The Decade in Movies

Quentin Tarantino killed Bill. He also killed Hitler. And, despite what you might assume from its title, “Death Proof” had a body count that lent credence to the fact it was a killer decade for the auteur. That’s three movies — four really, but I’m counting both parts of “Kill Bill” together — in my top 100 list. With “Pulp Fiction,” Tarantino created one of the most influential films of the ’90s; the aughties proved he’s our purest artist of the cinema, capable of blending masterful technique and unique dialogue with the spirit of the unpretentious genre movies that influenced him.

In “Kill Bill,” he crafted the quintessential revenge epic; with “Death Proof,” he paid homage to the exploitation films of his youth; and this past year’s “Inglourious Basterds” proved to be a stirring war film with very few war scenes. It was a perfect trio to represent the decade, in which some of the best movies (at least, the most ones that were the most fun) were genre movies elevated by the creativity and technical prowess of A-list direction and writing. We got graphic novel adaptations (“Ghost World”), superhero franchise makeovers (“The Dark Knight”), chase movies (“The Bourne Identity”); crude teen comedies (“Superbad”); martial arts extravaganzas (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”); crime films (“Zodiac”); zombie epics (“28 Days Later”); and futuristic sci-fi flicks (“Minority Report”) elevated to art. With children’s filmmaking, Pixar and similar innovators exposed the gap between movies that captivate both kids and adults (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Finding Nemo”) and the vast pool of dreck released in theaters.

The emergence of the artistic genre film didn’t mean there were no traditional prestige pictures of quality. But the best had a daring that shamed the banal Oscar catnip rolled out each December (the ones full of scenery chewing and ornate costumes, but not much more). I’m thinking “The Hours,” which was my top film of the decade. By contrasting the lives of three women of three different eras, including the writer Virginia Woolf (a glorious Nicole Kidman), director Stephen Daldry showed the timelessness of examining the greater puzzles of one’s existence amid seemingly ordinary everyday acts. The movie tackled themes of creativity, sexuality and suicide with an amazing immediacy and managed to turn a complicated literary structure into a seamless cinematic experience.

Likewise, Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” took on the ultimate big movie topic: the Holocaust. But it eschewed the last, sentimental act that hobbled “Schindler’s List” and instead stayed true to its tone of grim absurdism. From big topics to big movies, Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic “There Will Be Blood” is a tantalizing echo of the granddaddy of cinematic landmarks, “Citizen Kane,” and it holds the performance of the decade by Daniel Day-Lewis as an oil man who watches his soul corrode. Ang Lee proved the grand romantic traditions of classics like “Gone with the Wind” could be given a modern twist with “Brokeback Mountain,” the “gay cowboy movie” that became an unlikely pop culture sensation, while Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven” skewered and honored the risque sexual themes simmering beneath the surface of ’50s melodramas.

Speaking of the ’50s, Clint Eastwood make his acting debut in 1955. Five decades later, he proved his greatest legacy will be behind the camera— we got “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River,” and a new masterwork seems to pop up each year. Other masters such as Polanski (though he’s now under house arrest) and Martin Scorsese kept going strong (and won best director honors for “The Pianist” and “The Departed,” respectively), while we said goodbye to the peerless Robert Altman (“Gosford Park,” “A Prarie Home Companion”) and the ever-classy Anthony Minghella (“Cold Mountain”). Luckily, new masters such as Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” two of the “Bourne” films), Christopher Nolan (“Dark Knight,” “Memento”) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams”) carry on their vision of cinematic daring.

Of course, looking over this list I can’t help but offer a caveat about this decade— while this is a great bunch of movies, it still pales in comparison with the cinematic renaissance of the 1990s, when independent filmmaking breathed new life into the industry after the moribund output of the ’80s. Looking at my top 10 films from the ’90s (1. “The Piano” 2. “Short Cuts” 3. “The Silence of the Lambs” 4. “The Crying Game” 5.” Pulp Fiction” 6. “The Sweet Hereafter” 7. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” 8. “Being John Malkovich” 9. “Leaving Las Vegas” 10. “The Big Lebowski”), any of them could fight for the top spot here. I can’t help but worry about the shuddering of the big studios’ boutique divisions (the ones that distribute foreign films and art-house gems) as they try to improve on a record bottom line driven by garbage like “Transformers 2.” We can only hope the next decade allows smaller movies an opportunity to be seen, even if it’s at home on a DVD and not on the big screen itself.

That said, everything here is worth discovering if you haven’t seen it. (OK, one more caveat: Since I tend to catch up on movies myself through Netflix, this list is rather short on films released in the past year or so. I have a lot of films from the decade left to discover, too, and that’s something I look forward to in 2010 and beyond.)

100 great movies
1. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 02)
2. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 01)
3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, 01-03)
4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 07)
5. Kill Bill Vol. I and II (Quentin Tarantino, 03-04)
6. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 05)
7. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 06)
8. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 02)
9. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 01)
10. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 04)
11. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 02)
12. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 01)
13, Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 09)
14. Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 00)
15. Juno (Jason Reitman, 07)
16. The Bourne Identity trilogy (Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass, 02-07)
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 04)
18. The Dark Knight and Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan,05-08)
19. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 03)
20. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 00)
21. 21 Grams (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 03)
22. In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 01)
23. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 00)
24. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris, 06)
25. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 06)
26. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 04)
27. Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 00)
28. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 06)
29. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 00)
30. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 06)
31. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 05)
32. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 09)
33. Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 01)
34. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 04)
35. You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 00)
36. Margaret Cho’s concert films: The One That I Want (00)/Notorious CHO (01)/Revolution (03)/Assassin (05)/Beautiful (08)
37. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 03)
38. No Country for Old Men (the Coen brothers, 07)
39. Little Children (Todd Field, 06)
40. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 00)
41. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 05)
42. Zodiac (David Fincher, 07)
43. Ratatouille (07, Brad Bird)
44. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 06)
45. Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 05)
46. Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 07)
47. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 08)
48. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman/Robert Pulcini, 03)
49. Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 02)
50. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 00)
51. Finding Nemo (Andrew stanton/Lee Unkrich, 03)
52. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 03)
53. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 02)
54. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 01)
55. Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 00)
56. Collateral (Michael Mann, 04)
57. Milk (Gus Van Sant, 08)
58. About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 02)
59. School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 03)
60. High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 00)
62. A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, 03)
63. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 07)
64. Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre, 06)
65. 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 02)
66. A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman, 06)
67. Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, 03)
68. Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella, 03)
69. The Cell (Tarsem Singh, 00)
70. Superbad (Greg Mottola, 07)
71. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 00)
72. The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel, 06)
73. Napoleon Dynamite (Jared and Jerusha Hess, 04)
74. The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 08)
75. The Deep End (David Siegel and Scott McGehee, 01)
76. The Constant Gardner (Fernando Meirelles, 05)
77. Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry, 00)
78. Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar, 05)
79. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Peter Sollett, 08)
80. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 02)
81. The Simpsons Movie (David Silverman, 07)
82. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 02)
83. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 01)
84. Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston, 04)
85. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 07)
86. Moulin Rouge (Baz Lurhmann, 01)
87. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 08)
88. Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute, 00)
89. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 07)
90. Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 02)
91. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 07)
92. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 07)
93. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Danny Leiner, 04)
94. The 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 02)
95. Capote (Bennett Miller, 06)
96. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 02)
97. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 01)
98. Transamerica (Duncan Tucker, 05)
99. Wedding Crashers (David Dobkin, 06)
100. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 03)

7 great lead performances by an actress:
1. Hllary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby”
2. Nicole Kidman, “The Hours”
3. Julianne Moore, “Far From Heaven”
4. Kate Winslet, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
5. Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”
6. Naomi Watts, “21 Grams”
7. Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”

7 great lead performances by an actor:
1. Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”
2. Gene Hackman, “The Royal Tenenbaums”
3. Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”
4. Michael Douglas, “Wonder Boys”
5. Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”
6. Paul Giamatti, “Sideways”
7. Matt Damon, “Bourne” trilogy

7 great supporting performances by an actress:
1. Helen Mirren, “Gosford Park”
2. Mo’Nique, “Precious”
3. Michelle Williams, “Brokeback Mountain”
4. Holly Hunter, “Thirteen”
5. Marisa Tomei, “In the Bedroom”
6. Cate Blanchett, “The Aviator”
7. Kathy Bates, “About Schmidt”

7 great supporting performances by an actor:
1. Heath Ledger, “Dark Knight”
2. Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
3. David Carradine, “Kill Bill Vol. II”
4. Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”
5. Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”
6. Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”
7. Fred Willard, “Best in Show”


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