I sat down to do my top ten of the decade. It was a daunting task–it really was–so like any 26-year-old slacker, I gave it the old college try and promptly gave up.
I’m not good at top ten lists. I spend way too much time pitting movies against each other and agonizing over which ones are “objectively better” than the others–which, of course, is impossible to do.
Besides, you’ve already seen two “Top Ten of the Decade” lists (and damn good ones, I might add) on this site. Is another one really going to add anything?
But wait! There is a function to this article, believe it or not. When reading through Hans’ and Shep’s top tens, most of my reaction wasn’t about the movies that were on their lists, but the movies that weren’t on the lists. So here’s some great movies from the decade that have been left out.
Now remember, I’m not really arguing that these movies are the absolute best of the last ten years, but they’re films I love and will revisit in the decades to come. They deserve a little love.
The Lord of The Rings (Trilogy): Is it cheating to put an entire trilogy on a list as one film? Absolutely, and yet it’s necessary to look at these movies as a whole. Taken individually, they feel wildly incomplete. I’m guessing that’s why the series only got serious Oscar love for the final chapter.
This really belongs on a lot of top ten lists, but instead I’ve seen it mostly on “honorable mention” lists–slipped in with a kind of , “we didn’t forget, but it’s too much melodrama to make the top ten” sentiment.
And it is. Make no mistake about it…LOTR is big, bombastic melodrama of the most over-the-top kind (well, maybe Jackson’s King Kong was a little more insane), but that’s precisely why it’s so great. Never in the history of cinema have we seen such a mammoth undertaking done with such zest and gusto. It’s cheesy, it’s long, it’s meandering and insane, and it’s brilliant.
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?: I want to see this on more “best of” lists. While the Coen brothers have been getting a lot of recognition for their later and super-serious work (that is very akin to their early and super-serious work), I feel like they work best when creating an out-there, slapstick world that can only exist on celluloid. Of all their films, The Hudsucker Proxy (one of their “failures”) is my favorite, but Oh Brother is probably the one that shows off their quirky talents best.
Not to mention the technical fact that it was one of the first (maybe the first?) movie to use a digital intermediate to accomplish the look of the film. And what a look it is.
Clooney and all the rest are great hamming it up as over-the-top caricatures in an Odyssey-esque journey. And the soundtrack kicks ass.
Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York: Okay, now I’m really cheating, putting three movies on this list as one. But they all have one important thing in common: they were written by Charlie Kaufman. The first is his wildly entertaining and self-referential take on the problems of writing, narrative, and maintaining some semblance of integrity in the movie business, the second is an emotionally affecting exploration on the pain and promise of relationships (with a hugely bittersweet ending), and the third is Kaufman’s ambitious attempt to say something new and meaningful about death and the blink-of-an-eye, monotonous journey toward our inevitable fate.
All three are masterpieces, but I think Synecdoche is the best. It’s the most unhinged and honest and ambitious.
Kaufman is the most uncompromising and (in my opinion) talented screenwriter (and now director) working today. He never seems to settle for narrative convenience, and his movies are somehow able to involve, affect, and challenge audiences at the same time.
Almost Famous: I’d like to put just about every Cameron Crowe film on this list, but I’ll stick to the absolute cream of the crop. Almost Famous is Crowe’s most personal film…not surprising as it’s a semi-autobiographical retelling of his early days as a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine.
The aughts were, for me, a decade of the emergence and perfection of a new(ish) genre in film–the “emo” movie. This is not a derogatory term (usually), but is a reference to films that are both comedic and dramatic–sad and joyful. They focus on themes of beauty and finding meaning in relationships and in individual moments–even the sad ones. They’re about personal growth and growing up–at any age.
And they have kickass soundtracks.
Almost Famous is a movie I saw at a fairly young age that affected me deeply on many levels. It set the stage for my love of these “emo” movies, many of which make an appearance on this list (Eternal Sunshine anyone?)
About a Boy, High Fidelity: Speaking of “emo” films, here are two of my favorites. Ever. And I’m fairly certain you won’t find them on most top ten lists. And, of course, both are based on Nick Hornby novels.
High Fidelity is one of the most subtle and realistic coming-of-age stories you’re likely to see. It explores relationships on a much deeper and honest level than your usual run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, telling a tale of “boy loses girl, boy thrashes wildly in the throws of his own suffering and selfishness, boy changes, and boy gets girl back…for a while at least.”
And the soundtrack kicks ass.
About a Boy shares a lot of thematic elements with High Fidelity, but this time it’s about the most like-ably selfish prick you’re likely to meet. He learns important life lessons from awkward and insecure hippy-spawn. The message is simple, but the characters are so compelling that the movie manages to make you feel for everyone involved and celebrate when they find a way to co-exist.
Wonder Boys: I was legitimately surprised to not see this on either of my colleague’s lists. As writers one and all, you’d think we’d gravitate to a movie that looks at writer’s block and creativity in a very unflinching way.
Very few movies can be as funny as this one without losing any of their weight and importance. In many ways, Wonder Boys feels like a road movie. We watch characters get themselves into ridiculously complicated situations and attempt (in vain) to flee these shenanigans. The world of pot, dead dogs, Marilyn Monroe memorabilia and an imaginary/real character named Vernon is something that could only come from a writer’s mind, and that’s what makes it so self-referential and entertaining.
American Psycho: Here is a fantastic example of a movie that exists on multiple levels. You could look at it as an indictment of the over-indulgence and lack of accountability of the 1980′s. You could see the whole thing as a commentary on the materialism-driven erosion of the American soul. Or the movie could just be an effed-up portrait of a darkly comedic serial killer.
And I do mean comedic. The first time I watched this movie, it was scary and shocking and disturbing. Now when I watch it, I can’t stop laughing. The discussions of ’80′s pop music as our main character gets ready for a kill are classic and so dark and weird you just have to chuckle a little. Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman is a serial killer that could not exist in the real world–he’s surface obsession taken to its logical conclusion, and he’s a fascinating character that never make sense to the audience or himself.
And the final shot…the last line of the movie…sums up why I love this film so much. It’s deep and interesting and fitting, but also chilling and simple. If there is one “horror” movie to put on your list, this one is it.
Drag Me To Hell: But why limit yourself to one horror movie when you can have two? Sam Raimi proves two things with this horror masterpiece. 1) Yes, you can make a badass and uncompromisingly gross and funny and scary PG-13 horror film, and 2) he’s still got it.
I would make the argument that this one is better than any of the three Evil Dead films. It’s gross and hilarious and over-the-top while still maintaining a distinct style and keeping its story and characters in the forefront.
And Alison Lohman puts in a wildly sweet and funny performance as Christine Brown. Which, I might add, marks a huge step forward for female roles in horror movies. She’s cute, sexy, feminine, intelligent, sweet, and strong. She’s also intensely funny at moments (“You mean you have a cat, right?”), and Raimi never strays from putting her through gross and hellish torture while simultaneously avoiding the temptation to be overtly sexual or exploitative. It’s oddly classy for such a gross-out film.
And it’s definitely one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in a theater.
And I think what I love most about it is that it doesn’t scream “animated.” This is a story that would have translated very well into live-action. It’s not just one of the best animated films ever, it’s also one of the best superhero movies ever.
Instead of focusing on spoofing the emerging comic-book genre, Brad Bird gives us an action-packed ride that, frankly, I wasn’t expecting. There is real danger and edge-of-your-seat action that would rival anything in the Iron Man or Spider-Man films.
More than that, though, The Incredibles gives us fun and interesting characters with fun and interesting powers, and the entire story is wrapped in a fantastic throwback aesthetic. Finally, I love this movie because it isn’t afraid to intelligently tackle tough themes and say some things that could be considered kinda controversial.
Star Trek: I know I’m going to catch all kinds of shit for this one, but Star Trek might just be the most fun I’ve had in the theaters in the past five years. Sure, the fact that I’ve been watching the blu-ray nonstop for the past week might be tainting my judgement. But who cares…this movie rocks.
Somehow, some way, J.J. Abrams found a way to “reboot” the Star Trek franchise without breaking continuity one bit. He also found a way to make it accessible and entertaining.
The thing that makes this special, though, isn’t the action scenes or effects–it’s the casting and the characters. Each actor somehow becomes a version of those in the original series without putting in any sort of imitation (except Karl Urban’s Bones who is a hilariously spot-on impression of the original). Pine and Quinto have intense chemistry as Kirk and Spock, and half of the joy of this movie is watching the new old team coming together for the first time. It’s light and fun and exciting without being a “check-your-brain-at-the-door” blockbuster (I’m looking at you, Transformers 2).
Sometimes you have to recognize the accomplishments of pure popcorn cinema, and Star Trek elevates the “fun blockbuster” to an art form.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: You’ll find this one on Shep’s honorable mention, and for damn good reason. How can a movie about an East Berlin pop singer who has undergone a botched sex-change operation make you laugh hysterically and cry? You have to see it to understand.
While the characters and situations in Hedwig are counter-cultural and weird to the extreme, the movie deals with a universal question–do I need to find my “other half” to be happy? It’s a tough question not easily answered. It’s a question that has to be looked at on a personal and emotional level, and somehow this movie manages to accomplish all of that.
And the soundtrack kicks ass.
I started watching this one apprehensively. I then started laughing my ass off, and I ended with tears in my eyes. For something so stylistic, it sure does pack an emotional punch.
So there is a list of ten(ish) films that didn’t make the cut for my colleagues. I must state, again, that this is NOT my top ten list, but it is a list. And it’s filled with damn fine movies. Do with it what you will.
Here are a few honorable mention films for good measure.
Requiem for a Dream
Shadow of the Vampire
Man on Wire
Catch me If You Can
And so the “best of the decade” lists conclude for now. We’ve seen a lot of good (and bad) cinema this decade. In addition, MCS is approaching its one-year anniversary. In fact, my first article was a top ten of 2008. I’m still a little fascinated with the human need to put together lists arguing the merits of this film (or book or TV show) over that one, or proclaiming that this piece of art is definitively the best so-and-so has to offer. As you’ve perused the site this year, I hope we’ve offered some food for thought, but I also hope we’ve gone further than the traditional “best movie of the year” criticism. Our goal remains simple: to look at movies from a new perspective and share what they mean for us–on a psychological, artistic, and emotional level. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t capture that kind of love and passion in a top ten list.