When Mike Schulz suggested revisiting and updating our lists of favorite movies of the 2000s, I looked back at my early-2010 article and thought: "Ghost Town? What the hell is that?" Sorry, Ricky Gervais, but it took a few seconds to recall anything at all about a movie I'd listed as one of my top 100.
Such are the perils of composing lists covering long periods of time with a memory as leaky as mine. Unlike my colleague Mike, I don't have a record of my thoughts about most of the movies I've seen, and therefore I can't say with much certainty whether I still like the 100 favorite movies I selected for 2000 through 2009. So I started from scratch here, with the idea that I wouldn't include anything so poorly (if fondly) remembered as Ghost Town. (Favorites from the 2010 list that aren't included here haven't necessarily fallen in my esteem; in many cases, I just don't have a recent experience or firm memory of them to rely on).
I've also decided to include television in the mix - everything from a single episode to a show's entire run - partly because of changes in consumer viewing habits and platforms, but mostly because short-run television has changed the nature of the beast so radically; television isn't the new movies, but the lines between them have blurred to the extent that the distinction hardly matters anymore. Just ask any A-list actor or director who's signed on to a TV project.
It should go without saying that this list says more about me than it does about the movies of the past 15 years, especially considering that I seek out what interests me rather than having Mike's professional obligation to see just about everything. My hope is that some folks might watch, based on these recommendations, something they would have otherwise missed or skipped.
Finally, in the interest of full disclosure: I've recently re-watched a bunch of movies to see how I feel about them now, but in some cases I'm falling back on (and even stealing from) my previous writings rather than fresh viewings.
Top 10 (in No Particular Order)
Memento (2000). A master class in meaning delivered through structure, and it remains difficult (and fun) to keep up with no matter how many times I've seen it. The brilliance of Christopher Nolan's movie comes not from the choice to order the scenes of its main plot in reverse chronology; it's the black-and-white interludes (running forward in time) that continually unmoor the audience, creating this hopeless game of catch-up. As a result, viewers have an intense empathy with memory-impaired protagonist Leonard Shelby - and see and feel how easy it is to fall into a loop of self-certain vengeance.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). I've long preferred the way Wes Anderson's aggressively whimsical tone meshed with the pubescent immaturity of Rushmore, but over the years I've grown more and more fond of the counterweights of melancholy and failure that permeate The Royal Tenenbaums. The scene of attempted suicide and its aftermath is an alchemical mix of story, character, imagery, editing, and music, and it manages to be both devastating and hilarious - deadly serious and heartbreaking to silly in the space of a reaction shot.
Kill List (2011). A bizarre mash-up whose three acts are each drawn from a distinct genre - and, in the case of the final act, one specific movie - tied together by its religious themes, moral relativism, and ominous curlicues. Writer/director/editor Ben Wheatley and writer/editor Amy Jump aren't coy about it being a horror movie, or even what they're leading up to, but the first-act-domestic-dysfunction and second-act-hit-man plots have a finely calibrated off-ness and allusiveness that work at cross-purposes: They foreshadow portentously while being too wispy to fully grasp. I have no doubt that many will see it as a simple formal exercise, but I've found it richer and more affecting with each viewing.
The Descent (2007, international version). For its U.S. release, the studio cut out the final 80 or so seconds - and thus disemboweled the film. What remained of writer/director Neil Marshall's subterranean monster movie was still wildly effective - using creatures, a confined, dark, and unfamiliar space, interpersonal dynamics, and myriad horror-movie references to great effect - but the real closing is a heartbreaking, genius bit of filmmaking that brings the story full-circle. In an unbroken shot of simple camera moves (that mask not-so-simple logistical challenges), Marshall reveals a character welcoming defeat.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002). George Clooney's debut as a director (working from a script by Charlie Kaufman) was a stunningly assured, appropriately loony piece about game-show creator Chuck Barris and his claims of being a CIA assassin. Clooney and Kaufman found a fertile middle ground, taking Barris and his boasts at face value while undermining the man and his story with spy-movie clichés. It's undeniably a comedy, yet it achieves genuine power as a study of a deluded and pathetic man.
Donnie Darko (2001, original theatrical version). It's abundantly clear from the director's cut and various supplementary materials that the original version wasn't the movie Richard Kelly wanted to make. But what he did make was a singular, richly observed, and devastating tale of free will and sacrifice - and Smurf orgies - that's far more compelling than the writer/director's vision. Lest it seem that I think this version of Donnie Darko was accidental, let me stress that the filmmaker brought great power, wit, and nuance to both versions: his use of Patrick Swayze; the intentionally overripe satire of high school, high-schoolers, self-help movements, and stage parents; lived-in family dynamics performed with realistic warmth; a high-wire performance from Jake Gyllenhaal; the triumph and acceptance in Donnie's final laugh; and the tentative exchange of waves at the end that makes me blubber every time.
Seven Psychopaths (2012). A meta-movie so self-satisfied with its cleverness, intelligence, and violent excess that the quiet revelation of its true subject has the impact of a sucker punch - which doesn't at all diminish how funny and strange it all is in the hands of writer/director Martin McDonagh. The pleasures start with the casting of Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits - each doing his expected shtick, yet each absolutely perfect for the role McDonagh has written. The plot involves kidnapped dogs and a boozy screenwriter and some not-quite-seven number of psychopaths, and for a while it's as bloody and breezy and cruel and hilarious as the best Tarantino knock-off you could want. But there's a telling thread of earnestness throughout - in Farrell's screenwriter's dumb attempts to avoid violence in a project he's titled Seven Pyschopaths, in the genuinely horrific death of a secondary character, and finally in the Walken soliloquy that is jaw-droppingly audacious in re-framing the entire movie. But wait for the call from Tom Waits in the closing credits, because McDonagh has one more card up his sleeve.
Under the Skin (2013), Upstream Color (2013), and Enemy (2013). I'm grouping these three movies together because they're (a) the most fascinating and potentially vexing movies I've seen in the past 15 years, (b) created by directors with clear and rich visions, and (c) largely unseen (with the top box-office performer generating a whopping $2.6 million in ticket sales).
In an article on Grantland.com on Under the Skin, author Sean Fennessey name-checks five recent movies, sci-fi indies that share with Jonathan Glazer's film "this big alienation." Two of those and Under the Skin are in my 10 favorites from 2000 to the present, and two more (Moon and Another Earth) are in my top 100. (The fifth is The Double, which I haven't seen.)
Under the Skin, Upstream Color, and Enemy were actually released theatrically in a 13-month span from April 2013 to April 2014. They are each deeply weird - vivid, deliberate, haunting, and simultaneously defiantly closed and defiantly open. (To put it more bluntly, each is easily dismissed as an obtuse bafflement, and each invites rather than prescribes interpretation.) All three are elliptical, have little meaningful dialogue, and use sound to great effect. They also share a thematic/metaphoric interest - with varying degrees of emphasis - on male/female power dynamics.
In a literal narrative sense, Under the Skin is about from-outer-space alien Scarlett Johansson seducing men for their innards - and that's pretty damned stupid. I dismissed it after one viewing, and then I couldn't shake it. It started with the imagery, the simple yet thorough treatment of alien-ness, and the harrowing music, but then the themes began to clarify and play off each other in my mind: gender dynamics, sexual victimization, the loss and renewal of the self, and vulnerability.
It's to director/co-writer Glazer's immense credit that his ridiculous concept is executed with an intelligence, intensity, imagination, and rigor that renders it mesmerizing. Of particular note are Mica Levi's expressively hyper-anxious score with its voracious melodies, a sound design that makes the dialogue largely unintelligible, and the unforgettable production design and visual treatment of the seduction scenes.
But fundamentally the movie is a metaphor, and ... well, your guess is as good as mine. The film was obviously constructed thoughtfully and judiciously, and Glazer has stressed that everything has meaning and purpose. So notice the tear from the first corpse of Scarlett Johansson; the way the alien's nudity in the movie progresses to a scene of self-exploration, which is followed by a sexual encounter interrupted by a close inspection of her privates; and the attempted rape that reveals the black monster underneath. Ask yourself about the motorcyclist, who late in the movie is joined by more motorcyclists. Marvel at the clean reversal of the predator/prey gender roles, and then how quickly and depressingly they revert to the norm. Consider the irresistible allure of the female form to men, and the primal fear that men have of women's sexual power. My guess: the psychological, emotional, and career arc of a prostitute.
Unlike Under the Skin, the interest in sexual politics of Enemy is latent - and manifested in its insistent if infrequent spider motif. (The arachnids have led some viewers to believe that the movie is about a subjugation of the human race by alien creatures - which is as self-evidently moronic as thinking Under the Skin should be taken at face value.) Nearly the entirety of the plot involves Jake Gyllenhaal's history teacher discovering that he has an exact physical double - including scars - and dealing with the implications and repercussions. Yet there are those spiders, and some incongruous pronouncements from his mother, and those really big spiders, and that naked woman with the spider head ... . I have great confidence that Under the Skin can bear fruit from many different angles, and I have equal confidence that Enemy can only retain its integrity with one reading. The question of whether both Jake Gyllenhaals actually exist can be debated, but the spiders must represent man's fear of domestication - of oppression, of emasculation, and of the loss of free will, sexual freedom, and core male identity. Still, the movie was intensely satisfying to me even before I decoded it.
Upstream Color doesn't quite fit with these other two, in the sense that its fractured story and absence of exposition don't actually make it hard to interpret; it's merely challenging to follow. (Writer/director Shane Carruth seems to want you to play catch-up throughout, to work; but as fiendish as he is, he also plays fair, giving just enough information at key points to follow what's happening.) If the details and mechanics feel fuzzy and are left to be inferred, the outline is pretty clear: a parasitic worm has the power to make a person wholly subservient, with the side effect of forging telepathic bonds (or, perhaps more accurately, telempathic bonds) between those who've hosted the worms. But it's also a love story between damaged people, and a tender and observant one at that.
Also unlike Under the Skin and Enemy, Upstream Color's sexual politics are less central to its ultimate meaning. But they're there. The opening act of the movie concerns a woman who's given the worm and, over several days, is raped of all her financial net worth. I use the word "rape" deliberately, for two reasons. First, the two central characters have both hosted the worm, yet it's only the woman whose ordeal is shown. Second, the presentation of this is very much like she's been given a date-rape drug; she's a female victim of a male predator who abuses and exploits her via an incapacitating agent.
Ultimately, all three of these movies are easily read as studies of violated identity - what happens when one's understanding of oneself is obliterated. They're each distinct and idiosyncratic, yet their manners and themes are of a piece.
68 More Movies (Alphabetically)
25th Hour (2002). Spike Lee is too smart a filmmaker to intentionally create a movie this untidy out of what could easily be a straightforward one-man show as Edward Nortion's character prepares to report to prison. So the messiness means something, and Lee and screenwriter/novelist David Benioff are also smart enough to let you figure it out, including the significance of a clever twist on Lee's in-your-face style. It ends up a study of loss - what a family, a circle of friends, a city, and the world miss when one of its members goes away.
28 Days Later (2002). Despite being a de facto zombie movie, and more specifically a synthesis of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, Danny Boyle brought a surprising urgency and heart to horror - while maintaining Romero's obvious belief that we should fear the living as much as the undead.
American Splendor (2003). A risky blend of documentary and acted drama about the comic artist Harvey Pekar that uses its formal identity crisis to full narrative and thematic advantage.
Another Earth (2011). Let us marvel at Brit Marling's fundamental career choice: To get the types of roles she wanted, she has co-written movies in which she stars. Sound of My Voice and The East both have much to recommend them, but Another Earth shows an intimidatingly skilled writer and actor at peak ability. The Twilight Zone-like conceit of a planet identical to Earth visible in the sky (like another moon) is combined with the motifs of guilt, grief, amends, and love, and it works as both a subdued sci-fi thriller and a human drama.
The Aristocrats (2005). As a deconstruction of comedy and the world's dirtiest joke, the documentary works pretty well. But it would be intensely tiresome without its elegant structure and clever editing choices, most notably Sarah Silverman's tossed-off rape-allegation punchline that has you scrambling to remember the accused.
The Assassination Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). From its long title that gives everything away to its 160-minute running time, writer/director Andrew Dominik seems to really want you to not watch his movie. And then you have that hyper-confident, beyond-deliberate pacing, as if he were trying to get you to stop watching if you've ignored all previous warnings. Ignore both inclinations. It's a marvel and features a wonderfully subdued and naturalist performance by Brad Pitt.
Bronson (2008). It seems clear enough at this point that it might be impossible to find great roles that encompass the full range of physicality, intelligence, sensitivity, brutality, soul, and expressiveness that Tom Hardy can bring to the screen. Honestly, I recall few specifics about Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson - except that it captures nearly all of that in Hardy's unhinged smile.
Camera (2000). In six minutes of little more than a man telling the story of kids and a movie camera, David Cronenberg crafts a startlingly concise demonstration of his skills as a filmmaker and a writer - and, in simple contrasts, shows how invisible-to-many elements of movies not only affect but dictate what they mean.
Capote (2005). A compelling character study refreshingly without worship, it shows Truman Capote as a self-involved, self-indulgent, self-pitying fraud, and a man so high on himself that he might have been easily manipulated by a killer he looked down upon.
Dancer in the Dark (2000). When I saw Lars von Trier's contradictory film - a widescreen musical that's actually a tragedy shot on grimy video - in the theater, it was (as intended) a miserable, wrenching experience. But it was also brilliantly conceived and executed. I own it on DVD, and it's highly likely that I've never been able to watch it again.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012). It's easy to pick apart Christopher Nolan's deficiencies as a filmmaker and writer given the massive scale he's working on here - everything from laughable continuity errors to the question of when, precisely, Bruce Wayne was supposed to have ejected from The Bat to survive a nuclear blast - but you've got to give the man his due: He brought curiosity and a thematic depth to his trilogy, with this closing chapter a rich, thoughtful, and invigorating meditation on the trap of being The Batman. And the coda was the perfect ellipsis, with all its foreshadowed pieces clicking into place and hitting all the right notes.
The Deep End (2001). Most thrillers aren't thrilling because they're not in any way real; nothing feels at stake. Everything feels at stake in Scott McGehee's and David Siegel's movie, with Tilda Swinton as a wholly ordinary mother doing everything she can to protect her son.
The Devil's Backbone (2001). Guillermo del Toro set this ghost story in the Spanish Civil War, and his use of historical time, place, and conflict - as in Pan's Labyrinth - enriches every aspect of it ... although it's also just a great ghost story.
Dogtooth (2009) and Dogville (2003). Make it a Dog day afternoon, and then hunt me down. Two masterfully odd downers for any day when you're feeling a little too good about yourself and the world around you.
Eastern Promises (2007). David Cronenberg's most conventional movie in subject matter and approach might also be his best. The very-late reveal seems almost tacked on, yet in the hands of Cronenberg, screenwriter Steven Knight, and lead Viggo Mortensen, it re-casts the whole in a way that's consistent with the director's oeuvre - most notably the subsuming of identity and self in his classics The Fly and Dead Ringers.
Enough Said (2013). A romantic comedy that even this cold-hearted, high-concept-loving bastard can love, although I'm still not comfortable with the artificiality of the plot mechanics in Nicole Holofcener's otherwise observant, naturalistic, and detailed story. Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn't a subtle performer here, but she acts with a gorgeous precision, and her rapport with James Gandolfini - in the bloom of middle-aged love, in its collapse, and in its tentative reconstruction - is as reality-rooted and genuine as movie romances get.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). The strangeness of director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman is comfortable because of the film's grounded aesthetic, leisurely pace, and romantic insight.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010). What initially seems like an amateurish, tossed-off documentary about street art reveals itself to be about obsessive behavior and then becomes, midstream, an inquiry into the issues of transience and permanence in art, which then becomes a cautionary tale about the commercialization and mass production of "art." Rhys Ifans' narration convinces me that Thierry Guetta is not a genuine article, but whether it's above-board or a Banksy hoax, it's a fascinating bit of shape-shifting.
The Five Obstructions (2003). In an act of idolatry only Lars von Trier could come up with, the cinematic agitator asks his hero to re-make one of his movies five different times under onerous restrictions - as a cartoon, without sets, etc. It's a film course as well as a study of a submissive relationship that's not at all one-sided.
Ginger Snaps (2000). A werewolf movie about blossoming womanhood, it reaches back most obviously in its central melding of genre horror and puberty to Carrie, but writer/director John Fawcett and co-writer Karen Walton add realistic and funny family textures that make it far more affecting.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). I'd not liked anything Wes Anderson made since The Royal Tenenbaums (his third and final screenplay collaboration with Owen Wilson), and I hypothesize that my tolerance for his extravagant, precise visions is almost entirely dependent on the sensibilities of those he writes with. Working on a story he penned with Hugo Guinness, Anderson here feels newly inspired, using nested narratives, multiple aspect rations (often cramping the action in a 4:3 frame), and his typically fey production design and compositional eye in the service of something ... true. As with Rushmore and Tenenbaums, it works mostly because it feels grounded in the human condition, and not just in Wes Anderson's abstracted concept of the human condition.
Holes (2003). In its dizzyingly imagined world of a prison camp for boys and the history behind it, it's a fantastic book for older children, and it might even be a better movie - although it loses some points for being a career breakthrough for Shia LaBeouf.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014). I liked the first one a lot, but the sequel gets the nod here because of its courage. It's a movie for kids that doesn't shy away from death - and difficult questions of responsibility and guilt. Plus, it's gorgeous and smart.
Incident at Loch Ness (2004). The shaggy-Nessie story is almost certainly baffling unless you're a fan of the idiosyncratic filmmaker Werner Herzog - who is a great sport in deflating his persona in this faux documentary that's inherently cheeky yet raises serious questions about film and truth.
Inglourious Basterds (2009). The opening farm scene and the bar scene show that Tarantino knows better than any other commercially successful contemporary filmmaker that tension and suspense are most effective when they have the room to escalate to nearly unbearable levels.
Intacto (2001). A vividly imagined thriller in which luck is a commodity to be stolen, hoarded, and gambled. It's as good as the premise.
Lantana (2001). A hugely effective bait-and-switch that creates an expectation of standard cinematic fare - murder, a homosexual affair - and instead delivers real life in the form of several troubled marriages and one strong one.
Let the Right One in (2008). The ultra-chilly Swedish vampire flick could be called a February/February romance ... or perhaps more accurately a February/February-from-another-century romance. It has some of the necessary horror conventions - and, in the smile-inducing pool scene, a great bit of unconventional horror - but it's largely concerned with the central relationship between a bullied boy and an old soul trapped in a girl's body.
Lincoln (2012). Up until its botched, tedious ending, Spielberg's sharply focused historical drama represents his most refined and tight work since Schindler's List - aided immeasurably by the cast and Tony Kushner's lively, concise script.
Looper (2012). Rian Wilson's time-travel crime movie includes some misguided choices - most notably the facial manipulation of Joseph Gordon-Levitt - yet it's bursting with ideas and vitality and visual cleverness.
Margaret (2011). Kenneth Lonergan's troubled project got a home-video release in two cuts - the studio-mandated 150-minute theatrical version and the director's three-hour-plus version - and the generally preferred latter is still on my to-do list. But even the shorter studio cut is wonderfully authentic, particularly in its presentation of arguments.
Moneyball (2011). Michael Lewis' nonfiction book tells a good story about advanced stats in baseball, but it doesn't exactly lend itself to the screen. That makes it all the more shocking that Bennett Miller's movie - given great dramatic life by writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and Brad Pitt's no-bullshit Billy Beane - is this good.
Moon (2009). It's David Bowie's kid making a movie with Kevin Spacey channeling HAL and Sam Rockwell as the only worker at a mining operation on the Moon. Or is he alone ... ? It's impressive as a technical achievement on a $5-million budget, impressive in its sci-fi imagining, impressive in Rockwell's ... errr ... multi-faceted performance, and really impressive as the writing/directing feature debut of Duncan Jones.
Moulin Rouge! (2001). I'm afraid to watch it again, fearful that I'll be embarrassed for ever liking it. The real truth: I know it'll win me over with its unencumbered heart, its songs, and the Baz Luhrmannity of it all.
Mulholland Dr. (2001). Heresy though it is, it's the only David Lynch movie I love - clear and clean enough to comprehend but never less than engagingly befuddling.
Murderball (2005). A very good sports movie (with a human villain!) in the guise of a broccoli documentary with a noble subject.
No Country for Old Men (2007). Once its form and themes solidify in your mind - and it took me several viewings - it might be a perfect movie, although its supreme craftsmanship is something to admire more than love.
Oldboy (2003). Hilariously contrived, wildly improbable, and at times downright goofy in its broad comedy, Park Chan-wook's Shakespearean tragedy is a complex work in which seemingly incompatible elements add something to a whole whose form and manner reflect essential qualities of its protagonist: driven, lost, searching, slightly unhinged and unbalanced - an emotional kamikaze.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006). Watching it recently, I was struck by how cool, distant, and even mechanical it felt - and consequently how little visceral impact it had - but fairy tales resonate below the skin, and this has the timeless character of folklore anchored by the weight of history and oppression.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006). A largely faithful adaptation of the novel, but considering that the book is primarily concerned with scents and the sense of smell, the degree of difficulty was immense, and Tom Tykwer's vivid visualizations push the boundaries of what movies can do while also doing justice to the narrative themes of the cost and ethics of art and beauty.
The Prestige (2006). Before Christopher Nolan fell too deeply in love with his grandiose ideas, massive budgets, and unlimited running times, he adapted Christopher Priest's twisty epistolary into a differently resonant exploration of deception, identity, and obsession. A beautifully realized match of the filmmaker's ambition with his grasp - and his second-best movie behind Memento.
Primer (2004). Four or five viewings in, I still can't begin to explicate its time-travel plot, yet it remains a model of ambitious, economical sci-fi storytelling - all the more amazing for its $7,000 production cost. Writer/director Shane Carruth deftly conveys the mechanics of time travel through - no joke - Weebles, and that's a great summation of his low-budget resourcefulness.
The Princess & the Frog (2009). It has a number of distinguishing features - hand-drawn in the age of computers, an African-American "princess" - but those sell it short. In the modern Disney canon, it's a better movie than Frozen and perhaps even Beauty & the Beast, and it announces its smarts, clever wordplay, and narrative thrift in "Friends on the Other Side," a song that packs a ton of story into just three-plus minutes.
Prisoners (2013). Willfully sadistic, ultimately a little too neat, and nonetheless compelling from its first frame to its faint final sound.
Rachel Getting Married (2008). Every time I watch Jonathan Demme's movie, I'm amazed at its patience. That breathing room - the simple filmmaking act of allowing life to be lived without a rush to the next plot point or good line - is so rare but here yields such immense benefits.
Rampart (2011). James Ellroy co-wrote this character study of a deeply flawed man who's an equally flawed cop, but the volatile, self-righteous central character is (for Ellroy) also smart, complicated, and deep in a hole of his own digging. It derives much of its power not from its violence, but from the violence you expect that never happens.
Requiem for a Dream (2000). It's nearly impossible to make a heartfelt polemic on addiction work as a story without feeling preachy, but Darren Aronofsky's urgent adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel is so feverish that it functions as a horror movie.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). A lightly acerbic comedy when it's not a touching romantic comedy or a time-travel movie, yet it speaks honestly about regret and loss - and then it throws caution to the wind and casts its lot with hope.
A Serious Man (2009). The Coen brothers' enigmatic "comedy" tests a man's casual Jewish faith and personal paralysis with everything from the minor annoyances of the Columbia Record Club to impending genuine tragedy, and (if you work hard enough) you'll excavate a gentle, honest, and earnest lesson about helping others - couldn't hurt.
Shattered Glass (2003). It's probably not high praise to note that Hayden Christensen is nearly perfect as fabricating journalist and pathological liar Stephen Glass, but it's true enough, and the movie is simultaneously light and probing.
Shotgun Stories (2007). A sharply drawn, empathetic tragedy detailing a family feud that seems a natural extension of rural place, culture, and history. A stunning debut for writer/director Jeff Nichols.
Shutter Island (2010). I don't particularly like Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's psychological thriller, but I keep returning to it - and loving the experience, especially the tension and gut-level dread inherent in Krysztof Penderecki's Symphony No. 3.
Skyfall (2012). In this age of perpetual reboots and overstuffed popcorn movies, the tired old horse of James Bond provided a surprising template: taut yet extravagant, serious yet fun, brutal yet gorgeous, and globe-trotting but personal.
The Social Network (2010). Given his skills and misanthropy, it makes me sad and a little angry that David Fincher has so often opted for obvious projects to which he adds little beyond acute professionalism - Panic Room, Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl ... . Less-direct, more-nuanced material such as The Social Network (and Zodiac), I think, forces Fincher to employ his talent more rigorously and interestingly.
Spider (2002). In his screenplay for David Cronenberg's movie, Patrick McGrath basically turned his novel inside-out, replacing the book's interior monologue with Ralph Fiennes' nearly wordless protagonist. It is, for Cronenberg, a subtle movie, and the beginning of a period in which the director has - for better and worse - become far more interested in the mind than the body.
Spider Forest (2004). A dense, enigmatic mix of police procedural and psychological horror that - through striking imagery, narrative sophistication and elegance, and the symbolism and primal resonance of fairy tale - lulls you into a dreamlike state in which the puzzle itself doesn't really matter.
Stone Reader (2002). Ostensibly a documentary about books and writing, it's really a road trip about reading - and every bit as engaging and fun as that description isn't.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The best compliment I can pay it is that it's warm, charming, and genuine despite the premise of its main character also being the character of a writer in the movie ... and also being played by Will Ferrell. It's pretty much a remake of The Truman Show with a lighter and more playful flair.
Take Shelter (2011). It can reasonably be read as a study of the effects of obsession and mental illness or as the story of a pending apocalypse, and Jeff Nichols' unnerving movie works either way - and has a scene of nearly unbearable emotional suspense between Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. But arguing about its literal reality misses the point: In the ambiguous ending, the key bit of information is that Shannon's troubled husband is not alone.
Terminal Bar (2003). A short film about a tavern, told most poetically in snapshots of its customers.
Thirst (2009). Park Chan-wook's weirdly quiet horror concerns a priest who becomes a vampire and takes a lover, and that's just the beginning of what the singular writer/director brings to the apparently-not-quite-exhausted genre.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). It exponentially amplifies the standard complexity of a spy thriller by shattering it against the wall into shards of memory, plot, bureaucratic politics, and doubt. But the craftsmanship, precision, and subtlety in every shot and line reading welcome your attention rather than repelling it.
Tongues & Taxis (2000). Perhaps you've heard of "Too Many Cooks"? This eight-minute animated short is pretty much just as nuts.
Touching the Void (2003). An insanely suspenseful docu-drama even though the question of survival is answerered early. A great companion piece to the First Person episode in the television section.
Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story (2005). Roger Ebert described it as "a film about the making of a film based on a novel about the writing of a novel," and it should be mentioned that the source material is nine volumes and from the 18th Century - and that the narrator of said source material didn't get to his birth until Volume Three.
WALL•E (2008). I could have included up to six Pixar movies on this list for pure entertainment value, but I'm sticking with this one for the nearly wordless storytelling of its first half. Up (for its lovely opening sequence) and The Incredibles (for its portrait of a stable marriage) are also strong representations of the studio's often ballsy movies for kids.
Zodiac (2007). David Fincher's intentionally shapeless thriller runs with the idea of the procedural as an end in itself - and, with no payoff whatsoever, feels like an apology for the genre simplicity of Seven.
These aren't movies I'd consider great - or even necessarily good. But horror, like comedy, succeeds when it achieves its intended effect, regardless of the whole.
The Conjuring (2013). About as generic as ghost stories come, but with a nearly unbearable intensity. Bonus points for turning its apparently superfluous prologue into an essential element of the story.
The House of the Devil (2009). An homage to the horror movies of the 1980s and that decade's Satanic panic that's intentionally slow and builds to precisely the climax you expect - and yet it still works (and works far better than the movies it's homage-ing). Writer/director Ti West escalates the tension simply, carefully placing shocks and hints that pierce the aggressively ordinary texture. Bonus points for its throw-away visual joke about Tom Noonan's height.
Land of the Dead (2005). Not particularly scary, but George A. Romero's angriest and most-pointed zombie movie is a surprisingly potent howl of protest about class and caste. Bonus points for making the zombies the protagonists.
The Mothman Prophecies (2002). The high-profile-journalist protagonist is a serious stretch for both the movie and Richard Gere, but the unresolved nature and clever manifestations of its horror remain deeply upsetting. Bonus points for the ripples of fear created in the first (or third?) encounter between the characters of Gere and Will Patton.
Sinister (2012). It's a terrible movie in the way that most horror flicks are terrible movies, but it has a chilling, bowel-churning dissonance that sticks with me - a function of the home-movie imagery and the creeping awareness of what's actually happening in it. Bonus points for The Wire's Ziggy as Deputy So-and-So.
Wolf Creek (2005). An obvious love letter to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and there are far worse flicks to steal from. It's expert in crafting slow-developing suspense, clever with its use of point of view to create dread, and gentle and patient in forging viewer bonds with its plain protagonists. Bonus points for Crocodile Dundee cracks perhaps pushing the antagonist over the edge.
Arrested Development (2003-13). The Netflix season was disappointingly short on ensemble dynamics, but the fact that the show maintained and built on its absurdity and verbal and visual gags for so long was a miracle.
Black Mirror (2011-14). It took half a century for somebody to develop a worthy successor to The Twilight Zone, and creator/writer Charlie Brooker had the good judgment to (thus far) produce a mere seven episodes of his technology-themed anthology series, hitting notes from deeply uncomfortable (the pig) to gently touching. The recent "White Christmas" special combined three distinct bits of technology into a single story that, like the best cautionary fiction, uses extremes to illustrate the perils looming in contemporary society.
Deadwood (2004-6). The Sopranos might have marked the beginning of the New Golden Age of Television, but to my mind David Milch's profane, eminently quotable Western defines it.
First Person: "Leaving the Earth" (2001). Errol Morris' one-interview-per-episode TV series seemed like the perfect shorter-form showcase for the filmmaker, but only this episode - about the 1989 crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa - matches his best feature work. Like Touching the Void, it derives its considerable suspense and emotional investment not from the question of how it all ended, but of how it got to the end we already know.
Flight of the Conchords: Season 1 (2007). It wasn't always funny, but it was always delightfully wacky, and the titular New Zealand folk duo enters rare company with Spinal Tap in songs that are funny, stupid, and pretty damned smart in their stupidity.
Hannibal (2013-). A show nobody (me included) wanted, and apparently few people still want, but Bryan Fuller's re-imagining of Thomas Harris' Lecter-novel characters is a dizzying, deep, and disturbing delve into damaged and damaging psyches. Similar to the way its title character wears his outré wardrobe, the show pulls off its daring choices by having supreme, casual confidence in them.
Justified (2010-15). I've long called it disposable, but after re-watching seasons one through four, it remains a perpetual joy to watch - and pleasurable even in its weakest episodes.
Lost: "The Constant" (2008). The two-hour pilot was a bold, throat-grabbing start, but Desmond Hume's travels through time and space in this largely stand-alone episode remain the show's high point - touching and elegant.
Louie (2010-). Louis C.K. has essentially obliterated all the boundaries of the television sitcom. It's often not funny, but that's because its creator/writer/director/star/editor aims for different targets.
The Office (2001-3). I've never seen a full episode of the long-running American version, but I'm happy enough to re-watch the seven-plus hours of the British original, which - over two seasons and one special - consistently hit a sweet spot of self-delusion, awkward comedy, professional ennui, workplace drabness, and simmering romance.
Red Riding (2009). David Peace's four interconnected crime novels - each set three years after the previous one - are so idiosyncratic, interior, and distinctive that they would seem nearly impossible to adapt well ... especially when you omit the second book, as the makers of this trilogy did for British television. It's a testament to the source material and screenwriter Tony Grisoni that the resulting movies are largely faithful yet their own things, and they feel like a cohesive whole - a bleak and nightmarish portrait of individuals fighting losing battles against institutional rot that finally finds desperately needed catharsis and salvation in a trio of broken men.
Review (2014-). A man reviews life experiences from pancakes to existential pain ("ThereAllIsAching"), and the high concept of the Comedy Central series achieved a surprising shapeliness and resonance in its first season - and mined the tragedy of a man fully committed to what has to count as the world's stupidest idea.
Rubicon (2010). Undoubtedly too reliant on spy-thriller conventions and conspiracies, but nonetheless a fascinating, detailed, and nuanced portrait of the sausage-making of intelligence in a private-sector context. I'm almost at peace with only having one season.
Slings & Arrows (2003-6). Three Shakespeare tragedies at the New Burbage Festival, one pompous ghost, one seriously damaged theatrical genius, and three consistently blissful seasons of television dramatic comedy.
The Wire (2002-8). David Simon's sprawling study of Baltimore was novelistic television at its finest - as long as you look at each season as its own novel. Simon was clunky in expanding his scope from the cops-and-dealers first season, but by the third season's Hamsterdam arc, it was abundantly clear that his ambitions and storytelling would not be contained by the rules of television.
Finally ... Number 100
Ghost Town (2008). Hey, I liked it well enough five years ago ... .