Monday, January 18, 2010

Dozen for the Decade

I like lists.  Anyone can make a list and they can be debated endlessly.  Just in writing the list below I've changed and re-arranged things multiple times.  But without further delay, here, for your consumption, are my twelve favorite movies of the decade that has just ended.
12) Almost Famous (2000)

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool."

A nearly note-perfect story of one kid's coming of age.  It's funny, bittersweet, and real.

11) The Bourne Identity (2002)

"Look at this. Look at what they make you give."

The two Bourne sequels, both directed by Paul Greengrass, received the lion's share of critical acclaim, but it was the original Bourne movie, directed by Doug Liman, that established the aesthetic and tone of the series.  It also influenced every other spy movie for the rest of the decade, including the excellent James Bond re-boot Casino Royale.

10) Moulin Rouge! (2001)

"My gift is my song. And this one's for you."

A hyper-kinetic, candy-colored, and unabashedly sentimental fever dream, it's hard to fully describe this modern musical romance because there is really no other film like it.  You probably either love it or it gives you a migraine.  I fall into the former camp.

9) Gangs of New York (2002)

"You know how I stayed alive this long?  All these years?  Fear.  The spectacle of fearsome acts."

The 00s were the decade where Martin Scorsese went all-out to get the critical and popular recognition that had eluded him throughout his career.  Although The Departed finally won him the Oscar, the film that resonated with me is this one.  This ambitious historical epic is mesmerizing, primarily due to its fully realized sense of place and the mind-blowing performance of Daniel Day Lewis as the terrifying and charismatic Bill the Butcher.

8) Up (2009)

"Thanks for the adventure, now go have a new one."

I already covered my love for this film here.  But the more I think about it, the more it pulls on my heart strings and challenges me to treasure both the everyday adventure that is my life, and the person that I get to share it with.

7) Anchorman:  The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

"They've done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works -- every time."

According to my wife, I've never laughed so hard at a movie in my life.  When you add to that the endless quotability of this film, it's a true highlight of the decade for me.

6) The Incredibles (2004)

"Mom and Dad's lives could be in danger. Or worse...their marriage."

Perhaps more than any other genre, the 00s were the decade of the comic book movie.  And while there were a handful of fantastic comic book films (Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, Iron Man), one of the very best wasn't based on a comic book at all.  The Incredibles deftly weaves superhero-meets-Bond adventure with an affirmation of familial and marital bonds and a subtle but unmistakable critique of political correctness.

5) The Dark Knight (2008)

"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

As the other great comic book movie on the list, The Dark Knight builds on the promise of the very excellent Batman Begins in ways that comic geeks only dared to dream.  And underneath its comic book veneer, it delivers a gripping meditation on line between order and anarchy and the costs of keeping society safe from evil.  While Heath Ledger is deservedly praised for his Joker, Aaron Eckhart is equally amazing as district attorney Harvey Dent.

4) Wall-E (2008)

"I don't want to survive, I want to live!"

It is the sweetest of love stories set in the bleakest of settings.  A lonely and lovesick little robot manages to shake mankind out of its technology-induced lethargy and reminds us that relationships -- genuine and meaningful connections -- are what make life worth living.

3) The Passion of the Christ (2004)

"He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds we are healed."

I have seen this film exactly one time. I have not wanted or needed to see it again. But I cannot ignore the profound impact it made on me. Mel Gibson's brutal, devastating, exhausting depiction of the death (and briefly, the resurrection) of Jesus Christ is remarkably faithful to the accounts given in the four Gospels. Although it has been harshly criticized for its unrelenting violence and gore, I've come to appreciate that in order to truly convey the suffering of Christ to a modern audience -- an audience rendered numb by a media landscape saturated in violence and accustomed to a sanitized, Easter pageant version of the crucifixion -- the film had to push the envelope to get people's attention. The Passion is a difficult movie to sit through, but never have I felt more humbled by the sacrifice made for me by my Savior.

2) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was an epic achievement, blah-blah-blah, everyone knows this.  I'm singling out the first film because I think it stands head and shoulders above the two subsequent chapters.  The Fellowship of the Ring has a narrative clarity that gets just a little bit muddled and lost in the other films.  For all of its visual splendor, the best scene of the film is a very quiet conversation between Gandalf and Frodo regarding the nature of Providence. 

1) Finding Nemo (2003)

"I promised him I'd never let anything happen to him."

Yeah, I'm saying it:  the movie with the talking fish is the best movie of the decade.  Fifty years from now, do you think any other film on this list will have endured the way that Finding Nemo will?  The only other possibilities are the other Pixar films and maybe The Lord of the Rings (I say "maybe" because it basically takes about 10 hours to watch the whole thing and who has time for that?).  Generations of families will be watching Finding Nemo for years to come.  This tale of a father searching for his son, and learning how to be a better parent along the way, is at turns hilarious, poignant, epic, thrilling, and beautiful.  There are three scenes that compel me to wipe the eyes every time I watch it (and I've watched it alot) -- the beginning when Marlin loses his wife and family and very tenderly cradles Nemo, still in his egg; the scene when Nigel the pelican recounts for Nemo the tale of Marlin searching the entire ocean to find him, and you see Nemo's eyes brighten with the recognition of his father's love for him; the scene at the end when Marlin thinks he's lost his son all over again, and thinks back to the scene of Nemo in his egg.

A dozen others worth a mention:
United 93; War of the Worlds; Black Hawk Down; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Cinderella Man; Monsters, Inc.; Up in the Air; Unbreakable; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian; Open Range; AI: Artificial Intelligence.

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