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S ince the 2000s lined up almost precisely with my 20s, this whole decade-in-review crap is an interesting way to think very personally in terms of what cultural elements have guided and influenced me along the way.

There’s no denying that the movies and TV shows I’ve watched have shaped not only how I’ve related to and perceived the world around me, but has all been part of the formulation of an identity that has largely drawn its joy from outsider art and storytelling, irreverent and caustic humor, in-depth narrative that rewards continued close attention, irresistible and ironic cool and mind fuckery in general.

Here’s the what and at least some of the why of my treasured movies of the 2000s.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The perfect marriage of unique visuals and as unique storytelling, I love how it forces the childlike impulse of “I wish I never met this person” into something resembling the real world. The acting is at all points compelling and honest, and the chase scene of Jim Carey trying to recapture his own rapidly erasing memories is pure genius. Volumes could be written about how this film portrays the intersection of technology and a number of feeble, misguided human desires and how the battle between “can” and “should” is more treacherous than ever in modern life. But what’s most telling is how clearly the film argues that the self is made from the contributions of others, that no identity is formed in a vacuum. I didn’t watch this over and over like some films on the list, but I have savored my few viewings as much as any movie I’ve ever watched.

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Epic, in every way. The attention to detail from the first frame to the last, and from the tightest angles to the most sweeping panoramic views is truly stunning. Jackson’s Middle Earth is so fully realized that this trilogy gives me more of an escape than anything else of the decade. I made the mistake of starting my reading late, so that I only finished the books after watching the Fellowship. But that’s my fault, not Jackson’s. The anticipation level just rose as each film came out, and even still for the extended DVD versions (I’ve never spent so much time with DVD bonus features, either).

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Coen genius, Cloony camping it up, a nod to The Odyssey, amazing music… It’s hard to decide whether this or The Big Lebowski is my favorite of the Coen films. Its comedy runs both slight and deep, drawing on character quirks, situational recklessness, Old South stereotypes, slapstickings and endless charm. George Cloony plays unjustly arrogant like none other and John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson make the greatest pair of bumbling idiots in film history. It’s quotable and still draws laughs every time I watch it. Do Not Seek The Treasure!

4. The Royal Tenenbaums
After watching this in the now-defunct Catalina Theater, I went on a long evening drive, compelled to meander around for a bit while I let the film really sink in. Watching that collection of odd balls bounce into each other for two hours – with each new scene giving a different combination of characters, failed dreams, illogical obsessions and and selfishly destructive behavior – I simply needed time to process the whole skewed world of the Tenenbaums. The idiosyncrasies never stop adding up, piled on top of each other in a heap like thrift-store clothes, but they never seemed forced. The plot is secondary to the characters, but doesn’t feel absent. This has too many priceless scenes to mention, but I’m partial to Pagoda stabbing Royal and of course Margot’s slow-motion descent from the Green Line bus. The musical selections – always a strength of Anderson – are as good as anything I’ve seen. It’s still my favorite Wes Anderson film by far.

5. Adaptation
Another gem from Charlie Kaufman, who’s clearly my favorite screenwriter of the decade (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was close to making this list). Less quirky and more expansive than his previous collaboration with director Spike Jonze (1999’s Being John Malkovich), this is a film that stretched not only my expectations of movies, but also what I was able to soak up in a movie. Originality is at the core of every Kaufman movie, but with this one in particular, it’s hard to imagine anyone else writing something even remotely similar. The self-referential aspects never got in the way of the story, which twisted marvelously. The swamp scenes toward the end are amazing.

6. Kill Bill (Vol. 1 and 2)
I’ve always been a Tarantino fan, and it was awesome to see him ditch the gritty realism of Reservoir Dogs for this fantastic amalgamation of comic book and kung fu influences. Uma rules, the late David Carradine had his best role in decades and the over-the-top revenge fantasy just seemed like a playground for Tarantino. Perhaps best of all, I liked how the two halves played against each other as such stark contrasts, showing that Tarantino is equally adept at stunning action and slower, dialogue-driven scenes. It’s over the top and not without faults (the dialogue couldn’t be cheesier at times, but at least he didn’t cast himself again), but for entertainment value, few things come close.

7. A History of Violence
Definitely my favorite movie of a very good 2005, this was the first David Cronenberg film I’d seen, and it was interesting to dive into reviews comparing it to his other works. Well-paced and shocking, it did an amazing job of hinting at just how much is bubbling away just below the surface, in individuals, in relationships and in the unexpected return of past moments that ought to remain buried. The film deftly handles the fall out from shifting identities and realities. Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris both kicked some major ass in roles seething with primal urges, but somehow Cronenberg was able to turn the unmerciful, coiled readiness of violence itself into the film’s standout character.

8. I Heart Huckabees
Few films tread anywhere near cogent expositions of actual philosophy. To do so while simultaneously treading on humor steeped in absurdity is an achievement on a whole different level. Like the Royal Tenenbaums, this is a film loaded with strange characters and like Anderson, David O. Russell takes great joy in bouncing them off each other in progressively more ridiculous situations. Naomi Watts is amazing as an eye candy wife plummeting toward nihilism; Marky Mark Wahlberg has his best role yet fumbling through the contradictions of his idealism and real life; Tomlin and Hoffman are delightful; Schwartzman is pitch perfect as a scatterbrained idealist prone to profound narcissism. I want another Russell film, and soon.

9. A Mighty Wind
I’ve never laughed harder in a movie theater than I did during this Christopher Guest masterpiece, when a burned-out Eugene Levy examines the elaborate model train village in the basement of his ex-love’s new house. Levy just nailed his part as Mitch Cohen, a walking ghost from the 1960s who has survived, partially intact, from an unrevealed but heavily implied regimen of who-knows-what. His post-breakup album covers chronicle this hilarious skid. Guest had an amazing run with Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and this one, and for my money, the sendup of folk music takes the cake. The humor is everywhere, especially in the songs that ingeniously parody folk music – “Never Did No Wanderin'” always cracks me up.

10. No Country For Old Men
Brutal, harsh, stark and understated, this is the Coen’s second masterpiece of the decade. Tommy Lee Jones equals his performance from The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Josh Brolin is hard-boiled and amazingly stoic and Woody Harrelson plays up smarm. But it’s Javier Bardem who steals the show, creating a character who joins Darth Vader as the greatest personification of evil in all of American cinema. This one was neck and neck with There Will Be Blood on just about every list of 2007, but I’m with No Country For Old Men all the way for its powerful yet restrained look at fate and the uncontrollable march of evil across human nature.

Honorable Mentions:
Children of Men
Wonder Boys
High Fidelity
Almost Famous
Bubba Ho-Tep
Sin City
Traffic
Memento
The Incredibles
Lost in Translation
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I’m Not There
Masked & Anonymous
The Bourne Ultimatum
Mulholland Drive
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

Originally published Jan. 7, 2010 at Catfish Vegas presents…

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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