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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Top Ten of the Aughts

The past decade has had an awful lot of good films, which made this a hard column to write. My preliminary list, as discussed here had 54 films vying for ten spots on this list. It took me a month to slowly narrow things down and put them in some kind of order.

Here is my pre-defense of this and all lists: I like doing this and I like reading other peoples’ lists. If you think that there is something unseemly about putting art in a list or some such thing, then I respect your right to believe that, but I disagree. I don’t think that by having a preference of some films over others that that denigrates the art of film in some way. More than anything, I think that making lists and reading lists is the best way to start a dialogue about film.

Now, a word on how I operated: I had a lengthy e-mail discussion with a reader a few weeks ago, discussing the difference between “best” and “favorite.” And I will tell you all what I told him: I do not see the distinction. If I have a favorite film, then it’s because I think that is the best film in my opinion. When I picked these films, of course I thought about the broader social and cultural contexts (i.e. what does it mean to be the best film of this particular decade?) but ultimately, the order of the films is based on which ones I liked best. It’s that simple.

The way I’ve always ordered films has been about how much they hit me, personally. And each of the films below hit me hard. If they don’t hit you as hard, then I understand your right to feel that way, but I don’t understand. Film, like most art, is a personal medium and our connections to certain types of films will differ from person to person. So, I think the following films were the best of the decade and they were my favorites.

No counting down to one (since I’ve already written about it extensively), here we go:

1. 25th Hour (Dir. Spike Lee)

Back in November I wrote 2,000 words explaining this pick. There is no film that better encapsulates the decade that we just lived through than this Spike Lee masterpiece. Not only is it the best film of the decade in terms of craft, wit, pathos and performance, but it is the most fitting.

2. Before Sunset (Dir. Richard Linklater)

I think that Before Sunrise is one of the most romantic films ever made. I saw it soon after it came out, re-watched it dozens of times (often with a date) and cried almost every single time. It was the manifestation of the “perfect” one-night stand, the kind that changes a person forever. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy had chemistry that was undeniable; they played off one another in such a relaxed and confident way that we got wrapped up in their romance. These are two highly intelligent, literate, beautiful people who fall in love before our eyes by arguing and talking about every possible thing. When they part at the end, they say that they’re going to meet back in Vienna in six months and then the film ends. And for eight or nine years, I wondered if they ever did meet again.

Before Sunset was probably my most highly anticipated film of the decade. I don’t think I had ever been so nervous to walk into a movie theater, wondering whether Linklater had ruined the perfect ending he’d given to Jesse and Celine. Not only did he succeed, but he managed to craft a film sequel that deepens my appreciation for the first film. The film doesn’t take the easy way out, having two characters that were simply pining for one another for nearly a decade. Rather, both of them have had lives since their first encounter. Jesse has a family, Celine has had many boyfriends; both are miserable with what they’ve had once they see each other again.

There are many questions from the first film that are answered in the sequel, but not in conventional ways. Did Jesse and Celine have sex in the first film when the movie frustratingly fades out in the park? Did they meet at the station as they said they would? Linklater and his actors (who were all nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for their work on the script) find difficult answers to those questions. What if one person showed up and the other didn’t? Do they have regrets about their time together or the time they’ve spent since? Is it too late?

For me, this film will always be about two moments. They are two of the most perfect cinematic moments I’ve ever seen. The first: they are in the back of a car towards the end of the film, a driver taking them to Celine’s apartment. She starts crying about how she’s lost, doesn’t know if love is real anymore because of Jesse. Then Jesse talks about how much he hates his life, but loves his kid. And he tells her that he has these dreams about Celine. Jesse gets a little choked up and looks away and as he does, Celine reaches her hand out to touch Jesse’s head, but then she pulls it away before Jesse can see. Wow. That makes me weep like a baby every single time I see that moment.

The other moment is the ending. Top five endings of all-time, seriously. Celine dancing like a sexy goofball to Nina Simone, Jesse’s plane is going to be leaving any minute.

CELINE: Baby, you’re going to miss that plane.

JESSE: (grins) I know.

3. Kings and Queen (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin)

I first saw this film a couple of years ago and I was so utterly blown away by it that I immediately sought out the opinions of everyone else who had seen the film. It was almost unanimously praised, but almost nobody I know has seen the movie, even people I consider to be rabid film fanatics. After I saw Kings and Queen, I watched every other Arnaud Desplechin film in a matter of days, realizing that I had a new filmmaker to add to my list of masters. The dude is nothing less than an absolute genius.
Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos are in almost every one of his films, and with good reason: they are two of the finest actors working today. Here, they play Ismael and Nora, two former lovers and friends. Desplechin is also lucky enough to have Catherine Deneuve in his last two films, including this one in which she plays a therapist. The story, as with most of Desplechin’s films, is so dense with the realism of relationships that it makes them very difficult to describe. Basically, the parallel stories are about Ismael being put in an institution against his will and Nora dealing with her father’s cancer, her young song, and her own past.

The film is alternatively hilarious, depressing, poignant and silly, sometimes all at once. Often, Desplechin will take a topic or a moment that would ordinarily be played for tears and instead play it for laughs by using a song that is out of place, playing with our expectations. The film, though, is all about the interplay of the characters and how their actions affect one another and how our perception of who these people are changes. We see Nora very differently at the end of the film than we do at the beginning, turning from a hero into something like a villain.

The turning point of the film is a letter that Nora finds, written by her father to her. It is perhaps one of the most heart-pounding letters ever written, a letter that completely changes our point of view about almost every character in the film, but especially about Nora and her relationship with her father. It doesn’t seem like it, but it changes everything in the movie in an almost imperceptible way.

Desplechin followed this film with the remarkable A Christmas Tale, my favorite movie of 2008 and one that just missed being on this list (although when I revisit this list in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if it managed to sneak in).

4. The Darjeeling Limited (Dir. Wes Anderson)

This is my 3,000 word original review of The Darjeeling Limited.

I still believe almost every word I wrote in that review. The only change I would make is that in the original review, I said I wasn’t sure if it was on par with The Royal Tenenbaums; considering Tenenbaums’ absence from this list and Darjeeling’s inclusion, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve changed my mind. Other than that, I’m not sure there’s more to say than I already have. But to continue on the theme of “moments” in films, this film is full of them but I think of two in particular:

1) The scene where the brothers rescue the Indian kids from the river, but one of them perishes and Adrien Brody looks up solemnly and says, “I couldn’t save mine.”

2) The flashback as they are on their way to their father’s funeral, the last time they’ve seen each other. They stop at a garage to pick up their father’s car, an expression of their anger and confusion. As they pull the car out of the garage, a truck almost hits them. The truck driver gets out of his car. Immediately, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman (who thought Brody was crazy for going to the garage) stand in the truck driver’s way and tell him to get back in his car. Two brothers, coming to the other one’s defense, even though they don’t agree with his actions; that’s family, expressed subtly and beautifully.

5. There Will Be Blood (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

From my 2007 Top Ten column: “The film begins underneath the Earth in 1898 where Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is mining for silver to put together enough dough to build a derrick and search for oil, which is where the real money is at. Through a series of circumstances, Plainview becomes wealthy and also becomes a father to a child he names H.W. In 1911, Plainview is directed to the small California town of Little Boston where oil seeps through the ground and he proceeds to buy up all the land that he can, much to the chagrin of the local preacher, the young Eli Sunday (Paul Dano).Like all great films, this is a divisive one, a polarizing one.

“Essentially, it amounts to a character study of Daniel Plainview and he is not a pleasant man. Any kind thing he does is incidental, a side-effect of whatever he is doing that will benefit him. It’s more than selfishness, it’s a desire to see other people fail. He is a misanthrope, but one that wears a mask of humanity, trying like an alien to fit into this human world but he sticks out like an oil derrick in a barren field. Halfway into the film Plainview talks of wanting enough money so that he doesn’t have to be around people anymore. Shows how little he knows, since having money is no way to lose the people around you; in fact it’s a way to make sure you’ll never be alone again. Looking back, Plainview would probably be happiest going back to his earlier days, when he was alone in that hole in the Earth, digging for silver with no people around for miles.

” Daniel Day-Lewis is the single greatest living actor, period. He proves it again with this performance. Some people have said he is channeling John Huston in Chinatown, others believe it’s a variation on his Bill the Butcher character from Gangs of New York, but I think it is something completely different and unique. Daniel Plainview is an original because we never seen him do a sincerely nice thing throughout the entire course of the film, nor does he try very hard to be friendly like Noah Cross in Chinatown or sociable like Bill the Butcher. But Plainview is not a monster because Day-Lewis doesn’t let him become one.

He is, instead, a brilliant and sadistic person who holds grudges like you wouldn’t believe and Day-Lewis makes us want to follow him everywhere, even if he is despicable. From the mannerisms to the throatiness of his voice to the wry way in which he smiles, it is clear that Day-Lewis knew every facet of this character and as a result, we know him. We don’t like him, but we know him. Everyone else in the film is great too, especially Paul Dano, but this is a Daniel Day-Lewis’ film from start to finish.

Speaking of the finish, some have complained that the film takes a radical left turn in the last half hour. Don’t listen to those people. The last half hour of the film is the logical conclusion based on what we have seen during the first two hours. It might be shocking, yes, and eccentric, but it is what the story demands. The final scenes and especially the final line have haunted me ever since I first saw it. There’s no question that Paul Thomas Anderson is officially a master of cinema and the finest young filmmaker that we have. This film is the reason I love film.”

I think that just about does it. Except one more thing: I’m finished!

6. Lilya 4-Ever (Dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Being able to speak to Lukas Moodysson for half an hour two months ago … that was the highlight of my year, without a doubt. It’s not often that you get to speak to your heroes and I don’t take for granted that this job allows me those kinds of opportunities. As for why speaking to this Swedish filmmaker would be such a treat for me, I think this film is a good example of why.

This is the story of a young girl who lives in an unnamed Eastern European country that seems to contain nothing but abandoned industrial plants and warehouses. She, and everyone else she knows, is impoverished and bored and every day is a struggle. Compared to a lot of people in her town, Lilya is doing fairly well. She gets fed, has clothes, a place to live, music to listen to; she’s doing okay. But when her parents move to America without her, things go from bad to worse fairly quickly.

But Lilya is resilient, she makes things work for her and doesn’t complain a lot. Her best friend is a young boy named Volodya and they play games with one another, stuck in that place where they should be immature and having fun, but they need to think about much more mature problems. When Lilya falls in love with a charming man who wants her to go to Sweden with him, it seems like Lilya’s luck has finally started to turn around. And that’s when things get really, really bad.

Making a film about the sex trade and the degradation of women is a tall order. This movie is unsparing and Moodysson takes the risk that this is a film that will be hard to watch for some people. There is nothing especially graphic, but what Lilya has to endure is not only painful, but heartbreaking. I will never forget the apartment that Lilya is forced to stay in while in Sweden; I can almost smell the McDonald’s that litters the kitchen. And I’ll never forget the ending, the sadness of knowing that Lilya’s worldview has been so small, that she’s seen so little that she can’t imagine a better heaven than the shitty life she had at the beginning of the film.

Best Actress of the decade? Oksana Akinshina as Lilya. Nobody else really comes close. She’s a tough chick, someone who sticks up for herself and it makes the fact that she is so utterly trapped that much more painful. Her lot in life is to be used up and demeaned and Moodysson, ever the humanist, wants us to see that this is what life is for some people. He’s not making a grand statement or a political one, just saying “here, this is what it is.”

7. Requiem for a Dream (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)

This is my nomination for “horror film of the decade.” If AIDS was the scariest affliction to suffer from in the ’90s, then addiction would be the horror of the ’00s. I’ve seen a lot of people suffering from all kinds of addictions and when it becomes something that you look for, you see addictions everywhere. Hell, my movie-watching is something of an addiction. Lucky for me, it’s what would be termed a “healthy” addiction since I actually, you know, leave my apartment and have a life.

Requiem for a Dream is about “unhealthy” addictions. Darren Aronofsky’s first film Pi, was a wonderful low-budget debut about the search for god through mathematics. In that film and in Requiem for a Dream, he shows a knack for employing camera tricks and techniques (with the help of all-star DP Matthew Libatique) in ways that actually enhance the plot or characterization or setting rather than just trying to impress us with his skills. We’re given the entirety of a drug experience in a matter of seconds: mix heroin, suck it through the syringe, inject, pupils dilate, repeat repeat repeat. That repetitiveness is what makes the film so startling; after all, isn’t that what addiction is, apart from all of the terrible things it can make you do, repeating habits?

The story has four main characters and they are all addicts. Harry, Marion and Tyrone all are addicted to heroin and Harry’s mother Sara is addicted to speed. They all have their reasons and goals and fantasies, some of which are brought to life, but in the end they all end up losing something (freedom, decency, an arm, etc.) and all of them are in the fetal position by the time the credits roll. I always wanted to hope for the possibility that because all of the characters are in that position, it meant that Aronofsky was trying to tell us that these characters will now all be reborn. After all, the film’s title cards indicate “Summer,” “Fall,” and “Winter.” Perhaps “Spring” is right around the corner? But in my heart of hearts, I know that Spring will never come and if they are reborn, it won’t be in a positive way.

Haunted my dreams more than any other film this decade.

P.S. The Fountain was this close to making the list.

8. In the Bedroom (Dir. Todd Field)

Best actor of the decade? Easy. Tom Wilkinson as Matt Fowler in Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. I remember going to this movie with absolutely no expectations and no idea what it was about; I just knew that a lot of critics I respected were praising the film. I recommend that if you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading about it and do what I did and see it blind. It will knock your socks off.

This is another one of those movies that has a turning point, a moment where everything has changed. When that moment occurs in this film, I had no idea what the movie was going to turn into. I knew that there was an hour and a half left to go and I had no idea what to expect; the safety of the film had slipped away. The first act of the film shows us Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) and his loving parents Matt and Ruth (Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek). Frank has entered into a relationship with an older woman, a single mother named Natalie (Marisa Tomei). Ruth has reservations about this relationship, but Matt is supportive. We see Frank and Natalie and then Ruth and Matt and realize that we are watching two functioning, loving relationships. Natalie has two kids, sure, it’s not the perfect situation, but everyone seems happy and everything is good. There is some friction, but nothing out of the ordinary. And then Natalie’s ex-husband shows up.

Then that moment happens. And everything is not good. Matt, a tough man, is reduced to tears when he looks through his son’s room. He sees everything that his son was going to become and now won’t because of a senseless killing. The case gets bungled in court and Natalie’s ex-husband is set free. There will be no peace for Matt and Ruth, knowing that their son’s killer is out there, that they can’t leave the house without running the risk of seeing the man who took away their son’s future and their happiness. Their marriage starts to crumble as they play the blame game.

Wilkinson is playing the most difficult role possible: a regular man faced with a terrible tragedy and dealing with it in a realistic, plausible way. I can’t even describe to you what it is that Wilkinson does that I found so impressive, I just know that he conveys so much emotion without saying anything and the way his voice quavers when he does speak, it says more than the words. I can’t say I’ve dealt with the tragedy that Matt and Ruth Fowler did, but I can say that I felt like it was an accurate portrayal of what someone will do. It felt real every step of the way.

Two moments: 1) Ruth slapping Natalie, an instinctual response to Nataie’s apology. 2) The ending, first Ruth asking, “did you do it?” Then Matt lying there in bed with the cigarette burning in the background, wondering if what he’s done will give him peace. Extraordinary.

9. The Squid and the Whale (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

My parents divorced when I was very young and it was one of the most formative experiences of my life, seeing my parents after that divorce. Like it is for most kids, it had a profound impact on my childhood and on the rest of my life. And I think no film expresses the complexities of divorce better than Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale.

This is a film about an intellectual couple from Brooklyn ending a marriage that never seems that great to us. We are left to imagine what Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) once saw in each other because when we do see them interact, they are spiteful and angry. Joan tries to hide books from SBernard so that when the divorce comes, Joan will have the books. Doesn’t sound so bad right? Except she hides them under her younger son’s bed, making him complicit in this act. Bernard makes comments about Joan to older son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) that will inevitably affect how he feels about his mother. But like with all things, eventually the truth will out. And ultimately both sons realize the truth about their mother and father like most children of divorce.

The film is also funny and awkward and shows the ways in which kids can be…well, weird about things. Like the way Frank (Owen Kline), the younger son, masturbates in public and has strange feelings about his mother, sexualizing everything he sees. Not to mention, he also gets drunk by himself, slipping through the cracks of both parents. Walt, desperate for his pretentious father’s approval, claims to have written a Pink Floyd and plays it at the school talent show. He also dumps his girlfriend based on his father’s appraisal of her looks.

Then that remarkable ending. Bernard saying to Walt, “don’t be difficult.” Walt running away to the Natural History Museum and seeing the squid and the whale.

10. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Dir. Cristian Mungiu)

I’ve seen every film on this list multiple times. Most of the films I’ve seen at least three times. Except for this one, which I’ve only seen once and I don’t think I could handle watching it again. And I don’t think I need to because it is ingrained forever in my memory.

Set in 1980s Romania, this is a film about the difficulty of getting an abortion. The title refers to how far along the pregnancy is. The story is not about Gabita, the woman who gets the abortion, but rather about her friend Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) who is helping Gabita to find someone to do the deed. They find a man who works as a mechanic who does abortions on the side. The girls rent a hotel room, anxious about being caught by the authorities. In that hotel room is where the atrocities take place.

Otilia doesn’t have to do anything in this film. From the moment it starts, she is free to merely walk away. But she is a good friend, willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Gabita gets her abortion. But she never imagines the price will be as high as it is.

I don’t want to say too much more about this film, frankly because it upsets me just to think about it. I almost never turn away from films because of the content, but this film made me look away multiple times. I couldn’t stomach the idea that these women would go through this or that someone could allow themselves to do such evil. A remarkable examination of what lengths people have to go through in order to have what we consider to be a basic right.
11. High Fidelity (Dir. Stephen Frears)

Okay, I had to add another film and make this a top eleven. I just needed to make room for the great breakup movie of all-time. Seriously, there is no better movie to watch after a breakup than this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel. It’s a film about music, love, friendships, all that good stuff. Just because it is primarily a comedy doesn’t make it any less accomplished than any other film I left off this list.

John Cusack, between this and Grosse Pointe Blank, has proven to be both a wonderfully gifted leading man and also a dynamite writer (as he co-wrote both of the films). This is one of those movies that is in the pantheon of great films to rewatch a thousand times or to get sucked into while flipping through channels. If High Fidelity is on, no matter which part, I’m watching.

The film opens with Rob Gordon (Cusack) and his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) breaking up. Rob immediately makes a top five “breakup” list to prove to himself that Laura wasn’t even in the top five heartbreaks of his life. In between Rob’s investigation of these top five, he goes to work at the record store he owns in Chicago where he talks endlessly about music and pop culture with his co-workers Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso). The way they talk about music is the way me and my friends talk about movies or sports or the way some people might talk about business or law or medicine. This is a film about what it is to be a guy who compulsively makes lists and tells friends about their preferences (um…or me and every guy I know).

But it’s also about what it means to be vulnerable as a guy and how uncomfortable that can make us feel. It also turns things on its head a little bit when Rob gives us five good reasons why Laura might have ended things, making Rob a much less sympathetic figure than he originally seems which is a ballsy move for this kind of film. Ultimately, it’s about the acceptance of that loss and the acceptance of the fact that we are not perfect; that in any breakup, the only thing you can really control is how you can better yourself.

This is the film that introduced us to the manic style of Jack Black, but also the important “Top 5” lists. And, fittingly, this film has a spot on my list. I’m sure the guys at Championship Vinyl would give me shit for making this a top 11, though. Just remember:

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

Noah Forrest
January 4, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon