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Best of the Decade

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by Nick Spake | 0 comments
by Nick Spake | 0 comments
by Nick Spake | 0 comments

My Best of the Decade 2000-2009

Every year I am given the daunting task of selecting the ten cinematic achievements of the year. I suppose if picking the ten best films of the year is arduous, singling out the ten best films of the decade is nearly impossible. And yet, I have managed to compose a list of ten films that stood out above all others. It’s painful to think about some of the films that didn’t quite make the cut. Now I know how Meryl Streep’s character must have felt in “Sophie’s Choice”…well not really. But still.

Some may argue that this was not a good decade for the cinema. I admit there were plenty of stinkers and disappointments over the past ten years. However, looking back at the ten films on my list along with several other honorable mentions, it’s hard to deny that this decade was anything but fantastic. If you don’t believe me, go home and make your own list of the best films of the decade. If you can’t think of at least ten great films to be released in the past ten years, then I suppose you just aren’t a true fan of movies.

Lets begin with my number 11 choice, a wonderful film that just barely missed my top ten.

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11. Finding Nemo

One of the questions I found myself asking while compiling this top ten list was, “What was the best of all the Pixar films released this decade?” I bet you could ask a million moviegoers this question and there would not be a landslide winner. Over the past ten years Pixar has granted us such a rich collection of animated classics that includes “Monsters Inc.,” “Up,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E,” “The Incredibles,” and yes even “Cars.” For me however, the best of these completely unique masterworks was none other than the delightful story of a father clown fish in search of his missing offspring. The film I am talking about is of course “Shark Tale.” Nah, I’m just pulling your leg. 

“Finding Nemo” is a magical film, pure and simple. Fish normally don’t make for very interesting pets let alone movie protagonists. I was amazed when I first saw the film back in 2003 and the affection I felt for the characters. I, like many, had a feeling how the picture would ultimately end. How the picture arrives at this destination though is funny, exciting, and above all completely unpredictable.

At the heart of “Finding Nemo” is a wonderful father and son story. Any parent can identify with the over protective clown fish Marlin, voiced by Albert Brooks in an understated performance, who is afraid to let his only son go off on his first day of school. There is also a great deal of truth to the sheltered Nemo who feels the necessity to rebel against his father. Like all the films from Pixar, “Finding Nemo” is so much more than an innocent cartoon intended for children. It’s a movie with morals for all ages about understanding and allowing your children to grow up.

This is a film that could not be fully imagined without the wonder of animation. And what a beautifully animated film “Finding Nemo” is. This movie is gorgeous simply to look at with such breathtaking attention to detail in every shot. The film takes an ordinary world and makes a universe of it’s own. But the greatest animation in the world doesn’t matter without a compelling story. Animated or not, “Finding Nemo” is one of the most original motion pictures ever made.

Director Andrew Stanton along with the ingenious storytelling team behind “Finding Nemo” have also created a classic character in Dory, the blue tang with short-term memory loss voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Over the years I believe she’s developed into the Jiminy Cricket of Pixar. She’s a terrific character at the center of a perfect movie.

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10. Pan's Labyrinth

With exception to Peter Jackson of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, there wasn’t a more visually ambitious storyteller to surface in American cinema this decade than Mexican Director Guillermo del Toro. With his two “Hellboy” pictures he twisted an extraordinarily inventive world of limitlessly possibilities. “Hellboy” only demonstrated the tip of Guillermo’s exceeding imagination though. In 2006 he concocted an unparallel tale of horror, fantasy, and tragedy in his tour de force of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 

            This is a an edge of your seat thriller from the opening credits as we hear the heavy breathing of a bleeding, eleven-year-old girl off camera with Javier Navarrete’s haunting score playing in the background. The audience is then informed of a little princess who lived in an underworld kingdom long ago. But curiosity lead the princess to the surface world where she met her demise. Legend states though that the spirit of the princess lived on and would one day return to the kingdom through another body.

            The year is now 1944 in Spain during a time of guerrilla warfare. A young, book-loving girl named Ofelia is forced to move in with her new stepfather, the sinister Captain Vidal played by Sergi Lopez, along with her pregnant mother. The malicious captain distresses Ofelia, played by the great child actress Ivana Baquero. Although her mother loves her unconditionally, she feels her daughter is getting too old to believe in magic. As Ofelia’s world collapses however, she is able to escape to a new world of fantasy when she encounters a fairy that sounds like crossbreed of a monkey and a cricket. The fairy leads Ofelia to a marvelously constructed labyrinth where she meets an unforgettable faun, played by the great character actor Doug Jones. The tree-like creature informs Ofelia that she is a princess and must complete three tasks to reclaim her throne.

            Ofelia is whisked away on several fantastically gruesome adventures. One of which involves her climbing through a muddy tree, crawling with icky bugs, to confront a monstrous toad that vomits its inners. That’s child’s play though compared to another task where Ofelia is chased by a grotesque Pale Man with eye sockets on his hands that devours children, leaving nothing behind but their shoes. Along the way Ofelia proves herself brave and determined but still occasionally makes reckless choices like Pinocchio.

            While the material involving the labyrinth is beyond extraordinary, it’s Ofelia’s drama involving the Captain, her mother, and a maid who his secretly helping the guerrilla’s in the woods, that elevates “Pan’s Labyrinth” beyond a mere fable. Yes, the film is violent and even disgusting. But in the mix of shocking images, Guillermo del Toro tells an honest story about suffering and loss that exceeds the “Harry Potter” movies and certainly the “Narnia” movies. It’s a movie about more than good VS evil but choices and being true to yourself.

In a film of such menacing depictions, the one that stands out above all else is Captain Vidal himself. Vidal has the presence of a distant relative of Amon Goeth from “Schindler’s List.” He is consumed with nothing but evil as he bashes in an innocent man’s face with a bottle then shoots him for simply contradicting his judgment.  Simply watching this corrupt being clean his boots gives me chills.

It all leads to a heartbreaking final sequence with lingering cinematography as Vidal chases Ofelia though the labyrinth, somewhat like the maze scene in “The Shining.” In these final ten minutes decisions are made with outcomes that can be construed as either heartbreaking or happy. One way or another though, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a film that reminds us that although life can be harsh and cruel, there is still magic in the world.

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9. Little Miss Sunshine

This was a great decade for little movies that could. And with exception to one other indie comedy that will appear on this list, was there a funnier, more lovable, more well-written feel good movie this decade than “Little Miss Sunshine?” I once heard somebody refer to the film as a sitcom with swear words. And there are indeed instances in which “Little Miss Sunshine” could have plunged into pure sitcom territory. Unlike so many brain-dead sitcoms however, the film does not settle for obvious gags or turn it’s characters into stereotypes. It also doesn’t batter the audience over the head with overly sentimental scenes. Most importantly, the story does not grow old after just thirty minutes. As a matter of fact I would have been fine if the movie was another hour long.

If I had to be stuck in a rundown van for an hour and a half with one family it would undoubtedly be the Hoovers. Fortunately that’s exactly what the audience gets in “Little Miss Sunshine.” There’s not a character in this movie that the audience doesn’t cherish. Leading the pack is Greg Kinnear as Richard, a competitive father who believes that success can be achieved in several easy steps despite the fact that he hasn’t accomplished anything. Steve Carell was one of the many breakthrough comedic talents of this decade. Here he gives one of his strongest performances as Frank, a suicidal uncle. There are great performances all around from Toni Collette as the mother who holds the dysfunctional clan together, Paul Dano as an angry, mute boy, and Alan Arkin in his Oscar winning performances as the fowl-mouthed grandfather who seems rough but really does love each member of his family.

The real scene-stealer though is young Abigail Breslin as Olive. Breslin wins the audience over the minute she starts running around her house cheering, “Little Miss Sunshine! I won, I won, I won! We’re going, we’re going!” In a movie full of troubled human beings, Breslin’s one of a kind spirit provides “Little Miss Sunshine” with a heart. She shows both the Hoovers and the audience what family is all about. If there’s a child star I hope to see more of in the next decade it would be Abigail Breslin. In “Little Miss Sunshine” and several other films she’s starred in since then, she exemplifies more joy and depth than any young actress I’ve ever seen.

This is not a film that pleads for us to love it. The movie simply exists to be loved. Michael Arndt’s screenplay is full of terrific dialog and memorable comedic situations. The funniest scene of all arises at the climactic Little Miss Sunshine pageant as Olive performs a go-go dancer rendition of “Superfreak.” And how her family joins little Olive in support is purely ingenious. What a wonderful movie this is.   

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8. In Bruges


Among all the films on my best of the decade list, “In Bruges” is the one that has received the least recognition from mainstream moviegoers. That’s really too bad because it’s one of the most entertaining and funniest damn movies you’re likely to ever see. The picture has the same dark comedic atmosphere of a film like “Pulp Fiction.” I have a feeling over the next few years more and more people will discover the film on DVD and cable. Eventually it will develop a cult following and everybody will be quoting the film’s numerous lines of hilarious dialog.

Colin Farrell has had a bit of a hit and miss track record throughout his career. Here he gives the performance of his life as Ray, a hit man who accidentally kills a little boy and flees to the city of Bruges. Ken, a senior hit man played by Brendan Gleeson, accompanies Ray on his journey. As a pair, Farrell and Gleeson have more chemistry together than Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in all three “Rush Hour” movies combined. The interplay between the two is both hysterical and fascinating, making “In Bruges” the best buddy picture of the past ten years.  

In one of his most overlooked performances, Ralph Fiennes plays Harry Waters, a mob boss who is determined to hunt down and kill Ray for his unforgivable deed. There’s also a great supporting role from Jordan Prentice, who was one of the six people who wore the duck suit in “Howard the Duck.” Here Prentice gives a breakthrough performance as a racist dwarf who Ray and Ken befriend. This a film full of rich, original characters who leave an impression on the audience.

This was the first feature film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar for his short film, “Six Shooter.” McDonagh can write dialog like no other and “In Bruges” includes some of the funniest one-liners I’ve ever heard in a movie. One day I’d love to see a T-shirt that reads, “They’re filming midgets” or “You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!”

The film all works up to a sterling and unpredictable climax in which Ray and Harry face off. In this sequence everything comes together in an almost Seinfeldish fashion. It’s a darkly humorous but still kind of tragic scene that left me completely aghast. If you haven’t seen this movie go out and rent it right now. My best of the decade list will still be here when you get back.
7. Moulin Rouge


Was there a movie more dazzling and triumphantly stunning this decade than Baz Luhrmann’s musical spectacle of “Moulin Rouge?” I think not. Sure there was Peter Jackson’s “King Kong,” David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” When I consider pictures this decade that best exemplified sheer beauty though, “Moulin Rouge” is the film that instantly comes to mind. With marvelous art direction, eye-popping costumes, and cinematography with the sensation of a roller coaster, “Moulin Rouge” stands out as the 2000’s finest visual experience.

With exception to animated films, movie musicals appeared extinct for the most part throughout the 80’s and 90’s. This decade will be forever remembered as the comeback of the musical genre. If you ask anybody what is their favorite musical of this era they will most likely say the Oscar-winning Best Picture, “Chicago.” However, my favorite is with out a doubt “Moulin Rouge.” While I believe “Chicago” is great fun, “Moulin Rouge” is a much more personal, glorious work with more enriching characters and story. The film is a vibrant, over-the-top feat of achievement. And behind all the spectacular set pieces and relentless energy, there is a heartbreaking and gripping story of forbidden love. 

In a decade of some striking romances, I don’t believe I have been more touched than by the love story of Christian, a poet you believes in love above all else played by Ewan McGregor in his finest performance, and Satine, the Moulin Rouge’s luminous star attraction played by Nicole Kidman in a role that should have won her the Oscar. They create beautiful musical together along with an all-star ensemble cast. It was a criminal injustice that the film’s show stopping number of “Come What May” did not receive a Best Original Song nomination due to an absurd technicality. This number that the two lovers share is one of the most elevating musical sequences to ever be put on film.

The film is terrific entertainment with unforgettable music, pitch perfect choreography, eccentric humor, and a tear-jerking romance. Not since “Titanic” has there been a more profound love story with a more tragic conclusion. Like “Titanic,” I suppose “Moulin Rouge” is a film you either love or hate. And quite frankly, I love it.


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6. Shrek


If there was one movie franchise that got beaten like a dead horse this decade, it would be the “Shrek” series. After the merely O.K. “Shrek the Third,” the lackluster Christmas special of “Shrek the Halls,” and the upcoming fourth and final chapter of the franchise, I’m officially starting to get Shreked out. Despite all the overexposure the series has gotten over the years, the original “Shrek” remains every bit as witty, humorous, exciting, and even meaningful as when I saw it back in 2001. Like “Finding Nemo” and the best-animated films, “Shrek” is really about something with characters the audience cares about and a familiar message with a twist.

The voice of Shrek was originally to be provided by the late Chris Farley. While I’m sure Farley would have been tailor-made to portray the disgusting, yet lovable ogre, I cannot imagine Shrek without Mike Myer’s strangely suiting Scottish accent. Stealing the whole show is of course Eddie Murphy’s talking Donkey. Murphy’s performance is a stroke a stroke of brilliance in this film. Like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” Donkey does not merely exist to provide wise cracks. He is the soul of the movie and introduces the phenomenon of friendship to the cranky ogre. If there ever was a voice over performance that deserved an honorary Oscar this is it. Cameron Diaz also gives one of her best performances as Princess Fiona, who has a secret that takes both Shrek and the audience by complete surprise. John Lithgow, who unfortunately doesn’t get much more these days, provides the voice of one of the decades most fun villains, Lord Farquaad. I don’t believe a better-suited cast has ever been assembled for an animated feature.

The animation is revolutionary with something wondrous in every frame. To this date I am still enthralled by the film’s visuals, particularly during the riveting sequence in which Shrek attempts to slay a fire-breathing dragon. In addition to being a terrific animated film, “Shrek” is one of the best comedies ever made. The film brilliantly satirizes numerous classic fairytales and other animated films. There’s also plenty of in-jokes that are appealing to those of all ages. This is a film that you need to watch multiple times to catch every gag. It wasn’t until recently when I revisited the film that I finally got the scene in which Shrek observes the massive size of Lord Farquaad’s castle and asks Donkey, “Do you think maybe he compensating for something?” And underneath it’s dark humor and pop culture references, there’s a humane story about tolerance.

What I find so compelling about Shrek is that unlike so many other animated protagonists who desire acceptance, Shrek is one leading man who cherishes his solitude. The world has labeled him as a monster. They want nothing to do with him and he wants nothing to do with them. Through the friendship of Donkey and Princess Fiona however, Shrek realizes that he does want acceptance and there’s more to him than meets the eye. He doesn’t set out to be a daring hero or win the princess’s hand. In the end however, he does just that.


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5. Slumdog Millionaire

Here’s a movie that I simply could not stop thinking about after first seeing it. Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is a recipe for essentially everything one could possibly look for in a motion picture. It’s a moving, funny, stimulating, romantic, and above all enchanting adventure unlike any other. The film is a triumph in every respect from Anthony Dod Mantle’s stunning cinematography to A.R. Rahman’s touching musical score. When I think of magical motion pictures, this is a film that instantly pops into my head. And with exception to “Schindler’s List,” it’s also the only Best Picture winner in which a young boy hurls himself into a pool of crap.

In this ultimate rags to riches story, Dev Patel plays Jamal, an underprivileged, orphaned slumdog who manages to get onto the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The film follows the extraordinary life of Jamal, along with his brother eldest, Salim, and the love of his life, Latika, played by the luminous Freida Pinto in a wonderful performance.

Some people argued that the film looses its way in the final act and becomes a standard love story. But I couldn’t disagree with this statement more. This is one of the most uplifting, unpredictable, and complete final thirty minutes of any movie this decade or any decade. There wasn’t a moment in any movie this past ten years that left me more enthralled with suspense than when Jamal is given his million-dollar question of who was the third musketeer. I had my fingers crossed with my left leg shaking throughout this entire scene, even though apart of me knew what was going to happen.

And yes, the film is a love story at heart. But what a profound love story it is. The final scene in which Jamal and Latika are reunited and share a kiss, as predictable as it might be, is one of the most romantic shots ever put on film. And the finale musical number of Jai ho is the cheery on the sundae. “Slumdog Millionaire” is filmmaking at it’s finest and a classic in the making. I rarely tell people to go fuck themselves when they don’t agree with me on a movie. But whenever I encounter somebody who doesn’t appreciate “Slumdog Millionaire,” I can’t help but bitch slap them across the face. 


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4. Crash

“Crash” is one film you probably won’t find on most critics best of the decade lists. Everybody was stunned when the film beat out the Oscar favorite, “Brokeback Mountain,” for the Best Picture prize in 2005. Many claimed that the film was not worthy of the honor. The film’s writer/director, Paul Haggis, said about a year ago that he didn’t even think the film deserved the Academy Award. Then again, Woody Allen also thought that “Annie Hall” wasn’t one of his strongest films. Martin Scorsese said that “The Departed” was intended to be his B-movie when it finally brought him his first Oscar. Although most don’t just come out and say it, I’m sure numerous other Oscar winners feel that they didn’t deserve to win compared to the competition. 

            I suppose there’s not much I can do to make those “Crash” criticizers think otherwise. All I can do is say that the Academy did indeed make the correct choice in granting “Crash” their highest honor. Among all the films released this decade that tackled race relations in contemporary America, none was more thought provoking or provocative than this thrilling motion picture.

This is a movie with such memorable and honest characters that seem to have been taken right out of real life. Perhaps the most fascinating of all is Matt Dillon as John Ryan, a racist officer of the LAPD. In the beginning of the movie Ryan pulls over a black man, played by Terrence Howard, and practically molests his wife, played by Thandie Newton, during an inspection. In this scene the audience instantly despises Ryan and identifies him as a one-dimensional pig. Ryan doesn’t exactly go through 180-degree change throughout the course of the movie. As the film progresses however, we see that there is indeed a human inside.

The audience witnesses another side of Ryan during an ironic sequence in which he saves the Thandie Newton character from a burning car. Paul Haggis’s awe-inspiring screenplay is full of moments such as this that demonstrate how racism is not black and white. You can be prejudice and end up saving somebody. You can be a victim of persecution and still be prejudice against another race. This is a movie without any heroes or villains. Just ordinary people who are all attempting to cope in the confusing world we inhabit.

            “Crash” is full of so many significant and poetic scenes. In one of the film’s more subtle moments, a father played by Michael Pena comforts his daughter who is afraid of the new neighborhood they have moved into. The father gives his daughter an impenetrable, invisible cloak to make her feel safe. This plays a major role later in the film when a man holds the father at gunpoint. For all those who still haven’t seen the movie I won’t give away how this scene plays out. However, it’s a gripping sequence that in one instance leaves you devastated and then relieved a moment later.

            You won’t find a stronger collection of performances than from the entire cast of this movie. Who hasn’t met somebody like Sandra Bullock’s character of Jean Cabot, an upper-class woman who flinches while passing two black men on the street and does not trust a Hispanic man changing her locks? Thandie Newton as I mentioned before, is a powerhouse of emotion in one of the most overlooked performances of recent years. Chris Ludacris Bridges might get more recognition for his music career than his acting career. In “Crash” however, he escapes into his role as an African American thug so flawlessly and proves that he has the makings of a born screen talent. Every role is crucial to the picture from Don Cheadle as a Detective in search of his little brother, to Lotetta Devine as a clerk, to Ryan Phillippe as a police officer who is desperately trying to do the right thing.  

            This is not an easy film. It’s an unsettling piece of work where everything doesn’t work out for every character. At the same time however, the movie is equally inspiring. Every time I watch this picture I have an emotional experience that makes me want to be a better person. Despite what some might say, I believe that “Crash” is an important film that should be seen by everyone.


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3. Juno

This is the other little, independent treasure I spoke of earlier. “Juno” is the feel good movie of the decade, aw hell, the century! Jason Reitman was one of the many talented directors to surface this decade. Along with his two other films, “Up in the Air” and “Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno” is a picture that defines our generation. In another twenty years teenagers will look back at this movie just as the teenagers of today look back on “Breakfast Club” and get an idea of how teenage life was like in the 2000’s.            

The film is carried by a screenplay unlike any other from Diablo Cody and a stunning breakthrough performance from Ellen Page. Ever since Page emerged as Juno MacGuff she has been typecast as a wise-ass tomboy in numerous other comedies such as “Smart People” and “Whip-It.” Some may argue that Page only has one acting note. In the years to come however, I believe that Page is going to star in more films that allow her the opportunity to reveal her range as an actress. In “Juno” she gives the standout female performance of the decade. She sells every word of witty dialog and creates an individual who is confused, afraid, free-spirited, and full of heart. Years from now people will evaluate Page’s career and ask, “How is it possible the she didn’t win the Oscar for this role?”

            After putting out to her best friend Paulie Bleeker, played by Michael Cera who somewhat resembles a contemporary Anthony Michael Hall, Juno finds herself impregnated. After exploring all of her options, Juno finally decides to give the baby up for adoption. There have been many other films and T.V. shows this decade that explore teenage pregnancy. Most of them however result it sentimental melodrama. “Juno” however, is a picture comprised of sheer joy. It’s rare that you see a movie with parents as supportive as Juno’s, played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, and a teenage father as genuinely kind as Bleeker.

Among all the films on my list, “Juno” is one that continues to get better every time I watch it. I think one of the reasons my love for the film only continues to increase is because the characters and their motivations become more clear. Take the relationship between the parents who decide to adopt Juno’s baby, played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. At the beginning of the film Garner’s Vanessa comes off as controlling and uptight while Bateman’s Mark seems relaxed and fun. By the end of the picture though, Vanessa is revealed as a loving adult while Mark turns out to be a twenty-year-old trapped in a middle aged man’s body who does not want to be married or have children. When I re-watched the film I took more notice in the scene where Vanessa and Mark paint the nursery for their baby. Vanessa can’t wait to hold her child while Mark is trying to think of a way out. Although neither says what’s on their mind, this scene says everything about their relationship.

Cody’s screenplay is simply a masterpiece and not just because of the over-the-top, hilarious one-liners. She does not simplify or glamorize the serious subject matter. The screenplay is full of realism and depth. Like the best of the John Hughes movies from the 80’s, “Juno” paints teenagers as real people with feelings. Unlike so many idiot teenagers in those “Final Destination” films, Juno is depicted as an independent and intelligent woman. Like so many young adults though, Juno is still unsure of what kind of girl she is. Throughout the course of the movie, Juno finds herself and ultimately grows up.      




2. The Dark Knight

This was a revolutionary decade of numerous film genres such as movie musicals, indie pics, and bromantic comedies. However this decade ultimately belonged to the superhero picture. It all started in 2000 when Bryan Singer’s first “X-Men” picture made a splash at the box office. A couple years later, Sam Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” films broke new grounds for the genre. Then in 2005, Christopher Nolan finally did justice to a Batman film with “Batman Begins.” There had been four Batman pictures prior to Nolan’s reimagining. However, none revealed a more tormented or complete version of the Caped Crusader than this fascinating origin story. “Batman Begins” merely set the stage however for it’s triumphant follow-up, “The Dark Knight.”

This is the mother of all superhero pictures and so much more than a comic book movie. The film illustrates Batman’s alter ego of Bruce Wayne as a tortured soul who has to give up any chance of a normal life or a meaningful romantic relationship in order to protect his city. Nolan is the first director who really understands Batman and his inner demons. “The Dark Knight” is ultimately a tragic story about the sacrifice of being a hero.

            The 2000’s was a decade of many outstanding villains from Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, to Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa, to Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd. However, none was more spine-chilling or pure evil than the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of The Joker. With makeup smudged on his face, devilish scars, and a haunting voice, Ledger embodies this menace in the performance of the past ten years. The screenplay by Chirstopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan does not depict Joker as a crazed super villain like in the 1989 Tim Burton version. Rather, Joker is approached as terrorist with a sick mind who seems to exist in the real world. This only makes Joker even more horrifying. 

            “The Dark Knight” is not only an intriguing character study of Batman and the Joker but all the supporting characters. Commissioner James Gordon has always been an important figure in the Batman universe. In the previous Batman films however, he had always been cast into the shadows. In “The Dark Knight” Gary Oldman breathes life into Gordon who is portrayed as a good cop, family man, and voice of reason.

            Another overlooked performance comes from Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Gotham’s District Attorney who has vowed to bring justice to his city. When his comrades betray him and the woman he loves is killed however, Harvey is plunged into darkness. He begins to question whether or not the system really works and arises as Two-Face to get his revenge. The Nolan Brother’s screenplay explores all sorts of themes such as this.

            At the helm of the project is Christopher Nolan’s exceptional direction. Along with Wally Pfister’s breathtaking cinematography, Nolan creates several mind-blowing action sequences. The most intense of them all involves Batman charging down the streets of Gotham in his Batpod with the Joker screaming, “Hit Men!” And James Newton Howard’s musical score always gets my adrenaline flowing.

Yes, the film became the biggest blockbuster of the decade and the second highest grossing film of all time. Although “Avatar” might be on it’s way to breaking that record. Unlike “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or “Spider-Man 3,” “The Dark Knight” is one blockbuster that does not insult the audience’s intelligence. It’s a film with characters and asks challenging questions about the world we live in. In addition to that, “The Dark Knight” is also a terrific entertainment. It’s a film that millions of people went to go see and will continue to revisit in the years to come. Here’s proof that a movie can be intelligent, wise, and even important and still gross over 500 million dollars.


1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Finally we come to the best of the best. The end-all cinematic achievement of the past ten years. For my number one selection I could have gone with an independent feature that was overlooked by the public or a little documentary. However, I’d be lying to you and myself if I said that “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was anything but the best film of the decade. 

At first I was tempted to have a three-way tie between all three “Lord of the Rings” pictures as many other critics have. This would make sense because the trilogy is a complete story. Peter Jackson could have combined all three films together, made a ten hour-long movie, and produced the ultimate epic. He probably made the correct choice in adapting each individual book into a separate movie though. Between Jackson’s three “Lord of the Rings” movies however, “Return of the King” stands out as the quintessential, the most exciting, the most romantic, and the most inspirational.

 Many said that the story could never be filmed. Visualizing the original world of J.R.R. Tolkien was one thing. But how do you incorporate all the characters and subplots and not have the movie drag on? Over a course of nine years however, Director Peter Jackson manages to pull off the unthinkable task. Jackson grew up with the book and understands the characters. He takes the material seriously and settles for nothing less than perfection. Jackson was put on earth to bring this trilogy to the screen.

Before I described the movie as romantic. The romance I am addressing is not the relationship between Frodo and Sam. However, I do believe that they have one of the most meaningful friendships I’ve ever seen in motion picture. But I’ll talk more about that later. This is a movie that you wouldn’t expect to find romance in. However there is indeed a beautiful love story here between Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn, Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, and Liv Tyler Arwen. Although Aragorn cares for Eowyn, his heart belongs to Arwen, the half-elven who is willing to give up her immortality for the man she loves. This romance blows the love triangle in “New Moon” out of the park.

            But romance aside, “The Lord of the Rings” will be forever remembered for it’s breathtaking battle sequences. And “Return of the King” features not only the most impressive battle of the trilogy, but one of the most extraordinary action sequences ever put on film. I nearly shit my pants at the mass size and the sheer cinematic excitement of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.This is one of the many extended battle in the film that places “The Return of the King” in the same league of the golden-age Hollywood epics like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Ben Hur.”

For me the most horrifying image in “The Return of the King” is not he haunting madness of Gollum or the great eye of Sauron, but the Spider of Darkness, Shelob. I don’t believe I’ve been more frightened in a movie this decade than during the scene in which Shelob preys over Frodo outside her lair. It’s a quiet, brilliantly shot scene full of subtle intensity. In a film of astonishing visual, this giant spider is the standout.

At the center of “The Lord of the Rings” is a tale of friendship. Throughout the course of the three movies, the Fellowship of the Ring have all grown to treasure each other immensely. The most iconic of the friendships is the bond between Elijah Wood’s Frodo and Season Astin’s Sam. Although “The Lord of the Rings” has always been Frodo’s story, the real hero in “The Return of the King” is Sam, who is often regarded as Frodo’s sidekick. In “The Return of the King” however, Sam is the one who figures out Gollum’s dastardly plan to steal the ring, splays Shelob, and prevents Frodo from giving into temptation. Astin doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his performance in “The Return of the King” which should have earned him an Oscar nomination. 

What’s interesting about “The Lord of the Rings” is that it’s the only film trilogy that continued to improve with every passing film. This is a feat that not even “The Godfather” or original “Star Wars” trilogy managed to pull off. In “The Return of the King” the series finally works up to it’s triumphant climax in which the one ring meets its demise. Even at 201 minutes, or 251 minutes if you watch the extended version, the “The Return of the King” never feels overly long. Not even with the several touching endings. 

The reason that “The Return of the King” earns my highest honor is because it defines why I love movies. There isn’t a factor of the film that misfires from Howard Shore’s timeless score, to arrestingly detailed sets and costumes, to the screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens. Critics are always talking about being young kids and experiencing “Star Wars” in the theaters for the first time. I unfortunately wasn’t alive to see any of the original “Star Wars” movies in the theaters. In another twenty years however, I can introduce “The Lord of the Rings” to my children and tell them of my unforgettable moviegoing experiences. As far as movies go, nothing is more magical than that.

In addition to those eleven, here are several other honorable mentions in alphabetical order.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

If there was a director who dominated the world of comedy this decade it would undoubtedly be Judd Apatow. Over the past several years Apatow has taken part some of the funniest movies of all time from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to “Knocked Up.” The best of the Apatow collection is a film that he both wrote and directed entitled “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” The film is a wonderful and surprising formula of sidesplitting humor and heart that ranks as one of the most uproarious comedies of the decade. There’s also a couple of star making roles from Steve Carell, Seth Rogan, and the charming Elizabeth Banks. 

500 Days of Summer

“500 Days of Summer” is the finest romantic comedy of the decade or perhaps the finest anti-romantic comedy of the decade. The film has the resemblance of a contemporary “Annie Hall.” Like a Woody Allen picture, the film is funny, whimsical, and truthful to the nature of relationships. The film is carried by two winning performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom and Zooey Deschanel as Summer. Unlike so many dismal romantic comedies we got this decade, “500 Days of Summer” does not end with Tom rushing to an airport or wedding chapel to declare his love. Rather, the movie finishes on a truthful note with Tom letting go of Summer and realizing there are other fish in the sea. This is a movie that knows although everything might appear wonderful in a relationship matters do not always work out. Although this may seem like a downer, “500 Days of Summer” defines a feel good movie.

Avatar

James Cameron’s “Avatar” is a revolutionary picture with jaw dropping visual effects, first-rate action sequences, and a gripping romance at its heart. Whether you think it’s overrated or lived up to the hype, this is a film that’s bound to become embedded in our popular culture and will forever change the way audiences perceive motion pictures. “Avatar” is the definition of what movies were made for.

Batman Begins

I already talked about this film a bit in my critique of “The Dark Knight,” which took my number 2 slot. While it’s not quite as stellar as “The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins” is still a marvelous origins story. After the four previous “Batman” movies, which were more about colorful villains and visuals than the title character, this revamp from Christopher Nolan finally delved into the man behind the Batman. Fuelled by great performances and groundbreaking action sequences, this is one of the most underrated entertainments of the decade.

Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” is a sidesplitting satire that truly says something about prejudice in 21st century America in addition to providing scene after scene of nonstop laughter. Some may argue that the film grows old after a second showing. However, I can watch “Borat” over and over again and still laugh my ass off. A truly hilarious movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is simply an interesting idea brilliantly executed through the mind of director David Fincher. It’s a visually unbelievable epic for the ages with two wonderful performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

The Departed

Martin Scorsese finally won his Oscar this decade for the crime saga, “The Departed.” This is a gritty and at times flat out hysterical gangster picture that perfectly captures the mean streets of Boston. There’s also some exceptional acting work from Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and especially Mark Wahlberg. Here’s yet another masterpiece to add to the Scorsese collection.

Hairspray

Other than “Moulin Rouge,” my favorite movie musical of the decade was the 2007 Broadway adaptation of “Hairspray.” Comprised of a show stopping soundtrack and an all-star cast of wonderful performers, "Hairspray" is some of the most fun I've ever had at the movies. There's also a wonderful breakthrough role from Nikki Blonsky as Tracy and John Travolta in the finest drag performance since Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" movies.     

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prizoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, and Half Blood Prince

Like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” is one of the rare franchises this decade that never ran out of gas. The first three “Potter” pictures have the resemblance of a modern day “Wizard of Oz” or “Willing Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” As the story progresses and Harry grows older however, the movies became much darker and more menacing. This is fitting because “Harry Potter” is ultimately a tale of loosing innocence and growing up. Daniel Raddcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have all showed great evolution as actors throughout the past eight years as well. I can’t wait for the final two chapters to be released within the next two years.

The Hurt Locker

In a decade of Iraq war pictures, Kathryn Bigelow’s gritting and thought-provoking war saga, “The Hurt Locker,” is the first of these movies to capture the sheer horror and madness of the important subject. This is a bold, haunting, and all around intense glimpse into the lives of an American Army Bomb Squad. Beautifully shot, written with depth, with superlative performances from an outstanding acting ensemble. “The Hurt Locker” is so profound that it ranges with classics such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Platoon,” and especially “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a masterful war epic and more. There’s also a stunning breakthrough performance from Jeremy Renner who we’re bond to see more of in the years to come

Inglourious Basterds

This was another terrific decade for director Quentin Tarantino with his two “Kill Bill” movies and even more so with “Inglourious Basterds.” This fictionalized World War II revenge picture is a humorous and intense marriage of Tarantino’s ingenious direction and unmatchable gift of dialog. There are notable performances from the entire cast, which includes Brad Pitt in a perfectly campy role as Lt. Aldo Raine and Melanie Laurent as Jewish survivor seeking revenge for her butchered family. The scene stealing however is undoubtedly Christoph Waltz Col. Hans Landa, a looming Nazi who takes pride in his nickname of The Jew Hunter. This would be my selection for the twelfth best film of the decade for the record. 

King Kong

Peter Jackson proved everyone wrong when he managed to bring “The Lord of the Rings” to the screen. Then in 2005, he pulled off another inconceivable task by remaking “King Kong.” Jackson’s reimagining of “Kong” is a dazzling adventure with unparallel sets and special effects. The film is also carried by a beautiful romance between the Beast and Ann Darrow, played by Naomi Watts in her finest performance. Like “The Lord of the Rings,” Jackson was born to recreate “King Kong” for another generation. He knows and respects the original 1933 version and produces an epic that’s every bit as magical as the original. 

Little Children

Another film that was overlooked by the public this decade was Todd Field’s “Little Children.” This heartbreaking suburban drama is elevated by a remarkable performance from Kate Winslet. Although Winslet finally won her first Oscar for her role in “The Reader,” this is the film she deserves to be remembered for. Winslet is devastating here as a mother who finds comfort in the arms of a father played by Patrick Wilson. Not since "American Beauty" has there been a more brutally honest drama of temptation and suburban life.

Memento

Christopher Nolan will be forever remembered as the director of “The Dark Knight.” One of his most underrated works however was 2001’s “Memento,” the decade’s most riveting mystery. Guy Pearce is terrific as Leonard, a man with short-term memory loss in search of his wife’s killer. Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan’s screenplay shockingly did not win the Oscar. Despite this, “Memento” is one of the most well crafted stories ever tailored for the screen.

Million Dollar Baby

Even in his senior years, Clint Eastwood continued his string of superb directorial outings this decade. The best of them was his tragic, gut-wrenching “Million Dollar Baby.” Hilary Swank deservingly won her second Oscar for her heartbreaking performance as Maggie, a female boxer determined to make it to the top. Clint Eastwood is equally exceptional as Frankie Dunn, a boxing manager who against his better judgment decides to train Maggie. The father daughter bond that blossoms between the two is one of the most profound relationships I’ve ever seen.

No Country for Old Men 

There’s genius within every shot of the Coen Brother’s Oscar-winning thriller, “No Country For Old Men.” This is a brilliantly shot, superbly written American masterpiece that ranges among the best of the Coens films. And with exception to Heath Ledger’s Joker, was there a more horrifying screen presence this decade than Javier Bardem’s ingenious creation of Anton Chigurh?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

One of the most purely fun movies of the decade was “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.” Watching this movie pumped me with the same stimulation that I felt when I first saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The film is exciting and humorous with an iconic performance from Johnny Depp that should have won him an Oscar.

Punch-Drunk Love

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” was overlooked in theaters and is probably doomed to go unrecognized in the years to come. This is monumental shame because the film is one of the most strangely beautiful romantic comedy/dramas ever made. Adam Sandler gives the standout performance of his career as Barry Egan, an insecure salesman bottled up with rage. While Barry is the least romantic individual imaginable, he still manages to win the heart of a woman played by Emily Watson in a relationship that’s profound and touching. “Punch-Drunk Love” is a poignant and funny work of genius that deserves a much wider following.

Spider-Man 2

With exception to Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films, the best superhero movies of the decade were Sam Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” films. The best of the two was 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.” Like “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2” is spectacular entertainment, telling a real story with a captivating romance. 

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki is without a doubt one of most gifted storytellers ever to breath air. In 2002 he breathed life into his epic masterpiece, “Spirited Away.” This is an animated film unlike anything you’ve ever seen, filled with extraordinary visuals and inventive creatures. At the heart of the picture is the story of a young girl trying to find her way home and ends up finding herself.

Sin City

There were numerous graphic novel adaptations this past decade. However, none was more beautiful or truer to it’s roots that Frank Miller’s and Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City.” This is a dark, gritty, and ambitious entertainment, which pays tribute to film noir and the art of comic books. It also features a criminally overlooked performance from Mickey Rourke as Marv.

Superbad

Here’s another winner from producer Judd Apatow. “Superbad” is an absolutely hilarious teenage comedy with star making performance from Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The film is also a sincere look into the lives of teenage boys who truly respect their female peers despite how horny they are. 

Team America: World Police

For me no movie produced more laughs per second this decade than Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s marionette puppet satire of “Team America: World Police.” The film takes shots at everything from the war on terror, to big budget disaster pictures, to liberals, to conservatives, to Matt Damon. And in the end, the film even has a significant message in a very depraved fashion.

United 93

A distressing depiction of the most historic event to take pace this decade. Paul Greengrass’ “United 93” is perhaps one of the most emotional experiences your likely to ever have at the movies. There have been a couple of films that have attempted to capture the same confusion and horror the occurred on 9/11. “United 93” is the only one to get the atmosphere of that day just right. Director Greengrass gives the film a documentary feeling as if the audience is witnessing the event firsthand. The film was overlooked in theaters, which I can understand. This is an incredibly poignant film that practically brought me to tears. Nevertheless, I believe it’s one of the most imperative films ever made.

Up

While the animated “Up” did not make my top ten list, it does feature the single most profound sequence I’ve seen in an animated film this decade. The dialog-free sequence depicts the life between Carl and Ellie, set to a beautiful musical score by Michael Giacchino. It all works up to a tragic scene in which Ellie passes away, leaving the elderly Carl alone in the world. Anybody who doesn’t recognize animation as a serious art from should take a look at that montage. I dare them not to breakout into tears. That five minutes aside, the remaining hour and half of “Up” is funny and meaningful.

WALL-E

The best science fiction movie of the decade was not James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report.” It was Pixar’s animated tale of a little robot named WALL-E. Director Andrew Stanton, who also made “Finding Nemo,” made a monumental risk in producing a children’s movie that is almost wordless. The end result however was thought-provoking, magical, and even romantic.