I spent so much time obsessing over my annual Top 10 list of the best movies of the year, it never even occurred to me that an even more important task was at hand: to compile the best movies of the decade. (Wow, where on earth did the last ten years go?)
Now, conventional wisdom would dictate that coming up with that list would be pretty easy: simply take the number one movie for each of the last ten years, and there you go: ten movies.
But there are two factors that must be taken into consideration. For one thing, some years were stronger than others, resulting in a situation where, say, the 8th best movie of 2004 was actually stronger than the 1st best movie of 2003.
Then there’s the benefit of hindsight. Some movies simply get better with age, while others, well, don’t.
With that in mind, I decided to take a shot at listing what are, in my opinion, the best movies of the decade. Some of my choices may surprise you. Heck, they surprised even me.
10) “Brokeback Mountain” (2005): It was the love story that became a phenomenon. Director Ang Lee’s powerful drama about a forbidden relationship between two cowboys (played brilliantly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) was moving, heartbreaking and devastating — and of course, totally unforgettable.
9) “Gladiator” (2000): Director Ridley Scott made the swords-and-sandals epic cool again (not an easy feat). He also made Russell Crowe a superstar (okay, maybe that was an easy feat). For anyone who ever boasted “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” they should check out this instant classic, where, thankfully, the action didn’t trump the story.
8) “The Departed” (2006): After trying way too hard to please the Academy with the overblown “Gangs of New York” (2002) and “The Aviator” (2004), director Martin Scorsese took a step back into his comfort zone with this rock-solid, gripping and well-cast crime drama that finally won the auteur that Best Director Oscar that eluded him for far too long.
7) “Lost in Translation” (2003): Writer-director Sofia Coppola didn’t stand a chance against the third “Lord of the Rings” movie, which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But if you ask me, hers is the better movie, simply because it says so much more. This moody gem captured the atmosphere of being a stranger in a strange land, where two people at the opposite ends of their lives made an ever-lasting connection.
6) “Up in the Air” (2009): It doesn’t take hindsight to appreciate Jason’s Reitman’s third directorial effort for what it really is: a masterpiece that’s just as timely as it is timeless. Say what you want about how relevant the story is in light of the recession (and, believe me, everyone has), but it’s also profound, funny and heartbreaking, thanks to a killer screenplay co-written by Reitman and a career-defining performance from George Clooney.
5) “Spider-Man 2” (2004): Time now for the best superhero-comic book movie of the decade: You were expecting “The Dark Knight?” Sorry, but I’ll take Sam Raimi’s superior Spidey sequel over Christopher Nolan’s convoluted Batman opus any day. “Spider-Man 2” was the perfect transfer from page to screen, capturing all the angst, danger, depth and — most importantly — fun of what it meant for a blue-collar kid from Queens to do whatever a spider can.
4) “Mulholland Drive” (2001): I’ve seen this movie 15 times now, and I still don’t get it. But in this case, that’s okay, because it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey, and director David Lynch’s moody masterpiece of film noir is much like the Los Angeles road in which it takes its name: it’s breathtaking and beautiful with lots of twists and turns, but where it goes, nobody knows.
3) “WALL*E” (2008): How’s this for a pitch: a post-apocalyptic love story between two robots? On a lifeless planet earth? And there’s almost no dialogue for the first half of the movie? Only Pixar could pull it off. The result: a computer-animated gem that was more for grown-ups than for kids.
2) “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004): Visionary director Michel Gondry was the perfect conduit for Charlie Kaufman’s trippy, cerebral and challenging screenplay about the interconnected relationship between love and memory. It was also the only time that Jim Carrey’s larger than life personality didn’t get in the way of his ability to deliver a serious performance that was fully committed, convincing and moving.
1) “Children of Men” (2006): Los Angeles Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan was right on the money when he described “Children of Men” as “the ‘Blade Runner’ of the 21st Century.” Like that landmark classic from 1982, director Alfonso Cuaron’s dystopian vision of the not-to-distant future was way ahead of its time and is only now getting the credit that it fully deserves. Beyond its incredible cinematography, visceral filmmaking and powerful story, it’s sci-fi at its groundbreaking, provocative and entertaining best.
AH NATION: That’s MovieMantz’s Top 10 of the decade — but what’s yours? Sound off below on his choices and let us know your own!