Home > Film > Films of the decade: 25-21

Films of the decade: 25-21

Over the next five days I will be documenting my 25 favorite films from the years 2000-2009. All of these films were released during the decade that will come to represent my generation. This was the decade in which I grew through my teen years into adulthood. Based on interaction with older adults, these are the most influential years in a person’s life. This is the time when all of one’s psychological traits (character, tastes, desires, etc.) become solidified. It’s no accident that those of the baby boomer generation reminisce about the golden age of music when The Beatles and Bob Dylan reigned supreme and equally dismiss modern pop-stars such as Taylor Swift and Jay-Z. Oh wait, bad example (anyone, in any age, should prefer the former to the latter because, as a matter of objective fact, they are better). The point is that people have a tendency to latch onto the time and culture in which they became of age. And the decade of 2000 is that time and culture for me.

Let me make a few qualifiers before I get started:

Qualifier 1: Any entry on the list that is made up of multiple films will count simply as one entry. Thus, if Star Wars was included on the list, it would only take up one slot even though all three films would be included in that slot. If I feel the need to make further qualifications, they will be noted in the comments below each entry.

Qualifier 2: I am not a professional film critic. Therefore, the number of films that I have watched in the last ten years will be comparatively limited. It is highly likely that there are some exceptional films that I have not seen that would have been a contender for making this list, had I seen them. So while I have probably seen the majority of wide-release films in the decade that merit consideration—and thus many of the films that ordinary filmgoers care about—there are undoubtedly many independent and foreign films (and a few obscure wide-release films) that went under my radar. The downside of this is that there won’t be many unique movie suggestions. The upside is that readers will actually have seen many of the movies on the list and thus will be able to relate by agreeing or disagreeing. All too often I come across a professional critic’s top-movie list in which I haven’t even heard of half of the listed films, let alone seen them.

Qualifier 3: These are my favorite films of the decade. They are not necessarily the greatest films of the decade. The greatest films are usually those that break new ground by uprooting our expectations as to what a film can and should do (Pulp Fiction, Star Wars). They can also be films that perfect old formulas (Saving Private Ryan, Princess Bride). While I do think some of the films on my list certainly qualify as the greatest of the decade, I have to admit that some of them certainly do not. These films made the list only because they are personal favorites of mine. That is, I recognize that these films do not meet a certain set of objective criteria for greatness even though they do satisfy my subjective tastes. Ultimately, there are very few hard and fast lines between objective standards and subjective tastes: the weight we place on certain objective standards is itself going to be subjective. But I don’t think wholesale relativism is the correct answer either. But I’ll stop with the philosophy and get on to the list.

25. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002): When done right, revenge tales can be extremely satisfying. To say the least, Kevin Reynolds’ The Count of Monte Cristo is done right. We are given a likeable, innocent, uneducated protagonist, Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel), who is on top of the world: he has just recently been promoted to first mate of his ship and as a result has enough financial security to marry his girlfriend. Unfortunately for Dantes, his world is soon turned upside down through no fault of his own. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming the victim of political conflict. From prison he plots his revenge and is finally given the opportunity from an unexpected and unlikely source. Monte Cristo gives us a gripping story, intriguing characters, a satisfying reversal of power, and the promise of oh-so-sweet revenge.

24. Dan In Real Life (2007): Dan In Real Life is the sole representative of the romantic comedy on this list. Boasting a beautiful soundtrack by Sondre Lerche and an unexpectedly down-to-earth performance by Steve Carell, this is one of the sweetest, homeliest, feel-good films of the decade. Dan is a widower struggling to raise three girls: the youngest never had a chance to know her mother, the middle child is an adolescent passionately in love with her first boyfriend, and the oldest is desperately seeking her driver’s license. Dan is overprotective of his daughters and it is not until he meets Marie, an attractive French woman, that he learns a few lessons about his own shortcomings and how love can make you feel and act like a teenager.

23. Moon (2009): I actually just found this gem a few weeks back and hope that its recentness isn’t the only reason why it made the list. Regardless, this is a great indie sci-fi flick about a man (Sam Rockwell) who has been given the sole task of controlling and maintaining a station on the Moon that provides the earth with vast amounts of energy. He is all alone but is kept sane by a talking robot and by videos that are occasionally sent to him of his wife and child. The film begins with his three-year mission almost at an end. Only two weeks remain before he returns home. I’m an ideas-man and this is a film about ideas. It’s a film that raises my favorite sorts of questions: metaphysical, epistemological, and moral ones. And that’s really all I can ask for.

22. The Last Samurai (2003): Is it historically accurate? Not exactly. Is it highly romanticized? Most definitely. But is it exceedingly beautiful? Without question. While The Last Samurai has some excellent action sequences, what really makes Edward Zwick’s epic so exceptional is its depiction of nineteenth-century samurai culture. The film features some of the most breathtakingly gorgeous, serene landscapes, and a musical score that will transfer you into that world. This is a world of stillness, of peace, of bliss, of tranquility, and of honor. The Japanese samurai are as beautiful as the environment: their way of life mirrors the world around them. Like the lead character, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), I cannot help but feel envious of them. Western society looks barbaric and unworthy of life in comparison. Although this world is an idealization—it would likely never be that beautiful in the real world—I suspect that if heaven exists, it looks a bit like the one depicted in this film.

21. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) (2006) (2007): I love pirates (not the Somali variety) and I love skeleton pirates even more. Most of all, I love wobbly, drunken, Keith-Richards inspired pirates who tie their back hair to the backs of sea turtles in order to escape from deserted islands. That sentence sums up the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in a nutshell: it is an exciting adventure on the high seas that is both hilarious and dominated by Johnny Depp’s performance. I don’t think that there is any question that Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most original and enjoyable characters of the decade. It’s not all about Depp, however. The world itself is a wonder to behold and the navy battles are among the best I have seen on film. Best of all, Pirates is just fun, fun, and more fun. One might say it is fun incarnate.

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  1. 02/01/2010 at 7:05 pm

    RE: 22:not only that, but the performances of Ken Watanabe and the boy who played his …son? nephew? anyway, their performances were amazing. that's what i think about when i remember The Last Samurai. but i agree, it is a beautiful film.

  2. 02/02/2010 at 2:02 pm

    I think it was his son. And yes, their performances were great. Ken Watanabe even got nominated for an Oscar.

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