The twelve best films of the decade

Sean Collins-Smith

Staff Writer

It was the best sometimes, it was the worst sometimes: What better way to describe the past decade in film? In that 10-year period, we saw the fruition of Peter Jackson’s talents in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the degradation of George Lucas’ in the “Star Wars” prequels. We witnessed the re-emergence of comic book films, as brought to life by directors Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”), Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) and Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”), and we begrudgingly witnessed the reemergence of Indiana Jones in the nightmarish “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Fantasy exploded onto the screen, thanks in no smart part to the rapid succession of each new “Harry Potter” film, and the dreaded “Matrix.”

It was the decade of the super spy, as the War on Terror embedded itself into the mainstream’s conscious. This was the first decade of the post-9/11 world, and it was undoubtedly a time for larger-than-life heroes. Iron Man, Batman, Aragorn—all were capable, ruggedly handsome protagonists fending off terror and wars far beyond our grasp. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and Daniel Craig’s re-contrived James Bond each attempted to thwart international conspiracies, mirroring our own country’s struggles, while simultaneously facing down their own demons.

Pixar continued their dominance in the CG-animation department, though not without some sturdy competition. What was nascent technology in the ‘90s expanded wildly during the last 10 years, yielding two billion-dollar franchises – “Ice Age” from Fox Animation and “Shrek” from DreamWorks Animation – but Pixar, ever dependent on originality, came out as the critical darlings with nary a sequel. They earned four Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature as a result.

With all that being said, here are the 12 best films of the last 10 years. Why 12? Because top 10 lists are overdone, and I couldn’t whittle it down to 10.

12. “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004)

11. “District 9” (2009)

10. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)

9. “Good Night and Good Luck” (2005)

8. “Cast Away” (2000)

7. “Grindhouse” (2007)

6. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

5. “No Country For Old Men” (2007) – I’m not sure whether it was the ambiguous ending or the non-conventional story arcs, but I just didn’t appreciate this film the first time I saw it. Upon a second viewing of the Coen’s dark adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, it clicked. The cinematography, the acting, the sheer intensity—“No Country For Old Men” has it all, and then some.

4. “Wall-E” (2008) – Everything Pixar undertakes turns to creative gold, a testament to what dreams may come when true originality melds with beautifully innovative animation. My hardest choice was which Pixar film to put on this top 10 list. It came down to this or the heartbreaking “Monsters, Inc.” “Wall-E” wins out for its throwback to the 1920s methodology of silent-film gurus like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

3. “Children of Men” (2006) – One of the most chaotic and visually striking examples of our future is brought to the screen in Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece, itself an adaptation of a novel by P.D. James. In 2027, humanity has descended into a dystopian hell because of mass infertility, and the griminess of a world on the edge of complete destruction is captured perfectly. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine all play their parts exceptionally well, but what will stay with you long after the credits roll are the indescribably beautiful shots.

2 & 1. “Memento” and “The Dark Knight” (2000 & 2008) – Christopher Nolan knows how to make a great film. And if this was anyone’s decade – there are many candidates, Peter Jackson and Clint Eastwood among them – it was Mr. Nolan’s. He has ridden quite a wave these past 10 years, thanks to having a penchant for originality and a cinematic prowess that mixes Spielbergian extravagance with the simplicity of Steinbeck.

It might seem unfair to include Christopher without his brother Jonathan Nolan, whose own short story “Memento Mori” was the basis of Christopher’s screenplay for “Memento,” and who shares screenplay credits for “The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins” and “The Prestige.”

In 2000, with the release of “Memento,” Nolan cemented his role as an inventive director; someone who wasn’t afraid to craft a project vastly different from what the mainstream had to offer. The result was a decent box office take and an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

“The Dark Knight,” for all its advance hype and universal praise, is really a microcosm – and a byproduct – of the last 10 years. For if this was the decade of any specific genre, it was the effects-heavy comic book movie. People wanted heroes with super powers, mutated to the core and able to save us from whatever evil come our way, consequences be damned.

But there was a disconnect. It wasn’t until 2008, when Christopher Nolan was fully comfortable in the domain of the “Batcave,” that we received our first truly relevant comic book movie of the decade. The Joker underwent a modern makeover and came out as the most evil villain since Darth Vader. Unlike Vader or the Goblin, The Joker seemed grounded in our own reality. Christian Bale and Heath Ledger faithfully brought their characters’ mannerisms to the big screen with the help of the brothers Nolan. The end product wasn’t perfect: It was 20 minutes too long, Rachel Dawes’ character was utterly useless and The Joker had an almost preternatural sense of future. But it had an equal mix of entertainment, strong acting, rousing action and present-day relevancy.

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