Sunday, January 3, 2010

The 10 Best Films of the Decade

10) The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) dir: Wes Anderson

the royal tenenbaums

Seeing The Royal Tenenbaums in theaters, it was like a new genre was invented. Wes Anderson's most notable influence was Truffaut, but Anderson's style in Rushmore and again in Tenenbaums paved the way for a whole bunch of shitty knockoffs, including Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, and everything Jason Reitman has ever done. They want Anderson's style, but nobody does it quite as well. Tenenbaums is hilarious, gorgeous and touching. The only recent film to have captured this same magic is Anderson's own Fantastic Mr. Fox.

9) The Aviator (2004) dir: Martin Scorsese

leonardo dicaprio the aviator

With all the news made by Gangs Of New York and The Departed, Scorsese's best film of the decade may wind up a bit overlooked. This was the movie that made me say, "Wow, that DiCaprio is actually a pretty great actor." The expansive, otherworldly story of Howard Hughes, his eccentric projects and eventual surrender to dementia, is chronicled impeccably. It's a long movie, honored for its craft and performances, but what I think gets lost to modern audiences is what a broad entertainment it is. It never wavers or bores -- and by the end we feel like we knows Hughes, as well as anyone now living can say they know him.

8) Match Point (2005) dir: Woody Allen

match point

Who knew Woody Allen still had it? Match Point is a sumptuous thriller, full of wit and surprises, and the best film Allen made since Manhattan. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Chris Wilton, a working class, former tennis pro in London who befriends the wealth Tom Hewett, played by Matthew Goode. Wilton is embraced by the affluent Hewett family and eventually married Tom's sister Chloe. Of course, Wilton didn't count on Tom's sexy ex-girlfriend Nola to come into the picture, and throw his perfectly constructed future into chaos. When Tom wants to break up the affair and Nola gets hysterical, what lengths will Wilton go to to keep his structured life in place? If you've seen Allen's Crimes And Misdemeanors, you can probably guess, but the outcome of events in Match Point is too clever for even 1987 Woody Allen to have put together.

7) Requiem For A Dream (2000) dir: Darren Aronofsky

requiem for a dream

Requiem For A Dream should be required viewing for all 12 year olds. If you want to show a young person that they should never touch heroin, I think this will beat them into submission. Requiem is a tough film to watch, and runs with the pace of Aronofsky's tornado-like editing. We see the effects of drug abuse on a mother, her son, his girlfriend, and their companion. The tone is set right from the beginning. The outcome will not be good. Though Jared Leto's fate is physically the harshest, Ellen Burstyn's miraculous performance as Sara Goldfarb is a knockout punch. This film will emotionally drain you like few others do, but it really is a must-see. You've been warned.

6) Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) dir: Peter Jackson

grima wormtongue

This isn't cheating. All three of these films are masterpieces of the imagination, Tolkein's novels brought to life and crisply realized. Waiting for each new film to come out must have been what it was like waiting for The Empire Strikes Back in the late 70s. The excitement at the unfolding for the story, the wonder at seeing more of this breathtaking world, the anticipation of the inevitable victory by the Hobbits. (Sorry, did I blow it for you?) It's a shame that a Lord Of The Rings film can't come out every year, but it's a testament to the longevity of Jackson's films, that I still frequently hear about people holding all-day-extended-edition marathons. It would be hard to garner as much excitement for screenings of any other films.

5) Children Of Men (2006) dir: Alfonso Cuaron

children of men

I don't think anyone expected this film upon its release. A surreal and breathtaking action epic, Children Of Men was released on a limited run in December 2006, when it should probably have opened on 3,500 hundred screens in July. Children Of Men is, quite simply, awesome. It begins with a bang (literally) and holds you in its grip for two hours. Another classic film whose written inspiration I haven't read (this one by mystery writer P.D. James), it's hard to imagine the same wallop contained on the page. Alfonso Cuaron shows himself as a master with this film. Del Toro and Amenabar, take note.

4) City Of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002) dir: Fernando Mereilles and Katia Lund

Often referred to as the Brazilian Goodfellas, City Of God follows a young photographer from childhood through adolescence, growing up in one of the most dangerous slums in the world, a run-down area outside Rio de Janeiro. We follow his acquaintances as they fall into the drug trade and take over an area of the city. We see the hotheadedness of L'il Ze, one of the great characters of the decade (think The Joker, but somehow more violent and wild-eyed). We see the lives most of the world's young people lead, and the difficulty in stopping a system that's out of control with excess and violence. Despite all this, City Of God is a really fun movie, and one that can be revisited several times.

3) There Will Be Blood (2007) dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

daniel plainview

Wow. Can P.T. Anderson remake The Jungle next? There Will Be Blood is notable for a few reasons. One: It contains the best performance of the decade, by Daniel Day-Lewis. Two: It is one of the most beautifully shot films that I've ever seen. The sequence where Plainview carries his unconscious son to safety, then runs back to stare at the fire that his discovery has birthed, is perfect. Three: It takes you exactly where it should, but never where you think it will. I thought Punch-Drunk Love would be Anderson's masterpiece, but he makes a definitive statement with There Will Be Blood.

2) Kill Bill (2003-2004) dir: Quentin Tarantino

beatrix kiddo

Again -- not cheating. Volumes 1 and 2 should probably be watched back-to-back, if you've got a free four hours. Volume 2 makes you realize just how brilliant Volume 1 really is. The character of Beatrix Kiddo is fully realized, though you don't fully realize it at first. Tarantino's attention to detail and willingness to go off on tangents has never worked better, but it's the pacing of Volume 2 that really drags you in and helps you understand the story as a whole. There's a long sequence in Volume 2 where The Bride is buried alive, and the audience is kept in suspense through a flashback involving the teachings of a mysterious martial arts leader. Perhaps the greatest triumph of Kill Bill, is that he's setting us up for a huge payoff without evening knowing it.

1) Mulholland Drive (2001) dir: David Lynch

Rita Mulholland Drive

After I first saw Mulholland Drive, I was talking with my friends about how amazing it was, and I said I didn't know if I'd see a better film the rest of the decade. It got a laugh at the time, but honestly, I never did. In 2001, I had perhaps the greatest film-viewing experience of my lifetime. I sat in complete awe of what Lynch is able to pull off. Mulholland Drive is a film that makes perfect sense, after maybe the third viewing, and takes you along for a whirlwind tour of madness, through the dark recesses of the human mind.

Here is a plot summary from IMDb:

After a brutal car accident in Los Angeles, California, Rita is the sole survivor but suffers mass amnesia. Wandering into a stranger's apartment downtown, her story strangely intertwines with Betty Elms, a perky young woman in search of stardom. However, Betty is intrigued by Rita's situation and is willing to put aside her dreams to pursue this mystery. The two women soon discover that nothing is as it seems in the city of dreams.

Um...yeah...right. You can't really summarize anything about Mulholland Drive. That's why it's a movie.

You may notice that Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE is not on this list. That's also a great film, but is such a harrowing descent into insanity that I would never recommend anyone see it, and if they did I would not blame them for one minute if they told me that it was a useless piece of shit. That's completely fair.

Mulholland Drive, however, is everything film should be. It's exciting, intriguing, never boring, fascinating, surreal, and a joy to be immersed in. No film since has been as relentlessly enjoyable.

Read the complete list:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Best Films of the Decade (20-11)

So, before we go any further, I have to cheat one more time. When I got to the Top 20, I realized I still had 21 films on the list, so we'll have two that are tied for the 20th spot.

So, this is it. The best films of this past decade. Here we go:

20) Brokeback Mountain (2005) dir: Ang Lee

There's not much left to be said about this film. It sent social conservatives into a frenzy. How dare they present homosexuals as normal individuals instead of over-the-top flaming freaks? You never heard a conservative complain about the Spirit Fingers sequence in Bring It On. At any rate, Brokeback Mountain is fantastic because of the believability of its love story and the strength of its two main actors.


The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006) dir: Ken Loach

Probably one of the more ignored great films of the decade, this intense and exciting drama about the Irish revolt against the British in the early 20th century won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2006, but promptly disappeared from the public discourse. This is not a boring period drama. It's suspenseful, intriguing and features great performances. (Cillian Murphy's greatest since Red Eye?) It's available to Watch Instantly on Netflix, so, ya know, get on that.

19) Black Book (Zwartboek) (2006) dir: Paul Verhoeven

Another one you probably haven't seen, Black Book follows a Jewish singer in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II. She pretends to be a gentile and, at the behest of the Resistance, begins a romance with a Nazi officer. This is a movie about espionage, not the Holocaust. It's one of the most effective suspense thrillers of the decade, and unfortunately did not get a wide enough release in the U.S. It's also on Netflix Watch Instantly.

18) Traffic (2000) dir: Steven Soderbergh

This was the year that Gladiator won Best Picture, and conspiracy theorists still believe that Elizabeth Taylor was so out of it that she meant to say "Traffic." Soderbergh's film shows the futility of the American drug war from multiple angles, that of the privileged white teenager, the surprisingly uncorrupt Mexican cop, and the D.C. drug czar. Soderbergh's color schemes and documentary-style directing lend a beautiful realism to Traffic. Definitely worth revisiting a decade later.

17) The Fog Of War (2003) dir: Errol Morris

The best documentary of the decade, and an endlessly affecting film on the decisions made by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Morris' interview style, usually behind the scenes, is very noticeable here, as his passion about the actions taken during the Vietnam War were in full focus, though the camera was always on McNamara. I saw a screening of The Fog Of War before its theatrical release at the Harmony Gold theater in Hollywood. Errol Morris spoke after the film, and he said that the rabbit hole that was Vietnam seemed to be resurfacing (these were the first months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.) I somehow doubt Morris will be able to make a film that shows such a humanity from Donald Rumsfeld, but if anyone can...

16) Oldboy (2004) dir: Park Chan-wook


My friend Bryan describes Oldboy as a two-hour punch in the gut. After you first see it, you really feel like you've been holding your breath the entire time. Oh Dae-su is a South Korean businessman. One night, during a drunken binge, he's kidnapped and imprisoned inside a windowless room. He stays there for 15 years, after which he's inexplicably released. The film follows his pursuit of who imprisoned him, why, and why he's suddenly been set free. The ending is not so much a twist as, well, a forceful punch in the stomach.

15) Minority Report (2002) dir: Steven Spielberg

No film favored repeat viewings this decade as much as Minority Report. On the first viewing, you're just spinning inside a visually fantastic future. The second time, you make sense of the deceptive story and piece together all of the whos and whys. On the third viewing and beyond, you can really appreciate the detail within each frame, the Tom Cruise-y-ness of it all, and dig into the subtler moments. My favorite sequence remains Cruise in the icy bathtub, hiding from mechanical spiders.

14) The Dark Knight (2008) dir: Christopher Nolan

It's likely that The Dark Knight would still have been widely praised had Heath Ledger not passed away a few months before its release. However, when we looked back on Ledger's brief career, and his transition from teen heartthrob to serious actor, his performance as The Joker achieved something much greater. Everyone loves playing the villain, and The Joker dreamed up by Nolan and Ledger is about as good as it gets. Not only that, but The Dark Knight has one of the most well-crafted stories of any mainstream action film I can think of. It's intensely gratifying to watch.

13) Punch-Drunk Love (2002) dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

punch-drunk love

How did anyone come up with this? Not since Fritz Lang's M has sound and action been so brilliantly intertwined. The soundtrack to Punch-Drunk Love would not mean anything without its visual counterpart, and the film would certainly not be as good without Jon Brion's soundscape. It's incredibly funny, subtle and poignant about love, beautiful to look at, and contains one of those great, 10-minute Philip Seymour Hoffman performances that he used to be known for before getting all actory.

12) Wall-E (2008) dir: Andrew Stanton

Who knew that one of the greatest love stories of our time would be between a couple of robots? No animated film did as much or looked as good as Wall-E. Pixar retained its complete dominance over the genre this decade, putting the pitiful, albeit financially successful outings by Dreamworks to shame. Wall-E is a beautiful film to watch and to experience. It has its environmental commentary, sure, but it's also about humanity -- and the robot which shows the greatest aspects of it.

11) The Pianist (2002) dir: Roman Polanski

A passionate, intense story of survival during the Holocaust, the finest moment of The Pianist comes near the end, where the universal language of music transcends rudimentary ideology. Adrien Brody shocked everyone at the Academy Awards when he won Best Actor (over the favored Daniel Day-Lewis) and kissed Halle Berry on stage. Brody's performance in The Pianist is his best to date, and given his selection of projects in recent years, it's likely to stay that way for awhile.

P.S. You can still hate Polanski. It's ok. Mozart may have been a dick, too.

The Top Ten is on its way. Have you filled up your Netflix queue yet?

Read the rest of the list below:

Friday, January 1, 2010

The 50 Best Films of the Decade (30-21)

30) The Wrestler (2008) dir: Darren Aronofsky

I was seriously worried about Aronofsky after The Fountain. But, once he got that bit of claptrap out of his system, he was ready to go back to some real filmmaking, and The Wrestler exceeded my expectations. A touching story about a man who does the only thing he knows how, and his attempts to connect to his daughter and a stripper. It's a fairly straightforward story, the kind of movie Capitol Pictures wanted Barton Fink to write. Aronofsky and Mickey Rourke make it genuine, though, and powerful.

29) 2046 (2004) dir: Wong Kar-Wai

That's right. Better than In The Mood For Love. Go to hell.

28) Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain) (2001) dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

We should probably feature Amelie on HuffPost Impact, the message of this film is so pure and uplifting. French girl tries to pay it forward so she doesn't have to deal with her own life. Amelie introduced much of my generation to French cinema, though I doubt many went back to rent Delicatessen. Amelie is so fun and Audrey Tautou captures childlike innocence so well, you desperately wish these characters and this story were real.

27) The Departed (2006) dir: Martin Scorsese

From the opening montage to the closing bloodbath, The Departed is a good time. It looks like one of the funnest movies ever to make. Think about it: screenwriter gets to write fast, snappy, vulgar dialogue, actors like Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and Jack Nicholson get to completely embody ferociously indulgent cops and robbers, and Scorsese gets to tie it all together, and nobody does it like him. I'm surprised how often I still watch The Departed and find new bits of dialogue to enjoy and new sequences to admire.

leonardo dicaprio in the departed

26) Sin City (2005) dir: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller feat. Quentin Tarantino

Every other graphic novel (i.e. long comic book) adaptation after Sin City has attempted to recreate its dark, lush quality. The Watchmen didn't do it (and from what I've heard, The Spirit reaaallly didn't do it). Like The Departed, the Sin City is a violent, vulgar, destructive romp, with endless fun to be had in its two hours.

25) A History of Violence (2005) dir: David Cronenberg

Cronenberg's most accessible film still contains plenty of face-exploding eccentricities. It's like a more fun, more upbeat Straw Dogs, replacing Irish thugs with a fascinating William Hurt, and rape with unusually passionate stair sex. I also loved Eastern Promises, but History of Violence seemed to leave a more indelible mark on the decade.

24) SiCKO (2007) dir: Michael Moore

I think SiCKO is Moore's best film. He tells stories to get you emotionally involved, rather than relying solely on gimmicks. He presents an argument and avoids pandering. It's also both his funniest and most startlingly depressing film. With the debate from this past year still raging on, SiCKO may be more important now than it was even two years ago.

23) The Incredibles (2004) dir: Brad Bird

That the best action movies made these days are animated says a lot about the technology we're now working with. Unlike other faux-animated action movies like Transformers or Speed Racer, The Incredibles takes a simple story and engages audiences effortlessly. The second hour is pure excitement, and despite being a cartoon, it feels more real than any other action movie in a long time (with the possible exception of the recently released Avatar).

22) A Serious Man (2009) dir: Joel and Ethan Coen

Wow. The Coens have done it again. The best film of 2009 is also the Jewiest. This says nothing about me, I promise. You may need to have grown up going to synagogue to get all of the references, but the struggle faced by Larry Gopnik can be found in all religions and cultures. This is a man who strives to do as much good as he can, and is thwarted with misfortune at every turn. After a few minor mid-decade missteps, the Coens returned with some of the greatest entertainments of their careers.

a serious man

21) Zodiac (2007) dir: David Fincher

Zodiac is not your typical serial killer movie. There are very few moments when the protagonists are in any physical danger, and yet it rivals The Silence Of The Lambs for uneasiness and sheer terror. The story unfolds like the best true crime novels -- though we may never know for sure who the real Zodiac was, Fincher's film makes a very convincing argument, and stays chilling the more you think back on it.