Posted on 07 January 2010.
A little over a year ago, “Entertainment Weekly” came out with a list of their top 100 movies of the last 25 years. It was one of the worst lists I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Their number one movie made sense to me (it was Pulp Fiction), but it seemed too obvious. However, that had little to do with why I was so put off by their collection of film titles. It failed to put my favorite film of all-time, The Shawshank Redemption, a film widely accepted as beloved, if not perfect in ways as not only not their number one film of the past 25 years, but not even in their top 100! I can fathom very little (except perhaps why there are still proud Oakland Raiders fans in this country) as being more ridiculous.
So, while hanging out with a couple of my friends one night, we decided to compile our own list. The “actual” list of the top 100 films of the prior quarter-century of cinema. We each, independently, took a piece of paper and wrote down our favorite films we could remember. We looked at lists on the internet and we piped up every once in a while to see if a great title that just popped into our head had been remembered by the other members of the group. I don’t remember if we each chose 100. It could have been more, it could have been less. Then, one-by-one, we read our lists aloud. If one person said a title and the other two confirmed it as being on their list as well, it was recorded. If one read a title and only one person agreed to it as being worthy, it was written down on a separate list. If one person read a title and neither agreed about its merits, it didn’t make the list at all. Eventually we took all the unanimous vote titles and whittled down the “two-vote” titles to 100 deserving films. For the next step, we ranked those films from 1 through 100 individually and then read our rankings aloud. Each number was added to the next to create that film’s “total vote” (like golf, the lower the number, the better the ranking. 3 was the best possible score) and then the film with the lowest total votes was given first place and on down the line. There was the inevitable ridiculousness of a complete outlier ranking (Training Day at 16 on one list coming instantly to mind) and the fact that one member chose to rate the films he hadn’t seen at the bottom of his list (he had yet to see a Guy Ritchie film), but by-and-large, the most important titles held their ground satisfactorily. Coincidentally, Pulp Fiction ended up at number one on our list as well, though no one voted it as their favorite. Shawshank came in third and I believe it was Saving Private Ryan that was sandwiched between the two. I could live with that.
This futile but enjoyable exercise was done prior to the existence of this website, so the list was never filtered into the internet ether (aside from some passed Word documents hanging out in our e-mails accounts). One may wonder, what the point of writing about it is, with the subject of this article being about the top ten movies of the decade. Well, we tried to do the same thing for a best of the decade list. We narrowed the number to just 25, but the fact that either not everybody had seen all the same movies or just downright didn’t agree that they belonged as one of the best caused me to be underwhelmed with the result this time out. So, I decided to go solo. It allowed me to include three films in my top 10 list which weren’t even eligible for our top 25 under our collective rules. That’s my reasoning for branching out. That’s the reason for this list. It contains everything I wanted to be on it.
There’s no real point in breaking out of my own established boundary, but in this instance, I’ve seen this film passed up on a lot of these types of lists and I wonder why. The film was released in 2000, the fledgling year of the 2000’s and was what I was rooting for in the Oscars that year. Of course the title of Best Picture went to Gladiator (a film I’ve seen on the day of release and not once since), but Steven Soderbergh’s sprawling drama about drug-trafficking and our country’s “drug war” was profoundly more affecting and haunting in my mind. I still believe it to be his best work and it was a welcome introduction to the decade in cinema soon to come.
10. Million Dollar Baby
The phrase “director, Clint Eastwood,” meant nothing to me prior to seeing this film. It didn’t strike up any feeling whatsoever, positive or negative. However, since then, his name attached to a new film commands my instant attention. In what has become pretty common over the past few years, Eastwood’s film was a persona-non-grata amon fanboy hype. I don’t even recall hearing its title, much less seeing a trailer until very near the film’s release. Even then, the title and the subject of a female boxer only worked to repel me more. The hype persuaded me, though. Morgan Freeman already held a place in my heart due to the aforementioned affection for The Shawshank Redemption and I figured I’d at least be getting something there. What I received was much more. I bought in wholly to Hilary Swank’s plight and Eastwood’s father figure, but still didn’t know how this boxing movie would elevate itself. The brutal nature of some select scenes and a completely rip-the-carpet-from-beneath-your-feet third act left me floored. The template set up by this film was so strong in my mind, it directly led to my adoration for Eastwood’s 2008 film, Gran Torino. Although formulas may exist, it’s how they are used that set films apart from each other.
If I felt like doing so, I would write this whole paragraph in backwards sentences. I read about this film and its conceit prior to its release when in college. I decided to steal the storytelling concept from it for an English paper I had to do and of course the absurd creativity my plagiarism had conveyed earned me an A. Although the backward way Christopher Nolan presented this film will always be why it’s so greatly remembered, the film still resonates far beyond its framing gimmick. The bravado of cluing the viewers into Guy Pearce’s character’s world via forward-moving black-and-white and backward-scrolling color is pitch perfect, as is the neo-noir crime story told from an individual’s perspective.
8. Inglourious Basterds
This is the newest film on this list and although time has not been on its side in terms of letting the film “sink in” just yet, I had no doubt where it would be ranked from the moment I exited the theater. Like Pulp Fiction in the 90s, Quentin Tarantino has created another decade-defining classic. Like the Coen Brothers (who I’m far less a fan of than a lot of others out there), he dares to go where typical filmmakers would never dream. Some are outraged by his having the gall to re-write history for his own purposes, whereas I feel he should be completely commended. Brilliant performances accompany Q.T.’s direction and script, but I believe he is the star. The film is far off what I normally would desire from a film depicting the greatest war (which is combat; thank you Saving Private Ryan), but Tarantino is interested in higher thoughts. He gathers a band of interconnected war-torn characters and blends them into a familiar, yet specialized backdrop. When the credits rolled, I refused to get out of my seat. The sound of Ennio Morricone’s orchestra was too much to let me stand.
M. Night Shyamalan has been verbally crapped upon a lot this decade. I won’t say some of it’s not deserved. The fact that the quality of his films are poor isn’t what did it, it’s that he showed such promise and ability prior to, building up our collective hopes. Although 2002’s Signs is still a great movie, this is his best. Superhero films are a dime a dozen nowadays. There are multiple recreations of comic book heroes each summer. My favorite part of their first installments has always been the origins. How did these extraordinary people come to be? They usually lose me after the first act. However, Unbreakable is ALL origin story. It’s all about discovering one’s potential and we are awed, much like Bruce Willis’ son.
During my Film Studies major orientation, the group leader asked everybody in the group to name a movie. Just a movie. For the hell of it. One guy said Amelie and went on to further critique it as “a perfect movie.” I had seen it prior and disagreed with that assessment. Therefore, I wrote that guy off as a potential buddy. However, in courses and during further home viewings, that sentiment has grown on me. It’s whimsical and light in a way I wouldn’t normally enjoy. It appeals too much to a side of me I rarely express. That’s why I’m forced to respect it for eventually penetrating my rough exterior. Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet combine to create something that definitely approaches perfection.
If there’s only one film on this list I would describe as a “game-changer,” this is it. In my mind, the world of cinematic comedy can be divided into two halves, before Borat and after Borat. Prior to Sacha Baron Cohen’s outlandish comedy, I resented all feature-length laughers (for the most part). Their biggest star appeared to be Mike Myers and his Austin Powers franchise or the most idiotic, debased “yukfests,” which called Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider: “star.” Borat is when that landscape changed. I was a monster fan of “Da Ali G Show,” so I was fully aware of the Kazakhstani character before his big screen debut, but I didn’t know all of my dreams for the character could be fulfilled in one 90-minute piece of greatness. Oddly enough, some of the DVD’s deleted scenes are mind-bogglingly good and it’s a shame the country wasn’t yet ready for Bruno in mid-2009. However, all that matters is that at least one of these great products lives forever in our hearts.
4. Little Children
Since American Beauty was released in 1999 (like way too many great films), it doesn’t qualify for this list. However, a more than able suburban drama makes its way in the form of Todd Field’s unheralded classic. I’ll admit to being infatuated with Kate Winslet and any film featuring her in the buff couldn’t possibly be wrong, but this film captures so much more that’s right. The chief performance among them was delivered by Jackie Earle Haley as the recently released pedophilic miscreant. His character is so innocent, yet his aura is like a shark, constantly in search of prey. There are also stand-out scenes with profound voice-over work that make the film somewhat akin to a fairy tale. However, this is how life exists in suburbia. We just have to look closer to discover it.
3. Children of Men
Damn you, Alfonso Cuaron. “There’s so much beauty…I feel like I can’t take it.” I’m a monster fan of incredible visuals and camera moves. It’s why Kubrick and Hitchcock stand alone as my favorite directors to have ever lived. In this film, Cuaron delivered a film, I believe to be worthy of Lord Stanley. The dystopian and war-ravaged United Kingdom was a magnificently realized place, with a hopeful story about the possibility of continuing mankind, but I’ll be damned if Cuaron didn’t provide us with the most haunting visual delight we’ve seen in quite some time, if not ever. The scene that will stand out to most would be the 10-minute-long shot toward the end of the film as Clive Owen’s character makes his way through a firefight. However, the scene that stuck with me for longest and had my jaw in my hands in the theater was during an ambush when (for spoiler’s sakes) a key character is killed. The camera is stationed completely inside this jeep as our main characters attempt to reverse their direction and flee to safety. The ability the camera has to place the viewer in this scene is what makes cinema the most experiential of all the arts.
To saw that I’m a Pixar fan may be an understatement. Fan is short for fanatic, which I’d have to say, I’m something slightly above. In fact, I almost had to tell myself to limit their films to just one title in this list. The great thing is, I don’t have to tell anybody how great the Emeryville studio is, they already know it. Most people have a favorite Pixar film. Mine has changed over the years from Monsters, Inc. to this. Some people can’t get past the idea of a rat being in a kitchen. Like Al Davis said to Lane Kiffin, “get over it.” When my schoolmate proclaimed Amelie to be “perfect,” I bristled at the claim not only in conjunction with that particular film, but I understand film to be so subjective that word simply can’t exist when discussing them. However, Brad Bird’s masterpiece is as close as it gets. Ingenuity abounds from start to finish with one of the most memorable shots ever taking place once the title dish touches the harsh critic Anton Ego’s lips.
1. City of God
Remember my story about my two friends and I trying out our little combination “best of the decade” list? This was its success story, as all three of us (unbeknownst to the others) selected this film as the pinnacle of what cinema had to offer these last ten years. With this triad selection it goes to show how identifiable in some way this work of art is to my personality and the personality types I choose to associate with. You choose your friends for their similarities to yourself, and we each found something in Fernando Meirelles’ hyper-kinetic visual representation of the gangland-controlled slums of Brazil. It masquerades as a coming-of-age tale, which happens to define a culture few of us knew existed. The word “gritty” fails to capture its essence and I would instead use the term “hardcore.” Although I would argue all of these films are downright classics that should be revered for years to come, there can only be one that exists as the best of its decade.