Anybody who reads this blog will be aware of my propensity for compiling lists during the final week of December, lists that identify the best movies, music and books of the year. These lists are entirely objective, widely read and will serve as reference material for cultural critics for many centuries to come, quite possibly outliving Western civilisation itself.
Since we are now living in the final week of the decade, however, not just the final week of a mere year, I thought something grander was in order. Over the next few days I’ll be presenting a meticulously ranked list of my favourite the best films produced in the unpronouncable decade of my teenage years, the 00’s. Ah, and such a decade it was!
Each movie is accompanied by my rambling thoughts and opinions and I will probably be quoting Roger Ebert quite often, since he’s the only film critic I read. We will begin at number 50; proceed to number 49; follow with number 48, and so on, in that fashion. Here we go, kids!
50. Snatch (2000)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro
“There’s a gun in your trousers. What’s a gun doing in your trousers?”
“It’s for protection.”
“From who? Ze Germans?
As a director, Guy Ritchie is a one-trick pony. Snatch is that pony. Yes, it follows precisely the same formula as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but simply because it was made second does not mean it is inferior – besides which, Lock Stock is from the 90’s.
There is little to be said about this movie beyond that it’s a profanity-laden, violent, darkly witty crime film with an impenetrable plot, a haycart of one-liners and a thoroughly entertaining world. Certainly not something to hold dear to your heart and raise up as one of the greatest achievements of cinema, but my word, it’s a fun two hours.
49. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor
“They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.”
Black Hawk Down is a war film that (like another movie further down this list) does not grandstand or sensationalise the true events it depicts. It succeeds in reconstructing the story of what happened in Somalia in October 1993, when a U.S. humanitarian force attempted to capture several warlords and instead wound up with two Black Hawk helicopters shot down and hundreds of soldiers trapped in the city under heavy fire. Not only is Black Hawk Down an engaging, well-crafted film by an excellent director, it shows – as closely as a film can – what it’s like to be a soldier in modern warfare. It shows their failings, fears, strengths, opinions and experiences, portraying them as neither villains nor heroes but as the human beings they really are. This is an important thing to do, especially in Western nations outside the US, where popular perception of American troops is not nearly as glowing (or even sympathetic) as Americans might expect.
48. Pitch Black (2000)
Directed by David Twohy
Starring Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell
“Got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God. And I absolutely hate the fucker.”
This is by all reasonable standards a bad film, or a mediocre film at the very best. I’m not entirely sure why I like it, except that it appeals to the juvenile in me who digs this kind of thing – predictable creature features with a science fiction bent.
Enroute to a colony somewhere in deep space, Pitch Black follows the survivors of a spaceship crash on a remote desert planet. We have a wide cast of characters, ranging from an Islamic imam to Australian miners, and with Vin Diesel playing a violent convict being transported to a prison planet. The group is soon forced to fight its way across the desert to safety while being attacked by subterranean creatures that only emerge during the planet’s rare nights.
Again, I’m not sure why, but I dig this movie. I can’t defend the monsters or the story or the directing or the writing, but I can say that I enjoyed the hell out of it. The characters live in an interesting world and face an interesting situation, and that is all I ask from my science fiction adventures. That’s also why I get a guilty pleasure out of watching the sequel, Chronicles of Riddick, even though that falls even more deeply within the category of “Films That Are Objectively Bad.”
47. A History of Violence (2005)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
“You were always a problem for me, Joey. When Mom brought you home from the hospital, I tried to strangle you in your crib. I guess all kids try to do that. She caught me… whacked the daylights out of me.”
A History of Violence begins in a sleepy Indiana town where family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns and runs a classic all-American diner. He is happily married and well-respected, with a nuclear family, small business and comfortable home – the American dream. Cronenberg works very carefully to construct these small-town scenes convincingly so that it feels appropriately shocking when, one day, Tom kills quickly and efficiently kills two robbers in self-defence, in a very graphic scene. Making the news as a hero, he soon attracts unwanted attention from figures from his past, and the film escalates accordingly.
This seems like a fairly straightforward movie, but there are depths of analytical wealth. “This is not a movie about plot, but about character,” Roger Ebert wrote. “It is about how people turn out the way they do… Cronenberg is most interested in survival of the fittest. Not the good, the moral, the nice, but the fittest.” The mark of a good film, of course, is that you think about these things later – because you’re too engrossed during the viewing to think about them at all.
46. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by Michael Gondry
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo
“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see that shows me the least bit of attention?”
I’ve been reading a lot of other top 50 lists before writing my own, and this one comes in very close to the top in a surprisingly large amount of them – sometimes even first. I don’t recall it to be that great; good, yes, but not amazing. In fact I don’t remember much about it at all. Here’s the kicker: I watched it with my girlfriend, who is now my ex-girlfriend, and whom I have done my best to edit out of my life. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!
45. Frost/Nixon (2008)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Martin Sheen, Frank Langella, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall
“You have no idea how fortunate that makes you – liking people. Being liked. Having that facility… that lightness, that charm. I don’t have it. I never did.”
The most enduring thing about this film is Frank Langella’s protrayal of Richard Nixon. It’s a very well-written film, certainly, and Sheen is no slouch, but simply nothing can compare to the powerhouse performance Langella delivers. He bears little resemblance to the former President, but has his voice and tone and mannerisms down perfectly. He is the absolute focus of the film, its driving force. Against all the odds, he (and Howard) manage to make us feel sorry for Nixon, that poor old man who just wanted to be loved.
The fact that this film was made during the Bush administration is certainly no coincidence – you may despise these men, vilify them, whole-heartedly condemn them for being disgraces to their office and traitors to their country. But they know, deep down, that’s precisely what people think of them. And doesn’t that make you feel pity rather than hate?
44. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Directed by Shane Black
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
“I’m retired. I invented dice when I was a kid.”
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a pretty overlooked film (in fact I think it won an award purely for that) which is a shame, because it’s also pretty great. It’s essentially a buddy film/noir thriller/detective story/black comedy, which somehow works, with a great onscreen relationship between Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr, whose snarkiness factor peaked in the mid-00’s. It also contains my favourite Russian roulette scene of all time.
43. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Starring Guy Pearce, James Caviezel, Richard Harris
“Drink up – we’re drinking Napoleon Bonaparte’s wine!”
The Count of Monte Cristo is a swashbuckling adventure film containing Napoleon in exile, pirates, betrayal, false imprisonment, escape tunnels, swordfights, Venician festivals, buried treasure and an elaborate plot for revenge. If you don’t like the sound of it yet then it is not the movie for you. It is competently acted, directed and written, and precisely the kind of enjoyable popcorn movie (exemplified in the 90’s by “The Mummy”) that you want to see when you go to the cinema and don’t want to think too hard, the kind of film that has been mostly replaced these days by CGI explosions and poorly choreographed gunfights. I wish there were more movies like this.
42. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Drew Barrymore, Kurt Russell
“Forgive me. I’m blowing your mind.”
An immensely puzzling film, similar in a way to Memento (which was released the same year, but which is better and therefore further down the list). Memento features a protagonist who has no memory; Vanilla Sky one who has an unreliable memory, a dreamlike memory, a man who inhabits a world he is not sure is real. The film begins conventionally enough, but as it progresses it becomes more and more complex and confusing, layering dreams and fantasies upon an already shaky reality. This is not a bad thing; just be prepared to use your brain. I still don’t wholly understand how this film works, even with the reasonable explanation given at the end, but it’s not the kind of film you need a neat resolution for. It’s more style than substance – beautifully written, acted and shot, with one particularly amazing scene where Tom Cruise (in a dream, or not?) goes running through a deserted Times Square.
41. Borat (2006)
Directed by Jim Emerson
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen
“My country send me to United States to make movie-film. Please, come and see my film. If it not success, I will be execute.”
The ABC likes to broadcast a lot of British shows, to balance the wave of American TV the Australian commercial networks are wholly reliant upon, so I’ve followed Sacha Baron Cohen since the days when Da Ali G Show was confined to the UK. I noticed when he moved to the USA that he was reproducing material from the British version wholesale – and yet it was funnier, because somehow Americans react funnier. The Brits are too polite, and will meet grossly offensive questions with awkward silence or weak protests; Americans are much more brash, and will either whole-heartedly agree with what Cohen says, or vainly try to re-educate him. Borat is not a bad man at all, but he is grossly ignorant and hates Jews and homosexuals, despite having little understanding of what they actually are, and his statements either expose the bigotry of his interview subjects or leave them visibly uncomfortable. For the viewer, both are entertaining.
Borat (with its full subtitle: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) portrays Borat as a real character, a “journalist” from the remote, backwards nation of Kazakhstan, who comes to the United States to learn about American culture for a documentary back home. The Kazakhstan Borat hails from is nothing like the real Kazakhstan, and is not supposed to be – it represents what Americans think of countries like Kazakhstan, and is delibrerately constructed as a reflection of America itself. “Borat’s view of Jews are like his view of Uzebeks,” Roger Ebert wrote. “They are the bad guys because, well, that is what people in his nation believe, and his country has institutions and customs designed to reinforce such useful, identity-defining prejudices against the Other.” The film is a scathing indictment of American customs and ideologies, and yet it is not hostile towards Americans themselves at all – even those who are racist, homophobic fuckheads or drunken, irritating louts are still genuinely nice people, trying to help Borat learn, trying to be kind to him. It’s not the best comedy of the decade, but it’s certainly the cleverest.
Incidentally, what makes Cohen such a brilliant comedian is that, no matter how outrageously his stunts escalate, he always keeps a straight face.
TOMORROW: Numbers 37, 32, 35 and several others!