Memento, Mulholland Drive among Canadian Press film favourites of 2000s

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TORONTO - When it came to film, the 2000s were all about big movie franchises, superhero flicks and over-the-top spectacle.
From the "Bourne" trilogy to "X-Men" to the effects-laden "2012," the last 10 years provided star-packed theatre thrills, but there were some surprise gems, too.
After much reflection and passionate discussion, the writers and editors of The Canadian Press settled on a list of 10 of their favourites. Here they are, in chronological order:
"Memento" (2000) - The disjointed, reverse chronology of this Christopher Nolan film left most viewers feeling as confused and disoriented as lead character Leonard, who suffers from anterograde amnesia, which prevents him from creating new memories. The clever whodunit, which was nominated for best editing and writing Oscars, inspired repeat viewings and DVD purchases so fans could try to decode the real story behind the murder of Leonard's wife and who was manipulating him all along.
"You Can Count on Me" (2000) - A quiet, beautifully observed film about the unbreakable bond between siblings. Mark Ruffalo, in one of his first big-screen roles, is a revelation as wayward brother Terry, with his Brando-esque, laconic delivery and rumpled demeanour. Laura Linney, meanwhile, dazzles as his tightly wound yet quickly coming-undone sister Sammy. The film, with an excellent supporting cast that includes Rory Culkin and Matthew Broderick, unfolds slowly, culminating in an astonishing brother-sister exchange at a bus stop that is at once tender, plaintive and wistful - and left many audience members sobbing in their seats.
"Mulholland Drive" (2001) - From the mind of David Lynch came this mesmerizing psychological thriller, a fascinating melange of the director's delightfully sinister and subversive comic sensibilities. Framed by a highly stylized noir glam in the vein of Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks," "Mulholland Drive" wove a complex tangle of Hollywood intrigue around a wide-eyed actress from rural Ontario and the Tinseltown dreams that consumed her. Naomi Watts is a standout as the naive Betty Elms, newly arrived in the land of sun from Deep River, Ont., and drawn to a mysterious dark-haired amnesiac (played by Laura Elena Harring) who doesn't know her name, how she ended up the sole survivor of a car crash, and why her purse is stuffed with cash. Their confounding journey only becomes more baffling as the film heads into deeply surreal territory that includes a strange blue box and a monstrous homeless man who lingers behind the local diner. None of these enigmas is ever fully resolved, but much of the fun (for Lynch fans, anyway) is in slowly uncovering their menacing clues, and going back over them with repeated viewings.
"Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) - Director Peter Jackson's audacious bet that he could faithfully reproduce J.R.R. Tolkien's classic tome on the big screen - and still entertain a wide audience - paid off handsomely. The three films, which were all shot together over a 14-month period in New Zealand, wound up collecting an astounding 17 Oscars and grossed nearly US$3 billion at the box office. The special effects that brought Tolkien's characters to life were second to none, and the narrative epitomized epic storytelling. Fans happily scooped up extended director's cut DVDs that took the trilogy from an already hefty run-time of nine hours and 18 minutes to 11 hours and 22 minutes. Few films of the decade inspired the same level of fanatical devotion and obsession that fans of the "Rings" oeuvre had.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004) - Never has so much heart shone through a surrealist, science fiction-based story. Charlie Kaufman's Oscar-winning screenplay reminds us of the beauty of memory and the tragedy of its loss in a tale of former lovers still connected in soul but not in their conscious minds. Kate Winslet is enchanting as blue-and-orange-haired bohemian Clementine, who has hired a company to erase memories of her relationship with her old boyfriend, Joel (played with striking sensitivity by Jim Carrey). Reunited in a chance encounter years down the line, Joel's subconscious fights to preserve their past as he undergoes the same memory-erasing procedure. Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood co-star in touching flashbacks of Joe and Clementine that are quickly - and sadly - being wiped out.
"40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) - Was there a comedic movie moment this decade more memorable than Steve Carell having tufts of dark hair torn from his chest while shrieking "Yow! Kelly Clarkson!" in anguish? After two forays into television (the critically beloved but commercially unsuccessful "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared"), Judd Apatow improbably found a massive audience for his naturalistic, largely improvised directorial debut, which wrapped potty-mouthed raunch around a warm-hearted centre. It also featured a cast of fairly obscure comic actors - Vancouver's Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch, Kat Dennings and, in a cameo, Jonah Hill - who, in the four intervening years since the movie's release, have all become cinematic mainstays. None more so than Carell, whose winning turn as the titular bicycle-riding man-child grounded a film that otherwise could have just been a series of very funny off-colour jokes. Carell, with his blissful naivete, "kind eyes" and a house full of video games, action figures and a framed Asia poster, puts in a star-making performance that also elevated his other gig, the American TV adaptation of "The Office," into a major hit. Apatow (and more than a few imitators) went on to make more movies about men reluctantly entering adulthood, but this was his finest achievement - a surprising, loose little film that wound up setting the table for the second half of the decade in big-screen comedy.
"Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) - This quirky little indie film came out of nowhere to charm critics and audiences with a feel-good tale about a dysfunctional family of scrappy underdogs. It's helped along by stellar performances from Steve Carell as a suicidal Proust scholar, Alan Arkin as an elderly heroin addict, Greg Kinnear as a failed motivational speaker and Abigail Breslin as a seven-year-old beauty pageant hopeful. Packed with heart and genuine humour, the story's formulaic plot of a make-it-or-break-it road trip transcended cliches to generate smiles all around even while much of the decade's film fare turned dark and foreboding or too-slick clever.
"Casino Royale" (2006) - Criticism dogged Daniel Craig when it was first announced he would replace Pierce Brosnan as the seducing spy for a new look at Agent 007's early career. Many fans felt he wasn't the right choice, and some even started boycott campaigns. But one look at the trailer in which he walked out of the ocean with a ridiculously ripped torso and tiny blue trunks, and all fears vanished. Craig, along with director Martin Campbell and screenwriters including Canadian Paul Haggis, earned widespread praise for breathing new life into the franchise, presenting Bond as a darker undercover lover than seen in many previous incarnations. Eva Green, with her coal-rimmed eyes and stark red lipstick, was perfectly vampy as Vesper Lynd, the alluring agent. And oh, those action scenes and the cinematography! The only criticism Craig will face in the future about this role is if he decides to leave it. "Into the Wild" (2007) - Emile Hirsch exploded onto the big screen with a tour-de-force portrayal of Christopher McCandless, the 20-year-old idealist who renounced his family and material possessions in a doomed bid to live off the land in Alaska. With a remarkably sure hand, director Sean Penn creates an epic road tale featuring spectacular panoramas and brilliant performances (including an Oscar-nominated turn by Hal Holbrook). The McCandless character is masterfully drawn: arrogant, selfish, naive and yet incredibly charismatic as he pursues his utopian dream. By the film's unforgettable conclusion, Hirsch has completely metamorphosed - his eyes haunted and frame skeletal as McCandless lives out his final days.
"WALL-E" (2008) - This one was bold, even by Pixar standards: a mostly silent animated romance that functions as a statement on the destruction of the environment, an anti-consumerism screed and a biting social satire on the dumbing-down of humanity. And it's for children. Yet, it works wonderfully: "WALL-E" is an instant classic that feels both timeless and perfectly of the moment, a film equal parts winsome and daring. WALL-E himself possesses more personality than the vast majority of leading men - it's virtually impossible not to be charmed by the rusted little robot, communicating through his high-pitched squeaks and squibbles, peering dewy-eyed through his beat-up binoculars at the love of his life, Eve ("Eeee-vaaa"). But WALL-E's battered metal frame also proved a lightning rod for controversy, with some pundits taking umbrage at the film's depiction of future bed-bound humans, jettisoned into space after destroying Earth and coddled into incoherence by television and Slurpees. But if Pixar and director Andrew Stanton were really so cynical, they wouldn't have crafted a film that so obviously respects the intelligence of children and adults alike.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: "The Pianist," "Lost in Translation," "No Country for Old Men," "Sideways," "The March of the Penguins."

Organizations: Canadian Press, Leonard's, Elizabeth Banks Pixar Penguins

Geographic location: TORONTO, Twin Peaks, Hollywood Ontario Deep River New Zealand Vancouver Asia Alaska

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