It was a pretty amazing year for movies, with budgets climbing and special effects evolving to the point where you can barely tell a real person from a CGI construct. But what really makes a great movie is a great story and great performances, and luckily we had those too. The following list is my 10 favorite flicks of the decade – what are yours?
10. The Dark Knight – The oughts were most definitely the decade of the comic-book movie, with four-color fantasies hitting the screen in quality ranging from atrocious (Fantastic Four) to entertaining (Iron Man). But one comic book flick transcended the rest to craft an engaging, surprising, and terrifying tale of man and insanity – Christopher Nolan’s second Batman flick, The Dark Knight. While Batman Begins was a useful franchise reboot to clear away all the Schumacher cheese, the sequel was where things really started to cook, with one of Heath Ledger’s last and best performances as the Joker the anarchic anchor about which the story spins.
9. Oldboy – Park Chan-Wook’s twisted revenge fantasy boasts one of the most pathologically compelling protagonists in film history. When Dae-Su wakes up imprisoned in a ratbag hotel, he’s unaware that he has just embarked on a journey that will break his down to the very core of his being. Unfortunately, what’s there is a guy who really likes to destroy people and eat live octopus.
8. The Royal Tenenbaums – Wes Anderson may be one of the most influential directors of the new century, with his arch visual design and over-composed dialogue inspiring legions of indie layabouts. Tenenbaums sees him at the height of his powers, creating a beautifully-crafted ode to and indictment of family life that runs like a freshly-wound clock. It’s no surprise that Anderson moved more into fairytale with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, as this movie is half Mother Goose anyways.
7. A History Of Violence – The 00s were also a decade when some of our favorite cult heroes finally got the recognition they deserved, and none made us happier than David Croenenberg. His adaptation of Christopher Priest’s novel runs on the incredible performance of Viggo Mortensen as a man trying to put his past behind him, only to have a brutal explosion of ass-kicking drag him back into the underworld. Paced exquisitely, with stretches of unendurable silence punctuated by acts of jaw-clenching violence, this flick redefined what we thought of as “suspense.”
6. The Last King Of Scotland – It’s rare that a film becomes legendary based on one performance, but Forrest Whitaker’s astounding portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in Kevin Macdonald’s 2006 flick is too intense to ignore. Amin rode Uganda to the ground during the 70s and 80s, and this harrowing picture puts you right on the ground through the eyes of Amin’s personal physician, Scottish transplant TKTK. No disrespect to James MacAvoy or the rest of the film’s cast (including a very MILFy Gillian Anderson), but this is a one-man show, and an absolutely unforgettable one.
4. City Of God – This astounding Brazilian crime drama has grown in reputation since its 2003 release for a number of reasons. Its detailed, nonjudgmental depiction of the brutal conditions of Rio de Janiero’s favelas has inspired many lesser talents to look to Brazil as a location. Its casting of a mix of actors and real street kids echoes The Wire‘s dramtis personae. And the color-saturated, hyperkinetic intensity of its visual design foreshadowed the shift away from hyper-realism that had dominated the 90s. But it’s really on this list because it’s just an incredible, moving, exciting film that didn’t get a single Oscar nod.
3. American Psycho – Christian Bale’s breakthrough performance comes in this adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis classic that paved the way for a universe of anti-heroes and unreliable narrators. Patrick Bateman is a Great White shark in human form, preying on New York city both in his day job and at night, and this flick pulls you so deeply into his mind that you start to feel disgusted at enjoying it. Great dialogue, amazing performances and chainsaws – what more could you ask for?
2. Wall-E – Forget An Inconvenient Truth, Pixar laid down the environmental apocalypse in high style with this far-future fantasy starring a trash-packing robot. Their previous movies had been good to great amusements for kids, but Wall-E pushed the studio into truly groundbreaking territory, making movies that appeal to every age group effortlessly and making the spate of CGI kids comedies from other, lesser companies look like crap. If I had more room, Up would easily make this list as well.
1. There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson often leaves me nonplussed – I thought Magnolia was a huge sack of crap, forinstance – but he knocked it out of the park with his adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in a performance so natural and incandescent that it deserves Oscars from here until the day he dies, this tale of a roving prospector who builds an empire through cunning and brutality not only gave us the most quotable scene of the decade, but it gave us a new respect for where the black gold came from and what it could do.