In recent months I’ve dealt with the greatest films of the Eighties (and 70s) and the nineties. Now it’s time to look at the decade just passed and consider the Best Films of the Noughties, Dubbos or whatever other stupid descriptor that we can come up with that indicates the years 2000 through 2009.
It was a decade that saw CGI become more widespread than you could ever imagine, and now anyone with a laptop and basic programs can render impossible backdrops and creatures with minimal cost. The upshot of all this is that lower budget films can look ‘bigger’, and higher cost films must try just a little harder to differentiate and justify the twenty beans… not that they always bother eh Michael Bay?
The 90s to me remains the go-to decade for classic films, with about half of my DVD collection dedicated to that magical 10 year span where action was king and comedies were funny.
But thankfully the last 10 years were almost as good – something I can’t say for the music industry but that’s for another day. The ‘Dubbos’ Saw about a million horror movies of various budgets, Saw the reinvention of the ‘serious’ comic book movie thanks to Christopher Nolan, and Saw the unfortunate rise of the… ummmm… Saw films and their torture porn ilk.
But today I am here to celebrate the good stuff.
As I mentioned above the last decade formally ended 31 December 2009, meaning technically these films do not qualify. But rather than wait another 8 years I might point out that these three films released in the last 15 months are early candidates for Best of the 2010s list.
Kick-Ass – A truly risky take on the Superhero flick, complete with cussin’ pre-teen girls, ultra violence and loving Dads that will shoot afore-mentioned lasses to ‘toughen them up’. As funny as shit and as controversial as anything made in recent times – for no good reason – Kick-Ass is creative and well crafted action comedy goodness.
I anticipate the upcoming sequel with equal measures of dread and excitement. Can they catch lightning in a bottle twice?
Toy Story 3 – A brilliant film – as always when Pixar is on the banner – but in my mind a little over-rated. Sure the toys were as delightful and effortlessly charming as ever, and the ‘prison break’ sequence was more for the adults than the kiddies, but as a film for enjoyment’s sake it was a step below Toy Story 2, and how could Huggington Bear (My four year old’s take: “The Naughty Bear”) not manage to learn his lesson?
This is all redeemed by the masterful sequence as the gang near the inferno in the rubbish disposal. After all they went through in three films it was truly unnerving to see them all resigned to the seemingly inevitable. The much over-rated conclusion where they enjoy one last play with Andy was effective but paled into comparison.
Winter’s Bone – Like Ellen Page quietly announced ‘I’m about to be a career actress’ with Hard Candy, Jennifer Lawrence dressed down, put on her determined face and elevated a reasonably straightforward story about a young woman willing to do anything – and I mean anything – to protect her family against a backdrop of run down drug labs and backshed operations and the scary as fuck people who are similarly determined to protect their own interests.
Winter’s Bone is immaculately depressing, in a good way, and will also probably be the film on this list unjustly forgotten by the end of the decade.
6 chicks on a weekend caving expedition encounter something *other* in a long since unexplored system… but it’s so much more than that.
The Descent might recycle a premise used a kajillion times before but it managed to do it oh so much better. Moderation is the key to the masterful first half, and the early sequences will have the claustrophobes sweating bullets, with a slow burn building the tension until a frenetic last fifteen minutes that allows Juno and Sarah release in an orgy of over the top violence and bloodletting. (I even liked the sequel – though perhaps that was because it is essentially the same film.)
Like The Sixth Sense and Session 9 it is likely that The Descent will be seen as the unexpected high point of a merely decent director, but based upon Doomsday and Centurion it seems that Neil Marshall might have played his best cards early in creating this low budget, high entertainment masterpiece.
I won’t ‘puss out’ and lump all LOTR films into a trilogy, in my mind though the Lord of the Rings trilogy was THE best triptych of films in the last 25 years, Indy Jones going one film too far and Zapped only boasting one sequel… And given that claim The Two Towers was the most important film of the three, most of Return was better but the cliché about having two many false endings only became ‘cliché’ as it was patently true.
Essentially an hour and a half prelude to the Helm’s Deep battle and Gandalf’s return as the white wizard, The Two Towers also saw the rise of Gollum as a 100% believable totally computer generated character, and took the awkward relationship between Sam and Frodo to new intriguing levels.
The rest is a dizzying blend of multi-tusked Oliphants, dragons and immaculately crafted distractions until the final hour long battle, and what a battle. In fact, were it not for the ridiculous talking and walking trees this might very well be the #1 flick of the decade…
As I write America is still trying to work out how to remake this film in English in order to attract a larger market. My guess is that they take out anything even vaguely controversial, add some explosions, and while they’re there they might as well steal Homer Simpson’s idea and give Oh-Dae Su a talking pie as a sidekick.
Either that or make it A shot for shot remake of the original, which to me seems absolutely pointless but is far more preferential than jazzing it up (actually read: fucking it up). Let Me In went the shot for shot way and the results were expectedly competent, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo looks like it will go down the same path…
The story of a man inexplicably abducted from society and left alone in one room for more than a decade is violent and hugely stylish. Upon an equally unexpected release Oh-Dae Su immediately sets off to uncover the reasons behind his imprisonment, which sets in train a series of encounters and incidents that move inevitably towards the reveal at the end, one that still makes my knees tremble at the memory of the first unveiling.
Oldboy was the centrepiece of the brilliant ‘Revenge Trilogy’ from director Park Chan Wook, and gave lead actor Choi Min Sik a lifetime exemption from criticism due to his mesmerising turn as the polarising Oh Dae Su.
It bears repeating that before Batman Begins superhero movies were perfunctory efforts to gain cool points, with each film essentially acting as a two hour ad for merchandising and the inevitable sequels (with new guest stars!).
Batman Begins reinvented that and calmly showed that with some creativity and a great deal of care, a superhero movie could remain cool, but also be totally credible and essential filmmaking.
After Batman Begins everyone went back to the drawing board and tried to make their own comic book conversion vaguely plausible and where possible, entertaining. So far this has lead to Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, but also Superman Returns, Watchmen, Wolverine and Daredevil (which came out before BB but sucked so bad it demanded inclusion).
So imagine my surprise when The Dark Knight was released and was *gasp* as good if not better! Sure it traded in Katie Holmes’ nipples for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s all round wrongness, and The Scarecrow’s unique pepper spray for The Joker’s clumsy (if you really think about it) moralising and ‘poor Me!’ posturing, but by this time Christopher Nolan had his characters down. We now know how and why Batman will act and what his loose team of advisers/assistants and facilitator’s will do, and the fact that one of the central plot points in The Dark Knight saw a good man go bad was a bold move. (The only thing unexplained so far is why Batman talks to Alfred with the same raspy Batvoice when Alfred knows full well who he is.)
All this has resulted in The Dark Knight Rises being insanely newsworthy some years before it is released, with every tidbit or rumour being breathlessly relayed by every entertainment website going. And it will only get worse as the film nears, good luck keeping a lid on this one Mr Nolan!
Hands down the best ‘first impression’ film on this list. I read a list somewhere of underrated horror flicks and this ranked highly. Some weeks later I took a post it note with hastily scrawled titles including Session 9 to the DVD shop.
When the film started I had no recollection of what the plot was supposed to be about – if I ever knew – I just knew it was supposed to be good.
The spoiler-free version has Session 9 set in an abandoned psychiatric hospital, where a clean up team of individuals, each beset by real-life issues, all work towards finishing the job and collecting their pay by meeting an ambitious deadline.
This leads to simmering tensions and conflicts between the team, but far more concerning is the fact that there may be other unseen entities in the hospital influencing the team members…
The hospital is a remarkably simple but infinitely menacing character in its own right, with numerous nooks and crannies where ‘scary things’ might hide, and rooms full of upsetting equipment and psychological research, some of which is used to amazing effect. The cast of quality actors – even David Caruso – lends credibility and class to what could easily have been your standard haunted building shtick, and while I have seen the reveal dismissed as silly or ludicrous I can only say that it wowed me at the time, and holds up well to repeated viewings even with the benefit of hindsight.
Session 9 is a rare horror film that ignores the easy ‘BOO’ scare or pointless gore – aside from one quite graphic incident that is difficult watching for the squeamish – if you pay attention and allow yourself to be immersed in proceedings it might be the best horror film this side of The Exorcist, a bold claim I know but I am far from the only guy going around making that comparison.
I never thought Ben Affleck capable of even being cast in anything better than Phantoms, let alone crafting an amazingly effective and captivating drama from behind the camera. But Gone Baby, Gone is simply amazing storytelling with powerful acting and adept direction from Benny himself.
When a young white girl goes missing from one of the more ‘colorful’ areas of Boston everyone fears the worst. When fearless local finder of missing persons Patrick Kenzie gets involved the labyrinthine plot twists and turns through the seedy underbelly of what was a pretty scuzzy neighbourhood to begin with, one that doesn’t shy away from drug dealers, murderers, crooked cops and pedophiles.
Despite the serious undertones and upsetting events Gone Baby, Gone is riveting viewing thanks to a great acting ensemble and the patient and careful plot being allowed to unravel through the film, Affleck showing a subtlety never alluded to in his acting – might I reference Daredevil for a second time in the same list?
Gone Baby, Gone is indeed hard going at times and dabbles in topics and themes I would ordinarily shy away from, but thanks to all the factors listed above it is compelling and at all times necessary viewing.
Funny story. I put my review of Children of Men up on imdb sometime last year, a review that I might add extolled every virtue in the film and labelled it as highly recommended viewing. To date that review has been rated by 6 from 6 readers as ‘NOT-Helpful’.
I have since re-read the review a couple times and can see no reason why anyone reading it would think I am being sarcastic or insincere, maybe 6 people think my review simply sucked?
In any case whether you think I missed the point or not I maintain Children of Men is one of the most audacious and creative films in decades, carefully crafted and mesmerising from beginning to end.
Hopefully the 6 random dudes thought my review sucked and not the film, because I feel that is beyond reproach.
I think it will be a while yet before we can do a Best in Film list and not mention the work of Pixar, it seems they are a staple on the annual best of lists let alone over the course of a decade.
But in a decade of sustained excellence I found Finding Nemo the film that kept on giving, the tale of one Clownfish’s exhausting and perilous search through inhospitable oceans for his only son was both poignant and immaculately conceived, and also thanks to Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres and numerous character actors often times hilarious.
Rewatchable for both parents and little ‘uns, and with only a couple scenes that imply enough potential peril to upset the latter, Finding Nemo highlights the fact that Pixar continually value quality and lasting impressions over box-office success and easy hooks. It is also why I will continue to line up for as long as they keep making films.
**Special mention must go to Up, while it lagged a little near the end and the inclusion of talking – and flying – dogs proved just a little too ambitious, the first half hour might just have been the best 30 minutes in film in the last decade, even better than the three or so minutes shared by Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in Black Swan… for different reasons of course.
It is said that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Apparently Director David O. Russell has been busting eggs for years – most notably Lily Tomlin’s – but Three Kings is an especially tasty omelette.
(Actually) Four guys embark on a search for Saddam’s hidden treasure in the closing stages of the Iraqi war, when all about them is chaos and where lawlessness is rife and anarchy threatens.
Surprisingly humerous and often quite touching, Three Kings takes chances at every turn and amazingly enough almost all pay off in spades. I heartily recommend Three Kings to anyone who thinks that creativity in Hollywood is dead.
I’m not sure if the lamentable-by-comparison Paul actually makes this worse or better in reflection. What I am certain of is that if everyone took as much time prepping their script as Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright did with both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, then the cinematic world would be a better place for us all.
Supercop Nick Angel’s transfer into the hell that is a small and sleepy town with precious little crime is constantly hilarious, action packed and rewards repeat viewings. It is also smarter than any comedy has a right to be and in taking the piss out of action films somehow manages to be as entertaining and visceral as any of them.
Simon Pegg proves he has at least a little acting range, Nick Frost ditto – but slightly less so – and Timothy Dalton obviously laps up playing the smarmy bad guy.
The crucial and as yet unacknowledged factor that may hold the key to it all is Edgar Wright. While the media talk up Pegg’s ‘comedic instincts’ and fresh approach to comedy I can’t help but note that without Shaun and Fuzz his non-Wright resume consists of How to lose friends and Alienate People, Run Fatboy, Run and Burke and Hare… oh and Paul.
None of the afore-mentioned demand an initial viewing much less repeats. While Edgar Wright only managed to bash out the insanely inventive Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, which regardless of your take will be discussed for decades to come – can you even tell me what How to Lose Friends… was about?
Anyway the moral of the story is that Pegg and Frost are like cookies and vanilla ice-cream, decent on their own, but a powerful combination when united.
One last point: I tried and tried to work a way to shoehorn The Ring into the Top 10 but to no avail. Might I just say here that you should watch it.
It is good.
You won’t be sorry.
Well that catches us all up to speed on the best films of the last three decades, according to me at least.
I am one of those cynics that thinks the best is already past, that we’ll never top T2 or Die Hard, that Steve Martin, Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy in their primes absolutely slaughter anything that passes for comedy these days, that there will never be anyone with anything like the impact of an 80s and 90s Jackie Chan.
Yet each year I watch hundreds of films daring filmmakers to prove me wrong. The list above proves that they are still able to make films worth watching.
I have no doubt that people younger than I might have their own different views on what true entertainment is – I hope it doesn’t involve transforming robots – but for now this is what I think defines the best of the last 10 or so years.
My only hope is that somewhere out there a film exists that warrants inclusion on this list or future such lists. That’s why I keep going to the movies and scouring the shelves of the video shop.
If you agree with my choices let me know, better still if don’t tell me where I was wrong and what should go where.