Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Top Ten Favorite Films of the Decade (2001-2010)

(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
Cinderella Man
Finding Nemo
Hot Fuzz
About Schmidt
The Hurt Locker
A Mighty Wind
Big Fish
Gosford Park
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.

1. Inception
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!


Witten said...

10. Inception
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
8. Eternal Sunshine OTSM
7. Oldboy
6. The Dark Knight
5. Children of Men
4. Inglourious Basterds
3. No Country for Old Men
2. There Will Be Blood
1. City of God

Dignan said...

I like Children of Men a lot and Daniel Day-Lewis is incredibly good in There Will Be Blood, but the reviews about it being anti-capitalist and all this love for oil crap just pissed me off. I hate Tarantino and I find The Dark Knight very overrated. I love Nolan as you can see but I prefer Batman Begins much more.

I was in a really bad and depressed mood when I tried to watch Oldboy and made it about two minutes. I will try it again someday perhaps. Never seen Diving Bell but I've heard of it many times, must be pretty interesting.

Btw, City of God is a powerful film. I remember thinking Slumdog Millionaire must have taken some inspiration from it. Same thing with Blood Diamond.

Witten said...

The only films on your list that didn't strike me as 'amazing' were The Prestige (and I'm a big Nolan fan) and Gangs of New York. I'd have to watch them again to explain my opinions though, as it has been way too long.

Where's your 'Top of 2010' list? I have to see The King's Speech and Blue Velvet and then I think I can make mine.

Dignan said...

I think Gangs of New York can stand on its own merit. It's Scorsese after all and you should watch it again.
The Prestige is great to me because usually when I see a movie with a "twist" ending the weight of the film falls apart when you examine it (Memento, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, Fight Club to name a few, and I like all of these) When I examined The Prestige it only made me appreciate it more. Of course many clever boys saw the end coming and probably dismissed the film because of it- "I knew there were two...yada yada yada", but what they might have missed was that Nolan foreshadows the ending more than once. At one point Christian Bale comes out and says it and of course Hugh Jackman's character doesn't listen. But my favorite is right at the beginning of the film after the first trick (I think) when the "clever little boy" figures out the disappearing bird trick by asking Christian Bale, "what about his brother?" That line is the "prestige" of the film.
Also I love the way the characters arc. The film builds on Christian Bale accidentally killing Jackman's wife as though he's sort of the villain when in fact Jackman sells his soul for a trick to the point he will let his rival be executed before revealing his secret.
Much of the criticism I saw was about Tesla's invention and the "real" magic. This kind of thing always gets me. Admittedly it creates a moral dilemma since Tesla is aloof from the story and doesn't provide any defense of Bale's character even though he knows the "prestige" of Jackman's trick, but he was dealing with Edison's thugs so that can be explained. But some critics hate unexplained "phenomena" or science fiction in the middle of a story like this but ignore the obvious leaps in logic of other movies (like Memento and The Sixth Sense for instance) I love the science fiction, the "real" magic. Otherwise Jackman "selling his soul" holds much less consequence for me.
But you should watch it again. Maybe you won't like it any more but you might see why I like it.

Witten said...

Yeah, I'll watch those movies again. I think my issue with The Prestige was that at the time I felt it seemed too "hollywood" and thus phony which, for me, hurts the believability of the film. That said, it's been a long time since I've seen it and maybe I'm wrong.

Oh, and I totally forgot Mulholland Dr (2001) for my list, which is one of my favorite movies ever. It'd probably go in the number 3 or 4 spot on my list.

Anonymous said...

3 things wrong with this blog entry. Worst of all, A Beautiful Mind is doesn't even get an honorable mention when it would be my second choice. Second of course to the film that I would've put at #1: The Cinderella Man. At least it got an honorable mention, but the fact that you couldn't fit in the top ten at all is inexcusable ta meh.

Okie dokie, the 3rd problem is a technical one. The "decade" actually begins in 2000 and ends in 2009, but oh well. I'm about to watch Inception again. Nolan may be my new favorite director. As you know I'm a fanatic of The Prestige and most likely would put it at 3rd if I made such a list.

dignan said...

Technically the new decade and thus the new millenium actually began in 2001. The calendar we use in the Western world does not include a year "zero" and therefore it isn't actually a new decade or century until 2000 is complete. I know it's confusing which is why 99% of the public goes by the number they see and went nuts on New Year's Day 2000 even though the new millenium wouldn't actually start for another year. Pointy-headed intellectuals were of course ignored and mocked
for pointing this out.
The new decade "the teens" has just begun on Jan. 1 2011.

dignan said...

And I'm sure the book and movie 2001: A Space Odyssey recognized this fact also. It was looking forward to a new millenium. Now it is the past which is very weird.