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More Lists! Movies of Influence, Quality

18 November 2009

A. O. Scott’s lists from his piece “Screen Memories” in The New York Times Magazine (11/15/09):

Movies of Influence: The 10 most culturally, commercially or technologically important, consequential or groundbreaking films of 2000-9, in no particular order

Zodiac
Other movies used computer-generated imagery to create spectacular worlds of fantasy or eye-popping action sequences, but in this film, David Fincher went further than anyone before in using this kind of digital technique in the service of heightened realism.

The Passion of the Christ
Not only the highest-grossing Aramaic-language movie in history, this movie was also a testimony to Mel Gibson’s bloody-minded independence and, most of all, a lesson for Hollywood in the power of Christian-themed popular culture.

Fahrenheit 9/11
Along with Gibson’s “Passion,” Michael Moore’s potent piece of agitprop gave the lie to the movie industry’s assumption that ideological provocation was bad box office. This movie, the first documentary to gross more than $100 million, spawned a score of imitators, including a few on the right, and also foreshadowed the emergence of a noisy, cantankerous liberalism on cable outlets during Bush’s second term (a political reality that Michael Moore was, of course, unable to prevent).

The Lord of the Rings
This billion-dollar trilogy, the last installment of which swept the Oscars, was a milestone in the geek ascendancy. It’s an epic in which the special effects and the source material are more important than the cast. Against all odds and the better judgment of most studios, Peter Jackson made three films at once and then sold them all to the same fans again and again and again. The theatrical releases, in consecutive years, turned out to be teasers for the DVD release. And the movie will remain a benchmark of hybrid cinema — half digital, half traditional — for a long time to come.

Funny Ha Ha
Andrew Bujalski’s first feature film helped spawn the low-budget, socially networked, slice-of-life cinematic movement called Mumblecore. The name has already come unstuck, and the quality of the work is uneven, ranging from videotaped navel-gazing to genuine generational insight. But the model of filmmaking and distribution that Mumblecore represents is likely to prove especially durable in recessionary times.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The first movie directed by Judd Apatow also represented the consolidation and extension of his brand of juvenile, heartfelt comedy, a style of humor at once anxious, honest and sentimental about sex and its consequences. Within a few years, even non-Apatow-branded projects were biting his trademarks, and his stock company of schlubby, funny, anxious dudes (with a few women cracking wise around the margins) seemed to be everywhere.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s soulful art-house action blockbuster — the highest-grossing subtitled movie in America until “The Passion of the Christ” — was a fond throwback to the wuxia genre that Lee grew up with in Taiwan. But it was also prophetic — an early signal of China’s emergence as a pop-culture superpower and an example of the crossover potential of local genres in a global marketplace.

Amores Perros
The first and best of three collaborations between the screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and the director Alejandro González Iñárritu (the others were “21 Grams” and “Babel”), this rough study of chance, fate and violence in Mexico City helped establish the braided narrative as one of the dominant prestige genres of the decade. When “Crash” won the Best Picture Oscar a few years later, it was a sign that nothing spells significance like coincidence. But “Amores Perros” was also a sign that a border-crossing new wave of Mexican and Latin American cinema was on its way.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Tyler Perry made his name on the chitlin’ circuit, where his raucous, pious plays found an appreciative African-American audience. When he decided to make the transition from stage to screen, no major studio was interested, so Perry, helped by his cross-dressed alter ego, Madea, set about creating an entertainment empire. A canny self-promoter, a competent filmmaker and one of the few genuine populists in American pop culture, Perry is, with Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, one face of a new black-power structure that has become part of the American establishment.

Shrek
Pixar may have raised computer-generated animation to the level of art, but it was this loud, rambunctious DreamWorks adaptation of a William Steig picture book that set the template for 21st-century family entertainment. License a lot of pop songs, lock in merchandising opportunities, recruit A-list celebrities to read a script full of winking allusions and semi-rude jokes for the grown-ups and hokey morals for the kids, and watch the money pour in.

Movies of Quality: the best movies of 2000-9, accoridng to A. O. Scott — in nine double features and one six-hour epic

Wall-E (Andrew Stanton)and A.I. (Steven Spielberg): Visions of love in the post-human future.

Yi Yi (Edward Yang) and The World (Jia Zhangke): The joys and sorrows of everyday life in the era of globalization.

Million Dollar Baby and Letters From Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood): Late masterpieces from the last great classical American filmmaker.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu) and L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne): Realism from New Europe and Old Europe.

Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro) and Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze): Dark fairy tales for anxious grown-ups and the children who might comfort them.

The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana): Four decades of recent Italian history in a half-dozen sublime hours.

Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper) and Iraq in Fragments (James Longley): Documentaries on environmental and political catastrophe raised to the level of poetry.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) and Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar): The glories and perversities of love.

25th Hour and When the Levees Broke (Spike Lee): Two American disasters illuminated by an essential American filmmaker.

Gosford Park(Robert Altman)and Moolaade (Ousmane Sembène): R.I.P.

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