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“The list is good. The list is life.” - Sir Ben Kingsley in Schindler’s List Well I cannot believe that the first decade of the 21st century is about to come to a close and for me, I have spent the last few months deeply thinking on the greatest films of the last ten years. Before I had to create my list I had to first construct my definition of a great film. To me, it is a simple definition. A great film takes risks; it doesn’t take the easy way out. Beginning with the screenwriter, he or she must create an unique, fascinating story filled with characters that the viewer and relate to, the most utmost challenges for the characters to pass, especially the hero, and an ending that doesn’t always have to be happy but true to the story and doesn’t cheat the viewer from any satisfaction and/or deep emotion. Then the filmmaker has to have the vision and guts to follow his or her instinct to transform the story that was written on paper onto the big screen that is visually awesome, from state of the art special effect to the simplest camera techniques that makes us look with awe. Finally, the actors must full envelop every aspect of the character they are playing on screen. Only the right cast can convince the viewer that every word spoken, every action made, and thought projected is genuine. Finally, the correct musical score (or lack of one, which could also be powerful) is vital to project the correct emotion that each of the character is feeling whether it is fear, anger, sadness, or laughter. Of course you cannot forget having great editing and cinematography in each great film. If all of these are fulfilled, than a great film is born. NOTE: The top ten films have paragraphs about them that I wrote so if you didn’t see any of the top the films I suggest that you do not read them yet. It may contain spoilers!!
50. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
49. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
48. Memento (2000)
47. The Hurt Locker (2009)
46. Paranormal Activity (2009)
45. Scary Movie (2000)
44. Secretary (2002)
43. Passion of the Christ (2004)
42. The Wrestler (2008)
41. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
40. Thirteen (2003)
39. Vanilla Sky (2002)
38. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
37. Death Proof (2006)
36. Wall-E (2008)
35. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
34. The Departed (2006)
33. Sin City (2005)
32. The Queen (2006)
31. The Hangover (2009)
30. There Will Be Blood (2007)
29. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
28. Iron Man (2008)
27. Juno (2007)
26. Adaptation (2002)
25. Spider Man 2 (2004)
24. Crash (2005)
23. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
22. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2003-2004)
21. Zodiac (2007)
20. Black Hawk Down (2001)
19. Unbreakable (2000)
18. Batman Begins (2005)
17. Knowing (2009)
16. Shrek (2001)
15. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
14. In Bruges (2008)
13. The Cell (2000)
12. Traffic (2000)
11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
10. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Let’s be honest, all of the World War II films made have not been, well, all that fun to watch. And they shouldn’t be, of course. Then Quentin Tarantino came along and decided to make one of his own. And what a film it is. Tarantion’s own alternate WW II saga is a tremendous extravaganza full of violence, terrific over-the-top acting, and riveting dialogue. I will always say this: no one writes better dialogue than Tarantino. Composed of about a dozens long scenes, the dialogue spoken in each of them is simply awesome. Brad Pitt give a great, funny performance as the Nazi hating Lieutnant leading a small battalion known as the “Basterds” whose sole mission is to “kill Nazis” in the most gruesome manner possible. And newcomer Christopher Waltz (who I guarantee will get on Oscar nomination for this film) is eerily wonderful as the brilliant detective-like Nazi Colonel who is known as “The Jew Hunter”. I’m so glad that someone had the courage to give us the WW II ending that we all want and wished did occur and execute it with a kick-ass style.
9. Minority Report (2002)
Before Spielberg and Cruise collaborated in 2005 to make that unfortunately awful War of the Worlds they also worked together before and they created a sci-fi film that could only be created by a master filmmaker and an experience but talented action star. To me, this is Spielberg’s most underrated film. Tom Cruise plays John Anderton, the chief of Precrime, a new governmental agency that is able to arrest people before they commit murder due to a trio of unique telepathic beings called Precogs. Anderton’s world is turned upside down when the Precogs named him as the next future murderer and he must prove his innocence. Spielberg and his team used unbelievably realistic special effects to produce a vision of a disturbing future where privacy and many rights are not possessed by the people anymore. Cruise gives a powerful performance. It may look easy to play his character but it really isn’t. He successfully portrays a man, heavily damaged by a tragic past, torn apart by the system he so fully believed in but now targets him. In the example of the above picture, Spielberg shows that after 30+ years of making some of biggest films of all time, he can still surprise you. Look at the opposite eyes of Cruise and one of the Precogs (wonderfully played by Samantha Morton). I, myself, cannot stop moving my eyes between the two. Minority Report is a first-rate sci-fi action thriller full of terrific chase sequences, a tightly constructed plot, and flawless direction but it also makes you think on the values we take for granted and whether they will disappear in the near future.
8. Children of Men (2006)
If our world goes to hell in a hand basket within the next few years and, it would look like Director Alfonso Cuaron’s futuristic portrait. It is the most disturbingly futuristic setting ever because it feels so real. Set in London in 2027, the human race is on a course of certain extinction due to the mysterious fact that women can no longer bear children and most major governments having collapsed with the exception of Great Britain, which transformed into totalitarianism. Clive Owen plays a depressed government worker who through a series a event is single handily given a chance to deliver to the world our only shot of redemption and survival. I won’t say what that chance is in case any of you haven’t seen the film yet. But it is full of heart-stopping battle sequences and astounding sets that put you right in the film. What Cuaron rightly does is not give us any hints on whether or not the human race will survive but just tells the story of this ordinary citizen’s mission to bring humanity the desperate hope it needs. There is a scene in which Owen’s character leads a young woman through a battle in an abandoned building that is roughly 5-6 minutes long uncut that is one of the most remarkable sequences ever put on screen.
7. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
It’s the funniest film of the decade, period. You can’t convince me on any other film that made me laugh harder (although there were great comedies such as Anchorman, The Hangover and Forgetting Sarah Marshall). It’s a simple concept: trying to get a 40 year old nerd named Andy laid. But Judd Apatow, Steve Carell, and the terrific ensamble cast were able to be so creative to film a series of gut-busting scenarios that this poor virgin experiences. I love it how this man is giving a series of conflicting advice from his “experienced” co-workers that lead him to horrible results such as being puked on with digested shellfish, creating a “Man-O-Lantern” on his chest from a failed waxing, just to name a few. But it’s the improvised dialogue that makes allows these us to relate to these characters so much. The “How I know you are gay…” scene is now a classic among many other scenes with terrific lines. But what I think of every time when mentioning this comedy is exceptional unforgettable ending. It was crucial that they project when Andy’s emotion right when he finally loses his virginity. And what they come up with was an ensamble rendition of “The Age of Aquairus”. When I think of the best endings ever, I used to think of Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Star Wars. I add The-40Year-Old Virgin to that list. It’s the best of the decade. It is perfect.
6. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
I am convinced that Clint Eastwood officially has the greatest career in Hollywood history. I can’t think of a person who started off their career as an actor who starred in many classic films and created unforgettable movie characters (Dirty Harry, The Man With No Name, just to name a few) and then later become a masterful film director. And with this 2004 Best Picture winner, I believe Eastwood has established himself as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Oh, and he does many of the musical scores that you hear in his films too. In this powerhouse, Eastwood plays an aging boxing trainer who reluctantly takes a determined hellcat woman boxer (Best Actress Winner Hillary Swank) under his wing and trains her. The first half of the movie is formulaic in the tradition of Rocky but it is so well done that you don’t mind. But then Eastwood, and writer Paul Haggis blindsides us with something that blows you away in the second half. I will not mention what that is just in case some of you haven’t seen it yet. Just let me say that it leaves you with the most dramatic climax I have seen this decade. Eastwood, Swank, and Best Supporting Actor winner Morgan Freeman give topnotch performances. By the end I was left breathless with weeks worth of constant reflection and conversations about this extraordinary piece of drama.
5. Lost in Translation (2003)
This is not your typical Bill Murray movie with your typical Bill Murray performance. And although it contains some of the funniest Bill Murray scenes ever, it is not even a comedy. It’s a very simple but truly wonderful story of two lost souls (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) whose lives are stuck in limbo by their own marriage and career who meet randomly in a Tokyo hotel. Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) writes and directs this small but magnificent gem. Murray, who almost won a Best Actor Oscar for his astonishing performance as aging American movie star Bob Harris who is doing a commercial for a whiskey for two million dollars instead of spending time with his family or acting. He meets a young attractive woman, played beautifully by Johansson, who spends most of the days alone while his newlywed husband (Giovanni Risbi) goes off shooting photos of models and actors. Now this film could have taken into the direction of them having a sexual relationship in the form of an affair. However, Coppola takes a risk and knowing her characters inside and out, she tells the story of two beings in limbo who simply need companionship and comfort, even if it is for the briefest of moments. The scenes between Murray and Johansson can only be described as magical. Their scenes of dialogue doesn’t seem like they read written but flows through out of their mouths naturally. And the ending in which Murray’s characters whispers something in Johansson character’s ear right before he has to leave is pitchperfect. We don’t know what he said and I’m glad we don’t know. It is something for her and her only and I love constantly thinking about what he could have said. Finally, I never get tired of being in awe of Murray’s masterful genius as an improvisator. If you
don’t believe me, watch the scene in which Murray is trying to have a conversation with a Japanese goofball in the waiting room of a hospital while Johansson’s character is being x-rayed. That entire scene is not in the script at all and Murray makes it look easy. I can’t help but smile every time I see it.
4. No Country of Old Men (2007)
There is no doubt that this is the worst haircut seen on film this decade. But it belongs to a magnificent piece of work done by the Coen Brothers, who I consider to be the bravest filmmakers around. They never make the same kind of film twice. The creators of the excellent dark comedy, Fargo, and the brilliant The Big Lebowski, have gone down a totally different path with this 2007 disturbing Best Picture about an ordinary Texas hunter (Josh Brolin) who happens to stumble upon $2 million dollars from a drug deal that went south and the relentless bounty hunter named Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is determined to kill the man who took the money. Tommy Lee Jones plays the realistic but “eccentric” Sheriff trying to save the ordinary hunter from certain death. The Coen Brothers have accomplished a great film that takes a haunting look at a deserted, dry, and lonely world in which drugs, betrayal, and killing is as normal as breathing. Bardem is mesmerizing. He creates a villain that is as cold, relentless and merciless as the evilest bastard that exists. I will always remember the scene when he confronts an old gas station clerk and taunts and toys with his life and decides the clerk’s fate over a simple coin flip. It tingles my spine every time I witness it.
3. The Dark Knight (2008)
I didn’t put this film on my top ten because it was the top grossing film of the decade. I put it on my list because it is a masterpiece. Because it is the only film that I have the pleasure of watching four times in theaters. Because every time I watch it on TV I repeat every single line that The Joker delivers (I even say them while sitting on the toilet sometimes). Film writer/director Christopher Nolan followed up his great “Batman Begins” with what many call “The Godfather II of comic book movies”. To me, it’s more than just the best comic book film ever made. It completed what I call the “new and improved” comic book films that started with the terrific Spider Man 2 and continued with Iron Man. However, The Dark Knight delves deeper into The Cape Crusader as well as the world and people that surrounds him more than any other comic book film as ever done. The cinematography is the best I have seen this decade. Brilliantly using Chicago as the setting for Gotham City, cinematographer Wally Pfister uses every ounce of the Second City to create a dark, eerie but gorgeous world in which Batman and his allies/enemies inhabit; it’s almost mysticlogical looking. Nolan’s masterful sequel illustrates the dark, complex puzzle that is Batman and the consequences that have resulted from Bruce Wayne’s alter ego creation, most notably, The Joker. Through the Joker’s evil plans, each of the main characters is put to the ultimate test. As a result, we don’t see a happy ending like other comic book films but instead we see a hero whose actions, while noble, causes Gotham City to dive into an unpredicted state of darkness with its citizens filled with fear, panic, and anger towards the night vigilante. The late Heath Ledger gives the performance of the decade. Creating an evil, demented monster, Ledger generates a man who has a mysterious hellish past which shapes him into an insanely driven criminal whose main purpose is to destroy Gotham City’s soul. Heath Ledger was taken way too early but at least we see an actor at the pinnacle of what would
have been a brilliantly great career. The fact that this film did not even get nominated for Best Picture is beyond mindboggling.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Ron Howard’s extraordinary 2001 Best Picture winner is based on the remarkable true story of John Nash Jr., a mathematician genius whose career and life was sidelined due to being diagnosed with schizophrenia and his fight to get back what was lost. Russell Crowe gives an unforgettable performance. He proves in this film he is a truly talented actor and one of my absolute favorites. Jennifer Connelly (Best Supporting Actress Winner) is also excellent as Nash’s wife who is stuck in her own hell when she is constantly being hurt emotionally by Nash’s debilitating mental disease but in the end her love for him wins out. A Beautiful Mind is a beautiful film; a triumph. And the last thirty minutes of the film, where we see a much older Nash coming back to Princeton to where he began his career to start getting his life back in order and then in the lasts scenes where he is awarded the Nobel Prize is the heart-lifting ending of the decade and it gets me teary eyed every time. Simply amazing.
I know many are going to hate me for choosing M. Night Shymalan’s 2002 blockbuster as my choice as the best film of the decade. Certain people have said that they think this is a stupid sci-fi film about a stupid alien invasion. So I figured I must not only defend my choice but to provide a counterargument. After all the films I have seen in the past ten years, no film as gripped me, frightened me, captivated me, and entertained me more than this astounding film. Mel Gibson, in his only acting performance of the decade, gives his best performance of his career. Playing Graham, a father of two and a former priest who left his church, Gibson really is magnificent. He shows a loving and caring father but deeply wounded, lost and angry at the same time from the death of his wife. And when he projects his emotions, whether frightened or sad or angry, it’s as powerful as I have ever seen on screen. In a pivotal scene, Graham is holding onto his son as he is suffering from a potential fatal asthma attack and he is trying to help him overcome the attack but at them same time, Gibson’s character lets out his anger for the first time towards his God saying while clenching his teeth, “I hate you”. It’s not exactly him saying this as the piercing, furious look in his eyes that just strikes my heart. His eyes tell more than any speech ever could. There is no actor that uses their eyes or any non-verbal action, for that matter, to portray an emotion, especially anger, better than Mel Gibson. No one. Many also have problems with the ending of the film. I’m not going to defend the ending per se but may more like play devil’s advocate. Maybe the aliens, knowing that
water is poison to them, chose to still invade a planet that is over 70% water because they realized that humans and every other species uses water to sustain their life and not as a weapon so they thought that no one would attack them using water. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter because this doesn’t affect the core of the plot, which is how this family, damaged through the loss of one its own, come together stronger than ever in the end through faith, love and courage during probably the most important event in human history. It’s not a stupid sci-fi film. It isn’t even a science-fiction film at all. It’s drama and suspense at its finest. I want to point the brilliance of Shamyalan’s filmmaking. He reminds me of Hitchcock on how he uses the most simple techniques to truly shock and awe an audience: the shadowy figure of a stranger on top of a house, the strange noises coming from a baby monitor, the quick appearance of a leg of sticking out of a cornfield, the outof-nowhere appearance of a mysterious figure in a grainy home video, and the reflection of an alien on a television screen. With the Saw franchise and recent horror films focusing on providing the most graphic bloody scenes to scare and audience, Signs uses no blood, little special effects, and clever filmmaking techniques to produce a far more terrifying response. What makes this film so special to me is the first five minutes of the film. I suggest watching the first scene either before or even while reading this part. After the creepily effective opening credits due to James Newton Howard’s spine-tingling score, the opening shot is of a family picture of Graham dressed in his priest uniform, his wife and the two children. Then Graham wakes up suddenly in a darken bedroom. We then see in the next shot him lying all by himself in the bed. Why is the wife not there? And by the look on Graham’s sad, depressed face and the plain, dark walls in the bedroom, it can be assumed that something tragic took place. In the very next shot is Graham in the bathroom washing his face but also in the frame is a dark silhouette on the bedroom wall that is in the shape of the cross. Just from this simple shot, we know that a cross did hang off the wall but is not anymore. From the first three shots, we know that this was a former minister who has a family but lost his faith due to most likely some tragic event. Shamalayan has basically set up the entire background of this hero through a simple display of symbols and masterful visual shots without one word spoken. But he doesn’t stop there; he wastes no time whatsoever in propelling the hero into the plot. Graham hears the screams of a young girl. Another young man suddenly wakes out of bed and he also hears the screams. He races out to the yard to meet Gramham and they realize that the screams are coming from their cornfield. They see the girl and Graham asks where her brother is. Graham finds his son and first confirms that he is alright. His son then pulls his head to a sight of destroyed corn crops. The last shot shown is an overhead view of the massive odd looking “sign” etched out in the cropfield. From this opening sequence, we already know in general the background of Graham and the initial event that will draw this hero and his family into the their journey, all from visual clues and shots with no dialogue. Signs reminds me of my love of movies.
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