2000 - 2009 Top 50 (Part Four: 20 - 11)


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Distributor: Various

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Written by Sara Michelle Fetters


Senior Theatrical Editor


Decade in Review, Part Four (20 – 11)


I feel like I don’t have enough separation from 2009 as of yet, that I’m giving short shrift to some movies almost certain to make this list in the future. Films like Everlasting Moments, Up, Inglourious Basterds, An Education, Avatar, Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Serious Man and Broken Embraces have the potential to become a big part of the Fetters home theater rotation, and if I end up watching them near as much as I think I will I probably should have given them greater consideration for inclusion.


Should of would of could of aside, whining about this is fairly pointless. The great thing about cinema is that one’s reactions to a film can only be gauged with time. How do I know I adore Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous? I know because every time someone mentions it a smile comes to my face so big you’d think I’d just done something improper. I know because, even though I own the DVD, if I’m channel surfing and it happens to be on I’ll suddenly be unable to turn to a different station. I know because I know, age making both my fondness for it grow and my appreciation for its glories deepen, nothing in the world ever going to change that fact no matter how hard they try.


This is the same way I feel about Casablanca and The Band Wagon, about Ran and Citizen Kane. It’s how my heart soars at the thought of The Third Man or Alien or A Fish Called Wanda or The Abyss, and just thinking the name Hitchcock suddenly makes Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious make me feel as if I were in a darkened theater watching them all right now.


So, have I been unfair to 2009? It’s a question I cannot answer, and while only three films make this list that doesn’t mean more wouldn’t join them if I were to revisit it again sometime in the future.


With that sermonizing out of the way, here are my picks for 20 thru 11:


20. Memento (2001)

Told in reverse, Christopher Nolan’s explosive second film could have been nothing more than an engaging B-thriller and not the eccentric and intelligent masterwork it ultimately proved to be. What could have been a gimmick instead becomes a monumental device to look deep inside the heart of darkness in order to rip it wide open, the tragedy it discovers its aftershocks can be felt in all the pale imitations that have littered the cinematic landscape these past ten years.


Guy Pierce and Carrie Anne Moss in Newmarket Films' Memento


19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

If I could I would just list the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy as a single motion picture, but as they were all released separately a year apart I can’t bring myself to do it. With that being the case, this second chapter in Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy classics is by far my personal favorite. Rich characterizations abound (that last scene with Gollum in the woods is both intimate and chilling), while the central battle of Helms Deep is one of the most exciting in movie history. As a whole, what Jackson achieved with this series is astonishing, The Two Towers showcasing those accomplishments to perfection.


Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

18. Mulholland Drive (2001)

First question: What ever happened to Laura Harring? Naomi Watts got all the publicity but this magnetic actress is every bit as good as she is. Second question: Whoever thought that David Lynch’s twisted and surreal dreamscape of an idea was a good idea for television series? I get that “Twin Peeks” had its weirdness but what goes on in this just takes the cake, and the executive who gave it the green light is just the kind of risk-taker networks’ sadly have too few of. Final question: What’s really going on inside this amnesia-fueled psychedelic thriller? I still have no idea, but just because that’s so doesn’t mean I don’t get a visceral kick every time I throw this outstanding little brain-twisted gem inside my DVD player and push play. 


Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in Universal Focus' Mulholland Drive


17. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Joel and Ethan Coen’s morality play of crime and punishment is as unnerving as it is mesmerizing, the pair’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel as good as anything they’ve ever done. In the end it isn’t the chilling visage of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh that stays with you but the sight of a quietly devastated Tommy Lee Jones wrestling with his own mortality, age and experience not what they’re cracked up to be when pain is the main outcome of your best efforts.  


Javier Bardem (right) is lethal in Miramax Films' No Country for Old Men


16. Spirited Away (2002)

Japan’s animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki crafts another winner, this sensational tale of a young girl wrestling with her own careless petulance in the face of a world where her parent’s have been transformed into swine as emotionally moving as it is visually eye-popping. Miyazaki has a gift for being able to craft entertainments that speak to both young and old alike, and while this is arguably his most adult effort yet (even more so than Princess Mononoke) its accessibility is jaw-dropping. It is a fine line, and the filmmaker walks it beautifully, and by the time its over the only thing I felt was a sense of profound joy that I was lucky enough to view it.


Things get serious in Walt Disney Pictures' Spirited Away


15. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Who says fairy tales only have to be for kids? Guillermo del Toro certainly didn’t, his macabre wartime fantasy as spectacular a bit of proof as any I ever could have hoped for. The chills it sends down spines, the sights it gloriously asks viewers to see, the flood of emotions it asks us to feel are all so splendid a person could be forgiven for never wanting them to end. Unlike many of the director’s studio efforts, this one is both a triumph of visuals and of story, the production design and effects no more important then the nuanced story of perseverance and sacrifice at its core.


Ivana Baquero (left) in New Line Cinema's Pan's Labyrinth


14. In the Loop (2009)

While I haven’t had the time to marinate on this slam-bang political comedy as I have many of the other films on this list, I can say with little doubt that Armando Iannucci’s stupendous satire is one of the best of its kind I’ve ever seen. I look at this gloriously profane stunner and want to stand up and cheer, and like Network, M*A*S*H and Dr. Strangelove before it this is one timely and prescient winner I’ll watch again and again and again. As a side note, nobody has ever used profanity with such intellectually vicious skill as Peter Capaldi, his Malcolm Tucker a character sure to go down as one of the all-time greats.


Peter Capaldi makes faces in IFC Films' In the Loop


13. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson always struck me as a supremely talented guy in need of someone to help him edit his scripts. That thought changed a bit with the release of 2002’s awesome Punch-Drunk Love, that movie delivering on the promise Boogie Nights and especially Magnolia magnetically hinted at. Even so, I wasn’t remotely prepared for There Will Be Blood, Anderson displaying an almost Kubrickian skill at storytelling I never anticipated. Add Daniel-Day Lewis’ titanic performance to the mix and this movie just didn’t drink my milkshake it regurgitated it and then drank it all down again a second time. An instant classic that will spark discussion and debate long after many of the other films on this list have been sadly forgotten.


Daniel-Day Lewis (right) drinks milkshakes in Paramount Vantage's There Will Be Blood


12. Y Tu Mamá También (2002)

After The Little Princess, everyone with half a brain knew just how good a director Alfonso Cuarón was. That said, I don’t think any of us who were impressed with that sublime 1995 family classic saw his ambitious and erotically charged coming of age road trip Y Tu Mamá También coming. This movie didn’t just subvert convention it obliterated it, this saga of two young men journeying across a twisted and unknown landscape with a sexy older woman a movingly sensual peon to the human condition. The film went beyond the norm and then some, its scale small but its themes as gigantic as the surface of the Earth.


Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal in IFC Films' Y Tu Mamá También


11. Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

I am a sucker for a good journalism movie. I am a bigger sucker for a great one. George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck belongs to that latter group, and like Call Northside 777 and All the President’s Men before it this tale about newsmen making a difference is every bit as thrilling as the latest James Bond adventure or exotic journey of Indiana Jones. What Edward R. Murrow accomplished during the height of the McCarthy era is a shimmering reminder of what the press can do when it remains impartial, Clooney delivering a much-needed education with a healthy does of tension for good measure. The resulting picture is a priceless, old-school classic I adore, and the more I keep thinking about it the more I’m starting to wish it was higher on this list.


David Strathairn in Warner Independent's Good Night, and Good Luck.


[50 - 41], [40 - 31], [30 - 21], [10 - 1]



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