Senior Theatrical Editor
Decade in Review, Part Two (40 – 31)
When I first had the idea of doing this decade recap I made a list of essential films I’d seen over the past ten years I felt everyone should see. That original list had 116 entries and, as I eyed it over, I quickly came to the conclusion that the task I’d set for myself was pretty much impossible.
Still, to paraphrase the great Ed Harris failure just wasn’t an option, so undaunted I proceeded to go through every title with a fine tooth comb until I had the list narrowed down to a point I felt I could realistically compile my final set of 50. Not only was I looking for some sort of emotional connection, I also took into consideration each film’s impact upon how I do my work. Did they change the way I look at cinema? Were they titles I compared others to? Where they game-changers that affected the medium in some tactile way?
All were valid questions, but in the end the single most important one was how they affected me personally. If I watched them again, if they were titles I could go back and look at over and over in order to get some sort of deeper understanding of or a continuous sense of pure enjoyment from then they deserved to be under consideration.
That’s why I consider this to be a list of favorites. Sure the majority are amongst the best films of their respective years, but if they didn’t offer me something above and beyond, if I didn’t react to them palpably each time the DVD slipped into the player, they weren’t worthy of being part of the conversation. As far as I was concerned my gut reaction was the one I needed to count on the most, and if I could recall what it felt like to sit in a darkened theater for that very first viewing that alone was enough for me to rationalize cementing a title amongst this particular top 50.
Without further ado, here are my picks for 40 thru 31:
40. Tell No One (2008)
As thrillers go, a person could do one heck of a lot worse than director Guillaume Canet’s pulse-pounding Hitchcockian suspense flick about a man (superbly played by Francois Cluzet) who receives an email with a recent video image of his long dead wife. Few films ratchet up the tension as beautifully as this one does, a dynamic foot chase through the streets of Paris an exhilarating moment of pure cinematic adrenaline that’s downright exhausting – and that’s a good thing.
Marie-Josee Croze and Francois Cluzet in Music Box Films' Tell No One
39. Serenity (2005)
It shouldn’t have worked. Joss Whedon’s short-lived science fiction-slash-western television series “Firefly” didn’t even last a season, so the idea of a theatrical follow-up wasn’t just idiotic it was borderline insane. Thankfully, Universal Studios rolled the dice all the same and while the resulting film didn’t set the box office afire what it did do was prove without a shadow of a doubt Whedon was – is – a singular talent willing to break genre conventions like no other filmmaker. A joy to behold whether you are familiar with the series or not, Serenity is a sci-fi marvel filled with excitement, humor, thrills, chills, adventure, drama and joy.
Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Jewel Staite, Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin and Sean Maher in Universal Pictures' Serenity
38. Atonement (2007)
I can’t get enough of Atonement. I love the way it bobs and weaves through both time and space, the way it layers fiction with truth and how it shows the ways in which literature allows for licenses the real world frowns upon (and many times punishes). Director Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s magical and marvelous novel is beautiful and disgusting, loving and tragic, and when the book is finally closed and the last page is turned the way a lie becomes an ethereal thing of beauty both takes my breath away and breaks my heart in two each and every time I see it.
James McAvoy and Kiera Knightley in Focus Features' Atonement
37. Grizzly Man (2005)
The life and times of bear fanatic Timothy Treadwell as seen through the piercing and poignant lens of the great Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man isn’t so much a documentary as it is a fascinating exposé of good intentions gone horribly wrong. Yet, even knowing the tragic way things will ultimately turn this film is surprisingly euphoric, Herzog celebrating man’s journey through nature even as he scratches his head perplexed trying to come to a conclusion regarding Treadwell’s debatable sanity.
The late Timothy Treadwell in Lionsgate Films' Grizzly Man
36. Wonder Boys (2000)
Has there been a better movie made about what it is to be a writer this decade than Curtis Hanson’s magnificent Wonder Boys? While I can’t answer that question definitively, this is the one that cuts me to the quick with every subsequent viewing. Profound and moving, this melancholic comedy inspires me in ways I can’t begin to describe, Michael Douglas and Robert Downey, Jr. delivering performances as good as any they have ever given.
Tobey Maguire and Michael Douglas in Paramount Pictures' Wonder Boys
35. City of God (2003)
Nominated for four Academy Awards, including ones for Best Director Fernando Meirelles and for Best Adapted Screenplay, even though it was a January release here in the United States, the Brazilian import City of God is a shattering drama that continually leaves me awed. It’s depiction of life inside a Rio de Janiero slum is tragic, heartbreaking, moving and ultimately hopeful, Meirelles achieving a balance between the senseless and the joyous that’s absolutely remarkable.
An act of violence in Miramax Films' City of God
34. V for Vendetta (2006)
One almost has to ask, was there a better commentary on the George W. Bush years in the White House than this magnetic, enthralling and incredibly violent of Alan Moore’s renowned graphic novel? For my money, the answer is a tentative yes, producers and screenwriters The Wachowski Brothers, working with director and protégé James McTeigue, achieving a delicate balance between social satire and highflying action entertainment that’s beyond wonderful. Somewhat forgotten in the wake of The Dark Knight and 300 without question this is the comic book inspired event movie of the decade, and as the years pass its stock will only continue to rise.
Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman in Warner Bros' V for Vendetta
33. Adaptation (2002)
Having suffered through my own share of writer’s block, writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze’s Adaptation hits uncomfortably close to home. Thankfully, this inspired Oscar-winner is so freakishly funny and original the fact it cuts so close to the bone doesn’t hurt near as much as it probably could have. With performances by Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage that go above and beyond the norm, this is a movie that engages the viewer on so many levels they could almost file for assault. And yet, it is also so enjoyable, so moving, so prescient and, yes, so stupendously funny that fact the filmmakers are going out of their way to push all of your buttons ends up being a humongous plus more than it does anything remotely else.
Nicolas Cage in Sony Pictures' Adaptation
32. Volver (2006)
I’m trying to think which director had a better run of films this past decade than the great Pedro Almodóvar. For the life of me I’m not sure I can think of anyone, and while I’m sure cases can be made for a handful of individuals for my money this Spanish auteur outclasses them all by a mile. In the case of Volver, not only did he craft one a stupendously entertaining melodrama of the first degree, he single-handedly resurrected the career of his former muse Pénelope Cruz, starting the actress on a run of plumb parts leading her to a well-deserved Academy Award for 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and another potential nomination for this year’s musical masterwork Nine.
Carmen Maura and Pénelope Cruz in Sony Pictures Classics' Volver
31. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The works of Wes Anderson are an acquired taste, that almost goes without saying. But for those of us who adore his sarcastic, playful and sometimes narcissistic views, his comedic epics of friendship and family are easily some of the very best of their kind. In the case of The Royal Tenenbaums, the iconoclastic filmmaker is working on such a broad canvas one viewing isn’t near enough to peal away all of its many layers. As time passes I find more and more to adore about Anderson’s third film, its mean-spirited antics slowly dissolving to reveal an intimate poignancy that reduces me to tears each time I watch it.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson in Touchstone Pictures' The Royal Tenenbaums
[50 - 41], [30 - 21], [20 - 11], [10 - 1]