Personal Best: My Top 20 Films of the Decade

Here’s my Top 20 (because ten is not enough) films of the decade.  I’ll start with 20 to 11.   Nobody said  you had to agree.

20.  No Country For Old Men  (2007) This one will probably show up on the lists of other bloggers and critics among their Top 5 or as the best film of the 2000’s, but as it’s only 3/4ths of a great film, I can’t rank it any higher.  The cat-and-mouse chase between Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem is great and Tommy Lee Jones as a seen-it-all sheriff adds a  weary resignation to his inability to handle the challenges of drug-influenced chaos.   But while I can respect the Coen Brothers decision to follow Cormac McCarthy’s dour, downbeat resolution, but all the ambiguity of the last 30 minutes just annoys me.   I recognize the brilliance of No Country For Old Men, but it still has a smart-ass quality to it that makes it impossible for me to completely sign off on it.

19. Crash (2004) A lot of people, hate, hate, HATE this Best Picture winner as overly sentimential and wearing it’s liberal sentiments on its sleeve.   I disagree.   Crash is a bit obvious at times, but it’s heart is in the right place as director and writer Paul Haggis puts his ensemble cast (Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, etc) through a tightly woven tale of race and racism in Los Angeles.  Can we all get along, Haggis seems to be asking?   Not until we stop seeing each other through the prism of race instead of all being part of the human race.

18. Star Trek (2009) I debated whether it was too soon to include Star Trek in a “Best of” list, but it was hands down the fun flick of this summer and the only movie I felt I had to see in the theater instead of waiting for the DVD.  Director J.J. Abrams breathed life back into a movie franchise that was for all purposes, dead and decomposed.   I’m neither a Trekker or a Trekkie so I don’t care if there’s some inconsistences in the characterizations and motivations of Kirk, Spock, and Uhura.   Star Trek made it cool to like Star Trek again and that’s something I doubted could ever happen again.  Live long and prosper.

17. Road to Perdition (2002) Tom Hanks has made so many good films since he gave up slob comedy that it’s easy to forget this Prohbition-era gem from the Max Allen Collins/Richard Piers Rayner graphic novel that is brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes and lensed by cinematographer Conrad Hall.  Hanks plays against type as Michael Sullivan, a hitman for Irish mobster John Rooney (Paul Newman in his last on-screen role).  There’s not a wrong note in this movie where everything looks, sounds and feels authentic.   Mendes makes good  use of Jude Law as an assassin and Daniel Craig as Newman’s cowardly son, but it’s the relationship between Hanks and his lone surviving son as they flee from Law that echoes the Lone Wolf and Cub manga stories.   Along with A History of Violence and V for Vendetta, Perdition provides ample evidence  the graphic novel genre is capable of far loftier goals than being just “funny books.”

16.  The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005): Comedy is not pretty as Steve Martin once quipped and it’s not funny when it doesn’t rise above kicks to the crotch,   playing with poo or Adam Sandler movies.   This one works because Judd Apatow puts together a great ensemble of actors whom are given funny things to say and do.  Steve Carrell plays the title character as sweet, but not asexual.  He wants to get laid but more often than not he sabotages his chance of getting horizontial.   Seth Rogan, Jane Lynch, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco lend excellent support to Carrell and Virgin reminds of Blazing Saddles in it’s gleeful ability to offend everybody.  The only flaw is at nearly two hours  there aren’t enough jokes to justify the length.  I had to choose between this and Tropic Thunder, but Virgin is a far superior and more complete movie than Thunder which boasts a great comedic performance by Robert Downey Jr.  When I need to get a laugh this is my go-to movie of the new century.

David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal:: How?
David: Your dick tastes like shit.

15. Amélie (2001) Ever channel surf through the pay cable stations and come across something so out of place, so unusual, so fucking weird, that you have to stop and watch it?   That’s how I discovered Amélie, a deliriously bizarre story of a young woman in Paris who is in love with others being in love, but knows little about it personally.    If that sentence comes off as convuluted trying to explain the plot of the film would be even moreso.  There are some movies you like but can’t explain why.   This is one of those movies.  If you buy what Amelie is selling, you’ll be charmed.   If you don’t you’ll screw up your face and say, “What the hell is this?” It’s as French as it gets.  But I like it anyway.

14.  Downfall (2004) : The scene in Downfall where Adolf Hitler screams at his generals has been parodied in endless versions on YouTube and I’d bet more Americans have seen the viral videos than the original movie.  That’s a damn shame because Hitler has become more of a parody than an actual human being who lived, breathed and did horrible things.  Director Oliver Hirschbiegel film of the final days of the Third Reich from the point of view of the pathetic remnants of the Master Race as the Russians move ever closer to taking Berlin.   Swiss actor Bruno Ganz as Hitler vividly depicts The Fuhrer’s dementia, onset of Parkinson’s Disease and total disconnect from reality as he orders his generals to rally forces that no longer exist.   It’s a great performance.   We’ve seen depictions of Hitler’s bunker, but never like this as Eva Braun, Albert Speer and the Goebbeles become fleshed out and real.   Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima will be the two WWII films most audiences will recall when they think of war films of the decade, but as much as I like them, Downfall is heads and shoulders the most realistic depiction of the Nazi psyche  from their own perspective that we’re likely to get.   Even at nearly three hours in length,  Downfall never lags and constantly demands (and deserves) your attention.  Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it (and a tip of the hat to my brother Mike for turning me on to it).

13.  Inside Man (2006) I’ve seen a lot of “Best of” lists that single out Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour for inclusion, but I wasn’t blown away by it.   Inside Man is my preference because it’s a well-written and clever story with Denzel Washington matching wits against Clive Owen in what appears to be a bank robbery, but is far more than just another caper flick.   Lee steps in for Ron Howard and makes the film his own as he captures life in New York City better than any other filmmaker.  Despite one gratuitous  “Spikeism” (C’mon Spike, put away the moving sidewalk gimmick, will ya?) it’s one of Lee’s strongest and most entertaining films.   Russell Gerwitz’s script plays fair with the audience and while it’s sneaky, it never insults your intelligence by being too smart for its own good.  This was Denzel’s fourth collaboration with Spike and he always looks cool under fire.  Clive Owen makes a suave not-so-bad guy and any movie that can make Jodi Foster look sexy deserves my respect.

12.  Narc (2002) Remember all those buddy cop movies where two wildly mismatched guys start off hating each others guts and by the end they’re asshole buddies?  This isn’t one of those movies.   Narc is the little brother of  The French Connection and other cop movies that depicted urban cities as bombed-out shitholes where racist White cops play tag with degenerate Black thugs.   As filmed by Joe Carnahan, Detroit looks like a cross between Baghdad and hell and I’m sure the local Chamber of Commerce didn’t endorse this movie.   The story is a bit convoluted but Jason Patric is a narcotics officer whose last undercover assignment couldn’t have ended any worse and Ray Liotta’s lumbering, brutish Henry Oak is a cop who prefers to shoot first and ask no questions later.  Oak and The Shield’s Vic Mackey would get along great.    This is a throwback to no-nonsense/no bullshit police procedurals where instead of calling on CSI to comb the carpet for a stray pubic hair, the preferred method to get answers is to tie some poor bastard to a chair and beat the hell out of him.   Gritty, tough and a movie with no good guys, just bad guys and worse guys.

11. Iron Man (2008): Hollywood loves stories of redemption and movies that make stupid amounts of money.   Iron Man did both.  It gave Robert Downey Jr., a vehicle that showed off his charisma and proved a super hero films are cash cows for studios.   Until a little flick called The Dark Knight blew it out the water, Iron Man ruled the box office grossing over $300 million.  It’s unfair to compare the two as Batman is a far better known character than Iron Man and despite Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne being richer than God, it’s Stark who seems like he actually has (and enjoys) sex.  Downey brings wit and charm even when he’s flying around in a suit of armor that hides his facial features.  There’s nothing deep about Iron Man and it lacks a formidable villain to play off of, but it delivers on being nothing but a good time.