My Picks For The Top 100 Films of The Decade
It's been quite an amazing decade for lovers of film. While Hollywood pumped out monstrosities like Transformers and G.I. Joe, real filmmakers continued to make both large and small masterpieces, both inside and, more often, outside the Hollywood system.
So, below are my picks for the best 100 films of the past 10 years. However, instead of one list I've decided to make five: 70 Best Films, 10 Best Comedies, 12 Best Documentaries, 5 Best Animated Films, and 3 Best Musicals.
After long and hard deliberation I realized that trying to compare a classic comedy like Best In Show to a film like Milk or There Will Be Blood is almost impossible. It's like trying to compare a classic jazz album to an all-time great rock or pop album. Like, say, trying to rank in some sort of logical order Rubber Soul, Exile On Main Street, Kind Of Blue, and Birth of the Cool.
That said, if I were forced to make one list, let me just say that comedies like Best In Show and Borat would most definitely be in the Top 20 Films of The Decade. As would an animated film like Wall-E. Well, at least in the Top 50. This separation isn't supposed to designate inferiority, it's just the whole apples-and-oranges thing.
So here they are:
THE TOP 70 FILMS OF THE DECADE:
Every one of the following 70 films, in one way or another, strongly connected with me both intellectually and visually. But more than anything else all of these films made an emotional impact:
#70. Up In The Air (2009)
I just saw this a few days ago, so it's a bit early to know exactly where it should fit in on this list, but what I know for sure is that it is one of the best 70 films of the past decade, so I'm simply placing it here at #70.
George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick are all outstanding. I loved how this film didn't lead down all the predictable avenues it so easily could have. Director and co-screenwriter Jason Reitman is sure off to an amazing start to his career, having made just three films, all of which have been great: Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and now this subtle masterpiece.
#69. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)
Zacharias Kunuk directs this retelling of a 1,000-year-old Inuit legend. A fascinating glimpse into Inuit culture and a suspenseful tale to boot.
#68. High Fidelity (2000)
Nick Hornby's finest novel is turned into a funny, moving, terrific film by director Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Queen). Jack Black's breakout role. John Cusack at his absolute best. And Tim Robbins in an hilarious cameo.
#67. Elegy (2008)
Spanish director Isabel Coixet and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer bring Philip Roth's novel to cinematic life. Coixet has made a few other really great films - such as The Secret Life of Words (2005) and My Life Without Me (2003), both starring the always-great Sarah Polley - but this one's her best yet. Penélope Cruz and Ben Kingsley are both phenomenal.
#66. Vera Drake (2004)
British filmmaker Mike Leigh's best movie since Secrets and Lies. And, as always, he brings out the best in his actors. Imelda Staunton is incredible here in the title role.
#65. Whale Rider (2002)
Amazingly, 12-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes (who very deservingly wound up nominated for an Oscar) had never acted before being chosen as the lead in this awe-inspiring film from New Zealand writer-director Niki Caro. A modern fable about a young Maori girl's quest to prove her true destiny. If that sounds vague, well, just see it. You won't regret it.
#64. The Barbarian Invasions (Les invasions barbares) (2003)
Denys Arcand, who wrote and directed two amazing films back in the 1980s (Jesus of Montreal and The Decline of the American Empire) does it again with this sequel to American Empire, exploring the same characters 17 years on. Terrific ensemble cast.
#63. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
Another great film out of Quebec, the province that has been producing many of Canada's best films for decades. And as with most French films, either from France or Quebec, the focus is on human relations rather than on blowing stuff up real good. And this film, from writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée, is no exception: It's a story of a man trying to come to terms with his own homosexuality while growing up in a conservative family in the '60s and '70s.
#62. The Son's Room (La stanza del figlio) (2001)
Written and directed by Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti, this heartwrenching film about a family dealing with the traumatic death of a son won the top prize, the Palme d'Or, at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.
#61. Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical film about his first job working for Rolling Stone magazine when he was still in his teens. He's made some other great films, but nothing tops this one for heart, an awesome soundtrack and great acting. Particularly great if you happen to be a big fan of rock 'n' roll.
#60. The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2002-2003)
None of the three parts of this trilogy would have made it onto this list on their own. Really! Sure, all three films were great, but none of the three completely captivated me. While they were all really well made and visually stunning, there just seemed to be something missing that stopped each individual film from reaching its true greatness. However, as a whole, there's no way to deny the significance and, yes, greatness of Peter Jackson's magnum opus.
#59. Mystic River (2003)
Clint Eastwood has made great film after great film all decade long, but this one stood out, particularly for the stellar performances all around by it's all-star cast. Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Bacon, and, particularly, Sean Penn (who finally won a long-overdue Oscar) and Tim Robbins (who also won an Oscar - for Best Supporting Actor) are all superb. A great film, but he made an even better one a few years later (see below).
#58. Y tu mamá también (2001)
From Mexican writer-director Alfonso Cuarón and starring Gael García Bernal in one of his many many wonderful performances this decade. The guy seemed to be in everything over the past ten years (Amores Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries, Bad Education, The Science of Sleep, Babel, Blindness, The Limits of Control, etc.), but this still remains one of his best. The other main leads, Diego Luna and Maribel Verdú, are great as well in this story of two teenage boys battling for the affection of an older woman.
#57. The Sea Inside (Mar adentro) (2004)
Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar brings to life the true story of a Spanish quadriplegic who fought a three-decades-long battle for the right to die with dignity.
In a decade in which he blew everyone's mind in No Country For Old Men, this was actually Javier Bardem's finest performance.
#56. Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai (2000)
Made in 1999, but not released in America or Canada until 2000, I'm calling this a film from 2000 and, not only that, I'm also calling it Jim Jarmusch's best film of the decade. Starring the always-terrific Forest Whitaker, who's at his very best here.
#55. House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Director Vadim Perelman's first film is an emotional tour de force, as are the sublime performances by both Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley. Kingsley's finest performance of the decade may have been in Sexy Beast, but this (and/or Elegy) is a close second. Connelly has never been better.
#54. Adaptation. (2002)
Director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman team up once again and recreate the magic they first created with 1999's Being John Malkovich. Now, if you didn't like that one then you're definitely not going to like this one either. But if you did love Malkovich the way I loved Malkovich then you'll most certainly be loving this strange, bizarre trip as well.
Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton are terrific, but it's Nicolas Cage, playing twin brothers, who knocks this thing out of the park. With the possible exception of Leaving Las Vegas, this is a career peak.
#53. Monster (2003)
Charlize Theron gives one of the most amazing performances of this or any decade in writer-director Patty Jenkins' one and only feature film to date. And if you're going to make just one film per decade, you might as well make it astonishingly good. Christina Ricci shines as well, but it's Theron who is an absolute revelation, making the audience empathize with, and somewhat understand, the mind of a serial killer.
#52. I'm Not There (2007)
As I wrote at the time:
Ok, I'm a Dylan fanatic and was therefore predestined to love this ode to the many personas of Bob... and, man, did I ever! But you certainly don't have to be a Dylan fan to enjoy this highly original work from the mind of writer-director Todd Haynes. However, you probably do have to be a fan of art films to truly appreciate it, as it's a very unique and creative piece of filmmaking, without any real linear storyline. Being a fan of Bob definitely does make watching the film more interesting, though, since non-fans simply won't get all the (literally) hundreds of references and jokes, not to mention all the lyrics and lines from interviews used as dialogue.
I originally saw this at the theater and it was fantastic, but I enjoyed it even more the second time (on DVD). The music, of course, is incredible throughout, but the acting is also pretty amazing, especially that of Cate Blanchett, in one of the greatest performances of her entire career.
The heart of the film is the sad story of the deteriorating marriage between characters based on Bob, played by Heath Ledger, and his first wife Sara, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Even sadder to watch after Heath's tragic death.
#51. 25th Hour (2002)
He had a bigger hit with Inside Man, which was also great, but this was definitely Spike Lee's best film of the decade... and one of his best ever. The always-amazing Edward Norton gives perhaps his finest performance of the past 10 years.
#50. Juno (2007)
Canadian director Jason Reitman's sophomore effort is a beauty. As I wrote at the time:
Fun, light and somewhat silly (and occasionally hilarious), this is quite unlike most of the other, much heavier, films here on this list, but it definitely deserves to be here nonetheless. A fantastic cast, a terrific script and a great soundtrack too. The whole thing rests on the shoulders of the amazing Ellen Page, who does an outstanding job in the title role.
#49. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
As I wrote in my Best Films of 2007 piece:
Wes Anderson, the incredibly talented writer-director behind Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, does it again. He's created yet another fantastic film. And he's certainly not about repeating himself. This is unlike any of his previous films, at least in setting and story. His unique and quirky sense of humor remains as great as ever, however. Funny and serious, surreal and realistic - often all at once - I simply love this guy's films!
It's a great film by any standard (though, actually, come to think of it, not by the "Hey, dude, wasn't Transformers a wicked film?" standard), but it's particularly great for anyone, like myself, who has ever spent time traveling around India. The main characters - played to perfection by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman - may be quite self-absorbed and not all that interested in the Indian people all around them - which makes them the complete opposite of my experience over there - but, still, the film really did transport me back to India and my year traveling around the country by train (for a particularly special train trip in Southern India, read this).
#48. The Squid and The Whale (2005)
Noah Baumbach's small little semi-autobiographical film about his parents divorce in the 1980s is a perfect mix of funny, sad and melancholy. An especially poignant film for anyone who experienced the same sort of family collapse during their childhood.
Read my full rave here: A History of Squid and Whale Violence Revisited: Two must-see films
#47. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Woody Allen's best film in years. No, make that decades. Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, and the always-terrific Javier Bardem are all outstanding.
Read my full review here: Lucky Day: The Bruce and Woody Rave
#46. Waltz With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) (2008)
As I said in my Best Films of 2009 piece:
This animated war documentary is unlike anything you've ever seen. Israeli director Ari Folman interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, trying to recover blacked-out memories from the massacre at Beirut's Sabra and Shatila camps. A fascinating, and ultimately heartbreaking, road to the truth.
#45. La Vie En Rose (La môme) (2007)
Bio-pics can often be pretty lame and unoriginal, but this film from French director Olivier Dahan about the life of Edith Piaf is anything but. A fascinating look at the often-tragic life of France's greatest 20th century star.
#43. & #44. The Wrestler (2008) and Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky made three fantastic films this decade - these two and 2006's The Fountain , not to mention 1998's terrific Pi - making him one of the greatest filmmakers working today.
Requiem For A Dream, which deals with the direct and indirect effects of drug addiction, featured a breakout performance by Jennifer Connelly and an inspired comeback by Ellen Burstyn. While The Wrestler features Micky Rourke giving the comeback performance of the decade in the role of a washed up wrestler dealing with his demons, destroyed dreams, and distant daughter.
#42. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile) (2007)
As I wrote here:
A brilliant and completely absorbing piece of filmmaking from writer/director Cristian Mungiu. Heavy as hell, - gut-wrenching, in fact - this Romanian film most definitely isn't for those looking for a night of fun and laughs. However, for those looking for an amazing piece of social realism, this is a must-see work of art. Set in dictatorship-era Romania in 1987, the film presents a snapshot of a very different world and a brutal depiction of a topic rarely discussed in film: abortion.
#41. Rachel Getting Married (2008)
Anne Hathaway gives the performance of a lifetime and Jonathan Demme once again shows the world the master director he is, but in a small intimate film nothing like his past triumphs, the likes of The Silence of The Lambs and Philadelphia. Terrific acting, a great script, and an excellent film all around.
#40. Tell No One (2006)
A French Hitchcockian thriller with twists and turns galore and an emotional heart at its very core.
Or, as I said here:
A suspense/thriller with a real emotional heart, this film has accurately been described as a cross between Vertigo and The Fugitive. I'd call it a Hitchcockian thriller better than just about any actual Hitchcock thriller, with the possible exception of Vertigo itself. And the acting here is absolutely outstanding. Francois Cluzet, especially, gives a breathtaking performance as a man who comes to believe his wife may, in fact, be alive, eight years after her brutal murder.
Featuring a plot much more complicated than your typical Hollywood thriller (adapted from a novel by American writer Harlan Coben) and masterly directed by Guillaume Canet, who also wrote the screenplay, this is a must-see for any and all lovers of great cinema.
#39. Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei) (2002)
Yoji Yamada writes and directs this modern take on the samurai drama, while Hiroyuki Sanada plays a widowed father of two daughters (and the son of a senile mother) who is simply trying to get by. Long story short, things get messy. A gripping, moving, thrilling tale in the grand tradition of Akira Kurosawa.
#38. Hard Candy (2005)
If you thought Ellen Page was good in Juno, then you've got to see this. Page was just 18 when she gave one of the best performances of the decade in this chilling/thrilling story from screenwriter Brian Nelson and director David Slade. Patrick Wilson is also terrific in this psychological thriller.
#37. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Over the past 25 years who else has produced as many consistently amazing films as the Coen Brothers? Ok, Martin Scorsese, but besides that I'd say no one. It's been a quarter century with only one misstep (2003's Intolerable Cruelty).
Most incredible of all is the way the brothers have so effortlessly moved from intense dramas to offbeat comedies.
Just as the '90s gave us not only the dark-comedic brilliance of Fargo but also the classic comedic joy of The Big Lebowski, so too did this past decade give us masterpieces in both the dark brooding No Country For Old Men and its more jovial cousin, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. O Brother also gave us George Clooney at his most witty and charming.
#36. Avatar (2009)
Visually, absolutely stunning - unlike any film made before (which I guess it should be considering it cost an obscene $300 million to make).
A not-so-subtle political parable, the story has been criticized for being too "black and white", but, the truth is, similar stories have been unfolding right here on Earth on a regular basis for years now (think the rich ranchers slaughtering Amazon tribes in order to steal their land down in Brazil - all in the name of more profit. Or the Western mining companies operating throughout the developing world who kick local people off their land all the time. Or the Chinese peasants kicked off their land by their government in the name of development, etc., etc.).
By this point in the list you can already tell that I'm not a huge fan of Hollywood blockbusters, but, as I wrote about this film in my Best Films of 2009 piece: "If you're going to go see a blockbuster, what more could you want than this amazing piece of entertainment from James Cameron?"
#35. Syriana (2005)
Writer-director Stephen Gaghan (who wrote the fantastic screenplay for Traffic as well as the horrifically-offensive script for Rules of Engagement) concocts an incredibly suspenseful, action-packed, political thriller that looks at the interconnected relationship between oil, arms, espionage and war in the Middle East. George Clooney and Matt Damon are superb.
#34. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
As I wrote in my Best Films of 2009 piece:
A stop-action kids film that is probably a much more thrilling viewing experience for adults (though still great fun for the kids). Coming from the brilliant mind of writer-director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited), there was never really any chance it would be anything less than pure cinematic magic. And the stars - George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman, in particular - all shine brightly.
#33. Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
To quote my Best Films of 2009 piece:
Spike Jonze's first film in seven years is as great as his first two (Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation.). Based on Maurice Sendak's children's book, but not really a children's film at all. Rather it's an incredibly moving, occasionally heartbreaking story for adults about childhood. A must-see.
#32. Amores Perros (2000)
21 Grams (2003) had the bigger stars and Babel (2006) was the bigger box office hit, but this debut film from Mexico's Alejandro González Iñárritu is the mindblower. Gael García Bernal's breakout role.
#31. Into The Wild (2007)
Sean Penn has written and directed some great films over the years (including the remarkable 1991 film The Indian Runner), but this is his greatest film to date. Emile Hirsch gives a truly awe-inspiring performance as Christopher McCandless, a 23-year-old kid from an affluent family who rejects society, leaves everything behind and heads off on a two-year trip around the U.S. and, eventually, into the wilderness of Alaska.
Read my full review here: The Sean Penn "Into The Wild" Rave
#30. City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002)
Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, who went on to make The Constant Gardener (2005) and Blindness (2008), made his greatest film of the decade with his smallest budget, filming in and around the actual slums of Rio de Janeiro where the story takes place. It's a story of the drug trafficking and eventual turf wars that dominated life in these slums from the '60s through to the '80s and the direct effect they had on one group of kids in particular. At once a fascinating, enthralling, exciting and horrifying viewing experience.
#29. Memento (2000)
Batman Begins and, especially, The Dark Knight would be his smash hits, but this is actually Christopher Nolan's most striking film. Starring a never-better Guy Pearce, as a man with a case of severe short-term memory loss, in a story that'll blow your mind and have you clamoring to see it again almost immediately after the final credits roll.
#28. The Pianist (2002)
This film, about one man's attempt to survive World War II in the Warsaw Ghetto, is Roman Polanski's greatest achievement. That he'd be so inspired to craft such a brilliant film isn't that hard to understand once you know that Polanski himself is a Polish Jew who lost most of his family in the Holocaust. The always-reliable Adrien Brody gives a performance here that far surpasses anything else he's ever done before or since.
#27. The Hurt Locker (2009)
To quote my Best Films of 2009 piece:
Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break) inspires her cast of relative unknowns to greatness in this riveting, suspense-filled film about life in a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq circa 2004. One of the best war films of all time.
#26. Lost In Translation (2003)
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, this film, set in Tokyo as it is, was an especially enjoyable experience for someone, like myself, who has spent years living in Japan. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are as good as they've ever been, playing two lost, lonely souls wandering the streets of a city where just about everything is foreign and strange.
Interestingly, I had a number of people who had never been to Japan say that they thought the film was making fun of the country and the people. I didn't see it that way at all. It simply showed Tokyo the way a newcomer would see it, in all its bizarre, funny, wonderful, strange glory.
#25. Water (2005)
The first two films in Toronto-based, Indian-born Deepa Mehta's Fire-Earth-Water trilogy were excellent, but this third film is her masterpiece.
The film, like the other two in the trilogy - Fire (1996) and Earth (1998) - deals with the idiocy of traditional customs and (Hindu) religious ideas when it comes to the treatment of women. And, in this particular film, the focus is on the horrific way widows have traditionally been treated in Hindu society.
There are many dedicated filmmakers at work around the globe, but how many are truly willing to risk their lives to get their films made? Mehta is.
When she first tried to film Water in Varanasi, India back in the late-1990s Hindu extremists showed up and burnt the set to the ground.
But, Mehta, even in the face of a number of death threats, could not be stopped. It took her years to get everything rolling again, but she eventually shot the film, in secret and under a fake name, in Sri Lanka and released it in 2005.
Not many other films have required such dedication, commitment and courage. And the struggle clearly inspired her because the film is an absolute triumph.
Her other films, such as Camilla (1994) and Bollywood/Hollywood (2002), have all been quite entertaining, but it was with this trilogy and, in particular, Water that Mehta proved herself a master filmmaker.
#24. Traffic (2000)
An amazing cast and a multi-layered story from screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (based on the British TV series Traffik) is all Steven Soderbergh needs to create his greatest film yet. And this from a guy who has created a lot of great films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, etc.).
#23. Eastern Promises (2007)
As in David Cronenberg's previous film, 2005's A History of Violence (see below), Viggo Mortensen is a revelation and proves beyond a doubt that he's one of the finest actors working today. I mean, anyone who saw The Indian Runner, written and directed by Sean Penn back in 1991, knows that Viggo is amazing, but, working with Cronenberg, he has taken his work to a whole new level. As has Cronenberg, for that matter. Let's hope they continue the partnership, a la Scorsese and De Niro or, more recently, Scorsese and DiCaprio.
#22. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (2003 and 2004)
Quentin Tarantino unleashes Uma Thurman on about a thousand badasses in one of the greatest revenge fantasies ever to hit the big screen. His tribute to Hong Kong films of the 70s, Japanese mafia films, westerns, you name it. This thing rocks in all its over-the-top cartoonish violence, intentionally dumb (yet brilliant) dialogue and awesome music. I've seen Vol. 1. six times so far and Vol. 2 three times and they both continue to blow my mind each and every time.
#21. Oldboy (2003)
Definitely not for the faint-hearted, this sometimes-ultra-violent thriller from Korean director Chan-wook Park even outdoes Tarantino at times.
A man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a room for 15 years, for unknown reasons by unknown assailants. Suddenly released, his search for answers and vengeance begins. A must-see masterpiece.
#19. & #20. After The Wedding (Efter brylluppet) (2006) and Brothers (Brødre) (2004)
Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier would go to Hollywood and make a pretty great film in Things We Lost in the Fire (2007), but it was these two earlier emotionally-wrenching, subtle masterpieces that made her one of the greatest filmmakers of the decade.
Read my full rave here: Distinctive Danes Do It With Devotion: The Danish Cinema and Susanne Bier Rave
#18. The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite) (2007)
Set in Germany and Turkey, his two homelands, Turkish-German writer-director Fatih Akin crafts an exquisite, thrilling story of six intertwined characters dealing with love, loss, family and politics in two very different cultures. An especially great film for anyone, like myself, who has spent some time in Germany (just a month) and, especially, Turkey (four months), though a captivating film even for those who've never left their hometown.
#17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long) (2000)
Ang Lee's first masterpiece on the decade, takes the martial arts film in a whole new artistic direction. A thing of absolute beauty, featuring a thrilling storyline, terrific cast and some awesome action.
#16. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Clint Eastwood seals the deal. Anyone who doubted he was truly one of the great filmmakers of the past two decades could no longer deny his genius after this gut-wrenching film, the companion piece to the inferior, yet still great, Flags Of Our Fathers. Two films that show the horrors of war from both sides of the battlefield. And how often have American (or any other nation's) films shown the equal humanity of the enemy? Clint's greatest moment.
#15. Volver (2006)
Director Pedro Almodóvar and his muse, Penélope Cruz, work their magic once again. Bad Education (2004) was good. This was even better.
As I wrote in my Best Films of 2007 piece:
Yet another wonderful film from Pedro Almodóvar, Spain's greatest filmmaker. All of his recent films ("All About My Mother", "Talk To Her", etc.) have been fantastic and this, like the others, is a magical, beautiful, funny, dramatic, romantic, sad, moving, artistic, brilliant, vibrant film. Enough said. See it!
#14. No Country For Old Men (2007)
The Coen Brothers conjure up yet another piece of cinematic gold. A chilling, haunting portrayal of modern America. As I wrote at the time:
A clear indictment of the seemingly inherent violent nature of American society, the film features outstanding performances from Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, and, sounding incredibly authentic as a Texan, Scotland's Kelly Macdonald. But the standout in this great ensemble cast is clearly Javier Bardem, who, in a mindblowingly-good and very-deserved-Oscar-winning role, plays a psychotic hitman with a very unique style of killing.
Read my full rave here: Two Classics, Three Masters: The "No Country For Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" Rave
#13. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
The winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and probably director Ken Loach's greatest film yet. And I'm a huge Ken Loach fan.
A breathtaking, heartbreaking film, set in Ireland during the war of independence and the subsequent civil war. This could, in fact, be the story of any oppressed people anywhere fighting for their freedom from their oppressors (and then, eventually, amongst themselves).
#12. I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) (2008)
Anyone who doubts the subtle greatness of French film needs to sit down and watch this emotionally devastating work of art. A work of art that is, amazingly, writer/director Philippe Claudel's very first film - a truly awesome debut!
Kristin Scott Thomas will blow your mind with her performance here in this story of two long-separated sisters. Both Elsa Zylberstein and Thomas are spellbinding in their scenes together, but, as a woman just released from prison, Kristin Scott Thomas gives a performance for the ages. So subtle... and yet so incredibly powerful. I don't think anyone who's seen this film can figure out how she wasn't even nominated for an Oscar. The only explanation is that the Academy clearly isn't into subtle acting like this. Give them Al Pacino screaming and shouting in Scent of A Woman any day. But a masterfully subtle piece of acting like this? Forget about it!
#11. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
After 2007's disappointing Death Proof (the only non-classic movie of his brilliant filmmaking career), Quentin Tarantino came storming back with this Jews-kicking-Nazi-ass revisionist history revenge fantasy. And, really, who doesn't like to see a little Nazi ass-kicking? Especially when it's this much fun. Classic Tarantino!
THE TOP 10:
Let me just stop here for a moment to say that these next ten films - and you could probably say the same thing about the Top 20 as well - are all examples of cinematic perfection. And how do you really rank one perfect film above another? Well, I've given it a go, but, truth be told, you could mix this order up and it really wouldn't make all that much difference. These are all straight-up masterpieces:
#10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
To quote what I wrote in my Best Films of 2009 (and late-2008) piece:
Director Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, 28 Days Later..., Sunshine) conjures up his greatest film yet, a movie set in the slums of Mumbai (Bombay) that has it all: action, suspense, love, hope, misery, brutality, degradation, pain, suffering, and, eventually, triumph. Epic, breathtaking filmmaking from a master.
Read my full rave here: The Slumdog Millionaire and Danny Boyle Rave
#9. Milk (2008)
Gus Van Sant has made some terrific films in the past (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting, Elephant), but nothing tops this incredible film about the life of gay activist Harvey Milk.
And Sean Penn? Well, Sean Penn gives his greatest performance to date and we're talking about an actor who has given nothing but great performances for 30 years now.
Read my full rave here: The Milk Rave: Harvey Milk, Little Baby River and The Missing Scene
#8. The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese's greatest film of the decade, in a decade that saw him, for the fourth decade in a row, make a whole series of incredibly great films (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Shine a Light). Ok, so this may not be quite as magnificent and seminal as, say, Taxi Driver (his best film of the '70s) or Raging Bull (his best of the '80s) or Goodfellas (his best of the '90s), but you can't really expect a guy to make one of the Top 10 Films of All-Time every single decade, can you? And, besides, The Departed is just as entertaining, if not more so, than those three classics.
Read my full rave here: The Martin Scorsese Departed Rave (AKA The "Goddamn It MAN, Marty Has Done It Again!" Rave)
#7. Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) (2006)
Majestic filmmaking from Mexico's Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, the upcoming Hobbit movies), mixing fantasy, psychology and the brutality of Franco's Spain immediately following the end of the Spanish Civil War. A totally enthralling and absolutely original film.
#6. A History of Violence (2005)
Over the last three decades Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg has been doing some of the most exciting and wholly original work in the world of film (Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, eXistenZ, Spider, etc.). But it wasn't until the second half of this past decade that he really started making his greatest films. Both 2007's Eastern Promises and, especially, this stunning tour de force put Cronenberg in a league with the Scorseses, Coens and Tarantinos of the world. In other words, the man is one the greatest filmmakers alive.
Read my full review here: A History of Squid and Whale Violence Revisited: Two must-see films
#5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ang Lee's second work of cinematic perfection this decade (after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is a quiet, subtle work of beauty. A cowboy movie that made all the cowboys feel uneasy (and forced them to crack stupid jokes). And a film that leaves all those with even the slightest bit of heart devastated. Heath Ledger gives the performance of a lifetime, a lifetime that sadly ended just 3 years later. Jake Gyllenhaal, who's thankfully still with us, also gives a career performance. And Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are outstanding as well.
#4. There Will Be Blood (2008)
Greed and phoney-soul-savers battle it out for America's soul and everyone comes out a loser in this brilliant metaphor for America during the last century.
For a guy who's already made two masterpieces (Boogie Nights, and Magnolia), Paul Thomas Anderson sure doesn't rest on his laurels. I had this at #3 on my Best Films of 2008 list, but on further viewing I realized it actually belongs ahead of the fantastic Turkish film The Edge of Heaven.
Daniel Day-Lewis, already one of the greatest actors of all time, gives perhaps his greatest performance yet. Make that, perhaps one of the greatest performances in the history of film.
Read my full rave here: Two Classics, Three Masters: The "No Country For Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" Rave
#3. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2007)
In my Best Films of 2007 list I simply declared a Top 5 (The Lives of Others, Pan's Labyrinth, Volver, Eastern Promises, and The Darjeeling Limited) rather than a #1 film, but this was definitely my top film of that illustrious group. As I wrote then:
It's still extremely hard for me to believe that this absolutely perfect, completely mesmerizing and thoroughly thought-provoking film is German writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's first film... ever. Captivating, thrilling, brilliantly acted and directed, it's a film that stays with you for days afterwards. It seems more like the work of a master filmmaker who, after having spent a couple of decades perfecting his/her craft, is now unleashing this career masterpiece on the world. It does NOT feel like someone's first attempt at filmmaking! Not since Tarantino blew the film world's collective mind with Reservoir Dogs has there been such an incredible first feature. Set in East Germany in, not coincidently, 1984, it's a story about Stasi surveillance, but really it's about much much more than that. In the end, really, it's a tale about human nature, both good and bad... and downright ugly.
#2. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon) (2007)
The #1 movie from my Best Films of 2008 list is also my #2 film of the decade. As I wrote then:
Filmmaking at its absolute best. And, interestingly, an American movie filmed entirely in French. You know you're dealing with one hell of a great filmmaker when the story of a completely paralyzed man writing his autobiography one letter of the alphabet at a time - communicating to the person transcribing it through an excruciatingly-slow system of blinks - is not only far from boring, but somehow completely fascinating and captivating. And one hell of a great filmmaker is exactly what Julian Schnabel is. His first film, Basquiat (1996), was terrific, while his second, Before Night Falls (2000), was truly fantastic, but this, his third film, is his masterpiece.
#1. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)
If every one of these top few films of the decade is extraordinary, then to make it to #1 a film really needs to be a truly original, mindblowingly great experience. And that's exactly what Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is. When I first saw this film back in 2004 I simply thought it was fantastic. However, on second viewing I glimpsed it's true brilliance. Director Michel Gondry, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and the two leads, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, all hit career peeks.
If you haven't seen this film yet, the obvious question arises: WTF are you doing with your life?!
Read my full rave here: The "Eternal Sunshine of Charlie Kaufman's Mind" Rave
THE TOP 12 DOCUMENTARIES OF THE DECADE:
#12. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2008)
Hilarious, sad, heartwarming, inspiring and moving. All just like the band these Canadian rockers most resemble: Spinal Tap.
#11. Tyson (James Toback, 2008)
James Tobak's fascinating look at Iron Mike, who bares his soul here, becoming much more human than the beast he has seemed to be at times.
#10. Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, 2005)
A fascinating exposé of the military-industrial complex.
#9. The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003)
A look at how corporations came to dominate the modern world economy, government policies and so much more.
#8. Food Inc. (Robert Kenner, 2008)
A disturbing look at the modern food industry. Specifically an expose about how a very small number of multinational corporations control our entire food system.
#7. The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (Adam Curtis, 2004)
The title says it all.
#6. Man On Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
Fantastic doc about the thrilling (and highly illegal) stunt performed by French daredevil Philippe Petit in 1974 when he walked a tightrope between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center.
#5. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)
Lifetime Winnipegger Guy Maddin takes on his hometown and comes up with one of the greatest documentaries about a specific place ever made. And not to mention one of the funniest docs of all time. And did I mention this is a film about my mom's hometown?
#4. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese, 2005)
Martin Scorsese's fascinating and truly fantastic 3.5-hour look at the 40-plus year career of Bob Dylan.
#3. The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003)
Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, under both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, opens up about how he personally, and the American government as as a whole, got it so wrong in Vietnam.
#2. Sicko (Michael Moore, 2007)
Michael Moore's best film yet.
Read my full rave here.
#1. The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009)
A disturbing look at the dolphin slaughter in Japan and an inspiring look at those who are trying to stop it. Half documentary, half suspense thriller.
THE TOP TEN STRAIGHT-UP COMEDIES OF THE DECADE:
#10. Knocked Up (2007)
#9. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
#8. Amelie From Montmartre (Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain) (2001)
#7. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
#6. Tropic Thunder (2008)
#5. Meet The Parents (2000)
#4. The Hangover (2009)
THE TOP 3:
#3. Napolean Dynamite (2004)
Eventually hyped out of all-proportion, but fresh, incredibly original and absolutely hilarious when first released.
#2. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
Sacha Baron Cohen, who also created the characters of Ali G and Bruno, takes his greatest creation of all to the big screen in, perhaps, the most outrageous, daring, revealing hit comedy ever made. For all the criticism leveled at the film and the character, there's no way to deny the brilliance in which Borat/Cohen gets people to reveal their true bigoted thoughts on topics both large and small. Oh, and few films have made me laugh harder... ever!
#1. Best In Show (2000)
It all came together perfectly for director and writer Christopher Guest, co-writer Eugene Levy and their regular troupe of subtle comical geniuses (Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, etc.) in this mockumentary about dog shows. Everything and everyone clicks perfectly, but the whole thing is taken right over the top to comedy heaven by Fred Willard as a TV sports reporter sent to cover a dog show he knows absolutely nothing about. Hilarious, even on the fifth or sixth viewing.
THE TOP FIVE ANIMATED KIDS FILMS OF THE DECADE THAT WERE SIMPLY GREAT FILMS NO MATTER YOUR AGE:
#5. Ratatouille (2007)
#4. The Incredibles (2004)
#3. Up (2009)
#2. Shrek (2001)
#1. Wall-E (2008)
THE TOP THREE MUSICALS OF THE DECADE:
I'm not a big fan of musicals - I mean, I have no idea why people loved Chicago so much - but there were three musicals released this decade that I really did love:
#3. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Australian director Baz Luhrmann reinvents the musical and takes us on a thrilling ride. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor dance, sing and act their asses off. Great fun!
#2. Dreamgirls (2006)
As I wrote in my Best Films of 2007 piece:
This is a musical that even haters of musicals can enjoy. Great songs, terrific performances and a story actually worth following, one based on Motown Records and its biggest act, the Supremes. It usually just seems silly when people break into song mid-conversation, but it's obviously much less jarring and unreal when actual singers playing singers in a story about singers start singing. Now, a film about a family who break into song every few minutes while plotting to escape the Nazis through the Austrian Alps, well that's a whole other story.
#1. Once (2007)
Again, to quote what I wrote in my piece on the Best Films of 2007:
Another musical, but this one is unlike any you've ever seen before. None of the dialogue is sung, instead it's all spoken like in any regular film, but the songs - those of star, and real-life rocker, Glen Hansard - are the heart and soul of the film. And what songs they are!
While Dreamgirls may be an old-style musical, this is a completely modern tale, and film. A simple, yet wonderful, story of two artists - played by Hansard and Marketa Irglova - whose paths cross in modern day Dublin. Anyone who knows anything about music knows that the Irish make beautiful sounds. And anyone who really loves music, particularly acoustic music, simply must see this small independent Irish film from writer/director John Carney. Trust me, if you love personal, individualist, unique filmmaking, you're going to love this movie.
AND A FEW OTHER LISTS:
THE TOP FIVE MOST DARING, AMBITIOUS FILMS OF THE DECADE:
Borat seemed daring and risque when it came out, but it was a Disney film compared to this outrageous, intentionally-shocking and often hilarious follow-up from the always scandalous mind of Sacha Baron Cohen.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
I thought this film, which Roger Ebert called the best of the decade, was fascinating, but not one of the best films of the year, let alone the decade. But, then again, I only saw it once. But it sure was an ambitious story, whatever it was all about.
Mulholland Dr. (2001) and Inland Empire (2006)
You don't have to fully understand David Lynch's recent films to understand his ambition to f%$k with your mind. Who knows if he even really understands what's going on in Inland Empire. But he remains a master filmmaker and Mulholland Dr. was certainly a great film, if somewhat bewildering. Though I do wish he'd make another masterpiece like Blue Velvet.
For risking 12 years of his life, 300 million dollars and, most likely, his career if it had bombed, James Cameron's Avatar. Now the biggest film of all time.
THE TOP FILMMAKERS OF THE DECADE (in alphabetical order):
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
The Coen Brothers
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), The Ladykillers (2004), No Country for Old Men (2007), Burn After Reading (2008), A Serious Man (2009)
Spider (2002), A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hulk (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Lust, Caution (2007), Taking Woodstock (2009)
Bowling for Columbine (2002), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Sicko (2007), Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005), The Departed (2006), Shine a Light (2008)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), Death Proof (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009)
THE BEST SCREENWRITER OF THE DECADE:
Human Nature (2001), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Adaptation. (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Synecdoche, New York (2008), and let's not forget that Being John Malkovich was released in America at the very, very end of 1999, and in 2000 everywhere else in the world.
THE MOVIES I WATCHED THE MOST THIS DECADE (REGARDLESS OF YEAR RELEASED):
I watched each of these three classic comedies at least 4 or 5 times over the past ten years and for some reason they never get old. I've watched Spinal Tap more than any other movie in my life (with the possible exception of Monty Python's Life of Brian), at least 10 times by now. And it's absolutely f&*$in' hilarious every single time.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Best in Show (2000)
And, hey, what the heck, these films are all too good not to at least give a quick mention, so here, in alphabetical order, are another 50 must-see films from the last ten years:
21 Grams, (500) Days of Summer, Amal, An Inconvenient Truth, Away From Her, Away We Go, The Aviator, Babel, Bad Education (La mala educación), Batman Begins, A Beautiful Mind, Before Night Falls, Born Into Brothels, Bowling For Columbine, Burn After Reading, Cache, Capote, Casteaway, Changeling, Choke, The Constant Gardener, Crash, The Dark Knight, District 9, Fahrenheit 9/11, Frozen River, The Fountain, Gangs of New York, Girlfight, Goodnight and Good Luck, Gone Baby Gone, Honeydripper, Iris, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Little Children, Michael Clayton, Monster's Ball, Moon, Motorcycle Diaries, My Life Without Me, The Namesake, Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai), The Royal Tenenbaums, Sexy Beast, Sideways, The Son (Le Fils), Summer Hours (L'heure d'été), Thirteen, This Is England, and United 93.
So, there you have 'em: The 100 (150) best films of the decade. If you haven't already seen all of these, get out there and start watching.
And if you think I missed something, post a comment and let me know.
Strongly agree or disagree with a particular inclusion? Again, post a comment.
Have anything at all to say about film, post that comment.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, January 29th, 2010
POSTSCRIPT (February 2010): I just saw the Coen Brothers terrific late-2009 dark comedy, A Serious Man, and I absolutely loved it... and I'm pretty sure it would have made this list had I seen it in time.
Now check out my picks for the best music of the past ten years: The Top Albums, Songs and Artists of the Decade
And here are:
For more on film click here: MikesAndDislikes Film: Home
Or here: Film: General
Or here: Film: Raves & Reviews