00: Mission to Mars & You Can Count on Me
Two movies where subtext is everything, and key scenes are used to communicate devastating emotional turning points. De Palma captures the very American "can do" spirit of astronauts in what seems like a gung-ho story illustrates the real significance of loss. Lonergan turns the giddy anticipation of the reunion of two siblings into a painful argument once one reveals where they've been in the absence of time. Both also have great tones set by Ennio Morricone's score for the first and Steve Earle's songs in the second.
01: Last Orders/Waking Life
Two that philosophically contemplate the meaning of life, the first through the death of a friend, and the next in the realm of dreams. Not much more to say, really, but both did so in visually inventive ways.
02: Punch-Drunk Love/25th Hour
A pair that are probably my favorites by their respective directors. Paul Thomas Anderson somehow finds a way to make me like and even understand "Adam Sandler" in the context of his almost movie musical. Spike Lee dives headfirst into telling an early post 9/11 story and makes it to the end without drowning. Both also present interesting narratives on what it is to be "a man".
My favorite and most fully realized action movies of the decade (yes, more than Iron Man (X2 got there first) and definitely more than Nolan's Batmans). Both are fun spins on revenge and sacrifice, but it's the big scenes that really stick with you: Magneto's escape from his elegant, plastic prison, Dae-su Oh's from a mob den armed only with a hammer and single-pan shot; a genuinely frightening plane descent in the former, and a truly terrifying live octopus in the latter.
04: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Before Sunset
In a year where the majority of my favorite movies of the decade were released, Eternal Sunshine was the first and best, while Before Sunset is the one I've most often thought about. The former is the first work of Charlie Kaufman's that I think comes out perfect; the latter, an unexpected surprise -- when do you ever get a sequel for a zero box office indie movie nine years after the first one? Both explore the entangled relationship of love and memory as far as anything can, and both end with appropriate ambiguity. They're also well served by the great performances of Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke. The work of Richard Linklater and Michel Gondry & co. is nothing to sniff at either.
05: Junebug/The New World
Two about exploration, and what happens when you want more. Oversimplified, I know. I still need more time to think about Malick's movie, which has occupied a big space in my brain since I finally saw it just after Thanksgiving, but I think it's easily the best in its year. I've had loads more time to think on Junebug: I like that you can't really be sure of Madeleine's character -- is she the villain of the piece, and/or simply awkwardly doing her best with the in-laws she barely knows? I've spoken to people who find the whole movie insultingly condescending in the presentation of its characters, but I feel completely opposite in the depiction of North Caroliners and their prodigal son, and Amy Adams is amazing in it.
06: Children of Men/Pan's Labyrinth
In what I recall being sort of a lame year, these two have sparked the most personal arguments. Some people charge that the "single takes" in the first are so blatantly fake that you're taken completely out of the movie, while others (me, obvs) felt so sucked in that it translated into hyperreality, a constant buzz of terror increased by the lack of cutting away in those scenes. In the latter, I completely bought into Ofelia's ignited imagination; what more does a girl need than a magical forest in the middle of fascist Spain? The special effects are deployed in a magnificently mundane way, so you never know if what she's seeing is real or just all in her desperate mind. Both films can also be read to have either abundantly happy, hopeful endings or as cruel, sick jokes. Muchas Gracias, Mexico!
07: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly/Ratatouille
The first restored my faith in movies at a period where I thought they were being wildly overrated (yes you, There Will Be Blood, and you, No Country for Old Men, and I'm not forgetting you, The Savages). The second is my personal favorite from the kingdom of Pixar. Both tell stories from the viewpoint of unlikely perspectives -- a paralyzed man left with only the use of one blinking eye, and the beautiful taboo of a rat in a kitchen -- and rapidly succeed over the course of their running time to place you in their heads. Both movies also make the most of flashbacks, and Ratatouille's may be the best, ever.
08: Happy-Go-Lucky/Let the Right One In
Two movies where I felt the desire to be protective of the main characters, only to discover that they'll do fine all on their own. Both have a hopefulness about humanity that'll make you feel right about the world; cleverly, both are also structured so that, depending on your perspective, you can almost feel the exact, pessimistic opposite.
09: Fantastic Mr. Fox/Summer Hours
"Pensez-vous que l'hiver sera rude?"
Ah, just go and see these last two, since they were out so recently. Done.