29. Coraline (Henry Selick)
Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick are both masters of child-nightmare fodder, so naturally, they make an inspired match. Adapting Gaiman’s terrifying novel (its illustrations haunt me, even in adulthood) with his gorgeous stop-motion animation, Selick brings to sparkling life his titular heroine’s struggle to be heard and appreciated. The loneliness of childhood, especially as a girl on the verge of defining herself as an independent person with a voice worthy of being heard, is turned into a lush, frightening fantasy when Coraline goes “through the looking glass.” It’s an old story, but given a fresh, creative spin by Gaiman’s twisted imagination, as well as his sensitive perception of his protagonist’s feelings. A dazzling visual achievement, often funny, and occasionally very scary, with a perfect voice cast and a heart to match its technical feats.
28. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
Similarly tackling child psychology through the guise of fantasy is Spike Jonze in his adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic. Max, like Coraline, is struggling with his home life, and desperate for love and recognition. His fantasy world is populated not by sinister witches, but by equally lost and lonely monsters, that crown him their king and expect him to make everything better in their broken social circle. They are just as childish as he, prone to tantrums and not above the joy of a good dirt clod fight. It’s an unexpected twist, as you’d expect them to teach Max some neat life lessons and send him on his way, but in seeing his own emotions reflected in them, Max is forced to learn and grow on his own. It’s a smart, sweetly emotional film, set against a beautifully realized fantasy world that feels as if it’s always existed, and we are just lucky to be visiting.
27. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Twyker)
I’ve written on this film extensively, but I still don’t feel like I really have a grasp on it – and I probably never will. It’s a complex, disturbing, wholly unique experience, and a near sensory overload at times. It follows Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man who has been gifted (or cursed) with a sense of smell so powerful it overshadows all other aspects of his life. His childhood is stunted by abuse and hard labor, and he is uneducated and adrift until taken in by an aging perfumer, which gives his obsession structure, and sets him a new goal – to capture the fragrance of beauty and purity, through the murder of pretty girls and extraction of their scent. It’s an insane premise, and played as deadly serious, but it works, if you let it. Whishaw’s performance totally sells the character, and the film is as thematically rich as it is visually sumptuous.
26. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)
Darren Aronofsky has had a brilliant decade. His first film on the list is an achingly romantic look at death and time, told in three closely related stories, separated by centuries. Tom’s obsessive love for Izzy, his wife, leads him to seek immortality, and her to spin a tale of a Conquistador searching for the Tree of Life, to bring power to his queen. These stories are entwined by the earnest performances of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, and the stirring score by Clint Mansell, which is possibly my favorite of all-time. It’s unsubtle, and a bit too short, but a stunning work of art nonetheless, especially when taking into consideration that the space-travel effects were entirely practical, and when examining the intricacies of the storyline and its allusions to history and mythology. It may not be his best film, but it’s his most ambitious, and visually accomplished.
25. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)
I love this movie even more now that I’ve been to Bruges, which I can confirm is indeed, a fairytale city. But it’s great on its own as well. What’s fantastic about it is how adeptly McDonagh balances humor and sadness; it is both outrageously funny and deeply tragic. Laying low after a botched job, two hitmen retreat to Belgium to await further orders from their boss. The elder, Ken, is content to sightsee at all the city’s beautiful landmarks, but the younger, Ray, is tormented by his mistakes, a frustration that comes out in petulant sulking until he finally trusts Ken enough to show him the pain and regret he’s struggling with. The performances are uniformly excellent, but Colin Farrell as Ray and Brendan Gleeson as Ken put in the funniest and most sympathetic work of their careers.