All the Real Girls
As we scrape to the end of a degrading decade, our shared cinema has increasingly become pure escapism: It's all wish fulfillment all the time, whether your wish is to scalp Nazis or have your ex-husband lust after you again. The task of admitting that we can't always get what we want has been left to small-scale filmmakers like David Gordon Green, and his 2003 opus, All the Real Girls, started a cottage industry of finely observed studies in remorse—none of them quite as ruinous or consoling as this story of a guy who loves and loses Zooey Deschanel. It's a young man's movie, to be sure, but it explains young men's brokenness without letting us off the hook. Green understands that our lives are a series of mistakes, and sees how we turn those mistakes in our memories to a consoling poetry. I am grateful this movie is out there, knowing me better than I want to know myself, never cutting its hair, always coming back. AARON MESH.
Movies about movies are plentiful, but there are very few films about what happens (to the movies, to us, to the world) when cinema gets into our heads and under our skin, when we become slaves—willing ones—to a desire we can neither shake nor slake. Mulholland Dr. is a map to the ultimate screen, the final film, the one that runs forever: that black depth where what we see and think we see meets who we are and who we think we are. We know enough to continue searching—for the perfect image, the scene that will finally set us straight—but we'll never know enough to stop watching. CHRIS STAMM.
Children of Men
From its jarring opening shot to its haunting final frame, Alfonso Cuarón's devastating Children of Men sticks in the brain like shrapnel. The story of a crumbling, infertile world takes Clive Owen's reluctant hero through a dystopian nightmare to save a pregnant refugee and her baby (the first in 18 years) from becoming political weapons. Along the way, Cuarón touches on the decade's most divisive issues, including the Iraq war, immigration and terrorism. Based solely on Emmanuel Lubezki's camera wizardry—highlighted by extended, single-shot action sequences that embed the audience—the film is a marvelous achievement. But the quiet moments, such as a playground devoid of children's laughter, make Children of Men a staggering experience, the decade's most stressful and rewarding portrait of hope among chaos. AP KRYZA.
When Chris Stamm warned us not to choose Steven Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence, I got the idea of picking Spielberg's follow-up thriller, Minority Report. Like Joel and Ethan Coen's farcical Burn After Reading, it stages American genres—Philip K. Dick science fiction, James Ellroy crime—as Greek tragedy in our nation's capital. Oedipal cop Tom Cruise struggles to wrest his own free will from a Google theocracy, as prophetess Samantha Morton screams in horror. To quote Burn After Reading, "This is political! This is a crucifixion!" Obscured by the historical pomp of Spielberg's Munich and Saving Private Ryan, this is a masterpiece. ALISTAIR ROCKOFF.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
It&rsquos hard to tell what's more inventive, Charlie Kaufman's maze-like storytelling or Michel Gondry's dream-like filmmaking, but they blend together to make a picture that's more heartfelt than Memento and more palpable than Mulholland Dr. Most importantly: Both genders love this movie, which can't always be said of the bloodier, war-torn classics. Kaufman imagines a sci-fi procedure in a shabby office where one can get unpleasant events—and even whole people—erased from the memory. In one of her best performances (and that's saying a lot) Kate Winslet is charming and vulnerable as the free-spirited Clementine Kruczynski, while Jim Carrey is shockingly subdued as her ex Joel, as he erases Clementine from his memory, and then fights the procedure to preserve her. ALI ROTHSCHILD.