This list was even harder to put together than my top albums of the last decade. I see a lot more movies than I buy CDs — an average of about 50-60 per year — and I love enough of them to put together a solid top ten list every year. Even looking at only the top fives, that’s 50 films vying for ten spots.
That said, many of these titles were no-brainers. The most difficult task was narrowing down ten or so titles to fill in the bottom half of this list. As with the album list, I could easily reshuffle the deck and swap out some of those films for these, depending on my mood, but I suppose the fact that I’ve settled on the ten that I did says something.
My one ground rule was that I had to have seen a film more than once for it to qualify for inclusion. It’s always the case that I know how I really feel about a film only after a second or third viewing. I’ve seen every one of these ten films at least three times and some of them many more than that. This rule screws over some recent films — A Serious Man and Inglourious Basterds would likely have a real shot after I’ve gotten to know them better — and I promise to revisit the list after those films have had a chance to sink in.
And now, the list:
This film is on the list because it shouldn’t be. I’m not a big fan of costume movies or high-brow literary adaptations. I didn’t even really want to see this movie when it came out. So I was shocked when it smoked the competition in a tough year, emerging as my favorite movie of 2005. Pride & Prejudice is brilliant in every aspect, from acting to direction, cinematography to score, and you can’t go wrong with a script based on Jane Austen’s classic novel. Just writing about it now and looking at the poster, I’m tempted to throw it into the DVD player yet again.
The Coen Brothers had a prolific decade, starting with O Brother Where Art Thou? in 2000 and ending with A Serious Man in 2009 with five films in between. Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty marked a slump (by their standards) but they bounced back big-time in 2007 with No Country For Old Men, their pitch-perfect adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. This film showcases two of America’s finest filmmakers at the very height of their craft, deftly blending horror, black comedy and weighty drama. This movie is proof that I can hold my breath for two hours.
1995’s Before Sunrise is one of my favorite movies of that decade, and really of all-time, which makes it even more impressive that its follow-up lands on this list. Before Sunset belongs in the unlikely company of The Godfather and Toy Story 2 as sequels that live up to the quality of their classic beginnings. We spend 80 minutes in real time with Celine and Jesse, the idealistic young lovers from the first film all grown up and jaded, and Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (with a major assist from director/co-writer Richard Linklater) make every second riveting. Plus it has the best ending of any film on this list.
Pixar is unique among movie studios in that it’s the studio itself — not a particular writer or director — that puts its auteurist stamp on every film it produces. Nine different directors and more than a dozen writers worked on the seven Pixar films released in the 00’s. Every one of those films is excellent… I’ll go ahead and rattle them off: Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up. But best among them was The Incredibles, an ecstatic piece of pop art more funny, exciting and touching than 99% of live-action films released. It’s also the only Pixar film to be written and directed by just one person: Brad Bird. It’s tempting to heap all the credit on him (I’ve leaned that way before) but Pixar deserves credit for allowing Bird, and all of its artists, free reign to create these indelible works.
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is obsessed with monsters, both the imaginary kind and the ones walking among us. Pan’s Labyrinth explores both with unflinching passion and romanticism. Del Toro’s film bursts with imagination but is grounded by its allegorical weight… as in the old-fashioned fairy tales he loves, the fantasy escapism comes with a very real price. Del Toro shows such mastery of craft here that he earns comparisons to Spielberg.
One of the most confounding and maddening films I’ve ever seen but also one of the most rewarding. I’m not a big David Lynch fan but this thoroughly Lynchian film worked on me in spades. I believe that’s because it’s a fascinating puzzle that can just about be figured out, even if some of the strangeness around the edges continues to defy logic. It’s also because Naomi Watts, in my first exposure to her, gives a fabulously layered, heartbreaking performance that’s among the best acting tour de forces I’ve ever seen on screen. This film contains sequences that are among my favorite of all-time, and the lesbian sex scene is only one of them.
Fernando Meirelles’ vibrant portrait of Brazil’s favelas soars because it is unafraid to treat its grim subject matter with buoyancy. Like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, City of God uses intricately frantic camerawork and a time-skipping script to make you realize that, no matter how hopeless their situation, the young men and women in Cidade de Deus are full of life and love and passion. At times you almost feel guilty for enjoying yourself so much in a film about rampant lawlessness and violence. But the sobering moments hit hard and fast… they leave a mark.
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson was responsible for two of my favorite films of the 90’s (Boogie Nights and Magnolia) and after an endearingly quirky detour with Punch-Drunk Love he delivered his best film yet in 2007. There Will Be Blood is a searing exploration of greed vs. faith (with neither side coming off very well) and a fascinating portrayal of one man’s descent into Hell. Daniel Plainview, as portrayed indelibly by Daniel Day Lewis, is a protagonist for the ages… you find yourself rooting for him almost to the end of his dark and ugly path. This is grand, mythic filmmaking of the sort we just don’t see any more.
There was a time when it appeared Wes Anderson could do no wrong, and that was immediately following the release of his hilarious, poignant The Royal Tenenbaums. Since then he has mined similar territory with less success, although last year’s Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to be just the creative change of pace he needed. But Tenenbaums is an example of Wes Anderson with all cylinders firing (and Owen Wilson as a co-writer, a factor that can’t be ignored) — nobody else can elicit so much laughter and so many tears in the same film… sometimes in the same scene. Gene Hackman leads the stellar cast, the patriarch of one of the most endearing families I’ve ever seen onscreen.
Not a lot of suspense surrounding this pick. I’ve described Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as my favorite film more than a few times, and named this blog after one of its lines. I wrote about the film at length in this post so I won’t bother repeating myself here. But in a nutshell, this movie is my favorite because it succeeds so smashingly as both a film geek mind-bender and a heart-wrenching romantic drama. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry aim higher and higher and never once miss their mark… it’s not simple perfection, it’s complex perfection, and easily the best film of the past decade.
While very few of these picks surprise me, I guess it surprises me a little that I’m guessing we’d only have 2 common picks in our list (if and when I make one). I’m also once again shamed not to have seen the three films that hold the middle spots in your list and can make a quck new year’s resolution to make 2010 the year I finally succumb to City of God, Mulholland Drive and Pan’s Labyrinth. I doubt they’d crack my top ten of each of their respective years, let alone the decade. Still, they may wind up more the music equivalent of Vampire Weekend (which just didn’t make your cut) than Rufus Wainwright, so I’ll try to keep an open mind. 😉
One question – did you try to make this list represent the decade in any way or were you simply trying to narrow it down to your ten favorite films? I imagine your approach would significantly affect the final list, so I’m curious which one you took.
Please do post your list. Which two would be in common? Eternal Sunshine, I’m sure, and… The Incredibles?
I didn’t try to represent the decade when compiling the list… it was mostly about which movies I liked best. However, I did aim for variety so if I had two films vying for a spot and one was very similar to another on the list, I’d lean toward the unique one.
I like the idea that a film festival of these movies wouldn’t be too dark or too light… it would have laughs, tears, scares and romance.
For now, I will just share a snapshot of my quick thinking, as I was actually getting grading done before taking a break to read your list 😉 I tried to choose films that made a big impact on me at the time and also a lasting one (which is more difficult to tell with the more recent films), that represented each year of the decade (though 2005 stumped me, and 2000 is unrepresented here but could have found its way in with either Almost Famous or Bridget Jones’ Diary), that represented all the various genres I love and that have been a big part of the decade (thus the documentary category, the comic book category, the Pixar category, the “minor” indie film category).
In no particular order, these are the films which would be in contention for my top 10 of the decade:
– Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
– Moulin Rouge
– Finding Nemo/ The Incredibles
– Spiderman/ Iron Man
– Rachel Getting Married/ An Education
– Catch Me if You Can
– A Serious Man
– Wordplay/ Shut Up and Sing/ Grizzly Man
– Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
I agree with Amy that we need to see the films in the middle of your list (especially Mulholland Drive :))
I would have thought your process would have been to basically take your number ones from each year as the starting place, and then see if the 2-5 of a given year were better than the 1’s of another year. That’s basically how I did it to come up with my list, in no particular order, as follows:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
In putting together the list, I was struck by a few things. First, no movie from 2005 was strong enough to make the list. Second, I included King of Kong, even though it was 3rd on my list in 2007 because I really felt this was the decade where I came to appreciate the documentary and this was, to me, the best in te bunch, so I wanted my list to include that genre.
Wow. First, I can’t believe I somehow missed King of Kong when I was quickly going through my lists. That would definitely be in my documentary category! Second, how funny that Dana and I both independently found the middle year of the decade to be lacking. Is that the year of Mulholland or one of the other films of yours we haven’t seen, I wonder. Third, Almost Famous, United 93 and Adaptation were all on my “short list” and might, indeed, wind up in a final ten. Fourth, why does Dana have a 2001 best list while I don’t? I was searching the Internet to find films released in 2000 and 2001!
Finally, out of both of your lists the only films I can’t imagine ever including (out of those I have seen, of course) are Memento and No Country for Old Men (though I did want to have a Coen bros. film and a Spielberg film, which has me considering No Country and Munich as alternatives to the [better] ones I chose).
Dana, I did pretty much what you did, though I started with the top five from each year because I knew some years my first two films didn’t have a shot at the final list.
I found 2008 to be the weakest year of the decade, with 2005 right behind it. 2009 has been pretty strong but I didn’t consider those films for my list as I explained in the original post.
Almost Famous, Adaptation and Memento were all finalists for me, and top-20 films for sure. Moulin Rouge is the only other film from your lists that I considered (though I liked all of them a lot).
Speaking of documentaries, the highest one on my list from this past decade was My Kid Could Paint That. I definitely recommend you checking that one out… it’s certainly better than that crazy Grizzly Man! 😉
Do you dismiss Catch Me if You Can, LOTR, and Once because you’ve only seen each one time only? Or have they earned the multiple viewings but not your consideration for placement on the decade’s best list? Just curious if you gave any of those films a second chance. And, of course, I’m particularly curious if you’ve given Once a second chance.
I have no desire to see Lord of the RIngs again (who has that much time?!) but those films struggled to make my top ten lists each year so weren’t even in the conversation for the decade list.
Catch Me If You Can is a great film, though I like it less than Munich if a Spielberg title were to break through. Neither was really in the running once I got down to a top 20. Same goes for Once (which I’ve seen just… once… but don’t feel a real need to see again).
Of course. It’s such a minor film 😛