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The Big List – 50+ Best Movies of the Decade

Posted December 31st, 2009. Filed under Movies

50 -  The Aviator (pictured above)

Directed by Martin Scorcese, 2004

I’ll take this over The Departed (another Scorcese/DiCaprio flick) any day.

49 -  Sin City

Directed by Frank Miller, 2005

Sin City is the reason later hits like 300 and The Watchmen exist - it’s still the king of the graphic novel adaptations.

48 -  The Last King of Scotland

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, 2006

Forest Whitaker absolutely embodies the role of Idi Amin.  There’s only one acting performance (mentioned later) that I found more convincing this decade.

47 -  The Bourne * (trilogy)

Directed by Doug Liman, 2002 and Paul Greengrass, 2004, 2007

This decade’s Die Hard, a thoroughly enjoyable action-adventure-thriller.

46 -  Star Trek

Directed by J.J. Abrams, 2009

One of the things this decade will be remembered for is reboots of dormant series.  This was definitely a solid one.  I’m a die-hard Star Wars fan and not at all a Star Trek fan.  Somehow, though, I disliked this decade’s Star Wars movies but loved this decade’s Star Trek movie.  It’s definitely a mid-summer special effects bonanza, but it’s such eye candy and it’s so much fun.

45 -  Big Fish (pictured above)

Directed by Tim Burton, 2003

This movie proves Tim Burton can tell an uplifting fairy tale as well as he can a dark and spooky fable.

44 -  Gran Torino

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 2008

This story has been told a hundred times before, but it’s never been given such a memorable ending.

43 -  Knocked Up

Directed by Judd Apatow, 2007

Superbad and The Hangover seem to get all the praise, but I liked this comedy best.

42 -  Minority Report

Directed by Steven Spielberg, 2002

The chase is afoot about a third of the way in and it absolutely never lets up.  This is a great movie to pick up when you’re in the mood for an action flick.  Samantha Morton’s portrayal of Agatha is an eye-opener - I hadn’t heard of her previously.  Tom Cruise is on screen about 80% of the time and, surprisingly, this isn’t problematic.  That’s probably because he’s busy running for his life instead of talking.

41 -  Little Miss Sunshine

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006

This movie was full of great performances from talented actors and actresses perfectly cast in the roles of memorable characters.  That’s it.

40 -  Up (pictured above)

Directed by Pete Docter, 2009

This was a very touching story with plenty of laughs along the way.

39 -  Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

Directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008

A vampire tale that is subtle, quiet, and creepy (like a vampire!).

38 -  Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

Directed by Ang Lee, 2000

This movie was remarkable and memorable for it’s fight sequences that were more like intricately choreographed dances than what you’d expect from any other martial arts movie.

37 -  Before Sunset

Directed by Richard Linklater, 2004

Definitely, definitely see Before Sunrise (1995) first, then enjoy a contemplative stroll around Paris with Before Sunset.

36 -  Zodiac

Directed by David Fincher, 2007

Absolutely perfectly paced, I didn’t realize this was an almost 3 hour long movie until the credits rolled and I looked at the clock.  This is top-shelf suspense and tension and occasional brutality that hits you square in the chest when you remember that you’re watching an adaptation of a true story.

35 -  El orfanato (The Orphanage) (pictured above)

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007

Another horror movie (this time creepy kids and ghosts instead of a vampire) that unfolds at a wonderfully slow and subtle pace.

34 -  Crash

Directed by Paul Haggis, 2004

Love it or hate it, Crash is one of the most polarizing (and thus important) movies of the decade.

33 -  Brokeback Mountain

Directed by Ang Lee, 2005

If you are still avoiding this movie because it’s “that gay cowboy movie”, do yourself a favor and go see it anyway.  Really.

32 -  (500) Days of Summer

Directed by Marc Webb, 2009

Don’t we all wish the romantic comedy sub-genre gave us more gems like (500) Days of Summer and less BridgetJonesian cruft

31 -  Gladiator

Directed by Ridley Scott, 2000

This is the most personally significant movie on this list.  In 2000, I was a sophomore in college, I had my own car for the first time in my life, and I began seeing movies of my own choosing for the first time.  In middle school and high school, I only saw what my parents took me to see (middle school) or the summer blockbusters all my friends wanted to see because of the flashy trailer commercials on TV (high school).  I saw Gladiator and it was instantly my favorite movie ever.  I saw it twice, I bought the soundtrack, the guidebook, everything.  Gladiator was, in fact, the first DVD I ever owned.  I still have that DVD even though it’s scratched up beyond the point of playability.  Gladiator was the gateway drug to my movie addiction.

30 -  Memento (pictured above)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, 2000

Memento was the movie that taught me to appreciate non-linear story telling.  It taught me to stop looking for action and cool effects and pay attention to story and character.

29 -  Atonement

Directed by Joe Wright, 2007

Atonement finds Keira Knightly at her (rare) best in a love story that is absolutely heart-breaking to watch unfold.

28 -  Into the Wild

Directed by Sean Penn, 2007

This movie fed right into my ongoing love-affair with experiencing and exploring the outdoors.

27 -  Avatar

Directed by James Cameron, 2009

This is all about the technical achievement.  See Avatar in 3D as soon as you can.  3D has grown up.  This isn’t the gimmicky 3D of yesteryear with the red-and-blue paper glasses and the silly “look out, that doohickey is flying out of the screen right at you!” moments.  This is 3D that gives an amazing sense of depth and beauty to a movie that I believe will be remembered as marking the beginning one of the big theme of the next decade - the 3D blockbuster.

26 -  Juno

Directed by Jason Reitman, 2007

Juno was witty and funny and believable.  I expect Ellen Paige will be one of the great actresses of the next decade.

25 -  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (pictured above)

Directed by Andrew Dominik, 2007

The fact that Casey Affleck is so easy to dislike is actually a strength in this movie - he’s the titular coward Robert Ford.  Brad Pitt gives another stellar performance (is it just me or is he the epitome of the really good or really bad hot-and-cold actor?)

24 -  El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, 2006

Every bit the fairy tale it is billed as, but definitely not what I expected going in.

23 -  District 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2009

District 9’s cinéma vérité style was off-putting to moviegoers that expected to see a big budget alien invasion flick, but if you haven’t rolled your eyes at most of the preceding movies on this list, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this movie as much as I did.

22 -  Hotel Rwanda

Directed by Terry George, 2005

What I appreciated more than anything else about this movie is that it’s an unfortunately rare movie about Africans in Africa (as opposed to the usual European/American heroes surviving the savagery of Africa - I’m looking at you Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland).  Plus, Don Cheadle can do no wrong.

21 -  Requiem for a Dream (pictured above)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

I made the mistake of purchasing this movie.  It’s a fantastic movie, but it’s downright painful to watch.  I don’t think I could ever watch it again.

20 -  Amores Perros

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000

This movie is a violent gangster movie, a love story, a spiritual coming of age awakening, and a morality tale all at once with all four of these themes connected to one another by a dog.  Amores Perros is difficult to describe, but it’s worth a few hours of your time.

19 -  Milk

Directed by Gus Van Sant, 2008

Sean Penn plays this movie to perfection and it came out at a perfect moment - during the 2008 firestorm of Proposition 8 in California.  Harvey Milk’s story deserves to be told and this movie does that job well.

18 -  Kill Bill (Vols 1 & 2)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, 2003, 2004

My reaction to watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 in theaters was that it was the perfect movie full of fun characters, fun fights, and tongue-in-cheek gore but still somehow able to take itself very seriously.  Vol. 2 turned out to be my favorite of the two because it’s much more understated and the fun characters from Vol. 1 get to be much more completely and interestingly drawn.

17 -  Der Untergang (Downfall) (pictured above)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004

Downfall gives you a look inside the Führerbunker as Allied troops closed in on all sides in the closing days of World War II.  It’s a reminder that while he has been rightly vilified by history, Adolf Hitler was still a human being (a particularly evil human being, but still … ).  It’s fascinating to watch the growing madness and despair of the frail old dictator as his dreams of empire and world domination literally fall to rubble all around him.

16 -  Million Dollar Baby

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 2007

This boxing tale will give you the experience of boxing - the struggles and growing pains of training, the thrill of being in the ring, and finally the knock-out sucker punch to the gut that you’ll definitely feel in the morning.

15 -  Slumdog Millionaire

Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, 2008

Much hyped Academy Award winner for Best Picture that was really good inspite of the silly plot driver (really? back-room interrogations over success on a television game show?).

14 -  Finding Nemo

Directed by Andrew Stanton, 2003

Ellen Degeneres as the hilariously forgetful fish Dory is comedy gold!  Easily, one of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen in an animated movie.

13 -  The Pianist (pictured above)

Directed by Roman Polanski, 2002

This movie portrays the slow, methodical descent into degradation and despair experienced by many Poles in Nazi occupied Warsaw.  Adrien Brody is Adrien Brody (which is to say, he’s great).  As you might expect from the movie’s title, the music is also amazing.

12 -  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Directed by Michel Gondry, 2004

Eternal Sunshine was a mind-trip, it took a second viewing to fully appreciate everything that happens.  Charlie Kaufman is a legend in the making (look him up!)

11 -  Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001

Who doesn’t love Amelie?  Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone seeing this movie and not falling in love with Audrey Tautou and her portrayal of the adorable do-gooder Amelie.

10 -  Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2001

Spirited Away oozes creativity - it’s best experienced as a 2 hour long piece of moving art (it’s hand-animated, so technically, that’s exactly what it is).

09 -  The Royal Tenenbaums (pictured above)

Directed by Wes Anderson, 2001

I almost missed this movie.  I finally saw it at the tail end of this year (2009) and wow, was I ever missing out on greatness.  How’s this for an ensemble cast?:  Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Alec Baldwin.  Great performances from each and every one of them.

08 -  The Incredibles

Directed by Brad Bird, 2004

Every time I see The Incredibles on TV, I stop to watch for a few minutes and end up watching until the end.  There is so much to love about this family and how they are each individually willing to give the entirety of their being (in this case, their superpowers) to save the one’s they love.  Such a feel good movie.

07 -  The Lord of the Rings (trilogy)

Directed by Peter Jackson, 2001, 2002, 2003

An obvious choice - the ultimate epic adventure.  See the extended versions of all three movies if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

06 -  Wall-E

Directed by Andrew Stanton, 2008

Wall-E is by far the most inventive piece of storytelling among the many great animated flicks this decade.  If the second half of this movie was a continuation of the first half of this movie, it’d definitely be hovering around the #1 position on this list.

05 -  The Dark Knight (pictured above)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, 2008

Heath Ledger delivers the (much talked about) performance of the decade.  The hype is absolutely grounded in truth on this one; it’s worth seeing for his performance alone.

04 -  Cidade de Deus (City of God)

Directed by Fernando Meirelles, 2002

I have a weird addiction to watching those prison shows on the Discovery Channel and MSNBC - I think it’s something to do with the fascination of experience a dark and gritty world of criminals, a world I’m curious about but never ever want to actually physically visit.  City of God gave me that same experience (even though it’s not a prison movie).  Fascinating and frightening.

03 -  Children of Men

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 2006

Engaging and surprising and beautifully shot from the explosive opening sequence to the quiet and serene end.  If you like your dystopias dark and glum but believable, Children of Men is for you.

02 -  No Country for Old Men

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007

The quiet menace of Anton Chigurh is one of the most chilling things ever put on screen.  He is the ultimate villain and the centerpiece of this Coen Brothers masterpiece.

01 -  There Will Be Blood (pictured above)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007

This movie grew on me over the course of 4 viewings and it’s reached a place where I now consider it my favorite movie of the decade.

There Will Be Blood” is the kind of film that is easily called great. … It was filmed in the same area of Texas used by “No Country for Old Men,” and that is a great film, and a perfect one. But “There Will Be Blood” is not perfect, and in its imperfections (its unbending characters, its lack of women or any reflection of ordinary society, its ending, its relentlessness) we may see its reach exceeding its grasp. Which is not a dishonorable thing.

Roger Ebert

At it’s simplest, There Will Be Blood is about an oil man who leaves a trail of exploitation and broken promises behind him as he meanders across the gorgeously photographed wide open oil fields of turn of the century Texas, ruthlessly using any-and-everyone in his path for his own monetary gain.  Watch again and you’ll see this is really about an undeclared war, a struggle to the death between the aforementioned oil man Daniel Planview and his nemesis, evangelical preacher Eli Sunday (perfectly portrayed by Paul Dano).  And of course, as promised, there is (eventually) blood.

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