Reel Life: My 25 (…Or So) Favorite Films Of The Decade

 Pan

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A peculiar thing happened as I sat down to write the list of my favorite films of the decade.  I first thought to pick 10, but that wouldn’t do. Then I listed 15.  Nope.  20? Uh uh.  I couldn’t stop.  As someone who could stream-of-consciously pontificate ad nauseum, I finally disciplined myself to halt at 25 (…or so).  And since that was frustrating enough, I realized to list them in order of preference would clearly be more of an arduous task, so I figured, screw that. Let me take the easy way out and list them alphabetically. You know, the easy way out.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t have one particular favorite – I didn’t need a proverbial gun pointed at my head and told “Pick one, boy, or imma gon’ shoot you” to state that PAN’S LABYRINTH, without hesitation, is it.  No film has haunted me more, both visually and viscerally, than Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy.  It’s one of the most remarkable films of all time.  That was the easy part.  But what’s a wannabe critic to do?

At first, I wasn’t going to boast such lofty platitudes as to state “I’m a critic,” but then realized, “Hey! I guess I am!”  But really, who isn’t?  If you have an opinion, or some basic knowledge of craft, you are a critic (what I am not is a film expert).  Film, like music and all arts, is a personal experience, and opinion is individualistic, and what effects/affects one’s soul might alter over time and differ from the friend who sits next to you.

It’s strange cataloging such a vast amount of cinematic experiences for a whole 10-year span when you consider I haven’t even chosen a Best of 2009 list yet.  I haven’t finished watching some end-of-year releases.  And while I’m looking forward to the unseen, I can’t fathom that any of them could live up to the two revelatory experiences that  I did see in 2009 that join this “decade favorite” shortlist  – the glorious UP, and Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER.  The former joins the Pixar Parthenon (whose first 11 minutes alone – which include a four-minute soliloquy quietly detailing a love affair from the genesis at childhood to marriage to old age to the inevitable – are some of the most joyful and heartrending moments ever put on-screen and are proof enough of its addition here), while the latter should finally eliminate the Academy’s long-standing history of misogyny; in over eight decades, only three other women have ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar (Lina Wertmuller in 1976 for SEVEN BEAUTIES, Jane Campion in 1993 for THE PIANO and only a few years ago, Sofia Coppola for 2003s LOST IN TRANSLATION) with no wins.  After deservedly bestowed with just about any and every critics award for Best Film and Best Director, that long-festering Oscar scar should be healed and the award should go to Bigelow.  And she’ll deserve it.

One thing I noticed while compiling my favorites was how similar my list was in comparison to many other published lists.  Though I don’t remember Spike Lee’s great 25TH HOUR receiving that many rave reviews upon initial release (which at that time I found curious – when I saw the film I immediately elevated it to Lee’s high echelon of masterpieces alongside DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X), I’m happy that here, at the end of a decade, the film makes multiple showings on various Top 10s.  Better late than never, I surmise.  Other notables were expected (e.g. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, PAN, ETERNAL SUNSHINE) while others’ inclusions I was happily surprised with (who knew so many admired MINORITY REPORT, A.I. and David Fincher’s greatest film, ZODIAC as much as I did?). Others made my list that I couldn’t find on anyone else’s with a fine-tooth comb, accolades notwithstanding (THE DESCENT – the scariest horror film of the decade, and IN THE BEDROOM, a master class in acting by its cast).  See, art is subjective.

On most ‘best’ lists that you’ll read is David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE. I’m usually allergic to Lynch’s trash-pretending-to-be-art oeuvres (most notably the dubiously honored yet detestable BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART), and after viewing this confounded curiosity back in 2001, my feelings hadn’t changed. Perhaps a second viewing is in order to at least try to understand the trifecta of critical, hipster and geek appeal.  Or maybe I have better things to do…

A major exclusion on my list (but whose inclusion on most critics lists is not so startling) is Martin Scorcese’s THE DEPARTED.  Scorcese’s remake of Alan Mak and Andrew Lau’s 2004 INFERNAL AFFAIRS told a solid story, sure, and his direction is flawless, which we could/should always expect from aguably the greatest director alive. But I could not get past the embarrassingly cringe-inducing Jack Nicholson performance. If it’s true that he’s played The Joker for about 20 years now in one form or another in every film since Tim Burton’s gorgeous-looking yet sterile BATMAN (and it IS true, since I’m the one who said it), then his Frank Costello was a compendium of every one of those over-the-top performances he’s given since that film – and for a great actor who has (mostly) coasted on his legend rather than his art these past 2 decades, that’s saying a lot (Oscar be damned, AS GOOD AS IT GETS was pure Lifetime Movie Of The Week. And if you mention THE BUCKET LIST I will get violent). THE DEPARTED is not Scorcese’s best – though certainly not a clunker, but I can’t help but feel his Best Director Oscar was a consolation prize for the multiple he should have won for a lifetime of masterful movie-making (who can deny that he was robbed for TAXI DRIVER, GOODFELLAS, or RAGING BULL?).

As I’ve written, I could have continued the list with another 25+ titles but with PAN’S LABYRINTH as my favorite film of the past 10 years, the proceeding, alphabetized 25 (…or so) could be listed in any sequence.  Without agenda, or really much of a formula in my decision-making process, these are the films I gravitated toward more and more, and those which left an indelible heart-print on some subconscious or conscious level. I won’t say these are the “best” films of the decade (I’m not always comfortable making such proclamations) but they are my favorites.   I also won’t be so audacious to claim that my favorites are any better (or not) than yours.

Remember, art is subjective.

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25th Hour (dir. Spike Lee 2002)

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A.I. (dir. Steven Spielberg 2001)

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Almost Famous (dir. Cameron Crowe 2000)

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Brokeback Mountain (dir. Ang Lee 2005)

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Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuarón 2006)

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City Of God (dirs. Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund 2002)

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The Descent (dir. Neil Maarshall 2005)

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The Diving Bell And Butterfly (dir. Julian Schnabel 2007)

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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry 2004)

****

The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow 2008)

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In The Bedroom (dir. Todd Field 2001)

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The Incredibles (dir. Brad Bird 2004)

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Kill Bill Vol I & II (dir. Quentin Tarantino 2003/4) (I’m counting as one – so sue me – and someone on YouTube was smart enough to mash-up the two trailers)

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The Lives Of Others (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck 2006)

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Million Dollar Baby (dir. Clint Eastwood 2004)

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Minority Report (dir. Steven Spielberg 2002)

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No Country For Old Men (dirs. Joen & Ethan Coen 2007)

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Once (dir. John Carney 2006)

****

Ratatouille (dirs. Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava 2007)

****

Spirited Away (dir. Hayao Miyazaki 2001)

****

There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thoman Anderson 2007)

****

Up (dirs. Pete Docter & Bob Peterson 2009)

****

Wall-E (dir. Andrew Stanton 2008)

****

Y Tu Mamá También (dir. Alfonso Cuarón 2001)

****

Zodiac (dir. David Fincher 2007)

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A quick P.S. if you will…

There are pangs of guilt for leaving off other favorites that I’ve loved over the years, like the brilliant Romanian 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS (2007) by director Cristian Mungiu, Todd Haynes’ astonishing Douglas Sirkian homage FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002), Gus Van Sant’s great 2008 biography of Harvey MILK, the best “monster movie” of the decade, Joo-ho Bong’s great THE HOST, Richard Linklater’s magical 2004 sequel BEFORE SUNSET, Ang Lee’s exhilarating 2000 martial arts epic CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON or Miranda July’s 2005 masterwork ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW.  So let it suffice to say – all worthy.

And this is not to mention the acclaimed films I never even watched these past years that made many critics lists, including ADAPTATION, LOST IN TRANSLATION, GOSFORD PARK, SIDEWAYS, THE CLASS, CACHE. If you ask me the reasoning behind my flippancy for these much-discussed, mostly applauded works, I won’t have a satisfying reply.

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One thought on “Reel Life: My 25 (…Or So) Favorite Films Of The Decade

  1. I’m no fan of Nicholson, but what About Schmidt? It reallywas a sleeper of a film, but it was all Nicholson at his finest.

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