January 2010

Top 50 Films of the Decade

Yes, it’s that time! 2009 is behind us; 2010 lies ahead. Looking back over the past 10 years, a lot has happened since The Matrix. The 00’s have seen more than their share of great movies, and trying to list the best is difficult. You can see I ended up with a list of 50 as opposed to a more manageable 10 or 25. There are just so many excellent films that I feel deserve some recognition, and listing only my top 10 doesn’t allow me room to do that. In light of the large number, I’ve kept my comments brief. You’re welcome.

The title Top 50 films may be somewhat misleading. This list is rightly considered my favorites of the decade, although the distinction between best and favorite is problematic at best. I wanted to choose movies that I felt had some kind of impact, but honestly what you’re going to see is movies that entertained me the most. I place a high premium on rewatchability, strong acting performances, visual beauty, and emotional resonance. My top 10 especially consists of movies that either connected with me in some personal way or had an effect on my experience with the medium as a whole. I’ll try to explain my reasoning where applicable.

I hope as you look over this list you’ll remember great movie moments you’ve already experienced and be encouraged to seek out some you may have missed. Enjoy, and happy New Year!


40. Brick (2005) Rian Johnson

Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads a young cast of unknowns in the decade’s most original neo-noir. He plays Brendan, a tough loner whose ex-girlfriend has disappeared for days. He launches an investigation to discern her fate and bring down those responsible. Along the way he forms uneasy alliances with the mysterious femme fatale Laura, a dangerous kingpin and his rogue accomplice, and the assistant vice principal. Did I mention all these kids are in high school? Writer/director Rian Johnson has fearlessly chosen to transpose the classic noir tropes – hard-boiled detective, distinctive (and sometimes cryptic) phraseology and speech patterns, troubled characters and a convoluted case – into an American high school. Brick is an involving, confident experiment that believes we will suspend our questions regarding the setting (where are their parents, etc) and enjoy the unique concoction. I was only too happy to oblige.


30. Hot Fuzz (2007) Edgar Wright

In a decade where great comedy movies have been few and far between, the duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been busy giving us big-screen laughs. As Shaun of the Dead was a parody of zombie movies and a successful zombie film on its own terms, so Hot Fuzz brings that same sensibility to action movies, and the result is even better. From Pegg’s hyper-serious dead-pan to Frost’s goofy earnestness, the tone of this movie is always just right. Even the editing is funny. Never have I laughed so much at a simple “traveling to a small town on a train” montage. The dialog is snappy and clever, often providing foreshadowing when memorable quotes will be revisited later in the film for even more comic effect. It’s silly and satisfying, a full comedy-action package.


20. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) Mark Dindal

With the possible exception of The Princess and the Frog, this is Disney’s only great 2D movie of the decade. How the mighty have fallen. To its credit, The Emperor’s New Groove would have stood out even in the great 90’s. Groove has the distinction of being not just one of my favorite cartoons, but one of my favorite comedies in general. Stripping away the usual pretense and broadway-esque musical numbers, Groove instead became not a legendary fairy tale but a very simply drawn story about an obnoxious and bratty emperor who gets turned into a llama. And it totally works! This is a first rate joke-a-minute comedy romp with untouchable pacing, sharp wit and finely cast vocal performances. Whatever you think of David Spade, he could not be more perfect as the whiny Kuzco. He narrates his story with frenetic gusto, always quick to point out how he is being mistreated but blind to his own flaws. It’s zany, hilarious, and all-around fun. Get with the groove.


10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry

The pairing of Charlie Kaufman’s remarkable script with Michel Gondry’s fanciful direction was a match made in heaven. Kaufman writes stories that are poignant to the human experience but that unfold in unorthodox ways. Much of this film is a trip through the mind, memories, and subconscious of Joel, a quiet man who is trying to forget the pain of his last relationship. After he meets the fiesty Clementine, falls in love and eventually breaks up, she undergoes an experimental procedure to have Joel erased from her memory. Incensed, he begins to do the same. Only halfway through he decides he’d rather remember. Gondry is up the task of putting this struggle on film. He creates physical spaces out of abstract concepts that his actors can inhabit. Jim Carrey has never been better and Kate Winslet is completely believable as the moody but infectious Clem. This sci-fi flick is funny but also bittersweet, capturing the complex give and take that is a romantic relationship – and it’s one of the most visually inventive films of the decade.