by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


So it's been well over a month now since the nation's top critics unleashed their "Best Films Of The Decade" lists on the unsuspecting public. In newspapers, magazines, on the Internet - everyone got their chance to comment on the films that "spoke" to them above all others, the ones that mattered most, from 2000-2009. (Was anyone else aware this decade was unofficially called "The Noughties?" As in, "The 80s," "The 90s," and now "The Noughties?" Me neither. Apparently it's got something to do with other English-speaking countries referring to "zeros" as "noughts." Thanks, Wikipedia.)

I realize these lists might not have caught your attention as much as they did mine. For all the griping and growling I do about critics and how they just don't "get it," it's funny I'm still an avid reader of such things. Maybe it's because I just love reading about movies in any shape or form. Maybe it's just that I love having something to complain about.

Whatever the case, I found these "Top Ten" lists to be oddly diverse. There were thousands of films released from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2009 - and yet only a handful of titles appeared on multiple lists, and never in the same order. Roger Ebert, for instance, named Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York as his Best Of The Decade. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone picked P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood, while Time's Richard Corliss - bless him - chose WALL-E. And so on and so forth.

Thousands of films, and yet no one could seem to agree on that one magic movie experience that united us, that spoke a universal truth for these Noughties as we know them. Why is this? Was it the quality of the films themselves? Or is it that our tastes are growing more eclectic over the years, more personal? Maybe a little of both.

Which, coincidentally, raises the issue I've had with every Top Ten list in the history of Top Ten lists: Why is it these things are never categorized by genre? Look at any one of them and you'll find, more often than not, they've stacked the deck in favor of one genre over another. (Take Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald. Sure, he's as entitled to his opinion as the next guy, but of his list, seven of his top ten - Million Dollar Baby, The Departed, City Of God, Brokeback Mountain, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Mulholland Drive - could easily be lumped into the Dramatic Film genre. Seven.)

I mean, come on. While I understand it's the critics' job to single out what affected them most, it makes me want to ask: Are you biased against other film genres? Do you find other genres lack the same kind of punch as the kind you seem to prefer? What Science-Fiction movie had the most disquieting affect on you? What Musical made you want to dance up and down the aisles? Suffice it to say I do not find these lists particularly useful; anything so limited in scope does not an adequate representation of film history make.

Let's argue this point a little further. Say I compiled my own list of the Best Films Of All Time. I'd find it incredibly counter-productive. How could I compare Citizen Kane to, say, Monty Python And The Holy Grail? Toy Story compared to Jaws? The Philadelphia Story to The Big Sleep? Is that even fair? Are Dramas "better" than Comedies? Animated films "better" than Horror films? Not really. Because they are entirely different types of movies, made for entirely different purposes. Any "Best Of" list worth its salt should acknowledge the cinema-going experience as a whole, and not just one genre in particular.

So, to open this blog, I thought I'd give myself a (nerdy) little challenge. To tickle my own fancy, so to speak. I've created my own "Best Of The Noughties" list - categorized by genre, no less. There were rules, of course:

First, I had to choose the movies themselves. They had to be feature-length. They had to be released to theaters - not direct to video, not made for cable, and not limited to the United States alone. (It makes no sense for me to include a separate "Foreign Film" category, as if any title made anywhere outside of one's home country could be lumped into a single genre. I can just imagine a DVD retailer in the Ukraine, with one corner devoted entirely to Ukranian Dramas, Horror titles, Comedies, etc. - and the rest of the place labeled "Foreign," with English, Asian, German, French and Icelandic titles cluttered together as one.)

Most important, they had to be films I loved - titles that rose above their conventions, that affected me personally. (The best movies, after all, are the ones that "speak" to you both in the mind and heart.)

Second, I had to come up with a list of genres, and a definition for each. This part wasn't hard. All I had to do was ask myself questions like, What qualities do I need to see in an Action film that would make it "good"? What set of rules does it need to follow in order to consider it worthwhile? Over time, I've found this is the only way I can adequately judge - let alone enjoy - any film on its own merits.

Third, I linked each of the titles I'd selected to their respected genres. This is where the subjectivity of the entire project reared its ugly head, because so many films can fit one genre just as easily as they can fit another. Brokeback Mountain, which I've already mentioned, could be found in your NetFlix queue under Dramas as well as Westerns. You could call 2004's Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind a Romance, or a Comedy. Or Fantasy. Here, I simply asked, What is the movie trying to say? And how is it trying to say it? If I felt like having a good laugh, would I think of Eternal Sunshine? Would I pop that one in the DVD player if I felt like being transported to another, mystical world? (Answer to those last two: Probably not.) Your reasons may differ, of course. It all depends on your point of view.

Finally, I whittled each category down to a Top Five, the title I felt was best, plus four runners up. Take the "winner" from each, and you could cobble together an "Ultimate Top Ten" of sorts.

(A caveat here. If a particular genre didn't finish with at least five titles worth mentioning, then that category will not be included. As such, I have omitted both the Musical and Western genres from my final list. Pickings were slim for these over the last ten years . Although, to give them their due, 2001's one-of-a-kind Moulin Rouge!, 2006's spirited Dreamgirls, and Tim Burton's macabre Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street from 2007 were stand-out Musicals. Kevin Costner's elegantly-structured Open Range made for a solid Western, as did Ed Harris's quirky Appaloosa. That's five titles combined, not enough for either genre to make the cut. Rules are rules, after all.)

What you'll see in the coming weeks (months?), then, is a series of blog entries that will cover a single genre at a time. The format will be as follows: You'll get my definition of that genre, followed by a countdown (5... 4... 3... 2... 1... that kind of thing) of the five titles that best represented the decade. You'll also be treated to a brief analysis of each film - why I felt they deserved to be singled out for the purpose of this "Noughtie" little experiment.

One last thing. Please keep in mind that what you'll be reading is an OPINION - nothing more, nothing less. Just because you see a particular title on my list doesn't necessarily mean you'd have it on yours. Film criticism is a subjective "art," for better or worse. At the very least we'll open the floodgates to some fun (and even- tempered?) conversations about movies, and the pleasures they provide.

In the meantime, happy reading! We'll see you back here soon as we start our series with the Action/ Adventure genre!

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to be the only one to post a comment on this page.