Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Movies of the Decade

Trying to cram all the best movies of the past decade into a single top 10 list is a completely futile exercise. After all, we're talking about a decade that comprised the entirety of my high school and college years, when I first began seriously watching movies. If I'm being honest with myself, most of my favorite movies come from the '00s (just click my info for proof). But being the crazed list-maniac that I am, I couldn't help but try anyway after reading so many others. Plus, what else am I supposed to do on a bus ride home for the holidays?

Now, it would seem the easiest way to do this would be to look back on my #1s from the past 10 years. But I quickly realized that some years are just stronger than others. If you're curious, here's what I picked at the time:

2000: Almost Famous
2001: Memento
2002: Punch-Drunk Love
2003: Lost in Translation
2004: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2005: Munich
2006: Children of Men
2007: There Will Be Blood
2008: The Dark Knight
2009: Still deciding between The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air

Anyway, it was clear I had to go a little deeper. But since I'm too indecisive to stick to 10, I cheated and slipped in 5 more.

15. The Departed
How often do you find a remake of a foreign film that so perfectly Americanizes it that both still stand as independently great movies? More importantly, The Departed was a return to the kind of hugely entertaining crime movies that made Scorsese a name, and deservingly won best picture in one of the '00s strongest years (2006 is well-represented here).

14. The Incredibles
No list of the best of the '00s could be complete without a Pixar movie, and I've got two. With such strong attention to story and character, Pixar's technological achievements are the last thing anyone talks about. But it wasn't until The Incredibles that I realized Pixar was more than kids' stuff. A mid-life crisis movie that borrows from Watchmen and features a joke about drinking games, The Incredibles proved Pixar's audience is well beyond the Happy meal crowd.

13. Punch-Drunk Love
One of P.T. Anderson's shortest movies, and also one of his least appreciated. Yet it features some truly odd and memorable moments (many involving a miniature piano), a career-best performance from Adam Sandler, and a love story that helps ground what could otherwise have just been too out there.

12. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
The decision to split the movie in two may have seemed like pure Tarantino hubris at the time, but it's amazing how well they hold up as separate movies. Vol. 1 features quite possibly the best action sequence of the decade and is dripping with Tarantino-trademarked cool, while Vol. 2 ups the ante by giving the Bride a name and a more complicated relationship with her target. Along with Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill ensured Tarantino would have nearly as much influence on the '00s as he did on the '90s.

11. Pan's Labyrinth
A movie so good I saw it twice in Spanish without subtitles. The visuals are so impressive you can understand why Peter Jackson would trust Guillermo Del Toro with The Hobbit, but it's the juxtaposition of a child's imagination with the horrors of the sadistic Capitan that make the movie so powerful. Plus an ending that even the Brothers Grimm would find dark.

Ok, now for the real top 10:

10. Talk to Her
It's odd that the only Pedro Almodovar movie on my list is one of the least intrinsically Almodovarian movies of his career. But Talk to Her proved he understands lonely men just as well as women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And if the relationships of the central characters aren't enough for you, how about the cheekiest silent movie never made?

9. Mulholland Drive
Who knew a network passing on a pilot could be such a blessing to cinematic history? The first two hours play like Twin Peaks set in Hollywood, and make for David Lynch at his most accessible. Then the last half hour completely fucks with your mind. The result is one of the decade's most entertaining brain-teasers, and hopefully left ABC kicking itself for the bad call.

8. Memento
There's a lot of trends in '00s filmmaking that Memento has a hand in: stories told out of sequence, anti-heroes, characters with memory problems, and the reemerence of neo-noir. On its own, it's the best kind of cult movie, completely sucking you in while leaving you guessing til the very end (or beginning). To call it The Usual Suspects for the '00s is as appropriate a compliment as I can find.

7. Wall-E
If The Incredibles showed Pixar could make movies equally for kids and adults, Wall-E seems more just for the adults. How else to explain a movie that's largely silent for its first two acts, that heavily uses 1960s musical Hello Dolly, and that contains one of the most unusual and heartwarming romances of the decade? The last act is criticized by some, but it still strikes me as one of the most creative dystopian scenarios that writers have come up with. Who knew a cartoon could make one of the biggest statements of the decade?

6. There Will Be Blood
Daniel Plainview may be one of the most despicable characters of the decade, yet he's also the center of P.T. Anderson's epic. His complex relationship to his son (paternal love or business tool?) keeps us behind him as he ruthlessly buys up land and picks fights with the local preacher just because he can. The oil tower meltdown is a pretty incredible image, but the movie will mainly be remembered for its horrific ending. Don't try to drink his milkshake.

5. The Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson took the most read and beloved pre-Harry Potter books of all time and turned them into three of the biggest movies ever made. If I had to pick just one it would be The Fellowship of the Ring, as Jackson and his co-writers actually improved on the text by cutting the long forest section and adding on Boromir's death for a better ending. But I'd prefer to honor it as a single achievement, successfully fusing action and character to create a satisfying visualization of what we all imagined as kids.

4. The Dark Knight
One of the most promising trends of the '00s was putting well-respected indie directors in charge of big blockbusters. Sam Raimi got Spider-Man, Bryan Singer got X-Men, and Christopher Nolan got Batman. He did the superhero justice in Batman Begins, but The Dark Knight elevated Batman well beyond his comic book roots and into the category of epic crime classic. And there's no way to deny Heath Ledger's Joker as the villain of the decade.

3. Almost Famous
At the time, this was considered the personal movie Cameron Crowe got to make as a reward for Jerry Maguire. Yet who today doesn't see this as his superior film? Almost Famous may not have the same filmmaking showmanship of There Will Be Blood, but as a celebration of rock's golden age and the best coming of age movie I've seen, Almost Famous is the movie that gets the most play in my DVD player.

2. Children of Men
Alfonso Cuaron was already having a good decade, between Y Tu Mama Tambien (which barely didn't make this list) and the third Harry Potter movie (which is still my favorite). Children of Men is so much more than a sci-fi film or a dystopian movie. Those two one-shot scenes have been studied more than anything else this decade, and great actors like Clive Owen, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor got to do some of their best work. By infusing every shot with the problems of today without the speeches a lesser movie would use, Children of Men proved the ideal model of what a political allegory should look like.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I know, I know, it's a totally predictable choice for best of the decade, but there's a reason: cause it is. Charlie Kaufman showed his chops at brainy screenplays in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (which would have been my #16), but here he went the extra distance by giving it heart. Just try to hold it together when Joel loses Valentine at the end of their first memory, or when they decide to give the relationship another try. Eternal Sunshine brings together many themes of the '00s (ill-fated romances, time-jumping, etc.), but does it so much better than the rest that it's secured as a classic for the decade.

Obviously there's a ton I've left off of here (my first list was 29 movies), and I'd give strong honorable mentions to Adaptation, Garden State, Before Sunrise, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, No Country for Old Men, and The 40 Year Old Virgin.

Now your turn. What am I leaving off? And what were your favorites from the decade?

2 comments:

The Next Steppe said...

Wow, I am very much in agreement. A lot of my favorite movies on here too.

Maybe I'd tack on Lost in Translation? That might make the top 20, no?

The last two years have been very much TV-dominated for me (The Wire, etc.) so I'm looking forward to some Oscar-bait viewing this next month.

Zander said...

I should probably re-watch Lost in Translation. I think of it as topping a weak year, but I definitely did love it at the time.

If you're in TV-mode, I just posted my TV of the decade list, and I'll probably do my top 10 TV of 2009 list before the week is out.