This blog entry was originally written on Facebook last year on January 18, 2010, as it was about the Top 20 Films of the Last Decade but I thought this would make a great first post, considering that I’m wondering if anyone else cares at all, but it also gives me an excuse to add the 5 films to this list that I did when I posted the list one film at a time on Facebook last summer.
So without further interruption, here are my picks (slightly modified)!
The Top 25 Films of the Decade (2000-09)
25.Little Manhattan (2005) (Directed by Mark Levin)
First love tales are weird beasts. They either work really well or they don’t work at all. In the case of Little Manhattan, it’s a case of a first love tale that works so well that it reaches a level where these kinds of films rarely ever reach. Released in 2005, and disappearing almost immediately, I was taken with the film when I bought the film blind after positive word-of-mouth and I discovered what a sweet, lovely fable it really was. It was also a star-making turn for Josh Hutcherson, now one of the most in-demand young actors around. The final minutes of the film brought me to tears and made me relate more than any other film of this type. What a winner! The film’s best moment is the film’s ending, with Hutcherson’s voice-over narration reflecting on what has transpired throughout this story and how it changed his life.
24.The Boat That Rocked (2009) (Written and Directed by Richard Curtis)
Released in this country trimmed by 20 minutes and under the title Pirate Radio, Richard Curtis’s sophomore directorial effort after Love Actually works best in the film’s original 135-minute International cut (Advice: Buy a Blu-Ray player and import it. This should be the only way you watch this film). Just an all-around fun film, made with the same spirit and ideals present in Robert Altman’s 1970 black comedy M*A*S*H and also featuring a great soundtrack full of great ’60s tunes and excellent performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans, The Boat That Rocked is one hell of a great time at the movies. The best sequence of the movie is one that wasn’t featured in the American recut, and that is the stag night held off the boat the evening before Simple Simon (played wonderfully by Chris O’Dowd) marries an American woman. Just an awesome montage and a reminder of how fun the film is.
23.The Departed (2006) (Directed by Martin Scorsese)
A first-rate action film based on a foreign film entitled Infernal Affairs. Scorsese himself would not only receive a long-overdue Oscar for Best Director but the film itself would also prove to be a triumph as well. Although the film is extremely violent, it is also fun, tense, and exciting. It’s hard to say more about the film when it is best experienced first hand. The film’s best sequence is its entire conclusion, where DiCaprio and Damon confront each other on the rooftop, and that’s just the setup for a shocking yet wonderfully violent ending much in the same vein of the conclusion of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
22.The Dark Knight (2008) (Directed by Christopher Nolan)
If you had any doubts about Christopher Nolan before seeing this film, they were all displaced the moment this film became the most deserving blockbuster of the decade. Batman has never been as entertaining or as astonishing as it is here (and Christian Bale disappears wonderfully into both roles of the caped crusader and Bruce Wayne). Aaron Eckhart makes Harvey Dent his own, but obviously the thing that makes the film what it is is of course the performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. He becomes him in a performance of true unpredictability and insanity. It’s a tour de force of acting but the film also has thrilling action scenes in the middle as well. If the last 20 minutes were as great as the rest of the film, it would be in my Top 20 of the decade, but as it stands, there’s finally a great Batman film. The film’s best sequence is the one where the Joker forces two ships to make a choice of killing the passengers of one boat or the other. A truly tense sequence that stands out of a terrific picture.
21.Up (2009) (Directed by Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson)
Of course, the real true success story of the past decade was the success of Pixar Animation Studios, who released one great film after another (and continue to do so even now), but for my money, Up was the best film they released this decade. The main reason this was the case the film’s opening 15 minutes, which set the bar for all animated films to come and also reminds us of something else: It’s okay to cry during an animated film. While the rest of the film does not quite reach this same height, I nonetheless continued to enjoy everything that was presented to me, as I fell in love with Carl Fredrickson, Dug, Russell, and Kevin the Bird. I also fell in love with the main villains of the film (Charles Muntz and his dog Alpha). As fun as the film is, it pulls at the heartstrings more than once, and does it well. The film’s best sequence comes towards the opening of the film, when we get to see the marriage of Carl and his wife Ellie. If you are not crying after that sequence, you need to check your pulse.
20.Little Miss Sunshine (2006) (Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
The Hoovers still remain one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever seen on screen. How they ever managed to make it through the events of this film is a testament to how strong they can be if they put their mind to something. The realization that they are all they have is the main reason the film works as well as it does. I do think the film has lost little of its power since its release, but the film still takes me every time I watch it, whether it’s the performances (I still think Alan Arkin deserved his Oscar) or it’s the music (The movie introduced me to the music of DeVotchKa), it manages to succeed in making me laugh every time I watch it. The moment where the grandfather (Arkin) gives his grandson Dwayne (Paul Dano) some advice still manages to be one of the funniest moments of the entire film.
19.Slumdog Millionaire (2008) (Directed by Danny Boyle)
Through the course of two hours, I had been taken on a spectacular journey of one man’s life from young boy to confused but confident young man. Danny Boyle’s masterpiece of a film centers on him being on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and him hoping that the woman he loves is watching. Every question has something to do with his life and it unveils another story that is as good as the last. Marked amazingly well by both Boyle’s direction and Simon Beaufoy’s (The Full Monty) script, not to mention Dev Patel’s star-making turn as the story’s hero, there are almost no flaws to speak of (and it was a film that deserved its Best Picture Oscar). Of the movie’s incredible scenes, it will always be the final dance sequence (done in the style of a Bollywood movie) that will cap off the movie and send you out feeling all good inside.
18.(500) Days of Summer (2009) (Directed by Marc Webb)
All guys (including myself) can relate to this movie. Mainly because we have all fell in love with someone who was never sure of what to think of us. Even when we are in a relationship, none of us know how it will end up. But (500) Days of Summer manages to pick up the euphoria and the wonder that comes along with the territory. It also does something more unexpected: It tells it like it feels, so as a result, it hit me at its hardest. Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel play their respective roles of Tom and Summer absolutely spot-on. The film’s best moment is the film’s most painful: A split-screen sequence of a party that shows Tom’s expectations and the actual reality. As the reality kicks the expectations off the screen, the sadness really sets in and the very last image of the sequence (set to Regina Spektor’s “Hero”) turns from real into a drawing.
17.Minority Report (2002) (Directed by Steven Spielberg)
Intelligent sci-fi is hard to come by, but this action film came out of nowhere and surprised me when it came out in the summer of 2002. I had never thought that sci-fi could be done as well as I was seeing it, but it was right there in front of me. Spielberg crafts a tightly wound tale of running for your life when you haven’t done anything wrong. At least not yet. Still, it is the strength of Tom Cruise’s performance that the film manges to keep us on the edge of our seats. And the supporting performances (from Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max Von Sydow) also make for a film with real power and raw emotion. Minority Report actually has a story to tell, and its finale is undeniably strong. The film’s finest scene comes late in the film, when Danny Witwer (Farrell) goes to Commissioner Lamar Burgess (Von Sydow) to tell him what he thinks is really going on. Every time I watch that scene, I am so caught up in the beauty of it that I always forget the end of that scene, which makes me jump every time.
16.Love Actually (2003) (Written & Directed by Richard Curtis)
For years, Richard Curtis was one of the best screenwriters in the business. So when Love Actually came along, he made his directorial debut and proved he had it in him to full invest himself in this story of love being found all throughout London. In 135 minutes, he managed to put together one of the best romantic comedies of the decade. Some of the stories are predictable, but a lot of them are also left uncertain. It’s how love should be told in the movies. Curtis understands this and as a result, the results are truly effective. And the finale is just a tour de force of editing, music, and acting.
15.Lost in Translation (2003) (Written & Directed by Sofia Coppola)
On one hand, you can say that Sofia Coppola’s story of two people in Tokyo and not understanding a thing is ripe for solid comedy. However, on the other hand it could also be done as something deeper. Coppola has managed to pull off both and the film works all the better for it. It’s an amazing feat that both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson have real chemistry as the two strangers, and it’s a film that is still as strong as it was when it came out. The final moments, when Murray meets up with Johansson in the middle of a crowded Tokyo street and whispers something in her ear is a moment that stays with you long after the movie is over. It stays with you forever.
14.Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004) (Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino)
In my opinion, Kill Bill only works as one whole four-hour saga, even though both volumes are tonally different. The first volume looks at the story as a martial arts movie, but the second volume plays it more like a classic western with great dialogue. Kill Bill is the perfect saga. Yes, it might be gory, and yes, it might be very vulgar, but it always terrific entertainment. My favorite moment comes in Vol. 2, during the final confrontation between The Bride (Uma Thurman) and Bill (David Carrideane) as he talks about superheros and their alter egos. That dialogue has me glued to the screen every time I watch the movie.
13. Where the Wild Things Are (2009) (Directed by Spike Jonze)
Until I saw this film at the end of November 2009, I never thought it would be on my best of list let alone my best of the decade list, but the film resonated with me. Jonze dives headfirst into the psychology of Maurice Sendak’s Award-winning children’s book and makes us reveal truths about our childhoods. It’s a truly great experience, fluctuating between heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. And special mention must be given to the music (by Karen O and Carter Burwell) which is beautiful in its own right (In my opinion, “All is Love” is the best song of the 2009!). Like all of the films on this list, there are many great moments to be had, but the one that got to me so perfectly was the last scene. If you have read the book, the last lines have never conveyed as much as they do in the film’s final 3 minutes.
12.United 93 (2006) (Written & Directed by Paul Greengrass)
The story of the fourth plane that was hijacked on 9/11 is a film that only gets better over time. Initially, I thought it was a great film, but wasn’t sure how great. It got lost at the end of the year on my list, placing at #10, but every year, it seems to resonate more and more. Although it’s doesn’t make my Top 10 of the decade, it shouldn’t discredit the fact that the movie is a must-see. For those who thought it was too soon for this movie to get made initially, it needs to be seen at least once. It’s a movie that will stick with you forever. The last sequence, where the passengers fight back against the terrorists is one that gets stronger with each viewing of the movie. It stays with you for a long time afterwards, and it’s one that still stays with me today.
11.Little Children (2006) (Directed by Todd Field)
Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, this story of infidelity gone wrong in Suburbia only manages to get better on subsequent viewings. It was an excellent film on its initial release, but it has only managed to get more powerful and stronger as the last few years have gone by. It’s a film that’s not just about infidelity, but also about marriage, life and how the return of a convicted sex offender trigger off a similar set of emotions. It’s truly heartbreaking stuff, and it’s also the film where Kate Winslet should have won her Oscar. Her performance is so top-notch it elevates the film to a whole other plateau. The script remains simply terrific, and Thomas Newman’s score as usual carries the dark, ominous moments better than ever. The film’s best scene comes early in the film, when a bet for Sarah (Winslet) to get a father’s (Patrick Wilson) phone number ends up going much farther than expected. The shock the other mothers feel make that moment a keeper.
10.Wonder Boys (2000) (Directed by Curtis Hanson)
A love letter not only to the idea of writing, but also to the city of Pittsburgh as well. Curtis Hanson’s film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel shows how one uneventful weekend can become crazy with a series of mishaps. Here is a comedy of manners that makes me laugh out loud everytime, whether it involves the headmistress’ dog or the writer’s agent, or the writer’s protegé. It’s also the only great movie to come out of the first year of the decade, with Michael Douglas giving a performance of a writer too obsessed in his own work to begin with. The rest of the cast (including Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes, and Robert Downey Jr.) steal many scenes along the way as well. It’s a tour de force of acting, direction, and writing. My favorite moment involves what the main character of Grady Tripp (Douglas) does with the headmistress’ dead dog toward the end of the film. And I haven’t even mentioned the greatness of the film’s theme song “Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan, which is just a great song in general.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) (Written & Directed by Guillermo Del Toro)
A story of innocence lost and broken both at the same time is the stuff only nightmares are made of. Guillermo Del Toro’s story of a girl’s escape into her imagination is one full of power, fear, fright, and hope. Although the film is presented in Spanish (with English Subtitles), it is still as strong as it was when it was first released back in 2006. The villainous character of Captain Videl (played frighteningly well by Sergi Lopez) still stands as one of the great villains of all time, and the film’s final 20 minutes remain as tense, exciting, and as sad as they were on my initial viewing of it.
8.Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) (Written & Directed by Miranda July)
A picture so simple, yet so daring it is hard to keep your eyes off of it. It’s so beautiful in its subtlety and so bold in its execution that you are taken with the whole film (even with its moments that take disturbing to a brand new level). It also helps that Michael Andrews’s music score is beautiful and haunting. There are many great moments in the film, but the one that always resonates with me is the one where the main characters Richard (John Hawkes) and Christine (director Miranda July) pretend that their walk to their cars is a progression of their life together.
7.In Bruges (2008) (Written & Directed by Martin McDonaugh)
An uncompromising and totally politically incorrect gangster picture that gets funnier and more biting ever time I watch it. This is more than just a beautiful film to look at, it is also filled with some of the most unbelievably wonderful dialogue of any film I’ve seen in a long time. Many classic scenes abound throughout the film, but my favorite is the one where the hitman Ken (Brendan Gleeson) tells his boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) how he really feels about him and his family. The dialogue there is so wrong, it’s hilarious!
6. Amelie (2001) (Directed by Jean-Pierre Juenet)
If you had the opportunity to change someone’s life, would you? That’s the question posed by this wonderous and magical French romantic comedy that no matter what I do, I end up under its spell. It’s so magical and so captivating that you end up in its World and never want out of it. And as Amelie herself, Audrey Tautau gives a star-making performance that hits all the right notes. And Yann Tiersen’s music expresses both the happiness and the sadness that’s contained throughout the film. The film’s greatest moment is albeit a simple one: When Amelie sees the guy she is secretly in love with, he looks and expresses shock. The next shot is of Amelie as it pans down to her chest where we can see her actual heart beating really, really fast.
5. Mystic River (2003) (Directed by Clint Eastwood)
A powerful and truly gut-wrenching drama that holds up just as well as it did when it was released. The story of how three friends are reunited by the murder of one of their daughters is a supremely well-told and well-played film with performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins that wholeheartedly deserved the Oscars they received. Clint Eastwood’s direction has never been as good as it’s been here, and the film’s final 15 minutes are as sad and as profound as they were when the film was released. And not to mention Clint Eastwood’s music score is so simple yet so truly effective and beautiful.
4. Once (2007) (Written & Directed by John Carney)
“I don’t know you, but I want you all the more for that…” So begins the lyrics to the song “Falling Slowly,” which has become synonymous with this film’s two main (and unnamed) characters. The simple story of these two people hanging out and making beautiful music together is one that has captivated me from the very first time I saw it, and it never fails to hold my attention on all subsequent viewings. Not only is it a great story about two sweet people, but it is also one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen. And the end of the film…well don’t even get me started or I’ll be feeling sad for the next few days. It’s just so enchanting!
3. Children of Men (2006) (Directed by Alfonso Cuaron)
Imagine if all of the women in the World was infertile and you had in your hands the one hope that could save civilization. That’s the essential idea of this 2006 post-apocalyptic tale that only gets better on repeat viewings. What dazzles the most besides both the performances and the script are the long tracking shots (The film was shot by Emmanuel Lubezki) that are both dizzying and hypnotic at the same time. Speaking of that, its near impossible to take your eyes off of the film in the last 30 minutes when the protection of the pregnant woman becomes imperative. And the original music (John Tavener’s “Fragments of a Prayer”) gets more and more haunting every day, and it’s complimented nicely by rock/pop music like John Lennon’s “Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)” and Jarvis Cocker’s “Running the World,” which describes the world of 2027 in this film perfectly. The film’s best moment comes when the character of Luke (Chiwetol Ejifor) tells Theo Faran (Clive Owen) that he had forgotten how adorable babies were as the tears pour down from his eyes. That’s a perfectly played moment.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (Directed by Michel Gondry)
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman burst onto my radar with 1999’s Being John Malkovich and I knew he would be one to watch. So when this movie’s first preview showed up in the fall of 2003, I had never been more psyched to see a movie than I was then, and ever since it’s release in March 2004, it ended up under my spell and never let go. Almost six years later, the feeling remains. It is still the most original film I’ve ever seen, and also one of the best love stories ever told too. Jim Carrey gives the performance of his career as Joel Barish, who discovers the process of eliminating troubling memories. Kate Winslet is Clementine, the girlfriend who made the impulsive decision of going through the process already to get rid of him (Her performance is a truly unique one). And then there is the film’s structure, which tells the relationship from its worst moments to the first moments, where Joel realizes that those old memories were worth keeping. The movie continues to have me in its grasp. When it ended, I wish the movie had lasted forever, as to me, it was more than a movie, it was one of the few experiences that I’ll never forget as long as I live.
1. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) (Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
I have a confession to make: I will never stop defending this film, and no one’s ever going to stop me. From the fact that it still remains Adam Sandler’s best performance to the fact that its love story is one that continues to put me in a state of both happiness and sadness at the same time. It’s a simple flat-out masterpiece that only gets better watching it again and again. And Emily Watson (a terrific actress in her own right) shines as the woman who captures Sandler’s heart. This is unlike almost any other film I’ve ever seen, which might explain why I kept coming back to it throughout the decade. Not to mention that the film’s score introduced me to the works of Jon Brion, and my idea of film music would never be the same again. And the use of Shelley Duvall’s “He Needs Me” from the 1980 film Popeye makes a surprising but truly affecting choice. It’s as close to perfection as any movie I’ve seen. It is the best movie of the decade!