Fine. I can’t exactly say these are the top movies of the 00s, especially since I essentially stopped watching movies with any regularity 3 years ago, but they are my favorite movies of this decade.
1. Memento – It’s an amazing movie; the story and how it’s technically put together. I have some friends who hate it, saying it’s been done already, on Seinfeld and The X-Files. I haven’t seen the X-Files episode, but what makes this movie unique is that the structure really serves the story – it puts us roughly in the same experience as the main character. And the ending packs a wallop. I love philosophical movies, and this one touches on a subject I’m particularly interested in, memory and how it relates to personal identity. Who are you really if you have no memory, if you have no mental connection with what the body you inhabit did just a moment ago? And the things it has to say about life and purpose. One of the best movies of all time.
2. Adaptation – I could write about this movie forever. I’ll just quote myself from 2003:
I could go on and on about why it’s brilliant, but whatever. For me, I just jive with the message. Orchids are fascinating in part because they’re perhaps the most adaptive plant. The movie is amazing because it captures this, what it means to be adaptive, whether you’re an orchid, a writer, a screenwriter, or whatever. And what it means to have passion. And purpose. I dunno, it’s amazing to me.
And like I said, I really jive with that. I think ‘strength’ comes from adaptability, not in being unmovable. I think a lot of people believe the opposite. That you are strong if you make yourself set, and impose actions on your environment. Argh, I’m not explaining myself very well, I hate how I write. But yeah, it’s like, people think to be stronger, you need a stronger sense of your self, figure out who you are, be strong in who you are, and impose that on everything around you.
I’m against that, and a lot of things that I connect with speak to the opposite of that idea. Like Christianity, which says you must die to your self. Strength comes when you let go, leave yourself free and open to the leadings of the Spirit. I’ve written before how I really jive with Stoicism philosophically. Taking what comes with you, dealing with the now.
Bruce Lee has similar ideas, with his whole ‘be like water’ thing which sounds cheesy but is actually kinda profound. I’m serious, his biography is really fascinating. But his philosophy is, you never meet force with force. You’ll never win that way. Instead, you redirect that force. And again, I jive with that, learning to deal with things by rolling with them, not colliding against them.
And yeah, Adaptation is the same message. And it has some beautiful language. Here’s one exchange I love:
John Laroche: You know why I like plants?
Susan Orlean: Nuh uh.
John Laroche: Because they’re so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.
Susan Orlean: [pause] Yeah but it’s easier for plants. I mean they have no memory. They just move on to whatever’s next. With a person though, adapting’s almost shameful. It’s like running away.
There’s so much truth in that, I think. Anyway, that’s one of my general goals in life, to thrive by being adaptable. Great movie.
Here’s another section from the movie I loved. I’m not even joking, when I saw this in the theater I nearly cried. Issues.
Point is, what’s so wonderful is that every one of these flowers has a specific relationship with the insect that pollinates it. There’s a certain orchid look exactly like a certain insect so the insect is drawn to this flower, its double, its soul mate, and wants nothing more than to make love to it. And after the insect flies off, spots another soul-mate flower and makes love to it, thus pollinating it. And neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. I mean, how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives? But it does. By simply doing what they’re designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense they show us how to live — how the only barometer you have is your heart. How, when you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way.
I dunno, I thought that passage was beautiful and really impacted me. Obviously, this is coming from a secular perspective, but I had a Christian bent on it. Just, I think sometimes I worry about things bigger than I should be worrying about. Where I fit in the world, my purpose and plan in the grand scheme of things. When really, the most important thing might just be doing my best to follow Jesus in the small ways in my small little world. And I might now understand how that fits into God’s universal plan, but somehow, just by following in my own little ways, it does.
I dunno, I love the movie. But that’s just me.
2. Spider-Man 2 – The best comic movie of all time. The action is more believable than in the previous movie, it has a great story, and most critical for me, it has fortune-cookie wisdom. Here’s what I wrote about it 2007:
Re-watching that movie helped focus my life purpose. Dr. Octavius says something really interesting to Peter Parker when he’s visiting the lab (SN. Daniel Dae Kim appears as a lab tech; disorienting on re-watch). He comments that Dr. Connors mentioned that Parker was brilliant… but lazy. Then he says to Peter something on the order of “intelligence isn’t a privilege; it’s a gift. That we use to help people.”
Something about his delivery and my state of mind made that brief comment seep in to my soul. I think there’s a lot of insight, and, dare I say it, spiritual truth to it. The first part perfectly characterizes Silicon Valley. There are a lot of smart people here, and by and large, they view their intelligence as a privilege to make a lot of money. The smarter they are, the more money they deserve. Gifts are equated with privilege.
Dr. Octavius’ alternative view kind of sums up the Christian view of gifts, doesn’t it? That our gifts are not primarily for our own enjoyment or entitlement, but are intended to be used to help other people. His challenge to Peter should really challenge all of us. It certainly challenged me in the midst of the poisonous Silicon Valley corporate culture. Truth is, I hate the SV business world, which seems especially greedy and self-centered. Sometimes I don’t know how we can survive the SV corporate world with our souls intact. It’s soul poison, pure and simple. So yeah, that line just stuck out.
And it helped crystallize some things in my mind. Primarily, that I will not feel satisfied with my vocation unless it involves two things: using my intellect, and helping people. Like Dr. Octavius intended. And I think both aspects have to be there. If I’m only using my intellect, I think I’ll end up feeling empty. If I’m only helping people, I’ll feel like I’m not utilizing my primary gift. I need my vocation to involve both. And that’s what I need to do with my life.
What am I doing about it? Nothing. Yet. But at least I know. Because before, I didn’t.
3. Love Actually – My take on it is different than Dave’s; I thought the point of the different interweaved stories is to show that love has many different aspect, not all of them good. And I bought it (except for a couple story strands). Here’s what I wrote about it in 2003:
What I liked about Love Actually (spoilers, kinda) was that it wasn’t all superficial lovey dovey stuff. Some of it was, and that part whatever. But I dunno, it looked at different parts of love that pleasantly surprised me. Like how love also involves pain. When you lose someone. Agony, when you don’t have someone. Sacrifice. I loved the Laura Linney thing. The tension between romantic and sacrificial love. I dunno, I found the scene with her brother really moving.
I liked what the kid said, about there being no worse agony than being in love. Ain’t that the truth. I dunno, the movie was good about that I think, that love isn’t just all fairy tale goodness. It’s more that love amplifies everything. Makes the joy even greater. But makes the pain more acute also. Pain of loss, betrayal, unattainability, whatever. I dunno, I jive with that.
And I actually liked the Colin Firth story, believe it or not. It just made me think. Like, how much verbal communication is required for love to happen? That’s an interesting idea to me. I’ve thought in the past that it’s absolutely essential, maybe the number one thing, but I dunno anymore. Like my Korean has deteriorated to the point that I can barely communicate with my grandmother, but we still clearly love each other. Yeah, I know, romantic love is totally different. I’m just thinking about it, is all. How much verbal communication you need in love. Or at least to fall in love.
Anyway, yeah, not a perfect movie, it’s just a little too much in general, but it made me think, and that’s the most I can ask for.
4. Batman Begins – I’ll just quote myself from the past again. “I think it gets 4 stars in my system. No 5th star because I’ve thought about it, and there’s nothing deep about it. It flirts with interesting ideas about the nature of justice but Rha’s Al Ghul goes too far beyond this, caring nothing about the innocent that justice should concern itself with, making his viewpoint untenable. So no profundity. But otherwise, a fantastic film. 4 stars.”
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Another interesting movie about memory and purpose and destiny. I love the idea that who we are is more than what we remember, what we know, that even if we were wiped clean, there’s this primal thing in us that drives us to be who we are.
6. School of Rock – This movie gets right the feeling of having passion for music and the transformative power of it. I always tear up at the concert in the end because you feel how much the music means to the kids, and when the parents see it as well, it gets to me. To know your passion, to realize it, and have others appreciate as well; there’s something powerful about that.
7. Almost Famous – The Sports Guy is right about this being a great movie, although he’s wrong about it being the best movie of the decade. It is, however, very entertaining, and endlessly quotable. I own the director’s cut, and the content is so good it doesn’t feel longer. Also has the best career performances of virtually everyone in it: Kate Hudson (by far), Patrick Fugit, Jimmy Fallon, Jason Lee etc.
8. Matrix Reloaded – I stand alone on this, I know. But I liked, nay, loved this movie. No, not as good as The Matrix, and yes, fundamentally flawed. But the action (aside from the fight with 100 Smiths) is pretty amazing, and it has really interesting philosophical ideas (which are not well resolved in Revolutions, but whatever). I’ve seen it multiple times and I still enjoy it. A lot. And on IMAX it was amazing.
9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – I stand alone on this one also; virtually every Harry Potter fan likes this movie the least. Whatevs. That movie had the most wonder, surprised me most, and had the best fortune-cookie wisdom of the Harry Potter movies, a lesson I felt like I could apply to life. I’ll lazily quote myself again, from 2003:
With the Chamber of Secrets, I dunno, I didn’t feel like it was long or extraneous at all. As they got closer and closer to finding the truth, every twist was interesting to me. Again, I think it’s because I never read the book, but I was consistently surprised and I kept asking Jieun, you knew this? I dunno, I was just thoroughly entertained. That’s just me.
And you know what? I found it ever so slightly profound. I’m talking about the quote Dumbledore says at the end. Harry is just thinking about him and Voldemort, and how they’re so similar, so what is it that makes them different? What will keep Harry from becoming him? And Dumbledore says, “It is not our abilities that tell us what we truly are… it is our choices.”
I thought that was really deep in a fortune cookie fortune type way. But it’s true, you know? It’s in line with the whole parable of the talents thing. It’s not how many or what kind of talents your given that determines your reward, but how you use them. I dunno, it just impacted me.
10. Live Free or Die Hard – Am I the only one that loved this movie? To me, it was a near perfect action movie. Quoting myself: “I absolutely loved it. 4 stars. Best movie I’ve seen in a while. I appreciate the comic book action movie trend of trying to be about something, a message, a parable, or whatever, but sometimes, a good action movie shouldn’t be about anything. It should just be entertaining and not over-complicate things. And that’s what this movie was. Good guy tries to stop bad guy, bad guy tries to kill good guy. Much entertaining action in the process. A couple scenes were over the top, but on the whole, thoroughly entertaining. Jieun really liked it also.” One problem with the 00s is that we need to make everything morally complex; all our heroes are flawed, not that much different that the villains. Maybe that’s more real, but it’s not always more entertaining. A simple action movie with good guys and bad guys can be refreshing for that reason.
11. The Tao of Steve – This is my best indie movie of the 00s. I totally jived with it. And the great thing is, all the wisdom Steve spouts out is all so true and yet all complete crap at the same time. I admire a story that can do that. High Fidelity (the book) did the same thing – he came from a point of view that had a lot of profound truths and ended up in a different place, a conflicting one, that’s still true. It takes a special story to do that. I can’t think of another indie movie that I enjoyed from the 00s as much as this one.
I think that’s it. Other movies I considered are The Bourne Identity, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Moulin Rouge, About a Boy, X2: X-Men United, Elf and Galaxy Quest.