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12.28.09 Top Ten Films that Changed the Way I Watched Movies this Past DECADE!

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In order of release date, not necessarily influence…

1. Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Considering I wrote my college thesis partially on this film, it’s impossible not to include it when looking back at the decade as a whole. Lars von Trier created a haunting and horrifying story anchored on the use of the movie musical as an escape from the modern world that completely opened up my eyes on how the movie musical could still be a viable art form in the modern world. Now that we’re at the end of the decade looking back, this literally has become the case with films like Chicago directly cribbing from the technique of retreating into the mind to create a musical break with reality. Beyond that, the film provides Bjork with the perfect platform to create some of the most sensational music ever written, a concept that has repeated nicely through the decade in various forms to difference affect with Aimee Mann in Magnolia, Eddie Vedder in Into the Wild, and Sondre Lerche in Dan in Real Life.

2. Spirited Away (2001)

At the beginning of this decade, it seemed quite plausible to write off hand drawn animation as a thing of the past, but I have yet to see a Pixar or Dreamworks creation that has transported me so effectively as this delightful work by Miyazaki. It’s a stunning collage of characters, a modern take on Alice in Wonderland and more than anything a testament to the limitlessness of the creative brain. I actually remember, and will admit, to watching a pirated download of this film in my freshman year of college and then going out to buy the film directly afterwards to watch it again in full quality, that’s how stunning a work it really is, it deserves to be seen under the best possible circumstances.

3. Mulholland Drive (2001)

I had certainly seen David Lynch’s work before this point, but this was the first time I had ever trekked to the movie theater to see his work, and I was simply floored. The colors had never been more stunning, the soundtrack never so overwhelming and that amazing sense of losing yourself in his world and his creation never so complete… basically it was a revelation. I’ve actually never watched this film again in the hopes of keeping that thrill alive in my memory (although now I’m realizing how little of the film I actually remember other than it being the last time that I liked Naomi Watts). But I have the clearest memory of one scene with the most brilliant color blue (like Yves Klein on acid), a cabaret-style, mixed gender singer and a black and white tile floor… a dream sequence that seemed as though it was created just for me.

4. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

This was the other side of my college thesis and certainly has left an indelible mark on everything I’ve created since then, allowing me to remember that the musical always has been and always will remain a viable art form when treated with creativity and intelligence. The combination of astounding visuals, arguably emotional storyline and a reinterpreted pop score all comes together to bring smiles and tears to my face. This movie required no excuse for the breaking into song, based somewhere between the real world and a world of heightened sensibilities, basically an unabashedly book based musical. As the decade has worn on, we’ve seen variable success creatively and at the box office with this particular form, in the creation of Mamma Mia, Hairspray, Colma: The Musical but most happily, the television show Glee.

5. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)

This movie completely changed the way I thought of documentary filmmaking. Through the clever technique of animating photos, film stills, newspaper and magazine articles, what could have been the most narcissistically boring depiction of the life and times of Robert Evans turned into a scintillating film about power, fame and one hell of a career in Hollywood, and admittedly still a bit narcissistic. The animation technique has now become ever-present in our media, a perpetual favorite of MTV tabloid-style shows, but never done with the same thought and care that resulted in effectively and beautifully communicating an otherwise plain story.

6. Elephant (2003)

Too soon was my feeling when I first heard that Gus Van Sant was making this film. While I’m not one to believe that nationally tragedy has an honored grace period before it can become art (in fact, I believe in quite the opposite) I just couldn’t imagine who would want to sit through essentially a fictional documentary-style film of a school shooting. Then late one night I sat down and finally watched the 90-minute, nearly silent epic and found that it was simply transforming. Such steady filmmaking, with clear vision and purpose, so raw and real and yet dreamlike, a perfect way to approach an impossible topic. Visuals from this film still find ways to haunt me, the crowded corridors of a school becoming just a series of moving targets, movie silence becoming deafening leaving you alone with your own thoughts, and misunderstanding becoming centeral to both the real and fictional tale.

7. The Incredibles (2004)

While on some level I bemoan the abandonment of classic animation, films like this one prove that Pixar has created a completely new art form that gorgeously upholds classic filmmaking and storytelling. This super-powered family is at the same time all too human, fighting against each other as well as a world that would rather they hide what makes them special. While Pixar had certainly created stunners previously, and most certainly broken new ground in animation, with Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the adorable Monsters Inc., it was this particular film that made me see the full potential, beyond creating cute toys and anthropomorphizing cuddly animals, of creating real human drama through a whole new medium.

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

My mind was blown by this film, by the incomparable storytelling, endless creativity, time jumping method of creating a classic love story and breakup all occurring simultaneously, it was just so much to behold in two hours that every repeat viewing has turned up new intricacies and delights. A lot of thanks must be given to the lovely turns from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, but to me, it’s all about the nonlinear storytelling, the odd juxtapositions that lend so much power and emphasis to the relationship that stand as a stunning reminder of what it’s like to actually be in a relationship, to be standing at various points along the way, always remembering the amazingly good times, and equally the intolerable terrible bad times and never being sure which is the ultimate truth.

9.United 93 (2006)

Another of those “too soon” films that in turn became a stunning piece of artistic creation, although quite the opposite in nature to Van Sant’s work. This was pure docu-drama, taking the events as they had been reported and bringing them to horrible life. I, for unknown reasons, watched this film by myself very late one night thinking that I had just enough time to squeeze in a feature before bed, and there I found myself transfixed by the immediacy of the filmmaking, the simple but honest work of unknown actors and what ended up being an hour and a half of edge of my seat hope that somehow history could rewrite itself, only to find myself bawling uncontrollably for another hour and a half after the screen had gone dark.

10. I’m Not There (2007)

It took two viewings and a love of the soundtrack in between for me to fully immerse myself in what was ultimately a difficult but stunning work of cinematic genius. I can’t actually watch this film like any other film in the world, instead I have to turn off my brain, let the piece wash over me, let each segment and actor playing Bob Dylan exist as some sort of hallucination of a personality type, and when I can finally function in the world that this film sets up, I find myself completely taken by it. The mess that is this movie ultimately becomes the most perfect biography of an artist, multifaceted, gorgeous and ugly at the same time, somehow simple but also painstakingly difficult, knowable and yet completely a mystery, all wrapped up in the singular vision of another artist, director Todd Haynes.

And the rest…

Monsoon Wedding (2001), Donnie Darko (2001), Dogville (2003), Love Actually (2003), Bad Education (2004), The Constant Gardener (2005), Cache (2005), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Inglorious Basterds (2009)

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