Katherine's Favorite Films of the Decade, #26-50
50. Goodbye, Solo (2009)
A Senegalese cabbie takes an interest in an older white passenger who wants a ride to a well-known promontory outside Winston-Salem, NC. We're supposed to be surprised at their friendship -- but really, who could resist the indomitable Solo, whose American story is still beginning? Not me, and not even William, whose own American story is finally winding down.
49. In the Bedroom (2001)
A New England film about loss with a capacious and specific sense of place. The relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, and boyfriend and girlfriend have (as Will Kuby promised) stayed with me, but I am haunted even more by the images of conveyor belts at the local cannery and a single workman spinning a drawbridge crank at dawn.
48. The Circle (2000)
The Circle may be slow, but it's worth it. In Jafar Panahi's undeniably political film, the lives of several women -- most of them on the run -- intersect in contemporary Iran. A beautiful movie that never explains too much, but tells with glances, background clamor, and steady pans all we need to know about life on the periphery.
47. 8 Mile (2002)
"And it's no movie, there's no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life," Eminen raps in "Lose Yourself," 8 Mile's Oscar-winning song. Well, his life might not be a movie, but Eminen's natural, hardened charisma completely carries this one. In the cultural minefield of celebrity tell-alls and first-person hip-hop, he is the real deal as a version of himself, which is all that this fiction needs him to be.
46. In Bruges (2008)
A film about being a tourist, and being a gangster, too. After In Bruges, I think I could forgive Colin Farrell anything. He gives a hilarious and richly human performance as Ray, an Irish hit man who hits a moral bump in the road and has to hide out in "fucking Bruges." Actually, each of the movie's gangsters (Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are the others) has a deep-seated moral code, which happily turns what might've been an ordinary black comedy into a philosophical parable with an ending Sophocles could've loved.
45. Donnie Darko (2001)
There is a reason this movie is a cult favorite, but it's not the reason Richard Kelly gives. (His DVD commentary almost ruined it for me.) To me, the film is far more open-ended that he grants, and that, I think, is its strength, and the reason it's so rewatchable. (Full disclosure: I haven't rewatched it in years...) Whether it's the scary bunny you love, or the harsh wit of teen angst, or the cast of actors who are either about to be famous or much less famous than they once were, or the possibility of time travel, or the awesome 80s soundtrack, this puzzle of a movie has something for everyone.
44. Batman Begins (2005)
Sorry, fans of The Dark Knight. I respect your position, but this is the Christopher Nolan Batman movie for me. It never loses control of itself, and the people even seem real -- which you just can't say about The Dark Knight, even if you love it.
43. Police Adjective (2009)
The cop movie stakeout has never been more uneventful, or more ominous. Top it off with a couple of riveting conversations about grammar, and I'm pretty much hooked. Plus, it's Romanian.
42. Wendy and Lucy (2008)
Michelle Williams is just a girl with her dog, trying to get to Alaska. As in 2006's Old Joy, writer-director Kelly Reichardt portrays contemporary tramp life honestly and coolly, with keen attention to detail. Here, she follows Wendy through a series of frustrations that wouldn't amount to more than a bit of hassle if they happened to almost anyone else. But while the Oregon landscape in which Wendy finds herself is lush, and there often kind strangers willing to lend helping hands, Reichardt shows us how brutal life in America can be when you live on cash off the map.
41. No Country for Old Men (2007)
We all know this is a brilliant piece of suspense cinema, making us feel with each toss of Chigurh's coin the terrible meanness in this world. But mythic meanness doesn't do it for me as much as real, interpersonal meanness, so #41 it stays.
40. Zodiac (2007)
A film about a hunt for a serial killer -- but not a serial killer film. And yet, in Zodiac, David Fincher keeps cleverly faking us out. Surely San Francisco's Zodiac Killer isn't RIGHT THERE in the basement that Jake Gyllenhaal is searching!!!...No, friends, he really isn't. Because this is a film about obsession in the absence of answers, not the whodunit everyone -- but most of all the information-hungry characters -- want so badly for it to be. Extra applause for the murder scenes, which are so softly photographed they feel practically nostalgic.
39. Elephant (2003)
This Columbine-esque tale of high school massacre is probably Gus Van Sant's finest teen dream. I'll ignore the implication that the shooters were secretly in love and focus instead on the masterful way in which Van Sant draws out the emotional inner life of each student on what might or might not be the last day of her life. Because for the most part, the film does an admirable job of refusing to explain the unexplainable. As for the long shots of passing clouds: I love them.
38. Wall-E (2008)
Fat, lazy humans aside, this is the best of Pixar. I will never forget those towers of trash or the treasures Wall-E finds within. The scenes on Earth convey so much with almost no dialogue and Wall-E himself is still the cutest robot ever made.
37. The Prestige (2006)
Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as warring magicians in 19th century England! David Bowie as Nikola Tesla! This ridiculous Rubik's cube of a film explores the troubling extent to which we will allow our technology to thrill us. Also, oddly, a prequel of sorts for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (what?), in which Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall once again sleep with the same foxy man.
36. Little Children (2006)
It always seems to be night in Todd Field's gorgeous adaptation of Tom Perrotta's novel, which only makes the film's flawed characters glow more richly in comparison. (Of course, the casting of Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson didn't hurt.) Sometimes, I just love the look of a film, but the twin desires for safety and escape that characterize American suburban life make the story worth following here, too.
35. You Can Count On Me (2000)
A smart redhead once told me that siblings share the experience of having survived their parents -- which means of course that they need each other in ways they can't always explain. In Kenneth Lonergan's smart little film, Laura Linney is Sammy, the rule-following single mom, and Mark Ruffalo is her brother Terry, the charming, wandering screw-up. But even Sammy sometimes still acts like a kid, and even Terry has responsible impulses now and then. "Why are you smoking?" Sammy's son Rudy asked Terry one night, when his uncle drunkenly staggers into his room. "Um, because it's bad," Ruffalo's Terry mumbles endearingly. "Don't ever do it."
34. Kill Bill (2003-2004)
I'm blasphemously counting both volumes together, despite their vast stylistic differences. But what's a Tarantino flick without vast stylistic differences? The first was of course a bit sexier and more polished than the second (not to mention more surprising by virtue of coming first), but the second features that fabulous finale with the late and too-underutilized David Carradine. Revenge has never looked so much like a technicolor tour of genre cinema -- or so good in a yellow track suit. Uma Thurman often feels out of place in ordinary movies, with that intense, semi-British, and vaguely constipated way she has of delivering her lines, but here, she's pitch-perfect. I couldn't have asked for a better ass-kicking feminist hero.
33. Gomorrah (2008)
Based on journalist Roberto Saviano's book of the same name, Gomorrah chronicles life under a sprawling crime syndicate in Naples, Italy. But be warned: there are no godfathers here. The men running the show are mostly anonymous, with the bleak heart of the film reserved for their cogs -- a bumbling middle-man, two foolhardy wannabe gangsters, a tailor working in a mafia-controlled industry, and a sweet-faced 13-year-old who finds his way into a gang. The film's primary setting is also something to behold: a brutalist mid-century apartment block reminiscent of a sinking, landlocked ocean liner, a powerful visual metaphor for life under mafia rule.
32. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Like Matt, I prefer this cooler, more thoughtful Bourne to the spastic Greengrass sequels. Here, we get the lovely Franke Potente, Clive Owen as The Professor, and the pleasure of watching the amnesiac Jason (re)discover his ninja skills. Because we spend most of the film not fully knowing who he is, identity becomes more than just a macho noun to pair with "Bourne" in the title. Speaking of titles, try saying this one to the Fandango automated teller and expecting it to understand you. Well, that was 2002. Maybe it's smarter by now.
31. Yi yi (2000)
A Taiwanese family saga with so many compelling story lines, it really should've been a TV series. I just snuck a peak at Matt's description, which pretty much says it all, so I won't waste your time repeating it.
30. Mystic River (2003)
I think I'm one of the few who was less impressed with Tim Robbins and Sean Penn than I was with the rest of this film. It's a Dennis Lehane crime/revenge story, sure, but it's also a tale of guilt and communal responsibility, a particular kind of working-class Boston neighborhood, and the ties that bind much less than we'd expect. Eastwood's finest in my book, with ample room for interpretation and admirably restrained work by Kevin Bacon, as a detective investigating childhood friends, and Laura Linney, in a Lady Macbeth turn that is chilling, and unless you know about it (oops), genuinely unexpected, near the end.
29. Cache (2005)
Another film haunted by childhood betrayals, Cache is Michael Haneke's masterful exploration of bourgeois guilt. By most accounts, this should be rated much higher, but unfortunately, its uncommunicativeness left me a little cold. Nonetheless, I'm admit I'm still a little entranced by the creepy video footage of the Laurent family house. Not to mention this very creepy kid from Georges's haunting past.
28. Y tu mama tambien (2001)
There was much immature giggling about this film when it debuted, but we're all much older now and its force of life is still undeniable. With Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and Maribel Verdu, Alfonso Cuaron made a great road trip movie, a great Mexican film, and a rich tale about adolescent male friendship on the cusp of irrevocable transition. Not to mention the sex!
27. In the Mood for Love (2000)
All the smart kids seem to agree that 2046 is the superior film in this pairing, but In the Mood for Love is the Wong Kar-wai romance for me. It's in this wondrously colored 1960s period piece that we first encounter that despairing notion of telling a secret to a hole and then plugging it with mud. It's also the more traditional narrative, which I have to admit I prefer. We get to focus exclusively on Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung's yearning -- so exclusively that Kar-wai never even lets us see the faces of their cheating spouses. Leung and Cheung's faces (okay, and their amazing wardrobes) are all we need to see to understand the torment of being abandoned and the temptation to fall in love again.
26. The White Ribbon (2009)
More Haneke! This unsettling tale concerns the parents and children of a German village on the eve of World War I. Of course we know what these kids grow up to become, but Haneke's film screens like a found document, a piece of black-and-white evidence, that might, as the narrator puts it, "clarify things that happened in our country."