I can hardly believe I did this. I’m even trying to put them in order. Anyway, if you like this, come back as we slowly count down to my favorite movie of the past ten years. I’ll give you a hint – it’s not a Star Wars movie.
51. (tie) Primer (2004)
Director/Writer: Shane Carruth
Actors: Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya
Director/Writer: Duncan Jones
Actors: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Making something out of nothing is often what great film/art is all about, and these tow do with amazingly well in the toughest genre to crack on a low-budget – sci-fi. Here’s to the future.
50.Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Director/Writer: Michael Moore
I honestly don’t think Moore will be this good again for quite some time. Re-watching the movie recently, I was struck by how utterly convincing the narrative is, and how the Michael Moore of BfC resorts to relatively little histrionics, and much less megalomania than in his more recent films.
49.District 9 (2009)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Actors: Sharlito Copley, Jason Cope
As smaller, artier films start to dissolve into a single miasma of hip gestures and false morals, we enter the post-blockbuster age. District 9 is one of the smarter films on this list. Technology and audiences seem to have finally caught-up enough that we can have our cake and eat it too. Hopefully this is the first of a new trend – challenging, high-concept movies that kick a lot of ass, too.
49. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002)
Director: Sam Jones
Sam Jones and Wilco got really lucky. This movie, like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the album it documents is miraculous capturing of lighting in a bottle. It also turned out to be one of the first in a series of big blows against a music industry that would shortly find itself toppled due to precisely the kind of ignorance and obsolescence on display in this film. That album is now legendary and the eventual death of Jay Bennett, after a frustratingly sad later career, only add to the movie’s mystique.
47. Iron Man (2008)
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Favreau
Who would have guessed that Iron Man would be the comic character to most successfully transition into the new millennium? Probably only the same people who would have guessed that Jon Favreau would be the guy to show what it takes to make a really great superhero movie. Nearly flawless fun.
46. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Wright, Simon Pegg
Actors: Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Bill NIghy
Sure some folks prefer Shaun of the Dead, and it could probably fit into this run of well-made genre flicks just as well, but I prefer the Fuzz, which simultaneously embraces and sends-up all the action movie cliches that came to dominate blockbuster film-making at the end of the 20th-century with a wink so subtle, I’ll bet some people missed it entirely.
45. Children of Men (2006)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writer: Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Actors: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, Danny Huston
Truly frightening dystopia is hard to come by, but the world Cuarón and co. create in this career-booster for the already blazing-hot Clive Owen (boy, I hope he rebounds) is so much like our own current world, it makes my skin crawl. It’s too easy to imagine this one coming true.
44. Casino Royale (2006)
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Actors: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright
Now that’s style. Shame on anyone who counted Bond out. He just needed the right guy filling out his spy-suit. The key moment of Casino Royale is when Daniel Craig goes all-in, pushing his chips over on the poker table like a brute and playing a mind-games with almost everyone in the room at the same time. Oh yeah. and don’t forget the incredible parkour-eographed opening sequence, another distillation of the new Bond – finesse and force in equal measures.
43. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director: Ang Lee
Writer: Larry McMurty, Diana Ossana
Actors: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway
One hardly needed to watch the movie to see the heart-break coming; the trailer was enough to bring me to tears, no matter how many times I saw it. Course, that’s Ang Lee for ya. Lee is a master, and his choice of material here proves his worth and his point at the same time. Even someone speaking ESL can see and feel and understand the love of these two men. So what excuse could anyone else have?
42. The Dark Knight (2008)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer
Actors: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine,Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
After two boring genre-remakes/star-vehicles and one better-than-average-but-still-pales-by-comparison superhero flick, Nolan finally fulfilled the promise set forth by Memento and made a second completely unforgettable film. That it stars a bat and a clown is hardly even the point. The themes that Nolan sets forth, and the way they’re so extraordinarily played out in Heath Ledger’s legendary performance make this one far more than the sum of its parts.
41. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
Daniel. Day. Lewis. There is no better film actor on this earth. It’s just plain not fair that’s he’s only made 18 movies in 27 years. His performance alone justifies the existence of the movie, but let’s not forget it was made by P.T. Anderson, who’s no slouch either.
40. Gosford Park (2001)
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Julian Fellowes
Actors: (Take a deep breath.) Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Jeremy Northam, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Jeremy Swift
This is quite a cast, right? It seems that all of Britain was waiting for a chance to be in a Robert Altman feature, and he took them all up on it. It’s just a couple hours of finely distilled acting, remarkable attention to detail, and the interplay of wholly unique characters, made more exotic by the accents, and a deep examination of subliminal class concessions.
39. In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa) (2000)
Director/Writer: Kar Wai Wong
Actors: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ping Lam Siu
All his films are wondrous to look at, but this one has perhaps a little more heart than any of the others. It’s less an intellectual adventure and more a good, long look at an emotional dilemma. It’s impossible not to be drawn in, whether you like subtitles or not.
38. You and Me and Everyone We Know (2005)
Director/Writer: Miranda July
Actors: July, John Hawkes, Miles Thompson, Barndon Ratcliff
You won’t believe it, but this movie contains something that is totally one-of-a-kind: heart-rending scatological humor. I know you don’t believe me, but that’s just one instance in which Miranda July is able to find the love and tenderness behind some really awkward and sometimes upsetting and strange behavior.
37. Moulin Rouge (2001)
Director: Baz Luhrman
Writer: Luhrman, Craig Pearce
Actors: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent
The movie musical didn’t come back with Chicago, it came back with Baz Luhrman’s masterpiece. Imperfect, yes, even annoying sometimes, but what this movie understands is that singing people require great emotion. It has that in spades. It’s also pretty, sexy, poppy, and bizarre. And it doesn’t hurt that the music has several moments of stunning convergence. Remember when that big guy starts singing “Roxanne?”
36. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Directors: Pete Doctor, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich
Writer: Doctor, Jill Culton, Jeff Pidgeon, Ralph Eggleston, Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson, and so on …
Actors: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly
Fuck the sappy, facile Pixar of recent years. Sure, that sequence in Up was a real step forward, but the rest of the movie was boring. Yes, Wall-E was silent but deadly for 30 minutes, but they had major 3rd act problems. This is the last really clever movie Pixar’s made. Funky, groovy, with surprises galore, a killer cast, and a script that works great for me and my 5-years-old niece.
35. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Director: Walter Salles
Writer: Jose Rivera
Actors: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna
Okay, I may get sappy for a moment here. I remember seeing this movie and being astonished by the romance of it. It still managed to get its social message across, and tell the a clear story of how Ernesto became Che. What I remember though is the singing and the dancing and the mountains, and the laughing. “Chipi chipi!”
34. Love Actually (2003)
Director/Writer: Richard Curtis
Actors: Bill Nighy, Coln Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Billy Bob Thorton
Every year around Christmas, my wife puts this movie in and I attempt to do something else. Soon enough though, I look-up for a moment to catch one of Bill Nighy’s many great moments, and then I’m hooked. I can’t stop watching. Each well-done moment is followed by another, and the followed by a really funny bit, and them something legitimately heart-wrenching. There’s even a sweater in this movie that I always look forward to seeing. It doesn’t hurt that everyone in England is in the movie, that some of them are among my favorite actors, and that the rest of them are extremely likely (in that way that all people with British accents are extremely likable.)
33. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Ted Griffin (as well as the writers of the 1960 story and screenplay)
Actors: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, etc.
Another perfect genre-piece from Mr. Soderbergh. Some say he’s a genre-hack, and I guess sometimes he is, but there’s only one mis-step in this entire movie. (It’s Don Cheadle’s accent.) Otherwise it’s perfect. Notice all the detail. Notice the ridiculous camera pushes. Notice Brad Pitt eating in every scene. Look for all the times the actors are genuinely cracking each other up and Soderbergh got the take just right. I find it almost infinitely re-watchable, and every time, I imagine I’m on-set.
32. Minority Report (2002)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Scott Frank, Jon Cohen
Actors: Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson
Speaking of perfect genre pieces. Sometime around finishing Saving Private Ryan, a good movie, but the only thing event halfway decent he’d done in 5 years, Spielberg looked around and said, “Let’s do something fun. Remember when I knew how to kick-ass? Let’s do that again.” And God saw that it was good.
31 (tie). Jarhead (2005)
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: William Broyles, Jr.
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Scott MacDonald, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Brian Geraghty
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Actors: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes
I seriously can’t decide. I’ve watched them both recently, and they both have some absolutely unforgettable moments. I guess every Iraq war needs its definitive statements. (Yes, I remember Three Kings, but that’ll go down in history as being more about Spike Jonze, Ice Cube, and George Clooney than any specific war.) Jarhead is big and flashy and fun, and has Peter Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx, but lacks some depth. Hurt Locker is amazing, but manages to get a little tedious at times. Know what they both have? Brian Geraghty. Lucky guy. Hurt Locker, though, might get the edge, though, just for this image, which sets the tone for the next decade of war movies.
30. Kill Bill (2003/4)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Tarantino, Uma Thurman
Actors: Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba
Overblown and ridiculously violent, but like the best of the samurai films it emulates, there’s beauty in all that bloody motion. Unlike Inglorious Bastards, in which Tarrantino throws his Tarrantino-isms at the wall and hopes that something works, the gags here are as carefully planned as the fights. And lets not forget Kazuto Nakazawa’s animated sequence, maybe the most beautiful part of the whole damned thing.
29. Dark Days (2000)
Director: Marc Singer
I seriously don’t understand how this isn’t on a lot more lists. Lemme break it down for you, Marc Singer spent several months getting deep into the lives of the people who live in the abandoned subway tunnels under New York City. These folks steal to eat, bathe in run-off water from leaky pipes, and yet live pretty full lives. It’s a real adjustment to your perspective to find your self laughing along with the characters as they find joy in each others’ antics just like we do. There are tragedies too, of course, and the movie’s as dark as you might imagine at times. It’s completely fascinating, though, and Singer manages to introduce us to a tiny sector of society that would otherwise completely escape our notice.
28. Once (2006)
Director/Writer: John Carney
Actors: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Oh so charming, with their funny accents, and I do have a thing for Eastern European women. The music carries the day here, and it’s wonderful music performed in wonderful settings. It’s hard not to get swept up in it as the characters do. Even the cheesy moment when the jaded producer suddenly takes an interest is lovable.
27. (tie) The Proposition (2005)
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave
Actors: Guy Pearce, Richard Wilson, Noah Taylor, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Halstead Welles, Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Between a totally original Australian odyssey of despair and a by-the-books, star-studded remake, we’ve got a perfect 21st century western.
26. Che (2009)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Peter Buchman, Benjamin A. van der Veen
Actors: Benicio Del Toro
Brilliant! People don’t make epics anymore, Soderbergh’s one of the few guys with enough clout to do so, and one of the few names that could get me to go. I know it’s hard to find this kind of time these days, but do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing in a day. Yes, the second half is bleak, the first half is more fun. That’s not a mistake, my friends, Soderbergh’s making a point. This thing’s so real it’s practically cinema verite. Soderbergh breaks all kinds of industry rules for popular bio-pics: there’s no triumphant ending. most of it needs subtitles, stars are few and far between; it’s almost 4 hours long. But it’s all worth it, because it’s a totally absorbing experience and a fully realized work of art. Bravo.