Onward and upward!
American Psycho, dir. Mary Harron
Battle Royale, Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
Billy Elliot, Dir. Stephen Daldry
Cast Away, Dir. Robert Zemeckis
The Emperor’s New Groove, Dir. Mark Dindal
Ginger Snaps, Dir. John Fawcett
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Unbreakable, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
Yi Yi, Dir. Edward Yang
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dir. Ang Lee — A moving and romantic wuxia epic, and one of the most gorgeous films ever made. Sublime action underscores how helpless the characters feel to change their fates. All the bold swordplay in the world can’t save you from unhappiness, or from the constraints of a society built on suffocating honor. Any other year, and this would have been an easy favorite.
My Favorite Film of 2000
In the Mood for Love, Dir. Wong kar-Wai — Even more than kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, my favorite film of 1994, In the Mood for Love is a brilliant, beautiful, and difficult evocation of unconsummated love. It is deeply romantic, but compelling because, like its characters, it resists getting too close: kar-Wai’s camera is always peeking at our characters, around a corner or through a door, as they circle each other, trying desperately to decide if they love each other enough to overcome the disappointments that bring them together. A bold and compelling masterpiece, and one of the greatest films ever made.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Dir. Steven Spielberg
Amelie, Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Donnie Darko, Dir. Richard Kelly
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dir. John Cameron Mitchell
A Knight’s Tale, Dir. Brian Helgeland
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dir. Peter Jackson
Monsoon Wedding, Dir. Mira Nair
Mulholland Dr., Dir. David Lynch
The Others, Dir. Alejandro Amenabar
Wet Hot American Summer, Dir. David Wain
Spirited Away, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki — Another beautiful, poignant, wildly creative Miyazaki film, well deserving of its Oscar for Best Animated Film.
My Favorite Film of 2001
The Devil’s Backbone, Dir. Guillermo del Toro — In my opinion, this is del Toro’s finest film: a great ghost story, with terrifying human villains and an unforgettable setting. It made an indelible impression when I first saw it, and some images (like the one above) continue to haunt and mesmerize me to this day.
28 Days Later…, Dir. Danny Boyle
Catch Me if You Can, Dir. Steven Spielberg
City of God, Dir. Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
Lilo and Stitch, Dir. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Dir. Peter Jackson
Minority Report, Dir. Steven Spielberg
Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes
Signs, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
The Pianist, Dir. Roman Polanski — I am by no means a Polanski apologist, but The Pianist remains a gut-wrenching masterpiece, a story of the Holocaust told on a deeply intimate scale, with a shattering performance by Adrien Brody.
My Favorite Film of 2002
The Ring, Dir. Gore Verbinski — That rare horror film that is not only terrifying, but also absolutely beautiful. Sequences here stick with you because they are shot in a stunning melancholy way that burrows right under the skin and scrapes along your bones.
Elf, Dir. Jon Favreau
Finding Nemo, Dir. Andrew Stanton
House of Sand and Fog, Dir. Vadim Perelman
Hulk, Dir. Ang Lee
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Dir. Peter Jackson
Oldboy, Dir. Park Chan-wook
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Dir. Gore Verbinski
The Station Agent, Dir. Tom McCarthy
The Triplets of Belleville, Dir. Sylvain Chomet
X2: X-Men United, Dir. Bryan Singer
Big Fish, Dir. Tim Burton — A timeless fairy tale tinged with that Buron darkness. His last masterpiece, and a very, very close runner up this year. But how can I say no to…
My Favorite Film of 2003
Kill Bill, Vol. 1, Dir. Quentin Tarantino — A demented symphony of blood and honor, featuring killer dialogue and sublime action. Far and away my favorite Quentin Tarantino film for the way it distils his excesses to their very essence for 111 minutes of pure cinematic expressionism. The sequel is also good, but somehow less pure. They stand together as some of the best action cinema since Die Hard.
Dawn of the Dead, Dir. Zach Snyder
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dir. Charlie Kaufman
Hellboy, Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Howl’s Moving Castle, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
The Incredibles, Dir. Brad Bird
Kill Bill Volume 2, Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Dir. Brad Silberling
Mean Girls, Dir. Mark Waters
Shaun of the Dead, Dir. Edgar Wright
Spider-Man 2, Dir. Sam Raimi
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — A rain-drenched fantasia that manages to deftly combine whimsy with despair: the Dementors, J.K. Rowling’s greatest inventions, are not simply “fear itself,” they are potent metaphors for depression, something Harry is feeling a lot of. More than any other film in the series — which I thoroughly enjoy, and which will continue to pop up on the rest of my list (albeit never quite in the #1 spot) — Azkaban understands the power of magic — and the terror of feeling alone even in a magical world.
My Favorite Film of 2004
Before Sunset, Dir. Richard Linklater — In a very, very tough year, I ultimately had to go with one of my all-time favorites, a brainy, romantic walk-and-talk that is just about the purest expression of Linklater’s slacker aesthetic that you could imagine. Featuring appealingly vulnerable performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, this bold cinematic experiment in the nature of time began with the perfectly constructed Before Sunrise and found its natural apotheosis in the earth-shattering Before Midnight. Let this perfect middle movie stand in for the whole perfect –yes, perfect — trilogy.