Giant-Size JET #1 - The 100 Best Movies of the 00s, Part 9

Dedicated To
Theda B. Geer
1925 - 2010

Added 1/28/10

I believe we can officially call this the home stretch. If you're just joining us...what the hell kept you? Seriously, we waited for you as long as we could. No, no..don't worry about it. You can still catch up with the previous entries. It's OK, we'll wait.

Part 1: Numbers 100 - 91

Part 2: Numbers 90 - 81

Part 3: Numbers 80 - 71

Part 4: Numbers 70 - 61

Part 5: Numbers 60 - 51

Part 6: Numbers 50 - 41

Part 7: Numbers 40 - 31

Part 8: Numbers 30 - 21

Welcome back. And now, the penultimate installment of JET's 100 Best Movies of the 00s!

20. Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan (2006)

When the backlash against Borat started, which was inevitable considering its popularity, the criticisms leveled against it were all over the map. The movie claimed to be totally off-the-cuff but you could tell most of it was obviously staged (although I never heard any concrete examples of how these keen-eyed detectives reached this conclusion). Or if it wasn’t staged, then the movie didn’t play fair with the hapless victims of Borat’s increasingly outrageous, racist, misogynist behavior. Both claims are ridiculous. It’s a comedy, not a documentary. If parts of it were staged, so what? If Borat goes too far to provoke a reaction, good! What is undeniable is that Sacha Baron Cohen is the most fearless, committed comic actor to emerge in years. He disappears into each character to a level not seen since Peter Sellers. And yes, Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles do make some pointed observations about American culture and Americans. Perhaps not so much through our reactions to Borat but through Borat’s own perception of what America is like. Both as a satire and as a sustained, elaborate practical joke, Borat is a one-of-a-kind achievement.

19. Requiem For A Dream (2000)

One of the problems with most movies about drug abuse is they only show you one side of the story. Lots of films show the losing end of addiction: the poverty, the desperation, the physical toll and the lengths to which addicts will go to get their next fix. But no one really captured the euphoric rush that drives these people until Darren Aronofsky came along. Requiem For A Dream combines the extreme highs and lows of addiction in a dazzling, visceral way that places you in the addicts’ skin. In a top-notch cast, Ellen Burstyn is a particular stand-out as lonely, pill-popping Sara Goldfarb. Clint Mansell’s magnificent score has since been appropriated for a number of trailers, sometimes quite well. But to my ears, it’s inexorably wed to Aronofsky’s film and it always sounds a little wrong with anyone else’s images. Requiem For A Dream is a punishing, unforgettable film. If you find it difficult to watch at times, that means Aronofsky has done his job.

18. Team America: World Police (2004)

Trey Parker and Matt Stone don’t need to make movies. South Park gives them a weekly outlet to say and do pretty much whatever they want and it’s one of the few shows on television that actually seems to improve every year. But thank god they occasionally still want to. Team America shoots to kill and takes no prisoners, targeting everyone from George Clooney and Michael Moore to Kim Jong Il and Matt Damon (“Matt Damon!”). It’s a dead-on parody of Michael Bay-helmed blockbusters, a loving tribute to Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, and a great big “fuck you” to the MPAA. Even today, Team America has moments so audacious and hysterical you’re left wondering how the hell they got away with it. It’s probably best not to question it. Just sit back and let Trey and Matt say the things that need to be said.

17. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

If you’re making a nearly three-hour long film whose ending isn’t just part of historical record but is actually in the title, you’d best bring something special to the table. Andrew Dominik does all that and more with this haunting, beautiful western. First and foremost is the cinematography of Roger Deakins, making this one of the most gorgeous motion pictures this side of Terrence Malick. Dominik’s screenplay is rich and layered, digging into the complex dynamics of the James gang and exploring themes of fame and hero worship in truly fascinating ways. Finally, I can’t say enough about Casey Affleck’s work as Robert Ford. Affleck’s performance is simultaneously sympathetic and unlikable, his downfall both tragic and utterly deserved. Movies like this prove that no genre is ever truly dead. Gifted storytellers like these will always come along to make us view them through fresh eyes.

16. Dancer In The Dark (2000)

Lars von Trier has never been shy about calling attention to the artificiality of cinema. At times, he’s railed against it and gone, perhaps too far, in the opposite direction in an attempt to make a more “real” movie. And yet, one of his most powerful, emotional films is also the most artificial. Dancer In The Dark is a musical about the power of musicals but it never feels self-referential or overtly post-modern. Quite the contrary, it’s almost painfully intimate. Bjork is a revelation as Selma. The joy we feel radiating from her in numbers like “In The Musicals” is contagious, as is the devastating pain she feels later. Dancer In The Dark engages both the mind and the heart, although it’s the emotional impact that’ll stay with you long after the film ends.

15. A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Filmmakers almost never get to choose which project will be their last. Even if they announce their retirement, most are still keeping an ear out for that one offer that’s too good to pass up. If Robert Altman had lived, he most likely would have kept on making movies. But I can’t imagine a lovelier, more fitting grace note to his extraordinary career than this bittersweet comedy about death itself. In A Prairie Home Companion, death is sad but not tragic. It inspires a flood of memories, emotions and ultimately, a celebration of life. Blessed with an extraordinary ensemble cast and timeless, stirring music, A Prairie Home Companion looks death in the face and says, “You know what? I’m ready. I had a great run.” I’m slightly disappointed that this movie isn’t more acclaimed. Oh, well. Must be a Midwestern thing.

14. There Will Be Blood (2007)

I’m about to say something you almost never see in a film review, whether it’s from a seasoned pro or the message boards at IMDb. I don’t know quite what to make of this movie. Paul Thomas Anderson is an extraordinarily gifted filmmaker and the skill with which this is made is remarkable. It’s grown on me steadily since 2007, rarely leaving my thoughts. There are individual scenes and images that I doubt I will ever forget. And yet, I still struggle with the meaning of it all. I feel like there’s something I haven’t quite grasped yet. More than anything else, it’s that very missing piece which ranks it so high on the list. Anderson has made a movie that sneaks up on you, lodging in your brain and refusing to let go. It’s a film that you want to revisit and attempt to unlock more of its secrets. With There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson has made a film that not only invites scrutiny, it practically demands it.

13. The Lord Of The Rings (2001-03)

OK, so I’m cheating by lumping all three of these movies together. If this truly bothers you, please also complain to Time magazine, The Guardian UK and others who lump Tolkien’s novels into one slot whenever they appear on a Best Books list. Once you’ve done that, please also consider getting a life. With these three films, Peter Jackson accomplished something extraordinary and magnificent. He hooks you early on, slowly tightens his grip, and ultimately rewards your patience and dedication. The Lord Of The Rings redefined the epic blockbuster. Of course, not all of the lessons Hollywood took from these movies were the right ones. For example, remaining faithful to your source material does not necessarily mean filming every word on the page and assembling it in exactly the same order. Jackson captures Tolkien through atmosphere, design, and a flawless eye for finding exactly the right actor for each character. The Lord Of The Rings is a massive, stirring achievement that never fails to captivate and amaze.

12. WALL-E (2008)

As much as I love cartoons, animation can also be extremely frustrating. At times, it feels like the most limited limitless medium there is, too often returning to the same well of fairy tales, slapstick comedy, and celebrity voices. Seeing WALL-E for the first time, I felt like I was seeing something completely new and impossible to communicate in any way other than animation. With virtually no dialogue and a limited range of motion and expression, director Andrew Stanton and brilliant sound designer Ben Burtt made one of the most fully-realized, sympathetic and emotional characters in Pixar history. And it’s a robot. WALL-E is a perfect blend of artistic ambition and popular entertainment. It expands our understanding of what animation is capable of by making us believe in and care deeply about a lonely, solitary robot with a soul.

11. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

I’ve said it many times before, horror-comedy is a deceptively tricky genre to pull off. It isn’t just striking the perfect balance between laughs and scares. You have to know the difference between the two at a fundamental level. Push a scare too far into the absurd and it stops being scary. With Shaun Of The Dead, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg nailed it with expert precision. But what makes the film so exciting are its characters. These people feel authentic and you have no trouble believing that this is exactly how they would behave in a zombie apocalypse. You feel for them. Their losses aren’t just gory set-pieces, they’re moments of honest human tragedy. The movie has energy and enthusiasm, almost as if halfway through the writing of the script, Wright and Pegg realized this thing might be even better than they thought. They want to prove just how good a movie like this can be. Mission accomplished. Shaun Of The Dead is a thrill to watch, a great story told with the confidence of a filmmaker discovering his own unique voice.

Which movie will reign supreme as my favorite of the decade? And which movies will you be shocked and appalled to discover didn't make the cut at all? All will be revealed here. Stay tuned, true believers.

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