In trying to come up with a best films of the decade list, I first tried to come up with a Top 10. I found it too hard, though, because, as you'll see, I don't think there were 10 absolutely outstanding movies this decade. I think there were seven absolute all-time classics and a further 18 really, really good movies.
I also reserve the right to change this list in about a year's time because there are movies that have just or will soon come out this year that I haven't yet seen that could possibly make the list.
In making this list, I also found it funny how time changes one's perception of movies. For example, the number one movie in each of my top 10 lists for 2006 (Babel), 2007 (Once) and 2008 (The Fall) are not in the all-time classics section of this list with Babel failing to make even the overall list!
Once I got the seven absolute classics sorted, I tried and tried to rank them from one to seven but I just couldn't. Some of them are so vastly different, how do you compare which one is better than another?
The all-time classics (in no particular order):
There Will Be Blood - just unbelievably brilliant film-making from PT Anderson (whose Boogie Nights remains one of my favorite movies of all time), another mesmerising performance from DD-L, an amazingly effective score and beautiful camera work. A modern classic if there ever was one.
The Dark Knight - not just the best "comic-book movie" of all time, but one of the great crime thrillers (ranking up their with the likes of On the Waterfront and Heat) ever. Heath Ledger is truly amazing as is Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face. Stunning set pieces, a wonderful script and suitably epic photography add up to a bonafide classic. Shame about Bale's Batman voice, though.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Though I love The Two Towers and The Return of the King, neither movie comes even close to FOTR in terms of the sheer impact it made on me when it first came out. Peter Jackson's masterful film ranks as possibly the best adaptation of an "unfilmable" book ever made. A truly involving story, brilliant effects and great heroes and villains.
Brokeback Mountain - easily the best love story of the decade. Extraordinary work from (again) Heath Ledger, but also from Jake Gyllenhall who make the central romance utterly believable while Ang Lee proves once again that he can, in fact, do anything. The scene where Ledger hugs Gyllenhall's old shirt hanging in the closet typifies the central theme of longing for forbidden love.
Unbreakable - the best thing Shyamalan's ever made and an absolutely brilliant commentary on the power and influence of comics. A brilliantly-involving story and great filmmaking, from the use of muted greys and purples to the alternating static and fluid camera work. I remember coming out of the movie theater and listening to the other moviegoers' conversations...half of them were saying "that was the dumbest ending ever" and "what a boring movie", while the other half were saying "that was awesome!" and "what a cool ending!".
Oldboy - An intriguing premise. One of the great performances of the decade from Choi Min-Sik. A story that twists and turns and keeps you guessing without ever straying into unbelievable territory and....AND...the Best. Twist. Ending. Ever. The fight in the hallway is one of the best fight scenes in ANY movie of the decade.
Grizzly Man - The nineties and aughts were both golden eras for movie documentaries. The 90s gave us Crumb and Hoop Dreams (two of the best movies ever made, never mind documentaries), while the aughts gave us this. Timothy Treadwell, like Man on Wire's Phillipe Petit, is one of the great movie characters of the decade. A unique, charismatic, dangerous, delusional, camp, sincere, honest man whose reason for living ultimately (and poetically) also became the reason for his untimely death. The great Werner Herzog (a crazy man himself) crafts his best movie since Mephisto.
...and those were the only really, true all-time classics from the decade, in my opinion...movies that I know will still be classics in 10, 20, 30 years' time.
The below are also very good too, though.
The other 18 really, really great movies (again, in no particular order):
The Departed - a welcome return to form for Scorsese (after Aviator, Kundun, etc.) in the milieu that suits him best - Gangsters. Brilliant work by a huge ensemble cast incl. Mark Wahlberg in the best performance he'll ever give and Matt Damon as a terrifically slimy bad guy. Scorsese = still the greatest director in the world.
A History of Violence - paradoxically very Cronenberg and also unlike anything he's ever done. Brilliant turns from Viggo Mortensen and a scene-stealing William Hurt in a crime-thriller graphic novel adap that belies its "comic book" roots. Just awesome.
Man on Wire - the remarkable story of one man's quest to live life to the fullest...even with the threat of death ever present. Phillipe Petit, like some others on this list, is one of the great movie characters, with more than enough charisma to go around.
Kill Bill - I still think of both "volumes" as one film and while not vintage Tarantino, still better than most directors could ever hope to be...full of stylistic flair, stunning set pieces, memorable and instantly-quotable dialogue and a love of bad movies...
Etre et Avoir - a heart-breaking documentary on the powerful and life-affecting relationships between great teachers and willing students, this time in a small, provincial school in the french countryside. Your life can only be richer for seeing this.
House of Flying Daggers - the best of the spate of wire-fu movies of recent years (CTHD, Hero, etc.) with a central love triangle that works so well, it would've been a great film w/out the martial arts.
Bowling for Columbine - love him or hate him, one thing that cannot be denied is what an accomplished film-maker Moore really is. An impassioned argument against the destructive power of guns and the reasons people use them.
Shaun of the Dead - best comedy on the list and a movie that has equal affection for (and pays equal homage to) zombie movies as well as classic comedies. Full of verve, wit and imagination, SotD even created its own genre: the zom-rom-com.
Volver - A stunning performance from Penelope Cruz in one of Almodovar's (second only to Scorsese in the great director stakes) most accessible films. At once a love letter to his Mother and to former muse Carmen Maura who reunites with Almodovar for the first time since 1988's Women on the Verge...
Amelie - a truly original work from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Possibly the most quintessentially French film I've ever seen and Audrey Tatou is outstanding as the eponymous matchmaker. Best opening sequence of any movie on this list.
Dear Zachary: A Letter From a Father to His Son - one of the best documentaries I've ever seen and one that I'll seriously never be able to watch again. This still haunts me to this day. Really.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin - the best of the Apatow comedies featuring a great script (special mention also to some of the obviously-improvised exchanges) and star-making performances from Steve Carell, Jane Lynch and Elizabeth Banks. Still hilarious on the umpteenth viewing.
Bad Education - Almodovar's ode to his Iberian upbringing. I rate this higher than Talk to Her, though I'm in the minority. A quintessential Almodovar movie: funny, touching, weird, cross-dressing, sexual, dramatic. Featuring a standout performance from Gael Garcia Bernal as the director's alter-ego. It's actually impossible for Almodovar to make a bad film. Fact.
The Fall - possibly the most original movie on this list and a breathtaking, exhilarating, magnificently-realized labor of love for director Tarsem Singh. A feast for the eyes and the soul. A grown-up fairytale that enchants and scares in equal measure.
Once - the second-best love story on this list. A small, unassuming tale of two musicians who meet, help and fall in love with each other in a very unusual way...the end is not what you expect. The music, especially, is what elevates the film to greatness.
Gone Baby Gone - as I said in my original review, the cinematic equivalent of The Wire...no higher praise is needed. Adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel, GBG is far superior and more accomplished that that other great Lehane adap., Mystic River...and that's sayin' somethin'.
The King of Kong - Another fantastic documentary, this time centering on one man's quest to be the best at something...anything...even if it's just the coin-op Donkey Kong. Also featuring, in Billy Mitchell, the greatest screen villain in recent memory, made even better 'cause he's real!
No Country for Old Men - The Coen Bros. go serious for the first time since Blood Simple and in the process bag their first directing Oscars, direct Javier Bardem to his first Oscar as one of the best bad guys ever and make us realize Josh Brolin can actually act. TLJ is great, too.
For an alternate take on the Best Movies of the Decade, please see my friend (and fellow film buff) Cam's list here.