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:

1 comment:

Glennda said...

Of all the movies you mentioned, only the Brokeback Mountain is familiar with me. Actually I'm no movie addict so maybe that's why I don't know the other films. Anyway, Brokeback mountain is a bit too liberated for me. Can't blame me, I'm Asian.


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