The Ten Best Films of the Decade

12 12 2009

The 00’s, the aughts, or the boob years as I like to call them (thanks for the good times Dubya…) gave us some seriously good celluloid lovin’. And even though I considered myself a sagacious, prepubescent Roger Ebert in  the 90’s, it was in the boob years that I became mature enough to know what was really going on. Appreciation is the basic fabric of movie-going. The release of any new Disney or Pixar film is going to undoubtedly pummel all the opening week competition. Why? Because even the teeniest of children want that accessibility too. I remember being two years old, sitting at a theater in Miami, watching Stand by Me – it’s my very first memory. When I was ten years old I would go to the movies all by myself. Saturday mornings, my parents would still be asleep, and I’d go to the movies for a stretch of six hours, watching three movies back to back. Apollo 13, First Knight and Species was a good batch that I remember and that went on for a long time (until those fuckers started enforcing that R-rating shit on me. “But I live here! You sold me a ticket to Species last week!” I screamed.)

You don’t have to be Roger Ebert to make this list (love you Rog!), you just have to be a living, breathing, human being. Who doesn’t love the movies? The point of this diatribe is that, when reading the countless “Best of the Decade” lists that are now going around at the end of ’09, it seems that no list-compiler is capable of simply writing about the movies they really loved. It all has to come back around to 9/11 somehow. You see these lists and there’s so much calculation, so much research; it’s such an exercise in decade/cross-culture retention. In one such “Best of” list, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was named the best novel of the decade because in the 00’s we saw the birth of blogging; the novel’s form was a mimetic exercise on how the world reads today, with five windows open on your computer screen at a time, each window bearing nine different tabs. Yes, I get it, but…that’s why it’s the best of the decade? What about the sheer pleasure of the experience? I want to see Napoleon Dynamite on a list. I mean, I know I stand alone in this, but I thought Napoleon Dynamite was shit on a stick, but I know even some critics went gaga over it. What did you enjoy the most? What struck the strongest core with you as a movie-goer? Why the intelligentsia?

None of the films you see below have ANYTHING to do with my feelings towards 9/11, Al-Qaeda, or the two wars the United States are waging in the East…nothing. They’re there because I love them and they are my absolute favorites. I just wish I could stick 100 films in my top ten. List building is hard and it really hurt when I had to leave some other films out. So, make sure to look at the bottom for my honorable mentions. I couldn’t bear to not mention them one way or another.

I ❤ "Fuckabees"


I ❤ Huckabees (2004)

Directed by David O. Russell

Written by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena

I ❤ Huckabees is one hell of a weird movie. Existential detectives? Well, considering the pedigree (David O. Russell also made the brilliant and highly underrated Flirting with Disaster) it’s not really such a stretch. Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman (in a ridiculous, yet awesome Sergeant Pepper wig) play Vivian and Bernard, a husband and wife  team of existential detectives hired by the activist and poet Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) to investigate why he keeps running into a “tall African guy.” At the headquarters of I ❤ Huckabees, “the everything store,” Albert is struggling to keep the “Save the Marsh” coalition he started from scratch, a coalition which he constantly puts in jeopardy of losing because he keeps alienating the members of the coalition with his saccharine and honestly shitty poems. No one likes the poems and apparently Shania Twain, the spokesperson for the coalition, “doesn’t give a shit.” No one at the coalition likes Albert. Everyone prefers Brad Stand (Jude Law), the sycophant Ken doll that’s fucking the I ❤ Huckabees spokesgirl (Naomi Watts). In order to piss Albert off even more, Brad hires the existential detectives to solve his own existential conundrums. Turns out he thinks it’s a sham, but not Dawn, his girlfriend, who realizes she has an identity disorder. The hot bombshell shows up to work wearing a bonnet and crushed Oreo cookies in between her teeth. This movie is pure pandemonium. It’s so damn crazy and fun. It also has what has to be one of the flat-out weirdest sex scenes in not just this decade, but in movie history. I never, ever get tired of watching this film because it’s also one of the most quotable movies of the decade. I probably quote this movie on a, if not daily, weekly basis. “Shania doesn’t give a shit” being my personal favorite. “Have you ever transcended space and time?” “Yes. No. Time, not space. No I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Go and contain her. She said Fuckabees!” David O. Russell is supposed to be a real hardass to work with, but from over here, I couldn’t imagine how all these actors weren’t having a blast making this movie.



Closer (2004)

Directed by Mike Nichols

Written by Patrick Marber

The one and only time I felt a tinge of heterosexuality flow through me in this decade (or any other, let’s get real) was in Mike Nichols’ third attempt at making the same movie, the brilliant and merciless Closer. This was when my crush for Natalie Portman began and it remains to this day. Closer was a brand of film that was completely new to me when it was first released. I had never seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or Carnal Knowledge, Nichols’ prior two films about cutthroat foursomes, so when I finally saw Closer I couldn’t believe my ears. At first I was enthralled by its rhetorical lasciviousness; it was funny! The Jude Law and Clive Owen internet chat scene was hysterical. But then it became a movie about brutal, unabashed honesty. “He tastes like you, but sweeter.” If there was one total car crash of a movie where your eyes are just glued to the screen, despite the emotional bedlam playing out before your eyes, it was Closer that takes the prize. All four actors were in peak form in this film and a special kudos to Julia Roberts, who played subdued cunt for the first time in her career with true aplomb. It was so refreshing to see her turn the volume three, four notches down. Closer was definitely smart and although maybe a bit too honest to the point of exaggeration, its inherent sauciness wins me over every time.

Pan's Labyrinth


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Written and Directed by

Guillermo del Toro

Almodovar, please forgive me (right…like he really gives a shit), but Mexican director Guillermo del Toro one-uped you in your native country of España with his macabre fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. The film was glorified at Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered and soon enough, before it was widely distributed, the praise elevated it to the level of high fantasy akin to that of The Lord of the Rings. When I first saw it, I liked it. I thought it was “pretty cool.” I blame my initial tepid response on The Hippodrome Theater, where I also saw Little Children, another movie that I didn’t enjoy as much as I had expected to until I saw it in the privacy of my own home. The thing is it didn’t take a second viewing for me to realize what an amazing work of art Pan’s Labyrinth actually is. It happened in the interim. The movie simmered in my brain, specific images kept flashing through my brain for weeks after seeing it: the blood making its way back up her adorable little nose, the stalactites gliding in the hollow of the tree when she first makes her way into the labyrinth, but more than anything it was the language. What would’ve been the final result had El Laberinto del Fauno been made to be Pan’s Labyrinth? My best guess is that it wouldn’t be the film that we now know and love so dearly. It was a real stroke of genius to make this film in Spanish. And that’s not a ludicrous statement…at all. How many films have been torqued to suit the needs of the American public? Countless, countless movies! I’m grateful Pan’s Labyrinth didn’t end up a casualty of mainstream Americana fodder-producing film conglomerates, and that del Toro ended up making his movie the way he wanted it made. Is it on the same alter of high-fantasy as The Lord of the Rings? Yes. But this even better.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Directed by Michel Gondry

Written by Charlie Kaufman

It’s hard to believe that a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind actually exists. The conceit is eccentric enough: Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) wants to erase every trace, every glimpse of a memory of his now ruined relationship with his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet). When you see a film like this it’s very easy to imagine how it all could have floundered. Its merits are endless; the perfect plotting, the idiosyncratic characters, the visionary direction by Gondry and not to mention the amazing performances from both my favorite screen siren, Kate Winslet and from Jim Carrey, in what can only be called his best performance to date. I naturally admire what a well oiled machine Eternal Sunshine is, but what absolutely destroys me is the romance. Watching the memories evaporate is constantly dazzling, but when we see the memories that shouldn’t go away, like the elation of simply cuddling under the covers with the one you love, disappear into some unknown ether, it’s hard to imagine any scenes in this decade that can provide more genuine heartbreak.



Atonement (2007)

Directed by Joe Wright

Written by Christopher Hampton

Based on the novel by Ian McEwan

So many people have problems with this film. Ian McEwan’s novel was so bloody good. It’s a hard act to follow, yes, but I was so surprised by Joe Wright’s execution. I thought Pride and Prejudice was fantastic, but I had no idea he had so much flair (and I sure do love me some good flair). He’s the only director that manages to make me like Keira Knightley (that fake, rehearsed smile of hers drives me up the fucking wall). But in Atonement, the woman rocked it. The on-screen chemistry between Ms. Knightley and the nail-biting James McAvoy (seriously James, stop biting your nails, it’s so gross) was really damn hot. Atonement also introduced us to the brilliant Saoirse (pronounced “Sheer-sa” according to a certain little Irish boy I know) Ronan, whose Briony Tallis is one of film’s most reviled characters in recent memory. I also couldn’t get over what a truly intelligent score this movie produced, which is such a rarity. You hear of great scores, but a smart one? It’s an enervating experience to watch this movie. My love for Atonement was instantaneous. I left the theater completely shaken. And yes, the novel’s finale is a bit different, but I think it helped that I read the book after I saw the film. The twist ending, and Vanessa Redgrave’s jaw-dropping five minute performance, completely floored me. Seeing this movie in theaters once was not enough (and that really is the forum for this kind of movie. This isn’t Merchant-Ivory England – this was something else altogether). Oh, and that green dress. Goddamnit, that fucking dress. Fucking gorgeous. Unfortunately, as beautiful as that dress is, it was better received by the public than the movie actually was. Atonement. You don’t really get it until the very end. I left the theater completely broken, but also reinvigorated with my love for cinema. If my spirit and belief in the things cinema is capable of had abated in any way, Atonement swelled the lack in an unprecedented way for me Say what you will about the deviations from book to screen, but in my eyes, it’s a gigantic masterpiece in its own right.

Almost Famous


Almost Famous (2000)

Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe

For those of us who did not live through the 70’s, we’re always hearing about how great it was. Every time I see Almost Famous you better believe I wish I had lived in the 70’s myself. Well, moreso than living in the 70’s, I wanted to ride in the Almost Famous-Tour 73 bus with fine ass Billy Crudup, the nutjobs in his band and the band-aids, getting high as hell, singing awesome music, and getting high again. I love this movie so much I want to take it behind an elementary school and get it pregnant. Few movies make me feel so good and it’s pretty much the only good thing Kate Hudson has ever done with her life, except for getting blazed and watching Showgirls every night before bed with her ex-husband (an apparently true story). If no other movie in this list will be remembered in 20 years, this one will. I want to rant and rave about everything I love about Almost Famous, but to do that would be to transcribe the screenplay in its totality. There isn’t a wasted scene in the whole film and the damn thing should have its own Bartlett’s: “Feck you,” “Rock stars have kidnapped my son,” “I am a golden god!” “I’m gay!” I really never wanted it to end. It’s funny that in the beginning of the picture we see young William Miller and his mother, played brilliantly (as usual) by Frances McDormand, walking out of a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the end of Almost Famous, after Russell Hammond finally gives William the interview he had been killing himself for and gets back on the tour bus, and Penny Lane hops on a plane to Morocco, I had the same feeling that I had when I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird myself. Boo Radley simply went back into his house and as Scout simply says, “I never saw him again.” I wanted to hop on that bus and on that plane – hell, I wanted to hop right into the screen. I don’t like the idea of never seeing these characters again, but at least I got to meet them in the first place.

Brokeback Mountain


Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Directed by Ang Lee

Written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana

Although Brokeback Mountain was released at the very end of 2005, we had all been hearing about Brokeback Mountain since the beginning of that year. Dubbed “the gay cowboy” movie, it was pretty much the most talked about picture in a long time. I was living in England in the fall of that year when I picked up Annie Proulx’s short story. I don’t remember how many times I read that story that fall. The last time was on my train ride from Prague to Paris and I just kept on asking myself, “How the fuck are they going to pull this off?” When it was published in the New Yorker it was 12 pages long – and this is supposed to be a fully fleshed-out movie? Well they did it. It’s all there. Except for the addition of one character, everything that was in those 12 pages was on that screen. The lonely western silences and the incredible cinematography (goddamn I want to go to Calgary. That’s in Canadia. Yeah…this movie is so gorgeous it made me want to go to Canada) were characters in themselves. It’s a miraculous adaptation of what is probably the best short story written in decades and its celluloid doppelganger is pretty much just as beautiful. Sure, I’m a big old fag, but that’s not why I’d consider this the greatest love story of the decade. I guess, just like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that the greatest love stories, for me at least, have to be enmeshed in the memory of what has been lost. When Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are in their old age, bitterly saying goodbye to one another at the edges of Brokeback Mountain, 20 years into their clandestine relationship, Jack falls into a flashback, of when he would sleep standing up like a horse and Ennis would come up from behind to wrap his arms around him, telling him they had to pack up their camp, after which Jack watches him ride away in his horse, jovial and inundated with love for Jack. But now, Ennis is driving away in his truck, bitter and depressed, too broken down by 20 years and thousands of miles of restriction. Gay or straight, it’s the oldest story in the book. Not unrequited love, but how everyone else can get in the way of being with the one you love. The tire-iron, the two shirts and that shithole of a family plot is how it all ended. My heart was screaming “how is that possible!?” But I had to accept it, in the name of poetry.

Kill Bill


Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004)

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starting this review immediately puts a big ol’ fat smile on my face. I saw Kill Bill Vol. 1 on opening night, when I was a freshman in college. Cinema had changed forever for me after that day. Okay, I know what you’re all going to say. Tarantino is nothing but a charlatan, a big recycling plant. And yes, he does borrow (HEAVILY) from spaghetti westerns, kung-fu movies, 1970’s B-pictures, etc. But the truth of the matter is that I hadn’t been exposed to that yet. Watching Kill Bill now, I can’t help but point and say, “hey! That’s straight from Baby Cart in Peril from the Lone Wolf and Cub series” or some such shit. The truth is that Kill Bill was an educating experience. My appreciation for cinema on an ecumenical level was expanded, my vision and tolerance and enthusiasm increased five-fold. Kill Bill may be the product of many, many sources, but it was still my initiation into a brand new branch of cinema that I hadn’t yet allowed myself to explore, and you never forget your first. It was the most kinetic, breath-taking experience. And on top of it all, it was Tarantino’s words that were flying through the screen along with the axes, swords, bullets and even rock salt. He may have borrowed from every other great master in cinema, but Tarantino’s words are always undoubtedly Tarantino’s words. I mean, I’m queerer than a three dollar bill, but I carried around a Pussy Wagon keychain for something like two years. The man is hysterical, even in the grizzliest, most perverse situations. The Kill Bill universe seems to contain everything; it’s a celluloid cultural concordance all on its own.



Traffic (2000)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Written by Stephen Gaghan

“Last night I had an ugly nightmare” is how Traffic, the movie that sky-rocketed Erika Christensen into stardom, begins (seriously though, what would’ve this decade been had we not been blessed with the movie making miracle that was Swimfan?). In all seriousness though, we’re talking about the best war movie of the 00’s (I’ve yet to see The Hurt Locker, but I hear that’s pretty great). I find it rather interesting that this film came out before 9/11 and yet, the war on crime was so much more interesting than any of the Iraq movie corpses that Hollywood kept on shoving down our collective throats these past eight/nine years. Traffic juggles a series of interlaced vignettes: the newly appointed drug czar has to deal with his free-basing daughter’s addiction; a Mexican cop who earns 300 American dollars a month starts working with the DEA to bring the Tijuana cartel down to its knees; a pregnant wife learns that her husband is the Tony Montana of La Jolla, California and does everything in her power to keep her family from falling apart…and maybe another two or three more stories in the two and a half hour mix. Traffic was such a badass drama. The instantaneous grabber was the photography by Steven Soderbergh, who credited himself under his alias “Peter Andrews” – the arid landscape of Mexico, whether in the dense streets of Tijuana or in the arid purlieus of the city are drenched in the humid orange of a polarized lens; the outskirts of Ohio, where 16 year old white prep-school kids are shot in the frigid blue of impacted ice. The performances, especially by Benicio del Toro are fantastic. Till this day, I still have no idea what he was doing with that character. Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez. I know he was supposed to be Mexican, but he didn’t really sound Mexican. Throughout the whole thing, I kept thinking, “wait…is he Mexican? Is he Colombian? Shit, I don’t care! I love it!” But what really struck me was Catherine Zeta Jones. In what looks like her third trimester, her Que Pasa USA husband, Stephen Bauer, is sent to the clink and she becomes the Don of cocaine export for the whole of California in one fell swoop. Without blinking an eye she orders the execution of the prime witness against her hubby and teaches America that we had it wrong all along: The godfather was a woman. Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it.

The Hours


The Hours (2002)

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Written by David Hare

The Hours is one of the single most incredible movie-going experiences of my life. It’s dark – granted. It’s something of a downer – fine, I agree with you. But it manages to caress and embrace my sensibilities as a human being like few films on this planet. I’m not completely sure what it is that did it, but The Hours made me want to be a writer. The unending and enduring love for Virginia Woolf began with this film and having seen the movie before I read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, written by the damn genius that is Michael Cunningham, I can still say that the film is an even more gratifying experience (not too many people will agree with me on this). Film and literature are my two greatest passions in the world and I have yet to see a more perfect marriage of the two than in this miracle of a picture. Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf? How did Stephen Daldry ever think of this? What kind of mad lighting was he stricken with to even consider such an idea? To anyone who says it was just the nose, you can just go to hell. It was such an impassioned, masterly performance. Few people have actually heard Mrs. Woolf’s actual voice. It’s insanely posh; very high-pitched, almost bird-like. Listening to Virginia Woolf, one would swear she were satirizing her countrymen with every syllable, consonant, vowel  – as if she were poking fun at her own proletariat caste. But Ms. Kidman took a completely different route. She presented the Woolf we hear in our own heads whenever we pick up a book written by the real Virginia Woolf. Hell, you don’t even have to read a book by Virginia Woolf to imagine this sort of speak. The personality at times, as reserved and as scared of the world as she could be at times, when her madness wasn’t overwhelming her, seemed even greater than the genius of her works. The direction and the editing of this picture, how we see all three principle characters – Virginia as she is concocting her miniscule opus Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Brown (played by Julianne Moore) reading Mrs. Dalloway and accepting the epiphany that she, like Mrs. Dalloway, is a prisoner in her own seemingly perfect life, and Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep), a contemporary Mrs. Dalloway living in NYC, whose sense of purpose is supported by the slowly eroding life of a dying poet (Ed Harris) – is an exercise in pure cinematic mastery. And to tie it all together, is what I’d say is the greatest score of the decade, courtesy of the highly-imitated, never surpassed brilliance of Philip Glass. This is a film that haunts me – a movie that will never leave me for the rest of my life. And I suppose, and it seems only fitting, to conclude this passage, with an excerpt from Mrs. Woolf’s diary, which lends itself to the conclusion of this film itself – a conclusion as beautiful and poetic as any I have ever seen in a movie before: “Dear Leonard. To look life in the face…always to look life in the face…and to know it…for what it is. At last…to know it, to love it…for what it is, and then…to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us…always the years. Always the love. Always…the hours.”

Honorable mentions:

40 Year Old Virgin, A.I., Amores Perros, Chicago, Children of Men, City of God, Crouching Tiger-Hidden Dragon, Dogville, Elephant, Ghost World, Into the Wild, Little Children, The Lord of the Rings, Lost in Translation, Me And You And Everyone We Know, Mean Girls, Million Dollar Baby, Minority Report, Monster, Mulholland Drive, No Country for Old Men, Requiem for a Dream, The Royal Tenenbaums, Shopgirl, Talk to Her, The Virgin Suicides, Volver, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Zodiac