Wednesday, 30 December 2009

My Favorite Movies of the 2000s

Opulent Arsen Oremović, a Croatian film critic, is one of my three favorite film critics. His columns are fascinating when it comes to films because he has a way with words. Actually, some of his writings are pure poetry. I don't agree with at least a quarter of his reviews, but he always has such deep arguments when he explains his point that I always tend to respect his decision. Harsh on most films, mild on a minority, he wrote his reviews in a newspaper ever since the 90s, and a great deal of the 2000s, until he wrote a rather satirical comment two years ago that rubbed some people the wrong way. This is when he was, unfortunately, removed from his position and nothing was ever the same since. But he still writes here and there, and one of his columns for December '09 he made a list of his top 10 list of the best films of the decade. Needless to say, I again didn't agree with his choices, but he wrote another smart observation: "When you look at your list of your favorite movies of the 2000s, and compare it to your list of your *all time* favorite films, you will notice how little films from this decade actually made it on the latter list. That's because the increasing turn towards commercialism and marketing in the movie industry took their toll".

Since the decade is nearing its end, I think I should also mention my favorite films from 2000-2009. Notice I didn't write "The best films of the decade", but "favorite of the decade" because quite simply I didn't see every single film made in the 2000s, which is why you may see changes on this page when you visit it later on. There are so many films that are real jewels, I believe, but we may have never even heard about them due to lack of publicity. This decade was rather underwhelming - I would really call it the "Zeroes" because there were so many unnecessary films made, and so little ones that really should have been made. I can honestly say that, till this day, I haven't seen a single film from the 2000s that I can comfortably label a "masterwork". Honestly, I found many hyped films to be overrated.

Luckily, there were amazing films that showed up, some that really enchanted me, which is why there is still hope for the films in the future. And I'm glad there are still some producers who are willing to take a risk and produce a great story - taking a risk may not always prove the right choice, but it's these kind of choices that sometimes make some of the best films of all time. You can't buy a great story - it can be written by anyone, and that's why everyone deserves a chance. Anyway, I made a top 25 list of my favorite films bellow. Surprisingly, no American film is in the top 5, but they still make their share later on. The exotic cinema from Asia made some great films.

TOP 25

1. TROPICAL MALADY;
A wonderfully spiritual film that used the power of images from nature to such an extent that it seems as if it discovered it a new. The director used the camera to focus it on the tropical forest and he got it so absorbed with its beauty that even an ordinary leaf started to seem special. The two part story is unusual, but the second one, a fantasy one, is so hypnotic and so turned towards the subconsciousness that it's a realm of the senses. So simple and yet so full of enlightenment and magic.

2. SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER....AND SPRING;
Another spiritual film from the far East, "Spring..." is one of those films that are almost a philosophy. It has a few "rough" edges and some may find some of the Buddhist messages in it a tad obtrusive, yet for a majority of its running time it's a deeply, deeply touching essay about people who can find their inner peace and those who can't and thus live wrecked lives, whereas some of the symbolic situations displayed in it contain so much wisdom that so few directors have, regardless of their talent as film experts.

3. PERSEPOLIS;
Despite a seemingly "heavy" subject, "Persepolis" is probably the most fun film made about the Iranian revolution and a teenage girl caught in the middle of it. Instead of dramatic political elements, this coming-of-age story is incredibly fresh, untrammelled, humorous and alive, as well as realistic when you think about it later on. The small "Eye of the tiger" music sequence is simply a blast and a must see. A wonder of a comic-book adaptation, this French animated film never gives up its optimistic tone.

4. AMELIE;
The sweetest thing. And that's precisely why some don't like it. On the other hand, to make such a sweeping blend of comedy, romance, visual style, charming actors and irresistible situations is real art and should be appreciated more. The obvious evidence is the fact that none from the people involved in this film managed to repeat the mood yet with something similar that tops this. The photos of Amelie writing "Do-you-want-to-meet-me" on her belly which are intended to draw the attention of the guy she fell for is a must-see.

5. THE HOST;
This is the film "Godzilla" should have been, but wasn't. More and more, fantasy films are recently used to display a symbolical socio-political message, and this monster-movie does it almost unbelievably well. Believe it or not, this is also practically a family film where the whole family joins their forces to save their daughter from the claws of a monster. The design of the latter isn't that convincing, but the film's humor and sharp visual style are done down to a T. Also, luckily, the monster wasn't presented as something evil, but just as an allegorical product of a mistake. The sequence where one of the protagonists uses a paper clip to escape from a office surrounded by police officers is a virtuoso piece of inspiration.


6. DEATH NOTE
Can a normal detective, L, catch and outsmart an unknown teenager, Light, who can kill people just by writing their names in a Death Note, just thanks to his brains? The greatest Agatha Christie crime story ever made. Rarely will you get a chance to see such a juicy example of strategy and intelligent moves.


7. AMERICAN SPLENDOR;
A clever and inventive little film about the difficulties of a comic book artist, the story lives mostly thanks to shrill-witty situations. Who would have thought that a woman, who is practically a stalker, would charm her idol, the outsider hero so much that he would agree to marry her? More so, who would have thought that this is based on real events? Hilarious.

8. LEBANON;
A shockingly dark film about the '82 Lebanon war, but powerfully made, even better than "Waltz with Bashir". The amazing, and risky move was to play the whole film just from the perspective of the four soldiers who are always inside a tank and only see the negative events of the war through the periscope. What's more, it's a rare example of provocations with a meaning.

9. BATTLE IN THE HEAVEN;
A strange existential drama, with an obvious emphasis on erotic sequences, managed to seem hypnotic and radiate awe. The story about an overweight man, his kidnapping attempt, his obese wife and his affair with a prostitute isn't a story for everyone, but if you have an open mind this is a virtuoso directed film that deserves attention.

10. INUYASHA (Season 1-3);
Heavily disputed as a good piece of anime, "InuYasha" trips here and there over its own feet when it deals with some uneven horror and monster elements, but whenever it deals with romance it's a miracle. Probably the last time when an anime based on Rumiko Takahashi will display such essential and poetic love emotions, even though the protagonists InuYasha and Kagome don't even admit they like each other for most of their adventures, "InuYasha" has only 1/4 of a effect of "Maison Ikkoku", but even that's more pure romance than thousands of other fake romantic movies at our disposal. However, only the first three seasons (82 episodes) are great - afterwards, the storyline gets overstretched to death and should be avoided.


11. PONYO ON THE CLIFF;
One last time, the animation veteran Hayao Miyazaki again returned from retirement to direct his 10th and final film and deliver another anime jewel to the world. "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea", even though not Miyazaki's best achievement, is a return to his old shape and a spiritual successor to his "Kiki's Delivery Service" and almost all of the great animes he made in the 80s, his most creative phase. It's funny, refreshingly filled with positive energy - and fascination with water in numerous scenes.


12. JUNO;
Maybe it does try to be too much like "Daria", with a very light take on teenage pregnancy, but it's full of life and simply deliciously cynical comments from the title heroine. Another independent jewel.

13. MINORITY REPORT;
Spielberg's darkest film from the 2000s is so bleak that it seems as if it wasn't directed by the same director who was often accused of being "sentimental". A really untypical film for him, though not so much if one looks at his "dark" phase from '93 until recently, this science-fiction film is so shocking and uncompromising that one can even forget the rather shaky premise, filled with many brilliantly directed moments and unusual camera techniques.

14. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN;
"Catch Me If You Can" is truly a pleasant surprise of a film. Based on a real story, that elegant humorous crime-drama portrays the fascinating character of Frank Abagnale, a chameleon con-artist who would disguise himself as anyone, from a lawyer to a pilot, proving the thesis that it's only important to believe in yourself in order to achieve something - or fool the mob.

15. BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA;
One of the most touching kids movies of the decade with an "optional" fantasy sidestory that does not detract from the strong drama of the main story. A much different movie than you might expect and by no means similar to other post-"Lord of the Rings" fantasy novel movie adaptations.

16. WHAT IVA RECORDED ON OCTOBER 21ST 2003;
Arguably the best Croatian film of the decade, this little flick is shown only from the subjective perspective of the hand held camera, following the nonchalant, often humorous misadventures of the uptight family of the teenage heroine who films them.

17. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON;
Slightly overrated and over-hyped (it hardly has the *best* action sequences of any martial arts film), but still very good adventure film with virtuoso romantic action.

18. CHILDREN OF MEN;
A simple story - what if the humanity would suddenly become infertile and the last child in the whole World was born 18 years ago? - proved to be a great premise for this imaginative little science-fiction film filled with extensive long takes.

19. GHOST WORLD;
Has flaws, but if you give it a chance and try to connect on its level, it's a great little coming-of-age film with a realistic portrait of teenagers. The main tangle where the sarcastic-rebellious heroine slowly falls for an outsider twice her age and starts appreciating him even though she ridiculed him at first, really manages to grip you. All the actors in it did a great job.

20. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING;
The producers risked a lot when they gave Jackson a free hand and a blank check to film the popular "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but they were rewarded richly. Truth be told, the storyline in all 3 films can become slightly dry, stiff and mechanical, but it still seems fresh and I always enjoy watching it when it's on TV. The 3rd film is arguably the best - in the first hour, nothing is going on, but when something finally starts going on, it really becomes a tsunami of events and virtuoso directed action sequences. Some jokingly complained that they were annoyed by the 40-minute farewell of the characters at the end, though the film still accomplished its task.

21. RATATOUILLE;
Arguably the best computer animated film, "Ratatouille" is a harmless pure fun revolving around the rat who can cook, by which the story stimulates the viewers' fascination with food and cooking. One must also note the excellent character of feisty Colette, the only female cook in the all male restaurant staff, that was portrayed with small little details, like when she drives a motorcycle or simply moves the table on wheels with her leg to show Linguini how things are done in the kitchen.

22. MILLENNIUM ACTRESS;
A surprisingly sweet, uplifting and fun anime film from director Kon, "Millennium Actress" is a hidden recommendation. A very smooth, accessible and addicting film about the main heroine, an older Japanese actress, which shows in retrospect her life and, it seems, makes a whole bunch of homages to Japanese cinema.

23. WALTZ WITH BASHIR;
Another honest film dealing with the '82 Lebanon war, "Waltz with Bashir" is a strange example of an animated documentary, if something like that can even exist. Some pretentious moments do bother, but the power in the story, as well as the artistic value, can be sensed.

24. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS;
Anderson here obviously shifted his author's vision to a different level, and thus some of the moments are rather too bizarre to have any sense and many ideas seem completely pointless, but his shot composition and choice of music, especially "Judy is a Punk", is once again fantastic. A humorous and shrill take on a New York family that's just a little bit more dysfunctional than the average.

25. BROKEN FLOWERS;
Another quiet and meditative Jarmusch film, though this time with a tighter grip and a much more engaging tone. By visiting his ex-girlfriends, the protagonist in the story is slowly falling in quiet despair since he only sees shadows of the once great women, step by step. There is one "random" nude scene that seems useless, but actually isn't useless: when he sees the naked teenage daughter of one of his ex-girlfriends, he almost leaves the house. Not so much for the comic effect, as for the the fact that he sees what she once was in her daughter and knows those times are gone forever. The title is also very poetic.

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