Juno’s Top Nine Movies of the Decade

20 Dec

Filmmaking has really turned a corner this decade. Special effects are truly at the point where absolutely anything is possible. The first movie on the list attests to this amazing fact. While being able to produce any imagined image can be freeing, the story is still king. Several new directions were explored in this arena as well, from Memento telling a story backwards, to Primer telling a story in, uh, whatever order Primer is (or isn’t) in.
Movies on this list are not just supreme examples of movie-craft, they are also entertaining and enjoyable narratives. Enjoyable, for this list at least, is a key word here. Many many movies came out this decade which are, technically speaking, brilliant. Many of them are, critically speaking, better than some of the movies on this list. Movies like Pan’s Labyrinth, Tsotsi, Babel, Brokeback Mountain, Traffic, or City of God are technically excellent movies, worthy of becoming classics. But they are not on this list because the stories they tell are not enjoyable. They’re told magnificently, yes, but I don’t anticipate revisiting them. I don’t long to sit through them again. All the movies on this list I enjoy watching, and enjoy re-watching (and with one obvious exception I have seen each one at least twice). I should also note here, in the interest of fairness, that I have not seen even half of the movies that were made this decade. Particularly recently, I’ve been very remiss in my movie watching. Many critically acclaimed movies are not on this list because I simply haven’t seen them. Movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Everything is Illuminated, or Monsoon Wedding (to throw out a few random ones) could very well be deserving, but I don’t know.

That out of the way, let’s get on with the list that I know you’ve all been waiting for (as well as a list of some runners-up).

9. Avatar (digital 3d version) – written and directed by James Cameron:
Avatar validates movie theaters. Seeing this movie in digital 3D is an experience like nothing else. Now, to be clear, this movie will not change the world. The story is as derivative as Star Wars with characters no thicker than stereotypical cut-outs. It’s Dances With Wolves. It’s Dune. It’s Pocahontas in space. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Yet you’ve never seen, or experienced, anything remotely like Avatar. I actually wonder how they pulled off some of the visual effects in this film (like Jake’s withered legs), and that’s rare. The action is clear and easy to follow and incredible. This movie, when seen in proper digital 3d, is a glimpse into the future of cinema where screens become not just moving pictures but true windows into vast (and in this case beautiful) new worlds. Also: dragons.

8. The Fall – written by Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Tarsem Singh – directed by Tarsem Singh:
A handful of movies came out this decade that are stunningly beautiful to watch and full of bright colors and bold costumes used to great narrative effect. Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which were both considered for this list), House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower. All of them gorgeous, and all of them with stories ranging from unpleasant to tragic. But The Fall is different. The Fall is told to and through a 5 year old girl so reality and fantasy is never clearly delineated. This leads to beautiful vistas (shot in 18 different countries), bold colors, absurd characters and situations which all make perfect sense to a 5 year old. It’s a cinematic treat and while it’s never completely clear when fantasy stops and reality starts, part of the point is that it doesn’t matter. Reality might not be as good as the fantasy, and if it doesn’t seem as real… why pay attention to it? There are enough hints in the story, however, to let the audience know what is really going on, without which the movie would just be a beautiful but hollow shell. Seek this one out.

7. Amelie – written by Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet – directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet:
A quirky movie which parades as a romantic comedy is actually, at its heart, much more. I fell in love with this movie the moment Amelie decides that she’s going to do something nice for an unknown stranger. If he likes it she will keep doing nice things for people. If not… but of course he does and thus she becomes Amelie – doer of good deeds. I love the part where, in order to visualize that feeling one gets when a crush enters the room, Amelie literally turns into a puddle. A joy to watch, this movie is solely responsible for my fantasy of a secret “do good” operation. A vast network of intertwined “joyist” cells, if you will.

6. The New World – written and directed by Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick’s cinematic meditation on human progress and civilization. Don’t just dismiss it as another Pocahontas, or avoid it because watching people slaughter natives is unpleasant. Seeing people kill people is unpleasant, and while there are such scenes in the movie, they are woven into the fabric of it, and not the focus nor the point. Nature is a main character in this film, and the cinematography (everything shot with natural light) is haunting. Character narrations serve as most of the dialogue in the film and it gives the entire movie a dreamlike quality. The script explores the frustrating relationship between untouched nature and people’s (including the natives) need to destroy it in order to survive. It’s this fascinating exploration, as well as the lilting beauty of the cinematography, the meditative look at what the birth of “western” civilization could have been like, and the captivating performance by Q’orianka Kilcher that keep me coming back to this film again and again. I like that the titular new world is not just America. For each character the new world, wherever it may be, is more civilized (in unexpected ways) than it used to be. I hear there is a director’s cut, or an extended cut, of this movie available on DVD. I have yet to see it, but even in this theatrical edit The New World is magnificent.

5. Spirited Away written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is the Walt Disney of Japan and I suspect that nobody (even other animators) would disagree with crowning him the world’s best living animator. There’s an argument to be made that hand-drawn animation is, always has been, and always will be, the purest form of cinema. The image flows straight from the hand of the animator directly to the audience. Miyazaki’s most recent film, Ponyo, was also in consideration for this list, and while I enjoyed it more I feel that Spirited Away is a better film. The adventure of Chihiro as she ends up working in a bathhouse for spirits is full of strange creatures beyond anything I’ve ever thought about imagining, beautiful vistas, magic, and monsters all set to (as usual for Miyazaki) a great score by Jo Hisaishi. Even though the creatures are often so outrageous (three green bouncing heads, for example) the movie still manages to feel like it’s following some obscure set of rules. Everything seems to be contained by something rational, even though what that is escapes the audience. It’s a story that only animation could perfectly tell and a movie that only Miyazaki could perfectly make. Spirited Away is a masterpiece. Also: there’s a dragon.

4. The Incredibles – written and directed by Brad Bird
Pixar has had quite a decade. Up. Wall-E. Finding Nemo. Monster’s Inc. Ratatouille. All of these films were considered for this list, and all of them are flat-out great movies. Wall-E and The Incredibles are my favorite pixar movies. While the narrative structure of Wall-E has some issues, The Incredibles is a solid movie through and through which only leaves me wanting more each time I watch it. At face value it’s just a sitcom about a family of super-powered people, but it’s far more than that. I suspect many an essay has been written on the themes explored in the movie about being special when others aren’t and “celebrations of mediocrity” in response. Everything about The Incredibles works. Michael Giacchino’s score is one of the decade’s best, as is the production design, making a world with super powers and exotic technologies cohesive and tangible. The animation, as typical of Pixar, is both groundbreaking and top notch. The humor is great, the action fantastic, the story engaging. In a decade full of superhero movies (Ironman and The Dark Knight were both very close to making this list as well), The Incredibles is perfect.

3. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) – written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson – directed by Peter Jackson:
Darkness. Silence. Air thick with excitement. The haunting and beautiful voice of Galadriel speaks in a foreign tongue (and in english) of the world changed. Not since the Star Wars theme blasted crawl text into space has a movie so instantly and completely transported the audience into a genuinely new world. The most epic, remarkable, and important fantasy movie of the decade, The Lord of The Rings launched a new era of fantasy on film. By sweating each and every detail of Middle Earth and treating it all as historical rather than fantastical, Peter Jackson and crew were able to make dwarves, elves, ghosts, wizards, hobbits, and other fantasy staples into something wholly real and significant. I vastly prefer the extended editions of the three films over the theatrical edits, though I feel that Fellowship of The Ring extended is still the best of the three. I expect that audiences will yearn to return to Middle Earth for decades to come. Luckily the visit can last more than 9 hours. Also: there’s a dragon, but only in firework form.

2. Children of Men written by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby – directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Quarón directed three films this decade: Y Tu Mama También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men. All three were considered for this list. What can I say? The man makes brilliant movies.
Children of Men takes place in a future where humans have become infertile and the youngest person alive is 18. It’s the best kind of end-of-the-world movie, simultaneously offering hope while putting people at their worst up for display. Everything about the construction of this movie is brilliant. A deceptively simple narrative in which a character named “key” and a boat called “tomorrow” intertwine metaphor with documentary-style filmmaking. Famous for it’s agonizingly long takes through scenes of such complexity that it’s mind boggling to figure out how they could have possibly shot them, the movie builds slowly to its climax while building up and embracing the audience with a complex and layered world on the way.

1. Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut Director’s Edition – written and directed by Cameron Crowe
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world… is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool” One of my favorite movies ever, and always great fun to watch. This is Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece, particularly the extended director’s cut available on DVD. Inspired by his own time as a teenage journalist traveling with the Allman Brothers Band, Almost Famous is one of the best rock and roll movies ever made. Full of romance, humor, sadness, and of course music Almost Famous is a brilliant road trip movie which smashes with rapier precision the illusion that the music industry of today is anything other than “an industry of cool.” Adolescence is a marketing tool. Rock and roll is dead. Almost Famous chronicles (often hilariously) its death rattle. Also: Anna Paquin.

So those are my nine. Here’s some of the rest (in no particular order) of the movies not mentioned above that were also in consideration. They made it very close.

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Obviously.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Match Point – Best Hitchcock movie that he never made. One of the most intense movies you will ever see if you go into it not knowing what’s there.
Wonder Boys – I love this movie, it always makes me want to write.
Sky High – It’s cheesy, and stupid, and it knows it. I love it.
50 First Dates – Far better than it has a right to be with all the stupid Adam Sandler “jokes” and pal cameos.
Good Night and Good Luck
Moulin Rouge!
Unbreakable – Remember when M. Night Shyamalan made good movies?
Watchmen – There were a lot of superheroes this decade
Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
The Interpreter
Waking Life
Legally Blonde
Casino Royale – Only James Bond movie I’ve ever liked.
Billy Elliot
The Squid and the Whale – (also: Anna Paquin)
The Bourne Identity – actually all three are pretty good
AI: Artificial Intelligence
Where The Wild Things Are
The Fountain
The Devil Wears Prada
The Aviator
Catch Me If You Can


One Response to “Juno’s Top Nine Movies of the Decade”

  1. kindkerry80 September 13, 2010 at 4:23 am #

    I seen the movie Avatar but not in 3-D by the way your “avatar” rocks! 🙂

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