Like, Best of the Decade (Movies): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and a host of others)

Best Movies of the Decade

The Revolutionaries

-In short, they have everything you could want from a movie: Flawless, Emotional, Deep, Cerebral, Visceral, Original, and genuine Advancements for Cinema. By being “advancements for cinema,” they stake their claim on being starkly influential.

  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Forget me not… Gondry proves an alchemist by making the most heartfelt and organic feeling movie from the most cerebrally entrenched/interesting screenwriter of our era. It takes the most universal movie concept there is, love, and not only gets to the proverbial heart of the subject, but goes to David-Foster-Wallace-ian lengths to answer the age old question of why we ultimately need it. For any bit of art to be truly great in this world it needs to be at once emotional and congruently intellectual. There’s a phrase that’s appropriate that Chuck Klosterman once said of something else entirely, but I feel it completely applies: “[It] allows my mind to remain progressive, and my heart to stay reactionary. And this is all I want from everything. All the Time. Always.”
  2. Where The Wild Things Are – (original review) There is an admittance of being desperately unsure with this. It is a very recent release, which makes it tough, but even sitting in the theater, there was an immediate and profound connection for me. Some merely called it evasive, but I find it’s stunningly complex take on the last moments of our childhood to be genuine and tangible… though yes, it was a very recent release… Call it a projection.
  3. Mulholland Drive David Lynch makes the best possible David Lynch movie. Someone at work accused me of liking this because “I like pretending I get things that make no sense.” Besides being an inane comment, the thing I love about MD is that it does make perfect sense. Sure Lynch himself is as ambiguous and un-didactic as it gets, but there is most definitely some finely crafted thematic and plot schemes occurring on every level of the film. And, in the most important quality of a Lynch film, there is a litany of interesting details to the every scene. (Lost Highway and Inland Empire desperately lacked this quality, and it’s the reason they both stumble for me.)

The Miracle Movies:

-Much like the stuff above, only low-budget independent films which only lacked the form originality of the work above. These are flawless little films about big concepts and big emotions, yet their direct filmmaking style still serves as the perfect vehicle for their brilliant, observational themes.

4. Once – (original reaction) A subtle, emotional masterpiece. Most movies about “how we connect to people” are nothing but a forced convention, but this is as organic and honest as it gets. And there may not be a better film about the creation of music.
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien – The best film about sexuality I’ve ever seen (take that Last Tango in Paris!). But really it’s about learning how the sexuality of youth is so radically different from the sexuality of adults. It also solidified Cuaron as one of my favorite directors.

The Flawless films

-Brilliantly constructed films, possibly a little cerebral or genre-y, or maybe possibly guilty of not “saying enough” (though most often do)… Best way of putting it, these films simply could not be made any better than they were (hence you will see the word perfect a lot in these descriptions).

6. Children of Men –Of all the films on this list, this gets the most “It’s good and all, but I don’t know why it is so high.” Well, it is an amazing film on first viewing. It has a visceral edge throughout and its lauded cinematography completely blew the doors off the concept about how we (should) film action. The long shots were for anything but show. Instead, they created a mass of unbreakable tension. Yet even though everyone raved about how well made it is, but somehow it gets dismissed as being all about surface. To boot, it’s probably the best “revealing the story/movie/themes through small details” film I’ve ever seen… What we will be, is only who we are.
7. The Wrestler – (original review) A perfectly observed film. And it could not have succeeded if it did not both absolutely love its subject AND be unflinchingly critical in its depiction. All the accolades for the film seemed to be directed to Mickey Rourke (and he was certainly amazing) but the completely immersive nature of this film was solidified by a drive to be as accurate and true to life as possible: the old nes game, the sad signing shows, the authentic dialogue… it just shows provides another great example in a row of a film that revels in telling its story through the little details. And most surprisingly of all, it was made by Darren Aronofsky; the great hyper-formalist surprised the hell out of me and managed to make a lovable docu-drama that actually felt lived in.
8. No Country For Old Men – Let’s get this out of the way now, Every. Single. Thing. About this movie is perfect. The Coens walk in and show up just about every action movie of the decade by constructing the film with the most concentrated, yet intense filmmaking style imaginable (without once stepping over the line into overkill). It’s a modern master class in tension. Couple that with an incredibly poignant and cerebral last act and you have one of them there great movies.
9. Let The Right One In – (original review) A perfect amalgamation of the horror/art film (with all moments walking the tightrope and never dipping too far in either direction). Someone on CHUD wrote: “I’ve never before seen an ending that so completely satisfied my mind on an artistic level AND my gut on a gore level. Perfect.”
10. The Lives of Others – I dread building this one up for people. For two-some-odd hours it moves along with a nice slow burn and an invisibly brilliant performance… but someone who was previously told how amazing the movie was would hardly realize why… And then the movie comes its close with such a soft, poetic, and wholly earned gesture, firmly cemented in a devastatingly beautiful final line. And with that, it becomes a part of you.
11. Capturing the Friedmans – Probably best documentary I’ve ever seen? I’m not sure. It’s just so fascinating at every step, and you truly realize the more you actually learn, the less you actually know. The theme is really the great singular theme of the documentary, and helps illuminate who they all strive for the great lie of “objectivity.” It may be an impossibility, but it should always be the goal. Hence, the medium in its purest form.
12. Pan’s Labryinth – GdT makes the movie everyone hoped he had in him.
13. Inglourious Basterds – (original review) QT does what he hadn’t done since Pulp Fiction, which is not only perfectly reflect and embrace a genre he’s reveling in (and something he nails down every time no matter what), but also manages to transcend the genre by making something sneakily interesting. I think he’s got a lot more to say than people think, and this one has a lot to say about violence, how we respond to violence, history, and the sweeping power of cinema. Brilliantly meta stuff and entertaining as hell.

The Adventurous Films:

-Flawed, brave, interesting little punks of movies who are just so good at their one central aims, that you ignore the imperfection and I adore them anyway.

14. Tarnation – A no budget miracle movie that’s kind of a documentary, but just sort of the weirdest cinema experience I’ve ever had. The less said the better. Find it somewhere. See it. Be changed.
15. The New World – A long, rambling and hauntingly beautiful movie that’s pure storytelling through cinematography. God I love Malick.
16. There Will Be Blood – This one people don’t understand why I ranked it so low. I’m not really sure other than I simply like the movies listed above better. I love PTA, but the man writes from his gut and when you allow your gut to overrule your head you tap into some weirdly brilliant stuff. But it’s still stuff that doesn’t feel fully formed to me (even if certain moments are obviously intellectually constructed). Plus it’s a case of a performance AS a movie. It’s also a meditation piece on a said subject (greed) and as such, I don’t know. I need more viewing. Still. This is where it rests for now… It also briefly spawned a catchphrase for whatever that’s worth. I can’t remember the last time a low-budget, awesomely-weird art film spawned an addition to the lexicon of the basket ball court [drains 3 pointer] I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!
17. Towelhead – Criminally overlooked. Ball came out of his superb work on 6 feet under with a brave as brave can be movie. Sure it lacks the genuine gut laughs of American Beauty, but you usually can’t laugh during Towelhead because you’re too busy being horrified and upset. It blends this absurd intensity with a sense of dark satire to make an entirely worthwhile and under-represented commentary about the sexualization of young girls. No one talks about the mixed messages we send young girls and then we have no idea why 13 year olds are putting naked pictures of themselves on the internet. Perhaps if Towelhead actually entered the national dialogue we’d be able to talk about this, but you know, whatever.
18. Thumbsucker – It sort of misses the “wow” factor and got written off as a rip-off of many of the films it seemed like, but this was an amazingly well-made film that approaches a largely symbolic story in a completely organic way. I seemly loved it. Especially Vincent D’Nofrio’s wonderful little bit as the confused dad.
19. The Ballad of Jack and Rose – The best film with the strangest, messiest, most amateurish-seeming opening act possible. But eventually it starts to sing and embodies some truly difficult-to-explore concepts, specifically the dangers of moral relativity. You think you’re beyond the point of “learning lessons” at this point of your life as we are so sensitive to didacticism, but in all honesty this taught me something I try hold onto every day. Just a great movie.
20. Little Children – And here Todd Field made a nature documentary about humans. It’s most admirable feat is that managed to dramatically under-use Jennifer Connelly and I didn’t even care. It also gave us back Jackie Earle Haley, so we owe it that.
21. A History of Violence – Cronenberg’s hyper reality (even bordering on silly) is just a masterwork of balancing tone. A lot of that is due to the distinctly Lynchian overtones, but Cronenberg taps into some really great stuff here. And yes, it has some amazing bits of cinematic violence. Bonus points for 1) Ed Harris 2) someone having the courage to show a marriage with an active sex life.

The Entertainments

22-25. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Self explanatory? My dad summed it up best upon finishing the third in his simple, slightly pedestrian, and achingly true sentiment: “it’s been a wonderful adventure.” And given what was at stake before they came out, they could easily be considered miracle movies too. Not a lot of people talk about it now (they will when the Hobbit comes out in a few years) but for 3 years filmgoers around the world got swept up in a beautifully delivered epic that whisked us to middle earth. It represented everything that big budget cinema entertainment should be.
26, 27. Anchorman/Knocked Up – The best insane and best character-based comedy of the decade respectively. Best respective lines: “milk was a bad choice” / “… my shit looks like a god damn stuffed animal”
28. The Bourne Supremacy – The perfect pure action movie. Intelligent without being indulgent and energy from start to finish. Not to mention the best car chase since bullet.
29. Ocean’s 11 – Because it’s the most delightful and charming 2 hours ever, that’s why! The sequels couldn’t succeed cause the cat was already out of the bag, but my word was this is a wonderfully made caper.
31-33. X2/Iron Man/Spider-Man 2 – Best comic book movies, all for different reasons.

The Honorable Mentions:

An Affair of Love – best film I totally thought was this decade, but wasn’t (1999). It’s really obscure but totally would have been one of those miracle movies above. We’re talking top 6. Just a beautiful film about sexuality-as-a-barrier and missed opportunities.

The Piano Teacher – best crazy-as-shit/film-schooly-type art movie. It’s nothing but thematics through and through, but also disturbing, unnerving, you name it.
United 93 – a movie that proved you could make a non-exploitative film about a recent tragedy. Just an absolutely gut-wrenching approach.

Wall-E – (original review) Best Pixar movie. Though Wall-E is waaaaay more flawed than Up, but because of it’s spectacular first act, litany of great sequences, and its overall sense of ambition, it gets the number one spot. And yeah, every Pixar movie this decade gets an honorable mention.
Brokeback Mountain – There’s bland prestige movies, and then there’s prestige movies worth the actual hooplah. This is one of them.

Talk to Her – There might not be a better film about empathy.

Me and You and Everyone We Know – A beautiful, strange, and divergent art-ish film that reflects her great fiction. Can’t wait for more from Miranda July.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Am I the only one who likes this movie better than Oldboy? Probably. Oldboy had all the audacity for sure, but it’s a surreal movie that’s all headgames and style to me. Mr. Vengeance was just interesting, but it’s off-kilter realism made it about forty times as heartbreaking as the other films in the trilogy.
The Door in the Floor – That great movie no one saw or completely forgot about. Plus it had one of those great endings that wasn’t a plot/twist thing, but instead just a simple thematic character reveal. Bloody brilliant.
Lost in Translation – A legitimate, popular voice in feminist filmmaking, what the hell? (people debate this feminist tag, but to me it’s evident). Incredible use of sound and audio texture to boot… maybe this should be on the real list… hmmm.
The Pianist – the holocaust movie that Polanski had been secretly making for his entire career. Seriously. Go back and watch The Tenant and think about this film and the holocaust while doing so… it provides a whole different lens.

The Man Who Wasn’t There – the forgotten great Coen movie. This reminds me that I haven’t seen it in awhile. This one needs a popular revival.

Audition – My introduction to Miike. Yikes… too bad he hasn’t made anything else as good as this (imho).

The Dark Knight – (original review) I like this one more and more the more I watch it. First off, at its heart it’s really just a chase movie. And that’s gravy. But there’s just a litany of great choices/one hell of a performance to anchor that. People seem to be going nuts over the plot holes lately, but I don’t really care. I mostly worry about how a lot of people mistake it for the best comic book movie simply because it’s the most serious. To quote the villain “why so serious?” Mr. Nolan? Oh yeah. People love that you do.

Blade 2 – Favorite piece of trash.

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3 Responses to Like, Best of the Decade (Movies): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and a host of others)

  1. Bevin says:

    Love this list. I either agree with your choices or am updating my Netflix cue with others. I’d forgotten so many really good movies came out this decade. It’s incredible to think about.

    “I think he’s got a lot more to say than people think, and this one has a lot to say about violence, how we respond to violence, history, and the sweeping power of cinema.”

    Thank you for saying that! I tried to talk about some of that with a friend after we saw it and she told me I was reading too much into it. As always. I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw more under the surface.

    And “Mulholland Drive” has to be in my top ten favorite movies of all time. Phenomenal film.

    I haven’t seen “A History of Violence” in a few years, though it was one of my favorites the year I saw it. I should rewatch it. I should rewatch a lot of these. Thanks for reminding me what a great decade this was for film.

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