The Popdose 100: The Best Movies of the Decade
Last year’s Thanksgiving-timed Popdose 100 proved so popular that this season we’ve compiled three critical-consensus lists for your reading (and arguing) pleasure — documenting our choices for the best films, albums and songs of the 21st century’s first decade. In fact, we’ve become so enamored of building these lists that it wouldn’t be surprising, a couple years from now, to find us offering one every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. (Nah … that might detract from Mellowmas.) What can we say? We just love to quantify what we like, using elaborate point systems.
We begin with the decade’s best movies — and, if nothing else, our list is certainly genre-film-friendly: Somewhere in the middle, Let the Right One In, Hellboy, Hot Fuzz and Mulholland Drive sit proudly side by side. Because our crew of participants isn’t all that big (11 of Popdose’s writers contributed), a few personal favorites that one might not expect somehow earned enough votes to make the cut (hello, Dodgeball!); nonetheless, we were all pleasantly surprised to see that our compiled Top 100 offers such a nice balance of prestige films and high-quality popcorn fare. Of course, since this list is being posted before Thanksgiving, 2009’s holiday films (and likely Oscar bait) aren’t represented; over the coming months we’ll no doubt be kicking ourselves that we didn’t yet know the quality of films like Up in the Air, Invictus, The Lovely Bones, Nine … Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel… With that caveat in mind, away we go!
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (dir. Peter Jackson, 2003). I felt the stirrings of greatness watching The Fellowship of the Ring, my first truly elating experience at the movies following 9/11 that dismal year. The Two Towers confirmed that a special cinematic event was unfolding. I could sit back from 2002-03 confident that the payoff would be astounding — and it was. Another long-awaited fantasy trilogy that was also underway at that time was weak by comparison; unlearning his own lesson, George Lucas put his characters in the service of effects, rather than the other way around. Because of an iconic troupe of actors, smart scripting and taut direction over many hours, I believed completely in Middle Earth, and left it only reluctantly — but what a wrap-up, brimming with action and cascading with soul. Rarely have I been so overwhelmed. Thank you, Peter Jackson. I’m fully confident that, with your guidance, Guillermo Del Toro will put The Hobbit on my Top 100 list a decade from now. –Bob Cashill
2. Almost Famous (dir. Cameron Crowe, 2001). Crowe’s semi-autobigraphical film is a culmination of all the themes he had been working on throughout his career: first love, family, discovering who you are, and of course music. As William, Patrick Fugit is our eyes and ears into the insane world of 1970s rock and roll. Although his overprotective mother (a wonderful Frances McDormand) disapproves, William, a teenage prodigy who is about to graduate from high school early, heads off on the road with the band Stillwater. While this assignment for Rolling Stone should only last a week, William falls under the spell of the road; he falls in love with a groupie … er, I mean “band-aid” (a lovely Kate Hudson); and he breaks the cardinal rule of a rock reporter, a rule handed down to him by legendary critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a scene-stealing part) — he makes friends with the band. But he doesn’t just become their friend … he becomes part of their family. The relationship that develops between William and Stillwater’s charismatic guitarist, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup in his best performance to date), is not just reporter to musician, but brother. It is odd to think that a film that lovingly uses Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” over a drug-overdose stomach-pumping scene would end up as one of the best coming-of-age stories ever (I mean that), but Crowe’s ability to balance humor and pathos makes every scene feel like magic. This is a story about the heart, written from the heart, and no matter how many great films Crowe makes from this point forward, he can rest easy knowing he’s made his masterpiece. Oh, and there is kick-ass music throughout the film. –Scott Malchus
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (dir. Peter Jackson, 2001). Fellowship short-circuited my critical faculties like no other film, before or since. From its opening moments, my eyes were filled with tears, simply for how right it all was. For the full runtime, I alternately gawked and wept, and I could not form a coherent sentence for a good 45 minutes afterward. I’ve watched the film countless times since, and its flaws have become apparent even to me — but it remains, I think, the most beautiful, most faithful, and most emotionally resonant of the trilogy, thanks in no small part to Sean Bean; as Boromir, he may not get much screen time, but the tragedy of his fall haunts all the films. –Jack Feerick
4. Pan’s Labyrinth (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006). Mexican filmmaker del Toro’s Spanish-language parable was perhaps the most imaginative, visually arresting film of the decade. The director skillfully blends fact (the 1944 aftermath of the Spanish Civil War) with fantasy (a young girl’s retreat from the violent world of her Falangist stepfather). The film’s ending, seen by some as depressing, is actually full of hope. –Ken Shane
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry, 2004). What makes a film about forgetting so memorable? Though it dazzles with surreal effects and madcap hijinks, Eternal Sunshine is grounded in an essential human dilemma — the need to love and be loved, even after your loved one’s flaws have become distressingly apparent. This is by far the most emotionally resonant of the brilliant Charlie Kaufman’s films (he co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay with Gondry and performance artist Pierre Bismuth). In his second feature after making his name with commercials and music videos, Gondry creates a vivid world of memory and psychosis inside the head of protagonist Joel Barish (Jim Carrey, in one of his few great performances). Then, as Joel’s memories of girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) are erased by employees of Lacuna, Inc. who have their own problems, Gondry collapses Joel’s world, both metaphysically and tangibly, in a psychotraumatic freakout that manages to be at once whimsical and devastating. –Jon Cummings
6. Memento (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000). The audience loves a good mindgame, and Nolan served up one of the best with this story of an amnesiac who has to retrace how he arrived in a horrible situation. With the help of tattoos, recordings and other clues, we retrace those steps with him, moving forward in the film but backward in time. Guy Pearce makes the character work in an angle, amnesia, that many an actor has failed with previously. Being only Nolan’s second film, and first to gain real notoriety, Memento was an auspicious introduction to an appreciative audience. –Dw. Dunphy
7. There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007). Writer/director Anderson’s much-anticipated first feature film in five years – after 2002’s Punch Drunk Love (see #86 below) – There Will Be Blood loosely adapts Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil! into one of the most powerful films of the decade. Daniel Day-Lewis turns in a brilliant performance as oil prospector Daniel Plainview, a man whose greed takes over his life and turns him into a ruthless shell of a human being. I was mesmerized by this film and its breathtaking cinematography, gorgeous soundtrack (provided by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), and incredible performances by Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. It also contained one of my favorite lines of dialogue in any movie, ever: “I … drink … your … milkshake!” Indeed. –Kelly Stitzel
8. The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008). It is the bleakest superhero film ever, and Christian Bale turns on the “growly, scary” voice one too many times, but The Dark Knight finally did what no previous superhero flick could: turn the whole concept of intention on it’s head. In the Joker, we have a psychopath yearning for anarchic dystopia. There is no hidden agenda, even though, all through the film, he purports to have several. Never before has the term “criminally insane” been explored in popcorn pop culture in such an immediate way, exploding the myth that everyone has a reason for the things they do. Perhaps such a Nietzchean evil isn’t meant to be examined in a comic-book flick, but one less superhero or supervillain acting out his daddy issues is, in itself, a blessing. –Dw.D
9. Sideways (dir. Alexander Payne, 2004). A film as rich and intoxicating as the Pinot Noirs that inspire its protagonists to traipse through California’s Santa Ynez Valley, Sideways redefined the ensemble comedy on Payne’s idiosyncratic terms. He finds the heart in, and forces the audience to root for, an utterly unlikeable author/wine aficianado (the always wonderful Paul Giamatti) who’s stubborn, cynical, creatively stuck and hopeless with women. Of course, all it takes is a good, earthy woman to make him reconsider, if not completely change, his ways. (It helps that the woman is played with such exquisite understatement by Virginia Madsen, in a career-reviving performance.) Among its many other accomplishments, Sideways made a generation of filmgoers think differently about wine; all it took was one lingering shot of a vineyard picnic to send tourists streaming into Santa Ynez. Five years since its release, business is still booming at the Hitching Post restaurant in Buellton … and sales of fucking Merlot have never been the same. –JC
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (dir. Peter Jackson, 2002). The second chapter of the once-thought-unfilmable J.R.R. Tolkien epic, Jackson’s adaptation never falters and maintains its intensity from the first moment to the last. The potential for failure was great: Most trilogy second acts are pale imitations of the first, especially considering The Two Towers is the fantasy equivalent of a road picture, with Frodo and Samwise setting out to destroy the evil “One Ring.” It is the commitment to the fictional universe created by Jackson and WETA Workshop, and the near-transcendent performance of Andy Serkis as Gollum (in actuality a motion-captured feat of CG), that elevates the film into something entirely different from its genre-mates. –Dw.D
11. Finding Nemo (dirs. Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, 2003). To my mind, this is the finest film Pixar has made since Toy Story. For their animated film about a father fish looking for his lost son, Stanton and Unkrich did not cast “big stars” but went with Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres (whose career was then on a downswing) and some of the world’s greatest character actors including Stephen Root, Allison Janney and Willem Dafoe. The underwater sequences are breathtaking, the turtles are hilarious, and the whole prison-break plot is well planned and executed — but what gets you every time is the love Marlin (Brooks) has for his son Nemo (Alexander Gould). It’s difficult enough to pull off an emotional resonant film between father and son without it becoming saccharine, and Pixar did it with animated characters! This being a Pixar film, you expect it to look beautiful and you expect it to be well written and performed. But the pumping heart underneath Finding Nemo seems to be bigger than most of their other films — as big as the ocean — making it my favorite animated movie and one of the best of the last 10 years. –SM
12. No Country for Old Men (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007). Man goes hunting. Man discovers the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. Man finds bag of drug money clutched in the hands of a dead dealer. Man takes money. Man is hunted by a soulless, evil assassin. Soulless, evil assassin is hunted by small-town sheriff not sure he can keep up with the latest breed of criminals. All hell breaks loose. I couldn’t stop thinking about No Country for Old Men for months after I saw it in the theater. The aforementioned soulless villain, Anton Chigurh – chillingly portrayed by Javier Bardem, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award® for his performance – invaded my dreams many, many times. While there are some major differences between the book and the film, the Coen Brothers did a wonderful job with their adaptation, answering some questions the book asked and, in turn, asking new questions the viewer (and reader) may not have considered. This has become my favorite Coen Brothers movie, and is my pick for best movie of the decade. –Kelly S.
13. Shaun of the Dead (dir. Edgar Wright, 2004). No less an authority than my sainted wife calls this “the perfect date movie,” and that’s good enough for me. It would be easy, especially in a high-concept comedy like this, to resort to caricature and let the situations do the heavy lifting. But by casting honest-to-God actors rather than comedians, and giving them the space to create believable characters, director/co-writer Wright pulls off a horror romantic comedy that succeeds on all fronts — nail-bitingly tense, fall-down funny, shot through with anguish and tenderness. There’s no shortage of entrails on display in Shaun, but what shows most is its heart. –JF
14. O Brother Where Art Thou? (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2000). It’s rare when such a terrific movie boasts a soundtrack that becomes a phenomenon all on its own — but that’s the brilliance with which the Coen brothers (working with music director T Bone Burnett) used fresh recordings of “old-timey” music to propel their arch adventure-comedy. Loosely (and I mean loosely) based on Homer, O Brother sends its trio of chain-gang escapees (George Clooney, John Turturo, Tim Blake Nelson) on an odyssey of Gump-like encounters with Depression-era Southern archtypes, from a crossroads bluesman to a KKK rally, and from a getaway with Baby Face Nelson to an uneasy alliance with a good-old-boy governor. Along the way they stumble into a radio station to “sing into a can” and emerge as the Soggy Bottom Boys — and the irrepressible Clooney’s lip-syncing performances of “A Man of Constant Sorrow” were classic Coen moments. –JC
15. Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle, 2008). At its best, the cinema immerses us in richly textured worlds that are at once unfamiliar and yet relevant to our own experience. Slumdog Millionaire, based on the Indian novel Q&A, embodies its historical moment more than any film in recent years, introducing us to an exotic culture that is rapidly transforming itself into one more like our own — for better and for worse. It’s globalization incarnate, really, as we (along with the slumdogs themselves) watch the impoverished chaos of Bombay turn into the high-rises of Mumbai, and are introduced to the contemporary Indians who are filling our outsourced jobs even as they obsess over the same game show we do. All the while, Boyle keeps the emotions of the film’s central, at times Dickensian coming-of-age romance at the forefront — achieving a one-world universality that perfectly suits our increasingly multicultural existence. –JC
16. The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2008). When my friends and I had a discussion about our favorite movies of 2008 right around Oscar time this year, and I told them my choice was The Wrestler, their immediate response was, “Really?” I can understand why they would have that reaction – it actually surprised me how much I loved it. I mean, a film about a washed-up professional wrestler trying to make a career comeback doesn’t seem like the kind of movie I would be enamored of, but it was. Between Mickey Rourke’s heartbreaking portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, whose life seems to parallel Rourke’s own in many ways; Aronofsky’s fantastic direction; Robert Siegel’s beautiful script; and Marisa Tomei’s great performance as Randy’s stripper love interest, Cassidy – a role that she said she prepared for, in part, by watching episodes of the VH1/Bret Michaels reality series, Rock of Love – there’s quite a bit to love. –Kelly S.
17. The Lives of Others (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006). The Cold War may be over, Germany may be reunited … but paranoia (and wiretapping) are forever. That realization helps bring a gripping immediacy to this portrait of East German totalitarianism during the mid-1980s. Our guide through East Berlin’s morass of spying, interrogation, hope and fear is Gerd Weisler (played by Ulrich Muhe), a captain in the Stasi secret police who comes to question the morality of state oppression when he becomes enveloped in the lives of a pro-Western playwright and his girlfriend, whose movements the agent is monitoring. High-stakes events unfold with increasing tension, leading to devastating consequences for all concerned. Directed with taut restraint by first-timer von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — but easily deserved the trophy that went to The Departed later in the evening. –JC
18. Mystic River (dir. Clint Eastwood, 2003). Eastwood has become one of the world’s great directors, something that would have surprised people who knew him mainly as Dirty Harry, and a star of spaghetti westerns. He has made some of the most accomplished films of the last 20 years, and Mystic River is one of his greatest achievements. Working with a dream cast led by a brilliant Sean Penn, and featuring an underrated performance from Tim Robbins, Mystic River (based on a novel by Dennis Lehane) tells the story of three childhood friends in Boston, and the twin tragedies, 30 years apart, that lead them down different paths and eventually shatter their lives. –Ken S.
19. The Royal Tenenbaums (dir. Wes Anderson, 2001). Bigger in scope than Anderson’s 1998 breakthrough Rushmore, Tenenbaums paints a beautiful picture of adults stuck in such a state of arrested development that they still wear the same outfits as when they were young. At once funny, sad, creepy, and angry, The Royal Tenenbaums is a modern masterpiece of mood and tone. Gene Hackman is pitch-perfect as the caddish father looking to re-enter his estranged family after the money runs out, and the rest of the ensemble cast deliver some of their strongest performances to date. –Dave Lifton
20. Spirited Away (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2001). No filmmaker understands childhood better than Miyazaki. The character transformation at the center of Spirited Away — fearful girl discovers inner resources of strength and compassion — is familiar enough; but Miyazaki dares to make his heroine unlovely and exasperating from the start, and the whole thing plays out in a phantasmagoric animated landscape of tremendous detail and beauty. Everything is fluid — geography, identity, anatomy — and everything is up for grabs. In this world, even your name can be bought and sold; only kindness is beyond price. –JF
21. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (dir. Ang Lee, 2000). I hoped to love this movie. It had so many of the things I enjoyed about Hong Kong and Chinese cinema, including two of my very favorite stars, Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh. And on every level it surpassed my expectations. I swooned along with a typically hipper-than-thou and tough-to-please New York Film Festival crowd who had their senses shattered and hearts broken by Lee’s first great film of the decade. –BC
22. The Prestige (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2006). This entertaining film takes us into the world of stage magicians in London at the beginning of the 20th century. The rival magicians, played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman (with fine support from the reliable Michael Caine), engage in an ongoing quest to better one another, and will resort to anything to achieve their goals. Their competition inevitably leads to tragedy. The film also features a quirky performance from David Bowie as scientist Nikola Tesla. –Ken S.
23. Spider-Man 2 (dir. Sam Raimi, 2004). Like Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), the first Spider-Man had some successful elements mixed in with some dubious “commercial” ones–Macy Gray? But its popularity gave Sam Raimi more latitude the second time around, resulting in a perfectly judged comic book fantasy with deliriously exciting sequences — everything involving Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus is stunningly realized — and a sweetly satisfying human element (the train passengers’ defense of the fallen Spider-Man is truly touching.) We’ll pass over the overstuffed third in embarrassed silence and hope for a more satisfying fourth. –BC
24. Wall-E (dir. Andrew Stanton, 2008). People quibbled with the film’s eco-friendly third act, and it does lose a bit of the silent-movie magic established at the start of it, but Wall-E represented yet another of Pixar’s story-telling successes. It may have been marketed at the kids, but it really was a solid piece of entertainment. –Dw.D
25. The Incredibles (dir. Brad Bird, 2004). A perfect populist cinema confection, wrapping a bright pop-candy shell around a chewy political center. Playing with complex ideas about individualism and altruism one moment, satirizing genre tropes the next, The Incredibles is also — despite its fantastic elements — one of the most genuine portraits of an American family ever put to film. The more you look, the more there is to see. –JF
26. High Fidelity (dir. Stephen Frears, 2000). Based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, this is John Cusack’s last great movie before he started making some tragic career choices (I will never forgive him for America’s Sweethearts, Serendipity or Must Love Dogs, though I guess he gets a pass from me for Max and 1408). Music nerds, lovers of lists and hopeless romantics all can find something in common with unlucky-in-love Chicago record store owner Rob and his quest to find out why he can’t seem to stay in a relationship by recounting – and revisiting – his top five break-ups. –Kelly S.
27. Coraline (dir. Henry Selick, 2009). In an age in which computers have all but replaced traditional stop-motion animation, it’s hard for a movie like Coraline to break through. It was a crafty idea to release this as one of the first of the new (sort of rehashed) trend of 3D movies. Now practically every animated movie is shown with the option of 3D. What Coraline did that was special, however, was tell a beautiful nightmare. The film is a metaphor for the struggles children have with that “other family.” You know, the one that doesn’t say no. It’s one of the best movies of 2009. –Arend Anton
28. Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 2006). A lot of movies have post-apocalyptic settings. Children of Men, though, shows us the End of the World as it happens, in slow motion: the petty cruelties of a society with nothing more to aspire to, the selfishness of people marking time, waiting for the extinction they know is inevitable. Clive Owen’s performance is the movie in microcosm — a life structured on self-pity, mustering a weary decency and a well-ordered misery that is disrupted by that most violent of forces — hope. –JF
29. Donnie Darko (dir. Richard Kelly, 2001). A film that ends up being more than the sum of its parts (Jake Gyllenhaal, a heartbreaking ’80s New Wave soundtrack, and the late Patrick Swayze playing a pedophile). There are probably a lot of folks who take this movie really seriously, trying to keep all the space-time stuff straight, but it’s enough simply to bask in its sharp, nasty humor, encapsulated in scenes like the “Sparkle Motion” dance routine. That alone is worth two hours of your time. –Robin Monica Alexander
30. Iron Man (dir. Jon Favreau, 2008). One of the most important parts of a superhero’s story is his origin. A number of movies get this painfully wrong (Victor Von Doom riding the rocket with the Fantastic Four, Bruce Wayne’s parents being killed by the man that becomes the Joker, Peter Parker’s uncle killed by the guy who becomes the Sandman). Not in this case, though. Except for updating the time and location, Favreau’s version is wonderfully right. The shrapnel lodged dangerously close to Tony Stark’s heart; Yensin, the man who helps Stark build the suit; even that first butt-ugly suit itself are all straight from the comic book. There are even nods to the wonderfully cheesy theme song from the old cartoon (Rhodey’s ringtone for Tony). Plus, Robert Downey, Jr. seems to have been born to play the part of cocky millionaire industrialist Tony Stark. –Tony Redman
31. Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy, 2007). On the surface, writer/director Gilroy’s Michael Clayton is a legal thriller dealing with an environmental case. George Clooney, in one of his best film roles, plays Clayton, a “fixer” sent in to clean up messes his firm wants kept out of the papers. In essence, he gets rich clients out of embarrassing predicaments, and gets paid well to do it. But Clayton’s soul is being sucked dry by the same firm that pays him, and that’s where the film draws its power. Below the surface is the story of a man trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his mentor (a riveting Tom Wilkinson), his son, his family, and ultimately himself. Also featuring Tilda Swinton in an Academy Award-winning performance, Michael Clayton harkens back to the ’70s films of Sydney Pollack (who appears in the movie), in which films with style also had substance, and deserves to mentioned in the same league as All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. –SM
32. Ghost World (dir. Terry Zwigoff, 2001). I never read the graphic novel on which this movie is based, but I probably should, since I love the celluloid version so much. As a cynical, smart-assed, dark-haired, glasses-wearing, music-loving woman, I relate to the main character, Enid (played by Thora Birch) more than I have to any character in a movie or book … well, probably ever. Also starring Scarlett Johansson (before she became a huge star) and the always wonderful Steve Buscemi, Ghost World is a wonderful coming-of-age story for those of us who think coming-of-age stories are mostly lame. –Kelly S.
33. Brokeback Mountain (dir. Ang Lee, 2005). The chameleonic Lee burrowed deep into E. Annie Proulx’s short story and came up with the decade-defining romantic tragedy, one involving two men. Beautifully restrained and quietly devastating, and a film for the ages (unlike the Best Picture-stealing Crash, a movie for a few minutes). It cuts so deep. And It hurts terribly to look at the brilliant Heath Ledger in it, knowing what was to come. –BC
34. Casino Royale (dir. Martin Campbell, 2006). After the popular but unmemorable run of Brosnan Bonds the franchise needed turbocharging, and who would have thought that Daniel Craig would be the actor to supply it? Seriously—seeing him onstage in A Steady Rain on Broadway, in a completely different part, I thought, “What did the producers see in him? What did he see in himself?” Whatever, his spark lit the fuse for one of the series’ best, and most romantic, adventures. It made me a fan all over again, no small feat. –BC
35. A Mighty Wind (dir. Christopher Guest, 2003). Though not as uproariously funny as Guest’s previous films, A Mighty Wind succeeds by adding tons of heart and a strong understanding of why folk music still resonates. The big selling point was the thrill of seeing Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean in a band again, but the movie was stolen by Catherine O’Hara, who deserved an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a former star unexpectedly re-living her youth. –DL
36. Shrek (dir. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, 2001). A fat, green ogre and a donkey star in what goes down as one of the top animated movies ever made. To me, Shrek was the turning point in animated features that made it OK for a grown man to see one without a child present. The fairytale made the kiddies laugh, and the witty dialog kept the adults wanting more. It’s a win-win situation that was duplicated three years later in the sequel. –Dave Steed
37. Adaptation. (dir. Spike Jonze, 2002). The brilliant thing about the script for Adaptation. is that Charlie Kaufman’s creative solution for writer’s block fits the project so perfectly. There probably isn’t a writer in Hollywood who could get away with what Kaufman did here. Shall we count his crimes? Instead of strictly adapting a slightly intriguing book about rare orchids, he placed himself at the center of the story. He invented himself a brother, even crediting him as co-writer. The writer of the book he was entrusted to adapt engages in drug use and has an affair with her book’s subject, and Kaufman even defiles her in his own masturbatory fantasy. In short, the script is awesome. It also manages to say something very profound about the nature of creativity. –AA
38. Lost in Translation (dir. Sofia Coppola, 2003). With Lost in Translation, writer/director Coppola became the third woman – and the first American woman – to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award®. Can you believe that? Only three women ever, to this day? Whatever, Hollywood. Of course, when you hear most people talk about this movie, what they are most interested in is the comeback of sorts it gave Bill Murray. Oh, and the shot of Scarlett Johansson’s ass in see-through panties that opens the film. Whatever, people. “Lip my stockings.” –Kelly S.
39. Little Miss Sunshine (dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006). This movie makes it look easy. Just gather a group of top-notch actors (from legend Alan Arkin down to breakout kid star Abigail Breslin), put them in a crappy yellow van and throw away all sense of decorum, and you’ve got a comedy that upholds the value of family while skewering so-called “family values.” It steals shamelessly from National Lampoon’s Vacation, but to more poignant effect. –RMA
40. Hero (dir. Zhang Yimou, 2002). There are several epics on this list. Though most of the attention goes to Peter Jackson’s greatly successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Chinese film Hero embodies the word “epic” just as well. It contains, quite simply, some of the most stunning visuals of the last decade. The color palette is something remarkable. The fights are incredibly stylized, more like dances really, but stand as something different from the fight scenes in American movies, thanks to the incredible wire-work. –AA
41. 25th Hour (dir. Spike Lee, 2002). Perhaps Lee’s most mature film to date, 25th Hour is the director’s stunning meditation on New York City in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Ostensibly the story of a drug dealer, beautifully played by Edward Norton, on his way to prison, the film allows Lee to take the pulse of his city following the tragedy. The film’s final scenes, which follow the Norton character as he’s being driven to prison, imagining what his life might have been, are among the most moving moments in recent cinema. –Ken S.
42. Let the Right One In (dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2008). The movies and TV are lousy with vampires these days. Who knew the cure for anemia would come from slumbering Sweden? But there be nightmares as a pint-sized bloodsucker, loosed in a crumbling community where family and societal ties are fraying, latches onto a new playmate. The reconstituted Hammer Films plans a remake, with Richard Jenkins ideally cast as the vampire’s adult “guardian”–but this drew first blood. –BC
43. Hellboy (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2004). A special-effects blockbuster with heart — in fact, the greatest movie love story of the decade, no word of a lie. The twinned romantic triangles of a red-skinned demonspawn, a troubled pyrokinetic, and an insecure G-man on one side, and a crazed Nazi psychobitch, a megalomaniacal Russian mystic, and a host of Lovecraftian elder gods on the other — well, who can’t relate to that? –JF
44. Hot Fuzz (dir. Edgar Wright, 2007). Wright’s follow-up to Shaun of the Dead features Simon Pegg as a by-the-book cop who gets transferred to a seemingly quaint English village. He’s teamed with Nick Frost as a bumbling policeman who’s seen every action movie ever made. There’s also a great character turn from Timothy Dalton as a smarmy supermarket manager. One thing I really liked about this movie was that I thought it was going to end three or four different times, but they topped it every time. –TR
45. Mulholland Dr. (dir. David Lynch, 2001). In a high-wire act of adaptive filmmaking, Lynch took a rejected TV pilot and transmogrified it into a stand-alone mind-bender of a movie. It’s the story — or is it? — of a fresh-faced lass who arrives in Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actress, then plays Girl Detective to solve a mystery with a beautifully disheveled woman who has literally descended from the hills. Two-thirds of the way through, Lynch turns the whole enterprise on its head in a shift that leaves the viewer playing detective on his own, trying to piece together the film’s unforgettable snippets. The monster behind the diner, the director at the OK Corral, the sexually explosive audition that reveals the breathtaking acting skills of both our heroine and the neophyte who played her (Naomi Watts, in a career-making turn) … there are plenty more than “Sixteen Reasons” to take a return spin down Mulholland Dr.. –JC
46. Amelie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001). An Immediatist manifesto disguised as a date movie. Check out this call for “Poetic Terrorism” by the author Hakim Bey in his book Chaos: The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism: “The audience reaction of aesthetic-shock produced by Poetic Terrorism ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror — powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, [or] dada-esque angst … If it does not change someone’s life (aside from the artist) it fails. …. An exquisite seduction carried out not only in the cause of mutual satisfaction, but also as a conscious act in a deliberately beautiful life — may be the ultimate PT. The PTerrorist behaves like a confidence-trickster whose aim is not money but change.” Sound like anyone we know? –JF
47. Ratatouille (dir. Brad Bird, 2007). Five of Pixar’s seven releases this decade made our list, and if we extended it to 125 films I’m pretty sure Up would have made it, too. My personal favorite is the one that argues, convincingly, for the same standard of excellence that Pixar holds itself to, and defines what it is we do. In the words of Anton Ego, every critic’s hero: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.” –BC
48. Mean Girls (dir. Mark Waters, 2004). Let me be honest here. I saw Mean Girls because Lindsey Lohan made me jizz in my pants. Way before she was drugged out and forgot to eat, Lindsey was smokin’ hot. But the weird part was that I (and ever other dude in the theater) left astounded that we had just seen an awesome movie. The perfect casting of Lizzy Caplan and Rachel McAdams, and the brilliant writing of Tina Fey, make this a must-see. –DS
49. Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2000). Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly, Aronofsky’s film adaptation of Hubert Selby, Jr.’s 1978 novel is a terrifying, mind-bending depiction of addiction and self-destruction. I have to admit – this movie kind of traumatized me the first time I saw it. And no, it wasn’t because I watched Jordan Catalano shoot up. –Kelly S.
50. AI: Artificial Intelligence (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2001). People really quibbled with this film’s last act, calling it a betrayal of the rust-edged world Spielberg had originally established — guided as he was by material from the project’s original shepherd, Stanley Kubrick. But if folks truly thought Spielberg would allow the robot boy, played by Haley Joel Osment, to drown at the bottom of the flooded New York amusement park while searching for his adopted mother, they were only fooling themselves. Taken as it is, it’s still a riveting film about love, loss and what it really means to be a living being. –Dw.D
51. The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 2009). My best film of this past summer looks to carry me through fall and winter, too. The great Iraq War movie zeroes in on a bomb disposal expert as he fulfills his duty, again and again. Grace under pressure has never been so tightly concentratred. –BC
52. Zodiac (dir. David Fincher, 2007). After making two of the most divisive films in the past twenty years (Se7en and Fight Club), Fincher gave us a film that not only united critics in praise, but was also his most accomplished work to date thanks to restraint in technique and his focus on the story and characters. Fincher tackles the true-life events of the Zodiac killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the 1970’s. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Edwards, Elias Koteas, Brian Cox and Chloe Sevigny all give exemplary performances in this mystery/thriller that follows a cartoonist, a reporter and a police detective as they become obsessed with solving the case. Zodiac will make you think, it will make you laugh, and it will scare the hell out of you. I’m thinking of the terrorizing scene in which a young couple enjoying a picnic become the latest victims of the Zodiac. It’s broad daylight, they are in the wide open, and yet the impending doom Fincher gives that scene makes it so scary, I’m getting creeped out right now! –SM
53. Man on Wire (dir. James Marsh, 2008). Chronicling French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s daring 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, Man on Wire is a breathtaking and moving documentary. It mixes rare footage of preparations for the walk with reenactments and present-day interviews with its organizers and participants, in a fascinating story of vision and perseverance – as well as a lovely homage to the magnificent buildings. It won the Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. –Kelly S.
54. You Can Count on Me (dir. Kenneth Lonergan, 2000). For some reason Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo are not big stars. They should be. They are two of the finest actors we have today, and you need only to watch this film to see why. As orphaned brother and sister Terry and Sammy Prescott, they show the complicated nature of being siblings, especially when that sibling, a person you’re not sure you like all the time, is the only family you have left the world. First-timer Lonergan’s direction is effortless, and his script is funny, heartbreaking and full of reflective moments that will give you pause and make you appreciate life. Both Linney ad Ruffalo give subtle performances that will have you laughing and crying and wishing You Can Count On Me would not have to end. –SM
55. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (dir. Judd Apatow, 2005). The good old sex comedy may have been beaten into submission, but in the underappreciated no-sex comedy genre, The 40-Year-Old Virgin shines bright. First-time director Apatow puts the spotlight square on Steve Carrell, who pretty much takes on the joke and turns it into two hours of geeky hilariousness. Right after I saw this movie, I had to take the Asia dragon poster off my wall (sadly, I’m not kidding). –DS
56. Kung Fu Hustle (dir. Steven Chow, 2004). Director-star Chow, like Quentin Tarantino, is steeped in movies to his very bones. Kung Fu Hustle, like the Kill Bill movies, functions on one level as a mixtape, of sorts — the genre’s greatest hits, chopped, channeled, and recontextualized. But Chow kines the material for laughs as well as cheap thrills. Subtle it ain’t, but the sheer joy of filmmaking shines from every frame. –JF
57. Eastern Promises (dir. David Cronenberg, 2007). Cronenberg is still making horror movies, but here all his monsters are human. Viggo Mortensen gives a fearless performance — and turns in the decade’s strangest fight scene — in the darkest, twistiest thriller since Chinatown. –JF
58. Munich (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2005). For all his success, the knock on Spielberg has always been his need to explain every last detail. Rarely does he leave decisions up to the viewer. This made me incredibly apprehensive when first approaching Munich; my fear was that a political film from Spielberg would feel preachy and one-sided. Before I saw the movie, I did a little research. To my surprise, there seemed to be no consensus regarding the political stance of the film. Some thought it was pro-Israeli, while others thought it was too sympathetic to the Palestinians. My response was that he struck just the right balance. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict creates such polarizing opinions that it’s only plausible that people would project their own vastly differing opinions on a film like Munich. Spielberg managed to free himself from his instinctual need to explain at just the right moment. –AA
59. The Departed (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2006). There is no doubt that Martin Scorsese deserved an Academy Award. Rattle off his accomplishments and you have a list of some of the greatest movies in the modern era, yet he had never won the statue. It seemed that with Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004), he he was trying too hard to prove he is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and should win the Oscar. After The Aviator, Scorsese took on a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs just to keep working. It is a taut, well-executed film that has visual flair, a dazzling script, expert editing by his longtime collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, and gripping performances by one of the best fucking casts ever assembled. It’s intense and bloody, yes, but it’s also funny as hell and moves at such a fast clip your head is spinning. Without the pressure of trying to make a movie that would win him awards, Scorsese did what does make him one of the greatest directors of all time — he made an insanely well-made movie with the purpose to entertain, not to impress — and in doing so he finally won his Academy Award. –SM
60. The Queen (dir. Stephen Frears, 2006). The story of the royal family’s actions, or rather inactions, in the wake of the death of Princess Diana are the subject of this fascinating British film. The always great Helen Mirren stars as HM Queen Elizabeth II, a monarch struggling with her personal feelings about the late princess and her sense of duty as the head of the royal family. In the end, she is spurred to action by Prime Minister Tony Blair, well played by MIchael Sheen. A moving film about family, be they royal, or yours and mine. –Ken S.
61. Knocked Up (dir. Judd Apatow, 2007). Apatow remained unstoppable with this hilarious tale of beer goggles, slackerdom and even a little growing up. Seth Rogen’s stock had been growing over the years, but this is the vehicle that has made him the latest go-to comedian in Hollywood. And let’s not forget what might be Paul Rudd’s best performance to date as the bitter brother-in-law. –DS
62. Cast Away (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2000). A pretty daring movie in the fact that most of the time it’s focused on just Chuck, the lonely soul stranded on a deserted island. You get to see pain, struggles, tragedy and triumph, and a volleyball becoming a man’s best friend. Watching Tom Hanks’ character slowly adapt to his surroundings and find a way to survive for years without human interaction was a unique experience for the viewer, and it’s doubtful it could have been pulled off so well by a lesser actor. –DS
63. The New World (dir. Terrence Malick, 2005). The visionary filmmaker Malick made two brilliant films in the ’70s, then disappeared from the scene for 20 years before returning with The Thin Red Line in 1998. The second film of Malick’s comeback, The New World is a highly stylized historical drama about the settlement of the Jamestown colony by Englishmen in the early 17th century. Colin Farrell stars as John Smith, and newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher is Pocahontas. Once again Malick makes powerful use of interior monologues, and his films, including this one, are never less than visually stunning. –Ken S.
64. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (dir. Larry Charles, 2006). “Kazakhstan greatest country in the world / All other countries are run by little girls.” So sings Sacha Baron Cohen’s tact-free nitwit during a rodeo scene filmed just up the road from my Virginia hometown — a scene that, not for the first or last time during Borat, left audiences convulsing with uncomfortable yet undeniable laughter. Was it unfair to the rubes? Yeah, probably — but sometimes it requires having a pair of hairy testicles shoved in your face to show you who you really are. –JC
65. Batman Begins (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2005). The sequel flew into our Top Ten. I’m unconvinced, finding it full of standard superhero bloat. Fact is, my favorite Batman movie will always be Tim Burton’s sublimely twisted Batman Returns. But this reboot, a leaner, meaner take on the material, comes in second. That it contributed to taking the simple fun out of a genre that is now prostrate with self-importance in no way diminishes its own integrity and quality. –BC
66. Traffic (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2000). I’ve come to lament the multi-story narrative that’s defined the decade, where everyone’s conveniently entwined with everyone else and the moral of the story is that it’s a small world after all, isn’t it? Fraudulent. But Traffic, derived from a BBC miniseries, works beautifully in capturing facets of the drug trade, and showing how the whole rotten thing, bound by addiction, avarice, and compromise, works. And Benicio Del Toro is a perfect center of gravity. –BC
67. Cache (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005). This is Haneke’s finest work, at least until we can judge this year’s Cannes darling The White Ribbon this winter. The tense, riveting Cache takes a theme familiar in French film — skewering the smug bourgeoisie — and overlays a message about the lingering perils of colonialism for both the conquered and the conqueror. Its story, of a forgotten childhood event that comes back to haunt a well-to-do TV host and his family, is shot through first with paranoia, then with tragedy. –JC
68. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (dir. Gore Verbinski, 2003). We were going to see The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it was sold out. It was only out of a lack of options that we wound up watching a stupid Johnny Depp movie based on a Disneyland ride produced by Captain Crash himself, Jerry Bruckheimer … and wound up having a hell of a lot of fun. League Of Whazzits Now? –Dw.D
69. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2004). Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller in a movie about an inflatable red ball being thrown into genital areas unexpectedly. Sounds like a winning premise, right? C’mon, right? Somehow, though, Vaughn leading a group of misfits in a quest to save his gym by winning a dodgeball tournament against the way-too-serious “athletes” of the corporate Globo Gym (led by Stiller) turned out to be an hour and a half of crazy tomfoolery and hilarious sight-gags. –DS
70. Monsters Inc. (dir. Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman, 2001). The last few years have found the folks at Pixar exploring just how much artistic leeway their popularity has given them. While the results have generated some of the most beautiful and sincere moments in recent movie memory, the plots haven’t had the same consistency as a lighter effort like Monsters, Inc. It has more of a slapstick animation style, with John Goodman and Billy Crystal well cast as Sully and Mike, two monsters who are anything but frightening in the context of their own world. Rival studios are still trying to catch up to the Monsters, Inc. style, even as Pixar has mostly moved on. I like Wall-E and Up, but Monsters, Inc. remains my favorite Pixar movie because it is so enjoyable. –AA
71. Meet the Parents (dir. Jay Roach, 2000). When Meet the Parents came out, it had been two years since Ben Stiller had done something worth viewing (There’s Something About Mary), so this was a nice surprise. Stiller excels in well-written, intelligent laugh-fests when the director can reel in the idiocy – which Roach does well. The movie works because so many people can relate to crazy, obsessive parents, even if Stiller takes Greg Focker through more bumbling maneuvers than one person could possible endure. For a good year after this release you could still hear some variation of the most memorable quote in the film: “I’ve got nipples, Greg, could you milk me?” –DS
72. Best in Show (dir. Christopher Guest, 2000). Guest’s second movie unleashes (pun intended) his repertory cast of improv wizards on the world of the pure-breed dog show. Along the way, they skewer rubes, yuppies (gay and straight), and aging trophy wives seeking fame through their animals. And just when the drama of the dog show would naturally threaten the comedy in the final third, Fred Willard turns in a hysterical performance as a clueless commentator prone to spouting lines like, “These are such beautiful animals, and to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.” –DL
73. Downfall (dir. Bernd Eichinger, 2004). It’s sad, in a way, that this remarkable film — Germany’s first real attempt to deal with its Nazi legacy using actors in all the major roles — is already best remembered as the source of a thousand YouTube parodies. Still, the ease — and relative lack of controversy — with which Bruno Ganz’ furious breakdown has been adapted for subject matter as disparate as Hillary Clinton’s primary loss and the inadequacy of the BCS is proof of Downfall‘s unique success in finding Hitler’s human, if despicable, core. –JC
74. Zombieland (dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2009). The most recent film to make this list is the best zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead. Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg play two guys running from a mass zombie infestation, aided (but mostly abetted) by fellow runners Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. Includes rules on how to defend yourself against the living dead, and a special big-time guest star (playing himself) in whose mansion our heroes hide out. –TR
75. Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson, 2000). Michael Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career as a stoned, aging professor trying to finish his latest book while slogging through a weekend on campus. He’s in love with his boss’s wife (Frances McDormand), pregnant with his child; he’s being hounded by his agent (a hilarious Robert Downey, Jr.), in town to get pages from the book; and he is suddenly the guardian of his best pupil, played by Tobey Maguire. Hanson, working with a fine script by Steve Kloves adapted from Michael Chabon’s wonderful novel, shot the film on location in Pittsburgh and gave it the feel of one of those long weekends in the Midwest when your life can change in two days. Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career, and Hanson shows once again that he is one of the best filmmakers working today. Literary, funny and human, Wonder Boys is like a great novel — you keep wanting to go back to it again and again. –SM
76. About a Boy (dir. Chris and Paul Weitz, 2002). After all of the romantic comedies Hugh Grant has done, it seemed risky for him to take on the role of Nick Hornby’s shallow man-boy who hatches a plan to pick up women at support groups for single moms. However, after watching the Weitz brothers’ adaptation, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the smug, materialistic prick who discovers his soul thanks to his friendship with a lonely boy (scene stealer Nicholas Hoult) whose mom (Toni Collette) attempts suicide. Besides Grant’s superb performance and Hoult, a young actor who goes toe to toe with
Grant, you have Collette suffering from depression and having a meltdown in a wonderfully tragic role, and the radiant Rachel Weisz as the woman Grant’s character falls in love with, a first for him. Featuring an exemplary score by Badly Drawn Boy, About A Boy will remind you why you like going to the movies: They give you hope that people can change, and that the world can be a better place when people care about one another. –SM
77. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2001). A film about a transgendered European rock singer might strike some as the ultimate examination of artifice, but this movie musical is actually a celebration of true authenticity and an angry condemnation of a world that conspires to destroy it. Fortunately, it is also frequently hilarious, kick-ass and fabulous. –RMA
78. Juno (dir. Jason Reitman, 2007). The midpoint in Reitman’s rapid ascendance to the top echelon of Hollywood directors (following Thank You for Smoking and preceding this fall’s Up in the Air), Juno makes delectable lemonade from what traditionally has been a lemon of a film topic (teen pregnancy). He keeps the quirk meter consistently cranked up to 10, with considerable help from co-stars Ellen Page and Michael Cera — and Diablo Cody’s debut script made her a cultural phenomenon. I still think it was the best film of ’97 (sorry, Coens). –JC
79. Moulin Rouge! (dir. Baz Luhrmann, 2001). An orgy of color, sexuality, visual mayhem and musical mash-ups, Moulin Rouge! was … well, it was a Baz Luhrmann film. The Baz Luhrmann film, really — the destination toward which Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet, its predecessors in what is now known as the “Red Curtain trilogy,” were headed. Its score, a menagerie of well-worn pop songs, grated some as much as it delighted others — but still helped earn the first Best Picture nomination for a musical in two decades. Luhrmann himself was robbed, however, foreshadowing the film’s loss to the vastly inferior A Beautiful Mind. –JC
80. X-Men (dir. Bryan Singer, 2000). X-Men is the rare 21st-century comic book movie that’s exempt from the critique offered by 1999’s Mystery Men — a droll skewering of the genre that would have had real bite if it hadn’t been released 10 years too early. Unlike so many of its parody-worthy counterparts, X-Men is a short, sharp delight that introduced a memorable batch of franchise-ready characters, had knockout setpieces, scored a few sociopolitical points, and was off in 104 minutes. Genius. –BC
81. 28 Days Later (dir. Danny Boyle, 2002). The movie that kicked off the current zombie craze, this insanely well-made, low-budget scare flick is actually two films in one. The first is a lean, mean update of your garden-variety undead story, where the corpses aren’t just hungry, they’re angry. The second is a wickedly funny-scary (and prescient) satire of how a society’s response to crisis can be more terrifying than the crisis itself. –RMA
82. Waitress (dir. Adrienne Shelly, 2007). They don’t make movies much sweeter than Shelly’s comedy about Jenna, a pie-making waitress with an abusive husband, an unwanted pregnancy, and an obstetrician who just might be Mr. Right. Keri Russell has never been better, Nathan Fillion proves he’d make a great rom-com hero, and even Andy Griffith settles gracefully into his role as the curmudgeonly diner owner who helps Jenna’s dreams come true. –JC
83. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (dir. Shane Black, 2005). After witnessing the incredible chemistry between Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer in this movie, one has to wonder why these two never worked together before, particularly during the 1980s when they were in their prime. OK, well, maybe Kilmer was in his prime; RDJ’s star has only gotten brighter since this movie, while Val’s has, well, given us the voice of K.I.T.T. in the Knight Rider reboot. The directorial debut from Lethal Weapon and Monster Squad screenwriter Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is full of witty dialogue (also written by Black) and some great action scenes. But it’s really Kilmer and Downey, Jr. that make this movie so special. –Kelly S.
84. Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009). Inglourious Basterds barely has anything to do with its namesake (an Italian war film from 1978). The Basterds in question mainly serve as a resolution. We never get to know many of them all that well, and several other characters play much more important emotional roles. The movie is Tarantino’s love note to cinema. There are so many little touches thrown in for the cinephile to notice. The true star of Tarantino’s work is usually what he’s referencing, rather than the actors who fill the screen. In the case of Inglourious Basterds, these stars are Leni Riefenstahl and Sergio Leone, and even The Wizard of Oz. It’s an exciting mix of intergenerational talent that only Tarantino’s bizarre mind could concoct. –AA
85. Gladiator (dir. Ridley Scott, 2000). Digital effects are often used — and overused — to take us into new worlds. Gladiator captivated audiences by taking us into an ancient one that hadn’t been envisioned in some time, and rarely on such scale. Its story takes off from one of the last, 1964’s Fall of the Roman Empire, whose sprawling built environment no one dared replicate again. It was thrilling to revisit Rome, in the company of a strong, stoic Russell Crowe. Sometimes they do make them like they used to. –BC
86. Punch-Drunk Love (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002). It’s actually a stroke of brilliance. Punch-Drunk Love is exactly like all of Adam Sandler’s previous films. It has a hapless loser crippled by a society that sees him as a target, who suddenly and awkwardly finds love. What Anderson does next is strip out the slapstick, the mugging, the goofy voices that announce “that was a joke,” and makes it all work in strange, elegant fashion. –Dw.D
87. Chicken Run (dir. Nick Park, 2000). A movie reminiscent of The Great Escape, using clay-animated poultry. You’d think it couldn’t be done, until you realize Park and his cronies from the Wallace and Gromit shorts are involved. A great vocal performance by Mel Gibson, back when he wasn’t embarrassing himself in the news. –TR
88. Big Fish(dir. Tim Burton, 2003). Based on the Daniel Wallace book of the same name, Big Fish tells the story of a son (Billy Crudup) trying to unravel the tall tales and stories his father (Albert Finney) has spun over the years. Burton brings the father’s extraordinary past to life, with the young Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor, ditching his itchy Jedi robes) exploring familiar Burton territory – dark and spooky woods, the circus, and pastel-hued Americana – alongside witches, giants, and a lycanthropic Circus boss (Danny DeVito). As Crudup eventually learns the truth behind ths tales, he comes to a new understanding his father and the value of the storyteller role that all fathers must play. –Ben Wiser
89. Gosford Park (dir. Robert Altman, 2001). Nobody does ensemble films with intersecting storylines better than the late, great Altman. Gosford Park is a charming murder mystery set in 1932 England, starring a bevy of wonderful British and American actors including Clive Owen, Kristen Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillipe, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith (the latter two were both nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award® for their performances). From a story idea of Altman and Balaban’s, screenwriter Julian Fellowes wrote a fantastic script full of sharp, witty dialogue that won him the Academy Award® as well. –Kelly S.
90. The Bourne Identity (dir. Doug Liman, 2002). No one expected a hokey Robert Ludlum thriller (filmed earlier for TV with Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith, for God’s sake) to yield one of the decade’s bulletproof franchises, and seal Matt Damon’s stardom. With their rapid-fire editing, the sequels had more influence on genre filmmaking, but this one sneaked up on me as stealthily as a covert assassin. –BC
91. Superbad (dir. Greg Mottola, 2007). Apparently, I seem to like Apatow. This time he’s just the producer and working with a script that Seth Rogen co-wrote, but it’s still the same gross-out yet intelligent humor of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It was about time for Jonah Hill to get his chance to shine in a well-written lead role, and his rude and crude style is balanced out nicely by the big-screen breakthrough of Michael Cera and the nerdiness of McLovin. –DS
92. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (dir. Kevin Smith, 2008). My fellow writers and, well, the majority of the world don’t agree, but for me Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the best movie of the decade. A date movie that should never be shown on a date, this is Smith at his crudest and rudest. He shocked the world in 1994 with legendary filth in Clerks, but almost certainly surpasses that with Zack and Miri. Sure, you could say it’s just a mess of clichéd jokes about penises and vajayjay’s, but what do you expect out of Smith and Seth Rogen? –DS
93. Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (dir. Larry Blamire, 2004). This isn’t the first time I’ve championed this film (see the Love Post back in February). If you like oddball parodies in the Airplane mold, do yourself a favor: Put this one in your Netflix queue. Better yet, buy a copy. Not only is this a hilarious takeoff of exposition-heavy sci-fi movies of the fifties, but it’s even more fun to watch other people watching it. Trust me on this one, and you do like it, feel free to thank me. –TR
94. Night at the Museum (dir. Shawn Levy, 2006). Critics ragged on this CGI-filled romp through a history museum, but families came out in droves to see a light-hearted, action-packed, kid-approved flick. The kiddies learned that when people go to bed, statues come to life, and adults learned that when statues come to life, kids stay happy. It’s a win-win scenario with enough laughs to have you smiling at the end. –DS
95. Letters from Iwo Jima. (dir. Clint Eastwood, 2006). World War II movies always have an appeal to the general public because there are so many fascinating stories to be gleaned. In an ambiguous world, the Second World War stands as one of the only conflicts that can truly feel morally black and white. Yet Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima shows the side that hasn’t had a voice. It never talks down to the viewer or asks for sympathy. It merely reminds audiences that, yes, our enemy is human, loves its family, and suffers the same hardships of war. –AA
96. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (dir. Edward Yang, 2000). The Taiwanese filmmaker Yang won the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his gem-like examination of a family in crisis, with a wedding, a funeral, and the ups and downs in between all lovingly, empathetically observed over the course of three hours. By all means rent the Criterion DVD. Yang’s direction of the children is especially keen. Sadly, it proved to be his last feature; he died in 2007, after a long bout with cancer. –BC
97. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (dir. Seth Gordon, 2007). It began production as an innocent look at the world of old-school video game junkies. During filming they stumbled upon one of the all-time great underdog stories, as unemployed school teacher Steve Wiebe challenged video game golden boy Billy Mitchell for the world record at Donkey Kong. The underhanded political dealings that ensue would make Shakespeare blush, while Mitchell goes down as one of the greatest villains in movie history. –DM
98. Once (dir. John Carney, 2007). From ridiculously humble beginnings — no stars, a skeleton script and $160,000 — came the unrequited-love story of the decade and one of the sweetest moments in Oscar history. Writer-director Carney, a former bandmate of his male protagonist (Frames lead singer Glen Hansard), shot Once in friends’ houses and (without permits) on the Dublin streets, using a long lens and natural light. The result was captivating, an intimate portrait of a not-quite romance between a “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” and a Czech immigrant who, despite falling slowly in love, cannot forsake their prior commitments. Thank goodness for Jon Stewart, who brought Marketa Irglova back onstage so she could have her well-deserved moment in the sun. –JC
99. Napoleon Dynamite (dir. Jared Hess, 2004). A full-on celebration of randomness wrapped in a teen self-discovery movie, this screamingly funny comedy sold a million “Vote for Pedro” t-shirts and taught America that llamas eat ham. John Hughes’ midwestern “outcasts” have nothing on Napoleon, a kid who carries Tater Tots in a fanny pack. What makes this film more than just a laff riot is the surprisingly affecting dance sequence (to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat”) in which our hero’s vulnerability and innate human dignity are laid bare. –RMA
100. Dogville (dir. Lars von Trier, 2003). Part artist, part poseur, von Trier has a gift for winning over the pseudointellectual press. (Expect to see his god-awful “musical,” Dancer in the Dark, on many best-of-decade lists.) But sometimes he overcomes his most fraudulent impulses and connects–The Kingdom, Zentropa, and a movie that narrowly avoided the doghouse of being No. 101 are all worth investigating. A Brechtian takedown of the American dream, with the actors performing on chalk-outlined “sets” and pantomiming simple actions (like opening doors) to get from location to location, it’s three hours long and utterly captivating– even if he blows his cool with the closing credits. (Typical!) The sequel, Manderlay, was another head-scratching disaster that even the pseuds yawned at. But take a bow, Lars, for giving Nicole Kidman that rare role in an art-house production that does as much for her as she does for it–and for earning a place on our list. –BC