The best movies of the decade (2000-2009)

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2. WAKING LIFE (2001)


Director Richard Linklater’s mindfuck of a movie, Waking Life pioneered the use of Rotoscoping, which is the fancy term for filming something real, then using a computer to make it look animated. (Linklater used a more advanced version of the technique on A Scanner Darkly; ad firms have been cramming it into car commercials for years.) What separates Waking Life from so many other movies with cool visuals is that these visuals are 100 percent in the service of the story. Episodic in nature like Linklater’s Slacker, Waking Life follows the main character (Wiley Wiggins) as he journeys through — where, exactly? Is he asleep? Is he on drugs? Is he dead? As you try and figure it out, the film presents interesting characters who make fascinating conversation about the nature of art, life, reality and the human experience. Yes, it’s heady stuff. It’s also really smart.



3. THE FOG OF WAR: ELEVEN LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT S. MCNAMARA (2003)


Errol Morris has been the best documentary filmmaker working for several decades, and The Fog of War, his conversation with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, is surely among his best work. The film covers Mac’s experiences during World War II, as president of Ford Motor Company, and as the man whom many hold responsible for the tragedy that was the Vietnam war. Morris’ style is to intercut talking-head shots of McNamara with archival footage, which sounds boring but most certainly isn’t. (One always illuminates the other.) McNamara was 85 years old at the time he filmed the 20-hour interview that became the film, and the old man seems to have lost none of his wit, intellect or verve. (Some would say his arrogance is intact as well.) The Fog Of War is the single most interesting film I’ve seen on international relations, and should be required viewing for all incoming heads of state.



4. LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)


Lost in Translation is a wispy poem of a movie about a mismatched pair of Americans (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) stuck in Tokyo, who meet and form a friendship that defies standard Hollywood cliches. Murray plays an aging actor in town to score an easy payday by shooting a liquor ad for the Japanese market; Johansson has accompanied her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) as he shoots a touring band, repeatedly abandoning her at the hotel for days on end. The two bond over drinks at the hotel bar, hit Japan’s karaoke scene (side note: I still proudly own a version of Murray’s reversible orange camo T-shirt), and find themselves falling in love. Sort of. As directed by Sofia Coppola, Lost In Translation is elevated by two great performances — but especially Bill Murray’s.



5. HIGH FIDELITY (2000)


Top five reasons I love High Fidelity: #1. It’s the ultimate guy relationship movie, in which a hipster record store owner (John Cusack) breaks up with his girlfriend after he finds out she’s been banging the neighbor, only to go through the five stages of dude grief on the way to figuring out what love is all about. #2. No film I saw in the last 10 years as perfectly paralleled the experience I was going through at the time I was seeing the movie. Translation: I had just broken up with my girlfriend when I first saw High Fidelity, and it was like I was watching my life (only way cooler) unspool on screen. 3. The movie introduced me to The Beta Band’s The Three EPs and the song “Dry The Rain,” thereby musically enriching my life forever. 4. Jack Black plays the Jack Black character, but this was his breakthrough moment and the performance still seems fresh, despite Black basically repeating it ad nauseum ever since. 5. Lisa Bonet.



6. AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003)


Paul Giamatti was great in Private Parts, but he knocked me out as depressed cartoonist Harvey Pekar in the unique American Splendor. The film is a mix of dramatic scenes with Giamatti and Hope Davis as Pekar’s wife, intercut with interviews featuring the real Mr. and Mrs. Pekar discussing life, love and what it’s like to have someone playing you in a movie. Directed by then-documentary filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (they’ve since made the underrated Nanny Diaries), Splendor found a new and interesting way to deliver what has become the standard bio-pic formula.



7. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)


The only action movie on the list, The Bourne Ultimatum is the third, and in my view best, of the Bourne trilogy. However, all three films — the other two being The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004) — are first-rate action thrillers, and if you were to pick one of the others for your list I would understand. In Ultimatum, Matt Damon’s amnesiac super-spy finally gets to the bottom of who the hell he is and how he became a “malfunctioning weapon.” Helmed by Paul Greengrass, Ultimatum hardly pauses to breathe while unleashing the most exciting assembly of chases and fights of the decade. Hey, I loved Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, but for my money Bourne is the new Bond.



8. THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (2005)


The first film by writer/director/producer Judd Apatow, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is still his best. Steve Carell stars as the titular virgin, surrounded by Apatow’s now-usual suspects (Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Johan Hill) as they first suss out his secret then force him to confront it. Virgin cemented the patented Apatow mix of base-but-hilarious humor (Carell getting waxed, for example) and genuine pathos and emotion (Carell’s relationship with Catherine Keener). Virtually everyone involved with this movie went on to do great work elsewhere, but The 40-Year-Old-Virgin remains the originating spark for all the Superbads and Forgetting Sarah Marshalls that followed, making it the defining comedy of the decade.



9. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)


I have a love it or hate it relationship with Michel Gondry. The last film I walked out on, Be Kind, Rewind, was one of his. (Sorry, sycophants, it blows.) Yet this same director made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the best sci-fi/romantic comedy/head-scratcher of the decade. (Hell, maybe ever.) Jim Carrey in full brood mode stars as a man who hires a company to erase his memory of a failed relationship with a flighty free spirit named Clementine (Kate Winslet). In the process of undergoing the procedure, Carrey’s character decides he wants to keep the memories — painful though they might be — and tries to hide deep in his psyche to avoid the eraser. There’s a lot more going on here (a lot), but through all the weirdness, Eternal Sunshine understands and shares more about the emotional heights and depths of love than any 10 cookie-cutter romantic comedies. Did I mention it’s very funny, too?



10. BEFORE SUNSET (2004)


I hesitated to include Before Sunset in my top 10, if only because I’ve already picked one Linklater film, and can one man really be said to have made two of the best films in any 10-year period? But I do so for this reason: No other film I saw in the last decade examined and illustrated the passing of a decade like Before Sunrise. The years are written right there in the wrinkles on stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Get 1995’s Before Sunrise, and watch both films back to back, then just try not to ruminate on aging and your own mortality. I dare you.


And if that’s not enough for you, here are 40 runners-up (In no particular order, though kinda-sorta from best to worse):


Memento, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Royal Tanenbaums, The Incredibles, Requiem For A Dream, Stranger Than Fiction, Erin Brokovich, Spirited Away, A Beautiful Mind, The King of Kong: For A Fistful of Quarters, Superbad, Vanilla Sky, Shawn Of the Dead, Batman Begins, Up In The Air, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, There Will Be Blood, Bowling For Columbine, Bad Santa, An Inconvenient Truth, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Thank You For Smoking, Spider-Man 2, Zodiac, Borat, The Aristocrats, Role Models, School of Rock, Shrek, Good Night and Good Luck, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Star Trek, Michael Clayton, The Departed, No Country For Old Men, The Dark Knight, Knocked Up, Juno, Slumdog Millionaire.

In spite of what it says up there in the headline, I think we can all agree that what follows is most definitely NOT the definitive list of the best films of the aughts decade. In truth, it is impossible to produce such a list. I am but an individual, and though I spent an absurd amount of time in the last 10 years watching, talking and writing about movies, your opinion and mine are equally valid when it comes to judging art.

That being said, I dig my list. It’s the best list this 34-year-old white male with expansive-though-mainstream tastes could produce, and I’ll be happy to defend it in the comments section. And stay tuned to Daily Loaf for my thoughts on the best films of this past year — which I’ll decide once I’ve caught up with all the contenders in early 2010.

1. ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)

I spent most of my college years obsessed with ’70s hard rock (Led Zeppelin in particular). Cameron Crowe’s delightful Almost Famous captures that era through the eyes of a 15-year-old high school kid (Patrick Fugit) who talks his way into a gig writing for Rolling Stone. Sounds like fantasy, but Crowe based the film on his own experiences as a teen tailing The Eagles, The Allman Brothers and the mighty Zeppelin itself. That Crowe also included a warts-and-all portrait of his warring sister (Zooey Deschanel) and mother (Francis McDormand, more perfect than usual) is just icing. This entire movie is an acting clinic, featuring wonderful supporting turns from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, Billy Crudup and the single best performance Kate Hudson will ever give. Even Jimmy Fallon shows up — and he’s good! Yes, you can argue that Almost Famous glosses over the the seedy underbelly of the drugs and groupie scene so prevalent in the ’70s (and now, probably), but that’s missing the point. Crowe was there, and he’s choosing to remember mostly the good times. Watching Almost Famous, you can see why.

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