Third film critic lists best movies thus far

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - DAN LYBARGER

Now that my co­horts Piers Marchant and Philip Martin have de­clared what they think are the best films of the new cen­tury, it’s my turn to pick up 20 movies that have stood a some­what brief test of time.

I hate mak­ing lists be­cause I fear that, un­der dead­line pres­sure, I’ll either ag­gran­dize or short­change cer­tain movies. And since I’m the fi­nal Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette critic to turn in my se­lec­tions, I also feel an obli­ga­tion not to re­peat the lists my peers have made. They’ve al­ready done a ter­rific job of ex­plain­ing why Rata­touille, The Hunt, The Lives of Others, A Sep­a­ra­tion, Pan’s Labyrinth and other films they chose are worth catch­ing.

I’ve picked 20 movies they haven’t men­tioned that all de­buted in 2001 or later. Be­cause I’m con­stantly dis­cov­er­ing wor­thy movies that I missed ear­lier, I won’t say that these are the best of the 21st cen­tury. In­stead, they’re the movies that I’ve either watched re­peat­edly or that gripped me so much on a sin­gle view­ing that my mem­ory re­peats them for me. I’ve used bul­lets in­stead of num­bers be­cause how I’d rank them would vary from day to day.

The best film of this age may be sit­ting in some bar­gain bin wait­ing for me and others to find it.

■ The Fog of War: Eleven

Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNa­mara (2003) — It’s easy to and right to con­demn for­mer Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert S. McNa­mara’s deadly mis­takes dur­ing the Viet­nam War, but he and doc­u­men­tary mas­ter Er­rol Mor­ris (who protested against the war) raise a se­ries of dif­fi­cult truths that aren’t go­ing away any­time soon. McNa­mara, even late in his life, seemed in de­nial about his role in the war, but he warns that the com­bi­na­tion of hu­man frailty and nu­clear weapons can lead to tragedies we can’t imag­ine.

■ Mas­ter and Com­man­der: The Far Side of the World (2003) — Aus­tralian di­rec­tor Peter Weir lost a well-de­served Os­car to a story in­volv­ing hob­bits, but as a fan of both movies I shouldn’t com­plain. Weir makes view­ers feel as if they are on the Bri­tish war­ship get­ting ready for bat­tle against a better armed French op­po­nent. It im­merses the viewer into the world of early 19th-cen­tury naval life and never lets up.

■ The Hurt Locker (2008) — Speak­ing of im­mer­sion, writer Mark Boal and di­rec­tor Kathryn Bigelow’s story of an ob­ses­sive bomb tech­ni­cian (Jeremy Ren­ner) re­veals there are ca­su­al­ties in war who don’t have the phys­i­cal wounds to show for it. The last few min­utes of this movie, where Sgt. James re­turns to the States from Iraq in body but not spirit, still haunt me.

■ The Deep End (2001) — Tilda Swin­ton is mag­nif­i­cent in this thriller about a navy of­fi­cer’s wife try­ing to protect her son from scan­dal in­volv­ing il­licit sex and mur­der. Af­ter 9/11, the film be­came even more en­gross­ing be­cause more mil­i­tary fam­i­lies were spend­ing long stretches apart.

■ Iron Man (2008) — If you’re get­ting tired of Marvel movies or su­per­hero movies in gen­eral, you can blame Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau for fig­ur­ing out how to make the genre as clever and heart­felt as it is eye pop­ping. Watch­ing the movie again is in­trigu­ing be­cause Tony Stark’s weaponized suit comes into the movie rather late, and the film ac­tu­ally raises a se­ries of trou­bling ques­tions about the na­ture of arms deal­ing. Whereas many re­cent en­tries have been more dour than thrilling, the first Iron Man con­sis­tently re­mem­bers it was made to en­ter­tain.

■ Hugo (2011) — It’s no se­cret that Martin Scors­ese is a fa­natic about clas­sic films, and he makes that fa­nati­cism con­ta­gious with Hugo. In ad­di­tion to giv­ing screen pi­o­neer Ge­orges Melies (A Trip to the Moon) his due, Scors­ese demon­strates that 3-D cinema can be more than a ruse to raise ad­mis­sion prices.

■ Eastern Prom­ises (2007) — In his long ca­reer, David Cro­nen­berg has de­vel­oped a knack for sen­si­tiz­ing view­ers to the con­se­quences of vi­o­lence. When his char­ac­ters get into fights, the re­sults are ap­pro­pri­ately har­row­ing to watch. Thanks to breath­tak­ing per­for­mances from Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and Ar­min Mueller-Stahl, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to dis­cover the deadly side of seem­ingly gen­teel people.

■ Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind (2004) — Char­lie Kauf­man won an Os­car for his script about a low-rent ser­vice that purges un­wanted mem­o­ries from your head. Un­der Michel Gondry’s de­light­fully quirky but poignant di­rec­tion, Jim Car­rey plays a fel­low who pays to for­get his ex (Kate Winslet), only to dis­cover that he still loves her.

■ Perse­po­lis (2007) — Mar­jane Sa­trapi’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal car­toon about her youth in Iran and Europe re­veals a lot about both cul­tures and con­sis­tently en­ter­tains in the process. Her sim­ple de­signs con­vey far more in­for­ma­tion than a 10-minute mono­logue.

■ Ghost World (2001) — As bit­ter­sweet as it is side-split­tingly hi­lar­i­ous, Ghost World

ex­plores how mak­ing a home in the real world isn’t as re­ward­ing as ad­ver­tised. The acid-tongued Enid (Thora Birch) is re­mark­ably sym­pa­thetic even if she can’t fig­ure out how to make her way through life with­out caus­ing trou­ble for others.

■ Spot­light (2015) — This look at how the Bos­ton Globe

re­vealed the ex­tent of child abuse within the lo­cal Ro­man Catholic dio­cese is worth catch­ing sim­ply for show­ing how good in­ves­ti­ga­tions should be con­ducted and for mak­ing people sit­ting and talk­ing as thrilling as car chases.

■ Mother (2009) — South Korean di­rec­tor Bong Joon Ho has spe­cial­ized in mak­ing view­ers be­lieve that a giant slug was ter­ror­iz­ing Seoul

(The Host), a train was mov­ing over a world of ice (Snow­piercer) and that a lit­tle girl could be friends with a giant pig (Okja). With Mother, how­ever, he has no spe­cial ef­fect but Kim Hye-ja’s en­gross­ing per­for­mance as the ti­tle char­ac­ter. Through­out the film, there’s some mys­tery if her at­tempts to save her dis­abled son from a mur­der charge are heroic or delu­sional. Either way, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch.

■ The In­cred­i­bles (2004) — Pick­ing out a fa­vorite Pixar movie is like nam­ing a fa­vorite child, but Brad Bird’s two movies for the stu­dio (the other is Rata­touille) are stand­outs with their vivid imag­i­na­tion, sharply de­fined and en­dear­ing char­ac­ters and a sense of won­der. It’s also de­light­ful to watch a tod­dler who can burst into flames at will. Sa­muel L. Jack­son’s golden throat has never been used so well else­where.

■ The Div­ing Bell and the But­ter­fly (2007) — Painter Julian Schn­abel cre­ates an in­trigu­ing take on the life of writer Jean-Do­minique Bauby (ex­pertly played by Mathieu Amal­ric) who had to re­build his life af­ter a stroke left him with locked-in syn­drome and he could only move his left eye. The ti­tle refers to how Bauby de­scribed his con­di­tion as both con­fin­ing and lib­er­at­ing. Schn­abel makes both sides of Bauby’s ex­is­tence vivid and en­gag­ing.

■ Cave of For­got­ten Dreams

(2010) — Werner Her­zog’s 3-D doc­u­men­tary takes view­ers into the Chau­vet Cave in France, lo­ca­tion of the old­est known cave paint­ings in the world. Be­cause it’s Her­zog be­hind the camera, he can’t help but of­fer ex­is­ten­tial mus­ings through­out, but the most pow­er­ful mo­ments of this film oc­cur when he sim­ply shuts off his mi­cro­phone and lets us look at the paint­ings with him.

■ In­cendies (2010) — French-Cana­dian di­rec­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve has been on a roll with movies like En­emy, Si­cario and Ar­rival,

but his adap­ta­tion of Wa­jdi Mouawad’s play about a pair of Montreal twins get­ting in touch with their Mid­dle Eastern roots is my fa­vorite. Vil­leneuve con­sis­tently as­sumes that his au­di­ence doesn’t have to be spoon-fed, and in the process cre­ates a more spir­i­tu­ally nour­ish­ing story.

■ Let­ters From Iwo Jima

(2006) — Clint East­wood’s low key di­rec­to­rial re­straint has never been more ap­pro­pri­ate than in this look at Ja­pan’s des­per­ate and fe­ro­cious at­tempt to hold on to the out­ly­ing is­land against su­pe­rior Amer­i­can forces dur­ing World War II. Ken Watan­abe is great as the com­man­der who knows that his mis­sion is fu­tile and pro­ceeds with it any­way. The film also raises the thorny ques­tion of whether sur­ren­der might be more heroic than sui­cide.

■ The Squid and the Whale

(2005) — I saw this film af­ter a rel­a­tive’s di­vorce, and its un­flinch­ingly hon­est de­pic­tion of how a cou­ple’s breakup af­fects their kids has stayed with me. It’s also a de­light to see Jeff Daniels play an aca­demic whose eru­di­tion is shy of his ego.

■ No (2012) — Who says that sto­ries of rev­o­lu­tion have to be somber and dull? Pablo Lar­rain’s re­count­ing of how ad­ver­tis­ing helped bring demo­cratic rule to his na­tive Chile never down­plays the tragedies of Au­gusto Pinochet’s dic­ta­tor­ship, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to keep a straight face at the thought of com­mer­cials bring­ing him down.

■ Like Some­one in Love (2012) — The late Ira­nian di­rec­tor Ab­bas Kiarostami brought his sub­tle ap­proach to sto­ry­telling to Ja­pan in this look at a re­tired col­lege pro­fes­sor (Tadashi Okuno) who be­friends a strug­gling stu­dent (Rin Takanashi), who has turned to pros­ti­tu­tion. It’s a story that nor­mally leads to eye rolls, but Kiarostami’s last movie is con­sis­tently con­vinc­ing and heart­felt.

Niko­lai (Viggo Mortensen) is the ruth­less and mys­te­ri­ous driver for one of Lon­don’s most dan­ger­ous crime fam­i­lies in David Cro­nen­berg’s Eastern Prom­ises, one of the best films of the 21st cen­tury so far.

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