the decade in film: 2006-09

The end of a decade brings out the End Of Decade lists. I have little qualification to talk about the Best Movies of the Decade. Better critics than I have already put their lists together; I could only re-arrange the order.

So the following list does not contain the Best Films of the Decade. But it has films that all meant something to me, personally. Call them my Signature Films of the First Decade of the Second Millennium. Or something snappier.

Part Three: Growing Up: 2006-09

My hatred for musicals began in high school, when RENT came out and everyone I did theater with started playing it at high volume. If I had to pick one thing I hate about this perversely popular show, it’d be the theme, and the characters, and the story, and the CTRL-H substitution from La Boheme, and the song about how many minutes there are in a year (Q: “How many minutes are there in a year?” A: “Love!”). It bothers me that this musical made people famous, and that mawkish sentimentality trumps clever lyricism in this new century.

(This hatred morphed from an informed and unyielding criticism into outright pathology in the summer of 2003, when my car was jacked from outside my apartment in Allston. Eight weeks later, when the Boston PD sent me a letter asking me to pay parking tickets the car had acquired during the time I reported it stolen, I called them and got the tickets removed. Then I realized a bunch of the tickets were assigned at the same address. Grabbing my roommate Hawver, we pulled up Mapquest, punched in some street names, and found that my car had been abandoned less than a mile from where it had been stolen, and three blocks from our current apartment. The rear passenger window panel had been smashed in and the stereo had been stolen. The scumbags had also taken a CD wallet with about forty discs in it, and replaced it with the original cast recording of RENT.

“So they thought RENT wasn’t even worth stealing?” people ask.
“No,” I explain. “I didn’t own RENT.”
“Oh.” Then: “Ohhhh.”)

So when everyone I knew waxed enthusiastic about Once, I remained skeptical. But there was a recurring tone to their endorsements: glowing language, stern admonishments to see it, but a lack of explicit detail. They couldn’t put into words just why it was so great, but they all agreed it was. Seeing it on the big screen, I agreed with them: Once is a hell of an experience. I don’t know why a grainy indie movie about a guy and a girl, both getting over heartbreaks of their own and tentatively discovering each other, floored me when set to folksy music. But it did. Sure, it’s sentimental, but it’s powerful sentiment, shot straight into the vein. It’s the last movie I saw with my friend Josh before he moved to the West Coast, so that might also grant it some significance.

I spent Thanksgiving 2006 in Boston, my first Thanksgiving outside of Maryland in all my life, due to work. Since I still had the day off, I resolved to put it to some use by going to the Loews Boston Common and theater-hopping. Hopping in the Loews poses no challenge: the second floor boasts a dozen theaters and the minimum-wage ushers can barely handle the holiday crowds. So I was able to see Casino Royale and The Departed with little difficulty. The one-two punch of gritty crime and action left me wandering, shell-shocked, for the rest of the day.

In the fall of 2007, I helped out with one of the most ambitious and rewarding theater projects of my life: The Waste Land Comedy Hour starring T.S. Eliot. Some of the most talented people at ImprovBoston pitched in to produce 7 original shows in 7 weeks, mixing live and video elements, and we all still agree it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. It had a raw and crazy energy that I hope to one day duplicate.

One evening after rehearsing some new material, Matt T., Eric P., Eric’s wife Hannah and myself all trucked to Kendall Square Cinemas to see No Country for Old Men. I warned them we’d have to get there early, as I’d tried to see the show last week but had been turned away once it sold out. The Waste Land had also been selling out early and turning people away. And like The Waste Land, the Coen Bros. hit on some untapped vein of creative juice. It took me several tries to get The Big Lebowski and Fargo. While I love Miller’s Crossing and O Brother, Where Art Thou? to pieces, I recognize them more as homages and pastiches then as some compelling new works. But No Country for Old Men clicked with me. Maybe it was the unity of the Coens’ nihilism with McCarthy’s existentialism. Maybe it was getting a really good cast. Regardless, I took to it like I’ve taken to no other Coen film.

Finally, I saw The Dark Knight the day it opened, having taken the day off to fly to Baltimore in the afternoon. This breaks a long-standing rule of mine about seeing a genre movie on the day it opens, but nobody goes to the theaters in Batman costumes anyway. And it was worth it for me. Not just because I love the Batman mythos and what Nolan has done with it. But because, like I said on Wednesday, someone’s using Serious Art techniques to tell an action film. That’s important to me.

As I said, not necessarily the best of the decade, but the most memorable for me.

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