Naughty and nice films of the noughties

I’d like to take a break from economics and do a post discussing my favorite movies of the past decade.  I know what you’re thinking: “He’s trying to imitate his favorite blogger.”  I admit that I don’t have Tyler Cowen’s sophisticated taste in art, but as I’ve gone full blast all year with this blog, perhaps you’ll allow me one self-indulgent post.  Feel free to skip over this, indeed I encourage you to.  After all, you’re paying (with your time) for my views on money, not movies.

Warning, please do not see any of these films just because I recommended them.  If you are like most people you will find many of them to be boring and/or weird.  And why is that?  Why do we feel that way about modern films, but not the great films of the Golden Age of cinema?

Maybe this is why:  Suppose you were an art lover in 1920.  Let’s say your favorite painters were Piero della Francesca, Titian, Velasquez, Vermeer, Chardin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky.  What’s the average person in 1920 going to say about your taste?  They’d say the Old Masters are fine, Cezanne is a bit off-putting, and the others are either ugly or incomprehensible.

And why is that?  I think the standard view is that once the obvious styles are played out, talented artists want to create something new.  So their original ideas can only be expressed in ever more difficult or abstract styles.

After the two Godfather films (and yes there were only two) there really wasn’t much more to say in mainstream films.  Oh sure, I enjoy a tasteful classic from Clint Eastwood as much as the next guy.  But for true film addicts that’s not enough.  Our addiction for cinema can only be satiated by more and more extreme styles.  Great acting and great screenplays aren’t enough.  We may enjoy a fine piece of filmed theatre like The Lives of Others, but cinema isn’t theatre.   The great directors knew how to use the distinctive language of film to their advantage.  I don’t know what to call the current era (Mannerist?  Post-modernist?) but the classical era is over.

So what exactly are top ten lists?  Are they the best films in some objective sense?  Or are they “merely” people’s opinions (BTW, why “merely?”  Is there is anything more important in the entire universe than human thoughts?)   Since I don’t think even Newton’s Laws are “objectively true,” you can probably guess where I stand on the idea of objective artistic quality.  When someone says X is a great film; they might mean one of two things;

1.  They like it a lot

2.  They predict that in the future it will be widely regarded as a great film.

Philo points out that my views on philosophy are inconsistent.  So let’s just say I use the term “great” both ways, depending on my mood.  And I might add that I haven’t done too badly in my “implied predictions” so far. When I was 13 I thought 2001 should have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  It is now routinely listed in all-time top 10 lists.  And I liked Antonioni’s Blow-up, so it wasn’t just a boy’s interest in sci-fi.  On the other hand I also thought 2001 was a great book.  Ouch.

When you say that you like a film, it raises even more questions.  What does “like” mean?  I probably enjoyed watching Borat more than many films higher on my list.  But Borat didn’t leave a strongly positive impression in my memory.  (Indeed there is one scene I’d like to erase from my memory!)

Sometimes I think that there is no such thing a “film,” rather there are merely “aesthetic experiences” that depend on your age and mood.  Perhaps in that sense my greatest film experience was seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a little boy.  I only began taking notes in 2005, so the 2000-04 films are distant memories of aesthetic experiences, not one day old memories.

I will use a few abbreviations.  BSO means big screen only.  You should never watch a movie on TV; it is like listening to opera on a transistor radio.  But some films suffer more than others when translated to the big screen.  If you insist on TV, get at least a 50″ plasma TV, a Blu-ray player, turn off all lights and cell phones, and sit 6 feet from the TV set.  The abbreviation X is self-explanatory.  I rate films out of 4 stars, and will only list those I recall as being worth seeing, say around 3.4 stars or higher.  I saw all except 2 Japanese horror films at the theatre.  Of course there are many fine films that I never got around to seeing, so the fact that it isn’t listed doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.

Four stars:

Lord of the Rings. (New Zealand, BSO)  Especially the 4 hour versions of the first two parts.  Why do trilogies always seem to end on a weak note?  (LOTR, The Godfather, Star Wars, The Golden Compass books, etc.)  LOTR is the only recent film that reminded me of what adventure was like, in other words, of what it was like to be young.  As Kipling said:

Give me the first six years of a child’s life, and you can have the rest.

2046  (Hong Kong, BSO)  Well here is one film trilogy that did end strongly.  Wong Kar Wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle were a match made in heaven.  Doyle was cameraman behind many of the great Asian films of the past 20 years.  There is no one better.  Add in Tony Leung, Faye Wong, Maggie Cheung, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, and Ziyi Zhang and what you have is pure bliss.

Nobody Knows. (Japan)  I suppose part of the allure of film is that it transports you to alternative worlds.  Sci-fi for grown ups.  And there is no part of the developed world that is more alternative than Japan. Recently I have become more interested in Japanese art and culture.  A wonderful antidote for Hollywood schmaltz.  Warning: If you have a child, this film will leave you devastated.

So those are my three favorite films of the decade.  The ultimate in adventure, in romantic nostalgia, and in tragedy.

3.9 Stars

Three Times (Taiwan)  This is Hou Hsiao Hsien saying he can do anything Wong Kar Wai can.  The title has a double meaning, as the same actor and actress are portrayed similar situations in three different time periods, and in three very different styles.  No other film has given me a sense of the vastness of time.  You can tell the first segment (1960s) reflects the director’s youth; the other two segments seem very “foreign.”  It is hard to believe that on the small island of Taiwan, culture could change so completely in 50 years, and then change again in the next 50.  Taiwan 100 years ago seems like a different planet.  It makes me wonder what people 100 years from now will think of us.  I have no idea, but I am pretty sure it won’t be good.  And I don’t just mean not good in the sense of things we already know are wrong with our society, our whole sense of right and wrong is likely to be thrown out the window, just as Taiwanese morality of 100 years ago seems obsolete.  Hang in there Tiger, Roman, and Woody!  Maybe you’ll be vindicated.

Mulholland Drive  (US)  One of the great scenes of the decade was Naomi Watts screen test in the producers office.  At times like that I feel like David Lynch is a magician.  What are David Lynch films “about?”  Why do dreams have to be about anything?

INLAND EMPIRE  (US, BSO)  Post modernists eventually came to the conclusion that realism and stories were not really needed.  I’m told that this is merely returning to the roots of modern literature, the discursive novels of the 1700s.  Lynch is sort of like Hitchcock without the hackneyed stories, just the “good parts” left in.  An almost overwhelming visual and sound experience

In the Mood for Love  (Hong Kong)  Most critics like this restrained film better than 2046.  I’m with Mae West, however, too much of a good thing is . . . wonderful.

Ashes of Time Redux (Hong Kong, BSO)  I don’t know if it should be considered a noughties film.  It was released in the 90s, and then extensively reworked.  But I’m going to include it.  This film is feast for the eyes and ears.  So beautiful I forgot to read the subtitles.  I need to watch it again to find out the plot.  Hard to believe that the film was never preserved, parts have been lost forever.  We have all this historic preservation of mediocre buildings and paintings, and then let some of the greatest art of the 1990s vanish before our eyes.  History won’t judge us kindly.

3.8 stars

Oldboy (Korea)  If the 90s were when we discovered Iranian and Chinese films, then the noughties were the decade of Korea and Turkey.  The best of Park’s revenge trilogy.  At times this reminded me of a Kubrick film.  Like most of Park’s films, not for the faint of heart.

3 Monkeys  (Turkey, BSO)  My favorite film from 2009, which was a bad year.  To call it a “film noir” is technically accurate, but very misleading.  There is no other film noir that is even remotely like it.  Ceylan has the eye of an artist, which is why his films should be seen on the big screen.  The ending is perfect.

An Army of Shadows  (French)  Made in 1970, but got its first release in the US in 2006.

3.75 stars

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (U.K., BSO)  A near perfect exercise in surrealism.  The only problem is that there isn’t much content.  But the style is a good as it gets.  The Quay brothers seem to be channeling the American surrealist Joseph Cornell””it’s a shame he didn’t live to see this film.  Those who have never seen a Quay brothers film would be better off starting with their puppet shorts””like Street of Crocodiles.  Funded by several European governments.  I guess even socialism isn’t all bad.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance  (Korea)   The vengeance trilogy ends on a slightly lighter note, but it’s still awfully dark and bloody.  Why have all of the recent films by the more daring stylists involved women under extreme emotional and physical duress?  Think about Tarantino (Kill Bill 1, and 2)  Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire)  Lars Von Trier (all his recent films) and now Park.

Japanese Story (Australian)  The female director presents romance from a woman’s perspective.  Others may not like it as much as I did””it brought back memories of my adventure in Western Australia.  But Toni Colette gives one of the best performances I have ever seen.

Dogville  (Danish)  Lars Van Trier; can’t live with him, can’t live without him.

Climates (Turkey, BSO)  Another fine film by Ceylan.

Memories of Murder (Korea)  A film many overlooked, by the director who did The Host.

3.7 stars

Still Walking (Japan)  Another gem by Koreeda, the new Ozu.

The Wayward Cloud (Taiwan, X)  Tsai’s film is very funny and very transgressive.  Apparently too transgressive for most critics.

Secret Sunshine (Korean)   Amazing performance by the lead actress.  A totally uncompromising film, but not for those who want everything tied up with a bow on top.

Joint Security Area  (Korean)  Don’t be put off by the so-called “actors” who play Westerners at the beginning of the film.  This is the Park film to see if you are squeamish about graphic violence.

Deep Water (British)  Perhaps not the best from an artistic perspective, but my favorite of the three great “reckless men” documentaries of recent years.  Not one, but two fascinating characters in this film.  The French sailor restored my faith in the human race.  A must see for lovers of travel writing.

Grizzly Man (German/US)  Herzog explores his favorite topic—the dark side of nature.

Innocence  (French)  This film would appeal to:

1.  Those who like mysterious, dreamy, French films.

2.  Lewis Carroll

Children of Men (Mexican/British) The political message of this film is:

a)      A right-wing argument that Europe is committing suicide with its low birth rate

b)      A religious argument against abortion

c)      A left-wing plea for better treatment of refugees

d)     Whatever you want it to be

I say “d.”

Times and Winds (Turkish)  The director is not as great a filmmaker as Ceylan, but this obscure Turkish coming of age story shares Ceylan’s jaw-dropping visuals.  The music was also very effective.   (I believe it was by Arvo Part.)

No Country for Old Men (US)  Scene by scene an almost perfect film.  But like many of the Coen brothers’ more ambitious efforts, it doesn’t fully cohere.

Zodiac  (U.S.)  This film did a great job of conveying the passage of time.  The two supporting roles are what really stand out.

Hidden (aka Cache)  (French)  Recommended for those who like to solve difficult puzzles.

Last Life in the Universe  (Thailand)  Another Asian film photographed by Christopher Doyle.  I’ll borrow Tyler Cowen’s term “self-recommending” for anything Doyle filmed.

Kill Bill 1&2 (US)  There are worse ways to pass the time than 4 hours with Tarantino

The Wind Will Carry Us (Iran)  It seems like the past 20 years has seen a trend toward movies that hover uncertainly between fiction and documentary.  The film equivalent of a Max Sebald docu-novel.   Kiarostami and Koreeda are masters of that style.

Best in Show (US)  A very funny movie about pet owners.

Spirited Away (Japan, BSO)  A beautiful animated film.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (US)

Werckmeister Harmonies (Hungarian) I have yet to see this director’s 10 hour magnum opus.  Given that this film had no discernable plot, I can hardly wait!

3.6 stars

The Host  (Korean)  A very entertaining Korean monster movie.

There Will Be Blood (U.S.)  A wonderful baroque performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Does the Coase Theorem apply to milkshakes?

Grindhouse  (U.S.)   Tarantino seems to be gradually declining, but the trailers were wonderful, especially “Machete”, “Don’t”, and “Thanksgiving.”  Machete has some great lines like “if you are going to hire someone to kill the bad guy, make sure that you are not the bad guy” (which I aimed at Krugman in an earlier post.)

The Boss of it All (Danish)  Light years ahead of Hollywood satires. Lars van Trier doesn’t pander to audience prejudices; he’s always one step ahead.

Apocalypto (U.S.)   I’d never seen a Gibson film, and was surprised by how good a director he is. Best use of frog poison I have ever seen.   It occurred to me that 90% of human history is primitive tribes, and another 9 percent is ancient civilizations””and I don’t ever recall seeing those societies presented convincingly in a commercial film.  Undoubtedly Gibson gets some facts wrong, but he is very persuasive in presenting the look and feel of those societies.  I can see how a right-winger like Gibson might enjoy glorifying the pure tribal culture as compared to the decadent, cosmopolitan city.  But the P.C. left also romanticizes tribal cultures, so the choice of subject matter was probably a canny move by Gibson.  BTW, the critics were confused””a key scene involves a little girl dying of smallpox, so the film does not take place before Spanish contact, but rather sometime in the early to mid-16th century.

The World (China)  Jia Zhangke leads the “Sixth generation” of Chinese directors.  I’ve never seen anything before the 5th generation.

Broken Flowers  (U.S.)  More deadpan acting from Bill Murray.  And his neighbor was great.  Jim Jarmusch reanimates Sharon Stone.

The Bourne Identity (U.S.)  The Bourne series has now surpassed the Bond series.  It helps to have a good plot and Matt Damon.

Man on Wire (US/French) completes the reckless men trilogy.  A documentary with more suspense than most “thrillers.”  Were the 1970s really that grungy looking?  I guess when you are young you don’t notice those things.

Secret Things (French, X)  Very baroque.  I think the critics were scared away by the sex.  Like the next film on the list, the director made a shrewd use of “framing effects.”

Sexy Beast (British)  At the beginning of the film, you meet a British gangster retired in Spain.  And then a REALLY bad guy enters the picture.

The Royal Tennebaums (US)  Reminded me of my childhood.

Dancer in the Dark  (Danish)  I really like the way Bjork sings.

The Return  (Russian)  The style reminded me of Tarkovsky.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence  (Japan) The rare case of a sequel that is better than the original.

Talk to Her  (Spanish)  Almodavar is gradually getting more serious, or perhaps just outrageous in a different way.

Elephant (US)  This was the first film I saw in Gus van Sant’s “new style,” which seems borrowed from Asian filmmakers.

Million Dollar Baby  (US)  Clint’s best film since Unforgiven.

Sideways (US)  What’s wrong with merlot?  Is it too bland?

Lost in Translation (US/Japan) Every decade there is one actress that all thinking men fall in love with.  It might be Michelle Feiffer, but more likely a femme fatale like Sharon Stone, Linda Florentino, or the incomparable Theresa Russell.  But this is the performance that Scarlett will always be known for.  What’s it like to have reached your peak in life before the age of 20?

Memento (US)  Ironically, I don’t remember this movie very well.  Does it hold up on repeated viewings?  Or was it just a stunt?

Minority Report (US) Another film where you can see the influence from Kubrick.

Amores Perros  (Mexican)  Tyler Cowen told me he really likes this film.

Gozu  (Japan, X)  To give you some idea of how much we miss over here, I believe the director Miike has done something like 100 films.  And all I have seen is this oddity, and an even better short that was part of an Asian horror trilogy.  What would Freud say about the ending?  I can’t even imagine.

Zatoichi (Japan)  The film to see by this director is his earlier Hana-bi, aka Fireworks.

Yi Yi (One and a One)  (Taiwan)  It’s director (Edward Yang) died recently.

Summer Palace (Chinese, X)   A stunning performance by the lead actress.  Despite the X, a very serious film.  When you see it, you won’t believe it was filmed in China.  The film portrays the crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

What Time is it There (Taiwan)  Tsai has a very subtle (or odd) sense of humor.  His movies don’t really have stories, they are about life.

3.5 stars

Inglourious Bastards (U.S.)  Not much to say, it is simply an exercise in style.  Of course I’m sure people will find all sorts of meaning.  I noticed that the Jewish heroine was portrayed like a Leni Riefenstahl character.

Tokyo Sonata (Japan)  Japanese cinema is now my favorite.

O’Horton (Norway)  A very charming and slightly surreal film about a retired railroad engineer in Oslo.

The Girl Who Jumped Through Time (Japan)  At first it appears to be a very slight example of Japanese animation.  But it grows surprising rich and complex by the end.

4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days  (Romanian)   Yes, it’s a critique of the former communist regime’s anti-abortion policy, but it actually goes much deeper””hinting that the victims are partly culpable in their victimization.  Oddly I don’t really remember this film very well, whereas the similar Romanian film The Death of Lazarus, which I originally gave 3.0 stars, is one I just can’t get out of my mind.  Lazarus is a perfect example of how one’s view of a film can change over time.

The Mourning Forest (Japanese)   A nice fantasy for old men.  I really liked this film about a young lady taking care of a crazy old guy in a nursing home.  Beautiful photography of western (rural) Japan.

Let the Right One In  (Swedish)  Nice movie about a young girl who is a vampire, and the boy she befriends.  Engrossing.

Noriko’s Dinner Table (Japanese)  Mesmerizing film about life as performance.

Paranoid Park  (U.S., BSO)   I really have no idea how good this film is, as the beautiful Christopher Doyle cinematography was ruined when the Coolidge Corner theatre projected it off a DVD onto a tiny screen.  In the style of other recent Gus Van Sant films””totally immersed in the teenager’s world.  It stars an angelic-looking teenage boy.

Linda Linda Linda  (Japanese)  Delightful.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone  (Taiwan)

Lust, Caution (Chinese, X)  Like Brokeback Mountain, it was beautifully filmed.  But despite the mediocre reviews, this is actually the better film.  The emotional content is handled in a more subtle fashion.  And there’s Tony Leung!  Still, it is nowhere near as good as the Wong Kar Wai films that clearly influenced Ang Lee.

The Lives of Others. (German)  Great screenplay and fine acting.  In other words this film would have been near the top, if judged by the aesthetic criteria appropriate for theater.

Clean  (French)   One of the few looks at drug addiction where the director is not blinded by ideology.  Great acting by Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte.

Miami Vice  (U.S.)   Surprisingly dark and intense.  I’m told the numerous night scenes don’t come through very well on TV.

The Departed  (U.S.)  Superior in most ways to the Hong Kong version (see next entry), but still a bit of a disappointment.  DeCaprio isn’t 1/10th the actor that Tony Leung is.  I thought Damon and DiCaprio should have switched roles.  I have to think that Scorcese is washed up.  He couldn’t stop Jack Nicholson from overacting and with this script he should have hit a home run (i.e. Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), but he ended up with a double.  Still very entertaining.

Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong)  The original.

March of the Penguins  (France)  Makes humans look bad by comparison.

Millions  (Britain)  Fun and original””at least for a while.  Same director as Slumdog Millionaire, and this might be the better film.

Three Extremes (Hong Kong/Korea/Japan, X)  The final segment by Miike is beautiful.  The first two are interesting but almost unwatchable examples of “extreme Asian horror”.

The Holy Girl (Argentina)  Impressive debut by female director from Argentina.

Heaven  (German) I have mixed feelings about Tom Tykwer, but this one was pretty good.  Nice performance by Cate Blanchett.

Russian Ark  (Russian)  All done in one take.

The House of Mirth  (US)  Felt more real than the usual historical drama.

The Dancer Upstairs (Peru?)  John Malkovich is in this one.  What more do you need?

House of Flying Daggers (China, BSO)  Not much here, but great sights and sounds.

Hero (China, BSO)  Not much here, but great sights and sounds.

Vanilla Sky (US)  The Spanish version was supposed to be better (as you’d expect) but I found this entertaining.

A.I.  (US)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Korea)  I suppose this should rate higher, but I just can’t watch torture.

Untold Scandal  (Korea)  A Korean remake of Dangerous Liaisons.  I know what you are thinking, but this film is much more sophisticated than you’d expect, and it has eye-popping visuals.

Café Lumiere  (Taiwan/Japan)  Another film by Hou Hsaio Hsien

Strange Circus (Japan, X)  Not for everyone.  But you won’t be bored.

Brokeback Mountain  (US)

Bad Education  (Spain)

Borat  (US/UK)   I haven’t seen Bruno yet.

Mystic River  (US)

Letters from Iwo Jima  (US)

The Chronicles of Narnia  (New Zealand)

3.4 stars

Suzhou River  (China)

Woman is the Future of Man  (Korea)  Reminded me a little bit of French films.

Goodbye Solo (U.S.)  A good independent film with a very fine acting performance by the lead, an actor from Africa that I had not seen before.

A Serious Man  (U.S.)  I saw this one day after Tarantino’s newest.  The similarities and contrasts were startling–two pure exercises in post-modernism; full of out of place emotions, inappropriate humor, implausibility, intentional overacting, etc.  Both films examined Jewish issues, but from radically different perspectives.  Both films were both anti-Semitic and anti-gentile.  But Tarantino’s effort was baroque and excessive, while A Serious Man was more like a Woody Allen film. The Coen brothers have a superb eye for the telling detail.  The department chairmen leaning awkwardly in the doorway, talking cryptically about the P&T deliberations was perfect.

Wall-E  (U.S.)  The first part is inspired silent comedy, then the film slips into standard Hollywood entertainment.  The film can be viewed as a critique of a future communist world government that controls 100% of the world economy.  But New York magazine calls it a critique of “free markets.”  To me, it seemed a critique of cruise ships.

The Man Who Copied  (Brazil)   A delightful film about a guy who becomes a counterfeiter almost by accident.

Into Great Silence (German, BSO)  In retrospect, this documentary about life in a monastery seems boring.  But at the time I seemed to like it.  I am always fascinated by documentaries that allow one to enter into radically different worlds.

The Dark Knight (U.S.)  In many ways a poorly made film.  Fortunately, it’s still very watchable due to the performances, especially Heath Ledger.  A good editor could have greatly improved this sprawling mess.

Master and Commander (US)  I like Peter Weir’s earlier films better.

Still Life  (Chinese)  This film didn’t quite work, but Jia’s such a good director that anything he makes is worth seeing.  The way he films small quotidian moments really gives one the feel of life in China.

The Butterfly and the Diving Bell (French)  It’s tough to rate films about the severely handicapped.  But at least this is more intelligent than most, and has a really good soundtrack.  Still, a bit conventional for a director who is a noted modern artist.

Eastern Promises (U.S.)   Similar to The History of Violence, but slightly more conventional.

Paprika (Japanese)   This director always seems to give the viewer a few minutes of pure exhilaration.

Exterminating Angels (French, X)  Good French “erotica,” from the director who did the even more over-the-top “Secret Things.”

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (U.S.)  One of two interesting performances that year by Casey Affleck.  Brad Pitt is also excellent.

Before the Devil Knows Your Dead  (U.S.)  Pure schadenfreude.

Tropical Malady  (Thailand, BSO)   Clearly made by a talented filmmaker, but much of the film went right over my head.  Some very impressive cinematography.

King Kong  (New Zealand)  A big drop-off from LOTR, but Jackson can still do ‘sublime’ better than anyone in Hollywood.

The Beat that My Heart Skipped (France)  French remake of an American film.  Odd title but interesting noir with fine performances.

Head On (German/Turkish)  A must see for fans of punk rock.

The Aristocrats  (U.S.)  Especially the Sarah Silverman routine.

Turtles Can Fly (Kurdish)  Children without arms clear minefields with their teeth.  And we complain about annoying cell phones.

Downfall (German)  Now that the Mona Lisa has become an icon for art, it’s impossible to see the painting.  I wonder if in an analogous way Nazi’s are becoming an icon for evil, and thus impossible to depict in a serious work of art.  It’s hard to see why this impressive film doesn’t really work, but it doesn’t.  The film briefly comes alive when the daughter of a Nazi leader is murdered by her mother.

Japon (Mexican)  Not the most entertaining film, but the long final tracking shot is one of the all-time best””a peak of 21st century filmmaking.

Time (Korea)  A beautiful woman thinks her boyfriend is bored with her face.  So she goes away and gets plastic surgery, merely to look different.  A year later she finds him and they get together again.  She asks him whether he loved his former girlfriend better than her.  What can the poor guy say?

Avatar.  (US, BSO)  Dumb, dumber, dumbest.  Does James Cameron have to try hard to make movies this dumb, or does it just come naturally to him?  Even many of the visual effects are clichés.  Sci-fi battle scenes have become completely boring.  Yet somehow this movie entertains for 3 hours.  3-D?  I am beginning to have my doubts.  I still haven’t seen anyone surpass Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.”  Maybe 2-D is all the mind really needs; our mind converts to 3-D as we “consume” the film.  Lots of eye candy.

Films I wished I’d caught:  Silent Light, Duma, Thirst, After Life and about 500 other Japanese films I missed.

I can’t imagine anyone is still reading.  But it occurs to me that noughties weren’t a very good decade for film.  So here are some of my all time favorites:

Favorite director:  Hitchcock

Favorite film:  Vertigo

Favorite actors:  Buster Keaton and Jimmy Stewart

Favorite actresses:  Hepburn and Hepburn

Favorite living actor:  Tony Leung

Favorite living actress: Toni Colette and Gong Li

Favorite silent comedy:  Any of the Keaton features

Favorite black comedy:  Dr. Strangelove (The Kingdom, pt. 1 is close)

Favorite whimsical comedy:  Local Hero

Favorite zany comedy:  And Now for Something Completely Different

Favorite screwball comedy:  Bringing up Baby

Favorite Sci-fi:  2001  (Stalker and Solaris are close)

Favorite fantasy:  Lord of the Rings

Favorite short film:  Street of Crocodiles

Favorite political documentary:  Gate of Heavenly Peace

Favorite art documentary:  Lessons of Darkness

Favorite historical film:  Andrei Rublov

Favorite war film:  Apocalypse Now

Favorite film noir:  Touch of Evil

Favorite sentimental film:  City Lights

Favorite animated film:  Spirited Away

Favorite TV drama:  Twin Peaks

Favorite TV comedy:  Fawlty Towers

Favorite religious film:  Black Narcissus

Favorite bad movie: Titanic

Favorite film trailer:  for The Shining

Favorite music video:  Glosoli

If I had 2 hours to live:  Tokyo Story

Still reading?  OK, how about my favorite books of the decade?  The list would be topped by Max Sebald’s novels, which were translated into English in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Sebald died in a car crash in 2001.  I have been a big fan of Orhan Pamuk ever since The Black Book.  I haven’t read his latest, but I thought Snow was as good as anything he has ever written.  I discovered Roberto Bolano thanks to MR, and read The Savage Detectives and then 2666.  The latter reminded me of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.  Both authors share an almost scary intelligence.  Eventually I’ll read all his novels.  For fun I like reading Murakami.  If only life could be like one of his stories.  I also enjoyed the Japanese novel “Out.”  And I read the Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass trilogies.  And lots of travel literature. For nonfiction I liked Odysseus Unbound and Ghosts of Vesuvius.

And speaking of life; I was fascinated by Michel Houellebecq’s essay Against Life which argued that H.P.  Lovecraft’s work took a sort of anti-life position. I was reminded of this essay when reading Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet (another book discovered on MR.)  Pessoa’s take on life reminded me of Lovecraft’s collected letters, but composed by a far more subtle mind.  And when you get right down to it, don’t people become movie or book fanatics because at some level they reject real life?




23 Responses to “Naughty and nice films of the noughties”

  1. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    24. December 2009 at 12:37

    ‘Every decade there is one actress that all thinking men fall in love with.’

    Paz Vega: Picture…thousand words:

  2. Gravatar of Tom Dougherty Tom Dougherty
    24. December 2009 at 13:52

    I am surprised by the number of foreign films on your list. Some films, like The Lord of The Rings and Children of Men, I am surprised to learn are not US films. I assumed that they were US films. Something about the Lord of the Rings films I just don’t like. For example, some of the action sequences are choppy and in other scenes the odds against the heroes are so great there is no way that they should survive, yet, they do.

    I don’t think I saw Inside Man (2006) on your list. It is an excellent movie that I rate highly. Shooter (2007) is also a very good movie that stands out in my mind that is not on your list. District 9 (2009) is an outstanding science fiction movie that has an unusual storyline.

    I liked the Departed more than you did, but I too wondered if the movie wouldn’t have been better if DiCaprio and Damon had switched rolls.

    The Assassination of Jesse James was very good, however I was disappointed with Brad Pitts performance. I felt that for the roll of Jesse James to work the actor had to make Jesse James scary. Most of Jesse James’ influence was due to people just being down right terrified of him, but at no point did I find Brad Pitt scary.

  3. Gravatar of Norman Norman
    24. December 2009 at 14:10

    Enjoyed seeing Twin Peaks on the TV list. I liked the comments on Lord of the Rings and adventure. I actually thought the editing on Dark Knight was unusually good; to each his own, I guess.

  4. Gravatar of Don the libertarian Democrat Don the libertarian Democrat
    24. December 2009 at 15:37

    For Scott and/or any of the refined and sophisticated commenters on this blog, I’d like to recommend a special side-dish for your Holiday Meal:

    “Ritz salad. … Apples, grapefruit and potatoes in a mayonnaise sauce.”


    Happy Holidays!


  5. Gravatar of rob rob
    24. December 2009 at 23:35

    scott, sorry for the dickwad comment last night. im just a drunk not a jerk. i dont remember writing what i wrote.

    i dont get why you like m drive. it is unwatchable. but then i went to school with wes anderson and used to argue with him about movies and tell him he was a fool. i suppose he out-movied me in the end.

  6. Gravatar of Harminder Harminder
    25. December 2009 at 08:58

    I think “the house of sand and fog” [] is one of the movies worth watching from the noughties. Perhaps it resonates more with me because of its focus on immigrants and what they consider dear.

  7. Gravatar of ulrich ulrich
    25. December 2009 at 09:17

    Oldboy and Musil? I’m somewhat surprised.

    Animation is probably the weakest part of your list. If you’ve seen ghost in the shell 2 and the girl who leapt through time, you should also have seen better stuff.

    Your taste seems more sophisticated than Cowen’s to me. Actually, your posts not on monetary policy have been better. Some of your insights have been nontrivial, and this post makes me again sad that you chose such futile and pointless work.

  8. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    25. December 2009 at 10:59

    Scott asks: “What’s wrong with merlot? Is it too bland?”

    Take your pick of sins. There is a definite process in the wine market: most consumers are ill-informed. They apply simple buying rules like “US wines are a better deal then French wines”. The application of this principle as fact per-se by large numbers of people invalidates the rule.

    French wines have some of the best value for money in the US because most US consumers shun them as being ‘overpriced’. Shh, don’t tell too many people.

    Merlot used to be a fairly good, accessible vintage. Then everyone learned this to be so and indiscriminately began buying Merlot. The winemakers quite rationally reacted by making more Merlot and by troubling themselves less with making good Merlot (after all people buy it anyways).

    It became basically impossible to find any decent Merlot.

    Thank-god for Sideways. Now enough of wine buyers hesitate before buying Merlot that quality is returning.

    The wine-market is one of the best examples of how ‘expectations’ shape the market.

  9. Gravatar of Greg Ransom Greg Ransom
    25. December 2009 at 16:15

    So have you figured out yet that classical liberalism has no space in this linguistic structure, hence it’s built in pathology and incompetence?

    “I can see how a right-winger like Gibson might enjoy glorifying the pure tribal culture as compared to the decadent, cosmopolitan city.  But the P.C. left also romanticizes tribal cultures .. “

  10. Gravatar of Mario Rizzo Mario Rizzo
    25. December 2009 at 16:56

    Why does a monetary economists feel the need to opine on movies? I not asking why we should read this. I am asking why do you bother?

  11. Gravatar of Greg Ransom Greg Ransom
    25. December 2009 at 23:07

    Some conventional movies that weren’t bad:

    Marley and Me

    A Perfect Storm

    Daddy Day Care

    Mostly I skip the theaters and watch TCM.

  12. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    26. December 2009 at 02:52

    Thanks for posting this. My attitude the past few years has essentially been “why spend money/time on weak new films when you can spend it on DVDs of strong old ones?” So I appreciate information on what I might have been missing. I’m certainly going to be checking out Koreeda and Ceylan. (Neither of whom I’d heard of, or at least can recall hearing of). And I know I need to try Hsien. And I’ve been thinking of watching Twin Peaks anyway. And I might even try at least the first 4-hour LOTR movie – maybe the bad-CGI content ratio is improved?

    Bonus (or anti-bonus) notes: my favorite film of the noughties isn’t on this list – 24 Hour Party People. I’m guessing that to consider that film highly takes a bit of knowledge of and fondness for the subject matter. (Tyler Cowen linked to a British list of the best films of the noughties and it didn’t make that list either). (My favorite that did make SS’s list – of the few I’ve seen – is The Wind Will Carry Us). And I’m not sure why anyone would prefer to watch that SR video when the song occurs on disc 2 of Heima….

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. December 2009 at 06:53

    Patrick, I can’t argue with you there.

    Tom, I did not see the film you mentioned. I actually thought Brad Pitt did a great job. He portrayed the outlaw as a star, someone who got by based on reputation.

    Regarding LOTR, I don’t think total realism is required in that sort of film although I agree that it might need to be realistic enough for people to “suspend their disbelief.”

    I hope people don’t go out and rent a lot of foreign films based on my recommendations. Some are for hard core film buffs only (i.e. too slow and lacking in plot.)

    Norman, The Dark Knight has some very goods scenes. I don’t know if “editing” is the right term for what I am complaining about. I thought the film jumped around too much in the second half, tried to do too much.

    Don, Thanks. That salad recipe reminds me of a famous episode of Fawlty Towers.

    rob, What is “m drive”?

    Harminder, Thanks, I missed that one. It is hard to catch them all.

    Ulrich, I see you are a big fan of The Man Without Qualities. Me too. It might be my favorite novel of the past 100 years.

    Yes, there is lots of catching up I need to do with animation and Japanese film in general. When you are an uinsufferable film snob like me who insists on seeing them on the big screen, there will be gaps in your list.

    Jon, Thanks. My good taste in visual arts is offset by bad taste in food and music. Probably genetic.

    Greg, Your point went over my head. Are you pointing out that I shouldn’t call myself ‘right wing’ otherwise I will be associated with people like Gibson? If so, I see your point.

    Mario, At the Univeristy of Chicago I spent a lot of time seeing old movies, for 10 cents each. I became a film fanatic. I just wanted to take a break from money posts on Christmas, and talk about my other interests in case there were a few film buffs who were interested. If you check out marginalrevolution, it seems I interested at least one. (Cowen described it as “great post.”) I think people talk about art because people like to connect with others will similar views. The post is totally unrelated to my main topic, but it is Christmas after all.

    Greg, Thanks, I missed those films

    anon. I don’t care much about CGI realism, the Buster Keaton comedies are some of my favorite films. I will try to catch 24 hour party people. Actually, the SR video is from a song on takk.

    I saw LOTR soon after reading the three books for the first time. I think that helped. My brain filled in all the gaps in CGI. With Harry Potter, for instance, I liked the films more if I had read the book.

  14. Gravatar of Richard A. Richard A.
    26. December 2009 at 08:05

    One Japanese movie you might like to see is the original unedited Godzilla movie with english subtitles. I have not seen this version, but from what I understand, it is even darker than the edited english version with Raymond Burr.

  15. Gravatar of Don the libertarian Democrat Don the libertarian Democrat
    26. December 2009 at 11:34


    That’s what it is. It’s in my favorite episode called “Waldorf Salad”:

    “The Waldorf=Astoria; The Ritz: Trying desperately to find the ingredients for the Waldorf salad, Basil asks Sybil, “What is a Waldorf, anyway? A walnut that’s gone off?” Sybil says, “It’s the hotel, Basil, the Waldorf Hotel in New York.” Thinking fast, Basil offers Mr. Hamilton a “Ritz salad. … Apples, grapefruit and potatoes in a mayonnaise sauce.” The Waldorf=Astoria in New York City is one of the most famous and luxurious hotels in the world, originally two tall hotel skyscrapers (the Waldrof Hotel and the Astoria Hotel) owned by the brothers William Waldorf and John Jacob Astor in the last few years of the 19th century. The Ritz Hotel is one of the most famous landmarks in London, built by Swiss hotelier César Ritz around the turn of the 20th century to resemble 18th century Parisian architecture.”

  16. Gravatar of malavel malavel
    26. December 2009 at 14:47

    My favourite movies of the naughties (no particular order):

    Let the right one in
    Cidade de Deus
    Punch-Drunk Love
    Batman Begins
    Kill Bill
    Letters from Iwo Jima
    Black Hawk Down
    Lost in translation

    I haven’t seen many Japanese or Korean movies. But I liked Spirited Away.

    I didn’t like Borat, but Bruno did have a few great scenes. The last fight scene in Bruno was really great.

  17. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    26. December 2009 at 14:47

    “Actually, the SR video is from a song on takk.”

    Sorry, my point is that Glosoli is on (opens) disc 2 of Heima. If that’s your favorite video, I’m actually surprised Heima isn’t on your list.

    “I don’t care much about CGI realism, the Buster Keaton comedies are some of my favorite films.”

    Many LOTR CGI effects strike me as being on the other end of a spectrum from what BK does. There’s a graceful quality or statelinees to everything Keaton does.

    “I saw LOTR soon after reading the three books for the first time. I think that helped.”

    I think the better you know the books, the more seemingly small things can jar. (E.g. the tweaked ending of the first film, which sent me out of the theatre on a low note). I know a lot of other LOTR fans do like the films, and there was a lot I did like, at least in the first one, so you’ve got me wondering if the longer versions could actually work for me.

    “And [Bill Murray’s] neighbor was great.”

    If you’re not just saying, “Jeffrey Wright was great,” then maybe you haven’t seen Basquiat. That and 24HPP are something of a pair.

    Please, ignore those who don’t want the off-topic posts. To borrow from DeLong, more free ice cream please. (That may not sound like a virtuous sentiment on my part, but remember this is an econ blog – self-interest yields a social optimum). I’ve picked up a lot from these sort of posts from Tyler Cowen, and it appears that your wont is to provide more detailed commentary. I think anyone who can write a great blog is someone whose film commentary I’d like to read. There’s so little out there (that I know of) in the way of quality film criticism – even David Thomson is pretty useless on anything released after about 1962.

  18. Gravatar of Sergey Sergey
    26. December 2009 at 15:00

    You have so many foreign movies on the list. I assume most of them were shot in native languages. Do you speak several languages or these movies have subtitles? Where do find all these movies, especially foreign once, Netfix or .. ? Let me know.
    I really enjoy your economics writings. Arts/Culture discussions add just a perfect depth to somewhat dry economy threads.


  19. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    26. December 2009 at 15:43

    “I saw LOTR soon after reading the three books for the first time.”

    That would imply you did not real Tolkien until you were 40 or so… how ever did you manage that? By the time I was 10, I’d memorized the lineages of the entire Numenorean line.

    Though LOTR was quite a spectacle, and I did not begrude most of Peter Jackson’s literary discretion (the books are long, and dense on narrative), but I was rather upset the elves showed up at Helm’s Deep – it rather ruined the entire point of the Rohan. No one helped the Rohan, yet when it came time to honor their pledges, they did so. Here was a people with no promise of a rosy afterlife, who had suffered and been betrayed, yet they held their honor… for nothing save honor itself. Very viking/fatalist – and Jackson ruined this. This fatalism was best represented in Theoden’s speech:

    “Forth! Down fear of darkness! Arise! Arise, Riders of Théoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day… a red day… and the sun rises! Ride now… Ride now… Ride! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending! Death!”

    As an aside, LOTR was, many believe, a commentary on WWII – a product of the Great Depression in its own way. If you recall your comparison of HIStory vs HERstory, LOTR was perhaps the greatest paean to HIStory in modern literature. Odd that you cite it as your top film – I’d not have guessed that.


    I see you reco Spirited Away – probably the best anime product ever, even though I’m not a great fan of the genre.

    If you are a fan of Kill Bill (first move sucked, second was quite good), you may enjoy Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. 98 movie (before 00s)

    In terms of widely panned (by the critics) films that were re-defining, I think you are mistaken to leave out the first Matrix movie. (Let’s pretend the other two were never made.) Matrix was redefining in many ways, and had a strong cultural impact. It was a summer 1999 movie, but really belongs to the next decade.

    Anyway, interesting list – I may watch a few of these.

  20. Gravatar of WWren WWren
    26. December 2009 at 16:04

    AI? This is a truly horrid film; the only film that I recall earning the “Hat Trick” for being derivative at three levels. The first third was derivative of 2001, the second third of Blade Runner and the final third of Spielberg’s own “Strange Encounters. Not an original frame in the entire movie.

    Lost in Trnaslation? Two self absorbed, narcisstic, uninteresting people engaging in boring conversations for two hours. He couldn’t fall asleep; I coudn’t stay awake.

  21. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    26. December 2009 at 18:30

    My God, you seem to be even bigger film buff than even me! I haven’t seen a majority of the foreign films you mentioned. It’s truly scary!

    I spend a lot of time writing/reading with TCM or Retroplex playing in the background. My brother gave me Kill Bill (both volumes) for Christmas because he knew I loved Tarantino’s totally over the top violence (although I personally haven’t thumped someone who truly deserved it since I was in the third grade).

  22. Gravatar of Blackadder Blackadder
    26. December 2009 at 21:06

    Have you seen Adaptation?

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