Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 10 Films of the 2000s

This past decade was defined by technology, terrorism, natural disasters, politics, and wars; yet most of all, this is a planet of globalization. This is a paradox, where old borders--literal and figurative--are being broken down between groups of estranged people while new borders are being put up all the time. In a post-9/11 world where Facebook and texting are the new forms of community, the films that represent this decade will be diverse indeed.

The decade was also a defining one for me. I got my driver's license, graduated from high school, fell in love, got married, graduated from college, began full-time in ministry, quit my job and moved across the country, bought a house, became a father, and learned to genuinely enjoy black coffee. This is also the decade that I fell in love both with film and writing. Having seen very few significant films growing up, my high school and college years were an odyssey of film watching, reading, journaling, and learning a great deal about who I am and who God is shaping me to be.

These are not necessarily the films that history will remember most from this decade. Some may appear on other film-lovers' end-of-the-decade lists, but these are here because they affected me in a personal and spiritual way.

10. Once (John Carney, 2007): A simple and deeply touching film about the powerful connection that music can create. Any musician has experienced this connection at one point or another; a moment of complete synergy and communal joy at the creativity being expressed through the fusion of instruments and souls. Once perfectly captures the cultural shift in the music industry from large corporations to the independent studio and grassroots efforts. There is incredible music--and incredible people, and incredible truth--out there; we simply must seek it out.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001, 2002, 2003): Jackson redefined the term "epic" in this stunning trilogy. The battle scenes, the makeup, and the CGI are all revolutionary for the film world. Jackson took Tolkien's stories and brought them to life in a way no one had ever done before for a fantasy film. The early 2000s were defined by LOTR mania, especially within the church; not since The Matrix did a film provide so many spiritual allusions or sermon illustrations. After 9/11, the world needed a reminder that heroes do exist, that good can triumph over evil, and that the road to redemption is a dark one indeed.

8. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000): Told backwards in a series of perfectly edited flashbacks, Christopher Nolan's mysterious thriller has enough twists and turns to still keep me a bit confused even after seeing this film a number of times. It was the first Nolan film I watched and it took me completely off guard. Everyone thought they understood a story arc. Then Tarantino threw our understanding into the air in Pulp Fiction. Yet Nolan's Memento not only transcended the traditional story arc, it even redefined how one tells a story. There are flashbacks, flashforwards, black-and-white, bright colors, and so many surprises that its methodology is the narrative. This was one of the first steps on my journey into the world of film.

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004): This is the first film I've seen where the central character shared my name. It's also a delightful romantic-comedy with a layer of existentialism. Penned by the cerebral Charlie Kaufman and directed by the whimsical Gondry, this film about memory, regret, and love is a delight. Romance in the 2000s seemed marred by an identity crisis--is it all biological-based hedonism or a naively idealistic warm fuzzy feeling? Eternal Sunshine reveals that love can be found in the ordinary and the quirky, but ultimately flourishes with the commitment to working through tough times.

6. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009): Perhaps it's my deep love for Cormac McCarthy's novel, or maybe it was simply timed perfectly around the birth of my son. In any case, the post-apocalyptic tale of a man and a boy carrying the fire stirs something powerful in my soul. My favorite film of this past year, and a moving contrast between the beauty and depravity of humanity. Hillcoat compared his film to the book of Job. Poetic, dark, and spiritually complex?Yep, that sounds about right.

5. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007): I watched this film surrounded by elderly people on a Friday afternoon. From my observation, I was the only person in a packed theater under the age of 55. When the screen turned black and the credits rolled, I heard murmurs of confusion. "That was it? I don't get it," echoed through the theater exits. I was floored, as the grimly tense modern-day Western that had just played out on screen was one of the most powerful moral tales I'd witnessed.

4. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008): A silent robot captured my heart in 2008. Honoring the silent classics--some of my favorite films come from the silent films of the 1920s--and tactfully addressing the most prevalent religious movement of the decade--consumerism, Pixar manages to pack a love story, an action film, and a social commentary all into one animated kids' film.

3. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008): I haven't anticipated a film this much in my entire life, nor have I ever had my exceedingly high expectations surpassed as much as this one. The first comic book film to win an Academy Award for acting (!) is also one of the finest blockbusters of the decade. The second Christopher Nolan film on this list.

2. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001): Lighthearted, quirky, and simply delightful, my wife and I had the pleasure of spending a week enjoying the Montemarte neighborhood of Paris where Amelie was filmed. (We sipped coffee in the Two Windmills cafe seen in the film). Audrey Tautou is marvelous in the titular role. A large Amelie poster is the focal point of our living room--her bright countenance smiles over our home with a knowing gaze. When everything is going wrong in the world and we need a few moments of respite, we can always whisk away to Paris, smiling and laughing at some of the simple blessings in life.

1. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003): My international travels are limited, but they also include a brief trip to Japan. Driving through the vast concrete jungle of Tokyo, I have never felt so alone in a city so large. As Americans who hadn't the faintest notion of Japanese, my wife and I clearly stood out in a crowd. Lost in Translation not only touches on the essence of that loneliness, it reveals our innate human longing for community, identity, and meaning. In a world where seemingly our every need can be met with technological wonder, we still desire intimacy and contact. Coppola's film reminds us that our technology may be flashy and practical, but it can never replace the feeling of a human touch. This film is often misunderstood in Christian circles as promoting infidelity, a decidedly un-Christian act. This simply misses the point of the film, which is that we will go to great lengths to get back to Eden and experience authentic community once again.

Special Jury Prize: Little Miss Sunshine (Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, 2006): This was the decade I met my wife and the decade that we learned to enjoy watching films together. When we saw Little Mis Sunshine in theaters, we both laughed until we cried at the scene where the Volkswagon's horn gets stuck. That doesn't happen very often. Not laughing together; we do that daily. Just the simple and beautiful moment of discovering that we both are completely present in a dark theater, laughing our hearts out. So Little Miss Sunshine holds a special place in my heart, as does Juno, Slumdog Millionaire, The Proposal, Sherlock Holmes, and any other film Katie and I will see together in theaters.


  1. Wow! I might possibly be the only person who did not enjoy Lost in Translation. It didn't move me like it does for everyone else. I found myself bored with it! I enjoy your blog Joel, thanks for sharing your lists...

  2. Whew! Much love for Lost in Translation! I love it. Good list.

  3. I'm slightly wounded at Lost in Translation. It is one of my top hated movies. Can we still be friends though?