My Picks for the Decade

Why 25? Because I can. A decade only comes along like what, once every eight years or so? So much goes into a movie, and so much more goes into our experience of viewing it. As such, this list may seem puzzling to a lot of readers (you forgot THAT movie? How could you possible include THIS movie??), but what I chose to do is pick the movies that impacted me the most, affirmed and rewarded my love for film, while also showcasing exceptional filmmaking quality and memorable characters and storylines that I believe will transcend this decade and last for many more down the road. The further you go down the list, the more the distinction between the numbers gets fuzzy – the final five are all so close to each other there’s debatably no point to numbering them at all, but hey, that’s part of the fun of list-making.

Good art is a tricky subject, perhaps especially in film, but I think what it does is leave with you with a sense of something beyond just what you see on screen, that penetrates deep into your heart and leaves you hungering for something truly new and wonderful. All of these films, in one way or another, took me places I never quite expected and unleashed the true creative power of film, so I hope you enjoy them.

25. Napoleon Dynamite

The success of this movie can be seen in how much money it grossed: 44 million dollars; about 100 times its budget, but a paltry sum compared to most releases. So why was it so popular? Because few movies have dared to show the utter and slightly unpleasant normality that every day life on the fringes of popularity can bring. If you were one of the popular kids, you probably didn’t really get this movie. But if, like Napoleon, you never really found yourself fitting in, had a hard time making friends, and spent your time learning super sweet dance move skills and drawing fantasy creatures in the margins of your notebook, then he speaks to you, like few other movie “heroes” ever have.
24. Paris, Je T’Aime
A beautiful ode to the city of love, this movie pictured a myriad of different kinds of love and didn’t make the mistake of just focusing on pure romance (A mistake New York, I Love You made), capturing the pastiche that is Paris in a series of beautiful vignettes that run the gauntlet from romantic love to brotherly love to love for one who is gone to the fantasy love of a mother for her son. A bunch of directors and dozens of well-known and excellent actors contributed their talents to this oeuvre, and it shows.

23. 28 Days Later…

Danny Boyle’s reinvigoration of the zombie genre didn’t just work because it had bone chilling scenes and gripping chases and a cataclysmic slightly insane final act; it worked because the characters were so real and fleshed out, and the ghostly silence of London and the eerie deserted streets that greet Cillian Murphy as he steps out from the hospital are some of the most haunting images ever put to screen.

22. Wall-E

Pixar never ceases to amaze, and this movie proved to be no exception. For about the first thirty minutes of the movie there is no dialog whatsoever, yet the digital beauty of a desolate landscape of a post-apocalyptic Earth sears you to your core and you identify with the little tiny robot pitifully picking away at the miles-high mounds of trash. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, a robot romance blossoms in the infinite vastness of space and the story of a race who has abandoned all hope and is adrift and away from home wins your heart over even moreso. It’s surprisingly sad for an animated movie, yet the sadness rings true, as does the unabashedly hopeful message.

21. Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the great animators of our time, right up there with Walt Disney, and this is perhaps his most ambitious and best work yet. A sort of mythological retelling of Alice in Wonderland, this story about a shrill little girl who must learn to take care of divine beings in a bathhouse for the gods and put her own preferences aside in order to rescue her family shines with gorgeously detailed animation and a nigh on limitless cache of imagination and possibilities.

20. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Gross, offensive, hateful, disgusting; many not-so-nice adjectives have been used to describe Sacha Baron Cohen’s incarnation of his TV character on the big screen. And it may be all of the above, but it is genius comedy. By posing as an ignorant foreigner, Cohen goes about exposing America’s prejudices and foibles, both against outsiders and each other. Borat transcends all boundaries in the movie, but as he quickly learns America is divided into many sects, some of them proper, some of them dirty, but all of them pretty insane through the eyes of this wide-eyed mustache man.

19. Shrek 2

Though the original Shrek deserves a nod for its antithesis answers to Disney’s hypocritical money-grubbing scheme, the second movie truly trumped it in every way, not only upping the ante on all the pop culture references and jokes but delving deep into each of the characters as they explore the depths of married life and the shadows of in-laws and adult relationships. Thankfully recycling neither the villain nor bearing any resemblance to the plot of the first movie, Shrek 2 was innovative, clever, and above all, funny.

18. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The comedy that started it all, and one that still easily outshines the rest. Even though the material is crude and graphic, like most of Apatow’s work, a soft heart shines at its center that acknowledges the temptations of the flesh and the perverted ways Hollywood has distorted sexuality, and points to a long-lasting relationship as the most rewarding and fulfilling, not cheap one night stands or a “big box o’ porn.” It’s also the movie that launched Steve Carell’s career, and as Andy the titular virgin, he brings an innocence and charming affability to him that makes him instantly likeable.

17. A History of Violence

Viggo Mortensen’s best role post-LOTR. And David Cronenberg’s best one since “The Fly.” Focusing on the long-lasting effects violence can have on a life, and how one can never truly run from the horrors one has committed, the movie is a slow burn, truly dark and not easy to watch, but rewarding and fascinating through and through.

16. 500 Days of Summer

I truly believe this to be one the best romantic comedies of the decade, simply because of how it upsets genre conventions right and left and showcases real people talking to each other instead of exchanging the blatherous banter that passes for dialog in tripe like “The Ugly Truth.” It’s also remarkably insightful and features excellent chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and this movie will likely be looked back on as his breakout role. Not “G.I. Joe.”

15. The Ring

Unfortunately this movie’s legacy was tainted by the horrid sequel, but it did start the whole Jap horror crazy single-handedly and still scares years later. By focusing the movie on a very strong performance by Naomi Watts as a mother terrified for herself and her child, and using the “creepy kid” tactic to devastating effect, not to mention the hook of the whole thing being the video that kills you in seven days after you watch it, it draws you in bit by bit and never really tries to pull a fast one on you. It’s a straight up horror tale, executed with style and zing.

14. United 93

A movie about 9/11 so soon after the tragic events of that day seemed like a bad idea at best, and at worst a sheer catastrophe. But Paul Greengrass, of the two Bourne sequels brought a respectful hand to the material and gave us a beautiful ode to the bravery of those doomed passengers on that flight. He doesn’t make the mistake of making this a wider picture-type deal. The movie deals pretty much exclusively with the craft and the air traffic control tower – how even in the midst of such awful events, these people were courageous and took a stand in spite of the danger to themselves. They died heroically, and this film is a moving, sad, and ultimately uplifting tribute to that heroism.

13. Speed Racer

The Wachowskis’s vision of the original Speed Racer cartoon was like some kind of psychedelic trip through a hyper futuristic Hot Wheels track, super-cool cars body-slamming into each other with abandon, explosions trailing behind Speed’s car as he wins races and kicks cartoony bad guy butt. The story, contrary to popular opinion, was specifically tailored to be as cardboard-cartoon as possible; these aren’t real characters that we’re supposed to love and be fascinated by; they’re drivers for the real stars: the cars and the mini mushroom clouds on the track and the insane-impossible antics of the vehicles. “Speed Racer” is boundlessly imaginative and features revolutionary special effects and breathless racing scenes that though misunderstood in its day, will last in the long run.

12. Hot Fuzz

Barely any other genre is as ripe for parody as the buddy cop one, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost take the concept and sprint with it, lampooning cop movies with wit and panache, peppering their film with dozens upon dozens of nods, references, homages, and outright thefts of famous and not-so-famous cop films of bygone days, while also managing to create characters that seem real, who don’t just walk the paths of a predetermined satire. The parody is expertly crafted into the fabric of the storyline so that you feel like you’re really watching a real movie instead of just a funny conglomeration of other movies. Hot Fuzz is genius parody.

11. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Not before or since has anybody tapped the magic of Harry Potter like Alfonso Cuaron. Chris Columbus was faithful but far too literal, while both Mike Newell and David Yates got the special effects and look right but failed to capture the spirit. Cuaron revamps Hogwart into his own vision, making it more earthy and real and focusing expertly on Harry’s troubled teenage years and the importance of friends in overcoming obstacles. For the first and only time Harry has felt real, like he’s made of flesh and bone, and some of the magic sequences in the book are some of the most creeping and haunting scenes in any fantasy film ever. People still talk about Cuaron’s adaptation to this day, and they will continue to do so.

10. Southland Tales

Richard Kelly’s follow-up to Donnie Darko was about as different from it as you could get. Whereas the original was a kind of neat long Twilight zone episode, this was a hugely ambitious post-apocalyptic pastiche that attempted to combine elements of comedy, sci-fi, political intrigue, buddy comedy, action film, cop movie, and many many others, all competing to try to tell Kelly’s tale of a world gone wrong where disconnect haunts every aspect of life and nothing can be done to escape it. It’s impossible to explain or summarized, and must be seen to be believed.

9. The Dark Knight

Chris Nolan’s follow up to the blockbuster “Batman Begins,” was everything fans hoped for and everything that Batman could be and more. Nolan went the wise way of making the movie about the trio of Batman, the Joker, and Two-Face, expertly crafting each of their personalities and fitting them nicely into a strong message about forces of fate that control our lives and the chaos that erupts from that, and the choices we can make either way to deal with the horrible things that come our way. And need I even mention Heath Ledger as the Joker, already one of the most iconic villains in film history? No easy feat, considering the movie came out less than two years ago, and in all likelihood his chilling performance and the amazing achievement of this movie will last decades down the road.

8. Ratatouille

Pixar’s magical wand works once again – the story of Remy the rat is an inspiring and smart tale directed by (who else) Brad Bird, and it’s one of the rare cartoons that’s really for adults. The dialog is clever and witty and a little slow at times for kids, and it being Pixar and a cartoon, that’s probably why it didn’t too well at the box office. But it didn’t need to be good for kids; it was good enough on its own, and its strong cast of characters and lasting message about searching for quality and refusing to settle for less than the best is a message Disney (er-hem) should take to heart.

7. Unbreakable

It’s a shame that people’ didn’t really get this movie, because it’s easily Shyamalan’s best film besides “The Sixth Sense.” Whereas most superhero stories have half their first movies devoted to the “origin” story, causing the final bad guy and confrontation to the be rushed, Shyamalan wondered what would happen if you devoted an entire movie to the slow, world-changing process of discovering there’s something “super” about you. Bruce Willis brings a quiet dignity to the role and he and Sam Jackson deliver Shyamalan’s script pitch perfect. The movie unfolds slowly, delicately, never rushing forward for the sake of getting to the “good part,” always taking plenty of time to dwell on each subsequent revelation for these characters. It’s a thoughtful and thoroughly engaging movie, and definitely one of the most underrated movies of the decade.

6. The Matrix Reloaded

When faced with penning a sequel to 1999’s mega-blockbuster The Matrix, the Wachowski Brothers did the unthinkable: they actually made it unpredictable, and refused to give in to people’s expectations. Sure, they upped the kung fu and the fight scenes, and sure the psycho-babble was every which way you looked, but it all made sense if you actually paid attention, and the dialog is so packed with ideas and metaphors that you find something new every single time you watch it. Not to mention the mind-blowing special effects that still stand among the best almost seven years later, including that excellent freeway chase. The entire thing is just filled to bursting with so much energy that it perfectly emulates the way Reeves described the movies to press: “The first movie is birth. The second is life. And the third is death.”

5. Inglourious Basterds

And yup here’s another 2009 favorite that made the list. Tarantino’s film is not only classy and superbly well crafted, it’s also an incredibly unique and viscerally exciting experience, taking a villain so many movies have used (the Nazi) and fulfilling violent revenge fantasies of old while giving them possibly a little more depth and 3-dimensionality than we’ve ever seen before. A riveting ensemble cast is the icing on the cake and you’ll find it difficult to ever really look away from the screen during the movie. It’s difficult to see Tarantino topping this any time soon, and like “Pulp Fiction”, “Basterds” will be quoted, watched and re-watched, analyzed, commentated on, and live on in the history of cinema.

4. There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson’s work is positively vibrating with a dark energy, its larger-than-life characters marching through the blood and oil-soaked plains of early 20th Century America, illustrating with disturbing poignance and accuracy the dangers and depths of capitalism and its unholy marriage with organized religion. The film is specifically cold, calculated, intricately set up for this illustration, and the memorable and masterful main players, Daniel Day Lewis as the oil tycoon and Paul Dano as the preacher, each lust for power beyond what their respective disciplines can give them. There is never enough for either of them, and the final searing image the film gives us is at once appropriately powerful and chillingly accurate.

3. Pan’s Labyrinth

Easily Guillermo del Toro’s best fantasy work, he takes the backdrop of a war that tears apart a country and sets against it the fantasy world of a little girl dealing with problems larger than herself, and the manifestations of her subconscious and the way the tragedy has permanently scarred her are horrifying and dark and amazing. The acting in the movie is top notch, mostly Spanish unknowns, which adds to the grim reality and immerses you in the world further. And who can forget the iconic Pale Man, the monster whose eyeballs reside in his hands and who bites off the heads of little children? Shivers will shudder down your spine.

2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Okay, so maybe it’s a bit of a cheat to include all three Lord of the Rings movies in one slot, as they each vascillate between qualities, but the work as a whole is one of the most impressive achievements in modern cinema and will certainly stand the test of time as one of the best book adaptations to ever grace the silver screen. Peter Jackson brings Tolkien’s characters to startling life and reality, and each one is perfectly cast. Not to mention the breathtaking New Zealand landscapes and epic battle sequences and wonderfully integrated special effects.

1. Spider-Man 2

Is this really the best movie of the decade? In some ways, absolutely not, but in other ways, it so very much is. Despite many hugely successful forays into the superhero genre, like “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight”, and in some ways “Unbreakable”, nothing has ever recaptured that perfect fluid energy that is “Spider-Man 2.” Where do I start? How about Peter Parker’s nuanced and subtle second role as the web-slinging teenager? How about the expert Alfred Molina giving a supervillain that very rare thing: humanity, with just a few touching scenes and a long fall from grace? Or maybe the horror-touches that Sam Raimi lent to the movie, like the terrifying scene where Doc Ock’s arms go absolutely haywire and kill every single one of the doctors and orderlies in the room? Or that scene in the bank, with Spidey dodging car doors and springing through the air to save his loved one? Or Kirsten Dunst as a woman torn between whom she loves and what she needs to choose for her own good? And who could ever forget that paragon of action cinema, that pitch-perfectly-filmed scene on the elevated train between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, filmed with such a ruthless, kinetic energy, going for a good five minutes but never overstaying its welcome and tossing a curveball into the action every few seconds? I still remember sitting in the theatre at midnight on opening day, sucking in my breath and clutching the edge of my seat as Spidey careened and fell and swooped through impossibly small openings in overhanging bridges. These are all things a superhero movie should be: thrilling, breathless, moving, and impossibly believable. Spidey fulfilled all these criteria and swung one step further: timelessness. People will be talking about this movie till they stop making superhero movies. Hell, people will be talking about this movie till they stop making movies. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I’m sure to never forget, and which will never lose its charm.

Honorable Mentions, in no particular order: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Casino Royale, Children of Men, Memento, X2: X-Men United, The Incredibles, Watchmen, Zodiac, Burn After Reading, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Once, Superbad, Funny Games, Stranger than Fiction, King Kong, Shrek, The Prestige, Saw, Persepolis, Saved!, Finding Nemo, Kill Bill Vls. 1 & 2, Punch-Drunk Love, Up, The Host, The Bourne Supremacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Hero, Adaptation


2 Responses to “My Picks for the Decade”

  1. -.-

    Spider-man 2… movie of the decade… while you have batman and basterds on the list… please.
    Ok, spider-man did usher the modern era of the superhero movies, but it lacks credibility with the comic book fans, for whom it was in any case made.
    Second, while kirsten, toby, and molina give a great performance, this isn’t their best work by any comparison.
    Spider-man could be in some bizzaro world no.1, but in this dimension its not even worth mentioning as a movie.

  2. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to come up with the list in the first place – but when I made a list of movies that had stuck with me over the past decade, I came up with 70+ titles, and it was excruciating narrowing them down. As I did, Spider-Man 2 got closer and closer to number one, and then, for some reason, just felt right there.

    Dark Knight I loved but upon seeing it about five or six more times after its release in theatres I still loved it, but began to see many flaws in how action scenes were filmed (the final fight in the construction tower was head-scratchingly confusing, and also full of holes), and it tends to announce itself over and over and over again what it is about throughout the movie. Because I believe this is what these characters would be talking about in these situations, I felt it worked most of the time, but I felt Spider-Man 2 was more subtle this way, not to mention that the action scene on the elevated train tops anything seen in Dark Knight.

    As for Inglourious Basterds – far and above my favorite movie in 2009 and my favorite Tarantino movie period, I felt I needed more time away from this movie, a few years of judging time before I could set into my own personal canon of best of the decade. Spider-Man 2 came out almost six years ago – and people STILL quote it and talk about it to this day.

    “Spider-Man could be in some bizarro world no. 1, but in this dimension is not even worth mentioning as a movie.”
    I’d have to disagree with you MAJORLY on that point. While the first Spider-Man was a jumping off point for the whole superhero reignition of the genre, the second one truly solidified not only what a great comic book movie should look like, but also what any great action movie should be period. It’s absolutely astounding to me how Raimi was able to keep everything about Spider-Man that WAS Spider-Man and make a powerful and heartbreaking movie to boot with action scenes that STILL wow over six years later. That kind of staying power deserves recognition.

    As for comic book fans, they are notoriously difficult to please – it seems unless you keep ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING intact from the comics, it’s not even worth seeing. Tobey Maguire was nearly universally praised for his role, and Alfred Molina even moreso, but you still find fanboys to this day bitching about Tobey and how he wasn’t right for the part. Well, I’m sorry, but history has spoken, and considering Sony’s recent spectacularly stupid decision to boot both Raimi and Tobey from the franchise, the perfect ensemble (cast & director) that this installment in the series showcases seems even more relevant.

    As far as best movie of the decade goes, the reason I put it at number one was that because it was the closest to perfect movie that I saw this decade – though movies like Inglourious Basterds and The Dark Knight had higher motivations and explored deeper meanings than Spider-Man 2, in terms of sheer craftsmanship and attention to detail and minute, scene-by-scene perfection, I’d have to go with Spider-Man 2 – watch it again, watch how intricately each scene is crafted, the performances of everyone involved (not seeing these are their best roles, but for the movie they are perfect), watch the sheer genius of the action scenes, the excellent build-up and chilling redemptive climax, watch how the themes are woven in to the fabric of the story and the characters so they don’t shout or scream at you like “The Dark Knight.”

    Besides, as I said in the intro, the final five are so close together in quality that there’s debatably any point to numbering them at all. But hey, there’s the fun in list-making. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: