I Love the 00s – Part ? Big and Little Screen.

I’m going to finish what I started and remark about my favorite film and television of the aughts. This was a difficult decision, it is impossible to narrow down the choices in film; television was a little easier to decide. I only picked 5 for each category and the only criteria was that it had to be something that I have seen before the turn of the decade that had a big impact on me. Initially I came up with 2 or 3 for each category, then after browsing some top ten lists, I was reminded of what needed to be recognized here.

TELEVISION

Growing up, television was the primary influence and inspiration for my artistic slant. “SNL” was a staple food for thought, and I always dreamed of being involved with the show in the future in a writing and/or acting capacity. To me, everything made sense. The outlandish to the subliminal was very appealing to me. It has been one of the most innovative and risk-taking shows on television since its inception, and I love me some satire.

“SNL” has always been a vehicle with which world news has been disseminated to a broader audience with extreme exaggeration and comedy, providing a dais for everyone to stand and laugh together (now shared with shows the likes of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”).

While most of the best of what I watched from “SNL” took place in the early 80s, I got the most from the seasons in the mid 90s. Jan Hooks, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Victoria Jackson and Kevin Nealon were just a few of the cast that made for some of the most notable events in television history.

The 00s have brought turbulent, inconsistent times to “SNL” with casts and writers constantly distracted by other media, technology wreaking havoc on the industry in an unprecedented way. Actors want to branch out into movies and spin-offs, and some even start their own productions. These distractions have given us temporary comic relief the likes of Maya Rudolf, Ana Gastyer, Will Farrell and Amy Poehler. While the show suffered in many aspects, the ladies took over in the 00s and created some of the most memorable characters and caricatures of the show’s history.

One of these young ladies stepped down the plank of letting go of the organized chaos that resides in NBC Studios and had the most genius idea. “30 Rock” was about, none other than 30 Rock, that has been the incubator of some of the most comedic and talented collaborations to ever grace TV screens.

A playoff and satire of the onstage and off stage antics a la “Saturday Night Live”, Tina Fey, the brace and anchor for much of the good stuff that happened during her tenure at “SNL”, made the leap and found out that with her courage, ambition and all around awesomeness, the water is fine.

“30 Rock” has what every show needs. Any good comedy writer, actor or director must understand the importance of comedic timing. You have to hit ’em fast. There are no delays, no drawn out punchlines, no over-emphasis on one thing over the other that makes for funny. You can use spectacle at your discretion as long as it doesn’t fall into farce. There is a fine line, and by not taking itself too seriously, “30 Rock” has become of the most irreverently fantastic shows on television. A perfect triple threat: acting, writing and direction.

“Six Feet Under” is my favorite show of all time. Sometimes you get a show where the writing is strong, the direction is excellent and the acting is okay, but because there are so many different people coming in and out of these positions, the show fails to manage its message, and certain things that could make the show great are sporadic at best, and the pith falls to the way side. Many shows made today will have over six different directors in a season, and while they might bring in the same head writers, the contributions to the scripts may vary according to the way the respective director works. They might be more dialog driven or more visually stimulated. They might bring in a different cameraman that needs more direction. The thing about television is that it all happens so fast. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait and it all gets very repetitive.

What is wonderful about each season of “Six Feet Under” is that the show was under the constant watchful eye of Alan Ball, credited as the series creator, head writer, producer and frequent director. We gays love to wear many hats. Thanks to his control issues, vividly exposed in the detail found in “American Beauty”, he kept the show going at a naturally delicious pace that made you forget that the characters were characters.

The plots were rich with character development and veiled foreshadowing. Never before did I think to myself that I couldn’t wait to see the new way that someone was going to die at the beginning of each episode. I was looking forward to death.

What was so interesting about the opening sequence was that no matter how macabre the idea of tying all the shows together with an instant of death that would become the golden thread of the episode, it was an opportunity to feel a tinge of optimistic sadness, relating to the fear that is innate in all of us. These were accidents and natural causes, along with homicide and other types of death. It became an experience after a while. The accident you can’t look away from.

Yes, I hate to say it, but the show came out during that delicate time of tragedy in that tragic year in September. The Fischer family was painting a portrait of complex colors and subject matter. The syntax of the script read naturally and with the right amount of ebb and flow that is found in daily life. Every guest star fit seamlessly into the developing stories, and the show got better and better with age.

For years it became a visual book that you couldn’t put down. It helped to put HBO on the map (again) and we all knew that something about television was changing. While we were worshiping our freedom and trying to recoup, the artists were more inspired than ever. We were scared to speak out publicly, and television shows became watered down. And then “Six Feet Under” came along and brought us back to earth.

“Dead Like Me”. This post is getting a little dark. Two of my favorite shows of the decade have to do with death and dying and the effects caused by the old dirt nap. Admittedly, I have experienced death in the most callous way, having lost an immediate family member. This is not the sole reason why I’m “into” these shows though. Perhaps, speaking according to Freudian philosophies, there is some latent content there, but I’m not dealing with fight or flight right now, it’s all about entertainment.

What was so special about “Dead Like Me” was its cast. Sometimes the writing and directing is so right, but the cast is all wrong. While this show did suffer the loss of some of its original cast members, initially, the chemistry was nothing short of amazing, and the entire lot seemed to have this immaculate synergy amongst themselves.

Particularly tickled by the return of Jasmine Guy, the cast had clear, poignant roles in the show, and each was allowed a steady and captivating exposition throughout the two seasons of its existence, facing its untimely demise in 2004, only to be resurrected in 2009 by a straight-to-DVD movie version that I have to say wasn’t half bad. It might be making a come back.

This is going to sound really gay, but I have to say that “Project Runway” was one of the best shows of the last decade. While I’m half in and half out of the closet regarding my reality television watching tastes, it’s only the stigma attached that coerces me to not let my freak flag fly regarding the aforementioned. It seems as though they get better as they get worse, but still, the song remains the same.

The format of the show in the competition context, cuts down on the nonsense and beefs up the credibility. It has become a staple in the fashion industry and a highly respected vehicle for new talent to exploit their work. Sure, there is still the magic of producers and story editors to exaggerate the drama of the unscripted shows, but what it all comes down to is a battle of wills between artists.

“Project Runway” allows you to get behind the scenes of the artistic process. While some may thrive in the environment, I always thought that the way in which they have to work is nothing short of cruel. An artist’s work is never done, so allowing them ridiculous inklings of time with a myriad of restrictions on what they can design and make all on their own is nothing short of torture. While this allows for a platform to test their skills, more so it is an endurance match to see who wants to be a success the most, utilizing their talents and ambition. I love it.

For months I kept hearing about this show I should really watch. “It’s so you.” “You’ll love it.” “Oh my G-d, you haven’t seen it yet?”. I put it off and put it off and didn’t dare get involved with another show. I didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want to be a couch potato. I had so much shit to do as it is. I read the notes on the back of the case a few times. I checked it out of the library a few times. But I never watched it. Until I did. And there he was.

“Mad Men”. Quite possibly, to me, for me, the most perfectly designed show ever made. We were teased with a brief albeit brilliant rendition of a period piece with the short-lived “Swingtown” that depicted some pretty racy marital issues in the 70s. The production of that show was the tits. And now it’s gone.

Now we are blessed with “Mad Men”. Perhaps one of the most slowly moving shows ever created, it keeps you wrapped into its spell, a hypnotic interweaving of past, present and future stories, developed by intensely complex characters. The satire is there, the New York is there, the 60s are there, everything is divine.

It is one of those gems that keeps making you ask questions that you’re almost scared to know the answers to. It is a little bit noir, but manages to drive in other genres as well, with a little comedy thrown in for good measure. I just want to thank heavens for Jon Hamm. The most perfect man ever made.

I have to add one honorable mention. I’m totally cheating though because I didn’t watch this next show until my sickness of 2010. I was couch laden for two days and was searching for something instant to watch on Netflix. I didn’t want to commit to a whole movie so I was looking for a short documentary or a few episodes of a TV show. And there it was.

“Skins”. Take “Hackers” mix with some “Trainspotting”, add some “Kids” and some “Go” and a dash of “My So Called Life”. In this, you have the perfect recipe for a gritty, engaging, addictive, exciting show that touches all the bases.

Not only is the production value something not found in American television (thank you BBC), the cast and direction are miraculous feats to behold in their presentation. The raw and provocative nature of the plot lines are enticing in a lot of ways. There is something about shows about high school that always build a familiarity from the viewer that usually evokes empathy or sympathy. It is something we have all shared, and while we didn’t know it at the time, it would entail some of the most momentous occasions in our lives that would shape our future forever. A Perfect Ten.

FILM

The first film that came to mind was “Paris, je t’aime” (I’m using quotes for everything because I don’t feel like coding). This past year I’ve been getting more and more into television because I work so hard and so much that it is hard to stay awake to watch a whole film unless I am out at the theater. With the way the world keeps getting faster and faster and the internet being a constant distraction, I need short intervals of entertainment, and sometimes a film won’t be watched all the way through.

Clocking in at 2 hours, this compilation of short films had a very simple premise: get some of the best living directors together and have them produce a short film about Paris and Love, using a specific neighborhood there. There were no trite cliches in this wonderful conglomeration of genius. Each film had a mind and a heart of its own. I loved more than others: Faubourg Saint-Denis (Xe arrondissement) — by German writer-director Tom Tykwer, 14e arrondissement (XIVe arrondissement) — written and directed by Alexander Payne, Quartier des Enfants Rouges (IIIe arrondissement) — by French writer-director Olivier Assayas, Place des fêtes (XIXe arrondissement) — by South African writer-director Oliver Schmitz, Le Marais (IVe arrondissement) — by American writer-director Gus Van Sant.

Collectively, it was an exhilarating viewing experience. I went back and watched several over again. And you can never go wrong with Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The next film is probably one of the most defining films of Gen X & Y. Taking the lead just above “Requiem for a Dream” and “Momento”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is indelibly etched into 25-35 year-old’s most favorite recent movies more than any other film. Not only were we given this painfully romantic fresh and whimsical view of a modern day love story, it was presented in an innovative way that never delve into the depths of gimmicky madness or abrasive over-the-top shenanigans.

Having already given us some pretty excellent music videos and films, Gondry and Kauffman teamed up to give us this unforgettable film that tugged in all the right places. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet came down to earth for a moment in order to give us something that we could relate to. Something not unbelievable.

The structure and story of the film is vastly unique and took a big risk in many ways. Now deemed as having a cult following (snicker), there is no doubting the importance of the film and how it will forever be one of the best things to come out of the aughts.

“Habla Con Ella” (Talk to Her) remains my favorite Almodovar film of all time. The layers, the production quality, the acting, the direction, the surprises, the provocative themes, it all melds into this wonderful culmination of picture perfect film making. The art of this film is special and the subject matter(s) are intriguing and thoughtful. I went to see this film in the theater twice, and of course it was one of those films that you catch something new and brilliant every time. Is that not what a perfect film is made of? Por supuesto!

I had to add “Lord of the Rings” because no movie has ever made me geek out as hard as this one did. It had all the elements of good entertainment with the complex story (a comparable version of the book) and action and adventure. It was a movie for nerds, by nerds (FNBN – pronounced “Fun Bun”). I was lucky enough to know someone who managed a film house and had an advanced copy of the film. Some nerd friends and I got together and watched it in an empty theater together. Totally amazing.

You won’t ever hear me talking about how much I love horror flicks. I will watch at least one Danger After Dark film at the Philly film festival each year. I do miss the days of cheesy horror flicks, but nowadays they just don’t do it for me. I feel as though it’s a genre you either hate or you love. I am somewhere in between because I like to break rules.

It is no wonder then that “Severance” is on the top of my favorite movies of the decade list. It is by far not one of my favorite movies of all time, but according to the criteria for this selection, this film has impacted me in a very memorable way and it was one of the first films I thought about adding to the list.

It has a pretty simple plot and some really fucking talented B list “stars” in it. There are scary moments, but nothing to make you want to hold your Mommy. What works best in this film is the humor. The comedic timing is pitch perfect and there is nothing I love more that laughing at a horror flick. There are no puzzling questions or who-did-its or is-she-gonna-die? It’s all about entertainment (again) here, and the film really brings it home with perhaps one of the most hilarious final scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. The entire theater was beside themselves, and thus that film one the Audience Award that year at the film festival.

I had to add one more that I thought of after I started typing this. One of my favorite directors, Gregg Araki, took a disgustingly long hiatus between his genius heterosexual love story “Splendor” (1999) and the rebirth of his immense talents with “Mysterious Skin” that affected me in a big way each and every time I’ve watched it since 2005. Taking a departure from his apocalyptic overtones and socioeconomic satire of teen angst, Araki takes his first piecemeal steps with a more mature, more serious work, “Mysterious Skin” based on the novel by Scott Heim of the same name.

I haven’t read the book (yet). The story is hard to explain and hard to explain without giving it away. I highly recommend it to those who like heavy drama. It is one of the best gay-oriented films I have ever seen, unfortunately that is a genre that constantly struggles with its quality, integrity and identity.

“Mysterious Skin” brings to life some taboo topics that live in the shadows of ignorance. It is engaging and entertaining while not screaming a message at you. It’s a weird and bittersweet coming of age slash rite of passage kind of story. It is touching and very very very well made.

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