January 01, 2010

Best Films of the Decade: 2000-2009

by Neil Morris

Ever since Moses brought down the stone tablets from atop Mount Sinai, people have gravitated to the Top 10 list. Perhaps no entity – aside from David Letterman – has utilized this olden construct more than film critics, who each year employ it to apply one last stamp of (dis)approval to the world of cinema.

Once every decade, however, we enjoy the rare treat of reaching back in time to not only rehash the best films of – you guessed it – the last ten years, but also reassess the way films have improved or withered with age.

In compiling my roster of the ten best films during 2000-2009, I looked back at the annual top 10 lists I began formally assembling in 2002, the year I began writing movie reviews. For starters, my top two films of the decade were released before then, and nothing I have seen during the ensuing seven years of critiquing films threatened their place atop my list.

Moreover, of all the films I declared at the time to the best of their respective years, only five merited a spot among the decade’s top ten. Over time, a number of films have grown in my estimation, while others have not matured as well, each for a variety of reasons. That is the wonder of cinema: the way a film speaks to you evolves due to personal and societal changes.

So, I commend to you – and your Netflix queue – my choices for the best films of the last decade. See you in another ten years!

Best film of the decade: Requiem for a Dream – Director Darren Aronofsky took Hubert Selby’s book about drug addiction and created a kinetic, transcendent masterwork about loss and unfulfilled promise. A trendsetter, including both visually and for Clint Mansell’s relentless score, this gut-punch of a film – more than any other this decade – advanced the medium of cinema.

2. Memento – Christopher Nolan’s best film remains this hypnotic thriller/character study, not his otherwise superb Batman entries. More than a structural gimmick, this is sublime cinema that combines indie inventiveness with populist moviemaking, resulting in a neo-film noir that is made better by its narrative loose ends.

3. The Pixar canon – Besides saving and revolutionizing the waning animated movie genre, Pixar’s sterling film collection stayed enjoyable to viewers of all ages while managing to mature with its audience. Consider this: 7-year old kids who started off watching Toy Story back in 1995 became the 15-year olds diving into the underwater Finding Nemo, 16-year olds flying away with The Incredibles, 19-year olds escaping into the world of a Parisian kitchen in Ratatouille, 20-year olds captivated by the futuristic WALL-E, and today’s 21-year olds floating away to far-off adventure in Up.

4. There Will Be Blood – Part Citizen Kane, part Stanley Kubrick, director P.T. Anderson’s tour de force speaks to the valor and iniquity of American individualism, and also encapsulates the longstanding feud between capitalism and orthodox religion. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of oilman Daniel Plainview is arguably the defining film performance of the decade.

5. United 93 – The most emotionally affecting film experience of the decade. Five years after September 11, 2001, director Paul Greengrass accomplishes the unthinkable: a technically proficient rendering that horrible day that manages to honor the departed, praise the heroes, explicate and damn the villains, and skewer the bureaucratic morass that paralyzed our governmental institutions. It is not only an exacting post-mortem on the day our world stood still, but also a celebration of the better angels of our nature.

6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Far and away, the most underrated film of the decade. Director Andrew Dominik – backed by a haunting score and gorgeous cinematography from the indomitable Roger Deakins – composes a gorgeous, lyrical meditation on celebrity and the concept of hero-worship, a longing gaze on the sepia-soaked days of yesteryear refracted into a piercing commentary on our con

temporary culture.

7. MunichCritics have lashed Stephen Spielberg’s most provocative film with every strap of iniquity – amoral; pro-Jewish; anti-Israel; pro-Arab; anti-American; misogynistic; an act of appeasement; etc. These contrasting labels are integral to Spielberg’s complex portrait of Israel’s reaction to the murder of its athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and, by extension, America’s post-9/11 foreign policy. The film is designed not to advocate, but equally critique the sons of both Isaac and Ishmael.

8. The Bourne trilogy – This is the authoritative movie series of the decade (not Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider-Man, or the Star Wars prequels), along with being the most exhilarating, intelligent additions to the indispensable action-thriller lineage.

9. Traffic – Using several interconnected storylines, Steven Soderbergh conjured a sprawling, multi-faceted examination of the war on drugs from viewpoints both macro and personal. This is filmmaking at its most epic and informative.

10. City of God – The beauty of this film, set amidst the favelas of Rio De Janeiro, can be found in its narrative scope and visual poetry. Director Fernando Meirelles crafts a gritty, powerful saga that is as poignant as it is brutal.

Best of the Rest: Children of Men; The Wrestler; King Kong; Friday Night Lights; The Aviator; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2; The Queen; Slumdog Millionaire; About Schmidt; Gangs of New York; Million Dollar Baby; 21 Grams; Whale Rider; Infernal Affairs; The Pianist; House of Flying Daggers; Batman Begins; The Dark Knight; Bridgett Jones’s Diary

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