I’m currently putting together a list of the 100 best movies from 2000-2009, like everybody else has already done; but dammit, the Aughts aren’t even cold in their grave, let’s wait a teeny bit before starting the lists already. Anyway, you can consider this the first salvo in my Decade-In-Review extravaganza: see, I’ve been doing this proper-like, and trying to re-watch every single picture I put on my list (and thus has it still taken me this long to get it done). And part of what that has involved is finding that a lot of the movies I thought I really loved, I only mostly like, or even kind of don’t like at all. Thus, may I present, in the spirit of admitting that we sometimes can get things really wrong,
Ten Movies from the 2000s that Don’t Hold Up for Me Like I Hoped They Would (one per year)
Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
I still like every single thing I ever liked about this one: now I just like it less. Maybe it’s the fault of the Wes Anderson Knock-Off machine making this kind of senstive dramedy about a smart, awkward teen whose coming-of-age is set to a cavalcade of old pop music feel much more irritating than insightful, although Almost Famous is a damn sight better than just about all of those films. Maybe it’s that Elizabethtown (a film that I actually feel somewhat compelled to defend) has retroactively made all of Crowe’s movies seem oppressively cutesy-pie. Either way, what used to seem honest and personal seems just a bit too precious upon review.
In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001)
We’ve all been tricked by outstanding performances into thinking that a decent film is something extraordinary; sometimes that’s even enough. Certainly, In the Bedroom is much better than decent, beyond its great slate of actors; Field has a good eye and a great sense of pacing, and the latter especially is vital for such a talky, domestic drama as this one is for the great bulk of its running time. But the plot machinations eventually get just a bit too literary and pre-determined for my taste; this is not a film that is alive and feeling, but tastefully and skillfully preserved.
The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
Polanski is a good director, and sometimes he’s even great; but really, this is nothing more than an unusually personal Oscarbait flick, with all the good and bad things that implies, thought it unquestionably slides towards the “very good” end of that scale. Still, for a film I once called the best of the year, I was quite dismayed when I watched it for the first time in over five years, willing myself to see something particularly noble or brilliant in Polanski’s effective but mostly uninspired direction, or in an Adrien Brody performance that time, and Brody’s later career, have not been remotely kind to.
A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, 2003)
When it was brand new, I was all ready to declare it even better than Guest’s previous improvised mockumentaries, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. And it’s still perfectly funny and smart, but whereas I’ll happily start quoting the earlier two at the drop of a hat, I have to really sit and think for a moment before I can remember anything – anything – from the folk rock picture besides the cutely sappy and not really at all comic “Kiss at the End of the Rainbow”.
Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
Hip and edgy and indie and all that, and it’s never a disappointment to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt acting his best. But really, it’s kind of trendy misery for misery’s sake, and I’m not tremendously ashamed to admit that I’m a lot less receptive to that nowadays than I was when I was 23 and thought that this was absolutely the most thrilling, nervy thing on two legs.
A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
The first time I saw it, I noticed, but did not particularly care, that it suffered from a rather shocking structural flaw: it wants to be a character study and investigation of the social effects of violence, but it also makes a big mystery out of hiding the most important single element of the protagonist’s character, the part that specifically hinges on how violence has or has not shaped his personality. Upon review, that’s all I could pay attention to: not that the sex scenes and the violence (and the point where they overlap) aren’t exquisitely well-produced, and the film as a whole is a fair masterpiece of craft, but I surely can’t be the only one who finds it to be something of a car-wreck of storytelling?
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
It benefited, for me at least, by being the first del Toro film I’d ever seen, and its rich nightmare imagery knocked my socks off before I realised that was just his regular M.O., bettered, for my tastes, in the criminally underrated Hellboy II: The Golden Army. It also suffers from a screenplay that doesn’t really come together at the end: for a much more satisfying, coherent dark fantasy set against the Spanish Civil War, I unhesitatingly prefer his earlier The Devil’s Backbone.
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
The Festival Effect in full bloom: what seems stunning and inventive and overpowering in the middle of an overcrowded slate of art films can seem a bit helplessly mannered in the light of day. There is nothing to recommend this film but its absolutely stunning cinematography and hypnotically slow pacing, and however good those things might work in a crowded movie theater (intensely well), I got very, very antsy watching this for the second time on my television.
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
I’m happy to blame this one entirely on the rabid fanboys who would just as soon slit your face as bear the suggestion that this might not be e.g. one of the 10 best movies in the history of the art form. As far as I’m concerned, it still does a lot of things right, but at the same time I feel kind of gross with myself for liking it.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates, 2009)
Really? I gave it a 9/10? Was I like, high, or something? Or was I just really that hard-up for admittedly gorgeous cinematography this past summer?