39. House of Flying Daggers (Yimou Zhang)
It’s over-the-top and gaudy, but despite that, this romantic fantasy will sweep you up into its spell if you let it. The fight choreography is graceful, accompanied by a brilliant score, but the action isn’t the main attraction. The chemistry between Takeshi Kaneshiro and Ziyi Zhang is mesmerizing, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t the prettiest onscreen couple of the decade. Shallow? Sure, but it’s spectacular.
38. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Coens)
A hilarious retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in the American South during the Great Depression, chock-full of memorable characters and evocative imagery and music. It has cartoonish, propulsive energy that perfectly befits the episodic nature of the escaped convicts’ journey home, during which they encounter sirens, fortune tellers, and none other than Cyclops. The Coens’ offbeat, dark humor is out in full force, but they are such compelling filmmakers because of the sympathy they have for their eccentric characters, and this motley crew is one of their most lovingly rendered and expertly acted ensembles.
37. Revanche (Gotz Spielmann)
This quiet, sober tale of desperation, vengeance, and redemption sneaks up on you with its power. The characters are given ample time to breathe, their lives intersecting with tragedy that seems to spring naturally out of their situations and personalities. Despite the depth and range of emotion displayed, neither the film nor the performances are overbearing in their intensity. Instead, the restraint shown by Spielmann creates a picture that is profoundly affecting and beautifully realized.
36. Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi)
On the other hand, showing no restraint to great effect is Sam Raimi, whose return to horror is essentially an elaborate, cruel joke on the audience. It’s uncomfortably loud, often disgusting, and sometimes rather terrifying, but its strength often lies in its ability to make you laugh at how well the scares and gross-outs are working. The ending is problematic, because it’s both satisfying and thematically twisted, for if you interpret it as a morality play, it’s unnecessarily harsh to the point of ridiculousness. If you choose to see it as a random, shit-luck twist, it’s a hell of a good time to watch pretty blonde Christine be tormented by goat-horned demons and nasty old gypsies.
35. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
The superhero film reaches its pinnacle with The Dark Knight, a ferocious, almost unbearably tense and expertly constructed crime drama that just so happens to put its leads in make-up and masks. The mythos here is completely separate from the silly puns and sound effects of the 60s, and now focuses in on the psychology of criminals and vigilantes, and the reactions of the people they terrorize and protect, respectively. The large cast is uniformly impressive, but Heath Ledger’s Joker is a legendary villain, towering over everyone else onscreen with his scarred leer and staccato laugh. The Joker is a brilliantly written character – the human manifestation of chaos, completely unconcerned with morality – but the performance is what seals it as one for the ages.