There's no art form as profoundly democratic as the cinema. For a modest admission price (that has, nonetheless, risen more than 33 percent nationwide over the decade), a group of strangers can sit together in the dark and share a projected dream or fantasy, romance or drama.
Consequently, most everyone can claim a passionate interest in film and have well-developed opinions about their favorites—in ways that aren't quite true of other art forms.
In thinking about the best movies of the decade, we decided to survey artists, musicians, restauranteurs, political figures and other public or semipublic figures in the Triangle. Here are our responses; we'll lead with Durham's Barry Ragin, who was kind enough to offer an eloquent preamble.
Looking back on a list of movies released over the past 10 years, I was surprised at the clarity with which I was able to recall a double handful of nearly perfect scenes. Atanarjuat running barefoot over miles of crusty snow in The Fast Runner. Jin and Leo dueling, their swords chipped and rusty, through an eternal winter storm in the climactic scene of House of Flying Daggers. Stephanie clocking Jack with her motorcycle helmet in Sideways. Being inside a flock of cranes during Winged Migration. Jack Sparrow's sinking-ship entrance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Stumbling onto Miyazaki's Spirited Away one night on the Cartoon Network as hundreds of little "soot-spiders" crawled across the screen; I was hooked and sat spellbound through two back-to-back airings.
But there was one wordless shot in the almost perfect Children of Men that encapsulates, for me, the art of storytelling. Theo has gone, for the first time, to visit the aging hippie Jasper after narrowly escaping a random bomb attack. We see Jasper caring for Janice, his catatonic wife, and the camera pans briefly and unobtrusively across a desk full of newspaper clippings and photographs. It's Janice's life, sketched in outline yet fully realized, heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. Just an absolute marvel of filmmaking, and by itself reason enough to keep me going to the movies.
Although there are several music-oriented films that caught my attention this decade (High Fidelity, Once and the documentary Dig! come to mind), my favorite movie is actually Memento from 2000. I completely missed this one when it was in theaters, but it was one of the first DVDs I rented when I purchased my first player ... and definitely the first where I exhausted every available bonus feature. Quite possibly my favorite movie of all time!
The only film that has managed to actually move me has been Man On Wire. Phillippe Petit's tightrope walk between the twin towers in '74 has never been outdone, and the sneaking around he had to do to get onto the roof is something I can relate to. His drive to accomplish his dream that even his friends called crazy and his honest lack of fear of death are things I aspire to.
The Lives of Others manages to be a spy story, a love poem and the tale of Artist vs. Society. It celebrates the power of art over the most artistic exercise of power itself. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark's first major film charts the evolution of a Stasi spy. Hired in 1984 to eavesdrop on a renowned young East German playwright, the anonymous operative overhears a freedom that changes him. I admire the movie's suspense, its depth of characterization, its willingness to address politics as one of humankind's most earnest (and therefore heartbreaking) pursuits. The greatest films emerge as regimes crumble. The Berlin Wall fell so this movie might escape.
One of the best films of the last decade is Donnie Darko. Set in 1988, the story of an unsettled misfit (Jake Gyllenhaal) who comes to terms with his haunted destiny, is both supernatural and social satire. The film is hypnotic and dreamy, jarring and at times really funny. Released in 2001 before 9/ 11, the film was even more memorable for me because of its plotline of jet engines falling from the sky. An alternate universe, time travel, totally rad Reagan-era music and angsty suburban youth ... what more could you ask for?
The Fellowship of the Ring. I'm a fantasy movie buff, and it has everything you could want (just about) in a fantasy. I expected to see hobbits and wizards when I went to England for the first time.
I am a complete sucker for a good crime noir, and Memento's unique backwards plot structure hooked me immediately. The novelty of the storytelling, though, doesn't obscure a great tale of a man's search for the truth about his wife's murder. Memento also brought director Christopher Nolan to my attention. I've found that directors are much better indicators than actors in whether I enjoy a film, and Nolan is a prime example. I haven't seen his pre-Memento work, but Insomnia, The Prestige and the Christian Bale Batman movies are rock solid.
My favorite movie of the last 10 years is Junebug by Winston-Salem native Phil Morrison. Five years later, I still can't stop thinking about Junebug. Like all great movies, it gets deeper, funnier and more complicated every time I see it.
The movie A Beautiful Mind tops my list for the 2000s. I grew up in a household of educators, so I particularly enjoy how this movies captures many of the subtle eccentricities of the academic life in a great human drama.
Eric Staal—Casino Royale
Rod Brind'Amour—Wedding Crashers
Honestly, I don't go but to one movie or so a year [but] I did stumble onto No Country for Old Men one day on cable. This movie stuck with me for months. It was powerful, disturbing art. Tommy Lee Jones is a favorite actor, and Javier Bardem was quite evil. The theme articulated by Jones, that "age'll flatten a man," held the most meaning. I will not likely watch it again, but think it was the best movie I can recall.
Of my top 10, 2008's American Violet is one of two that were not on anyone's list. I noticed that true stories rarely win Oscars or fans at the box office. The story is true, and Nicole Beharie as Dee Roberts is as charming a performance of any woman I've seen on screen in the last decade. This is that movie that I recommend to everyone.
Little Miss Sunshine: great characters, perfect dialogue and such wonderful use of humor.
I'll stick with the movie that came to mind when I first read your e-mail, The Pianist. It's strong on most of what I love in a movie: good story, good acting, powerful message, good music, good cinematography. It should have won all the awards it did. [In a later message: "I thought of one more movie I want to add to my list: The Lives of Others. It is very well-played and particularly thought-provoking for me."]
Although there were many fantastic films made in the last decade, and my original inclination was to choose an offbeat, independent film that would up my "cool" quotient, I have to be honest and choose the Lord of the Rings trilogy as my favorite film(s) of the last decade. I am a huge fan of the books and have read and re-read them countless times since the late 60s, and to see them realized so perfectly on screen was the fulfillment of a lifelong wish. I remember sitting in the theater watching The Fellowship of the Ring and thinking how right is was—the casting, the special effects, the music, the locales in New Zealand—everything. Even though I own the complete box set of the extended versions of the movies (which are much better than the theater versions) and have watched them several times, I still stop and watch for a while whenever I click by them when I'm channel surfing. I'm immediately transported to that fantastic world I first discovered in the fifth grade.
The film of the past 10 years that has most become part of my everyday life is O Brother, Where Art Thou? It's bona fide! And I'm still seeking the treasure.
Independent Weekly interns Sarah Ewald and Belem Destefani surveyed the respondents for this column.