As the year came to a close, I saw a number of these lists pop up- favorite movies from the past decade. It’s an interesting exercise to create such a list because it was an interesting decade. I went from age 26 to 36 in that time. I had a kid. My other kids grew up, started college, moved away. The world went crazy for a time there. But there were movies, lots of movies to keep us grounded and to forget the times. The following list is, after much thought and deliberation, my personal top ten favorites from the 2000s. Keep in mind that these are the ten I enjoyed the most. I’m not saying that they are the ten most culturally significant, the ten ‘best’ films of the decade, or even the ten most important films made. These are simply ten movies I saw in the past ten years that I have enjoyed and that have really stuck with me. Without further ado, and in no particular order:
1. American Psycho – (2000) – the book creeped the hell out of me when I first attempted to read it, and although I love it now, the gory parts are best left skimmed over. When the movie came out I figured it was going to be a typical slasher/gorefest, so I didn’t see it for many years. It wasn’t until after I reread the book and the satire clicked that I truly enjoyed the novel- and by that extension, I decided to see the movie. I was pleasantly surprised. Director Mary Herron crafted a wonderful black comedy that stays true to the nature of the book. Christian Bale is awesome as uber-Yuppie/psycho killer Patrick Bateman. The film is smart, funny, and not gory at all. It just goes to show you can make a great horror film without resorting to cheap shock tactics.
2. Surf’s Up – (2007) – Between my twin daughters and the birth of Stephanie, I saw many kids movies during the decade, and my favorite by far was this delightful film about a penguin who wants to be be a pro surfer. It was creative, using a pseudo-documentary format to hook me as a viewer as well as not playing down and dumbing the story for kids. The film also had some terrific voice acting, not relying on the same ones you hear from time to time, but actually bringing in ones that fit their characters. Jeff Bridges as the Big Z? That’s like The Big Lebowski for kids!
3. The Wrestler – (2008) – I enjoyed pro wrestling to an extent as a kid during the 80s, and this film touched on that nostalgia while also giving Mickey Roarke the opportunity to showcase his talents. The acting was outstanding (Marisa Tomei as a stripper? It works), the story touching, the wresting solid, and it was like 1985 all over again. I felt so bad for him because it’s clear he couldn’t let go of the past, but that’s mainly because the future didn’t hold anything for him. There’s just a lot of little touches that make this film for me, like the ‘Randy the Ram’ Nintendo game and other memorabilia.
4. Twenty-Four Hour Party People – (2002) – One of my favorites of all-time, not just the decade. Michael Winterbottom’s look at the life and death of Factory Records hits close to home for me because Factory’s music was really a soundtrack for my teenage years. Having read numerous books about New Order and Joy Division, it was nice to see many of those familiar events dramatized (if not exaggerated, but with Tony Wilson, that was the point!). The fact it was shot on digital gives it a documentary feel that makes us really feel like we were there during the rise of the Manchester music scene. As someone who followed it from afar during the late 80s/early 90s, it’s like a found treasure.
5. The Mayor of the Sunset Strip – (2003) – This documentary, based on the life of LA DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, is a look at a truly remarkable life. When you see the photos of Rodney with everyone from Sonny and Cher to David Bowie to Blondie to Coldplay and you see him the middle of so many different eras in popular music, always on the forefront, you’re reminded of ‘Forrest Gump’. I had no idea who Rodney was before I saw this film, as I watched it I felt sorry for him (for a man with so many friends, he seemed lonely), and when it was over I was glad to know him.
6. Napoleon Dynamite – (2004) – I know some people love this film, others hate it. I’m in the former because I grew up with people just like Napoleon, people with the same wild unverifiable stories and quirky characteristics. I laughed out of recognition the first time I saw this film, and every time since it has been out of nostalgia. The neat thing about this movie is that even when you discuss it with people who DIDN’T like it, there are enough scenes that are good that even they can’t help but remember them and smile.
7. Riding Giants – (2004) – I remember the name Stacy Peralta from my childhood. As a teen, he was one of the first world-class skateboarders who became known in the mainstream world, and as an adult, he’s turned into a fine documentary filmmaker. This film, his second, is an outstanding documentary on the world of big wave surfing that just drew me in (and I can’t even swim, much less surf!). I love Peralta’s documentaries because he does so many new things visually and technically to advance a genre that can be pretty straightforward. The things this film does with still visuals, in particular, were pretty groundbreaking to me when I first saw them on the big screen. Bonus points here because I got to see this film at a local screening held by the Phoenix Film Foundation and actually met Mr. Peralta afterwards.
8. Lost in Translation – (2003) – Sofia Coppola’s second movie was a project that touched me personally. I went to Japan as a teenager through a cultural exchange program, and so I ‘get’ the sense of wonder and the feelings of being overwhelmed that we see from the characters. Take the opening shot of Bill Murray’s character looking wide eyed at the lights of the Tokyo skyline. That took me back to my first few moments in Japan and the joy I felt at being there as well as the apprehension I felt at being there alone. I also loved Bill Murray in this film, as my experience with him in film growing up was as him being ‘the life of the party’ type, and here he was so subdued and sad. It’s a beautiful film visually as well as from thematic standpoint.
9. (500) Days of Summer – (2009) – in my opinion, the best film of 2009. What I loved about this film was that in many ways, I lived it. Tom’s issues and dilemmas were close to my own at one point in time. It felt like a movie made by my peers, especially with all the references to The Smiths and Joy Division. I loved the technical aspects of the film. I loved the music. I loved it’s creativity. I liked how it took an honest look at relationships (the split screen ‘Expectations/Reality’ sequence was one of the best things I’ve ever seen done in a movie because it’s so truthful). If you haven’t seen it you, do so now. I’ll get you a copy.
10. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – (2005) – before you haters come out of the woodwork and tell me how George Lucas ruined your childhood, let me start by saying I don’t care. I loved this film for what it brought to the Star Wars mythos. It’s not high art, but it wasn’t meant to be (kinda like the originals). The movie was filled with so many emotional moments that it drew me in, like Order 66 and Anakin’s march into the Temple to massacre the Jedi. And personally, I *love* the fact that the main impetus for Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith, was over a chick. I mean, why not? Guys have done stupider things for girls. The movie looks and sounds great. I’ve always been a fan of what Lucas has done, and he didn’t let me down. Here’s hoping that with Star Wars finished, you get to make the kind of movies you really, really wanted to, George.
Honorable Mentions: Marie Antoinette, The Aviator, Revolutionary Road, Cars, Moulin Rouge, The Alamo, Miracle, The Rules of Attraction, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, O Brother, Where Art Thou?