Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Decade of Movies

People like lists and that is never more apparent than at the end of significant eras of time. When the century ended 10 years ago, we were subjected to a variety of lists: most influential people of the century, greatest inventions of the century, etc, etc. As we just completed our first decade of the new century, many lists started to come out again in the media. With movies being such a huge part of our culture, lists proclaiming the best movies of the decade were all over the place, and with my love of movies, I decided I had to get in on the action. I know I am a few weeks late on this, but what follows are two lists: my favorite movies of the decade and what I think were the best movies of the decade. The two don't necessarily go hand in hand. Some of the movies I enjoyed the most wouldn't qualify at all as Oscar quality movies. Some of the movies that I think are best movies of the decade might not show up in my list of favorites. I recognize them for being cinematic masterpieces, but even though I might own them, they aren't the types of movies I put in my Blu Ray player to watch when I am bored and have nothing to do. So, all the movies on the lists are movies I liked, but I had to distinguish between the two.

We'll start with what I consider the best movies of the decade. Jess and I watch a lot of movies and because every year we watch every movie nominated for Best Picture, we get to see a lot of great movies we might not have chosen to see otherwise. Sure, we have also seen some stinkers because of this, but I think we have gotten lucky more often than not. Plus, the Oscars don't always get it right. Sometimes, the movies that they choose as Best Picture are stinkers. So, the movies that won Best Picture in the past decade that you won't see on the list are the following: Screw you "A Beautiful Mind", "Chicago" (Not that bad actually), "Crash", and "Slumdog Millionaire".

Before I get to my top 10, I will start with a few honorable mentions:

Honorable Mention - Stranger than Fiction
This movie shows up on list as probably the most underrated of the bunch. In fact, I am sure most people haven't seen this, but I could be wrong. When I saw it on Netflix a couple of years ago, I was blown away. I am sure a lot of people skip it simply because they see it stars Will Farrell and they automatically think they know how the movie will be. Even if you hate, and I mean HATE all his comedies, you should give this movie a chance because it is completely different. It isn't even a comedy. Sure, there are funny parts, but this is way more drama than anything else, and a sad, emotionally touching one at that. Farrell is an ordinary man who thinks he is about to die because there is a writer writing a novel about a person with Farrell's name who she plans to kill off. It is way less confusing than it sounds. If you like touching movies, you need to give this a try.

Honorable Mention - Million Dollar Baby
The first of many Clint Eastwood movies that will show up on this post. This was a boxing movie, but it was so much more and the performance by Swank, Eastwood, and Freeman were spectacular. The movie takes an unexpected turn about three quarters of the way through and despite how hard it makes the rest of the movie to watch, it really takes the movie from great to a classic. And yet, I still have not been able to watch it since.

Honorable Mention - Letters from Iwo Jima
Another Eastwood movie, although this one was only directed by him. This was a spectacular film about the Japanese soldiers who stayed to protect Iwo Jima from the Americans. It was interesting to see this movie from a non-American point of view (movie was all in subtitles too!) and seeing the back story to all these soldiers and getting to know them makes you almost feel guilty for the Americans winning the war. In the end, you know how it is going to turn out (unless you REALLY don't know history) and it is hard to watch, but it is touching at the same time.

#10 - Brokeback Mountain
I didn't want to see this movie when it came out, and it wasn't as simple as some kind of homophobia thing. It just didn't look good and if it was just a love story, I really don't like those movies anyway. I was so wrong. This was a beautiful movie and although it really WAS just a love story, I was really touched by it. The performances were spectacular with Ledger being the standout character. His final scene at the parents' of Gyllenhaal's character was so emotionally charged, it just stuck with you once the credits rolled.

#9 - Gran Turino
How this movie did not get nominated for Best Picture last year is beyond me. Eastwood was at his all time best and the performance that he put on was nothing short of a masterpiece. He was made for this movie and I almost think it adds to the character of an aging veteran if you think of Eastwood and his past performances. This is almost like his swan song as an actor after playing so many tough guy characters in his career.

#8 - The Pianist
Another forgotten movie of the past decade, but one that I still seem to remember. Adrian Brody played a Polish-Jewish musician who struggled to stay alive during the Holocaust of World War II. For the most part, this was a one person movie and Brody was spectacular. Watching him pretend to play the piano (something he couldn't do as he was in hiding and couldn't make noise) and imagine that he was actually hearing music had to be one of the most touching moments I have ever seen on film in any decade. The end had one of the most tense moments that I have also ever seen and I can't say much more without giving it away. If this movie somehow missed you, be sure to give it a try.

#7 - There Will Be Blood
"I drink your milkshake!" With that scene, the film went from great to a masterpiece. There is a lot of mixed reactions to this movie, some hate it while some like me LOVE it. People complain that the movie is too slow, but I think the movie is about one long build up. Hell, I don't think there is a spoken word for the first 20 minutes or so and yet I was already so involved with the characters. Daniel Day Lewis gives the performance of a lifetime and although people complain that a movie with blood in the title should have more blood, the movie is about SO much more than that.

#6 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Another movie that people either loved or hated. I was in the group that LOVED it. Even though it was a little Forrest Gumpy in nature, I thought it was a beautiful story. Brad Pitt was spectacular as the man who ages backwards and it really had the feel of a modern day fairy tale. I don't know how to answer the people who thought it was both too long and too slow. I thought it was perfectly paced and I didn't think it was too long because there are a lot of things to cover in a person's lifetime. Very touching.

#5 - No Country for Old Men
The Cohen Brothers do it again, this time from a dramatic point of view rather than the comedic approach. I thought this movie was amazing and it was more than just the spectacular performance of Javier Bardem. The movie had a great storyline, tense scenes, great dialogue, and even trademark Cohen Brothers moments and quirks. Some people hate the final scene, but I defended it in that the movie would have been cheapened by some cliche Hollywood ending. Everything didn't need to end neatly with some big shootout and one guy walking away. It was perfect how it was.

#4 - Eastern Promises
This is another movie that I feel was highly overlooked at Oscar time. This movie, led by the great Viggo Mortensen, is a modern day Godfather in my eyes; I really think it was that good. Everything was perfect about this film and in fact, got even better the second time I saw it. If you like crime dramas and this one somehow passed you by, go rent it now!

#3 - Gladiator
It seems like so long ago now that this movie came out, but when it first came out, it was all the rage. Russell Crowe was put on the movie superstar map even though he had already given us strong performances in great movies such as L.A. Confidential. And it was a movie that appealed to almost everyone! It had a great story, blood and guts, a great villain, and everything else in between. Some people still refer to this movie as their favorite of all time.

#2 - Inglorious Basterds
Tarantino does it again. I waited for this movie for as long as I can remember and I wasn't disappointed. Now, if you don't like Tarantino movies, you won't like this one. It was filled with Tarantino-style scenes of talking followed by talking followed by even more talking. The trailers were a little misleading - making it look like an action comedy. I would have been ok with that, but the movie was so much more than that. The back stories of the non-Basterd characters were absolutely essential to making the story as good as it was. It was so much more than just a bunch of Basterds trying to bring down Hitler and that is the thing that disappointed some people. But me, I use the word that is used in the final scene...."Masterpiece."

#1 - The Departed
This movie worked because of two reasons: great story and great cast. Without one of these or if one of these had been marginal, the movie would not have worked in the way it did. First, the storyline; it was amazing. It was a perfect film. A cop undercover as a thug. A thug undercover as a cop. Great one liners. Scenes filled with tension and a shock ending that NOBODY saw coming followed by a final scene that everyone wanted. It was gold. But as good as the script was, it wouldn't have worked if the cast wasn't just as solid. Every performance was good; every single one. I can't even say that one person stood out because every person was on equal footing. And with that many good actors, it was a movie watchers dream.

And now on to my favorite movies of the decade. That is not to say that the above movies don't belong on the favorites list. If I included the above movies, some movies would be dropped in favor of movies already mentioned. But, I wanted to include as many movies as possible. So now, on to my favorites. And yeah, it is twice as long...

#20 - Zoolander
The stupidest movie I have ever liked. And honestly, the first time I saw this movie, I hated it. But then it kept showing up on cable and I kept stopping to watch it. Suddenly, I found the movie growing on me. Suddenly, Jess and I were quoting the movie in everyday conversation the way we quote other favorites such as Pulp Fiction or Raising Arizona. Is it horribly dumb? Oh, hell yeah, but damnit, it is fun stuff.

#19 - The Last Samurai
Have you seen Dances with Wolves? Guy from one culture joins another, learns their ways, and by the end of the movie, is so fully enriched in the other culture than he pretty much denounces his old way of life? This was pretty much Dances with Wolves set in Japan. But it works. Tom Cruise was amazing in it, but it was the grace of Ken Watanabe that really made this movie as great as it was. Dances with Wolves was a critical darling years ago while this one was overlooked for some reason. I even think Samurai was better. If you liked Wolves and haven't given Samurai a chance, you have to check it out.

#18 - The Ring
Why is this on here? It is the only movie in the last decade that scared me. Jess and I watch a LOT of horror movies. Most of the time, they are just fun and occasionally, they may creep us out a little. When I saw this in the theaters, I was scared. What works is that the movie had such a slow build up. For the entire movie, we never really see the "monster." We see build up, we see the aftermath, but we never see what happens. Then "she" came out of the TV and the chills down my arms and legs FREAKED me out. It was horror at its best. The only thing that came even close was the Spanish film, The Orphanage.

#17 - Unbreakable
The Sixth Sense was in the previous decade and this was M. Night's first movie of the new decade. What a great follow up it was too! Another movie with a slow build up, the shock ending at the end was magnificent. But everything before that was great too led by the scene where Willis realizes his power and what he must do. The Sixth Sense is what put M. Night on the map, but this movie may be even better.

#16 - Gone in 60 Seconds
I have probably seen this movie more times than any other movie in the decade save one movie which will appear later. It was so simple a plot too. There is a list of cars they have to steal and they have this long to do it. But it was SO fun. And it introduced me to Eleanor. What a beautiful car that is!

#15 - King of Kong
Such a hidden gem! I watched this on Instant Netflix while I was bored and working one day and what a treat it turned out to be. Who knew a documentary about Donkey Kong competitors could be so good? Not me at least. You have to give this a try if you haven't yet! And Billy Mitchell? Was there a more hated villain in movies this past decade?

#14 - Training Day
Denzel at his finest. This story about a day in the life of a corrupt cop and the newbie trying to avoid going in that direction was awesome. And like I said, Denzel was the MAN in this film!

#13 - 300
Men fighting an army of many against incredible odds. And it looked cool and had a great soundtrack to boot. When I saw the first trailer for it, I thought it would be a failure. Then it came out, got decent reviews, and my dad wanted to go see it, so I gave it a shot. And man, it blew me away. A two hour movie that is 90% kicking ass. I was sold!

#12 - Rocky Balboa/Rambo
These are two different movies, but they kind of go hand in hand. It proved to me that Stallone still had it. I have always been a big fan and was excited for the release of these films, all while eliciting the groans of my wife. And you know what, the films rocked! Rocky Balboa was a touching story and a better way to end it than the travesty that was Rocky 5. Rambo was great because although it wasn't the great story of First Blood, it gave me the old school action that I so craved. Stallone was back! The Expendables is next!

#11 - Live Free or Die Hard
Even better than the return of Rambo was the return of John McClain. It had been over a decade since we had seen Bruce Willis in his best role and it was maybe his best yet. Now, don't get me wrong, Die Hard is a classic, but the 4th movie in the series was so much fun, I might even put it ahead of the original. And that is saying a LOT! It was as if Willis never missed a beat. Too bad the return if Indiana Jones wasn't as memorable.

#10 - Miracle
The story of the 1980 Olympic Hockey team is now easily one of my favorite sports movies of all time, if not my favorite. Everyone likes an underdog story and this was really the ultimate underdog story, and a true one at that. I knew how the movie was going to end and I still was almost brought to tears of joy and happiness.

#9 - Dawn of the Dead
I kind of liked zombies before this movie, but this movie kicked off my craze of all things zombies. We saw it in theaters, and I am not really sure what made us do it at the time, but we both came out LOVING it! In fact, this is the movie that I have seen more times than any other movie this decade. If Jess and I are bored and can't think of what to watch, more often than not, we pop in this movie. This movie was just so much fun!

#8 - Zombieland
This movie may end up being watched in our house more times than Dawn of the Dead once it comes out on BluRay. Just released this year, this movie was such a surprise. It was as awesomely cool as Dawn of the Dead, and had humor at the same time. I cannot wait until this comes out!

#7 - Ocean's 11
Get a group of the coolest and funniest actors on the planet, put them in a fun heist film, and see what happens. The results were awesome. It was amazing how well they all meshed together and it was apparent to the average viewer how much fun the actors were having making the movie. Cool characters, witty dialogue, and great acting made this one of my favorites of the decade. The sequel sucked, but was thankfully revitalized by a great third film.

#6 - Star Trek
J.J. Abrams made the perfect Star Trek reboot. I was a little hesitant at first, but I still believe I saw it opening weekend. Now, I have never been a HUGE Star Trek fan, but I liked the movies, especially those of the original cast. And I thought the newcomers captured the feel of the original characters perfectly. I thought they were spot on and with the script being as fun as it was, it was the perfect action/sci fi movie. Anyone not walking out of that movie smiling had to be dead.

#5 - Kill Bill
Tarantino's two part revenge films from the middle of the decade were awesome. And I am glad they split them up because even though they continue a story, they are two quite different films. I still group them together for rankings sake, but they had different feels. Kill Bill 1 was all about action and killing while part 2 slowed down a bit and gave us a little more back story. Together, they made a perfect film.

#4 - Up
Pixar's greatest film in a group of wonderful films. This film probably touched me more than any other film I have ever seen and probably got me the closer to crying in a film than ever before. I was a fun film, but the first 10 minutes hit way too close to home. Still, it showed how human this cartoon really was and in the end, it is a wonderful movie about love.

#3 - Iron Man
Now, I loved the comic movies before this: I finally got to see Wolverine in movie form, Spiderman was just how I pictured it, etc, but this was the first time where I felt that a Marvel movie really got it right. This movie was so much fun and Robert Downey Jr. WAS Tony Stark. It is no surprise that this was the first film where Marvel had control of the characters rather than a movie studio like Fox or Sony. It started something great too and I expect big things from Marvel movies in the next few years.

#2 - Transformers
It was an 80s child's dream come true. The robots in disguise were put on the big screen and the results were outstanding. It was the movie we had all waited for and it did not disappoint. The action scenes were spectacular, the special effects amazing, and to hear the old sounds again, from the sound of transforming robots to the voice of Peter Cullen, it was perfect way to bring our childhood toys to the big screen.

#1 - The Lord of the Rings trilogy
This is my #1 and if I wanted to, I could have also included these as my number one movies from the other list because they were that good. They were epic films, films that could have gone HORRIBLY wrong, but instead, were perfect. They had pretty good acting, great action, great music/soundtrack, and a wonderful epic story. They were just a visual treat to look at and I still can just pop them in and watch them back to back, even though the extended versions I have total nearly TWELVE hours. They are just movies about an epic adventure and one that I do not tire of watching. THESE were the best films of the past decade in both cinematic quality and fun. And it was something I never expected.

And that is it. The best of the past decade. For those STILL reading, thank you! It took me nearly five hours to write this so it is good to know my efforts were appreciated. Anything you think I left out? Something you would have put on this list? Any movies on here you especially loved, hated or want to see now? And no, I didn't forget to add the Dark Knight Screw that movie...


laura b. said...

Manuel, what an amazing and well rounded list. And trust me, I do appreciate the time and thought it took to produce something like this.

I feel a special fondness for a few you mentioned, including Stranger Than Fiction, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men,
Zoolander, Kill Bill, and Up.

Thanks for an amazing list and for all that food for thought.

AlienCG said...

There are some movies on here that are reminders for me. I'm looking for some new movies to add to my Netflix Queue. Good list, though.

Miss Sassy Pants said...

I really enjoyed this list and being reminded of your opinions of these movies. I liked seeing how you ranked them. I appreciate the time and effort it took to create this list.

Here are my comments/thoughts on your greatest movies of the decade (because commenting on EVERY movie would be too much):

Stranger Than Fiction - GREAT movie, very touching. I might have ranked it higher than an honorable mention if I were to do a list of my own.

Million Dollar Baby - So touching and a well done, tasteful way to relay something I believe in very strongly.

Letters from Iwo Jima - I'm not real clear on memories from this movie, may need to see it again, but from what I DO remember, it was very powerful.

Brokeback Mountain - FANTASTIC love story that would not have been as moving or powerful if it were between a man and woman. As you mentioned, the ending scene was so very touching and made me cry.

Gran Tourino - A great story about a grumpy old man who finds love in an unexpected relationship. His sacrifice at the end was very moving.

The Pianist - I always list this as an example of the amazing films we've seen that we probably would have skipped thanks to the Oscars. There were definitely parts that were hard to watch, as is true with all well done Holocaust films, but his story and his will to live were so inspiring.

There Will Be Blood - I've only seen it the once and didn't much care for it at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The beginning is amazing, no words for quite some time. Another thing worth noting is the music - it is odd and makes you uncomfortable, which I think is brilliant for the overall feel of the movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - I LOVED this movie! I loved the story and his adventures and his life. I DO find it funny how much it parallels Forrest Gump, but that was a good movie too so...

No Country for Old Men - The adventure and complex story in this movie are awesome. I really enjoyed the rawness of it, in that it isn't a happy story, maybe more the way things would happen in real life, where there aren't always happy endings. I've also heard the majority of people complain about the end but really, there is no other way it COULD have ended...

Eastern Promises - I didn't really get it the first time, but thanks to watching it again the very next day, I finally did get it and appreciate what an amazing movie this is. The commitment some people have is truly amazing...

Gladiator - Indeed a movie that has it all; love, action, adventure, revenge. A GREAT story, absolutely brilliant.

Inglorious Basterds - Like you say, this is the quintessential Tarantino movie with the epic dialogue, but it it amazing how so much talking is essential to building such an great story.

The Departed - Again, I think I've seen this only the once in theaters, but I do remember absolutely loving it. I LOVE stories where there is stuff going on that others in the film don't know about but you as the viewer do, then getting to experience how those stories come together. Yes, a fantastic movie indeed. I'm a bit surprised this made it as your #1, but then again, I can't think of anything to replace it with so #1 it is.

Again, fantastic list and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for your time.

Mom said...

Awesome post my son - wouldn't expect anything less.

I'm proud to say that I have seen all but one or two of the movies and agree whole heartedl with your reviews.

Right now I'm definitely at a loss for what you could have missed. I'll just agree with you and leave it at that!!!

Great job!!!!

Mom said...

By the way - because of this post - I just put Stranger than Fiction on my Netflix. I can hardly wait to see it!

Sal said...

Nice work Manuel! An amazingly well-thought-out and -written list. You put as much thought into this post as some people put into things like their education, politics or religion. Way more in fact. I like not only your choices of movies, but also the at-times personal reasons why you ranked them as you did. Very introspective and enlightening. Though my favorites of the decade are probably different than yours, it bears noting that your list of best movies of the decade is very close to my own.

Tara said...

"Earth to Matilda, I was at a day spa. Day. D.A.I.Y.E."

Thank you for this post, you make me want to check out more of these movies!

I caught "Brokeback Mountain" on TV, and wasn't sure if I'd like it either, but I found myself glued to the television. Wonderful movie.

Anonymous said...

Great post brother!
What made it great is that you didn't just create a list of the best movies. You actually took the time to give a short description of each one. Anyone can see a movie title and not have any clue as to what the movie is about, but being supplied with a short description is even better! I'll be adding Eastern Promises to my Netflix list.
I love that we are big movie enthusiasts in our family!


Mrs. Hairy Woman said...

Wow I am impressed! Amazing that you took 5 hours to write it all.. Great list.. Loved the "300", Kill Bill,Volume 1 and 2, No Country For Old Men .. great movie..There are many there that I thouroughly enjoyed and a few that I didn't care for or seen yet.. Again thanks for posting ..

Sebastien said...

Fantastic selection! I agree with lots of your choices, although I haven't seen all of 'em. Gran Turino, we own it, but I have yet to see it. I loved Inglorious Basterds, but Tarantino is a bit a love him or hate him kind of filmmaker. Let's see, Zoolander is also one of my favs, too funny. No Country for Old Men seemed awesome, I've seen it in chunks but not fully nor in a linear fashion.

Gladiator is another favorite of mine. It is a great flick, but still has that guilty pleasure feel to it.

I haven't really thought about it, but Departed has to be up there for me as well, it's actually one of my favorite all time movies. I get a little tired of happy endings, so it fulfills me in that sense :)

Churlita said...

Wow. That's a lot of movies. Nice list. I still haven't seen Up. I've heard amazing things about it.