Senior Theatrical Editor
Decade in Review, Part One (50 - 41)
Ten Years of Great Cinema Revisited
I reviewed 20 movies in nine months when I started writing for MovieFreak back in April of 2001. The best of the bunch was easily Ghost World and I was happy to get the chance to talk about it, this website giving me an opportunity to wax poetic about my favorite subject like I hadn’t been able to since attending college at the University of Washington a few years prior.
Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi in MGM/UA's Ghost World
Since that inauspicious beginning I have now written over 1,100 theatrical reviews for MovieFreak along with countless features, interview pieces, year-end retrospectives and DVD and Blu-ray reviews. I have gotten the opportunity to revel in the glories of timeless classics like To Catch a Thief and The Day the Earth Stood Still while also discussing the merits of relatively new masterworks like Once and WALL•E. It has been both a treat and a chore, and looking back I can’t help but be a tiny bit proud.
As this first decade of this young century comes to a close it only seems appropriate to look back at my own reviews and this ten year’s worth of movies and come up with a list of my 50 personal favorites. While I’d like to say these are the best of the best, the crème de la crème and the cream of the crop the reality isn’t quite so cut and dry. Movies, to no one’s surprise I’m guessing, are much like the oceanic tide. They ebb and flow in our memories, some gaining momentum giddily crashing into our cerebral shore while others flow back out to our neural sea barely making a sound.
In other words, and as much as I adore Pauline Kael (and as much as I’d know she’d hate this next statement), opinions change, and as I retrospect some films have grown on me while others have sadly diminished. More, as these feelings tend to be in a state of constant flux I’m not about to claim that the following is my definitive list for the years 2000 to 2009 and I reserve the right to change my mind if the mood hits me.
But it is, in my humble opinion, a good one all the same, and while nothing is written in stone if I hesitated to guess 90-percent of the features making this cut would probably remain if I were to ever go through this process again. Good is good, brilliant is brilliant and classic is forever, and while a tiny handful fit the middle category the good majority merrily belong to the latter.
A few things before we start. First off, for those who ask me about the remainder of 2009 at this point I feel confident I’ve seen enough to get this list rolling. Yes, I still have a handful of movies to see (namely Invictus, Avatar and The Lovely Bones), but as I’m seeing the majority of those by the end of next week I don’t feel this to be a problem. Second, for those wondering how I came up with my contenders I looked back over the domestic release schedules for every year of this decade and if the movie immediately jumped out at me in a positive way I included it as a potential member of this retrospective.
Yes, I looked back at some of my reviews, and of course my own top ten lists for 2001 to 2008 came into play, but those were not the only things I took into consideration. For me, a movie truly resonates when you remember intimate details about it years after you’ve first watched it. I feel relatively certain I can say that about every entry on this list, even the newer titles, and even if you don’t agree the potential for a fascinating debate is still exceedingly high.
Finally, before I proceed let me state for the record that while this is called a best-of list saying that the films involved or more like favorites would be a lot more accurate. I’ve always felt that there are movies you love and watch over and over again while at the same time there are ones you consider the greatest ever made. Sometimes these lists match up (I adore Casablanca while also thinking it is legitimately one of the best motion pictures ever made, same goes for the original Star Wars), sometimes they do not (I could watch The Witches of Eastwick until the cows come home but that still doesn’t make it a masterpiece). So don’t be surprised if some phenomenal motion pictures don’t make this cut (I’m talking about you 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). They’re still masterpieces; I just don’t watch or think about them enough to include them here.
With all that out of the way, here are my personal picks for the best films of the decade, numbers 50-41. Each week I’ll count down another set of ten, the final list appearing on the site December 30. We’ll follow that up with our 2009 retrospective on January 1, closing out this decade and ushering in a new one with all the same insight and flair you’ve come to expect from us.
And now, on with the list!
50. Fantasia 2000 (2000)
It only seems fitting to start things with Disney’s musically rapturous IMAX spectacle. Not only was it a beautifully animated sequel to the studio’s landmark 1940 classic Fantasia, it also ushered in the new millennium with pizzazz and charm. While some bits work better than others, and while the device of using a cadre of stars to introduce each new segment is a bit obnoxious, the moment a pack of whales took flight to Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” my heart soared right along with them.
A fairy takes flight in Walt Disney Pictures' Fantasia 2000
49. Adam’s Apples (2007)
How much do I love Adam’s Apples? So much so I bought an import DVD and the domestic DVD. How’s that for being a bit crazy? Seriously though, director Anders Thomas Jensen’s Danish import knocked my socks off during the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival and they’ve only been blown further across my studio apartment since then. This battle of wills between saint and sinner, two people not so far removed as they first believe, is spellbinding, the director achieving a balance between comedy and tragedy that’s sublime.
Mads Mikkelsen and Ulrich Thomsen in Outsider Pictures' Adam's Apples
48. Red Cliff (2009)
John Woo’s first Chinese production since 1992, this massive spectacle has grown on me so much I’ve already seen it three times, once via On Demand and twice in the theater. Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Chiling Lin are perfection incarnate, while the massive battle scenes are arguably some of the best ever put to the film. A true marvel.
Tony Leung in Magnolia Pictures' Red Cliff
47. Mean Girls (2004)
I can’t believe I’m including this title, but the simple fact is that screenwriter Tina Fey’s and director Mark Waters’ high school comedy has slowly and silently become one of the most overworked DVDs in my entire library. Much like I could with Adventures in Babysitting or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off growing up, I can word vomit much of this movie’s dialogue verbatim, that fact alone making its inclusion pretty much a burn book inevitability.
Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Seyfried in Paramount Pictures' Mean Girls
46. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
I believe Steven Spielberg’s A.I., a movie Stanley Kubrick basically gave him and one he felt compelled to finish upon the auteur’s death, is the single most misunderstood movie of the decade. Sad, somber and ultimately tragic, this soaring aria to life, death and family knows more about what it means to be alive then just about any other film released these past ten years. More, it eschews the director’s trademark penchant for delivering pointless happy endings to deliver a coda of bleakly stark emptiness a lot of people totally missed, its haunting final images of a robotic Haley Joel Osment stuck in a loop of false emotion he’ll never understand ripping my soul apart.
Haley Joel Osment in Warner Bros' A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
45. Cold Prey (2006)
Nasty, brutal and extremely uncomfortable, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s sensational Cold Prey is the slasher film horror aficionados will fall instantly in love with. This snowy and isolated chiller takes the genre’s clichés and smashes them to the floor, the filmmaker offering up the type of intensely shocking (and sometimes sickening) scares Hollywood could take a lesson from.
Viktoria Winge in Anchor Bay Entertainment's Cold Prey
44. Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo was the moment when I realized the folks at Pixar were just plain plumb crazy. Not for anything weird, obnoxious or out of the ordinary, but instead for just how absurdly gifted everyone who worked at the animation studio apparently was. To put it simply, these people are freaks because, if not, how in the heck do you explain how a movie about two talking fish searching for a grieving parent’s missing child could be so transcendently brilliant? They’re crazy, that’s how, crazy talented, and when we look back on the history of computer animation John Lasseter and Pixar will be where we begin while everything (and everyone) after that will be nothing more than a cliff note or an afterthought.
Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) in Walt Disney Pictures' Finding Nemo
43. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
As someone who is not a humongous fan of heavy metal titans Metallica watching Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s riveting documentary came as a revelation. While I’d always appreciated songs such as “One,” “Enter Sandman” and “Unforgiven,” the depth of passion and insight found here is downright extraordinary. I came away moved beyond words, this feature-length musical therapy session an exhilarating journey that forced me to see the band in an entirely new light.
Band members at work in IFC Films Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
42. CHE (Part 1: The Argentine, Part 2: Guerrilla) (2008)
Steven Soderbergh’s controversial and mesmerizing four-hour portrait of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara is a filmmaking master class. It’s the kind of monumental epic you just can’t stop thinking about, and no matter what you think about the politics of it all the cinematic purity cannot be denied.
Benicio del Toro and Demian Bichir in IFC Films Che, Part One: The Argentine
41. Talk to Her (2002)
Let me say upfront that Pedro Almodóvar is going to be well represented on this list, his phenomenal 2002 Oscar-winning melodrama just the first of three made this past decade that I could watch anytime anyplace anywhere. In this instance, the saga of two men forging a friendship while their girlfriends are in comas is as heartrending, and yet as uplifting, as any piece of cinema I’m ever likely to see. It is a beautiful, maybe even monumental effort that once seen becomes instantly impossible to forget.
Rosario Flores in Sony Pictures Classics' Talk to Her
[40 - 31], [30 - 21], [20 - 11], [10 - 1]