the 75 most awesome movies of the 2000s: 75-61

Dec 4, 2009

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The Bottom Line .

I've been going over opening lines for an hour. I've already ruled out "as the decade winds to a close...", "the 2000s were an interesting year for movies", and, my personal favorite, "it is an (arduous/daunting/difficult) task to choose the films that represent a decade". Because, the truth is, none of these ho-hum (and, sadly, all-too-often utilized) opening salvos really represent the struggle.

See, as a writer, particularly one with such a respected opinion and devoted fanbase (I know, I know, but just go with it), you go through certain stages. Adolescence finds the young man a bloodhound, thirsty for explosions and bone-crunching fisticuffs. The college-aged young man would just as soon lop off a ball as admit that the latest Sundance sensation isn't as emotionally involving as "King Kong", or that the most recent blogged-about foreign import ain't even _half_ as satisfying as watching "Undercover Brother"---AGAIN. Often, as this boy pushes into adulthood, he starts to settle into that happy medium: the artistry is still important, but the entertainment bug worms back into the brain, after years of pretending that "Garden State" was life-changing.

And this, good readers, is where I find myself at the moment. As much as I yearn for artistry and thematic relevance, I'm just as pleased these days to find myself dazzled by some terrific action dropped into the middle of a cracking good yarn. More and more, I begin to value the feelings invoked by film, and I value suspense, laughter, nostalgia. And when the perfect storm hits? When a well-made picture wrings everything I adore from watching the moving pictures from me and leaves me deeply and truly satisfied? That, my friends, is awesome.

My primary descriptor in casual conversation, this two-syllable adjective escapes my lips after a movie has earned it. I realized this after seeing, of all things, Jim Carrey as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol"; I turned to my fiancee and said "well, babe, I know you weren't expecting this, but I actually thought that was awesome." Consider it the Drew version of knighthood.

And that's why we have this list. For I have chosen not to rank movies solely by artistic merit, or ONLY by how much they thrilled me. No, for the movies to retain maximum power, a viewer must cherish both of these attributes---which, when combined, are often indescribable, except to widen the eyes and whisper "....awesome."

75.  IDIOCRACY (2006, Mike Judge)----Yes, anyone who has kept Comedy Central on in hope of "South Park" reruns in the last six months or so has seen "Idiocracy" more times than one could ever desire; this much is true. But though some of the bigger laughs may have been diminished (cable, ye be a bastard), "Idiocracy"'s satirical heft remains intact. After a bravura intro contrasting a intelligent, well-to-do couple's difficulties conceiving with a braindead redneck jock's all-too-eager joy at spreading his seed, the stage is set for mass idiocy to eventually envelop the earth. And envelop it does---the moments here are too few and far between to list, but scenes like Terry Crews' steroid-stuffed POTUS addressing the "House of Representin'" with a machine gun and clips from future high-concept entertainment like an Oscar-winner about little more than an exposed derriere and Nielsen charmer "OW! My Balls" speak to the rapid devolution of the populace's intellect. Sharp and all-too-prescient.

74. DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY (2005, Michel Gondry)----Speaking of Comedy Central, it's hard not to see the shadow of Dave Chappelle in every stand-up comedian's variety show; CC clearly longs desperately for the glory days of old Dave, and will afford every upstart the opportunity to try and match it. But while "Chappelle's Show"---which grows more and more brilliant with each retrospective viewing---will always remain in our hearts as Chappelle's most nakedly innovative work, I like to think that "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" eulogizes the dead-to-the-entertainment-world comedian as anybody would want to be remembered: generous, warm-hearted, and incredibly, painfully funny. Cameras roll as Dave orchestrates a massive open-air hip-hop concert in his old NYC neighborhood---the music is sophisticated and ambitious, but more importantly, Dave is always there to take center stage, to make some lucky kid's day, to crack a hilarious joke (seriously, should anybody ever be in possession of THAT MUCH FUNNY?), and to simply be a good guy to be around. Which makes "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" bittersweet---but, honestly, mostly sweet.

73. THE STRANGERS (2008, Bryan Bertino)----Greeted with glee by theatrical audiences and by a collective "meh" by critics, "The Strangers" remains a curiosity: the kind of film that horror buffs should thank the bloodthirsty gods for and cherish forever, and a film that none actually DO. But as a quick little slash-and-run number, nothing is better at getting the blood pumping. See, the devil's in the details, and "The Strangers" earns its scares quite well: unsettling masked faces don't simply pop up with soundtrack a-blaring, they inch into frame, creating the feeling that something's always nearby, peering in, ready to pounce. Dread creeps from every tight little pore, and when "The Strangers" offers us its first real money shot---one of the titular masked intruders creeping into the background without effect or fanfare---it takes us a second to adjust, to process. In my theatrical screening, you could hear the progression, dull moans escalating into full-on shrieks as the audience went through the process. As a big fan of genre horror, "The Strangers" is the most potent on-screen terror I've seen in years.

72. RENT (2005, Chris Columbus)----I may not have a lot of words regarding the artistic merits of "Rent"-on-film, or a theory about why such a fluffy piece is actually, secretly, a masterpiece; but I do have a soul, and "Rent" goes directly for my soul's jugular, every time. I tell you this in confidence: I go to the movies to be manipulated. If I didn't expect manipulation, I'd stay home and try to chip away at my school loans. And "Rent" manipulates like an absolute champion: when gay, homeless Jesse L. Martin belts out a heartfelt eulogy for his withering drag-queen lover as his friends form a harmonized choir of support, this straight man's tear ducts self-lubricate, and I'm on the road to gut-knotting catharsis.

71. KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004, Stephen Chow)----"Shaolin Soccer" was tough to leave off this list, but it had to happen, because Stephen Chow's absurdist slapstick opus "Kung Fu Hustle" needed to be here. It makes some narrative sense and no physical sense, but when axe-wielding yakuza start singing and dancing in formation mere minutes into the film, it's as if Chow is daring you not to have a good time. Spoiler alert: He wins.

70. SLITHER (2006, James Gunn)----A sticky, gooey, homage-filled delight of a pseudo-horror flick, Troma vet James Gunn delivered the goods with "Slither". A winking B-movie with enough inventive grue to qualify as a real-life entry into the genre, "Slither" arrives on gales of laughter and leaves on the same, interspersed with spells of recoiling. Basically, it's the most joyous, evil-leech-filled splatter film of the decade.

69. GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000, David Gordon Green)----Though the director would eventually give himself over to the lure of high comedy with 2008's glorious "Pineapple Express" (probably, truth be told, the theoretical #76 on this list), David Gordon Green's first success, "George Washington", was easily the most spellbinding film of its year. Descriptions are difficult when dealing with such fragile things of beauty, but this chronicle of a summer in the lives of rural southern black children is at once aesthetic and deeply, deeply felt. Those who initially compared this to Malick were dead on.

68. STEP BROTHERS (2008, Adam McKay)----What "Step Brothers" lacks in things---namely an editor, and restraint---it more than makes up for in big, loud COMEDY. It's been accused of being loud, dumb, and ugly on more than one occasion, and that much may be true. But nobody really focuses on how FUNNY it is. As two middle-aged stepbrothers stuck in perpetual childhood, Will Ferrell brings the show and John C. Reilly steals it. If there's anything on this earth funnier than Ferrell putting his nuts on Reilly's drums, or the stellar Richard Jenkins incredulously reacting to each escalating conflict, I'm not sure I've seen it. Riotous.

67. THE LOOKOUT (2007, Scott Frank)----Somehow, in the 2000s, Joseph Gordon-Levitt rose to prominence as an actor to watch, following heralded turns in "Mysterious Skin" and Rian Johnson's terrific "Brick", a film that was exceptionally difficult to leave off this list. It's "The Lookout" that does it for me though---JGL is disabled by a brutal car wreck, left with short-term memory loss, and living with a blind Jeff Daniels when he gets pulled in to a robbery of the local bank. Gordon-Levitt's work here is so subtle you might not notice how good it is at first---but he gets to the heart of the _why_ here, aching to feel useful again. Immediately thrilling, but long-term powerful. Matthew Goode (Ozymandias!) and Isla Fisher provide terrific support here.

66. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST (2006, Gore Verbinski)----Over the course of the last decade, a little movie that could seemed to spiral off into the closest thing our decade had to a "Star Wars" trilogy. I speak of no rings, of course, but of pirates---Gore Verbinski's adaptation of the theme park ride gave us swashbuckling action, and a bundle of stumbling comedic gold in Johnny Depp's Captain Jack. The entire trilogy's pretty important, but really, none of them stirred the senses like the "rising action" piece, "Dead Man's Chest". "Pirates"' own "Empire" saw the comic relief, sure, and the swashbuckling action, but bested all other comers in action setpieces, in dramatic heft, and in pure, magical moments. The camera swooping over a wonderfully Gothic, organ-playing Davy Jones (the terrific Bill Nighy); Captain Jack getting swallowed whole in the climax; and, of course, that final "'re kidding me!" shot. Big, loud entertainment never got bigger than this.

65. A SCANNER DARKLY (2006, Richard Linklater)----I have to assume that Richard Linklater's paranoid, rotoscoped vision is destined to be a cult classic. How else does one explain the relatively little fanfare "A Scanner Darkly" opened to? It's brilliant, though. Listen to Robert Downey Jr. (perhaps the decade's MVP, acting-wise) and Woody Harrelson's paranoid ramblings... watch Keanu Reeves' suit shift and materialize... look at Downey as he tries to deflect blame in a crucial late-film scene. Dark and dystopian, jolted with an undercurrent of black humour, "A Scanner Darkly" is a delight.

64. RATATOUILLE (2007, Brad Bird)----If there's anything that the '00s really drove home, it was the futility of another animation studio trying to top anything that Pixar accomplished. And "Ratatouille" was its weirdest concept yet: set in Paris, narrated by a rat, characterized by obscure dishes concocted in a Parisian gourmet kitchen, and with an title unpronouncable to the average 6-year-old tongue. This only reinforces that Pixar crafts movies for grown-ups, too, and at the end of the day, I'll take this achingly beautiful ode to craft, destiny, and artistic love over any Dreamworks pop-culture-reference-a-minute trash. As Remy the Rat's utter devotion gives way to acceptance, the heart tugs, and nothing can stop the Pixar juggernaut. With good reason, too---the studio isn't simply a rogue's gallery of cash cows, but a series of the rarest of profitable films... profile because they're damn good.

63. MUNICH (2005, Steven Spielberg)----A couple years on, "Munich" remains potent. One of the smaller big movies in Spielberg's '00s ouvre, nothing else he's done since "Schindler's List" packs the punch of this tale of violence, dischord, and retribution. It's darkly rendered, impeccably acted, and, as telegraphed by the much-maligned ending, eerily foreshadowing. Thank you, Eric Bana, for not letting the Hulk be the end of the road.

62. BEFORE SUNSET (2004, Richard Linklater)----Some sequels just seem like they shouldn't happen. For my money, I felt in 2004 that Richard Linklater should just leave his 1995 masterpiece "Before Sunrise", about two would-be lovers spending an idle night in Paris, well enough alone; that it was enough of a canonized Gen-X romance classic on its own, and that part of the magic was keeping its sense of ambiguity intact. But the second Jesse and Celine lock eyes in "Sunset", I knew that I'd been wrong---apparently, I'd been longing to see what happens all these years, and I didn't even know about it. The 80 or so minutes that follow are beautiful, heartbreaking, and most of all, tantalizing; that Linklater fills in lingering questions while creating new ones, thus sustaining the ambiguous, wondrous tone of "Sunrise", is all the more genius. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy deserve a special kind of award for these characters they've created.

61. THE HOST (2006, Joon-ho Bong)----In every sense of the word, "The Host" is a superior monster movie. Subverting the genre while simultaneously exemplifying it is really an old filmmakers' trick at this point, but if anything can compare you to the visceral heart palpitations elicited by the tadpole-esque creature's attack on a local park, you're a stonier person than I. Meanwhile, director Bong sustains momentum by ribald, character-driven comedy, and a unifying, tragic coda. Thrilling, brilliant, and essential.

Stay tuned for further entries!    

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