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Top 50 Films of the Decade

Shane Steinberg | Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Over the five-day week, The Observer will count down all of the movies that made us laugh, cry, reflect and sit on the edge of our seats — all of the best films of the decade. These 50 films all share an essence of filmmaking genius that were exceptional amongst the thousands of films released in the last 10 years, and some of them will one day be viewed as “classics” in film history. So here they are, the best films of the decade.

30. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
The sometimes overrated but undeniably talented Alfonso Cuaron sends two perverted, naïve, rich teenage boys and a soon-to-be-married woman they lust after on a life-changing trip in this homage to self-discovery. It’s passionate — a glistening tribute to life that showcases just that, life in all of its emotional prowess, the ups and the downs, and the things we learn about ourselves along the way.

29. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood has extended an already exceptional acting career with a stint as a director, and he has become one of Hollywood’s finest at that. “Million Dollar Baby” was a simple yet affecting underdog tale that deserved every bit of the accolades that it received. It’s no masterpiece, but a small gem headlined by three incredible actors turning in incredibly measured roles, with Hilary Swank being the real “Mecushla” in Eastwood’s knockout of a boxing flick.

28. City of God (2002)
Pulse-pounding and styled like none other, Brazil’s answer to “The Godfather” is uneven but packs enough visceral power and tension-filled suspense to make it very close to exceptional. The acting is raw and believable, and the action is shot with heart-stopping pacing, but the real gem here is no individual character, but rather the slums of Rio de Janiero itself. Such a lawless land where money and drugs rule all and the only hand of redemption involves a bullet in the head, and such a portrayal at that. Stunning — flawed in ways, yes — but stunning.

27. Wall-E (2008)
Very little dialogue, and a robot with feelings as the main character? No problem. This searing love poem straight from the masterminds at Pixar studios is so heartfelt that its title character has probably become Pixar’s most beloved character, which is saying a lot. This is one of those rare films that even the coldest of hearts can’t keep from cheering for.

26. Garden State (2004)
What actor/writer/director Zach Braff created with 2004’s “Garden State” was an honest, endearing, hilarious romantic comedy that plays like a love story, but is actually just as much about being in that state of life where you don’t know who you are, what you want to do with yourself, and life just feels so numb.

25. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
We know the ending as the beginning credits roll, but Cristi Puiu’s arresting docudrama of an everyman with a simple medical problem who dies because of a healthcare system wrought with inefficiency and downright stupidity is one of the most affecting films of the decade. A truly “real” film in every sense of the word, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” coupled with “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” has signaled a Renaissance in Romanian filmmaking.

24. Brick (2005)
Writer/director Rian Johnson’s neo-noir set in a high school follows all the rules of a classic detective thriller … other than the fact that the cast is made up of lunch-period-having, grade-lusting, extra-curricular-participating high schoolers. This is truly original and inventive stuff, and it plays just as well as, if not better than, anything of its kind made in the hay-day of detective thrillers. That’s because at the end credits, what “Brick” is is an incredibly stylized, supremely acted and brilliantly toned thriller that is unveiled with a keen detective’s eye.

23. Amores Perros (2000)
The duo of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga deliver an incredibly stylized web of three stories in a free-falling tale of vengeance, greed, passion and broken dreams. The characters are actually intriguing human beings who are distinct from most any typical Hollywood character, and added to that is a flair for trauma and drama that seems to tie together all of the themes mined in this film. Beyond anything directly in the film, though, lies the most significant result of “Amores Perros,” which is the launching of several successful careers, and a sort of revolution in Mexican filmmaking, which has come quite a ways since 2000.

22. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The western genre experienced a small rebirth in 2007, and “The Assassination of Jesse James” represented the best the genre had to offer since 1992’s “Unforgiven.” Casey Affleck is nothing short of astounding as the insignificant gun-slinger who killed the immortal outlaw that was Jesse James. And Brad Pitt, in a contemplative, intricate portrayal of Jesse James, shines in this winding but deliberately paced tragedy waiting to unfold. The tale is not his, though, as Robert Ford (Affleck) is the real intrigue, and it’s only after he kills Jesse that we truly see a man who history has altogether forgotten — a man just wanting his 15 minutes, who took them, until they destroyed him. It’s in those last 20 minutes of the film where he unfolds, and it’s in that window of time when some of the most poetic, most mesmerizing filmmaking I’ve ever seen occurs.

21. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
You probably don’t know who Darren Aronofsky is, and what a shame, because this talent deserves to be up there with the best of them, even as his career is only about 10 years old. “Requiem” represents his way of saying “I’ve got some flashy tricks and I’m about to give you a heaping taste of them.” What results is an audacious, horrifying, experimental and entirely amazing drug of a film about drugs and dreams of a better life, and the deadly combination of mixing the two. Using his camera in ways never dreamt of before he makes us feel the free-fall that is taking hard drugs, becoming an addict, and then resting one’s entire self on a hope that is hopeless.