For a full description of the purpose and the parameters of this list, read the introduction.
All lists must start somewhere, and after sorting through almost 1000 titles, I ended up with 260 serious finalists. Those finalists were weighed, considered, and finally boiled down to only 50 titles, with no ties and no cheating. And the first title on that list is…
#50 / “À l’intérieur” aka “Inside”
Yep. I’m starting the countdown with an unapologetic horror film, one of the most upsetting I’ve seen in my 30-or-so years as a bloodthirsty horror fan. A pregnant woman (Alysson Paradis) and her husband are in a terrible car accident, and he’s killed. Four months later, as she’s in the final days of her pregnancy and alone, a strange… and I do mean strange… woman (Beatrice Dalle) comes knocking at her door in the middle of the night. All she wants is the unborn baby, and she’s willing to do anything to get her hands on it. This is one of the most primal possible set-ups for a horror film, and Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury don’t miss a trick, ratcheting up both the gore and the tension, step by nerve-wracking step. Anyone can put a bunch of graphic images in a movie and call it a horror film, but what gives “Inside” its biggest, nastiest kick is the way the plot pulls all the threads together at the end and what seemed personal suddenly stands revealed as one of the most potent of the post-9/11 reminders that what we do in the world sometimes comes back to us in the form of terrifying, unrelenting violence, and that we sometimes inadvertently invite chaos and destruction into our lives, and once we do, there may be no way to make it stop.
#49 / “Jackass The Movie”
Reality television is slowly driving our entire culture insane, and “Jackass” is the only sane response.
#48 / “Memento”
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#47 / “Anchorman”
Even as a fan of his work, I can see how someone might be weary of the omnipresence of Will Ferrell’s oblivious lout routine by now. When “Anchorman” came out, though, it was like a shotgun blast to the way studios had been making comedies, a surreal and supremely silly send-up of a whole boatload of easy targets. There’s absolutely nothing serious about this ensemble comedy that ostensibly roasts the local news scene of the ’70s, but which really just roasts every bit of bad behavior that used to be even remotely acceptable, a glorious goodbye to all that is Pig. It’s an excuse for an ungodly funny group of guys, from the stars to the cameos, to cut loose with characters that were unhinged from all moral and intellectual compass. Easily one of the most quotable films of the decade, “Anchorman” earns its spot on this list with its awesome awesome retard strength. And in Steve Carrell’s case, I mean that literally.
#46 / “Irreversible”
Gaspar Noe made two great films this decade, and the reason this one’s ranked lower on the list than his other one is simply because of how hard it is to rewatch this one, no matter how impressed I am by it. Like “Memento,” this film plays with narrative structure, and again, there’s a thematic purpose to it. By telling his story backwards, by starting in a place of face-melting brain-bending horror and then taking it to a place of beauty and light and peace, Noe makes it clear just how far his characters will fall. It’s so much worse, tracing them back to happiness, knowing full well how wrong their lives will go, powerless to stop them. Just as powerless as we are at stopping whatever our own futures hold. Little by little, Noe moves toward a beautiful world in this film, lifting you on joy and love, and I’ve never felt sadder about any happy images I’ve ever seen. Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassell have both done great work in other films, separately and together, but there’s nothing else they’ve ever done that’s left me more devastated.
#45 / “Adaptation”
I’ve been mocked mercilessly for my original review of this film, but I stand by what I wrote all those years ago. This movie flattened me when I saw it, and although Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman play much of the film’s text as comedy, there’s nothing funny about the subtext. There are few works of art in any media that better capture the miserable inner turmoil that any creative person feels from time to time. If you went back and showed seven year old me all the shit that I’d go through in pursuit of my own craft, it would scare me worse than any horror film. Even so, there are few feelings that compare to the buzz of capturing something honest and significant in your work, so I imagine Kaufman and Jonze must have been positively drunk when they finished this one. Donald Kaufman is one of the greatest characters of the decade, and Nic Cage deserved eighty-three Oscars for his work as Charlie and Donald. Do not argue with me on this. Eighty-three.
#44 / “Almost Famous”
Cameron Crowe may have romanticized and cleaned up the rock scene of the ’70s in telling the story of how he went from simple fan to battle-scarred rock journalist, but I can understand his reasoning. You have to consider the eyes he saw all of this through, how enraptured he was with all of it. I’m sure he saw plenty of genuinely bad behavior, and plenty of seedy characters, but he was focused, and it seems like the worst of it just rolled right off of him while the best of it became what he wrote about. Even now, decades later, the pure love Crowe had for the musicians he met comes through loud and clear, as does his faith in the idea that all the art is worth all the disappointment and the heartbreak. Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson both hit personal highs in this film, and it’s hard to imagine Crowe will ever have another story to tell with quite the same urgency as this one.
#43 / “Nobody Knows”
God, this movie scares me. It makes me wake up in a sweat, and it’s been something like four years since I’ve seen it. It’s one of those films that gives me existential dread every since my wife and I brought my first son home from the hospital. This is based on a true story about a woman who left her several children alone in Japan while she went away. For months. Not days or even weeks, but months. And she left these little kids to fend for themselves. Here, Yuya Yagira plays one of the kids, Akira, and tries to take responsibility for his brothers and sisters, and watching him slowly fail broke my heart. It’s an amazingly subtle, honest film, shot through with a wicked loneliness. All the children were shot over a period of about 18 months, so they really change over the course of the movie. It’s wrenching, but what makes it possible to bear is the gentle resilience each of these kids radiates. That strength, played as straight as it is here, is more beautiful than any special effect could ever be. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda is deeply talented, but I think this is the film where he put it together most perfectly, capturing child performances that don’t even seem possible, they’re so great.
#42 / “Peter Pan”
The most unjustly neglected fantasy of the decade, “Peter Pan” is pure magic. This absolutely faithful rendition of J. M. Barrie’s novel made some people uncomfortable for reasons they could barely articulate, but that’s the point. “Peter Pan” has always been difficult material, thematically speaking, positively swollen with Freudian subtext about the fears that come with adolescence and budding sexuality. Jason Isaacs offers up a definitive take on Captain Hook, and P.J. Hogan, unjustly banished to director’s jail after this movie bombed, offers up a plethora of gorgeous images. If you just judge the film on its surfaces, it’s impressive enough to make the list, but when you consider everything it has to say and the elegance with which it says it, “Peter Pan” positively soars.
#41 / “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford”
Setting aside the question of commercial viability, anyone who dismisses to potential of the Western genre is a fool. The Western is one of the two purest forms of American mythology, and a smart artist can still turn the archetypes of the Old West to pretty much any purpose, bending the metaphor to any message they might have. Andrew Domenik’s film may have been a financial disaster for Warner Bros., and it barely registered in pop culture, but in an age where a bottom-feeding piece of human garbage like Perez Hilton can make an extravagant life for himself by drawing fake jizz on pictures of celebrities, this film is both of-the-moment and essential. Domenik picks a moment where the American appetite for celebrity first soured, and he makes it the story of how our entire consciousness was in danger of being rewritten by the way celebrity works. The future foretold in this film has come to pass, and it plays out 24 hours a day on the cable boxes and internet lines and satellite dishes we have wired into our brains.
That’s it for the first ten. Next list, we’ve got sci-fi and Spike Lee and a sequel and… oh, look… Brad Pitt. Again.
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