29
Dec
2009
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Top Ten Movies of the 2000s
Jordan
After a year spent reviewing the last decade in film, I have finally narrowed down my lists to create a list of my top ten movies of the last decade. It was a grueling process, and many times over the past few weeks I have wished I had decided upon making a top twenty of thirty movies list, yet I set out to determine my top ten movies of the decade, and it has been done. Many of my very favorite movies had to be hacked off of this list, which hovered around 20 for the last week, but below you will find my picks for the ten best movies of the last ten years, along with a blurb about each. If you're curious where I got the nominees for this list, feel free to take a look at each of my top ten movies of the year lists for the past ten years, which can be found at 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

And now, for the final list:

10. Adaptation (2002)"”Writer Charlier Kaufman strikes brilliance yet again in this tale of writer Charlie Kaufman (Oscar nominee Nicholas Cage) attempting to adapt the unadaptable book The Orchid Thief by elusive journalist Susan Orlean (Oscar nominee Meryl Streep). Kaufman is too caught up in his own insecurities, both creative and romantic, to actually make progress on the adaptation, and he begins to write himself into the screenplay. His brother Donald (also Nicholas Cage) is there to lend a helping hand, but his tastes are a tad too Hollywood for Charlie. As the Kaufmans look into Orlean's life and her relationship with the enigmatic and fascinating orchid poacher John Laroche (the Oscar winner Christ Cooper, never better than here) the narrative devolves as Kaufman struggles to complete his second screenplay and maintain his fraying life in the process. Also nominated for best adapted screenplay (as it is in fact based on The Orchid Thief by real life Susan Orlean) and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich,Where the Wild Things Are) the film is without doubt the best treatise on writing ever created and also a great look at how difficult it can be to create art and to start your life again once you've made a wrong turn. By turns hilarious, haunting, and deeply affecting, Adaptation will change the way you look at movies, and at life itself.

9. The Dark Knight (2008)"”After solidly molding a Batman origin story in Batman Begins, Director Christopher Nolan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan) returns with the greatest super hero movie of all time. Months after the last film ended, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still working the night-shift as Batman, and searching for a flesh and bones hero who can save the city by bringing it the hope and legitimacy that his vigilante alter ego never could. He finds his strongest candidate in the tough on crime new DA Harvey Dent (a phenomenal and underrated Aaron Eckhart), who along with the morally unimpeachable cop James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is waging a war against organized crime in the city. Their struggle is complicated by the arrival on the scene of the terrifyingly nihilistic "engine of chaos" that is the Joker (Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his stellar performance), who believes that anarchy is the only way to live in a world without rules. The Joker sees life as one dark joke, and its punch line is the terror he inflicts and the death toll he racks up. The film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and combines some of the best action set pieces of the decade with the thematic scope of a great novel and more depth than any movie in its genre has ever tried. More than just a titanic battle between good and evil over the soul of a troubled city, The Dark Knight is an examination of existentialism versus nihilism, order versus chaos, and vigilantism versus the often failed attempts of a broken system to do good. The film may be a super-hero movie on its face, but beneath the surface lies an epic and a tragedy of greater proportions than most, making it one of the most resonant movies of the decade.

8. Lost in Translation (2003)"”Bob Harris (Oscar nominee Bill Murray, in easily his best performance) is most assuredly going through a mid-life crisis. His movie career is dead, his relationship with his wife is strained at best, and he has traveled to Tokyo to sell himself out as a celebrity spokesperson for whiskey. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is stuck in a rut in her mid-twenties, already disconnected from her husband, and drifting through life after graduating with a Philosophy degree and no real aspirations for a career. When both are hit with a bout of insomnia while staying in the same hotel, they bond over their lack of sleep and their general malaise. Director Sofia Coppola constructs a visually stunning look at Tokyo as well as a fascinating study of two people who can't seem to find their place in the world and can't manage to get over the depressive state that keeps dragging them down. With brilliant performances from Murray and Johansson, excellent cinematography and a thoughtful, melodic soundtrack, Lost in Translation is a moving meditation on unfulfilled longing, missed connections, and the mistakes that make up our lives.

7. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)"” Director Guillermo Del Toro is known for his inventive use of visuals and his penchant for puppetry over CGI, and these skills have never seen better use than in this fairy tale of a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) whose mother brings her to live with a her malicious new husband Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) after the Spanish Civil War. As Ofelia struggles to escape her bleak surroundings, she is drawn into a quest to assume her thrown as Princess of the Underworld by completing three tasks with the help of a devilish faun (Doug Jones). As she braves the challenges set out before her, she must also avoid the machinations of her new step-father, who aims to root out some rebels hiding in the nearby woods. At once a gory, terrifying R-rated fairy tale and a look at the uses people have for fantasy and for history, Pan's Labyrinth balances its period setting with its grim fantasy, creating a journey that is arresting, inventive, thought-provoking and more than a little scary.

6. Almost Famous (Director's Cut) (2000)"”The story of high schooler William Miller (Patrick Fugit) who nabs an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine to follow rising band Stillwater around the country and document their tour. Packed with nostalgia for '70's rock and roll and the mysterious bonds that form on the road, director Cameron Crowe's masterpiece seemlessly ties together the coming of age of William Miller with the systematic destruction and potential fall of Stillwater as tensions rise between the lead singer Jeff (Jason Lee) and the more popular guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup). Along for the ride is the enigmatic groupie Penny Lane (Oscar nominee Kate Hudson, in what appears to be the only great role she'll ever play) who catches the affections of William while trying to maintain an affair with Russell. The Director's cut of the film runs 40 minutes longer, allowing Crowe to meander through his examination of the band in a more ambling way than the original version, and giving a chance to greatly deepen the characters of Russell and Penny, adding to the tragedy and the revelations at the heart of their relationship. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, nostalgic and knowing, the movie is the perfect document of life on the road, and of what it feels like to be a band on the fringe of fame.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)"”The Tenenbaum children were all prodigies in their youth, but two decades of failure, betrayal, and disaster have stripped them of their former glory. Playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is trapped in a loveless marriage with neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) and an equally passionless affair with overwrought writer and long-time family friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Chaz Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller, in his greatest performance) is experiencing a nervous breakdown in the wake of his wife's death, and is subsequently shielding his sons from the real world. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) has retired from tennis and now travels the world aimlessly trying to deal with his love for Margot. Things start to come to a head for the Tenenbaum family when their mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston) becomes engaged to her long time friend Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), the children all move back into her home, and their long-estranged father Royal (an Oscar-worthy Gene Hackman) returns into their lives, claiming to be dying of stomach cancer. The Royal Tenenbaums tells the story of a family strangled by its own successes and restrained in its multitudes of failure. But more than that, Wes Anderson's gem of a film looks at the ties that bind even the most dysfunctional families together, and what it takes to repair those relationships that have broken apart, and in doing so creates a film that is truly one of the most intelligent and hilarious of all time.

4. Children of Men (2006)"”In the near future, humanity has become inexplicably infertile. While the entire race awaits extinction, and has thus fallen prey to the worst aspects of human nature, Theo (Clive Owen) is recruited by his activist ex (Julianne Moore ) to transport a girl to the coast. Theo soon discovers his cargo (Clare Hope Ashitey) is miraculously pregnant, which makes her valuable to both terrorist cells, including one lead by Chiwitel Eijiofor, and to the government. Also starring Michael Caine, the film some how slipped through the critical cracks, rendering it easily one of the most underrated movies of the decade. Stark in its construction, bleak in its depictions of politics and the dark side of human nature, and yet endlessly hopeful in its depiction of one man's refusal to give up on his dream of a better life, the film tackles a subject that is often done heavy handedly with both subtlety and nuance. Children of Men is alternately pulse-pounding and peaceful, nihilistic and hopeful in its depiction of a society that has fallen apart after realizing it has nothing left to live for, and of one man who struggles to believe there may be a chance for something more.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)"” From genius writer Charlie Kaufman and Director Michel Gondry comes a tale of romance gone wrong, and the convoluted path back to happiness. Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey in a rare serious turn) has just broken up with the love of his life, Clementine (Oscar Nominee Kate Winslet in a stunning performance). Desperate to win her back, he soon discovers that she has utilized new technology to have all memory of their relationship erased. Half out of anger and half out of depression, Joel goes to visit Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (the always excellent Tom Wilkinson) and decides to have Clementine erased from his memory. As the procedure is carried out by Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood), Joel must watch his relationship with Clementine play out in reverse. As he sees their bitterness and anger dissolve into intimacy and love, he realizes he may be better off with the memories intact. A meticulous study in a particular relationship, from its downfall to its romantic inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reminds us all the importance of love, even when it fails, and displays the necessity of even our worst memories toward making us who we are, and in doing so asserts itself as one of the smartest, most realistic, and most touching films of this or any decade.

2. There Will Be Blood (2007)"”It's the story of America that hard work and a bit of business savvy can make a man rich. Following that idea to its ugliest, most amoral endpoint is Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful story of Daniel Plainview (Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis in a towering and terrifying performance) and his endless quest for oil, and with it, riches. His ruthless business dealings put him into conflict with a charismatic preacher (Paul Dano, shockingly deprived of a richly deserved supporting Actor nomination) on the rise in the small community Plainview is about to rob of their oil supply. Anderson created one of the most fascinating, and profoundly terrifying characters in cinema history in Daniel Plainview, and placed him in an epic struggle against harsh terrain, harsher rivalries, and finally, the harshest enemy of all"”himself. There Will Be Blood is an unforgiving epic, made so by its scope and the intensity of its focus on a single man's spiritual death and tormented mental state, and by its larger implications for a country often strangled by capitalistic intentions and positively drowning in its need for oil.

1. No Country For Old Men (2007)"”As Sherriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) prepares to retire from a job he can no longer perform in a world that has grown too violent and evil for his old fashioned sensibility, a trail of bodies begins to pile up in the wake of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) after he absconds with $2 million in drug money from the scene of a shootout. Hot on his tail is the bleakly moral and brutally efficient hired gun Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar winning role). The Coen Brothers' film (which also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) is nearly flawless, combining pulse-pounding action sequences with quiet meditations on fate, futility, old age, evil, and greed. This masterpiece races along like a rocket, providing some of the most intense scenes in cinematic history. But beneath its surface lie deep lasting questions about human nature, the unrelenting existence of evil, and the attractiveness of nihilism in a world where all roads lead to death. Suspenseful, thoughtful, and endlessly brilliant, No Country For Old Men is the best film of the decade, and one of the greatest movies ever made.
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