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Top 50 Films of the Decade: Part Four

Shane Steinberg | Wednesday, January 20, 2010

20. The Return (2004)
A deliberately paced masterful allegory that defines simplicity, and for that reason alone it works. The pacing of this Russian language film, the best from that nation this decade, is eerie in a way rarely seen in the medium, and the acting, of those meant to be scared, coupled with those doing the scaring, is enough to send cool shivers down the spine throughout the film’s runtime.

19. Once (2007)
Folk singers/songwriters and first time actors Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova share the same screen in the most touching love story to grace the silver screen in quite some time. The music will grab you and never let you go, for Hansard sings as though he’s exposing his bare soul to the world in the form of words wrought with the kind of emotional power that can only be evoked by someone truly, and I stress the word “truly,” in love. His music, so naked and bare, are love songs in the truest sense. And that  is the overriding triumph here—the connection between these two and the rawness that Hansard brings to the role as a man, we assume, who has felt the real thing, that rare thing, the one dreams are made of and the one that in the end may only happen “Once,” if ever.

18. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
A paradox of a film, this animated documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 1980’s is a marvel in every sense of the word. It will at once tug and tear at your insides forcing you to want to look away in anguish, only to fail because the animation draws you in and doesn’t let you escape its otherworldly allure.

17. Antichrist (2009)
Costars Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe give their entire selves and then some unto director Lars von Trier’s bare-as-bones, uncompromisingly bleak view of human nature. The self-proclaimed “best director in the world” admitted to having suffered from chronic depression during the filming of the movie, and the film undoubtedly benefits from it, as it crosses into rare territory of being truly affecting art. Art that at once will terrify his audience, abandon it, but ultimately, attest to the true visceral power of film, and its ability to not only unnerve but to leave permanent scars.

16. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Touching on everything from Thomas Hobbes to the relationship between music and nature, Bela Tarr’s unapproachable but unforgettable philosophical drama is one of the greatest hidden gems of the decade. It feels like a classic even as you watch it for the first time, and despite the difficulty in discerning the film’s meaning, or even its plot really, it’s a few heart-stopping moments, shots suspended in time and washed in nearly unequaled grace that make this film truly worth the trip.

15. Borat (2006)
Call it what you will—crude, distasteful, offensive, downright disgusting—but for all of the naked wrestling and drunken Pamela Anderson-ogling, Sacha Baron Cohen’s exercise in social criticism veiled as a comedy is pure brilliance. Whether that brilliance was intentional or just stumbled upon is the big question, but to paint a picture of what Cohen has managed to do here, the Soviet Union exhausted billions of dollars and countless resources in an effort to paint America as a stupid, racist, hypocritical farce of a country, but failed. In two hours of relentless stupidity that’ll have you literally crying from laughter, Sacha Baron Cohen has succeeded at what a once superpower could not.

14. The Lives of Others (2006)
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck not only impresses, but amazes with his first feature length film. It stole the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar from right under “Pan’s Labyrinth’s” nose and rightfully so, as this story of a couple under the surveillance of the Stasi during the final hours of East Germany’s existence is a pitch-perfect thriller that at once will bring you aback and hate its main character, the Stasi man tasked with the surveillance (Ulrich Muhe in a perfect, and I mean perfect, performance), and then feel for him, and instead hate the system as he begins to turn against it.

13. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
The lavish and oftentimes unruly Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor-in-chief of French “Elle,” is the subject of Julian Schnabel’s aesthetically wonderful, masterfully shot film about the late editor’s life after being diagnosed with “locked-in” syndrome. Paralyzed from head-to-toe by a stroke and able only to use one eye, Bauby underwent a tremendous journey of self-discovery and overcame his condition to the point that he dictated an entire book that shares the title of this film. He was a truly inspiring person and through his one eye, we see the world from his perspective, unable to go our own way or do anything but blink and stare, but through that one eye, we see a world filled with breathtaking beauty.

12. The Wrestler (2008)
An awe-inspiring Tour de Force of a film, Darren Aronofsky’s   masterpiece is so deeply penetrating, that it becomes a sort of beautiful requiem. Mickey Rourke’s performance as an over-the-hill wrestler trying to hold onto the false hope that he can mount a comeback is iconic at the least and deserves placement alongside the great screen performances of all time.

11. Memento (2000)
A supremely crafted get-in-your-head-and-stay-there psychological thriller with a killer twist to boot, Christopher Nolan’s most critically celebrated film is audacious in everything from its structure to its gritty pacing. This is edge-of-your-seat stuff that ranks up there with the most meticulous films of our time, or any time for that matter. Really, it’s nothing short of a truly captivating and mentally stimulating experience, and a rare one at that, because unlike most films of its ilk, it manages to completely tie together every loose end with painstaking precision.