Combustible Celluloid

The Decade in Review

What Happened to Me in the Dark: 2000-2009

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What a decade! I managed to work as a film critic for the entire decade for about a dozen different newspapers and websites, sometimes fully employed, and sometimes not. I estimate that I saw somewhere between 2500 and 3000 new movies this decade. Even more memorably, my son was born this decade, and I hope to see thousands more movies with him. The following were my favorites from 2000 to 2009, sticking to only one entry per director.

The Runners Up:

35. Bright Star (2009, Jane Campion, UK)
34. Mysterious Object at Noon (2000, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
33. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008, Woody Allen, USA)
32. Russian Ark (2002, Alexander Sokurov, Russia)
31. Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood, USA)
30. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick, USA)
29. Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright, UK)
28. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg, USA)
27. George Washington (2000, David Gordon Green, USA)
26. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)
25. Flight of the Red Balloon (2007, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan/France)
24. Broken Flowers (2005, Jim Jarmusch, USA)
23. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan, UK)
22. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku, Japan)
21. Crimson Gold (2003, Jafar Panahi, Iran)
20. I'm Going Home (2002, Manoel de Oliveira, France/Portugal)
19. In the Mood for Love (2001, Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)
18. No Country for Old Men (2007, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, USA)
17. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
16. Saraband (2005, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
15. Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo Del Toro, Mexico/Spain)
14. Friday Night (2002, Claire Denis, France)
13. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee, USA)
12. The White Diamond (2004, Werner Herzog, Germany)
11. Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

- The Top Ten -

10. The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker does something that all the other Iraq war movies fail to do. It considers the dangerous idea that, indeed, war can be fun. The movie is a good deal closer in spirit to the action-oriented war movies of the 1940s and 1950s, with their gung-ho attitude and intense male bonding; films of the kind that Samuel Fuller and Don Siegel used to make. (And make no mistake: Kathryn Bigelow is one of the finest living directors of male-bonding genre films.) It did not have an agenda and did not preach to me. It did that rarest of rare things in American movies: it allowed me to form my own ideas. It's a simple, straightforward presentation, but in nearly every shot comes an odd duality: this sucks, and this is cool.

9. Before Sunset

Lean and light and almost rushed, but intelligent and bittersweet, Richard Linklater's grown-up sequel to his dream-of-youth original Before Sunrise (1995) had even more on the line emotionally, in an even more direct manner. In Before Sunset, the two would-be lovers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) have so much more to share this time, and -- heartbreakingly -- less time to share it in. That ending, with those last two lines of dialogue, deserves a place in the history of great endings.

8. Goodbye Dragon Inn

The "Taiwanese New Wave" of the 1990s more or less petered out in the 2000s, though Tsai Ming-liang kept the torch burning with a series of increasingly quirky, almost totally deadpan comedies. My favorite is this underappreciated tribute to cinema. Goodbye Dragon Inn takes place on the last day of a dilapidated movie theater, showing King Hu's Dragon Inn (1967), while the rain pours outside and drips in through various cracks and crevices. The ticket girl has a crush on the projectionist, and various other little dramas play out as patrons very nearly connect, but eventually go their separate ways. Tsai creates a perfect physical space for this disconnect, damp and a little cramped, and very rarely ventures outside. And I would wager that less than 100 words are spoken throughout, but the weird proceedings add up to a very real sense of beautiful sadness.

7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The revival of the Western genre in the 2000s thrilled me to no end, from gems like Open Range and 3:10 to Yuma to this masterpiece. Brad Pitt gives a canny performance as a Jesse James who uses his presence and reputation to control a room. Perhaps even better is Casey Affleck's squirrelly, affecting performance as Robert Ford, whose life must go on after James's has ended. Director Andrew Dominik -- only on his second film -- wraps up the entirety of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in a truly breathtaking mix of myth and space and poetry.

6. Inland Empire

The general critical consensus is that David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is the movie of the decade, and I can't disagree too much. I love it also and I went back and forth as to whether to choose it or Inland Empire for my list (I'm sticking to a one-film-per-director rule). Eventually I went with this one because it's a bit more unhinged and deranged -- a companion piece to Eraserhead -- but it also feels more like a complete piece, a farewell and a fuck-you to traditional Hollywood filmmaking.

5. Spider

David Cronenberg made three superior films in the 2000s, each a good many miles away from his body conscious horror films of the 1970s and 1980s. His Viggo Mortensen gangster films (A History of Violence and Eastern Promises) earned more attention than did this daring, creepy little character study about a mumbling, shuffling half-being known as Spider (a superb Ralph Fiennes). But Spider was a dive into an uncomfortable, but mesmerizing place.

4. Werckmeister Harmonies

Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr made arthouse waves in the 1990s with his seven-hour masterpiece Satantango, though the far more manageable, 2-1/2 hour Werckmeister Harmonies is just as great. Tarr passes much of the time simply tracking behind the actors as they walk, accompanied only by the sound of crunching gravel. But at the same time, he conjures up images so gorgeous and startling that they could almost make your heart skip a beat: Janos Valuska (Lars Rudolph) describing the movements of the solar system to a bar full of drunken reprobates, or the first view of a captured whale, seen only dimly from the darkened inside of a giant trailer.

3. Ghost World

Here's Scarlett Johansson, for the first of two times in my top three. I love her performance as Rebecca in Ghost World, the more mature of the two friends and the one who is starting to lose interest in all those cynical quips and all that ironic behavior that her friend Enid (Thora Birch) can't seem to give up. In other words, this is a beautiful, immensely personal work from director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes, including a beefed-up character -- Steve Buscemi's Seymour -- to represent Zwigoff himself, but it's all still grounded in a unique sense of life and truth.

2. Lost in Translation

Does Sofia Coppola's magical movie need praising or defending? I think the majority still likes it, but there are a few sour apples who complain bitterly about its misrepresentation of Japan and other quibbles. The reason Japan is misrepresented is because it is seen through the eyes of two different Americans (note how these views differ between their personalities). That's what the title means, too. But if I'm going to praise Lost in Translation, I'll just say that Bill Murray gives a comedic performance for the ages, that Scarlett Johansson perfectly matches him, that it's one of the most beautifully delicate films ever produced in Hollywood, and that it's a bittersweet comedy worthy of Chaplin.

1. Yi Yi

This was the seventh feature film by Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang, and his first to be distributed in the United States. Sadly, it was also his last film, as he passed away in 2007 at the age of 59. Yi Yi -- subtitled "A One and a Two" -- struck me as a classic even as I watched it early in 2001. I watched it again a few weeks ago just to make sure, and it struck me the same way. Its most miraculous achievement is that it seems warmly humanistic and rigorously artistic at the same time. (Usually directors fall in either one camp or the other.) Structurally, it's a bit like The Godfather (without the killings) or like Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, a sprawling family epic, in which we observe several members of one very universal family, but we also view them through long hallways or door frames or windows; Yang constantly reminds us that we're just watching and we may never truly know them. The most revealing character is the little boy Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), who likes to photograph the backs of people's heads so that they can see what they truly look like; that's a bit of poetry for the ages if I ever saw it.

Some other worthy opinions...

Richard Brody
  1. In Praise of Love
  2. The Darjeeling Limited
  3. The World
  4. A Talking Picture
  5. Regular Lovers
  6. Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 P.M
  7. Fengming: A Chinese Memoir
  8. Knocked Up
  9. MoolaadĂ©
10. The Other Half

Cahiers du Cinema
  1. Mulholland Drive
  2. Elephant
  3. Tropical Malady
  4. The Host
  5. A History of Violence
  6. The Secret of the Grain
  7. West of the Tracks
  8. War of the Worlds
  9. The New World
10. Ten

Roger Ebert
  1. Synecdoche, New York
  2. The Hurt Locker
  3. Monster
  4. Juno
  5. Me and You and Everyone We Know
  6. Chop Shop
  7. The Son
  8. 25th Hour
  9. Almost Famous
10. My Winnipeg

Ed Gonzalez
  1. Mulholland Dr.
  2. In the Mood for Love
  3. The New World
  4. Femme Fatale
  5. Inland Empire
  6. The Company
  7. L'Enfant
  8. Two Lovers
  9. Rachel Getting Married
10. In the City of Sylvia

J. Hoberman
  1. Dogville
  2. Star Spangled to Death
  3. Mulholland Drive
  4. A History of Violence
  5. Flight of the Red Balloon
  6. La Commune (Paris, 1871)
  7. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
  8. La Captive
  9. The World
10. I'm Not There

Mick La Salle
  1. The New World
  2. 25th Hour
  3. The Lives of Others
  4. The Best of Youth
  5. Inglourious Basterds
  6. Downfall
  7. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  8. Gloomy Sunday
  9. Before Sunset
10. Bridget Jones's Diary

Phillip Lopate
  1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
  2. Platform
  3. Mulholland Drive
  4. Blissfully Yours
  5. The Woman on the Beach
  6. Triple Agent
  7. The Holy Girl
  8. In the Mood for Love
  9. Before Sunset
10. Moolaadé

Wesley Morris
  1. Mulholland Drive
  2. There Will Be Blood
  3. Wall-E
  4. Killer of Sheep
  5. Star Spangled to Death
  6. Adaptation
  7. Elephant
  8. Shortbus
  9. Jarhead
10. Kill Bill 1-2

Jonathan Rosenbaum
  1. Yi Yi
  2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  3. The Circle
  4. The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein
  5. Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?
  6. *Corpus Callosum
  7. Not on the Lips
  8. The World
  9. Howl's Moving Castle
10. Helsinki, Forever

Andrew Sarris
  1. Before Sunset
  2. 2046
  3. The Hurt Locker
  4. Talk to Her
  5. The Departed
  6. The Lady and the Duke
  7. Mulholland Drive
  8. The Lives of Others
  9. Gosford Park
10. Y tu mama tambien

Nick Schager
  1. The New World
  2. Mulholland Dr.
  3. Zodiac
  4. There Will Be Blood
  5. Trouble Every Day
  6. In the Mood for Love
  7. Three Times
  8. Femme Fatale
  9. The Royal Tenenbaums
10. Memories of Murder

Chuck Stephens
Goodbye Dragon Inn
House of 1000 Corpses
In the City of Sylvia
In the Mood for Love
Memories of Murder
Millennium Mambo
Mulholland Drive
Team America: World Police
Tropical Malady
Unknown Pleasures

Amy Taubin
  1. Spider
  2. White Material
  3. Inland Empire
  4. 2046
  5. La Commune (Paris, 1871)
  6. A History Of Violence
  7. Zodiac
  8. In Praise of Love
  9. Donnie Darko
10. Elephant

John Waters
Before I Forget
Dancer in the Dark
Dog Days
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
The Piano Teacher
United 93

Movies Unlimtied