The Top One Hundred and Six Movies of the Oughts (90-76)

As I said in my previous post, this list has been kinda rushed, due to initial reservations about the project. This has meant that I’ve missed some great movies off, and now that I’m committed to doing the list, these movies have to remain excluded so that I don’t invalidate the previous part of the list. Oh, it’s all so confusing! I shall endeavour to cover those missed movies as I go along.

Actually, my decision to leave off Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Gore Verbinski’s US remake The Ring is because I can never decide which version is my favourite. I go back and forth on this one a lot. Nakata is better at generating an atmosphere of dread, and was the guy who kickstarted the popularity of the J-Horror genre. Nevertheless, Verbinski’s version is stronger than it has any right to be — partially because Naomi Watts is so good in it — and his interpretation of the dreaded video and the effect it has on its victims is more unsettling. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. The first time you see a victim slumped inside a closet, it’ll put the fear of God into you, it’s so horrifying. Unable to decide which version should be included, I chickened out and didn’t put either in. Terrible cowardice, really. Consider both movies “included”, in a sub-category or in some list-tesseract or something.

Anyway, here are the next 15 films in the list. As before, some of these movies are a little low because I’ve only seen them once and never really got to grips with them the way other people have. As my experience of them is limited I cannot figure out if this is because I don’t like them as much as everyone else or my initial opinion was adversely affected by the chatter surrounding them. In time, they may move up or down, but for now, as this is a snapshot of my opinion now, this is where they stay. Again, there are no movies from 2009 on here. I need some distance from them to know if they would qualify. Even the year’s worth of leeway I’ve given myself is not enough. While compiling this list The Dark Knight (my favourite movie of 2009)  has jumped up and down the high end of the list several times. I won’t be able to make a firm decision on that for a while. And so, with those caveats, here are numbers 90-76.

90. Spartan

Before co-creating The Unit with Shawn Ryan, David Mamet made this, a clenched fist pretending to be a movie. Val Kilmer is brutally effective as a man doing a job no one wants him to do, spitting Mamet’s truncated, macho dialogue with withering and riveting intensity. A manly, manly movie.

89. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut

The TV show still cranks out occasional classic episodes (Red Sleigh Down, Cartoon WarsImaginationland), but the big screen expansion of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s satirical universe might still be its finest hour. Brilliantly making fun of censors, prudes, and warmongers, it even manages to give us some of the best showtunes of the decade.

88. Curse of the Golden Flower

Critics seemed baffled by the lack of martial arts action in Zhang Yimou’s courtly drama, but who needs it? There’s enough intrigue, betrayal, madness and riotous colour here to fuel a dozen movies. Just for Gong Li’s incredible performance, this movie demands reappraisal, and that’s before we get to the ninja action and Chow Yun-Fat in Furious-Anger-mode.

87. Syriana

It’s a toss-up between this and Traffic for inclusion on this list. Stephen Gaghan’s complex multi-strand exploration of how our demand for oil affects all our lives does have a weak sub-plot featuring Jeffrey Wright, but that’s better than the ill-judged Michael Douglas thread in Soderbergh’s movie. Both are great, but Syriana – with its thrilling final act – just edges it. (Consider Traffic no. 107.)

86. The Matrix Reloaded

The Wachowski Siblings managed to alienate the majority of their fans by attempting to expand the initial Matrix movie beyond its resonant but uncomplicated monomythic plot. Though the franchise ran out of steam in the third installment, for the length of this hallucinogenic movie it still seemed like they were telling the best story ever told. Plus, you know, Morpheus used a katana.

85. Hot Fuzz

Enormously entertaining on first viewing, Edgar Wright’s pitch-perfect homage to hyper-aggressive US cop movies gets better with every rewatch. The effort put into its intricate plotting is a joy to behold, and the casting could not be more impressive. A Who’s Who of British character actors having the time of their lives = film heaven.

84. Jindabyne

Taking the same starting point as one of the threads from Altman’s Short Cuts (Raymond Carver’s short story So Much Water So Close to Home), Ray Lawrence spins a tale of marital discord and touches on themes of racial and gender politics with a deft hand. Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney give two of their most complex performances.

83. Once

The most grounded, unspectacular musical ever made, John Carney’s tale of two musicians making music amid the urban isolation of Dublin won the hearts of audiences across the world. Its ambitions were slight, but Hansard and Irglová’s gorgeous music gave Once an emotional heft that dwarfed almost everything else released that year.

82. The Hunted

Before Bourne, there was this William Friedkin-helmed cat-and-mouse actioner, pared down to the bone in much the same way as Walter Hill’s action classics. Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro are near-silent killing machines destined to fight to the death, with all other considerations ignored. Easily Friedkin’s best film since The Exorcist.

81. The Orphanage

Conjuring the same atmosphere of impending dread as Robert Wise and Jack Clayton did with classic ghost movies The Haunting and The Innocents, Juan Antonio Bayona’s directorial debut managed to provide chilling scares and heartbreaking tragedy in equal measure.

80. The Constant Gardener

On the surface Fernando Meirelles’ environmental thriller was just another tale of corporate intrigue, but Rachel Weisz’s Oscar-winning performance — and Ralph Fiennes’ superb turn as her bereaved husband — turned it into something more interesting and melancholic: a meditation on how love can ruin a life once the object of adoration has gone.

79. [Rec]

Of all the camcorder horror movies of this decade, perhaps the most successful was Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s claustrophobic virus-zombie effort. Though less wide-ranging than CloverfieldBlair Witch, or the thematically similar 28 Days/Years Later movies, it did one thing better than all of them: it was scary throughout, and utterly terrifying at the end.

78. No Country For Old Men

The Coens hewed so close to their source material that it would have been hard to mess it up, but even so, their direction was exemplary, conjuring up numerous exhausting setpieces and an iconic representation of chaotic evil from Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh. It managed something you would think impossible: improving on the work of Cormac McCarthy.

77. There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson deserves plaudits for taking such overwhelming thematic material and boiling it down into a tale of how greed can ruin one man’s soul. What makes Daniel Day Lewis’ work as Daniel Plainview so special is not the pyrotechnics, but the hint that by the end of his life he is so lost that he doesn’t care. It’s as chilling as a horror movie plot.

76. The Darjeeling Limited

A trek across India by three estranged brothers tested the patience of many viewers, either by presenting a view of American obliviousness abroad that lacked necessary satirical pointers, or by relying on too many Andersonian tics. To this viewer, the jokes, the narrative gameplaying, and Robert Yeoman’s gorgeous photography, were enough.

Okay, that was a bit less overwrought. More to come, if WordPress will ever stop crashing. ::grumble grumble::

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