As the decade comes to a close, lists have popped up all over the media, attempting to round up the art that has defined this tumultuous decade. While the popular attitude often seems to be that film as an artform has fallen from grace in recent years, becoming over-commercialized and skewed towards the lowest common denominator in the age of the blockbuster, I have a somewhat different perception of the last ten years. While it’s surely been littered with thoughtless drivel, there are filmmakers constantly pushing the boundaries of the film, creating exciting, compelling, and brave pieces of cinema that advance the medium towards the pinnacle of what it can achieve. While new technologies can allow for lazy filmmaking that substitutes special effects for compelling drama, they also allow fantastical visions to be realized in fuller splendor than ever before. Both in the mainstream and far outside of it, creative minds have been churning out some of the most beautiful and involving cinema in ages.
Of course, I don’t pretend to be an authority on everything that’s been released this decade. My own viewing has basically slowed to a halt in recent months because I’ve been studying abroad, severely limiting what is available to me, as well as my time. I’ve missed out on some of the more beloved recent releases (especially Bright Star, which I suspect will jump into my top 10 once I finally see it), and I’m pretty far behind on modern foreign cinema. I plan to catch up with that once I get back home and start up with Netflix again, so I may post a revised version of the list in a few months. For now, though, I’m pretty happy with this list of favorites, and I have to say, it’s been a pretty fantastic decade, with 2007 being the standout year, producing many films that are sure to find their place among the all-time greats.
50. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
The most recent film on this list, Anderson’s first foray into animation is a charming, imaginative little oddity that takes Roald Dahl’s classic tale and infuses it with existential angst and offbeat humor. Thanks to the great voicework of a cast of Anderson regulars and some inspired new additions, the animals are as well-characterized as any human characters in a film this year, and their problems both relatable and amusing. The stuffy animation looks like something you’d find in your grandmother’s closet, but the compositions are impeccable, and at times it looks surprisingly lovely. A touching and hilarious addition to this decade’s list of great animated films.
49. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes)
A sprawling, enigmatic, uneven, gorgeous, intellectual, ambitious look at the career of a man whose music covers all those adjectives as well. It’s occasionally a bit obtuse, and some of the segments are more revealing or creative than others, but overall, it’s such a triumph because it defies what is expected of films of its ilk, and aims much higher. The soundtrack, consisting of Dylan covers, is almost as good as the film, particularly Stephen Malkmus’ take on “Ballad of a Thin Man” – that segment of the film, with Cate Blanchett assuming the guise of Dylan, filtering his persona through Fellini, is one of the most dazzlingly creative scenes of the decade.
48. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (Ki-Duk Kim)
A calming, meditative film with minimal dialogue that nonetheless carries a hefty emotional weight, and an undercurrent of violence and pain that makes it more than just pretty pictures. What pictures they are, though. The changing of the seasons around an isolated temple in the middle of a lake is some of the most unforgettable imagery of the decade. Kim captures the quiet peace of spring and the brutality of winter with a painterly eye, and his actors fill in the canvas with their expressive, subtle performances.
47. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman)
A singular vision of anguish in the aftermath of war. Folman uses realistic, yet highly stylized animation to examine his own memories of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel. Unable to recall any specifics of the atrocities he was involved in, he interviews his former comrades, and what he uncovers is devastating. Part documentary, part surreal fiction, this examination of the fallibility of memory and the lasting effects of violence uses its unique approach to heighten the nightmarish nature of war.
46. Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett)
The monster-horror subgenre has nearly been exhausted lately, with the influx of vampire films and TV, yet if you dig a bit deeper, there are still original entries to be found. The werewolf mythology is a lot less sexy, which would probably explain why it’s less popular, but here it’s given a jolt of sensual, violent energy from the charismatic performance of Katharine Isabelle. Ginger Snaps is a morbid, often disturbing study of female adolescence and sisterly love, wherein lycanthropy is as terrifying a prospect as menstruation and attraction. There’s something infinitely compelling about it, even when it’s disgusting or jarring, and at its core, the relationship between the sisters is quite beautiful, and tragic.
45. Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige)
Speaking of vampires… Willem Dafoe is delightfully deranged as Max Shreck, the actor who played Nosferatu in the original silent film, and who, in this fictional account of that filming, was suspected to be a real bloodsucker by the cast and crew. It’s a somewhat silly premise, but the execution is sublime, and Dafoe’s otherworldly creepiness extreme enough to make it work. The visuals are excellent, and this makes such a fun companion piece to the silent, or the (in my opinion, superior) 1979 remake. Too bad Merhige seems to have disappeared from the film world since.