Monday, May 18, 2009

Reid's Top Movies of the 2000s, Pt. 1

Thinking about my Top 10 Movies of the 2000s (2000-2008) has been trickier than I would have imagined. Certainly, there are plenty of movies in this span of time that I just have not seen. There are also a number that I have only seen once. That being said, my 1-5 choices were reasonably easy. These choices, 6-10, were less so. I don’t have a drought of movies in the 2000s that I like, but once I get past the ones I really like, the next grouping is fairly large. They are movies that I like but for whatever reason, it’s difficult for me to say I like X more than Y (or P more than Q, for the philosophically minded). That being said, here’s a shot at the backend of my Top 10 Movies of the 2000s.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
My appreciation for this movie is varied. The visuals are so unique and striking, which has come to be an expectation of anything (here director) Michel Gondry sticks his hands into. The scenes that come to mind are when Joel’s memories are being permanently erased and he is fighting to save them. The pitch black void seems inescapable, almost ready to swallow him and Clementine whole. Very effective. I’m also a fan of the acting of both Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Winslet rarely turns in a performance that isn’t great. Here, though, it was really nice to see her in a more contemporary movie and not another period piece. For me, this is probably my favorite role of Jim Carrey’s. I think he, and the whole film, hits the right balance between humor and genuine drama. Simply put, the film takes an interesting story and shows it in an interesting way. Though simple, that is somewhat rare.

The Squid and the Whale
Of all the movies on my Top 10 list, I think I’ve seen this one the most. It has a brand of inappropriate, aloof, sarcastic humor that I just cannot resist. In terms of acting, Jeff Daniels steals the movie. He’s amazing and deserved more recognition for it. The movie shows more or less what I’d expect it to be like if your parents were both English professors/writers. Scary – I know. The tension and awkwardness and complete lack of social skills are all there. The dialogue written by Noah Baumbach (also director) is hilarious, and I couldn’t help quoting it often for a while. The tragedy of the family’s troubles is also there, and you especially feel for the two sons. How could either one be normal with those parents? Maybe not the kind of movie that you can expect anyone to enjoy, but I know I’ll keep watching it. Plus, Lou Reed is in the soundtrack!

Brokeback Mountain
What an earnest movie. There is a lot of simple beauty here. Ang Lee (director) wonderfully balances all the elements to create a very fluid story. I love the scoring done by Gustavo Santaolalla. Wonderful cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto). All the acting is spot on, especially the silent power of Heath Ledger – his best role (all things considered). Both Ledger and (Jake) Gyllenhaal’s characters seem very real. They are human. They are not treated as any kind of stereotypes, but as people in search of genuine love and companionship. In terms of the homosexuality, by no means is it glorified – in some respects, by the end of the movie the opposite occurs. Isn’t it interesting that so many will freak out over gay subject matter in movies (honestly portrayed or not), but then flock to other movies with any other kind of sexual immortality or gory violence?

Gosford Park
It seems like so often when films have ensemble casts, it does not work so well. One of the paradigmatic exceptions is when Robert Altman is directing. This movie plays like a who’s who of British acting. I don’t envy anyone trying to respectfully balance so much talent, while also including Ryan Philippe. Actually, I don’t think Philippe is that bad (I’m sure the actors around him boosted his game). For me, the stand-out performances are Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. The story is more or less a murder mystery, but the heart of the story is a critique of the British class system, which has always been horrendous. There are also some great jabs at Hollywood. Again, here is not a movie everyone will enjoy. The humor is very dry, and though the pacing is very even, it may seem like not a lot is happening. I enjoy movies like this, but at a solid 2 hours and 15 minutes, a brief intermission might be helpful.

Letters from Iwo Jima
Clint Eastwood knows how to make a movie. This movie is paired with Flags of Our Fathers, which is alright. The both of them go reasonably well together, but Letters from Iwo Jima is the better of the two and so much better able to stand on its own. What makes this movie stand out is that it is an American movie about WWII, looked at from the Japanese side. Eastwood clearly shows that on Iwo Jima, the seemingly faceless enemy was just as scared and eager to go home as we were. And while there are a number of similarities, the cultural differences are respected as well. The gray/green tint of the film gives a sobering and gritty feel to the action. The setting feels so foreign. The lead is Ken Watanabe (from The Last Samurai). Sometimes I find it difficult to describe acting performances in foreign languages. Here, though, Watanabe clearly gives a performance that transcends the language barrier. Hopefully, he’ll continue to get mainstream roles. This is one of the more unique war movies of recent years, and well worth watching.

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