An evolving list of ★★★★ / ★★★★★ films released during the 2000’s. The following are my awards (as they currently stand):
Hutch d’Or (Best Film):
There Will Be Blood (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood and Punch Drunk Love
Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood
Maggie Cheung for In The Mood For Love
Charlie Kaufman for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood and Punch Drunk Love
Best Original Score:
Jonny Greenwood for There Will Be Blood
Best Soundtrack (tied):
In The Mood For Love and
Punch Drunk Love
The Gleaners and I (Director: Agnes Varda)
Fantastic Mr Fox (Director: Wes Anderson)
Best Short (tied):
Two Cars, One Night (Director: Taika Waititi)
Lifeline (Director: Victor Erice)
The Return (Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev)
A Brief Review of the Decade:
Seven ★★★★★ films, a surprisingly low number, but notably there are twenty ★★★★½ films snapping at their heels.
The decade for me was significant for the birth of my two amazing children and for my emigration to New Zealand. This move followed my struggles with depression and a belief that I needed to reset and recharge. I slowed down my film watching to spend more time with my work and my kids. I also realised that my tastes had slightly changed. I was less drawn to the visceral thrills of violent cinema, and I put this down to the sensitivities of fatherhood.
I look back at film in the 2000’s, in part, as a decade of consolidation following the sweeping changes that took place before the turn of the new millennium. The 1990’s had seen a decline in classic art cinema but in its place had emerged a new cream of directing talent, well versed in cinematic history, but ready to take off in new directions at the same time as trying to connect with a fickle marketplace. Consequently much of my list and nearly all of my awards reflect the directors who emerged in the 1990’s and kicked on, as well as the next generation of directors coming through hard on their coat tails. It is this next generation of serious-minded auteurs who are the other defining characteristic of the decade for me. Around the turn of the century it felt like art cinema was waning, but as the 2000’s proceeded, directors appeared from all corners of the world making fascinating and challenging films that seemed just right for the times, and promised a great new era in serious cinema.
Top of the decade’s tree for me, with two very different films, is Paul Thomas Anderson, who has already established solid claims to be one of the best directors of all time. A significant part of those claims rests with There Will Be Blood, an impeccable modern masterpiece of serious dramatic cinema. Every element of the filmmaking is precisely and thrillingly tuned and I find it hard to look past its direction, acting, cinematography and score for my top awards. It’s lead, Daniel Day Lewis put in one of the finest acting performances I’m ever likely to see. Its cinematography by Robert Elswit was breathtaking, somehow managing to be both majestic and urgent. And Jonny Greenwood’s score is simply extraordinary, and my personal pick for best ever original score in a high quality field.
Earlier in the decade Paul Thomas Anderson had made a very different, but almost equally amazing film in the guise of Punch Drunk Love, a sad romantic comedy. Where There Will Be Blood was epic in scale, Punch Drunk Love was concise and tightly packed. Much of its pleasure emanated from seeing the likes of Adam Sandler and Emily Watson playing against type, but the real stars were Anderson, Elswit (again) and this time Jon Brion for his score. I’ve recognised this film under Best Soundtrack because Brion’s score is perfectly integrated with some of the best sound design I’ve ever heard.
The decade wasn’t just about Paul Thomas Anderson. Wong Kar-Wai delivered In The Mood For Love, surely one of the most sumptuous and ravishing films ever made. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai gave great, understated performances amidst the film’s glorious cinematography, costumes and music. The soundtrack was also really outstanding.
Charlie Kaufman confirmed himself as a brilliant screenwriter, with another mind-bending and playful script in the form of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film was smart, delightful, romantic and heartbreaking.
Having seen classic art cinema decline post-Kieslowski, there was all of a sudden new shoots emerging with serious, visionary directors evoking memories of Tarkovsky, Bergman and Kubrick. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s extraordinary debut, The Return, was a brooding, eloquent masterpiece combining mystery and pathos. The two young boy stars were absolutely brilliant, and Zvyagingtsev demonstrated outstanding control and sensitivity. His second feature The Banishment was also very good. In a similar vein, Nuri Bilge Ceylan showed uncompromising artistry with his Three Monkeys and Uzak, as did Asghar Farhadi with About Elly and Fireworks Wednesday. And Yorgos Lanthimos brought a clinical scalpel to normality with Dogtooth, and Jonathan Glazer an elegant intensity to Sexy Beast and Birth. The emergence of Zvyagintsev, Ceylan, Farhadi, Glazer and Lanthimos was one of the most exciting developments of the decade. They each cut their teeth during the 2000’s and then followed up with a series of outstanding films in the 2010’s.
And they were just part of a new group of intelligent filmmakers providing thoughtful, often austere and challenging works to reflect and comment on society’s decline. Notable other examples included Michael Haneke with Hidden, The White Ribbon and Code Unknown, Christian Mungiu with Four Months, Three Weeks And Two Days, Steve McQueen with Hunger and the Dardenne brothers with a string of fine films, but most notably The Son. Other directors added poetry to the austerity such as Carlos Reygadas with Silent Light and Reha Erdem with Times and Winds. Their films were both lyrical and rewarding.
As a belated sign of some progress towards greater equality in filmmaking, an increasing number of exciting films were being made by women. Claire Denis (White Material), Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar), Joanna Hogg (Unrelated), Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl), Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl), Maria Saakyan (The Lighthouse) and Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank and Red Road) each delivered challenging and fascinating films of the highest quality.
Back in the US, the Coen’s continued to release fine works, including one of their best in No Country for Old Men. And Wes Anderson refined his delightfully idiosyncratic style with the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums and his wonderful animation adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The world seemed to be getting darker and more divided, so it was nice to see films of good humour shine through. In this vein the great Agnes Varda directed one of her finest documentaries, The Gleaners and I, with characteristic playfulness and humour set against her sharp social observation. And for me, having moved to New Zealand, it was especially nice to see the emergence of Taika Waititi strike a fine balance between local social commentary and kiwi humour with his excellent short film Two Cars, One Night.
My best of list for the 2000’s is short on the more mainstream English language releases. For me the big market films were getting less interesting, pandering more and more to formulaic models of entertainment. I can understand the need for escapism, particularly when times get tough, but I felt that cinema was splitting between the films that had nothing to say, but had fun saying it, and those that had plenty to say, but were not necessarily easy watches. Perhaps it has always been this way, but I felt the divide more keenly than with previous decades. Notably, the 2000’s saw the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which offered an alternative reality full of enjoyable pomp and silliness. But as far as serious, quality cinema was concerned, Marvel loomed like a weapon of mass distraction.
But getting back to what I liked most about the decade was the consolidation of the great American directors like the Coens and Andersons and the rise of a new, serious, intelligent, diverse and committed world cinema. As the decade drew to a close it felt like there was a young generation of auteurs who were primed and ready to deliver a flood of great cinema.
Best of the 1990's <<<< >>>> Best of the 2010's