In my wild days of wanton youth, before the Hollywood money machine wore down my idealism, I cared about film passionately. It was the art form to which I chose to dedicate my undergraduate studies, and it was the medium that shaped my values and personal philosophy. Movies consumed my life.
I would watch movies in class during the morning, then work as a projectionist for the film department in the afternoon, and finally to head to my other job at Blockbuster in the evenings. I was watching fourteen movies a week, easy.
Those days, during which I was introduced to the classics of cinema, were bliss. There is nothing quite like seeing The Passion of Joan of Arc for the first time; except maybe seeing it for the first time the very same day you also watched A Taste of Cherry. You know, the day after the Duck Soup/Modern Times double bill. With life a steady march from one dark theatre to the next, it is easy to lose oneself to the dream machine.
Perhaps that's why most movie fans also happen to be fans of lists. Lists keep you grounded. They help locate thought and contextualize the art. Lists are an integral part of the compartmentalization process that is cognitively necessary in order to deal with watching so many movies.
Plus, lists are really fun.
I still remember the joy I felt crossing Die Another Die off my “007 list” after watching - in chronological order - every James Bond movie ever made. The achievement was one of my major goals that summer.
Crossing movies off of lists is a thoroughly rewarding experience, but making your own list can be even more fun. Each year just before the Oscars, I used compose a “Top 10 Films of the Oscar Year” list (yes, I was so obsessed with cinema that my method of temporal measurement was based upon the Academy Awards Ceremony not the Gregorian Calendar). Given that these lists were made nearly ten years ago, the “Reflections” issue seemed a good time to revisit them. Have the films, not to mention my taste, stood the test of time, or will the lists be hopelessly embarrassing? Let's find out!
2000 (i.e. Top Ten Films eligible for 2000 Academy Awards, released theatrically the previous year)
10. The Blair Witch Project
8. Being John Malkovich
7. American Beauty
6. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut
5. Eyes Wide Shut
4. The Matrix
3. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
2. The Straight Story
1. Fight Club
My first thought upon reviewing this list was, “Holy shit! Was 2000 an insanely good year for movies or what??!!” Look at that list! Every single one of those movies sits proudly on my DVD shelf a decade later. We’ve got The Blair Witch Project coming out of nowhere and blowing everyone away. We’ve got the event movie to end all event movies with the first of the Star Wars prequels. We’ve got Stone and Parker releasing one of the funniest movies ever made. And we’ve got Fincher, Lynch, Mendes, the Wachowski bros, Spike Jonze, P.T. Anderson, and Stanley Freakin’ Kubrick firing on all cylinders. It’s no wonder I signed up for film school midway through that year! In the ten years that have followed, none have matched the across the board quality of 1999.
10. Wonder Boys
9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
7. Requiem for a Dream
4. Billy Elliot
2. Dancer in the Dark
Unlike my 2000 list, I own only half of the movies that made 2001’s top ten. I still have fond memories of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Requiem for a Dream, Traffic and Billy Elliot, but I haven’t felt the need to revisit any of them in the years since the list was made. Similarly, Dancer in the Dark was such an emotionally harrowing experience that I just haven’t had the motivation to put myself through it again despite it placing number two on the list. While it appears Bryan Singer, Darren Aronofsky, M. Night Shyamalan and Guy Ritchie could do no wrong in 2001, the stock of all four directors has dropped significantly in the years that followed. I’m happy with Unbreakable at number one, and Gladiator remains a fantastic action movie, but, in retrospect, X-Men should have placed much higher on the list. In terms of superhero cinema, X-Men changed everything. Singer’s film ushered in the golden age of comic book adaptation that we are currently living in. There would be no Dark Knight without the respect Singer showed a handful of mutants in 2000.
10. Birthday Girl
9. Josie and the Pussycats
7. The Others
6. Series 7: The Contenders
5. The Royal Tenenbaums
4. Waking Life
3. Mulholland Drive
2. Moulin Rouge
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
How did Nicole Kidman follow up working with Stanley Kubrick on his final film? By staring in no less than three of the films listed in my top ten for 2002! The statuesque superstar rocked the house in the kinky comedy Birthday Girl, delivered an understated and memorable performance in the truly spooky ghost story The Others, and thoroughly reinvigorated Hollywood musicals with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Josie and the Pussycats remains, as I described it at the time, a “brilliant and scathing satire of not only the music industry, but an entire culture of capitalist consumerism,” and The Royal Tenenbaums has only improved with time. In fact, it should probably have pushed Lynch’s television-pilot-turned-movie Mulholland Drive a little further down the list. Series 7 stands out as a film that has dated itself. In 2001, the benefits and drawbacks of reality television were still on the tips of everyone’s tongue, but it hardly seems a culturally relevant issue now. Finally, The Fellowship of the Ring was undeniably the best film of 2001, as I had it listed at the time. The fact that A Beautiful Mind (remember that movie anyone?) beat Fellowship for best picture at the Academy Awards in 2002 still drives me out of my mind. The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy was rewarded by the Academy two years later when Return of the King was showered with a record setting number of Oscars, but Fellowship is a masterpiece that remains the best film in the trilogy (oh, and what about those guys that made Memento? I wonder if they ever made something of themselves…).
10. Road to Perdition
9. Minority Report
8. Far From Heaven
7. The Hours
6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2. Catch Me If You Can
Aesthetics seemed to be the order of the day in 2003 with three visually lush films taking the eight, nine and ten positions on the list. With two films each on the list, Julianne Moore and Steven Spielberg clearly had a great year. The inclusion of Attack of the Clones, Signs, The Hours, and Daredevil clearly make this the most easily criticized of the lists. When I saw The Hours, I had not yet read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (which I adored with every fibre of my being) nor Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (which I despised). If I had done so before hand, it’s questionable whether the film would have made this list. The inclusion of Attack of the Clones is equally questionable, but even at the time I hedged my bet, noting, “It's the excitement around the Star Wars films that I really love. Episode II's faults are apparent on repeat viewings, but I’ll always remember the excitement of sitting in a theatre full of Star Wars geeks on opening day.” And despite the fact that Daredevil is universally despised, I thoroughly enjoyed the theatrical cut of the film, and would highly encourage anyone disappointed by that version of the movie to check out the excellent director’s cut. As for the best film of 2003, what I said about the all encompassing Adaptation at the time remains true today: “This is a movie about beauty, art, writing, film, flowers, love, death, sex, Hollywood, evolution, adaptation, dreams, nightmares, drugs, pornography, computers, agents, everything from the beginning of the universe to the mess we find ourselves in today; and all the funny, sad, happy, sexy, annoying, fascinating, frustrating, confusing, inspiring, and challenging nuances that make up our lives as human beings.”
There we have it! What I thought might be a rather embarrassing exercise has instead evoked feelings of nostalgia for this aging film critic. Will we ever have a film as highly anticipated as The Phantom Menace? Never. Will there ever be as good a batch of movies as we had in 2000? Maybe not. Will Shyamalan, Ritchie, and Singer ever reclaim the cinematic heights they reached early in the decade? Doubtful. As these lists testify, the early years of this new century were an exciting time to be a fan of cinema, and I am glad to have been a part of it.