Originally posted on December 26, 2009
2009 is almost over and I thought it’d be fun to share with all of you my picks for the 10 best films of the decade. Earlier this month, when I first decided to complete this project, I didn’t realize how enjoyable it would be to sift through all the notes I’ve taken over the years and decide which pictures to include. I took this task very seriously and actually watched several of these movies over again to ensure that I was satisfied with their particular ranking.
My Best of the Decade list consists of films that meant the most to me out of the over 1,400 films I’ve seen from 2000-2009. It’s a diverse collection of films with varying genres- four of them are foreign, some are obscure, American films, and one is the most expensive film ever made; but their defining characteristic is a GREAT story. I hope I can convince a few of you to seek out some of these amazing films if you have never seen them before or perhaps to revisit them if you have. As always, my Best and Worst Films of the Year list will come out on New Years Eve. Don’t forget to check your in-boxes for it. Now let’s get to it…
Top 10 Films of the Decade
1. Amélie (2001, France); Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
This may very well be the most vibrant, imaginative and wonderful movie I’ve ever seen. It didn’t make it hard to place it at the top of my best of the decade list. In the theater, I saw it five times, just so I could be awake in the dark with this rich, fairy tale about a girl in Paris who makes it her mission to help those around her and make their lives a little better. AMELIE is the type of film that makes you feel alive and as if anything is possible. Jean-Pierre Jeunet lets you see through the eyes of Amélie and, in doing so, allows you to realize that it’s the little things in life, like cracking the surface of a crème brulee, that make life worth living.
2. Avatar (2009, USA); Dir. James Cameron
I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with movies if it wasn’t for James Cameron. The human element he adds to every film he creates is astounding. In ALIENS, he reveals a child’s ability to help restore a woman’s capacity for love and in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, John Connor reawakens the emotional core in his mother. In AVATAR, Cameron manages to get us to connect and side with an alien race pitted in battle against our own. He takes us on an immersive journey into another world that feels so real that it consistently takes your breath away. When the end credits started to roll the first time I saw this film, I literally burst into tears. Not out of sadness but of sheer awe. Cameron did it again. He captured my heart and mind for a few hours and renewed my faith in commercial movies. He will always be to me, a filmmaking God.
3. Lilya 4-Ever (2003, Sweden); Dir. Lukas Moodysson
This Swedish film takes places in the former Soviet Union and follows Lilya, a 16-year-old girl, who is abandoned by her mother and through a series of subsequent betrayals finds herself in a downward spiral. She befriends a younger boy named Volodya and his friendship becomes the closest thing she has to any true human connection. Together, they try to make sense of their lot in life until Lilya makes a tragic decision to leave home in hopes of a brighter future where she believes she can be loved.
At the end of this unforgettable film, the camera like a ghost takes you back to key locations in Lilya’s life. It’s reminiscent of the end sequence of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Except LILYA 4-EVER isn’t a horror film. It’s a portrait of a girl who clings to humanity and hope despite her very innocence being ripped away; a girl who etches her name into a bench just to prove to the world she exists. This film will gut you alive. It will make you feel like running home, getting under the covers and never coming out. It’s a harrowing reminder of how cruel this world can be.
4. Best of Youth (2005, Italy); Dir. Marco Tullio Giordana
I finally joined Netflix in 2005 so I could rent this six hour Italian film. I missed it in the theater and as soon as it released, I popped it into my DVD player one Saturday afternoon and was so captivated that I watched it in one sitting. THE BEST OF YOUTH chronicles the lives of two brothers between 1966 and the early 2000s. It’s really quite remarkable to follow these two very different men. You really come to care about them and become extraordinarily invested in even the smallest decision they make in their lives. As a result, you live through the joys, heartache, trials and tribulations that come with age and realize how fragile we all are and how very precious time can be.
5. Donnie Darko (2001, USA); Dir. Richard Kelly
On the DVD commentary of this film, first-time writer/director, Richard Kelly jokes that more people worked on the movie than saw it in the theater. I was one of the lucky few that did see it in the theater and was ecstatic that it found an audience on DVD. In fact, it has since become a bit of a cult classic and widely embraced by the generation of kids that grew up in the 80s. This sci-fi yarn allows the talented Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal to share the screen and takes us into the very brilliant mind of Richard Kelly. It centers around an intelligent and lonely high school kid who meets a monstrous 6-foot tall rabbit who informs him that the world will end in less than a month. Donnie sets out to change his destiny and in turn unravels the mysteries of time travel and discovers the true meaning of sacrifice. This film is smart, haunting, inspired and it will stay with you for a very long time. It is the singular movie on this decade list that I have seen so many times that I have lost count and it’s undeniably a unique work of art.
6. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, USA); Dir. Wes Anderson
Having nowhere else to go, the patriarch of a family of geniuses returns home after a long absence, under the pretense that he is dying. He is however not greeted with the homecoming he expected and is forced to really see his children for who they are for the first time, and in turn finds something he never expected: forgiveness. Anderson spins an inventive story of dysfunction with colorful characters that ultimately learn the importance and value of family, and he infuses it with genuine heart and his signature wit, making his follow up to the charming BOTTLE ROCKET and RUSHMORE, pure cinematic bliss.
7. The Lookout (2007, USA); Dir. Scott Frank
The story of THE LOOKOUT is so well-written that it simply crackles off the screen. It gave my heart the same adrenaline shot I felt when I saw CHINATOWN for the first time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a former high school hockey star who suffers a head injury in a tragic accident and is forced to live a life struggling to remember how to do simple mundane tasks. He is manipulated into playing a part in a bank heist and things go horribly awry. This movie works on so many levels- it’s a fascinating character study, a taut thriller and a poignant story about loss and redemption. It’s quite simply a modern masterpiece and essential viewing for anyone who loves movies.
8. There Will Be Blood (2007, USA); Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
This sprawling epic allows us to follow a mad man so cunning, evil and twisted that you’re completely mesmerized by him. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of an oilman who is driven by much more than greed, something innate fueled by hatred, is one of the most electrifying performances ever accomplished by an actor. Radiohead prodigy, Jonny Greenwood delivers a score nothing short of perfection for this film- it becomes its own character, picking you up and shaking you along the way. The last line in this movie is so flawless that it left me literally shaking in my seat with childlike glee. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is completely enthralling and becomes more and more rewarding on multiple viewings. It will no doubt one day be regarded as a seminal American classic.
9. Tully (2002, USA); Dir. Hilary Birmingham
A coming-of-age tale that follows the Coates family in rural Nebraska during one summer when old secrets resurface and change their lives forever. It’s a beautifully paced little film that has an incredibly moving performance by Bob Burrus who plays Tully Coates, Sr. There is a particular scene with Burrus handing out ice cream one night after dinner to his sons, Tully, Jr. and Earl that is utterly heartbreaking in its sheer simplicity. This quiet American film will just completely wash over you with it graceful shots of small-town life and its tremendous depth of character.
10. Tony Takitani (2005, Japan); Dir. Jun Ichikawa
I’ll never forget the impact this film had on me the first time I saw it. I was walking out of the theater and started to talk about the movie and I just started weeping right there on the sidewalk. I collected myself, walked into a restaurant for a bite to eat and when I attempted to continue my thoughts on the film, I started crying again. This literary film is based on a short story by the acclaimed Japanese author, Haruki Murakami and is about a man who has lived his whole life with loneliness until he meets a woman who changes his life. He falls in love but soon learns that she has a flaw which eventually leads to tragedy for the both of them, and Tony’s ultimate return to the loneliness that has defined his life. TONY TAKITANI is beautifully photographed and its poetic score and extraordinary story create a dreamlike mood that is absolutely exquisite.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, USA); Dir. Michel Gondry
Ghost World (2001, USA); Dir. Terry Zwigoff
Mulholland Dr. (2001, USA); Dir. David Lynch
In the Bedroom (2001, USA); Dir. Todd Field
Memento (2001, USA); Dir. Christopher Nolan
Winter Solstice (2004, USA); Dir. Josh Sternfeld
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003, USA); Dir. Quentin Tarantino