It’s finally here. After months of secrecy, speculation and salivation (not to mention alliteration), the saviour of the summer blockbuster is finally upon us. And anticipation in my head is reaching levels not seen since the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phanton Menace, when, despite having a ticket, I queued for an hour outside the screening to get the best possible seat. (Despite the movie being satisfactory rather than spectacular, my flatmate and I still bought lightsabers and fought with them until the early hours. I was 25 at the time.)
The risk here is that I have built this movie (and Toy Story 3 to a lesser extent) up in my mind to such an extent that it can never deliver on that expectation. Christopher Nolan has succeeded in pulling together possibly the best cast for a major Hollywood release known to man (and the best ensemble I can think of since Heat), filmed in seven countries on four continents, spent a huge amount of money on realistic stunts that avoid too much CGI, but has one thing which makes it stand out above pretty much anything else I’m likely to see this year – Christopher Nolan.
There are a few directors whose movies I would go and see if I had been kept in a hermetically sealed bubble until the day of release and knew nothing of the movie itself; they include David Fincher, the Coen brothers, Michael Haneke, Brad Bird and David Cronenberg. But if every other rational human being had dismissed his latest opus, I would still give Nolan a chance.
I could sit and write a lengthy dissertation for this (because, being a blogger, I love nothing more than the sound of my own voice reading my own posts back in my head). It occurred to me, though, that it might be easier just to share with you, my readers (hello, both of you), my top 50 movies of the previous decade. I originally wrote this for my Facebook at the back end of last year, as a summary of my movie-going obsession of that decade; reading it through gives some clear indication of my Nolan-love and why my expectations are vertigo-inducingly high for this one.
The other thing it does is put this year in context. I have to say that 2010 has been a slight let down so far – in each of the last three years, I’ve seen at least five movies I would have rated 10/10, and everything on this list is a 10/10 movie in my book (check the ratings guide at the top of the page for an explanation on my scoring rationale). The only movie I’ve seen this year so far which would end up on this list is Kick-Ass, which would probably pitch up on this list around 26, although I have pre-ordered Dogtooth on Blu-ray and will be reevaluating it next month; The White Ribbon and Hunger both got upgraded to 10/10 on second viewings and I’d say it’s definitely better than X2, so we’ll see. But undoubtedly this year so far has been lacking in truly great movies, thus increasing the weight of expectation that much further.
So here’s my list; please just wish me luck that when I see Inception, sometime in the next seven days, that I can not come away too disappointed.
50 – X2: X-Men United
The second X-Men movie, and one of the broadest and most honest comic book movies of the decade. Bryan Singer then left to go and make a revisionist third movie in the Superman saga, and he might wish to come back to this one day and do the same.
49 – Gladiator
Ridley Scott has been at his absolute best with sci-fi, and seemed to be in a fallow period. Then he got some sandals on and got Russell Crowe in a bad mood. Oliver Reed’s last performance also added to the overall mood, but some of the best and most visceral action all decade sealed the deal.
48 – (500) Days of Summer
One of the most honest films about relationships ever made, mainly because it understands that what goes on inside people’s heads tends to be less than rational as soon as emotions and hormones kick in. And that most men secretly want to be Han Solo.
47 – Finding Neverland
Despite the fact that I’m not convinced whether Johnny Depp’s Scottish accent is really good or really bad, this is a touching and quirky view of J.M. Barrie’s life, with a defining performance from Freddie Highmore that won him a gig in a Tim Burton film.
46 – Finding Nemo
Pixar’s best attempt (at the time) of defining their funny / sad template which lasted for the rest of the decade. My wife and I were talking in whale for days afterward.
45 – Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee shows his versatility again, and picks up a deserved Oscar for his troubles. Heath Ledger picked up the big plaudits, but there’s a whole host of people in smaller roles showing that they can act. And you get to see the one from the Princess Diaries with her top off, so something for the whole family.
44 – Synecdoche, New York
The filmic equivalent of disappearing up your own backside, if that was actually a good thing. Rewards repeated viewings, but not for the faint hearted and deliberately obtuse. Again, support from a wide ensemble of good acting talent helps no end.
43 – In Bruges
Any film with the line, “two manky hookers and a racist dwarf” will always have a particular place in my heart. Also manages to have surprising amounts of feeling, and Ralph Fiennes swearing for England.
42 – The Incredibles
Brad Bird gets his first chance to work the Pixar magic, and does so with spectacular results. Much better than the Dreamworks template of random famous voices, this fits C-list voices to A-list characters. Michael Giacchino also helped mark himself out as my favourite composer of the decade.
41 – The Bourne Ultimatum
I cannot ever see Waterloo station in the same light again, even though the Eurostar terminal is now boarded up with a Krispy Kreme stand in front. Features the single most impressive fight scene of the decade as well.
40 – The White Ribbon
When other people were watching one of the later rounds of The X Facto, I was in the cinema watching a two and a half hour black and white German film. But this is an effective and insightful glimpse into pre-WWI Germany, and the black and white imagery lingers long in the mind afterwards.
39 – Good Night, and Good Luck
Another black and white film, but this time showing that Gorgeous George is as good behind the camera as he is in front of it. Archive footage blends in seamlessly for a chilling insight into the paranoia of the McCarthy era.
So why would a man want to dress up as a giant bat? These and many other questions are finally answered. Also snuck in under the radar and managed to spring a few narrative surprises, and thankfully the tease at the end wasn’t left as just a tease.
37 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In a decade of completely bonkers martial arts movies with art house plots, this was (just) the least bonkers, and thus the best of the bunch. Still pretty bonkers, though.
36 – Adaptation
Charlie Kaufman is, to quote Ghostbusters, “either a certified genius or an authentic whacko.” Not quite as good as Being John Malkovich, but still pretty amazing on its own terms. Maybe a little too self-reflective towards the end, but has enough else going for it for that not to matter too much.
35 – Hunger
Less a film statement and more a piece of art, and a pretty brutal one at the end. Hinges on a seventeen minute sequence with a locked off camera, which should kill any film stone dead, but the single shot change at the end only heightens the emotion. It manages to be both sympathetic and judgemental at the same time.
34 – Let the Right One In
Some of the year’s most haunting images, in as an atypical vampire movie as it’s possible to imagine. See it before the Hollywood remake tramples all over its spirit (probably – actually, I am nervously excited about that one).
33 – Wallace and Gromit in: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit
Anyone who thinks that pixels are the only medium for animation for the future obviously hasn’t seen a giant vacuum full of plasticine rabbits. (Which, ironically, were one of the few CG elements added in.) They should lock Peter Sallis in a room and make him record another twenty years’ worth of scripts before he gets too old.
32 – Sin City
The world’s first truly visual comic book. Stylised until it hurts, and gave the world back Mickey Rourke. (After Iron Man 2, though, I think most of us maybe wish the world hadn’t bothered.)
31 – Sideways
I am Paul Giamatti, and have spent time with enough Thomas Haden Churches in my time to feel his pain through every moment of this poignant week. Not that I would have made the same decisions, of course.
30 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
With Robert Downey Jr’s renaissance over the course of the past ten years, it’s time for this to be re-evaluated. Shane Black turns in one of the tightest, smartest and funniest scripts of the decade, and the perfect cast make it practically sing. Ideal insults which can be used in any walk of life.
29 – Wall•E
Pixar now have the funny / sad template down pat, and sadly wimp out of a completely silent movie, which could have been in contention for the very top of the list.
28 – Little Miss Sunshine
The dysfunctional family that make the Simpsons look like a model unit. Steve Carell is one of the under-appreciated comic talents of the decade, and the rest of the cast are equally good. Sick and wrong in all the right ways at the end.
27 – District 9
If there’s an unfulfilled ambition emerging from what you’re reading (and if you’re still reading, well done, that life will be in the post to you shortly), it must surely be to be a director. If I could be as good as Sharlto Copley is in his first acting gig, then maybe it’d be worth a go.
26 – Atonement
As I may have mentioned before, I still remember fondly seeing “Seven” at an afternoon matinee showing, and seeing a bunch of old people staggering bruised and battered out into the street afterwards. Wonder how many of them were around to see the c-word typed the full height of the screen? Also, the Dunkirk tracking shot is probably the second greatest tracking shot of the decade.
25 – Minority Report
The most believable version of the future put on the screen in the decade. The eyeball stuff still makes me squeamish, though. And what was that room full of yoga freaks about? Anyway, this turned out to be Spielberg’s one and only great film this decade. We can only hope he has another classic left in him.
24 – Moulin Rouge
The template for the noughties for how to do a musical, which sadly no-one actually followed. And Baz Luhrmann should be taken out and shot for making Australia. I wish I had Ewan MacGregor’s singing voice, which is something I never thought I’d say.
23 – Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright’s first, and a master class in British humour. Some of it feels a little forced, and Simon Pegg has got better at acting as the years have progressed.
22 – Team America: World Police
I love South Park – the best animated series currently on US TV, against some stiff competition. This takes that level of genius, ramps it up to 11, and then throws in (spoiler alert!) kittens playing panthers. The Guardian put it fourth in its decade list, sadly I wasn’t that brave.
21 – Waltz with Bashir
A whole movie, practically in documentary style, about the Middle East conflict, made with Flash-style animation? Yes, absolutely. Haunting, thought-provoking, and by the final shot, devastating.
20 – United 93
Too soon? Not likely. Managed to replicate perfectly all those feelings of terror and confusion that we all felt when it actually happened. It pulls off the “Titanic” trick of maintaining tension even when you know the ending.
19 – Hot Fuzz
Every other best of list I’ve seen has included Shaun of the Dead, but not this one. Just shows how personal these lists should be. I thought this was funnier, had a better cast and a better structure – and I also grew up on action movies, not zombie flicks, so I will always be more predisposed to this one.
18 – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The second best of the trilogy, but with probably the best sequence, as the Battle of Helm’s Deep delivers more thrills and gut punches than any other stretch in the three films. (Although at the showing I was at of Return of the King, people did applaud. What’s that about? It’s a CINEMA.)
17 – Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro is another of the complete mad men that is now thankfully being allowed to put their visions on screen unadulterated, and we should all be thankful for that. Some genuinely beautiful shots mixed with occasional touches of brutality and a poignant ending.
16 – Dead Man’s Shoes
A stunning effort from Britain’s best home-grown and home-dedicated director of the decade. About twenty minutes in, exerts a vice-like grip and never lets up until the uncompromising ending.
15 – Oldboy
Cannot watch this without wondering what live octopus tastes like. Or what it would be like to beat a corridor full of people to death with a claw hammer. And to think that Will Smith and Steven Spielberg were going to make a version of the comic this was based on. Beggars belief.
14 – Up
I didn’t cry in the cinema all decade, but blubbed four times during this. Twice as it tugged hard on the heart strings, and twice as I was shedding crippling tears of laughter. But Pixar, tell me this – what’s the point of making us wear 3D glasses if we have to take them off to wipe our eyes?
Not sure that the pencil trick would really work, but it was still awesome anyway. Another genius extrapolation of the real life comic that started in Batman Begins, but oddly the linear narrative, so alien to Christopher Nolan’s films, actually serves to throw into relief the implausibility of it all.
12 – Zodiac
David Fincher is a perfectionist and a superb visual stylist, and these both come to the fore here. Standout moments visually include the overhead tracking shot and the time lapse of a building that’s all fake. A true insight into the mind of those driven by a compulsion (can’t think why I like it so much…)
11 – Children of Men
Great performances, great narrative and some stunning camera work and set pieces. Not only the greatest tracking shot of the decade, but the attack on the car earlier (and it’s even more impressive when you see how it’s done).
10 – The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson is another one of those film makers that tends to be an acquired taste. Very deliberate, with a certain layer of artifice pasted over all the films. Sometimes, however, the combination of cast, script, direction and soundtrack come into some sort of perfect alignment, and that’s what happened here. Danny Glover falling in a hole is possibly one of my favourite random moments of the decade.
It’s a measure of the success of this film that you can watch it in chronological order (thanks to an extra on the DVD) and it’s just as compelling back to front. Or should that be front to back? Anyway, pretty much a three hander cast wise, so good job they’re all excellent, and for my love of movies with twists, an amazing feat that a film constructed in reverse and almost entirely of twists and turns still has a killer twist at the end. Or is it the beginning?
8 – There Will Be Blood
If I was giving out awards for acting (which I won’t because, if you’ve got this far, you’ll realise I’ve been self-indulgent enough), then Daniel Day Lewis would probably be getting the actor of the decade. Compelling enough in Gangs of New York, he takes it to a new level here with an incredible performance. I will never be able to look a milkshake in the face again without thinking of this. It also has one of the great last lines of the decade, and a superb score. I also love it for the fact that 23 people walked out of a full cinema when I saw it the first time, obviously not realising what they were in for.
7 – Kill Bill Vol. 1
Quentin Tarantino has had two amazing decades, but there’s only one standout film from this one. Such an incredible variety of tones and styles still somehow come together to create an overall coherent whole. Uma Thurman is better here than even Pulp Fiction, but it’s the director who’s the star, with his screenwriting talents slightly less to the fore than usual. For the first time his visual flair, which has been hinted at in previous films, suddenly and powerfully comes to the fore. If this had ever been released in combination with Vol. 2, it probably would have been higher on the list.
6 – Ratatouille
Not the most emotional Pixar movie of the decade (and consequently it avoids that slight manipulative aftertaste that the other best of Pixar can sometimes leave), but without doubt the most beautiful. A love letter to food, romance and Paris itself, only Pixar could have done that with talking rats (and been willing to risk the wrath of the Disney marketeers). And when you know the final dish must be incredible, but wonder how they’ll ever convey that on screen, they hit you with another stroke of genius (sadly, one now stolen for a sausage commercial, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).
5 – Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The original and best of the towering trilogy of Tolkien-based works, mainly because it has the best standalone narrative, the best interactions of the ensemble cast, the most perfect realisations of moments from the novels (everything from Hobbiton itself to the bridge of Khazad-dum) and the best emotional through-line of the three films. It also had the sense to drop Tom Bombadil, showing the command Peter Jackson had of his material. I’m a huge fan of his earlier splatter gore, especially Brain Dead, but this is where he truly fulfilled himself as a film-maker.
4 – Hidden
I’ve taken an odd route into Michael Haneke’s films, with my first introduction being the US remake of Funny Games, which works well on its own terms if you ignore its predecessor. But something about his voice and storytelling style has really gripped me, so one of my first jobs for this decade will to be to seek out some of his earlier works. His films are almost unparalleled in their ability to make you as the viewer feel complicit on what’s happening on screen, so when the shocks come (and there is one that is as brutal as anything in any horror movie of the decade), they are that much more devastating. On top of all that, the final shot is deliberately infuriating, but at the same time wonderfully ambiguous.
3 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
As good as Spike Jonze’s versions of Charlie Kaufman’s scripts have been, the best collaboration turned out to be between him and Michel Gondry. A film that, more than any other on this list, can claim to be unique and a product of an effort at new thinking, and a cast that are almost across the board playing against type – as it turns out, very successfully. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are both stunning, and the film is almost magical in its effect, even allowing itself some darker sub-plots and an understated ending.
2 – No Country for Old Men
I have a deep, deep love for the Coen brothers, started when I saw Fargo at the cinema for the first time. It then moved both forward and backward through their wonderfully diverse collection of films, but nonetheless each has their distinctive style. Even relative misfires like Intolerable Cruelty are unmistakeably Coen. Which is why this feels more of an achievement, as it simultaneously feels both more and less like a Coen brothers film than any other. Long stretches with absence of anything but background noise manage to achieve almost unbelievable levels of tension, the story twists and turns in satisfying ways, and the movie deserved all the awards thrown at it, and possibly a few more.
Not one of the major lists that I’ve looked at on the net has had this anywhere near the top – one had it top 20, another lower in the top 50, but most have overlooked it completely. But for me, it’s the most perversely enjoyable film of the last 10 years. Every single touch and part works perfectly together, from Michael Caine’s book-ending narration to David Bowie’s wonderfully mannered performance as Nikolai Tesla. Even Scarlett Johansson manages to be bearable. But the film lives on its two (or four) central performances from Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.
Most film review lists attempt to justify their top choices by claiming some relevance or analogy to current problems, or by their relationship to the 9/11 dominated decade. But this has a more timeless quality, its detailing of the lust for power and attention that two men engage in and the prices they are willing to pay being a story with almost mythical resonance. It also successfully transcends through genres, starting out as a Victorian costume drama, before revealing itself firstly as science fiction, then ultimately as a horror movie, one of the always more gripping psychological kind.
The film again takes Christopher Nolan’s fascination for non-linear narratives to new heights, with at one point one character reading from the other’s journal, which in turn describes the contents of the journal of the first. The film on first viewing would seem to be trying to trick the viewer at every turn, in the way that a good magic trick does. But actually, the first scene, with a field full of hats and its interrogation of how closely you are watching, reveals the secret before the true narrative has even started. This is not about what is true, it’s about what you are willing to believe is true, no matter what that actually means.
You might be reading this list and thinking, “But you didn’t include Lesbian Vampire Killers?” If you genuinely are, then sod off. Seriously. However, I only really got into movies of such a wide span over the last few years, so I’ve picked up a few on DVD that I still haven’t got round to watching. One day, they may crack their way onto the above list, they may not. But the films still yet to be seen include:
Requiem For A Dream
Million Dollar Baby
City of God
The Lives of Others
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Letters From Iwo Jima
The Man Who Wasn’t There
That could be one hell of a movie marathon if I ever get the time.