Tuesday, December 22, 2009

List: Top Ten Films of the Decade

by Alex Gallo-Brown

1. There Will Be Blood (2007): A bona fide masterpiece from P.T. Anderson. Loosely based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, the film works both as a conventional narrative about a turn-of-the-century oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis) as well as an allegory for the American alliance between free-market capitalism and evangelical Christianity. In the end, capitalism beats Christianity to death with a bloody bowling pin.

2. The Wrestler (2008): Director Darren Aronofsky has always displayed a penchant for grotesque, arguably gratuitous imagery (think Jared Leto's amputated arm in Requiem for a Dream) and The Wrestler is no different. But Mickey Rourke gives the kind of performance that makes you forget you are watching a movie, and the film's denouement--defiant and true--should rouse even the most withered of hearts.

3. Old Joy (2006): The Pacific Northwest captured in 76 gorgeous minutes. Based on a short story by Portland-based author Jon Raymond and directed by Kelly Reichardt (the same team behind Wendy and Lucy), the film offers only the faintest trace of plot: two friends on diverging life paths depart on a camping trip together. The movie is distinguished by the fine, subtle performances of its lead actors, Daniel London and Will Oldham; by its pitch-perfect cinematography, which captures the Pacific Northwest in all of its verdant glory; and by its soundtrack, the wistful melodies of Yo La Tengo. A minor American masterpiece.

4. Goodbye Solo (2008): Ramin Bahrani's third feature (Man Push Cart and Chop Shop were the first two) is set in his hometown, the mythical Southern city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (It is the birthplace of Camel cigarettes, among other things.) The film follows Solo, a charismatic Senegalese cab driver who pines to become a flight attendant, and William, his fare, an aging southern man who wants nothing more than to leave this earth. The effect is one of great poignancy, sadness, and beauty.

5. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001): The movie that launched the careers of director Alfonso Cuaron (City of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkban) and actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, it is still the best thing any of the three have done to date. At once sensual and political, joyful and sober, contradictory and consistent.

6. Two Lovers (2008): All the films James Gray has made this decade (We Own the Night and The Yards are the other two) have contained the same sorrowful, almost elegiac tone but Two Lovers is the first, in my opinion, that succeeds as film. Part of that has to do with the acting: Joaquin Pheonix is plainly stunning in his portrayal of Leonard, a troubled, bipolar man who becomes involved with two women at the same time. The first, Sandra (Vanissa Shaw), works for Pfizer (the same company that makes Leonard's prescription medication). The second, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), is a party girl in love with a married man. Forced to choose between them, Leonard ultimately makes a decision that filmmaker Gray suggests isn't really a choice at all.

7. L'Enfant (2005): Capitalism shown at its most pure and therefore its most debauched. Set in modern day Brussels, Bruno is a young street hustler who survives by buying and selling stolen goods. When Bruno's girlfriend, Sonia, gives birth to a child, he decides to sell that too. But where most movies would climax in such a moment, the real drama for the Dardenne brothers (Rosetta, Lorna's Silence) occurs after, when Bruno has to come to terms with what he has done.

8. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2008): Communism shown at its most corrupt and therefore its most stifling. Set in Romania in the Soviet Bloc eighties, the films follows two college roommates, Gabita and Otilia, over the course of one day as they attempt to accomplish an illegal abortion. Director Cristian Mungiu's style is relentlessly realistic, and the result is harrowing, horrific, and unforgettable.

9. The Royal Tenebaums (2001): The best and most complete of the Wes Anderson creations (and yes, they are less films than creations, with all the comprehensiveness that word implies). Angst-ridden, hilarious, and visually delicious.

10. Mullholland Dr. (2001): A series of moving images which have stuck with me these long nine years. To try to explain it would be nearly impossible--and would probably be beside the point.

Honorable Mentions: Adaptation, Brokeback Mountain, Eastern Promises, The Edge of Heaven, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Grizzly Man, Half Nelson, The Hurt Locker, I'm Not There, Match Point, The Messenger, Mysterious Skin, The Proposition, A Serious Man, Sin Nombre, The Squid and the Whale, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Sugar, Tyson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wendy and Lucy, You Can Count on Me

1 comment:

  1. Not even honorable mention for "Lars and the Real Girl?"