People who know me realize I’m not much of a list-maker. My peculiar taste is suspiciously mood-specific and based on private obsessions that are ever-evolving (just like everyone else’s, for that matter), so numbering favorites is about as pointless to me as, say, a Stephen Sommers remake of Howard the Duck to mankind. Then again, what is life but a string of silly excercises?
I started making this list just to see if I could. I do not claim to have seen every worthwhile film this decade. I do not claim to have the authority to tell you what you should like. I do not believe in objective valuation and it doesn’t think highly of me either. But I might be the guy to convince you to see something you may have dismissed or overlooked. In any case, beware of superlatives.
1. Birth (2004 | Jonathan Glazer): An endlessly thought-provoking journey into the mystery of the heart. Kubrick with compassion. Massively underappreciated, so see it with an open mind.
2. Mulholland Dr. (2001 | David Lynch): David Lynch’s ultimate celluloid fever dream and about as sensual as the medium gets.
3. There Will Be Blood (2007 | P.T. Andersen): Never has a picture so relatively modest in scope felt so tremendously epic. I was thoroughly immersed in its sense of place and mesmerized by Daniel Day Lewis’ all-consuming personification of capitalist America.
4. Adam’s Apples (2005 | Anders Thomas Jensen): A Danish gem that balances an amazing tightrope between biting satire and heartfelt allegory.
5. Children of Men (2006 | Alfonso Cuarón): Quite possibly the most astonishingly choreographed cinematic experience of the decade.
6. The Incredibles (2004 | Brad Bird): Leave it up to Pixar to deliver a gorgeously designed kid-friendly gut-buster that kicks more ass than any Bond movie before it. Beyond the belly laughs, it manages to profoundly touch upon the disillusions of maturity and the strenghts of family bonding. How’s that for incredible?
7. Zodiac (2007 | David Fincher): The nature of obsession was never studied this, uh, obsessively. Digital cinema finally came of age in Fincher’s latest magnum opus (nevermind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
8. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001 | Steven Spielberg): An achingly beautiful fairy tale for adults with a final section that disappointed me the first time, but has proved curiously rewarding since.
9. In The Mood For Love (2000 | Wong Kar Wai): Lyrical filmmaking at its finest. It is doubtful that adultery will ever get a more glorious excuse.
10. No Country for Old Men (2007 | Joel & Ethan Coen): The Coens rarely disappoint, of course (I loved The Man Who Wasn’t There and haven’t even seen A Serious Man). This felt like a classic from the first moment I laid eyes on it.
11. Sexy Beast (2000 | Jonathan Glazer): The other movie made by my favorite director this decade, with truly breathtaking performances by Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley. Its title pretty much covers it, even if it does feature “Fatty Ray in Speedos” (Winstone’s own words).
12. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003 | Peter Jackson): The epitome of world-building. So passionately operatic that it repeatedly had me convinced I was dreaming with eyes wide open.
13. Waking the Dead (2000 | Keith Gordon): This romance between two torn idealists broke my heart. Billy Crudup’s breakdown at a family diner is one of my favorite scenes of the last ten years, for sure.
14. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004 | Michel Gondry): Another complicated love story sans Hollywood glamour told in a deliriously inventive way, capped with the finest bittersweet ending you’ll ever see.
15. Elephant (2003 | Gus Van Sant): Deeply moving to some, appallingly empty to others–depending on what you bring to this moving Rorschach test.
16. Memories of Murder (2003 | Bong Joon-ho): A serial killer flick/police procedural as you’ve never seen before. (Long live South-Korean cinema: I could just as easily have put Old Boy, A Tale of Two Sisters or The Host at this spot. See also number 18.)
17. Femme Fatale (2002 | Brian De Palma): This is just too close to my cinematic erogenous zones to not be part of this list. De Palma’s still the most seductive filmmaker on the planet, if he’s not too busy pissing people off.
18. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003 | Kim Ki-duk): I had to fit one Kim Ki-Duk film on here and this impressionistic Buddhist allegory stayed with me the most.
19. Punch-Drunk Love (2002 | P.T. Andersen): A stunningly original romantic comedy that puts the rest of the genre to shame.
20. Reprise (2006 | Joachim Trier): An evocative portrait of two competitive friends fueled by literary aspirations, cut to the quicksilver rhythm of thought.
21. Inglourious Basterds (2009 | Quintin Tarantino): Quite possibly the most powerful wish-fantasy ever put on film.
22. In Bruges (2008 | Martin McDonagh): Without a doubt the sharpest written feature on this list.
23. Bronson (2008 | Nicolas Winding Refn): A cinematic ode to a horribly violent man who spends a lifetime in jail as some cruel piece of performance art. Oddly fascinating stuff.
24. The Prestige (2006 | Christopher Nolan): An ideal night at the movies. Massively entertaining and refreshingly smart.
25. Hero (2002 | Yimou Zhang): Just for the sheer poetry of its colors, movement, art direction and cinematography. Zhang Yimou tried to top himself later, but I believe he raised the bar a little too high with his Wuxia debut.
Among the many films I couldn’t get to fit on this list, in no particular order: Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, Nanouk Leopold’s Guernsey, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later, Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, Henry Selick’s Coraline, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, Zack Snyder’s 300, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Takashi Miike’s The Great Yokai War, Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book and about a hundred others I’m currently forgetting. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you this was a silly exercise.)