Indulge me if you will…
1. There Will Be Blood (2007)
The instant classic. Even watching it for the first time you realize you are seeing greatness, something that for the rest of time will be mentioned in the same breath as “Apocalypse Now,” “Citizen Kane,” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” That just doesn’t happen a lot any more. Backed by Daniel Day Lewis’s bravura performance–the decade’s best performance*–and Jonny Greenwood’s phenomenal score, this study of a ruthless maniac livin’ the American dream is something I will surely revisit once a year for the rest of my life. This was the decade that Paul Thomas Anderson confirmed he is the world’s greatest filmmaker, bar none, and this was the film that nothing else came even close to matching. Hey look at that–I didn’t even mention milkshakes once!
Before this one I’d never particularly liked Julian Schnabel pictures. Sure, there was stuff to admire in both “Basquiat” and “Before Night Falls,” but I still found them a little too scattered, pretentious, and boring. Not so with “Diving Bell” which still stands as one of my fondest theater-going experiences of all time. Alone on a cold December 2007 night in Manhattan’s second worst movie theater–I won’t name names–amidst a sea of crinkly plastic-candy-wrappered unwrapping “What he just say?” old Upper West Side Jews, I was nearly brought to tears, of both joy and sadness, as I saw one of the most touching and life-affirming movies ever made. (I cried even more in frustration upon trying to exit the theater in a timely fashion behind these decaying corpses.) A subtitled French film shot mainly from a POV angle, this highly experimental work I would doubt is for most people’s tastes–you would think–but if you take a chance on it you be floored by the true story of the indomitable spirit of Jean-Dominique Bauby.
3. Lost in Translation (2003)
I fell in love with Scarlett Johansson–at probably an earlier age than I was “legally” allowed to–with her crackling sarcastic supporting work in “Ghost World” (an honorable mention choice on this very list) but “Lost in Translation” still stands as her best work to date. Nevertheless, Bill Murray steals the show in what could even be argued to be his very best performance (I’d personally opt for “Rushmore,” “Groundhog Day,” or the criminally-underrated “What About Bob?”) I had more arguments about my love of this film than probably any other over the last decade with these being the top three FAQs trying to deride my love:
“But what is it about?”
“Don’t you think it’s a perverse love story?”
“Don’t you truly just like it because Scarlett prances around in her underwear?”
I don’t know what to say, I’ve seen it over a dozen times and I never tire of it.
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
If PT Anderson was THE director of the 2000s, then Charlie Kaufman was unquestionably THE screenwriter and two of his films make my top ten. “Eternal Sunshine” is probably his best work ever and, in fact, stands as one of the best modern love stories of the last twenty-five years. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet bring their A-games, there’s hysterical supporting work from Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst, and Michel Gondrey’s directorial vision meshes beautifully with Kaufman’s “out there” ideas. A stunningly original and brilliant work.
5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Aside from #10, this is probably the only picture on my list that isn’t “weird,” or “avant garde” if you want to sound fancier. Then again, SERIOUS and earnest gay love stories that aren’t swished up and packed with hijinks (or Kevin James lisping it up) are amazingly still considered “weird” and “avant garde” in this day and age. I couldn’t believe the looks I’d get, even in 2005 New York City, when friends and acquaintances would ask me what my favorite movie of the year was and I’d respond with “Brokeback.” Eh, maybe I’m just friends with homophobes. Or latent homosexuals. Whatever the case, “Brokebreak” isn’t a great film because of some purely era-based avant gardeness–ala, say, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which was never very good but I suppose considered “cutting-edge” because of the era it was released in–no, the movie is great because it is the most touching Romeo & Juliet-esque love story of recent times. Add an unbelievable score by Gustavo Santaolalla, Heath Ledger’s heartbreaking performance as Ennis del Mar, and maybe my favorite final shot in film history as Ennis hugs Jack Twist’s bloody old work shirt keepsake after learning of his death (uh…spoiler alert?) and you have a masterpiece.
6. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
“Rushmore” was a movie that greatly shaped my college-era movie fandom so I eagerly anticipated Wes Anderson’s follow-up and he absolutely stunned me with this one. I still remember sitting in a Chelsea cinema watching the opening monologue about the Tenenbaum troika’s childhood. The mix of on-screen graphics, insert shots, and such gorgeous costuming and set design, topped of with a cover of “Hey Jude” which led into the opening, modern-day Tenenbaums credits and I knew within minutes I was watching something special. I’m eight years older now and perhaps not as into whimsy but this movie still stands as an iconoclast in the cinema landscape and for sure a masterpiece. There was a time where Wes seemed to be neck-in-neck with PT in the Best Filmmaker in the World debate, but after the still-visually-stunning-but-somewhat-lacking “The Life Aquatic” and “Darjeeling Limited” he is no longer in that debate, though he seems to have gotten back on track with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” his whimsy and childlike wonderment perhaps lending itself better to stop-motion anthropomorphizied animal flicks.
Speaking of greatest filmmakers ever, Quentin Tarantino is still most certainly in the debate. In a world where we are constantly disappointed and forced to curb our expectations, Quentin’s movies never fail to surprise and delight. It’s easy to call him an “homagist,”*** or a rip-off artist if you’re being nasty, but QT is a true American original and if you’re not grinning ear to ear from the start of his movies til the end, then you don’t have a pulse. “Kill Bill” is probably his most uneven film, but Uma Thurman and David Carradine (now in autoerotic asphyxiation heaven along with Michael Hutchence) give boffo performances and there’s still a remarkable amount of gleeful onscreen “Well shit, I’ve never seen THAT before” moments–most notably The Bride’s battles with the Crazy 88s and the California Mountain Snake; “Pussy Wagon,” O-Ren Ishii’s anime backstory, and the showdown at the House of Blue Leaves–to make this a surefire classic. (And fuck to you if you think I’m cheating by including two movies in one slot, although, for the record, Part 2 was the slightly better effort.)
8. Adaptation (2002)
No one would ever say it, preferring to cite eminently forgettable schlock like “The Hangover,” but “Adapation” was easily the funniest movie of the decade (not involving Sacha Baron Cohen or Christopher Guest). That’s the thing about Charlie Kaufman, he’s not making comedies but his films are so so fucking funny. It’s easy to bag on the guy’s acting abilities, but Nic Cage carries the movie, giving a tour de force performance as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman. But this is no Haley Mills “Parent Trap” effort, Cage crafts two completely distinct characters that you never for a second can’t differentiate on screen. “Adaptation” is a meta-goof on all the shitty by-the-book Hollywoodized movies Kaufman was no doubt encouraged to take a stab at–as opposed to continuing to write his “weird” movies–while he struggled to get his sui generis vision on the silver screen. Let’s be glad he never succumbed.
9. Ratatouille (2007)
If you made a top ten list for the decade and you didn’t include a Pixar film then you either have no heart, are trying to be cool, or are one of those weird anti-animation people (“I don’t WATCH cartoons,” they always say. Uh…yeah, but you DO watch Michael Bay movies?!) Honestly, every single Pixar film released since 2000–save “Cars”–would have made, say, my top 100 films of the decade, but “Ratatouille” was the best, edging out, in order, “The Incredibles,” “Up,” and “Wall-E.” It’s honestly hard for me to think of a better movie about creating art while all the critics–everyone’s a critic!–tries to tear you down.
10. Catch Me if You Can (2002)
The 2000s were an incredibly strong decade for Steven Spielberg**** as well with “A.I.,” “Minority Report,” and “Munich” but none were better than “Catch Me If You Can.” I’ve never been the biggest Spielberg fan. I can’t deny the man’s talent, but I’ve felt that he always opts for commercial sentimentality over artistry, cop-out third acts over less satisfying finishes–which is funny because in this decade he got a lot more dark and twisted. Which makes my love of maybe his most sentimental, “throw-back” effort of recent years even more amusing. But damn if “Catch Me” wasn’t one of the most purely enjoyable films of the decade, a film that has quickly entered the “Groundhog Day”/”The Fugitive”/”Castaway” class of movies that if you are to pass them by on TNT or something, you can’t help but watch them yet again for the hundrendth time. It’s easy to dismiss “Catch Me” as nothing more than a nice popcorn flick, and it is unquestionably the most “popcorn” on my top ten, but it has a swell message of isolation and searching for happiness in life and the great DiCaprio has never been more likable. It also begins with the best title sequence in ages:
11. Once (2007)
12. Before Sunset (2004)
13. No Country For Old Men (2007)
14. Ghost World (2001)
15. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
16. City of God (2002)
17. Atonement (2007)
18. Almost Famous (2000)
19. Amelie (2001)
20. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
21. Children of Men (2006)
22. The New World (2005)
23. The 25th Hour (2002)
24. The Incredibles (2004)
25. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
BONUS: Top 3 Documentaries of the 2000s
I’d love to see everyone else’s top 5, 10, 1000 movies of the decade (assuming you’re nerdy enough to make one!)
*Giving myself a mere thirty minutes and not a second more, the decade’s top performances. I’m sure I missed a few big ones, so please note in the comments if I did.
1. Daniel Day Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”)
2. Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”)
3. Nicolas Cage (“Adaptation”)
4. Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”)
5. Javier Bardem (“No Country For Old Men”)
6. Daniel Day Lewis (“Gangs of New York”)
7. Billy Bob Thornton (“The Man Who Wasn’t There”)
8. John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig & the Angry Inch”)
9. Benicio Del Toro (“Che”)
10. Christoph Walz (“Inglourious Basterds”)
(Pains me to not include a single performance by Eastwood, Freeman, Bale, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, DiCaprio, Damon, or Russell Crowe, as well as Amalric in “Diving Bell,” Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast,” and Sir Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.” It’s tough to limit yourself to ten.)
1. Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”)
2. Helen Mirren (“The Queen”)
3. Kate Winslet (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)
4. Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”)
5. Frances McDormand (“Almost Famous”)
6. Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
7. Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”)
8. Charlize Theron (“Monster”)
9. Hillary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”)
10.Ellen Burstyn (“Requiem for a Dream”)
(Pains me to not include a single Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton performance and I could have easily include at least three more Winslet’s.)
**What a year for movies! My top 10 of 2007 back in 2007:
1. There Will Be Blood
2. Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
3. No Country For Old Men
5. Michael Clayton
7. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)
9. 3:10 to Yuma
10. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Three of the above make my decade’s top 10 and three more make the top 25. Wow!
***Google the word “homagist”–which I was Googling to even see if it was a real word!–and look at who the first entry is about.
****Speaking of greatest filmmakers alive, I’m stunned, and quite remiss I couldn’t find room for a single Eastwood film in the top 25. Eastwood just KILLED it this decade with a string of superb features (“Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwa Jima,” and “Gran Torino”) all of which could easily make a reasonable person’s top ten.