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The Top 50 Films of the Decade: Part One

Shane Steinberg | Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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.

10. Capturing the Friedmans– The best documentary of the decade will have you frown-faced and drenched in hatred for the injustices of our flawed justice system as well as the media hounds that feed into our lust for blood–even if it means lusting for the blood of the innocent. This harrowing tale of a family man with a secret turned a family-ruining child rapist plays out like a tragedy of sweeping proportions and at its heart never truly answers the question of his innocence, which proves a brilliant decision.

9. Spirited Away- The best animated movie of the decade is, surprisingly, not a Pixar film. In fact, it hails all the way from Japan, under the creative genius that is Hayao Miyakazi (Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo). This is undoubtedly his greatest film for so many reasons, among which are the life infused into every scene, in every shadow and detail, and the pure grace and bursting imagination with which his characters, so amazingly rendered as they are, act and are brought to life with such startlingly beauty.

8. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King- Everything about the last installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is epic. Clocking in at a lengthy 3:30, Peter Jackson’s send-off to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved classic manages to tie together every element of the journey while achieving the type of metaphorical brilliance the first two films lacked.

7. Lost in Translation- At its heart, Sophia Coppolla’s love letter of a dramedy is about those rare connections we make in life that may not last but will stay with us forever. It’s truly touching, a fully immersive love story brimming with flower-like beauty and imagination, and at it’s end is one of the most intriguing, best thought-out endings in recent memory. Not only is “Lost in Translation” the best romance film of the decade, but it’s a true testament to the journey that is being lost, and the reality that in being lost, the best is what we find along the way. It connected with me in a way no other film has, and for that reason, this is my personal favorite film.

6. White Ribbon- Auteur Michael Haneke creates a simple tale chronicling the strange atrocities committed in a seemingly quaint, innocent early Pre-WWI German town. More than that though, “White Ribbon” is an inquiry into evil, a certain kind of evil bred by a society left stagnant by its own strict moral code and Protestant teachings—the same society that no less than two decades later would commit atrocities that would kill millions of people. Possibly the most interesting and revealing film on this list, “White Ribbon” succeeds for its insight into a society and culture where facades bottle up the inescapable human capacity for evil, only to unleash it in the worst of ways. This is a rare film truly deserving of being called a masterpiece.

5. United 93- Paul Greengrass’ heart-wrenching docudrama is undying in its commitment to telling the arresting true story of what happened to the doomed heroes aboard United Airlines flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. Both impossible to watch, yet too difficult to turn away from, “United 93” is pitch-perfect and represents the most inexorably true account of 9/11 to grace the silver screen to this day.

4. There Will Be Blood- Destined to be studied and picked apart by film lovers for years to come, Paul Thomas Anderson’s unrelenting work of genius about an oil man, Daniel Plainview (Daniel-Day Lewis in one of the most searing performances in movie history), whose greed and moral corruption lead him down a path of conflict with religion and humanity alike, is, in its purest form, an aesthetic revelation of the likes of which hasn’t been seen since “Citizen Kane”.

3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days- This isn’t a movie about illegal abortion in the communist bloc. No, it’s a surreal, downright horrifying free-fall into the confines of human suffering and isolation so washed in unbearable rawness, that at its end, a part of you will wish that you hadn’t seen it because of how scarred it leaves you.

2. No Country for Old Men- The Coen brothers’ jaw-dropping neo-western veiled as a thriller brilliantly blends all of the themes that the Coen’s have played around with ever since their directorial debut in “Blood Simple”. Both awe-inspiring in a “Popcorn movie” sense and undeniably triumphant in an “Oscar season movie” sense, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel about life, death, and the loss of innocence, is incredibly measured and flawless from head to toe. Javier Bardem’s turn as a psychopathic killer tasked with hunting down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a foolhardy southerner who is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when he stumbles across a satchel filled with $2 million is enough to send shivers down even Hannibal Lecter’s back. Simply put, with “No Country for Old Men” the Coen brothers have managed to top an almost insurmountable film in “Fargo”.

1. Mulholland Drive- David Lynch’s masterpiece is film at its very best. From the bewildering opening scene, when Lynch first immerses his audience in a fever hallucination of a film, until the perfectly measured ending, a spine-chilling air of brilliance engulfs the theater. This incredibly tantalizing dive into the heart of insanity and the subconscious becomes more ingenious as it unravels, and once solved, all that is left is the overwhelming feeling that what Mr. Lynch has created is so beyond perfect, it’s downright scary.