A Decade Under the Influence

The 'Chronicle' movie critics take a look back at what the Aughts wrought

<b><i>Punch-Drunk Love</i></b>
Punch-Drunk Love

'I'm Sorry I Beat Up the Bathroom'

I have a mind like a sieve. I confuse waking conversations with ones in my dream life. I've lost my wallet, my coat, my car keys too many times to count. My childhood might as well have happened to somebody else. So when tasked with summing up what the last decade in movies meant to me, no surprise, I drew a blank.

Sure, I might've gone on with a lot of gasbaggery about the movies I adored, the ones that influenced and inspired me, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Funny Ha Ha and All the Real Girls. I might have made a mental note to mention Shaun of the Dead, Closer, Wonder Boys, and The Royal Tenenbaums, and worried if I'd have time left over for The Lives of Others and Best of Youth. I probably would have penned a reminder on my hand – "Wong Kar Wai! Michael Winterbottom! Pedro Almodóvar!" – only to absentmindedly wash it off in the shower, much as those filmmakers' one-time clutch on me has lately fizzled. And the Post-it note meant to remind me not to forget fresher loves like Susanne Bier, Nicole Holofcener, and Arnaud Desplechin would get lost, probably stuck to the underside of a stack of not yet watched DVDs. No matter how many movies I watch, there will always be more, and most of them I'll never get to. If I were an optimist, that'd be happy news, but I'm not. I'm a cynic, and a completist, so no cartwheels forthcoming.

I started writing movie reviews for the Chronicle in the summer of 2000. I was 22, and the Martin Lawrence drag piece Big Momma's House was my first assignment. I remember little about writing the review – save my consternation over whether it was unseemly to use the word "fart" in my first-ever review, in my first-ever grownup job (it was, and I did). I remember even less about the movie itself, which is the pleasant upside of a colander brain: Bye bye Bride Wars, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, Meet the Spartans, Stealing Harvard, A Walk to ... well, you know.

But back to the task at hand: How do you memorialize movies you can only sketchily remember? In fits and starts, it seems – in fragments. The movies below don't make up some desert-island list; a couple of them make me want to spit with distaste. Still, owing to some weird algorithm unique to me (or maybe on account of that childhood I don't remember?), these are the ideas and images of the Aughties that lingered for me:

Wendy at a fence, bidding Lucy goodbye

Atonement's cut-diamond first third

Mathieu Amalric's loony-bin breakdance in Kings & Queen – and while we're on the subject of dancing: Sparkle Motion!

Marion Cotillard, going to a grave not watery but hardening into cement, in the infuriating Love Me If You Dare

49 Up: "Neil grew up in a Liverpool suburb ..."

Nicolas Cage, endlessly pelted with food and drink, in The Weather Man

Fat Girl, ruining rest stops forever for me

Julie Delpy's Nina Simone coo at the end of Before Sunset

They let it snow!: The Claim, A Christmas Tale, the weirdly compelling It's All About Love, and just briefly, whispering down on a beatific Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls

Gerry's shuddering landscape

The curious staying power of Sweet Home Alabama

Adam Sandler in P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, with sincere desire to be a better man: "I'm sorry I beat up the bathroom."

Actually, turns out, I remembered the last one incorrectly. Instead, what Sandler confesses to his date, Emily Watson, is this: "At that restaurant, I beat up the bathroom. I'm sorry." I worry what else I got wrong: I remember that film as magic –romance played at a different frequency, for fuckups and weirdos, my people –but do the color bars still dazzle? Was Philip Seymour Hoffman really that funny and raging? I suppose I could go rent it for fact-checking purposes, but that's sort of like peeking, or cheating, isn't it?

The movies are fixed. What fluctuates is how we process and perceive them. In 10 years' time I went from my early 20s to 30s, and I grew out of some movies, slowly came to understand the language of others. In another 10 years, there's no telling which movies I'll return to, which ones I'll wish I could rip out at the roots, and which ones will feel so personal that I'll confuse them with my waking life.

And so what if I remember them wrong? I think I got the gist.

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decade in film, Punch-Drunk Love, Kimberley Jones, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Funny Ha Ha, All the Real Girls, Shaun of the Dead, Closer, Wonder Boys, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Lives of Others, Best of Youth, Wong Kar Wai, Michael Winterbottom, Pedro Almodóvar, Susanne Bier, Nicole Holofcener, Arnaud Desplechin, Martin Lawrence, Big Momma's House

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