The Five Best Whimsiquirkilicious Movies of the Decade
4. 500 Days of Summer: 500 Days of Summerisn't an easy movie to describe. Try explaining to a friend why you're in love with your significant other. You might say, "She's beautiful; she's got a great sense of humor; she's wicked intelligent; and she has a great rack," but this won't do your significant other justice. They're just words, and words rarely stack up to the effervescent giddiness you feel when you're falling in love, or the crushing heartache an unexpected end to relationship can often leave. 500 Days of Summer, like few movies I've ever seen, accurately captures the range of emotions that accompany falling in love and then having your heart shattered. And while the dialogue is witty, and real, and funny, and smart, it's director Marc Webb's attention to the details that make 500 Days of Summer such a deeply authentic movie. There are a lot of movie about love, and even more that think they are, but very few successfully capture that helpless uncertainty attendant to a new relationship -- the overwhelming need to pin it down, to label it, to gain a sense of security, to know that what he or she is feeling is not fleeting. -- Dustin Rowles
3. Waitress: Until you adjust to what's going on in Waitress and realize that the acting isn't bad, it's intentionally loopy and over-the-top, you may think you're watching a weird, screwball-sitcom parody with the brand of whiplash poignancy that "Scrubs" has popularized. But the actors sell it -- Kerri Russell's earthiness grounds it, Nathan Fillion's charming nervousness endears you to it, and Andy Griffith's down-home folksiness and soft heart completely freakin' delivers it home. It's just ... well ... the whole thing ... it's just so goddamn moving. It's decent film. A humble film. And there's no pretension; there's no forced quirk, no nods at the camera, no "Look-at-me! I'm sweet and charming and cute!" vibe. It's just modest and heartfelt and good. Waitress isn't for everyone. If you don't care for romantic comedies, it's probably not going to work for you -- and if it doesn't, you'll probably loathe it.The plot is not terribly original. But the tone and feel is like nothing I've ever seen before on film. And if you allow yourself to give into it, to get swept up by its charm, you'll walk out with an achy heart and a smile that may not fade for days. -- DR
2. The Royal Tenenbaums: The Royal Tenenbaums is a beautiful, sad portrait of a sprawling family of geniuses in decline, held together primarily by the pain that's marked the seasons of their ruined lives. The Tenenbaums' patriarch, Royal (Gene Hackman), is a cantankerous old liar who decides to force himself back into the lives of his estranged wife, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), and three children -- Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson), and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). He feigns cancer in order to move in with the family for a while, but they discover he's faking it and kick him out, which eventually starts Royal on the road to self-improvement through sacrifice and recovery through helping his family work out their various problems. Royal connects the most with the son he's emotionally furthest from at the beginning, Chas, whose wife died a year before (as you can probably tell, absent parents are a pretty big thing with Anderson). Stiller's manic energy brings the perfect edge to Chas' spiraling depression, and at the end of the film, Royal and Chas stumble into a blissful moment of forgiveness as Chas whispers, "I've had a pretty bad year, Dad." And Royal responds, "I know you have," placing his hand on his son's shoulder. It's a calmly magnificent moment, but hampered by the subdued tone of the film that preceded it. While Rushmore was filled with moments of quiet joy that reveled in the quirks and humanity of its characters, Tenenbaums feels more intentionally repressed, and self-reflexively so. The film announced its serio-comic nature with a kind of posturing that edged dangerously close to parody (though Anderson wouldn't fully commit such follies until The Life Aquatic.) If Rushmore wore its heart on the sleeve of its navy blazer, then Tenenbaums expected you to laud the film's emotion without its having to display it often, or even at all. -- DC
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Too often, love is as painful as it is pleasurable. It's all too easy to forget the universally touted axiom: "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," because the pain of a failed romance is so intense it seems never to be overcome. But what if it could? What if, in our ever-advancing endeavors in technology actually yielded a way to obliterate the anguish of heartbreak? Were it possible to elect to "never have loved at all," would you? This is the question, and the bizarre premise that faces the characters of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Films have attempted to evoke such ephemeral experiences as dreams or hallucinations before, but never has it been done so effectively as this. Sharp and colorful cinematography beautifully depicts Joel's amorphous "Brainscape," not only effectively capturing the makeup of memories, but also how they're formed and sustained. Joel clambers from beaches to dark nightscapes trying to save Clementine from mental annihilation, all the while learning that the overwhelming memories of his lover vastly outweigh their superficial exterior inconsistencies. Will he save her? Or will his life be totally cleansed, for better and for worse, of her influence? -- Phillip Stephens
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