The 10 movies on this list might not average out as the best movie year of all time or anything, but it is extremely top-heavy. The top three films here are ones I really truly adore for different reasons, and would all have a good shot at making the grade were I to compilea Top 10 Favorite Movies of All Time list. They’re that good, and they’re all from the same year.
As this list series of mine now gets set to leave the aughts and head into the 90s, we’re entering years where more films I saw for the first time back in the day will show up more. As I talked about in my post on how I became a movie lover, the 2000s were largely a dead zone for me in terms of film-watching, and the majority had to be caught up with in the last few years. I watched more movies in the 90s, many of which still hold up to this day. This presents interesting dilemmas with determining how much of my appreciation for these films is due to nostalgia. In some cases, just remembering the films can be tricky. For instance, #8 on this list is a film I think I saw in theater at the time and later bought on VHS (remember those?), but I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. Can I be certain that #8 is the right spot for it on this list? Sure I can. My memories of the film places it above #9 and below #7 at this moment in time. Opinions and likings always change, sometime from day to day. But this list reflects what I feel today. And today, I look back on #8 very fondly indeed.
Note: This list goes by the release years listed on IMDB.
10 – BEST IN SHOW (Christopher Guest)
“Now tell me, which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?”
All of Christopher Guest‘s mockumentaries are worth seeing, but Best in Show is the sharpest one in my book. This film revolves around a dog show, and we are introduced to a number of the off-beat characters who compete in it. It’s a laugh riot, and since most of it is improvised, the whole movie is imbued with a fairly naturalistic feel. Cast stand-out: Fred Willard as a spectacularly incompetent commentator.
9 – CAST AWAY (Robert Zemeckis)
The opening part does drag a bit, and while I personally love the ending, some have decried it as being overly melodramatic. What most everyone agree on is that the middle part, the real meat of the movie, is superb. It’s just Tom Hanks being forced to survive on a desert island by himself. It takes skillful hands both behind and in front of the camera to keep things interesting despite only having one character on screen, and Robert Zemeckis and Hanks pull it off masterfully. Cast Away also accomplishes the significant feat of making audiences care deeply about… a volleyball.
8 – TOGETHER (TILLSAMMANS, Lukas Moodysson)
“So we are no longer small and isolated but we have become warm, soft, and joined together. Part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes life feels like an enormous porridge, don’t you think?”
Lukas Moodyson followed up his lauded teenage romance smash hit Show Me Love with this thoughtful comedy slash satire. Set in Sweden during the 70s, Together takes a look at people living in a commune, something fairly common at the time. The film fires plenty of jabs against the socialist views of the era, but its focus lies equally on the characters, their relationship woes and their struggles with freedom and responsibility. People are more than their political beliefs, after all, something Moodyson is well aware of and many people could do with being reminded of.
7 – ALMOST FAMOUS (Cameron Crowe)
“See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.”
Cameron Crowe‘s semi-biographical love letter to his teenage years in the 70s and the music scene of the time. A young aspiring rock journalist (Patrick Fugit) finds himself tagging along with a band as they tour across America. An initial sense of professionalism and wanting to write a good story is eventually replaced by kinship with the band members, as well as growing feelings for
groupie band aid Penny Lane (Kate Hudson in her break-out role). As a coming-of-age story, Almost Famous ranks among the best of modern times, effectively capturing the transition from childhood innocence to the stark realizations of adulthood. Great cast too, which also features Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Zooey Deschanel and others.
6 – WONDER BOYS (Curtis Hanson)
“She was a junkie for the printed word. Lucky for me, I manufactured her drug of choice.”
What a smartly written film this is, and what interesting characters that inhabit it. A pot-smoking professor/author (Michael Douglas) with the opposite of writer’s block, a brooding and enigmatic teenage boy (Tobey Maguire), and a wise-cracking publicist (Robert Downey Jr.) with a thing for men in drag are but a few of the components of this delightful comedy. Add infidelity, seduction, an unfortunate dog and some valuable Marilyn Monroe memorabilia and you have a plot full of twists and turns, as well as an exquisite university atmosphere. Arguably Douglas’ best performance this side of the millenium shift.
5 – SNATCH (Guy Ritchie)
“Speak English to me, Tony. I thought this country spawned the fucking language, and so far nobody seems to speak it.”
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. After bursting onto the movie scene with 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie must have realized that there was more gas left in the British gangster comedy tank. And so he made Snatch, which doesn’t break any new ground that Lock Stock didn’t touch upon, but instead opts to refine the formula and make it a bit more outright comedic. The result is another highly energetic romp through a world where character names like Brick Top, Bullet Tooth Tony, Boris the Blade and Frankie Four-Fingers are the norm, where the advantage changes hands as often as the camera cuts, and where everyone knows exactly the right thing to say at any moment. What’s it about? Oh, I don’t know. Something about a stolen diamond and a rigged boxing match or something. Does it matter?
4 – HIGH FIDELITY (Stephen Frears)
“No woman in the history of the world is having better sex than the sex you are having with Ian. In my head.”
Based on the great Nick Hornby novel of the same name, High Fidelity delivers plenty of insights on a variety of subjects. Such as the mess that break-ups can be, the pains of coming to terms with being an adult, and of course pop music. Our hero Rob (John Cusack) frequently breaks the fourth wall to adress the audience directly, to vent his frustrations and to share one of his numerous Top 5 lists. It’s perhaps a bit gimmicky and a shortcut-ish way to provide the musings and navel-gazing of the novel, but it works; it adds to the story rather than distract from it. Also of note here is Jack Black‘s star-making turn as Rob’s vitriolic co-worker Barry, a performance he has yet to top.
3 – IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (FA YEUNG NIN WA, Wong Kar-wai)
“Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.”
Ah, yes, control. Amidst all the lovely Nat King Cole music, gorgeous dresses and rich sense of color, In the Mood for Love is all about control, restrained passion, and the slow burn of emotions. Two neighbors (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung), both married to people who are often away on business trips, eventually find themselves attracted to each other. But there is more at stake than just two persons’ feelings for each other, and romance will be a difficult road to travel. This makes for a film of agonizing longing, where I wish every step of the way that the two leads will find their happiness, no matter where it may lie. This one stands among the all-time great movie romances.
2 – MEMENTO (Christopher Nolan)
“I always thought the joy of reading a book is not knowing what happens next.”
I first saw Memento shortly into my cinematic awakening four years ago, and I believe it was instrumental in my emmerging love for movies. I wish I could erase all memories of that viewing and see it for the first time again, because that was such an amazing experience. With its reverse chronological order, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, watching the mystery unravel one scene at a time, a twist or reveal at every turn. But for a film that seemingly relies so much on keeping the audience in the dark, it actually holds up surprisingly well on repeat viewings. There are so many elegant solutions made by Christopher Nolan to hide what’s going on while still having it make sense in the context of the characters, and Guy Pearce puts in a great non-showy performance, perfectly conveying the anguish and determination of a man trying to find his wife’s murdered despite not being able to form any new memories. Memento is a must-see.
1 – REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (Darren Aronofsky)
“Now we come to step three. This… drives… most… people… crazy.”
If Memento showed me what flashy greatness was possible to achieve through writing, Requiem for a Dream did the same for directing and editing. Darren Aronofsky and editor Jay Rabinowitz throw every trick they have at the audience in this one, from high-speed montages to bodymount cameras and time-lapse sequences. All for the purpose of showing the distorted reality seen by four individuals battling with addictions, both chemical ones for drugs and mental ones for hopes and dreams of a better life. An intense experience from start to finish, with great performances and a climax as harrowing as anything I’ve ever seen on film, Requiem for a Dream is a dark and nasty masterpiece filled with audiovisual bravado.