The decade has officially been over for a few weeks. You may or may not have seen the entry here on the aughts fifty must see horror films. I posted it a little early, somewhat ahead of the year's end, but I wanted to get out in front of what I assumed (and was correct) would be a deluge of "best" lists, and I thought it might get some discussion going about some of those films.
By the time I thought of doing a list of films for the decade, not simply from one genre (though I kind of broke the rules a little in my horror list), the holiday season was already here and I knew I wouldn't have time before years end. Since it's been such an incredible decade for film, I found a list of fifty wasn't going to cut it, so this one will be seventy five.
I've been perusing some of the other lists which have been published, in print or online and I got to thinking I'd still like to do it. If nothing else, it's fun (I know, sitting around, typing, thinking and writing short reviews being fun makes me a complete geek, I'm fine with it). Maybe I'll throw a few films at some of you that you haven't heard of before or that you have heard of, but haven't given a shot yet, and it'll give you something to pick up next time you're wandering passed a Red Box or at home trying to figure out what should go on your Netflix queue next.
Before I get started on the list proper, there are a few things I should say up front. Again, as with the horror list, I'm not necessarily saying these are the best films of the decade, but the one's I've seen, that I enjoyed the most or thought for some reason they really brought something to the film community as a whole. They may not be technically perfect or wonderful, some of them may even be kind of a mess technically, but I'll at least attempt to explain what it is that makes them worth seeing.
The only films in a specific place on the list are the top ten [Note: I actually decided number 69, specifically belonged where it is]. I can't even commit enough to say they are in the order I would say is the order of preference. I put them in the top ten because I felt they are my favorite ten films of the decade. The only film which is absolutely in it's specific numeric spot, because I can honestly say it is my favorite film of the last ten years, is the film in the number 1 spot. Ten through fifty are on the list in no particular order, specifically because I'm confident that if you asked me for the same list in three weeks, all of those films would be on the list, but they may occupy different positions, depending on the order I remembered them, and even if you asked me to rank them in order of preference, it might depend on my state of mind. I've done my best to insure these films have all been released in the decade from 2000 to the close of 2009. If any of the foreign films were released prior to 2000 in their country of origin, and after here in the States, I'm including them as it would have been in this decade we got to see them, and they couldn't have been included previously.
It's taken me a few months to get this list compiled and then actually written, and that puts me pretty far behind the curve, I know. If I got paid for doing this, it would be a different story, but since I'm doing it because I love to do it, I'm making the rules.
With that, why don't we get started...
75) A History Of Violence- Viggo Mortenson and David Cronenberg have worked together twice in the last decade, producing two great films. This was the first of those collaborations. Based on a graphic novel, it's a story about the degree to which a life that includes violence on a regular basis is one that can be left behind, but is one which never leaves you. Cronenberg is still making horror films, in a way. Now, they're about what's lurking inside of us instead of what's trying to invade us. Viggo Mortenson is typically excellent, and there couldn't be a better actor to play opposite him than Ed Harris. When Ed Harris character strolls into the diner of owner Mortenson, calling him by a different name and claiming they used to be associates, things start moving toward an inevitable and awesome conclusion. It's great film making, and in the decade when comic book/graphic novel adaptations ruled the screens, this is the most adult, and least fantastic. This is the kind of film Cronenberg was born to make.
74) Martyrs- If you read the list of my favorite horror films of the decade, you saw this on there. If you've had the previous entries on this blog, you've read the full review I posted. I couldn't leave it off of the list of my favorite films of the decade. Relentless, hard-core, intense and written and filmed specifically to subvert the audience expectations of the genre's conventions, this movie is like a big heavy French boot stomping your face. Personally, I enjoy that kind of experience in a film. You might not. Beyond the shadow of any doubt, this film is not for everyone. But it is so well done, such a leap beyond it's peers, and though violent, and disturbing, is still more intelligent than the majority of films released the same year, and probably the decade. A meditation on the nature of suffering as iconography and the depths of obsession, it breaks the rules of film, good taste, and the genre with a gleefully considered abandon. It burns. This is one of the most ferocious films I've ever seen, and if you can stomach it, it's worth seeing.
73) High Fidelity- If you've seen this film, you know why it's on this list, and the fact that I'm in the midst of compiling a list probably signals in some part of why it's on the list. John Cusack plays a character trying to figure out why he's hit such rocky waters in the oceans of life and love by recounting his top five break ups and trying to figure out how, exactly, they became break ups. He is also the owner/operator of a record store, specializing in vinyl. A music snob, with a flair for failing spectacularly in relationships, and compiling obsessive lists of his favorite things, of all varieties. How could I not love this movie? Well, if it were poorly written, directed, performed and a worthless navel gazing exercise, that's how. But it is the opposite of all of those things. This is a damn good movie, with a resolution that is probably more real in it's portrayal of relationships than any of those damned rom-com's.
72) Unbreakable- Although I appreciate the fact that The Sixth Sense was a phenomenon, and that it was a good movie, it doesn't quite compare to this. M. Night Shymalan out did himself with this film, literally, if you consider everything that he's done since. This ode to the comic book and the idea of the super hero origin story is a better version of that story than any of other comic book films have been able to produce (with the possible exception of Iron Man). This is straight forward film making with tension, emotion, strong characters and great performances. For those of us suspecting his performance in The Sixth Sense might have been a complete fluke, Bruce Willis turns in an even better performance here, and proves he can actually be a credible dramatic actor. Samuel L. Jackson is awesome here, giving a weirdly heart breaking and menacing performance, in the time before he basically started playing nothing but over the top.
71) Adaptation- If anything can be taken from the films he's written in the last decade, it's that Charlie Kauffman does fit that old stereotype of weird genius. With Adaptation, he wrote a screenplay about himself having trouble trying to write the screenplay he's writing, which is actually supposed to be based on a book. If that doesn't really makes sense to you on first read, you should see the movie, because he actually makes it make sense. Not only that, but it's beautifully directed, and acted. This is probably the last thing I saw Nicholas Cage in that didn't make me want to set something small and furry on fire and set it on his door step. There's a film in here about the nature of creativity, a film about being a good hearted, clumsy, insecure guy in a world which only notices the brash and arrogant, and over coming writers block. It's entertaining, engaging and smart. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman were born to work together.
70) Iron Man- Yes. That's right. I'm including Iron Man in my list of the decade's best. It was certainly one of the most enjoyable, all around. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. In every way. This is one of the more well written and conceived of the super hero origin stories, and it's going to be fun to see where director Jon Favreau and company take the series in the future. They managed to make Gwyneth Paltrow downright hot, and even managed to make you give a damn about the relationship between her Pepper Potts and Tony Stark. Iron Man was just too much fun to leave off the list. Although it lacks some of the thematic elements of some of it's peers, it was a much more purely entertaining film than most of them. (Psst, hey, you, yeah you idiots! Yeah I'm talking to you guys who made Daredevil, Fantastic Four 1+2, and Ghost Rider, you morons. Lesson one in how to adapt comics to film successfully is right here. It's called caring about your characters.)
69) The Devil's Rejects- Yes. This film is #69 for a reason. Because it's perverted and in bad taste, and it's also extremely well done. This is another one which made the list of horror films for the decade. It's a hard assed, mean film about hard assed, mean, disgusting people, doing hard assed mean, disgusting people doing hard assed, mean, disgusting shit. Needless to say, it's not for everyone. But, if you have any taste for the revenge flicks that are throwbacks to the days of seventies exploitation, but with studio level production quality, this is for you. All that being said, Rob Zombie actually manages to make this little slice of insanity compelling, thought provoking and engaging, which is why it's so disgusting and disturbing. If you weren't engaged and didn't find it compelling it would come across as not much different than any entry in the Friday The 13th series. But it is so much more than those even inspired to be.
68) Juno - There are probably some people out there rolling their eyes right now. I know there's been a backlash to the success, critically and financially, that Juno has found. I get that, because, no, it isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it is still extremely well written, performed and directed. This is where most of the world discovered Ellen Page. She's a bonafide movie star now, with good reason. Micheal Cera was also catapulted into the upper echelon of Hollywood stardom as well. And, yes, many of you are right, teenagers don't talk like this. Most people don't talk like this, but that's not what makes Juno a good movie. It deftly portrays how people feel and how they think about each other and look at each other. It shows what it's like to be a confused teenager trying to make sense of where you're going and respects what the people courageous enough to love you when you make mistakes are actually like. For that, it deserves to be on this list. The majority of films don't respect anyone that much, especially the audience.
67) Zodiac- David Fincher deftly and beautifully directs what might be my favorite ensemble cast toward the first film dealing with a serial killer to actually be about the nature of our obsession with serial killers as well. Criticisms of it's length and speed have been leveled at it since it's release, but like one of films later on this list, that's part of what it's actually about and that experience of slow, methodical waiting is designed to be part of the story. You don't like that? You're not supposed to. That's the point, no one likes that kind of tense, waiting for some kind of unknown revelation. If you don't find some relief from it, it's the kind of thing which eats you up and envelopes your entire life. If you try to attack it head on, you end up destroying your life in the service of it. This film is more about the people chasing the Zodiac killer than it is about the Zodiac. It has to be that way, because no one has proven who the Zodiac was, after all these years.
66) Murderball - You will walk away with a completely different perspective on people who's handicap results in them being wheelchair bound. And not in the weepy, syrupy, earnest way that is boring and annoying. This is just a really great documentary about what is basically wheel chair rugby. Centering on the rivalry between the U.S and Canadian teams during the 2004 Paralytic Games (the Olympics equivalent), this is just great fun, inspiring stuff. If you're looking for an adrenaline filled, action packed extravaganza, you don't need to see the latest studio blockbuster. You do need to see Murderball. Yeah, they're in wheelchairs, but I dare you to go tell one of these guys he's not an athlete. If you've seen this film, we both know you wouldn't dare. These guys make the entire "extreme sports" community seem quaint. Awesome film.
65) Appaloosa- There are occasionally films about the friendships between men. Most of them are actually films for women or that only women end up seeing. It's the rarest of films which deals realistically with the friendships between men, and which men will actually enjoy. Sure, there are plenty of cookie cutter buddy movies out there, but they're basically a series of explosions with a script as an excuse to string them together. Don't get me wrong, that can be very entertaining, but Appaloosa is much more than that. A successful, suspenseful western, a successful film about doomed romance, and a successful film about male friendship. Appaloosa succeeds in being all of these things. Viggo Mortenson and Ed Harris are great together and perfectly portray two men who've been friends long enough that very little ever actually has to be said, unless it HAS TO BE SAID. With Jeremy Irons as the wonderfully slimy villain and Renee Zellweger as the woman who might or might not be trustworthy, it's a great film.
64) The Others- This is a classic haunted house story in many ways, except where it's not. But it is a wonderfully suspenseful, creepy ghost story with great performances from the entire cast. This is a really fun ride, with one of the better "twist" endings that have been extremely popular this decade. Nicole Kidman is perfect as severe, neurotic mother Grace and Fionnula Flanagan is wonderful as the new housekeeper/nanny who seems to know a little more than she's letting on. I figured it out before it ended, but it was well worth watching, repeatedly, anyway. IF only for the performances and to see how well director Alejandro Amenabar built so much tension with little to nothing. It was unfortunately released after The Sixth Sense, a film it's often compared to, because I honestly think this is a vastly superior film.
63) The Fountain- I know some folks find this film to be the height of pretentious film making. I can understand that. I can also appreciate it when a director, and some major movie stars, take some pretty big chances by making in a film like this. Darren Aaronofsky threads the needle with three stories about love, death, fear, loneliness, and the yearning to touch something infinite, that are all really one story. It's another film that might not exactly be for everyone, but it is damn good. It's also a new way to approach these ideas on film. The description I just gave could have easily been for some heavy handed, hackneyed, brainless romantic comedy with aspirations of being artistic. This is artistic, beautiful, well written, and probably the best work either Rachel Weisz or Hugh Jackman have ever done. A supporting role by Ellen Burstyn was a welcomed surprise in the beginning of the film. The literate nature of this film was a much bigger and even more welcome surprise by the end. Film can be and say beautiful and true things about us, and this is a great example.
62) United 93- I have to be honest here. I've only seen this film once. That's why I'm including it on this list though. It was well done enough to make me feel like I really don't need to put myself through that again. If you're not familiar with it, United 93 is the dramatization of what we understand to have happened on United flight number 93, on September 11th 2001. United 93 is the plane that didn't make it to it's destination, but crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Paul Greengrass took an unknown cast and crafted a film so tense and so full of detailed reality with a photographic approach that so deeply suggests documentary style "see it as it's happening" that unnerving doesn't even begin to describe it. Fiction is one thing, I can deal with hell and death and horror in fiction. But all the while the subtle knowledge that this is only so much fiction, that the chances are better than not the plane didn't make it's destination because the passengers did something truly heroic, and what they sacrificed eats at you. It's never sensational, which is what makes it superior to so many films which deal with real horrific events. Jarring.
61) Chopper- Another true life story, sort of. I say sort of because it's a film based on the book written by Mark Brandon "Chopper" Reed, from prison, about his life. So, I'm assuming some of it is actually true. I'm also assuming some of it is not. I have no idea which is which though, and all of it is completely bug nuts insane and engrossing. This is the film that put Eric Bana on the radar here in the U.S. The guy has made some unfortunate choices in films, because if you see this, there's no doubt about the degree of talent he has. Think Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. Insanely entertaining, disturbing, harrowing, hilarious, you will not be able to take your eyes off of this thing ten minutes into it. Few films in history have succeeded this well at making their protagonist someone who is equal parts psychopath and still, through it all, someone you feel you're empathizing with. A friend hounded me to see this film for months, and I'm so glad he did.
60) Battle Royale- Japan is experiencing a population problem in a not so distant future. They pass the "Battle Royale" act. We follow a class of ninth graders as they are taken to an island and forced to fight to the death. The only way anyone gets off the island is when everyone else is dead. That sounds simplistic. It's something easy to grasp, high concept as they call it. The film itself is an operatic indulgence of the most insanely cartoon violence. It's also extremely well made. A fun ride from start to finish, Battle Royale is really about the film makers playing with your expectations and watching what it would probably be like if Survivor involved samurai swords, machine guns and hormonic teenagers. This decade has brought us some great films from the Japanese (and some unfortunate remakes on our part), and if in the next decade, we continue to get films from Japan which are able to achieve their goals as well as this one did, it'll make for lots of great viewing.
59) Sin City- Again, there's been a backlash since this was released and reached dizzying popularity, but my first viewing of Sin City in theaters was giggle inducing. And I mean giggle like a little kid because it was beautiful and over the top neo-noir style was just plain entertaining. It wasn't deep and heavy and thought provoking. It was laughter and testosterone inducing, in ways so much cooler than so many of the crappy action movies this decade only dreamed of ever being. This was straight up, no chaser, entertainment, and if you truly enjoy entertainment that has no message, nothing to say at all behind it, you can't complain about how dark and violent this is, because it didn't care enough to consider how dark and violent it was. It was just fun, weird, beautiful, sexy, violent, bloody, and in your face. Mickey Rourke as Marv is one of the great tough guy appearances in film history, taken to the extreme. And yes, I included the Jessica Alba movie poster because there were many women with less clothes on in film this decade, but few of them were as hot as she was in this.
58) Inglorious Basterds- I was in high school, Valley Central High School (yes, seriously, that really is the name) in Montgomery, New York when Pulp Fiction was released, and when I saw it I knew I had not only seen something the likes of which I'd never seen before, I knew I wouldn't see movies the same way after. I'd spent a good deal of the years prior digging up every horror, cult, fantasy, and exploitation film I could get my hands on, so it wasn't the graphic nature of the film that threw me, it was the pure, unadulterated joy of style. American cinema has a pre-Tarantino era, and a post Tarantino era. Whether you like it or not, you cant deny that. This is his most accomplished film yet, patient, intense, intelligent, subversive, sly (in ways most people never even catch), brilliantly written, and the best performances he's gotten yet. Some people are calling this his masterpiece. I'm betting the best is still yet to come. Christoph Waltz gave a performance which horrified me more than any masked killer ever has. Brad Pitt got to play a comic book war hero with all the guts and gusto he could muster, which were considerable. In the end, it awesomely entertaining, and if you actually slow down and think about it, had a lot more to it than we normally expect from a Tarantino film. Every time a movie concerns itself with a movie in it's story, there's more to it than just meets the eye. Every time, especially with someone who loves movies as much as Quentin Tarantino.
57) American Psycho- A scalpel sharp, cuttingly insightful satire about the American male ego in modern times, this film was as viciously attacked as the victims of Christian Bale's character. Putting Bale front and center, director Mary Harron helped give us one of the decades biggest talents while adapting a novel that everyone (including myself) believed was unfilmable. To be more precise, no one believed you could make a film that was even just kind of, basically, sort of entertaining and somewhere in the ballpark of the books messages and ideas. We were lucky to be wrong, because it ended up being what is among the best satires of the decade, and probably in American film history (yeah, that's what I said!). The graphic nature of the violence is matched only by the absolute absurdity of the character's drive for prestige, success, recognition and domination. Why say more?
56) Mulholland Dr.- I'm not even going to begin to lie to you and say I can completely understand this bizarre masterpiece by David Lynch. You might ask how I can call it a masterpiece if I don't completely understand what it means, and that would be a worthy question. This film, as an experience, from beginning to end, completely engrosses me. I've seen it five or six times at least, and every single time, even though I know I don't completely understand it and have admitted I'm just having fun trying at this point, its completely and totally engrosses me (and not just for the Naomi Watts/Laura Haring make out session, you pervs). The impressive thing about it is the degree of emotion it elicits from me, every single time I see it, even though I don't completely get it. Every David Lynch film I've seen has, with the possible exception of Wild At Heart. I haven't seen Inland Empire either, which I've heard from other Lynch fans is completely unwatchable. I can watch this just about any time, and again soon after. Often times after I've had time to digest a film, even if I really like it, some of the luster wears off, and I have to be in the right mood to pop it back in. The right mood for this is always.
55) Brick- This is neo-noir at it's best, and amazingly enough, set in a high school. Director Rian Johnson decided he wanted to make a noir detective film like films of the forties when the genre was created. But, he knew the genre had become such a conventional thread in our understanding of film, that it always seemed old. So, he decided to set it in a high school, because not only have we never seen that before, but we'd forget it was a noir, and stop worrying about how conventional it was long enough to get lost in the story and the world he was building, and he was completely correct. This is a great debut by Johnson, and he helped give Joseph Gordon Levitt's career a push with this taught, tension filled little mystery. Lukas Haas shows up in a bizarre role, which he is also great in and Nora Zehetner broke out with a great turn as the woman who's motives you're never quite sure of. If the noir dialogue doesn't completely throw you off, you should have a blast with this.
54) Black Hawk Down- There are probably two types of film I'm hardest on when it comes to criticism, this kind of true life military film, and romantic comedies. I am as specifically hard on those films because each is dealing with choices that have been a part of and continue to actually shape and alter human history. Super hero's don't exist, never have, never will. Paint with broad strokes, I can handle it. But, make a film about an actual event in military history, and you better get it right. Be Truthful. That's why this film makes the list. Ridley Scott has made a few films which were not at the top of his abilities, but this isn't one. This is a really great film, with an eye toward following the soldiers and trying to express as much of their experience as possible without politics or judgment. Harrowing, intelligent and heartfelt in a way that isn't fawning and emotional froth, or the empty idol worship of affected patriotism. Scott has enough respect for the material to be straightforward with it and it's a really strong film for it.
53) The Watchmen- The unfilmable graphic novel of the last century made it to theaters in the first decade of the new century, and with great success, all around. Is this a perfect film? No. Is it a perfect adaptation? No. It's entertaining as all hell though, and it's as close in tone, atmosphere and content as you could ever get to the graphic novel. The graphic novel was brilliant (which I know you've all heard already), so the film is intelligent, literate, sometimes disturbing, sometimes touching. Zack Snyder gave us what was possibly the best of the dirge of remakes in Dawn Of The Dead, and then followed it up with the hugely successful 300. He could have done anything, and instead of running away from a tough project and leaving it for someone who cared less to screw it up, he did an incredible job of bringing this film to it's finish. Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach was a menacing delight, Patrick Wilson as Dan/Night Owl, and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan were incredible. I enjoy this every time.
52) The Machine Girl - This is absolute and total nonsense, in the best way possible. Do you SEE that poster? If so, you can generally understand what you can expect from this righteously raucous piece of trash. This is the kind Asian cinema I am gleefully anticipating never being remade in the U.S. We would just screw this up completely with pretentious attempts at moralistic overtones. This is brain candy, a sugar mainline, at it's best. There is no redeeming value to this, other than the purity of it's desire to entertain. It's not trying to say anything. It's not trying to be serious. It's not trying to do anything but make you say, "HOLY SHIT! DID I JUST SEE THAT?" And it succeeds wonderfully on many occasions. This is the kind of cult film which will be a cult film, more or less, for thirty years, until the Aughts become retro style and the cult films and music from this era become cool again. Then, all of the too cool for school kids and twenty somethings will be rocking Machine Girl T-shirts. If you have children, and you know me, you will have to prevent me from showing them this movie. BAD ASSERY!!!
51) Monster- A good deal was made of Charlize Theron's transformation from bombshell to haggard mess when this film was released. It's nice to be able to note that nearly the same amount of press was given to both her performance and the film itself. She was outstanding as female serial killer Aileen Wuornos, as was Christina Ricci as Selby Wall. The film itself is hard to watch for many, many reasons, but most of them are due to the emotional foundation the film builds. Writer/director Patty Jenkins somehow took some very hard, very disturbing material and a person who could so easily have been a caricature, and turned it into a film that although it is very hard and very disturbing, gives you the feeling you're getting a glimpse into how the most horribly broken people make the most terrible decisions in just trying to find their way. Monster is a very well made film with great performances about an extremely interesting note in American history. If that's not enough to like about it, it's worth mentioning that it's something completely unusual in the canon of films about serial killers.
Gone Baby Gone - Ben Affleck has been in a number of movies. Some of them have been very good (Chasing Amy), some of them have been very, very bad (Reindeer Games). This is the first film he directed, and it was very, very good. This is a neo-noir set in a Boston neighborhood, surrounding the mystery of young girl who has disappeared. Casey Affleck takes the lead role, and stands toe to toe with some of the best working actors in Hollywood, and what plays out is a story about corruption, the politics of community and just how much in life is not black and white, but is instead varying shades of gray. Ben Affleck directs this film with more confidence than many career directors and deftly handles material that is sometimes extremely discomforting, sometimes perfectly subtle, but always engrossing and enthralling. Casey Affleck is surrounded by Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Madigan and John Ashton, each of whom are as good in this as they've ever been. The thing I really like about this film is that it took me to a place that was not only unexpected, one in which the right thing to do was completely unclear.
49) Mystic River- This late in his career, Clint Eastwood a bunch of extremely good films and he has made two classic films. In the '90's, Unforgiven deconstructed the western, and the kind of icon Eastwood had spent a career embodying, and created an affecting, intelligent, poignant meditation on violence and friendship. It's one of my all time favorite films. In the Aughts, he gave us Mystic River another emotionally charged, heartbreaking, intelligent and nearly perfectly done film. This time his eye was focused on ideas surround community, friendship, and angers consuming power. There isn't a bad performance in this film, at all. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Lawrence Fishburne, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney completely blow this material out of the water. Clint Eastwood went from being an on screen icon to one of the great directors of our time. This is the kind of film that in most other hands would have ended up being maudlin, annoying crap. Eastwood makes it subtle and hard hitting at the same time, emotionally stirring and intellectually strong at the same time. Don't miss it.
48) Memento- There has come to be a kind of sport among movie fans in hating Memento. This is the kind of puzzle of a film which is just an absolute joy to me. One of the beautiful things about this film is that it's a story which could never have been as successful in any other form of media. As a book, as a television show, anything else, it never would have worked was well as it does as a film. If you've never seen Memento, you're doing yourself a disservice. Part film noir, part strange puzzle mystery, part love story, it is such a rare thing for a film to be both a great piece of entertainment and a great piece of art and this does it so perfectly. Christopher Nolan would go on to direct Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, and of course this years blockbuster, Inception. The man is going to be considered one of the great film makers of all time. That might seem a little hyperbolic, but if you've seen all four of these films, you'll know that the worst of them is vastly better than the majority of films released in any given year. Joe Pantoliano, Guy Pearce and Carie Anne Moss are awesome. Nothing is what it seems in this film and it's an incredible example of skill that keeps so many different plates in the air as we trying to figure out what is happening or has happened.
47) Slumdog Millionaire- I often have a hard time with "feel good" movies, because I just never have the feeling that anything is ever actually at stake. I know it's going to be a happy ending. I know it's going to be feel good. There's almost no tension. None of that was true in Slumdog Millionaire when I watched it. I honestly didn't know if it was going to be a happy ending. I honestly didn't know if I was going to feel good about it. I so badly wanted to see everything turn out well for these characters, which for me is unusual. I am normally watching a movie and I want it to keep it's integrity. This time, I so badly wanted it all to turn out well. Danny Boyle, another director with a few films on my list, has proven his talent for taking material that has some darkness and some edge to it and making it deeply real and deeply human. This strange romp through some of the worst of what Indian life has to offer, is at the same time, one of the most hopeful, optimistic, romantic and uplifting films of the decade. In the end, it feels like a celebration of all the things beautiful about being human, while not being the kind of annoying syrup that ignores all that is ugly. It is a profoundly beautiful, truthful and enjoyable film.
46)Donnie Darko- I did not have the good fortune to see Donnie Darko in theaters. The last good thing I found specifically as a result of reading Fangoria was Donnie Darko, I picked this up on the day it was released on DVD because I'd read a number of enthusiastic reviews, but none more convincing than the Fango review. That night I sat down with a plate of spaghetti and a beer. One beer, one plate of spaghetti and one viewing later, I immediately started watching the movie again. For those of you who don't know me, let me clue you in. At the time, the idea of my having only one plate of spaghetti and one beer in ninety minutes, when more were available NEVER, EVER happened. EVER. I didn't want to pause the film or get up and walk away for one second. I watched the film each night for the next four or five days. It is so many things, and so dense and interestingly strange, tangled and puzzling that it's a great mystery to try and unravel. Beyond that, it's got an incredible script and cast, with characters that seemed incredibly real to me in many ways. I fully realize that the logic of the science fiction aspect of the film might not hold up. I can't be completely sure that I'm just not intelligent enough to put it all together. I do know, I have repeatedly enjoyed spending time with these characters in this world, and looking at some sublimely beautiful images. And there's Frank. Frank is one of my favorite costumes and masks in all the films I've seen. There's concept art of Frank on the DVD that I'm still toying with getting as a tattoo. This is indie film making at it's most ambitious and artistically successful.
45) Inside- If you read my list of horror films, it's no shock that I love this film with a deep abiding passion. This is a hard film with graphic violence, gore and horrific themes, ideas and images. I won't for one second try to convince anyone that any of that is not true. In fact, I kind of revel in it. With all of that being true, this is still great film making. It's one thing to be shocking. It's something entirely different to be genuinely unsettling and disturbing and this film is. But, it's still extremely smart. Everything is here for a reason, it is efficient, and effective as a freight train moving at sixty miles per hour. It churns along, hammering away at the viewer with relentless horror and suspense. I so badly don't want to spoil what this film is about and what it gets down to that it's almost hard to talk about. My girlfriend lent my DVD copy to a friend at work, who couldn't finish watching it. It's unrelentingly brutal and it's effective enough to have produced that result on a number of occasions, from what I've heard directly and read in different pieces about it. Whether or not you like horror films, a film that can elicit that strong a reaction from people has to be doing things right. I've seen films which were trying to be more disturbing and unsettling than this film, and thematically probably were, but because the execution was so poor, they fail utterly. If nothing else, you have to consider the idea that the film making technique has to be top notch to freak people out that thoroughly.
44) The Royal Tenenbaums - Before Wes Anderson's style of film making started to get a little over used (by both him and his imitators), The Royal Tenenbaums was released to both critical and audience praise. This is the film most responsible for the existence of Wes Anderson imitators who have helped to make this style of storytelling and film making seem overused and dull now. Another part of that same truth is that this is the best it's been. The Royal Tenenbaums succeeds in bringing to film the odd sensation of seeing the inner workings of a family other than your own, with it's immediate familiarity of emotion, and complete disconnection from the ritual and tradition you're accustomed to in your own family. By placing all of that in this cast of decidedly odd characters, with a hilarious script and one of the best casts of the decade, it becomes something that transcends the tropes of "the slightly odd, but well meaning family" variety of comedy. It's also a film that really loves it's characters, both because of and in spite of their eccentricities and downright weirdness. This is one of those films that I'm always a little giddy to find when I'm flipping through the channels. It's like stumbling across some piece of clothing or other valuable you hadn't yet realized you misplaced, and you're then happy you didn't lose it. If as many films that try to achieve what this one does were actually able to, this list would have been populated by many more comedies.
43) Best In Show- I have to confess that I haven't seen A Mighty Wind yet, but for my money, the best of the Christopher Guest comedies concerns itself following a group of people who are contestants in the fictional Mayflower Club Dog Show. Without doubt, there a few of the funniest lines and scenes from any movie I've ever seen in this film. Fred Willard as the broadcaster giving commentary is ridiculously hilarious. It's mind boggling to consider that most of this movie is improvised. The film follows couples as they bring their dogs to show, and each of couple has at least one scene that just absolutely kills it. Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Michael Mckean and John Micheal Higgins all create some of the funniest characters of their careers. This is going to be a film that goes right next to the likes of Airplane, and Dr. Strangelove as consistently delivering the goods in the laughter department. If you haven't seen it, there's also some great stuff on the DVD's deleted scenes that is hilarious. Christopher Guest as the not all too bright Harlan Pepper, from Pinenut, North Carolina, the owner of a tackle store, showing his Bloodhound, Hubert, has some incredibly funny material in the deleted scenes.
[Note to the reader: I'm cheating. I know that both Memento and Best In Show were released in 2000, technically making them part of the decade prior to the Aughts. But since both of them were limited release films that didn't really build a fan base until after 2001, I'm including them here. Apparently, Unbreakable was also released in 2000. I need to check the release dates before I compile a list next time. I'm thinking of an "also ran" list as well, and I'll find three more that actually are from the correct time period to add there.]
Training Day- I can hear the doors hitting the movie snobs in the rear end as I type this. This one hasn't made many other "Best Of" lists, and it's not embraced by either the critical community or the geek community for the most part. It's a little too talky, Hollywood, star vehicle for the geek crowd to have really grabbed on to it, and it's a little too pulp, but not avante garde pulp enough for the critical community to champion it. I love it. I think it's possibly Denzel's best performance, and as a whole the movie is just fun as hell to watch. I love the fact that you don't really understand exactly how wrong and evil Denzel's Alonzo is until three quarters of the way through the film. You get just enough to know things are not above ground with him, and then when you think you've seen his worst, it gets that much worse. I love this script, and all of the performances. Ethan Hawke is great here, standing toe to toe with one of the great actors of his generation, and there's a full supporting cast that's great. Dr. Dre even shows up as one of the crew of crooked cops. Eva Mendes naked booty got famous here, and Cliff Curtis is absolutely awesome as Smiley. Alonzo is SSSSSOOOOO EVIL, and Denzel is such a blast to watch being so, so, so bad. I love this movie.
Gladiator - Popcorn perfection. Gladiator brought the classic Hollywood sword and sandals epic into the modern era, and became one of the great examples of how good popcorn movies are made. This is not ground breaking territory. We've seen stories exactly like this one five million times. We've seen guys with swords duke it out to the death at least that many times as well. We hadn't seen Russell Crowe doing it, and we hadn't seen Russell Crowe FIGHTING A TIGER!!!! Now it doesn't sound as awesome, because it's old news, but it was seriously awe inspiring in the theater, and I still get the giggles when I see it. We'd never seen all of that directed by Ridley Scott. Then, there's Joaquin Pheonix as Commodus. Joaquin is probably a perfectly nice guy, but he is so creepily weird and unbalanced in this film, it's hard to believe there could be anything resembling a normal human being in there. The great Richard Harris adds so much in so little time with his last role as Marcus Aurelius, and the same is true of Oliver Reed in his last role. This is also the film that introduced audiences to Connie Nielson and Spencer Treat Clark. The design and photography are gorgeous, the story is solid and the performances are all great. The Hollywood studios wouldn't get so maligned if more of their big budget mass appeal films were as well done and were as enthralling as this is. I have the two disc, theatrical and director's cut edition of the DVD. But this is the kind of film Blu Ray was made for, and one of the rare occasions I might actually buy the Blu Ray just to have it in Hi Def.
Lost In Translation- In 1999, The Virgin Suicides put Sofia Coppola on the map as more than just the daughter of a famous auteur. It certainly suggested she had some talent of her own. With Lost In Translation she proved there was more than just a suggestion, but a well of real talent. Casting Bill Murray as the American movie star on a media tour in Japan and Scarlett Johannson as the newly wed wife of a rock photographer who strike up an unusual friendship amidst the boredom of trying not to be seem lost in a completely foreign place, this film is a real rarity. Class. It's one word, and it really sums this film up. It never degenerates into the tired ass "forbidden love/lust/sex triangle" type of mess, and it's so much more effective, honest, intelligent and heart felt than any of those films can even dream of being. I love this movie specifically because it gives it's audience and it's characters the credit to believe they're mature enough and intelligent enough to understand what's going on without using a bunch of terrible exposition scenes and dialogue to get the idea across. I have faith Sofia Coppola has more great films in her and Lost In Translation is the foundation for that faith.
Almost Famous - Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical love letter to rock and roll, and growing up, is one of the great love stories in the history of American film, and is one of the great music movies in the history of the genre. It's not just a love letter to rock and roll, it's also a pretty sincere commentary on our relationship with fame. Some people can't get on board with the earnest emotionality of Crowe's films, and I can understand and respect that. I rarely appreciate that degree of unfettered emotionality in film, but I can't deny Crowe's sincerity, and better I can't just write it off as the crass manipulation which it's usually a product of. Patrick Fugit is great as William Miller, giving the film the kind of emotional and moral anchor that makes this something more than just a glamorization of the "fondly remembered past". Frances Mcdormand gets the opportunity to play a mother with the kind of relationship to her son that is very real, extremely unusual on film, and makes everyone wish their mother tried as hard to walk that line between responsible authority and trusting parent, who may not understand the way her son is growing up, but understands it is time for him to start. Awesomely heartbreaking.
Audition- Technically, Audition was released in Japan in 1999, but it didn't make it to us until 2001, so I'm including it on the list. Takashi Miike is the reigning auteur lunatic of Japanese cinema. He's made a career of taking film genre's and tropes and mixing them together in new, engaging, enthralling and often disturbing ways. His films are often bizarrely surreal and of the same kind of pure, joyously energetic vibe that's characterized much of Sam Raimi's work. Audition is a more understated, slow burn than his other films, but it's worth every second. Miike's take on the ideas in films like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct is unusual, brilliant, and haunting. The narrative could be told a thousand different ways, and has been, but Miike's version is so purely cinematic that it's hard to imagine it in any other form.
Bad Santa- I have to admit, one of the reasons I've fallen so deeply in love with Bad Santa is that I so desperately spent my teens thinking (and occasionally saying and doing) the things which make Billy Bob Thornton's character Willy, so extremely appalling and compulsively watchable. The big difference is that in a movie, it's funny. In real life, not so much. Either way, I'm not sure I can think of a film which as perfectly strikes a balance between cynicism and sweetness, and is so unrelentingly vulgar at the same time. As pathetic, disgusting, vulgar, and horrible as the character is, and as blatantly unapologetic about it as he is, he's not even in the same ball park as the films antagonists, and in that kind of sly way I really appreciate the reality of the character and the film. He's ugly, and pathetic, and disgusting, and the people around him who are much more adept at "keeping it together" (with the exception of the beautiful and talented Lauren Graham and Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman, the kid) are hard, calculated, greedily hateful con men. Willy is a con man by trade, but not in essence. Although it does portray him as being comical, it's a kind of pathetically inept and stupid comedy that as a whole presents a more realistic picture of alcoholism and it's self destructive degeneration than most of the teary, serious drama's on the subject could ever even consider.
28 Days Later - Though the debate about whether or not this is a zombie film is a hot one in the horror community, there's very little debate about whether or not it's awesome. Nine out of ten film enthusiasts agree that this movie kicks ass. Danny Boyle's infection opus is equal parts terrifying horror film, subtle, smart social commentary, and honest articulation of the need for family and community, and the dangers of not choosing one wisely. The early scenes of Cillian Murphy's, Jim, wandering around the streets of a completely abandoned London are among the more disconcerting images I've ever seen in my life. Having spent a good deal of my life in and around cities, either to live or play, the sight of streets that deserted, in full daylight, was truly unnerving. And then, we start to find out why, and that is as unnerving in itself. Whether or not you look at this film as a meditation of much deeper, more complex themes or you see this as just a great fright film, you're not losing anything or missing anything. When films are as well made as this one is, it doesn't really matter whether or not you choose to delve into the deeper ideas or you just love the ride. Horror films aren't supposed to be this good, and I love the fact that I can suggest this film to anyone, even if they've got a preconceived distaste for the genre. That puts it alongside greats like The Shining.
Identity - Director James Mangold would go on to much bigger success and acclaim for Walk the Line (when you've got Johnny Cash as your subject, and Joaquin Phoenix as your star you can't really lose). This taught little exercise in taking the psychological thriller to the furthest logical conclusion the name suggests is great film making. After a while, when you've seen enough movies, you're rarely surprised. I was extremely surprised by this film, not only in the sense of not having known where it was going ahead of time, but by it's sheer quality. I caught this here in Richmond at our old movie house The Byrd Theater, which shows second run films cheap. I was completely caught off guard by the films level of technique in storytelling, cinematography, and the acting. John Cusack headlines a great ensemble cast. Finding himself stuck in a roadside motel in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of strangers, Cusack is the calm and collected character trying to figure out why people keep turning up dead, and who's responsible. It gets weirder than I anticipated, and it's just a lot of fun. With great performances by Rebecca DeMornay, Ray Liotta, John Hawkes, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Clea Duvall, John C. Mcginley, and even Jake Busey, this little thriller packs a punch and at the same time pays wonderful homage to the noir films of classic Hollywood.
The Incredibles- In the last decade, Pixar has more or less been the singular influence on the rebirth of the animated feature as more than just a cash grab for the family dollar. They've reestablished the idea that animation can make great films, and even art, in the popular consciousness. The Incredibles is certainly not an art film, but it is a great film, and one of the best action films of it's decade. Director Brad Bird displays a sense of the most energetic and enjoyable aspects of cinematography and the unusual ability to keep all of that energy and fun weighted with strong character development and an attention to detail. Clocking in five minutes shy of the two hour mark, the film leaves you begging for more. This isn't a new story or even a new idea, but it is as good as this story or idea has ever been told. In the decade which brought the comic book superhero out of the geek closet, and fully into the mainstream, with some really great film making, The Incredibles, Spider-Man 1 and 2, and The Dark Knight proved not only that a super hero movie could be extremely well made, with top notch casting and good writing, but that one super hero movie is not necessarily the same as the next. Up to now, we've looked at comic book and super hero films as a monolithic genre in which each film is more or less an extention of the last. The Incredibles gave us a family friendly, but still intelligent and heart warming story that was exciting and had a few good dashes of humor for good measure. If Pixar is succesful in continuing to make films which are as high in quality as they have been so far, they will become not only a powerhouse studio, but one of the great production houses of all time.
33) Shaun of the Dead - Before this film was released, Americans, even film enthusiasts were very likely to reply, "Who's that?," if you brought up the names Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg or Nick Frost. Now, they're stars who can more or less choose their projects as they wish. This was the film that made that possible. Mixing really good physical comedy with good writing, a few genuinely creepy moments and a great cast, Shaun of the Dead brought a whole new generation of fans to both the zombie film and British comedy. The best horror/comedy to come along since An American Werewolf in London seems to have learned from the most successfully executed aspects of that film. It knows the genre inside and out, understands the inherent silliness of it, and still treats it very lovingly and eventually seriously enough to create an aspect of the kind of tragedy the genre was in it's origin. It does all of that, and gives us a cast of extremely talented actors who effortlessly traverse not only the comedic aspects of the script, but the dramatic aspects as well. Shaun of the Dead aspires to be nothing other than pure entertainment, and it succeeds incredibly well at fulfilling that aspiration while still covering a good deal of ground. Like it's characters, it's the kind of movie which is just really fun to watch and to root for.
32) Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - American audiences had a somewhat mixed reaction to this Hong Kong martial arts fantasy opus from director Ang Lee. For the most part, they fell in love with it, but for some, the fantastic nature of the wire work mixed with the Shakespearan story just couldn't create a reality they were willing to even attempt to submit themselves to. I was obviously among those who fell in love with it because of it's lyrical nature, combined with some of the decades most compelling action sequences, an interesting, engaging story and strong performances. This is what a fairy tale should really be like as far as I'm concerned. Not all fairy tales need have a happy ending, and this one is quite melancholy, but so very effective. The martial arts sequences approach the kind of beautiful athleticism, precision and give such a dramatic sense of character that they rival what I believe it is people who love ballet find so compelling in it. The story of love, loss, privilege versus responsibility, desire versus necessity and the price we pay for the choices we make remains thoroughly human through it's melodrama and fantastic elements. By taking traditional Chinese folk lore, Hong Kong choreography and American technique, Ang Lee created a film which represents the best elements in cinema.
31) Spider-man and Spider-man 2 - I'm combining these two films into one entry for two simple reasons. The first is that the creative team behind both films was identical. The second is that when taken together, very good separate films, become a great duo. The first film proved that the kind of origin story which had hampered so many films could be told well and could take an iconic character and make it fresh enough to be interesting and enjoyable. The second film proved you could build on that foundation by taking the kind of allegory and heart that make comic books such a wonderful storytelling medium and translate them successfully to film on a larger, more epic scale. Sam Raimi was not a household name when he won the project he'd been dreaming of for years. He was a favorite among horror film fans for his Evil Dead films. Tobey Maquire was developing a reputation for being a top notch dramatic actor, and Kirsten Dunst had already proven she was a talented actress with a wide range. Taking those three, mixing James Franco in (making the talented actor a super star at the same time), and making two great films about one of the most recognizable characters in the world helped to prove to Hollywood that treating comic book properties with some respect could prove successful in every way.
30) Kill Bill Volume 1 and Volume 2- Quentin Tarantino originally planned to release this as one epic film, but was forced to split it in two because the studio refused to believe people would sit through a four hour opus of insanity. They may have been right, they may have been wrong, but either way Kill Bill is a vastly superior film to Jackie Brown and proved that Tarantino could create a thoroughly entertaining and mind blowing film that didn't revolve solely around the criminal underground of LA. A wild mash up of samurai film, western, revenge flick and girl power, there's a palpable sense of glee pulsing through the first film which makes it a joy to watch. Uma Thurman gives a career best performance as The Bride, slicing, dicing and slashing her way to revenge. David Caradine is way too appealing and cool as the cold blooded bastard at the end of her list, and there are mesmerizing performances by Lucy Liu and Darryl Hannah as well. The second film feels much more like a spaghetti western and has a much more dramatic tone, but is just as entertaining and takes the characters and story of the first film in a direction that is both somewhat unexpected, and also exactly what we wanted. Tarantino's variety of super hero takes many familiar elements and creates something new and uber awesome.
29) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - The most original relationship movie of the decade. Michel Gondry directed a script he cowrote with the decades most original screen writer, Charlie Kaufman, to create something so thoroughly unusual, unsettling, sentimental, honest and enthralling that it completely confounded many film goers. The film is predicated around the question of whether or not there would be any value in being able to erase one's most painful memories. If you could erase the entire memory of the person and relationship that most truly broke your heart, would you, and would you actually gain anything? Jim Carrey gives a performance at least as good, possibly better than that of The Truman Show as the broken hearted man who makes exactly that decision, but begins having second thoughts as he goes through the procedure. Kate Winslet stars as the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl, whose quirky personality makes her extremely appealing, but also creates certain complications in their relationship. It's hopeful, heart breaking, hilarious, with an emotional center that is extremely real despite the bizarre nature of the plot and story. We need more films as daring and heartfelt as this.
28) Syriana- A highly charged political thriller that doesn't settle for cheap conspiracies and simple answers, while being emotionally wrenching, deeply thoughtful, beautifully shot and very well made all around. Director Stephen Gaghan handles an A list cast of high caliber actors, a serpentinely intricate multi-tiered storyline, and some very big themes and issues with a very sure hand to create one of the most solid political thrillers in a very, very long time. George Clooney turns in a great performance here, leaving behind the sex symbol charm for the role of a world weary, increasingly cynical intelligence agent, and it's something he should do more often, because he's a damned fine actor here. Matt Damon's plays a character whose arrogance and ambition are completely disgusting. But Jeffrey Wright gets a rare opportunity to shine here. Wright is one of the most under used and under appreciated actors of his generation, and this film proves it. There are many people who have either refused to see this film or derided it because it doesn't fit their particular political beliefs, and that's unfortunate, because they are either missing out on or unfairly condemning damned good film making for reasons other than the actual film.
27) Munich- Steven Spielberg has made a few of my favorite films. At the same time, one of the most repeated criticisms of Steven Spielberg is that he can be an unashamed, unabashed, unrepentant, lazy emotional manipulator. Sometimes that's a fair and true criticism. With Munich it doesn't come close, and the film is one of the examples of what makes him one of the greatest directors of in cinema history. The film opens with the murders of eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics. It follows from there to suggest the revenge the Israeli's may have taken. It could have very easily been a formulaic revenge or action film. It could also just as easily have been a film of empty political rhetoric, trying to disguise itself as a poltical thriller. What it is though, is a meditation on the effects of violence and revenge on the person who is responsible for perpetrating it. Eric Bana gets his best role to date, Daniel Craig has a great role that helped secure him the Bond franchise, and the film is emotionally draining and disturbing in it's focus on Bana's character as the head of a team of Israeli agents charged with finding the people responsible for the deaths of Israeli citizens in such a horrific way. The toll that responsibility takes on him is harrowing to watch, and is great film, which doesn't preach, but still has some very important things to say.
26) Walk the Line- Call me a softy, but the pheonix from the ashes story of Johnny Cash has always been one of my favorites. Add to that Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, with James Mangold on board to direct and this story became great drama, with great music and great direction. The roller coaster ride of Johnny Cash's life makes for a roller coaster ride of a film in which Joaquin Phoenix adds another extremely strong performance to his resumé. It's a heart breaking, inspiring, frightening and uplifting story that is told with a forceful momentum that carries you through it as if you are chained to the kind of runaway train Cash became. Not everyone loved this film, and there are some who patently hated it, but I honestly believe that has more to do with cultural saturation than anything else. The film was suddenly everywhere, Johnny Cash was everywhere, Joaquin Phoenix was everywhere, Reese Whitherspoon was everywhere. Here's what I say to that, go on back and watch the film again now that the fervor over it has passed. I'm more than willing to bet that if you have a real taste for good quality cinema, you'll have more of an appreciation for this film. It's not going to change the future of movies, but it is very well made, and incredibly performed. And hey, I've got a soft spot in my hear to a good music movie.
25) Paranormal Activity- There have been a few very successful horror movies in the last decade, but none of them became the kind of event this one did. You can read my original review for it here. The film has it's detractors, and some of what they have to say is definitely true. None of that changes the fact that this film helped to remind people to what degree movie going is a shared experience, and is the kind of film that will help to guarantee that no matter how much the business may change, the theater experience will continue on in the future. As so much of the film business changes at an electric speed, the industry and it's leaders are grasping for answers which will stem the tide of change. They have been failing to a large degree. This little film, made for a little more than fifteen thousand dollars was a huge success, going on to become the most profitable film of all time. It's simplicity, it's terrifying and creepily brilliant subtlety might not be very new, but they were effective, and I don't think I've had this much fun in a theater since Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back. I understand why there are people who don't like the film, and I understand why they don't like it. If you didn't see this film in the theater, it's unfortunate. If you did, and you didn't like it, I honestly think you might have a stick in your bottom.
24) Eastern Promises- Director David Cronenberg started out making small budget horror films which were very much outside the mainstream, not only of the greater mainstream cinema, but even of the indendent horror films of the 1970's. He was creating what has come to be known as "body horror," meaning that the source of the horror was somehow coming from within the body itself. Those early films might not have always been the most narratively or technically sophisticated, but the general ideas and themes were deeply disconcerting and unnerving. David Cronenberg has matured into a film maker who has a disciplined control of his narrative and technique, but has held on to the ability to create an unnerving, pathologically disturbing film. With Eastern Promises, Cronenberg was able to attract a number of actors at the top of their craft and studio financing. The result is a deeply affecting film, though not "body horror," still very much presented questions about very personal, individual themes. Here, Cronenberg deals with questions of identity and personal morality with Viggo Mortenson, Naomi Watts, and Vincent Cassell at the heart of the story. This is a film which is at times extremely tender and frighteningly graphic, and ultimately powerfully effective.
23) Let the Right One In- I began a review of this film in the first days after I saw it. I haven't finished it yet though, because it's such an incredibly hard film to describe. This is one of the best vampire films of all time, if not the best (for once, the quote on the cover may actually not be hyperbole). It's also a very tender story of being an outsider, being a child, being invisible, being alone and at exactly the same time a love story that may be a very sick kind of love or may be a freeing kind of love. The children in this film break your heart and terrify you at the same time. If you read a short synopsis of this film, it seems like it should be ridiculous like B movie exploitation, and it never even gets close to that territory. This is an amazing feat of restrained, disciplined, talented film making. Director Tomas Alfredson takes great writing, and sculpts it into that extremely rare breed of horror film that succeeds in becoming a real art. The strength of this film lies on the shoulders of it's two child leads, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson who give beautiful, yet ferocious and heart breaking performances many adult actors should envy. The entire film revolves around their characters and the relationship between them, and it's deeply moving as a result.
22) The Proposition - Nick Cave wrote a script channeling Cormac McCarthy, and John Hillcoat directed this alternative western which plays like a spaghetti western made by the likes of Bergman, Fellini or Paosolini. It takes place during Australia's own Wild West years, with Guy Pearce playing one of a trio of lawless brothers. Pearce is caught by the law and given a choice. The choice is between finding and killing his psychopathic older brother or the law killing his younger brother. Pearce, having been left behind to rot in prison by his older brother takes the first option. Ray Winstone plays the Law. Danny Huston plays the older brother. The Law has some domestic problems of his own, having moved his wife from England to the Australia outback where she is not at all happy. In atmosphere and attitude, this is the closest thing to a Cormac McCarthy western ever committed to film. If you're not familiar with McCarthy, let me clue you in, it's bleak. It's incredibly dark, but the best western since Unforgiven. That comparison goes beyond the film itself because Danny Huston is as good as the villian in this film as Gene Hackman was in that one. Do not miss this.
21) Jesus Camp - I have spent many years trying to find and watch the films that most frighten and disturb the greatest number of people. I like to see what it is that really gets people riled up. I have seen films that have reputations for making people vomit and pass out, and I may have uttered an expletive or two, but with the exception particularly graphic rape, I can watch just about anything without it getting to me very much at all. This film on the other hand, Jesus Camp, is one of the most frightening and disturbing films I've seen in my entire life. I don't cover many documentary films on this blog because I've only seen enough of them recently to feel I have a handle on what I like and what I don't, much less what is good or bad, but this film makes the list because it effected me on a level so few films are able to reach. I haven't felt that way about anything I've read or seen since I read George Orwell's 1984. This is a film that shows exactly how it is one goes about creating "holy warriors" out of children. This film asks some very disturbing questions about what exactly happens to the human mind, specifically those of children when fed a steady, intense diet of propaganda of any kind. I don't think it's too much to suggest that people who strap bombs to their chests and blow other people up go through a process that is only slightly more focused.
20) Hard Candy - This is the film that put Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson and David Slade on the map of Hollywood up and comers. It is a twisting mind bender set almost entirely in one location and in which only three actors appear on screen in the entire film. That being said, it is harrowing, from start to finish, and the viewer can never be completely sure what is going happen next. It is one of the most morally ambiguous films I've ever seen and is able to very quickly, from moment to moment, shift sympathies in a way that even now, after repeated viewings, I can't honestly say which of the two main characters is the protagonist and which is the antagonist, nor can I say with any real certainty if either one of them is "the good guy." Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson spend ninety minutes in a sparring match of acting talent that in itself is something to behold. Then, there's David Slade's direction, which makes a small space never seem dull or uninteresting to the eye by finding interesting ways to shoot every single shot and create every single transition. The fourth big part of the success of this film, production design. The film pops off the screen visually with the same kind of energy being hurled back and forth between the actors. If you haven't seen this film, go into it blind. I guarantee that within the first twenty minutes you will be shocked by where it goes.
19) Oldboy - This is one of those films which gives me an unending sense of pleasure to be able to show people for the first time. Sitting there and watching others reaction to the film is just about as enjoyable as watching the film itself. Oldboy is the kind of film that takes the conventions you expect from a film of it's kind and turns them upside down, and inside out. If you read my original review of the film you know exactly how I feel about it. This isn't for everyone, but it's so incredibly well made, unusual and strangely fun to watch that I feel it's a duty to suggest the film to other people. Chan-wook Park is one of the most gifted directors of his generation and he takes a story that could have been a very cliche'd revenge tale and gives us something special in it's paradoxical mix of beauty, tragedy and the truly disgusting. The cinematography alone is worth the price of admission here. The color pallette jumps off of the screen, the use of camera movement is fluid, but never showy, and everything else in the film is nearly perfect. Min-sik Choi gives a performance which is at times repulsive, at others heartbreaking, and always truly engaging and interesting as Oh Dae Su, the man on this particular mission. Not once as I was watching this film did I have any real idea where it was going to take me. If your adventurous, this is more than worth your time.
18) Good Night and Good Luck- If you like film, music, books, really any kind of creative endeavors, you should know the name Edward R. Murrow. George Clooney has directed four films to date, and no matter what you think of the guy as an actor or a performer, he can have a career as a director any time he decides he's done with acting. This film and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind prove that. David Straithairn stars as Murrow in this film that focuses on the process through which Murrow and his staff made the decision to take a stand against the the tyrannical witch trials of the ego maniac Joseph McCarthy. It's a powerful story and an important recognition of an important, if shameful period of American history. The whole thing is handled with the respect it deserves, never really devolving into the kind of melodrama which can make historical dramas cheap and annoying. The cast is at the top of their game, each giving great performances, the script is crisp and the interplay between Straithairn and the production team is superb. The black and white photography is beautiful with the kind of perfect contrasts that make black and white so striking. There's a current effort underway to rewrite the history of these events, and with more pieces like this one, we can hope future generations will be able to look back and realize the history they're learning may not be the one based on the facts as they actually existed.
17) V for Vendetta- Alan Moore has been responsible for the recognition of the graphic novel as a viable medium of truly artistic expression. Two of his works are as good as any other piece of literature written in the twentieth century. This film is based on one of those graphic novels, and is proof that a film can be exciting, thought provoking, fun and have satisfying action sequences at the same time. It's essentially proof that an action film doesn't have to be a mindless mass of exploding body parts and shrieking bullets. Probably because in many ways it conforms somewhat to the kinds of cliche's most Hollywood action flicks do, it hasn't made many of the "best of the decade" lists already published. It makes this one specifically because it does adhere to some of those cliche's while undermining them at the exact same time through it's script and the story it has to tell generally. It's a wonderful example of how to take cliche's and use them in a way that makes them something more. Natalie Portman gives an excellent performance, as does Hugo Weaving, even though his face is covered throughout the entire film. The under current of anti-authoritarian sentiment in this film is reminiscent of the best films of the nineteen-seventies, but strung together around a slithering, sly set of narrative twists that keep it interesting and give it a sense of energy which make it exciting and fun to watch. An added bonus is that all of the promotional art for the film was really beautifully done in style of the kind of propaganda art the story is concerned with. I have a special place in my heart for that style of art, because of it's historical significance, and the art work here captures it perfectly.
16) Pan's Labyrinth - In the last decade, Guillermo Del Toro emerged as one of the great directors working today, and was recognized as such because of this film. This is a fairy tale in the vein of the best of the Grimm Fairy Tales. This is the rare variety of film that not only attempts to exist on and create a number of different levels within it's narrative, and then manages to succeed on every single one of them. The design of this film is almost worth worshipping. The level of detail is mindboggling, and every frame is beautiful. There is nothing out of place. Then there's the nearly perfect quality to the narrative, which is surreal, but still straightforward, unusual and familiar at the same time. Del Toro takes the story and breathes a life into it that is heart warming, gut wrenching, life affirming and utterly disturbing. all at the same time without missing a single beat. It's something to behold which can and should be watched repeatedly. He'd done some incredible work prior to this, but Pan's Labyrinth is so far the best of Del Toro's films, and the one which is going to be watched by generations to come.
15) Trick 'r Treat - 2010 saw the release of some of the most flat out fun films in a long time. This is one of them. If you read my original review, you know how I feel about this film. If not, don't worry, I love telling people. Writer/director Michael Dougherty's incredible homage to the kinds of horror anthologies that were everywhere in the eighties began to draw some attention after it hit the festival circuit. It was picked up for distribution and then languished on a self in studio release date hell for two years. During that two years, the buzz surrounding the film grew louder and louder, instead of passing from the popular consciousness. When it was finally released on DVD, it was quite the success for a small film made outside of the studio system and had both critics and horror hounds hollowing it's praises at the top of their voice. It's an extremely fun film which really understands how seriously it shouldn't be taking itself, while never taking it's eye off providing a good combination of storytelling and scares. There's an excellent cast here and half the fun is realizing how many of the films characters are familiar, but also surprising to see in a wickedly funny and fun little horror anthology like this one.
14) The Prestige - Christopher Nolan may well be the most successful director of the decade, with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Prestige, he blew the box office out of the water. Add in Memento, and you've got a director who not only loves a good yarn, knows how to tell one in an incredibly interesting fashion, and also knows the limits of and limitless aspects of film. The Prestige's story of obsession, revenge, loss and illusion is the kind of film I think Hitchcock would have loved to see tagged as the progeny of his legacy. Both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are in top form as magicians or "illusionists" bent on not just being the best, but out doing each other. The film dances around themes dealing with identity, success, loyalty and humanity with an agility that keeps all of light enough to pass for nothing more than good solid storytelling, while also being able to play its more major themes just seriously enough to make the film an interesting and intelligent meditation on the results of the melting pot of poisonous instincts the films characters are being fueled by. It's an absolutely killer film, turning up the tension and the drama with each passing scene.
13) The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum - Before the original Bourne film was released, there were very few people who thought there was any chance that Matt Damon was going to be able to carry the decades most successful action series. Nobody thought he was going to be able to convincingly play a character as bad ass as Jason Bourne. At the time, Damon had been courting the "serious actor" reputation that generally leads to an Oscar nomination. Somehow, he ended up taking the lead role in an action movie about which there were also serious doubts regarding the possibility of a contemporary film being made of the source material. The source material being one of the most successful series of spy novels in publishing history, but also having been written in the 1980's under very different national and international circumstances. But, if there is a thinking man's action film, these are perfect representations. Everything that works about these films is successful because Damon makes the character work and makes the audience not only believe completely in Jason Bourne's journey, but also makes us care very deeply about the characters dilemma. Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass direction made the films both excellent character driven dramas, and incredibly exciting. It is extremely rare for a trilogy of films this good comes along, and I'm happy to have been able to see it firsthand. And in case you were wondering... it's a blast watching Jason Bourne kicking ass across many continents.
12) The Wrestler - When I heard Darren Aaronofsky was making a movie starring Mickey Rourke as a washed up professional wrestler, I was dumbfounded. I honestly could not understand how Aaronofsky was going to go from the kind of cerebral and heart wrenching film that was The Fountain to something of that description. A professional wrestler... seriously? The answer was, yes, seriously, very seriously. The Wrestler is like an emotional power slam (I couldn't help it). Mickey Rourke gives an absolutely astounding performance as Randy "The Ram," a former superstar in professional wrestling whose body is giving out and whose fame has long since waned. He's performing high school gyms for fans who "remember when." He's trying to make ends meet and figure out how to climb out of the mess he's in when he suffers a crippling heart attack. His life having nearly ended, he starts to attempt to reconnect to some of the things he sacrificed in order to be "The Ram," and finds it's not quite so easy to change what you've been when it is what you've been for so long. I was blown away by this movie. I still know a number of people who have no interest in it because it's "that wrestling movie," which is not really what it is. This guy just happens to be a wrestler, but as Aaronofsky's next film Black Swan proved, Randy The Ram could have been any kind of athlete or performer, and this would still have been an extremely affecting, heart breaking film. Marissa Tomei shows up in a supporting role as the woman Rourke's character is attempting to use as his bridge back to humanity, and she's phenomenal as well. It's probably her best role and best performance. I would never, in a million years, have thought I'd feel the level of empathy for a washed up pro-wrestler as this film elicited from me. Aaronofsky has proven himself as one of the director in the last decade who at some point in the future will be considered great alongside names like Coppola, Scorcese, Cassavettes, and Lumet. Heartbreakingly great film making.
11) Doubt - Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in the film adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning play about an obsessive Mother Superior, in a Bronx Catholic School in the sixties, who may be rightly or wrongly convinced that the new priest is molesting children, you say? Sign me up for that ride. Wow. That's really all I can say. Wow. It's like an acting clinic for ninety minutes. Meryl Streep is at her absolute best as the Sister Beuvier, who does not find the new parish priests methods to her liking, and is subtly and then forcefully challenging his authority, and questioning his faith, and then his character. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the younger, slightly more liberal priest who finds himself in this impossible situation, and who may or may not be involved with what could only be categorized as an "inappropriate" relationship with one of the boys at the school. The film never completely tips it's hand though, and ultimately isn't as much about him as it is about the thing for which it is named, doubt. Amy Adams is also great as the naive young nun serving under Streep who gets caught somewhat in the middle of all of this, and can't seem to make sense of any of it. It's an extremely powerful piece of film making, with writing that is so phenomenal, it's almost unreal, and acting that is very much an example of why great actors should be respected and rewarded for great performances. It's in many ways a very traditional parable or polemic, but it's crisp, sharp disciplined and still incredibly engrossing nature is something unusual.
10) Amélie - Just in case you were reading the 65 entries previous to this one, and you were thinking, "Can't this guy appreciate anything light and fun loving?" I submit for your consideration, entry number 10, Amelie. I have nothing against films that are light, fun, joyful and life affirming, at all. I do feel though that most of the films that attempt to be considered with that description don't actually earn it. They're more often manipulative and insulting to the audiences intelligence. This never gets close to being manipulative or insulting, and is an awesomely beautiful tale, full of whimsy and warmth. It earns every single frame by staying true to it's narrative, it's tone and being a creative in the way that it goes about doing so. As far as films about romance and the surreality of life are concerned, this is at the top of the list for me. It manages to capture the giddy, swirling emotion of a new romance, by wrapping us up in a character with a quirky good nature, a sense of humor, and a romantics perspective on life. Audrey Tautou is magnetic, in the planetary sense. She's like a star, and the audience becomes the planets swirling in orbit around her, sustained by the effortless warmth she exudes in every single frame of the film. Jean-Peirre Jeunet also directed both Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children two films heavy in surreal imagery and themes, and also whimsical in a very different way. By approaching material slightly less dark than those two films, the talents he exhibited in both of those films seem to have been given the chance to spread their wings in a more naturalistic, and a manner that seems more suitable for them, which makes for a movie that I honestly can not conceive of anyone except the most cynical and hard hearts disliking. If you haven't seen this, do yourself a favor and check it out A.S.A.P.
9) Children of Men - Science fiction can be such a hard genre. If you're trying to make a fun, adventure film variety of sci-fi, one step too far can put in the kind of cheese zone that isn't actually fun, but is just kind of unknowingly silly. Trying to make a more serious, intellectually and emotionally challenging variety of science fiction can end up being boring, pretentious, and equally cheesy, if not more so (see the original Planet of the Apes or it's remake. For the record, I do love the original, even in all of it's cheesy glory). It can be done though, and here Alfonso Cuarón, walks the line more deftly than ninety-eight percent of the other film makers who have tried. Based on the P.D. James novel of the same name, Children of Men is heady, brutal, heart wrenching, exciting, intelligent and ultimately inspiring. Clive Owen is perfect as the film's protagonist, a lost soul, drowning in his own apathy that gets tossed in the middle of the fight to try and keep the first human child to be born in more than a decade alive, and from becoming a political tool by the many factions who are attempting to control the nature of this frayed and fracturing society. Technically, the film is pretty amazing, but the narrative and the way it is slowly revealed are so good, that for most of the people who've seen it, it's not until later that we realized the degree of technical acumen we'd been witnessing. There are some folks who whined about the cinematography being "showy," because there was a backlash that seemed to be a result of the nearly universal praise the film initially garnered. I was so wrapped up in the story, and the way it was being told that the technical aspects of the film just became even more reason to see the film a few more times. The subject matter is pretty bleak, and a lot of the perspective the film takes toward humanity is pretty cynical, but it's ultimately a redemptive story, and it's just such well done science fiction that I couldn't have helped falling in love with it if I'd even have thought to try.
8) 25th Hour - Spike Lee has made a few films I unabashedly adore. He Got Game was a film I loved not only because of it's subject matter, and the strength of it's narrative, but also because it's one of the most thoroughly American films of the past few decades. And of course, Do the Right Thing is a pretty amazing film, though I don't quite have the same degree of love for it much of cinema press does. Inside Man showed Lee could make a more conventionally mainstream film, and do it extremely well. It's not his best work, but it's a solid and respectable entry in the heist genre. But, I have no problem going out on a limb and saying that 25th Hour is the best film Spike Lee has made to date. He successfully covers so much narrative and thematic ground in this film, that is should be a dizzying, jumbled mess, but it never is. Spike has never been accused of being a subtle film maker, but with this film, he finally finds his way to balancing the more heavily dramatic moments he's done so exceedingly well in the past with more subtlety and character development than he'd put into any of his previous films. There are subtle moments in this film that made my stomach drop and my heart ache. The story of Monty Brogan (played to perfection by Edward Norton) on his last day before turning himself in to serve a seven year prison term on drug distribution charges, is harrowing, heart breaking, insightful, and full of nearly perfect characterization. Surrounding Norton with Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his best friends, Rosario Dawson (in her best performance to date, it's actually great) as his long time love and Brian Cox as his father, turn this into one of the best ensemble casts of the decade, and dumps us into the middle of one of the most earth shakingly performed films of the decade, with a script of a quality that makes me drool in envy. Add to all of that the fact that this is more or less the very first film to deal with a post 9/11 New York, and that it approaches that part of the story as beautifully as it does Monty's central narrative, and you've got what is probably the most under appreciated film of the decade. And then, after giving the audience all of this wonderful cinematic awesomeness, it goes into what is very possibly the best ending sequence I've ever seen. It's jaw dropping. This was not a big hit in theaters, and somehow missed the awards season, but I'll sing the praises of this film from many different rooftops as often as I can, for many years to come. To put it bluntly... this shit is amazing. This is what conventional drama is supposed to be. It occupies a very special place in my heart.
7) District 9 - What begins as a thinly veiled morality play about apartheid in South Africa, becomes a new entry into the canon of classic science fiction by turning most of our expectations and the conventions of the many films in whose foot steps it follows very convincingly on their heads. There were two films in the aughts which succeeded in being both great popcorn movies, and having some serious, intelligent and timely philosophical undertones. This was one of them. Neill Blomkamp produced a five minute short making the basic premise of the film understood, which led Peter Jackson to put his newly minted unassailable power behind a feature length film based on the idea. The result was one of the most financially and artistically successful films of the decade. District 9 is fun and thrilling, but only because the larger narrative is told so well. If we hadn't been able to feel some sympathy for the protagonist, Sharlto Copley's Wikus Van De Merwe, and his plight, the more exciting, action oriented sequences would have lacked any sense of threat, and the films resolution would have wrung hollow, at best. But none of those things are true because Blomkamp spends threads the needle between exciting action sequences and sincere character moments perfectly. In a time when summer action movies have seemed to abandon any sense of being much more than a series of exploding sets and super hero clichés, District 9 stood out as something that delivered entertainment value, with a very big, very beautiful heart, matched with intelligence in equal measure. Quite possibly the best debut film of the decade will be the kind of film geeks will be grilling each other over in twenty or thirty years. Luckily, when that day comes, the central parable of the film, concerning apartheid, will be something that seems like a relic of a musty, primitive past. District 9 manages to insure that the kind of poisonous human behavior and instincts that allowed for apartheid to arise and exist will be suspect to anyone familiar with the film. All of that wrapped up in some incredible special effects and some of the most satisfying action sequences of the decade made it a truly special film, and one of the most ambitious pieces of science fiction to come along in a few decades.
6) The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King - Putting a trilogy into one entry in this list might seem like cheating on some levels, I'll grant you that. But, this is one story. It's not three separate stories that are connected by characters etc. One of the great literary works of the twentieth century was long considered impossible to film. In some part due to technological advancement making it possible (Gollum wouldn't have been possible even five years prior) and in part to the final emergence of a director with the right combination of love for the material, sheer ambition and raw talent, it proved to be possible. I can't bring myself to believe that a better set of films could have been made, and that success lands squarely in the lap of Peter Jackson. An encyclopedic knowledge of the source material, an abiding love for it, and still a disciplined understanding that a film is not a book, and they can never be exactly the same note for note. He captured the tone and themes of the books as perfectly as it could be done, produced some of the most visually stunning sequences and effects of the decade, and never compromised the integrity of either the film or it's source material. Then there's the casting, which was inspired. Maybe it's because I've seen the films as many times as I have already or maybe it's just that every single character couldn't have been better cast. This is an amazing set of films to sit through, especially the "Special Edition" versions which have the added scenes, and this is one of the great achievements in the history of cinema. The sheer ambition of the project, the budget, length of shooting, the scope of the source material, the effects achievements, both digitally and practically, are overwhelming to consider for someone who probably doesn't even fully appreciate the number of detailed decisions that have to be made along the way. Considering that in tandem with the quality of films that were actually produced is reason enough for the trilogy to end up on this list.
5) WALL-E - Pixar seems to have become the masters of not only the animated feature, but also nuance and balance. Animate features with nuance, balance, heart, intelligence and the sheer beauty of film making wouldn't have seemed possible prior to their arrival on the scene. Now, Pixar and Studio Ghibli are the standards everyone else are measured by. It's a great thing for movie goers and film fanatics when the standard is set that high. Pixar has proven itself to be the most consistent studio in world, up to this point. Even their lesser efforts tend to outstrip the best anyone else can come up with, especially in the field of animation, and often even in comparison to live action (with the possible exception of Studio Ghibli). I know there are many people who will disagree with me, but as far as I'm concerned, WALL-E is the best Pixar film to date. I have really loved some of their other work, but this is something completely different from their other work, and from basically every other animated film released in decades. Somewhat grim, bleak, redemptive, inspiring, heart breaking, smart, visually stunning, challenging, accessible, funny and risky all at the same time, it's an animated film that manages to possibly be the most astute and insightful polemic on the current state of the human condition, while also being flat out entertaining. I've heard and read a number of different reviews and remarks about the film that say it loses something when WALL-E leaves earth for the ship carrying the last of humanity, I understand that opinion, but I also disagree with is specifically because in the context of the over all story, it should lose something there. WALL-E is a creature of wonder, and his world, as decayed and disgusting as we might find it, is full of that wonder. The humans in the film are creatures of many things, but wonder is not one of them, and that sense of wonder and whimsy is what makes WALL-E the character he is, and the character that audiences fell completely, unabashedly in love with. For me, this is film making in it's fullest, taking what is ostensibly a film for children and creating great art that is sweeping in it's scope and ambition, and nailing it, one hundred percent. It's the kind of film that makes me grateful for having been exposed to film and very rarely discouraged from having a passion for it.
4) The Dark Night - I'm not even going to pretend that I'm attempting to be completely objective when it comes to this film. Batman was my favorite comic book character as a kid, and in the period during the late eighties to early nineties that I was reading the book, there was some seriously great stuff happening. The character was being given the epic treatment he deserved, and the possible themes suggested by his origin and his previous incarnations were being explored more fully. The comic bug didn't bite me in the same way it did many other folks, but it was specifically those Batman comics that made me think there was an artistic value to the medium that hadn't been fully explored, and that a real movie based on that kind of Batman book would be something to behold. And then, I waited, and waited, and waited. Tim Burton's Batman was released when I was still a kid, and it was a fun film, most of which came from Jack Nicholson's performance as The Joker, but it still didn't quite touch what I felt the material could really be, especially on film. THIS is the Batman film I'd been waiting for, because this is the Joker I'd been waiting for. It's really that simple. Christopher Nolan manage to make an incredibly entertaining film, that also suggested some much heavier themes and ideas related to Batman, and the world in which he exists. By also making the films based in a reality that is as close to our own as you can get in a super hero film, he also gets to play around with our own perspectives on many different things. Christian Bale has done a great job as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Batman Begins set this film up so perfectly, but was so much it's own film that it's striking to consider how much of the same creative team was involved with both films. This is what the summer blockbuster should actually be like. It's exciting, fun, dangerous, visually superb, and still smart. I can't give enough praise to Nolan and company for finally giving me the Batman film I've been waiting so long for. And then, of course, there's Heath Ledger's Joker. With the amount of praise that's been heaped on his performance already, it's hard to add anything, and I don't know that I'm going to try to add anything so much as express what it was that made this representation of the character so special to me, and as a result, elevates the entire film to an epic, operatic level. There have been so many different incarnations of the Joker through the years, that the character had lost some of it's form. It was almost as if The Joker was more a nebulous idea than an actual character, and that idea at it's essence was a kind of spiteful, malignant anarchy. Ledger's Joker makes that essential characteristic come alive, and if the ending of the film is really taken into consideration, between his final mad speech to Batman, and attaching bombs to the two ferries, it suggests this Joker has only one real goal, which isn't anarchy necessarily, but honesty, and anarchy is the tool. Throughout the last half of the film, the character returns to the idea that all the rules in the world won't actually save anyone because given the right situation, human beings are animals, and they will revert to those very same animal instincts without much of a push. It builds on the themes the first film was founded on, expands them and broadens them. Ledger's Joker is in many ways terrifying, but only because he's the furthest logical extent of ideas we here everyday, and premises we base entire institutions on in our own society. When people suggest that most human beings are just selfish, and couldn't give a damn about anyone else, he is that principle, that idea, taken to it's furthest extreme. He only cares about showing the rest of the world that they are no different than that which they decree as inhuman and unacceptable in society. He is survival of the fittest in a morally bankrupt world, because he will adapt, because he has no reason not to, no connection to anything that suggests he shouldn't, be it personally, intellectually or emotionally, and that is what horrified audiences world wide about Heath Ledger's Joker, and why I loved this portrayal of the character so much. Let's also not forget that this is a two and a half hour movie about a guy in a cape, that flies by like a bullet train out of control. It's exhilarating, entertaining, discomfiting, and ultimately an awesome parable, wrapped up in super hero garb. This film is the first I've seen to take the best of narrative fiction from the world of the comic and make it into great film, and that, on top of everything else, means that it's worth recognizing.
3) The Departed - No one can argue that Martin Scorcese isn't one of the greatest directors to ever live. No one. It's impossible to do. Anyone who attempts to argue this is either playing the devil's advocate or is possibly suffering from severe brain damage, malnutrition or a feral being with relatively no exposure to other human beings, much less film. In the case that someone attempts to make this argument, they should be STERNLY encouraged to seek psychiatric help, IMMEDIATELY. That being said, The Departed is a balls to the wall Martin Scorsese crime epic. It's not new territory for him, I fully acknowledge that. But, nothing he's done before this screams out with the sense of off the rails joy and fun that this film does. By joy and fun, I mean that it seems that Scorcese's joy and fun while making the film is palpable while watching it. It's narrative is tight and fast, it's characters are brilliantly laid out in a tango of twisted motivations, the performances are great, and everything about this movie has a sense of kinesis that is not only intoxicating as an audience member, but that the film itself seems to be drunk on. Every single scene has something memorable happening, whether it's the gallows humor that saturates the entire thing, a shocking moment of sudden and vicious violence, a more subdued and subtle character moment, a narrative twist that threatens to derail everything or the pure cinematographic genius it delves into. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg give the best performances of their careers to date, Alec Baldwin is drop dead hilarious in a small role, and Jack Nicholson plays a kind of enigmatic sociopath that is actually a bit different for him, chewing up the role and the scenery the entire time. Martin Scorcese has been making some of the best films of all time, for thirty years, and doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit.
2) No Country for Old Men - Joel and Ethan Coen have made a few films that I'm thoroughly in love with. I know that Fargo is the critical favorite, and it was a great movie, but Miller's Crossing and The Big Lebowski are two of my favorite films. Period. They are among the most exciting film makers working right now, and No Country for Old Men is the Coen Brothers at their best. All of the quirk and humor that's been a staple in their other films is turned inside out here and turned into a bleak, uncompromisingly harsh look at an increasingly cynical and inhumane world. This is not simple or easy film, and it's nearly impossible to find a flaw in it. Unlike the film that preceded it on this list it is not a film that moves like an out of control bullet train, it is methodical, patient and primal. It was a completely breathtaking experience as well. Sitting in the theater, watching the film unfold, it was a thing to behold. The cinematography was incredible, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones were all awesome, the script was beautifully spare, and it was emotionally bruising. There is nothing extraneous in the film, nothing out of place, nothing that didn't belong. It's one of the most well disciplined I've ever seen, and the bend of its metaphorical content is something appeals to me in a very particular way. The idea that Tommy Lee Jones character, representing an old guard, is finding himself in a world that he no longer understands and no longer wants to be a part of. And it suggests the kind of morality that forms the foundation of that character doesn't work in our world anymore, which when considered, is possibly true and really is something horrifying to consider, because Jones is the best man in the film. If you haven't seen this... you're going yourself a disservice.
1) There Will Be Blood - I walked out of the theater after seeing this film with a feeling I can only describe as gut punched giddiness. Sitting in the theater, watching the film, I can honestly remember thinking that it felt like Paul Thomas Anderson had chosen this film and made it specifically so I would be able to be sitting in that theater, that night, watching it. It was like it was made with me in mind. It was the kind of feeling that at thirty years old reminded me of the feeling of sitting in the theater watching The Empire Strikes Back or watching The Godfather for the first time. The first fifteen minutes, with no dialog at all, took me in, and for every second following, I was lost in the world of Daniel Plainview. Paul Thomas Anderson took a book written by Upton Sinclair, who isn't known for the clarity of his prose, and streamlined it into a film that manages to stray away using dialog for exposition, at all. The characters in the film are interesting enough, the actors charismatic and performing at so high a level that dialog explaining what they're doing, what they've done or what they are going to do is completely unnecessary, and as a result, even when as an audience member I might have had some idea where things were going, it all still felt like it was fresh and as if it were actually unraveling right there as I was watching it. The cinematography is downright breathtaking. It can best be described as eyeball crack. Daniel Day Lewis gives what I think is his best performance yet as the films lead, Daniel Plainview, a man of singular mind. He is an Oil Man of the original variety. A speculator, and a man who will stop at nothing, not only to succeed, but to obliterate his competition, because for him, it's not success unless you have obliterated the competition. He gets his first break when finds gold. Unfortunately, he also breaks his leg, while he's alone, in the middle of nowhere, but he also discovers oil. He literally drags himself some untold number of miles to turn that gold in so that he can afford to start an oil operation. All of this is told through the epitome of "show, don't tell" film making, because there's no dialog. And then, a jump a few years into the future, and Plainview is an Oil Man, who's been tipped off to a large field of oil, with a very small town on top of it. The problem in what could be Plainview's winning score is the small town preacher, Eli Sunday, played by Paul Dano. Eli is barely out of his teens, but is smart enough to understand what's going on, and of course, wants to make sure he not only gets his share, but that he keeps his prestigious status in the town, and in that, our conflict is set up. What follows is the best combination of polemic, character study and old school Hollywood epic that I've ever seen. The metaphor for unchecked, naked greed versus naked ambition isn't so heavily veiled as to be inaccessible, but it's not so heavy handed as to be insulting, boring or annoyingly simplistic. Daniel Plainview goes through a long process of becoming a lonely, bitter, pathetic, incredibly rich, madman, and because Daniel Day Lewis is at his best (going neck and neck with Heath Ledger for the best performance of the decade) we are completely infatuated with his charisma and at the same time, disgusted by his complete lack of humanity. Paul Thomas Anderson's sure handed manner with material that has to be assembled in as complicated a way as this puts him at the top of a very short list of the most talented directors working these days. There isn't a moment in this film that is even slightly false, and everything rings perfectly true. It is a thing of real beauty. This isn't just one of my favorite films of the decade, this is one of my favorite films of all time, and it's a film I have watched a few times a year since it's been available on DVD. To put a finer point on it, so far, this is the only film I've bought on Blu-Ray that I already owned on DVD. There Will Be Blood will be one of the classics from the last decade that people will be watching and talking about in fifty years, and it will take it's place alongside the likes of Casablanca, Psycho and Gone with the Wind as a classic.
I've dedicated a section of my Amazon store specifically to the list. I've added all of the films in the formats in which they are available. Some of them are not available on Blu-Ray just yet, but the DVD's are there, and I've included options at different price points. If there are "Special Editions," I've included those as well as single disc editions. The only versions of any of these films that you won't find in my Amazon store are the full screen editions. If I widescreen is available, that's what I've added. I have a principled dislike for full screen editions of films, because they drastically change the image as it was meant to be presented.