At long last, I’m cutting myself off from further tinkering, adding, finagling, second-guessing, and cursing the films that I haven’t made it to yet. You make a top 100 list with the movies you’ve seen, not with the movies you wish you’d seen. So here we are, the introduction to the official Antagony & Ecstasy List of the Top 100 Films of the 2000s.
(Now, I know that “the decade” is really 2001-2010, which still has a certain cool look to it – but doesn’t 2000-2009 look kind of cooler? Besides, if I chopped the year 2000 off, the list would have gotten dramatically worse in the blink of an eye. When all is said and done, you’ll find that there are more films from 2000 on this list than any other).
The ten-year span included in this list represents an especially significant period in my own personal development. In January, 2000, I was just a high school senior with an unusual penchant for art house fare (and growing up an hour from Chicago, in a town where the nearest multiplex was managed by a gentleman who wanted very badly to have an art theater, I got more chances for art house fare than a lot of teens), but my tastes were rather devouring. Film school that fall didn’t do nearly as much to teach me how to properly watch a movie as I wish it had – that took graduating, and setting myself a series of absurd challenges: watch a film every day of the month, watch a film from a new country every weekend for the summer, find something good about five movies I saw once and hated. And then, of course, this very blog started in the summer of 2005, and though I’d already shaken the last vestiges of narrative-based film criticism (a process that started in 2001, when I saw Moulin Rouge! and found that I could be head over heels for a movie with a fairly barbarous story and screenplay), it took a good 9 months of experimenting with writing my own reviews to figure out exactly what kind of movie I liked and why, and even finding that it was perfectly okay to be just as enthusiastic about Italian zombie movies as the newest Almodóvar film, and sometimes for exactly the same reasons.
So we eventually come to December, 2009: I’m a member of a honest-to-god film critics’ society, just completed a Disney project the scope of which still hasn’t really come home to me, and I know more about movies than I ever have. And less than I ever will again. Because that’s the key takeaway I got from the last ten years: appreciating art in any form, and movies are the form I know best, isn’t something that you can get “right”. You can get it right for the person you are at the moment, but things you learn and new things you find will change your tastes; make you appreciate things you couldn’t stand and find things you used to love a bit lacking. Which I guess is my way of saying that the list I’m about to embark on is hardly settled: by the time I finish posting it I’m sure I’ll regret some of the rankings, and by this time next year I’ll likely want to change so much that it would be faster to start fresh. But that’s just how it goes: these lists are less of a road map and more like a signpost along the way.
So the short point is, don’t go looking for any real consonance between this list and my previously published end-of-year lists (except for 2009; they were being built at the same time). There won’t be any – like I said, tastes change.
The format: starting tomorrow, I’m going to post ten films per day, counting down from 100. There’ll be a little paragraph explaining why I like that film, you know how it works. And I’m going to have a constantly updated post at the top of the blog with just the titles of however far along the list we are that day. Just for fun, before I post the ten in the evening, I’m going to write a full-scale review of one film from that day’s batch, that I’ve never reviewed before.
One last thing: like I said, you have to make a list with the films you’ve seen, but that being said, here are 20 movies from the last 10 years that I’m particularly disappointed I wasn’t able to see before finally nailing down this list.
Ballast (Lance Hammer, 2008)
Hammer’s debut was spoken of in the same tones that greeted fellow American indie geniuses David Gordon Green, Kelly Reichardt, and Ramin Bahrani on their breakthroughs. The worst part is that it was playing two blocks from my house.
The Circle (Jafar Panahi, 2000)
Panahi’s last film (and the only one of his I’ve seen) Offside is great, and proof of a sure and certain hand and a sharp political mind; and just about everybody seems to feel that this one is even better.
Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, 2006)
The deafening buzz out of New York made it seem positively essential, but it never, to my knowledge, got a release outside of that city, and the DVD is only finally coming in a couple of months from Criterion.
The Duchess of Langeais AKA Don’t Touch the Axe (Jacques Rivette, 2007)
It’s already inexcusable that I’ve seen only one film that Rivette made during my lifetime (it’s on the list). But I’ve found every one of his earlier works that I’ve seen quite admirable, and there’s no reason I can think of why I managed to ignore the uniformly strong reviews.
Eureka (Aoyama Shinji, 2000)
Few Japanese films have made any kind of impact in the rest of the world this decade, outside of the animation and horror genres; fewer met with anything like the universal acclaim of this one. But damn, 217 minutes is a lot to commit to.
Faat kine (Sembene Ousmane, 2000)
I’ve seen Sembene’s first film, and his last; and given his last film’s placement on my list, it seems likely that I should have put some energy into finding any of his other work by now.
Fat Girl AKA À ma soeur! (Catherine Breillat, 2001)
By all accounts, it’s tremendously unpleasant and provocative; I don’t love those things like I did a few years ago, but I can still respond to some good shit-stirring. Besides, Breillat is clearly too important a filmmaker for me to have seen just one of her movies.
The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
Martel’s first two films are both impeccable, masterful works (sadly, I could only find room for one of them on my list). Even if her third is, as rumored, not quite so good as those, I am certain it is still brilliant.
The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)
Besides falling head over heels for Davies a couple years back, this was the film were Gillian Anderson proved she could act. And it’s a period drama! I still don’t quite understand why I haven’t gotten to this one yet.
In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerin, 2007)
To my knowledge, it screened in Chicago two times, in the span of five days. I had the flu that week. Won’t make that mistake again.
Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili, 2001)
Too many people I trust have said too many nice things about it, and I’m a pushover for Israeli cinema. That I know not a damn thing about the film’s content is probably the reason why I haven’t seen it yet, though hardly an excuse.
Lorenzo (Mike Gabriel, 2004)
One of the handful of refugee shorts from the abandoned Fantasia 2006 that was finished, and the trailer makes it look like nothing else out there. But it is damned near impossible to find, unless you caught in theaters. In front of Raising Helen.
The Man from London (Tarr Béla, 2007)
I almost saw it at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival, and then I thought, “Christ, it’s a Tarr film, of course it’s going to get a real release.” It must have been Opposite Day.
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
I almost saw it at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival, and then I thought, “naw, any film with that kind of buzz is going to get a decent national release soon.” Tim Brayton, you are a goddamn idiot.
Oasis (Lee Chang-Dong, 2002 )
Given my statements here and there that I think South Korean cinema to be the most important national movement of the decade, I really ought to have seen the film that got the Korean New Wave kickstarted, yes?
The Son (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2002)
I don’t like the Dardennes. Sorry. But I really probably ought to see what is probably their best-regarded work before I finalise that opinion.
To Be and To Have (Nicolas Philibert, 2002)
It was one of the best-received documentaries of the decade, but every time I came close to pulling the trigger, I caught wind of the “noble teacher” premise, and choked. Clearly, I need to get over my trust issues and assume that all of those very smart critics can’t be totally wrong.
Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (Theo Angelopoulos, 2004)
In my head, I was waiting for the other two films in the trilogy to come out, and by the time I figured out this was an asinine plan, it was well too late to catch this one in theaters, and it feels like I’d be doing it a disservice to watch it on DVD.
Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)
35 Shots of Rum reminded me of what a singular, fascinating talent she is, and that I really ought to see more of her work. Friday Night would have fit in here just as well; the point is, there’s not enough Denis in my life.
And number 20 is a special note for director Aleksandr Sokurov; I’ve seen three of his films this decade, and I know to a certainty that I loved all three; but I cannot to save my immortal soul remember anything about two of them. It is a crime against my integrity as a scholar that I didn’t attempt to re-watch Aleksandra and Father and Son. And I really desperately wish I’d managed to catch The Sun in its blink-and-miss-it Chicago run a month ago.