I held off this list for a few weeks into the new decade because I held out hope that some of the late-2009 releases might sneak onto the list. Sadly, there are still a significant number of top films from 2009 that haven't been released in London yet, so I'll just have to hope that I find them all underwhelming. Obviously, this list could become outdated as soon as I see a random film from, say, 2002 that missed my eyes the first time, but it would be downright silly if it became outdated if I saw a great new movie, say, next week. But enough of the qualifiers! Onto the list!
Adaptation, Almost Famous, Anchorman, Black Hawk Down, Brokeback Mountain, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum, Cast Away, Catch Me If You Can, Chicago, High Fidelity, Hot Fuzz, The Hurt Locker, In The Loop, The Lord Of The Rings (whole trilogy), Moulin Rouge, Ocean's Eleven, Old School, Ong-Bak, Shanghai Knights, Slumdog Millionaire, Spellbound, There Will Be Blood, Tropic Thunder, 21 Grams, Walk Hard, Zoolander
Best In Show
Children Of Men
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Kill Bill (Vols. 1 and 2)...had this been one tightly-edited movie, it makes the cut
No Country For Old Men
A Prairie Home Companion
Talk To Her
3:10 To Yuma
And finally, the big thirteen. I considered putting them in numerical order but I know that as time goes by, my opinions will shift and those rankings will become meaningless other than existing as a snapshot of what I thought of these films on this particular day. But what's important is that these are the baker's dozen of movies that most stick in my mind when I think of the last 10 years. In reverse alphabetical order...
An incredibly tragic and moving character study of a guy who is addicted to professional wrestling (among other things). There might have been a few better performances in the decade than Mickey Rourke's work in this film, but none were more perfectly cast. It carried an even bigger impact for someone who grew up watching pro wrestling as I did, but still, the film makes it easy for a newcomer to understand the unique world of wrasslin'.
Once upon a time, M. Night Shyamalan wasn't a joke. For all of the hype that 'Sixth Sense' received, 'Unbreakable' is the better movie with arguably an even better twist ending. (Though, to be fair, I was spoiled about Sixth Sense before I saw it, so perhaps I'm not the one to fully gauge the surprise factor of the two endings.) I love that it takes about three-quarters of the movie to realize what it's fully about and what's going on. Since 'Unbreakable' was originally intended to be the first movie of a trilogy about David Dunn, just think --- Shyamalan devoting his time to this project could've spared us all from The Happening, The Village and Lady In The Water. Damn you, weak box office numbers!
There's a certain school of thinking that says the second movie of a comic book franchise is usually the best, since by the second film, the makers can just focus on telling a kickass story rather than having to rehash the origin story. Superman II, X-Men II, Dark Knight to some extent, arguably even Batman Returns, but the grand-daddy of this theory is Spider-Man II. As an avid fan of the Spidey comics as a kid, I thought the first Spider-Man movie was just a bit too caught in rehashing elements from the comic books that I had already seen before. Spidey II, however, just introduces Doc Ock and just rolls from there. This was, truly, the Spider-Man movie I had been hoping to see since I was nine years old. And now that Sam Raimi is off of the Spidey franchise and it's being re-set to a high school setting to appeal to the Twilight/High School Musical crowd, Spider-Man II will stand forever as the best Spidey film ever made.
Had I ranked these films in order, this might have been number one. Just a fantastic, near-perfect experience that's a combination of both a war movie and a fantasy. I read a fantastic essay online that compared P's L to the Wizard of Oz as sort of like a modern-day equivalent (though I'd hesitate to show it to any kids who can't take a bit of gore), but sadly, I can't find a link to said essay. Say what you will about the Joker, Anton Chigurh or Hans Landa, but Sergi Lopez's Captain Vidal character might just be the biggest sonuvabitch of a villain in this entire decade. And don't leave out the utter creepiness of the Pale Man, a.k.a. that thing with the eyes on its hands.
Gentlemen, take it from me (you know, the guy with a social life so barren it resembles Al Capone's vault): 'Once' is the date movie to end all date movies. It's the best musical of the decade without *really* being a traditional musical, takes an almost documentary-like approach to chronicling the lives of two people who are perfect for each other and it contains arguably the best chill scene of the decade (the scene at the piano in the music shop). Trust me fellas, if you rent this with your gal one night, there is a better than 80 percent chance you will get laid. Even when I went to see it, I...well, I went to see it alone. But I gave my popcorn bag an extra-big hug on the way out of the theatre.
Put it this way, after seeing Memento, my pal Dave and I hung out in the theatre lobby for about 45 minutes afterwards trying to figure the thing out. A couple of years later, I wrote an extensive essay about the film for an English class comparing Nolan's views on memory to those of John Locke (the philosopher, not the LOST character). Plus I've seen the movie probably eight or nine times and read a bunch of critical analyses about it. And, still, there's always some new angle or element to the film that I pick up on after watching it again. If I was breaking this list down in Oscars-style, "Memento" wins the best screenplay award hands-down.
The most recent movie to crack the list, but I'm pretty sure that IB would've stood the test of time even if it wasn't so fresh in my mind. Citizen Kane was once described as a collection of every film style from the first 40 years of the cinema, and while I'm not putting IB in that illustrious company, I get the feeling that Tarantino was going for the same kind of melange --- you've got some French New Wave, a violent 'Dirty Dozen' style homage, propaganda movies, etc. I already went nuts talking about this film in one post, so why repeat myself when I can just link to it?
It's possible that this film is to blame for the incredible shittiness of the Fantastic Four movies. The FF filmmakers must've gone to see 'Incredibles' and left frustrated that the "family of superheroes" concept was so totally co-opted by Pixar and yet elevated to such great heights. I'd almost feel sorry for the FF crew, except for the fact that I paid $10 to see the first Fantastic Four movie and I'm still offended. But anyway, no list of the best films of the 2000's is complete with some Pixar representation, and maybe it was due to my love of the superhero genre that 'Incredibles' gets the duke over such other outstanding fare as 'Finding Nemo.' It's also kind of funny to note that in virtually every other contemporary comic book movie, the villain's downfall ultimately comes because (you guessed it) he's too busy monologuing.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Steve Carell is just a likable guy. Michael Scott is a sociopath in another actor's hands, and Andy Stitzer becomes a three-dimensional person that you're actually rooting for to get laid, rather than just some creepy nerdy oddity. 4YOV kicked off the (mostly good) Judd Apatow comedy dynasty and is still certainly the best of Apatow's directorial efforts. Carell is probably the reason for that --- as noted, you're rooting for Andy, whereas Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up" and Adam Sandler in "Funny People" are both kind of assholes. 4YOV is also notable for the fact that virtually the entire cast went onto bigger stardom in the second half of the decade, leading to countless "Hey, it's ____!" moments when you watch the movie today. The 'act like David Caruso' scene probably takes the prize as the funniest scene in the movie.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Probably Charlie Kaufman's best and most layered script (with equal credit to Pierre Bismuth and Michel Gondry, who came up with the story and, in Gondry's case, directed the bloody thing). Possibly Kate Winslet's best performance, definitely Jim Carrey's best performance and one of the more visually interesting movies of the decade. "Once" is the best of the traditional romances on the list, but ESOTSM is by all standards a more realistic sort of look at relationships. We all have people in our lives we'd like to forget, but whereas the Eternal Sunshine folks used technology, we just have to stick with drinking. Oh, Jenny McAllister in the fourth grade, will you ever get out of my head?! *chugs fifth of Jack*
The Dark Knight
What more can you say about a movie that made money hand over fist, drew near-unanimous acclaim from critics, elevated Heath Ledger into the James Dean Memorial Pantheon Of Actors Who Went Before Their Time and spurred on a million arguments about whether or not Maggie Gyllenhaal is attractive or not? 'Batman Begins' started Chris Nolan's attempts to move comic-book fare into a more real-world territory, and TDK solidified it. (The "Joker as a terrorist" plot point, which is only lightly touched on, was an underrated framing element in making people take the film as a serious thriller rather than just looking at Joker as a goofy comic villain.) I couldn't be any more fired up for the third Nolan Bat-film.
TDK was so good and so iconic that 'Batman Begins' gets somewhat forgotten in its wake. But BB had arguably the more difficult task --- tell Batman's origin story (again) in a fresh way and restart an entire franchise that had been beaten into submission by Joel Schumacher and company. It managed to do both because, as my buddy Trevor described it, it's not a 'Batman movie' so much as it is a dark story about a man driven to vigilanteism and, oh yeah, he happens to be Batman. It's a Bruce Wayne movie, not a Batman movie. By the way, in case you're keeping track, Christopher Nolan made five movies this decade, and three of them are in my top 13 (and Prestige just missed). If I ever meet Christopher Nolan, I owe the man an ice cream cone.
Cute, sweet, endearing, charming, quirky...you name a pleasant affectation, 'Amelie' has it. It's a bit disappointing that Jean-Pierre Jeunet has been so quiet since Amelie's release in 2001, but in fairness, it's a tough act to follow. (And, Jeunet has a new film that just premiered at TIFF last year.) My friend Kyle's hilarious criticism of the movie: "Weren't you at all bothered by the roundabout way Amelie goes about pursuing her man I'll admit that, after a while, I was somewhat exasperated. Just go and tell him you love him, already! Does that make me unsentimental?" Answer, yes. And criticizing Amelie for pursuing her man in odd ways is like wondering why Barney Stinson doesn't just straight-up ask women out --- it's just not in their nature. By the way, there's no truth to the rumour that UWO passed a school by-law requiring every female student between the years of 2001 and 2004 to have an Amelie poster hanging in their dorm room and/or off-campus residence.