It is nearly impossible to write and rank all of the movies that were released in the past decade and somehow craft a Top 10. Ultimately, the list is about the person and what films stuck with them the most. This list could go on for several pages, but these are the ones that either had a lasting impact on me or are ones that I can watch over and over again.
10. Donnie Darko (2001) – Richard Kelley – To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Donnie Darko until 2004 when merchandising began popping up. I sought it out, watched it, and was blown away. The story centers on Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager who sees a vision of a man dressed in a creepy rabbit suit named Frank who tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. Drew Barrymore plays a teacher, Patrick Swayze plays a motivational speaker, and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Donnie’s sister in this trippy time travel tale. It was my introduction to Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor, and he was able to pull off this crazy sci-fi drama with ease. Richard Kelley is a filmmaker who is fearless, giving us films that aren’t necessarily popular, but are always unique.
9. The Incredibles (2004) – Brad Bird – This spot could easily have been filled by any of the Pixar films over the last decade. Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Monster’s Inc., WALL*E, Up, all are perfect candidates. But it’s The Incredibles that earned a spot in my Top 10 of the decade. This film is about so much more than just being a superhero movie. It’s also about a man’s struggle to grow older and abandon the freedom he enjoyed before marriage and children. It’s about a woman’s struggle to keep her family and marriage together no matter what the cost. It’s about teenage awkwardness. At the heart of it all is the marriage between Bob and Helen. Their marriage is imperfect, but like all good marriages, is a work in progress. You’d be hard pressed to find a more admirable couple. Oh and there’s also a good amount of butt-kicking, high-tech gadgets, an evil villain with a great motive, and a baby who has every super power imaginable (see: Jack-Jack Attack, an essential Pixar short on The Incredibles DVD).
8. A Tale of Two Sisters (aka Janghwa, Hongryeon) (2003) Kim Ji-Woon – A Tale of Two Sisters might not be the “best” horror movie of the decade, but it sure was for me. My eyes were opened to Asian horror for the first time with Ju-On. It’s been spoofed so much by now that it really doesn’t have the same effect on me as it did. After seeing Ju-On, I scoured the imdb message boards for more Asian horror recommendations and came across this movie. I watched it one night by myself and was so blown away, I spent the entire next day on the internet talking to people about it and trying to decipher the film’s very original ending. The atmosphere in the house and the cinematography really enhanced the horrific story. An American remake was released last year, The Uninvited, and it just doesn’t hold up to the original. A Tale of Two Sisters changed my outlook on horror movies forever.
7. Children of Men (2006) – Alfonso Cuaron – Before this film was released, I had already turned up my nose at it. The concept is strangely similar to that of one of my favorite comic books of all time, Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughn (for which I am still waiting for a film adaptation). Children of Men takes place in the year 2027, and no new babies have been born for 18 years. Theo (Clive Owen) becomes part of an underground resistance organization, due to the collapsing government and mass worldwide chaos. Within the organization, he is put in charge of obtaining a travel permit for a woman named Kee, who just so happens to be miraculously pregnant. As with all good dystopian films, Children of Men does a phenomenal job of making you believe that these events could actually take place. There is so much despair and hopelessness in the film, but all is alleviated when Kee’s baby is born. The scene in which Theo and Kee are trying to escape with the baby through a building full of people hiding out, as soldiers are firing openly at them, and the people realize that she has a baby in her arms…The fighting stops as everyone looks at the baby with awe and, for the first time in a long time, with hope. This film is so incredibly powerful.
6. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Danny Boyle – I didn’t know what to expect when I saw Slumdog Millionaire. The name alone put me off. And then I find out that it’s about “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and that puts me off even more. The universal praise that this film received, along with the wins at the Golden Globes last year, finally got me in the theater to see what all the fuss was about. From the opening scene, I was riveted. This film is about “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” but it’s also about so much more. Jamal Malick (Dev Patel, Skins) has grown up with his brother in the slums of Mumbai in extreme poverty. He becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” and when he begins answering all the questions correctly, the host of the show blames him for cheating. Throughout the course of the film, we discover through flashbacks just how he knows the answers to all of these questions. Jamal is on the show so that the love of his life, Latika, can find him and they can finally be reunited. Slumdog Millionaire is a fantastic modern-day fairy tale story that moves me to tears every time. By the time the rousing final number “Jai Ho” comes on screen, I’m usually singing along through my tears.
5. Moulin Rouge! (2001) – Baz Luhrmann – This story is nothing new. A poor man falls for a courtesan, but the courtesan is owned by another man. The man who owns her wants to get the most money out of his prized courtesan, and has promised her to another man. Only she falls for this poor man as well. It’s tragic love at its best, and with Moulin Rouge!, it just so happens to be tragic romance along with stunning visuals and wonderfully performed songs. Who knew Ewan McGregor could sing like that! His voice truly steals the show, especially in “Your Song”, the “Elephant Love Medley”, and the original song “Come What May”. True to Shakespearean storytelling, this film has comedic elements, thanks to the always fabulous John Leguizamo, and it has touching tragedy. My #1 favorite romance of the decade and my #5 favorite movie of the decade.
4. Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2 – (2003, 2004) Quentin Tarantino – When I was in high school, I would always rent Pulp Fiction at our public library, much to the disdain of my elementary school teacher mother. “How on earth could you watch something so vulgar and violent?” she would say. My high school self couldn’t come up with reasons other than, “Because I like it.” I still didn’t know squat about Quentin Tarantino, or anything about any of his other films. Until Kill Bill Volume 1 was released on DVD. (At this particular time in my life, I was having babies and missed out on a lot of movies when they were in theaters.) I watched Kill Bill Volume 1 on DVD several times, and the movie grew on me more and more with each viewing. Then when Kill Bill Volume 2 was released, I made it a point to see it in theaters. I was again blown away. Now that the two are on DVD/Blu-Ray, this is the best double feature ever. Thank you Uma Thurman, for embodying a character that women can respect and look up to. In the face of the most unspeakable tragedy, she came back stronger than ever and ready to raise hell. Thank you Quentin Tarantino, for always writing such strong women characters. I will always be a fan.
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – (2001, 2002, 2003) PETER JACKSON – The Lord of the Rings trilogy, like with many other people, dominated my movie watching in the early part of the decade. I had never seen anything on that scale before. Now that Avatar has been released and has changed the way CGI and 3D are used in movie-making, I think we may have already forgotten about all of the ground-breaking techniques that Peter Jackson and WETA used while making the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Each film individually is roughly 3 hours long, which makes it all the more impressive that the trilogy was filmed one after the other with no breaks. The cast has said that they had a difficult time coming back to reality after living in Tolkien’s world for so long. Thanks to multiple DVD releases, we can live in Tolkien’s world too. Once thought the unfilmable books, Peter Jackson and company successfully brought to glorious life the extensive fantasy world of J.R.R Tolkien. As long as they are, I could still watch these movies over and over and over and never get tired of them.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Guillermo del Toro – Already a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro’s with Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone, and Cronos, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors who you can always depend on. Pan’s Labyrinth is a hybrid fantasy/war movie that could easily have failed to connect either story with the other, but it succeeds brilliantly largely because of the performances by Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), Maribel Verdú (Mercedes), and Sergi López i Ayats (Captain Vidal).Ofelia is a little girl who loves to read fairy tales. Her mother discourages her from reading them because she is all too aware of the horrible circumstances in the real world. Ofelia’s mother has recently married Captain Vidal, a man of power in the Spanish army and the continuing Spanish Cival war, so Ofelia and her mother move to the his large estate to live with him. Here, Ofelia chases a bug that she believes to be a fairy, and she finds a faun. The faun thinks that she is Princess Moanna, and gives her three tasks to complete so that she can join the King and Queen. The story is multi-layered and incredibly well-written. Coupled with a haunting score, unforgettable visuals (the Pale Man is the creepiest character ever), and one of the best bad guys in the history of cinema, Pan’s Labyrinth is a must-see masterpiece.
1. Oldboy (2003) – Park Chan-Wook – Around the same time I discovered Ju-On and A Tale of Two Sisters, another Korean film was making the rounds. Oldboy had played at Cannes to marvelous reception but still I had not heard of it. A friend of mine saw it at our local arthouse theater and recommended it to me, but warned that it was not for the faint of heart. Always up for a challenge, I saw it. The story is about a middle-aged man, Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik), who is randomly kidnapped and jailed in a small one bedroom apartment for fifteen years. Every day he is fed by a tray that is pushed under his door and every night his room is filled with gas so he will fall asleep. Then one day, he wakes up on a roof, wearing a suit and with a cell phone. He is suddenly free. He makes it his quest to find the man who locked him up for so long, and to find out the motive behind it. His thirst for revenge grows every day. And when you find out who locked him up and the reason behind it, you will be blown away as well. This movie is the ultimate revenge story, no character is likeable. It is a barreling journey inside the human psyche spiraling downward, unstoppable. The ending truly is disturbing, but very meaningful. Director Park Chan-Wook, like Guillermo Del Toro, is a master. No scene is “filler”, every single detail has its place. Oldboy holds its place in the middle of what has been dubbed Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy”, sandwiched between Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. All three are perfect in their own ways, but it’s Oldboy that holds the spot of my #1 favorite movie of the decade.
Tags: A Tale of Two Sisters, Alfonso Cuaron, Baz Luhrmann, Brad Bird, Children of Men, clive owen, Danny Boyle, Dev Patel, Donnie Darko, Guillermo Del Toro, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kim Ji-Woon, Moulin Rouge!, Oldboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Park Chan-Wook, Peter Jackson, Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino, Slumdog Millionaire, The Incredibles, The Lord of the Rings, Uma Thurman