Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Noughties were nice

Everybody else seems to be issuing his or her list of the top ten movies of the decade, so I am feeling pressure to do the same. But before I tackle that daunting exercise, let me stipulate that the decade still has one more year to go.

This jumping-the-gun of the end of decades drives me crazy. We saw something similar happen—although on a much larger scale—at the end of 1999. Everyone kept referring to January 1, 2000 as the beginning of the new century and the new millennium. For that, I blame the artist formerly and currently known as Prince since he wrote that song about partying like it was 1999.

Let’s go over this clearly and simply. A decade is a period of ten years. The first decade under the calendar we use in the western world began in the year 1. No, there was no year 0. You can look it up. I defy you to find one historical event listed as occurring in the year 0. And, no, people did not think of the year before the year 1 as the year -1 or 1 B.C. They were using some different calendar back then. And they didn’t even think of the year 1 as the year 1 because I’m pretty sure that year was designated as 1 quite a while after the fact.

Anyway, if the first year was 1, then the first ten years were not completed until the end of the year 10. If we keep adding groups of ten years, we eventually get to the last day of 2000 being the end of the 200th decade. And the last day of 2010 is the end of the 201st decade. I rest my case.

Having now won the argument, I will magnanimously concede that there is something that makes sense about treating the last day of 2009 as the end of the decade. We like to give decades names (the seventies, the eighties, the nineties), so there is a bit of sense to grouping the years in a decade according to what the third digit is in each year’s number. So, in the popular mind, this is, I suppose the end of the noughties. I think this concession speaks volumes about my growth as a human being and my ability to adapt.

So I have compiled a list of my favorite movies of the “noughties” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I don’t offer it as anything more than it is: a snapshot of how I feel at the moment about the movies I have written about over the past ten years. As usual, I have yet to see some of the top films of 2009 (and, for that matter, of some or all of the other years) since the major productions that are considered award bait don’t reach the likes of me until well after the year has ended.

So without further ado, here is my list:

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Oh, stop trying to look so surprised. You knew this was inevitable. Peter Jackson’s opus is a masterpiece for the ages. And since I contend that the trilogy should be treated as a single work, that gives me a loophole to add a couple of extra films to my list. For the benefit of sticklers, I would rank the individual movies in the trilogy (perhaps somewhat controversially) in this order: The Two Towers, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King.

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A French movie directed by an American, Julian Schnabel’s treatment of a true story poetically does what so many movies aspire to but fail: it gets to the very meaning of life itself.

3. United 93: Another movie based on a true story, Paul Greengrass’s achievement, like so many works of genius, looks deceptively simple. His blow-by-blow, no-nonsense recounting of what happened aboard one plane hijacked on 9/11 has an accumulating sense of power.

4. Slumdog Millionaire: Marketed (strangely enough) as a “feel good” movie, this epic tale by Danny Boyle managed to combine the best qualities of British cinema with those of Hollywood and Bollywood. Never have ugliness and beauty, or for that matter naturalism and artifice, been combined quite so compatibly on the big screen.

5. Millions: Danny Boyle’s other entry on my list (putting him second only to Peter Jackson as my favorite director of the decade) shouldn’t be as moving as it is. But it does emphatically touch the heart. Essentially a caper comedy, it speaks mountains about childhood, loss and salvation.

6. Son of Rambow: Another movie about childhood, Garth Jennings’s story of two young friends who decide to make a movie is wonderfully entertaining, as it manages to touch on themes involving family, friendship, imagination and, of course, loving movies.

7. City of God: We could dismiss this as a bit of post-MTV entertainment, but Fernando Meirelles’s flashy technique serves a compelling story that has resonances for its locale and for the human condition in general.

8. No Country for Old Men: The Coen brothers’ opus major is what movie-making (as distinguished from filmmaking) is all about. From the beginning it grips you and refuses to let you go. By the end, you know you have been handled by masters.

9. Black Hawk Down: Yet another true story, Ridley Scott’s take on the events that led to the U.S. retreat from Somalia in 1993 results in one of the best war movies ever. This flick and United 93 may well tell us everything we need to know about the current precarious state of the world.

10. Good bye, Lenin!: It sounds like a screwball comedy, and I suppose it is. But Wolfgang Becker’s film was an unexpectedly poignant elegy for the dreams and failures of East Germany, as well as a satire of western values. Its many threads cover everything from the love between a parent and child to the scariness of big changes in the world.

-S.L., 31 December 2009

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