G-S-T Top 10 – Best Films of the Decade (Round 1)

As stated in our FYI post, starting something this daunting is nearly enough to make my head spin.  Best Films of the DECADE??  What was I thinking??  Oh, it was sooo hard not to just pick ones I like and I really wanted to avoid letting cultural favorites/Oscar winners obscure the decision-making process.  But a simple voice of reason and a suggestion changed everything.  After thinking about this for a while now (starting back in October) I have racked my brain (and DVD library) and have come up with something I believe will be much easier.

Since a decade is a hell of a long time to think about and evaluate movies to pick just 10, I have to admit that my own personal tastes have changed quite a bit in 10 years.  After all, I was a freshman in college in 1999 and while I don’t have the most diverse or worldly film experience now, I certainly didn’t have it back then either. Film has evolved quite a lot in 10 years, most notably, in my opinion, the sheer abundance of CGI.  While it is almost a staple in most movies, allowing things to grace the screen which would have otherwise been impossible to create, we want to address something deeper in this list than just a flighty, superficial or “my favorite” Top 10.

The intent here is to recognize and applaud the 10 films, that really aren’t the “Best” in terms of numbers of  awards won (although some of them do fit that bill), but ones that defied expectations, thought outside of the box and became revolutionary “game changers” by making solid imprints in film history as they truly are bold, brilliant, and more importantly, crowd pleasing motion pictures.  So it is with that said I present you with my take the G-S-T Top 10 Best Films of the Decade.  From 1999 to 2009…”here, we, go

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The Sixth Sense – Give it to an unknown writer/director to change the world with one simple (and later way overused/parodied) phrase.  M. Night (like Singer before) gave a solid entry to the film world by way of the ultimate twist ending, before twist endings became such a common occurence.  Not only was the climax worth the price of admission, the film’s composition was layered, well conceived, and M. Night became Hollywood’s IT boy, with a film that even after so many repeat viewings still impresses as he was able to pull stellar and performance s out of every single element on-screen.  The mood, the music, the acting all to notch and the ending (unless you had a “sixth sense”) was one a very few saw coming.  Sensational!

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The Matrix – Call me shallow but I believe this is one great film that seems to get more negative attention for spawning all the knock-offs and spoofs.  However something could only cause a stir this big if it was truly great in the first place.  Movies were never the same after this film as it paved the way for more impressive and believable CGI efforts and allowed more fantastic ideas to come to the screen.  They pushed the envelope and never looked back.  Sure the Wachowskis will get flak for their less impressive and misdirected sequels (though I think Reloaded is the best of the series) but their legendary film was truly a revolution in film.  Creating such a following, it set the bar for new age action and sci-fi film, the likes of which were set by predecessors like Blade Runner and Aliens.  This film still stands up and I believe will be inspiration for the next wave of future filmmakers.  I really can’t wait to see when that day comes.

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Batman Begins – The one glimmer of hope in a sinking shop that was the comic book genre.  It showed that a comic film doesn’t have to be as colorful and campy as it is on the pages to work and believable.  It just had to show that the person on-screen had heart and purpose.  That’s all you really need in a hero (not to mention a sweet gadget or two).  Batman is a bit of a misunderstood hero.  Called a “super hero”, he actually has no super powers and yet still is intimidating, powerful and achieves what most people can only dream of.  Uber talented filmmaker Christopher Nolan not only gave hope to the failing comic film market but created a wonderful mix up of origin story AND dark tone creating a envied and ill reproduced trend that left all (failed and would be) imitators scratching their heads asking why it worked so bloody well.  People would probably have The Dark Knight on their Top 10 list, but as great as that sequel was, there still would be no TDK without Batman Begins.

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Casino Royale – Much like the above entry on this list, taking our hero back to their roots was necessary step but resulted in a huge  payoff.  Sometimes, in order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.  Origin stories have become the hot thing in Hollywood, after the twist ending, the darker story, and other fads played out, but this one worked smashingly.  In a series that became all too focused on flashy gear and snippy comebacks, Royale took a grass-roots approach to everyone’s favorite untouchable spy and showed us that even the mighty 007 can be shaken, stirred and ultimately heartbroken.  Someone once said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and in this case, James Bond’s evolution into the hardened unflinching womanizer he is now was really groundbreaking.  It was simple but impacting and to me the effort made film history as well as restart the franchise for good this time.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button –  Such an amazingly beautiful film and truth be told it’s this one film that made me want to start Go, See, Talk.  CGI has become the tool of choice for many filmmakers for a variety of reasons but Fincher (pushing its boundaries in each of his films) makes it all work when others’ overuse make it seem a hindrance to the performance .  Fincher’s amazing film had some of Hollwyood’s most complex CGI to date but more than that, it showed that amongst the all-encompassing digital effects, a stunning marriage of other trades (screenwriting, music, art direction) can exist while still making a pretty grounded story.  Plus the rock solid acting of Cate Blanchette and a surprising turn from Brad Pitt.  There are so few times that I can recall over this decade that I have walked out of the theater and said, “Wow, I’m so glad I saw that film“.  Well I was saying that for a solid month.

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Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino, at his absolute finest, showed the world that more drama, action and intensity can be done with dialogue and table top conversation than with a feature full of explosions and car chases.  Usually remakes kind of fall flat or don’t really prove to be worth the effort but this amazing film paved new ground and had almost nothing in common with the original.  When something is so unfaithful to the original or source material you can alienate fans or confuse audiences but in this case Quentin did EVERYTHING right.  From a questionable cast (that worked), to a much more slow, sometimes gruesome but entertaining pace (that worked) to a supremely intense ending (that worked), Quentin not only paid homage to a film he has loved for years by re-imagining it, but topped all he great work he has done in the past…and then some.

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The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Some might think the cultural connotation for “trilogy” means “3” films – Not the case here.  Shot entirely all at once (huge gamble for New Line if you ask me, and never done before, to my knowledge), this production is really just one movie broken into three segments.  This was one series, that even with the abundance of gorgeous CGI (pushed that envelope as far as possible), many thought it would never be possible to pull off.  The tenacity of real life hobbit Peter Jackson and his visionary team, very deserving of their work, took home many Oscars (though I do think the best picture Oscar was a bit of fan service).

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No Country for Old Men – Reminiscent of the one, the only Alfred Hitchcock, there was incredible uneasiness in every scene which continually built to the end. As if it weren’t already written, shot and cut to perfection by the Coen, the icing on this cake was one Anton Chigurh which has in one fell swoop become one of film’s most popular minimally versed (but still chilling) villains since The Terminator. Paced perfectly and with such an ambiguous ending that just is a masterpiece of cinema. I’m not usually a Coen fan but I found so much to like and love in this movie that it has changed my perceptions and tastes for sure.  Plus this film was just another (and important) step toward the resurrection of Woody Harrelson, and I’d say that’s a good thing.

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Lost in Translation – Probably not entirely deserving of every bit of hype this has been given, but still just a tender and remarkable film about people.  It gave such an intimate look at unassuming characters which embodied empathetic screen representations of what I believe everyone has felt at least one time int their lives.  While some consider this an independent film, I’d like to say it feels like a documentary following real people.  I’d call this a love story without being a love story and is one of my favorite movies (that really didn’t feel like a movie) of all time.

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Avatar – Now this “little” movie is probably rounding off nearly every “best of” list on the planet mostly because of its current buzz. So be it a last-minute entry (and 14 years in the making) it’s well worth the wait!! Worthy of every bit of praise it has gotten and certainly lives up to all the hype in a way no one thought possible. I read a review that it will change the way we movies are made and how we watch them but it’ll take some years to catch on. Yeah, I’d believe that. Even so, the gorgeous and glorious end product not only shows the advances in CGI, but similarly showcase master storyteller James Cameron as he too, like his movies, continually evolves, improves and impresses with each effort. Sure the story might have huge holes and seem like other films we’ve seen before (cough, Dances With Wolves, cough) but it’s still a helluva ride!

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So there you have it…the high points of a decade in cinema briefly commented on and evaluated for their brilliance and for changing the look, feel and composition of future films. After a decade long trip down cinematic “Memory Lane” I have but one question…How will these films stand up over time? Or better yet, how will they stand up against our ever-expanding film tastes? Well, we will just have to wait and see, won’t we?

Again, it was really hard to get this list to 10, so to be fair to the other great candidates, here are the ones that deservingly get an Honorable Mention (which play out more like my “Favorite of the Decade”): Gladiator, Memento, Shaun of the Dead, Brick, Kingdom of Heaven, The Last Samurai, The Hangover, The Wrestler, Road to Perdition and Blood Diamond. Also I’d like to call attention to just one animated film from each powerhouse animation studio, Pixar and Studio Ghibli – Finding Nemo and Howl’s Moving Castle respectively.

Man, what a sensational decade!! I can’t wait to see what the future holds. How about you at home?? Agree?? Disagree?? Care to comment??

Comments

  1. mcarteratthemovies says

    I have accepted that I am the only movie nerd alive who did not like the “Lord of the Rings” films, though that has more to do with a slight distaste for Peter Jackson than anything else. Apart from that, I can’t find a thing to disagree with in round 1 of your epic quest … I’m particularly excited to see you include “Lost in Translation,” one of my favorite Bill Murray roles, and “Sixth Sense,” which revitalized the concept of the “twist ending.”

    • I’m not a die hard or even enough of a fan to be able to tell you 5 characters from LotR. Yet, I still enjoyed it and acknowledge it for being more epic than others films have attempted to be. Also, the uniqueness of the story being truly one story that worked so very well both apart and together is an example of how to do a film (and really an adaptation) right. If you don’t like Jackson, I urge you to check out ‘The Frighteners’, you may have a different opinion of him and his work…maybe.

      To this day I still thin Sixth got snubbed at the Oscars, though the more time goes by, I think American Beauty was very deserving. You ever check out my ‘Off the Shelf’ write up of Lost in Translation?