Digital Polyphony

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Top 25: Films of the Past Decade


Oh, where to begin? I wonder if it's even possible. An entire decade's worth of movies to try and narrow down to merely 25 is about as easy as taking on dozens of Crazy Japanese swordsmen in a tea house. Yet, it can be done, even if it means taking off some personal favorites of mine (O' Brother Where Art Thou? ... how I doth feel such shame).

What the hell? Let's have some fun and look back at 25 fantastic movies of this past decade, even if it is just a fraction.

"I drink your milkshake!" - Daniel Plainview              

(movie quote of the decade)                   


25: Kill Bill - Volumes 1 and 2


When the fims first came out, I didn't really know what to think. They were entertaining, sure, and visually stunning with that same Tarantino wit and dark humor we've come to know and love. Now with years passing, I look back at both volumes as a whole and see something utterly epic. It finds originality by playing off of other things, in other words it retools things before to create something new like bending paper to origami. In hindsight, I would even go as so far to say this is the film Tarantino has wanted to make and even exceeded his own expectations (and abilities, showing, now, an affection of action and excess when he was previously more known for subtle and low-key).



24: Whale Rider


Whale Rider was a praised movie that came and went, yet I bet if you bring it up to film fans they'll probably something along the lines of "oh, yeah, I forgot about that...great movie." At its heart, it's a coming of age fable that is moving and saddening, yet ends in this amazing uplifting manner that you actually feel good, if not complete, once the credits begin to role. A praised film upon its release, but criminally overlooked for the past few years.




23: Shaun of the Dead


It took a while, but finally we got a great, and I mean great, horror-comedy. Horror of the past ten years, and through most of the 90s, took itself overly seriously. It concentrated on gore and sex more than trying to tell a story or even bother scaring you. Shaun of the Dead turns it on its head, takes those overly-serious conventions and brings the Brit-comedy angle to it. Dry, dead pan but slap-stick when it needs to be. Shaun of the Dead is the best comedy of this past decade. Not to take away from Apatow, The 40 Year Old Virgin just missed out on the Top 25, but Shaun of the Dead is arguably comedic genius.



22: Spirited Away


Great artistry is rare in films. That is, unless, you work at Studio Gibli and every film is a piece of art. Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece surely fits the bill as one of the finest animated film to ever grace God's green earth. His ability to tell a remarkable story is only matched by his imagination (and, in fact, excels thanks to it). Spirited Away is one of many fantastic films the man has given us for the past few decades, and is one that will go down as one of his finest, if not his finest entirely. The subtlety. The emotion. The sense of weight and realism to all the fantasy within it. It's a flawless film.



21: The Departed


Scorsese has always been a consistent director. Only the popularity of his films is what changes. Smaller films are often overlooked, such as Bringing Out the Dead, but are every bit of good cinema. The Departed is a return to form for Scorsese in terms of his energetic and visually appealing crime drama. It's really just a great epic piece of crime a crime drama, with one hell of an ending that (unless you saw the original Korean film) probably socked you. The cast is what nails it, though, and Nicholson is at his nutty best, all creating a 




20: Slumdog Millionaire


The variety of films Danny Boyle has done is impressive. From a zombie-like genre horror movie, to a thoughtful space science fiction, to a dark comedy about drug addicts and a family movie about a child finding millions. What was missing, though, was something moving and emotional; a universal story of love. That's exactly what Slumdog Millionaire is. The setting is in a place that most reading this can probably never understand or relate to, but the characters certainly are. Their story is a universal love story that anybody can appreciate and understand, and the film itself tells this story so well that you can't help but get a little choked up towards the end because you've taken this long journey with them. 



19: Letters From Iwo Jima


I'm surprised I haven't seen this film on more best of decade lists. This was one of the most widely loved films of the 2000s and, to be perfectly frank, Clint Eastwood's masterpiece (I know Unforgiven has that unofficial title, but this is right up there).  Some might criticize its accuracy, but I absolutely praise its sympathy and poetic nuances. Ken Watanabe has never been better in what was surely a difficult role to tackle. It's focused, dramatic, maybe even a little moving.




18: Minority Report


We really saw Science Fiction come back in a big way. It was huge back in the 1980s but it really fell off during the 90s likely due to oversaturation and the television taking up more sci-fi reigns than films. Then along comes Minority Report, which is certainly high science fiction in concept, handled by Spielberg, starring a huge star and ends up a massive success without having to sacrifice it's sci-fi concepts. More importantly, though, is it was incredibly fresh and original which is rare for science fiction. Many consider this a modern masterpiece of neo-noir, I might be inclined to agree with them.



17: Memento


I can't begin to tell you how big Memento was to the film community at my university when it came out. I had just started swaying towards the film side of things when trying to decide what to study, and lo and behold someone dropped Memento in my lap. I was astounded. It's one of those films that you always can recall the first time you saw it. The ability of Chris Nolan to take a very, very complicated plot and story and keep it all clear, neat and poignant is a testament to the man's ability and an early clue of future great films he will eventually bring us. 



16: There Will Be Blood


The comparisons to Citizen Kane are certainly just. The reason? This is one of the great character studies of the past decade. It is incredibly complex as Daniel Plainview is brought to life in a much-deserved Oscar winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. It's a sparse film, but methodical in how it handles Plainview, his son, and the local preacher played by Paul Dano who is able to hold his won against the veteran Day-Lewis. P.T. Anderson is known for a particular style of film, one that focuses on its characters and, really, not much else. Some might have written a period piece from him off completely, but somehow he, thanks to Day-Lewis, makes it work entirely and brings us one of the greatest movie characters of all time as a result.


15: Mulholland Drive


Easily David Lynch's best film since Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive is as odd and complicated as his best surrealist sensibilities has to offer. I think Roger Ebert noted that this seems to be the film Lynch has always been moving towards making, and he delivered in full as far as I'm concerned. Mysterious, unsettling, and with some great performances, something Lynch always seems to manage from cast. It's also a gorgeous looking film as well, with vivid colors and postcard worthy shots of Los Angeles. Speaking of which, Mulholland Dr. recently won the LA Critics award for best film of the decade. I'm sure its unique take on LA and Hollywood had something to do with that.


14: The Hurt Locker


The best film of 2009 (although I personally love Up in the Air this year only slightly more). It's just a pure example of tension, from beginning to end, as well as a study of what war can do to a person. You can cut the suspense with a knife, as Bigelow somehow manages to make nearly every second to have you on the edge of your seat. The movie succeeds not only thanks to that constant sense of dread, but also by Jeremy Renner who's character, James, is both tragic yet one you loathe at times due to his addiction and desire of the "rush." It's a culturally relevant film of today's climate but also has a timeless quality to it showing that war and what it does to people, sadly, hasn't changed since the history of war itself.



13: The Royal Tenenbaums


Wes Anderson will never top this film. He's made some great movies since, the recent Fantastic Mr. Fox surely up there, but The Royal Tenenbaums has everything Anderson could or would do in a movie. The result: a funny, yet in that bittersweet way, subtle drama of dysfunction, emotion, obsession, many words can I use to describe it? It really has a ton of things going on all at once yet Anderson, as though he had been doing it his whole life, handles it as well as any auteur can and cements his status as one of the best directors in cinema today.




12: No Country for Old Men


Damn near a flawless film, as most of the movies on this list are. But for the Coens, that seems a different tier than most. It's a morality play, good versus evil and our own inability to understand or comprehend that no matter how hard we try. Strong performances, and Tommy Lee Jones with the crowning jewel of his career in my opinion. What's great, though, is the uncompromising nature of it all. It isn't a pretty film because it shows the ugliness of the world. The fantastic screenplay is emphasized by the low-key Coens' style of directing. Just a wonderful picture.




11: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon


Superficially, people will simply call Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon another martial arts film. It looks better than most, and is certainly an epic in mind with a fantastic score to back it up, but what isn't often given credit is the various layers it works with- thematically and narratively. It's an incredibly complicated film where the subtle character arcs are overshadowed by the poetic physicality and special effects. It's just a great epic piece of moviemaking that is rarely seen.




10: Oldboy


Without question, Oldboy is one of the greatest thrillers of the past ten years. In fact, much of this Top Ten we now find ourselves in is full of films that are one-of-a-kind, unique, or a completely fresh take on old styles. Oldboy is such a fresh take, a combination of a Japanese Yakuza film with something akin to Takashi Miike. It's violent, but amidst all that is a very (as in very)emotional and surreal story that starts off as simple revenge and ends much, much powerful than we could ever imagine.




9:  Pan's Labryinth


Every person knew the name Guillermo Del Toro after this film, if they didn't already. Simply put, there's really nothing quite like it. It's fantasy, sure. There are odd creatures and beautifully frightening worlds. Then you have the story alongside that which is where much of the film really takes place on: 1940s facist Spain and the villainous stepfather of our heroine. In the end, it's a film that is about escapism...not to simply escape reality because it's something wonderful to do, but is about fear and to escape from reality because it is horrible and vile.



8: Ratatouille


A film I reviewed, and repeating myself here would seem self-serving and redundant. Alas, I must write something. So I'll just keep it simple. Rataouille is a masterpiece of animation, up there with the best that Disney or MIyazaki have to offer. Brad Bird just knows how to tell a story, plain and simple. I think it's that simplicity that makes Ratatouille so remarkable. It's original, sure, but it never tries to be more than it wants to be. It fits comfortable in itself, like a well-tailored suit, and handles its characters as well as any animated film, or even live action for that matter, really could dream of. It has comedy, adventure, humor, and is all done on a relatively small-scale with most of the film taking place in a kitchen. It's smart, well thought out and Pixar's greatest film (which is saying a ton, they've made so many great ones).


7: Adaptation


Nicholas Cage reminds us how great of an actor he can be if the material is suited just right for him. Adaptation wasn't just suited just right, it was practically destined. Kaufman's script and Spike Jonze's directing come together wonderfully to create something that we simply have never seen before - a typical phrase when discussing either person. Cage is at his best, showing that he is a damn good actor as long as the material is good, and the story itself, a deep dive into the mind of a writer, is the best about the subject since Sunset Bloulevard.



6: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Two Charlie Kaufman scripts in a row? Absolutely, Kaufman is unarguably a certifiable genius when it comes to script writing and there is no doubt that these two films are some of the most ingenious stories to ever be written and, in a way, define the entire decade.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a romance movie at heart, but a sci-fi twist and a slight surrealist edge cause to be its own genre and not derfined, or in this case, limited by the ones we know and are comfortable with using to label something."Would you erase me?" was a tagline found on the posters...and that's pretty damn profound. The movie explores these to the limits of imagination.



5: Lost in Translation


Subtle and calm. That defines Lost in Translation. It never pushes itself too hard, all that happens feels natural and, thus, real as though this is a real life we are watching. Like many on this list, it is a difficult film to define. It's funny at times, warming at times, romantic but also showcasing the strength of friendship and destined bonds. Bill Murray is utterly perfect. Let me say that again: Bill Murray is utterly perfect in this film because he isn't trying to be comedic, only quietly observant, and there's no way you can imagine another actor in the role.




4: Amelie


Jeunet rose to the scene with quirky and unique movies, but Amelie is an odd one even for him. It's quirky and unique, yes, yet comfortably accessible and familiar. The concept, the camerawork, the sharp editing, the beautiful color tone and wonderful central character. It's about a woman wanting to spread joy to others. How could a movie around that idea be made, and so uniquely and effectively? Jeunet found a way, thanks to Audrey Totou and a very open audience that appreciates the journey it takes us on. It's hard to nail down exactly what Amelie is about, in a story sense at least, other than it's about the moments of a young woman in Paris...and those moments are immeasurably memorable.



3:  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy


The Lord of the Rings films are the Star Wars of their time. They are the epic and defining movies of their generation. Anyone who says differently is either some film-snob moron or a complete idiot (note, those two are not mutually exclusive). The vision. The perfect cast. The right marks hit with emotional resonance. The scale of everything, down to the finest detail, is absolutely unmatched. Individually, each has their ups and downs. As a complete whole, an epic tale of war, friendship, good and evil, I can't think of a single other body of work that can top it since the original Star Wars trilogy.



2: City of God


To see City of God is to watch something exceptional. Each person that has had the luxury are always, always blown away by it. Why, exactly? The unique setting? The sense of authenticity? The fact it's based on true events? The script? Sure, it's all those but more. I think it's the energy the film brings. It's incredibly frantic but full of life, with our central character, Rocket, keeping everything grounded as he tells us his tale. It has everything you could ever ask for in a movie: suspense, romance, comedy, tragedy, action, maybe even a little bit of horror now that I think about it. No wonder I've never met a person who has said they didn't love it (after they pick their jaws up off the floor once the credits roll, that is).



1: Almost Famous


The acting. The story. The directing and, of course, the music. Almost Famous is simply a perfect film. As such, and the fact I've never met a person who does not like it, it's a rather easy film to put at number one as the best film of the decade. Cameron Crowe would never repeat the feat again, but then again not many filmmakers have this in them to begin with.  There's not much more I can or praise about it, but I honestly don't know how it couldn't be the best film of the past decade. With some wonderful characters and witnessing the era through the eyes of a (mature for his age) teen makes anyone feel nostalgic, even if they didn't live during the period. It grasps on to our own desires to be that youthful (and maybe gullible) and relive our childhoods while experiencing things new and wonderful again. It's a celebration of music on celluloid, but also a celebration of the connections and experiences we gain growing up, learning, and simply being a part of something. I'm thankful Crowe made us a part of something by taking us on this journey in Almost Famous.


Others on and Off the List:
Gosford Park, The Dark Knight, Casino Royale, Cache, Munich, The Proposition, Kill Bill v 1 and 2, Amos Perros, The Lives of Others, Gladiator, The Pianist, Sideways, The Sea Inside, The Last King of Scotland, Donnie Darko, Cast Away, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Battle Royale, Children of Men, O Brother Where Art Thou?, 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, Into the Wild, The Prestige, Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl, About a Boy, Punch-Drunk Love, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Synecdoche NY, Catch Me If You Can, Inglorious Basterds, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Incredibles, 25th Hour, The Dreamers, The Good, the Bad and the Weird




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