Other comics blogs have started running through their top albums or tracks of the new millennium. So I thought I’d get out ahead of the curve and do the same for film. I’d do the same for comics, except that there’s no equivalent of metacritic for comics, so it’s hard to remember which comics came out in which year — especially for the earlier years of the millennium.
This list isn’t a list of the great films of the 00s. And with a few exceptions I haven’t included films because I think they’re “important” or because they “deserve it”. Instead, it’s a largely subjective list of the films that I liked the most over the last decade. So if your favourite film isn’t on the list, that isn’t a slight against it; I probably just didn’t like it enough to count it among my favourite fifty films of the decade.
Unless your favourite film is Mulholland Drive, in which case your taste sucks and you are stupid.
There’s only one ground-rule: no two films by the same director. This makes the list more diverse than it would be otherwise, which will become quite a big deal once we get into the top 30. It’s also just fun to have to decide which Michael Bay movie, for instance, is the best — Pearl Harbour, Bad Boys II, Transformers 1 or 2?
So let’s get this started. Click on the links for trailers.
50. Far From Heaven
Todd Haynes’ film was at once a homage to, and commentary on the florid 1950s Technicolor melodramas of Douglas Sirk. As such, it could have ended up like Gus van Sant’s frame-by-frame remake of Psycho a few years earlier, an exercise in film theory to obscure ends. After all, both Haynes and van Sant had made their names with explicitly “queer” films, and both Psycho and Far From Heaven might have seemed like grabs at reaching mass audiences. But where Psycho flopped, both critically and commercially, Far From Heaven soared. What Haynes had seen was that the respectable veneers in society and in Sirk’s films served the same purpose: to suppress emotion, the strange, the different. What he ended up making was a film at once postmodern and modern, that at the same time used the conventions of the 1950s and commented on them, a film that was about film but also race, homosexuality and the bourgeoisie.
49. Farenheit 911
One of only two documentaries on the list. This was, to put it mildly, a divisive film, about a divisive subject: the Bush presidency and its decision to go to war in Iraq. Even many people who generally agree with Moore’s politics found this film unfair and heavy-handed. Still, there’s no denying its power as a piece of agitprop, on a par with the work of Eisenstein. If, at the end of this movie, you didn’t want to organise an angry mob and impeach the president, you weren’t paying attention.
Arguably the best comic book movie of the decade — or, for that matter, ever. With a compelling lead performance by Paul Giamatti, and a whole bevy of directorial tricks, it managed to do what I would have thought impossible: give me a reason to give a damn about professional sad-sack Harvey Pekar.
47. Sexy Beast
The first film on my list that also appears as part of Scott Tobias’ “New Cult Canon” over at the Onion AV Club, but by no means the last. It’s a tough little gangster-comedy that subverts the cliches of the genre to amusing and entertaining effect. Ray Winstone is surprisingly good as a flabby ex-con but the real star is Ben Kingsley as a foul-mouthed and single-minded psychopathic brute (which in turn was surely the basis for Ralph Fiennes in the equally refreshing gangster-comedy In Bruges).
46. In My Skin
The new millennium saw a renaissance in French film, but not just any French film. No, it was a particular type of French film — film that divided critics and made audiences squirm — a cinema of discomfort, you might call it. Marina da Van’s In My Skin was one such film; she stars, writes and directs in a remarkable film about one woman’s all-too-quick descent into obsession and madness. The cinema of discomfort specialised in scenes that are hard to watch; In My Skin has such scenes to match the best. One unflinching shot in particular, in which da Van slowly, deliberately cuts herself, is still etched in my memory, all these years later. In My Skin is as powerful a piece of body-horror as anything Cronenberg ever made.
45. The Fog of War
From leading documentarian Errol Morris came this documentary about Robert McNamara, one-time US Secretary of Defence. In that role, McNamara was the chief architect of the Vietnam war; just as he had, early in his career, masterminded the firebombing of Japanese cities in WWII. McNamara speaks with the gravity of mistakes made and lessons learned. Fog of War appeared not long after the US invasion of Iraq; much like Farenheit 911, it was hard not to see it as aimed directly at the then-current Powers That Be, even if its subject himself might disavow any such intent.
A clever horror film, masquerading as a sort of sweet romance about puppy love, in a novel period setting: Sweden circa 1980 or so. Apparently the screenplay toned down some of the more shocking elements from the source novel; even so, it’s nasty enough. The vampire of the film doesn’t just suck blood; she tears it from her hapless victims. There are elements of the film that suggest a sort of vampire procedural, with much care given to the basic mechanics of bloodsucking. But at the core of the film is the relationship between meek Oskar and vampire Eli, both of them damaged and alienated in their own ways.
Another film from the New Cult Canon, this could easily have gone wrong. It’s a tribute to the performances — with a strong lead in Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, but good efforts all round — and the direction of Rian Johnson (who also wrote) that it didn’t go wrong. In fact, it went quite right. The marriage between hard-boiled noir and high school drama is inspired: noir calls for a veneer of toughness, often covering a deeper idealism or even sentimentality, and a kind of oblique dialogue. So too does high school. That’s the film’s key insight, and it works it through admirably.
42. American Psycho
Not exactly an unfilmable novel, but certainly not an easily filmable one, what with its interludes on mainstream 80s music and the fact that the protagonist is, you know, a psychopath. But Mary Herron’s script (with Guinevere Turner) navigates this difficult territory with great skill and a surprisingly light touch, making this an effective satire of 80s corporate culture and masculinity more generally. And Christian Bale was a great choice to play the eponymous American psycho; his brooding intensity and bland good looks have never been used to greater effect.
41. Gosford Park
Robert Altman was one of the all-time great American writer-directors — and, really, one of the all-time greats full stop. This was one of his last films before his death and, at the age of 75, he showed that he could still deliver an ensemble film like nobody else. In a ridculously strong cast, Clive Owen stands out, but really the star here is Altman, with his uncanny way of manoeuvring the space between people and the way that space gets filled with words.