The Ghost of Top Ten Lists Past: Part Two (2005-2009)

Earlier in the month I took a look back at my top ten lists from the first half of the last decade. Today I’ll finish the job.

My biggest takeaway from the earlier exercise was that lighter fare — comedies and family films — tended to have more staying power than dramatic films. The exceptions tended to sit at the top of my lists and for the most part remain there now. But the slots from five to ten would likely see a lot of turnover were I to re-rank those years today.

So let’s dive in and see if the trend continues.


I don’t see much I’d change here. My #1 movie of the year was Pride & Prejudice, and that film has only grown in my estimation after many repeat viewings. In the second spot was Martin Scorses’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home, which holds up splendidly. Next came Munich, one of Spielberg’s finest productions.

I would move Kiss Kiss Bang Bang up from #7 to #4 — a minor shift — as that film hasn’t seen its entertainment value wane a bit over the past five years. The other films rounding out the top ten — Serenity, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Hustle & Flow, The Squid and the Whale, Brokeback Mountain and The Matador wouldn’t be replaced by anything lower on my list.


This was a great year for Hispanic directors, with Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Pedro Almodovar and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu all placing films on my top ten list. Of those films, Iñarritu’s Babel is the one that has aged the worst, mostly because I haven’t revisited it since the first time I saw it and I’ve had little desire to do so.

Almodovar’s Volver is a lovely film with a wonderful lead performance by Penelope Cruz and remains a highlight of the remarkable streak he’s been on since 1999’s All About My Mother. The two films at the top of my list were del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Cuaron’s Children of Men (the latter occupying the #1 slot), and they would remain there if I re-wrote the list today.

However, I would swap them and put Pan’s Labyrinth on top. Its blend of fairy tale romance and horror has grown just a little more special over time than the dystopian vision and jaw-dropping technical achievement of Children of Men. But that’s like choosing a favorite child — both are masterpieces.

Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed and Christopher Nolan’s twisty The Prestige both hold up well (at least in my memory, as I’ve seen each of them only once). I’d move Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly up a notch or two — its blend of sci-fi paranoia and gonzo humor puts it in a genre all its own — probably at the expense of Paul Greengrass’ United 93 — a harrowing recreation of the 9/11 plane crash that has faded in my memory.

Rounding out the top ten is Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s first stab at James Bond and still one of the very best films in the franchise. Of the movies that didn’t crack the top ten, The Devil Wears Prada and Cars are the ones that have aged the best (the old comedy/family theme emerging again).

All in all, this is a fantastic top ten list and the best year I’ve looked back on so far.


Another stellar year, with perhaps the strongest top ten yet. My two top films were the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, in that order. Revisiting the list today, I would switch them. No Country For Old Men hasn’t lost a bit of its chilling power, but There Will Be Blood has emerged as one of my very favorite films of the past several decades. It hits on every cylinder, powerfully exploring its theme of greed vs. faith.

Running off the rest of the list in order, I don’t see a weak spot: I’m Not There, Zodiac, Ratatouille, My Kid Could Paint That, Juno, Knocked Up, Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Nothing lower on the list would crack that lineup, and I don’t have much quarrel with the order they’re in, either.

This will probably be the case as I look at the years closest to present day. Time hasn’t played as much of a factor as it did for the early lists. Perhaps five years from now I’ll look back and see more to argue with on these lists.


Or perhaps that theory will be blown out of the water right now! 2008, following up the two best year’s of the decade, is in the running for the worst. Top film Slumdog Millionaire hasn’t aged well and #2 film Frost/Nixon strikes me today as a very solid and compelling movie but not something that would crack the top five in a strong year.

On the other hand, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Burn After Reading and Kung-Fu Panda — all of which currently fall farther down the list — strike me in retrospect as a pretty solid top four. And Forgetting Sarah Marshall, languishing at #16 after it failed to live up to the previous year’s Knocked Up, would get a solid boost as well.


This was just a couple of years ago, but already I can spot some areas I’d change if I was writing my list today.

The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man would remain in the top spot (and as an aside, what a freaking decade those guys have had). Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds would continue to claim the second spot as well. But Up and Star Trek would likely leapfrog Up in the Air and I Love You, Man and The Princess and the Frog would move from the also-rans into the top ten.

2009, then, is a perfect encapsulation of the pattern that emerged during my first stab at this. Comedies and family films rising to the top over dramatic fare.

2 thoughts on “The Ghost of Top Ten Lists Past: Part Two (2005-2009)

  1. Amy says:

    🙂 Well, I haven’t yet delved into the films in the lower tiers that don’t deserve to crack the top ten in retrospect, so I can’t fight you on your assertion. Still, I find this exercise fascinating, as it requires you to examine what makes you rank a film in a particular spot at the time of the ranking, and how those factors fade with time.

    As for the revisiting theory, I’m torn on that one. I haven’t had a desire to rewatch Munich or There Will be Blood, despite that I found both films to be absolutely riveting and superior works of film on every level. Still, there just aren’t that many opportunities for a person who has a demanding full-time job, a family, and an interest in enjoying those films, books, tv shows, music currently available, to take the 3+ hours necessary to pop in a dvd of a film depicting some harrowing subject matter or another. Hell, I haven’t even popped in The Princess Bride in over a year, and I’ve probably seen that film 50+ times.

    My point? I don’t know if that’s a fair test…. regardless, I’ve enjoyed watching your glimpse back.

  2. Clay says:

    I think it’s a fairer test for me than for you, because I do revisit movies when I can. I have seen There Will Be Blood three times on DVD since it came out, in addition to watching an odd scene from it here or there. Same with No Country For Old Men.

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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.