

What follows in the movie is some of the most gratifying and wonderful moments in recent modern cinema. Wiesler's protection of Georg Dreyman and the lengths he goes through in order to save Dreyman from serious harm is just so inspiring and touching. Donnersmarck's debut film is masterful. The cinematography is appropriately bleak with shades of gray and green permeating the screen and it turns East Berlin into a rather dark and unwelcoming place. But within that place is a very moving story that puts humanity above government loyalty and it shows us just how bold someone like Wiesler is as he willingly invited a lesser life for himself just so Dreyman can live freely and comfortable.

The Lives of Others really is a remarkable achievement in film. I recommend it to everyone.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Top 100 films of the 2000s: #8

8. Inglourious Basterds, 2009, USA
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz

I remember coming into this movie with mixed expectations because the reviews for the film were quite mixed coming out of Cannes and its rottentomatoes score was less than stellar for a Tarantino film. I was wondering if QT had lost his edge. I found most critics gave the film low scores because they found it to be too long and not very thrilling.

Well, allow me to call bullshit on that thought. That is, major, gigantic, huge cowdung. Now I don't mean for the gloves to completely come off as I feel that even less than a year later, along with 8 Oscar nominations, people gave the film a much-deserving second shot and found a lot more to love. Fortunately for me, I got just what I needed from a first viewing when it came out in theaters and I was rocked in my fucking seat from beginning to end.

First of all, how can anybody not love the opening scenes of this movie which are clear as day inside my head even though I haven't seen the film in months. Christoph Waltz plays Hanz Landa, the self-proclaimed Jew hunter who has visited a farm in France in order to track down a couple of Jews that are hiding beneath the floorboards. What follows is some brilliant, mature piece of filmmaking that shows Tarantino going leaps beyond his filmmaking craft and literally throwing us in the midst of this scene with a calm, affable, charming, yet terrifying man. Hanz appears to know all along that there are Jews hiding at the man's house, but instead of quickly pointing his fingers, he plays with the guy's head. He slowly, but surely inserts his masculine superiority over the French farmer and his tactics ultimately prove to be successful.

Once Inglourious Basterds gets kick-started by this brilliant scene, we basically follow two main stories. One is the story of Shoshanna who was the sole Jewish escapee from that farm who has since opened up a movie theater in France and has started a second life. The other story is, of course, about the Basterds lead by Brad Pitt's character Aldo Raine. Shoshanna's story is so wonderfully written and interesting that people often compare the Basterds' story quite unfavorably to Shoshanna, but I would very much disagree with that idea, especially upon seeing the film a second time.

You see, overall, Inglourious Basterds is a very precise and mature study on the perception of violence. These Nazi hunters don't just kill the Nazis, they scalp them, mutilate them, terrorize them. We, as the audience, cheer for the Nazi hunters because the Nazis are simply getting what was coming to them. But then Quentin Tarantino puts the camera on us. Later in the film, there are a bunch of Nazis gathered in Shoshanna's movie theater witnessing a pro-Nazi war film where tons of Allied forces are getting shot and killed. The audience laughs at this violence, much like we are laughing at the violence against the Nazis. This is very interesting territory Quentin Tarantino has gone into as it poses a very difficult and unexpected question: is our satisfaction of all these Nazis getting scalped and mutilated just as bad as the Nazis' satisfaction to seeing Allied forces (and essentially, us) being shot and killed? Of course, that question can go either way, but the fact of the matter is that Quentin Tarantino very cleverly uses these Basterds as a way to kind of point the finger at ourselves.

Of course, that's not the only reason why these Basterds exist. They provide some great entertainment for the film in very typical Tarantino fashion. Brad Pitt's performance may not be as jaw-droppingly brilliant as Christoph Waltz's, but he certainly makes for an entertaining and amusing character, especially during the movie theater sequence.

The only real problem with this film is Eli Roth's presence as the Bear Jew. Eli Roth simply cannot act and he's given a pretty prominent, albeit little, scene. Luckily, it never really takes away from the rest of the movie and it feels more like Tarantino proving that he can have this lame director in this role and his movie will still be awesome. Much like how Tarantino appears as Jimmy Dimmick in Pulp Fiction and sucks, but Pulp Fiction is still A-grade material.

Oh, Tarantino, you cocky son of a gun. You sure know how to make one hell of a movie, again and again.

Top 100 films of the 2000s: #9

9. Oldboy, 2003, South Korea
Dir: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Lu

Speaking of shocking, twisty, completely out of left field films, here's perhaps one that tops them all: "Oldboy." "Oldboy" is the kind of movie where you really don't know what to expect and once you find out what is really happening within the movie, you're pretty much forced to stop everything and try to figure it all out one-by-one.

The film centers around a man named Oh Dae-Su, a man who had been kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years until he finds himself released suddenly. Now he will spend the next few days trying to find the man who kidnapped and imprisoned him and then get his revenge. Yes, "Oldboy" is one hell of a revenge movie and its action scenes are very well done and originally made. You really haven't seen anything like it.

But more than that, this is a revenge film that will, pardon my language, fuck with your head. Now there are a couple of films like that on my top 10, some films that just completely rocked me in my seat with the amazing way that its plot unfolds, but "Oldboy" is perhaps the most insane of the bunch. Once you realize just why Oh Dae-Su was locked up and imprisoned... you don't know what to think at that point.

And the thing is, it doesn't really help when you watch it again. Sure, you can pick up on some things that you may have missed before, but to me, the movie just became more baffling (and more brilliant) every time I watched it.

Now "Oldboy" is the second movie out of Park Chan-wook's revenge trilogy. I haven't seen the other two films in the trilogy just yet, but if it's anything like "Oldboy" then I might want to brace myself. Nevertheless, "Oldboy" and its filmmaker proves just what kind of crazy and exciting stories that people are telling with films all over the world. "Oldboy" just might have been the best of what Asian cinema had to offer in the 2000s, it certainly was in my book.

Top 100 films of the 2000s: #10

10. In the Bedroom, 2001, USA
Dir: Todd Field
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek

"In the Bedroom" is one of the most impressive, shocking, moving debut films that I've ever seen and the man behind the film is named Todd Field. Todd Field has acted in movies before, including a small, but memorable role in "Eyes Wide Shut." But who knew that he was capable of making such an amazing and powerful film. The beautifully shot formal style of the movie allows for the audience to really live with and learn about the two main characters: Matt and Ruth Fowler (Wilkinson and Spacek) as well as their son, Frank (Nick Stahl). Their son has recently gotten involved in a serious relationship with an older single mother named Natalie (Marisa Tomei) whose former husband is a violent, abusive man.

Seeing Frank and Natalie together, you can see just why Natalie values Frank so much. What makes the movie so poignant is just how well their relationship is sold. It's completely legitimate and they are wonderful together, but Frank's parents are, rightfully, concerned. They're concerned that Frank's throwing his life away since he's so young and being with Natalie means being a father to Natalie's daughter. But, as we begin to find out in the film, there is a lot more to be concerned about.

And what subsequently follows in the movie is so tragic, so shocking and heartbreaking that the film's tone completely shifts and it turns into something else, something brilliant. A lot of movies can kinda lose themselves when they attempt to do what "In the Bedroom" does but Todd Field and co-screenwriter Robert Festinger do a great job of creating such fully-fleshed characters that when something like this happens, you aren't taken out of the movie. In fact, you're even more suck into the movie than ever before.

"In the Bedroom" is a lot like "Fargo" in that it's a deceptively simple crime/drama that is executed to perfection. First-time helmer Todd Field succeeds brilliantly with this material because he makes it about more than what appears on screen. Matt and Ruth Fowler are just two average aging parents who are genuinely nice people that unfortunately get forced to deal with such a terrible situation. And the way they deal with it may not be something you agree with, but it's definitely something you can understand.

And that's what pushes "In the Bedroom" over the edge for me. It introduces you to these nice, sweet characters and it makes you deal with their questionable ethical behavior. This is a quiet movie. It begins quietly and unassumingly and it ends that same way. That's when you realize that this is just one family living in one house in the midst of hundreds of different suburban houses. It could happen to anyone, in any neighborhood, anywhere. And that's what's so chilling and powerful about "In the Bedroom."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

top 100 films of the 2000s: 20-11

20. Let the Right One in, 2008, Sweden
Dir: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

You don't really know what to expect when you're about to watch "Let the Right One In," it's violent, it has vampires (well, one vampire), it has scenes that are particularly gruesome, yet there is a surprising tenderness to the movie that would easily win over the hearts of guys and girls alike. This is a vampire movie that's 100 times more romantic than any Twilight movie, but it's also a movie that has scenes that are just as violent as many other horror movies. And believe me, this is a horror movie. It may not play out as one of your typical horror movie, but you have to realize that these are kids. And even though they've found companionship with each other, the movie ends with the suggestion that these two kids will be committing more acts of horrific violence in the future.

The way this story is approached and how it unfolds is just brilliant. The movie is shot fantastically, but it's really about how the story unfolds. First, you're introduced to this 12 year old boy named Oskar, he's a loner at school who constantly gets picked on by bullies. When he's home, he acts out his fantasies of revenge with a knife. Eli, the 12 year old vampire "girl," takes notice of Oskar and they almost instantly develop a friendship. The bond between Eli and Oskar is done so tenderly and so lightly that it all works to a surprising amount of success. Tomas Alfredson really outdoes himself with this film.

Let the Right One In instantly has become one of the greatest vampire movies of all-time. It puts a refreshingly new spin on the classic vampire story and it adds in a wonderful little love story that is understated, realistic, and ultimately, it moves you.

19. Sideways, 2004, USA
Dir: Alexander Payne
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church

Out of all the comedies of the 2000s, Sideways has really aged well. I remember when it first came out... and you know how comedies of this kind start out. First, they get rave reviews. The critics love it across the board so it starts winning critics awards left and right. Then the general audience gets a hold of it and it starts to make a surprising run at the box office. There were a handful of movies that did that in the last decade. But because of all the success and the rave reviews, for some reason, the next wave of viewers of the movie begin to expect the world from this movie and ultimately wind up getting disappointed. That's simply not how you approach a movie like this. You're not going to laugh at everything in Sideways right away, but after a few viewings, you begin to find new things about this movie that are funny and amusing.

More than that, Sideways is a sweet, feel-good movie. It has this bright, warm look to it and it captures the essence of Northern California just brilliantly. Alexander Payne has proven once again that he's just as adept at being a visual director as well as being a director of comedy. Sideways is about the value of friendship, it's about our own fears and insecurities, but most importantly, it's about trying to find something in life that's meaningful to you. Miles (Giamatti) is a pessimistic middle-aged man with not much to show for in his life. He just finished a ridiculously long novel that he'll probably never publish. Nevertheless, he attempts to find a breath of fresh air when he takes his soon-to-be-married buddy, Jack (Haden Church), to wine country in California before his wedding.

Sideways is just a terrific movie with a plot that appears to unfold gradually and it all feels natural and organic. It's also a masterfully crafted film with fantastic performances all around. Paul Giamatti was robbed at the Academy Awards, it's as simple as that. They tried to make up for it by nominating him for Cinderella Man, but this performance was definitely better than that. Also, you have to hand it to Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church. Thomas Haden Church's performance is perhaps the most surprising as Church had formerly been a former failed sitcom actor and here he is co-starring in the best comedy of the decade. Great performances, pitch-perfect screenplay, and wonderful direction makes Sideways an obvious choice for #19 on this list.

18. Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007, USA
Dir: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was doomed from the start. This is a slow-moving anti-Western movie by a fairly new director with a three hour running time. It's not action-heavy, instead, it's a character(s) study. Brad Pitt gives a great performance as Jesse James and he's the perfect straight man for Casey Affleck's oddly effective performance as the creepy Robert Ford. Seriously, Casey Affleck has never been better than he is in this movie. And really, the acting is so great and feels so natural that it's easy to get sucked into this movie.

The real champion of this film, however, is the cinematography. Every shot in this movie feels perfect and it's rich with color and texture. Andrew Dominik proved with this movie that he's a talent that we all have to look and watch out for in the next decade. The movie's slow-moving plot kind of reminds me of Gangs of New York if it was directed by Terrence Malick. It's a movie where the visuals are just as, if not more important than the plot. But I compare it to Gangs of New York because the movie kind of goes back and forth with the relationship between the two main characters. In Gangs, Amsterdam Vallon is eventually taken under the wing of the violent and dangerous Bill the Butcher until he eventually turns on him out of revenge for killing his father. In Assassination, Robert Ford is eventually taken under the wing of Jesse James, but Ford turns on Jesse James for the fame and the reward. Robert Ford is just an odd man who seems to have an unhealthy affinity with Jesse James and ultimately could never live up to his idol. To me, the way this plot unfolds is more interesting to me just because of how odd this Robert Ford character is.

But the movie also gives a very interesting and mature account on the story of Jesse James. Now I never really looked up the accuracy of this movie, but the story is told very well and that's really all that it comes down to. You may not instantly fall in love with this movie, but if you give it an honest chance, you will think as highly of this movie as I do. It's a visual delight, with wonderful performances, and it officially put Andrew Dominik on the map as a bright, young director. Hopefully a studio in the future will be willing to give him another chance.

17. Zodiac, 2007, USA
Dir: David Fincher
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.

Zodiac is another movie that was never really given a chance at the box office. Even though it opened to more theaters and was, by all accounts, a mainstream release. Audiences didn't seem to love this movie as much as the critics did. Eventually, through DVD release, I think the film gained a lot more momentum as it has a healthy 7.9 rating on I can't really blame the audiences though, they were probably expecting a typical action/thriller. But you can't approach the Zodiac character like that because... he still hasn't been caught yet. This movie is really about the mystery behind the serial killer and it presents his murders as facts although they are still brutal and quite violent.

I know I said this a lot so far, but repeated viewings really does this movie better justice. After all, it's a 160+ minute movie and there's a lot to take in with all the little details the SFPD and the San Francisco Chronicle come up with in regards to who the Zodiac killer is. The movie moves from genre to genre quite gracefully and it has something for everyone. It starts out as almost a horror movie with the brutal and gruesome way the Zodiac makes his killings. But then it becomes a brilliant police drama with help with the excellent Mark Ruffalo as Inspector Dave Toschi. Seriously, Mark Ruffalo nails Dave Toschi. He captures the frustrated, obsessed, quick-witted police detective perfectly and he does it in a way you don't really expect. Toschi is funny and he approaches his job very practically and it helps you relate to his character quite easily.

But after that, the movie turns into a mystery/thriller as cartoonist Robert Graysmith and reporter Paul Avery attempts to figure out and decipher all these different clues that the Zodiac releases to the press. Although Avery eventually goes crazy after personally being threatened by the Zodiac, Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) has a persistence that you can't help but admire.

Ultimately, what makes this movie work so well isn't just the great direction by David Fincher which is expected after the great reputation that Fincher has cultivated for himself. He knows this genre well and mastered it with Se7en twelve years earlier, but here he really outdoes himself. This is a crime/drama/thriller of epic proportions. This is the most mature David Fincher movie that he has made and it really turned me into a believer of his talent. But what really makes this movie work well is the script. This was obviously a very tough movie to write as it's hard to make a movie like this relevant since we don't know who the Zodiac killer is. But James Vanderbilt makes this movie impossible for you to ignore as it continues to prod and uncover evidence in such a way that it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Also, the movie has really witty and cleverly-written dialogue that keeps it from being too serious. Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. were perfect in their roles as Toschi and Avery, respectively and they help give the movie a necessary comic relief. Yet these characters are developed so wonderfully that there's more to them than just a witty one-liner here and there. These are people who are clearly affected by and obsessed with the Zodiac killer and it winds up driving them crazy. They both handle it in their own unique ways. Overall, Zodiac is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

16. Lost in Translation, 2003, USA
Dir: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray

There's something about Lost in Translation that's absolutely intoxicating to me and I can't fully figure out why. It's a very simple story, but it's wonderfully told and it contains performances from Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson that will be remembered for years to come. It's truly one of the best modern romance movies of all-time even despite the age difference between the two characters. Sofia Coppola makes excellent use of location and develops these two characters brilliantly as they're both stuck in Tokyo, Japan for a short amount of time in their own respective crises.

Charlotte (Johansson) is a recent college grad who is still in the crossroads of her life. She hasn't quite figured out what kind of career she wants in life and for now she's just following her photographer husband around the world until she finds something she really likes. Bob Harris's life, on the other hand, is more of the typical "mid-life crisis" type as he's a former star actor now forced to do these commercials in Japan for a living. Both characters are completely out of their element and that helps them form a very special bond between each other. If they were living in America, they probably would've never thought to speak to each other, but here in Tokyo, they are the only ones of their kind.

This was another movie that kind of suffered a bit of a backlash after such wonderful raves and many awards by critics and those other big award shows. It was really the first movie this past decade that showed that little independent movies can do pretty well in the box office. Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno kind of followed in Translation's footsteps although they're each decidedly different from each other. Ultimately, Lost in Translation is perhaps the best of the bunch because of how it captures just how beautiful and peculiar the city of Tokyo is and how the two main characters are both attracted to the culture and alienated by it. And it's that alienation that brings them together as they both try to understand it together. It also has a considerable amount of emotional depth to this movie that unfolds in a very subtle manner. That's why Lost in Translation still resonates after all these years.

15. Memento, 2000, USA
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pierce, Carrie-Ann Moss

From the reigning champion of the 2000s, Christopher Nolan (with four movies on this list, total), Memento is by far his greatest film and perhaps the most originally constructed films of all-time. The story is told in both a backwards and a foreward manner until it comes together brilliantly in the middle. But this isn't just a little clever gimmick from Nolan, in fact, I feel the structure of this movie help makes us better understand Lenny's (Guy Pierce) condition. The structure helps add humor by the use of dramatic irony, but it also adds a considerable amount of inherent sadness to the movie that makes us feel bad for Lenny even if we shouldn't feel bad for him.

Lenny is a man with a condition called anterograde amnesia. He can remember everything up until the time he and his wife were beaten in a bathroom. After that, he hasn't been able to make new memories. Now, his only purpose in life is to figure out who killed his wife. When he finds the man, he will kill him. But Memento is so much deeper than that. It's a movie that gives you a completely different interpretation of Lenny every time you see it. At first, you just think of him as a sad and unfortunate man whose condition has ruined him forever; another time, you kind of think of him as a monster; and so on. There are many different ways to interpret this character and that's what makes him and this movie so compelling.

With this film, Christopher Nolan showcased what a unique talent he is. Obviously, he still has a long way to go in his career, but he's off to one hell of a start so far. And Memento remains the most memorable of all his films because of how well he does with such a modest budget. There's so much to love and admire about this film that I couldn't possibly sum it all up in this little post. If you haven't seen the film, then you're just gonna have to find out for yourself what makes it so special.

14. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, USA
Dir: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet

Like Memento, Eternal Sunshine is another movie that delves into the complexities of the mind and the memories that it beholds. Of course, Eternal Sunshine is a much different movie than Memento and it also should be praised and lauded for its cutting edge originality and ingenuity which is helped by the master of visual filmmaking, Michel Gondry. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proved that Michel Gondry is a visual force to be reckoned with and to see all the little different and creative ways he does it is just amazing.

Eternal Sunshine tells the story of Joel and Clementine, two former lovers whose relationship had ended badly and they have turned to a place called Lacuna, inc. A company that can help alter your mind in a way that helps erase all the memories you've ever had about a former lover (or something like that). But like Memento, Eternal Sunshine's genius is how the movie demonstrates to us just how cyclical these peoples' lives are. Joel and Clementine, despite their minds being erased, eventually come across each other again and wind up falling in love once again even though their love might eventually wind up going down the same path over and over again.

It's also a movie that continues to reveal more and more of itself everytime you see it. I know I'm gonna sound like a broken record, but it must be stressed because lots of great movies are like that. Every movie on this list gets better with each viewing and Eternal Sunshine is no different. But what sets Eternal Sunshine apart from any other movie on this list is just how unique, wonderful, and creatively made of a love story this is. It's rare nowadays to find a movie with such an amazing and memorable love story like this, but when they come, it's almost worth the wait.

13. The Wrestler, 2008, USA
Dir: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei

The Wrestler is such a wonderfully and simply made film by the normally complex and highly visual director Darren Aronofsky. But The Wrestler really demonstrated just what a great talent he is at simply telling a story and developing his characters. Much like Zodiac showed just how far David Fincher has come, The Wrestler showed just how far Arronofsky has come and how much he has matured as a filmmaker. And really, there's no other way to tell this story except in this powerfully raw manner.

And yeah, "raw" is definitely how I would describe this movie. Made on a very small budget, The Wrestler basically relies solely on Mickey Rourke's performance and Mr. Rourke definitely put his heart and soul into this movie. Mickey has been known to be a very difficult actor to work with and that difficulty cost him his career starting in the '90s. The Wrestler showed just how amazing of an actor he is and how far he's willing to go with his characters if the director lets him. And boy does Darren Aronofsky do just that.

Mickey Rourke's character Randy "the Ram" Robinson goes through a lot of painful shit when he's on the ring and, as we find out, he goes through a lot of painful shit when he's off the ring too. Randy is wash-up, he's a has-been who currently makes his living by performing in low level wrestling circuits as well as working at a supermarke The Wrestler exposes what happens to people like this. People who live their lives by constantly inflicting pain on themselves just for show and who subsequently inflict pain on themselves when the show is over. Randy used to be a very popular wrestler, but that all changed because... well times change after awhile. The Wrestler shows us that these people still exist when the times change, and they live very tortured lives if they don't take care of it enough. As I mentioned, The Wrestler is a raw and powerful movie that will remain in your memory banks for a long time. That especially goes for Mickey Rourke's performance.

12. In the Mood for Love, 2000, Hong Kong
Dir: Wong Kar-Wai
Cast: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung

Wong Kar-Wai built up quite a reputation for himself back in the '90s after he continued to make very interesting and highly-stylized films out of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I've only seen two of them, personally, although I definitely plan on seeing more of his work when the time comes. So perhaps it wouldn't be right to say that "In the Mood for Love" is his crowning effort, but if all the other critics are correct, then it must be. But even if you aren't that familiar with his work, you can definitely see what makes this movie great. I saw "In the Mood for Love" fairly recently and it was one of the movies that took me so long to see and it was the cause for the long delay of this very list.

But once I saw this movie, it quickly escalated up on my list. It may not hit you immediately (like I've mentioned about many other films, but especially on this one), but when it does, it really does. And then you realize that In the Mood for Love just might be one of the greatest romantic movies of all-time. And I'm dead serious. The reason for that is just how gently Wong Kar-Wai approaches this movie and the excellent performances from Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. Their characters are both married and they live on the same floor of an apartment building. Once they figure out that their significant others are having an affair with each other, they begin to form a very deep and touching bond.

But what makes this film stand out so much from other romantic movies, even the good ones, is the strong moral and ethical stand that these characters take. These are people who blatantly refuse to go down the same path as their spouses. No matter how strongly they begin to feel about each other, they respect the sanctity of their respective marriages no matter how much it hurts them. Yes, this is perhaps the greatest unconsummated romance movie of all-time since there's really not a movie that's like it. And directed by Wong Kar-Wai, the movie is literally like visual poetry. The characters move and interact gracefully. There's just something so wonderful about these characters and no matter how badly you want them to wind up together... they won't be together. And that's frustrating as hell, but it makes for a masterpiece of a movie.

11. Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007, France/USA
Dir: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner

There's been plenty of unique, creative, and original movies on this list, especially from numbers 20 to 12... well, Diving Bell and Butterfly continues that trend. And you begin to realize that from its opening scenes when you realize that this movie is going to take place, quite literally, inside the one eye of its lead character, Jean-Dominique.

Jean-Dominique suffers from a condition called "locked-in syndrome," an illness that seemed to hit him almost completely at random while he was driving. His life would unfortunately forever be altered as you begin to realize that this man will never be able to experience what we all take for granted. I mean, just imagine how horrible it would be if you're a normal, full-functioning human being on the inside, but not on the outside. That you can talk and listen to people in the outside world, but they cannot understand you. The only way people can understand him is through a fairly sophisticated system of blinking. His doctors and nurses have instructed him to blink in order to tell them what he wants and even though he is initially frustrated by the process, he eventually succumbs to it as he realize just how many people cared about him and loved him so.

This is especially true in one particular scene where one of his nurses is trying to help him talk via blinking. When the nurse finds out, through Jean-Dominique's blinking, that he wants to end his life, she gets so upset that she can barely contain herself. Here is someone who truly cares and is interested in this man's condition and Jean-Dominique is forced to realize the value of human relationships now that he has to rely solely on others in order to get what he wants.

Diving Bell and Butterfly is filled with heartbreaking and emotional scenes such as that and they are done so well by all the actors that you can't help but feel affected too. Like the best movies of this kind, the movie doesn't try to manipulate you into feeling sad about the main character, the movie shows the character as how he truly is. To put it simply, Jean-Dominique may not have been a pleasant character when he was out and about, but that doesn't make his illness any less tragic. If anything, it makes it more tragic as he now has to make up for all that he's lost whether it would be the relationship with his kids, or his ex-wife, or his father. And speaking of his father, Max von Sydow... who has appeared in hundreds of films and seems to be able to speak just about every language imaginable... gives such an amazing performance as the sad, lonely, elderly father of Jean-Dominique who wishes to see his son, but cannot due to his own conditions.

If you're looking for a feel-good movie, steer clear from Diving Bell and Butterfly. But if you can handle a movie that will rock your emotional core, then this is definitely the movie for you. Diving Bell and Butterfly is perhaps the saddest, and yet, one of the most brilliant films of the 2000s.