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 IV our list, The Decade List: The 59 Best Films of the Past Ten Years!
# 20 — Garden State
Here’s a movie that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t be this high on a lot of best of lists, if on them at all. Written, directed, and starring Zach Braff of Scrubs fame (wait, the Scrubs guy did this!?), no one was quite sure what to think of this subtle little indie dramedy, but Garden State surprised everyone as a smart and funny movie with a lot of heart about an adventure to self-discovery.
Revolving around Andrew Largeman (Braff), a struggling actor working as a waiter in order to get by who has to return to his home in New Jersey for the funeral of his mother. This is no easy task, as he hasn’t been home in almost a decade after an accident that left his mother in a wheelchair was blamed on him and lead to therapy and a lifetime of medications to suppress a problem that isn’t really there. While home, Largeman reunites with old classmates, meets a girl named Sam (Natalie Portman), and tries to reconcile with his father before it’s too late.
Garden State is a special movie to be because I related to it and the characters so well. I’m not 100% sure why, because I don’t share that many similarities with any of it, but it’s just one of those things where it all clicks with you, and that nostalgia forms from multiple viewings, and you think of different points in your life in association with the film. For these reasons, it will always be a favorite of mine, and there was no doubt that it had to show up somewhere on our list.
#19 — Adaptation
When we hear the name Nicolas Cage these days, it’s not an exciting event and it usually leads to head-scratching films. But every once in a great while, Cage does a movie that’s simply fantastic and makes it difficult for people to love or hate the man. One of these movies is on the way in Kick-Ass, but before that there was another one, and it was called Adaptation.
The movie is directed by Spike Jonze, who recently brought us his live-action vision of childhood classic, Where the Wild Things Are. It tells the story of real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, Donald (both played by Cage). The brothers are both screenwriters, but Charlie is having major writer’s block trying to work an adaptation of a popular Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) book, while Donald breaks all the rules, writes poorly, and is somehow finding major success.
Adaptation is a wild ride, but everything about it is so intriguing, and you just can’t help but be swooped up into all of the stress and chaos. Chris Cooper is a particularly wonderful element to the movie, playing a kind of idiot savant who seems to know everything, but has nothing. He won an Oscar for the role, but his performance alone was worth about three Academy Awards.
#18 — The Dark Knight
I loved The Dark Knight. Maybe not as much as most other people, but I loved it. It was definitely the ultimate comic book movie, and it is difficult to see any others ever doing it better.
The movie reunites us with that eccentric multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who finds himself facing Gotham City’s new extremist character, The Joker (Heath Ledger), while Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) works to make the city a safer place.
The Dark Knight‘s opening sequence is about as good as openers come. If that doesn’t pull you in, I don’t know what would. Director Christopher Nolan‘s vision and Ledger’s performance of the Joker as a terrorist type raining anarchy down on the city is of an insurmountable quality.
While most movies this high will be raved about, there will be question as to why The Dark Knight is not higher on the list. This is due to the movie’s final moments, personally. Much like No Country for Old Men, the way this film was closed out didn’t so much live up to what the body of the movie promised. The Joker storyline felt like it lacked finality, even though we saw him being arrested or taken in, it just wasn’t satisfying enough. The way Harvey Dent/Two Face went down was not handled well and left far too many questions for what supposedly happened.
This is of course just opinion, but little stuff like that irked me just enough to put this amazing film a little lower on our list than expected.
#17 — Sin City
As you probably saw, 300 did appear earlier on our list. But it’s another Frank Miller graphic novel-based movie that really blew minds this past decade, and that is of course Robert Rodriguez‘s Sin City.
Like the comic book, the flick tells three different stories that take place in the same world of Basin City, but very subtly interact with one another. The dialogue is unique and witty with a sort of muffled tone, much like the actors are speaking to us from the pages of the graphic novel. Just like 300 would go on to do, Sin City also utilized a lot of green screen to create the comic book world, and it was presented in black and white with certain important elements colorized.
No matter how many times I watch this movie, it always seems to get better and better. The writing is inspiring and the visuals are stunning. I can’t help but agree that the Marv (Mickey Rourke) storyline has to be my favorite of the bunch, but there is no weak spot here. Sin City is a movie you can’t forget once you’ve seen it, and it will be fun to see if they can match that if a sequel is ever made.
#16 — The Last Samurai
Yes indeed, you are seeing yet another Tom Cruise movie featured here. But unlike his character in Collateral, it is the movie itself that stands out here.
The Last Samurai follows Nathan Algren (Cruise), a drunken Civil War veteran who offers himself for hire, whether it be as a spokesman, or to kill someone you don’t like…so long as the price is right. When he receives an offer to help train useless Japanese soldiers to fight against the legendary Samurai warriors who are refusing to move forward with modern Japan, he simply can’t decline. This leads to disaster and his capture by the Samurai, but instead of killing him, they decide to study him and his motives, and over time, Algren realizes the pure beauty and discipline of the Samurai way, while also finding himself growing to become one of them. It all comes down to a breaking point when Algren must choose what side his loyalties lay on, and help them in one final battle.
Not only is this one of the best movies of the decade, but it’s one of the most beautiful. Director Edward Zwick is a master of these types of films, and the ancient Japan that he gave us as a setting for this fascinating culture is just wonderful to witness. Also, you can add to that yet another musical score (as you can tell, music plays heavily into the films I love) from Hans Zimmer that sits high on my list of favorites.
#15 — Watchmen
Here we have one of the few movies of 2009 that had to be part of our list. Watchmen is also the impressive third film on our list from director Zack Snyder, who again, made his mark as one of the best directors working in movies today.
You’ve heard it a thousand times, and will hear it one more time: this is the movie that they always deemed “unfilmable” — the adaptation of beloved David Gibbons and Alan Moore graphic novel, Watchmen. This is also the movie in which Snyder proved that it was indeed filmable, if you had the passion and drive to see it done right. In fact, Zack Snyder directed this movie not for the job, but because he was worried that anyone else would ruin it the integrity of the book, and he didn’t want to see that happen. Now that’s dedication.
The story revolves around a band of real people who used to fight crime as superheroes known as “Masks,” though most of them have no real powers. The fictional story (or perhaps alternate history) is deeply submerged in the realities of the world we live in where violence, discrimination, politics, and terrorism run rampant. When one of their own is murdered, one particularly hard-to-get-along-with member named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) knows something is going on, and swears to get to the bottom of it all, whether his former colleagues are willing to help or not.
Watchmen is a dark and ultra-violent film, and it was adapted so well, that it truly feels like you’re watching the book. Being a movie fan myself, I would even go so far as saying that not only was this graphic novel not unfilmable, but it translates perfectly to film, and that it even works just as good on that platform.
#14 — The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)
Easily one of my all-time favorite foreign films, Walter Salles‘ The Motorcycle Diaries is a touching tale of adventure, passion, and self-discovery.
Many people know the name Che Guevara and who he was and what he did in life. Some people loved him and still stand true to his beliefs to this day; while others think his methods were too violent and unnecessary. We’ve seen him portrayed in movies before — most recently in Steven Soderbergh’s Che — but if you haven’t seen The Motorcycle Diaries, then this is one side of the man that you haven’t seen.
The movie is based on the journals of medical student Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and biochemist Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna), who in 1952 set off on a motorcycle and their 8,000 mile journey to see as much of South America and have as much fun as humanly possible before eventually ending up in Peru, where they were to visit a leper colony and help wherever their talents could be of use. On this journey, Fuser (as Che was sometimes called then) became inspired to change the world, and as we all know, he followed through on these aspirations in a big way.
Whether you believe in Che Guevara’s methods or not, this movie may change how you see him as a human. It shows the younger side of him — the compassionate and curious side that’s looking for direction and inspiration in life. Gael Garcia Bernal is one of the most talented actors working today and does a great job at bringing out the young medical student who wants nothing more than to help people and enjoy life.
The Motorcycle Diaries has a compelling story, unforgettable performances, gorgeous cinematography of the South American countryside, and yet another one of my personal favorite musical soundtracks by Gustavo Santaolalla.
#13, #12, #11 — The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
You knew that at some point, The Lord of the Rings was going to show up, right? How could they not? The trilogy of films based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien were thoroughly and near-perfectly adapted to the big screen.
Instead of trying to figure out which movie goes where, what one is best or worst, or whether to include all three or just one representative of the trio, I decided to just have all of them here together. I think it actually may be impossible for me to choose which of these three is my favorite — to be honest, the one that I enjoy the best is the one that I’m watching at the time, and that’s how I sum it up.
Not that they need to be detailed, but these movies of course tell the story of a little Hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood) who volunteers to take an evil ring that most are far too greedy to deny, and destroy it. He is joined by eight others from various places in Middle Earth who are to help him get there, but it isn’t long before death and greed find him with only his friend Sam (Sean Astin) alone again, with the jealous creature Gollum (Andy Serkis) as their guide. The journey is incredibly long, and there are many times and many battles that stand in the way of the final destination.
Not much more needs to be said about The Lord of the Rings trilogy — they’re one of the greatest all-around cinematic achievements ever to be conquered, and even if you’re not a fan, you can’t deny the unparalleled effort that director Peter Jackson put forth to faithfully bring them to life.
You can be someone who prefers the theatrical cuts or you can be someone who needs to watch the epic 4-hour extended versions, but either way, you will be enjoying true classics that will survive for a long time to come.
We now sit at the doorstep of our highly-anticipated (by us, anyway) top ten films of the decade! Do you know what will be there? Will you be satisfied? Return to Geeks of Doom tomorrow, where all questions will soon be answered!