Sam’s Top 42 Films of the Decade

Just for the sake of my own sanity and desperate need to have these written somewhere, I give you my favourite forty-two films of the past decade. There are at least fifty-six other films I would like to put onto a list, but I think I need to forcefully prevent any more decade-based listmaking as quickly as possible. So beneath is the top ten list, along with a sentence or two on each film and then thirty-two, out-of-list-order, films which I had to include.

  1. Pan’s Labyrinth – The single most perfect achievement in filmmaking in the last ten years. Rhyming scenes, boundless imagination, a perfect encapsulation of the childhood mindset wrapped in a semi-realist fairytale.
  2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – An exploration of the desire for love and the acceptance that it must, in its purest form, include the unimaginable pains of hurt and loss as well as harmonious bliss.
  3. This is England – Amid a modern Britain in which the far-right is on the rise, Shane Meadows draws on his own history to openly examine the seduction of the dark side and the way that extremism draws in those seeking guidance and their place. Contains, along with my number one, the most indelible child performance of the noughties.
  4. Zodiac – The perfect meta-match of director and subject. An obsessive auteur tells the story of an obsessive chase for serial killer which was never solved, leaving open the possibility, grasped with both hands, for the auteur to continue the search through his art.
  5. The Insider – Michael Mann, ever interested in the relationships that exist in the motivations of men, does his best work ever in comparing doing the ‘right’ thing and the tension caused when this can only be facilitated by organisations only considering their own interests.
  6. Wall-E – Yes, the second half is less interesting, but the message isn’t wrong and, note this permanently, the first half is the most perfect twenty-five minutes of cinema placed in front of you this decade.
  7. Man on Wire – Riveting documentary filmmaking on the service, contains one of cinema history’s most moving scenes in its final shots. Without narrating a word, James Marsh illustrates the great loss of 9/11 by capturing a singular, unique moment in time. A testament to the drive and determination of the human race.
  8. United 93 – Everything you could want from a film so explicitly dealing with a recent tragedy, handling the subject without mawkishness but never failing to celebrate, or concentrate its focus upon, the bravery of those involved.
  9. Capturing the Friedmans – Though a happy accident in its origination, this again provides a lesson in how to explore a difficult subject with objectivity without ever losing sight of the thrilling narrative of investigation and revelation.
  10. Traffic – Soderbergh’s parallel story masterpiece, experimental filmmaking techniques employed to strengthen and simplify the intensely complex story of drugs and the impact the trade has on families, police officers and all those around them.

And another thirty-one films, in no particular order, I could not prevent myself from closing out the decade without mentioning…

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Revisionist Western with a visual style based on period pictures and with turns, especially from Casey Affleck and cinematographer Roger Deakins, which should have garnered gold from the Academy.
Lost in Translation – A film about a passing moment and the beauty inherent in its fleeting nature. Scarlett Johannson captured a legion of followers in easily her best, and sexiest role to date.
There Will Be Blood – On the cusp of recession, Paul Thomas Anderson uses early century oil prospecting as a metaphor for the American dream and the fields of casualties left in the wake in pursuit. Daniel Day-Lewis proves himself the great overactor of his generation in a performance entirely fitting of Anderson’s wide canvas.
Almost Famous – Cameron Crowe delves into his past to deliver a personal diary about falling in love with music, writing and girls. In Kate Hudson, who has never come close to topping this, he found the epitome of the kind of troubled, beautiful pixie than any straight man would be obligated to fall for.
The Royal Tenenbaums – Wes Anderson’s most explicit examination of familial relationships, the extent to which these can be pushed and the final acceptance that these can never be broken beyond repair.
Mulholland Drive – Obtuse, sensual but utterly thrilling, Lynch here manages to satisfy all his needs for strange visual metaphors whilst delivering a touching love story and a narrative which has, and should be poured over for years to come.
Dead Man’s Shoes – A revenge thriller of immense power, on which indulges the whims of those seeking a Death Wish bloodbath whilst always understanding that the stakes of such a story are built on emotional connections with the characters that drive their motivations.
Memento – Perhaps too neat, but no doubt a game-changer in terms of storytelling, editing and the arrival of Christopher Nolan, the man who would take the comic book movie to a respectable early zenith.
The Lives of Others – A lyrical, profoundly moving story about the compromises that the human spirit must make because of patriotic obligation and the need for those making such compromises to challenge these before all underneath becomes lost. Contains the best ending of the decade.
A History of Violence – Cronenberg turns his hand to a mainstream-style thriller, keeps his body horror obsession, delivers some of the best sex scenes of the decade and draws two incredible performances from Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello. A great film from a director completely comfortable in his own skin.
The Hurt Locker – The perfect Iraq war film by being about the people in the conflict, not the conflict itself. Kathryn Bigelow uses outsider perspective to provides the best exploration of masculine competitiveness since, well, her own Point Break.
Red Road – Andrea Arnold’s breathtaking, gripping emotional revenge thriller with amazing performance from Kate Dickie and consistent balance of menace and hurt.
City of God – Is there another film from the last decade which feels so vitally alive? A dazzling blend of human drama, clandestine gangster cool and the city as character, as the favelas are used to drive and complement the narrative.
Shaun of the Dead – A great homage to Romero on the surface, underneath the decade most telling movie about friendship when that relationship is pushed to an illogical extreme.
Being John Malkovich – Visually and thematically unique, this film announced the twin talents of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, the latter especially the defining talent behind the camera of the last generation, blending far-out conceptual ideas and postmodern values with a huge beating heart.
Y Tu Mama Tambien – A film which, along with being astonishingly sexy, captures the spirit of moments, of the fleeting period before a friendship runs out of steam and the desire for people to attempt to meet their own goals before they no longer can.
Finding Nemo – Quite a lot of Pixar films are about fatherhood and family, but this is one which specifically concentrates on the father and the unstoppable commitment that a parent makes to a child, along with the realisation for said parent that the child needs to grow up by learning lessons on their own.
Requiem for a Dream – A meeting of astonishing directorial and editing achievement with raw performances and explicit, open examination of the damages caused by hard drug use. After Pi, announced Aronofsky among the most exciting talents of his generation.
In the Mood for Love – Two people unable to find the strength or bravery to break from their moral boundaries and embrace the love which so blatantly exists. Yet it seems perfect, if perfectly painful, that they can never take things beyond the chaste relationship they already hold.
Brokeback Mountain – Another forbidden romance prevented by social morality, one which does find its full flowering. The moment when Ledger smells the shirt at the end is as beautiful a depiction of the feeling of heartbroken love as has ever been committed to celluloid.
Spirited Away – An exhibition of confidence in the imagination of the creator and confidence in the ability of the audience, most notably children, to understand, comprehend and connect to everything put in front of them if the conviction is there.
Knocked-Up – The moment that comedy in the 00s shifted away from the out-loud era of Will Ferrell and the frat pack to something more personal, something set in reality and a film which explores the phenomenon of the childish man without sneering at stupidity, rather celebrating both that child inside and the transformation into ‘true’ manhood when the time dictates.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – A clarion warning to the financial world in the mid-1980s of building skyscrapers on swamps, a warning not heeded. The evil that the corporate world drives is laid to bare to the ears of only those already converted, unfortunately.
No Country for Old Men – The best from the Coens this decade, a fable of untold, random evil and the consequences of the choices that men will make. Bardem’s Chigurh stands alongside Daniel Plainview and The Joker as the indelible villain of the 00s.
Lake of Fire – With a manifesto to provide a balanced view of abortion, Tony Kaye manages to achieve his goal through sheer determination, managing to make room for pro-life and pro-choice voices from the fanatical to the considered. Should be required viewing in classrooms and political offices throughout the US.
The Dark Knight – Far from perfect, but applause must be given for a film which elevated the comic book medium by openly engaging with the war on terror, the concepts of justice and heroism and what will drive those seemingly sane to the violence and revenge. The Joker is an incredible character, but the personal internal conflicts for Harvey and Rachel are just as compelling.
Capote – Driven by an astounding central performance, but so much more than a one-man-show. A low-key dramatic thriller on the ethics of ambition, the blocks of storytelling and how jealousy can motivate a person to sidestep morals in search of immortality.
The Fountain – Aronofsky’s much-derided sci-fi love story is a personal, openly emotional journey wrapped in pseudo-scientific concepts and leftfield religious beliefts. Visually dazzling, insanely ambitious, completely spellbinding for the heart you can clearly feel went into its making.
Children of Men – Bravura filmmaking and action directing meets dystopian sci-fi and potent political satire on the dying sense of ethics within the modern world. The two single shots sequences could be considered showing off, but more likely should act as reasons to bow at the talent of director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
Apocalypto – Mad as a hatter Gibson may be, but this film is a lesson in building stakes and then using these to implant an audience in a breathless two-hour chase. The construction and execution is just perfection.
The Bourne Trilogy – The redefinition of the action movie and the spy movie in one swoop through three films which become ever more bravura with each passing instalment. Made clear the inadequacy of Bond through imbuing its character with heart, commitment and a balance between revenge both primal and emotional.
The Wrestler – A film elevated by everyone around the slightly trite script, but elevated so much given the heart-stopping meta-performance from Mickey Rourke, the gorgeous grained shooting by Marise Alberti and Aronofsky’s grasp of story and structure. An emotional journey through the last-gasp moment for rememberance for a man readying himself for closure.

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