The Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009)
By Anthony Kuzminski
Happy New Year. Just because we've started a new decade, I'm still working on a few pieces looking back at the previous one. For the long New Year's weekend, I'm giving you 100 rental suggestions as we look back on my what I deem the 100 Best Films of the Decade.
The world’s most popular art form is the movie. No other medium can reach so many people on a worldwide basis year after year. I take so much away from films whether it be easing my mind for a few hours or teaching me a valuable life lesson. More times than not films stick with me, shelter me and comfort me. People continually complain about the lack of quality movies, however, as you can see by the list below, large numbers of first-rate films are released every year. To pull the list below together, I gathered all my year-end lists and wound up with around 450 films. It’s from this list I made the final 100 below. I haven’t seen all of the essential 2009 films so this year are being shortchanged a bit and I did cheat on a few of the entries below sometimes combining films when appropriate. In reality, I did it just to give a few other films a moment in the sun. Most people who read this blog aren’t fully aware of what a film fanatic I truly am but my love of film spurred my writing back in the 1990’s. Over time, music provided me better access so it took the lead in my writing, but my visits to the movie theater and my DVD collection have always not been far behind. On an average year I see approximately 100+ films in the theater and another 100+ at home. The first half of this decade, I believe I was averaging 150+ films a year in the theater alone.
Lists are incredibly difficult to come up with. Why one film made it higher on the list over another I cannot give a proper explanation. Does it matter? I guess it does when you put numbers to it. You could move around all of the films in my top twenty in any form and it would not really matter because they’re all extraordinary. Therefore, I ranked them in the order that they stayed with me, remained in my thoughts, made me want to call an old friend, forced me to reexamine my life, made me miss a lost love and simply stayed close to my heart weeks after viewing it. In picking the top films, I thought back on what the late Gene Siskel would do each and every year; he would pick the film, which he felt, showed the greatest joy and love of filmmaking and that was usually his number one movie. Looking back on this decade, I kept that in mind and created the list below. I don’t expect everyone to love each and every one of them, but maybe have an appreciation for them. I am grateful to those creative forces behind them who hope that the world will take their art to heart. I hope you each can find one film on the list below that shook your soul the same way it did mine.
I don’t have the time to html direct links to all of the films, so when in doubt check out one of the following for more information on the films below.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
Without further adieu...here's my list of the 100 Best Films of the last decade.
100. 10 Items or Less (2006)
Morgan Freeman is beyond charming in this little slice of life film that no one knows about. Playing a distant image of himself researching a role that lands him in a grocery store, the film made me smile and is incredibly charming in ways I never could have imagined.
99. Shaun of the Dead (2004)/Hot Fuzz (2007)
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg made two side splitting comedies that are drenched in pop culture references. ‘Dead’ is an homage to zombie movies while ‘Fuzz’ stole from over eighty different action films about a pair of cops in a quaint British village. Repeat viewings are essential and besides the laughs, these films are fully engaging with notable characters and charming stories.
98. Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith (2005)
I have enjoyed all of Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ prequels, but here if where he hit one out of the park. While all of them have been entertaining, this is the one where big questions were answered and the story becomes complete. I believe that all of the prequel films will be viewed in a much more positive light in the future, however, ‘Sith’ ranks up there with ‘A New Hope’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
97. No Country For Old Men (2007)
The Coen Brothers films often leave me with my head scratching and it’s only on the second or third viewing that I truly “get” the film. Despite this, ‘No Country’ delivers on every account and crawls under your skin. The anxiousness of all of the characters seeps into your mind, body and soul…and if it doesn’t then the final scene of the film is lost on you; a perfect crime thriller.
96. Together (2002)
I have always remembered this underrated and incredibly heartbreaking and poignant film from the director of ‘Farewell, My Concubine’. It's an unpretentious story of a father who makes extreme sacrifices for his son, a world-class violin player, by moving to Beijing so they can find the finest teachers for the child's talent. The back-story is not revealed until the end of the movie, but it's worth the wait as it proves this is more than just your ordinary “father knows best” film. Watching this film you witness firsthand the sacrifices people make for those they love.
95. Avatar (2009)
Not being a James Cameron fan, I couldn’t help but wish this film would bomb to check Cameron’s ego. That being said, this is an event movie that must be seen to be believed. The political and environmental undertones are subtle enough that you can swallow and the look of the film is astonishing. James Cameron can deliver big budget action fare better than anyone on the planet and there is a reason that despite sky high budgets, his films have always turned a significant profit. The twelve years between ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’ may seem extreme, but one viewing of this film in 3D and you’ll understand why.
94. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
The film at its core is a comedy, but as it peels away its layers, it is much deeper than that. Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen wrote the screenplay from a play they had done off of Broadway. One woman is fed up with the dating scene and finds a woman with whom she has a genuine connection. The most poignant moment of the film involves Westfeldt (Jessica Stein) sitting on the porch of her house having a discussion in which her mother ( Tovah Feldshuh ) turns a basic conversation into a moment that is unforgettable and poignant. It's not a film about sex so much as it is about coming to terms with those we love and their flaws and accepting them. I found myself continuing to think about this film in the months after I saw it. It's sweet, melancholy and has more to do with human relationships than sexual preferences.
93. Casino Royale (2006)
The genre of action films will never get the credit they deserve, but this Bond film may take the cake as a definitive one. This was the film Pierce Brosnan wanted to make but they fought him for over a decade before he handed the keys over to his Aston Martin. Daniel Craig breathes life into the character and most importantly, the story of how James Bond became 007 is something I’m not sure if anyone thought they would ever see. Sadly one can only tell this story once so its unlikely future installments will be as good as this one.
92. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
People tend to love it or hate it. I lost myself in it completely. It didn’t appear too long or too short, but a film where as good as the special effects are, I feel it takes a back seat to the characters, their journeys and the underlying themes of the story. I’m a sucker for films where it leaves you with a message to not just dream big but to make sure you live life to the fullest because the clock never stops ticking. This one is no different.
91. The Notorious Betty Page (2005)
Gretchen Mol gives a career defining performance as the first superstar pin-up girl. The film looks deep into her psyche. Instead of some twisted sex tale, the film is more of an exploration of one’s soul and how she comes to reconcile her image. Mol was determined a “has been” by Hollywood before her career even took off and she owns this role and sadly, come award time, it was overlooked. She isn’t just playing Betty Page, she exudes her sexuality and her goody too shoes innocence at the same time.
90. Before Sunset (2004) / Return To Me (2000)
Richard Linklater may be the most effective filmmaker working today as he balances Hollywood films like ‘School of Rock’ with his independent films like this one and ‘Tape’. ‘Before Sunrise’ and its sequel, ‘Before Sunset’ are two of the great romances of the past quarter century. It’s all dialogue, but we inhabit these characters from the second the film starts until it ends. The sequel is a decade down the line with new issues and challenges in front of them in their now complicated lives. It’s rare in life you find someone you can connect so deeply with and talk about anything with. Films about these subjects are even rarer.
‘Return To Me” is the great romantic comedy of the decade. Directed by Bonnie Hunt and the lead performances by David Duchovny and Minnie Driver are marvelous. I always get pulled in by the genuine truth these characters yield on the screen. Filmed in Chicago, embracing the nooks and crannies of the city and a heartwarming story all add up to something more than standard romantic fare. If you haven’t seen this film, you’re in for a true treat.
89. The Bourne Trilogy (2002-2004-2007)
All three of Matt Damon’s spy thrillers are delicately driven films are all filled with complex action scenes and an engaging plots. Besides innovative direction and a smart script, it is Matt Damon who wins us over as he inhabits this character completely. In a film like this, casting is as important as the script. While watching the film, we are always aware that we are watching Jason Bourne, never do we think we’re watching Matt Damon.
88. Thank You For Smoking (2006)
A most wicked comedy. Aaron Eckhart is one of the finest actors of his generation and I can honestly say I will watch him in anything. Of all the Oscar snubs this year, this is the biggest, as his performance was electrifying as he delivered every line in this film with a crocodile smile. We know we can’t trust a word he says, but he wins you over nevertheless. Eckhart plays a brash and cocky representative for the tobacco industry who can spin almost anyone on his head. His performance alone almost guaranteed this film would be on my top-ten list. Credit must be given to writer/director Jason Reitman who balanced the tone for the film beautifully while spraying it with elements of witty and comedic dialogue.
87. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
A film about Jews killing Nazi’s with a subplot involving revenge at a movie premiere directed by Quentin Tarantino. Nuff said.
86. The Mist (2007)
One of the most awe inspiring horror films ever done. A complete throwback to the monster films of the 1950’s and 1960’s, director Frank Darabont (‘The Shawshank Redemption’) once again adapts Stephen King is a riveting film that will never leave your mind.
85. Juno (2007)
Too much has been written about this film by now but it’s so incredibly charming I dare someone not to love it. Another one of those films that makes you smile endlessly.
84. Kinsey (2004)
Liam Neeson delivers a tender, yet complex performance, of a man who changed American society simply by studying them. Liam Neeson brings great humanity to an intricate and faulted man, but one whose heart was sincere and one who forever changed American culture with his studies of sexuality. The film balances the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of love better than anything I have seen put on film.
83. X-Men 2(2003)/ Spider Man 2 (2004)
‘X-Men 2’ is the rare sequel that surpasses the original in almost every aspect. The original ‘X-Men’ looked like it was going to be a disaster from the lousy trailers to the recasting of an integral character (Wolverine) to a studio that would not fork over enough money to make the film more than one hundred minutes. However, director Bryan Singer (‘The Usual Suspects’) somehow made it work. With the second one, the cast was all back and the studio gave Singer whatever he wanted. What you have is a fully realized action masterpiece.
No film exceeded its predecessor like ‘Spider Man 2’. Sam Rami is a master storyteller. With this sequel he peeled off extra layers to the complexity of Peter Parker and those closest to him. While I enjoyed the original, the sequel will one day be looked upon in the same light as ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, as a sequel that almost eclipses the original from your memory.
82. The Fog of War (2003)
Errol Morris may be the greatest living documentary filmmaker alive today. Most people give all they have to give on one great documentary never reaching those heights again. Morris proves he can handle any subject and make it into a spellbinding documentary. Former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, who served under JFK and LBJ, gives several history lessons, eleven of them to be exact, about how countries find themselves at war and what they should do in the future to stop themselves from going to war. The film also has archival phone conversations between McNamara and the presidents debating the war. These conversations are gripping and spine chilling because of the events that followed (most specifically the Vietnam War). In the time we are living, this is an eerie piece of art that one could only wish political leaders would watch.
81. Bloody Sunday (2002)
Paul Greengrass has made a film that for all intended purposes future generations may mistake for a documentary. Many people may not realize that they know this story, but anyone who has heard the U2 song of the same name knows what happened. In January 1972, British soldiers killed 13 passive civilians during a protest. The film is largely shot on hand held cameras to give the documentary-like feeling. I felt numb and dizzy after walking out of the theater seeing this film. A stunning and realistic film that portrays Ireland’s struggles in the late 20th Century better than any other film ever made.
80. Ponyo (2009)
Hayao Miyazaki’s films are entrancing on the eyes but it’s the endearing plots that pull us in. This simple story about a young boy who loves a goldfish princess will warm your heart while gripping your senses as well. Weaved with a moral tale yet a sense of wonderment, Miyazaki is one of the best storytellers and filmmakers on the planet.
79. Garden State (2004)
Who would have thought the star of the NBC sitcom ‘Scrubs’ would be able to write, direct and star in this wonderfully eccentric film of a late twenty-something looking for significance and purpose in his life? The film delivers uproarious and compassionate scenes along with performances that make you feel like you are experiencing it right there with them. Zach Braff’s direction is just right and he takes us on an inner journey through the swamps of New Jersey, while romanticizing it with its celebrated soundtrack. This film has so many superb qualities, not even a 5,000 word essay could do it justice. Look for this film to become a cult classic, ‘The Graduate’ of my generation.
78. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher is a master storyteller, and this period piece mystery is downright haunting. More terrifying than any horror film released this past decade. The story about the real life Zodiac killer isn’t just chilling but it’s impossible to take your eyes off of it. If you haven’t seen it, seek out the Criterion Collection edition, the bonus features are as enthralling as the film.
77. The Lives of Others (2006)
The film is a spider-web of trickery and deceit, but ultimately one of renewal and reward. Like ‘Persepolis’, it is based on real life events and will leave an indelible impression.
76. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Have you ever been driving on an expressway only to slow down to watch the wreckage from an accident? This is what watching this movie is like. I remember the first time I saw it. I left the theater disturbed. I felt filthy. The second time I saw it (on a beautifully constructed DVD) I came to the realization that this may be one of the paramount documentaries of all time. What makes it so unbelievable is how it came to be. Andrew Jarecki was simply set to make a film about child entertainers. One of them, David Friedman, had a brother and father convicted of child molestation in the late 1980's. Even more mesmerizing was the family's decision to videotape their lives after the events of the accusations. I sat there in the theater thinking “What normal family would do this? Who would video tape their entire lives, the good and bad parts and then keep the tapes?” Forget reality television, this is the real thing. By interviewing people who worked on the case and showing these old home movies, Jarecki simply puts the audience in awe. Even if you feel uncomfortable watching this film, it is one of the most astonishing documentaries you will ever lay eyes on.
75. Swimming Pool (2003)
The next time you consider getting some weak Hollywood murder mystery at your local video store, put it down and rent this. An exhilarating thriller that slowly builds up to two unexpected twists while showcasing top-notch performances by Charlotte Rampling (playing a reticent writer) and Ludivine Sagnier (as the sexpot whom Rampling has a love-hate relationship). The build-up of the final act is pure Hitchcock. Even after the film ended, I found myself pondering it and being continually surprised.
74. Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sofia Coppola divided critics and audiences with her surrealistic tale of the 18th Century French Queen. She added a new wave soundtrack and took risks with the casting but I was deeply intrigued right from the opening scene. This film could have been a stuffy period piece, but instead Sofia Coppola breathed life into it and gave the period piece a new spin. While greatly underappreciated by most, this film will continue to find its audience in coming years and in the not too distant future will be studied in film schools for its inventiveness.
73. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
When I went to see this film, my wife turned to me and said “It’s a road trip movie, it has to be good!” She was dead on. You laugh, cry and feel deeply for each of these characters. Their lives may be turned upside down, but they bond together and find a way through with each other, with some hilarious high jinks along the way.
72. Into the Wild (2007)
When I saw Sean Penn would be directing this film about a loner and Eddie Vedder was doing the music, I thought this would be highly pretentious, but it’s not. The brushstrokes Penn utilizes while painting this film are stunning and the images of the film, along with the powerful soundtrack, perfectly fit the source material.
71. The Man From Elysian Fields (2002)
This is simply one of the decade’s most underrated films. It's a straightforward story of a struggling writer played by Andy Garcia who will do anything to support his family…even if it means becoming a male escort. Mick Jagger, whose performance should have been nominated for an Oscar, runs the head of the agency Garcia works for. What ensues over the next two hours in an enjoyable film, but what takes it to another level is the presence of Jagger. He is natural in his acting skills. Even though his screen time is limited, it is the most effortless acting of the decade with great essence and presence, which can be felt throughout the entire film, even when he is not on screen.
70. United 93 / World Trade Center (2006)
Two distinctly different films about the same day with Paul Greengrass taking the lead with the docudrama style in ‘United 93’. One is a shot like a docudrama and the other is a drama shot in a straightforward storytelling manner. Both are deeply profound and while some audiences are not ready for them today, they are important documents for future generations.
68. V For Vendetta (2006)
This film still resonates deeply within me. The futuristic action film is full of ideas of how to tear down a fascist British government. The answer is given to the people by a freedom fighter named “V”. I see plenty of action films and always find them enjoyable but this film is so much more. There is a profound sense of hope and determination from these characters. In the end, it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit while helping the Wachowski Brothers (who were producers and writers) gain ground after the dismal “Matrix” sequels.
67. Michael Clayton (2007)
Corporate greed, murder and the dilemma of being in the middle of it all proves to be a moral tale that isn’t flashy but haunts you for weeks after seeing it. The metaphorical imagery is awe-inspiring and a slew of tour de force performances.
66. Children of Men (2006)
A bleak, menacing look into the not too distant future in a world where women are barren and no one has given birth to a baby in eighteen-years. This dark noir stayed with me for weeks. The haunting and disturbing imagery made me think twice about how much we take for granted on this Earth. Could one imagine a world without children or no future? Director Alfonso Cuaron has made a film I believe will be viewed as the ‘Blade Runner’ of the 21st Century.
65. Crash (2004)
The issues of race in America are at the forefront of this brutally honest film. The multi-arc story is a vital and important one and is why it upset ‘Brokeback Mountain’ for film of the year. This is one of the most engaging and thought provoking stories seen in recent years.
64. Brokeback Mountain (2004)
I enjoyed the film however it’s one of unfulfilled hopes and dreams which makes it heartrending to watch. Ang Lee may be the best and most versatile director working today with credits such as ‘The Hulk’, ‘The Ice Storm’, ‘Sense & Sensibility’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. At its core, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is a compelling love story of two men who couldn’t come to terms with their feelings deep from within.
63. Sideways (2004)
Is this film overrated? No way, from the moment it ended right up until this very moment, these characters and their journey have stayed with me. Director/ writer Alexander Payne does not write in a black and white world, but one where real people deal with genuine issues. The metaphor of a great wine and how it affects your life is driven home beautifully in the film with breakout performances from Virginia Madsen and the always underrated Paul Giamatti. Madsen’s haunting eyes say so much in this performance that it will linger with you for weeks afterward.
62. About A Boy (2002)
A film defined as a romantic comedy but is more or less a movie about maturity and the insight that comes from it. I loved this film to pieces (based on Nick Hornby's book) about a bachelor for life who lives off of his inheritance and the relationship he forges with a 12-year-old boy. No, this is not a story based on Michael Jackson's life, but a cavernous relationship built out of admiration where Will (Hugh Grant) teaches as much as he learns from Marcus ( Nicholas Hoult). The film does not have a cookie cutter ending, but this only adds to the films charm.
61. Spirited Away (by Hayao Miyazaki) (2002)
An involving an inexplicable tale of a young girl who finds adventure and maturity with animated images are so authentic that when I saw it in a theater the younger children were timorous like the Hobbits upon first view of the Ents. This is a film for children 7 and up. The real motive behind the Japanese master of cinema, Hayao Miyazaki, making animated films is because his imagination is so immeasurable and spacious; he could not conceive live actions films that could physically be filmed with the technology available today. This is the man that all Disney animators point to as their muse. This film is the all time box office champion in Japan (yes, it sold more tickets and made more money than ‘Star Wars’,’ Harry Potter’ or ‘Titanic’ ); one of the decade’s most original and inventive stories.
60. City of God (2003)
Take ‘The Godfather’, ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Mean Streets’ and you have possibly the three greatest gangster films ever made. Take the best elements of these three films, change the setting to the slums of Rio de Janeiro and you have one of the most exhilarating and awe-inspiring film experiences in recent memory. There is no authority on these streets as gangs and drug dealers control the society. The film is narrated by “Rocket” who tell the story which covers three decades of turbulence, struggle and gangland wars which are terrifying for no other reason than because they are never ending the decadence begins at a young age where children are murdering others in the streets. There is nothing Hollywood about this brutally truthful and inspired piece of work. It's as real and truthful as any film ever made.
59. Shrek (2001)
How often do you have a film that you can watch with your child and possibly enjoy more than they do? ‘Shrek’ may be one of the most original characters ever to grace the screen. Everything about it is pitch-perfect. While its computer animation is wonderful, its brilliance lies in its script.
58. Vanilla Sky (2001)
While this film may not have the emotional impact of Cameron Crowe’s other films, (‘Say Anything’, ‘Almost Famous’) it does pack a punch to the soul. The film deals with the emotional impacts of casual sex and the consequences of its actions. Is there such a thing as “Friends with privileges”? Or is there always one person faking it when the lights go out? This is the best film ever made about that particular subject. A film of consequences, regrets and the impact that certain people can have on our lives in such a short period of time.
57. In Bruges (2008)
I’ve now seen this film three times and it never ceases to make me laugh. A brilliant script delivered with subtle direction and spot on performances by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. Twisted and bitter humor at its best as two mob employees try and make the best of their time in the wonderfully eclectic and untouched Bruges. Beneath all of the quick quips, jaunty smiles and top-tier acting is a story about redemption that makes this more than your typical crime caper.
56. The Princess & The Warrior (2000)
Coming from the team that brought us ‘Run Lola Run’ is another thriller, of a different and longer kind. However, if ‘Lola’ was quick in your face film of non-stop action that last 80 minutes with credits, this is the polar opposite. A film that runs close to 2.5 hours and is slow moving, but in the best way. Even though this film had some major plot holes, the imagery, imagination and most importantly, the characters rise above any problems I had with the story arc. You will be whisked away to a dreamy world, in which true love, however bizarre, is possible.
55. Minority Report (2002)
The futuristic noir-thriller view was half ‘Blade Runner’ and half ‘Metropolis’ . It has all the goods of all of the other action films from the last twenty five years, but this film above all else has a human element. This film is visually striking and the type of film that Hitchcock would have made if he were alive today. Spielberg proves that Hollywood can make truly entertaining action films based around complex and original ideas. Steven Spielberg has always been a great filmmaker and somehow very few other directors working today can make truly engaging pieces of art and be so ingenious and innovative in the process. Despite his incredible success he continually pushes the envelope and dares the mass audience to come along for the ride.
54. Iron Man (2008)
This is one of those rare films where everything is perfect from the casting, directing, script and the subtle yet honest directing of Jon Favreau. It’s amazing how well comic films can come out if they stay true to the source material. Robert Downy Jr’s performance is fearless and shows what can happen when you take a chance. More importantly, one aspect that always makes a great film is character study and there’s no shortage of interesting characters in comics, it’s whether or not they choose to look beneath the surface to see what makes them tick or whether they create a film with as many explosions as possible. Fortunately for ‘Iron Man’, they have both.
53. Punch Drunk Love (2002)
There is nothing more depressing than a bewildered and secluded soul who walks through life by themselves without any cohort to disclose life's experiences with. Those who went into this film expecting to see an Adam Sandler film walked out disappointed. On the flipside...those who went in expecting to see a Paul Thomas Anderson film walked away on cloud nine. Sandler gives a bravura performance as a semi-lovable loser who finally discovers love with Emily Watson. This is not that different from his other performances. The difference this time is that he is not in the middle of some plot that involves him getting rich quick or inheriting a kid. There are side plots in this film involving extortion and a loop hole that involves Sandler's character (Barry Egan) to get over one million frequent flyer miles from purchasing pudding (yes, you read that correctly). I loved this idiosyncratic film because it so reminded me of how the outside world can be so callous, malicious and sadistic to insecure people. You then lose sight of your dreams, goals and ambitions because you feel no love or hope. Many found the actions of the characters in the film comical, when they should have been dismayed. I hope people are willing to give this movie another chance, as it is a film about finding a muse who can make you feel invincible.
52. High Fidelity (2000)
Rob Gordon, played with doe eyed sincerity by John Cusack, is the type of guy you would love to hang with but most likely not be in a long term relationship with. Based on Nick Hornby’s book about an obsessive record store owner and how the music defines his relationships, for better or worse. The characters in the film are lively and animated and yet brutally truthful. Cusack nails this role to the extent that no one believes he was acting in it, but it’s the films quieter moments where he ponders on past relationships that Cusack shows his worth as an actor. There is great helplessness in his eyes and his performance, making it unforgettable.
51. Superbad/Knocked Up (2007)
The two funniest films of 2007 and because it is my list and my rules, I am sharing the spot for them. Judd Apatow was behind both films and both brought tears to my eyes. All around hysterical laughter but heart as well. I have a feeling ‘Superbad ‘will be a classic and resonate longer, but if you need the release of laughter, look no further than these two.
50. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Maybe a little too obvious rather than mystical, but I found the story to be profoundly vibrant, especially the unexpected second half which is the emotional core of the film. The bi-polar swings of the characters and even the story left my jaw on the ground of the theater. Director Wes Anderson pushed himself with this film and while not as quirky as his previous efforts, it’s just an enchanting and his most enlightening to date.
49. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee’s romantically stunning and elegant film that shifts between never-seen-before action sequences and a genuine love story that is as impressive as it is majestic.
48. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Based on the real life story, director Steven Soderbergh delivered a film that has engaging characters and rolls by you in record time. Julia Roberts is brilliant in the lead role, but Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart help balance the film and provide the Brockovich character a emotional center.
47. Moulin Rouge (2001)
After years of interesting choices by top name directors (Woody Allen, Kenneth Branagh) we finally were given a musical that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Unlike Branagh and Allen, instead of doing an old fashioned musical; Baz Luhrman recreated it by completing reinventing it. He updated it to modern standards with an array of pop songs and top-notch performers. I only wish the musicals that followed it were as daring and ostentatious.
46. Persepolis (2007)
This is a brisk, biting and animated film that permeates with heavy themes through the eyes of a young girl/woman. The film, done in the same style as the graphic novel, simultaneously shows the loneliness and confusion of growing up in hand with growing up in the 1980’s during the war between Iran and Iraq. It delicately balances the heavy themes with a light hearted feel that makes the film all that more digestible. This is among the most haunting of the last decade and will stay in your heart and mind forever.
45. Little Children (2006)
This film is a wildly involving emotional tale of two lost souls seeking solace and meaning in their lives who find it in the comfort of one another. Both are married and seeking a less complicated life away from their demanding and emotionally distant spouses. Director Todd Field (‘In The Bedroom’) carefully wrote and directed this film and while it’s not a fast moving film, it is completely engrossing. Kate Winslet is brilliant in the lead role, this is her most complicated and challenging role to date and yet she handles it with ease. Truly great acting is when it appears to be effortless. Another film that is full of astounding performances by Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly and Jackie Earle Haley.
44. Innocence (2001)
People would constantly ask me about this film and I would tell them it is maybe one of the best films to ever have been made about being in love. In fact, the only other film that demonstrates it as well is ‘Say Anything’ (Thanks for pointing that out George). Instead of having 2 young and good looking people in the lead, this film had two sixty something’s who have lived life and rediscover love and passion. A beautiful film about 2 people in their 60’s who reconnect after no having seen each over in over 45 years; a truly rare and beautiful film that everyone should see.
43. Better Luck Tomorrow (2003)
Every few years there is a young filmmaker who rocks the cinema world with proclamation of “Here I am!” In the early 90's Tarantino did it with ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’. In 1997 Paul Thomas Anderson did it with ‘Hard Eight’ and ‘Boogie Nights’. In 2003 Justin Lin did it with his film, ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’, about Asian teens and the stereotypes they play to their advantages to form a crime ring out of their high school. Not only is the story mesmerizing but also the look of the film is stunning. I never knew a film that cost merely $250,000 could look this good. Like Anderson's voyage through the world of porn, Lin takes the viewer through the hardships and trials of extraordinary young lives as they face simple challenges with great consequences. As great as the rise in power is documented, equally powerful is the fall from grace these teens exhibit. One can only imagine what Justin Lin will do when he is given a budget.
42. The 25th Hour (2002)
Spike Lee's masterpiece...a surreal and evocative day in post 9/11 New York. While I believe Spike Lee is an extraordinarily talented filmmaker, I consider many of his films are off base and ill conceived. Yet, each and every film of his has something in it that I fall in love with. He has taken all of his best qualities and crafted his masterpiece. People will look back twenty-five years from now and see this as an unheralded work of genius. Ed Norton delivers a truly amazing performance of a drug dealer who spends one last day with his friends and family and ponders the decisions he has made in his life. Along with Norton the cast is a tour de force with superb supporting performances by Brian Cox, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper and Rosario Dawson. The film ends on a subdued note with the haunting, but fitting, Bruce Springsteen track, “The Fuse” playing over the ending credits.
41. The Matador (2005)
I saw this film as an afterthought, what I did not expect was for it to be one of the ten best films of the year let alone one of the decade’s best. Pierce Brosnan is a hit man who crosses paths with Greg Kinnear, a salesman, in Mexico. What no one has realized is that this film is the perfect blend of action, comedy and plot to make this probably the most engaging and entertaining film of the year. Brosnan’s performance is genius as he teeters on the line of hot-shot killer and manic psycho. Surprisingly, this film is one of the decades funniest as well.
40. Traffic (2000)
Steven Soderbergh directed thirteen films this decade, but ‘Traffic’ was his tour de force. Making a political statement about drug trafficking and the laws we have in place, he gently guides the story through a series of interconnecting characters and stories. In the hands of a lesser director, this could have gone horribly awry, but instead it impressive and sprawling in every way.
39. Twilight Samurai (2004)
This is 2004’s greatest love story of a widow samurai (Hiroyuki Sanada) in the 19th Century who struggles with everyday life as he tries to raise his family. He is an honorable man thrown into turbulent situations. The fight scenes in the film are intense, not for their over the top choreography, but for the truthfulness behind how each fight is fought. If Akira Kurosawa were alive he was be envious of this film, it’s every bit as compelling as any of Kurosawa’s samurai films. Brewing beneath the surface is a secret love that slowly inches into the samurai’s life and heart and influences it in ways he never thought imaginable. The end of the film is so profoundly moving that it had my girlfriend near tears. Sometimes love can conquer all.
38. Kill Bill: Volume One & Two (2003-2004)
An homage to martial art films, oodles of blood, Uma and that razor-sharp Tarantino dialogue proves that six years between movies was worth the wait. No one could pull off a film like this except Tarantino. Only someone who can merge his countless influences into a blender and make it his own could make a film like this work. This may have ranked higher if it was released in its full 3-hour version and not two parts. David Carradine gives the performance of a lifetime in this underrated masterpiece.
37. The Wrestler (2008)
Poetically brutal, brilliant and beautiful is how I would sum up ‘The Wrestler’. What may appear to be an all too familiar story on paper, it’s anything but. Full of vivid and characters so real that it almost makes it difficult for the viewer to watch. Mickey Rourke’s performance is thunderous and stays with you long after the film is over. This is a man who if he could do life over, he would. However, would the end result be any different? This is a human so broken and beaten that the only place he feels alive in inside the wrestling ring. He reaches out for something to hold on to, but is it too late? Marissa Tomei (delivering her third harrowing performance of the decade) is revealing and her eyes speak volumes. When the film fades to black and the film’s coda, sung by Bruce Springsteen, leaves you shaken from a world we all know far too well.
36. Gangs of New York (2002)
Martin Scorsese took a chance when he decided to create a film about the tribal warfare among the immigrants during the late Nineteenth Century in New York. Nobody tells New York stories better than Scorsese. Like Springsteen who uses New Jersey ideals and lifestyles to encompass his music, Scorsese's muse is New York. The film is more than just a history of New York, it's a reflection of ideals that helped shape, form and continue to be issues today in America. Politicians and dangerous gangs fight over control of the corners and Burroughs of New York. What is most stunning is that while the event in this film took place well over one hundred and twenty years ago, many of these same issues still haunt the American landscape today. Daniel Day Lewis steals the movie with his over-the-top portrayal of “Bill the Butcher”, one of the truly evil characters to ever grace us with their presence on the screen. From the opening battle scene of the natives and immigrants fighting to the final image of the pre-9/11 New York City skyline with U2's “The Hands That Built America” playing over it, this film is a feast on the eyes and mind.
35. Read My Lips (2002)
Every critic each year has one movie on their list that no one has ever heard of. ‘Read My Lips’ is my movie. The film revolves around Carla, who is an office worker who is death, but can read lips. Due to the stress involved with her work, she hires a male assistant, who has a criminal past. Slowly a story evolves involving Carla, the former convict and his past. All of these circumstances come into play as the story unravels in front of us. Before we know it, a risky chain of events unfold in which the success of them depends on Carla's ability to read lips. Few films held my attention as well as this one did. Yes, it has subtitles, but you don't even realize it half of the time because of the actions that take place. It's one of the best noir thrillers I have ever seen and Hollywood should buy the rights to this movie and re-make like they did with Insomnia .
34. The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005)
No film made me laugh more than this one. Steve Carell is the shining star in Judd Apatow’s hysterical comedy about a 40-year old loner whose friends continually try to hook him up. But the film has so many layers and laughs, you need multiple viewings to fully appreciate it.
33. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
This film took me by complete surprise. I’m not quite sure I have ever seen another film quite like this before. It is set around the fascist Spanish of 1944, but with an element of the mystical thrown in based around a young girls mystical adventures. Either film on itself would have been a great film but the fact that director Guillermo del Torro was able to blend these two stories seamlessly is an accomplishment upon itself. The thought and imagination that went into this film is extraordinary, eerie and romantic. This film will be a classic in years to come.
32. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Every person living on God’s green Earth should see this film. Is it easy to watch? No. However, it is easily the year’s most important and profound film. Like Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’, this film documents the truly horrific events that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. Don Cheadle’s performance is the best by any actor on celluloid in 2004. There is a moment in the third act where he simply breaks down and does not utter a word. Nothing needed to be uttered as his face and body have already told us everything.
31. There Will Be Blood (2007)
“I drink your milkshake!” While I enjoyed this film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s period piece about a profoundly complicated oil man becomes more sprawling with each viewing. Daniel Day Lewis gives a performance for the ages of a man driven but who also manipulates his way into people’s live for his own personal gain, but in the end, no matter what he does, he is so entrancing on the screen, you can’t help but be disappointed when the film ends, because you wish there was more to revel in.
30. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
One of the decade’s most disturbing films that came from two brains (Spielberg and Kubrick) that pushed the boundaries of how we treat our children in society. Are they mere machines or toys that adults produce just for our enjoyment or loneliness? I think the reason for such extreme reactions to the films how comfortable one are with the actual message of the film: that we are already living in this society.
29. Syriana (2005)
Most people who may see this film will walk away confused. That’s OK, because writer/director Steve Gaghan’s film is so intricate and complex, you will not pick up everything you need to know in one viewing, which is why this film is damn brilliant. It puts the state of world politics upfront and I can’t think of another film in recent memory that made me think more. You see how deals are made, plans are carried out and how those who want to change things are handled.
28. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
It’s every bit as good as you have heard it is. A rare film that delivers not just intriguing characters, visually lush landscapes and a story that delivers on every level. It’s filled with heartache, disappointment, struggle and ultimately hope. The film’s ending stays true to itself and is by no means a sell-out. It’s the rare film where you’ll gleam with glee as you leave the theater wanting to experience it again, just to recapture the feelings that come over you when watching it. This is the type of film that renews your faith in the world where good things can happen to good people. Determination, love and faith will win out in the end.
27. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
Trust me on this one…I guarantee you that once you pop this in the DVD player, you’ll be transfixed and the second the film is over, you’ll want to watch all of the extra scenes and materials because you’ll want to know more and spend more time with these two men vying for the Donkey Kong World Record. This film is so engaging it’s just like a video game where you throw in another quarter to watch it again.
26. WALL-E (2008)
This isn’t just one of the best animated films of all time, but one of the best films of the decade. Pixar’s brilliance is in the fact they take the simplest idea and turns it into a brilliant film(s). ‘WALL-E ‘is a film that everyone of every age can take from it. It’s rare that a piece of art can have such a wide appeal across so many demographics. This is a wonderful story weaved with a moral tale that isn’t just relevant but one that is equally terrifying. It makes you think twice about the world we live in and how we take it for granted. More importantly, the abuse we instill upon ourselves and our bodies in many ways is equally terrifying.
25. Waking Life (2001)
Not just a great technological breakthrough but also a film that is incredibly thought provoking. In the wake of 9/11, this film brings up numerous questions and concerns that we have as human beings. Where we belong? Where do I fit in? What will become of me? It also shows younger filmmakers a way to make constructive and creative films cheap. A film for the philosopher’s of the world.
24. Elizabethtown (2005)
Cameron Crowe’s breathtaking film about self examination and family received lukewarm responses when released in 2005. I haven’t a clue why as it’s a touching and truthful film about what it’s like to be in your 20’s when you’re not sure what your next step in life should be. We all too often find ourselves working so hard that we overlook the important things in life. Crowe’s film cuts to the core of what it feels like to be lost and disillusioned with a soundtrack that is as important to the story as the script or any of the actors. I saw this film when I really needed it and when I watched it again; it comforted me as much as the initial viewing. Years from now people will go back and look at this film and realize it was unfairly criticized upon its initial release.
23. The Visitor (2008)
Every year there is one film that changes my life, for 2008, it was ‘The Visitor’, a small film written and directed by Thomas McCarthy who had also directed ‘The Station Agent’, one of the decade’s best. He has a way of instilling a sense of familiarity to his characters. The greatest compliment I can ever give his films is that they are never long enough. I always walking away wishing I had more time with his characters. Richard Jenkins (best known as the dead father from ‘Six Feet Under’) is a widower who is sleep walking through life until a series of events, people and circumstances change his course. He comes to realize what’s important in life. He comes alive through a friendship where he discovers a love for music. Just when you think the film is going to take you one way, it twists and turns and points you in a different direction, just like life. If there is one film you see this year on this list, this is it.
22. The Aviator (2004)
Martin Scorsese’s epic masterpiece, filmed in the vein of “Citizen Kane”, may not have the expressive punch of ‘Raging Bull’ or ‘Taxi Driver’ but it’s still tour de force filmmaking demonstrating the fragility of the human condition and how all of the money in the world cannot overcome inner obstacles. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of a lifetime playing the eccentric Howard Hughes, a powerful man whose rise to the top is as famous as his fall from grace. Cate Blanchett also delivers a dead on impersonation of Katherine Hepburn in a film in which every frame is perfect; from the story to the acting to the masterful direction of our greatest living director, Martin Scorsese.
21. Adaptation (2002)
We are what we love, not what loves us -Donald Kaufmann
One of the most absorbing films I have ever seen with a script unlike any other. Nicolas Cage takes on a double role playing two brothers, Donald and Charlie Kaufman, who are both writers. Donald is laid back and wants to write a by the numbers action thriller. Charlie is the man behind ‘Being John Malkovich’ and is adapting the best seller ‘The Orchid Thief’ . One problem: A film on orchids is mind-numbing. He cannot adapt the book and his confusion falls over into his real life, which he winds up adding to the story. Somehow, the author Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) and the man she wrote about, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), all become involved in the movie with Charlie tracking them down. The movie is a film within a film. Confused? Well, when you see it you won't be. I don't want to give too much away to those who have not seen it and others who have seen it, know exactly what I'm writing about. The screenplay is a combination of the two brothers so you get a serious film, with a big action scene, which I won't reveal. I can ensure that many people might be turned off by the finale of the third act, but there is where the irony is at its best. I was sitting up in my seat when the film finished, I was smiling and I could feel that happiness move throughout my body as I walked to my car, drove home and wrote four paragraphs on the film before I went to bed that night. You may not grab everything on one viewing, so make sure you see it twice. It's a heartfelt film about love, passion, writing and most importantly life and how art and inspiration can help us embrace it. The hybrid of these two writers (Donald and Charlie) comes together in this brilliant, truthful, loving and mesmerizing film.
20. Amelie (2001)
Everyone who saw this film at film festivals would tell me to rush out and see it. I waited and waited until one day I gave in and found myself completely enchanted by its freshness, charm and sincerity. Amelie is a French girl who wonders what would happen if she meddles in people’s lives for good reasons, whether it be for love, rediscovery of childhood joy or just learning to love life. This is definitely one of the most charming films I have ever seen.
19. Once (2007)
This film made me smile for close to two hours. This is a wonderfully warm and endearing film of two musicians who first find a common connection through music and later through each other. Music opens doors and worlds to us and what this wonderfully independent film showcases is how provocative it can be and the connections we make through the music
18. Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009) (Read full review here)
I’ve always been a junkie for documentary films, but I’m especially partial to ones involving music. Seeing a filmmaker dissect and let us into the world of talented musicians reveals much about their personalities and their art. However, the definition of a music documentary has been shattered this past year with the release of’ Anvil! The Story of Anvil’ an epic look inside a highly influential Canadian metal band whose has endured more struggle than success. In a day and age of extreme pessimism, this is a film is a reminder that anything is possible. However, instead of placing your hopes and dreams in some fictional world of make believe, Lips, Robb and Anvil are very real and ultimately, it is what makes the film so remarkable because it reinforces the hope.
17. The Station Agent (2003)
This is a wonderfully quirky film with some of the richest characters to ever appear on celluloid. The story does not matter because the characters of this film are so rich and deep that I was disappointed when the movie was over. I felt like I was leaving the party too early. It's a simple film of a dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who loves trains and inherits property next to a station in a small New Jersey town. Here he reluctantly befriends hot dog stand owner Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and an emotionally distant Olivia (Patricia Clarkson). It's a simple story in which we get to see all of the characters show wearing different emotions on their sleeves. Every frame of this movie is genuine. The emotion is so real that you feel like you are sitting there right next to them while they discuss their lives. These three main characters are so distinctive that I could watch them do almost anything and it would be compelling.
16. Wonder Boys (2000)
Michael Douglas delivers one of the best performances as a college professor who wrote one brilliant novel and has been unable to follow it up ever since. Curtis Hanson’s direction is delicate and as is the pacing, the characters and the sharp script. Full of rich supporting performances (Katie Holmes, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr) and a story that was continually unfolding, I lost myself in this film, numerous times. Faced with a few game changing situation, Douglas’ character (Grady Tripp) has to make some tough life altering decisions. But ultimately, by choosing an alternate path, he finally lives.
15. Before The Devil Knows Your Dead (2008)
This film can be summed up in two words; pure perfection. Every scene and moment in this Sidney Lumet directed film is beyond luminous with career defining performances from Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marissa Tomei. Albert Finney is a tour de force in this thriller that is more about karma than about bad luck; a top to bottom masterpiece about a crime gone terribly wrong.
14. Up (2009)
If your eyes don’t well up in the opening fifteen minute prelude to this film, you have no soul. Only in a Pixar film could a senior citizen be the hero of the film that involves adventure, life lessons and love. There’s a reason Pixar has had ten huge hits in a row. Beneath the eye popping animation are stories with soul and ‘Up’ is one of their best.
13. Brick (2006)
The biggest surprise of 2006, a highly intellectual film based around a high school murder is so much more than meets the eye. The rich dialogue in this film owes a debt of gratitude to Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet, but surprisingly, instead of attempting to sound like those two, the characters have their own distinctive voice. The world and characters he created was one I didn’t want to leave. While the drama is elevated, in truth, is that high school is dramatic and challenging and this is what makes this world so fascinating. Rian Johnson is a director to watch in the future.
12. Munich (2005)
Steven Spielberg’s last few films left me without strong feelings towards them one way or the other “(“War of the Worlds” and “The Terminal”)…this film moved me profoundly. It’s a difficult subject matter as it showcases the search of those in charge of the approving the murders of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Spielberg’s film showcases the moral struggles of those with the given task to track down the men behind the murders of the eleven athletes. Where does their loyalty lie; with their families or their country? Spielberg accurately showcases both sides of the story with grace and even though this film has not lit up the box office, it too will be viewed in a better light as time goes on.
11. In America (2003)
The most emotionally exhausting film I saw in 2003 in which we follow a young Irish immigrant family's struggle to get through daily life as foreigners in New York City. However, overshadowing the entire story is the death of a child. Jim Sheridan made the picture perfect home movie by writing the screenplay with his two daughters. The real life sisters (Sarah and Emma Bolger) take the film to another level, as their performances are where the heart and soul of the movie lie. In a supporting role, Djimon Honsou rightfully received an Oscar nomination, which he should have received six years ago for ‘Amistad’. The oldest daughter narrates the film and speaks of how, before her brother died, he gave her three wishes to use in her time of need. The third wish hit me so hard that it brought tears to my eyes. The final ten minutes allow you, along with the main characters, to release all of the built up emotion you have carried with you throughout the film.
10. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The greatest compliment I can ever give a movie is that I smiled from beginning to end. Just a wonderful set of eccentric characters placed into an almost dream world by writer’s Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Yet, the film is also bittersweet and heart breaking in the way it shows the connections between parent and child and family and forgiveness. It also gives great meaning to the phrase “You can't make someone love you. All you can do is be someone who can be loved; the rest is up to the person to realize your worth.” Gene Hackman’s character learns this in the film, in what may be one of Hackman’s greatest performances since ‘The Conversation’. Nobody demonstrates quirkiness; comedy and charm better than Wes Anderson does.
9. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
2004’s best documentary is also its paramount film. No other film in recent memory better exhibits the human condition better than Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s (the directors behind ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Brother’s Keeper’) document of the metal band Metallica falling apart over a two-and-a-half year period, while recording the album ‘St. Anger”. The struggle of a band coming to terms with each other, and their inner demons, was the ultimate fly on the wall experience. It also showcases a hero who comes out of darkness into the light and completely transforming himself in the process. Movies make us want to believe that people can change, when in reality, they don’t. We always root for the character that has fallen from grace hoping they can pick the pieces back up and start again. This is a fascinating study of a band coming to terms with each other as friends and collaborators. What occurs in this film is one of the most profound and beautiful things one can ever witness; the resurrection and rebirth of a human who was lost but now is found. Therein lays the beauty and magic of this film. Metallica has yet to break even on the money they put into this film, however, none of that should matter as they have a document that will last for generations of people to watch, make them look inward and hopefully make them better people. No other film, in the last decade, has made me reevaluate my life more as this one did.
8. The Departed (2006)
Let’s clear something up right from the get go, Martin Scorsese is always in top form. The last film he made in which he was lacking focus was 1977’s ‘New York, New York’. Every film he has touched since then has been first-rate whether it has been deeply personal (‘Raging Bull’), small budget (‘After Hours’), epic (‘Gangs of New York’) or just flat out sprawling (‘Casino’). ‘The Departed’ is no different as he delves into the pulverizing underworld of the Boston mob. Sure this is territory he has explored before but when a player hits his 500th home run does it mean it’s any less important than their first? Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg all give Oscar worthy performances in what truly is a first rate crime thriller based deeply on internal conflict. The complex characters, engaging script and riveting direction make ‘The Departed’ an example of a Hollywood mainstream film at its best.
7. The Prestige (2006)
Chris Nolan’s tale of two magicians flat out wrapped itself around me. “The Illusionist” was a very good film but at its core was a love story, whereas the stakes are infinitely higher in ‘The Prestige’. Every frame of this film is essential to the story they act like building blocks and if one is removed the whole tower falls. However, one does not fully realize this until the final scene of the film. This is a magical (excuse the pun) tale that twisted my mind more than any other film has since ‘Memento’. Nolan’s direction is subtle but speedy and the magnificent splendid script (done with his brother Jonathan) should have been nominated for an Oscar. The acting across the board is exceptional and each and every scene binds the overall scope of this picture together. Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and the ghostly David Bowie give extraordinary performances in this masterpiece. For some unknown reason, many critics overlooked this film when compiling their year-end lists. All I can say is that the second it was over I wanted to see it again.
6. Lost In Translation (2003)
This film sent chills up and down my spine. Sophia Coppola's tale of two lost souls in a foreign land is a thought provoking one which I’ve revisited time and time again. I love each and every inch of this film. Bill Murray gives one of his best performances as a B-list actor in Japan to shoot a commercial. He is comical, charismatic, conflicted and reserved. There is so much he says with his eyes, always a sign of a truly great performance. He has money but not happiness. Scarlett Johansson is equally adrift and her performance ranges from contentment to seclusion to disillusionment to a smile and tears at the end. People so often obey the code of silence when in relationships, yet when these two strangers find each other in a strange land, they are able to shatter that silence through laughter, honesty and even karaoke. They open up to each other with such crystal clear honesty and tenderness, it is impossible not to fall in love with these characters. They admire each other and never do they lead the other on. There is a great scene where Johansson asks Murray if married life gets any easier as time goes on and he simply says "No", but along with the downside he tells her about the highs one can get from other things in life like children. Sofia Coppola gets definitive retribution against those who vilified her for her role in ‘Godfather III’. While she may have been hesitant in that film, as a director and writer she is confident and willing to push the envelope through her words and in her ingenious direction. I have seen this film three times and each time, the final scene gives me goose bumps. I was talking about this dialogue free scene with someone and goose bumps appeared all up and down my arm. There is something so incredibly authentic and unique about this astonishing film. It's a film for those who feel lost and can't find their way home. Somehow, these two characters find their way through their week of bonding. There is no lust here, just pure veneration and love. Through each other, they are able to take a step back and see themselves for who they are and they see the cracks in the sidewalk they need to repair in their lives.
5. Millions (2005)
Danny Boyle made his mark almost a decade ago with ‘Trainspotting’. Ever since then I’ve admired his films more than I loved them. Regardless of what I felt about them, I always loved the style with which he would paint his canvas. With ‘Millions’ he found middle ground mixing his manic style with an incredibly sweet and surreal story. Two brothers in England have recently lost their mother. Their father moves them to a new neighborhood and the youngest, Damien (played brilliantly by Alex Etel), is fascinated by the lives and deaths of the Saints, so much so they guide him through life. Add on a lost baggage of money and you have the plot point that drives the story. When I saw this movie last spring, it had me in near tears as the story is essentially one of faith. Through the good times, the bad ones and the times where we are searching, it is faith that will pull you through. If you don’t like this film, I’ll refund your money, that’s how strong I feel about it.
4. Batman Begins (2005)/ The Dark Knight (2008)
I can’t separate these two films no matter how hard I try. I view them as extensions of one another the same way ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Godfather’ films were. I was awestruck at ‘Batman Begins’ in 2005. I love genesis stories and the way director Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer guided the caped crusader was dark, surreal and revitalizing. It’s better than ‘Spiderman’, ‘X-Men’ or any of Burton’s ‘Batman’ films. After the dreadful ‘Batman & Robin’, the franchise went into hibernation for eight years and a reboot need to be a masterstroke in order for it to work. The direction, pacing, script and top notch casting made this film the greatest comic to ever grace the silver screen. ‘The Dark Knight’ followed three years later, a true noir masterpiece that evolves beyond a simple comic book film. Let’s leave the fact that Heath Ledger passed before the film premiered to the side. Chris Nolan is one of the best directors working today and he created a world so intriguing and potent, it’s impossible to not let it overtake you. For my money, this film and Batman Begins are the pinnacle of comic book films.
3. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Peter Jackson did the near impossible, being a 40+ year old book to the screen with very little backlash. While the special effects are mesmerizing, all three films are enhanced by the presence of the great Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf. Peter Jackson has made a masterpiece that will not only stand the test of time, but will be cherished by film lovers forever. He has taken the unfeasible job of constructing these three books onto film and made a magnum opus that will be viewed for all time. The elation of the filmmaking involved with the process is evident and yet effortless at the same time in what many consider the finest trilogy ever constructed. It also has done something that no other big budget film has been able to do: master CGI. None of the special effects look like they are computer generated. You watch all three of these films in awe of their sheer beauty. However, what takes these films to another level is the incredible humanity and heart behind the story. We live and love these characters. At the end of this film you are exhausted, relieved and heartbroken that your journey with these characters has ended. Sean Astin, as Sam, gives the performance of a lifetime as he carries his friend through the depths of hell. These films have it all: great directing, pacing and storytelling in the best fantasy epic since ‘Star Wars’.
2. Memento (2001)
2001 was the year of the non-linear film. ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’ took us on journeys at the cinema and more importantly, that journey did not end when the lights went on in the Movie Theater. It followed us home and haunted us for weeks as we put pieces of the puzzle together. It is rare to have a film that is so completely original that it stands above all the other “puzzle” films that came out this year. Chris Nolan made a film that will be studied for decades to come. A film so brilliant, that a dozen screenings of it will not do it justice. Guy Pearce plays a man whose suffering from short-term memory loss tries to uncover who murdered his wife. But the film’s masterstroke is the method in which the story is told; backwards. You might not understand the film in your initial listen, but no other film spun the concept of filmmaking and storytelling on its head like this one.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
This seems like a no-brainer, but I purposely tried to choose a different film for the top position but ultimately couldn’t justify choosing anything other than Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical film about music, journalism and adventure and ultimately…family. Following the success of the Oscar winning ‘Jerry Maguire’, Crowe wasn’t sure what his next film would be when Lawrence Kasdan encouraged him to do ‘Almost Famous’, something Crowe had been talking about for years but was scared to do, because when someone writes something so revealing and personal, it opens criticisms from the real world. Dreamworks bought the film and Steven Spielberg told him “Film every page”. Crowe pulls no punches, showing the loneliness and awkwardness he experienced as child and the drama within his internal family. His mother, played to perfection by Frances McDormand, is the linchpin that holds the film together. As the film’s lead character William Miller (played with wide eyed innocence by Patrick Fugit) leaves his high school to follow a band on tour for Rolling Stone magazine, Crowe puts the viewer in Miller’s seat and as a result, it’s a tour de force roller coaster ride not just through the winding wheels and roads of rock n’ roll but life as well. The road seems to be glamorous and glorious, but when one gets up close, they see a world full of scars hidden by make-up and distorted guitar chords. Beneath the passionate love one may have for something, you have to open your eyes to the flaws and choose to accept them or run away from them. The characters are powerfully real and full of life that even the director’s cut (titled ‘Untitled’ which runs forty-minutes longer) isn’t enough. You get lost in this world and wish you didn’t have to leave because for a few short hours, Cameron Crowe made us all feel “cool” You don’t have to love rock n’ roll to love this film, you just have to be open enough to acknowledge love.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.