I had really hoped that my list of the top 10 films of the
decade would be more surprising. Or perhaps I just assumed that I was less
predictable. I thought about a lot of other films, some of which you’ll see in
my runners-up rundown at the foot of this article, but these are the ones that
stuck with me over the past ten years.
There Will Be Blood
I have a theory about Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s not the new
Scorsese, as Hard Eight and Boogie
Nights made us think. He’s not the new
Altman, as Magnolia and Punch
Drunk Love might have indicated. I’m pretty
sure that, as time goes by, we’ll realize that he’s the new Kubrick. Bold
words, I know, but I can’t think of a more towering, timely, unique – in other
words, exhilaratingly Kubrick-ian – American movie from the past ten years than
There Will Be Blood. So there.
Figuring out this story of the dreams that end up in the
tailing pond of Hollywood’s dream factory doesn’t lessen it impact, or my
admiration for the way in which David Lynch wrings existential horror from the
most mundane images and situations. The tensile strength of this film is so
great that it can even withstand a cameo appearance by Billy Ray Cyrus, and the
fact that it began as a pilot for an ABC/Disney television series makes it
loose threads more tantalizing than frustrating (or some combination of those
A film I nearly didn’t see – only a friend’s dyslexia
brought me to it – The Queen has as much
to say about the 2000s as about the era in which it’s set – the days and weeks
immediately following the death of Princess Diana. It’s an unexpected story of
how the media, conservativism and privilege collide and collude, and one tough
old lady. Frost/Nixon was an
admirable follow-up for writer Peter Morgan (The Other Boleyn Girl, not so much).
It’s not about the shadow of the twin towers, it’s about the
shadow that’s no longer there. The opening credits – which feature twin
floodlight beams pinioning the New York skyline in lieu of the WTC – drive it
home: this is a movie about shedding light, about seeing yourself clearly, even
if it happens too late to make a difference.
Was Timothy Treadwell asking for it? Probably. But that
doesn’t make his story any less compelling, or the scene in which Werner Herzog
listens to a recording of Treadwell’s last moments any less chilling. When we
lie to ourselves, the universe finds out, if nobody else does, and this film
makes a strong case for Herzog’s contention that “the common character of the
universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.”
The Royal Tenenbaums
Although the best line of dialogue in Wes Anderson
filmography comes from Rushmore (“These
are O.R. scrubs.” “O, R they?”), The Royal Tenenbaums is where it all comes together most successfully for
me. How Anderson manages to deliver that much genuine emotion in such a nakedly
artificial package is kind of a
wonder, and probably has something to do with the fact that this is the last of
his films to have the leavening touch of Owen Wilson on the screenplay. This
film is stuck like a BB under my skin.
I needed to pick something by Charlie Kaufman for my list.
While Being John Malkovich is, I think one
of the purest horror films in recent memory (just take a moment to think about
what actually happens to Malkovich), it’s out of the running since it’s from
1999. And I’m a screenwriter, so I give the edge to Adaptation. over Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There are a lot of things to admire here, but
perhaps none more than the period placed at the end of the title. Besides, my
mom called it “psychologically taut”.
The Dark Knight
I wrote an article about this, which you can check out at
your leisure. But suffice it to say that, in the decade of superhero movies,
this one was, to employ an overused quasi-descriptor, a gamechanger – a film
that immolates the superhero genre even as it becomes its highest achievement.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert
A witty rejoinder to every screenwriting manual that tells
you not to use voiceover, Andrew Dominik’s follow up to Chopper is another brilliant meditation on self-made and
self-perpetuated legends, and adds to it a fascinating look at the weight of
celebrity (the casting of Brad Pitt is perfect, given this). Add to that Roger
Deakins’ sky-collapsing cinematography, and this is 160 minutes of your life
you won’t want back.
Pixar films generally really are as good as they are popular
(the only exceptions for me have been A Bug’s Life, which I should probably revisit, and Cars, which just left me cold). As the rest of Hollywood
scrambled to keep up, this was Pixar’s decade, and this was their finest
Runners up: Cache, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The
Lives of Others, Barbarian Invasions, Hustle and Flow, El Aura, Hedwig and the
Angry Inch, When the Levees Broke (It’s not TV, it’s HBO!), Primer and Before
Ian Driscoll was David Bowman.