Note: This is the fifth and final part of a look at my favorite films of the past 10 years.
Not only the funniest film of the decade but arguably the funniest I’ve ever seen. Nothing has ever made me laugh harder or longer than the confrontation in the bear pit. Will Ferrell was at his best as clueless egomaniacal goofball, and the supporting cast keeps the laughs coming at a non-stop pace. This was, perhaps, the most quoted movie of the decade with my friends, and it deserves a spot high atop this list.
9. Letters from Iwo Jima
While making the World War II film Flags of Our Fathers, director Clint Eastwood decided to do something few top-name Hollywood talents would do: tell the story from the other side. With Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood presents a story told mostly in Japanese, in black and white, which, of course, doomed it at the box office. Those who skipped it missed out on a piece of pure movie poetry taking a closer look at the choices (and, ultimately, sacrifices) made in the name of honor and love of country. Letters from Iwo Jima stands as one of Eastwood’s masterpieces.
8. City of God
Director Fernando Meirelles’ look at the drug trade in Brazil is the best Martin Scorsese movie made this decade, despite not being made by the acclaimed American legend. Meirelles’ energy jumps off the screen, with dazzling shots framing one of the best-told stories about crime I’ve ever seen. City of God demands repeated viewings, if only to fully enjoy the images that will be burned into your head.
7. Kill Bill
Released in two volumes, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill has distinctly different tones from one half to the other, but taken as a whole, it’s the kind of hotshot filmmaking that got him noticed in the first place. The first half is the splatterfest featuring an epic sword fight, in which Uma Thurman’s The Bride dispatches of black-clad Japanese thugs. Vol. 2 features more of Tarantinto’s razor-sharp writing, allowing his actors’ chops to replace the physical mayhem of Vol. 1. Collectively, it’s bravura filmmaking at its finest.
In one five-minute passage showing the highs and lows of a long-time marriage, Pixar’s Up provides the most beautiful and poignant scene of the decade. The movie continues to build on that, showing the power of chasing your dreams and defending those you love. It’s a beautiful piece of art that first breaks your heart before rebuilding it a piece at a time.
5. The Dark Knight
Even though it features Batman and the Joker, it’s not a superhero movie. It’s a movie about war. It’s a movie about crime. It’s a movie about the lengths people will go to in order to protect the greater good. It’s about The Patriot Act. It’s about the Bush Administration. It’s about Heath Ledger’s dazzling performance as a psychopath. The Dark Knight is a dark, twisted tale in a world in which heroes really don’t exist, teaching us to question our leaders and those sworn to protect us. Every scene is immensely watchable (and rewatchable), and the movie itself shows that sometimes movies about comic books aren’t just about men in tights.
4. The Royal Tennenbaums
The first seven minutes, set to an orchestral version of “Hey Jude,” showing the Tennenbaum kids reaching great success at young ages, is the best opening sequence of the decade. Wes Anderson’s creative highpoint (so far) shows the downfall of a family that peaked too soon and how it struggles to make sense of what defines family. Perfectly scripted, acted and directed, every detail is painstakingly planned, down to the fake book covers sprinkled throughout the film. Anderson has continued making detailed films, but he now hides behind a layer of detached irony. I hope he can return to the Tennenbaum days and showcase the heart behind his wit.
3. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe poured his heart and soul into this autobiographical film about a young man coming of age while writing about a raucous rock n’ roll band. Later films seemed either too impersonal or too contrived, but for the almost three hours of Almost Famous (referring to the director’s cut on DVD, which is the only way to watch this joyous piece of work), Crowe got everything pitch perfect. It’s a love letter to moms and sisters, first loves and music. The movie makes you laugh and wrings out tears, but it never reaches for either. Instead, it unfolds organically, bringing you along for the ride, just like the characters. It’s as personal of a piece of filmmaking as you’re likely ever to see from a big Hollywood film, and every image reflects Crowe’s passion.
2. There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson can never be accused of taking the easy route. From the bristling energy of Boogie Nights to the gut-wrenching emotions in Magnolia, Anderson takes chances while showing his love of classic films. With Blood, Anderson takes aim at today’s corporate greed while telling the story of the oil boom’s start at the turn of the 20th century. The first 20 minutes or so feature little to no dialogue, with Jonny Greenwood’s hypnotic score heightening the tension. Throughout it all, Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview gives one of the most intense performances ever captured on screen. One scene in particular stands out to me: Plainview, kneeling in a church, asking for “the blood” of Christ from Eli, a preacher and Plainview antagonist. The key to the sequence, though, comes toward the end, when Plainview walks up to Eli and whispers something in his ear. We never hear what is said, but the sheer terror on Eli’s face tells us all we need to know.
1. Lord of the Rings
For me, there was no doubt to the top movie (or in this case, three movies taken as one collective unite) of the decade. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings shows the power of imagination, bringing to life the classic Tolkien story. The special effects alone are enough to warrant a spot on this list, but the depth of this tale of friendship elevates it to the top spot. Nothing this decade (and few I’ve ever seen) is as majestic as Frodo and Sam’s final journey up the mountain to dispose of the One Ring once and for all. Summoning up all his strength and courage, Sam realizes that heroism sometimes comes in the form of giving a final piece of help to the friend you’ve stood beside all your life. Filled with sights and sounds that still fascinate all these years later, Lord of the Rings is the one film that towered above everything else this decade.