M is for Millstone
The first half of the Noughties seemed heavily weighted with films beginning with M. The decade began back to front with Christopher Nolan's reverse masterpiece Memento. Pixar made us a little less afraid of the monsters in our closet in Monsters Inc. (01). It was also notable Billy Crystal's last decent contribution to movies. In 2002 Steven Spielberg just about avoided ruining the otherwise brilliant Minority Report with a stupid mawkish ending (it really should have ended two or three minutes earlier). However, he did much better with Munich (05) coaxing a potent performance from Eric Bana in the lead role. The Noughties seemed awash with sequels and threequels that really should have been just one stronger film. The two Matrix follow-ups, Reloaded & Revolutions (03), illustrated this better than most. While both had some stunning set pieces they also had far too much fluff such as the cringeworthy underground rave scene and overly long ramblings of the Architect. In 2003 and 2004 Clint Eastwood showed just how good he is behind the camera with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby helping us forgive his involvement in Space Cowboys. Just before he bulked up to play the rebooted Batman in 2005 Christian Bale lost 60 pounds to play the tormented insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. I've never been able to look at a game of hangman the same since...
N is for Niggles
In 2006 I unlocked the hitherto impossible scientific dream of slowing time while watching Terrence Malick's dreadful The New World. It's 90% people walking through grass looking pained, 5% noble savage cliche, 3% Pocahontas and 2% Dancing with Wolves. Despite a running time of 135 minutes, it genuinely felt like watching a five hour epic. Ray Liotta has recently become a parody of himself in several truly appalling movie and TV appearances (including Hannah Montana!) while coasting lazily through them all. However, 2002 saw his last great performance in the dark and ethically muddy Narc. Along with most of the world I lauded Jared Hess for his second directorial effort Napoleon Dynamite (04). However, in hindsight this was a mistake as I now find the film irritating and sloppy. In 2005 I took a risk and paid to see a film at the cinema about which I knew nothing at all. That film turned out to be the brilliant and bonkers Russian epic Night Watch which has since become one of my top five films. Telling the story of a supernatural cold war between the forces of good and evil, Night Watch packed in more verve and creativity than a dozen 'Hollywood' blockbusters. The best movie beginning with N in the decade (and one of the best films hands down) was the peerless No Country for Old Men (07). It was the Coen Brothers at the top of their game and especially in the scene between Chigurh and the gas station owner which is a masterpiece of humour, threat and sparse wordplay.
O is for Orangutan
As we finish N with the Coen Brothers, so we also begin O. George Clooney simultaneously played up to his pretty boy image while also putting it permanently behind him in the wonderful O Brother Where Art Thou (00). As mentioned back in February in Part Three of this series Robin Williams plays creepy very well. His portrayal of the lonely and disturbed Seymour Parrish was almost unwatchably unsettling in 2002's One Hour Photo. Despite Quentin Tarentino's output declining in quality he still has an eye for a good thing and has taken to promoting films by talented directors from all over the world. One of the first was the brutal and beautiful Old Boy(03) by Chan-wook Park which had live octupi, hammer related dental action and a twist gut-wrenching enough to leave the viewer feeling physically sick. 2003 also saw Kevin Costner spearhead the periodic attempt to make westerns popular again by directing and starring in Open Range. Sadly he was unsuccessful in that goal, although he did succeed in creating a classic character-driven Western that is all the better for its over-familiar plot devices. While we're on the subject of old school movies, 2007's The Orphanage combined chills without excessive blood spills in a story driven haunted house tale that lingers in the mind long after the film has finished.
Tune in for Part Six - P to R soon.