The 2010 Oscar nominations are out and the best picture list is a joke. So, in an attempt to push those those thoughts from my mind and yours, here are some more of my favorite movies of the last 10 years.
25. Adaptation (2002)
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Charlie Kaufman (and Donald Kaufman)
Actors: Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, Meryl Streep, Brian Cox, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ron Livingston, Chris Cooper
Hoo-boy. Well, this movie is about writing, and it’s about obsession. And it’s got a meta-narrative about writing. The movie is about itself. I didn’t like it too much the first time I saw it, but I went home thinking about it and starting to decipher it, and I had a couple of a-ha moments, and realized there was more there. Now, every time I watch it, I see that Kaufman has buried the real truths of the film. It’s not about what it seems to be about. The plot itself is a red herring. Tricky, even a little bit mean, but I dig it.
24. 24 Hour Party People (2002)
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Actors: Steve Coogan, Andy Serkis, Shirley Henderson, Sean Harris
Thank goodness the story of Manchester and Tony Wilson and everyone involved is no longer one of the great under-told stories of modern music. There’s a greta blending of reality and myth, and lots of breaking of the 4th wall, all of which fits Wilson’s personality perfectly. The thing even manages to be sad a good bit of the time, despite its otherwise manic energy and style. Ian Curtis and Joy Division, of course, have received even more attention since this movie’s release. Sadly, no Happy Mondays biopic has yet surfaced.
23. Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) (2001)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer: Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Actors: Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus
Do you remember how much you loved this movie when it came out? Okay, maybe you didn’t. Maybe Jeunet’s extravagant, over-blown method of setting-up intricate series of co-incidences and then watching them fall in rapid-fire sequence just isn’t for you. His follow-up, A Very Long Engagement has almost no repeat-viewing value because of it. Amélie’s charms, though, seem universal: Ms. Tatou’s gigantic eyes, a cast of interesting actors full of passion and disrepair, and just a touch of movieland fantasy. The subtitles only make it more believable and much more romantic.
22. Memento (2000)
Director/Writer: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
The decade was so young, and so was I, but I still remember the impact this one had on me. It was the pinnacle of 20 months of a briefly golden age that saw the ascendance of young gun directors like Nolan, Darren Arronofsky, Spike Jonze, P.T. Anderson, and David Fincher. Too bad that golden age wasn’t destined to last. Memento is clearly the product of craft, and deep, complex thought about structure and the way an audience deciphers a plot. Such a thing was rare ten years ago, and seems even rarer now.
21. You Can Count on Me (2000)
Director/Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Actors: Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin
There’s a moment in You Can Count on Me in which Mark Ruffalo sits on bed and suddenly starts crying in the middle of a sentence. It’s a palpable moment of suffering and release and you’re not a human being if it doesn’t make you want to bawl your eyes out. Dammit. There’s another moment when Lonergan cuts away just as a cop opens his mouth to reveal some awful news. Lonergan has an amazing talent for squeezing a great sea of depth out of all the stuff between his carefully chosen words. Frustratingly, Ruffalo spent most of the decade after that squandering his talent, and Lonergan’s follow-up has been tied-up in a legal dispute for years.
20. (tie) I ♥ Huckabees (2004)
Director: David O. Russell
Writer: O’Russell, Jeff Baena
Actors: Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Tuppi Hedren, Shania Twain
Waking Life (2001)
Director/Writer: Richard Linklater
Actors: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Caveh Zahedi, Adam Goldberg, Steven Soderbergh
How do you take your philosophy? Straight-up? In Linklater’s first animated film, it’s quoted directly by some vaguely-familiar talking heads manipulated so that their forms reflect their content. Or would you prefer it with a twist? David O. Russell’s follow-up to the wildly-acclaimed Three Kings pushes several philosophical viewpoints (any of which might be a put-on) through a funhouse of absurd entanglements played straight as can be by a simply awesome cast of professional nitwits. Either one is as likely to unscrew as your head as to feed it, and both have the potential to leave a serious indentation on your psyche.
19. About a Boy (2002)
Director: Chris & Paul Weitz
Writer: The Weitzes, Peter Hedges
Actors: Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz
This movie is kind of treacley. Bravo first, though, to Hugh Grant for taking on the anti-hero role. The character is not likable, he’s a jerk, or at least he starts out that way, and Grant goes all the way into it. Bravo secondly to the kid, Nicolas Hoult, and to the casting agent that found him. He’s not cute, he’s odd. If I saw him on the street, I would wonder what his parents were up to. And some applause for Damon Gough AKA Badly Drawn Boy. The soundtrack is perfectly matched to the film, and yet the songs stand on their own two feet quite ably. (In fact, I don’t think Gough’s topped this yet.) Finally, bravo to Peter Hedges, who helped turn Hornby’s movie-ready one-liners into a touching and memorable story. This is one of those rare occasions when I’d recommend skipping the book and going straight for the movie. That’s alchemy, right?
18. Stone Reader (2002)
Director/Writer: Mark Moskowitz
This is a movie about the joys of reading and the way books can shape our lives. I love it. The best comfort next to reading itself. ‘Nuff said?
17. So Goes the Nation (2006)
Directors: Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern
I felt physically shaken watching this in the theater. I hadn’t realized how deep the wounds of the 2004 election really were. Watching it now, of course, feels very different. Let me plug the film, though. It’s an incredibly balanced document of the Bush/Kerry battle, with lots of commentary from important officials from both sides, and a lot of footage from the “ground war”. And it all takes place in Ohio – Columbus and Cincinnati, specifically. It’s moving, upsetting, funny … for anyone who’s “into politics,” it’s required viewing.
16. Untitled: The Bootleg Cut (Almost Famous) (2000)
Director/Writer: Cameron Crowe
Actors: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Taylor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jimmy Fallon, etc.
This ranking is just for the rare “Untitled” DVD-cut of the movie. The shorter, regular release version was seriously underwhelming. This movie was the center of a big project I did as a present for a friend, and because of it, I’ve seen it about 30 times. Seriously, at least that much. Suffice to say, it really grew on me. It’s a movie about a make-shift family, with a passion for music, who are trying (and often failing) to do the right thing. That’s my kinda thing. Crowe put all his heart and soul into this one and it really shows. The characters are lovable and deeply flawed. There’s humor and pathos, often at once. There’s a lot of good music, and there’s the heartbreaking feeling of lives that will never be so wondrous ever again.
15. Brick (2005)
Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary,
Suburban noir. Another movie that makes incredible use of little means, Brick manages to look really slick doing it. Its cast of high school freaks and geeks are idiosyncratic, dangerous, and hard-boiled far beyond their years. That alone creates a thick tension that never abates. Add to that a snakes nest of double-crosses that keep the audience one step behind the whole way through, and you can imagine how much fun grasping straws can sometimes be.
14. The Constant Gardener (2005)
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Jeffrey Caine
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite
Meirelles second big film, as static as City of God is dynamic. As piercing as City of God is inspiring. Ralph Fiennes gives a performance that can only be described as restrained, and Meirells gives a lesson in mining as much personal pain as one can imagine from a story with formidable political overtones. You could spend the whole time just watching Fiennes’ face as he reckons with the shattering of his belief system, but there’s even more to it than that.
13. The Hours (2002)
Director: Stephen Daldry
Writer: David Hare
Actors: Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Stephen Dillane, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels
These are rough waters. I have to admit that I haven’t read the novel, but I can only imagine it would destroy me. Suicides abound in this film, that’s the only way to say it. And look at all the amazing actresses in this one movie. There was a lot of complaining about the casting of Nicole Kidman, but I won’t join that chorus, she’s quite good. Julianne Moore continues to let her heart seep out through her expressive eyes and her mouth, and then there’s that Meryl Streep lady. This is three heart-breaking stories in one, and my god, someday I hope I can make something that feels as much as this.
12. Little Children (2006)
Director: Todd Field
Writer: Field, Tom Perrotta
Actors: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley
137 minutes of brave actors playing dreadfully uncomfortable moments as the film-makers lay it on with tortuous subtlety and cruel directness. You have to squirm as Richard gets caught masturbating with a porn star’s underwear on his face. It’s some seriously brave acting. Watch Kate Winslet order a “hide-your-tummy” swimsuit, and then marvel at the innocent ambition in her eyes. Well, it looks innocent, doesn’t it? Then, 45 minutes in, the chummy neighborhood pool scene turns on its head with the slightest touch.
11. The Squid and the Whale (2005)Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Actors: Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Lesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, Ann Paquin, Halley Feiffer
Poor Noah Baumbach, he’s had an awkward time of it. Apparently TS&tW (finally, ten years on, the actual follow-up to the generation-defining (whether they know it or not) Kicking and Screaming) is really autobiographical. I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that Baumbach cast two greats of the midwestern school of theatrical realism to play his fallaciously paired parents, and this movie turns out to be all about casting. The reliably great Jeff Daniels slides into the raw skin of the father’s fragile ego with almost disturbing ease, and is perfectly matched in naturalistic glory by Laura Linney. Stephen Baldwin is an appropriately smarmy choice, and the kids are just as awkward as can be. Why do I keep re-watching this one? It’s not that I like seeing people in pain, I guess it’s just helpful to know that it’s not just me.