Selections for 2000s
2000: “Best in Show”
2002: “The Good Girl”
2003: “Cold Mountain”
2006: “Thank You for Smoking”
2007: “No Country for Old Men”
2009: “World’s Greatest Dad”
Part 1 of this end-of-decade review was published in Friday’s Craig Daily Press. Below are my notable film picks of the year for 2005 through 2009.
• 2005: “Transamerica” — Bree (Felicity Huffman), a transgender woman in the final stages of a sex change, learns that during her life as a man, she unknowingly fathered a son (Kevin Zegers), who is now a teenager with criminal issues.
When she meets him under the guise of a random do-gooder, they embark on a cross-country journey hoping to get rid of each other as quick as possible but also finding a lot in common.
As a woman pretending to be a man who’s only one operation from becoming a woman, Huffman keeps a steady head portraying an individual you could mistake for the Avon lady if you didn’t know the back story.
The script makes for one of the best road movies in a long while with a comfortable blend of traditional and contemporary values.
The same year also brought us the artier “Brokeback Mountain,” but the depiction of alternate lifestyles here is much more personable and undemanding.
The narrative is further complemented by the breezy accompanying Dolly Parton tune, “Travelin’ Thru.”
• 2006: “Thank You for Smoking” — Cocky tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself questioning the ethical implications of his line of work. His doubts are raised even more thanks to an interview with a muckraking journalist (Katie Holmes), as he sees himself earning the title of “Merchant of Death” more and more.
The spin business gets a good counter-twirl in this take-no-prisoners satire. Taking aim at a business that almost is universally hated isn’t much of a challenge, but the movie takes it to the next level by balancing the argument.
An anti-smoking politician (William H. Macy) is vilified doing everything he can to shove the public to his half of the forum, including arranging a kidnapping of Naylor and having terrorists cover his body with nicotine patches. And you’re in no danger of being influenced to light one up with Sam Elliott as a health-stricken old Marlboro Man reminding us that cigarettes are indeed dangerous.
The point being that for all the lines of reasoning on both sides — as with many hot-button topics — the real question is about personal conscience and the freedom of choice. No lobbyist can change these enduring themes, even one with the swagger of Eckhart.
• 2007: “No Country for Old Men” — A West Texas man (Josh Brolin) gets more than he bargained for when he discovers a briefcase of cash while hunting in the desert. Tracking him is a mysterious assassin (Javier Bardem) with an icy resolve and no hesitance in killing anyone and anything that gets in his way, leaving a local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) the only one to rectify the situation.
The Western genre gets a stark, almost devastating revamp in this meticulously faithful rendering of Cormac McCarthy’s novel.
Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen won a well-deserved trio of Academy Awards — Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay — for their bleak revision of human nature on the prairie, reminding us that gone are the days when the gallant cowboy wore a white hat and the villain a dark one.
Though the largely silent and barren settings establish a moody, callous ambiance, the real terror comes from Bardem as contract killer Anton Chigurh, a merciless and humorless force of nature who carries a cattle gun for his work and decides his quarry’s fate by flipping a coin.
Just don’t stare at his hideous hairstyle when you call heads or tails.
• 2008: “Frost/Nixon” — Following Gerald Ford’s 1974 presidential pardon of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, the nation is split into supporters and detractors of the former president. British media personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) takes up the cause of getting an extensive, exclusive interview with Nixon, knowing that such an examination will make for powerful television.
But his quest for ratings evolves into a stratagem to get the disgraced politician to admit his guilt, an outcome that Nixon and his associates intend to circumvent.
Sheen is perfectly charming as Frost, whose first impression as being a bit of a twit is not indicative of his skills as an interviewer. Langella is even more forceful as the notorious subject, wholly capturing Nixon’s own one-of-a-kind magnetism and his trademark rage. He easily stacks up to previous portrayers like Anthony Hopkins, Dan Hedaya and Philip Baker Hall.
Screenwriter Peter Morgan’s reworking of his own stage play mainly focuses on the behind-the-scenes of the whole ordeal, but it is never once boring — an altogether thrilling drama from director Ron Howard.
• 2009: “World’s Greatest Dad” — When his teenage son (Daryl Sabara) dies in an embarrassing, self-imposed freak accident, a single dad (Robin Williams) fakes the boy’s suicide to save face. This has an unexpected upturn on his own life, as the students at the school where he teaches become fascinated with the deceased fellow student they never got to know.
And it only snowballs from there.
Williams is understated and amazingly effective as a genuinely good father who quickly becomes a monster as he reaps the benefits of his child “killing himself,” but Sabara’s character’s abhorrent personality makes his legacy all the more hilarious.
Though the other pupils in his school reinvent him in their own individual images post mortem, they are oblivious to the fact that the 15-year-old cared about nothing in life and considered activities like sports, movies, music and writing — basically anything that involves creativity or physical effort — to be stupid.
Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait’s irreverent black humor spits in the eye of basic decency and makes no apologies. Rightly so, as his scathing commentary about the ease of manipulating public perception is deadly serious.
These are but a few of the highlights to hit theaters since 2000, and the list only can be so long. But there are plenty of other features made during the decade that are worth seeing, so don’t limit yourself.
Here’s hoping that the 2010s will yield just as many noteworthy films.