3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): Contrary to what history books might tell you, some of the greatest films are also the most modest. Having only a brilliantly written screenplay by the highly celebrated Charlie Kaufman and the direction of Frenchman Michel Gondry to its name, Eternal Sunshine looked to change our minds about hurt feelings and serendipitous (or defeatist?) lovers and managed to become one of the best films of the decade. Its topsy-turvy, discombobulated approach made the film hard to follow through its first run; like one of those patterned images that relates a 3D object in time, if you tried too hard to see this film, you never could. The story of a man, Joel Barish, portrayed marvelously by the still untapped Jim Carrey, who decides to erase all of his memories of his ex-lover, Eternal Sunshine is a showcase of masterful editing, as the film weaves in and out of Joel’s past, memories being unburied and erased with Joel fighting it all the while. Jon Brion’s original score was sullen and deep, accenting the film’s roller-coaster of emotions perfectly when garnished with tracks from The Polyphonic Spree. Eternal Sunshine was not an epic by all means, nor did it have epic success at the box office, but almost six years later it remains to be an unforgettable example of great film. Why this film was important: Unique in its style and approach, this film is one of the greatest portrayals of love and hurt exhibited in movie history.
2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001/2/3): I don’t think I have to explain myself here. The greatest story, the greatest characters, the greatest action, the greatest trilogy of all time. Why these films were important: Saved New Line Cinema; set the standard for technical achievement and production management; for better or for worse, these films truly started the 21st century franchise mentality—no more do studios wait to see if the first film is well received: the first is only there to set in place its successors.
1. Spirited Away (2001): To say a film was “perfect” is to incite myriad implications, so many, in fact, that to do so would taint the nature of the referent, thus rendering it irreversibly damaged. … But Spirited Away was perfect. Hayao Miyazaki’s tale about a girl who finds herself trapped in the spirit world was an endearing, dreamlike piece of film narrative. The film that introduced Miyazaki to the world and the Japanese director’s finest to date, Spirited Away had everything, in every way, going for it: an enchanting, gripping story, interesting and varied characters, a lush, orchestrated soundtrack and some of the most jaw-dropping visuals in cinema. The film was a grand and elegant statement on finding the courage to face unforeseen problems, on diligence and friendship and ignorance, and it all was tied tightly into the narrative, as our young protagonist, Chihiro, was challenged time and again in many long, focused scenes consisting merely of Chihiro, a task and Joe Hisaishi’s bounding score. The vastness of the world coupled with the specificity of Chihiro’s story gave the film a multilayered touch, one that could be dissected and absorbed by people from highly divergent walks of life and in numerous divergent ways. Spirited Away went beyond providing good entertainment or meaningful conversation, it proved itself as an art form, one that sometimes needs to simply be taken in, that sometimes has the power to spirit you away. Why this film was important: See “perfect.”
Honorable mentions (in no specific order):
Catch Me If You Can, Eastern Promises, Lars and the Real Girl, Black Hawk Down, Almost Famous, Kill Bill Series, Cast Away, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior