Was David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive the Best Movie of the Decade?

David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is not for casual movie-goers.

I was shocked yesterday and then again today to discover that there are already some people saying Mulholland Drive was the best movie of the decade. First my favorite critic, Dana Stevens of Slate, said this about David Lynch’s movie:

Unlike many Lynch acolytes, I consider Mulholland Dr. (spelled with the abbreviation, the way Lynch likes it) to be a gloriously imperfect film. No one’s ever been able to explain to my satisfaction what the whole subplot about that Dumpster-dwelling guy is about, or why Justin Theroux keeps running into that cowboy dude. But it makes my list for the sublime central love story between Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring, and for being the movie that’s inspired more and better dinner conversations than any film, perhaps, ever.

What she wrote about dinner conversations struck a chord with me. I remember when I went to see Mulholland Drive in the theater, I asked my friend Alexa to come along who had never seen a David Lynch movie. I recall that she liked it, and her first comment when we walked out was something like “I bet the director’s wife wakes up to some interesting pillow talk every morning.”

But while I thought that choosing a David Lynch film was a clever anomaly of “best-of” list writing, I was floored earlier today when I saw that another publication, Time Out New York, and its panel of critics choose Mulholland Drive as their top pick of the decade as well.

Here’s what they write:

At the top of our poll is a film split in half: a glamorous romance that suddenly morphs into bitter rejection, a Hollywood mystery that plunges into doom. Can there be another movie that speaks as resonantly—if unwittingly—to the awful moment that marked our decade? Viewers grappled over the meaning of the movie’s “blue box,” finding little purchase. But in the troubled autumn of this psychodrama’s 2001 NYC release, we might have understood it all too well. Mulholland Drive is the monster behind the diner; it’s the self-delusional dream turned into nightmare. The triumph belongs to David Lynch, who could have rested on the laurels of his three landmarks, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Creatively, though, he saved this project (originally a misunderstood TV pilot) from dismissal, retooling it and extending his story into complexity. Along the way, a star was born: the extraordinary Naomi Watts, whose fearless double performance wrecked all who submitted to its spell. Is the movie too dangerous and surreal to be our champion? Hardly. It was, after all, a dangerous and surreal decade.

While I certainly enjoyed Mulholland Drive and generally love David Lynch movies, I am surprised by this choice.

For the uninitiated, David Lynch does not make films for the masses. Generally speaking, his films are bizarre, scary, artfully constructed thrill rides that will leave some people wanting more and others wanting to understand WTF they just saw. His movies almost defy description until you see one, and Mulholland Drive represented Lynch’s non-linear mysterious storytelling well. I’m not sure I thought it was worthy of being deemed “the best film of the decade” though.

I remember only a few things about it including the scary, mysterious, evil man who was behind the diner near a dumpster (referenced above by both reviewers), the hot sexuality of Naomi Watts, and weird scenes of an opera singer that were muted. The evil man behind the dumpster was almost a full-scale evolution of David Lynch’s archetypal evil characters and the most succinct representation of one to date. In other words, the man behind the dumpster represents the wonderful creepiness of Lynch’s movies that haunts your mind years afterward. You will know exactly what I’ve mean if you’ve seen several David Lynch movies.

The most accessible thing David Lynch has done to date was his beloved TV series Twin Peaks. If you are interested in what David Lynch is all about, then I recommend starting there. I once proposed to some friends that we watch Blue Velvet, one of Lynch’s earlier successes and more coherent films from a plot standpoint. One person loved it, and one person thought it meant I was the weirdest person in the world. It’s good to know that in my quick research while writing this article, The Guardian in 2007 named Lynch “the most important film-maker of the current era”— so I guess I’m not alone in my weirdness.

Anyone out there have an opinion? Is the choice of Mulholland Drive odd as film of the decade, especially given that the bulk of David Lynch’s movie output was in the 1990s? Perhaps I need to watch it again.

5 thoughts on “Was David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive the Best Movie of the Decade?

  1. Well, this is one of those can of worms type posts that is just meant to get people all riled up and pissed off. I personally have no problem with throwing Mulholland Drive into the hat, however I’d like to see some specific comparrisons to other movies. I did a quick search to see what won best pictures throughout the decade and here’s the list:

    American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire

    Here’s my comparrison with Mulholland on each of these films (in reverse order for reasons that will become clear later).

    Mulholland Drive > Slumdog Millionaire: Slumdog is just too predictable with too many holes, and it pisses me off that the guy dances better than the girl at the end of the film.

    Mulholland Drive = No country for Old men: No country is essentially a perfect movie. But there’s no girl on girl.

    Mulholland Drive = The Departed: A lot of critics kind of pan the Departed for not even being Scorcesee’s best film. It’s easier to watch multiple times than Mulholland though.

    Mulholland > Crash: Crash is overrated crap essentially.

    Mulholland Drive > Million Dollar Baby: Baby is the most depressing move ever made. Clint should have won all his oscars as an actor.

    Mulholland Drive > The Return of the King: Unless you’re on acid…well that girl on girl scene keeps me rethinking this.

    Mulholland Drive > Chicago: Chicago? Please, are you kidding me?

    Mulholland Drive > A Beautiful Mind: Beautiful mind is engaging and entertaining, but it’s simply not otherworldly like Mulholland Drive.

    Mulholland Drive > Gladiator: Gladiator is just not best picture worthy, even though it’s a rousing film.

    Mulholland Drive > American Beauty: American Beauty was released in 1999, but it was eligible for the 2000 Acadamy Awards…although it shouldn’t have won best picture.

    You know, without a doubt, Mulholland is the best of all Lynch movies. For me, it’s at least twice as good as anything else he’s ever done. Sometimes a director’s weird vision sort of accidentally comes together and creates something more than the sum of its parts. That’s the case with Mulholland (and Lynch). And really, there’s no point in him ever making another film.

    HOWEVER, if they’re counting American Beauty as a film in the 2000’s, then I’m going to have to say the best film of the decade was Fight Club. Fight Club had the exact same thematic concerns as American Beauty, but because it was skewed towards Gen Xers instead of Baby Boomers it was reviled by critics. Still, it’s essentially the perfect film.

    You know…I gotta say No country is better than Mulholland too.

    oh, and yeah, Brittany Murphy isn’t the greatest actress of all time, but she was a hell of a lot more interesting than just about any other 32 year old actress that I can think of. Seriously, she was kind of psycho looking, and I always find that appealing.

  2. I’d have picked Pulp Fiction or the original Matrix, but Mulholland Drive isn’t a bad choice at all.

    (I don’t know why the reviewer recommends Blue Velvet? It’s nowhere near as good as Mulholland Drive)

  3. I thought about what you both wrote and even went back and watched a few online clips from Mulholland Drive since it seems like it will take a while for me to find a copy to watch.

    First, I think that the Best Picture winners have traditionally been films that as a a prerequisite have to have some box office success– although I think that changed a little bit with No Country for Old Men. So I don’t think I would choose them as a proxy for best film of the decade.

    What’s the best film of the decade? It’s kind of hard to choose just one film as you both say. I tend to think Mulholland Drive is an interesting film, but how influential will it be down the road? Maybe more than I’d like to think– but I think that coherent storytelling is better to strive for more than “It’s all open to interpretation” collage dream-like filmmaking. I lot of what we like is very personal too.

    I agree that (so far) the Matrix and Pulp Fiction have inspired more films than Mulholland Drive (at least mainstream movies).

    I looked at Time Out New York’s full list and was surprised to see that Lynch’s “Inland Empire” was also ranked very high. I haven’t seen this one yet. Many of the films on the list I haven’t even heard of.

    Some they mentioned that I liked and thought were excellent were Zodiac, the New World, American Psycho, Children of Men, I Heart Huckabees, and Cache. Of these, I’d probably say Children of Men or Cache was my favorite pick for film of the decade.

  4. Probably the best film of all time. I don’t like this reviewer. I don’t like critics in general, they are parasites. I will criticize this reviewer though. The dumpster guy did not represent creepiness. The dumpster scene represents the dark corners of the blond woman’s true life seeping into the story universe, where she is loved by a car crash victim. This movie is a brilliant, brilliant movie, perhaps too good, because it makes David Lynch seem like he is keeping some godlike ability from us. “Why don’t you make another Mullholland Drive David?”, we ask impatiently. But there is no answer because the brilliance that is this film, like the brilliance in many of greatest works of art, is not the sum total of the artist’s contribution. It is just a moment, just a pinch of the truth of love, and the truth of the madness of the world juxtaposed on top of one another. The inevitability love and madness is perhaps the only absolute truth in this world of ours, and Mulholland Drive, whether Lynch foresaw it or not, brings the opium weight of love to his character’s eyelids, and the burning light of icarus’ sun on their wings. Bam.

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