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 Chapter III our list, The Decade List: The 59 Best Films of the Past Ten Years!
#34 — Oldboy
Perhaps the most popular (and shocking) foreign film to come out in the last decade, Oldboy forces its way into the conversation…violently if it has to.
The movie follows Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), who, after a drunken night finds him in police custody and missing his daughter’s birthday, is suddenly kidnapped for no apparent reason. His captors keep him in what looks like a rundown, cheap hotel room with no physical or visual contact with the outside world aside from a TV, which eventually informs him that his wife is dead and he is the killer. For fifteen years he is kept here; he works out, eats the same stuff daily, and often attempts to kill himself as his begging for answers finds no results. Just as he has a Shawshank Redemption worthy escape about to pay off, he is put into a psychically induced sleep, and wakes up on the roof of a building, released from his captors who also send him a cell phone and a bunch of money.
Naturally, all that is on his mind is finding out who was responsible, and getting his revenge. With the assistance of a young girl he meets at a restaurant named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong) — who has taken a liking to him — he’s well on his way to said revenge.
It’s not long, however, before his enemy presents himself and an offer: discover the truth and he’ll kill himself and make revenge easy; don’t figure it out, and Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong) will be murdered.
Oldboy is anchored by Min-sik, who gives an incredible tour de force performance as the man with the worst luck in the history of mankind. It has a lot of good humor lightening the mood in between the heavily dramatic and ultra-violent revenge scenes. It’s also regarded as a movie with one of the best jaw-dropping surprise endings of all time, and it is…jaw-dropping and surprising indeed. We’ll leave it at that.
This is a movie that you have to see if you have yet to do so. It will incinerate itself into your brain and it will not want to leave for a long time.
#33 — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
As most people, I love comedy. Unfortunately, it’s not everyday that a really great, smart comedy/dramedy comes around. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of these comedies.
The movie from writer/director Shane Black follows a thief (Robert Downey Jr.), who after a botched burglary finds himself on the run and ends up hiding out in what ends up being an acting audition, for which he somehow wins the role. This chain of events eventually connects him with Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) and Gay Perry (Val Kilmer in his best role since Doc Holliday) sets in motion a wild string of events involving murder and conspiracy and a lot of hilarious situations.
While it has a plethora of genre components mixed in — action, drama, comedy, mystery — the humor that we get through this crazy bunch of characters is so good, and so funny, that it propels this film into the comedy genre. I had no knowledge of the film or what to expect going in, which likely magnified the thrill I felt when it was over. There is nothing better for a movie fan than to see a brilliant movie without a single shred of pre-existing knowledge of it.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang moves fast and never lets up. And just when you think you’ve got things figured out or that it can’t get funnier, you will be thrown for a loop and you will find yourself laughing harder than the last time.
#32 — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director Michel Gondry has risen to much popularity with his unique and visual cinematic creations like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, but none have been as beautiful and strangely endearing as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The movie follows Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), a bit of an odd couple who unexpectedly find love in each other. This doesn’t last though, and after a massive falling out, they resort to hiring a special company to go into their heads and erase the memories that exist of each other one at a time. What’s not expected is that their odd bond is actually stronger than they thought, and their subconscious minds begin fighting to hold on to one another.
Eternal Sunshine is never boring due to Gondry’s toybox of trippy shots and styles. The sequences that take place within the human brain are fun and crazy and really something special. The performances are wonderful all around, and it is without question the best performance of Carrey’s career — though someone in the theater I saw it in “liked him much better in The Mask.” Ugh.
#31 — Road to Perdition
If you’re like me, you were shocked to find out that Road to Perdition was actually based on a graphic novel. Considering the type of movie it is, it certainly doesn’t have that graphic novel feel to it, but there is no denying how good it is.
The movie follows Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), a member of a mob family lead by crime boss Mr. Rooney (Paul Newman), who is so close to Sullivan, he is considered a father. One day, Sullivan’s son, also named Michael (Tyler Hoechlin), stows away and witnesses Rooney’s loose-cannon son Connor (Daniel Craig) kill a man he shouldn’t have. Connor panics at this, and in a desperate attempt to make the problem go away, he ends up killing Sullivan’s wife and youngest son, but not the boy who witnessed it or Sullivan himself. This sets in motion the father and son running off toward Chicago, trying to avoid another dangerous hitman (Jude Law) hired to kill them, and Sullivan out to find revenge for his slain loved ones.
Anything that deals with organized crime has always appealed to me, especially when set in other times like the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, so Road to Perdition had no trouble winning me over. It can be slow at times, but director Sam Mendes did a great job of creating that world; and with a compelling story, strong performances, and a wonderful tone, this a great film to watch.
#30 — Hot Fuzz
To be quite honest, it’s difficult to have Hot Fuzz at #30. It’s a movie that could at any moment be right up at the tippy-toppy of my personal movie preference list with other eternal favorites. Sadly, there’s a lot of great movies that need spots on a list spanning ten whole years, so this is where we land, kids.
Hot Fuzz is the second movie from director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. And after everyone got their first taste of this group of evil geniuses with Shaun of the Dead, we were salivating for the Fuzz. Without surprise, the movie surpassed all expectations and proved to be a hilarious movie that now lays claim as one of the best of its genre. This makes TWO genres defeated by Wright, Pegg, and Frost.
The movie follows a hot shot London cop named Nicolas Angel (Pegg) who is SO good that he forces everyone else to go that extra mile. This isn’t all that swell for his superiors, who decided that it would be best to reassign him to a nice, quiet, lovely little village where nothing ever goes wrong. Reluctantly (and without a choice in the matter) he rides off to begin his life of writing up underage drinking and traffic violations. But as it would turn out, this quaint little village has some deep, dark secrets under the surface, and when Angel gets too close, he may end up dealing with more than he can handle.
Because the two elements play into both Shaun and Hot Fuzz, the movies have been called part of the “Blood & Ice Cream” trilogy. Up to this moment, with Pegg and Frost having just done Paul and Wright doing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, there is no clue if/when we might see a third movie from these gentleman. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what they do, so long as they do it. Their movies have become an addiction, and we need our fix.
#29 — The Proposition
For a long, long time, the Western genre had all but disappeared. We would see one from time-to-time, but not nearly as often as fans would hope, and especially not as often as they were produced way back in the day. And though they still don’t make enough of these bad boys, a couple of the best we’ve ever seen were released during this recently-departed decade, and The Proposition is one of them.
This particular Western is actually set in Australia, and follows Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), member of the infamous Burns family, who are accused of some serious crimes. These crimes mainly stem from the eldest brother of the family, Arthur (Danny Huston), and so Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a little proposition: kill Arthur within nine days, or his much younger, much more innocent brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) will be killed instead.
The Proposition gives a whole new meaning to the term “Wild West.” It’s fast and graphic and doesn’t hold back on you. The story and situations are unthinkable, and you’ll often find yourself wondering what you would do if offered the same choices.
This is another film with amazing music, as well. The score was handled by Nick Cave (also the screenwriter here), who has since become one of my favorite composers and musicians.
#28 — Thank You For Smoking
Much like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Thank You For Smoking is another one of those great comedies, full of dry, dark, and sometimes sarcastic humor that had my eyes and ears from beginning to end. This was director Jason Reitman‘s first big film to grab everyone’s attention. He followed it up with Best Picture nominee Juno, and current Best Picture hopeful, Up In the Air.
The movie takes place within the world of cigarette sales, where a man named Nick (Aaron Eckhart) works as a spokesperson for Big Tobacco. It’s his awkward and challenging responsibility to speak to the masses on behalf of cigarettes and why all the negative “facts” aren’t as bad as they sound. Nick is looked at an evil spawn of Satan for what he does, but he is really, really damn good at it.
Being as that the content is of the serious variety, there is plenty of drama involved here — as you will find in most of these smarter comedies — but that’s also where all the humor comes from. It’s such a radical world to live in, that just watching this man weave his web on behalf of a tobacco company in order to actually get people to smoke is some purely entertaining fare to behold.
#27 — Big Fish
When you hear a name like Tim Burton, you would think that there would be a lot more titles on a list that looks at an entire decade. Truth of the matter is that while Burton had some great and entertaining works this past decade, his true classics came in the previous two decades. There is, however, one Burton film of this past decade that does stand tall, and for me, it is the best of all Tim Burton films: Big Fish.
The movie tells the fantastical tale of Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney), whose many adventures in life are retold with magical and unbelievable stretches of the imagination. The strange tale of Edward Bloom plays out while Bloom himself now lays an old, immobile and weakened man in his last days. In these last days, he has one final chance to bond with his son William (Billy Crudup), who always just wanted to know the truth to his father’s stories without all the exaggerations and “lies.”
Big Fish is a different kind of animal in the forests of Tim Burton films. It has Burton all over it when it comes to the visuals and styles, but it also has an entirely new layer to it in terms of vibe and beautiful cinematography. I don’t know where it came from, but this new side of the director played perfectly with his old styles and left us with something truly special.
I know Burton met Helena Bonham Carter on Planet of the Apes, which was the film before Big Fish. Perhaps she inspired some bright and vibrant colors in his life, and that was what we were seeing in the movie.
Either way, it worked really well for us as movie fans.
#26 — Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)
It will come as no surprise to find some of the workings of visual mastermind Guillermo del Toro on this list. He gained the attentions of movie fans worldwide this past decade, whether it was with his more award-caliber foreign films, or his fun action fantasy work on movies like Blade II and the Hellboy movies.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a follow-up (or “spiritual successor”) to his other Spanish Civil War-set film, The Devil’s Backbone (which may or may not show up somewhere else on this list…*cough*), and follows a young girl (Ivana Baquero) whose sick and pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) has married an fascist military Captain (Sergi LÃ³pez). When she and her mother move into where the Captain is currently stationed to remove the remaining rebels fighting against them, even after the war has ended, the young girl soon discovers strange things happening. These other-worldly experiences lead her to the Faun (Doug Jones), who tells her that she is a long lost princess, but must complete three scary and dangerous tasks to prove herself true.
As it has been dubbed many times before, Pan’s Labyrinth is indeed a fairy tale for adults. It’s incredible dark and terrifying at times, but also has the wonderfully magical moments weaved in. The story is tragic and heart-retching, especially when revolving around such a young girl.
Between the very real-world issues that she faces with her evil step father and her newborn brother, as well as the arduous tasks she faces to regain her throne as Princess of the Underworld, you will many times wonder if she can actually pull it off.
#25 — The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo)
Before Guillermo del Toro gained the massive fanbase that he now has with the above-mentioned movies like Blade II, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, there was The Devil’s Backbone.
The movie is the first of what was supposed to be an indirect trilogy of films that took place in and around the Spanish Civil War (Pan’s being the second), but did not hold many more relations to each other. It takes place in 1939 — five years before the events of Pan’s Labyrinth — and is set in an orphanage surrounded by absolutely nothing at all. When a young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is brought in after his father is killed in battle, it isn’t long before he finds himself dealing with bullies, the mysteries of an undetonated bomb in the middle of the yard, and the mysterious ghost of a young boy who roams the grounds.
The Devil’s Backbone isn’t quite as magical as Pan’s Labyrinth, but in its simplicity many find a movie that they actually prefer. Most who rave about Pan’s have never heard of this film and I’m constantly recommending it to others.
In terms of which is actually better is a tough call for myself. It may even just come down to what my mood is, and even though I have this above Pan’s on our list today, the back-to-back locations allow me to stay fairly neutral. Why choose between one when you can love both?
#24 — High Fidelity
What could be more fitting for a massive list than a movie whose protagonist has a knack for crafting lists?
High Fidelity tells the story of a music-obsessed record store owner named Rob (John Cusack), who makes a list of his top five breakups starting with the least painful and moving his way up to the worst. In between flashbacks of these relationships and inevitable breakups, the story of Rob’s current woes in love unfold, and his inability to commit becomes apparent.
This film is a great example of talent attached. Many movies could be great no matter who directs and stars, but with High Fidelity, I believe that just based on the premise, if anyone else would have attempted to write it, direct it, or star in it, it just wouldn’t have worked nearly as effectively. The way it was scripted is great, and the way Cusack owned that role and nailed every line brought it to life in a way that very few movies pull off. Add to that the hilarious odd couple matching of Jack “It’s a Cosby sweater!” Black and Todd Louiso as Rob’s employees (that he never actually hired), and you have yourself quite a treat.
I’m not the best person to come to when looking for romance film suggestions, but being someone who enjoys realism, I will say that this could be one of the best romantic dramadies made. Much like your typical relationship, High Fidelity has all of the ups and downs; the laughter and tears; the passion and the pain. You’re not going to find some glowing fairy tale ending here, but I assure you that you will connect with the characters and you will be left smiling.
#23 — Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Will Ferrell is something of an enigma. He has the curse of being almost the same exact person in every single movie he’s in, but for some reason, most of us still can’t get enough of him. With most others who have this issue, they would have been shunned by now, but Ferrell marches on.
When Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy came out in 2004, Ferrell hadn’t yet hit that mega-star status he now holds, so it was all about the movie. And when I personally heard that he would be appearing in a movie about a popular news anchor in the ’70s, I honestly thought it sounded like a terribly stupid movie (harsh, I know!). Thankfully, I was very wrong.
The movie takes place in 1970s San Diego, where Ron Burgundy and his team are the most popular news team going. But their business is a competitive one, and with rival news teams trying to take over the ratings lead and the unheard of woman trying become a lead anchor, Ron has to try and stay calm and do what it takes to make things right.
Anchorman has gone on from its release to become one of the funniest comedies not only of the last decade, but of all-time. No matter how many times you see it, there are scenes and bits that will ALWAYS make you laugh, and you won’t be able to help but quote along with it. A proposed sequel will definitely not be as funny or good, but still, just because of how funny the original was and how great the characters are, I’ll take more any day.
#22 — The Incredibles
Here we are. Finally, the first Pixar film is on the list. But don’t get too excited, there is only one more after this. When it comes to Pixar, I think you can make a fair case that most (if not all) of their films of the past decade could be on this list at some spot or another. So instead of going Pixar nuts, I decided to simply choose the very best two that they put out.
The first one showing up is The Incredibles. Brad Bird‘s story of a not-so-average family of superheroes trying to live a normal life years after superhero assistance has been made illegal. This is more of an itch than can be ignored, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) starts going out to try and help people without being spotted. This does the trick for a while, but when an offer comes in to really get back into the game, he struggles to choose between his family and his passion.
While it is a family movie and not based on a comic book, The Incredibles is easily one of the best superhero movies ever made. It has all kinds of nods and homages to vintage old school styles and modern hero abilities. It has all of the great humor and amazing visuals we expect from Pixar, too, but also that heart and soul they put into every movie that they make.
A fantastic cinematic achievement and an easy choice for this list of stellar films.
#21 — Collateral
Tom Cruise was on the receiving end of a lot of negative criticism over the course of the decade, from questions of sanity to questions of faith, he certainly ran a gauntlet of sorts. Even through all of these personal trials, Cruise kept making movies, and in fact, turned in two of the best performances of his career.
One of these movies was Michael Mann‘s Collateral, which offered us a Tom Cruise that we’ve never quite seen before. His silver-haired Vincent is a hitman, hired to take out five people involved in a massive case that could put some people away for a very long time. He hires a simple cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) to be his personal driver for the whole night, but when Max finds out what’s going on, he weakly tries to get away and is quickly put in his place. Over the course of the night, he surprisingly learns a lot from Vincent, including how to be assertive and stand up and fight for what he wants.
This movie gets better every single time I see it. The tone that Mann created not only in the overall film but within the city around them and within the cab itself were all incredibly well-done. The back-and-forth between Cruise and Foxx is perfect, and you never quite know who you actually like more. Foxx is the good guy, so it should be easy, but Vincent is one suave, smart dude who gets things done, and it’s hard not to find yourself warming up to him, even though he’s a professional killer.
Collateral is so good because of the relationship between Vincent and Max. This is two entirely different people, with entirely different ways of life and beliefs. Max obviously hates Vincent and what he does, but for some reason, you can see them bonding over the course of the movie and opening up to each other. This bond is fascinating to me, and to see how it all plays out and ultimately ends is hard to look away from.
That concludes Chapter III of The Decade List. With only 2 more sections to go, our top spot is just on the horizon. Keep reading to see who stands the tallest!