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The 50 Best Movies of the Decade

The “noughties” (what a crappy name) were a decade of CGI extravagance, visceral drama and increasingly tasteless comedies. In fact, it was a decade of few truly great movies (in my opinion). It seemed as though there was more “cash-in” than any other decade (although this is probably not true), with the six (or is it seven?) sequels to the hit horror film Saw, crappy spoof comedies like Epic Movie and Disaster Movie, and a range of flicks designed purely to showcase developments in computer generated images (but that alone cannot hold a film together). Like they say, enough already! But even with the influx of tedious CGI-based films, it must be said that the decade advanced the art of special effects with leaps and bounds, building steadily on the work first displayed in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park way back in 1993. These advancements alone allowed films such as The Lord Of The Rings trilogy to finally be put on screen the way it should be seen.

There were many great films that didn’t make it onto the following list. If I put together a Top 100, they would be in there (but that’s too much of a task). Asian cinema was extremely popular this decade with many twisted horror films from out of South Korea such as A Tale Of Two Sisters and the comedic The Host, and other dark tales such as the Japanese-made Battle Royale. Other noteworthy omissions from the list include Christopher Nolans’ Batman Begins, The Prestige and Insomnia; Spielberg’s Munich and Catch Me If You Can; Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto; Sean Penn’s The Pledge; William Friedkin’s The Hunted; the recent low-budget sci-fi Moon; and the documentaries Grizzly Man, Jesus Camp, The Corporation and The Fog Of War. Just missing out on inclusion in the Top 50 were David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and the Wachowski’s The Matrix Reloaded, which everyone on Planet Earth seemed to hate except for me. But let me make it clear that the following list does not necessarily imply the best films of the decade in a critical sense, as they are merely my favourite films of the past ten years.

#50            Cast Away (2000)
A plane crashes in the ocean and a guy washes up on a deserted island. You wouldn’t think this would make a particularly interesting movie, but this simple, emotional film proved that Robert Zemeckis can at times be a wonderful filmmaker and that Tom Hanks has great talent as an actor. And what other movie features a volleyball as a supporting character?

#49            Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
One of the most entertaining (and popular) films of the decade – an old-fashioned caper film (a remake of the ‘60s Rat Pack flick), reverential and most importantly, amusing. Featuring funky direction from Steven Soderbergh, buoyant music and a genuine sense of fun from its’ stellar cast (knowing not to take themselves too seriously).

#48            Chopper (2000)
Director Andrew Dominik’s first feature based on the semi-autobiographical books by the infamous Australian criminal Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. Featuring excellent production design and direction, and a freakish performance from Eric Bana as Read, ultimately painting a sad portrait of a volatile character.

#47            Nurse Betty (2000)
When Renee Zellweger’s husband is the victim of a scalping by father-and-son assassins, she quickly loses her sanity and heads to LA to find the star of a TV soap opera. This crazy black comedy treads a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous, but never once loses its’ grip.

#46            Black Hawk Down (2001)
An American war movie made by Brits. Perhaps that is why this superior action film has a low patriotism quotient. Characters are secondary to the extraordinary technical achievements of director Ridley Scott and his production team, bringing to life the ferocious battle that was Mogadishu in 1993. Loud and brutal.

#45            Fast Food Nation (2006)
Richard Linklater’s little movie with the big scope (based on the book by co-screenwriter Eric Schlosser) – dissecting the fast food industry, from the marketing executive to the exploited worker on the “kill floor”. OK, so Avril Lavigne has a small role in it, and it may lag at times, but you’ll never look at beef the same way again.

#44            Oldboy (2003)
Wickedly twisted, violent and oppressive movie from South Korea, achieving levels of grim sophistication that few Hollywood films could emulate. A little overdone at times, but original and gripping.

#43            Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002)
Impressive directing debut from George Clooney, based on the (maybe it’s really true) autobiography by TV producer Chuck Barris, who claimed to have lead a double life as an assassin for the CIA. Artfully filmed and featuring a kinetic performance from Sam Rockwell.

#42            You Can Count On Me (2000)
A wayward drifter returns to his hometown to stay with his sister and her young son. Nothing is simple in this low-key, intelligent film that ushered in the new decade with warmth, character and humor. Featuring two wonderful performances from Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo.

#41            The Pianist (2002)
Unforgettable film based on the memoir of musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, detailing his struggle for survival hiding in occupied Poland during WW2. Featuring a towering performance from Adrien Brody under the direction of the great Roman Polanski. Supreme cinematic storytelling.

#40            Dancer In The Dark (2000)
Avant-garde cinema from Danish director Lars Von Trier – signalling his last great work before he lost his cinematic vision. “Guerilla” filmmaking combined with lusciously photographed fantasy and equally avant-garde music from its star, Bjork. An indulgent mess to some – an emotive poem to others.

#39            O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Homer’s Odyssey is given the whacked-out Coen Brothers treatment, with zany performances and a hit soundtrack. This is somewhat indulgent, but consistently amusing in the vein of the Brother’s other whacky classic Raising Arizona.

#38            Sunshine (2007)
In a decade where CGI artists constantly strived to better each other and serve up increasingly ridiculous eye-candy for the masses, director Danny Boyle and his special effects wizards showed everyone how to produce wonder to enhance a story. A haunting experience, echoing Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

#37            Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Hilarious spoof of all things zombie, turning chestnuts of the sub-genre into fodder for the comedic cannon. Co-writer/star Simon Pegg broke onto the scene with this sure-footed and clever film, which unfortunately paved the way for a number of similar-minded movies.

#36            Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
It took me some time to watch this film. The premise – a man hears in his head an author narrating the book of his life as it is being written, as it is happening (ya got that?) – seemed as though it couldn’t possibly work. But it does, thanks to a brilliant script by Zach Helm, and the acting talents of Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman.

#35            Syriana (2005)
Multiple stories converge in this intelligent, difficult film from Stephen Gaghan, the writer of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic. This is a brave and luminous critique of the insidious tentacles of Big Oil, impressively made, well acted and featuring a hauntingly beautiful, minimalist score.

#34            Team America: World Police (2004)
Never have puppets been so intentionally funny. Whip-smart script (not to mention songs) by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and brilliantly cheesy puppetry together created one of the funniest films of the decade. Think Thunderbirds on meth.

#33            Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
Audiences were divided on the merits of Quentin Tarantino’s samurai double feature. Whilst lacking the bloodletting of Vol. 1, the second part featured more humour and more artistry in its’ direction. It also featured The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei.

#32            Zodiac (2007)
Visionary director David Fincher’s best film to date (I’ll rate it alongside Se7en), detailing the investigation into the notorious “Zodiac” killer. Excellent acting, brilliant production design, some truly amazing camera work and a strong exercise for the cerebrum.

#31            Elephant (2003)
A meandering poem, loosely based on the actions of the Columbine High School shooters. This is a singular experience from director Gus Van Sant, a unique filmmaker and an artist not afraid to experiment.

#30            The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Peter Jackson’s massive film is jam-packed with visual lollipops, but lacks the grounding of Fellowship. But hey, that’s a minor criticism. Gollum, Treebeard, Helm’s Deep – all brought to life and exceeding expectations by a filmmaker with a genuine adoration of the source material.

#29            American Splendor (2003)
The best comic book(s) adaptation of the decade – no mean feat considering its’ competition. This ain’t no Marvel comic though, this is a sensational mixture of animation, actors and the real-life subject Harvey Pekar, cancer survivor and friend of legendary artist R. Crumb. Wonderful acting from Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis.

#28            Bus 174 (2002)
Rock-solid and gripping documentary of a hostage drama that unfolded on the streets of Rio De Janeiro in July, 2000. Utilising sensational real footage of the event, this is a brilliant example of how to tell a story on screen simply and effectively from debut filmmaker Jose Padilha.

#27            The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
A young Che Guevara and his cavalier friend Alberto Granado trek across Latin America on a dodgy motorbike, which ultimately changes the perceptions of both men. Literate and moving, beautifully acted and lovingly photographed.

#26            Good Night, And Good Luck (2005)
George Clooney cemented his place as a modern artist to take notice of with his second film as director. Superb dramatic movie-making about TV journalist Edward R Murrow’s stance against communist-hunting senator Joseph McCarthy, seamlessly combining actual footage of the era with its magnificent monotone photography.

#25            The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Genuinely creepy film about spooky goings-on at an equally spooky orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. Director Guillermo del Toro went on to create the fantasy worlds of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, but this remains his greatest achievement of the decade.

#24            Donnie Darko (2001)
Writer/director Richard Kelly made perhaps the only bona fide cult movie of the last decade with this strange tale. Time travel, teen angst, retribution, Tears For Fears and a bunny suit – all the necessary ingredients for an odd and fascinating film.

#23            Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder turns George Romero’s zombie classic on its’ head, which was a relief to the countless Romero fans (like myself) who envisioned the film as being just another crappy remake. I’m glad to say we were all wrong about that one.

#22            Amores Perros (2000)
Before the similar structure of 21 Grams and Babel (completing his “death trilogy”), director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu burst on the scene with this gritty drama set in Mexico City. Three stories intersect following a car crash, leading to tragic results. Honest and unforgiving.

#21            Capturing The Friedmans (2003)
Masterful documentary about Arnold and Jesse Friedman, arrested in the early 1980s for the alleged sodomy of young boys. Were the Friedmans guilty, or merely the victims of overzealous police? This outstanding film asks you to judge for yourself.

#20            War Of The Worlds (2005)
Loathed by many, recognised as a science-fiction classic by others. Utilising the cinema-verite style he first adopted in Saving Private Ryan together with state-of-the-art digital effects, Steven Spielberg created a gritty realisation of the classic H.G. Wells story. This film put nearly all other CGI-infused extravagances of the decade to shame.

#19            Adaptation. (2002)
When Nicolas Cage isn’t appearing in garbage like Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man, he occasionally makes a truly wonderful film. Given the two roles of real-life writer Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald, Cage gave perhaps the performance(s) of his career in Spike Jonze’s weird and wonderful movie.

#18            The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The longest film title since Dr Strangelove (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) is one of the greatest ‘Westerns’ ever made. Stomping on ground few of the genre have dared to tread, director Andrew Dominik’s first Hollywood film is an artistic and genre classic.

#17            Children Of Men (2006)
An astounding, frightening futurist nightmare. This grim film presents an unflinching peek at a not-too-distant future that is uncomfortably realistic. To call it science-fiction would be to understate the scope of this relatively small, exceptional movie.

#16            Max (2002)
Max Rothman is an art dealer in post-WW1 Germany, who soon meets young aspiring artist Adolf Hitler, and tragically encourages him to search deep inside for his true voice. Surreal, provocative film exists in an almost dream state, anchored by two great performances by John Cusack (a career best) and Noah Taylor.

#15            28 Days Later (2002)
Director Danny Boyle breathes flesh (I mean ‘fresh’) life into a tired concept – the zombie flick. An artistic horror film (if that’s possible), combining gritty photography with tactile, gruesome gore, and an apocalyptic atmosphere that many subsequently attempted (unsatisfactorily) to emulate.

#14            Wonder Boys (2000)
It’s tough to define the appeal of this film. It’s the vibe, really. Director Curtis Hanson follows up the darkness of L.A. Confidential with a vibrant, witty tale of a college professor trying to finish his second novel while ‘under the influence’. Features a great ensemble cast completely attune to the tone of the film.

#13            Michael Clayton (2007)
Yet another outstanding performance from George Clooney (I think it was the decade of George) as a bagman for a top New York law firm who is given one chance at moral redemption. A rare Hollywood film, unafraid to tackle serious issues and highlighted by a strikingly sombre mood and a sharp, vicious script.

#12            A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) (2001)
A classic of science-fiction, with the great director Steven Spielberg finishing the work begun by another great director, Stanley Kubrick. Flawed, yet brimming with wonderful concepts and visionary production design. A fascinating film.

#11            Shadow Of The Vampire (2000)
Strange, unexpectedly comedic film, hypothesising that the lead actor in F.W. Murnau’s silent film classic Nosferatu was in fact a real-life vampire. Not for all tastes, this dark movie is wry and dry, and buoyed by wicked performances from Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich.

#10            The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
The beginnings of the Irish Republican Army brought to the screen by dissenting English director Ken Loach and collaborator, writer Paul Laverty. Emotional film, brave and inflammatory, beautifully filmed and acted.

#9            Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003)
Rousing film, richly detailed, bringing to life a smidgeon of the imposing maritime novels by Patrick O’Brian. Exquisitely photographed, excitingly told and directed with verve by the great Peter Weir (his only film of the decade). Russell Crowe and a stellar British cast transport the audience to another time and place (like so many great films do).

#8            Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
A true original, from the mind of the extraordinary writing talent, Charlie Kaufman. Like many comedians, Jim Carrey can tackle drama with aplomb, and his chemistry on screen with the gorgeous Kate Winslet is one of the key elements of the films’ success. Forget The Notebook, this is a love story like no other.

#7            The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The sensibility of writer/director Wes Anderson is a matter of taste. You either like it or you don’t. This is the film that he will attempt to better for the rest of his career – a sublime, dry black comedy about a family of geniuses, full of outrageously off-kilter scenarios and a wonderful sense of musicality. Love him or hate him, Anderson is a rare filmmaker with a completely original vision.

#6            No Man’s Land (2001)
During the war in Bosnia, a Serb and a Bosniak find themselves trapped in a trench between enemy lines, together with a third man lying prone on top of a landmine. As they bicker amongst themselves, UN Peacekeepers and the news media watch from the sidelines. Superior film in all respects – simple, intelligent and effective.

#5            Requiem For A Dream (2000)
You haven’t seen a film about drug abuse and addiction until you’ve seen Darren Aronofsky’s claustrophobic masterpiece. Grim, shocking, uncompromising – featuring an unforgettable performance from Ellen Burstyn (and her animated refridgerator). Not for the squeamish.

#4            The Aviator (2004)
Legendary director Martin Scorsese’s best film since GoodFellas. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of a lifetime as Howard Hughes, the obsessive-compulsive genius who revolutionised the aviation industry. Brash, dramatic and meticulous – perfectly embodying its subject.

#3            The Lives Of Others (2006)
Magnificent film, set in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A writer who is under surveillance gradually and unknowingly affects the life of the Stasi operative assigned to his case. Brooding atmosphere, superior writing and acting – a tremendous debut from German writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

#2            The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
Of all the cinema experiences of the last decade (aside from the next film on this list), Fellowship was the most unforgettable. Seeing the opening frames of the movie for the first time in the theatre generated an excitement I hadn’t felt since my inaugural viewing of Return Of The Jedi in 1983. The most linear film of the trilogy and for me, the most enjoyable. For despite the grand battle scenes of the sequels, nothing quite topped the Balrog of Morgoth.

#1            There Will Be Blood (2007)
A classic of American cinema. Grand and poetic cinematography, exhilarating direction, a penetrating score and the performance of the decade from Daniel Day-Lewis as the nihilist oil baron Daniel Plainview. Oozing malevolence, Blood confirmed what many had suspected since Boogie Nights regarding Paul Thomas Anderson’s supreme talent as a filmmaker.

As they say in the biz – that’s all, folks!

by Wadrick Jones

Movie Poster pics by impawards.com and Google.


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  1. great list of movies, very well put together :)

    Posted by jared thompson | January 14, 2010, 12:10 pm
  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JThompsondesign: GritFX blog: the 50 best movies of the decade http://tinyurl.com/yeqyzfb brilliantly put together list!…

    Posted by uberVU - social comments | January 14, 2010, 1:58 pm
  3. Great stuff, Wadrick…

    Nice work…

    Must’ve been tough for a film buff like yourself to figure out a criteria that suited your varied tastes…well done…

    Good to see American Slendor and Michael Clayton getting a look in…

    (And there’s a lot I need to see…Hopefully I’ll catch up by 2020…)

    Posted by Decoy Spoon | January 15, 2010, 3:14 am
  4. Hey Jared – glad you dug it.

    Decoy – dude, the criteria was simply “did I really dig this movie?”…it was a task putting it together – at least I gave you a list of movies to see…

    Posted by Wadrick Jones | January 15, 2010, 5:47 pm
  5. That’s a pretty good list and some I haven’t seen I want to see.
    Why didn’t Inglorious Basterds make it?
    .-= shea ´s last blog ..Art Refugee =-.

    Posted by shea | January 17, 2010, 6:49 am
  6. Interesting list. Just curious if you watched ‘Cloverfield’ or ‘Death at a Funeral” and if so would they have made your top 100?
    .-= Aaron´s last blog ..So Mark McGwire took steroids… =-.

    Posted by Aaron | January 17, 2010, 3:55 pm
  7. @Shea – I liked Basterds, but it didn’t blow me away like I thought it would. Think it deserves another watch, actually.

    @Aaron – Cloverfield would have made the Top 100, sure…I thought that was very well done (and I’m a sucker for a monster movie)…didn’t think much of Death At A Funeral, though…(I guess your referring to the English version…)
    However, I do like Alan Tudyk – he’s always funny.

    Thanks for dropping by, guys.

    Posted by Wadrick Jones | January 17, 2010, 9:26 pm
  8. Great list Mr Jones!
    .-= faystar´s last blog ..BEST OF THE DECADE =-.

    Posted by faystar | January 19, 2010, 3:15 pm
  9. You call me Dr Jones!

    Posted by Wadrick Jones | January 19, 2010, 4:56 pm
  10. True man, but I’m sure there was a sneaky criteria within the criteria, like, ‘Which film do I dig more?’. That’s always tough to work out…well done.

    Also, sorry about the typo “American Slendor” (isn’t that the sequel to Fast Food Nation?…yeah, bad joke.)

    Posted by Decoy Spoon | January 19, 2010, 9:35 pm
  11. great list, good content
    .-= Review of The Matrix´s last blog ..Review of The Matrix =-.

    Posted by Review of The Matrix | January 13, 2011, 9:52 pm

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