The Top 101 Films of the Decade: 75-51

Click here for 101-76.

75. Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)

Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense is his most interesting, artful film to-date. Many films of the last decade have tried to convincingly transplant comic book superheroes into a real-world context. In its own unique way, Unbreakable succeeds better than any of them.


74. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003)

As an intimate portrait of the slow disintegration of a family, Capturing the Friedmans is riveting. As a horrifying nightmare of American justice run amok in a modern-day witch-hunt, it is practically required viewing (see also Witch Hunt, 2008). Either way, it is an incredible accomplishment of documentary filmmaking, made possible by a collection of home movies unlike any you’ve ever seen (I hope).


73. Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008)

Its central premise revolves around a distortion of historical truth, but this film is still a crackling adaptation of a brilliant play. It’s hard to believe that a movie about a television interview could be so thoroughly gripping, but it is. This is razor-sharp, sweat-inducing drama that relies almost entirely on the gravitas of two men sitting in a room together, engaged in an intellectual battle to the (political) death.


72. Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000)

Gladiator is about as historically accurate as . . . well, Braveheart. But that isn’t the only similarity between the two. Both are movies about men who were great leaders and skilled warriors driven to extremes by personal tragedy, and both feature impressive battle sequences involving loads of extras. Add to that a pulse-pounding soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, and strong performances from Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, and you have the makings of an excellent, inspiring epic.


71. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)

United 93 could easily have been exploitative, saccharine, jingoistic, or just plain bad. It is none of these things. It is a respectful, thrilling, frighteningly-authentic account of a day that is seared into America’s collective memory, told from a perspective that most of us were not privy to at the time. And it is so well-constructed that future audiences (who may not be aware of the inevitable outcome) will find it just as compelling.


70. Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)

Although it begins as a quiet British country house drama, Atonement drags you head first into its world and holds you there all the way through its heartbreaking final moments. The gorgeous art-direction and cinematography (including an incredible sustained shot of the British Army stranded at Dunkirk) and several top-notch performances all work in support of a powerful story about unattainable forgiveness.


69. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006)

Equal parts hilarious and heartwarming, this movie features an incredibly dysfunctional family who discover a new sense of unity over the course of a road trip in a beat-up van to get young daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin, whose performance was nominated for an Oscar) to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in southern California. The whole thing builds to an unforgettable climax on the pageant stage that never fails to crack me up when I remember it. Outstanding.


68. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

In this mind-bending sci-fi murder mystery, an experimental future “precrime” police unit uses a group of precognitives who can reliably predict violent crimes before they happen, leading to arrests for murders that would have been committed. This slick system is disrupted, however, when the precogs say that unit chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) will murder a man he’s never even met.  Convinced that he’s been framed, Anderton goes on the run and takes us on a thought-provoking journey through questions about the nature of free will.


67. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)

I have probably seen this movie upwards of 20 times since it was first released, and each time I notice something new (and laugh just as hard). This may well be the most flawless, intricately constructed comedy ever made; every single moment in the whole film is carefully connected to the larger structure, leading to gags that pay off again and again and again. Add to that a final, ridiculously-awesome action sequence that just keeps going and going, and you have the perfect formula for an entertaining evening, whether alone or with friends.


66. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)

Charlie Kaufman is kind of a genius at writing screenplays, and with this film he proved that he’s an exceptional director, as well. None of his ideas ever sound anything like something you’ve seen in a movie before, and this is no exception. Its ambition alone is awe-inspiring. It effectively turns Shakespeare’s famous “All the world’s a stage” completely on its head.


65. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

Wes Anderson is the king of the off-beat, hyper-stylized family dramedy. All of his films exist in their own little artificial worlds, which makes them both fun and funny, but he never ridicules his characters, even when they are ridiculous. In The Life Aquatic, Bill Murray is magnificent as Steve Zissou, a Cousteau-esque ocean explorer and documentarian who sets out with his estranged son and misfit crew on an insane mission to hunt down the shark that ate his best friend.


64. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

The Nolan brothers’ break-out feature is a trippy noir mystery/thriller about a man searching for his wife’s killer. His search is complicated by the fact that his brain cannot record new memories and he is constantly forgetting everything that’s happened. The audience shares his disorientation via a simple but ingenious storytelling device: the scenes run in reverse chronological order.


63. Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003)

Everyone wants to be the star of their own life story, but few people pursue this goal as single-mindedly as Edward Bloom, who has constructed a fantastic and elaborate mythology around the events of his life. His son Will, who grew up adoring (and believing) his father’s stories, has grown distant with the realization that none of them can possibly be true. Now, as Edward dies of cancer, Will returns to his side, hoping to finally learn who his father really is. This is a beautiful, touching film about fathers and sons, stories and legacies, and the idea that truth is an essential ingredient of myth.


62. Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)

A brilliant team of scientists have unlocked a way for therapists to visit people inside their dreams. Unfortunately, before the proper safeguards are in place, a sinister figure hijacks the technology and begins trapping people inside their own minds. Unlike most American animators, the Japanese understand that cartoons don’t have to be for kids (and don’t have to be about talking animals), and this mind-boggling film pushes that freedom to the limit while telling an incredible story that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.


61. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

This movie plays like the improvisational love child of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and the hilarious British sitcom “Yes, Minister” (it is, in fact, based on another British series, “The Thick of It,” which I have not seen). The one-liners fly so thick and fast that you’ll either have to watch it twice, or pause frequently to give yourself a chance to laugh as the characters attempt to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare of Anglo-American diplomatic relations in the lead-up to war.


60. Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005)

There have been many notable science fiction films during the past decade, but hardly anyone has attempted space opera, and certainly no one has done it half so well as Joss Whedon in Serenity, the epic follow-up to his short-lived but greatly-mourned TV series “Firefly.” This movie is awesome, and while it is not at all necessary to watch the television series first in order to appreciate or understand it, you’d be depriving yourself if you didn’t spend every possible minute with Serenity’s crew.


59. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London, and what begins as a friendly competition eventually turns fatal as they go to increasingly dangerous and questionable extremes in their efforts to one-up each other. This incredibly rich tale of obsession has a complex “story within a story (within a story)” structure that will keep you riveted, and keep you guessing, until the final, devastating revelation.


58. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson, 2005)

The stated purpose of this film is to “make believers think twice about what they believe and doubters have doubts about their doubts.” Based on a true story, it is an interesting hybrid between horror and courtroom drama, dealing with a priest on trial for the death of a girl, a death which may have resulted from an exorcism he was performing on her. As the story, which is both terrifying and thought-provoking, unfolds, viewers will find that the filmmakers have definitely achieved their goal.


57. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)

With Russian Ark, Sokurov has accomplished one of the most ambitious, awe-inspiring cinematic projects ever conceived: to film an entire feature in one single, unbroken shot. The movie is filmed from the point of view of a man who mysteriously finds himself moving invisibly through the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. As he roams from room to room, he is joined by a 19th-century French aristocrat (and Russophobe), and together the two experience some 300 years of Russian history.


56. Finding Neverland (Marc Forster, 2004)

An imaginative biopic about playwright J.M. Barrie, best known as the author of Peter Pan, this story focuses on Barrie’s relationship with the fatherless Davies boys, who serve as the inspiration for his enduring story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. With an amazing cast that includes Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Julie Christie, and a glorious, lyrical score, this movie is simply, thoroughly enchanting.


55. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)

I don’t like sports movies, as a general rule. I find them largely formulaic, often manipulative, and generally uninteresting. However, I do have a lot of admiration for the films of Clint Eastwood. Million Dollar Baby pretends to be a fairly straight-forward boxing movie, but sneaks around behind you and attacks as a touching story about two broken people who fill an essential gap in each others’ lives; also, Morgan Freeman narrates. Enough said.


54. Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2005)

Hayao Miyazaki is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney. The comparison is apt; he is a brilliant and innovative storyteller. In this fantasy, a young hatter named Sophie is magically aged by the Witch of the Waste, and becomes the housekeeper of the witch’s rival, the Wizard Howl, hoping to reverse the spell. It is one of Miyazaki’s most magical, beautifully-realized stories.


53. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)

Ang Lee started the decade strong with this high-flying martial arts drama. Perhaps best remembered for some of the most impressively staged and choreographed fight scenes ever filmed, the movie also has some very fine performances, achingly beautiful cinematography and art direction, and a stellar score featuring performances by Yo-Yo Ma.


52. Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)

Lars and the Real Girl is an incredibly delicate balancing act. It is extremely well-written, but it wouldn’t work at all if the performers had tried to maintain ironic distance. Lars, an extremely introverted young man, shocks his brother and sister-in-law when he orders a life-size sex doll and behaves as though she is a living, breathing human being. The family doctor advises everyone to humor him, and what follows is a funny and heartwarming portrait of love and community.


51. Up (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, 2009)

If the opening sequence of Up doesn’t make you cry, then your heart is made of stone. After an incredibly effective yet pithy introduction, we get a rousing adventure story thinly draped over a deep lesson about dealing with grief and loss, and the weight of dreams deferred. This movie is full of clever ideas and eye-popping, white-knuckle action, but the personal journeys of the characters is what will stay with you long after it’s over.


50-26 are here.

~ by Jared on March 16, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Top 101 Films of the Decade: 75-51”

  1. Only one I really, truly disagree with is “Serenity.” As much as I love Mal and Wash and the rest, it probably wouldn’t have made my list.


  2. I wasn’t even thinking about “Serenity” until I decided that my list would focus on personal favorites . . . and it would be dishonest of me to pretend that this wasn’t among my 100 favorite movies of the decade. This is one of those movies that I’ll be sharing with others for years to come. (And of course, as with a few other entries, its place also acknowledges the larger series that it is connected with, i.e., “Firefly.”)

    That said, it is definitely part of my quota of more “low-brow” entries, and its place could easily have gone to something else (although I think it holds up reasonably well as a quality example of its genre). I also probably put it way too high on the list . . . but that’s almost inevitable (I still feel like reordering everything every time I look at it, and it’s too painful to even look at the list that didn’t quite make my cut).


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