The 26 top cultural moments of the 2000s.

The 26 top cultural moments of the 2000s.

The 26 top cultural moments of the 2000s.

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Dec. 23 2009 6:54 PM

Anthony Lane to Zadie Smith

My 26 top cultural moments of the 2000s in alphabetical order.

Top o' the '00s: A hypertextual decennial abecedary extravaganza!

Prince. Click image to expand.
Prince performs during the Super Bowl XLI halftime show
Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

A nthony Lane on Her Majesty in "Battle Royal," a review of The Queen in The New Yorker, Oct. 9, 2006. Hot Brit-on-Brit action. Probably the greatest critic-on-movie match-up of all time. (It surpasses James Agee's review of The Lost Weekend, an appropriately evasive lush-on-lush spectacle.) Themes include the aristocracy of taste and the English way of death, the facade of Tony Blair, and the carriage of Helen Mirren. Divine, right?

"BLAK IZ BLAK" in Bamboozled, a film by Spike Lee, released Oct. 20, 2000.
The three important big-screen media critiques of the 20th century were A Face in the Crowd, Network, and Spike's blackface fantasia—a terrifically bracing and terribly uneven nightmare about the racial politics of American entertainment. The terrorist group at the mic—called the Mau Maus and led by Mos Def's Big Blak Afrika—is fiercer than the stars of UBS's Mao Tse-Tung Hour.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Andrea Lee's "Pennsylvania" in the anthology State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America. Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, published Sept. 16, 2008.
I defy you to name a coming-of-age story riper or lusher than this. See also Philip Roth's blurb for the short-story collection Interesting Women (2002): "Andrea Lee is the real thing. There is nothing else to say."

The design of the jacket of the 2006 Penguin Classics edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker. Executed by Seth.
Do buy a copy even if you own an earlier edition. You might as well live well. Vicious graphic elegance.

The end titles of Inland Empire, a film directed by David Lynch that premiered in the United States at the New York Film Festival, October 2006.
After a press screening of the best film I have ever taken two distinct naps in, the director and his stars took the stage for a Q and A. A reporter tried to probe Lynch's very special pulsing mass of gelatinous weirdness by asking him about Luis Buñuel. Lynch was sorry that he couldn't be of help: "Welp, I'm not much of a film buff."


You probably don't want to sit through the whole movie, so zip to the end. This spectacular features the amazing face of Laura Dern (also fabulous in 2008's Recount), the witchy allure of Laura Elena Harring (also fabulous as Rita and/or/and Camilla in 2001's Mulholland Dr., the best film of the decade), and, further, a monkey. Nina Simone provides the music, but there is no band.

The F-word  in Burn After Reading, a film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, released Sept. 12, 2008.
Let me sleep on A Serious Man for a few more weeks. Speaking of sleep, let me wonder one more time whether No Country for Old Men shoots itself in the foot or knee or forehead at the very end with Tommy Lee Jones' dream recap. Let me propose the misanthropic hilarity of Burn After Reading as the Coens' great achievement of the decade, a cookie laced with radioactive polonium.

Gershkin in The Russian Debutante's Handbook, a novel by Gary Shteyngart, published June 6, 2002.
"The story of Vladimir Gershkin—part P.T. Barnum, part V.I. Lenin, the man who would conquer half of Europe (albeit the wrong half)—begins the way so many other things begin. On a Monday morning. In an office. With the first cup of instant coffee gurgling to life in the common lounge." It ends in Cleveland, Ohio, with the hero looking like Plucky Jim or Russian-berry Finn.


"Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs," an exhibit conceived by Alice Rose George, Gilles Peress, Michael Shulan, and Charles Traub. Opened at 116 Prince Street on Sept. 25, 2001.
It endures between the covers of a superlative book, which will itself endure as a heartrending monument long after most Sept. 11 books have been pulped.

In-flight Television. JetBlue started operations on Feb. 11, 2000.
Travel broadens the mind.

Jude in I'm Not There, a film directed by Todd Haynes, released Nov. 21, 2007.
Vocals by Stephen Malkmus, vibes by Cate Blanchett. I know that something's happening here, and I doubt that Dylan himself knows what it is. Moreover: After Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," the single of the decade was Malkmus' "Baby, C'mon" (2005). The song is a come-on, of course, a plea. The scream at the end sounds like the wail of a newborn, as if the seduction came off flawlessly.

The kiss blown by Beyoncé at the 1:40 mark in " Crazy in Love," a video directed by Jake Nava, released May 2003.
Bubblegum pop will eat itself.


Leggings. Going on and on.
1. See here.

2. See Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up (2000): "If anything, 'sexual revolution' was rather a prim term for the lurid carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in the year 2000." Wolfe, whose I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004) ranks among the decade's most underrated novels, here riffs on sartorial decorum, cultural decadence, and good old Friedrich N.: "Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century 'on the mere pittance' of the old decaying God-based moral codes. But then, in the twenty-first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of 'the total eclipse of all values.' "

3. Whatevs. Here is some video of, by, and for chicks who know their way around Godard.

Maria Elena in  Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a film directed by Woody Allen, released Aug. 15, 2008.
Penélope Cruz is the real thing.

For your further consideration: Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces (2009), Jake Paltrow's The Good Night (2006) and Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg's Bandidas (2006), the finest south-of-the-border wild-West comedy since Three Amigos!


"The Nightmare of Consumption" in The Corrections, a novel by Jonathan Franzen, published Sept. 14, 2001.
Hysterical and supra-real in the high-art literary tradition, the passage beginning on Page 93 of The Corrections finds poor, hapless Chip Lambert going to buy a piece of salmon at a downtown Manhattan supermarket, one of the Dean & Deluca look-a-likes: "The supergentry of SoHo and Tribeca were streaming through the Nightmare's brushed-steel portals. The men came in various shapes and sizes, but all the women were slim and thirty-six; many were both slim and pregnant." Turns out that the fish costs $78.40. Poor hapless Chip, shoplifting, puts the fillet in his pants, where it spreads "like a wide, warm slug." This is serious comedy—Jenny Holzer meets Harpo Marx.

On the topic of sticky fingers, summon a moment of nostalgia for The Free Winona Movement (criminal complaint filed Feb. 1, 2002).

Oscar Night with the Apatow Company. The Kodak Theatre, Feb. 22, 2009.
Remembered—or, preferably, forgotten—as the Slumdog Millionaire year, the 81st Annual Academy Awards brought us a tour de force stoner-comedy metatext. It's better than Slumdog—duh—but also Pineapple Express itself, maybe, and even Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Prince at the Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show. Dolphin Stadium, Feb. 4, 2007.
I do not know which to prefer, the squalling inflections of the "All Along the Watchtower" cover or the rolling innuendos of "Proud Mary." But I am sure that the serendipitous finale amounted to a sublime argument for old-time big-tent network television as the Caribbean drizzle fell from the clouds and we went bathing in "Purple Rain." The greatest halftime show of all time and the most dearly beloved.


Quentin Tarantino's speech at the New York premiere of Inglourious Basterds, SVA Theatre, Aug. 17, 2009.
"Vulture Presents the Complete Transcript …"

"Relationshipism," the New Republic, Nov. 18, 2002.
Say what you will about Lee Siegel, but in his Sex and the City piece—a hall-of-fame takedown—he works it like SJP sashaying down Charles Street for the paparazzi. "Carrie is really dating the idea of New York purveyed by Sex and the City; she is really dating her television."

Sofia Single Mini Blanc de Blancs, available from Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, Calif., since 2004.
"A distinctive blend as unconventional as the woman who inspired it"—Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat in a can. The sales pitch continues: "Effervescent. Revolutionary. Cool. Poetic. Sparkling. Petulant."

Even tastier: "I Want Candy" in Marie Antoinette (2006), "écrit et réalisé par SOFIA COPPOLA." The film's soundtrack features the Gang of Four's "Natural's Not in It," which rhymes pleasure with leisure; the chimes of horse bells, for that disquieting Belle du Jour jangle; and the Strokes, because Sofia says they're cool. But this set pièce de résistance takes the cake that it would have let the people eat. It's tough to sort out the gaming chips from the petit fours. Sparkling. Petulant.


"Unweaving the Rainbow, or Spencer Finch's Optics," an essay by Suzanne Hudson in Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun?, published by MASS MoCA, Aug. 1, 2007.
"Conceived not as resemblance but as sublime phenomenological effect, Sunlight in an Empty Room (Passing Cloud for Emily Dickinson, Amherst, MA, August 28, 2004) (2004) forsakes iconicity for hallucinatory indexicality. Finch assembled one hundred flourescent tubes that together re-create the precise quality of the light he experienced in the poet's yard until a cloud passed overhead. A makeshift Mylar cloud—a big mess of murkily brilliant, theatrical filters held together with clothespins—refracts the intense evanescence into a complementary pallid haze."

See also: The River That Flows Both Ways at the High Line.

Virginia Heffernan on "Seven-minute Sopranos" on her old New York Times blog.
April 3, 2007: "Matt Weiner, one of the executive producers of The Sopranos, says that Mr. Guylas and Mr. Sabia might be the only two viewers to ever really understand the complexities of Billy Leotardo. Not to mention the whole series!"

April 18, 2007: "Semi-sabotage is how good online video often gets made."

"Watergate Squat" in My Life in CIA, a novel by Harry Mathews, published by Dalkey Archive Press, May 2005.
A word game in a cult-classic spy spoof where an Oulipo all-star teaches the youngsters a thing or two about postmodern horseplay and geopolitical paranoia. (Statistically improbable phrases: squat squat squat, cell secretary.)

Zendol put on an LP. The tune he chose turned out to be "Watergate Squat" from Air America's last album. I took my time clearing away the rugs. When I'd finished, I had the tune down pat. "Can we start over?"

I danced through the opening instrumental introduction and started singing as soon as the vocal began:

Not bitch fascist (squat!) with swastika
And bumper (squat!) double-cross sticker
Let's anagram (squat!) and acrostic her
Let's lock her in a paddock
In six feet of rotten haddock
Sing high (squat!), speak low (squat!)
Ho heigh (squat!), heigh ho (squat!)
Then we'll go play chess (squat!) life-size in Marostica!
.........Squat squat squat,
.........Squat squat

But girl as fair (squat!) as spring jonquil
Turns me on (squat!) more than plonk will
Without her I'll (squat!) never be tronquil
I drink to her in select rum
Pluck her sweet chords with my plectrum
Sing high (squat!), speak low (squat!)
Ho heigh (squat!), heigh ho (squat!)
I'll write her fine praises (squat!) with my feathery long quill
.........Squat squat squat
.........Squat squat

The squatting was taking the breath out of me. Every time I turned, my head sprayed sweat. But Florence was watching me with the sweetest smile.

Maybe seen from far (squat!) or maybe seen near
So sweetly (squat!) sweetly teeny her
Face as disputed (squat!) as Ruthenia
No other's worth a farthing
Not in painting or in carving
Sing high (squat!), speak low (squat!)
Ho heigh (squat!), heigh ho (squat!)
For her I'll hide my heart (squat!), my heart in this gardenia
.........Squat squat squat,
.........Squat squat
In this gardenia
.........Squat squat squat,
.........Squat squat
In this gardenia
.........Squat squat squat squat squat squat squat squat


See also "The Art of Fiction No. 191" in The Paris Review, spring 2007.

And speaking of central intelligence, take a gander at Hal Hartley's great Fay Grim(2006)—a crackpot indie-rock espionage thriller amounting to the real Syriana.

Xclamation pointein The Informant!, a film directed by Steven Soderbergh, released Sept. 18, 2009.
The finest punctuation of its kind since Three Amigos! What a way to punctuate a decade! What transforming ambition! Soderbergh, who ended the last decade with a fun book on the director of Help!, began this one recording a classic DVD commentary track for The Limey, that hard-scrambled masterpiece. Then he made a dozen features—riddles about factorial intrigues, epics about exploding fragments, exclamatory digital splinters. Each one of these diverse pictures is a heist film, and he's getting away with a brilliant career. Soderbergh lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jules Asner, formerly a reporter for the cable channel E!.

Further viewing: The revolutionary battle scenes in Che(2008); The Girlfriend Experience (2009) one-sheet.

"You're Gonna Frey" and " A Different Tack,", April 29, 2003, and Jan. 8, 2006, respectively.
A matched set of bitch slaps. First, prescient Pollack (who was then deeply into his mock-pomposity shtick) challenged the minorly literate James Frey (who had been talking unsupportable trash at an unpleasant volume) to a duel, which Pollack won before his gauntlet had hit the ground. In the second—a wet kiss goodnight to a freshly proven fraud—Pollack slips into the counterfeit confessionalist's soft leather shoes: "It's been a hard life because the cops won't start—I mean stop—beating me up. … I'm sorry about all the bad things I've done. Now buy my books."

See also: The punk album Never Mind the Pollacks (2003) by the Neal Pollack Invasion, especially its lead single, "I Wipe My Ass on Your Novel."

Zadie Smith.
Was the decade's best young American novelist a British essayist? Exhibit A—"Speaking in Tongues" in the New York Review of Books, Feb. 26, 2009, about Barack Obama's talent for doing the populace in different voices. Exhibit B—In conversation in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 17, 2002, about David Foster Wallace's talent for prose: "Wheee!"

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