Nate’s Top 25 Movies of the Decade (2000-2009)
January 12, 2010
These are my 25 favorite movies of the decade. They may not be the ‘best’ films of the decade, as there are many artistically and/or technically exceptional movies that I just didn’t enjoy watching, (like Requiem for a Dream, or City of God) which, while they may indeed be some of the ‘best’ of the decade, they are not among my favorites. That said, these are all excellent films in their own right. Obviously, while these movies all come highly recommended, a word of warning, a few of them are very decidedly R-rated.
Yes, it’s a chick flick. But it’s a good chick flick. It’s pretty original…for a chick flick. For one thing, it’s not set in New York. Also, “The Guy” isn’t some sexual Ghengis Khan who magically realizes the error of his philandering ways because he decides he wants the one girl he hasn’t managed to conquer. Nor is “The Girl” some neurotic, uptight overachiever who meets a fun-loving but slovenly guy who she initially hates, but then they learn from each other and discover that opposites attract. Is it predictable? Yeah. Is it fluff? Yes, but it’s extremely likable fluff that is lots of fun. Lets face it, if you’re going to watch a chick flick, you might as well watch the best.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a neo-noir-ish black comedy written and directed by Shane Black (the writer of the original Lethal Weapon) based on a novel called Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday. Robert Downey Jr. plays a petty thief who accidentally auditions for the part of a Private Eye in a movie. The casting guy loves him, and flies him out to L.A. for detective lessons, courtesy of Gay Perry, PI (played hilariously by Val Kilmer in one of his best roles). One thing leads to another, and corpses, cover-ups, stakeouts, shootouts, and missing fingers result. Very black comedy, and very funny.
Guy Ritchie was the perfect man for the job of directing the new Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie’s kinetic style translated well from Ritchie’s previous “modern British crime” movies to this “1880’s British crime” movie. It’s still in theaters, so I’ll be brief. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are fantastic. 1880’s London looks fantastic. The story works great as a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Ritchie’s stylish eye-candy is intact and as enjoyable as ever. Go see it.
Minority Report was Spielberg’s best movie of the decade. Minority Report is set in one of the most authentic-feeling future worlds to ever be realized in the movies. In addition to having some of the coolest futuristic computers ever, it makes you question destiny, fate, identity, and whether or not the future is immutable. I don’t really have anything else to say about it except that it’s an excellent sci-fi, and you should see it. What are you waiting for? Run along.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (I know, the title is almost as long as the movie) has some of the best cinematography I have ever seen. It’s flat-out gorgeous. It’s also a fascinating character study, examining how Robert Ford slowly goes from idolizing Jesse James, to despising, and ultimately assassinating him. Brad Pitt disappears into character as Jesse James, something that he doesn’t manage to do all that often. And Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford puts everything his brother has ever done to shame.
Honestly, Will Smith should have won the Oscar for this performance. This based-on-a-true-story story isn’t so much a rags-to-riches tale as it is a rags-to-less-crappy-rags tale. This could easily have been an unwatchable, saccharine mess. But it’s handled and performed so well, it doesn’t seem like cheap sentimentality, it feels authentic. Did I mention that Will Smith is amazing?
2007 was a good year for western fans in a decade that was otherwise as dry of westerns as Monument Valley is of water. 3:10 to Yuma is as good as any of the classics, remake though it may be. It’s a traditional western, too, not some lame modern deconstruction. Bale (a Brit) and Crowe (a Kiwi) somehow manage to pull off convincing accents, which is impressive. The setting is fantastically western-y. The action is exciting. And the antagonists are all great, which, of course, makes everything better. All in all, the best western not only of this decade, but of almost all of the previous one too.
Tarantino is definitely one of the most relentlessly unique directors of our time, and Inglourious Basterds is a prime example; odd title spelling choices included. Alternate history WWII, killing Nazis, one of the best surprise endings I have ever seen, and easily one of the greatest villains in recent memory (if there’s any justice in the world, Christoph Waltz will get the Oscar for his performance), all combine to make Tarantino’s latest also probably his greatest yet.
2009’s biggest surprise was definitely the smart, gory District 9, a wildly original sci-fi (and not in a “this is bizarre and should probably be starring Jon Heder” kind of way). In addition to the great story, action, and performances, District 9 boasts some of the most convincing CGI I have ever seen, which is particularly impressive given the low-budget of this production. Suffice to say, District 9 is a winner.
Calling something Roland Emmerich’s best film isn’t exactly high praise. But high praise is what The Patriot deserves. Movies set in the American Revolutionary War are few and far between (you can probably count how many you’ve heard of on one finger), so it’s a real treat that this one is so good. Patriotism, war, death, sacrifice, duty, family, revenge, honor, The Patriot deals with a little bit of everything.
If there’s another movie with a more appropriate, descriptive title than Shoot ‘Em Up, (other than Snakes on a Plane, of course) I’d love to hear it. This movie was probably just an excuse to… well… shoot ’em up, and have as much fun doing so as possible… And that’s perfectly fine by me. It is superlatively over the top, ridiculous, bullet-slinging awesomeness. However, Shoot ‘Em Up is more than just a gratuitously high body count (and it is that). Paul Giamatti’s bad guy Mr. Hertz is one of the best action movie villains since Hans Gruber. The dialogue is snappy and hilarious. And, the ingenious creators of this movie managed to come up with dozens of the most inventive ways to off baddies this side of Tom & Jerry.
Brad Bird’s second Pixar outing (after The Incredibles) was another grand success. There hasn’t been a rodent protagonist as likable as Remy since… well… maybe ever. (Basil from The Great Mouse Detective and Bernard and Bianca from The Rescuers being possible exceptions.) One of Pixar’s most interesting accomplishments with Ratatouille is that they somehow managed to make the rats in the movie both extremely likable, and very, very icky at the same time. (Particularly the kitchen swarm scene. Ick.) Pixar is famous for interesting, memorable, and unique characters, and Ratatouille is no exception. Remy, the restaurant critic Anton Ego (perfectly voiced by the great Peter O’Toole), The Great Gusteau, and Colette are all particularly interesting characters.
Children of Men is my favorite dystopian movie since Blade Runner. An original concept, some really brilliant sequences (including several of the most amazing long takes in movie history), and several great performances (including the incomparable Michael Cain in an excellent role) combine to great effect. Easily one of the most intriguing films of the decade. (Oddly graphic birthing scene notwithstanding.)
12. Iron Man (2008):
Who would have thought that after the horror of X-Men 3 in 2006, and Rise of the Silver Surfer and Spider-Man 3 in 2007, the summer of 2008 would bring us two of the best comic book movies ever made? If the brooding darkness of The Dark Knight wasn’t cheery enough for you, then Jon Favreau’s relentlessly optimistic Iron Man might be more your cup of tea. Tony Stark is the role Robert Downey Jr. was born to play. The script was smart and snappy, the humor hit all the right notes, the action and hardware were gorgeous. Despite the villain being mildly uninteresting, Iron Man was popcorn magic.
11. Zodiac (2007):
David Fincher’s little-known gem about the people trying to track down San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer is an excellent, moody, atmospheric, period drama. Shades of Fincher’s earlier Se7en can be found in the pacing and cinematography of Zodiac. Zodiac, however, is a very different movie. Zodiac isn’t so much about the killer himself, so much as it is about the effect the killer has on the city and those who are trying to solve the case. Jake Gyllenhaal is the best he’s ever been, and Robert Downey Jr. is characteristically fantastic as a neurotic, alcoholic reporter. Focused and detailed, with a soupçon of white-knuckled trepidation, Zodiac is Fincher’s finest hour.
Clint Eastwood directed nine movies this decade. Gran Torino is probably the best one of them. You could call this movie “The Redemption of Walt Kowalski” because that’s honestly what the movie is about. Eastwood’s character’s arc is the most powerful element of the movie, and Walt’s progression is realistic and convincing. Movies like this one can so easily cross into trite, saccharine Lifetime-movie territory, but Gran Torino never feels preachy or sanctimonious. It also ventures into the realm of social commentary, by touching on racism, crime, faith, sacrifice, and death. This one can compete with anything Eastwood has ever done, acting or directing.
Mel Gibson’s fifth directorial gig is a historical adventure epic set in pre-Columbian Central America. It’s violent, long, spoken entirely in Ancient Mayan, and totally awesome. The excellent cast is all unknowns (hardly surprising, really, because, honestly, not too many people in Hollywood have “speak fluent Ancient Mayan” on their resumes.) The Mayan setting is recreated convincingly and on a grand scale. And while the story isn’t particularly nuanced, no one cares, because the world and characters are so engrossing. It is surprising just how quickly this movie sucks you away into an ancient Mayan world, and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. This is the kind of movie that plays so well to the strengths of the medium. Apocalypto is captivating, exciting, and original, and it’ll have you wishing for more movies in dead languages.
8. 300 (2006):
Making a movie that looks like a graphic novel has been done before (remember the odd multi-panel shots in Ang Lee’s godawful Hulk?) but it has never been so successful as it was in Zack Snyder’s 300. Based on the Frank Miller graphic novel by the same name, the movie is stylistically almost indistinguishable from the graphic novel (including many scenes that are practically carbon copies of frames from the novel). 300 is a perfect example of special effects contributing to a film, rather than distracting from it. Pulling off as radical a style as 300 did is impressive, but doing it with such flawlessly choreographed battle scenes? Priceless. 300 is definitely the most visually striking non-animated film of the decade.
The funniest movie on the list, Shaun of the Dead is the greatest “zom-rom-com” (or zombie romantic comedy) of all time. This brilliant conflation of multiple genres results in one of the most original (and hilarious) movies of the decade. The montage at the beginning establishing the zombie-like monotony of everyday life is one of the best scenes of the decade.
Brad Bird’s The Incredibles is as close to being a perfect movie as you’re likely to find. The Incredibles is the children’s movie that isn’t. What at first glance seems to be another superhero cartoon, instead turns out to be an action-packed, but smart and poignant examination of family life, dealing with a midlife crisis, and purpose, all while remaining one of the best superhero movies of all time.
Signs is my favorite M. Night Shyamalan movie. Suspenseful movies are hard to do right. There are a thousand little things that can go wrong and ruin the tension. The tension in Signs builds more consistently and successfully than almost any other movie I’ve seen. The deliberate, methodical pacing is perfect. The vacant, solitary location is perfect, and it is shot perfectly. The performances and character arcs are perfect. In addition to the thrills, the story explores themes of faith, fate, and purpose.
Stardust is one of the decade’s best kept secrets, which is a shame, because it’s two hours of irresistibly charming fun. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, Stardust strikes the perfect tone, balancing between playfulness and seriousness. The casting is perfect, the score is rousing, and Robert De Niro’s part is refreshingly unlike the vast majority of his other roles. Before I had even left the theater, Stardust had already become one of my all-time favorite movies.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003):
Try for a moment to purge from your memory the tragic, godforsaken abominations that were the sequels. (I know, they’re seared into your memory like the time your swim trunks came off at the water park… But try.) The first Pirates of the Caribbean took the worst idea ever (“Dude, let’s make a movie about a thrill ride!”) and turned it into the perfect summer adventure. Captain Jack Sparrow joined the pantheon of classic cinematic characters the moment he stepped out of his boat and onto that dock. Geoffrey Rush is the perfect villain as Barbossa. Everything about the movie is beautiful: ships, locations, costumes, special effects, etc. The humor is pitch perfect. The score is one of the best in decades. The whole experience is just sheer summer movie joy.
2. The Dark Knight (2008):
Christopher Nolan began his rescue of the floundering Batman franchise by throwing it a life vest with 2005’s Batman Begins. Not only did he completed his rescue with The Dark Knight, but he lifted the franchise to unprecedented heights. (An ascent that was aided, no doubt, by Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as the Joker.) However, Ledger isn’t the only reason The Dark Knight was such a magnificent movie. The action set pieces are excellent. The cinematography is excellent. Michael Cain, Aaron Eckhart, and Gary Oldman are all fantastic in supporting roles. But beyond that, the script’s exploration of good and evil, power and restraint, lend the movie far more intellectual weight than most summer blockbusters.
1. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003):
The amazing thing isn’t that Peter Jackson managed to adapt one of the most daunting fantasy masterpieces of all time, but rather that he managed to turn his adaptation into an epic masterpiece in its own right, while remaining remarkably faithful to the source material. Technologically and artistically exemplary, The Lord of the Rings is the uncontested king of the decade.
Star Trek (2009): I never watched any of the TV episodes, and only saw one of the movies (and hated it) so this was a pleasant surprise. Nero was kind of a bland villain, but he wasn’t really the focus.