I'm finding it dificult to compose end of decade lists. Lists usually come easily for me. Why the trouble?
I think for the 90's there was a clear narrative development to my life from high school, through college, and into grad school and early adulthood. The Aughts have seen such dramatic changes and breaks from one period or place to another. It started with me in grad school, went through two years each in Fayetteville and Dallas, and then almost five years in OKC, including the last three plus with Michael.
With those caveats stated, I started considering my list of the top films of the decade. Of course, there were many I didn't see. And I've decided to label this list "top" so as not to specify "best" or "favourite," though I usually make that distinction. I read on one website that this was a very fractured decade in cinema, and I think that is true. Whereas many folk could agree on the best films of the 90's, there seems very little consensus for this decade. Many films that people really liked, like Million Dollar Baby, I did not like.
So, here goes. It was very hard to decide on the proper order for some of these, and if you found me on a different day, I'd probably order them differently.
20) Up (2009, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)
I'm still debating whether I think this or Where the Wild Things Are is the best film I've seen this year so far. I could replace one with the other and not settle this debate. But currently Up is on top. The opening sequence is incredible for its pathos and humour and the visuals throughout are awe-inspiring. In the final third the film is weak and that may ultimately count against it.
19) The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Reviewing other best of the decade lists, I was reminded of this German film, which I had also thought of earlier this month during the celebrations of the collapse of East Germany. It is a well-crafted, suspsenseful film which exposes many of the intellectual barbarities of a totalitarian regime.
18) American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)
I really enjoyed this film. When I saw it in the theatre (with only three other people in the room), I was the only one who laughed at most of it. Same happened when we rented it. I still think it is sharp satire and the best dark comedy of the decade (I really enjoyed Closer in 2004, but it hasn't made my end-of-decade list).
17) The Incredibles (2004, Brad Bird)
Pixar has been on a roll throughout this decade, consistently pouring out some of the best films year-in-and year out. I have left two of my favourites off of this list, but have still included enough to demonstrate my admiration for their work. This film was the most entertaining of theirs. It was completely accessible to the most popular of audiences, while still being really smart.
16) Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell)
This outrageous film completely engrossed me and had me caring deeply for its odd characters. Both quirky and humane at the same time, there were many films this decade that tried to achieve a similar combination, but none shone as brightly and imaginatively as this one.
15) Mysterious Skin (2005, Greg Araki)
This movie about the trauma of child abuse really disturbed me, while surprising me with a very hopeful ending. The writing and the performances were spot-on, but the film sadly did not receive the attention that it deserved.
14) Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
Lost in Translation captivated me with its radically different style of story-telling, carried out successfully with wonderful use of the camera and the inspired performances of its leading cast members, particularly Bill Murray, who deserved to win the Oscar. I hoped for other great films from Sofia Coppola and have been disappointed that they have not arrived.
13) Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood)
In a decade in which Clint Eastwood has had so many movies lauded by the critics and award shows, I was not all that moved by his work. Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby had merits, but I thought that they had serious flaws as well. Letters from Iwo Jima, which, though it received an Oscar nod for Best Picture, was not as lauded as his other films this decade, is, in my opinion, his best work as a director (and far, far superior to its crappy companion film, Flags of Our Fathers). Eastwood exhibits great skill in drawing out our compassion for these Japanese troops, as they are fighting against us. Many of the members of this fine cast deserved Oscar nominations. Plus, the movie was beautifully shot, with a use of color and light that was stark and lovely at the same time. Maybe this deserves to rank higher?
12) Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)
Though number 12 may be the more powerful and artistic endeavour, I delighted in Almost Famous and continue to experience great joy in regularly watching it. No other film has, for me, so captured the love of rock music.
11) Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001, Alfonso Cuaron)
This was a scintillating, sexy film, which helped to launch a decade of wonderful Latin America cinema into the American viewing public, while creating stars of its leads. This is definitely a film that I need to watch again.
10) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)
Ang Lee ranks high in the list of the best directors of the decade, and this magical film is his second best. The film is the perfect marriage of a Western epic with many of the action-adventure forms of the Eastern cinema. One is fully captivated, not just by the stunning visuals, but by the rich characters, the textured performances, and the deeply romantic story. Its romance is all the more sexy for the restraint of Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien.
9) No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen)
A finely crafted, taut, subtle film with strengths in acting, writing, directing, etc. It was the first time I had agreed with the Academy since 1993 when Schindler's List won.
8) Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron)
Here is Cuaron again, one of the great directors of the decade, and a sign of the internationalization of great cinema that occurred in the Aughts. Children of Men is an action film with an important social commentary that has deep theological themes. That can't be said of many films. And it has rarely been executed so well.
7) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michael Gondry)
Charlie Kaufman continued his series of innovative films with this one about the perils of romance and memory. Has a sci-fi, fantasy, horror film ever connected so easily with romantic dramedy? Wait, had anyone even tried? And throw in the significant philosophical issues it deals with. Not to mention great performances, including one of Kate Winslet's best from a decade of great performances which signaled that she had arrived among the greatest film actors ever.
6) AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)
I consider this film a masterwork of genius when Spielberg was at the height of a renaissance of his creative powers (Minority Report too), which sadly did not last long. Never have I seen a director so magisterially channel the completely alien style of another director (act one, which is thoroughly Kubrickian). Act two is then thoroughly Spielbergian. But, just wait for act three, which merges and transcends both and took the director to amazing heights far outside what is meant by the word "Spielbergian."
5) Wall-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)
This was an art film. Yet, it was a huge blockbuster. No children's movie this. No mere animation this. Taking the great work Pixar had done to date, and the magical possibilities of animated cinema as evidenced by the great Miyazaki (I've sadly missed most of his films this decade), the Pixar team delivers a film about what it means to be a human being, with a trash compactor playing the revelatory role. The film would be worth it if only for the ballet in space, yet there is plenty more.
4) Amelie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Few films are as lovely and delightful as this one, which inspires repeated viewings simply to feel the joy of life and the beauty which we are capable of, even in the most mundane things. The editing, camera work, and narration are superb.
3) City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles)
This was a brutal, devastating film, yet shot with great beauty. It never harrowed you, but it never let you off the hook either. Like The Bicycle Thief, you are left with the paradox that a film of such incredible beauty reveals such deplorable ugliness, evil, and despair.
2) Brokeback Mountain (2005, Ang Lee)
I am glad to see this ranking high on many other best of the decade lists. It is a sparse, tight film which transpires in grand vistas. Even in this wide world, we can be trapped in claustrophobic spaces. Lee delivers an emotional tour de force from which we are still not recovered.
1) The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003, Peter Jackson)
The entire film, spun out over three releases (and three subsequent director's cut DVDs) is all together the greatest film of the decade and high on my all-time list because I believe it was the full realization of the dreams of many of the earliest pioneers of cinema. It showed what film -- as moving visual spectacle -- at its greatest is capable of when tied to a great story well-told and so thoroughly well conceived (from score, to costumes, to art direction, etc.).