Movie Review
Stylus Magazine’s Top Films of the Millennium

it’s not the end of the decade yet, but it’s been an amazing one so far, and narrowing eight years of cinema down to twelve films (one per writer on the Stylus film staff) has been a chore. Enjoy our recommendations, and check out individual writer lists after the article.

01. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

Before 9/11 woke everyone up and polarized blockbusters into superhero fantasies and docu-drama “realist” action flicks, America’s four great pop perverts made maybe their greatest masterpieces in shaking up all-too-involuntary fantasies, nightmares, and reality in films that are about nothing less than filmmaking and film-watching: the need to wake up, and the impossibility of ever doing so, or ever wanting to. Of Martin Scorsese’s Bringin’ Out the Dead, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale (from 2002), and David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., only the last wasn’t severely underrated—perhaps because it’s the only one that’s no deeper than it appears to be, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.

So obsessed is it with surfaces (almost no film has exploited the horizontality of Los Angeles better), symbols’ referents fall out beneath them (appropriate for a film about the loss of identity), leaving a slow-burn pastiche of Hollywood genre clichés, an adamant debunking of Hollywood genre stylistics—even the shot-counter-shot gets its come-uppance with Lynch’s creepy hover-cam—and the best on-screen adaptation of Roland Barthes’ postmodern manifesto “Death of the Author” imaginable.

Everything is an illusion but, with the strings so clearly visible, little is illusory. Everything is staged. Lynch takes on a Hollywood like Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s, in which the characters stay in character off-screen to rule the town: megalomaniac titans, cowboys, and some shitty Vincent Vega wannabe. Actually, in a way, Mulholland Dr. could be seen as much as a response to the Tarantino decade as it is to Persona and Vertigo. Murders and personal betrayals are queasily played for laughs—while musical and porno sequences are played in exuberant desperation, as if reality could enter at any minute and jitterbugs, masturbation, and movies are such stuff as dreams are made on. Indexing its own delusions, Mulholland Dr. is probably the truest, most honest film David Lynch will ever make.

[David Pratt-Robson]

02. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

I’m always a bit taken aback when someone tells me they thought Children of Men was too depressing. It’s the most common complaint I’ve heard about a film that never really found its audience at the box office, but has become somewhat of a sensation among critics and the small faction of filmgoers who (a) actually saw the movie and (b) were receptive to its themes. To me, Children of Men is one of the most triumphant films I’ve ever seen, and by the film’s conclusion I feel a profound, albeit muted, sense of joy.

Yes, the film’s dazzlingly-rendered vision of the not-so-distant future is a chaotic, totalitarian dystopia that perhaps resembles our own world a bit too much for filmgoers looking for a lighter sort of apocalypse movie. And yes, many of its characters, so impressively portrayed that we think of them of friends the moment we meet them, suffer horrible fates along the film’s hellish odyssey through crumbling cities, abandoned schoolhouses, and nightmarish internment camps. But there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the film, which, in a world so much like our own, represents a great triumph.

It’s a victory that seems so out-of-reach the entire film until, finally and unexpectedly, it materializes out of the morning fog. If Children of Men proves anything, it’s that it’s still possible to do good, even when the world’s destruction feels like a foregone conclusion. And when a film relates this idea so passionately and convincingly, it’s hard for me to see how anyone could call it “depressing.” I think “transcendent” would be the more fitting word.

[David Holmes]

03. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

Bear with me while I expound inexpertly on math for a minute. Math is an artificial construct, perfect and beautiful and consistent internally, but bearing no relation to the real world. Despite this, though, it somehow, in a way no one really understands, ends up being exceptionally good at describing the way the real world works.

In this way, The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s only completely perfect movie, is a lot like math. The lives of its characters resemble nothing that I’m familiar with, and yet it’s easy to believe that all of human existence is contained in them. Probably very few of us have ever been suicidally in love with our adopted sisters, but Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow’s relationship still seems to say everything that could ever be said about love—except, of course, for what we see in Danny Glover and Anjelica Huston’s love. And when Anjelica Huston smiles, her smile contains all of human happiness. You can tell watching it that the actors felt this, too, as each member of the huge cast gives the best performance of their career.

While a lot of the movie is abysmally depressing, the hope in the ending (one of the most honestly happy endings I have ever seen) is palpable. And it makes me giddy, every single damn time.

[Ethan Robinson]

04. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

The lyrical wonder of this well-worn tale is suffused with everything that makes Terrence Malick, arguably, the supreme master of his craft: the director is mesmerized by the quiet details of being alive, the play between light and dark, knowing and unknowing, the experience of thinking and existing. The simplicity of the final sequence is awe inspiring: Pocahontas—embodied with such devastating naturalism by Q'orianka Kilcher—plays hide and seek with her son in the cultivated garden, accompanied by the reverberating beauty of the score.

Like all true moments of epiphany and meaning, the power and significance goes beyond a capacity for description. The film is defined by fluency: of thought and form, of internal and external revelation. The New World infuses an authentic sense of emotional and historical significance into a narrative that, for many of us, had become a remote Disney legend. This first contact between races, between worlds and souls, has never been as resonantly depicted as here—seeming to be, by Malick’s careful hand and curious eye, such a tellingly representative moment of human ambition, valor and destruction. Exquisitely poised somewhere just beyond tragedy, is both an expedition and a discovery in its own right.

[Paolo Cabrelli]

05. You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)

The cliché about film critics is that we're supposed to maintain a certain ironic distance from the objects of our contemplation—but what to make of a movie as warm, funny, sweet and sad as writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me, a film about the week a troubled wanderer (Mark Ruffalo) comes to visit his estranged sister (Laura Linney) and her young, fatherless son (Kieran Culkin) in rural upstate New York? No distance about it: I adore this Bach cello suite-scored wonder of a picture.

You Can Count On Me is wonderfully acted, simply directed, and effortlessly elegant, handling heavy issues like family and loss with a light touch, and finding room to explore smaller themes like religion, small-town dating, and office politics. But most of all, You Can Count On Me is on this list because of its extraordinary fondness for people; Ruffalo and Linney's characters are deeply flawed; they make poor decisions and hurt the people they love. But in their mistakes, their compromises, and their secret yearnings, they are deeply human—and deeply recognizable.

[Patrick McKay]

06. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)

To begin with the ending: yes, this has the greatest closing line since Some Like It Hot. But it's great because it follows Julie Delpy's Celine dancing teasingly and, before that, strumming a waltz to a long-lost lover; because it shows Ethan Hawke's Jesse regaining not boyishness but the chutzpah he had as a youth; because nine years is time enough to age even the most beautiful people; because they're made for each other, we know it, they know it.

But is that enough when you’ve got a boyfriend or a kid or a life in New York or a vocation, enough when your time seems to have come and gone? Living hour-by-hour, as in Before Sunrise, you might have time enough to answer that question. Living minute-by-minute, all you can do is decide whether to rush and catch your flight—or not. In a 21st century romance, even that's a victory.

[Brad Luen]

07. The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2002)

The heavy burden carried by a dour, emotionally guarded carpenter (Olivier Gourmet) who trains apprentices at a youth center is apparent throughout his stout body: his gait, his breathing, and his gaze. Trailed vérité-style, frequently just behind the shoulder, his roiling self-examination—conducted through a work-heavy week, with time out for sit-ups on the kitchen floor—is prompted by the fateful appearance of an adolescent offender (Morgan Marinne) who upended the lives of the carpenter and his ex-wife.

The sparest and most focused of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s quartet of films that began with their international breakthrough La Promesse, The Son rivets with the spectacle of a wounded blue-collar man striving to find moral balance. A sawdust-coated parable of conscience, it acknowledges the possibilities and difficulties of vengeance but ultimately asserts faith in compassion without turning into a fairy tale, or by bludgeoning the viewer with melodrama like the laundered Death Wish-for-soccer-moms exploitation of In the Bedroom. Gourmet’s performance has quiet empathy and dignity as he probes his character’s buried grief and capacity for growth with self-effacing brusqueness.

[Bill Weber]

08. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

There is rarely a movie that doesn’t have to do with sex, its consequences particularly in American movies, but there are few that seek an intimacy with sex and sexuality itself. Though it wears many hats, Alfonso Cuarón’s remarkably intricate Y tu mamá también is most immediately one of the most inquisitive movies about sexuality ever made.

Two teenage boys (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) are bored over the summer after their girlfriends go abroad and blah blah blah, but as the movie navigates familiar tropes of the coming-of-age film, it pauses to observe, say, the way one of the boy’s families fits in with the modern sociopolitical landscape of Mexico. Or how someone might spend the last days of an unnaturally short life. Or whether maybe there’s something more to that friction between two friends engulfed in adolescent sexuality. Y tu mamá también makes suggestions and investigates them, and as the unforgettable climax (forgive me) proves, there’s no possibility it won’t approach and question.

[Jeffrey Bloomer]

09. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)

“Do you think we ever really do? See beyond the surface of things?”—Cathy Whitaker

It certainly is hard to see beyond the surface of Far From Heaven, the 21st century tribute to melodramas of the 1950s, for the surface is distracting perfection. Aside from its superb set design, however, the film plays rather like an amateurish stage production, as the poised characters move through singsong “life is perfect” dialogue without a pause, without a hint of personality, without a single breath of naturalism.

This unreal atmosphere chokes every corner of the frame through long, expertly calibrated tracking shots, until a break in the pattern occurs: a child wondering why her father is never home, a successful businessman pulling a liquor bottle out of his cabinet, Cathy Whitaker chatting and smiling with her friends—a look of limitless grief flitting across her features. Reality gnaws through the sleek surface, leaving the characters stammering and sobbing—as unsightly and as (briefly) real as can be. To go this far, and then to offer a beam of sunlight illuminating Julianne Moore’s face, or a sweeping violin drowning out a curse: this is the deceptive, compassionate work of Todd Haynes. Also, I’d certainly cite Moore as the best performance of the decade, and probably among the greatest of all time.

[Learned Foote]

10. Artificial Intelligence: AI (Steven Spielberg, 2001)

Not too far into this story, the boy robot David (Haley Joel Osment) is poised for sacrifice at a futuristic “flesh fair” where debauched humans (“orgas”) enjoy the spectacle of violently destroying rounded-up “mechas,” as ancient Romans liked watching Christians torn apart or the KKK picnicked while tormenting cornered Blacks or—take your pick of multitudes of examples. David’s anguished human mom, Monica (Frances O’Connor) has abandoned him in a deep forest.

The “irreversible imprinting procedure” that triggered his love for her evidently works both ways, so she cannot bear to turn him in—her husband demands it—for certain cyber-destruction. Soon he lands in this cage, along with sashaying lover-man Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, somehow making dialogue in iambic pentameter work in a post-apocalyptic world) and trailed by his robot Teddy Bear. A human little girl with prophetic intuition alerts her father that a “real” boy is mixed in among the motley renegade mechas. Shining an x-ray flashlight into David’s face that reveals the machine beneath, this dad murmurs, “A lot of love went into you. You’re one of a kind.”

Well, he is and he isn’t. Part Pinocchio (the fairytale supplies David with an origin myth whose Blue Fairy he seeks), part Little Prince (“If I love you, you will be like no other little boy in the whole world”), part Missing Link, David is the creation of Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt), made in his own dead son’s image and prototype for a new line of product. David journeys to the “place where lions weep” (the New York City Public Library with its crouching granite guardians), finds Hobby and his Blue Fairy, waits frozen for two millennia to spend a single “irreversible” day with his genetically reconstituted mom. This leaves out a lot. Still surprisingly sorrowful, thick with dreams and questions, ambitious as all get-out, A.I. is half an hour too long and might get a more generous reception is a post-Gore Nobel world. But this under-appreciated film is one of the best so far this century.

[Nancy Keefe Rhodes]

11. The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2003)

There’s this mesmerizing quality to Marco Tullio Giordana’s Best of Youth that completely envelopes the viewer. At 366 minutes in length, Giordana can afford great attention to detail and he takes full advantage of his film’s massive runtime, constructing a story as rich as it is beautifully shot. It’s that depth in the storytelling that fully captures the viewer in its spell. Typically, with a film this epic in scope, the ambitious nature of the project overtaxes the narrative, causing it to crumble under its own weight. But Giordana’s enthusiastic and breezy writing forges something far more organic and accessible than its lengthy, multi-faceted content suggests. Coupled with deft, unobtrusive direction that rarely forces emotion, The Best of Youth stands as one of the most epic and ambitious cinematic achievements of the decade.

[Dave Micevic]

12. Cruel Winter Blues (Lee Jeong-beom, 2006)

The first and only feature for director Lee Jeong-beom to date, Cruel Winter Blues has everything. A story of a couple of gangsters from Seoul who hole up in a one-horse town out in the middle of nowhere in order to avenge a friend and business partner, the film features scenes in the country, scenes in the city, old women, old men, young women, young men (kind, cruel, and ambiguous), rowdy kids, something approximating a love story, murder, food and cooking, tae kwon do, a field day featuring a soccer game and a three-legged race, a wedding reception, bawdy women on an ice-fishing expedition, gangsters going shopping with old ladies for porno mags for a care package, betrayal, and one of the most best death scenes ever shot. This may be not only the best film you'll of the decade, but also the ONLY one you need to see.

[Andy Slabaugh]

Jeffrey Bloomer
01. In the Bedroom
02. Traffic
03. Y Tu Mamá También
04. Children of Men
05. Mystic River
06. Amores Perros
07. Far From Heaven
08. You Can Count on Me
09. Brokeback Mountain
10. Undertow

Paolo Cabrelli
01. The New World
02. Hidden
03. The Return
04. Volver
05. Brick
06. Hotel Rwanda
07. In the Mood for Love
08. Anchorman
09. Spider
10. Sexy Beast

Learned Foote
01. The New World
02. Artificial Intelligence: AI
03. Mulholland Dr.
04. Far From Heaven
05. Yi yi
06. Elephant
07. Spirited Away
08. Waking Life
09. Brokeback Mountain
10. The Royal Tenenbaums

David Holmes
01. Children of Men
02. You Can Count on Me
03. The Royal Tenenbaums
04. Grizzly Man
05. Mulholland Dr.
06. Donnie Darko
07. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings
08. Munich
09. The New World
10. Y Tu Mamá También

Brad Luen
01. Time Out
02. Mulholland Dr.
03. Before Sunset
04. Yi Yi
05. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
06. In the Mood for Love
07. Spellbound
08. Springtime in a Small Town
09. Kings and Queen
10. Far from Heaven

Patrick McKay
01. Mulholland Dr.
02. Talk to Her
03. You Can Count On Me
04. Y Tu Mamá También
05. The Royal Tenenbaums
06. Before Sunset
07. Lost in Translation
08. Master and Commander
09. Catch Me if You Can
10. Spider-Man 2

Dave Micevic
01. The Son
02. Children of Men
03. The Best of Youth
04. Songs From the Second Floor
05. All the Real Girls
06. Before Sunset
07. Bubble
08. City of God
09. Tristram Shandy
10. The Barbarian Invasions

David Pratt-Robson
01. Kings and Queen
02. Tropical Malady
03. Clean
04. Last Days
05. Unknown Pleasures
06. Regular Lovers
07. Mulholland Dr.
08. Femme Fatale
09. Three Times
10. Origins of the 21st Century

Nancy Keefe Rhodes
Army of Shadows
Artificial Intelligence: AI
The Best of Youth
Children of Men
The Dreamers
The Magdalene Sisters

Ethan Robinson
01. Hedwig & the Angry Inch
02. Children of Men
03. Kill Bill
04. The Royal Tenenbaums
05. Jeanne & The Perfect Guy
06. American Splendor
07. The Devil's Rejects
08. Serenity
09. Mean Girls
10. Shaun of the Dead

Andy Slabaugh
01. Cruel Winter Blues
02. 2046
03. Memories of Murder
04. Exiled
05. Joint Security Area
06. Funny Ha-Ha
07. The Child
08. Woman on the Beach
09. The Old Garden
10. The Boss of It All

Bill Weber
01. Munich
02. Decasia
03. Eureka
04. Mulholland Dr.
05. The Son
06. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
07. Crimson Gold
08. Far from Heaven
09. The Saddest Music in the World
10. What Time Is It There?

By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2007-10-30
Comments (18)

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