I knew this list thing was going to be hard, but when I couldn’t even decide a proper name for the list, I was on the verge of giving up. By naming it My Favorite Movies Of The Decade I’m trying to say two things. First, to underline how such lists will and should always be subjective. These are the movies that amused, enraged and engaged me the most in the 2000’s, and I will make my case for them on that ground. As you might know already, my movie preference tends to tilt in favor of movies that try to push some boundaries in some way or another, and that for that reason don’t necessarily qualify as masterpieces in any strict sense. Bear with me when I say, again, that I’m generally more interested in what ways a daring and unconventional movie may fail, than in how a perfectly conventional one succeeds in making everyone in the audience react exactly the same way. That is way movies like Dogville, Dear Wendy, Transamerica and others are included. They may not all be Great Movies, but they were great experiences, that stayed with me for a long time.
Second, the title of the post is my attempt to admit that I haven’t seen nearly enough movies to be setting up a Best Of list. Just among the most obvious possible choices, there are probably hundreds of movie that never got into contention, simply because I haven’t seen them. I stand by the fifty (plus honoroble mentions) that are included here, but I’m still thinking about including a list of notable movies I haven’t seen, just to give you a hunch. Despite the constant bad conscience of some who only watched maybe a hundred movies a year on average throughout the decade, I decided early on that I didn’t have the time nor the drive to try to make up for all the consensus favorites I’ve missed over the years. I have been reading and enjoying the lists of others while toying with this one, and they have inspired to watch and rewatch some movies I didn’t prioritize or didn’t appreciate the first time around, but my main priority nevertheless has been to freshen up on memories of old favorites. That’s another part of the reason why some obvious contenders are missing.
This process of reassessment also explains why this list is not necessarily in sync with my previous best-of-the-year lists. Most notably, Into The Wild is ranked well above French ensemble drama A Christmas Tale, even though the latter eked out a win on the ‘Best of 2008’ list. This has more to do with my passionate and ongoing love affair with Into The Wild than with any sudden distaste for A Christmas Tale, which still is a wonderful movie.
Setting up a list of personal favorites, as opposed to a ‘best of’ list, also allows me to present a list that heavily tilted toward the Anglo-American, and one that is almost totally dominated by dramas, comedies and thrillers. This is not out of ignorance, it’s out of preference. I’m able to love movies in any language or from any culture if it’s a good movie, but for this list to be true to its intentions (listing my absolute favorite movies of the decade), it had to be this way. Apart from the fortunate fact that they make a lot of good movies, I think I simply find the Anglo-American worldview a little easier to relate to, and all of the movies on this list try to challenge, illuminate or change that in one way or another. That said, depending on how you count (should Dear Wendy, an English language movie with Anglo-American actors, but written and directed by Danes, be considered Danish or Anglo-American?) somewhere between thirteen and twenty of the movies on the list are not from the U.S. or the UK.
One of the great things about being new to watching movies, was that your taste was not yet formed; you would consume practically anything put before you. These things have changed, and the relative lack of genre movies on this list could probably be attributable to that. Generally speaking, comedies and dramas about how individuals and families cope with crossing interests and expectations, tend to be more my thing than science fiction or horror movies. This has less to do with a negative bias towards genre movies per se than an assumption built on previous experience. I know I’m missing a lot of great movies that way, but I believe that goes for the allrounder, too. Still, my ambition for the next decade is not only to watch more movies, but to watch a more diverse set of movies. Not because I think I have to, but because I want to. And as this list will show, my prejudice against musicals could have robbed me of some really great experiences.
Finally, I need to emphasize again that this is a list of favorites. That means that the way I experienced them may sometimes trump other, more coldly rational or theoretical approaches. This also has to do with my memory for specific details or scenes in any given movie being somewhat short, which means I have to rely more strongly on the memory of how it made me feel.
The list runs to fifty, with a short presentation of each movie and a list of honorable mentions at the end. In the cases where I have written more extensively about it previously, I’ll provide a link to the post. The ranking element should not be taken all too seriously. The movies are included because they were my absolute favorites of the decade, and in some ways, that’s more important than exactly where it goes on the list.
1. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
Once you have realize you have room in your heart for a movie as painful as this one, every single scene will burn its way into your memory. Brady Corbet’s brilliantly introverted Bryan seems to find escape and a sense of shared experience in stories about people who were abducted by aliens, while Neil, to feel that he holds power over other people, goes into prostitution. While Bryan’s connection to Neil is slowly unveiled by his friendship with Neil’s friend Eric (a great Jeff Licon), the balanced portrait of Neil’s hustling offers both the most beautiful and the most brutal scenes in this remarkable movie. Every scene carries nuance, hope, anger, poetry; making Mysterious Skin my most haunting movie experience of the decade, or maybe ever.
2. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
It’s hard to know where to begin with Cameron Crowe’s lone masterpiece, but I think the most important thing about it is this: Instead of becoming a satire, Almost Famous stays true to its own feelings; it’s a love story. The love of music, but also the love of those who love it and those who live with, of and for it. A distinct and funny period piece, Almost Famous at times even succeeds at one of the hardest things of all: to make me question what I love most of movies and music. For me personally, that’s what Almost Famous is about. (Full review)
3. Angels in America (Mike Nichols, 2002)
I had to bend the rules to include this one, but still. Mike Nichols’ TV adaptation of Tony Kushner’s stage play doesn’t quite have the energy to stand its running time, but before the chaotic final hours, it’s one of those movies whose sheer ambition, force, even, gave me a physical reaction. Richly allegorical, cruelly funny and superbly acted, it has a very special rhythm and an ability to surprise that was practically unmatched all decade. Extracting career-redefining stints from some while introducing others, it’s a gift that still keeps on giving.
4. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2004)
Ah, the American upper-middle class family! Or more like ouch. The kids, manipulated into taking sides between the deeply flawed but loving parents in a divorce driven as much by unmet personal ambitions as by a sense of betrayal, are the real main characters in Noah Baumbach’s painfully funny comedy drama. The humiliating things people do to cope with life’s disappointments may be too gloomy for some, but The Squid and the Whale felt real to me. (Full review)
5. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2004)
Normally, if what I talk about after a movie is how great it looked, you can assume I’m trying to find a way to avoid admitting I was disappointed. Movies whose main force are how they look, tend to be emotionally empty or disengaging. But with Todd Haynes 1950’s melodrama Far From Heaven it’s meant as the biggest possible compliment, because it is so inherently important to the emotional power of its investigation of homophobia and racism. Frame by frame Haynes captures the spirit of 1950’s suburbia, and excellent performances by Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert and Dennis Quaid lifts what could potentially have felt like a staid reenactment into a living, breathing piece of masterful filmmaking.
6. Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002)
It doesn’t take much for Elia Suleiman to make us laugh at these absurd/magic realist episodes of wartime Palestine, except restraint, which of course is the hardest thing of all. While quietly dignified and poetic, Divine Intervention is also brimming with energy and surprising imagery, everything contrasted, to great effect, by the stoicly observing Suleiman. There a Crouching Tiger-style, dancing suicide bomber, a love story, and the flight of a red baloon. The movie was shut out of the Foreign Language Oscar race for bureaucratic reasons, but it lives on in the memories of everyone who has seen it. Comedy in wartime doesn’t get funnier and more poignant than this.
7. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
Even more than it’s about sexual experimentation or the clash between political ideals and reality, The Dreamers is an effort to write the moviegoing experience into the social fabric of the 1968 revolt. Bertolucci’s playful erotic drama provides an argument for why loving movies is never a waste of time, one that is always needed, and particularly when you’re working on a list like this one. I love it for that. (Full review)
8. Into The Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)
My passionate embrace of Into The Wild could perhaps be boiled down to this: 1) I wasn’t supposed to love it. A basically anti-modernity tale with Romanticist aspirations, about a guy leaving society for a life-changing hike through to the last frontier, directed by the famously heavy-handed Sean Penn. I was not quite sold. When he surprised me with a subtle and multilayered moral drama that was interesting even in its flaws, my admiration grew exponentially. 2) Opposites attract. I struggled mightily to like, and even more to understand Chris McCandless, the adventurer whose journey ended in Alaska, but in the process I came to care for him. Any movie that aims to say something about Life, Death, Nature and Man – and then delivers something worthy of a second, third or fourth thought – should be immedieately canonized. (Full review)
9. Imaginary Heroes (Dan Harris, 2004)
Nothing pains me more than watching people try do good and fail. Sure, Dan Harris tries to cram too many issues into a single movie, but still there is not one relationship, not one interaction that doesn’t say something smart and relevant about how we deal with life’s unpredictabilities. Kind of a Squid and the Whale in reverse, a mother (Sigourney Weaver) too frank and a father (Jeff Daniels) hellbent on silent disapproval pick sides between their children, with young Tim (Emile Hirsch) slowly suffocating under the pressure when his older brother kills himself. Every imperfect person should find something to relate to and admire in this poignant and quoteable drama about all the things we want to say but can’t. Plus, it helped launch Emile Hirsch, Young Leonardo and the only actor with three movies in the top twenty.
10. Hedwig And The Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
John Cameron Mitchell’s genderbending rock musical brims with campy excess, uncontrollable energy and off-beat comedy. Watched at a time when I still nurtured my feinschmecker prejudices, it should be attributed with almost singlehandedly opening my horizon to the musical genre. Every song contains a worthwhile story in itself, but it loses none of its immediacy when integrated into the broader storyline. Highly unique lessons on the origin of love and the importance of being true to yourself also was an early wake-up call to a burgeoning gayer.
11. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
I can’t think of any movie my opinion has changed so radically about from first to second viewing as this one. Here’s what I said in a January 2009 comment, retracting my previous criticism: “Yes, it’s still somewhat slow, but it has that almost majestic feel to it that make its pacing seem just about perfect. In several of my previous articles, I’ve made a point of criticizing how the somewhat shrouded psychological motivations of its main characters made them harder to accept, and the first time I saw it, that was part of the problem I had with Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday (whose performance is otherwise excellent) character in Blood. Viewed a second time however, and watched through a prism of charismatic religiosity and and his complex relationship with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview, it takes on greater significance. And finally, if I ever said that Day Lewis’ performance was overrated (which I sort of did), I’ll take that back as well. The final scene is an instant classic, not only for its exhausting emotional climax but also for its almost frighteningly crisp cinematography. In summary, Blood pretty much is a tour de force of slowly building suspense, particularly in the final half-hour. I was lost, but now I’m found.”
12. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
When even the title works perfectly, you know you’re seeing something special. The story of two Americans, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), trying to make sense of Tokyo, a city of millions made still more alienating by what’s lost in translation from their own culture, was accused by some critics of stereotyping Asians, but that misses the point. When you can’t read the social codes, everything starts to seem foreign to you. United by amnesia, they discover the big city and enjoying each other’s understated understanding. As part of this beautiful non-love story, Bill Murray was famously (and scandalously) robbed of a Best Actor Oscar at the hands of a manically overacting Sean Penn (Mystic River). Penn’s performance is long since forgotten, but the memory of Murray’s has-been actor lives on.
13. Elephant (Gus van Sant, 2003)
How do you create suspense when everybody knows what’s going to happen? The easiest way out would have been to say that it’s simply too hard, dispense with the suspense thing and go with a more straightforward drama instead. Or you could do something much more rarely attempted, and even more seldomly achieved: To redefine the meaning of suspense, from a ‘what’s gonna happen‘ story to ‘ how and why is it happening‘ story. That’s what Gus van Sant did with his thinly fictionalized Columbine movie Elephant. By running the same scenes over and over again, at different times and from different perspectives, and handling the why question by way of observing, almost to the point of disengagement, what happens during a seemingly normal school day, he builds a suspense that is somehow disconnected from the inevitable climax. His lack of narrative and moral guidance to the viewer enraged and confused many critics, but to me it made it harder to recover from the final showdown. I’ll remember Elephant, even physically.
14. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
Of everything Richard Linklater achieved with this perfect little drama, the most impressive, and in the end important, may be how the partially improvised dialogue and the seamless use of Parisian geography managed to practically tear down the wall between onscreen action and audience. The smart, searching, witty dialogue felt exactly like what these two people might say to each other during a coincidental walk through Paris one day in 2004, and everyone involved trusted that the personal chemistry between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke was enough to carry a talkathon. It was. After 80 minutes I felt that the movie had answered all the questions I wanted answered in Before Sunrise, but not in a way that took away any of the mystery people need to stay real. This one can never be repeated.
15. Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2004)
How little is too little, all movie critics seemed to ask, obsessing about the home-made aesthetics of Jonathan Caouette’s remarkable, $200 documentary debut. The more important question, however, may be How much is too much? Caouette mercilessly oversteps all privacy boundaries in telling the dual story of his own troubled childhood and of the devastating electro shock therapy of his mother. Is it too much? Do we get too close at times? Yes. Did the story need to be told, if even in such a way? Yes. I don’t think Tarnation is narcissistic or exploitative, it’s too important, engaging and discomforting for that. If this is what a flawed movie looks like, I want more of them.
16. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2006)
I’m not one of those who think you could place any Pixar movie on this list because they’re basically equally good. Ratatouille is the best Pixar movie, period. Most important, it’s underrated as a comedy. I watched it a second time and was struck by how I mainly remembered it for its acute understanding of what draws people to the world of food, but in addition to that, I ended up laughing constantly. There are so many visual details to revel in, and so much to cherish about what it gets right about the mechanics of a restaurant, that you almost can’t take any more when director Brad Baird draws the final card from up his sleeve; the sadistic restaurant critic Albert Ego, but this perfect manifestation of a whole culture makes you realize you’ll keep coming back for more.
17. Together (Lukas Moodysson, 2000)
Upon releasing the depressing human trafficking drama Lilja 4-ever, Swedish director Lukas Moodysson famously said he thought Together, about a group of people living together in a housing collective in Stockholm in the 1970’s, was the less optimistic movie, because it was about how people fail to live up to their ideals. It’s still a puzzling statement in the context of comparing it to Lilja, but I think I’m starting to get what he meant about Together. There’s a lot of suffering in this mildly sympathetic comedy, whether it’s the father who tries to stop drinking to save his relationship with his children, the old man who’s so lonely he sabotages his own pipes only to get to talk to the plumber, or Göran, who one day gets so fed up with conforming to everybody elses needs that the threatens to undermine the whose ethos behind the collective. Moodysson really gets people, which is why Together really got to me.
18. Milk (Gus van Sant, 2008)
Gus van Sant’s reinvention of the biopic is not so much political in a narrow sense as it is humane, not so much polemical as it is probing. A masterful balancing act between the powerful and the emotional, he extracts the best performance of his career out of Sean Penn, a man notorious for ending up on the wrong side of intense. Also, the magnetic Emile Hirsch’s youthful idealism offers the best way to view the movement Harvey Milk built, because Hirsch’s restless charm come to symbolize how urgency and wisdom both have to be present if change is to happen. (Full review, part I, part II)
19. Igby Goes Down (Burr Steers, 2002)
As with the other class movies, there’s less cynicism, or rather, more wisdom, than immediately meets the eye in this sardonic upper-class comedy. Igby (Kieran Culkin) considers himself the only normal person in a familie of fools and phonies, but when his trustfunded teen protest comes up against the strains of the real world, he is forced to reevaluate even the people he loathes the most. With a delightfully icy Susan Sarandon as the mother and well-cast down to the smallest supporting role, Igby‘s loss is yours. Particularly if, like most other people, you missed it.
20.Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Movies that strive unapologetically for Big Emotions and Timeless Themes (think Titanic, Romeo & Juliet) run the immediate risk of a backlash once the glow of the moment has faded, but thankfully I’m not sensing one for Brokeback Mountain. Quite the contrary, it should grow on repeat viewings, further crystallizing the pain and anguish of the impossible love between Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger). Ledger’s Ennis may not be as flashy as his Joker, but it’s no less impressive. The movie also wisely respects the economy of Annie Proulx’ excellent short story, thus avoiding the issue movie label that many anti-gay viewers wanted to attach to it. Its qualities will outlive the bigots.
21. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
In today’s Hollywood, Gus van Sant may be the only one who can compete with what David Fincher does with a camera. (And van Sant doesn’t really do Hollywood anymore, anyway). The way he captures the big city atmosphere is another one of those manifold small treats at the margins of Zodiac, the nearly pedantic, process-oriented thriller about one of history’s great crime mysteries. Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey jr. are both great, but the standout actually is Jake Gyllenhaal, who really manages to get at how this case consumed the lives of everyone involved with it. This is one brilliant piece of storytelling.
22.Once (John Carney, 2006)
In her surprisingly enthusiastic review of the forgettable Hugh Grant rom-com Music & Lyrics, my favorite movie critic, Dana Stevens of Slate, lauded it for being one of those very few films that succeed in portraying the craftsmanship of songwriting. I never quite got her point, until I saw it demonstrated in Once. A wonderfully straightforward musical love story, it grapples with the struggle to express feelings and authenticity in song, great songs at that. Usually, in musicals, the words and music seem to come to the characters from some sort of higher power, emphasizing their confidence that their feelings at this very moment will never change, and therefore have no need for nuances. And, in your average escapist musical, there’s nothing wrong with that. But in Once, in sync with the general mood of the movie, the careful ‘try and fail, try again’ strategy stands as a perfect metaphor for the twists and turns of the love story. Music and life are finally one, and it feels absolutely right.
23. Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
Transcending the sex comedy, Shortbus was the decade’s most sex-positive movie. (Full review)
24. Dear Wendy (Thomas Vinterberg, 2005)
My apologies to Thomas Vinterberg, who directed the 1998 classic The Celebration, but although he only wrote the script, Dear Wendy feels like it’s a Lars Von Trier movie. Maybe it has to do with its international reception. While receiving generally positive reviews in Denmark, the movie was loathed by U.S. critics and labeled as anti-American. I think such a criticism is beside the point. Von Trier’s script satirizes the very personal and ultimately fatal relationship between a young man (Jamie Bell) and his gun, yes, but to me, it’s less about anti-Americanism than playing with the iconography of the western classics. In the absurdly funny and excessively brutal final showdown, Vinterberg finally takes the reins of the movie, in a scene so full of energy and attitude that it’s burned into my mind. Bill Pullman stars, memorably, as a cop, and Michael Angarano (Lords of Dogtown) again makes his boyishness a source for comic relief.
25. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
If anti-Americanism ever was a useful label for Lars von Trier, it might be because of Dogville, his blunt, allegorical drama about racism, sexism and abuse of power that was crowned with the use of David Bowie’s Young Americans over the end credits. That’s not the only provocation in Dogville, however. The rejection of such basic dramatic crutches as scenography (instead, everything is drawn up on screen, as if we were watching the storyboard), creates an interesting sense of alienation, but what makes Dogville truly interesting is how you forgot everything about it after a while, only to see that the nakedness of the storytelling interacts with the raw feeling of a classic von Trier moral drama. Realistic cinema doesn’t get much stranger, or more fascinating, than this.
26. Three Blind Mice (Matthew Newton, 2008)
A story about the crossing loyalties and social codes of three young soon to be deployed back into a war zone, Three Blind Mice is sharp, quick and thoughtful in a way that almost makes you feel bad for laughing. Debuting Matthew Newton has an almost frighteningly acute grasp of what lenght people will go in order to not having to talk about things, being they family or friends.
27. The Lives Of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, 2006)
This low-key political thriller had me seething with rage, perhaps exactly because it’s so restrained in the way it is told. Pointedly indicting the absurdities and inhumanity of East Germany’s totalitarian communism, Florian Henckel’s movie is populated by a set of characters who are all so obviously fallible that they become easy to identify with, no matter how indefensible their actions may be. Ulrich Mühe looks exactly as strict and bland as you might expect from a Stasi official, but the way he signals the small nuances of anguish and doubt is truly exceptional.Everybody has been talking about the American wave of 1970’s surveillance thrillers for decades now. I never really got what the fuzz was about, but I hope they will embrace The Lives of Others with equal passion.
28. Captain Abu Raed (Amin Matalga, 2008)
It’s not something I think about every day, but sometimes movies take the time to remind me of what a wonderful medium it is for telling stories. The irony is that the Lebanese movie Captain Abu Raed, about an airport janitor who earns the respect and admiration of the local kids by wearing a pilot’s hat and making up stories about his travels around the world, uses film to champion the good old-fashioned oral storytelling tradition. It’s a sweet, funny and at times dark reminder of the powers of both. Drawing on the tradition Middle Eastern respect for the elderly, Captain Abu Raed makes a real hero out of its titular character, played wonderfully by Nadim Sawalga. The genuine curiosity that glows from his friendly face should be reason enough to see this movie.
29. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
When thrillers like The Departed come packed with this much adrenalin, humor and suspense, I don’t much care if it’s odd that it took this movie to finally get Martin Scorsese a Best Director Oscar, or that this is actually an American version of a Hong Kong original. A thrilled audience remain in the dark on things big and small, from the dynamics between well-cast stars Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and a fabulously entertaining Mark Wahlberg, to exactly what was going through Jack Nicholson’s mind when he decided he needed to overact so grotesquely to get mobster Frank Costello right. As always, the small failures may be the most interesting, and Nicholson adds yet another element of unpredictability to an otherwise pitch-perfect action vehicle.
30. Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002)
For some reason, Dylan Kidd’s cruelly funny yet surprisingly sweet sex comedy Roger Dodger, has always struck me as a metropolitan movie first and foremost. Not in the ‘annoying hipsters talk about big city life’ way, although there’s plenty of that here too (at least implicitly). I mean it in the sense that the hectic rhythm of New York feels somehow encapsulated in the nihilistic recklessness of Roger (Campbell Scott), the slyly fascinating womanizer who sets out to teach his nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) how to treat women, over the course of one New York night. Such a behavior could only be acceptable if you either have no feelings at all, or if you know that you can escape responsibility by just getting lost among millions of other New Yorkers. Still, the main strength of Roger Dodger is that it is not really a morality tale, though it may look like one. Nick has learned more than Roger, never mind that he’s the smartest one to begin with. A great black comedy gets bonus points for launching Jesse Eisenberg’s career.
31. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000)
I actually needed several tries to get through the first half hour of this movie, but I soon discovered that what felt so alienating about it was also it’s main quality. I’m not sure if this portrait of a novelist in a crisis is social satire, but the nearly fetishistic detail with which Curtis Hanson delves into how an author, Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), tries to undermine the expectation that he will soon finish his second novel, sure is funny. When I rewatched it, I not only appreciated it as a movie about craftsmanship (every scene is somehow related to the desperate struggle to finish the book, but without ever pushing the worn-out cliche of the struggling author), I was struck by how differently it took to writing than for instance The Squid and the Whale. The reason may simply be that Squid never set out to be about writing (it’s about family), but it’s nevertheless striking how much more dignified Tripp’sdescent into has-been-ness is than for Jeff Daniels’ Bernard Berkman. Douglas has rarely been better, and what’s often annoying about Tobey Maguire, the pupil that outshines him, here is put to good use. Plus; an early comeback for Robert Downey jr.
32. Suite Habana (Fernando Perez, 2003)
Non-narrative documentaries can be a pain to watch, as the glide away pretentiously, hoping that the beauty of the imagery and the music will make it all seem coherent and interesting, if not particularly original. But then there are movies like Suite Habana, which actually succeeds at it, without the pretentiousness part. After a while, you forget that there is no narrative to these 24 hours of Cuba, and start marveling at the little details that make up a day. I felt like I learned something about being a human.
33. No Country For Old Men (Joel Coen, 2007)
Critics and audiences alike agreed on what was great about the Coen brothers’ eminently suspenseful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, but the ending meant they couldn’t quite agree on just how great it was. Put me in the really, really great camp. Javier Bardem deeply disturbing Anton Chigur is a villain for the history books, and acting is top-notch all over. Making the most of its topography, No Country masterfully joined such different movies as There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford in reinvigorating the western.
34. A Family (Jeong-cheol Lee, 2004)
Another surprise festival treasure, My Family has one of the finest description of a strained father/daughter relationship I have seen. Released from prison and trying to escaping her past, Jeong-eun struggles heroically to reconnect with her son and disapproving father. The movie immediately convinced me that something important was at stake, and from there on it knew how to pull the strings for emotional effect. I practically never cry from a movie, but when I’m welling up because of a smart kid (self-conciously cute kids tend to annoy me gravely), you know this one has to be a keeper.
35. You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)
Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale, Kinsey) has to be one of the most underrated actresses of our time. As the strong yet vulnerable mother, in You Can Count On Me she even outperforms Mark Ruffalo, who plays the brother that despite his best intentions doesn’t know how to protect a child from the disappointments of the world. Doing what seems right faces off against doing what’s reasonable when two people who love but don’t understand each other try to raise her son together. Transcending far beyond traditional tearjerkery, its mix of chutzpah and contemplation does what’s expected of movies at their finest: Raising questions even more interesting than their attempted answers.
36. Reconstruction (Christoffear Boe, 2003)
‘Remember, everything is a construct‘, insists Reconstruction‘s narrator, setting the tone for a uniquely playful and fully cinematic Danish love story. One might fear that such a self-conciously fictional story would turn out unable to make us care for its characters, but like the masters of the New Wave, Christoffer Boe succeeds in melding the metalevel with the escapism that a movie needs to avoid airlessness. Nikolai Lie Kaas and Maria Bonnevie have a strange chemistry, further underlining the peculiarity of the movie’s ambitious project. I watched it twice back to back and came away fascinated.
37. A Christmas Tale (Arnold Desplechin, 2008)
Arthur Desplechin’s great achievement is to make this complex, three hour ensemble drama seem so seamless. Through superb acting and writing we are given appropriate time to discover the multiple layers of this story about a torn family coming together for a Christmas time with their very ill mater familias. His admirable restraint keeps the family saga glowing with life and the threat of death. Mathieu Amaric, one of the breakout stars of this decade’s French movie scene, is particularly great as the unpredictable son.
38. Transamerica (Duncan Tucker, 2oo5)
Should a movie be honored for its honorable intentions? Generally I would say no, but the sheer fact that Transamerica was so unabashedly unlike anything else I saw all decade, I’m going to forgive its cliche-ridden portrayal of red state America. When corrected for that, Transamerica is an engaging and open-minded movie. Felicity Huffman is remarkable as the transsexual who discovers she has a son, and Kevin Zegers’ sexually fluent son made me root unapologetically for our odd couple. This truly genre-busting road movie has an acute eye for all possible subconcious prejudices, and balances its revelations effortlessly. A triumph.
39. Me And You And Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2oo5)
There’s a reason why film critic guru Roger Ebert says you shall not read other reviews when preparing to write your own. He might have added an extra warming about reading his reviews. It’s not that I don’t know what I loved about renessaince woman Miranda July’s debut feature, it’s just that Ebert has summarized it much better than I ever could. His point is that it is absolutely wrong to say that Me and You is a disturbing movie, although it has several provocative storylines. July has a far too keen understanding of people for that to be a fitting description. My personal favorite moment is when the insecure Richard is expecting a visit from the girl he’s in a beginning relationship with, and he suggests then rejects to clean up the messy room of his two sons. It’s a kids room. It’s supposed to be messy. ‘Be kids. That’s great.’, he says.
40. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
You cannot not take away one thing from this movie and say this is why it works. It might be how its counterintuitive narrator, who guides us through this unconventional love story through details, big and small, important or just plain silly. It might be how its cinematography lovingly embraces what’s so distinctively French about it, or how every frame is practically glowing with colors and attention to detail. Or, of course, it may be the lovely Audrey Tatou, who plays Amelie with a combination of cuteness and stubborness that adds yet another layer of unpredictability to the positively exceptional mix. Watch, then watch again.
41. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Having laid an impressive foundation with Batman Begins (2005), Christopher Nolan created the best blockbuster of the 00’s with The Dark Knight. Dark, unpredictable and richly allegorical, the cartoon universe brought out a career-defining performance from Heath Ledger, and some of the most disturbing images and questions in modern blockbustery. It’s no small feet to make even the moral dilemmas of Bruce Wayne, the blandest of superheroes, interesting. The movie holds up well, even after the hype, and outside of the movie theater.
42. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly. 2001)
At first sight, there’s something The Shining-esque about what Jake Gyllenhaal bring to Richard Kelly’s weird sci-fi drama. According to many (myself included), Jack Nicholson simply looked so crazy to begin with, that he could not concinvincingly turn crazy over the course of The Shining. But then I realize that the parallel breaks down. It’s not that Jake Gyllenhaal was necessarily physically meant to play Donnie Darko; he’s just so good at it. Sure, he has the somewhat insecure smile of someone not quite comfortable with himself, but you can see how Donnie devolves deeper into madness, and taking us with him. It’s a long time since I stopped trying to get this movie, but I still appreciate how it makes me feel confused, scared and utterly fascinated. It’s a mad world, indeed.
43. Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Francois Ozon, 2000)
One of French master director Francois Ozon’s lesser known movies, but arguably his best (my bid for second best: Time To Leave, 2005), this Fassbinder drama has the feel of a scarce but raw stage play. Exploring the dynamics of age difference and differing temperaments, the relationships between a middle-aged man and a 20 year old guy extends into a stylistically perfect, claustrophobic drama. Even directing someone else’s material, Ozon’s has an eager eye out for what make relationships break down, and even when he’s not quite on the mark (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, 5×2, Under The Sand), he’s one of the most interesting directors of his generation. Here, he’s most definitely on the mark.
44. Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)
I sense a backlash against this fairytale-like romantic comedy, but nothing will ever convince me to disown a movie in which the set of characters and actors is as strong as this one. Whether you like what it adds up to or not, you got to at least admit to enjoying Bill Nighy manic rockenroller, or Hugh Grant’s carefully honed Four Weddings rip-off prime minister, or the story about Liam Neeson’s kid? To say that there can never be too much of a good thing would be a lie, but Love Actually never seriously threatens to overload. And it’s a modern Christmas classic. They don’t come around often.
45. Monsun Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001)
I had two reactions to Monsun Wedding: The first was absolute joy at the warm atmosphere, crisp cinematography and general sense of having seen something genuinely unique. The second was a feeling that it might not have felt quite so unique if I was better versed in Indian cinema aesthetics. Still, it would be unfair to hold that against Mira Nair’s fine movie. And since movies are all about the feelings and instant emotional connections of the moment, and I haven’t had a chance to see it again, that immediately joy wins the day, and Monsun Wedding has earned a spot among the decade’s most enjoyable.
46. Hairspray (Adam Shankman, 2007)
The production values may be a little higher, but this adaptation of the stage version is still very much John Waters’ Hairspray. You Can’t Stop The Beat, the kids’ of civil rights era Baltimore insist, and the irresistible music makes it ring ever so true. Veterans like Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and John Travolta are visibly cherishing the challenge, and Nikki Blonski is fabulous as the unorthodox superstar of The Corny Collins Show. Also, Zac Efron took the time to poke some fun at himself before he left musicals to pursue a non-dancing acting career. From the very first chord of Good Morning Baltimore, Hairspray never fails to entertain.
47. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
It took someone like Guillermo Del Toro to imagine what Franco fascism would make an excellent backdrop for a adventure for grown-ups, but even more, it took Guillermo Del Toro to see it executed in such a beautiful way as in Pan’s Labyrinth. This fantastic fabel contains some of the most creepy, yet also some of the most moving, memories I have from the entire decade in movies. When Del Toro actually makes a magical realist drama about World War II, it suddently feels like the most obvious and effortless thing in the world.
48. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)
It took me years to warm to this one. I long considered Y Tu Mama Tambien little more than a somewhat more exotic version of the inexecrable batch of American sex comedies, but I slowly realized I was being unfair. It effortlessly makes use of recent Mexican history to poke gently at the existing political structure, while immersing in more detail in one of the better group portrayals of young adolescents I’ve seen. Every frame radiates with hormones, awkwardness and small secrets unspoken, adding up to what’s essentially an underrated relationship drama.
49. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2003)
The aughts were harsh to Tom Cruise, but before he crashed and burned, he headlined this visually and intellectually stimulating sci-fi thriller about the dangers of pre-cognitive technology. At his most stubbornly apolitical, Steven Spielberg created not only a thrill-ride, but also a useful political allegory for the civil liberties infringements of post-Patriot Act America. Still, it’s no coincidence that the two best Spielberg movies of the decade (Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can) blend a little humor into their seriousness. If you can stomach Cruise (I cannot anymore), Minority Report bears rewatching, several times.
50. Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry, 2000)
There’s a fine line between being authentic and just manipulative, and Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader) generally has an awful track record in coming down at the right side of that line, but with Billy Elliot, his directorial debut, did it perfectly, to great effect. When the son of a mineworker realizes he’d rather be a ballerina than a boxer, he doesn’t get much support from his father, but his ballet teacher (the unforgettable Juliette Walters) takes a stand for him following his dream. What ensues may not be a total surprise, but it has never been played in the context of the Thatcher era miners’ strike before, and that cultural clash adds a feeling of urgency to it that Disney’s otherwise entertaining High School Musical franchise could never muster. As always, Gary Lewis steals every scene as Billy’s father, but the real breakout star here was Jamie Bell, who now seems established as one to watch for the next decade. Don’t forget, he started as a Cosmic Dancer.
Honorable mentions (no particular order):
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2oo1)
Goodbye Lenin (W0lfgang Becker, 2oo3)
Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
City Of God (Fernando Meirelles/Katia Lind, 2002)
About A Boy (Chris Weitz, 2oo2)
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2006)
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)
I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004)
The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, 2004)
The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008)
Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2006)
The Kid Stays In The Picture (Nanette Burstein/Brett Morgen, 2003)
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chan-wook Park, 2005)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007)
The Edukators (Hans Weingartner, 2oo4)
Agent Cody Banks (Harald Zwart, 2oo3)
Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002)
Chaos (Coline Serreau, 2001)
Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter/David Silverman, 2001)
Time to Leave (Francois Ozon, 2005)
A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman, 2006)
Finding Neverland (Marc Forster, 2004)