Monday, December 21, 2009

The Official Metro Classics Best Movies of the 2000s, Part One

Here at Metro Classics, we tend to focus on movies of the past, for a variety of reasons, most of which aren't that interesting. But none of those reasons are that we don't like contemporary film. In fact, we think quite highly of the last decade of film. So highly that we decided to put together a list of the best films from the last ten years. Or, the best films that at least one of us has managed to see. The method was pretty simple: Mike made a list, Sean made a list, we assigned each film points based on its rank and the result is what you see below. Well, the first half at least. We'll unveil the rest Christmas morning. Why 72 films you ask? Why, that's the number of weeks Metro Classics has run since our inception three years ago!

72. Heavy Metal in Baghdad (Suroosh Alvi & Eddy Moretti, 2007)

The next time you see some pompous rock star talk about how difficult it is being in a band think of these four unassuming, good-natured guys. All they want to do is rock. Unfortunately their practice space was bombed.

71. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)

Spielberg's taking over what was originally a Stanley Kubrick project fueled unfounded criticism that the film softens what would have been a fun exercise in Kubrickian misanthropy with syrupy Spielbergian wish-fulfillment. In fact, the film is, as Kubrick foresaw when he suggested Spielberg make the film, a perfect melding of the two sensibilities, where the coda's ostensibly happy ending becomes a perverse Oedipal joke.

70. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

Like Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want To Sleep Alone, which just failed to make this list, part of the New Crowned Hope series celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Like many of Joe's films, it's split in half: the first taking place at a hospital in rural Thailand in the past, the second in a modern medical center. Each part repeats and comments on the other and is apparently based on his own parents.

69. Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)

Renaissance woman Miranda July's quirky but honest film is about our collective failure to communicate. Small and sweet, it's like celluloid candy.

68. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)

Recently controversial for the above poster, which presents the film as a comedy whereas most Americans seem to view it as a grim, depressing drama. It's both of course: nobody makes black comedies like Romanians. Beyond that, the film's attention to detail and recreation of an entire world of work (in this case, the people who work in emergency rooms) is far more hopeful than you'd think.

67. INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)

In many respects a culmination of Lynch's lifework, INLAND EMPIRE is an unrepentant three-hour behemoth that drags us to hell and Poland and back. It is a nightmare that dissipates beneath a joyous dawn.

66. Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)

Alone on a lunar substation, Sam Bell (the great Sam Rockwell) fights demons and himself as he quests for the answer of what it is to be human.

65. Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2006)

This Turkish film about the fitful end of a relationship is one of the more stunningly beautiful examples of the capability of HD cinematography and the moody minimalism that became the dominant international style this decade.

64. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)

Playwright McDonagh's feature-length directorial debut is a raven-black comedy involving a hitman hiding out after his first job doesn't go so well. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are fantastic in this bloody, hilarious game of cat-and-mouse.

63. Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000)

Jia's semi-autobiographical story about a traveling musical troupe of young Chinese from the late 70s to the late 80s, from the end of the Cultural Revolution to the introduction of synthpop and breakdancing. Less adventurous in style than his later films, its long takes and slow pace refuse to make things easy for the audience.

62. The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy (Gore Verbinski, 2003-2007)

This franchise really shouldn't have worked at all. Instead it went off like gangbusters. Credit Johnny Depp, who ingeniously saw the perfect angle to play the diabolical, lecherous, lovable Captain Jack Sparrow and ran full throttle with it. His off-kilter tone, so at war with the conventions of the first film, set the standard for the increasing strangeness that permeated all aspects of the subsequent movies.

61. A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009)

This existential parable about a midwestern Jewish physics professor questioning his role in the universe as his life falls apart manages to be both a rude awakening to some and a phenomenally funny film to all.

60. Yi yi (Edward Yang, 2000)

Taiwanese director Edward Yang's final film is a novelistic account of a family seen through the eyes of a businessman, his teenage daughter and his young son. It starts with a wedding, ends with a funeral and packs a lot of melodrama into its beautiful and meticulously composed images in-between.

59. What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)

This Taiwanese film is probably Tsai's most accessible, his rigorous long take/no camera movement/little dialogue style being mitigated by an ingenious narrative about a watch salesman who becomes infatuated with a woman on vacation in Paris in the wake of his father's death. It's got all of Tsai's signature obsessions, from running water to Jean-Pierre Léaud.

58. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2007)

Few filmmakers manage to so consistently delve into the reality of youth better than Gus Van Sant. His hypnotic story of a Portland skateboarder who accidentally commits a murder is a beautifully hazy dream.

57. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008)

Sally Hawkins is pitch-perfect as the ebullient Poppy, whose overly optimistic disposition is constantly at odds with a cynical, grumpy society in Mike Leigh's charming film. Her happiness radiates from the screen.

56. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)

Wes Anderson's tweed and corduroy hipsterism is a perfect match for Roald Dahl's England and the tactile charms of stop-motion animation. Light and funny, it nonetheless wouldn't be an Anderson film without a melancholic undercurrent. The mix provides the most complete emotional experience from an animated film this year.

55. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Hayao Miyazaki, 2008)

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is Miyazaki's most juvenile film since My Neighbor Totoro and I mean that in only the best way. The bond between a little boy and a goldfish girl is sweetly simple and simply gorgeous.

54. Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)

Whether you think it's an act of selling out to, and justification for, a totalitarian state by a formerly activist filmmaker or a subtle critique of the myths created to justify such states, it's inarguable that this bit of kung fu artiness provides one of the most ravishing uses of color filmmaking in the history of the medium.

53. Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)

Perhaps the most misunderstood movie of the decade. Instead of delivering the $100 million high concept action romp that audiences expected, Mann gifted us with a moody, atmospheric character study about men and women whose work prevents them from living their lives. See the theatrical version, Mann's director's cut isn't quite as good.

52. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)

The story goes that Charlie Kaufman's agent asked him to write a horror movie, so he did. Although instead of a genre pastiche, Kaufman as usual turned inward and faced his own fears, those of life, love, death and one's purpose in this world. The result is a personal exorcism put on as a play for the whole world to see.

51. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007)

Curious curmudgeon Werner Herzog once again heads off to an inhospitable piece of Earth in search of the bizarre, obsessed and unfamiliar. He returned with a panoramic portrait of Antarctica, its terrain, people and wildlife that manages to be one of the funniest films of the decade. His footage of a deranged penguin hell bent on its own demise is an image that will endure far longer than the whole of that Oscar-winning documentary about the frozen fowl.

50. The World (Jia Zhangke, 2004)

Jia examines contemporary China in the age of globalization through the eyes of a group of young people from the hinterlands who work at a theme park in Beijing which features miniature versions of famous world landmarks. More accessible than Platform, it also features Jia's first deviations from the strict realism of his earlier films.

49. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)

Joe presents another split narrative in this sweet and mysterious film. Part one chronicles the romance between two young men; part two finds one of them alone as a soldier in the jungle, tracking, or being taunted by, a tiger spirit (the other one). After the romantic beauty of the first half, the mystical, metaphoric world of the second becomes even stranger and more moving than it would on its own.

48. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)

Yes, it's leftist, pinko, commie propaganda but it's also deft filmmaking of a supreme craftsman. Moore's incendiary look at America's gun culture manages to be enraging, enlightening and entirely entertaining throughout. There is a reason he won the Oscar for this film. Bowling for Columbine manages to mix the myriad Moore tropes together better than any other he made this decade.

47. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)

Two films for the price of one! Hot Fuzz starts out as a murder mystery of sorts, playing up the comedy inherent in quaint British towns. The second half is a ballistic, firing-two-guns-whilst-jumping-through-the-air action spectacular, both sending up and paying homage to straight-faced blockbusters of yore. I've never seen Bad Boys II but nothing piqued my interest in Michael Bay more than Hot Fuzz. Wait, is that a good thing?

46. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

The purest expression of Anderson's kooky brand of existentialism, this film about a group of shattered and lonely people who come together as a family through their will to adventure is often misunderstood to be a comedy. If you surrender to its cock-eyed logic, it will break, and assuredly warm, your heart.

45. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)

The ultimate in minimalist filmmaking, Tsai follows the various goings on at a movie theatre during a sparsely attending screening of King Hu's kung fu classic Dragon Inn. The box office attendant cooks and eats some noodles and takes leftovers to the projectionist; a lonely young man looks for someone interested in a hook up (in the most haunting sequence, he meets the ghosts of all the men who'd attempted such furtive romances in the theatre's history), and about half the movie goes by before you realize there hasn't been any dialogue.

44. The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)

This bleak, ultra-violent Western from director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/composer Nick Cave is one exhilarating piece of filmmaking. Charged with tracking down and killing his sociopathic older brother to spare the life of his less-evil brother, Charlie (Guy Pearce) heads off into the desolate Australian outback with sheriff Ray Winstone on his trail. A fantastic cast including Emily Watson and Danny Huston give the story solid grounding.

43. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)

The first time I caught part of Finding Nemo was about fifteen minutes on cable. It was somewhere in the middle of the film and surprisingly, I found myself underwhelmed. I didn't care much for the characters and got bored with the story fairly quickly. A year or two later I rented the film and watched it properly from start to finish. That opening sequence where Nemo's mom gets obliterated made all of the difference. I was now hooked (no pun intended) and emotionally caught up in Marlin's desperate search for his only son. I consider this the training ground for Stanton's emotional leap forward five years later with WALL*E.

42. Oxhide II (Liu Jiayin, 2009)

A family cooks and eats dumplings for dinner is all that happens in this beautiful little film I caught at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival. Played by the director and her parents, we watch every step of the process as they make their food and chitchat about their life and work. Formally rigorous, the film consists of nine shots, each 45 degrees to the left from the last, but that rigidity doesn't make the film boring in the least. Instead, it focuses your attention on the smallest details of each action and bit of dialogue in every shot, allowing you to find the suspense, humor and fascination in the mundane and the everyday.

41. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)

Forget the Dark Knight (it won't be appearing on this list) Spider-Man 2 is the perfect comic book movie. The tone is right, the performances are spot-on and Sam Raimi's love of the material is evident in every frame. The best scene is with Doc Ock in the operating room when Raimi's low-budget horror film past comes bubbling unabashed to the surface. When I saw Spider-Man 2 opening weekend children were wailing in terror during this scene. It was awesome. Despite being a full-grown adult I walked out of the theatre wishing I could be Spider-Man. I've never felt that way about Batman.

40. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

The so-called "Romanian abortion drama" is one of those things for sure. Its story of a young woman trying to help her friend get an illegal abortion during the last years of Ceauşescu's reign is more of a horror movie than a drama, and its social commentary is limited to the piecemeal demonstration of the ways ordinary Romanians tacitly worked together to undermine the everyday annoyances of totalitarianism. It's also streaked with a mordant humor you never hear about, but really should.

39. The Simpsons Movie (David Silverman, 2007)

After twenty years and over 400 episodes how the hell could a feature-length film starring the Simpsons work? All of the stories have been told many times over and there are few surprises left for a show that long ago became a cultural institution. Frankly, I don't know how they did it but Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and the smartest writing team ever assembled managed to tap into the irreverence and intelligence that attracted so many fans to the show in the first place. The Simpsons Movie, though not as perfect as the show's pinnacle, was the best possible film die-hard fans could have hoped for.

38. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005)

Unlike the other trilogies that appear on this list, the Star Wars prequels as a whole are disqualified due to the Phantom Menace's release in the 90s. Thank goodness for that because there would be no way in hell they would have made it on here if the first two atrocious episodes had to be considered. Revenge of the Sith is a stunning step forward when compared to its counterparts and is also a respectable bridge to the beloved original trilogy. Lucas pulled out all the stops with Sith, from the film's immediate plunge into an interstellar dogfight to the shockingly gruesome maiming of Anakin on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Plus remember how he topped Darth Maul's double-edged light saber with the robotic General Grievous and his four twirling blades?!? That was crazy.

37. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

Amélie is a sumptuous modern fairy tale, a charming little love story bursting at the seams with visual inventiveness and a host of happy endings. Audrey Tautou plays the titular heroine to the teeth, out-cuteing all buttons to ever grace this boy's purview. Avoiding her own problems and desires, she goes through her days changing the lives of those around her in minute and magical ways. (Hey that rhymes!) There is no room for angst, fear or cynicism in the wonderful world of Amélie, which sets the film apart from this decade and makes it feel ever more timeless.

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