catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 1 :: 2010.01.08 — 2010.01.21


Aughts to see

Ten essential films from the last decade

Ten best lists are inherently arbitrary and wholly subjective. But that’s the point. They are custom made for disagreement and hopefully inspire a few “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments.  At their best, they give you pointers for books, songs or films you should seek out or revisit. At their worst, they represent the preening of critics trying to show their superior taste and knowledge of film arcana.  Good critics enlighten and bring you along for the ride.  Bad critics try to prove their superiority to you and leave you in the dark.  Good top ten lists inspire, and bad top ten lists dumbfound.

Picking the ten best of the decade is too big a task for me. I haven’t seen enough of the movies from the decade, and there are too many films from this decade that I love.  You might as well ask me to pick my favorite child.  Instead of singling out ten of the best, I’ve chose to limit my list to great films of the decade you may have missed. In doing so, I hope to inspire you to seek out these great movies. Below you’ll find ten gems that enriched the life of this viewer and should provoke, delight and challenge you. It was a mighty decade filled with great films.  For those willing to venture beyond the top ten at the box office, every year offered great riches.  Thanks to mail order DVD services, multitudinous cable networks and your local video store, finding any of the films from the list below should be quite easy.

Nicholas Nickelby (2002) — The perfect distillation of Dickens on film. Christopher Plummer is a larger than life villain, the tragedy is satisfyingly dire and the humor is abundant.  Many BBC adaptations of Dickens have been somber and cold, but director Douglas McGrath’s Nickelby is delightfully lithe and reminds you of just how much fun the author can be. 

District B13 (2004) — The greatest action film of the decade?  Certainly its most enjoyable.  Director Pierre Morel scored his first hit with 2009’s leaden revenge flick Taken, but with District B13, he soars.  It’s a ridiculous action feast with beautifully choreographed scenes of heroism and destruction.

Lake of Fire (2006) — A documentary about the abortion debate that is sure to provoke both those in the pro-life and pro-choice camps.  Abortion advocates will find their cause articulately defended and anti-abortion crusaders will be galvanized by the director’s unflinching eye.  Many of the film’s images are disturbing and graphic, but necessarily so.  An indispensable provocation and some of the decade’s best reporting.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007) — In 1980s Romania, the Communists have outlawed all birth control as well as abortion.  Gabita, a scared college student, seeks out a black market abortion with the help of her loyal friend Otilia.  Otilia spends a harrowing evening aiding her friend in this taut thriller.  Many viewers will be appalled by Gabita’s decision, but will thankfully find the film is more concerned with offering an unflinching view of history than with preaching.  It won the 2007 Palm d’Or at the Cannes film festival.

Inside Man (2006) — This film is one of iconoclast Spike Lee’s best and finds the director masterfully working within the confines of a big budget studio thriller.  An NYPD detective, played by Denzel Washington, tries to foil the plans of bank robber Clive Owen.  It’s a twisty thriller and a satisfying mystery.  Expertly crafted.

After the Wedding (2006) — Wedding takes a standard soap opera storyline and uses it to tell a moving tale about family loyalty and the legacies we create.  I have not been able to shake this film since seeing it.  It’s an emotional workout and does what films can do so well: drop us into the lives of others and creates empathy for people we’ve never known.  A stunning film.

Morvern Callar (2002) — Samantha Morton, playing the title character, returns to her apartment to find her author boyfriend dead, a completed novel waiting on his computer.  A note he left before his suicide asks Morvern to get his last work published.  The film becomes a fascinating study of a seemingly inscrutable, often amoral heroine as she throws herself into rave culture when the suicide untethers her from her domestic concerns.  This film is not driven by plot, but mesmerizing and a great study of how we define and motivate ourselves through our playlists.

Layer Cake (2004) — Daniel Craig, before he was Bond, moves confidently through this slick crime thriller.  He plays a straight-arrow drug dealer asked to do one last job before his retirement.  The hook is an old one, but its execution is satisfying.  Great performances, expert direction by Matthew Vaughn (Stardust) and a surprise-filled script make this one of the best crime films of the decade.  (Don’t miss a mesmerizing and frightening Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, another great crime film from the last decade.)

The Station Agent (2003) — A quiet character study about the healing power of friendship.  Patricia Clarkson, Peter Dinklage (Elf) and a never-better Bobby Cannavale (Will and Grace) find each other outside an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey.  Finbar McBride (Dinklage) inherits the train depot from a dead uncle and moves there to live in solitude, but he keeps getting interrupted by the gregarious Cannavale.  Soon Clarkson, a grieving divorcee, joins the two and they begin to form nurturing bonds.  Graceful and a film to cherish.

Junebug (2005) — A New York folk art dealer travels to North Carolina to meet her in-laws for the first time and finds a cold reception.  She also finds her brother-in-law, played by Ben Mackenzie of The O.C., is having trouble in his marriage to Amy Adams (Enchanted).  About the difficulty of blending families through marriage, the film introduced the world to the luminous Adams.  The rest of the ensemble is great as well.  A contemplative gem.

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