In no particular order…
Guess what readers, this post is more or less one giant love letter to Christopher Nolan. With the exception of Insomnia, this list contains every movie the man’s directed since Memento (NOTE: Insomnia is not bad, it’s just not best of the decade caliber). Memento does what Christopher Nolan is known for doing very well. It shifts time and perspective (since each time episode is essentially a different Leonard with no memories of the previous events) just as well here as in future Nolan movies like Batman Begins and The Prestige. If you’ve never seen this crazy exercise in perception and memory, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Go rent it.
Pixar really has a way of making you care about inanimate objects. Toys, cars, and now a robot. WALL-E has so much charm and character that it’s impossible not to love him (although I know people who do). In what is both a cautionary tale about waste and a love story between two robots, there are genuine characters who speak maybe three or four different lines of dialogue and get the audience to care about their plight like it was an Oscar-bait drama. Pixar’s best work to date.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
You probably didn’t see Robert Downey, Jr.’s best movie of the decade, but you can bet that this movie pushed him front and center for what you might think his best movie was (Iron Man). KKBB doesn’t seem like it should be so good. Its name is kind of generic and I don’t even remember hearing about it before it came out. In fact, I have no idea how it ended up on my movie queue, but it was an instant favorite that I had to share with my roommate. Bonus points to Val Kilmer for his brilliant acting as a sarcastic private detective.
Ghost Town (2008)
My favorite romantic comedy of the decade stars a pudgy British comedian and does not feature one kiss between the two leads. Ghost Town is different, but in all the best ways. Ricky Gervais’ character experiences the same clichéd character development that you’d expect in a role like this, but it still feels fresh thanks to his odd sense of humour. It also features a romantic rival who is not that bad a guy and is one of the few Gervais projects that doesn’t feature extended, super-awkward scenes. Definitely worth watching.
Mean Girls (2004)
I know, it seems really lame for a guy to love this movie, but Tina Fey’s writing is so sharp that this movie can’t help but be good. Sure, it meant that we had to deal with Lindsay Lohan for a long while after, but that’s mostly done with now and we can enjoy Tina and Rachel McAdams and everything else about this movie that’s so well put together. As an added bonus to me, the book the movie was based on was written based on the behavior of girls at the National Cathedral School, a rival all-girl private school to Holton-Arms, which some of my good friends attended, so I’m glad it gives them some bad press.
The Prestige (2006)
Oh? Is it time to praise Christopher Nolan again? How often do you see a movie based on a book that is far superior to its source material? This tale of dueling magicians in 19th century England is engaging and interesting to the bitter end. Most people’s only complaints with the movie have to do with its sci-fi plot twist, but I guess it’s probably because they don’t realize that this movie is not firmly based in reality until about 4/5 of the way in. Regardless, it’s a fantastic story and all of its roles are spectacularly acted. The narrative structure is also unique and interesting as the magicians invade the personal lives of their rivals through their diaries. A definite must see.
There’s one thing that Guy Ritchie does well and it’s gangster films, but, given the choice, I’d say Snatch takes the prize for his best work. It’s funny, has great plot twists, and great, quotable characters.
Should this even count? It may come from the ’90s and portray NYC in the ’80s, but this musical made the transition to film quite nicely, preserving most of its atmosphere and earning its place as one of three musicals on this list.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Who said that fairy tales were dead in modern society? Slumdog Millionaire is just a great movie. The narrative structure that revolves around the interrogation of Jamal Malik and his answers on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? works beautifully and the trials and tribulations of the characters make for great drama. Will you be surprised by the ending of the film? Of course not. Will you be able to resist tapping your toes to the music of the closing number? Only if you lack a soul.
Batman Begins (2005)
Talk about a challenge. Batman movies were absolutely dead before Christopher Nolan’s adaptation. In fact, I’d go so far as to blame Batman and Robin (1997) for killing superhero movies until Spider-Man came around in 2002. All it took was hiring a real director and a close look at the source material to come up with this fantastic adaptation of one of the oldest superheroes in the business. Nolan was right in getting rid of the cheese factor and trying to make the character seem more realistic than he’d been portrayed before. His choice of antagonists, Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, were great choices in establishing a world based more in reality than the earlier movies created by using Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy and paved the way for the amazing direction he took for The Joker. Batman Begins is proof that a superhero movie can be as great as other movies.
City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) (2002)
Powerful in the same ways that Slumdog Millionaire explored its slums, City of God is unapologetic in its portrayal of favela life in Brazil. Splitting up the story into arcs and showing how one man can seize power and create hell through the eyes of an outsider proved to be an effective narrative technique. This movie is heavy, but it’s also quite good.
21 Grams (2003)
Another hyper-depressing movie, this time centered around a car crash with three fatalities and the fates of the people involved: the man who killed the three people, the wife and mother of the two boys and man who died in the crash, and the man who received a heart in a transfusion. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s quite good (far better than Babel).
Yeah, no high school kid talks like her. Sure, this movie made being a hipster seem cool and caused your friends to act like insufferable idiots. Yes, Michael Cera has gone on to be pretty annoying since this movie and Arrested Development. Beyond all that, it’s still a funny movie with witty, fun dialogue. Bonus points awarded for having Jason Bateman in it.
Garden State (2004)
While we’re on the subject of movies that spawned annoying indie-ness, Garden State did it first back during my freshman year of college. I admit, part of why I like this movie so much has to do with my trek down to Cinemopolis in downtown Ithaca, but I actually enjoyed this movie. I might have a different opinion if I watched it now, but it always seemed to me that Zach Braff didn’t overdo it here with the pretentiousness. It’s also worth stating that Peter Sarsgaard is a fantastic actor in almost everything he does and that this movie proves that Natalie Portman is not as bad an actor as the prequels might lead you to believe.
Casino Royale (2006)
I don’t care what you say, but old-school James Bond was stupid. More of a superhero than a spy, he had ridiculous gadgets and was just plain campy. I think it took Austin Powers for me to fully understand how dumb the whole thing really was. Funny thing about Casino Royale is that its reinvention of the wheel stems instead from a return to source material. The Bond of CR is a brutal killer closer to a sociopath than the suave secret agent that we grew up with. Unfortunately, the second in this new series went and screwed it all up with poor casting and poor cinematography, but I like the direction this new Bond is going and I have high hopes for the future of the series.
Pixar just keeps hitting them out of the park. WALL-E was fantastic and Up came along right after to prove that a movie for children can be just as mature as a movie for adults. I won’t spoil the plot too much, but let’s just say the opening 20 minutes or so will break your heart, if you’ve got one. A truly great cartoon about a man dealing with regret and clinging to his past, but eventually moving on.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The best way I’ve heard this movie described is “A love story that starts after the love is gone.” ESofSM does many things well as it examines the memories of this failed relationship as they are yanked away from Jim Carrey’s mind while he struggles against that very darkness he hired them to create. Another great movie that I haven’t seen in too long. I should pull this out sometime soon.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Since we’re talking about movies that deal with relationships ending, let’s push right on into a completely different type of movie. FSM is on my list because I think that, despite all the ridiculous exaggerations of the peripheral characters, the way that all of the actors interact with each other seems real. It’s a genuinely funny movie with good acting and hilarious situations.
Children of Men (2006)
With a plot remarkably similar to Y: The Last Man in many respects, this post-apocalyptic look at a world scarred by a lack of childbirth is just awesome to watch. Fresh off the success of Sin City, Clive Owen, this time with his natural accent, stars and kicks ass in all kinds of believable ways as he escorts the first pregnant woman in ages to a research vessel. This movie makes the list more for its look than anything else. That last scene in the refugee camp where Clive Owen is chased by the military and the terrorists is stunningly shot. The end scenes also remind me a lot of Half-Life 2. Great movie.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)
Strangely enough, I’d never seen anything by Joss Whedon until I saw DHSAB. I wouldn’t quite call myself a browncoat yet, but this movie inspired me to start checking out and loving his work. Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion really need to start alongside each other in more things, because they’re dynamite on screen. This is my favorite musical of the modern age and you should watch it if you haven’t seen it.
The Dark Knight (2008)
One man is responsible for making this film truly great: Heath Ledger. His portrayal of The Joker was beyond amazing. The interrogation scene (and the rescue that follows) still gives me chills every time I watch it. Like no other man in film or comics, Ledger really understood that The Joker is a force of chaos and entropy. It really is too bad that it will never happen again due to Heath Ledger’s sad death. The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all time.