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Thread: The A.V. Club names the best films of the decade

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    Default The A.V. Club names the best films of the decade

    The A.V. Club names the best films of the decade

    20. The Squid and the Whale (2005)



    Noah Baumbach reportedly wanted friend and writing partner Wes Anderson to direct The Squid And The Whale,but Anderson wisely turned the project down, arguing that only Baumbach was qualified to direct such a personal project. Baumbach has played down the autobiographical aspects of his film about the messy divorce of elitist professor and has-been writer (Jeff Daniels) and his more successful writer wife (Laura Linney) in Reagan-era New York, but it certainly feels ripped from the most agonizing moments of its creator’s past. Baumbach is especially unsparing and uncompromising in his depiction of his surrogate (Jesse Eisenberg), a pretentious young intellectual-in-training who has internalized the worst aspects of his father’s sneering disdain for everyone he considers inferior. (Which is to say, the sum of humanity). Prominent among the film’s many virtues is its brevity: At 81 minutes, it’s a little less than 70 minutes shorter than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and arguably the better film.
    (Sorry, guys, no bolding. If you care about the film, read the paragraph. If not, skip it.)


    19. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)



    Really, the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy should be on here as a collective entry; seen back-to-back, the entire thing plays like a single immense, episodic film. But we grudgingly decided that a) that would be cheating, and b) we couldn’t cough up three slots on this list for it. So by reluctant group consensus, we pointed to The Two Towers as the slight standout of the lot, if only for the David Lean-esque majestic sweep of the battle of Helm’s Deep. The whole Rings series is a tremendous cinematic accomplishment, but virtually no part of it offers the visceral thrill of that seemingly doomed last stand against an unimaginable force—or at least one that seemed unimaginable before Peter Jackson put it up on the screen in all its gritty glory.


    18. Mulholland Dr. (2001)



    Mulholland Dr. began as David Lynch’s attempt to return to network television, the medium that left him embittered after his experiences with Twin Peaks. He never got a chance to get frustrated a second time; ABC declined the pilot he shot. Where most directors would simply have walked away, Lynch reworked the material from Hollywood black comedy to a reality-warping tragedy that uses film-noir conventions and Lynch’s effortless ability to find the surreal in the banal everyday to show a soul getting warped and corrupted under the blaring spotlights and the warm California sun.


    17. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)



    Wes Anderson followed up his beloved breakthrough film Rushmore with The Royal Tenenbaums,a dazzlingly ambitious comedy-drama that filtered The Magnificent Ambersons and J.D. Salinger’s stories about the Glass family through his unmistakable sensibility. In a majestic lead performance, the great Gene Hackman plays the patriarch of an eccentric New York clan that had the misfortune of peaking early. The Royal Tenenbaums is a masterpiece of production design—every detail is perfectly in place and realized down to a molecular level—but the perfectionist visuals always serve the story and the melancholy mood instead of the other way around. Towering above it all is Hackman’s lovable rogue, a charismatic schemer in the autumn of his life.


    16. Almost Famous (2000)



    Between the underwhelming box office and mixed reviews of Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown,Cameron Crowe had a rough decade, but it began on a transcendent note with Almost Famous,a funny, sad, deeply humane autobiographical coming-of-age story inspired by the writer-director’s experiences traveling with the Allman Brothers as a teen journalist for Rolling Stone.Just as François Truffaut eschewed the kneejerk cynicism that pervades most films about filmmaking in favor of swooning affection in Day For Night, Crowe offers a clear-eyed but overwhelmingly romantic take on the well-wrought mythology of the touring rock band. Crowe and his adorable surrogate (Patrick Fugit) are true believers who are able to see the glory and wonder in even a second-rate rock band like the film’s fictional Stillwater. Almost Famous populates its secondary cast with ringers who make the most of their minimal screen time, from Frances McDormand’s ferociously protective mother to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs. Crowe even coaxes a great performance from Jimmy Fallon as Stillwater’s manager. Almost Famous is the film Crowe was born to make, the ultimate expression of his passionate devotion to rock ’n’ roll, and his deep affection for his characters.


    15. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)



    Alfonso Cuaron’s road trip through contemporary Mexico sends a woman and two men—boys, really—in search of an unspoiled bit of paradise. But like all road movies, it’s more about journeys than destinations. It’s also a movie about the moments before things change—before paradise gets spoiled, adulthood starts to close down the possibilities of youth, or life gives way to death—which Cuaron and his cast capture with a playfulness that never works against the grave themes just below the film’s beautiful surface.


    14. Talk To Her (2002)



    By the end of the ’90s, Pedro Almodóvar had already completed his transition from a creator of meaningful farces to a director of great dramatic weight. But his work in the ’00s showcased the full extent of his gifts in a more somber mode. The best of a decade of strong efforts, Talk To Her brings a plot filled with twists straight out of the pulpiest melodrama—its elements include matadors, comas, and what might be a miracle—but from those elements, it constructs a haunting examination of love, friendship, fate, unthinkable acts, fragile connections, and the way tragedy can unite as well as divide.


    13. Grizzly Man (2005)



    Obsessives and quixotic dreamers have long fascinated Werner Herzog, so he was perfectly suited to bring the tragic tale of Timothy Treadwell to the screen. A spacy former heroin addict and actor whose career peaked when he almost got the Cheers role that launched Woody Harrelson to stardom, Treadwell decided to devote his life to living among grizzly bears in Alaska. Treadwell set out to protect the bears he loved not wisely, but too well, but he was ultimately the one in desperate need of protection; it’s remarkable that Treadwell somehow managed to spend 13 summers with his beloved grizzlies before meeting a tragic, seemingly inevitable fate. Drawing on more than a hundred hours of footage shot by Treadwell and his girlfriend, Grizzly Man builds into a devastating cautionary tale about the dangers of idealizing and anthropomorphizing wild animals.


    12. Before Sunset (2004)



    The perfect “will they or won’t they” ending to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise seemed like exactly the sort of ambiguous question that most emphatically doesn’t require an answer. It takes roots in the viewer’s imagination: Depending on who you are, romantic or cynic, you either believe that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunited in Vienna exactly one year later, or that they would only have that one night together, and never see each other again. And yet from their very first scene together in Before Sunset, everything feels right about the sequel—better, even—because the conversation that Hawke and Delpy continue so naturally 10 years later is now seasoned by the experiences they’ve had in the interim. Turns out that one night meant a great deal to both of them, but they aren't necessarily in a position to pick up right where they left off. What follows is every bit as enchanting as the first film, but considerably more complicated and adult, too—and with its own tantalizingly open-ended denouement.


    11. Time Out (2001)



    The infamous true story that inspired Laurent Cantet’s Time Out concerned the terrible deceptions of a white-collar Frenchman who was leading an impossible double life—claiming to be a doctor working out of Geneva, Switzerland while in fact he’d never graduated from medical school, hadn’t had a job in two decades, and was living off a dwindling (and bilked) savings account. When his scheme reached its inevitable end point, he slaughtered his entire family and tried to make it look like a house fire. The small miracle of Time Out is that it de-sensationalizes this real-life tragedy and brings it back down to the everyday. By taking the murders out of the story, Cantet intensifies his focus on a man (Aurélien Recoing) who derives his entire sense of dignity and self-worth from the workplace, and gets walled in by denial. His is still an extreme case—his desperate scramble to keep his lies afloat recalls William H. Macy in Fargo—but anyone who’s lost a job can identify.


    10. Children Of Men (2006)



    The scenario of Children Of Men—a near-future in which humanity has lost its ability to bear children—is extreme. The details, however, are not. Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of a P.D. James novel takes the turn of the millennium’s most alarming political and social trends and follows them along a downward arc. Religious radicals battle fascists as the opposition either retreats to marijuana-filled isolation, or echoes the extremism of their opposition. It’s a desperate, dying place, but the appearance of a thin sliver of hope drives the film’s actions, and brings out the best and worst of everyone along the way. Cuaron’s gift for bravura filmmaking leads to some justly hailed setpieces, but it’s the unsettling plausibility of his world that makes the film work, as well as its insistence—sometimes hard to pick up under all the bullets and bloodshed—that the worst of times don’t have to bring out the worst of people. And that if we’re going to last as a species, they simply can’t.


    9. The New World (2005)



    Terrence Malick has long been captivated by how man strives to tame, shape, and live in the natural world, which makes The New World practically the filmmaker’s thesis statement. Here, Malick offers a deep submersion into “the unspoiled America,” set at a time when the settlers of Jamestown and the land’s native inhabitants advanced incompatible conceptions of civilization. The New World moves through three distinct phases, beginning with John Smith's infatuation with the lifestyle of the Powhatan Confederacy, then moving to the colonists' growing conflict with the natives, and ending with Pocahontas marrying John Rolfe and sailing to the ordered gardens of England. Throughout, Malick treats the humans and their environment with equal interest, showing them all as part of an unstable order. And throughout, Malick integrates every visual and audio element of the film into a meditation on one difficult question: “Shall we not take what we are given?”


    8. Capturing The Friedmans (2003)



    Moviefone co-founder Andrew Jarecki set out to make a documentary about popular New York children’s party entertainers like sought-after clown David Friedman, but he stumbled upon a bigger, darker, and richer story that formed the basis of his mesmerizing 2003 documentary Capturing The Friedmans. Friedman’s brother Jesse and father Arnold had both been convicted of child molestation. But is Jesse guilty, or merely a victim of the hysteria over child-molestation rings that swept the country in the ’80s and filled anxious parents’ heads with gothic images of Satanic sex cults and trenchcoat-wearing predators lurking around every corner? Though he creates a sympathetic portrait of an upper-middle-class Jewish family in a state of crisis, and the collateral damage that invariably accompanies child-molestation accusations, Jarecki leaves the question of Jesse’s guilt or innocence tantalizingly open. The use of home movies shot by the Friedmans as Arnold and then Jess awaited trial gives the film an almost unbearable intimacy. What began as a film about an unusually successful professional jester morphs into an American tragedy.


    7. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)



    Detractors have long accused Quentin Tarantino of being all style, no substance, a master craftsman with a pop-culture encyclopedia instead of a soul. 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1,Tarantino’s first film since 1997’s refreshingly mature Jackie Brown,would seem to validate that conception, but when you have style this audacious, inventive, and just plain fun, substance seems downright irrelevant. Tarantino’s giddy, overstuffed tribute to the movies that rattled his soul as a kid casts Uma Thurman as a professional assassin who goes bucking for revenge after her creepily paternal boss has her shot and left for dead on her wedding day. Much badass motherfuckery ensues as Thurman goes after her former partners in crime, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. Tarantino’s kung-fu adventuresoars as pure cinema, a sustained adrenaline rush that skips giddily from one unforgettable setpiece to another while quietly laying the groundwork for its quieter, more substantive, and dialogue-heavy second volume.


    6. Spirited Away (2001)



    All of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films are finely crafted artifacts, steeped in old-school craft and a sense of joyous wonder. But Spirited Away may well be his magnum opus, first among comparable masterpieces. The fable of a lost, fearful little girl finding her courage after she and her parents are trapped in the spirit world, it has the usual Miyazaki hallmarks, including a fascination with flight, a deep respect for people of sincere good heart, and scary villains who aren’t really villains when seen up close. But even for a Miyazaki film, it’s uncommonly beautiful, and uncommonly moving. It’s the rarest of things: an animated movie safe for kids but equally suitable for adults, with no pandering to either group.


    5. Memento (2000)



    Here’s how to tell that a movie is innovative and watertight: Seen nearly a decade after release, Memento still feels experimental and daring, and it still holds up as a viewing experience. Director Christopher Nolan, working from a story by his brother Jonathan (later to be his writing partner on The Prestige and The Dark Knight), tells the story backward, starting with a killing that makes no sense out of context, then moving back through time to establish why that initial/final murder happened, and what it means in a tragic larger context. Along the way, he reveals a lot about protagonist Guy Pearce, a man with a baffling memory condition that opens him up to monstrous errors in judgment—and yet the exposition is so deftly handled that it never feels forced, in the usual Hollywood “people telling each other what they already know” way. In spite of its audacious structure, Memento manages to reveal its backstory more organically and smoothly than most linear films do. On top of that, the small cast is fantastic, the mystery is genuinely compelling, and Memento gave us one of the most outrageously funniest film moments of the decade, summed up with the lines “Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy? [One gunshot later…] No, he’s chasing me.”


    4. No Country For Old Men (2007)



    When Joel and Ethan Coen accepted the Best Director Oscar for No Country For Old Men, Joel thanked “all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox,” which was an apt way to describe a career that can progress from the goofy Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers to an award-winning Cormac McCarthy adaptation. With No Country, the ever-inscrutable Coens reached beyond themselves and connected with a wider audience, turning McCarthy’s sparse, allegorical thriller into a finely tuned anxiety-delivery device. They were ably aided by Javier Bardem, playing a grinning jack-in-the-box who springs out every time the Coens turn the crank just enough, and by Josh Brolin, playing a muttering hunter who seems to be having a running conversation in his head. While those two chase each other (and a suitcase full of money) across the southwest, lawman Tommy Lee Jones stands off to the side, as the old man this newer, scarier country has left behind. Rarely do the Coens seem overly interested in any reality but their own, but with No Country For Old Men, they tapped into the waking nightmare of our age of terror, and did so in a way that made impending doom feel viscerally exciting.


    3. There Will Be Blood (2007)



    For a filmmaker with such a bold, unmistakable vision, P.T. Anderson has written and directed a remarkably eclectic array of films, covering everything from the hard-boiled world of professional gamblers (Hard Eight) to the porn industry of the ‘70s and early ‘80s (Boogie Nights) to the interconnectedness of humanity and the universality of suffering (Magnolia) to the romantic angst of a tortured man-child (Punch-Drunk Love). True to form, Anderson’s bruisingly intense 2007 Upton Sinclair adaptation There Will Be Blood looks and feels nothing like any of his previous films. It’s a brawling, two-fisted indictment of conscienceless capitalism built around Daniel Day-Lewis’ volcanic performance as a ruthless oilman who gains the world and loses what little is left of his soul. Anderson has made a film at once epic and intimate, a character study of a man whose lust for money and power knows no bounds. As long as we remain addicted to oil, Anderson’s gut-punch of a film will retain extraordinary contemporary resonance.


    2. 25th Hour (2002)



    In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, filmmakers were rushing to digitally blot out any evidence that the Twin Towers ever existed on the New York skyline. Not Spike Lee. New York is his town, and he alone was committed to documenting it truthfully and poignantly, as an event that touched everyone’s lives in that specific time and place and should not be papered over. That sense of profound loss dovetails beautifully with David Benioff’s story of a convicted New York drug dealer (Edward Norton) spending his final day of freedom before serving a seven-year sentence. Lee connects his regret over the life he’s led—compounded by the realization that the world will keep turning without him—with the vibrancy and resilience of the wounded city he at one point professes to hate, but loves with bone-deep transparency.


    1. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)



    A film is many things, among them a defiance of mortality and a hedge against the fading of memory. All films—from the best to the worst—say something about the way we thought and acted and felt at a particular time and in a particular place. But they’re also artful lies, constructed realities that bend the world into a shape guided by the obsessions of those who make them. (Or the commercial interests of the marketplace, or a momentary whim.) In this, they’re much like memories, which act more subjectively and self-servingly than any film. Painful rejections get blurred. Estranged friends fall victim to careless erasures. We can’t remake the past, but we constantly try to make it a place in which we’re more comfortable living.
    The Michel Gondry-directed, Charlie Kaufman-scripted (from a story by Kaufman, Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth) Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind takes this process to an absurd, moving extreme by positing a world in which technology facilitates our ability to smooth out our past, eliding over the events that hurt us, and removing the people who did the hurting. It’s a freedom that comes, as the leads played by Kate Winslet and a never-better Jim Carrey discover, at a considerable cost.
    Though Kaufman is hardly a purely cerebral writer, his philosophical inquiries find an added emotional weight under Gondry’s direction. Portraying the fading and flaring of love in gargantuan bookstores and on railway lines, Gondry captures a moment that’s quintessentially of the 21st century, and yet timeless. In 2000, the calendar rolled over to a new millennium. With it came a symbolic break with the past, but our old passions and conflicts reasserted themselves seemingly at the stroke of midnight. So it is with Eternal Sunshine’s lovers, whose circular path brings them back together for an ending that’s ambiguous but guardedly hopeful about the possibility of a future not necessarily doomed to reprise the hurt of the past, though it also may well revisit the same mistakes. It’s the rare film that shows us who we are now and who we’re likely, for better or worse, forever to be.
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    Elite Member chartreuse's Avatar
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    i haven't seen all of these movies, but i have seen most of them & agree that the ones that i have seen are awesome films (i'm stoked to see the royal tennenbaums on there...classic!). the one exception is 25th hour. i do not see what is so special about that film whatsoever.
    white, black, puerto rican/everybody just a freakin'/good times were rollin'.


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    Elite Member C_is_for_Cookie's Avatar
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    Really, the middle child of the LotR movies? Personally, I think that the first movie was the best.

    My husband hated There Will Be Blood and he likes almost everything.

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    Elite Member sputnik's Avatar
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    i think 'lost in translation' should be on that list.

    the ones i would take out:
    'time out', while very interesting, is overrated.

    'the 25th hour': it's a good movie, but not best-of-the-decade good.

    lord of the rings. boring.

    as for the rest, while they might not all make it on my list of the best movies of the decade, they are all excellent films. and some of them didn't get a lot of attention when they came out, like the squid and the whale, grizzly man, capturing the friedmans, etc... they got excellent reviews but i doubt any of them made that much money at the box office.
    Last edited by sputnik; December 6th, 2009 at 03:50 PM.
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    Mulholland Drive? One of the best of the decade? I don't think so. And that goes for a few of the films on that list.

    Although Memento & the Royal Tenenbaums definitely belong on the list.

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    lol mulholland drive is one of my favourite movies. it's pure awesome.
    I'm open to everything. When you start to criticise the times you live in, your time is over. - Karl Lagerfeld

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    Elite Member kingcap72's Avatar
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    I hated Mulholland Drive. I thought it was overrated.

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    Elite Member Sarzy's Avatar
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    ^ So did I. Yay for Eternal Sunshine! That's one of my favourite films. I think Amelie should have been in the list.

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    Wow, so "edgy" a list. Yay. Kill Bill? Totally overrated.

    I agree with No Country and Memento.

    But where's Gladiator? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Ghost Dog? Fahrenheit 9/11? United 93? Bourne Identity?

    I've never seen Requiem for a Dream but a lot of people seem to mention it.

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    i've never seen 25th hour. I'll have to get on that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by celeb_2006 View Post
    Wow, so "edgy" a list. Yay. Kill Bill? Totally overrated.

    I agree with No Country and Memento.

    But where's Gladiator? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Ghost Dog? Fahrenheit 9/11? United 93? Bourne Identity?

    I've never seen Requiem for a Dream but a lot of people seem to mention it.
    ghost dog is from 1999 so doesn't qualify.
    and gladiator? seriously? it was entertaining and all but nothing out of this world. if anything, those cheesy, greased lens happy family flashbacks exclude it from any 'best' list. joaquin phoenix's performance was the best thing about it.

    united 93 is technically a good movie. but i still hated it. i think because i found it kind of pointless.

    i agree the bourne identity was excellent.

    crouching tiger, hidden dragon was a great movie.

    requiem for a dream was excellent. that said, i think it would be on my list if we were talking top 30 films, but not top 20.
    I'm open to everything. When you start to criticise the times you live in, your time is over. - Karl Lagerfeld

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    Elite Member kingcap72's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by celeb_2006 View Post
    Wow, so "edgy" a list. Yay. Kill Bill? Totally overrated.

    I agree with No Country and Memento.

    But where's Gladiator? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Ghost Dog? Fahrenheit 9/11? United 93? Bourne Identity?

    I've never seen Requiem for a Dream but a lot of people seem to mention it.
    I agree with you about Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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    Elite Member Sarzy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by celeb_2006 View Post
    Wow, so "edgy" a list. Yay. Kill Bill? Totally overrated.

    I agree with No Country and Memento.

    But where's Gladiator? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Ghost Dog? Fahrenheit 9/11? United 93? Bourne Identity?

    I've never seen Requiem for a Dream but a lot of people seem to mention it.
    Look at the full list. Crouching Tiger and United 93 are in there. It's actually a list of the top 50 films.

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