Manuel Betancourt

Top 50 Films of the 2000s part 3, or How the ‘best of’ continues

January 13, 2010 · in Film

This is obviously a biased list of titles that range from Oscar winners to animated gems, and the only criteria I used was: “movies that I have thought about, have rewatched over and over again and which have stayed with me in one way or another.” It’s a “best of” list only in the sense that that ‘best’ is utterly subjective.
[Check out parts 1 and 2 here]
10. Pan’s Labyrinth

Few directors could do the dazzling and gorgeous effects we see on screen in Pan’s Labyrinth at the cost that Guillermo del Toro did them. Even fewer are able to seamlessly merge effects and good storytelling to great effect. This dark fairy-tale for adults (or really mature and violence-ready children) is one of those films I come back to time and time again. It works on so many different levels I’m always scared of flattening it: is it an allegory of Franco’s regime? Is it an assault on storytelling in the face of cruelty? Is it a moratorium for fantasy or a redemption of it? Is it a great gothic story or an Alice in Wonderland for Franco’s Spain?
9. Volver

The movie that turned Penelope Cruz from a beautiful Spanish actress making bad choices when it came to Hollywood movies to a gorgeous Spanish actress earning her first Oscar nomination for an Almodovar film and seeing her become an actress to be reckoned with. Almodovar’s film is so sumptuous (no wonder it’s obsessed with food!) and so funny and so heartwarming (that you forget it opens with an episode around child-molestation and murder!) it gets me every time.
8. Revolutionary Road

It’s an unpopular film with some from a director that has polarized opinions about his work ever since he won the Oscar for (the still undervalued) American Beauty. And I’ll say it now: Sam Mendes is a director that enthralls me. What others decry as his stylistic obsession (with perfectly calculated frames and shots that might feel stifling in their exactness) is what draws me most to his oeuvre. Adapting Richard Yates’s bleak and unforgiving look at American suburbia in the 1950s, Mendes – reuniting a ‘titanic’ pair (Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio), creates what is to me a 50s tragic melodrama that stifles the viewer in order to mirror the claustrophobia April and Frank Wheeler experience.
7. Mullholland Dr.
Many of these films on my list I loved on first viewing. Not this one. But then, first-viewings rarely do David Lynch films any favours. The distorted, fractal, dream-like structure of Mullholland Dr is no difference. Here was a movie that captivated my thoughts and haunted me for weeks on end, demanding a reviewing – not for mere understanding (for how futile and thankless that would be) but for the joy of reliving the carefully calibrated experience of the film. Naomi Watts has never been better than here, embodying the fragile and yet cunning nature of her ephemeral character (what are Lynch’s characters but mere shadows, mirrors and dream images?).
6. Amélie
Few films can pull off a suicide and milk it for laughs without seeming grotesque or unseemly. Yet this Jean Pierre Jeunet film strikes that fine balance between dark humour and light-hearted tone when it comes to things as death, sex, love and relationships. Amélie won many hearts upon its release (mine included) and there’s no shortage of reasons why. Here was a visually stunning film with a truly magnetic lead whose ‘fabulous destiny’ (as the french title dubs it) is a joy to watch. The colours pop, the dialogue snaps and the blend of romance, humour and urban-fairy-tale style are hard to resist.
5. The Hours
The cast list alone would have secured this film’s presence in this list, yet if films like Evening have taught us is that regardless of the strength of your cast, you need a good film behind them to make it work. Carefully adapting Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same name, Daldry & co created a three-pronged meditation on writing, reading, living and breathing using Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway as both its center and end-goal. Meryl, Nicole and Julianne each command the screen and embody these characters with the pathos of womanhood – those close ups that Daldry privileges so much are only stunning because these three actresses can emote widely and subtly without succumbing to mere posture. That each is given juicy scenes (Nicole in the train station, Julianne and Toni’s scene in the kitchen, Meryl’s meltdown) with literate and awfully eloquent writing only helps elevate this great adaptation.

It’s no surprise a PIXAR film made it to my Top 5. Six of their seven releases would have easily made it to a Top 25 list (Cars still ranks as my least-favorite PIXAR film and the only one I never saw in theaters) but to keep things fair, I restricted myself to only one in the Top 10. Andrew Stanton’s Sci-Fi romantic ‘green fable’ film is not only gorgeous but a master-class in animation. To make the two protagonists as emotive as they are, able to convey as many emotions as they do without falling into the Dreamworks-like anthropomorphism we are so used to is a feat in itself. Part Buster Keaton, part Woody Allen and part Johnny 5, WALL-E is a character that became an endearing part of my life last year (just ask any of my friends how many times I use “EEEE-VAAH” in normal conversation). For showing how astounding PIXAR can be and bringing to fruition almost ten years of film-making, WALL-E deserves as spot in my Top 5.
3. Closer

I’m probably in the minority when it comes to my undying love for this Mike Nichols’s film. But no other film has tapped into my feelings about relationships as well as this stage-to-film adaptation. It destroys me emotionally every time I watch it. You may deem it misanthropic (and I would agree) and you may claim its cold and unflinching in its portrayal of these mostly dysfunctional and mean-spirited characters (and I would agree) but there is something oddly familiar to me about Anna (the understated and undervalued Julia Roberts), Alice (the explosively sexy Natalie Portman), Dan (a meek and miserable Jude Law) and Larry (a frightening and cunning Clive Owen). That probably says more about me than about them, but I feel at home with these characters and Marber’s script, with its stagey/Mamet-like dialogue punches me in the gut every time. And I love it for it.
2. Moulin Rouge!
This list is mostly about films who have stayed with me over the years. I still remember the first time I saw Baz Luhrmann’s musical. I remember being rapt with awe in front of the TV (silly of me to have missed this in the big screen!) and knowing that I had found a film that I would never forget. From its sumptuous costume design and visual flair, to its modern re-working of vintage songs, to its by-the-numbers star-crossed-lovers plot, to its obsession with intertextuality and meta-drama, it felt like finding a cinematic soulmate. My love for Ms Kidman found its start here (I vaguely remembered her as ‘that girl from Batman Forever, can you believe it?) and the Tango of Roxxane shot up to being my number one movie scene of all time (such choreography! such editing! such passion!) This is a movie I watch every couple of months and while it may have its flaws, it’s a movie I know I could not live without.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Picking my number one film of the decade was probably the easiest choice of the entire list. Michel Gondry’s visually inventive and stunning film, working from an off-beat (and brilliant) Charlie Kauffman script is a wonder of a movie. Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, as Clementine and Joel, give performances that feel real even when the situations around them are crazy (I particularly love the scene in Joel’s childhood kitchen with Carrey making good use of his comedic chops playing a four year old version of Joel, while Clementine can’t help but bask in the stylish 60s setting). This is most likely the greatest contemporary romantic comedy because dysfunction and the quotidian take front and center, eschewing rom-com staples like “platonic and idealized romance” as well as an unambiguously happy and hopeful ending. Joel and Clementine’s relationship (and our experience of it) fractures and frames our viewing experience, so as to let us experience the highs as well as the lows without polishing or organizing them to make them feel cinematic.