1) The 40 Year Old Virgin
For a couple years there Steve Carrell was really on top of the comedy game, The Office was really hitting its stride (An aside: I was watching an old episode last night when Amy Ryan was on and, man, that show at that point was just firing on all cylinders) and he followed up an awesome turn in Anchorman with the great starring role here as the titular virgin. I am going to go out on a limb here and say this is probably still my favorite Judd Apatow-directed movie, and perhaps the best big screen distillation of his brand of gentle self-deprecation comedy. I mean besides Freaks and Geeks (and, to an extent, Undeclared). I was watching this again recently, and was still struck that beyond all the gross-out gags and dick jokes, there is a tremendous amount of heart, and with the main leads, really, nice camaraderie. Its weird because up until Apatow that mixture didn't always work but between his scripts and casting just the right way-it does. I also think its great that he started this sort of comedy revolution, then introduced all these great actors, like say Seth Rogen, and Paul Rudd (and Jonah Hill and Jane Lynch) people who would keep on working together and keep on making great comedy.
The idea of melding the language of a Raymond Chandler novel and the aesthetic of film noir with high school sounds like an iffy proposition at best. It works because Rian Johnson decided to play it straight, not winking at the audience, and allowing the audience to make its way through the dialogue to its core mystery. I had never seen (actually I still haven't seen it) Mysterious Skin before seeing this, so Joseph Gordon-Leavitt's performance here was a revelation-I had only known him before from 3rd Rock From the Sun and 10 Things I Hate About You.
3) Brokeback Mountain
Probably the best movie to launch a million hacky jokes. This set off a strange, cultural firestorm at the time it came out. But it so much more than the "gay cowboy" movie that conservative pundits would have you believe. Not only is Heath Ledger's largely internal performance as the self loathing cowhand a powerful things of beauty. But just the way Ang Lee was able to take Annie Proulx's short story, and turn it into a story of the cumulative, crushing, power of years and years of secrecy-is a remarkable achievement. In the end, of course, it is a tragedy, but it is still essentially a story of love won and lost. (And also, the cinematography is beautiful.)
4) Dave Chappelle's Block Party
Much like Steve Carrell up above, Dave Chappelle was one of the titans of comedy at this brief moment in time. This was released right before he fled to Africa and decided to leave Comedy Central. Much like Steve Carrell, even when exposing society's peccadilloes Dave Chappelle comes off as truly likeable. So it comes as no surprise that with his fame he would get together with some of his favorite artists and throw a huge block party. While the concert itself seems fun to be a part of (A minor thing for me, I wish he would have persuaded, say, A Tribe Called Quest to reunited instead of The Fugees, but that, like I said is a small thing) Some of the real joy comes in seeing Chappelle put the thing together-especially when he is offering his neighbor from near where he lives in Ohio the chance to come out and enjoy the show. He has such an affection for, well, people in general but particularly the people in and around the small town where he resides. Its amazing to see how excited the marching band from the local college gets when they learn they can go to Brooklyn too. Or the older lady that works at the local store who seems like she would feel out of place at such a show but has the time of her life. Chappelle is clearly enjoying himself and it shows and it translates. Even when he is just talking to the people that live around the area that the concert is taking place. Its such infectious joy, its hard to ignore. Oh, also, Michel Gondry has cool friends. Lets be honest.
5) Good Night and Good Luck
Looking something up about this movie, I just realized that I don't think I have seen any other of George Clooney's directorial efforts. So I can't say how this stacks up. But, I think this is a nicely realized film, all told. The black and white looks amazing, and he seems to get the look and feel of a newsroom from the fifties. I particularly like the effect of the curling, white smoke, particularly when focused on David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow. Clooney was pretty obvious in what he was going for in even making this movie, he was pining for a time when the media stood up to power instead of just parroting talking points. In dealing strictly with the leadup and aftermath of Murrow calling out the HUAC leader Joseph McCarthy, he was pining for and/or hoping for someone else to take a similar stance against the Bush Administration. Its always exciting, especially if its this well done, to see someone speaking truth to power. Moreso when it actually took place. I also the like the true life treatment when it doesn't go through Murrow's whole life but takes a careful look at a slice of it. Its one of those times when even if we can look up the outcome of such an act, its still gripping to see it recreated in such a careful manner. (Also, part of Robert Downey Jr's 2005 comeback tour-see below.)
6) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
One thing it is important to remember is that at this point, in 2005, Robert Downey Jr. and his career were basically a punchline. It seems that this was the year he started on the comeback trail, so to speak. Its interesting because he gets paired up with Shane Black, who wrote the Lethal Weapon movies and hadn't written anything else for about 10 years. And then out of nowhere, Downey is perfect in the role of a man thrust into a real head-scratcher of a mystery. His laid back, smartassness (its a word, trust me) works perfectly here with the sort of pop culture laden dialogue that people have been trying to pull off since Tarantino first came about. Its a real film noir, as well as a buddy comedy, rolled into a commentary/satire on Hollywood entertainment. It really is amazing. Also amazing is the fact that Val KIlmer is good in this.
I have to be honest, I have really enjoyed Steven Spielberg's 00's output. Even if they have fallen short of expectations they have built up, he has really had some great experiments this decade. A.I. juuuuust missed my list for that year as did Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can for their respective years. Even The Terminal was an ambitious failure. He must have gotten bored with trying new things when Indiana Jones and/or War Of The Worlds came around. I still find Munich, yes, barring that one scene near the end which is more weird than anything else. But this movie is really one of astonishing power on two levels. He managed to make a gripping thriller which could have stood as that alone. But there is another layer here, the one where he questions the nature and and escalation of "eye for an eye" violence. Its powerful in both respects (check out that final shot). And, to be honest, to take such a stance dealing with Israel's secret police was a pretty brave one for him, and one that earned him condemnation from many parties.
8) The Squid and The Whale
My favorite Noah Baumbach movie, just edging out Kicking and Screaming. Although he denies it, this is Noah Baumbach's autobiographical tour-de-force, so to speak., focusing on his (or in this case Jesse Eisenberg's) parents' divorce. Its somewhat offputting, but its designed to be that way. Its about a messy divorce. Jeff Daniels is pitch-perfect as the past-his-prime author and pretentious academic asshole, and his son, Eisenberg, is trying to ape his most awful tendencies before realizing how awful they actually are. (90% of humanity being philistines who don't understand art, film, literature etc.) Laura Linney is typically great as his Mom whose affair ultimately starts to tear the family apart. On the surface there are a lot of terrible people being insufferable, but underneath I think there is a lot of humanity and actual feeling there. Its in the digging for it lies some of Baumbach's best writing.
9) Thank You For Smoking
Seeing him on an old episode of The Office last night really brought home how good David Koechner is at playing these grown-up fratboy types (see also his turn in Anchroman) He does a good job of it here as the head spokesman for the NRA. But this show really belongs to Aaron Eckhart as the Nick Naylor, the fast-talking, chief spokesman for big tobacco. Thus far, right at this moment, Jason Reitman is 50-50, I really enjoyed this, obviously, but I absolutely hated Juno, so there's that. (And I have yet to see Up In The Air.) The writing is good, and its fun to see Aaron Eckhart dance around his opponents with his verbal gymnastics. He's helped ably by the likes of J.K. Simmons and William H. Macy. In the end I'm not sure there's much to it, but its a fun ride. (Spoiler! No one actually smokes in the movie either!)
10) The Descent
One of (if not THE) scariest movies of the decade. Also has one of the single greatest jump-out-of-your-seat moments of the decade. I like how there is tension originally with the group of ladies that goes down into the (unchartered) caves. I like how they squeeze as much tension out of interpersonal relationships as they do out of the natural tension of being stuck in a real small place. And then the monster movie begins and things are amped up to a whole different level. Its scary, exciting, and ultimately, sort of sad in a weird sort of way. I also like the fact that these are adventure women through and through, and even when faced with subhuman menace, they get scared, sure, but they still kind of kick ass.