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 a few months 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 our Final Chapter of The Decade List: The 59 Best Films of the Past Ten Years!
#10 — Once
One of littlest of little indie films that could, Once started as part of the top 20 of our best of the decade list, but the more I looked at it, and the more I looked at other movies, it began to slowly and quietly weave its way up to the top ten. Looking at it now, there is no regret and no doubt that it belongs.
The movie follows a guy (Glen Hansard) in Ireland who plays his guitar on the street and works in his dad’s vacuum cleaner repair shop for money. One day he meets a girl (Markéta Irglová), who rubs him the wrong way at first, but the moment he discovers that they share a passion for music, a bond is formed and they become close friends, helping each other with personal problems, and wondering if maybe there is more to this friendship than they once thought.
To put it as plainly as possible: Once is just a simple, beautiful little movie. The fact that Hansard and Irglová are musicians and not actors just adds to the appeal. Director John Carney had oddly brilliant idea to have the two walk and talk as if it were normal, everyday conversation while filming from afar so they would not become camera shy. This makes the film feel almost like you’re watching someone’s home videos, edited to tell a story.
As soon as I first saw the trailer and heard the music, I knew I would love the movie, and thankfully that’s exactly what happened. Not only that, but it introduced me to The Frames, who are now one of my all-time favorite bands. If you haven’t seen it, you must do so immediately.
#9 — City of God (Cidade de Deus)
Easily one of the most revered and praised foreign films ever to grace us with its presence, Fernando Meirelles‘ City of God is a true masterpiece.
The movie takes place in the Rio De Janeiro, Brazil suburb of Cidade de Deus, This is not a clean or friendly area, and it is a very dangerous place to exist. The movie tells the story of many of the residents of this area and their interweaving existences, but mainly concentrates on two boys who grow up to lead very, very different lives. One boy is named Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), the main character of the story who strives to escape his world and become a photographer. The other boy is called Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino), who thrives in this environment of chaos and rises up to becomes a heavy-hitting drug dealer and the most powerful man in Cidade de Deus.
One of the most compelling things about this movie is of course the reality of it all. City of God is based on a novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, who semi-based it on his own times in the Brazilian slums. The movie used a ton of unknown actors who were actually from that location, and the city itself became a character in the film. With a unique and fast-paced presentation, this is yet another one of those movies that sticks to your brain hard and makes a permanent home for itself.
#8 — Children of Men
I was actually quite late to finally seeing Alfonso Cuarón‘s post-apocalyptic drama, Children of Men. When I was done watching it, it was one of those rare experiences where you feel physically moved and altered by the film, so there was no doubt to it being one of the top films of this list.
The story takes place in 2027 when human beings have been without the ability to spawn children for 18-years now. Knowing that the people that are alive now are officially the last that will ever exist, the world breaks into complete and total anarchy. One day after discovering that the youngest and last human to be born has been murdered, a former activist named Theo (Clive Owen) is kidnapped by a group of extremists lead by his ex-wife. She offers him payment to find a way to get a permit for a certain young girl who we eventually discover to be pregnant. This leads Theo to not only get the permits needed, but to try and get the young girl and child safely to what is simply known as The Human Project.
Not only is Children of Men a great, great movie, but it’s an immaculate cinematic conquest. After watching the film I found myself actually wondering if it had been nominated for Best Picture, and was literally infuriated to discover that it was not! Considering what did win that year (The Departed), I wouldn’t say it should have won that prize, but it was 100% more-deserving of a nomination than other films that year.
To make it worse, it didn’t even win the categories that it was nominated for — Editing, Cinematography — which is unfathomable if you’ve seen this movie. Children of Men has three particular scenes that are done in one-shot, one-take, and surgically choreographed. When you realize it while watching, it is almost life-changing how flawless everything had to be to pull it off.
Even if this isn’t a movie you were personally a fan of, those three scenes alone are some of the hands down greatest film making I’ve ever seen, and very few directors have the skill or fortitude to pull something like that off as Cuarón did.
#7 — The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
This is another gem that I don’t expect a lot of folks to agree with being this high, but I really can’t help it: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is easily one of the top ten best films of the decade for me.
The movie is something of a biopic of the legendary Jesse James (Brad Pitt), who is one of the few human beings ever to be both famous AND infamous. The story revolves mostly around the time that 19-year-old super-fan/stalker Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) tries desperately to join Jesse’s famed James Gang on their adventures of crime and prosperity. It also adds to the mix the massive manhunt to find and apprehend Jesse James and how all of these elements come to meet at one primal history-changing intersection.
Before seeing The Assassination of Jesse James, I actually saw a History Channel special on James and his life, and was surprised to discover that this movie was quite in-tune to the actual events. At first viewing, I enjoyed everything about it, but it wasn’t until second, third, and fourth viewings that my love affair with this film began. Every single time you see it, you pick up on new and interesting aspects to the film. And when you’ve seen it enough times, the film discussions that you can have with others as to what director Andrew Dominik was trying to say with it are entertaining enough on their own. To this point, it is easily the best performances by both Pitt and Affleck that you will find.
If you’ve been reading this whole list, you’ve discovered my infatuation with music in film and how much it can add to a production. One of our previous films was another western, The Proposition, whose musical duo in Nick Cave and Warren Ellis also handled the score here, and it is equally wonderful.
#6 — In Bruges
As you can tell, there’s quite a few semi-recent films among our precious group of elite top ten movies of the decade. Once I personally compiled all of the movies that I wanted, the hardest part was actually choosing what went where, and to be honest, there’s not much room among a lot of them. I’m 100% sure that a few of our lower-listed movies would be right up here at the top for many other people. Because of this, I was actually pretty excited to see these end up at the top, and that includes In Bruges!
In Bruges is a movie whose trailer entertained me more than the majority of films that come out these days…which is always a pretty spectacular sign. The movie follows a pair of assassins (Colin Farrell, Brendon Gleeson) who get assigned to Bruges, Belgium to hold up until further instructions come along from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Simply enough, they basically just argue a lot and try and find stuff to keep them occupied. But as this basic story plays out, we’re introduced to a tragic back-story that slowly clears a path to a bigger picture and clears a little path to some madness in Bruges.
If you’ve see cult b-movie Lake Placid, you know that Gleeson is as good at sarcastic dialogue as he is at wielding a blade in battle-heavy period films. This sarcasm is put to great use in this movie, and the banter between he and Farrell is nothing short of art. Add to all of this a expletive-addicted boss in Fiennes, and you have a majorly dark comedy with an unstoppable amount of laughs.
In Bruges is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who is mostly known as a playwright, and doesn’t do much film. Apparently that shouldn’t remain this way: his writing was brilliant and it doesn’t matter how many times I watch this movie, I will always find new things to gush over and old things to praise.
#5 — Finding Nemo
It doesn’t take much thought when it comes to Pixar movies. As I’ve said before, most of the movies that come from them could be mentioned on many best of anything lists, and that means one of them was destined for this top ten.
Finding Nemo is the vibrant and stunning underwater tale of a young little fish named Nemo (Alexander Gould) and his father Marlin (Albert Brooks), who are the only two to survive a vicious attack by a predatory fish that claimed his mother and all of his many brothers and sisters while they were still eggs. When Nemo is suddenly captured by a dentist with an enjoyment for diving and collecting tropical fish, Marlin sets off on an incredibly dangerous mission that spans the oceans to somehow find his son and bring him back. On his journey he finds help from guilty sharks (sorta), elderly surfer-dude sea turtles, and a fish with a bit of a memory problem named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres).
Not only is this #4 of our top 59 films of the decade, but it’s easily my favorite Pixar film so far and also on my all-time favorites top ten. Everything about this movie is perfect, from the great humor to the awe-inspiring visuals to the amazing reproduction of our own endless ocean and the countless life that resides there.
If I ever have kids, I might not ever show them anything but Pixar movies, because it’s movies like Finding Nemo and the others that I could watch ten times a day and never get sick of them.
#4 — Kill Bill
Technically, Kill Bill is one long, complete film. Yes, most people prefer Volume 1 over 2, but it was all intended to be a whole, and that’s how I prefer to look at it. I also personally think Kill Bill is director Quentin Tarantino‘s best work to date — yes, even over Pulp Fiction…though it is still so insanely close.
The movie follows The Bride (Uma Thurman), a specially-trained assassin who one day gets pregnant and decides to leave her life of murder and escape to a normal life with her child and husband. While still with child and preparing for the wedding, her ex-flame and former boss, Bill (David Caradine), shows up unexpectedly, and with him he brings his team of killers to slaughter her and everyone else that’s there. But by a miracle to end all miracles, she survives and wakes up from her coma four years later, and as you might expect, she is devastated by the loss of her baby and furious at what’s transpired. This sets in motion the thrilling tale of The Bride and her bloody path to gloriously cold revenge.
Though the premise of Kill Bill is laid out simply, we all know that Tarantino is no simple director. The movie begins with one of the final names on The Bride’s list being paid a visit, and jumps around to the others as the two films play out. Over the course, we are also treated to a lot of back story to her training, and also to the enemies that she faces. Some sequences are normal, some are animated in Japanese styles, some are reminiscent to old b-movies or grindhouse films, and some are a homage to the old kung-fu films that Tarantino adores.
And even with all of these styles, an out-of-order presentation, and an odd-yet-hypnotizing mix of music, it all flows perfectly and you’re never once bored by this bloody-beautiful work of cinematic art.
#3 — Shaun of the Dead
Am I out of my mind to have a zombie horror comedy at #3 of our best of the decade list? Some may think so, sure, but I think it’s completely deserved!
Shaun of the Dead brings us into the life of Shaun (Simon Pegg), a simple guy in a dead end job whose girlfriend is about to leave him because he lacks the drive to move forward in life and commit. Not to mention the fact that his flat mate is just about to snap when it comes to Shaun’s freeloading best friend, Ed (Nick Frost). Somewhere within this mediocre life that’s falling to pieces, a zombie infestation breaks out, and Shaun finds himself fighting through the masses of undead to try and save his friends and loved ones from becoming infected themselves.
When it comes to the zombie sub-genre, it’s hard to keep track of all the movies we’ve seen. Because of this, you have to change things up and offer a unique style and story to win praise. Shaun of the Dead does this in waves, giving us a relentlessly funny comedy at first, that builds into an intense horror movie while keeping the humor, and then capping it all off with an all-out grand finale that manipulate your every emotion.
This is also the movie that introduced us Americans to the team of director Edgar Wright, Pegg, and Frost. And if you’re like me, I’ve wanted as much as I could get from the trio since then. If there is such a thing as a perfect cast and crew, then this is certainly a prime example of what one would look like.
#2 – Almost Famous
From what I understand, there’s actually a Director’s Cut of Cameron Crowe‘s wonderful Almost Famous. Supposedly, this version of the film is much better, and considering where we are on our list, that’s mind-boggling to even think about. Unfortunately I have not seen it yet, but none-the-less, the movie is indeed our second-best film of the past decade.
The movie follows a 15-year-old named William (Patrick Fugit) who aspires to be a writer in 1973. One day, after a few “right place at the right time” moments, he finds himself on the road with Stillwater, one of the big up-and-coming rock bands of that time, and their biggest fan, a one Miss Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). While on the road, he’s faced with many tasks including trying to grab an interview with bandleader Russell (Billy Crudup) and putting together an article for none other than Rolling Stone magazine. And so begins his journey as an underage kid making a run as a columnist with a popular band. On the way, he grows up much faster than many do as he babysits the band, tries to meet his deadline, is ravaged by the band’s group of female fans, and tries to reassure his pestering and over-protective mother (Frances McDormand) that things are fine.
Almost Famous is based on Crowe’s own very similar experience as a young kid on tour with bands like Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyard that he later wrote about in Rolling Stone.
As far as I’m concerned, this movie is what filmmaking is all about. It’s a smart, funny, and completely compelling movie about a boy growing up in one of the fastest and most chaotic of situations. It’s filled with great moments of laughter, drama, sadness, anger, and some really magical moments. As many would agree, the scene on the tour bus when the band breaks out into Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” after some really tense moments in their relationship is easily one of the greatest and most memorable scenes in the history of cinema.
This of course means only one thing, folks: what could be number one?!?
#1 — The Departed
Eureka! You have arrived, ladies and gentlemen. If you’ve sat there and read all of our choices and sections on this massive list, then we thank you so much for your eyes. If you’ve never put something like this together, I assure you: it takes a hell of a lot more work and time than was first assumed.
I will admit that it was really, really difficult to choose between these top three to five movies and who would actually be king of our decade. Ultimately, it was just too hard to say that anything was better than Martin Scorsese‘s Boston mob drama, The Departed.
The movie takes place in Southie (South Boston, for you non-New Englanders and people who haven’t seen Good Will Hunting) and follows Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and William Costigan Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) on their entirely different paths. Sullivan was taken under the wing of top crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) when he was a young boy, and has been groomed as a loyal follower who will become a Boston Detective and act as the perfect insider. Parallel to that, Costigan comes from a jagged existence and becomes a Massachusetts State Police Officer who instead is used to infiltrate Costello’s crime family and become their own inside source. As expected, a rather intense game of cat-and-mouse transpires, with each side trying to get the upper hand while at the same time trying to figure out who can be trusted and who needs to be dealt with.
The Departed is proof that remakes do work sometimes — it is based on the 2002 Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs — so long as you do it right. Many great films are remakes of sorts that people don’t really know about, and this is definitely the case here.
The movie is long, but it’s so insanely good, that you never even notice the time flying by. Whether it’s a big action sequence or just two people sitting and talking, your attention belongs to this movie until the credits role. The music, the stories, the acting, and of course Scorsese’s directing are all flawless ingredients to the perfection. And speaking of the credits rolling, when you do get to that point with this movie the first time you see it, there is no doubt that you are completely shocked and speechless by the ending that you have just witnessed.
Call me bold, but as far as I’m concerned The Departed is not only worthy of this spot, but of many other big places in movie history. I would gladly place it above all others on the resume of Martin Scorsese and if you do not already consider it a classic, it will one day be so.
Pardon my elation at some of these movies not only in relation to the decade, but over all time. I’ve discovered that these past ten years were filled with some truly unforgettable films that will have an eternally lasting effect on mine and many other people’s lives.
Once again, we’d like to thank you all for taking the time to read our juggernaut of a list here, and we hope you’ve enjoyed at least most of the choices made! We can only hope that this brand new decade that we’ve only recently entered will hold more of the same for movie lovers big and small.