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Too Big for Death: The Eleven Best Films of the Decade

December 29, 2009

Once again, we dive into a big ol’ list of greatness. Here are my eleven favorite movies since that fateful moment when we awaited the ominous destruction of our very existence. That, or we worried that our power would be down for a few minutes.

11. Donnie Darko (2001) – Video Planet, Kicking and Screaming’s ostensible rental house operated by Francis “Chainsaw” Gremp, would categorize this under “Psychological Thriller”. Originally slated for release in October of 2001, Newmarket Films was forced to downscale the number of screens due to the unfortunate timing of Donnie Darko’s plane-crash-driven plotline. Thanks to the world of video, the movie found its audience. There’s no in-between on this one – either you loved the confident miscreancy of the title character, or you found the entire setting to be one contrived mess. I’ve met many that hate this film – and to no surprise, their upbringing consisted of positive interactions with role models, and a helluva lotta “You can do its!”  For those unlucky enough to be forced to switch schools, the “Head Over Heels” scene pushed you to this euphoric hybrid of anger and satisfaction. If you, like many precocious youth, had far too many childhood encounters with morally-bankrupt authority figures, the fall of Sparkle Motion and the Cunningham’s “Fear and Love” quackery (Swayze!) resulted in a few Wayne Coyne-style fist pumps. HELLL YEEEEAAAHHH!!!!

“Donnie Darko – what kind of name is that? It’s like some sort of superhero or something.”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

10. Shaun of the Dead – According to BBC 5 Live’s Mark Kermode, this movie has aged like a fine wine – with only Zombieland invading its stranglehold of the top horror-comedy of the decade. If there was a Best Scenes category, few  would compete with where albums were used as weapons.

“Throw it!”

“Stone Roses?”

“Um, no!”

“It’s ‘Second Coming’!”

9. O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Can we accurately assess the quality of a film without allowing the influence of our life’s present state? In other words, can we divorce ourselves from our own world to objectively appraise a creative work? On the day I saw O Brother, I met with several friends for a day of revelry, where our fine dining and even finer imbibing was solely interrupted by my location of a source of income and the viewing of this awesome movie. I was expecting to leave the theatre with several witty lines, ready to unveil during my next hootenanny with the cute collegiate activists that barely survived my road histrionics – the Coens’ previous effort, a little thing called The Big Lebowski, conquered our vernacular to the point where we needn’t see the film to hear the dialogue. So, O Brother Where Art Thou?, no pressure or anything! As one would predict, my references to people who obviously are not golfers, or rugs that really tied a room together were not instantly replaced with “I’m the god-damned pater familias!” Did I actually love the movie, or did I love the day which included the movie?

A few additional viewings gave me perspective outside of the rowdy days. By the fourth time, I noticed the wonderful dialogue and the interplay with the music. And I’ve stayed out of the “Woolsworth”, just to be safe.

8. Cidade de Deus – I think the comparisons with David Simon’s “The Wire” are apt, although a film isn’t permitted the breathing room of a sprawling mega-move of the modern cable series. As Siimon moves southeast with his examination of New Orleans’ post-Katrina music scene, one can hope that he places the favelas in the on-deck circle.

7. Bubba Ho-tep – The brilliant pairing of Bruce Campbell with the late Ossie Davis was pure brilliance. There’s a cool melancholy in this film that I’ve never seen before or since. How a director can create such aesthetic, one can only guess. This is what that schlockfest The Bucket List could have – and should have – been. Who’d of though The Force of Nature That Gave Us Ash was capable of eliciting such intense empathy from the viewers?

6. High Fidelity and 5. Almost Famous. While they were made concurrently, a back-to-back viewing in this order would reveal AF as a response to HF. While the two most memorable record-store clerk scenes in High Fidelity are (slight?) exaggerations, they appear to serve as cannon fodder for Almost Famous’ best lines.

Barry (Jack Black) in High Fidelity: “WHAT!? Don’t tell anyone you don’t own ‘Blonde on Blonde’, it’s gonna be okay.”

William Miller (Patrick Fugit) in Almost Famous: You guys, you’re always talking about the fans, the fans, the fans; she was your biggest fan, and you threw her away!

In a way, this customer is a fan of Barry, and he shows nothing but contempt for the poor, Jesus and Mary Chain-challenged fellow. William voices his anger for such indifference.

Barry: “Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.”

Lester Bangs (Phil S. Hoffman): The only true currency in this bankrupt world… is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

No explanation necessary.

I hope to make this comparison into a bigger piece someday.

4. Y Tu Mama Tambien – Among great road movies, this easily claims victory for Best Offensive Title (you jokesters with lewd definitions of Cannonball Run can zip it, thank you very much). Butthead, while explaining his distaste for videos with words on the screen, said “If I wanted to read, I would, you know…go to school.” After so many awesome Spanish-language films this decade, even AC/DC’s biggest fan would retract that statement. By 2020, we will have Best-Of lists that consist largely of Cuaron, Innaritu and an unknown Hispanophone that has yet to surface. Y Tu Mama Tambien will enter the canon of great films, and not merely due to its launch of the next decade’s most anticipated leaps to stardom – Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal will be two of Hollywood’s biggest (and most banakable) leading men by 2014 – but because it’s just so damn good. The scenery, the dialogue, the rivalry, and the many things that tear them apart, only to bring them back together. It’s difficult not to venture into hackneyed cliché when describing this film.

3. Sideways – Alexander Payne is rarely mentioned among the contemporary greats, like the Andersons, despite a catalog of films that maintain his voice, despite their diversity in subject matter. From the inspirational Citizen Ruth to the Anti-Rushmore of Election to the “Depressing because you could totally see that happening to your dad” of About Schmidt, Payne tells stories of people you most likely know, yet avoids the broad brushes often employed by hacks (even the villains – if you could spot them – have a soul). Sideways continues his tradition of spicing the more straightforward narrative scenes with a wild jolt (Election’s “and her pussy gets so wet” and About Schmidt’s…well, you probably remember the nudity), as Miles (Paul Giamatti) furiously downs wine samples until the staff insist otherwise (“This is NOT a bar”). How does he reply? Holy spit-bucket, Batman! In addition, the anti-cameraderie and travel hijinks obscure the factoid from earlier in the film concerning the future marriage of Jack (Thomas H Church). When a film is so engrossing that you adopt the memory of the actual characters, can any other compliment suffice?

2. American Psycho – One of my good friends created a film genre called “F’d up Guy Movies”, and placed this film as its avatar. When I told her the screenplay was written by two women (Mary Harron – also the director – and Guinivere Turner), she thought I was lying. Sure, it’s based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel, but Ellis had similar disdain for macho alpha-male greed culture, too. While a scathing satire of the lives of the privileged and profane, American Psycho works because of the incredible dialogue, which may not exist in reality, but what does, if you really think about it? (Sorry, I had to quote another Ellis novel there). There are so many great scenes, many featuring hilarious etudes to mediocre music of the era (although I have to admit that the Robert Palmer Tape scene made “Simply Irresistible” rock like it never has). However, American Psycho is awesome for those moments where a few words say everything: find a fan of the film, ask them about the Cilian Rail lettering on their business card, and watch the quotes fly. One warning – a raging, naked Christian Bale, covered in blood, sprints down a hallway with a chainsaw: it’s supposed to be scary, but this is the funniest movie scene of the decade.

1. 24 Hour Party People – This film deserves an entry all its own. Michael Winterbottom’s love letter to Manchester, the Post-punk Scene, the early-80s, and Stunt TV coincided with Joy Division revival that hit indie rock in 2002. However, to dismiss this film as simply a Factory Records biography misses so many details, most significant being the impact of Manchester being able to claim their own greatness, after hearing shite from London for so long. Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson was the most lovable bastard since Chevy Chase in Foul Play, solving problems as fast as he created them. Screw the whole “memorable quotes” crap, and just buy the damn screenplay.

“There’s this brilliant machine at the center that’s going to bring us back down to earth. That was Manchester. That is the Hacienda. Now imagine the machine breaks. For a while, it’s even better, because you’re really flying. but then, you fall, because nobody beats gravity.”

“Martin Hannett – too big for death.”

“The smaller the attendance the bigger the history. There were 12 people at the last supper. Half a dozen at Kitty Hawk. Archimedes was on his own in the bath.”

“F. Scott Fitzgerald said that ‘In America, there are no second acts.’ Well this is Manchester – we do things a little bit differently around here.”

“Nice car, DON. Nice to see you, DON. I think the whole ‘Don’ thing went well, don’t you think?”

“This scene didn’t actually make it to the final cut. I’m sure it’ll be on the DVD.”

“I’m a minor player in my own life story.”

Winterbottom’s juxtapositions of music and image, such as the “Transmission” scene, are masterful. 24 Hour Party People, we will get to you for deeper analysis. Now is that actually true? Well, as Tony Wilson says, “When there is a dispute between the truth and the legend, print the legend.”

  1. December 29, 2009 5:44 pm

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    And I agree whole-heartedly on 24 Hour Party people. A fantastic story wrapped around a fantastic period. Hats off again, as usual, sir.

  2. Paul permalink*
    December 30, 2009 3:20 am



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