Katherine's Favorite Films of the Decade, #25-11
25. The Lives of Others (2006)
You never know when someone's watching you in the German Democratic Republic -- though if you knew your country better, you wouldn't be so surprised. A lament for wasted virtue and idealism in an authoritarian state -- so visually rich, morally complex, and masterfully plotted, it's hard to believe this Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's feature film debut.
24. Sugar (2009)
After Half Nelson, a film I shamefully failed to include here, Anna Borden and Ryan Fleck turned their attention to Dominican players in minor league baseball -- with deeply humane results. No ordinary sports film, Sugar chronicles the journey of Miguel "Azucar" Santos, a talented young pitcher, as he moves from a training camp near home to a farm team in Iowa, and onward. America through his eyes is an odd place indeed, and the pressures of professional sports are immense. As Sugar, first-time actor Algenis Perez Soto (a Dominican ball player himself) is a natural, at once reveling in his talents and learning the ropes of an ever-expanding, ever-unjust world.
23. Into the Wild (2007)
True, Jena Malone's voiceovers are cringe-worthy. Yes, there are one too many shots of Emile Hirsch with his arms splayed like Christ. But Sean Penn's adaptation Jon Krakauer's book still blew me away so profoundly that I have to honor it here. Hirsch's McCandless is not entirely sympathetic -- in fact, he's a colossal asshole, and a bit of an idiot besides. But the question his journey to Alaska poses about American life -- to remain engaged with this flawed civilization or to venture off the map in pursuit of enlightenment, into the great territory we all in some way own -- is as important and historic a line of thought as it was when Thoreau first set out for Walden.
22. Once (2007)
There's just no other movie in the world like Once, a humble little film about the patient, often unglamorous work of making music, and the depth of feeling we can develop for those who share our labors of love. Watching Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova find harmony for the first time, and then watching them return to their less than luxurious Dublin abodes is enough to make even the most jaded moviegoer stand up and clap in appreciation. Unfailingly honest and hopeful, with a soundtrack that's worth the price of admission alone.
21. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Kathryn Bigelow's thrill ride is an Iraq movie without being an Iraq Movie -- which makes it an all the more persuasive piece of political theater. Defusing bombs is serious, consuming business, and not without its personal tolls. Everything Bigelow shows us feels real, from the Iraqi bystanders, to the Redskins paraphernalia on Sgt. Sanborn's wall, to the hot-shot field theatrics of Staff Sgt. James. Only the gleaming supermarket back home has an air of unreality, and that, of course, feels just right, too.
20. Best in Show (2000)
The best of Christopher Guest's mocumentaries, about dogs and the people who show them. A long-time favorite of mine, it abounds in human cluelessness and the droll babble that only the best improv comedians can muster. i.e. Jennifer Coolidge's airhead Sherri Ann on her relationship with her wealthy, decrepit husband: "People say, 'oh, but he's so much older than you,' and you know what, I'm the one having to push him away...We both have so much in common. We both love soup, and we love the outdoors...we love snow peas, and talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about."
19. The Wrestler (2008)
Not even Evan Rachel Wood could sink this film. Darren Aronofsky is an auteur of the body, and in The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke's beefy, surgically wrecked body is one to admire, recoil from, and pity. His scenes in the grocery store deli are practically heroic, and the heart-stopping(!) ending is as daring and perfect as any, punctuated by a great Springsteen tune that requires us to stay and watch the credits to fully absorb the madness we've just seen. Randy the Ram is, without a doubt, a one-trick pony on his last, desperate legs -- but what a magnificent pony he is.
18. Sideways (2004)
Why are these wine-touring men still friends -- and indeed, why were they ever? The fact that we can hardly believe Miles and Jack's friendship in Alexander Payne's cruel little comedy makes it that much realer on the screen. A great buddy flick about the cultivation of the distinct self in the face of everyone else.
17. Amores Perros (2000)
Three interconnecting stories in Mexico City, each featuring a vulnerable dog (or several). Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu might have achieved higher artistic moments in 2006's Babel, but the more honest Amores Perros is still the intersecting-story film at its finest.
16. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)
A movie that will make you feel cold, but in a good way. This Canadian Inuit saga is shot with such immediacy that you almost feel as though you've followed a documentary film crew hundreds of years back in time. Atanarjuat, which has the distinction of being the first feature film ever written, directed, and acted entirely in Inuktitut, is truly original, even as it tells an old tale of an ancient tribe. And yes, the man can run.
15. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
There's just no better family, no better house, and no better soundtrack this decade. Tenenbaums is the best of Wes, infinitely quotable, with Halloween costume inspiration for all. My only regret is that Owen Wilson's Eli Cash doesn't appear in this still -- but then, he never quite belonged, did he? "Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone's not a genius? Do you especially think I'm not a genius?...You didn't even have to think about it, did you?"
14. Volver (2006)
A delightfully upbeat movie about very dark and sinister things. With Volver, Almodovar seemed to want to know what would happen if women were allowed to have a movie all to themselves. (Fortunately, the answer wasn't whatever the director of The Women thought.) Here, they kill, and sing, and lift heavy objects with their bare hands. They come back from the dead and kiss each other noisily near the ear. And with Penelope Cruz full of life at the center, Almodovar's women are pretty much impossible not watch.
13. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Sometimes a movie deserves credit simply for getting it right, and Wes Anderson protege Noah Baumbach is dead-on in his portrayal a literary family posturing their way through divorce in 1980s Brooklyn -- just as his own family did. It's got to be hard to make such a personal movie so funny and so sad, but Baumbach gets a big boost from Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, who were born to play their roles. The Squid and the Whale is a New York movie through and through, completely with caustic snobbery ("Philistines!") and a formative trip to the Museum of Natural History.
12. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The death of the West meets the love that dare not speak its name -- a formidable pairing as any in American film. But it only worked because the ex-prom court of Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, and Jake Gyllenhaal showed up ready to really, truly act. The indispensable Ang Lee has made every kind of movie imaginable, from Jane Austen to martial arts, but great landscapes and the torment of human relationships are always, as they are here, at the core. Ennis misses Jack, but just looking at this screen shot makes me miss Heath, whose clenched teeth were a near stroke of genius. Without a doubt, the most enduring performance of his too-short career.
11. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
It's hard to understand how anyone can not love The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's only the fate of humanity on the line! Each of the movies has its great moments (Gollum's argument with himself in the first, Pippin's song in the third, Sean Bean as Boromir in the first, Eowyn's declaring "I am no man" in the third...) but nothing else in the series matches the intensity and beauty of the Battle of Helm's Deep. Whatever Matt says, I'm counting the trilogy as one giant movie here, but with a special nod to #2.