At first, I thought this would be a Herculean task to even remember what films came out this decade, much less to choose which films I would consider the best. But then I realized… all I needed to do was to look at my rather paltry collection of DVD’s that I actually purchased over the past 10 years and why. Although I am a huge cineaste, for some reason I’m not a big DVD buyer. And on that rare occasion that I am moved to buy a DVD, it is because I think that the film is a classic, one that I will watch and study over and over again. I looked on my DVD shelf and remembered every time why these movies moved me in such a profound way. I have seen all of these movies more than once and each of them has had an impact on me as a filmmaker.
All in all, it was a pretty great decade for cinema. And in many ways, so many of these films are not only my favorite films of the decade, but some of my favorite movies of all time.
1. City of God - When this film came out, everything about it was original and exciting to me. Fernando Meirelles set the tone and style of so many movies of the decade and many more to come. It was handheld, quick moving unrelenting and undeniably powerful. But what makes the film a masterpiece is that it also managed to be tender and touching. If I had to pick one, probably my fave of the decade.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - A close second is the visual masterpiece by Michel Gondry (a wizard of cinema tricks) from a genius script by Charlie Kaufman. Yes the filmmaker in me marveled at the “How did he do that?” But the romantic in me found the sentimental love story absolutely irresistible. I have another Kaufman film on my list and just as Meirelles changed the way we film movies, Kaufman has changed the way we look at storytelling.
3. Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Schnablel’s painterly and heartbreaking film puts the audience literally behind the skin of the main character. For the entire film, I felt trapped in and paralyzed like the lead yet at the same time stunned by the beautiful images that Schnabel paints onto the screen. What seems like an impossible story to translate to cinema was not only a success but managed to be uplifting and inspirational.
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon I watched this movie at the NY Film Festival with a bunch of hardened critics and press. At the end of it, I was amazed to see all of them rise to their feet and applaud like a bunch of school kids at a matinee. And I shared in their enthusiasm. It’s no secret that I am a lifelong Ang Lee fan and this film shows his artistry once again. A love story, an action adventure and an homage to the cinema of Ang Lee’s youth.
5. Pans Labyrinth – Perhaps I was already charmed by an interview I watched with Del Toro and the three amigos on Charlie Rose but you cannot deny the filmmaker’s meticulous detail and singular vision of this fantasy. I had written a similar story when I was in my 20s and again on a personal level, it was rewarding to see that you can mix real period drama with surrealistic fantasy.
6. In the Mood for Love What’s interesting about this selection is that I did not like it when I first saw it. But over the years, I could not stop thinking about it. Someone had bought me the DVD as a gift and I watched it again, and then I had a completely different reaction. The haunting images and love story stay with you, mostly because it achieves a mood I suspect mostly because of Chris Doyle’s unique style of cinematography (I now try to use only available light) but also the evocative soundtrack by Umebayshi Shigeru. Wong Kar Wai of course has to be credited, but it’s the mood of the film that stays with you.
7. Amelie Yes it’s corny, yes its overly sentimental, but I still love Amelie. I’m writing this right now while I’m on a shoot in Paris and even as we shot the steps of Montmartre, I could not separate my love for the city and my memory of this film. Movies for me when they succeed are magic, and this film had no shortage of that from Tatou’s waifish charm to the cartoonish direction of Jeunet to the wonderful soundtrack of Yann Tiersin.
8. Being John Malkovich Yes that’s right another Kaufman film. This one I admire because it was our introduction of the great writer. As I have written now two screenplays in this past decade, I can appreciate more Kaufman’s ability to take absurdity and mix it with simple moving storytelling. It’s a very hard balance to strike and what makes him so great. Let’s not forget Spike Jonze’s skillful and playful filmmaking. Also kudos to Jonze for his brilliant adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are...
9. Lost in Translation I lived in Hong Kong for two years long before I saw this movie. But when I watched it at an early preview, I had such a strong relationship to the character and how uncannily Coppola was able to capture a foreigner’s view of Asia. I was certain that the film would fail since so few people would have shared this experience, but I came to realize the story is more universal and the love story such an unusual one. I have a bit of professional jealousy that I feel towards Coppola hard not to as she is the princess daughter of a legend, but this film shows she has real talent.
10. Mulholland Drive Okay the end of my list is a film I forgot came out this decade, but it is probably my fave David Lynch movie (toss up Blue Velvet) because of its mysterious plot and truly original story telling. Many filmmakers attempt to portray the dream world but no other director succeeds at making it work. What was in that box?
ALSO RAN: The Lives of Others, The Incredibles, Talk to Her, Reprise