--As the decade comes to a close, I'll add my Top 10 Movies to the discussion (here, here, and here). I'll preface the list by clarifying that these are my 10 favorite movies, not necessarily the 10 best.
1. Memento - This movie blew my mind when I first saw it, and still entertains me on repeat viewings. I saw it with the MZA, and we spent the rest of the night talking about the movie, trying to make sense of it all. I was still making sense of it days later. Awesome movie. I almost dressed as Leonard for Halloween last year, but got lazy.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums - This movie was full of fantastic characters, wonderful sets, and hilarious moments. And despite the absurdity of it all, you couldn't help rooting for Royal. Earlier today, I was explaining why I don't want to see Avatar, saying that amazing visuals and perfectly-crafted fantasy worlds don't really do it for me. Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings thrill lots of people because the films present such fully realized versions of other worlds. Those movies never appeal to me. I find the world we live in plenty fascinating, and I guess my brain just doesn't have time for more universes. On the other hand, I love movies that present very similar worlds to our own, but do so with just enough fantasy/whimsy/weirdness that they present beautifully visual, fully realized, slightly different versions of our own world. That's how I feel about Tenenbaums. It takes place in an American city and involves 20th/21st century humans, but it clearly doesn't take place in the real world. The slightly different world is put together with such care and attention to detail that it gives me the same feeling of awe and enjoyment that others must get from the care and attention to detail that goes into crafting Tolkein's Middle-earth.
3. There Will Be Blood - This movie is largely defined by an amazing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. The best performance of the decade, I think. That alone probably gets it onto this list for me, but I thought the whole movie was pretty much pitch-perfect. And unlike others, I really enjoyed the bizarre bowling alley scene at the end.
4. Juno - Bryan and I walked out of this movie, went to Standings, and raved about it to any Smadbeck in sight. Our thoughts at the time were that the movie was flawless in the sense that there was nothing we'd change about it. I don't know about Bryan, but I still feel that way.
5. Mulholland Dr. - I have a secret. As many people know, I'm a huge David Lynch fan. I've seen most of his films, and all episodes of Twin Peaks. Most people assume that I've always been a Lynch fan, but that's not true. While I'd heard things and assumed I'd like his movies, I'd never seen any until Mulholland Dr. It's still my favorite, which may be a result of it being my first. I think Mulholland strikes the perfect balance for a Lynch movie. Lynch first started exploring the multiple identity issue in Twin Peaks, went further with Lost Highway, even further with Mulholland Dr., and ultimately too far with Inland Empire (which I still enjoyed, but it went a little too far in the no discernible plot direction). To me, the strength of Lynch's movies are the vividness of the individual scenes. Scene for scene, I think Mulholland is his most vivid movie. There are so many scenes that just seem so memorable to me.
6. Little Miss Sunshine - Most comedies pack a lot of laughs up front, but then gradually get less funny as the film shifts focus to resolving the plot. Viewers are never given any reason to really care about the comic characters, so they don't have any reason to care about the plot resolution. Little Miss Sunshine is the opposite. It's funny throughout, but most of the early part of the film is spent getting the viewer to care about the characters and their interactions with each other. And the plot logically builds to a fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious conclusion (I actually did fall out of my seat) that's funnier in a deeper way because you actually feel like you know the characters.
7. Million Dollar Baby - I understand the criticisms, but I really loved this movie. The first half was like a female version of Rocky/Karate Kid. The second half was so impactful because the movie had made me really love the characters during the first half. And there were three great acting performances. I was a little choked up at the end; the movie totally suckered me in. Yes, some of it was cliche, and a lot of characters were too purely earnest or purely evil, but sometimes it's okay to play the sucker and just enjoy the movie.
It also helped that unlike most people, I hadn't read anything about the movie and had no idea what was going to happen. I imagine the movie's very different if you know exactly what's coming.
8. Synechdoche, New York - I loved this movie. I felt like I needed to rush out and tell people to see this movie. In response to Bryan's list, Coachie criticized Synecdoche, saying "a movie must tell a story." I disagree. Yes, most movies tell a story. And it's pretty hard to have a drama without a story. But, that's because it's really, really hard, not because it's a requirement. This movie says a lot and gives the viewer a lot to think about without a story. It's about life and art, and says a ton about both without a plot.
9. Anchorman - For me, it was the best pure comedy of the decade (by pure, I mean a comedy that's really only concerned about making viewers laugh). Pretty much non-stop laughs when I saw it in the theater (although it does slow down at the end like most pure comedies). Tons of quotable lines. It seemed like for the next 6 months, pretty much everyone I knew was quoting this movie.
10. Kill Bill: Vol. 1. - A late addition to this list, after watching part of it last night. I'm a huge Tarantino fan. Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie of all time. He hasn't come close to that level again, but this was a really enjoyable flick with great stylistic visuals. Watching it last night reminded me how much I enjoyed it the first time. I felt Vol. 2 didn't quite measure up.
Honorable Mention - City of God (late cut from my list - definitely would be in my top 10 best of the decade, but after honest reflection, I realized it hasn't stayed in my brain as much as the 10 films above. Maybe I need to see it again), Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, No Country for Old Men, Requiem for a Dream.