Monday, February 8, 2010

Top 50 Films of the Decade 2000-2009 Part 1

Now that we are done looking back at 2009, let’s look back at the entire decade between 2000 and 2009. Over those 10 years, I saw well over 2,500 movies. These are the 50 that I liked more than the rest. Each one is masterful in its own way. Over the next five days, we will look at all 50 of my favorite films of the decade. Looking at this list, I am amazed at how many different filmmakers made a great film this decade, and just the wealth of great films that there were. Cinema is dead? I don’t think so. This list barely scratches the surface of the riches this past decade at the movies had to offer.

50. Last Days (Gus Van Sant, 2005)
Of all the great films that Gus Van Sant made over the course of this decade (and I would count Elephant, Paranoid Park and Milk as great films), Last Days was, for me, his best. It follows a rock star named Blake (brilliantly embodied by Michael Pitt) modeled after Kurt Cobain, as he stumbles around in a drug induced haze in his remote, dilapidated mansion. The film is mesmerizing as it sits back and follows Blake on his daily routine. The conclusion of Van Sant’s death trilogy, three films about young men who do not value their own lives, let alone anyone else’s, Last Days is a perfect mood piece – utterly transfixing. I know that many (if not most) audience members will find this film boring, but for me I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a second.

49. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)
Brad Bird has established himself as one of the best animators in the world. Ratatouille is a thrilling, emotional, wonderfully entertaining film from Pixar, about a rat named Remy, who dreams of being a world class chef. He gets his opportunity when he stumbles into a gourmet restaurant, and meets a young man who is completely talentless, but can be used like a puppet for what he wants. Ratatouille could be about anything – even movies – but the essential message is the same – don’t settle for crap when you can have true greatness. Bird’s film transcends the stereotypes of talking animal movies, and really is one of the most joyous films of the last 10 years.

48. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000)
The Coen brothers first film of the decade is one of their best comedies. Three escaped convicts in Depression era America go on the run across the South in an Odyssey reminiscent of Homer’s. There’s John Goodman’s giant Cyclops, a guitar player who sold his soul to the devil, and of course the sirens. But the stars of the movie are George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro, all hilarious as the three convicts. The visual look of the film is brilliant – sun burnt landscapes across the South. If you want to bring up the old criticism against the Coens, that the characters are little more than cartoons, I wouldn’t disagree with you on this film, but I do think that considering the movie is a throwback – a loving homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s (the title of the movie comes from Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels), and as such the characters are appropriate for the film. One of the best pure comedies of the decade.

47. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2004)
I know that Von Trier enrages as many people with his films as he engages. This decade, he took his films to another level. I could have just have easily included Dancer in the Dark or Antichrist on this list (shamefully, there wasn’t enough room), but I do think that Dogville is his best, most engaging film. Shot on a bare soundstage, the movie tells the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman in a fearless performance), who comes to the small mountain town of Dogville on the run from her past. At first, she finds the people helpful and kind, but soon they start to take advantage of her. Kidman’s performance is brilliant – perhaps the best of her career – but I think it is Paul Bettany who truly makes the film great. He holds himself above the rest of the people morally speaking, but at heart, he is really just another spineless coward. Dogville, at nearly three hours long, is engaging, fascinating and incendiary. Only Von Trier would even attempt to make this film.

46. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
The second film for Bird and Pixar on this list, The Incredibles is one of those films that are endlessly rewatchable. It is also one of Pixar’s more complex efforts – a fun superhero movie, a great action movie, a touching family drama, a hilarious comedy, and a commentary on our times when we try and make everyone feel special, rewarding people for the most mundane of tasks. The Incredibles is breathlessly exciting entertainment, brilliantly well animated and a great story told with wit and precision. This is the film when we really knew that Bird was a special filmmaker.

45. Lake of Fire (Tony Kaye, 2007)
Far and away the best documentary of the decade (yes, it’s the only one of this list); Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire has been almost completely ignored by audiences and critics alike. It is a two and half hour examination of the abortion debate, which steadfastly refuses to take sides. Just when you think the movie is becoming a little too pro-life, it snaps back and you start to think it’s pro-choice, and snaps back again. It interviews anyone it can find with an opinion on the debate – from the nutcases that make up the most vocal fringe of both sides, right down to reasonable people who make a rational case for their side. The movie, shot in beautiful black and white, is far and away the most level headed doc I have seen on the subject – and one that if you go in with an open mind, will likely make you doubt your side, at least for a few moments.

44. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
America spent most of the past decade mired in war in Iraq, and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is far and away the best of the many films that have already been made about the subject. Bigelow and her screenwriter, Mark Boal, strip away the politics of the Iraq war, and instead focus on giving us a grunt eye’s view of the action over there, focusing on a three man team whose job it is to defuse IEDs wherever they find them. The Hurt Locker is one of the most intense film going experiences of the decade – an edge of your seat thriller that uses the action not only to terrify us, but also to develop the films characters – particularly Jeremy Renner’s brilliant, risk addicted cowboy. Probably the best pure war movie of the decade.

43. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002)
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest animators in history, and Spirited Away may well be his masterpiece. This is the story of a little girl who enters a magical spa with her parents, whose greed and gluttony immediately turns them into pigs, leaving their daughter to try and fend for herself, and reverse things. The is beautifully well animated from start to finish – full of interesting characters like the witch with the giant head, the multi-armed man in the basement, and the polluted River God. Miyazaki mixes in his environmental agenda (which has been present in many of his films), but never lets the movie get bogged down or preachy. Easily one of the best animated films of the decade.

42. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
Wes Anderson’s best film – more mature than Rushmore, and more refined than what came after – this tale of the dysfunctional, brilliant Tenenbaum clan is Anderson’s best, because although it remains firmly in his comfort zone, it is also the film where he challenged himself the most. His large cast of eccentric loonies is led by Gene Hackman, in what is probably going to be the last great performance of his career, since he seems to have retired, as the father of three genius kids who has never been there for them. He reenters their lives as adults, and causes nothing but trouble. Anderson’s film is a colorful menagerie, a mixture of hilarious comedy made up of awkward moments, and real life drama that rings true. This is the movie where Anderson became a truly great filmmaker.

41. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)
I cannot think of another film this decade, or perhaps ever, that better gets inside the head of child, and remembers what it was like to be one. The pain and confusion, sitting right next to anger and sexual frustration. Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are gets this, and he ends up making a movie that exposes the inner psyche of his protagonist, even as he travels to a strange fantasy world of his own making. Set to a great score by Carter Burwell and Karen O. from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Where the Wild Things Are also features perhaps the best vocal performances of the decade – particularly by James Gandolfini as Carol, the Wild Thing that most represent Max and his pain. Audiences were confused into thinking this was a kids film, when in reality it is not. It is a film about childhood, and there’s a huge difference.

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