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Top Films of the Decade

I sincerely hope I made every attempt to be fair and honest and if I left off a film you love, please know that it was not with malice and there are only ten spots. I even split them into two genres because taking any of these off the list kind of made my heart hurt. Also, feel free to list additional films in the comments section! Okay. This will probably be my last post of the year. Phew. I’m exhausted.

* A note to fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Peter Jackson is an amazing filmmaker who I respect greatly, and who directed the hell out of those films. They’re just not my favorite.

DRAMA

10. The Hurt Locker (2009)


Truly one of the greatest surprises of the year. I’ve discussed my admiration already… at length. And honestly, if Bigelow doesn’t get some kind of recognition from her peers –or at the very least a major studio deal where she can have her way and tell all the suits they can suck it— I’ll be leading the conspiracy train. And then I’m making a list of people to blame/hunt down.

9. Closer (2004)


Oddly enough, what makes this film so exceptional has little to do with qualities I might praise in another film. Plays are tricky like that. It’s not particularly cinematic and the narrative is actually quite minimal and fragmented. But what is on screen is endlessly compelling. The psychology of these characters is incredibly rich and layered, and demand a director of unique sophistication. Mike Nichols hit a grand slam with this one. And of course, there’s Clive. Sigh.

8. Million Dollar Baby (2004)


This is classic Clint. Minimal, quiet and focused. Mr. Eastwood handles the narrative shift in this film with a careful and steady hand, creating what can only be described as an exquisite cinematic masterpiece. It’s just a beautiful film, earning every tear (many of them were mine) and every award. And perhaps even eclipses his other pièce-de-résistance, Unforgiven (1992). Perhaps. Give me a few years, I’ll have a definite opinion.

7. 25th Hour (2002)


I love the way Spike plays with realism. However visually surreal, his work always grasps for truth, exposing the divide between our feats and follies, and undoubtedly forcing us to examine where we are, where we’re going and where we’d like to be. He achieves it here, as poetically and stylishly as he has in the past, but with the added responsibility of being the first to film in NYC after 9/11. The reveal of Ground Zero, however distressing, was also handled with integrity; a poignant symbol, not of destruction, but of the painful origins of recovery — when our wounds are still critically exposed and vulnerable.

6. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)


Guillermo’s imagination is extraordinary. His imagery is so carefully constructed and original, it’s as though his monsters are created from his own childhood memories. Fiercely committed and respectful of adolescent fears, Del Toro makes brilliant use of fantasy to highlight actual terror in the real world. The monsters in Ofelia’s head are no more terrifying than the monsters she must endure in her life. The threat is equally real and no matter where we are, we never doubt that it is a matter of life and death. We believe it… because Del Toro believes it.

5. The Departed (2006)


“I’m the guy that does his job. You must be the other guy.”

I think it’d be hilarious if that was how Marty greeted people on his set. Cause it’d be true. And frankly, if you don’t like this movie, I have to wonder if you like any movies. Scorsese got down and dirty and back to his roots… and ingeniously incorporated the ubiquity of cell phones into his raucous little tale of crime and Boston accents (to quote a friend: What, was he supposed to just preTEND the technology doesn’t exist?). The inclusion provides context for one of the most crucial (and easily one of the most enjoyable) moments of silence in any film ever.

4. No Country For Old Men (2007)


Has anyone really seen the Coens up close? Are we sure they’re not puppets? Or gremlins, or something?? I’m half kidding (there’s no such thing as gremlins). My point is that the Coen bros. are very, very good at what they do, sometimes inhumanly good. And they definitely brought their A-game when it came time to make this film. It’s visually barren, but astounding; spare with words, but every word matters. I’ve heard a few complainy rumblings about how this film is somehow less of an accomplishment because it’s an adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel, and that it’s easier and less impressive when you have source material that is already exceptional. But anyone who’s seen Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) knows that’s not true.

3. The Wrestler (2008)


Honestly, I didn’t know Aronofsky had it in him to play it straight. Not that I didn’t think he could, but I didn’t know that he ever would. Luckily for all of us, he did, and with wonderful results. The film gives due respect to the hardworking men who live in the world of professional wrestling, showing them as dedicated and driven performers, above all else. But the beating heart and soul of this film is Mickey Rourke, no question. It is quite simply one of the most moving performances I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing.

2. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)


I wrestled with this for a very long time. QT delivered one of the greatest cinematic romps this year with Inglourious Basterds (2009), a film I consider to be very near perfect. But, Kill Bill, for me, will eternally stand as his magnum opus; a sweeping epic about loss and vengeance, pain and redemption, violence and love… all centered around one of the most powerful female characters ever written for the screen. Her journey is long, and loaded with challenges, anguish, near-death encounters and one very heart-wrenching primal motivation. Add the fact that every shot of this film is immaculately framed (seriously, watch it and just push pause whenever your little heart desires. It’ll blow your mind), and you realize the magnitude of labor and care that went into this film. It’s glourious (ha… see what I did there?).

1. Match Point (2005)


A magnificent return to form for Mr. Allen. His dramatically rich narrative reveals a great many things about the institutions to which society –particularly older and… posher societies— seem determined to uphold, and the lengths to which man (to be fair, humans) will go, to maintain its order. Allen’s protagonist is driven solely by self-preservation, and his survival is predicated not on any sense of decency, but an abundance of favorable happenstance… and the stupidity of others. In other words: he is free because he is lucky. But he is not lucky because he is good or moral. And punishment is not dealt to those who are bad, simply those who are caught. What’s troubling/brilliant about this film… is that Allen gets us to root for the criminal. We dread his demise even as we indict those around him as enablers. Their ignorance is, in a way, our own. We are all, in some way or at some time: the clueless wife, the selfish mistress, the rigid mother, the petulant son and the useless crusader for justice. It is quite simply a pristinely classic piece of filmmaking.

COMEDY

10. High Fidelity (2000)


No one does neurotic as adorably as John Cusack. In fact, I’d argue that it’s not adorable on anyone except Cusack. There are like a million awesome moments in this film, all quotable and all true to life. And how can I not include a film that is filled to the brim with scenes of characters making Best-Of lists?

9. Mean Girls (2004)


Okay, so… this movie has a somewhat unfair advantage because it was scripted by the marvelously talented Tina Fey. She’s the best. She really is. And most definitely part of the solution, not the problem. And in the spirit of side-stepping problems, I’m gonna bypass the presence of LiLo (I can’t believe I just typed that) and move on to the actual star of this film, Rachel McAdams, who is absolutely so spot-on-convincing in her portrayal of Regina George.

Regina: Whatever. Those rules aren’t real!

Karen: They were real when I wore that vest—

Regina: Because that vest was DISGUSTING!

Ahahahahaha… still funny.

8. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)


I think Sacha Baron Cohen is part Jedi. I’m convinced of it. It takes an immeasurable amount of mental strength to take part in the events that occur in this out-of-control-hilarious docu-mocku-sketchcomedy-meets-performance-art satire. I cringe with glee and I laugh with frantic and nervous energy. Baron Cohen bravely pushes the limits of human decency and in the process, exposes just the right amount of hypocrisy without alienating his audience. Well… at least whatever audience wasn’t featured in the film. I don’t really know what to say to them. Always read the fine print…?

7. Catch Me If You Can (2002)


Not exactly a slapstick, feel-good kind of comedy, but filled with humor and wonderfully acted. Leo actually won me over as a legit fan after seeing him in this film. John Williams (he conducted my orchestra rehearsal once!) delivers a playfully surprising and delightful musical score. And holy crap, the opening title sequence of this film is the most amazing thing ever, ever, EVER.

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)


The inside-Hollywood comedy gets a much-needed shot of adrenaline and whip-smart, genre-melding ingenuity. I can’t recall a time before seeing this film, when I laughed harder than I did seeing this film.

If you need more:

a) it’s hilarious.

b) it’s really hilarious.

c) Robert Downey, Jr. is per-FEC-tion.

d) HILARIOUS.

e) Val Kilmer reminds us why he’s awesome.

f) It’s written/directed by Shane Black.

g) Shane Black also wrote Lethal Weapon (1987).

h) LETHAL. WEAPON.

That’s it, I’m done.

5. Shaun of the Dead (2004)


Um… choreographed Zombie fight? Yes, please. So many noteworthy, well-written scenes and brilliant visual jokes in this film. And I’m not sure what it is that makes the Brits so amazing at comedy, but it has that going for it as well. Simon Pegg is simply fantastic. As is Bill Nighy, who gets a mention just because he’s in a scene that had me laughing so hard, my stomach hurt.

4. Amélie (2001)


O. M. G. She is the cutest person alive, isn’t she?? This movie just warms my heart. It’s just so charming and clever and whimsical and so… so French. It’s like a connect-the-dot picture game, only there are like a million dots, and when you finally connect them all, the picture isn’t of a boring mouse or an umbrella or something equally pointless. It’s of adorable Audrey Tautou, with a talk-bubble that says “Merci!” And really, who wouldn’t smile at that?

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)


Coens. Check. Odyssey. Check. George Clooney (Sexiest Man Alive 1997). Check. Bluegrass music. Check. John Goodman with an eye-patch. Check. George Clooney— oh. Sorry… covered that. Haa…

What more do you want?? The bros.’ re-imagining of The Odyssey is an outstanding and ingenious piece of cinema… and thankfully steers very clear of excessive zaniness. A visually, tonally and stylistically cohesive work from beginning to end. It’s also pretty funny too.

2. School of Rock (2003)


This movie is the bees knees. I mean, the BEES KNEES, you know? Already a classic, in my book. So satisfying, so touching, so funny, so well-written. It makes me wish we had Rock Appreciation… and Theory in my grade school. I feel a little cheated, honestly. But Jack Black has never been better. Truly, his finest work. Let’s rock, let’s rock, today!

1. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)


The more things change, the more they stay the same. But the change can be scandalously fun and liberating. Three years after Match Point (2005), Woody followed up with this perfect little gem. One of the many things for which I credit this film (other than making people obsess about traveling to Barcelona) is the inclusion of female characters that I have absolutely zero desire to strangle. The women in this film are just so exquisitely flawed and authentic, and in one way or another, I think we’re all psychically tied to at least one of them. Or all three, as the case may be (and not just because they get to ravage Javier Bardem. Ahem). But I mean… beyond that it’s basically your average, run-of-the-mill masterfully written, superbly acted, beautifully shot, hilariously funny and sophisticated comedy about art, love, sex and the meaning of life.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Minority Report (2002)


Urban Legend Report

Early copies of this film included the following note:

Dear Fans,

I just re-watched A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). I don’t know what came over me. My sincerest apologies. Here you go.

Regards,

Steven Spielberg

Brick (2006)


This film had me legitimately geeking out for a while… albeit, silently… and in private. It’s one of the most imaginative presentations of film noir that I’ve ever seen, and a careful balance of style and story. Rian Johnson has a truly remarkable ear for language (check out the clever rhymy awesomeness of The Brother’s Bloom (2008) ) and gets added marks for casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt (love). An ambitious but impressive directorial debut. I can’t wait to see what he’s got next.

Drag Me to Hell (2009)


See review.

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