Monday, 28 December 2009

my best of the decade movie list

TOP 69

No – I’m not trynta be funny. These are the movies that make my brain just say YES as I pass through their titles in the list. No qualms, no hesitations.

My entire list has over 100 – the rest are below. The best I could do was split my list into two alphabetically arranged “halves”. Sorry, but I just couldn't manage an actual order of preference, which, I think, is as it should be -- movies are subjective things and times and moods change, and with them preferences. Suffice it to say I'd be happy on a desert island with just the top least, for a while.

Most of them need no explanation as they are on a lot of lists (if I think an explanation or encouragement is needed it’s there); some of them were slept on and some of them other people don’t like at all. That’s okay with me. If there are movies you think are missing, I might not have seen them (yet) or I might just not think of them the same way as other people.

So here are my best movies of the decade – alphabetically:

  1. 28 Days Later
  2. 40 Year Old Virgin
  3. 8 Mile – Yes, I mean it. This is a super-tight, old school Hollywood underdog movie. With the best pop song ever written.
  4. A History of Violence
  5. Adaptation
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Amores Perros
  8. Bad Education
  9. Before Night Falls
  10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Slept-on – Netflix this!
  11. Cache
  12. Capturing the Friedmans – This was a tough call, having grown up near the Friedmans and remembering them, I felt that maybe I was including it because I knew them, or maybe including it was in some way exploiting them. I believe it’s on the list because it’s a great documentary that explores the ways that people and truth can be tragically unknowable.
  13. Children of Men
  14. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  15. Dodgeball – This movie is hilarious every time I watch it.
  16. Elf – Brings magic back to cinema – yes, totally a best.
  17. Ghost Dog
  18. Good Night and Good Luck
  19. Gosford Park
  20. Hero
  21. High Fidelity
  22. Hunger
  23. In Bruges
  24. In the Cut – Ah – slept-on and forgotten, Jane Campion’s sexy thriller features Meg Ryan in her post-divorce image-changing role, Mark Ruffalo on the cusp of all those great parts and yet another perfectly-pitched turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh. For a non-NY-er, Jane Campion gets New York completely right.
  25. In the Mood for Love
  26. Inland Empire – This is my choice for David Lynch of the decade – complex, testy, difficult, puzzling, and ultimately fulfilling.
  27. Into the Wild
  28. Iron Man
  29. Kill Bill Vol 2
  30. Knocked Up
  31. Kung Fu Hustle
  32. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  33. Lost in Translation
  34. Man on Wire
  35. Me, You and Everyone We Know – There is something so delicately wonderful about this film – it is the best of what we used to call Independent, when we meant it.
  36. Memento
  37. Michael Clayton – I think this was robbed of the best picture Oscar.
  38. Motorcycle Diaries
  39. Notes on a Scandal – Goes down as one of the great two-handers – two fine actresses playing great roles with mutually assured destruction in sight. Brilliant.
  40. O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
  41. Once – A little indie movie that brings magic back to filmmaking and revitalizes the musical.
  42. Pan’s Labyrinth
  43. Secretary – Comedy, and black comedy, have made huge strides in the 00’s, and this may have jump-started that process. Maggie Gyllenhaal becomes a star and James Spader regains his title as loveable-but-sexually-odd-and-compelling indie guy.
  44. Shaun of the Dead
  45. Sideways
  46. Slumdog Millionaire
  47. Team America
  48. Tekkonkinkreet – Thanks to alfienumeric I got to watch this fantastic animation. Find it. Watch it.
  49. The Aviator – I avoided seeing this one for ages, because I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. This portrait of a brilliant but fragile mind is devastating and so well-handled. This has my vote for Scorsese of the decade. The Departed was staid, plodding, and run of the mill in comparison.
  50. The Darjeeling Limited – For sure I wrestled with putting two Wes Anderson’s on the list, but this movie feels like a companion piece to Royal Tenenbaums and hits an emotional place his other movies do not.
  51. The Devil’s Backbone – The movie that made me fall in love with Guillermo del Toro – if you haven’t seen this RUN to see it. On a screen, if possible.
  52. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Beauty and perfection.
  53. The Door in the Floor – Gut-wrenching, sexy, emotional, dysfunctional, wealthy writer and family angst. With a little Cougar action thrown in. Jeff Bridges is fantastic and Kim Basinger hasn’t been this interesting since L.A. Confidential.
  54. The Incredibles
  55. The Man Who Wasn’t There – Def slept-on for a Coen Brothers movie. Great Billy Bob, ScarJo, fantastic b&w cinematography, haunting, often amusing, and dangerous.
  56. The Piano Teacher – Haneke is cinema’s great genius and Huppert is at her absolute peak.
  57. The Pledge – Jack Nicholson sheds all his Jack Nicholson-ness to become a haunted and tortured man undone by his own loyalty to justice. Sean Penn’s direction is bleak, intimate and masterful. Robin Wright Penn creates moments on the screen unparalleled by any actor.
  58. The Royal Tenenbaums
  59. The Squid and the Whale
  60. The Unloved – Samantha Morton’s directorial debut. Slept-on.
  61. The Wind that Shakes the Barley – This movie thoroughly undid me to the point that I couldn’t actually finish watching it. And it’s still on the list.
  62. Things Behind the Sun – Allison Anders creates something fragile, intimate, and very close to real life in this movie. Understated, slept-on. Great cast including Kim Dickens, Gabriel Mann and Don Cheadle.
  63. This is England – Masterful.
  64. Training Day – Despite my problem with the third act of this movie, I put it on here. For the level of performance and craft, for its dark soul, for getting L.A. right and for seeing Denzel go for broke.
  65. V for Vendetta
  66. Waking Life – This movie is like a book you can always come back to with new secrets – shocked this is not on more lists!
  67. Wall-E
  68. X-2
  69. Y Tu Mama Tambien

And the bottom “half” which isn’t really half or bottom – also alphabetically:

  1. Across the Universe
  2. An Inconvenient Truth
  3. Bad Santa
  4. Batman Begins – Yes, that’s right. And no, I didn’t like Dark Knight better.
  5. Blood Diamond – I’m not an Ed Zwick movie fan, but this was his best for me so far, with great performances.
  6. Blow – I think this movie should be remembered. It’s got great actors and performances, tells a killer story, is still stylish and doesn’t shy away from its material. RIP Ted Demme.
  7. Broken Flowers – Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray is a nice combination. Add to that the cameos by great actresses and the meandering spirit of the story. Lacks the intensity of Ghost Dog, but has heart and whimsy.
  8. Collateral – Michael Mann. What a troublemaker. He’s the best of times and the worst of times, but this film is a gem of a two-hander with great performances, great craft, and just enough intrigue.
  9. Downfall
  10. Far From Heaven
  11. Frida – Did everyone forget how lush and exciting this film was?
  12. Friends with Money – Nicole Holofcener cuts both ways for me. She sometimes chooses material that is too light and airy, but I thought this one really brave in examining an issue that heretofore I think was only examined in the Friends episode about splitting the check at dinner (oddly, also starring Jennifer Aniston).
  13. Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Slept-on. I liked this movie BETTER than the actual show.
  14. Hotel Rwanda
  15. House of Flying Daggers
  16. I’m Not There
  17. Igby Goes Down – Did everyone forget Burr Steers’ fantastic directorial debut?
  18. Juno - Yeah, okay - this may be the one instance I've succumbed to peer pressure. TC and I did have a kinda "so what's the big deal" moment in the theatre after seeing it. I think it's iconic, though, and I like it for the way that people behave like people and not like headless reactionaries with big mouths. I like it for J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Allison Janney's humanity and humour. For the soundtrack. For Michael Cera. And yeah, it's this close to not being on the list.
  19. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shane Black’s killer return with smooth as silk dialogue, slick performances and sexy everything.
  20. Life as a House – I don’t know what it is about this movie, but, yes.
  21. Little Miss Sunshine
  22. Man on Fire – This movie gets better everytime I see it. Has that In the Line of Fire feel, but with grit and real human stakes.
  23. Maria Full of Grace – This still stands out among the wave of movies dealing with immigration and the wave of Sundance movies.
  24. Munich – Yeah, I’m kinda surprised, too. But it is a great film.
  25. Nowhere in Africa – Slept-on despite its best foreign film Oscar.
  26. Nurse Betty – Bet you forgot how much you dug that movie!
  27. Paris, Je T’aime – Yeah, an anthology – weird, huh? But what a great one.
  28. Passing Strange - How I wish I'd seen the show, but Spike Lee's filming of it is almost as good - in fact, if it were any better, I couldn't stand it. Stew has revitalized the one-man autobiographical show genre by making it musical and letting the other characters speak, sing, and dance for themselves.
  29. Pirates of the Carribbean
  30. School of Rock
  31. Something’s Gotta Give
  32. Spanglish – Unfortunately-titled dramedy that captures the L.A. dichotomy between rich and privileged and poor and immigrant. Great performances by Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Cloris Leachman, and the radiant Paz Vega .
  33. Stranger Than Fiction – I like this movie better now than when I saw it. Go figure. There’s something charming about it.
  34. Superbad – McLovin it.
  35. Sylvia – Allow me one chick poet with a cheating husband personal bias movie on the list. Please. Thank you. Plus great Daniel Craig performance when he still acted.
  36. Synecdoche, NY – I found watching this movie absolutely excruciating. It is, however, a great film. Not for everyone – you have to really love Charlie Kaufman.
  37. Syriana
  38. The Anniversary Party – Yes, they are slightly evil, spoiled, childish people. They are also completely exposed by this film in ways that make them just like everyone else. The spirit of collaboration that made the project happen cannot be ignored, either, as it brings to much of the resonance of personal histories into the mix.
  39. The Hangover – Inventive, raucous, silly, wrong wrong wrong. And thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.
  40. The Others – This movie should be on more lists, I think. Haunting, visually stunning and probably the last Cruise-Kidman collaboration.
  41. The Quiet American – Slept-on. Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in a Graham Greene adaptation with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan. Directed by Phillip Noyce.
  42. The Science of Sleep – Delightful over and over. Don’t take life so literally and you might just get what you want. Gondry is the genius invention of the 20th Century and Gael Garcia Bernal a perfect muse.
  43. Tropic Thunder – This movie was LOUD! And funny as sh*t.
  44. Venus – Unexpectedly touching – Peter O’Toole is still an actor with fine craft. Vanessa Redgrave is wonderful. Roger Michell's direction restrained and in service of the text and actors, as usual. Script by Hanif Kureishi.
  45. Vicki Cristina Barcelona – I found the first ten minutes of this movie EXCRUCIATING. And the rest sheer bliss. Tribute to Javier Bardem and yes, Penelope Cruz deserved an Oscar.
  46. Wet Hot American Summer
  47. Whale Rider
  48. White Oleander – Slept-on. A great adaptation of a truly fantastic book. Strong actresses in a strong story, well-told.
  49. Wonder Boys – I loved the book so much, the movie fell short, but it still has a place in my heart. I’d always imagined Jeff Bridges in the part, but Michael Douglas is alright and it’s the best of Kaite Holmes we’ll ever get.

What you think is missing from my list that I haven’t seen: Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, White Balloon (and other late 2009 releases), Inglorious Basterds, The Lives of Others, Gladiator, The Departed, Oldboy, Audition, Up, Best of Youth, Spirited Away, Gomorrah, the Harold and Kumar movies, and probably some more.

I just wasn’t that into them: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Traffic, Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Dark Knight, Ocean’s 11, The Bourne Ultimatum, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mulholland Drive, Erin Brockovich, et al. Yeah, I know they’re on everyone else’s lists.

The trends I saw in the aughts that were interesting:

The gradual death of American Independent film. As directing became a default choice for a generation of film school graduates, the actual vision associated with independent film became more and more diluted, the voice and vision that made American Independent cinema rise has given way to a bunch of people who want to direct, but are lacking point of view and stories to tell. There is no next Tarantino, as there was no previous Tarantino. Around the world, compelling stories are happening every day, and in places like Iran, Israel, Palestine and Mexico, directors with vision are rising to tell them. While there is always room for stories of true intimacy and identity, the day-to-day stories of cushy American life can’t hold a candle to the struggles going on daily around the world from which amazing stories emerge – at least, not the way they are currently being approached.

The return of Funny (or Smart and Funny?) – Maybe it was the times, the wars, the post 9/11 angst, but funny movies haven’t had it so good since the first crop of SNL stars got out of their contracts and hit the big screen. The handover from Farrelly Bros to Apatow is complete and welcome. The stakes for comedies have been upped, the subgenres remapped and one hopes the hits keep coming.

George Clooney – Not the best actor. Yet invariably involved with great material as an actor, director, and producer. Uses his star power to consistently get great things made and out to the world. Much respect.

New Mexican Cinema – Not so new anymore, but directors like del Toro, Cuaron and Gonzalez Inarritu are not only doing challenging and beautiful work, they are helping others to do the same. (If you haven’t seen Cuaron’s 1998 version of Great Expectations with Gwyneth Paltrow,Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and Anne Bancroft, you might want to check it out.)

That's it. That's all I got. Unless I remember some more. Feel free to take issue, take me to task, or send me iTunes gift certificates so I can watch your favorite movies that I might have missed.

P.S. I've done my best to mitigate spelling and factual errors, not confuse Chris O'Donnell with Brendan Fraser (close call) and generally be on point. Feel free to point out errors and ommissions in a kind fashion.


scn said...

I admit that many of your 473 films would be on my extended list, had I continued. There were MANY MANY very strong films that I simply had below the dividing bar, which allowed me to stop and take a nap, visit with family, that sort of thing.

In quite a few slots (ELF, 28 DAYS LATER, DODGEBALL, X2) you seem to be giving a lot of credence to very FUN films, films that completely succeed but perhaps are not complete, if you catch my meaning.

There are a few in your top list I just flat didn't care for: 8 MILE, IN THE CUT, TEKKONKINKREET, WAKING LIFE.

Then there are some I just hated. FRIENDS WITH MONEY earns my highest disdain. NURSE BETTY and SPANGLISH come awfully close.

Then there are films I was delighted to see you included, like THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, MAN ON FIRE (have you seen the original, though?), THE PLEDGE and SECRETARY.

Then there are times I just don't get it...why put KUNG FU HUSTLE but not SHAOLIN SOCCER? We'll have to talk about that one.

As to your observations at bottom, PERSEPOLIS is brilliant, WALTZ WITH BASHIR is brilliant, AVATAR - only good, THE HURT LOCKER is brilliant, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is brilliant, THE LIVES OF OTHERS surprisingly dull, GLADIATOR - what? where have you been?, THE DEPARTED is great fun, scenery-chewing to be had by all, OLDBOY/AUDITION/UP all brilliant (and I love having them in the same run-on sentence), GOMORRA - just brilliant. So kiddo, you're missing a lot of good schtuff.

I would still place THERE WILL BE BLOOD quite highly if done non-alphabetically, and I know this bewitches you. I will forever maintain the glory and awe that is TWBB. Period.

"Independent film" is nonsense. Dead or nonsense. If it was already dying a slow death, JUNO stabbed it in the throat.

You're absolutely right: intelligently funny films (even if about lowest-common-denominator stuff) have returned in full force.

You're absolutely right about Clooney. Unless you include GOATS.

That Mexican thing? I think it was a two-year flash in the pan. THE BURNING PLAIN was a dud, and the others have fallen into surprisingly commercial efforts for the most part. We should wait to claim trends after they've lasted 5-10 years.

Oh and by the way: love your work. ;-)

E. Amato said...

Ok - there are only like um 115 films! And plenty of people are doing top 100!

I LOVE Dodgeball. There's nothing I can do about it. And Elf, and 28 Days Later and X2.

A lot of people disliked In the Cut, but I'm surprised as a Texan and cinema buff you didn't dig Waking Life! I'm not a Linklater fan on the whole, but I loved that one.

I know a lot of people who hated Friends with Money. Surprised you didn't like Nurse Betty!

Original of Man on Fire? Where? When? What?

Um, I didn't see Shaolin Soccer. I didn't know it was funny. I thought it was one of those annoying Full Monty-type movies. I will see it now that I know.

I did see Gladiator. Snooze. And The Departed. Snooze. I'm scared to see Oldboy. It's going to be way too violent for me, I'm sure.

My movie time and budget are limited, so I do miss things.

LOL at your Juno comment.

Didn't/won't see Goats, based on yours and others comments.

Well, I think the Mexican thing did last ten years. I think it started late 90's.

Thanks for the banter! I may have to have another look at your list now.

scn said...

Further comments because I'm in a very relaxed day-off kinda mood:

Texan? No, just misplaced Tennesseean. And I don't buy into that regional support thing. Linklater's best film was DAZED AND CONFUSED and unfortunately hasn't made one I've liked since.

The original MAN ON FIRE was a 1987 French/Italian production with Scott Glenn in the lead and Joe Pesci and Jonathan Pryce in supporting roles. I recall it being pretty harsh without Tony Scott's gore. But I do like the remake; I think it is some of Washington's best work.

I love talking about movies with you. And clearly not because we like all the same things. :-P

E. Amato said...

I never saw Dazed and Confused. I found those Before Sunrise/Sunset whatever movies insipid.

Didn't realize you were from Tennessee! One of the few states I've never been to.

Original Man on Fire sounds worth finding.

Yes - talking movies is fun! I think I got into a fight with a drunk friend last night about my list. He was close-talking, so I tuned out after a bit.

I wish this app would send me a notification when there are comments, so I'd know!