This ends my trawl of the internets to find materials I wrote about movies before I started this blog two years ago, materials unseen by anyone but my friends. I hope it proves to be of some use to all y’all.
The criteria for choosing the best films of a decade is different than the best of a year, for me anyway. I immediately ask myself: what movies have aged well in my mind? What scenes have replayed themselves behind my eyes, what characters continue to live in my head? As always, rewatchability is a big thing with me, too.
I originally had a Best 25, but folded five back into the long list. Those who heard me discuss my picks on CKDU heard what those extra five were, but I feel more secure in this final collection of 20. I also include a list of 10 documentaries that really moved me. There was a new appreciation for the form in the past 10 years, largely due to Michael Moore’s wild box office success, that I wanted to acknowledge.
Please feel free to disagree, comment, or otherwise slag my choices, or offer up some of your own that I might have missed…
Best 20 Movies of the Aughties (Naughties?)
20 Primer (2004)
A low budget tour-de-force, Shane Carruth’s haunting time-travel drama tapped into a universal fear of the unknown. In it these white-collared science drones create something in their garage that they immediately use for personal profit, and it quickly gets out of hand. The last 20 minutes are totally confusing, but the creepiness stays with you.
19 Eastern Promises (2007)
More people loved Cronenberg’s previous movie A History of Violence, but I liked this one for its rock-solid London atmosphere, its grimy, frightening thriller tone and for Viggo Mortensen’s intensity, playing a central character a little like Gabriel Byrne in the Coen’s Miller’s Crossing, someone whose motivations are opaque for most of the running time.
18 Ghost World (2001)
Terry Zwigoff creates a hilarious, freaky world populated by misfits and collectors, and we get to see a dark comedy of a sort I’ve never seen before, adapted from Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel of the same name. The characters have now become something of a cult reference, highlighting how being interested in things outside the mainstream gives certain people a sense of pride, of belonging, even as they hate themselves.
17 Away from Her (2006)
Based on a short story by Alice Munro, Sarah Polley’s directorial debut is on the surface a simple story of a man who struggles to cope with his wife’s institutionalization for Alzheimer’s, and her becoming attracted to another man. It’s also one of the most beautiful love stories put on film in recent years, and one of the saddest.
16 The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
The most polarizing of Wes Anderson’s films, from a director that already polarizes people, I can’t help but think Anderson found some kind of perfect joy in this movie that he has yet to top. Upon first viewing in the cinema I found it too quirky, but in repeated viewings I’ve reevaluated the movie as a collection of moments: of an unorthodox family trying to reconnect with itself, and of a crazy-good visual and cinematic imagination, as well as an ode to Jacques Cousteau, for any kid who wanted to be an undersea adventurer. One of the best soundtracks of the decade, too, with Seu Jorge singing all those Bowie songs, collected with Mark Mothersbaugh’s excellent electronica.
15 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle made his name with taught, visually adrenalized features, and this is no exception. The movie revived a moribund genre, the zombie movie, by emptying out London in a brilliant opening segment, and then following it up with an alternately terrifying and thrilling action flick, peopled by characters you care about.
14 Bright Star (2009)
There were precious few effective and moving period films in the past 10 years, what with the end of the Merchant & Ivory brand, but Jane Campion did so well with this one. Not only is it so unselfconscious and funny, it’s also a gorgeously shot weepie that earns its tears with the intelligence of its storytelling, the tale of doomed young love, Fanny Brawne and poet John Keats, where you can see their raw youth, and laugh at them a little, but much more often, with them.
13 No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Coen Brothers never bore, do they? Even when they misfire, they always find a way to amuse or provoke, and this film was their furthest from a misfire this decade, a Cormac McCarthy novel brought to violent and existential life, that one time when the best movie of the year was also anointed as so by the Academy Awards. When has that ever happened, with Javier Bardem’s creepy killer getting the best supporting actor nod. I really like the theme in the Coen’s work of the arbitrary nature of evil, of god, of fate.
12 Children of Men (2006)
Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuarón creates one of the most impressive dystopic visions of any decade, a shocking science fiction picture that seems very plausible: humanity is sterile, and on the verge of extinction, when a pregnant woman is found and spirited away from the authorities. Along with a great and affecting story, we have some unbelievably fluid cinematography, more impressive for how unshowy most of the shots are, that they actually serve the story.
11 The Dark Knight (2008)
The first time I saw The Dark Knight I marveled at Chris Nolan’s Michael-Mann-esque vision of an urban streetscape and epic yet deft direction. The second time I saw it I was amazed at the the smarts and emotional heft of the character drama. The third time I saw it I realized it wasn’t only the Batman movie I’ve always wanted to see since I was a kid, it was the best superhero movie ever made.
10 Munich (2005)
I’m a big fan of the espionage thriller, and this was one of the best ever, thanks to the continuing quality work of one Steven Spielberg. Here he angered Israeli hawks who said his presumption of guilt of the men who would hunt down and kill terrorists was misplaced, while I found it to be entirely believable. It was both exciting as a genre film, it expanded the range of it by exploring the connections between, life, sex and death, and how killing, no matter how justified, follows you home.
9 Cache (Hidden) (2005)
Austrian filmmaker Michael Hanake remains one of the most provocative directors out there, and I think this is his best work. The story of an upper middle-class Parisienne family who discovers someone has been watching them, videotaping them, it neatly makes the audience complicit. In terms of post-viewing talkability, Cache beats all the movies on this list, as everyone sees something different in that last scene.
8 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
As usual, the middle movie is the best in a trilogy, but I could easily have chosen either The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Ultimatum for this list. Matt Damon is perfect as a fit, intelligent but non-descript black ops assassin who loses his memory, then spends his days staying a step ahead of the people who created him while bringing their mistakes back to visit upon them. The Supremacy is the darkest and most gripping throughout, as it is a true revenge drama of the first order.
7 Junebug (2005)
Phil Morrison directs this amazingly observed red state-blue state dramedy that helped make Amy Adams a star. An art dealer accompanies her new husband from Chicago to his home in North Carolina, and meets his estranged family while trying to procure the work of a local “outsider” artist. Showing a slice of American society we don’t often see, the film doesn’t judge either the city folk or the more rural, it just observes their sweetness and their weaknesses.
6 Before Sunset (2004)
Richard Linklater’s sequel to his one-night-of-love movie Before Sunrise (1995), it catches up with his couple, years older and both somewhat bowed by how real life takes its toll on the romantics in our midst. It has the same meandering, semi-improvised vibe as the earlier movie, except it happens in Paris instead of Vienna. So much truth and feeling here, it single-handedly made me impressed with Ethan Hawke, and it has what I would call an absolutely perfect ambiguous ending.
5 Heaven (2002)
German auuer Tom Tykwer took a script by the late, great Krystof Keislowski and made a wonderful, lyrical story of a British woman (Cate Blanchett) who living in Italy does a terrible thing, is arrested and then a young policeman (Giovanni Ribisi) falls in love with her and busts her out, and as they run across the Tuscan countryside and find some kind of redemption in their faith in each other. Beautiful, hypnotic and somehow, universal.
4 Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s ode to his teen years as a writer for Rolling Stone, the film is a rose-coloured look at a particular period of time, the American rock music scene in the 1970s, nostalgic and glowy, but without being sappy or unpleasant. Great character work carries the day, and Crowe’s uncanny sense of tone which moves from drama to comedy with the ease of a master.
3 Amelie (2001)
Jean Pierre Jeunet brings a delightful, irreverent character to the screen, someone everyone just falls in love with right away. That doesn’t happen in movies very often. The fact that Audrey Tautou’s Amelie could very well be insane really isn’t any kind of problem, because the story is just so great.
2 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman should just keep making movies together, because when the director and screenwriter get together they find a special magic. This is a science fiction movie where the scifi takes a distance second place to a human story, how we all suffer the pain of love, and what we do to be free of that rejection. In the end, though, it turns out we’re the sum of our experiences, even the heartbreaking ones, and we’d even go through it all again if we had the chance, even if we knew it wasn’t going to work out. That is a truth I don’t think I’ve ever seen illustrated in a movie as well as it is here.
1 Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola will likely never better this film, which gave both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen career-best roles as a mismatched couple stuck in a towering Tokyo hotel, lonely, enjoying each other’s company. There’s an alienation the film captures that is universal in my experience, and that feeling has never quiet been depicted as well as it is here. It’s so beautiful, I can hardly find words to describe what it is, except to say I know it when I see it. Some of the best moments in life, the most pure and wonderful times, only happen in a single day, in an hour, and if you tried to apply their magic to, say, your regular life, they wouldn’t work. It’s just a moment that you recognize and you love it with everything you’ve got, even as it slips away. I hope that doesn’t sound hokey. But there’s some kind of magic this picture has that made me choose it before all the others on this list.
Born Into Brothels
Encounters at the End of the World
Capturing The Friedmans
Dave Chapelle’s Block Party
The Fog of War
Lost In La Mancha
Man on Wire
Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey
The Long List (100 Honourable Mentions)
13 Going on 30
The 25th Hour
About A Boy
All The Real Girls
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Black Hawk Down
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Ultimatum
City of God
The Constant Gardener
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Dirty Pretty Things
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days
Good Night, And Good Luck
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
Hustle & Flow
I Love You, Man
In The Mood For Love
Italian for Beginners
Let The Right One In
The Lives of Others
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Master and Commander
Me And You and Everyone We Know
My Summer of Love
The New World
O Brother Where Art Thou
Punch Drunk Love
Rachel Getting Married
Requiem for a Dream
The Royal Tenenbaums
School of Rock
Shaun of the Dead
The Squid and The Whale
Starting Out in the Evening
The Station Agent
Stranger Than Fiction
State of Play
Team America: World Police
There Will Be Blood
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Wind That Shakes The Barley
X2: X-Men United
You Can Count On Me
Y Tu Mama También