Joseph Gomez’s Top 10 Films of the ’00s

However, the Aughts (or ‘ots’ or ‘2000s’ or ‘naughties’ or ‘whatever’) have proven to be a decade worthy of film’s growing history.  Let’s take some time to remember some of the decade’s greatest movies in an effort to reflect on the last ten years and to anticipate the next ten. This list is compiled of my personal top 10 films of the decade. What does that mean to you? It means this list is completely subjective and expresses my views at the time of writing. Is it definitive? It’s definitive only in the sense that it is definitive of its time of writing. All of these films are quality and offer up time well spent at the theater (or your living room, or in front of your computer). I reserve the right to change the titles (and their order) in the future because there is no way I can predict how I am going to feel about my opinions in a week (let alone in 10 more years).

And now with the start of a new decade, let’s strive to make TheMoviePool.com a part of film’s future by participating in conversation and intelligent debate and encouraging communication in an industry learning to use today’s tools. Tell me I’m wrong; comment that I’m a genius; express your opinions on the decade’s best films. And do it here at TheMoviePool.com in order to be a part of the next wave of communication in the film industry. You don’t want to miss out on the next ten years – they’re gonna be great.

So without further adieu, here is my first list of the new decade…

Joseph Gomez’s Top 10 of the ‘00s

10.) Munich: There is no denying the skill of director Steven Spielberg. While Minority Report (2002) stands as a prime example of genre filmmaking at its best, it is the espionage thriller Munich (2005) that provokes the strongest feelings of admiration, respect, and entertainment from me. Masterful scenes (the telephone bomb) combined with intelligent dialogue between enemies (the concept of home with no land to call a home) along with top-notch performances from an ensemble cast headed by Eric Bana meld into a seamless historical record that plays like a Jason Bourne movie that links together this fictional account of terrorism to our most relevant domestic affairs in the United States. Is a war on terrorism winnable? When does one’s duty to his country overshadow moral and ethical responsibilities to one’s own values? When do we become the very thing we are trying to eliminate? Can I watch a film that asks these questions and still be thoroughly entertained? The answers are not all easy. And you will not find them here. But Spielberg’s exploration of these themes is so well executed that I can assuredly say ‘Yes’ to one of those questions.

9.) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The best of the martial arts epics, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)  is a beauty to behold. Set amidst the backdrop of an ancient, mythological China, the film delivers an action filled romance with a strong affection for female strength.  All the performances, especially those of Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh, are uniformly strong and resonate deeply. Expanding on his Western exposure from The Matrix (1999), legendary fight choreographer Woo-ping Yuen introduced the wuxia style to many who had never seen anything like it before. Instead of car chases and gun fights (a la John Woo), Yuen’s battles featured dances atop tree tops and dazzling hand to hand combat that elicited awe and wonder into Lee’s already transcendent feature.

8.) Pan’s Labyrinth: Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s vision of a childhood fable exists in the darker corners of parables alongside the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and even the Bible. Determined heroine Ofelia’s imaginative world is filled with insect-like fairies and a nightmarish faun whose trustworthiness is questioned. What distinguishes Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) from other fantasy/imagination films is its shared value in the horrors of reality and the depths of our imaginations. A strikingly potent political drama with a fascist military leader is given equal weight when compared to Ofelia’s fantastical travails, which also benefit from dark and scary currents. When del Toro blurs the line between reality and fantasy, the film takes on a level of excellence only seen rarely in films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Spirited Away (2001). A prime example of fantasy filmmaking and the new wave of Mexican auteurs.

7.) Moulin Rouge!: The first ten years of the 21st century provided fans of the movie musical an undeniable resurgence in the genre with a number of noteworthy additions to the beloved canon.  Once (2006) and Dancer in the Dark (director Lars von Trier’s provocative, if not entirely successful, foray into musical territory; 2000) both displayed the possibilities of a musical story told through minimal production and artist-defined music, with equal parts intimacy and grittiness.  Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Chicago (2002), and even Dreamgirls (2006) and Hairspray (2007), all expanded the creative limitations in adapting a previously staged work for film. And Spike Lee’s record of Broadway’s Passing Strange (2009), along with the newly termed ‘cinecast’ of Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008), showed that sometimes the best movie adaptation is just to show the live performance of the stage shows in their natural settings.  However, it is Moulin Rouge! (2001), with its classic tale of star-crossed lovers, that emerges as the best musical of the decade and proving that, if told in exciting, innovative, and engaging methods, the best stories are the most familiar.  Inspired by Puccinni’s opera La Bohéme and, to a lesser extent, Jonathan Larson’s stage musical Rent, visionary director Baz Luhrmann created an underground bohemian Paris in the advent of the 20th century which relished in drugs, sex, and even rock n’ roll. With its zealous use of contemporary pop songs, Moulin Rouge! captured the attraction of the bohemian lifestyle by evoking its excitement and energy through tone and style. More importantly, Moulin Rouge! reflected the essence of Bohemia by taking its universal ideals of truth, beauty, freedom, and love and adapting them to a cinematic language: honest acting in a straightforward proven narrative, aesthetically gorgeous production elements like art design, costuming, scoring, and choreography, embrace of technical liberation in film like cinematography, editing, sound mixing, and an unabashed embrace of the musical genre. For what is essentially a jukebox musical revue of a centuries old operatic story, Moulin Rouge! bursts at the seams with originality and creativity.  Never has there been a movie musical conceived with such visual and aural cinematic splendor made for 21st century minds.

6.) Almost Famous: Cameron Crowe’s quintessential coming of age film is the autobiographical story we all wish we lived: young boy gets to skip high school, tour the country with a new rock band, befriend many beautiful girls, fall in love, and publish a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine. Never has there been a film that has captured the transcendent relevancy and healing power of music as well and so accessibly as Almost Famous (2000).  With a cast of characters all fully, objectionably realized (the perfect mom, the perfect girl, the perfect sister, the perfect mentor, the perfect band, the perfect hero), it is a delightful film filled to the brim with some of life’s little lessons. And the music! Oh, the music.

5.) The Pianist: The 90s gave us Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993), a harrowing look into Holocaust nightmares in the concentration camps; in the 2000s we are blessed to be given director Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002), an unsentimental portrait of World War II drama that places us in the ghettos of Warsaw after the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939. In this place, haunting images of a broken down survivor walking the post-catastrophe, almost apocalyptic streets of a once booming Warsaw are met with documentary like observance. The degeneration of Adrien Brody’s Wladyslaw Szpilman from cultured musician to instinct survivalist brings an inverted “Kubrickian” sense of human evolution in reverse in the face of literal extinction. A great film illustrating the driving power that music can have on one’s existence, both figuratively and literally.

4.) United 93: Paul Greengrass’ 2006 film concerning the events of 9/11/01 does two things: it assures that we will not forget the events of that fateful day and, perhaps even more importantly, reminds us that amidst all the tragedy, there was still room for heroism. Without a hint of exploitation or political bend, United 93 captures the hours leading up to 9/11/01 better than most documentaries on the subject. Because we know the outcome, the film takes on a haunting inevitability that creates a surmounting dramatic tension which adds to the visceral experience of Greengrass’ realistic direction. This film is compelling and moving in ways few other films are capable of, which proves to be its life force. As popcorn entertainment, United 93 elicits to be of little value. But as a harrowing reminder of what things were like that morning in America and as a tribute to the unlikely heroes that emerged from the tragedies, it’s unlikely to find another film quite as effective as United 93. This is undeniably powerful filmmaking.

3.) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) are representative of the best features that film has ever had to offer to the epic-fantasy genre; and we can thank Sir Peter Jackson for single-handedly bringing the once niche genre to its fullest, mass loving, blockbuster potential and, more so impressive, its artful pinnacle. With nary a trace of cynicism and a courageous offering of heart, Peter Jackson set out to give full cinematic life to one of the greatest written fantasy sagas of the 21st century. His unapologetic reverence for the material helped to shape the foundation for what would amount to the largest film undertaking of its time. While each individual installment stands as a testament of considerable ambition, it is when taken as a whole that The Lord of the Rings trilogy truly exceeds its already lofty enterprises and, thanks to meticulous direction, executes an accomplished piece of cinematic art. Each film differs in tone to make a cohesive piece that is greater than the sum of its parts and enriches the overall story. With tens of thousands of minute details, Peter Jackson effortlessly transported movie-goers to J.R.R. Tolkien’s massively populated Middle-earth and made us not only believe, but care about the fate of its many inhabitants.  Amidst all the glorious CGI, the enormous battles, and sweeping landscapes of the New Zealand countryside, all three films still manage to never lose sight of the characters at the heart of the story.  We cry at the loss of a fallen comrade; we are elevated to fight alongside Aragorn (a perfectly cast Viggo Mortensen, delivering dialogue with Shakespearean conviction). To invest in this nearly cumulative 11 hour story is to be rewarded with an amazing, dramatic adventure. The Lord of the Rings does all the big things right, which alone would have made for a satisfying affair; and yet it still does the little things right, too, which makes the saga an invigorating cinematic experience.

2.) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: They say the key for a romantic comedy to be successful is for the two leads to have chemistry that provokes the audience in rooting for their coupling. When you add the originality, creativity, and intelligence of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay and Michel Gondry’s inventive direction to the mix, along with a wonderfully subdued performance by Jim Carrey, and an effervescent Kate Winslet at her eccentric best, the result is a welcome one, to say the least.  A romance that could only be told through film, Eternal Sunshine (2004) blossoms with ideas about memory and love, and what the mind is capable of and incapable of in matters of the heart. Kaufman’s screenplay effectively displays his ability to ground his imaginative, complex, and always unpredictable stories in something real and relatable (a trait that is missing from David Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive and its reason for omission on this list). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes its plot in places unexpected and employs a wonderful production that tours us through the mind of an individual; yet even with these eccentricities, we are along for the ride because the human element is never lost amidst the weirdness and quirkiness. Eternal Sunshine also proves to be relevant in the days of identity theft and ethical and moral debate in medical science. But above all, what it says on the pain of heartbreak and the adventure of the mystery of love is what will keep this film from ever being forgotten.

1.) Wall·E: Pixar is unquestionably the greatest animation studio to come out in the past decade. The studio responsible for many tiny masterpieces (Monsters, Inc. (2001), the heartwarming Finding Nemo (2003), the satirical The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), the sophisticated Ratatouille (2007), and 2009’s poetic Up) hit its stride in 2008 with the release of Wall·E, a movie about a steadfast working robot who falls in love and saves the human race from extinction. The first part of this film, a nearly silent trajectory of Wall·E’s work day (a modern Modern Times for our time), exposes a seemingly post apocalyptic, abandoned, trash hewn planet Earth – and it is a breathless sequence; hilarious, poignant, visionary, tender, and hauntingly eerie, it’s as good as any piece of filmmaking in any decade in movie history. And with the arrival of EVE, a slick and state of the art robot, Wall·E reveals itself as one of the best love stories to emerge from the movies in a long time. Pixar’s dedication to state of the art technology has only advanced techniques in animation that have helped to fulfill the medium’s most traditional promise made by its pioneer Walt Disney – to make movies for everyone to enjoy.  Wall·E satisfies on all levels.  Its highly intelligent and visually compelling compositions expand our understanding of storytelling techniques in film; the reverence the movie shows to not only cinema history, but art history as well reveals the filmmakers wide knowledge of social cultures in human societies. With provocative ideas like the extinction of man, the price of human consumerism, dystopian corporate controlled government, humanity’s constantly increasing dependability on advanced technology and artificial intelligence leading to its ultimate helplessness, and the redemption of mankind through acceptance of mortality and responsibility to its creations and resources, the film cerebrally engages the mind. By incorporating all this into a mixture of accessible dimension, grounding the story in the most complex and simplest of human emotions, love, and supplying it with ample humor and warmth, the movie still manages to pluck our heartstrings and make us smile.    Wall·E’s cautionary science fiction tale of overindulgence, technical proficiency in creating a world unseen, and accomplished talent of art direction and animation, all guarantee it will be in the minds of filmmakers for years to come; however, it is its humor, warmth, joy, and beauty that will guarantee Wall·E a place in the hearts of audiences forever.

Other films that didn’t quite make my top ten include…

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Caché (2005)

Children of Men (2006)

City of God (2003)

Crash (2005)

Finding Nemo (2003)

The Hurt Locker (2009)

In the Mood for Love (2000)

The Incredibles (2004)

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)

Lost in Translation (2003)

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Minority Report (2002)

The New World (2005)

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Oldboy (2003)

Once (2007)

Passing Strange: The Movie (2009)

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Ratatouille (2007)

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Spirited Away (2001)

There Will be Blood (2007)

Unbreakable (2000)

Up (2009)

Zodiac (2007)