I (Chris Elena) have been asked many times what I think the best movies of the past decade are; and after being asked just recently, I just couldn’t help but write this much delayed list. These are films that I think say something about the films we watch or the genres we’re aware of and defy some and/or all conventions we’re so accustomed to.
These aren’t necessarily in my order of preference, I love all the films mentioned unconditionally but I rank them in importance.
These are the movies that to me defied storytelling and cliché in some way. Check them out after the jump.
11. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
A murder mystery? A quiet human drama? Terror and subtlety go hand in hand in David Fincher’s Zodiac, redefining our expectations of films by avoiding genre conventions resembling great films of the 1970’s such as All The President’s Men and Serpico. With a sense of humour that’s impossible to ignore and an appreciation for storytelling as a whole, Zodiac reminds us that restrained and intelligent cinema needs to return.
10. Domino (Tony Scott, 2005)
The late, great Tony Scott’s best film, just so happens to be his craziest. I know you’re already shaking your head at this entry, sure. But if you have seen it, and possibly hated it, how many times exactly have you seen it? Domino says [and replicates] more about what we find entertaining and how we perceive the world than most art forms care to admit. At a breakneck pace that only this generation can follow, it reveals how we prefer our stories (sunny-side up with a hint of gun powder and cocaine), yet never once forgets character and narrative. Packed with comments on our obsession with trashy TV and badass protagonists; Domino is more than fun, it’s saying something, even if we don’t care to listen. It also happens to triumph any action film made in the last decade or two.
9. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Domink, 2007)
Amidst the smoke and rubble of a great heist film are its thieves. They sit in a group and talk past relationships, how to cook stew and about redefining a life they may have lost once and for all. In the end all that can be heard is silence. A sad, lonely silence that can only be heard once a life is ruined. Jesse James’ life is ruined. He is renowned as one of the greatest outlaws who ever lived yet when we see him, he’s a mentally unstable and sad individual. It’s through the fascination, jealousy and loneliness of Robert Ford that we see beyond the beautiful sets and lush cinematography. Crime and treachery is a soul-sucking career that leaves no survivors. Andrew Domink with his film embraces the quiet sadness and the consequences, rather than any rewards which result from violent spectacles.
8. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
The quintessential teen/coming of age film? A perfect love letter to music? An effortless amalgamation of both gives us Cameron Crowe’s best film yet, Almost Famous. Why does it deserve to be on this list? Almost Famous has redefined the teenage experience as represented in film. It’s sweet, unassuming and relies on next to no profanity or schmaltz to tell its story. We’re embraced through its choice and love of music and finally the incredible characters take over. If a movie should ever go beyond sweet sentiment, it all comes down to story, character and an appreciation for the audience. If only most films these days remembered this. Oh and Almost Famous might just contain the single greatest scene about growing up ever to be shot on celluloid, but I’ll let you guess which one, Tiny Dancer.
7. The Devil’s Rejects (Rob Zombie, 2005)
A Rob Zombie film on a best of list? For Shame! But if we look past names and assumptions, we have a horror thriller that does more with perception and social status than most “arthouse” films could ever come close to. We’re given the ugly task of following a family of serial killers who find enjoyment in murdering innocent people. Yup. But what happens when we’re encouraged to like and have fun with them? what if the authority figure, the “hero” of this story inadvertently stoops to their level and quite possibly becomes worse than they do? Whose side are we on? What constitutes a hero and a villain? The Devil’s Rejects is a horror film that bombards its audience with questions on a genre it loves and on its fascination in sadism. Any film asking that amount of questions deserves to be seen by all across the land. Even if it means looking away at more than a few moments.
6. Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
A film that’s considered brave yet merely shows what most art is too afraid to admit – that sex is fun. It’s also an almost perfect New York film. Why? Because like most accounts of the city post 9/11, instead of asking “what happened?”, it instead answers “What now?” Characters combat the fear and depression of a city that’s recovering slower than its inhabitants, through a celebration of sex, meeting new people, embracing love and attempting to understand themselves. This is revolutionary storytelling; and whilst funny and sweet, can ultimately be heartbreaking.
5. Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
The epitome of romance, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about a socially inept and lonely salesman who finally finds love at the worst time. This is more than just a drama infused with romance; it’s a sensory experience that attacks you at first, then embraces you almost instantly after. Stories of love and loneliness are hardly ever expressed through light, colour and environment; it’s all dialogue and cheap attempts at laughs, usually at the expense of the protagonist. For Anderson, dialogue is background, experience and feeling is forefront. Any and all love stories are still trying to match Punch Drunk Love in some way. On top of this it convinced us all that Adam Sandler can actually act, and exceptionally well at that.
4. Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009)
Superhero movies make the most amount of money at the box office than any other type or genre of film. They rely on familiar names, spectacle and eventually fly their way to the bank. So, naturally, it’d be wrong of me not to include the greatest superhero film ever made. Many have deem Watchmen a shot for shot adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, with a slightly different ending. However, I content that it’s so much more than that. Zack Snyder’s film utilises spectacle to paint the ugly odyssey and demise of the masked superhero. With or without powers, they’re in a world that won’t ever accept them, even if they’re the ones keeping it together. Much like the graphic novel, it completely dissects those behind the costume and masks; and even improves on the ending of Alan Moore’s story. This is THE superhero movie. The be all and end all, even if it holds a mirror up to a vile society that more than resembles our own.
3. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Quentin Tarantino was once known as a god of screen-writing after Pulp Fiction. Even though he is still loved and renowned by many, he is considered the guy who zooms in a lot, plays a large amount of music used in blaxploitation films of the 70’s and indulges…more than just about any other film-maker; often referencing himself. So when a movie of his comes along, that utilises silence and focuses on character interactions and status; you can’t help but sit up and pay attention. What might be the closest he’ll come to saying something about audience fascination with violence (the scene in the cinema says it all) and an opening that might just be one of the greatest scenes ever composed on screen; Inglourious Basterds transcends what we know about the common war picture, yet still demonstrates articulation and precision, letting scenes breathe and characters develop in unexpected ways. This isn’t regular, loud Tarantino; this is beyond something else.
2. Where The Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)
The greatest children’s film ever made? I believe so. Why? Because it’s not just about creatures being fluffy, funny and colourful. The film does more than aim to merely distract kids, it speaks to them and dissects the feelings felt during childhood – with each creature being a facet of his personality. Where the Wild Things are is one of the greatest examples of emotional storytelling – not just via the audience’s response to the material, but by using emotion to say something about children and how we once were. No film, let alone children’s film has yet to top this.
1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
The greatest cliché used to describe this movie amongst the hail of accolades was; “this century’s Citizen Kane“… Well, as general or overused as that may sound, they weren’t wrong. All the things that embody Citizen Kane and make it cinematic perfection are evident in There Will Be Blood; but then it decides to flesh it out almost entirely until there’s no bone left to chew. Greed, corruption, power, fatherhood, loneliness, faith, ambition, the works! This isn’t my favourite Paul Thomas Anderson film, but by god does it redefine everything we associate with epic cinema. It also might be the fiercest, most ruthless film of the 21st century – grabbing politics, religion and that human hunger for domination and wealth by the throat and grips tighter and tighter until the literally perfect ending. As well as being a bear trap for accolades and cliché riddled hyperboles, There Will Be Blood will never be forgotten.
A Paul Thomas Anderson film at #1? What a surprise! Despite the lack of variety in terms of international releases, these ARE the films I believe that redefined cinema in some way possible. The irony being its most American cinema releases that bog down quality further.
Now you’ve seen mine, what’s your picks of films of the decade? What changed cinema for you?
By Chris Elena