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The Top 50 Films of the Decade Part Two

Shane Steinberg | Tuesday, January 19, 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.

40. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father (2008)
A cold-blooded murder is what made this heart-wrenching documentary not only possible, but upon watching Kurt Kuenne’s homage to his lifelong friend, David Bagby, frankly necessary. It plays a bit slow at first, which is its sole blemish. As a whole though, “Dear Zachary” is one of the most enraging documentaries to ever be made, but at its innermost core, it’s a postcard … it’s a letter … it’s an homage … it’s a chronicling of a good man who the justice system so terribly failed, whose son, growing up without a father, can one day watch and find out who was the man he never got to play catch with. But what sets this documentary apart from the rest is its climax, and a twist that will at once shock you, then break you.

39. The Dark Knight (2008)
With 2008’s summer blockbuster of all blockbusters, director Christopher Nolan achieved a rare balance of film genius that pleases the critics and the masses alike. It’s Heath Ledger though that overshadows all else with his stunning, career-defining performance as Batman’s greatest nemesis, the Joker.

38. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo Del Toro’s largely original, almost-deserving-of-being-called-groundbreaking fan favorite redefined both the realm of fantasy filmmaking as well as the all-too-cliché and overdone genre of war films. Caught in the crosshairs of the bloody Spanish revolution, Ofelia, a young girl, dreams up a far land where she is a princess and there is no war, and it’s that child-like quality that not only gives this film its backbone but also its brilliance.

37. Capote (2005)
Philip Seymour Hoffman is captivating in one of the best lead performances in recent memory as famous American author, Truman Capote. He is writing a new book, “In Cold Blood,” about the gruesome murder of a Kansas family at the hands of two petty thieves and death row inmates, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. But upon interviewing Smith, Capote grows a strange attachment to him and finds it increasingly difficult to see him die for the crime, yet his book needs an ending. And therein lies the great struggle of Capote’s crippled life: the struggle between one’s work, one’s conscience and the desire for companionship and understanding pinned against the greed and callousness inherent in us all.  

36. Zodiac (2007)
There have been many attempts at chronicling the paradoxical, murderous events that transpired in San Francisco during the 60s, but none, and I mean absolutely none, have so much as even touched David Fincher’s psychological dive into the mystery and terror that was the Zodiac killer. This film is shot through tense veins pumped full of misleading plot threads and dialogue that seems to suggest what never happens, making an incredibly tantalizing, engaging mystery out of what is already one of the great wonders in criminal history.

35. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Quentin Tarantino’s history-bending, tongue-in-cheek WWII flick about a band of blood-thirsty Jewish Americans known only as “The Basterds” is nearly pitch-perfect. It loses some of its gusto towards it harrowing end, and it often borders on offensive, but Tarantino and his cast led by Sunday’s Golden-Globe winning Christopher Waltz and a brilliant Brad Pitt “might just make this his masterpiece.” Or, since we’re speaking about Tarantino — just another masterpiece to put on his ever-growing mantel.

34. Control (2007)
The single best rock-n-roll film in a long, long time tells the tragic story of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the 1970s punk rock band Joy Division. Told with incredible closeness and shot through passionate, understanding eyes, his life, his psyche and his downward spiral towards suicide are explored with a beauty that, once discovered by a wider audience, will finally give this exceptional film its just deserts. It doesn’t take a fan of Joy Division to appreciate this film, but after watching it, if you weren’t already a believer in Joy Division, you certainly will be.

33. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Charlie Kaufman is … odd. To say the least, that is. His screenplays, like 2004’s acid-trip of a film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” are wildly imaginative spectacles that lie way out there beyond what is even considered “out there,” and as such tend to divide audiences. Brilliant? Or just crazy? It seems there’s no middle ground. As for “Eternal Sunshine,” well, it’s just that — a ray of sunshine in what often times feels like an industry of the all too predictable.

32. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson puts a stamp on his films like none other, for his style and quirky-bordering-on-downright-strange brand of humor are his alone. While “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a film about a “dysfunctional family,” or perhaps just “Wes Anderson family,” is laugh-out-loud hilarious and clever as a sly fox, it’s no “Rushmore.” That being said, some of the scenes in this film,                                      such as Anderson’s perfectly patented music montages, are delectable.  Add to that the cherry-on-top performances by many of his regulars, and some new faces as well.

31. Punch Drunk Love (2002)
Adam Sandler’s finest film, helmed by the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson, glows with a sense of curiosity and mind-bending confusion that make this Ussain Bolt-paced film engrossing to the point that turning away, if only for a second, becomes a near sin. Confusing, yes, but a diamond in the rough no less.