(The Shawshank Redemption was voted "best prison movie" in the last poll. Thanks for participating.)
Narrowing down my top ten wasn't easy. Many, many films I love have been left out and so I will start with a sizeable list of "honorable mentions" all between the years of 2001-2010.
The Passion of The Christ
Shaun of the Dead
The Hurt Locker
A Mighty Wind
The Darjeeling Limited
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
City of God
The Man Who Wasn't There
...and probably several more I forgot.
But here are the ten movies I chose because either I cannot watch them enough or they stay in my mind even if I've only seen them once or twice.
10. No Country For Old Men
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring- Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Here is a film that it took some time for me to warm up to even though I knew the acting and directing were top notch. I think the folksy dialogue taken from Cormac McCarthy's novel combined with Javier Bardem's portrayal of the scariest man ever on film make this movie impossible to forget.
9. The Departed
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring- Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Dicaprio, Martin Sheen,Mark Wahlberg, and Matt Damon
Scorsese can pack a punch with his narrative, music, and plot as quickly and effectively as any director in history. The fact that the opening credits don't roll until a half hour of whizz-bang exposition only amplifies the story and draws the viewer in for a violent thrill ride full of explosive dialogue and plot twists. This movie has grown on me also, because once you start watching, it is nearly impossible to stop. Nicholson, DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and to my surprise, Matt Damon are all at the top of their game.
8. Casino Royale
Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, and Mads Mikkelsen
The Bond formula is a popular and familiar one with fans of the genre. We expect certain things to satisfy that old Ian Fleming spy thriller urge. But like all formulas it gets stale and predictable and falls flat without the right character as 007 and without a story that at least seems feasible even if far-fetched. Casino Royale introduces the world to the best Bond film of them all and arguably the best James Bond since the original, Sean Connery himself. The "Bond Begins" narrative passes the test on every level mostly thanks to Daniel Craig and Eva Green who are both excellent...not to mention the greatest on-foot chase sequence in movie history.
7. The Incredibles
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson
While the critics have heaped praise on other Pixar movies like Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo I have been saying for years that The Incredibles is
the most impressive work Pixar and Disney have done. I'm sure the environmentally conscious story in Wall-E had much to do with the love the critics have given it and the very conservative viewpoint expressed in The Incredibles probably has many of those same critics scratching their heads. But besides the message I like so much, The Incredibles makes my list because of the writing and the way it was made. The look of the film pushed the art of computer animation forward because there are scenes that look like a real movie. You forget when you see things out of focus in the frame or when characters don't completely fit into the shot that you are watching an animated film where those imperfections can be easily fixed. Brad Bird's direction is amazing and his sense for action, drama, and storytelling creates an animated universe far more compelling than most live action films.
6. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, and Ian McKellan
I must confess I was surprised when Return of the King won Best Picture at the Academy Awards because it was the third film in a trilogy and because it is a fantasy/adventure film...not the usual favorite of the Academy. But I suppose it was impossible to ignore the trilogy which took movie action, CGI and the fantasy genre to new heights and since this was the culmination of the three it had to win. I was also very skeptical of Peter Jackson's big screen attempt to make the trilogy when I first heard about it, but like many lovers of the Tolkien classic I was very pleasantly surprised (despite the many changes from the books) This one is my favorite for one simple reason: it is the most exciting. I haven't been "blown away" by movie action in a theater ever before like I was watching this one...I was ten years old again, and for that I thank Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.
5. Gangs of New York
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz
Once again Dicaprio and Scorsese make my list but the main reason I love this historical tale is the greatest living actor Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher, my favorite villain of all time.
4. The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, and Michael Caine
Christopher Nolan is the new genius of cinema. He is fast becoming the most innovative filmmaker out there creating stories and universes like Speilberg, Lucas, and Zemeckis have done for a few decades now. I was unable to get this brilliant film out of my head for days after seeing it. There are many nuances, parallels, and echos throughout and all of the actors are perfect, particularly Christian Bale.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Danny Glover
I love Wes Anderson movies which is not a suprise to anyone who has ever looked at this blog. Bottle Rocket will always be my favorite even if it isn't necessarily the best or most artistic work in the Wes Anderson catalogue. But if I were to pick my second favorite Anderson film, Tenenbaums is certainly the one. I have watched it several times and my appreciation grows the more I see it. It seems many people including critics missed the point of this film. One famous critic said it was a film "about nothing". Or you could say it is a film about everything. The genius of Anderson's films is that undercurrent of emotion beneath the comedy, the costumes, and the meticulously detailed set pieces. If you pay attention you can see the transformation and eventual redemption of Royal's character. If you don't you just might be one of the many who dismissed this film as odd and pointless. I call it unique and brilliant.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by Michael Gondry
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo
Director Michael Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman are a match made in movie heaven. To put it simply this is the most romantic movie I've ever seen and the one of the most ingenious story ideas I've ever heard. An artsy movie with a "love conquers all" message? Will wonders never cease.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
There really aren't enough words to describe this movie and its effect on me personally. Like I said about Nolan's other classic, The Prestige, this film stays in the mind for days after seeing it. I can't think of a better use of cinematic expression than a film like this which involves dreams within dreams. It is simultaneously emotional and mind blowing. If the creators of movie magic from yesteryear (from D.W. Griffith to Stanley Kubrick) could see Inception I believe they would hold it in the highest admiration, and marvel at how far this art form has come. Inception isn't only the best film of the last decade, it is the best of many decades.
Happy New Year everyone!