NOTE: For structural reasons and to ensure that this list is super-duper pretty at all times, we’ll be posting this same intro for all sections of The Decade List. If you’ve already read all of this, you can just head down to the continuation of our list!
Let’s just get it out of the way right off the ol’ bat: yes, we know it’s been month since we left the decade. Most folks undertook this heavy task pre-2010, but we decided that it would be a little bit better to let the new year settle in a bit before hitting you with something of this magnitude.
So here we are, geeks: we’ve officially arrived in FUTURE *cue retro ’50s sci-fi music* and still we have no freakin’ flying cars yet. What’s the deal with that? While it is pretty exciting to be inside of the year 2010 — a year that always seemed unreachable to us mere mortals — we are also exiting another entire decade that leaves us staring at one majorly epic task. That task? To search, dig, locate, retrieve, organize, polish, and present the very best films of the past ten years!
We must once again declare that this list is also simply opinion. You are are without doubt going to find movies here that you hate and do not think deserve to be included. You will surely think of movies that you think should not only be on here, but that should be at the very top of the list. There will even be some that I have not seen and thus, can not add. Even at this very moment, I sit, worrying and wondering if I’ve forgotten any that I would include; that’s just the way things fly when compiling something this massive.
With all of that said, we invite you in to relax and check out Chapter II our list, The Decade List: The 59 Best Films of the Past Ten Years!
#46 — Memento
The first film from director Christopher Nolan that caught everyone’s attention was Memento, and his grasp on us has held strong ever since.
Memento is truly one of the great unique displays of film making we’ve seen. It tells the story of a man (Guy Pearce) who suffers from short-term memory loss and has to constantly take notes so that he can remember what he has learned in his search for the man who murdered his wife, making sure to tattoo the most important of them right on his own body.
The movie is presented in clips, where we will see a piece of a scene, then jump to a present day scene before eventually seeing the completion of the previous scene. It’s a complete mess, and it is done on purpose, and it all just works and makes total sense at the end. Organized chaos, if you will.
Memento is proof that Nolan is a genius and even something of a mad scientist. And though we haven’t quite seen that kind of insanity in his films since then, like The Prestige and The Dark Knight, his new film Inception looks like it may just dance in the realms of the chaotic once again.
#45 — King Kong
Director Peter Jackson didn’t choose to tone things down after he finished the massive task of adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson instead decided to take on one of the classic monster icons of all time: King Kong.
The 2005 reinvention of Kong was greeted with mixed reactions, but there is no denying how impressive the production is. The film used the classic storyline recipe, following a film maker named Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his crew to the mysterious and unexplored Skull Island, where a giant gorilla beast known as Kong is king of the lands. Though lives are being lost while writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and the other men try and find the movie’s female lead, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who was taken by Kong, Denham sees dollar signs and begins to hatch a plan to capture the creature and bring him back to New York City.
The one issue most seemed to have with Jackson’s King Kong was the run time. At over three hours, many people just weren’t into sitting through something they had seen before, even though it was produced using many new high-tech effects. Even I, a major lover of the movie, can admit that a 30-35 minute time cut would have been a major upgrade to the final product. But this does not mean it doesn’t deserve its place here.
For me, the genius lies in two areas: 1933 New York City and Kong himself. The city is breathtaking, and I do not think that I would be out of line when I say that Jackson has created one of the very best reproductions of a time period that we’ve ever seen in cinema here. When it comes to Kong, not much has to be said. If you don’t see how well-done this computer animated animal is, then you must get those eyes checked. We’re seeing a completely fabricated animal that started with Andy Serkis and some motion capture, and the end result was a perfectly created wild creature. The way Kong acted and moved around; the way he protects Ann Darrow, and the way that his face reacted to different situations was just unparalleled. I love this movie because I fell in love with that animal, and you can’t tell me that’s not enough to be a top film of the decade.
#44 — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The acting representative for the Harry Potter series on this list shall be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
We’ve seen some unbelievably huge franchises born in the past decade, and this was one of them. Arguments could be made for a few of the Harry Potter films as best of the decade candidates and everyone has their own personal favorite, but to keep it all nice and clean, we went with the original film that started it all.
The first Potter film may not currently be your favorite of the bunch, but it will always be in the discussion. It was the first time that we met all of the characters that we love so much today, Richard Harris was still rocking the robes as Dumbledore, and all of the students were just young kids. The kids especially mean the most, because they brought that child-like awe with them, and that created a magic that doesn’t exist in the installments that we’re seeing today.
The Harry Potter movies are of course based on the books of J.K. Rowling and tell the story of the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) with extraordinary abilities — born to be the one who grows up to become a great wizard and stand up to the evil Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
Not every mega-franchise of the past decade will be present here, but it would be criminal for this wonderfully magic world not to be included. Oh, and let us not forget: if not for the infinite vision of the franchise’s first director, nothing would be as it is. It was he and his team who set up all of the other films with character design, casting, and set designs, among many other lasting elements.
#43 — House of Flying Daggers (Shi Mian Mai Fu)
Chinese director Yimou Zhang gave us three stunning foreign films this past decade. One was Hero with Jet Li, and the other two were House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. Watching all of these movies is a visual expedition, and we’re downright spoiled by how good the cinematography is. But when choosing one to shine through on our list, it just has to be House of Flying Daggers.
While some may not agree that it is better than Hero, in my own eyes, it’s far and beyond better than the others. The movie tells the story of a blind dancer who is believed to have ties to a rebel organization known as the Flying Daggers, who stand up against the government of the Tang Dynasty in the year 859 AD. The dancer is arrested and then later broken out of prison by two officers in hopes that she will lead them to the location of the Daggers. On the journey, a complicated love triangle emerges, and it leads to an epic final showdown.
As with any of the foreign films on this list, if you’re not into subtitles, then you may not be able to get into this movie. As I tell those people whenever I get the chance, you should still really give it a chance. If you stop worrying about having to read for five minutes, you’ll soon realize that you don’t even notice it, and that it will eventually feel like you just understand the language. Some of the best movies you’ll see are from other countries, and it would be a damn shame for you to miss out on them due to a grudge against text.
#42 — Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the major stars who broke out this past decade. With his popular Da Ali G Show making waves, he went on to appear in the surprisingly hilarious Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, where he stole many of the scenes he was in. That same year, his ultra-popular Ali G character, Borat Sagdiyev, got his very own movie, and the actor became a signed and stamped star.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is a mockumentary in which the simpleton journalist from Kazakhstan travels to America to film his very own documentary. His journey sees him interacting with many real people who have no idea it’s all part of a fictitious film, and some of which even later tried to sue the personality. Cohen does such a brilliant job at turning himself from a Jewish man from England into a the curious Kazakh, that you can’t help but love him and love this movie.
Though Cohen found much fame due to Borat, he hasn’t gone film crazy since then. He had a small appearance in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and lent his voice to Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa before unleashing his second Ali G character movie, Brüno, which wasn’t quite as well-received as the innocent Borat.
#41 — District 9
One of the few films of 2009 that had to have a spot here is District 9. While it still does need a little time and a few more viewings to become whatever it will be to each fan of the film, it was simply too well-done and unique to ignore.
District 9 takes the discrimination, hate, and segregation of our own species’ past (and sometimes present), and uses it in regard to an alien race instead. The movie tells the story of a massive alien spacecraft that basically breaks down in 1982 and settles in our planet’s atmosphere. Eventually it is decided to investigate the craft, where many sick beings are discovered. It is decided that the best way to deal with them is to barricade off a section of South Africa where they’re located, and build a community of meager shacks and poor environments for them to stay in. Over time, humans become sick of their presence and fear them due to their bug-like appearance, and they demand that the aliens be moved away to a another area. MNU (Multinational United) reacts to the demands and sends a team, lead by Wikus (Sharlto Copely) to inform the aliens that they’re being removed and relocated. Naturally, nothing ever goes right in the movies, and before long, tensions have risen and chaos has broken out.
The most amazing thing about the film directed by Neil Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson is the effects that were used. The aliens that they created are so realistic and their facial features and natural reactions are perfect. The film’s crew created a living, breathing new alien species that you would swear was right there with the actors. Even more impressive is that this was achieved using entirely computer animations, proving the technology could be used effectively, AND it was all done for a $30 million budget — you just can’t beat that mix.
#40 — Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Another mega-franchise appearing on our list is of course Pirates of the Caribbean.
Many people actually disliked the second and third films in this trilogy, which boggles my mind. In a time where so many remakes and unoriginal bile is spit up into cinemas each weekend, an incredibly fun trio of pirate movies seems like a shoo-in for popularity, even if they’re not exactly Oscar-caliber (not counting special effects, makeup, costumes, and so on).
I personally actually think if I had to choose a favorite it would have to be Dead Man’s Chest (I love Bill Nighy‘s Davey Jones character), but for this list, just like with the Harry Potter films, we’re going to use the first of them, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. For Disney to create this fantastical and fully-entertaining world based just on a theme park ride was quite a feat, and the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow character created by Johnny Depp will live on for a long, long time to come.
Because I’m such a big fan of all of these movies, you know I’m all for the fourth film in the franchise. Even without co-stars Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, just the promise of that Fountain of Youth storyline with Sparrow and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is joy to my ears.
#39 — 300
Actual historical events depicted using crazy visual effects and fictional comic book implications make plenty of space for Zack Snyder‘s second film on our list, 300.
The movie is loosely based on the battle of Thermopylae, and tells the story of Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his efforts to gain his council’s blessing to stand against the tyrant god-king of the Persians, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). When he realizes that he can not acquire the blessing of his own people, he takes his best 300 soldiers and sets off on a suicide mission to try and save his beloved Sparta.
300 is adapted from Frank Miller‘s graphic novel of the same name, and the movie faithfully reflects the styles of the comic. Being entirely shot using green screen technology, the movie feels almost like a video game, with waves of bad guys for the Spartans to take out one-by-one, but it also does an admirable job at the few dramatic scenes and loves scenes that it includes. A good mixture of these things always helps a film to flow smooth and 300 was no different. This was one of the true rock stars of the decade and some of the most fun had in theaters recently.
#38 — No Country for Old Men
Ah, yes, No Country for Old Men. Joel and Ethan Coen‘s own Best Picture winner met waves and waves of praise after its release, but the movie has been something of an balancing act for people who weren’t sure if they loved it or not.
The movie follows a regular Joe named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) who discovers a whole lot of money near what looks to be a failed drug transaction. Llewelyn takes the money as most of us would, but it ends up being more than he bargained for as a hitman named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is hired to track the money and retrieve it by any means. This sets up a nasty game of cat and mouse between a man who kills with ease and precision, and a simple man looking to improve his family’s status.
The one issue that most people seem to have with this movie is the ending. It did win Best Picture, so this didn’t affect all people, but for many others, something just went wrong at the end. Being included in this group of people, I can speak for myself in saying that it was just structure. After such an intense back and forth between Llewelyn and Chigurh, for it to end as it did was just plain infuriating. No matter what the movie was based on or where they were trying to go with that, when I watch a movie, I want that story to have some kind of satisfying finality, and we didn’t get that with No Country.
Strangely, in the days following seeing the film, it continued to eat at me and causing me to think about it, which is a good sign. Since then I’ve seen it a few more times, and as you can tell by its presence here, I’ve grown to see it as a truly incredible film. That ending still rubs me wrong and if they had done that just a little better, there is no doubt that this movie could be in the top twenty of this list.
#37 — Gladiator
When I first saw the teaser trailer for Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator, I wasn’t completely familiar with Russell Crowe, and I was a bit confused. The teaser showed some awesome looking old school Roman action, but set to tunes of Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba,” so it was hard to figure out. After seeing the movie for the first time, I was won over and then some.
As someone who is a sucker for any type of period film with swords and shields and battles, I was already pretty easy to swoon, but that doesn’t take away from how great Gladiator is. The move tells the story of a high-ranking general named Maximus (Crowe) in the Roman Army of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) in the year 180 AD. The Emperor trusts in him so much that he decides that upon his death, Maximus should take over as Emperor instead of his immature son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). When Commodus hears of this, his jealousy overtakes him and he murders his father in order to gain the throne the hard way. He immediately orders the death of Maximus, but when Maximus doesn’t die, and discovers the fate of his wife and child, he makes it his only goal to seek revenge on Commodus, and this begins with him falling from General to slave.
Gladiator is brutal and graphic at times, but it’s also very beautiful. Being named Best Picture of that year was well-deserved, but this movie would have been featured on this list even if it hadn’t won, that is for sure.
#36 — Gran Torino
I only saw Gran Torino a few weeks ago, but I’m very thankful that I did. It may be a bit extreme, but the movie may already be my favorite Clint Eastwood directed film of all time, and that, my friends, is Decade List material.
Gran Torino tells the story of Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), a Korean War veteran and widow who despises his modernized family. Walt is also about as racist as they come, and when an Asian family moves in next door, it displeases him to no end. When a gang member relative to his new neighbors starts causing trouble for their son Thao (Bee Vang), Walt finds himself getting involved. And when the kindness of their daughter Sue (Abney Her) teaches him that basic life lesson that people are people, Walt finds himself going out of his way to help Thao get on the right path to a happy life.
If you’re easily insulted, the constant racial remarks of this movie could irk you into dislike, but in all honesty, this is how some people really are out there. The movie isn’t about the racism, but about the evolution of a man who has already reached the end of his life, and his chance to help someone do something with theirs.
#35 — Gangs of New York
One of the greatest film makers of all time is bound to have a movie on our little list here, and Martin Scorsese has two!
Gangs of New York follows the many gangs of New York City’s Five Points fighting for control, with the main battle being between the locals and the Irish immigrants constantly showing up by the boatloads. The movie begins in 1846 with one of these major battles, and when the leader of the immigrant gang falls by the blade of Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), the immigrant’s son runs away. In 1862, that son, named Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns seeking the vengeance of his fallen father. Instead of going right after The Butcher, he finds himself joining his side, where he discovers that he’s a man who gets what he wants, but has respect, including for Amsterdam’s father, whose photograph sits on the mantle. After learning many important lessons, however, the truth does come out, and Amsterdam finds himself standing on the dangerous side of The Butcher’s knives in one final gang battle.
This movie (like King Kong) does a remarkable job of recreating the New York City of that time period. It’s a dirty, dangerous place to live in — almost an American slum in some parts — and Scorsese made it work so well. This along with the story and great performances makes it the memorable cinematic achievement that it is today. And speaking of performances, I still get angry to this very day that Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t awarded the Oscar for this, the very best performance of his career.
And with that, Chapter II of our giant list is concluded. Once again, stay tuned to Geeks of Doom tomorrow as we approach the epic top ten films of the decade!