The Fifty Best Films of the Decade

  • Tarnation

  • 50) Tarnation

  • Jonathan Caouette made this experimental film for around $200, so Michael Bay, this ain't. Good. This is the most experimental film on this list, but it is one chaotic ride worth buckling your seatbelt. Examining his troubled, creative childhood, Caouette fractures his life into chunks of telephone machine messages, short films, glam rock, and abstract art. The viewer is forced to put the puzzle pieces together, but for the brave who work it, this proves that straight-forward narrative isn't the only path to making a great film.

  • Finding Neverland

  • 49) Finding Neverland

  • There is every chance that film critics have a shelf life, an expiry date, and if that is true, perhaps everybody should simply start ignoring me now. I expected Finding Neverland to prove a clump of clotted cheese; instead, I discovered one of my favorite films of 2004. The film and I could have lived without a few scenes, but I found this simple drama about the life of the man who wrote Peter Pan to be incredibly moving, touching stuff. The acting is naturally superb, but the directing is just as impressive. Marc Forster knows when to sell the material and when to sit back and let the drama sell itself. Luckily, the screenplay provides marvelous material, touching upon the emotional life of several characters without overplaying the subtexts or simplifying complicated situations. What can I say? I really, really loved this film. Stick a fork in me; no doubt, I’m done...

  • _Chop Shop

  • 48) Chop Shop

  • It earned comparisons to The Bicycle Thieves with its realism, spare style, and budget that probably couldn't keep most folks in coffee for the month, and that sparse simplicity sets the perfect tone for this tale of a young boy and his sister living in the slums. The younger orphan is struggling in the shadow of Shea Stadium to raise money any way he can to buy a food van that he dreams will enable an easier, steady living and will keep him and his sister together. The slum conditions in the midst of America are shocking, the acting of the young unknowns is perfectly pitched, and the film itself quietly creeps up on you until you can't escape. This isn't for the crowd that needs films to provide cheap euphoria or a pleasant background to popcorn munching, true, but that doesn't make it any less affecting or great.

  • _The Reader

  • 47) The Reader

  • Everybody agrees that Kate Winslet's complex, unglamorous, award-winning performance is incredible, but this film still received a quite tepid reception with the vanilla reviewers of 2008. Most of the critics who complain mention that it is cold and emotionally reserved in parts, a chilliness intentionally enforced by Roger Deakins' sterling cinematography. I'm somewhat shocked they believe a film that pushes the theme that, morally speaking, emotions don't matter should tug more obviously and blatantly on the heartstrings. Besides, where most movies swell the music and haze up that background rather cheaply, this one understands that knocking back any vulgar manipulation can lead to a far richer wallop after the credits. This study of an affair between a teenage boy and an older woman with a shameful secret raises ethical questions far beyond the obvious, and its troubled, indecisive conclusions stay with you far longer (and in much deeper ways) than the showtunes from the inferior Slumdog Millionaire that beat this on Oscar day.

  • Closer

  • 46) Closer

  • Grab a coat, cause this movie is cold. I suspect the frosty distance, symbolized by the constant reference to an aquarium, coupled with the cynical, painful portrayal of human sexuality and unfaithfulness will send many viewers running to the door. For the ones with the stomach to stay, Mike Nichols’ careful visuals, Patrick Marber’s incredible screenplay, and the good performances reward, if not with warm fuzzy feelings, then with chilly observations and excellent screencraft that elevate this nasty film as one of the best movies of its year. Just remember; you’ve been warned…

  • The Brothers Bloom

  • 45) The Brothers Bloom

  • Like The Sting, this is all one big con, but what a fun twisty trick it is. This insane film buzzes by on sheer delight, eternally impressed with just what a crazy trip it continues being. The cast, from Rinko Kikuchi's explosive thrill addict to Adrien Brody' hangdog survivor, Mark Ruffalo' s charming grifter, and Rachel Weisz's twenty-first century take on Bringing Up Baby's Susan Vance, is custom-fitted for this fanciful film. Rian Johnson's directing turn cheers up Wes Anderson and pours some coffee down his throat, juicing this film with a verve that solidifies the director's status as most under-sung upstart of the decade. It's a lark, it's a farce, and it's a brilliant thrill ride. Forget the boring manufactured crap Hollywood squirts out under the excuse of, "Hey, it is just a fun movie." Those are cynical, uncreative shams; this is the real deal.

  • Kill Bill

  • 44) Kill Bill Vol. 1

  • This anticipated film proves to be loads of fun, presenting an action film while sporting all sorts of stylish personality. Who can resist a delicious, jazzed-up jumble of Bruce Lee, Kurosawa, John Woo (the opening scene has a segment largely lifted from The Killer), and my man Sergio Leone? Alright, so it, like most revenge films, lacks emotional depth or subtlety, and, less forgivable, at times the humor is a bit forced. And I'll grant you that the opening scene is not entirely successful, but really, if this didn't have Tarantino's name on it, half the world would have wet themselves over this film. Any fears that the film split would be harmful are completely unfounded, especially since the film really get rolling towards the end and then bows with a twist that guarantees the audience will be back for the second installment. Uma fits QT's vision like a leather glove, and hardly anybody can match music to vision like Quentin. This crazed bloodbath ultimately proves a greater addiction than its more ambitious second half.

  • The Pianist

  • 43) The Pianist

  • A common thread weaves throughout Polanski's best films. He is frankly obsessed with evil. Carol Ledoux and Lady Macbeth are seduced by it in Repulsion and Macbeth, Rosemary is raped by it in the form of Satan himself in Rosemary's Baby, and Noah Cross embodies it arguably even more completely in Chinatown. Polanski's main characters are always victims wrecked by the evil unleashed in the film. At first glance, The Pianist, as depressing as it is, seems a bit more hopeful. Yes, most of the Nazis certainly live up to the role of evil in the film, but as horrible as conditions grow, Wladyslaw Szpilman escapes from the darkness. Deeper reflection, however, reveals that The Pianist really isn't much different from the previous films. No character escapes evil; its power envelopes all. Like Rosemary and J. J. Gittes, Szpilman simply survives it. The Pianist finds Polanski with greater control of his powers than since Chinatown. He and Adrien Brody are true masters. While most directors and actors would be unable to resist grandstanding with such grave material, both artists not only display incredible skill, but also important, admirable restraint. If many elements of the story are sadly very familiar by now, neither Roman nor Adrien's approach to it is. While not quite the timeless masterpiece that the somewhat similar The Garden of the Finzi Continis is (which manages to be more affecting even while stopping short of the actual Holocaust), The Pianist is still a great, sad film that will linger longer than one may like.

  •   A Love Story

  • 42) Capitalism: A Love Story

  • Two problems always muck up discussions about Michael Moore’s films. First, his most well-known film, Fahrenheit 9/11, is probably his worst, a stream of wild assertions unproven and conclusions more passionately felt than intelligently conceived. The second problem is that half of the people you meet can't stand Moore’s liberal guts, and the other half thinks he is God handing down new gospels. It is tough sorting out the politics from the filmcraft, and that task isn’t one most even wish to tackle. The truth, or course, is that Moore doesn't really make documentary films as much as he creates visual essays. He selects evidence, forcefully argues his points, and tries to entertain as he attempts to persuade. Capitalism: A Love Story is one of his best yet, from the clever presentation of old documentary film to compare ancient Rome to current America to his ever-decreasing reliance on cute stunts to make his points. Better research props up his points, and his tone is more heartfelt than smug. No, this probably will not convert a soul, but Moore has created a form of nonfiction that for better or worse (often worse) has taken over much of the “documentary” film world, and this the best example from the decade.

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  • 41) Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...And Spring

  • Few artistic choices this decade were as surprising as when a director of horrific films turned around and created one of the quietest films about one of the quietest faiths. The gorgeous nature photography surrounds a story simple but captivating the way fables often are. Fables are out of fashion right now unless they’re improbable and slathered in sugary syrup. We seem to believe they should affirm our assumptions about the world by illustrating these beliefs proving true through unlikely twists of fate. This bucks that trend by keeping a hard-edged focus on reality both blissful and brutal and not surrendering to pleasant miracles to make a point. Still, this is a fable, and that means more is going on beneath the surface than you might at first suspect. A religion disguised as a beautiful character study, or the other way around.

  • The Wrestler

  • 40) The Wrestler

  • It is too easy to see this as the story of Mickey Rourke, and that sells both this film and the actor’s incredible performance short. This is the heart-breaking story of a man’s struggle to find meaning long after the parade’s gone by and left him alone. Rourke so effortlessly embodies Randy Robinson that his subtle nuances are easy to miss. His acting is like Aretha’s singing; it only seems so easy because the difficult performance is done so well. Watch closely, and realize what great acting is really happening. He’s not alone, as Marisa Tomei easily earned her Oscar nomination as a stripper Randy falls for, and Evan Rachel Wood expresses the confusing, corroding mixture of rage and hurt eating at an abandoned daughter. This is directed by Darren Aronofsky, a director bad critics have long undervalued as a simple show-off, and Aronofsky strips his style of many of its more obvious flourishes to show how he can cut deeper than bone into a troubled soul even without camera tricks or flashy editing. This is a study of desperation that refuses to surrender dignity in the struggle for survival. The characters are little people in the world, and in the hands of this cast and crew, larger than life.

  • The Man Without a Past

  • 39) The Man Without a Past

  • Perhaps my love of dramas about ordinary people rages beyond all control, perhaps I am a sucker for a leisurely, atmospheric pace where the silence speaks as loudly as the words, or perhaps the echoes of Hal Hartley bit into my leg too deeply, but I completely fell for Aki Kaurismaki’s quiet film with complete abandon. The deadpan humor often had me laughing aloud, the early rock and roll soundtrack had my toes tapping, and the moving tale of a man without memory making a way in a downtrodden, poverty-ravished world engaged me fully. This is the type of film many will see and label over-rated, but I lost myself to its charms. It is a quiet, under-heralded masterpiece.

  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

  • 38) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

  • The title refers to how long one of the two leads in this film has been pregnant in this riveting tale set in late 80s Romania. The other lead is off to secure an illegal abortion for her friend, and this stark film follows her around nearly in real time. This is part thriller and part social and political commentary, and while that combination should probably favor one element, each feeds off the other to add to the visceral power of this picture. The beautiful Anamaria Marinca is flat-out brilliant as the desperate woman determined to help her friend at any cost (She and this film were sadly stiffed at the Oscars.), and your stomach will twist nearly as much as her character's with each drastic turn of the movie. Watch this film in one sitting, and you won't easily forget it.

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  • 37) I'm Not There

  • Psyche and identity spiral in a mad dance around a certain gravity, a liquid concrete consistency bobbing about the middle we like to think is us, our being. Is this a quicksilver truth, or a nearly solid mirage? Are we coherent beings or collections of random firings whose only real unity is the fact they all combust inside our single brains? Todd Haynes isn't spoonfeeding you any easy answers as he expands and explodes what might a simple biography into a mesmerizing maze of personality shown through a prism. Considering he is taking on the tale(s) of the single greatest and most important musical figure of the last century, we really shouldn't expect anything less. Different actors bring to vivid life different phases or sides of Bob Dylan's persona. All do a very good job, although it slams nobody to point out that Cate Blanchett blazes the screen with a career-topping performance that will leave your jaw unhinged. I'll be blunt, her loss at the Oscars for her job here was ridiculous. She tops herself, tops her fellows, and blows the doors off of this film with a turn that might well stand with the best of this decade when all is said and done. A few moments are too obvious - we know Dylan and his livewire crew blew away the folk crowd without needing to seeing them fire actual guns - and not every crazy moments adds to the overall effect, but enough experiments succeed to make this is wildly invigorating tango around a person who may or may not be there after all. He may well be none or all of the various people you see dissected here. This penetrating, exciting study shows why films such as Ray or Walk the Line do a severe lazy disservice shoehorning fascinating unconventional lives into by-the-book boring conventional Hollywood flicks. Here, when the credits roll, nothing was delivered, but everything's been returned which was owed. That's more than enough.

  • 28 Weeks Later

  • 36) 28 Weeks Later

  • When people scan my top ten lists for this decade, one of the films that gets the blankest stares and most questions is Intacto, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s debut film. I was eagerly anticipating his next film until I learned it was going to be 28 Weeks Later. Why the disappointment? Because most horror films are rather awful, and all sequels to horror films are horrible. I struggle and fail to think of a single exception to that rule. Until now. This is an amazing film, far superior to its predecessor, and one of the best horror films ever created. It never lets you relax, never even lets you figure out exactly what sort of film you’re dealing with. When you think you see where everything is going, you’re knocked flat. Those plot and tone twists, however, never stop this from being a truly frightening film. This isn’t just a scary film, it is a horror film, and moments here are some of the most horrifying scenes caught on a fictional film. It admirably picks up the stray strands left by the first part and twists them into an entirely unique tapestry of terror, and even more impressively, almost every experiment works. The entire affair is so fresh, it can afford not to draw too much attention to its own originality, allowing the viewer to stay focused solely on the main characters and their plight. Those characters are brought to life and, often, convincing death by a terrific cast. Robert Carlyle gives the sort of sterling performance he always dishes out, and all of America’s wannabe teeny boppers can hang it up, because Imogen Poots is not only perhaps the most beautiful teenager ever to hit the silver screen, she can actually act also! There are themes and subtexts galore to ponder here, but you’ll have to do it after the film, because while the projector is running, you will only be able to focus on what you’re watching. This is one of the greatest horror films we’ve yet to see. Fresnadillo has arrived, fulfilling every bit of the promise he extended with Intacto. I can’t wait to see this again.

  • Good Night, and Good Luck

  • 35) Good Night, and Good Luck

  • I had some high expectations for Clooney's future before this film debuted, and any thoughts that he is more interested in stardom than art really should begin to evaporate here. His second film, a black and white drama with little in the way of explosions or sex, takes on politics while covering it in the guise of an exercise in journalism history a la All the President's Men, and he scores. Not every element is perfect here; in particular, a few subplots seem meaningless. Still, David Strathairn should have won the Oscar for his performance; he shows the cracks of worry and anxiety through Murrow's stoic armor with the slightest glance and eyebrow twitch. The choice to let Joseph McCarthy play himself works very well, and when the political roundhouses come, they are grounded in story and character and thus integral to the fabric of the story. Despite its flaws, this is one great film; it deserves the applause it gained at my local theater during the end credits.

  • Vera Drake

  • 34) Vera Drake

  • Most American moviegoers have yet to embrace Mike Leigh (it doesn't help that his most popular film of the decade, Happy-Go-Lucky, was one of his weaker efforts), and I doubt they ever will. Mr. Leigh is not interested in giving that group anything it wants. His films are usually talky affairs lacking in gunpowder or the even higher explosive quality of star power. He usually does not spend an entire film focused on beautiful people; most of his casts look like people you see on the street. He treats the audience like adults, not as if they were adolescent boys. He expects you to sit down, shut up, and pay attention without him having to twirl bright baubles before your eyes. Have I mentioned I am a Leigh nut, or that he is probably one of the greatest true auteurs working in film today? Why? Here is your proof. Vera Drake is a long film featuring a slew of folks you have never heard of before this film playing out a drama about an incredibly controversial subject that never once dips to political propaganda or characters spouting out position papers disguised as dialogue. In fact, it is shocking how little the film spends time discussing the morality of abortion. A few people vent briefly over it, but by the end of the film, nobody has changed his or her mind about it. The lens will not let the characters escape our view, and those characters are incredibly true to life. They, and not the subject matter, are the point here, and it is vitally important Leigh never forgets that. He doesn't. This is subtle yet strong stuff, which means it is exactly the style of creative soil in which this writer and director flourishes.

  • Pan’s Labyrinth

  • 33) Pan's Labyrinth

  • Here is a cinematic dream on the big screen, even if it is a nightmare. Guillermo del Toro blossoms from his early, often troubled, talent into a freakish force of imagination wise enough to skim the earth and to rein the power of reality to pull his phantasm of fancy. As reviewers and the studio have struggled to tell you, this is an adult fairy tale. Actually, this is an adult story that is granted glimpses into a child’s fairy tale, and as with Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, that difference is the key to this movie transcending slight dreams and tripping the border into the power of tragedy. A young girl is captured in the chaotic corpse of the Spanish Civil War, and when the world is too hideous to be reality, she finds a door into another one. She may escape, but the film never allows the viewer to do so. You will hardly believe what you’re seeing here, whether it is insects morphing into fairies or the cruelty of Sergi Lopez’ mad sadist. This film manages to capture both worlds with equally clear vision, and the results are magical and haunting.

  • Curse of the Golden Flower

  • 32) Curse of the Golden Flower

  • Zhang Yimou and the other screenwriters of this film pull an interesting trick here. They take material that could be nearly mistaken for the stuff of Greek dramas, filter it through the agnostic obsessions over duty and family expressed by Confucius, and then drape it in the vibrant hues usually drenching the director’s creations. It is a bold idea that reads like an obsessed, unhinged fanboy’s fantasy on paper, but plays out as one of the best films of its year. You fluidly stalk the translucent halls of this poisonous palace as you pull on the various frayed fabrics that are quickly unraveling. Your eyes enjoy an orgasmic massage of pastels and floral tints while your mind pries open the tough shells of the characters to discover the rotting kernels within. The film was marketed as a martial arts extravaganza, but don’t be fooled; this is a tragedy, and a damn good one at that.

  • Spirited Away

  • 31) Spirited Away

  • I was a Miyazaki champion for some time, but even I was taken aback by Spirited Away. Sure, he has shown an amazing ability to tap into a young child's view of the world before, as in My Neighbor Totoro. He has exhibited an incredible imagination and power of imagery in films such as Kiki's Delivery Service, and with Princess Mononoke, he proved that his animation ability was up to the challenge of any computer. I'm not really shocked that he swirled all these streams together in this film; I am stunned, however, by what seems to be a quantum leap of brilliance from a man who has already shown himself a master. Hayao Miyazaki's take on a magical wonderland is an amazing, surprising masterstroke that leaves even those of us who expect excellence from this fantastic director dumbfounded. With his careful yet never boring pacing, his startling, creative imagery, and his observant, daring directing that would be a highlight even in a live-action film, Miyazaki not only created the greatest animated film of the decade, but also a timeless masterpiece for the ages.

  • Frozen River

  • 30) Frozen River

  • There is a scene near the beginning of Frozen River where Melissa Leo stares into the mirror. She has no makeup, little hope, and a host of worries working as ruthlessly as gravity on her. We see a naked, raw face hollowed by disappointment and desperation. It is a small moment in a small film about small people, but the plain reality of it would not be out of place in a documentary, and only the best directors and actors can deliver that degree of dramatic deception. Leo plays a woman with a family living in a trailer and a husband who has run off with the family savings (for a larger trailer) to feed his gambling addiction in the days before Christmas. The children are now surviving on popcorn, and there are no presents under the tree. Circumstances and coincidences lead her to join another desperate woman, a poor Mohawk deprived of her child, in a smuggling scheme running illegals between Canada and the United States across a river of ice. There are scenes of suspense here, including at least one that will drop your stomach in a second flat, there are subtle political subtexts about a range of current hot issues, but there are small moments of hope glistening through the cracks in this movie that only grows larger and larger.

  • Brick

  • 29) Brick

  • The idea sounds like another horrible Hollywood high concept destined to run off the rails - attempt another neonoir, but meld it with the trendy teen genre by letting the tangled dark doings go down in a southern California high school. Instead of a Frankenstein monster of mishmashed parts, Rian Johnson's mad scientist genre transplantation proves ingeniously exhilarating. After the shock of the jarring juxtaposition, the world of lockers and classrooms proves the perfect setting for a contemporary crime caper, with its polished upper crust dependent on a shady underworld for its kicks, its multi-tiered social system, and its susceptibility to stylized conventions and fast speech. It is an insightful splicing, and it jazzes this well-written mystery with a zippy juice the direction refuses to let go to waste. The ending will surprise no fan of the genre, and on a rare occasion, the attempt to walk the wire between earnestness, tribute, and humor takes a perilous dip, but this low budget affair deliciously delivers the goods in a truly wired, wild, and witty way. This is bizarre beast is one of the more elusively delightful and exciting films of the decade.

  • The Barbarian Invasions

  • 28) The Barbarian Invasions

  • I watched Denys Arcand’s excellent The Decline of the American Empire while I was still in high school, so one can understand my mixed emotions and expectations at hearing of a sequel of sorts rolling out seventeen years later. Luckily, this film is a complete delight. One does not have to have seen the first film to understand and to enjoy The Barbarian Invasions, but since I had, the reunion of the cast of freewheelin’, intellectual friends emits special warmth for me. One of the group is dying, and as he muses on his deathbed on what he is convinced is the collapse of American civilization, a new, younger acquaintance notes that he may very well not be experiencing the crumbling decay of the world so much as the loss of his own fond youth. Arcand, bless his heart, is wise enough to know that this film really does not need to judge between its various hypotheses. Several characters chime in on what is going wrong with the world, and the director seldom seems to side definitively with any of the opinions. More telling, however, in the discussion I recalled above is the film’s refusal not only to decide between various political views, but also to choose whether it is a film focused on politics or relationships. Perhaps it knows enough to see the lack of any ultimate sure line between the two. In the end, the film sparkles with the sort of sharp intelligence and vivid drama between ordinary people Hollywood just can’t seem to give a rip about lately. This makes it unique. The incredible script, great acting, and delicate directing make it wonderful.

  • Amelie

  • 27) Amélie

  • Since this delightful little film offers up a recipe for love, I'll offer a recipe for this film. Take 7 parts Emma and add 2 parts Run Lola Run. Simmer in a warm water bath of Paris while stirring in 1 part each of Ally McBeal and City of Lost Children. Garnish and serve. I came up with the silly recipie eight years ago, and I can't bring myself to change it now. Audrey Tautou stole the world's heart, and Jeunet nailed his beloved tone of magical romance like few before. Perhaps the best praise I can offer is simply to point out that this became one of the most potent visions of Paris for the decade, and any film that can claim to capture the character of that incredible city cannot be less that captivating.

  • Moulin Rouge

  • 26) Moulin Rouge

  • What a decade! We were consistently deflated with false promises, sold a bill of high-costin' snore-inspirin' spectacles, and drowned in a monochrome barrage of boredom. Most movie musicals took their cue from the over-rated Fosse rip Chicago, playing it safe and too often looking and sounding like really bad Las Vegas for those who hate innovation and truly outrageous style. Pop down a few bucks and find salvation, brothers and sisters, for even including all its flaws and pretensions, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge is a orgasmic geysmic explosion of color splattering the black and white world that too often was 2000 cinema. This film throbs with life bloody life, baby, and you are simply dead if the first 30 minutes of this film don't spew your ya-yas out. It is a shame most musicals didn't have the spine to be so bold and revved with vivid verve just this side of insanity. True film lovers with open ears and eyes fell for this film; the rest settled for the boring pap of Rob Marshall and the cold leftovers of Dreamgirls.

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  • 25) Memento

  • When it hit town, I only knew it had some good reviews in various newspapers. It took about fifteen minutes to confirm my suspicions that the film was jumping back in time, and about thirty to realize it wasn't a temporary gimmick for an attention-grabbing opening, that it was committed to the device for the entire two-hour run. What is really fascinating about Christopher Nolan's twisty thriller is not just how this device puts the viewer into the main character's shoes, never knowing what happened earlier than five or ten minutes in the past, but also how integral this narrative trick is to the drama; learning what happened in tidbits flowing in reverse chronology leads to startling revelations of unsuspected, shocking realities. It is a daring trick for a young, unproven director to tackle, but Nolan nailed it. Guy Pearce gives perfect expression to the resolute, confused enigma at the heart of the film, and the rest of the cast is up to the steely task of this butchered noir. You really won't believe how all the scrambled pieces come together - heck, you might not even grasp it until a second viewing - but you'll still be breathless by the time the daredevil deed is done.

  • Far From Heaven

  • 24) Far From Heaven

  • I hate and love artifice. Much too often it is drenched in irony, reveling in kitsch, causing every attempt at emotion to slip through the confused viewer's fingers. I confess this artificiality rarely thrills me; I too often find it cheap to create and even less rewarding to work through. Other times, however, artifice creates a new world to dislocate, to place us into foreign terrain where the old rules loosen a bit. Lost, we are explorers, open to the improbable and the fantastic. I love this, and by God, I love Far from Heaven. You see, you know Todd Haynes isn’t just cracking a joke when, early in the film, Julianne Moore puts on that liquid pair of emerald gloves. They are thick and rich, and even though they are inconsequential to the position the scene holds in the film’s narrative, the camera almost seems to roll and to savor them like brandy or smoke from a dark cigar. Mr. Haynes isn’t reviving this fifty-year-old melodramatic genre for a poke in the ribs and a good guffaw. He is breathing life into this faded style because it is another world to modern filmgoers, and by dislocating us, he short-wires our defenses and opens us to the new. Since we are wide-eyed with suspended critical reflexes, he slips melodrama before our moist eyes, and we eat up every second of it. Moulin Rouge did this the year before – for all the wild antics of the first half which seem to annoy so many, I frankly doubt if we would have bought the broad tragedy which followed without the kinetics knocking us out of place – and Far from Heaven did this even better. Even as an admirer of Haynes' recreation of the seventies glam scene in Velvet Goldmine, I now see that earlier film was simply an appetizer to this much fuller realized and varied feast. Julianne Moore forces our forgiveness for Hannibal, and Dennis Quaid continues one of the most unexpected career rehabilitations in recent memory. Dennis Haysbert was so good that after a few scenes I was able to stop seeing President Palmer in gardener’s clothes altogether, and Patricia Clarkson (who always reminds me of the stellar first season of Murder One) stands out among the supporting players. This film starts by jarring us and ends by moving us deeply, and that is a reaction only a great movie, melodramatic or otherwise, can mine from us…

  • Nobody Knows

  • 23) Nobody Knows

  • Between the wondrous After Life and this later masterpiece, Hirokazu Koreeda is building up quite a body of films. Nobody Knows tells a grim, gritty story and dares not always to tell it in a similar fashion, instead occasionally opting for a peek through the young point of view of the children the story focuses on. Sure, this is type of film I adore and many despise; long shots fade to black and are replaced by more long shots, atmosphere is relied upon to carry much of the narrative, and the running time stretches past the two hour mark, but events do happen, characters do exist, and I was riveted throughout the entire film. If you are not touched by any of the abandoned children by the time the credits roll, you are made of denser material than I am. The director catches both poverty and adolescence with fine detail. It is an incredible film, one largely ignored and ready to be discovered.

  • Pride & Prejudice

  • 22) Pride & Prejudice

  • Joe Wright had to know he was entering impossibly treacherous waters. The BBC miniseries based on Jane Austen's incredible novel has grown a deserved cult, and to adapt the work of Ms. Austen is to expose one's self to a bizarrely insular group of fans who make the strangest demands upon films based on the novelist's terrific work. No doubt, this situation explains why Mr. Wright frankly directs the hell out of this film. Where that 1995 version was an excellent transfer of the novel to television, this is simply an excellent film, graced with a dancing camera that glides between revealing tableaux, capturing each group of conversations at the perfect, most revealing moment and sliding off to the next. It is an Oscar worthy performance behind the camera, a calling card of a filmmaker of extraordinary talent, talent that would later produce the excellent, under-rated Atonement. When you realize that this waltzing lens also captures terrific performances from a stellar cast that, yes, includes a magical lead turn from Keira Knightley, who never before looked lovelier or performed so wonderfully, then you know you are watching magic. Yup, it is a tough fact to fathom, but Joe Wright has created the definitive cinematic version of Pride & Prejudice, one that will both thrill film fans and delight open-minded lovers of the novel. (Sorry guys, no zombies. Thank goodness...)

  • The Royal Tenenbaums

  • 21) The Royal Tenenbaums

  • Inventive, odd, funny, and just barely this side of too-quirky-for-its-own-good, The Royal Tenenbaums is the ultimate Wes Anderson film. The ludicrous set-up and too-perfect visual compositions clue the viewer into the fact that this story neighbors the region of fairy tales or fables, but there are vital distinctions that mark this out. The humor is often dark, leaving some viewers more uncomfortable or annoyed than amused. The drama is sometimes shocking in some of the dark twists and subversive elements run amok. The characters are entirely unlikely and yet act believably. In some ways, perhaps it is best to approach this like the best science fiction - accept the rules of a foreign world, but marvel at how realistically everything plays out within those artificial restraints - but then there are those hilarious scenes, and that streak of sweet sentimentality doesn't fit the genre at all. Finally, you are left with something very moving and very funny and very rebellious, not bowing to any laws but its own internal logic and irresistible whims. Yup, the ultimate Wes Anderson film, then - a bright, shiny, rare wonder.

  • Brokeback Mountain

  • 20) Brokeback Mountain

  • "I'm not queer," Heath Ledger's cowboy whispers during his first romantic encounter with Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist, and that is a key to this film. Neither man is queer, strange, or odd. They are two normal men who discover they are homosexuals and in love with each other. Ang Lee, whose track record with English-language films has been over-praised, finally finds a story fitting to his style; his wide-angle solemn shots of wild country illustrate Ledger's character and his silent struggle with raging forces within himself. All the public focus is on the "radical" idea of gay cowboys, as if Kenneth Anger never existed, but even more odd is how Proulx and Ossana's screenplay refuses to set up any major characters as huge heroes or villains; this story does not deal in such obvious stereotypes. Jake Gyllenhaal continues to prove he is a talent to be reckoned with, giving Jack a sensitive, pining soul behind the crazy rodeo spirit of youth. Anne Hathaway does not age very convincingly, even if her acting is fine, but Michelle Williams is terrific in a vital role. Anybody who doubted Ledger's talent should compare his crazy Joker to the repressed, restrained cowboy here, one all the more real by the quiet performance that never reaches for the emotional jolts it earns; the guy was quickly becoming one of the greats. Capping this measured, moving study is one of the better final scenes of the decade, one that summarizes and amplifies the rest of the film without straining for a false, over-cooked climax. Finally, Lee has created an English-language film worthy of the rest of his oeuvre.

  • There Will Be Blood

  • 19) There Will Be Blood

  • Paul Thomas Anderson stops ripping from Altman and starts cribbing from Kubrick. What's amazing is that he manages to make a better Kubrick film that Kubrick managed since 1976. As much as you'll admire the acting, you're not likely to like the characters. They're not meant to be liked. Indeed, you're watching the history of our country in symbolic characters. You see the rise of religion and its defeat by a rampant individualism (fueled by unrestrained capitalism) that eventually breaks up the family and leaves us isolated and alone. That is the third revelation. The film also shows (through the twins) the commercial every-man/woman-for-his/her-self economy overtaking the family-oriented farm community. The new way defeats the old. Abel loses again... "I'm finished." He is. So might we all be if we continue alone. This may be the thematic center of gravity for the film, but there is so much going on here, such great performances, such beautiful cinematography, such a darkly disturbing soundtrack, such a great batch of lines, you may not even care about what the film is trying to say. You may just get lost in how it is saying it.

  • Into the Wild

  • 18) Into the Wild

  • You’re on your own. This mystical existential drama, based on a true story, follows a young man’s rejection of the artificial, both in form of his family and society, as he leaves school and travels to Alaska to find a more “real” world. He experiences many life-changing encounters along the way, learns many lessons, but ends up dead, a victim of a nature more brutal and unforgiving than he expected. Was his travel and death worth the life he lived on the way? The more romantic will tend to believe so, while the more realistic will feel twenty-four years old is always too young to die. Director Sean Penn wisely polishes evidence for both points of view, and like a true master, he refuses to give you an easy answer that really isn’t there. You feel the high of the travels and suffer through the hallucinatory starvation and poison-induced slow death of Christopher McCandless, and both realities hit hard. Road movie of discovery and dark tragedy, this movie (and its incredible cast - Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, Hal Holbrook, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Stewart (!) ) doesn’t offer a false note; through both realism and surreal imagery, you travel with the main character through thick and thin, experiencing joy and despair honestly. Ultimately, this masterpiece is both kind and cruel enough to leave the ultimate responsibility of judgment to the viewer.

  • (This would make a very intriguing double feature with the excellent documentary Grizzly Man.)

  • Heading South

  • 17) Heading South

  • I seem to be one of the few people who enjoyed Time Out rather than leaving the film bored stiff. Still, I wasn’t expected a follow up from director Laurent Cantet nearly this strong. Using a cast of complex, subtly colored characters, this script recalls the best of John Sayles; the penetrating character studies somehow, through a few thoroughly believable twists, end up saying at least as much about an entire society as it does the few people hogging the limelight. This is a rich, multi-layered film recalling the best E.M. Forster novels, saying so much with nothing but the emotionally-charged story and the finely-observed characters. The subtext is colonialism, economic, sexual, and otherwise, and while this isn't directly addressed, the soul erosion it can claim on both sides of the equation is visible to those with eyes to see. What really makes this film unforgettable is how that never becomes more than deep subtext; too much is happening on a more personal level to allow attention to run to such academic issues until the movie is over. Dumb guys should stay far away; nearly all the main characters are women past fifty, and not an explosion goes off anywhere in the film. Smart people, on the other hand, are in for a rare treat - an intelligent, penetrating, and revealing adult movie, one that heralds the full arrival of a previously promising director to boot.

  • Talk to Her

  • 16) Talk to Her

  • Despite being a culmination for Pedro Almodovar's maturing style, Talk to Her was still a shock. A few outlandish moments remain, but while the film remains rather playful, it also manages to be very meditative at the same time. Sure, Almodovar is still creating melodramas, but Talk to Her is certainly more drama than usual. This, of course, does not mean that Talk to Her isn't odd and disturbing in parts, but here, it is the characters, the story, and to a surprising degree, the realism of both elements that are unsettling. Good people do bad actions out of good, if twisted, motives. Lonely people settle for a fool's gold version of love rather than isolation. Small moments of grace rise from horrible situations. Real people walk through a reality that is slightly unreal, rather like most people experience 'reality'. Echoing the thematic changes, Almodovar mutes his pastel shades, relaxing them to soft hues rather than glaring shocks of colors. The acting is also subdued, but Dario Grandinetti gives one of the male performance of the year as the sad yet strong Marco, and the casting of Javier Camara is a stroke of genius. Leonor Watling is convincing both a bullfighter and a sexy object of desire, and Geraldine Chaplin fits perfectly into a film that celebrates silent cinema. Pedro Almodovar not only shines as director, but also proves that his script deserves that Best Original Screenplay award it scored. Heck, there is at least one (at least one) shock in this film that manages to be believable and much more surprising and emotionally satisfying than anything M. Night Shyamalan has yet to hack up. Talk to Her is a wonderful development in Almodovar's filmography; Pedro seems to be one of the few current longtime directors to mature at the peak of his game. Here, he leaves you slightly uneasy, slightly hopeful, and completely longing for more.

  • Bloody Sunday

  • 15) Bloody Sunday

  • Sure, he found a mass audience with his installments in the Bourne trilogy, and the critics finally caught on to him with the very good United 93, but this earlier movie is still the best film Greengrass has created. A march against gross abuses of civil rights, including America's recent favorite, mass internment without trials, turns into a slaughter. This film's bare documentary style puts you in the middle of the carnage and forces you to deal with the horrible aftermath that includes incredible grief, corruption, and cover-up. Realistically, confusion reigns; so many people could have stopped the killing and tragedy, yet no one person (or side) bears all the blame. The decision to shoot this film with the grey realism of a documentary on the fly only makes the unbelievable more believable and brings the full force of horror home. This is not history. It is protest and prophecy. How long, indeed...

  • The Twilight Samurai

  • 14) The Twilight Samurai

  • Where in the world did this one come from? Yoji Yamada's film flew quietly under my radar until a note from my friend Jim B. mentioned that I might like it. If Yasujiro Ozu directed a samurai film, I suspect it would like a lot like this fantastic film, and that is high praise. The directing is understated yet divine, knowing when to leave the frame still and to allow the action to wander off, and brave enough to let this potentially melodramatic material breathe naturally without superfluous emotional underlining or fireworks. A petty samurai, soldiering on after the loss of his wife leaves him supporting a senile mother and two young daughters on his own, must face several trials, including one that might spell his end. This is a beautiful, moving movie, one that burrowed into my heart with a subtle grace reminiscent of the highest masterpieces of the art. Jim, you nailed it; this is a great film.

  • In the Mood for Love

  • 13) In the Mood for Love

  • We expect so little from yet another rewrite of Brief Encounter, especially when the original still shines as brightly as it does. This one, however, is directed by the greatest director of this decade, Wong Kar-Wai, so the restrained passion becomes an opium hallucination with an unworldly intensity. The directing and the screenplay merge like Bergman heroines until they can no longer be separated. The music barely heard haunts, and the rain falling in slow motion catches every stray emotion and gathers it into one neon puddle. The 2000s are Wong Kar-Wai’s decade; other directors merely borrow smidgens of attention from it.

  • The Departed

  • 12) The Departed

  • Thank God the idiot Academy didn’t give the masterful Martin Scorsese a pity Oscar for either of the two films before this one, because those were merely good, though very flawed, movies. This one is fantastic. Remaking the Hong Kong Infernal Affairs, Scorsese is on fire and in control here with a dose of precise voltage he hasn’t quite conjured up in decades. His cast does not let him down, riding every wave of the wild current. Nicholson, Damon, even the good if erratic DiCaprio all shine here, and the rest of the supporting cast follow suit. A glance at the plot, an Irish gang story involving police moles and double-crossings, might hint that this is simply a rehashing of old material or a pathetic attempt to recapture faded glories, but don’t be fooled. This is one incredible movie, and this is Scorsese at the peak of his powers. The Departed is the best Best Picture winner of the decade. (The worst? Crash, an excellent candidate for worst Best Picture film yet...)

  • Yi Yi

  • 11) Yi Yi

  • The creeping uncertainity and unease of middle class family life is under the microscope in Edward Yang's epic-length dive into the small and mundane. That the film never feels small or mundande is credit to a crackling story and some confident directing from the Taiwanese master. Broad enough to encompass some striking symbolic systems while focused enough to highlight the details along the faultlines, this is the family drama done with more honesty and skill than Hollywood managed to muster over the last few years. Refusing to inflate the situations with maudlin manipulation only adds to the sutle, strong power of the layers story, and the fine acting drives the whole affair home. As a result, this is one of the sortest long films you'll ever see. It is cliched to claim you'll laugh and you'll cry, but... Watch the film.

  • Lost in Translation

  • 10) Lost in Translation

  • Somehow managing to convey a sense of ennui while remaining consistently engrossing, Lost in Translation may seem as Sofia Coppola's Brief La Dolce Vita Encounter During Tokyo Holiday, but it doesn't play as a copy of any film. This is a fresh, beautiful vision, one that is wide and perceptive enough to linger on details and catch the uniqueness in the mundane, the precious in the ordinary. The story is a quiet one that is hardly spectacular, but the characters are very real, desperate and lonely, and their interactions delight even as they refuse to drift into the fantastical. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson deserve the kudos they received; they bring to round life characters that might seem flat on the page, delivering natural nuances that never seem showy. Coppola's vision is all her own and dead-on, highlighting what others might miss and bringing beauty to boredom. Even the look of the film dazzles with bland pastels and muted neons. A fascinating film, Lost in Translation exerts a subtle but adamantine grip on one's memory days after the credits roll. It refuses to be a fantasy, but it is fantastic in a way few films are.

  • Mystic River

  • 9) Mystic River

  • I admit I never really expected Clint Eastwood to develop into the incredible director he is. Unforgiven was a slow, measured tour de force, a masterpiece that cleared any doubt about Eastwood’s skill behind the camera. Even as the nineties progressed and weaker films arrived bearing Eastwood’s name, his skill was still evident. Some of the films were under-rated (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and many more were done in by weak scripts, but Clint always directed with a sure hand and managed incredible performances from his casts. Mystic River, however, was the first Eastwood film since Unforgiven with a fantastic screenplay, and the resulting film is a masterpiece. It helps that the script is good, but Brian Helgeland has not just delivered excellent work. Mystic River is Helgeland’s best work yet, even surpassing L.A. Confidential, and it could go head to head with almost any screenplay from this decade. Every character is a living creation, complete with interesting back-story and realistic motivations, and the symbolism and depth of the writing is both subtle and strong. Embodying these characters is easily one of the best ensemble cast of the decade. These are complex creatures, but there simply is not a weak link among the actors giving them life. Tim Robbins is especially impressive, losing himself in a lost character with no strings showing. Sean Penn is excellent as usual, and I love watching Marcia Gay Harden, who first knocked my socks off in Miller’s Crossing, continue her excellent career in an increasingly bright spotlight. Every actor, not just the ones I mentioned, delivers, and Clint continues to show incredible control and restraint, understanding his material and working to maximize its impact. He never underestimates his audience’s ability to follow the story or to understand the people inside it, and he never shows off his own cinematic ability. The film is the goal, and every element selflessly contributes to it without grandstanding. In the end, Mystic River unfolds in the mind days after the lights come up, heavy, emotional, and thought provoking. Despite crafting some fine films afterward, this stood as Eastwood's peak for these ten years. It is not just a worthy descendent of Unforgiven. It is a masterpiece in its own right.

  • Requiem for a Dream

  • 8) Requiem for a Dream

  • Pi, it turns out, was only the open shot of brilliance from Aronofsky. This nightmare is his masterpiece. To even great effect than in The Wrestler, the director cracks open the core of characters trapped in despair, but only after watching them fall far from grace. The shots, the hallucinatory effects, the brutal body-blow editing - so many elements add critical weight to this sinking ship of a movie, but you’ll be pinned under Eilen Burstyn’s stunning performance. Oscar will always be shamed for not recognizing her work here, easily the greatest lead performance by an actress this decade. In contrast to the cool young kids who cave to the crave of addiction, Burstyn's Sara Goldfarb is an older woman whose desire to fit into a dress from her youth, one her dead husband loved, sets her down the trail of diet aids, reds, blues, and speed of every legal stripe, finally leaving her a hopeless junkie as lost as any heroin addict. She is the queen of a crack cast; every actor involved gives his or her best performance yet in this film. Still, the only one to rival Burstyn is Aronofsky himself, perfectly pulling off every directorial trick in the book in service of bringing Hubert Selby Jr.'s hazy vision of strung-out existence to lurid, elastic reality. Refrigerators rattle to vengeful life, rot visually sets in the frame, and both the rush and devastating let-down of drug use are thrown up over the screen. This is a pulverizing, blitzkrieg film, one that dares to hint that addiction runs far deeper in the American psyche than just a simply desire for illicit substances, and one with the nerve to slam the door on any hint of light or escape. No punches are pulled, no redemption dangles from a stick, and no mercy lures near the end. Yes, this has plenty important to say, but as a shocking nightmare, a visceral vial of acid across the face of the viewer. This isn't for people who use movies as visual sedatives or Prozac. This is challenging, demanding art. In fact, this is hell. You'll stay awake thinking about this weeks afterward, and in this age of torture-porn and clinical gore on primetime network television, that deeply disturbing scarring of your psyche is something only a master can manage. You won’t recover from this one.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  • 7) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  • This is type of movie for which I hate writing a review. So much of the fun of first viewing this is not knowing where anything is going, and the more you know about the plot, the more you're robbed of that wild rush. Forgive me, but I just can’t do that to you on this film. Know that memory and romance are the subjects here, and that things are going to get a little strange. The cast is superb, from Jim Carrey's best-yet performance, Winslet and Wilkinson's usual terrific job, and even Kirsten Dunst's fine turn. The soundscape is as effective and creative as the audio from a David Lynch film, the visual motifs are unusual and perfectly fitted to the material, and Kaufman manages to wrap his usual narrative twists and turns around a thought-provoking, moving story with much more heart than most of his work. The inventive direction somehow manages to capture every wild idea the screenplay tosses out, and even more awe-inspiring, those ideas all come home to make intellectual and emotional sense before the entire affair is through. By this point, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has proven a terrific triumph for several talents I had nearly given up on...

  • King Kong

  • 6) King Kong

  • Most of our culture’s most valued dramas are remakes of a sort; the Greek tragedies were nearly all re-workings of traditional material, much of which was transformed into plays many times before the classic versions we treasure, and of all of Shakespeare’s virtues, originality of plot is never a highlighted one. Purists may grumble and complain, but our cinema is the closest our civilization has to such a unifying dramatic medium as the classical folks enjoyed; events are dramatized, people across the nation watch, and we often take it for granted that most people we converse with over the age of thirty have the Star Wars trilogy or several of the Spielberg constructions as a point of reference. If we roll our eyes at remakes, it is only because Hollywood cynically cranks them out, all too often as camp. Peter Jackson’s King Kong, however, is not this type of product; it is closer to reworking already classic material, and if the special effects are dramatically enhanced in this presentation, so are many of the dramatic elements. The bizarre love story between Naomi Watts and the large ape is epic not only in sheer size, but in emotional impact as well. Kong here surpasses the director’s previous Gollum as an incredibly expressive computer-animated creation. This drama occupies the spotlight, but other interesting strands weave a rich web in the background. Jack Black’s obsessed director notes the dichotomy of our struggle with art, romance, and the other beautiful things we love; too often, we either strangle these valuables or are strangled by them. If we love, we jump, but that guarantees no happy ending. Nearly upstaging the characters in this film is the deliriously delicious attention to detail; Broadway of the 1930 comes to lucid life, and the Empire State Building demands all the awe it commanded in its glory days. Did I mention how thrilling this film is? A protracted segment involving dinosaurs is one of the most riveting, adrenaline-saturated montages captured on film, and the climatic scene will speed your pulse regardless of whether you know how it all ends. On top of the thematic richness many will miss upon viewing this, Jackson’s epic has more popcorn value than any other film of this decade. In fact, while the box office labeled this a disappointment, let us fall in awe before this beast. Critics were much too quick to label this director’s Middle Earth trilogy as his masterpiece. This film surpasses that work by quite some degree, at the risk of breathing heresy, I’ll even whisper a more astonishing truth. Peter has pulled off the impossible here; he topped the classic original. The public stayed away and anxiously awaited atrocious blockbusters such as the Transformers and Avatar, but I suspect this will go on to be Jackson’s Vertigo, shunned on release and later worshiped as a missed masterpiece.

  • Children of Men

  • 5) Children of Men

  • Wow, despite his impressive earlier films, helming the charming A Little Princess over a decade ago, scoring an international hit with Y Tu Mamá También, and filing the best entry in the lucrative Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón catapults to the leading edge of the world's best directors with Children of Men, a science fiction film that walks through tomorrow with long single-take tracking shots that are among some of cinema's greatest uncut shots. A car chase barrels by realistically without a single edit, buildings are entered and left while bullets blaze by and the camera never blinks. It is a tour de force for this director, only amplified by the fine script and terrific performances, especially the lead, Clive Owens, whose viewpoint we share and who (I believe) is in every scene of the film. It is two decades from now and eighteen years since the last human baby was born, and a revolutionary-turned-government-cog receives a baffling, dangerous request from his ex-wife. The symbolism is a little heavy-handed, but this is the lone fault in this astounding film. I'm still trying to figure out how Oscar mostly ignored Children of Men and how many of the critics now sticking it on their top ten lists of the decade couldn't find room for it on their year-end lists back in 2006...

  • The New World

  • 4) The New World

  • Britain discovers America, and Malick makes a masterpiece the masses will hate with a passion. This is not pop music; this is a symphony made up of subtle motifs and unhurried movements. Despite its intentions to be an American epic (down to an opening invocation), it, with its fully fleshed characters still operating as symbols launching internal monologues that melt, merge, and intertwine throughout, is closer to Resnais than anything the average American moviegoer can handle or hope to understand. Proof was seen in the lack of award nominations forQ’orianka Kilcher, who gives a much finer performance than Reese Witherspoon's Oscar-winning performance of the same year. With narratives rushing and mixing like rivers throughout the country, this runs lyrically through American history without oversimplifying matters or motives; the complexity gained leaves this film richer than most historical narratives. The meditative style is very effective, mixing realistic material with stylized editing to weave a moving web of the realistic and the poetic. No, if you are already scared by Malick’s past work and the film’s two-hour plus running time, or by anything not strictly conforming to the formulas and conventions Hollywood has fed you a steady diet of, or if you are a genre-addict who shuns drama and anything lacking clichéd conventions, you should run from this film as if from a falling sky. If that last sentence hasn’t set you on your heels yet, though, there is a fantastic film waiting for you.

  • Mulholland Drive

  • 3) Mulholland Dr.

  • Like most Lynch films, Mulholland Dr. starts as if it might make some sort of sense. Of course, towards the end of Mulholland Dr., as toward the end of many of Lynch's films, one begins to reach the conclusion that nothing in the film will indeed make any literal sense. Then, to everybody's surprise, the film ends, and the entire experience makes perfect sense (at least, if you were keeping up with things). This film is dazzling, mesmerizing, thought provoking, captivating, confident, and completely satisfying. If there is a theme to my top ten list so far, it might be the number of actresses who deserved Oscars but were denied them, and Naomi Watts certainly joins that list. I've written reams on what this film means, about how the plot of shifting identities and murky mysteries actually ties together to make for one of the most fascinating character studies ever projected onto a screen. You'll have to go search out those essays and comments; as much as I want to go on, I don't want to spoil this film for anybody, since any serious film fan should run to see this one. Again.

  • Before Sunset

  • 2) Before Sunset

  • Before Sunrise is quite frankly one of the most romantic films ever lensed, THE vision of love for intelligent, cynical Generation X viewers, so the notion of everybody involved continuing the story inspired dread on the same level as learning of a sequel to Casablanca. Why, O why, would they miss with near perfection? This, though, defies expectations to an incredible degree. Not only is it a better film than the original, it manages to charm, enchant, and delight like very few films ever can. The characters basically talk for eighty minutes inside the always-beautiful Paris, and while that sounds like a shaky premise, the movie actually seems to coast by in half that time. Revisiting old friends such as Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine is rarely as refreshing and, damn it, downright magical as it is here, and I'll just be reckless and tell you right now - this film has one of the absolute best endings in the history of cinema. That's right. This is that good.

  • PS - Shakespeare and Company really does have a live-in loft upstairs. I roamed inside it on accident one day in Paris a few years before this film was made...

  • 2046

  • 1) 2046

  • Talented directors often plunge forward into unknown territory seeking a method for forging a new cinematic language, expressive and unique. About once a decade, one actually succeeds. Hal Hartley pulled off that rare feat in the nineties, and Wong Kar-Wai is our current success. When I was writing a novel years ago, I was often frustrated by people asking what the novel was about. My stock response evolved from, “About 350 pages,” to, “the small, silent moments.” I am either sensitive or delusional, but I have always felt that most of the major incidents in our lives fly by nearly unnoticed, that the seconds of the most inner significance are often barely visible from the outside. I suspect Wong Kar-Wai feels the same, as he creates a sort of sequel to In the Mood for Love (see number 13 below) by taking a series of interlocking short stories and shoving scalpels into them, splitting and fragmenting narratives to open them up and to expose the blood beneath the skin. Since the stories are already incredibly moving, mixing some of the best elements of Philip K. Dick with Raymond Carver and Christopher Isherwood, the vivisection releases visuals never before seen but immediately recognizable as some sort of schematic of the inner workings of the hearts and minds of the characters, especially Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s enigmatic lead and Zhang Ziyi’s Oscar-deserving Bai Ling. One unmoved by the hypnotic narcotic neon visions and the slow motion shots lingering to catch every subtle dripping emotion will immediately cry, “Melodrama!” That is not necessarily a lie. Not seeing the genius of sponging such insightful heart-wringing, however, is worse than an lie in the way that blindness can be worse than an illusion. 2046 is an incredibly personal film that invites you to learn its erotic, longing lingo without spoonfeeding you food you can never digest pureed (and make no mistake, this film is not only beautiful and insightful, it is also the most erotic film of the decade). When you realize much of this film is hiding symbols of Hong Kong itself among the characters and situations, the greatness of this film only grows larger. If at all possible, see it at the theater; these impossible dreamscapes were not intended for small screens.
Author Comments: 

Inspired both by Omni's list and by AAA's Best : This Fledgling Decade's Top Films list.

Well lets see all three of you recommend Yi Yi. Maybe it is time I give it a try. I will have to add it to the netflix queue.

You really should try Yi Yi. I could be wrong, but I bet you will like it at least to some degree. If not, well, then you maybe you can enjoy telling us how crazy we are!

Good viewing, although I'm still reeling from realizing that I have seen a film you haven't... ;)

A first for everything.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I do find myself differing from the consensus around here lately on some of the latest movies. Particularly Far From Heaven. Well I guess it would not be so fun if everyone agrees. I am still reeling from AAA calling No Such Thing an underrated movie....I appreciate Hal Hartley a lot but that movie was a mess..... there I go again being contentious...

Amen to "Memento", "Amelie", "Royal Tenenbaums", and "Far From Heaven"! What do you see in "Moulin Rouge", lbangs? I liked the music and the style, but when you look at the plot, it's been done so many times before that now it seems cliche.

Oh yeah. And amen to "You Can Count On Me" too, although it might not make my top ten . And now that I think of it, "Far From Heaven" might not make my top 10 either. Both were very good movies though.

AJ! I'm dissapointed in you! Not really, but I'm still sad to hear that you didn't enjoy Moulin Rouge!, which is also one of my top ten of the decade. The entire point of the film is quite similar to that of Far from Heaven. Take a genre and style, and expand upon it. Moulin Rouge! is a beautiful experiment in artifice that I've seen at least ten times, and which is quite likely going to surpass Hedwig as the best musical of the decade so far (Dancer in the Dark is another one that deserves credit).

I'm not quite sure I understand what you were saying about "Moulin Rouge", but be sure to read my comments to lbangs. Also, have you seen "Chicago"? I think that's the best musical of the decade. It had a lot of style and life as well, not to mention an interesting plot.

I see that you have seen "Chicago" and liked it, though apparently not as much as I did. I must add to this post the disclaimer that I have not seen "Hedwig" or "Dancer."

Hmm, I'll tackle the MR! thing later.
As for Dancer in the Dark and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, both are very different than Chicago or Moulin Rouge!, but both are worth checking out. Dancer in the Dark is a dark melodrama, while Hedwig is a comedy with some moments of blunt sadness.
I just got back from my THIRD viewing of Chicago, and I must say, this is one unbeatable good time. The energy of the film is so infectious. I wouldn't call it best of the decade, but it is nonetheless very good.
I'll be rooting for The Two Towers and Chicago this Tuesday when the Oscar nominations are revealed.
By the way, are people gonna be putting up any predictions soon? I'm putting mine up on Sunday or Monday.

Moulin Rouge is alive, I mean really alive, in an era when so many films seem so dead. It took chances, and among those chances was taking a tried and true story that had been done to death and attempting to breath life into it. With the style, flash, and fury, I think all involved did just that. The story was a cliche, sure, but the way the film unfurled the story was anything but. The screen burst into flames.

Cliches usually bore or dull me, and that's why I hate them. Moulin Rouge certainly didn't do either; it stood every nerve ending to excited attention.

I'm glad you also enjoyed so many of these films!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Well, I wouldn't exactly say that I was bored by "Moulin Rouge", but I'm always more interested in the substance of the movie than the style. So while I was not bored, I just kept thinking of how trite the story was. It also annoyed me that the ending was revealed in the first three minutes. It's not a bad movie, simply because of the liveliness that you mention, but personally, I don't think it's one of the top films of the decade.

I too need to check out Yi Yi, but I must say, wuite a good list Mr. Bangs.
We share 5 movies between my fifteen and your ten. I also have to see Together and Requiem for a Dream. I'm sad to see that Moulin Rouge has fallen down your list, but pleased that The Royal Tenenbaums is doing well still.

Thanks! If Moulin isn't too high, it is surely because of how much I love the films above it, not how little I love that terrific musical.

I recently saw The Royal Tenenbaums again; I'm even more convinced now that it is terrific. Anderson really does get better with each film, and his debut wasn't bad to start with! Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums - He keeps this up, and he is a legend! I can say the same for Darren Aronofsky and his Pi and Requiem for a Dream. I have high hopes for both.

Sadly, I'm not even sure if Together is available on VHS. I know it is not on DVD. Is there anyone for people to see this neglected film?

I don't know. :(

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

For 'anyone' in that last sentence, please read 'any way'.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Anybody have a clue as to whether Together will ever see the light of day on DVD?

I mean, gee...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Directed by?

Directed by Lukas Moodysson. Its original title is Tillsammans.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Hmmm... it appears to be available only in the UK. Maybe they'll ship internationally if you're willing to fork over a few extra pounds.

Good idea, but the videotape is in PAL, which won't play in my VHS player, and it appears the DVD is region 2 encoded, and I don't have a region-free player.


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Don't worry. It'll be out soon.


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Tillsammans (2000) (aka Together) comes out on DVD February 10th, 2004.

Very nice. It is getting released just as it drops off this list. Still, a great film, and thus, great news.


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

lbangs, have you seen Dancer in the Dark yet? If you have, I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

No, I've only seen a bit of Dancer in the Dark. It is also in my rental queue. Back when I had pay channels, I flipped over to it and watched twenty minutes or so. I liked what I saw so much I turned channels so I could catch it from the start some time. Hopefully, that time will arrive soon...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Well, I just finished watching Requiem for a Dream, and I must say that I was more than impressed. Your love for the film is certainly warranted, and it is now joined by mine.
As for Dancer, I think that Lars Von Trier may be a misunderstood cinematic genius. That film is so good that it made my cry TWICE both times I saw it. Bjork is heartbreaking, the music is superb, everything is great.
Well, I can add another great film to the 2000 queue.

I will certainly check out Dancer in the Dark. I'm thrilled you appreciate Requiem for a Dream. I know the film is quite depressing, but I am still scratching my head as to why most critics afforded it a lukewarm reception at best. Odd, considering it is one of the best films of the decade so far...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Great list. The only one i have not seen yet is Yi Yi. I have no arguements with any others, except i don't know if i would put Requiem so high.


I think several folks here have seen Yi Yi, and I don't recall seeing a negative review yet, if that encourages you.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I decided to make my list unordered, but we do have very similar taste for this decade so far. Will the Lord of the Rings trilogy be joining this list anytime soon?

I, personally, am probably gonna count the two volumes of Kill Bill as one film, and if Volume 2 meets my expectations, I can't imagine it not making my list.

Well, I just can't bring myself to combine films into one entry. Don't get me wrong - it is cool that you can - I just can't. It is sorta like writing, underlining, and highlighting in books. My wife does it, I understand and appreciate all the advantages of doing so, and yet, I still just can't...

If I was including the extended versions, then Fellowship might have a shot here. I haven't seen the longer versions of the other two yet.

I'm hoping Kill Bill, Vol. 2 can squeeze on here on its own. We'll see. :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

A big factor in my choice to combine The Lord of the Rings films and the Kill Bill films is story arc. I would find it hard to seperate the larger story and take each film on its own merits. Part of the joy of the films is seeing the characters grow and the themes extend, and if I was to seperate the films, my represented love for them would be only 1/3 (or 1/2) of my true opinion.

If these films weren't a single story, and were instead a franchise, I would absolutely agree with you. I don't consider Batman and its sequels to be one film, because they are several seperate stories that were (a) not filmed together (b) made by different crews and casts (c) not a part of one message or point and (d) not written as one film.

I guess that's why I put these films together. I wouldn't count The Godfather or Star Wars like that, but these films seem to call for that treatment.

With the stipulation that I have yet to see Bloody Sunday, I can say that Mystic River is the only film on this list that I really feel is unworthy.

Sure, it's a good film, but other than the acting (I have slightly discussed my problems with Tim Robbins' performance), I just don't feel that MR is that exceptional.

Now, I think that the final sequence in wonderful, but I don't think an ending makes a movie.

Several friends think I overrate Mystic River. A second viewing will make me feel more confident about my stance, but I was very impressed by the film, from the directing to the acting to the script. There is always the chance I've simply lost my mind, but so far, I love this film.

I'm glad we pretty much agree on the rest of the list, though. If I'm slipping, I can't be too far gone yet!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Good decade so far, eh?

I'm pretty happy so far...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Very interesting list. My top films (so far) would be Requiem for a Dream and Million Dollar Baby. Still have Lost in Translation unwatched on DVD, and will probably watch Moulin Rouge next week.

Thank you! Obviously, I am quite a fan of all the films you mentioned. I can't recall; have you seen the Before Sunrise / Sunset films?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Unfortunately not. Before Sunrise was on TV last month, twice, and I missed it, twice!

Before Sunset is now in theatres, but I don't think I'll get the time to watch it.

I understand. Besides, while it is not necessary to see the first film before the second, I do think it may make for a nicer experience.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Loved Memento - and Requiem... could not get the fuss over Tenenbaums at all. :)

Yeah, that last film seems to either grab you or leave you unaffected. What can I say? I loved it.

I am very glad you liked both Memento and Requiem; I am still a bit baffled by the latter's lack of critical acclaim.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I know, Requiem covered such a wide gamut of was so real. I'd never even heard of it until a friend recommended it to me.

I caught it in the theater on a near-whim and never quite knew what hit me!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Wow, a new champion! Can't wait to read your 2046 review.

I've posted the review now. I hope you get the chance to see it; obviously, I loved it.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Sorry to be a bother, but I wanted to tell you that for the most recent update of this wonderful list, I think you forgot to include Twilight Samurai. It should be here based on your 2002 rankings, and I'm curious to see where it falls.

That's the missing one! When I started to update this, I thought, "Well, now it will be a top twenty!" By the time I was done, however, I couldn't remember the missing film. Thanks!

I will get on this!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Hmm, I can't find the recent Oscar-winner Crash.

Ok, I think I'll better stop teasing you now...

Patience! I just have not had the time lately to extend this list into the 20,000s!

Stay tuned! :)

Though I just realized I haven't add The New World and a few others yet...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I think that King Kong and Children of Men are a little high and Memento a little low. Mulholland Drive is amazing and I haven't seen 2046 or Before Sunset but other than that it looks like a great list.

I caught Memento the day it arrived in town. My date and I were the only ones in the theater. I had no idea it would become such a cult film. I dig it.

Children of Men is brilliant, in my book. King Kong... Hmmm, who knows? Maybe another viewing will bump it down a bit. I'll have to whip out the DVD and give it another whirl.


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'm not sure how I hadn't noticed this yet, but I'm surprised to see 2046 place so far ahead of In the Mood for Love. I would love to hear what you thought of both films, and what leads you to prefer 2046.

I meant to say "what you thought of both films in relation to each other."

Wow, am I late in noticing this!

The first is an excellent, moody take on Brief Encounter. The second takes that simple story, detonates it, and then tries to focus tightly on a few slivers as they fly away. It takes a bare outline of a plot into several blind alleys, a few tangents, and one or two straight paths to foregone conclusions. I am amazed at how one great film lead to such a very different great one. The cinematic feat of the decade, I reckon...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Love the nod to Leigh, he's definitely one of the finest contemporary directors, and arguably the best when it comes to handling actors. Vera Drake was a great film, as potent as anything he ever did. It hews on the side of being a little too black and white, but its bleakness is so compelling. Reminds me a lot of a Billie Holiday song.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this list turns out.

I've been loving his work for a long time now.

Thanks. I hope the rest of the list doesn't disappoint you too much...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Your review of The Royal Tenenbaums is fantastic, it made me want to watch an Anderson Film.

Thank you!


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thank you lbangs, for contuueing to continue this list. Lots of good films here, and props to you for actually seeing it through this far. Interested in seeing how it turns out in the end.

Thank you! I hope to have the entire list up by year's end, maybe even by the end of next week. We'll see; I think there's a holiday in there somewhere, so I might get distracted... :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Oh I hopes you keep on this as your loyal fans have come to expect a lot from thoust. Thanks againy lbangs.

I would hate to let both of my fans down... :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Are you seriously feigning modesty when this list has 18,000 views? Seriously, I would give my left nipple warmth smell for that many views. Nice try tho.

To be fair, this particular list has been around for almost seven years.

Ah, well that seems entirely logical. In any case, it's a good list. lbangs is a good writer. I pretty much agree with everything he says about the films I've seen. Sadly I haven't seen enough of these!

Well, thanks!

AJ, you're absolutely right, but wow, it hurts just realizing how old this list... :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I would like to suggest Elephant, directed by Gus Van Sant. It is a chilling, crippling film about a school shooting (paying homage to the Columbine massacre) and is one of the most disturbing but artistically beautiful films I have ever seen. It is an underground film set in Portland, Oregon. There are no professional actors (actually, the students in the film were actual students in Portland) and the script is mostly improvised. On the surface, it is a brutal, grotesque film which shows nothing more than the heartless slaughter of people. I actually felt rather disgusted with myself the first time I watched it. But, it made me think about things beyond just the surface of the film. For one, Van Sant does not criticize the characters who are supposed to represent Dylan and Eric. Instead, Van Sant remains neutral, suggesting that they were not "bad" "evil" people but merely *did* something which is violent and certainly not sanctioned by society. Van Sant seemingly argues that there is no inherent evil, but also no inherent "good" and "divinity" only neutrality, and the ideology of *doing* good or *doing* bad (if this makes sense) The film's bleakness also emphasizes various conflicts, particularly in the struggle with life and death. There's a stark contrast between students who panic, and students who seemingly accept their fates. *When the gunman walk into the library there is no panic until post-shooting, and one of the characters takes a picture.* It is as if Van Sant suggests that we must come to terms with death, because sooner or later it will happen. The film is, therefore, remarkably philosophical, especially in the idea of existentialism versus fatalism. How do we act, both in times of crisis and in times of calm?
The film is also artistically beautiful, but I don't want to discuss all the aspects with it. Some people do find the film "boring" which is certainly understandable. It is rough and jagged, gruesome and depressing, but beautiful in its own right.

So you're assuming it doesn't crack the top four... :)

I have seen about twenty minutes of the film, and I need to see the rest. I really like Paranoid Park...

Thanks for the suggestion!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Wow, this is fantastic, I have really enjoyed following this. I had to wait for it to wrap up before going back to see how well we match up. This is how I pegged these over the years:

28 Weeks Later
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Before Sunset
Children of Men
The Departed
Into the Wild
Kill Bill Vol. 1
King Kong
Lost in Translation
Pan's Labyrinth
Pride & Prejudice
Spirited Away
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...And Spring
There Will Be Blood
The Twilight Samurai
The Wrestler

Really Liked
Bloody Sunday
The Brothers Bloom
Curse of the Golden Flower
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Far From Heaven
Finding Neverland
In the Mood for Love
Moulin Rouge
Mulholland Dr.
Mystic River
The Pianist
Requiem for a Dream
Yi Yi

Glad I Saw
Good Night, and Good Luck
The Royal Tenenbaums

Could Have Missed
Talk to Her

Haven't Seen Yet
The Barbarian Invasions
Brokeback Mountain
Capitalism: A Love Story
Chop Shop
Frozen River
Heading South
I'm Not There
The Man Without a Past
The New World
Nobody Knows
The Reader
Vera Drake

If it were my list I'm pretty sure I'd have to find room for The Lord of the Rings (can I count it as one movie?), The Incredibles, Inside Man, The Lives of Others, and District 9. I really should get in the game and make my own list. I have 63 movies from the decade that I loved (at least according to how I ranked 'em at the time), but I expect pruning 13 from that list would be thirsty work.

I was a stodgy stickler. I decided I couldn't really count Lord of the Rings as one movie, as it just wasn't. If I decided otherwise, it probably would be here. The sum really does outweigh the parts, although I'll hold that King Kong remains Jackson's masterpiece...

Thank you, by the way, and I really enjoyed reading your recap of reactions to the films I've listed.

District 9 was quite close, and of course, now that I've finally finished this freaky list, I saw a film a few nights again that likely belongs on here (Up in the Air). Plus, as another reader pointed out elsewhere, I forget City of God, and it belongs on here too! Whoops!

So you also like The Twilight Samurai, eh? :) Thanks - one of the best movie recommendations I received all decade long...

You should start pruning. These lists always seem hard at the start. They are, of course, but they do get easier... until you realize you never wrote a review for a film you saw nine years ago!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Yeah, I'm pretty happy I've been diligent about the reviews! I'd be totally at sea otherwise. I may give the top 50 a go...

I'll keep my eyes open for it!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Ha! I have to say, I'm a little surprised how much we differed when it came down to it. I do like a good few of your movies (although Requiem, the Departed, Talk to Her, Far From Heaven, and Brokeback Mountain wouldn't be considered), but your exclusions are particularly bemusing (this is where I would typically shamelessly link to my own list, but I am a better man than that!). You do have a great range, and I really liked reading your justifications, no matter how much I disagreed with some of them. You nailed the fact that King Kong is Jackson's best work, although top fifty strikes me as a little high. I did like 2046 an awful lot when I saw it, and this makes me want to give it another go with your thoughts in mind. And The New World in the top five? Helllll yessss.

A great list despite our disagreements, and the fact that you can actually articulate your thoughts makes you a better listologist than most (myself included).

I can see you not liking most of those except one - I'm a little surprised you didn't care for The Departed.

I will shamelessly find your list and check it out!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Great list! I expect nothing less.

Thanks. I appreciate that, lukeprog!

I'll try to stay on top of films this year and write reviews for all, not just a few!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Excellent list, and I can honestly say I have seen every single one on it. My own top 50 only contains 7 of yours, but I might be more of an elitist snob. My #1 is In The Mood For Love, I just prefer the simplicity of it compared to 2046 which can sometimes drag unless you're completely devoted to it.

The 7 you have that made my list:

2046 (#14 on mine)
Before Sunset (#6 on mine)
The New World (#7 on mine)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (#2 on mine)
In The Mood For Love (#1 on mine)
There Will Be Blood (#16 on mine)
Memento (#31 on mine)

I don't have my posted on Listology, but it is on Flixster - not sure if this link will work:

Great list! You have several I've yet to see, and some I like but not quite as much as you do (Once and Solaris, for example).

I need to use this as a suggestion list and to start renting!


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Needless to say this is a brilliant list with eclectic choices (King Kong is certainly better than LOTR in my opinion). Your review of 2046 is spot on; a vastly underrated film in my opinion, as good as if not better than its predecessor. Did you like Chungkung Express, is it worth a watch?

Thank you!

I didn't aim to be eclectic, but you know how these things go, neptune. :)

It is refreshing to hear somebody who feels as I do on the King Kong vs. Lord of the Rings debate. We're a tiny minority, you know...

I love Chungkung Express. Since you also enjoy 2046, I think you should check it out. It is more conventional, but that visual flair is there, and while the narratives may be more straight forward, they certainly came from the same imagination...

Thanks, again!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I shall definitely give it a watch. Any chance of making a list like this for cinema through the ages?

I worked up a list back in 03 and started to post it here in installments (remains remain), but I got distracted and never finished.

I have been thinking about cooking up a new one...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs