22 December 2009

Best Films of the 00s (that I've seen): part one

It's the end of the decade* - time for a list.

One of the interesting things about doing this is to surprise yourself with which films linger in the memory even after the passing of years. It's a good test too, to check out which films remain good even after their cultural moment has passed. This is why second viewings are so important.

I intend to keep adding to these lists as I catch up with the decade. Just titles and a thought or two that comes to mind, in no particular order.

Adaptation (2002)
Wonky in places, but Charlie Kaufman's screenplay is so startlingly original, you wonder how it works as well as it does. Self-referential, self-reflexive. Examines its own turning gears even while the motor's running.

Mulholland Drive (2001)
Starts out like a brightly coloured parody of Hollywood visual syntax, then lurches sickeningly to the left, revealing a related, but tonally different alternate reality. Like an optical illusion: disorientating, but makes perfect sense when looked at from just the right angle. From David Lynch, a true original.

No Country For Old Men (2007)
Cool and unsparing. Otherwordly performance by Javier Bardem, who stands in for the Coen brothers' recurring character of the personification of objective evil.

Spirited Away (2001)
Marriage of masterly traditional animation and a bold story, with the halls bedecked in some obscure and very weird Japanese cultural and religious references.

The Incredibles (2004)
Smart, funny and jaw-droppingly well designed in retro-futuristic style. The pace never slackens for a moment and themes of family, talent, potential and validation are touchingly explored. A movie for outsiders everywhere.

Infamous (2006)
Suffered from a badly timed release, but this is a superior depiction of the events related in Capote's 'In Cold Blood', his research of the disturbing murders, their historical and cultural context, and the effect of all this on the unusual personality of its author.

Star Trek (2009)
Smartly resuscitated a moribund cycle of films by looking at the familiar themes with an outsider's eye. Energetic and often exciting.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
An apparently low budget, lots of simple hand-held camera, in unemotional washed-out colour. Just the right approach for such knotty, emotionally fraught subject matter, which, despite it science fiction premise, has the emotional predicament faced by the characters at its very centre. A typically ambitious, thematically rich screenplay by Charlie Kaufman.

Burn After Reading (2008)
Widely underappreciated and misunderstood. A comedy that is also an utterly bleak rendition of human nature, a kind of vanitas in 35mm, something that is rarely depicted in art but familiar in life: petty maleficence - if not actual evil - of the kind found in every newspaper and the consequences for those caught up in its banal grip.

Ratatouille (2007)
Breathtaking design and superb animation of the kind that would have made Walt Disney stand up and applaud, combined with an affecting story about the critical importance of art and the path to self-actualisation. Despite the cutting-edge technology, its virtues are classical.

* Of course, I know that technically we are still a year from the end of the decade, but everyone else is doing it...

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