Sunday, January 3, 2010

Movies of the Decade

Hello, Space Monkees.  This is my longest post ever!

As you may or may not be aware, the very first decade of the third millennium has ended.  Its been a nice decade, a few wars notwithstanding, and I'm certain that the next decade will be even better!  Looking back upon the decade that has passed, I was in a little bit of a rut as to judge it according to the proper teachings of the Q?.  I could have told a touching tale of a young naive boy entering the decade, feeling that the world was a curse put upon him, and then eventually learning to see the beauty of life, and finally leaving the decade as a far more mature and confident man.  But I know that would bore you, so instead here's a list of the Top 11 Movies of This Decade!

But before we begin to name them, here's a few ground rules to the list.  They are not named in order of any quality since trying to decide which one of these eternal classics is better than the other is a question so difficult and picky that it would drive me mad.  No, this is quite simply a list of the movies that I've enjoyed the most over the decade, be it for great storylines, lovable characters, astonishing visuals, deep moral lessons, or just making me giggle like I was in Kindergarten again.  There are probably other great movies out there, but they can't be on the list unless I've seen them.  Hopefully one day I'll be able to enjoy those too - be sure to tell me if I've missed anything.

This of course is all being done instead of naming the best movies of 2009, which is quite frankly impossible for me since I haven't seen so many films that I suspect will be good for the past year.  I mean, how can I make a list when there's still a Miyazaki film out there that I haven't seen?  How?

So without further ado, let us begin:

  1. Gladiator (2000):  One of many films on this list that, much to my surprise, are Academy Awards Best Picture Winners.  This the story of General Maximus (Russell Crowe), a conquering general in the Roman Army, who is caught in a power struggle between the aging Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the mad prince Commidus (Joaquin Phoenix).  Commidus kills his father, steals the throne, makes creepy sexual advances on his sister, but makes a fatal mistake:  he murders Maximus's family, and sells the general into slavery.  Maximus becomes a gladiator, and through his sheer badass skills, wins the hearts of the entire Roman populace.  It is then up to him to save Rome from a mad emperor, and get revenge for his slain family.  The storyline is a meshing of numerous historical events from the Roman period, spanning hundreds of years from Spartacus to Caligula and beyond.  Every performance is spot-on, and the film relishes its own epic scale and story, with characters always remarking on how amazing these turns of events are.  This is the Russell Crowe movie, certainly the performance he is going to be remembered for forever.  A kickass action movie with plenty of political drama, all coupled with a strong emotional core, usually seen in Maximus's touching flashbacks to his lost family in the golden fields of Spain.  Too epic to be ignored, it has to be on this list.
  2. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 - 2003):  Without a doubt the best High Fantasy movies ever made, this is the probably the best flowing film series ever made.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's three volume fantasy book "The Lord of Rings", these three movies were not made in the usual scatter-shot Hollywood way of making one film, stopping all production to check for a profit, then going back to shoot another film with a often a completely different cast, director, and style.  Instead, the films were shot back to back for several years.  You can actually sit down for an entire day and watch all three films consecutively without feeling any real difference between each film.  So for that reason, you cannot possibly count one movie as being better than the others, as its really only one giant movie.  A true cinematic triumph for which you much give credit to director Peter Jackson.  The plot and characters are all very complicated, far too much for these simply overviews, but what you must know is that its a world-wide battle between good and evil, with the all hopes of all being placed on two small creatures known as Hobbits and the evil Ring of Power they carry.  There's the largest and most dramatic battles ever put on screen, a wonderful storyline, and a great booming soundtrack that has defined the modern sound for an "epic movie".  Easily one of the best candidates for "a second Star Wars", and definitely worth watching hundreds of times.
  3. Spirited Away (2002):  Anime director Hayao Miyazaki has had an amazing film career, making so many great children's films that it is not without exaggeration that he is often called "Japan's Walt Disney".  Personally I've gone out of my way to try to see each and every one of his films that he's made with his legendary Studio Ghibli.  The man knows how to create a magical world for both children and adults to enjoy, without following the recent American trappings of throwing in pointless pop culture references and parodies that distract from the narrative.  "Spirited Away" is without a doubt his most magical effort yet, but hopefully not the greatest we'll see out of the man.  The story is that of ten-year-old Chihiro (Daveigh Chase), who is moving to a new town with her parents one day when they stumble upon an abandoned theme park.  But when Chihiro's parents eat some cursed food, they are turned into pigs, and she is thrown into a strange bathhouse for mythical animal spirits on the other side of reality.  During the film, she matured from being something of a brat to a responsible young girl who finds the courage to save herself and her parents from this Japanese-style Wonderland.  A gorgeous film, and a brilliant one.  All of Miyazaki's movies are masterpieces, but this one is just a step above.
  4. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003):  Unlike the perfect flow of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, the Pirates Trilogy certainly cannot be called all one film.  The first one is something of its own unit, and the second and third movies seem to fit more into their own little story.  And since there's another... ugg... sequel planned, I really cannot lump them all into a single entry like I did before.  But that doesn't mean that the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie is any less of an adventure thrill ride.  Welcome to the vague world of 18th century pirate cliches, home to swashbuckling pirates, dark mysterious magic in the new world, and the delicious Kira Knightley.  There isn't much of an emotional core to this movie, its all largely action adventure and spectacle.  However, without spectacle, movies would be a bore, so "Pirates of the Caribbean I" cannot be discounted as anything other than an extremely fun movie to watch over and over again.  Plus you have the antics of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) - easily the best movie character of the entire decade - to always keep you entertained.  I'm not a deep person, so I love this movie.
  5. Finding Nemo (2003):  What Miyazaki is for Japan these days, Pixar is for America.  When I was a tiny little kid, we had "Toy Story", and it was awesome.  Little did I know that years later Pixar would continue on an incredible fireball winning streak that has continued to this very day (except for "Cars", but I like to pretend that movie didn't happen).  My theory is this:  in the late 90s, Pixar used black magic to steal Disney's creative soul, thus allowing it to create movies like "Finding Nemo" while Disney was embarrassing us all with "Treasure Planet" and "Chicken Little".  Out of all the movies on this list, I've probably seen "Finding Nemo" the most, if only because of how amazingly quotable it is.  "Fish are friends not food!"  Little Nemo (Alexander Gould) is a child clown fish living with his overprotective father, Marlin (Albert Brooks).  The reason why Marlin is so overprotective?  Well, its a very sad story, and one of the many touching emotional scenes of this great animated film.  Nemo is stolen by some Australian dentists, and so Marlin must travel the seas, running into wacky characters in order to save his son.  Its a great family film, and for some time Pixar's best.  Well, until the robot titan that's on its way...
  6. Crash (2004):  This is not a family film.  It is not a happy-go-lucky adventure that the everybody young and old can enjoy.  However, its no "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" either.  "Crash" is a series of interconnected stories exploring the racial tensions and violence just under the surface in Los Angeles.  Some characters will find redemption, others will fall into further darkness, it all depends upon the random shuffle of fate, portrayed here through the ever-constant movement of cars on the city streets.  Despite this, it seems to fall more on the positive side of events, with characters often being saved (in one case by what seems like an act of God) then being defeated.  Some have criticized this as being a saccharine washing over of the deep historical inequalities that have created America's racial tensions.  I see it as a good sign - that we as a culture can hope for a happy end to such disputes.  Fiction is the dreams of the cultural consciousness.  If we're dreaming of continual hatred and violence, that that is all we shall receive.  Naturally film critic Armond White, the self-appointed master of all cinematic racial themes, fumed about this film (quote:  "No, we can't just all get along." - what a lovely human being), which is a better recommendation for "Crash" than I could ever give it.
  7. The Departed (2006):  Mobster movies are always a lot of fun.  You get to see the gritty violent underbelly of our culture through the eyes of the thugs, who are often shown into the brightest of lights before the curtain is thrown off and you see the monster underneath.  This is why I loved "The Sopranos" through and through - until the ending of course.  "The Departed" is Martin Scorsese's return to his mob form, which he had neglected for many years following 1995's "Casino".  Its a complicated sort of plot:  you have Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who is a rat for the mob working the the Boston Police Force, and then there's his rival, William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is an undercover cop within the Irish Mafia gang run by the Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who may not be the Devil himself, but he's definitely one of the Devil's best human freinds.  The respectable cop is the villain, while the Southie thug is the hero, its a very nice bit of reversal, leading straight to a tragic ending.  Awesome movie, on the list it goes.
  8. WALL-E (2008):  I love watching this movie like I never had a movie before.  If I dared be so bold as to call it the movie of the decade, I would.  But I can't, I simply could not insult the other films on this list by placing one above the others.  This is without a doubt Pixar's great movie - if they could ever top this effort, I would be both stunned and an extremely happy man.  Thousands of years into the future, the Earth has become nothing but an empty garbage-filled wasteland.  Luckily we have little WALL-E, the most adorable little robot you'll ever meet.  Through the magic of classic musical movies, WALL-E has discovered love.  But who is there to love when you're stuck in an post-apocalyptic Earth?  Luckily he is joined by the Ipod-looking advanced robot EVE, who has come to Earth to find samples of life so that humanity can return.  This movie is WALL-E's personal adventure to find love, and in the process return the raw emotions that we call "humanity" to the bloated fat comsumer culture that we humans have become in outer space.  Its a strange movie that is a metaphor for itself, but "WALL-E" pulls it off in style.  Unlike most animated pictures, this one is almost devoid of dialogue:  very little is spoken for the first hour.  But it works.  Through old-style silent movie slapstick, you get to love these CGI robots more than most characters played by real humans.  I cannot recommend "WALL-E" highly enough.  Definitely one of my favorite movies ever.
  9. The Dark Knight (2008):  At the beginning of this decade, superhero movies were quickly becoming one of the most annoying genres out there.  In between the acceptable films like "X-Men", there were at least ten completely uninspired and emotionally dead efforts like "Daredevil", "Hulk", "Fantastic Four"... etc. etc., I could list crap all day if I had to.  But today is the day I list gold, so onto "The Dark Knight", the best superhero movie ever made!  The sequel to the excellent "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight" sees Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) see his greatest foe yet - the Joker (the late Heath Ledger) who has unleashed a reign of terror on Gotham to defeat the Caped Crusader.  This is a movie where the stakes are taken to such an extreme, that you feel the raw emotions of a desperate city brought the brink of chaos by a lunatic on desperate to prove his nihilistic philosphy - no matter how many have to die.  "The Dark Knight" would have been just been a really really awesome bit of action flick (goddamn that truck flipping part is cool!) if not for the chilling performance of Heath Ledger, who steals this show right into a postumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  Easily the darkness superhero movie yet, and probably an impossible standard to top.  However, if anybody could do it, director Christopher Nolan would be the man.  I'm waiting for "Batman 3" with lots of hope.
  10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008):  Was 2008 a great year for movies, or the greatest year for movies? Really tell me. There were so many great movies that year, no less than three on this list!  Even so, only one managed to make it onto the list of Best Picture nominations, which was downright criminal for the classic movies of "WALL-E" and "The Dark Knight".  Luckily "Slumdog Millionaire" was there to save us from having dull bitter pessimism like "The Reader" win Best Picture.  This is the story of Jamal (Dev Patel, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda), a poor boy in the slums of Mumbai, who is about to win the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". Why is he about to win? Well, because every one of the questions corresponds to a moment in his difficult life with his antihero brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala), and his the love of his life, Latika (Freida Pinto, Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar). I won't give away much of the plot, but I will say this:  "Slumdog Millionaire" is probably one of the most feelgood movies I've ever seen, without ever feeling cheap or contrived.  Fate has decided to step in on Jamal's life (this is told to you in the very first moment of the movie), and you should just sit back and enjoy his victory with him.  A great movie with a great soundtrack, all leading up to a wonderful Bollywood dance scene in the end.  Why have a Bollywood dance?  Why not have a Bollywood dance??
  11. Coraline (2009):  Wow, I lot of my picks are kid's movies, aren't they?  Either I can appreciate the efforts of film makes to bring wonder to younger audiences, or I'm suffering from one of the worst cases of Peter Pan Syndrome ever.  "Coraline" is something like an American "Spirited Away", though that would be discrediting the movie's own indepedent spirit.  Based on a Neil Gaiman novel, this movie shows us young Coraline (Dakota Fanning), a neglicted little girl who has just moved into a new house.  While her patents are busy working, Coraline stumbles into a magical fantasy world where everything is absolutely perfect... except for one tiny detail.  Everybody there has buttons for eyes.  Things take a turn for the dark, as Coraline must escape from what she thought was a wonderful dream, but what is actually a nightmare.  The stop-motion animation works well, as characters have a unique style.  Its also fun watching stop-motion being used to create the real world.  Bringing together the entire film is an enchanting French score that you can listen to over and over again.  This is a movie so good that even unbelievably pompous out-of-touch film critic, Armond White couldn't hate it.  Though "Coraline" was an early 2009 film, it is still a great movie for us to end a great decade of film on.
And so that is that.  We have finally reached the end of our little tour through the best that the 2000 - 2009 decade had brought us in film.  What will the next decade bring us?  I can only imagine.  But I'm sure the medium of film will continue to amaze all of us as it continues through the ages.

See you in ten years when I'll be counting down the best films of the 2010 - 2019 decade!


  1. Epic first blog of 2010! Though to be honest, you should do a Top Video Games of the Decade as well. :P

  2. I am not nearly as well-versed in video games as I am in movies. There are simply too many games of note that have comes out over these last ten years that I have not played - I could not even begin to count.

    Though there will be another countdown tomorrow. I have some, let us say, "interesting", plans for it...

  3. I am sorry Blue, but you have forgotten quite a few good movies, such as Quantum of Solace, The Bourne trilogy, Iron Man, vantage point, Star Trek, and Star Wars episode III (The only movie from the prequel trilogy I was happy with.)

  4. Didn't you think Spirited Away seemed like they cut away a large part of the ending, like it's unfinished? (At least it's not as bad as the ending of Love Hina Again where they just skipped the whole Molmol chapters, Mutsumi's amnesia, Ema, all but one Mecha-Tama and Naru and Keitaro's failed wedding)

  5. Have you seen the Love Hina Anime BTW? kuLero760 on Youtube has put up the whole series with japanese voice and english subs, i definitely recommend it ;)

  6. Um.... where's EVA: You are (NOT) Alone? You, out of all people, would put it somewhere here, since it wasn't a rigid "Top 10". If you have Spirited Away (which is FAR superiour, but still), why not EVA?

  7. Xepscern seems to have answered why I did not include pretty much every one of the movies I've seen listed. "Spirited Away" was "FAR superiour [sic]", and that is what this is list is supposed to be of: the far superior movies of this decade. The life-changing eternal classics, not just simple "good times" at the movie theatre. Movies you could watch 100 times over and still never grow tired of.

  8. Dark Knight was okay, but felt really preachy, like it was trying to be deep. Real people don't talk like that, it was just contrived. Gladiator sucked, the way they imagined Rome was dismal and eye-wateringly dull for the beautiful cultural center of a bustling empire. It was overdramatic and had no substance.

  9. I never really liked Dark Knight. There was nothing special about it. You only got to see two colors: black and yellow. The lighting in that movie was so terrible, I couldn't see a thing, and fell asleep about halfway in. Though, I must admit, The acting was marvelous.