Almost the end of the year. And the decade. So this list seems logical. Wanted to do it before Oscar season gets into full swing and late editing is required. Also, non- documentaries.
1. City of God – Fernando Meirelles – 2002 – Crime Drama
Why: The best crime movie of the decade. Probably the best ever that’s set outside of the US or Hong Kong. It’s hard out in the city of god- little children running around with guns killing people. And when there’s a gang war, everybody’s in trouble. But there the main narrative of Buscape, who makes it out while telling us what he saw.
2.Y tu mama tambien – Alfonso Cuaron -2001 – Drama/ Road movie
Why : One of the most natural film casts ever. This movie makes you feel like they’ve been spending time with each other their whole lives. Both a realistic portrayal of late teenage years as well as a road trip fantasy everyone’s thought about.
3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy - 2001, 2002, 2003 - Peter Jackson – Fantasy/epic/adventure
Why: the trilogy of this decade. Probably of this generation. Who doesn’t like Lord of the Rings after seeing these movies? Like nothing ever seen before, Jackson managed to transform what Tolkien himself said would be unsuitable for film representation. By recreating Middle Earth in the New Zealand countryside these films leave you just as awestruck as reading the books. Maybe even more so. (But you should already know this)
4. Million Dollar Baby – 2004 – Clint Eastwood – Drama
Why: a movie about taking chances and giving chances. About chasing dreams and redemption. And about euthanasia. Released at a time when euthanasia debates were at the forefront to the world news, this film helped to get a perspective on that topic. But not just that, it’s Clint Eastwood at his directorial (and acting) best.
5. Caché (Hidden) -2005- Michael Haneke- Suspense
Why: a complex open-ended thriller about a family with that doesn’t communicate well and who have trauma below the surface. Haneke isn’t committed to solving the mystery, just stating it’s there which leaves plenty of room for the viewer to try to work things out. a major theme is of paranoia about the loss of privacy, something all too real with around the clock surveillance being more widespread.
6. Spirited Away – Hayao Miyazaki – 2001- Animated/ Adventure
Why: you get drawn into this movie like the spirit world is the most natural thing in the world. Visually stunning like few animated before, this movie also tells a tale about adaptation and dealing with new situations.
7. Hable con Ella (Talk to her) – 2002 – Pedro Almodovar – Drama
Why : Two love stories interconnected by time spent in a hospital. An unlikely friendship between two men, who have very different outlooks on life. A crime, the repercussions. Almodovar draws from many different places in society. And makes them all fit seamlessly.
8. The Pianist -2002- Roman Polanski- War/drama
Why: Polanski with the comeback no one saw coming. Adrien Brody with a performance no one knew he was capable of (and has, frustratingly, never come close to again). A portrayal of life in Warsaw for a Jewish pianist and his family, from the time of Nazi occupation until the end of the war. With a realism that at times is difficult to watch, yet you still can’t look away.
9. Before Sunset – 2004 – Richard Linklater – Romance
Why: Two people meet in Paris after nine years. They spend the evening talking about how their lives were during that time. And how it could have been. That’s the entire movie plot. But those topics they talk about, each one is something you’ve thought about and can relate to. This one doesn’t give a lot of answers but it makes you want to go looking for them.
10. There Will be Blood – 2007 – Paul Thomas Anderson – Drama
Why: Daniel Day- Lewis as Daniel Plainview. An oilman. One of the most absorbing performances of the decade. A fascinating look at a man with no moral compass, who won’t let anything stand in his way of getting his oil. (and he references milkshakes.)
11. Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge ( The Voyage of the red Balloon)- Hou Hsao Hsien – 2007 –Drama
Why: A look at the life of a French single mother and her child as well as all their interactions and subtle daily differences. Shown from the view of the exchange student who works as a nanny and lives with them. The realism in this has you feeling like you’re looking through a window at times.
12. Pan’s Labyrinth – 2006 – Guillermo Del Toro – War/ Adventure/ Fantasy
Why: set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil war, this is a film about imagination. The mind of a little girl creates her own battles of good and evil. Anything to not think about reality. Complete with visuals that make the imaginary creatures seem real.
13. Vals im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir) – Ari Folman- 2008 - War/Documentary/ animated
Why: an animated documentary does all the things a real documentary can but gives scenes only possibly by animation (or a huge SFX budget). Folman gives an honest account of the war, while trying to recover memories which his brain is hiding from him.
14. Syndromes and a Century -Apichatpong Weerasethakul- 2006 - Drama
Why: a film in two parts that stretches across two eras. Based on the story of how Weerasethakul’s parents met he shows it as it was (more or less) in the 1970’s and then retells the story in modern times. He does this with the same actors and no warning, so it’s only after it’s finished you realize what happened. Very experimental and very original.
15. . Letters from Iwo Jima – 2006- Clint Eastwood– War
Why: The second part to Eastwood’s World War II series, this tells the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective. A film that shows the mentality of the Japanese soldiers in the ranks as well as the officers. Also serves to show the war culture and attitude of the Japanese soldiers at the time. With battle scenes that are graphic and realistic enough to make you never want to go to war.
16. No Country for Old men – 2007 – Joel & Ethan Coen- Action/ Crime
Why: A very dark film. About a drug deal gone bad and everybody’s trying to find the cash. Which doesn’t look too promising for the man who found it. Cormac McCarthy’s source novel didn’t look adaptable but the Coen Brothers didn’t just pull it off, they made it unforgettable. (and there’s Javier Bardem as Chigurh)
17. 2046 – Wong Kar Wai – 2004 – Drama/ Romance /Sci Fi
Why: Visuals on a whole other level. Even for a Hong Kong film. There are side stories& flash backs. Even surreal futuristic dreams too. But the writer sitting in his room, reflecting on the past, watching the other occupants and talking to his lover. That’s what makes the movie.
18. The Departed – 2006- Martin Scorsese – Crime Drama/ Action
Why: Not Scorsese’s best film. He’s got too many high caliber for it to be that. But this shows why he’s the master of Crime movies. It’s a remake of a South Korean film, but Scorcsese’s own interpretation shows throughout. Nice to see Jack Nicholson as the villain again too.
19. The Lives of Others – 2006- Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck- spy/ drama
Why: Ulrich Muhe completely inhabits his character of a Stasi Surveillance officer. A movie that makes you wonder just who’s listening and how difficult life is when you aren’t sure what the government is capable of. But also a movie that shows even the Stasi are made up of real people with human emotions.
20. Punch Drunk Love – 2002 – Paul Thomas Anderson – Comedy/ Drama
Why: Adam Sandler as Barry Egan. This movie is strange. There’s a lot of side stories but the main one is a romance. How Barry has trouble fitting into a normal relationship is a prevalent theme. Hard to explain why this one is good. But it is.
21. Almost Famous – Cameron Crowe – 2000- Comedy/ Road movie
Why: working for Rolling Stone in the 1970’s. going on tour with a band. It’s what music lovers have always dreamt about. Crowe gives every detail of exactly how it is. Showing you how much it’s exactly like what you expect it to be and how much is a surprise. And every character in the movie is more like a real person than a character
22. Donnie Darko – 2001- Richard Kelly – Drama/Fantasy/Thriller
Why: a teenager gets instructions from a six foot tall rabbit on how to time travel. But he must go back in the past to allow an accident to occur. The movie leaves you wondering how much of this is real and how much is due to a psychological disorder. Definitely something to see more than once, if only to make sense of the story.
23. Wall-E - 2008 -Andrew Stanton- animated
Why: one of the best romance comedies of the decade isn’t even about a human couple. Pixar creates a garbage ridden earth and contrasts it with the beauty of space. With visuals that look more real than any cartoon before, the robots in this movie seem more human than real people. In fact , you might think that if more people were like Wall-e and Eve things might be better.
24 Amélie - 2001- Jean-Pierre Jeunet- Romance/Comedy
Why : with the face of an angel and the heart of a child, Audrey Tautou swept everyone away as Amelie Poulain. Essentially a love story, waitress Amelie has fantastic adventures while trying to help others around her. A view on life in Paris, it has more magical realism than a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. But it wouldn’t be a great French love story if it was any other way.
25. Dirty Pretty Things – Stephen Frears – 2002- Drama
Why: A Nigerian doctor in London works two jobs while uncovering an illegal trade in human organs. This movie shows you the reality of immigrants in big cities. How sometimes leaving for a better life isn’t all you think it would be. An important movie for anyone that’s ever thought about illegal migration
26. Persepolis – 2007- Vincent Paronnaud& Marjane Satrapi - animated
Why: one of the best graphic novels of the decade smoothly becomes one of the best animated movies of the decade. The Iranian revolution seen through the eyes of a young Satrapi, the movie remains comic and endearing while dealing with serious subjects. The animation retains the pleasing simplicity of the graphic novel
27. . Children of men – 2006 -Alfonso Cuarón – Drama/ Sci Fi/ Action
Why: set in the not too distant future, humans have become infertile. In this dystopian vision the story focuses on the people transporting the last pregnant woman. A dark but ultimately hopeful look at a possible future. undertones of political groups willing to use any means to gain power are also apparent.
28. . Oldboy -2003-Park Chan-wook- Thriller/suspense
Why: while calmly walking down the street, a man is captured and held prisoner in a room for years. No reason why, no one ever comes. Then one day he’s free and he decides to start a vendetta against whoever locked him up. A movie full of twists and turns, seething with raw emotion. The phrase ‘didn’t see that coming’ will be frequently used.
29. Traffic -2000- Steven Soderbergh – Crime/Drama
Why: several stories come together in this portrayal of the effects of the drugs trade. Makes you realize how unlikely it is that power will be relinquished from the drug cartels despite the best efforts of those in charge. Also shows how drugs hit home when least expected. Unforgettable performance from Benecio del Toro as the one good Mexican cop, Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez. (not a typo on the double last name)
30. Amores Perros -2000- Alejandro González Iñárritu- drama
Why : three separate stories. One about a model, one about a teenager with a dog who’s a dogfighting champ,one about a vagrant hitman. All connected by a car accident. One story tells you what caused the accident, the next on the repercussions. One of the first movies to showcase the new wave of talent of Mexican cinema
31. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Michael Gondry - 2004 – Sci Fi/Romance/drama
Why: Kate Winslet is unforgettable as Clementine. Jim Carrey gives a performance that makes you realize he has a huge acting range. This movie allows you to watch the deterioration of a romance, piece by piece. From a thoroughly original viewpoint. (more romance like this need to be made).
32. Irreversible - Gaspar Noe -2002 - Thriller
why: it’s all about revenge. You need an above average tolerance for violence for this one. From the opening mutilation scene to the vicious rape scene, this movie never calms down. But you’ll never forget it and before you write it off, most of the acts are based on newspaper reports.
33. Volver- 2006- Pedro Almodovar- Comedy/Drama
Why: Ghosts of the family. Bodies of the family. Opening a restaurant. Penelope Cruz sets the screen on fire as Raimunda in this story set in rural Spain. With scenes that sometimes look as though the overexposed setting was used, the colour and imagery of this movie would be overdone by anyone other than Almodovar who creates the perfect blend.
34. Little Miss Sunshine -2006- Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris – comedy/drama
Why: a road trip in an old VW bus across California to a pre-teen beauty pageant. A movie that never lets its serious subjects weigh it down, by the end of the film family bonding and the warmth that comes from it have affected every character. Every actor plays their part to perfection, especially Steve Carell as a gay, recently fired, Proust specializing college professor who recently attempted suicide.
35. Le scaphandre et le Papillion-(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) -2007-Julian Schnabel- Biography
Why: the story Jean-Dominique Bauby who was left paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. Refusing to lie down and die, he communicated painstakingly letter by letter through blinking and managed to complete his autobiography. Surrealistic imagery and flashbacks make this an alluring film.
36. The Queen -2006- Stephen Frears – Drama
Why: Helen Mirren inhabits the role of Queen Elizabeth II perfectly, giving a human touch to her Majesty. A movie which gives a (maybe) fictional account of how the Royal family dealt with Princess Diana’s death. Very witty and intelligent in its portrayal of facts and events, it shows compassion too.
37. Whale Rider -2002-Niki Caro- Drama
Why: The story of Paikea, a young girl who needs to convince her stern grandfather that she is capable of inheriting the leadership of her Maori village, beside there being no precedent for a woman to be chief. Keisha Castle-Hughes (at age fourteen) brings grace and sincerity to her role as Paikea and this more than anything is the reason for the film’s success. The speech at the school program is one of the most moving of the decade.
38. Batman: The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan – 2008- Action/Drama
Why: probably the most popular film of the latter half of the decade. Curiously absent from most of the best of the decade lists out so far. (Critics don’t like popular films). But any movie that gives rise to Heath Ledger as the new Joker can’t be left out.
39. Gosford Park -2001- Robert Altman – Mystery
Why: a throwback to the old Agatha Christie style murder mysteries set in a large British manor house. But not just a straight mystery story, there’s an exploration of how the classes interact in England. A class system which is begging to show signs of decay. Manages to show the strange cultural aspects of England during that era while creating intrigue.
40. Good Night, and Good Luck -2005- George Clooney – Drama
Why: a look back at TV journalism of the past, when journalists weren’t afraid to stand up and challenge. When Edward R. Morrow stood against Senator Joseph McCarthy on his policies, it represented the press willing to fight for the people. Clooney captures the feel of that era so authentically you can smell the cigarette smoke.
41. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan -2006- Larry Charles- comedy/(documentary?)
Why: you either love this movie or hate it. But everyone knows about it. Borat showed Americans at their intolerant worst, managing to get everyday people to reveal levels of hypocrisy and xenophobia they had buried deep down. One of the most original ideas about making a movie ever, easily the best (and most offensive) comedy in years.
42. Indigenes (Days of Glory)- 2006- Rachid Bouchareb – War
Why: this has been called the French “Saving Private Ryan”. It’s that good. The story of World War II battles in North Africa by the soldiers from the French colonies. Shows the two faced nature of the military, which allowed these soldiers to die for France while still treating them unjustly. The reaction to this movie caused the French Government to restructure their war pension scheme.
43. Let the Right one in- 2008 - Tomas Alfredson – Horror/Thriller/Romance
Why: Twilight fans need to see this before they can give any comments on a vampire movie. A movie about a pre teen vampire from the suburbs who begins a relationship with another vampire. A relationship which changes his mundane life. Full of the kind of scenes you would expect from vampires if they were real.
44. Lagaan -Ashutosh Gowariker- 2001 – epic drama/sports/ musical
why: not your average Indian film. While it does have a love story and musical numbers, this film is about triumph. Specifically the triumph of the Indian villagers over the British colonials. At cricket too, which was “their game”. ( and that match at the end, only cricket can give that drama
45. The Last King of Scotland -2006 - Kevin Macdonald- Drama/ Historical
Why: Forrest Whitaker plays Idi Amin and there’s nothing you won’t say he’s incapable of. But he’s not just dangerous, Whitaker captures Amin’s charisma and takes you a bit closer to realizing why so many people were swayed by the dictator. The brutality level of this film is high but so was the brutality of Amin’s Uganda.
46. Once - John Carney- 2007 – Musical/ Romance/Drama
Why: quiet film, shot with a handheld style. At times you feel like you right there next to the characters. A simple story about a street musician who meets a girl that likes his music, then spends time with her and records an album. This might be one of the best films about music in a long time.
47. Monsoon Wedding -2002- Mira Nair – Comedy /Drama
Why: a whirlwind of a film that accurately depicts the corresponding whirlwind that is an Indian wedding. There are tensions and anger, joy and romance – and just as in any wedding , not only the bride and groom are feeling theme. A vivid depiction of the social festival that a Punjabi wedding is.
48. . Billy Elliot -2000- Stephen Daldry – Musical/Drama
Why: in a coal mining town in England, a young boy dreams of being a ballet dancer. Something which doesn’t go down well with his family. A story about perseverance and following your dreams, this movie takes you into the story and for an emotional ride.
49. The Squid and the Whale -2005- Noah Baumbach – Comedy-Drama
Why: a film about two brothers whose parents (both professors in literature) are getting an ill-tempered divorce. Set in 1980’s New York, tells the classic tale of each child siding with a different parent. The script from Baumbach manages to be both realistic and witty and leaves you wishing the movie was longer.
50. 25th hour- 2002- Spike Lee - Drama
Why: Character driven drama, expected of Spike lee. Fast , engaging dialogue makes the character interactions seem closer to real life than a movie. The entire film’s events happen during the space of one day. A very eventful day. The closest resemblance Spike has ever done to ‘do the right thing’”