A yeoman’s task, but one I’m up to. The only film that I could see cracking this sucker that I have yet to see is The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but I probably won’t be able to until 2010, so we’ll see what happens there. Obviously, there are quite a few honorable mentions for a list like this, and I might give them their own list at some point. Also, I should mention that when I put together lists like this, I like to spread the love and actively refuse to give one writer or director multiple entries on the list (sorry, The Prestige, Christopher Nolan is already spoken for). So keep that in mind. And yes, Lord of the Rings did not make the list.
Without further ado……..
10. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Written and Directed by Guillermo Del Toro)
I wasn’t a fan of the Blade movies. Didn’t really like Hellboy the first time I saw it either. So when Pan’s Labyrinth was released, I didn’t let myself get caught up in the hype. Del Toro had yet to impress me. I rented it on a lark once the DVD hit the shelves, and now I understand what the big deal is. It’s a fiendishly original film from a visual perspective, and tells a wonderful story. I can say that Del Toro’s visuals might get a little samey (you see a lot of similar monsters in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which I also still love), but as the first major time to take Del Toro seriously, I was blown away. It’s a challenging film in all aspects, but very rewarding for the patient viewer. I consider Del Toro a true filmmaker now, and this is the film that made it happen.
9. Spider-Man 2 (2004, Written by Alvin Sargent, Directed by Sam Raimi)
A hell of an achievement. They took all the good from Spider-Man and kicked it into overdrive, and it’s obvious that Raimi was having all kinds of fun making this movie. It breathes with life in every frame. It’s got a fantastic villain in Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus, and manages to deftly expand the Spider-Man universe. The story itself is basically flawless, and very much continues the overall story of Peter Parker. The action sequences are not overdone, and the entire train sequence still gives me chills. A true winner, and one of the best comic book films ever made.
8. High Fidelity (2000, Written by Scott Rosenberg, Steve Pink, John Cusack, and D.V. DeVincentis, Directed by Stephen Frears)
One of two films on this list that are love letters to music. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, High Fidelity is a guy’s romantic comedy. It’s certainly a comedy, Jack Black sees to that, and there are romantic elements, but it’s very much from the guy’s perspective. Which makes sense, because there are many times where Cusack’s Rob Gordon is kind of a dick to, well, everyone. Even still, it’s endearing as all hell and fiendishly clever. This is very much a monologue movie, with many scenes simply consisting of Cusack talking to the camera as he tries to reconnect with lost loves. It’s all written extraordinarily well, and manages to both idealize and denigrate the idea of working at a used record store at the same time. The music is king, and I love the bookend monologues that open and close the film.
7. I Heart Huckabees (2004, Written and Directed by David O. Russell)
A film with heavy philosophical themes mixed with a circus of the absurd. Jason Schwartzman and Mark Wahlberg are surrounded by a bunch of crazy characters as they try to combat their existential angst. Great performance by Jude Law, as you see him slowly succumb to the pressures of his bullshit lifestyle. Awesome score from Jon Brion. It’s also another movie with a fantastic opening monologue thanks to Schwartzman. Russell is excellent at this kind of movie (think Flirting With Disaster), and continues his hot streak with Huckabees.
6. The Incredibles (2004, Written and Directed by Brad Bird)
Pixar’s best film to date, and this will probably forever be the ultimate Fantastic Four movie. This is superheroes done right like we’ve never seen before. The Incredibles is vibrant. A great villain, a simple and effective story that sets everything in motion without bogging things down with origin stories, and a great hook to get you in the door all add up to make this the best animated film of the decade. I mean, Bomb Voyage? Awesome! I don’t really have much else to say other than the fact that this is the movie that makes me feel like a kid again. And that’s no bad thing.
5. Mulholland Drive (2001, Written and Directed by David Lynch)
You don’t go into a Lynch film expecting to know exactly what the hell is going on. If you do, you’re being silly, and you’re not going to figure things out any time soon. Mulholland Drive is no different. Do I know what it means? Not even close. Do I even want to know? Probably not. What I do know is that this is the film that made me fall in love with the acting ability of Naomi Watts. It’s full on David Lynch weirdness, and might be the most obscure of the films in his canon, but it’s wonderfully lush and incredibly unique in its execution. Half a television pilot, half a movie, all brilliant in its own freaky little way.
4. The Dark Knight (2008, Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, Directed by Christopher Nolan)
The Dark Knight is not a superhero film. It’s a comic book movie, for sure, but I see no superheroes. What I do see is an inordinately dense, incredibly dark thriller that refuses to come anywhere near genre conventions for its two and a half hours of visceral emotion. Of course, we all know about Heath Ledger’s performance, and yes, it’s as good as advertised, but this film is ever so much more than one man’s movie to steal. Everything hits hard from every angle as Gotham self-destructs under the will of an insane criminal. It’s big, it’s epic, it’s suffocating, and it’s the best damned movie associated with a comic book character ever made. This is Christopher Nolan’s arrival as a true blue filmmaker to watch, and is an all time great.
3. The Fountain (2006, Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky)
This is a polarizing film. Some hate it for being rushed and choppy, overly dramatic and designed to obscure. I see it as one of the greatest love stories ever told. Hugh Jackman’s attraction to Rachel Weisz through the centuries is captivating, and this is the film that made me realize that he is one of the actors I can always count on for a powerful performance. I’ve written about the score in a previous article on this site, and it’s a seamless piece of beauty that frames the action wonderfully. The cinematography is GORGEOUS. The emotion of the film is undeniable. Aronofsky’s films all deal with the trials and tribulations of obsession and addiction. Addiction to numbers in Pi. Addiction to drugs in Requiem for a Dream. Addiction to past fame and fortune in The Wrestler. The Fountain is about addiction to love (and no, I’m not trying to or gong to reference the song or Rhett Titus). And it’s beautiful to behold.
2. Almost Famous (2000, Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe)
The other musical love letter, though it’s more pronounced than High Fidelity. Patrick Fugit’s coming of age as a fifteen year old on the road with a middling rock band is a sight to behold. Jason Lee (making his second appearance on the list) has completely shed his Kevin Smith look and feel and come into his own as the vainglorious lead singer of Stillwater. Kate Hudson is adorable throughout, even as it all falls apart at the end of the movie. It beats with the heart of an undeniable love of music, which makes the whole film sing. Plus, it was my first exposure to Zooey Deschanel, who deftly out-adorables Kate Hudson in her few scenes.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Written by Charlie Kaufmann, Directed by Michel Gondry)
Charlie Kaufmann films usually have some kind of crazy angle they’re coming from. Often times, as is the case with Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, the gimmick becomes the whole movie, and while these are excellent films, they still feel like they’re missing something. Eternal Sunshine is the total package. A wonderful gimmick that fits the story mixed with one of the greatest love stories ever told. The fact that the film contains multiple references to Friedrich Nietzsche and Tom Waits doesn’t hurt things, of course. But what’s important is that this is the best, most well rounded and fully realized script we’ve seen from Charlie Kaufmann, and Michel Gondry is up to the task of bringing the world to life. It would be tough to describe or think of the visuals of being inside a mind that is slowly being erased, but Gondry creates such a singular vision that remains constant through the film that it just works. This is also, of course, Jim Carrey’s all time best performance, and ranks quite high on the list for everyone else involved as well. This is not only head and shoulders above anything else released this decade, but it ranks up there on the top films of all time. Flawless in every single sense of the word. It’s all designed to reinforce itself. Even the simplicity of repeating the refrain of Beck’s version of “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” reinforces the central theme of the movie (which I still think is a proof of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence of the same, but that’s a topic for another day)