I won't be putting any documentaries on this list, although I suggest two right off hand that could EASILY be on any top ten list for this past decade in film: Man on Wire(James Marsh, 2008) and The Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005) are must sees.
So what makes a great movie worthy of my list? Well, I have to like it. Duh. A movie, however critically acclaimed or how many box office records it smashed, is not going to get my vote if I yawned while watching it. Other prereqs might include things like direction, acting, and all the technical mumbo jumbo that goes into production. But then there's the impact equation. Did the film do something in the world? Did it make a statement or introduce an avenue of delivery we haven't seen before--or at least for a long time? Hopefully every one of these movies did something-something-besides just being entertaining. But...entertaining is good too, in fact, it may be the number one prerequisite.
So, here ya go. One guy's opinion on the ten--well, twelve, but I'll explain that below--best movies of the years 2001-2010.
1. City of God(2002) Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
As you'll see, 2002 was a great year for movies, both foreign and domestic. And anything I could say about this instant masterpiece has either already been said, or wouldn't do it justice. I will say, however, that fluidity is key in film-making and this decade (as you'll also see below) challenged the limits of how far a director can go before losing his narrative, plot or storyline and with the loss of any of the above, the audience. City of God drives home a message we could all use a little reminder of. What is it? Go watch it and you tell me. I'm convinced you'll get a knock in the head--or the heart. It's just that damned good.
Best Line: Oh hell, I don't know. The whole movie is rife with quotables. How 'bout this one:
"Fuck! I'm dead!"
2. The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy--although, I'd say The Two Towers was the best made)
We're Tolkien fans. We read all the books. We read all the supplements. Hell, we even took Tolkien classes in college. Dorks. So, needless to say, we were all really concerned when we heard some no-name director was going to make these films. Oh great! Something must be done! We joined the fan club to keep an eye on things. We bitched and moaned when we heard Glorfindel was out and Haldir was in. We even chuckled a little bit at some of the line-switching that got leaked. They were going to screw this up beyond all hope. No question. Then, the day came. We stood in line. We sat in awe. We walked out speechless. Kudos Mr. Jackson. Kudos.
Best Line: John Rhys Davies: "Nineteen! Twenty! Twenty-One!"
3. Lost in Translation(2003) Sofia Coppola
So, when the "find the X" theme is utilized successfully, any writer can spin the yarn, any director knows how to spin the reel and any actor knows how to spin toward toward the X. X marks the spot. Unless, the 'X' happens to be one's place in life. No one quite knows how to do that. Enter Sofia Coppola and her all star cast and crew. Wow. Unbelievably done. I'm not saying anything else about this movie. Watch it. Watch it again. You'll never see Murray better than this, unfortunately. It just can't possibly happen. Can it?
Um, did you know that Sofia Coppala is Nicholas Cage's cousin? Loves me some Wikipedia.
Best line: "My name is Kawasaki. Nice to meet you."
"I've heard of you. Thank you."
4. No Country for Old Men(2007) Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
So all the talk is about Javier Bardem, right? Who the HAY is Javier Bardem? Well, now we know. Damn, do we know. I'm not sure what Bardem was in this film, the angel of death, a deranged sociopath, a...whatever. I don't know. But he scares the shit out of me. It's a movie about age and death in an age of death. Sick. Twisted. Coen.
Anton Chigurh (Bardem): Call it.
Gas Station Proprietor : Call it?
Anton Chigurh : Yes.
Gas Station Proprietor : For what?
Anton Chigurh : Just call it.
Gas Station Proprietor : Well, we need to know what we're calling it for here.
Anton Chigurh : You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair.
Gas Station Proprietor : I didn't put nothin' up.
Anton Chigurh : Yes, you did. You've been putting it up your whole life you just didn't know it.
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000) Ang Lee
Ok, so I'm kind of cheating here. This movie came out in 2000, but...BUT! It didn't have time to make anyone's best of the last decade list, so it's going here. Critics, when they speak of this film, are always alluding to it's global marketing strategy. I'll note, it was an amazing endeavor that involved everyone from the Wu Tang Clan to college professors, but there had to be a reason why they fell in love with this movie, right? Right. Because it's freaking awesome! I mean...jumping off leaves and flying around like some shen/god/badass? We're there, dude. Beautifully choreographed. Epically spun story of love and betrayal entrapped in that pristine once-was world of virgin magic and grace--wow. Just wow. It's hard to even get to the point where we notice the actors in this film for what they did, but we have to. Yun-Fat Chow, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang, are the trifecta of everything that is "mastery" and the coalescence of the universal, silver-screen love-triangle.
Jen Yu (Zhang): You want to know who I am? I am... I am the Invincible Sword Goddess, armed with the Green Destiny that knows no equal! Be you Li or Southern Crane, bow your head and ask for mercy! I am the dragon from the desert! Who comes from nowhere and leaves no trace! Today I fly over Eu-Mei. Tomorrow... I topple Mount Wudan!
I give up!
6. Memento(2000) Christoper Nolan
Ok, I'm cheating again. But this is the last time, I promise! Again, this is a 2k movie that didn't nearly have enough time to garner enough support for wowieness. And it has that. A ton of it.
Every once in a while, a movie comes along and changes the way we view cinema, if not our own world. This movie, for myself at least, did both. I actually run into people all the time who have not yet seen this Nolan work of genius (by that I mean both Christopher and his brother Jonathan who wrote the story), so I'll not give anything away. If you do see it or have seen it, you'll understand how some other movies came to the fore a little later on in the decade. Both Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano deserve a lot of credit for their roles in leaving a beautiful scar on movie history's rosy cheek. Suberb.
Leonard Shelby(Pearce): [running] OK, so what am I doing?
[sees Dodd also running]
Leonard Shelby : Oh, I'm chasing this guy.
[Dodd shoots at Leonard]
Leonard Shelby : No... he's chasing me.
One of the greatest scenes ever filmed. Ever.
7. Donnie Darko(2001) Richard Kelly
I have to say, when someone first told me to see this movie, I was like "what, that sounds stupid. Donnie what? Darko? Dumb."
I was wrong.
Being a fan of horror and of good writing both, I can't not like this film. The direction, of course, is what makes it stick, but the story itself demands fragmentation in the same way Memento, Moon and Eternal Sunshine attempt to harness. And while Memento was the linchpin of the decade of fragmented movies, this one is sewn together the best. Are there things I don't like about Darko? Sure. And that's why it's below Memento on the list. But there are plenty of goodies to love about this neo-noir-horror-slash-thriller-slash-what-the-hell-is-going-on-here-flick. Darko is the shroud that blanketed the decade in cinematic muck. It was the muck movie makers ensconced themselves in until about the time Little Miss Sunshine came along and tried to take it all away. Was there a glimmer of light at the end of the Darko tunnel? Go see for yourself, if you dare.
Donnie(Jake Gyllenhaal): I made a new friend today.
Dr. Lilian Thurman : Real or imaginary?
Donnie : Imaginary.
8. Moon(2009) Duncan Jones
I don't care what anyone says about me putting this movie on the list. It is one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. And if I'm a fan of horror, I'm an uber fan of science fiction. Go suck a Gerty if you disagree.
Let me ask you this: If you were going to cast an actor to play a monotonous robot who better could you get than Kevin Spacey?
Answer: No one on God's green Earth.
Let me ask you this: If you wanted to make a soundtrack that was spatial, eternal, and intrinsically isotropic, who better could you get than Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream)?
Answer: No one in the Universe.
Let me ask you this: If you were going to cast a guy that would be the only character in a basically one-man cinematic event of Epic porportions, who better could you cast than Sam Rockwell?
Answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT ONE PERSON IN THE ENTIRE MULTIVERSE.
What's this you say? Who is Sam Rockwell?
Answer: I'm not telling. I'll let Moon tell you. You be the judge, but I absolutely fell in love with this guy after this role. Unreal--and that's the trick. Kudos Mr. Rockwell. If I were an academy judge, you would have won, big time.
Being a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, I would recommend this movie to anyone of kindred affinities. You can thank me later.
And you will.
P.S. Don't think Duncan Jones is a PKD fan? Think again. From IMDB: Duncan Jones is planning a follow-up film, which will serve as a semi-sequel to Moon. "Sam has agreed to do a little cameo in the next film," says Jones, who plans to shed some light to the fate of Sam-6 after XXXX---SPOILER---XXXX. At Cannes Film Festival, he mentioned that his next movie would be the spiritual descendant of Blade Runner, set in the same universe and timeline as Moon. It is not clear if he's referring to the same planned movie or not.
Sam Bell (Rockwell): "Listen, why don't you relax. Why don't you take a pill, bake a cake, go read the encyclopedia."
That's actually a curiouser question than you might think.
9. Hero(2002)Yimou Zhang
This was a no-brainer for me. I'm a fan of the big Pan-Asian classics so going into this one I was pleasantly surprised that the spoilers I'd come into contact with were totally off-base. Don't get me wrong, I loved Ran and Yojimbo both, but that had been done. Ya know?
I'll be the first to admit that Jet Li, much like his American bad-dude counterparts (Stallone, Norris, what-have-you) can absolutely not act. I think if you go in with that in mind, you're in for a major surprise. In Hero, Li is up to the task, handles brevity and longevity both very well, and, in my humble opinion left to shame our American heros of decades past.
Hero is as much a film about color as it is about swordsmanship and calligraphy. Pay attention to how Yimou Zhang uses colors in this movie and you'll never look at film, real film, through the same old gray-scale action lens again. Everything is a character in Zhang's world. Depictions, be they swirling leaves or the desert itself are creations--actors even in this film. These are the pictorial glue that indelibly bind this film and all it's fragmented parts as whole. Life, death, wont, sorrow, peace--everything is a bold, gliding stroke of a calligraphers brush, animated and illuminated in living color.
A classic for the ages.
Nameless (Jet Li): Great calligraphy.
Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai): Great swordsmanship.
Nameless : You didn't see my swordsmanship.
Broken Sword : Without it, I couldn't have written this calligraphy.
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry
When I said Memento was going to set the precedent for this decade, I wasn't fudging even a little bit. Almost every movie on this list incorporates fragmentation to some degree, possibly none more than this one. And, like Memento, Sunshine takes the fragments of memory to an extreme--except this time, the memory loss is on purpose!
One of the things that most impressed me about Gondry's direction in this film was his ability to separate the action in the uh...real world from the action in memory. That kind of trite, fake, concocted dreamworld we step into when we drudge up memories--Gondry's got it.
Both Carey and Winslet are great in the film, sure, that is to be expected, but the pleasant acting surprise for me came from Kirsten Dunst. I was never sure if Dunst could act or was just lucky to have been cast in a major role when she was knee-high to a vampire. She can act.
At any rate, here's a movie you'll not want to forget.
Joel (Carey): Is there any risk of brain damage?
Howard (Wilkinson): Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss.
A night of heavy drinking? He's obviously doing it wrong.
11. Batman: The Dark Knight(2008) Christopher Nolan
Think of the worst movie you've ever seen. Go ahead. Give it some thought.
Got it yet?
Well, whatever that movie was (probably not Troll 2, but something close, amiright?), this movie is the complete polar opposite of that. Guaranteed. The movie you hate was boring, silly, asked no questions of humanity, posed no questions to God or the Universe and made no statement on the teleological nature of humanity's shadowed, yet ever-evolving propensity toward abject oppugnancy. This movie, from beginning to end, stretches those questions into philosophic excogitations of the steepest order.
Bah! It's just a super-hero flick!
Right, but with everything that happened on the set and off, on the screen and in our own minds, it got us thinking. We're still thinking about it to this very day.
Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine): Some men just want to watch the world burn.
12. O brother, Where Art Thou?(2000) Joel and Ethan Coen
And no, this is not cheating. The movie premiered just before the stroke of 2001, so it's in there for this decade.
The Odyssey, hillbilly style. Yeehaw! I honestly don't think I've laughed harder and thought longer about a comedy since The Big Lebowski (Also a Coen Bros. flick).
John Turturro. The more you see this guy, the more you find it hard to ignore his capacity to fill a role completely. One of my fav's.
The Soundtrack. Man, whodathunk that old timer music would catch on fire in 21st Century America? Dunno. But it did. I still listen to it from time to time.
Really, if you haven't gotten around to seeing this movie, do yourself a favor...immediately!
Delmar O'Donnell (Nelson): Care for some gopher?
Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney): No thank you, Delmar. One third of a gopher would only arouse my appetite without bedding it down.
Delmar O'Donnell: Oh, you can have the whole thing. Me and Pete already had one apiece. We ran across a whole... gopher village.
This is how people who do top 10's and can't manage to get only 10 on the list make up for it. It wouldn't be so bad if my top 10 didn't have 12 in it already, I know...
Finding Nemo(2003) Stanton and Unkrich
There's really no reason why this movie couldn't have made it on my top ten list except that I've been subjected to seeing it about a million times. Kids, amiright? Pixar did an excellent job from pre-production to delivery on this instant classic tale of "find the X". Just so happened the 'x' in Pixar's equation was a lovable little fish we can probably all relate to.
Best line: "He touched the butt!"
There Will Be Blood(2007) Paul Thomas Anderson
I don't know anyone who hasn't seen this movie, but if you haven't, welcome to Earth. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the film as a whole (I know the critics loved it, but meh...) But there are parts, scenes and little glimpses of greatness throughout the entirety of the film. You just have to watch and pick them out for yourself. So why is it here? Easy: Daniel Day Lewis is the greatest actor what ever lived. And if you argue with me on that, there WILL be blood. See the film, Lewis makes any film worth watching at least fifteen times. /mancrush
Best Line: Any time D.D. Lewis opens his mouth.
The Pianist(2002) Roman Polanski
I admit I have a love/hate relationship with Polanski. No matter how much I hate his last movie--whatever movie that may have been(*cough* The Ninth Gate *cough*)--the next one is a usually a work of art. The Pianist is that art at its zenith. Adrian Brodie may have won an Academy Award for this, but it's Polanski that composed every nuanced note in this excellent film. There's something about the reconstruction of destruction that serves as the perfect canvas for film art--especially when Beethoven is echoing through shattered walls and across mounds of rubble. Chaos and Beauty. That's what this film is all about.
Best Line: Moonlight Sonata. Hands down, as it were.
28 Days Later(2002) Danny Boyle
Alright, so, leave the effing monkeys alone, will ya? Yes, I am a huge horror film buff from way back in the Killer Tomato days. I am a sad specimen of humanity. All true. But Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) unleashes a titan with this masterpiece. This film could arguably be the greatest horror film ever made ('happy' endings aside) and probably should be on the top ten for the decade--I didn't put it up there because, well, horror is an acquired taste, especially when zombies are involved.
Best Line: Naomie Harris, "I was wrong when I said that staying alive is as good as it gets."
Ain't that the truth!
The Forbidden Kingdom(2008) Rob Minkoff
Now here's a little tale you have to see for yourself. I'd give it some association like "Karate Kid meets Hero" but that wouldn't be too fair. If you want some serious ass-kicking coupled with a superb "Find the X" theme, this movie should be at the top of your list. Jackie Chan and Jet Li. 'Nuff said.
Cold Mountain (2003)--Anthony Minghela
Here's a movie you must see for one reason and one reason only: Renee Zellweger. You know, I'm not a fan of the 'tough chick' representation on the big screen, they never get it right and there always seems to be way too much acting involved. Zellweger doesn't act in this role. She is that bad-ass, roughneck character. What surprises me is how that little glint of femininity never escapes her persona and in effect, highlights her true grit. Amazingly done. Much like D.D. Lewis in just about every role he's portrayed, Zellweger latches onto something here. This certainly is a work of art and genius. Besides Zellweger, the story's a good'n. The cinematography is great. Everything is fine, really. But it's simply not top 10 material-apart from Zellweger.
Best Line (Zellweger): "Aight then."