This article doesn’t need much introduction beyond its title. I know that this list is several months late compared to most film critics, but what the heck. I hereby present part 1 of my top twenty films of the decade of 2000-2009!
20. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
At the time of this writing, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the only Michel Gondry film that I enjoy enough to watch over and over. Charlie Kaufman lets us into the weirdness of his mind, delivering a bittersweet narrative that is both unique and familiar. Jim Carrey proves here that he can play a sad clown just as well as a manic one, and he and Kate Winslet make one of the most believable on-screen couples in quite some time. This film also features sequences inside the mind of Jim Carrey’s character that make up some of the most accurate depictions of the way memories and dreams work that I have ever seen. It’s a wonderful movie, tear-jerkingly tragic and yet hopeful as well, and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when it topped many critics’ lists of the best films of the decade. While I do love it, it comes in at #20 for me.
19. The Incredibles
Combining the best bits of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and the Fantastic Four, The Incredibles is a thrilling film for people of all ages. The animation is wonderful, too, and it’s amazing how, in spite of the characters’ highly stylized appearences, the animators still managed to make them feel real and three-dimensional (and I’m not just talking about the physical space they occupy). Each character arc speaks to a different part of the viewer, from Mr. Incredible’s difficulty in accepting a life that’s less than extraordinary to Elastigirl’s dealing with becoming a suburban homemaker to Dash’s desire to be all that he can be and Violet’s struggle with her shyness and low self-esteem. I honestly felt more for the animated characters in this movie than I did in countless live-action films, and that really shows how well-crafted The Incredibles is. And did I mention awesome action sequences? A great sense of humour? How about Samuel L. Jackson in a supporting role? There is so much good on display here. Incredible doesn’t even begin to cover it.
18. No Country For old Men
The barely present score, the gorgeous cinematography, the terrific performances, the sinister overtones…there are so many things that make No Country For Old Men great. The Coen brothers have succeeded in creating a modern film noir western, bloody and gripping, with serious emotional weight. Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem all give tour-de-force performances, and you walk away from the film wondering just what you would do if you were put in Llewellyn Moss’s situation. The skill with which the Coens crafted No Country For Old Men really cemented them in my mind as some of the absolute best filmmakers working today.
There are two movies on this list about the creative process of writing, and both of them speak to me in different ways. Adaptation is the end result of Charlie Kaufman’s neurosis in the face of adapting what he considers to be an unadaptable book into a film, and it’s nothing short of brilliant. Kaufman basically decides that, rather than adapt the book, he’ll just write about his struggle with writer’s block, and the movie begins to take on a life of its own from there. Kaufman even creates a sort of bizarro alter-ego for himself in the form of his fictional twin brother Donald, who represents basically everything Charlie hates about the movie industry and its love for mindless schlock. It’s a must-see for any aspiring writer, and between this and Being John Malkovich, Kaufman and director Spike Jonze have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with in the realm of brain-bending films. Oh, and as a final note: this is one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances ever, in my opinion.
Christopher Nolan’s original masterpiece, Memento is as much a film as it is a riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Since I first saw it, I was blown away by the way in which Nolan constructed the film to not only reflect the protagonist’s disjointed, erratic memory lapses, but to also give the viewer the necessary tools to unravel the mysteries of the plot. Figuring out the order of the scenes is just the first step in discovering what’s really going on, though if you’re so inclined you can just snoop out the easter egg on the special edition DVD that puts Memento in order for you. The downside is that, if viewed in proper chronological sequence, the movie is kinda dull – but that was never the point, because this was never the way it was meant to be seen. This is the perfect movie to break out when you’re hanging out with friends late at night and somebody says that The Dark Knight is the greatest movie ever made. If you want a great brain-teaser of a film, then I can think of no better match than Memento.
15. Children of Men
There are so many fantastic things about this film – from the cast to the script to the special effects – that it would be hard to single out one thing as being above-and-beyond amazing. But there is one aspect of this movie that blew me away, and that is the cinematography. Remarkably long stretches of the film are shown in a single, uncut take, and the result is mind-boggling. You feel as though you’re watching footage of actual people in real situations, and it adds real weight to the proceedings. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll let the clip speak for itself. Watching this, even now after so many viewings, still gives me chills:
14. Stranger Than Fiction
This movie’s premise is so unusual, so wholly original, that I fell in love with it the moment I heard it. Stranger Than Fiction is a must-see for all aspiring writers, for it asks some very interesting questions about the nature of fiction and the potential consequences of the creative process. The film also contains many whimsical, philosophical ponderances on the nature of life and death, and manages the daunting feat of being both uproariously funny and deeply sad at the same time. It’s a great mix, and every little element of this movie shines as a result. As with all the movies on this list, the cast is just amazing. Will Ferrell is surprisingly sympathetic as the dull everyman Harold Crick whose life is promptly turned upside-down when he starts hearing a voice narrating his life, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a thinking man’s hottie as the anarchist baker Anna Pasqual, and Rolls Royce calibre actors Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson help elevate this movie above being your average comedy. Throw in two great supporting performances by Queen Latifah as a tough-as-nails editor and Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale as Crick’s nerdy co-worker, and you have a film that is unlike any other. Bittersweet, hilarious, sweet and romantic – truth is: Stranger Than Fiction is cinematic gold.
13. The Royal Tenenbaums
Though he already had Bottle Rocket and Rushmore under his belt, it was the release of The Royal Tenenbaums that really got Wes Anderson noticed. This movie deserves all the praise that it gets. The script is both simple and highly intelligent, the quirky characters featured in it have practically given birth to their own film genre (would Juno have ever been made had it not been for this movie?), and the storybook style, prefaced by a faceless person withdrawing the novel The Royal Tenenbaums from a library and aided by Alex Baldwin’s sombre narration, all combine to make this a cinematic gem that will glisten long into the future. Gene Hackman, an actor I’m not normally too keen on, gives an outstanding performance as Royal Tenenbaum – not a bad man, but a bit of a son of a bitch, to quote Danny Glover’s character – and the rest of the all-star cast follow suit as well. Even Ben Stiller, who annoys the heck of out me in 90% of his roles, gives a great turn as Chas Tenenbaum, the overachieving eldest son turned paranoid safety-freak by the death of his wife. Beautiful and heart-breaking, funny and tragic, this movie is simply wonderful.
12. 28 Days Later
I have long admired the films of Danny Boyle, but it wasn’t until 28 Days Later that I really understood the power that this man wields behind the camera. With its chillingly bleak depiction of London deserted and overrun by bloodthirsty cannibals, Boyle gave fans of the zombie movie (I know, I know, technically this isn’t a zombie movie…but it is, so shut up) something they had never seen before: a realistic vision of the end of the world. The handheld video cameras that the film was shot on only enhance this vision and create a kind of home-movie feel that somehow makes the film even more realistic and terrifying. The soundtrack featuring Brian Eno is hauntingly beautiful, the small cast featuring Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston is top-notch, and the script is so solid you could build an office building on it. Between this, the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, the past ten years have been more than kind to zombie lovers like me.
11. Sin City
The hardest of the hard-boiled, Sin City is beautiful in its wickedness, delivering bullets, babes and badasses to the audience in spades. Not only is this a shining entry into the film noir genre, but it is filtered through a rich, dark, gorgeous graphic novel style so stunning that even if you don’t like the content of the movie, the look of it will have you mesmerized. With a cast of awesome actors including Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Rutger Hauer, Elijah Wood, and Benicio Del Toro (to name but a handful), there’s much entertainment to be had in Sin City, and between the gruesome moments of white-blooded violence, there are also many darkly comedic touches that elevate the movie above typical schlock. The Tarantino-directed scene between Clive Owen’s Dwight and Benecio Del Toro’s recently-expired Jackie Boy is both sinister and hilarious, and serves as yet another example of why I love both Tarantino and Rodriguez alike. What more can I say? Sin City is the condensation of everything we enjoy about crime movies, and I can’t wait until Rodriguez finally gets around to making a sequel.
And so ends part 1 of my top films of the past ten years! Read the second half of my list by clicking here!