1. There Will Be Blood– Paul Thomas Andersen’s take on a corrupt, independent oil prospector at the turn of the century who just conned a family out of their oil-wealthy land is an epic exploration of two souls squaring off in a new world torn between spiritual and capitalistic ideals. The performance of Daniel Day Lewis gives Daniel Plainview flesh and blood thicker and blacker than the oil he devotes himself to drilling, carrying the film for nearly three hours and never skipping a scene that won’t enthrall. Those who can’t appreciate experimental filmmaking or principals of classic cinema like Citizen Kane will think this movie bores more than it bleeds. Though it’s a tragic tale, telling the American nightmare oppose to the America dream, it’s technically beautiful, if not perfect. The unconventional and strange cinematography and score are just a few of the elements that set Andersen up as rebellious poet, taking a stand against everything the digital film age embodies, and in doing so he creates something just as classic, magnificent and important as Citizen Kane, but clumping them together is injustice. There Will Be Blood mines deep into new territories and in the process, becomes a masterpiece.
2. The Departed– Martin Scorsese’s visceral return to the crime drama yielded extraordinary results. Packing an unbeatable cast into a winning script by William Monahan, Scorsese creates a world where corruption starts young and gets more powerful with age. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, and Mark Wahlberg are all excellent, but as with most of his films, Scorsese is the star of the show. He laces this tale of Shakespearean magnitude with perfect music and pacing. Two and a half hours rarely go by so fast. You’ll have whiplash by the time the film reaches its bloody climax, and love every second of it. With The Departed, Scorsese’s created a classic that stands with his best work.
3. Lord of the Rings– For ambitious film making this decade, nowhere else could you look but here. Taking almost a decade to make, Peter Jackson took the time to do J.R.R Tolkien’s beloved source material justice. He came out on the other end of his film making odyssey with something for everyone: breathtaking action sequences, fantastic cinematography, and a computer generated monster (Gollum) who steals the show. Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring as well as the countless memorable subplots will live forever in film history. We saw a new frontier in digital film making here, and it will be referenced years down the road as the start of something great.
4. Pan’s Labyrinth– While Jackson was busy reinventing how you made a fantasy movie, Guillermo del Toro was working his own wondrous magic with films like The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy. This, however, is his masterpiece. With a heart-breaking tale of childhood innocence being challenged at every turn, he found the time to create some of the most haunting imagery and grotesque monsters, sometimes not always fantasy ones. Set against the Spanish Civil War, del Toro meditates heavily on the natures of both fascism and rebellion as well. His tale of Ofeila and her discovery of the mysteries in the labyrinth is a fairy tale of a dark new order, and one worth investing the time to fully understand it.
5. Mulholland Drive– Speaking of movies that need several views for a full understanding, how about this mind-bender from the subconscious of David Lynch? While this is his most accessible film, dozens of interpretations over what goes down over the course of these two and a half hours flood internet forums. No matter your interpretation, or maybe because of it, it was one of the decade’s most irresistibly well-made and thought out films. Naomi Watts gave a star-making performance, inhabiting Lynch’s surrealistic vision with enough realism to ground the audience and leave you enthralled. Add in an excellent Laura Harring, and you have a cast that speaks the truth, whatever that is.
6. Kill Bill– It’s hard to resist Quentin Tarantino at his most uncompromising. Here it is, in all its genre-melding glory. He may have helped make Grindhouse, but this is his true double feature. Filled to the brim with entertainment and surprising soul, the tale of the blood-splattered bride has now become one of cinema’s new iconic quests for vengeance. Uma Thurman gives a tour de force, combining action star presence with a gritty and emotional performance. David Carradine also excels as the complex antagonist of the title. Tarantino knows when to bathe a Japanese club in blood, but he also knows when to let his characters speak for themselves. He’s now a master filmmaker, and it’s an unmissable event to behold.
7. Requiem for a Dream– Though the most enduring pop culture contribution this film has is the stirring inclusion of “Lux Aeterna,” Darren Aronofsky’s emotionally wrenching drama is one of the decade’s finest films. He combines an unwavering dedication to his material (he refused to edit it to get an R rating) with a unique film making vision that haunts the viewer for days after. Four people plagued by broken dreams all become addicted to some kind of drug and suffer tragic ends. Wonderful performances abound, but Ellen Burstyn’s takes the cake. Her Oscar-nominated role as a lonely, aging widow hooked on diet pills in an attempt to get on television is one of the decade’s finest performances. Aronofsky has created one of the most depressing films of all time, and one of the best.
8. The Dark Knight– A juggernaut by any standard, Christopher Nolan’s film noir retelling of the Batman mythology was one of the highest grossing films of the decade. Thanks to his visionary direction and an excellent ensemble cast, it’s also one of the best. Though headlined by a posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger’s now-immortal Joker, there is more to this film than that. Nolan’s endless shadows interspersed with some of the most exciting action sequences in years combine with that villainous clown, Christian Bale’s Batman and a slew of others to make a movie event that is unmissable, and one that went largely unmissed by most of the country. If a movie with such genuine shock and awe can be made in the modern Hollywood studio system, all may not be lost to it.
9. Children of Men– Alfonso Cuarón, more famously known for directing The Prisoner of Azkaban, beautifully creates a grimy, sullen future where no children have been born for years. When a pregnant teen is discovered, the only hope to her survival is through a hopeless and antiheroic Clive Owen who must deliver her and her child to safety. It is as equally depressing and dirty as it is thrilling and beautiful. Sure the film could get by on being provoking, but its mindful production qualities are what sets it apart. There are a few tracking sequences which are examples of the best cinematography in all cinema and the production design goes beyond making the setting hauntingly real, making watching the film feel just about as gut-wrenching as delivering a child.
10. Gangs of New York– Gangs of New York is perhaps one of Scorsese’s most attacked films by critics and fans, mostly for its historical inaccuracy, length and muddled narrative. Make no mistake; this film is as epic as it gets. Always interested in the relationships violence has with men, sex and class, Scorsese puts similar themes amidst the Civil War in a racism torn city, so for critics to call it muddled, lengthy and overstated is a high compliment. Careful direction by a masterful director who orchestrates the film as if it were a grand symphony makes use of everything, from Lewis’s other landmark performance as concrete as the New York streets, Leo’s youthful ferocity that embodies revolution, Sandy Powell’s costuming, U2’s equally epic credit song that echoes the rest of the film and countless other production teams who worked to build this massive sized movie which is just as important, massive and ugly as the city itself.
11. No Country for Old Men– The chase is on for stolen drug money in the Coen Brothers’ blood-splattered Best Picture winner. A bullet-proof screenplay adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel combines with the beautiful cinematography of Roger Deakins to form an artfully rendered vision. The Texas scenery becomes another character in a movie filled with great ones. The Coens have never really seemed this serious before, and their artful exercise of technique was no longer ignored by the Oscars after this film. The performances are excellent, especially Javier Bardhem’s Oscar-winning turn as the ice cold Anton Chigurh. Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver fantastic performances. This film stacks up with the best of book adaptations, and is their best film since Fargo. That it shares many parallels with it may be no coincidence.
12. Wall-E– This bot was built to love. A lone, lovable robot sticks to his selfless duty on Earth cleaning up our garbage and looking after his pet cockroach. Even though the first 30 so minutes of the movie are silent, the landscape does all the talking, as does Wall-E’s squeaks and squawks with drooping binocular eyes that, even without his laser for a nose, manages to melt your heart. It’s Pixar’s best effort to date and will certainly remain a classic.
13. Sweeney Todd– It’s by every means Burton’s best output in the decade. In fact, it is likely his only recent project to match his brilliance in the past and it makes every bit of sense for him to have Depp and Carter at hand. Sweeney Todd is a musical that hits all the high notes about an aggrieved 19th century London barber whose tale of vengeance is summed up perfectly by touting, “They all deserve to die!” Both Carter and Depp do their own singing with marvelous triumph and each give their own roles the perfect blend of veracity and heart, or lack of heart in Depp’s case. The music is highly memorable and interwoven brilliantly into a pitch perfect Burton classic.
14. City of God– One of the most beautifully shot and directed films that you’re ever likely to see, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God is a monument to independent film making and purpose-driven narrative. It explores the violent life of Rocket and other citizens in Rio de Janeiro. Some manipulate the violence to their own ends, Rocket exploits it trying to escape. That this story is based on a true one makes it an even heftier journey, and one even more worth seeing. This film was shot almost entirely with hand held digital cameras, a stunning feat when looking at its beauty. Of course that beauty is interspersed with stunning violence, but Meirelles keeps the film grounded as well as he does your nerves. This is the movie Slumdog Millionaire wishes it was.
15. District 9– District 9 is the greatest display of gritty sci-fi, with its scathing political undertones and pulse pounding action. Neil Blomkamp is able to mesh aliens seamlessly into a very real human world that echoes our own. While the obvious political undertones make this an allegory for apartheid, more conceptual parallels can be made with our current human rights, terrorism, and corporate moral dilemma. It’s expert movie making from top to bottom and a game-changer no doubt.
16. Chicago– This wicked combination of jazz and liquor reinvented and reinvigorated the musical in the 2000’s with the help of director Rob Marshall. Most of the numbers are told as visions from the character’s psyche instead of simply having them break out into song in real time. This allows for the story to have the grit, but still not lose sight of the glamor. It is that winning combo that helps this film perfectly capture the spirit of the Roaring 20’s. Catherine Zeta-Jones scores a terrific performance as the vicious singer-turned-murderess Velma Kelly, and got an Oscar for her trouble. Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere and Queen Latifah are all also excellent, but this movie belongs to its music. It brings it to erotic life with a vengeance.
17. Up in the Air– From takeoff to touchdown, Up in the Air is flawless piece of entertainment that can stand the test of time to classic Hollywood, both in its germane humor and cultural journey from the traditional to the contemporary. It’s a great character piece with even greater messages about our streamlined, digital era that isn’t just for corporations anymore, it’s for people. It is an interwoven story of relevance and at the forefront is a character who must understand why he’s wandering through the world and what he needs to pack along with him. Reitman’s mostly subtle and conventional techniques are never too bold, but still as clever and sharp as the film’s smooth sailing dialogue.
18. The Incredibles– Out of its many triumphs in the last ten years, Pixar achieved another masterpiece with this movie. In an age where heroes are not wanted and half of marriages end in divorce, how does a family of super heroes survive? Think of it at least partly as The Dark Knight for kids. It’s not just for them though, and heavier examination of this movie shows its weighty themes. The stunning visuals and amazingly well done action sequences are more than an after thought, making this one piece of animation that you cannot ignore. Too bad about the sequel-baiting ending, if not only for the fact that there probably won’t be one.
19. History of Violence– David Cronenberg’s gut-punch of a movie may be the decade’s most overlooked. What may have been the best picture of 2005 scored nothing but a Best Supporting Actor nod for William Hurt. Hurt is excellent, and so is the rest of the cast, but this movie’s exploration of the nature of identity and the consequences of hiding it are almost unsurpassed. Visceral and darkly humorous at times, Cronenberg’s vision is also an almost unparalleled look at the destruction and undoing of the modern American family. Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, and Ed Harris all score knockout performances along with Hurt. It may have been too stylized for the likes of Oscar, but other people who saw it know better.
20. Gladiator– There wasn’t a better way to start out the decade. Despite being civilizations ago, the aged swords-and-sandals genre needed fresh breath of new millennium air, and veteran director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe gave it just that. Forget Alien and Blade Runner, this was an epic masterpiece from Hollywood’s most diverse director. Everything from the lead performances, Crowe’s gruff, iconic Maximus and Phoenix’s scathing Commodus, to the brilliant production values made Gladiator the epic it aspired to be.
21. Oldboy– This Korean thriller directed by Park Chanwook is a visually voracious venue that takes and tantalizes you through an entirely new kind of twisted thriller. Chanwook does something special with this story, like Tarantino, taking a violent, bloody B-movie plotline and turning it into some as Hollywood as it gets with masterful cinematography and highly choreographed sequences. Make no mistake; this is no Tarantino rip off, though it is a gruesome revenge tale. It could be that its Korean cinema, but Chanwoow dares to goes places Tarantino wouldn’t. What may seem like just shock value is actually revelations of anguish, quickly turning this thriller into a gut-wrenching tragedy with one of the greatest twists of all time.
22. The Wrestler– This decade was blessed with a newcomer director named Darren Aronofsky who crafted The Fountain and made Requiem for a Dream, which would later have a great influence on film scores and editing. The Wrestler is a great addition to this list. It’s the most Hollywood of his films, yet is still far from the tired conventions associated with the narrative. There is a plethora of sports comeback stories which appeal to audiences, and it’s something about the loser that we love, their hopeless desperation. Aronofsky and Mickey Rourke (who got robbed of an Oscar) take that love and strip it down until the film is about as bare-bones and personal as it gets to the point where it’s no longer cinematic and instead just raw and magnificent.
23. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind– Finally a Charlie Kauffman film where the film production outmatches the writing. That is not to say that Adaptation or Being John Malkovitch aren’t classic films as well, because they are as equally fantastic and physiologically twisty, it’s just that “Eternal Sunshine” has a certain sentiment to it that makes it a love story you fall in love with.
24. Precious– A nightmarish look into the life of a battered, obese teenager from Harlem, Lee Daniels’ Precious is among the most misunderstood films on this list. Ironic, maybe, but also sad. The life of Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones isn’t there asking for pity, though you will feel it. It is simply an artist’s look into one girl’s nightmare. She comes out on the other end scathed, but alive. This triumphant, blatantly feminist film carries with it an ensemble of underdogs. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and director Daniels both deserve recognition, but it’s Mo’Nique, in a portrait of viciousness so brutally uncompromised, that leaves your jaw dropped. Not that she’s the only reason to watch by any means. Daniel’s film is a surrealistic truth that treads new water and moves you like few films can.
25. Into the Wild– Sean Penn the actor, meet Sean Penn the director. You are equally as brilliant. Though it’s the films more transcendentalist script that makes Into the Wild such a good read, Penn brings that script to every corner of America in some of the most beautiful and pure landscapes that create surreal, cinematic settings so that the film is also a good watch. With that, the films minimalistic style, soundtrack crafted by Eddie Vedder and a submersive performance by Emile Hirsch Into the Wild becomes a visual and thematic allure.
26. Let the Right One In– It’s almost by bad luck that this visionary beauty came out in the Twilight age. In a way, I’m sure it helped market it and reach a larger audience, but I’m sure it also hindered it. Those looking for a unique foreign horror movie would stay away from anything vampire, and in this case they’d be missing out. The tale of young blonde boy Oskar and his friendship with Eli, the new girl next door, is wonderfully filmed and thought out. No shot seams out of place, each one appears meticulously planned. Burgeoning sexuality and violent tendencies haunt the innocence of the young boy, but loyalty and ignorance keeps him with his only real friend. Director Tomas Alfredson has crafted a vampire movie that ranks with the best of its kind.
27. Superbad– The comedy that will define this generation of movies is likely to be Greg Montolla’s superb laugh-fest about three boys trying to score liquor so they can get laid. Nothing personifies the American Dream more blatantly, or hilariously, than Superbad. With a comic cast for the ages, including Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the script comes to wicked life. Endless quotes abound, but it’s when the film starts acting like it has a soul that you’ll be thrown for a loop. It deals with friendship, loyalty, and the fear of change, not that you’ll really notice until afterward. Dirty comedies these days aren’t supposed to say anything. This one does, and every comedy since has tried to say it and failed.
28. Y tu mamá también– Alfonso Cuarón’s sexed-up road movie was one of the decade’s pleasant surprises. It’s hard to believe how the people making Harry Potter looked at this and said “there’s our guy.” When two best friends hit the road with a sexy acquaintance, they learn much about human nature, most notably how animalistic it is. The direction of this movie shows a blooming artist, and while Children of Men may be more artistically made, Cuarón’s gift for no-bull storytelling as well as his work with actors on a budget of almost nothing is more present in this tumultuous, exciting, and engaging film.
29. Little Miss Sunshine– The title sums up the movie perfectly. Little, like its tiny $8 million budget, like the Hoover families pocketbook, like the film’s subtle messages about what it takes to make a family happy. Miss, like the innocence and honesty in each of the simple yet realistic performances. Sunshine, like the brightness and charm this little comedy-that-could will give your day if you watch it. Little Miss Sunshine is one of the rarest road comedies that mixes raunchy comedy with touching sentiment into one of the most delightful and thoughtful films of all time.
30. Mystic River– Clint Eastwood had such a decade in the director’s seat, it’s hard to choose just one of his films. This one, a gritty crime drama set in Boston, is his most deeply felt and all around best work. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Marcia Gay Harden all deliver excellent performances when the murder of one man’s daughter drives a stake through a group of childhood friends. Eastwood approaches it with grit, but also gives signature grace notes of humanity to a story hard pressed for them.
We’ve had our say, now have yours. What did we leave out?
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