Best of the Decade
Have you voted yet? Last time I looked, our Defining Films of the Decade poll had amassed over 100, 000 votes, and though there was a clear front-runner there was surprisingly little to separate the top titles in the race from the pack. In other words, there’s still time if you want to stop Moulin Rouge from running away with it!
The poll ‘only’ stretches to one hundred titles, for which we should probably be grateful – a certain film magazine recently sent me a far from comprehensive 27 page list of noughties films and requested a top 50. It’s a tall order, and once you get started you soon realise that 50 just won’t do.
That said, the same magazine also sent a reminder of the films released ten years ago, in 1999; a list that includes Fight Club, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Election, Eyes Wide Shut, The Insider, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, Three Kings, Ratcatcher, A Room For Romeo Brass, Beau Travail, Lovers Of The Arctic Circle, After Life and The Wind Will Carry Us. Reading that selection, I do wonder if the past decade hasn’t proved a little anti-climactic.
Was it the looming millenium, that concentrated the minds of so many young filmmakers and inspired them to raise their game? Most of them have gone on to do more good work, but few have surpassed these heights.
It’s also the case that several of the directors who dominated the previous decades have struggled to live up to their reputation in the 2000s. Scorsese, Coppola and Allen are the obvious examples, but you could throw Tarantino into that list too, Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles; George Lucas blew it big time; Michael Mann and Jonathan Demme have struggled; arguably so has Steven Spielberg.
In the art-house sector, the deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni on the same day in 2007 brought home the realization that whatever is going on with the art of cinema, it’s no longer at the cutting edge of popular culture in the way it was in the 1960s and 70s. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable to suggest that movies mostly lag behind the best of TV in quality. That’s no longer the case.
Still there have been many unforeseen pleasures too. The rise and rise of digital cinema has given us an amazing crop of fantasy films, headed by the Lord of the Rings films, Harry Potter and The Dark Knight (surely the defining movie of the decade?), but also including Guillermo del Toro’s films and (for better or worse) Michael Bay’s. It was an astounding decade for Christopher Nolan – from Memento, through two Batman movies and The Prestige.
I don’t think anyone would have predicted we’d be in for a vintage period of animated features, but Pixar, Aardman Animation and Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki have produced the goods year in, year out.
French cinema isn’t what it was, but we’ve seen extraordinary films from Belgium (the Dardennes); from Romania and South Korea (Park Chan-wook); Brazil, Argentina and Mexico (del Toro, Cuaron, Inarritu, Reygedas).
Documentaries have gone in and out of fashion, but there have been net gains with the impact of films by Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) inspiring a more provocative and often a more cinematic approach to the form.
Who is the outstanding movie star of the decade? Maybe Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, as far as column inches go. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio would have to feature (even though Titanic was 1997). Heath Ledger pulled off two of the greatest performances in recent memory in Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight. Matt Damon had a terrific decade. Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman were repeatedly great. But personally I think I’d have to say George Clooney probably had the best of it, making three movies with the Coen brothers, five with Steven Soderbergh, and directing a couple of his own for good measure. He began the decade with O Brother Where Art Thou?, hit his stride with Good Night And Good Luck, Syriana, and Michael Clayton, and tops it all off with Fantastic Mr Fox and (a possible Oscar?) Up in the Air.
What follows is entirely subjective: ten mainstream, and ten art house films from the last ten years that stuck with me stronger and longer than the rest.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s powerhouse movie divined the most penetrating metaphor for the end of the American century.
Spielberg and Kubrick: a mismatch made in heaven. It may be flawed, but it breaks my heart.
Tommy Lee Jones revived the spirit of Peckinpah in this borderland modern Western.
Christopher Nolan made more popular and probably more important movies but this magical mystery tour is the one I return to with the most pleasure.
Not only the funniest movie of the decade, but also the best zombie flick.
Nicole Kidman’s best performance and her most misunderstood film, a tragic, surreal love story so disturbing Richard Glazer hasn’t been allowed to make a film since.
The most beautiful and moving of the Pixar movies.
The Coens just hit this one right out of the park, an existential fable that’s mordantly funny and bitterly sad.
Intimate family epic from the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang.
Michael Haneke’s most challenging cross-section of contemporary social politics.
Superb South Korean police procedural from the director of The Host.
It’s not for everyone, but this experimental film about a young man studying women’s faces is a masterly piece of moviemaking.
This Swedish comedy about commune life is a real mood-enhancing drug.
Riveting social realist thriller from the Dardennes.
Lars von Trier’s vicious dissection of smalltown gangsterism: no sets but plenty of violence.
Dazzling Indonesian musical, some of the most stunning imagery of the decade.
This is mainstream, really, but subtitled, a finger-clicking Hong Kong gangster showdown in the spirit of Chuck Jones.
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