Top 50: 2000 – 2009 #50 – #41

A powerful revision of the style Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Altman had perfected before it, Paul Haggis’s Crash is one of the most effective pieces of melodrama of the last decade. Haggis’s characters don’t need to be fully developed for the audience to understand their respective plights, because the script doesn’t short-change them. That the way we feel toward and relate to other people reveals the most about who we are on the inside, is a fact that this thoughtful, rule-breaking film utilizes to its full potential.

A comic book movie turned into a film-school-in-a-box project by artistically-inclined filmmaker Ang Lee, 2003’s Hulk represents a turn of the tide against the simpleton heroes of comic books past, and toward an unfailing display of humanity. Lee humanizes the Bruce Banner character and puts him squarely within the real world – our world, making the film’s nightmarish scenario all the more effective. I remember the first time I saw Hulk in a theater and the dream sequence Bruce had about his mom’s death had just ended with a green explosion against a black screen (Lee’s symbolic expression of anger emerging out of total sadness and desolation), when a young lady sitting right behind me uttered “Oh my God” under her breath – I couldn’t have summed up my own reaction any better.

The failure to politicize the conflict between Israel and Lebannon is Waltz with Bashir‘s biggest success. Even if its unparalleled style and animation technique that director Ari Folman utilizes is put aside, what is left is one of the most honest, unflinching and accurate portrayals of the mental effects of war on the human mind.

An honest heartfelt piece of Americana, Roger Donaldson’s World’s Fastest Indian also contains one of the most touching performances of Anthony Hopkins’s career. For a story about a New Zealender in his 70’s who travels the U.S. so he could try to brake the land speed record using an Indian motorcycle that he himself built, it is a surprisingly thoughtful, exciting and relatable motion picture. You don’t have to be a racing fan to get emotional at the end of this film which is maybe the most compelling biopic of the last decade.

I am usually tough on romantic comedies, but Bonnie Hunt’s Return to Me demonstrates how powerful the genre can be when life isn’t portrayed simply as pure romance. In Return to Me the two characters (played flawlessly by David Duchovny and Minnie Driver) are brought together by a tragedy, and an act of fate. Neither one of the characters comes off as needy, vulnerable or weak – their connection is an example of perfect love.

I’m not sure of the exact moment I realized the importance of Paul Greengreass’s United 93, but I’m sure it was during one of the half-dozen times I saw it while it was still playing in theaters back in 2006. Released roughly five years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, United 93 showed the strength of a group of people who wanted to live as much as anyone in their situation would want to, but chose to risk their lives so other innocents like them could be spared. It is impossible to bring the victims of 9/11 back, but United 93′s accurate portrayal does so in spirit, and that certainly earns it a spot on this list.

One of the forgotten films of the last decade, Scott Hicks’s Hearts in Atlantis based on the short story by Stephen King deserves some kind of reintroduction to audiences. It wasn’t met with much fanfare back in 2001, but Anthony Hopkins’s stirring performance (not to mention Anton Yelchin) builds the film toward an emotional climax as powerful as that of that other popular King adaptation about growing up Stand By Me. Since most of the readers of this blog may not have seen this film, I implore you to do so, it is a wonderful gem that needs to be uncovered by as many people as possible.

A hard-hitting Holocaust fantasy, Mark Herman’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has the power to stun the viewer into emotional submission without the utilization of any special effects or directorial showmanship, but simply through a script that renders multidimensional characters, and actors that turn in amazing performances. The film is not without its flaws especially in the way it treats its subject matter, but its power makes them easy to overlook. Overall, this is the most powerful Holocaust film of the last decade, and the best one since Schindler’s List.

Philip Groning’s reflective Into Great Silence can best be described as over three hours of meditation. Groning’s stunning documentary was shot during his stay at a French Christian monastery over the course of a whole year. It moves at a deliberate pace, but the patient viewers will find it endlessly rewarding.

Frequent bursts of energy can be found throughout Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler – a film that so often wallows in former pro-wrestler Randy the Ram’s (a magnificent Mickey Rourke) struggle to matter in a world that has stopped caring about him. A rough portrait of a broken man, The Wrestler is a film of triumph and sadness, successfully mirroring real life.

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