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The Irish Times Top Twenty Films of the Decade

Stumbled across this the other day and thought it was worth a post. Basically it’s Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke’s top twenty films of the last ten years. I have to say – as someone who rarely agrees with him at all – his list is populated with good choices. Still, I’m not sure that the majority of those would make it into my top fifty, let alone my top twenty. Which reminds me, I probably should put some sort of list together to commemorate the end of the decade – but it’s not over yet. I’m not even sure I could put together a list for this year, seen as I haven’t seen nearly anything, let alone nearly everything. Anyway, Donald Clarke’s list (and some comments) are below.

There Will Be Blood! Let The Arguing Commence!

I’ve omitted the ones I haven’t seen or just don’t care about. The full list is available here.

1 There Will Be Blood (2007) A discordant, monumentally sombre tone poem from Paul Thomas Anderson that may have sobering things to say about money and religion, but is mostly about the blackness of oil, the oddness of noise and the unique ability of Daniel Day-Lewis to be huge without being hammy.

It was pretty awesome and I think it deserved the Oscar over No Country For Old Men. Still, the best film of the decade? I remain skeptical. It’s epic and grand and features an amazing central performance (as well as fantastic setpieces), but it’s also just a little bit indulgent in places. Not overly indulgent, but it wouldn’t top my list.

3 Spirited Away/Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (2001) Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese master of animation, nods towards Lewis Carroll with his spooky, funny coming-of-age fantasy. Already established as a classic in its genre.

Again, fantastic film, but was it really the best animated film of the past ten years? Even the best non-computer generated animated film? It has an absolutely incredible imagination, and that’s to be commended, but I’m still not sure it would be so high on my list.

4 Mulholland Dr (2001) What does David Lynch’s lush, surreal tale of doppelgangers and decadence in Hollywood really mean? Is it about godlessness? Is it about a hatstand?

Yep, it’s magical, and confusing – and all those things that David Lynch clearly intended it to be. I’m a huge fan of Lynch, and this stands as one of his best works, but I can’t help feeling that it belongs more in a museum of modern art than in a cinema. I’m by no means going to criticise it – it succeeds at what it sets out to do – but I’m not sure that so many films clearly intended just to screw with the audience’s mind should be so high on the list.

7 Far from Heaven (2002) This autumnal melodrama – in which Julianne Moore copes with a gay husband in 1950s America – manages to pay homage to Douglas Sirk while still retaining its own unique power. Perhaps only Todd Haynes could have pulled it off.

Good choice. Tends to get forgotten. Not so sure I’d have it so high up, though.

9 Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno (2006) Guillermo del Toro proves that fantasy movies can accommodate psychological depth in his Spanish civil war parable.

Okay, this I can get behind. It’s a fantastic visual treat and a wonderful modern fairytale (told in the style of a traditional – rather than sanatised – fairytale). This is probably the first choice I completely agree with.

10 Brokeback Mountain (2005) Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play two robust cowboys in love. Ang Lee’s picture is so raw and affecting you hardly notice it breaking fresh ground in the American mainstream.

And straight into one I disagree with. I’ll ruin all my indie credentials here by paraphrasing the great Roger Ebert. Crash did not beat Brokeback Mountain to the Best Picture Oscar because of homophobia, it won because it was a better film. Brokeback mountain is just too self-indulgent, too slow, and too smarmy to be a classic. Yes, I get it – they’re gay cowboys, and that’s taboo. But you have to give us a bit more than that, Ang Lee. The movie doesn’t tell us anything insightful about the double lives its characters lead or the silent (and eventually not-so-silent) prejudice that they face. Instead it just sits there smuggly, being all “aren’t we artsy?” at its audience.

But I’ll accept I’m in the minority on this one.

11 Lost in Translation (2003) Sofia Coppola takes Bill Murray to Tokyo, where he encounters beautiful numbness and Scarlett Johansson.

I’ll get behind this one. If only because it singlehanded makes up for Sofia Coppola’s involvement in the trainwreck that was Godfather III.

Well, almost.

And it reminded us how awesome Bill Murray is.

13 Wall-E (2008) This transcendentally brilliant animation confirmed Pixar as the studio of the decade.

I think we’ll all agree that Pixar deserve a hug. A big hug. And a pat on the back. I can’t argue with the “studio of the decade” remark either. Being honest, personally I’d prefer Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, but Wall-E is almost an equally good choice, so I’m fine with that.

14 Oldboy/Hangui (2003) Savage revenge drama from a director at the vanguard of the Korean new wave. Features footage of an octopus being eaten alive. Nice.

It’s a solid choice, and I think that the past fifteen years have really openned the doors to Eastern cinema over here – and we’ve done well by it. I can still think of a few East Asian flicks I’d place ahead of Old Boy. Battle Royale is the first to come to mind (there’s a reason it’s Quentin Tarantino’s favourite film of the decade) and stuff like The Host or The Good, The Bad & The Weird come to mind. Still, I thought Oldboy was great, so I’ve no beef with that particular choice.

15 I’m Not There (2007) A film about Bob Dylan that proves as allusive and amusing as the most fecund of his songs. Perhaps only Todd Haynes could have pulled it off.



It’s was grand, but in your top twenty of the decade?

18 Team America: World Police (2004) So ronery! It was a flop on release, but the South Park team’s Hollywood satire gained traction as the decade progressed.

I actually would have missed this one, but on second thought it definitely deserves a place. It is probably the best thing to come from the overly fertile minds of Parker and Stone, and that’s saying something. It’s perfectly biting social satire, and it’s also a fantastic spoof action movie at the same time. And its reliance on grossout humour at the very least cements it as representative of comedy in the naughties.

19 A History of Violence (2005) Vague and hard to classify, David Cronenberg’s thriller now looks like the buttoned-up Shane of its era.

Certainly a great film – one of Cronenberg’s finest (I’ve been a fan since Videodrome). Though – as with most of the choices on this list I agree with – I’m not so sure it deserves to be so high on the list. It would probably make my top fifty, but probably not my top twenty.

20 Primer (2004) Astonishingly knotty time-travel drama made for next to nothing. Director Shane Carruth has yet to reappear.

A poor man’s Pi. And a movie so complicated that it takes three different diagrams to explain what the hell was going on.

It’s an interesting list and one that sparks its fair shar of discussion – after all, isn’t that the point of making lists. I think his choices are overly arthouse and not representative of the decade, but perhaps that’s the point – the list probably should be personal. There’s no way to divine the best films objectively, so the least we can do is spark discussion by giving our own opinions. Check out his blog to join in on the debate.

s autumnal melodrama – in which Julianne Moore copes with a gay husband in 1950s America – manages to pay homage to Douglas Sirk while still retaining its own unique power. Perhaps only Todd Haynes could have pulled

6 Responses

  1. looking forward to your own list Dazza

    • Yep, had a bash at it today, just spitballing – no way I can narrow the decade down to twenty films. But we’ll see. I have to decide on my top ten of the year soon as well.

  2. I’d go to bat for “Team America” purely because it’s so outrageous and over the top and wildly imaginative. Oh, and it’s hysterically funny. Always a plus.

    Probably I’d agree with you about “Brokeback Mountain” — the cinematography is awe-inspiring and Heath Ledger is great, but there’s just something … missing.

    • Yay, I’m not alone when it comes to Brokeback! And I though Gyllenhall was pretty good as well (though Ledger was a revelation in it). But it just seemed so conceited.

  3. This is a movie with a simple and straightforward plot which contains layers and layers of intelligent writing, metaphors and message.

    To speak further about the script will end up in spoilers and that would be pointless since my very purpose writing this review is to encourage people to see it.

    This is no small feat, interpreting fantasy as something of a product of a real world, cross-referencing how the child acts to her real surroundings and the “other world”, metaphors that describe the accelerated state of growing up some of us are put through… Incredible. Simple, straightforward yet there is so much to be appreciated.

    Those who are saying how it’s predictable and thus not enjoyable, I ask of you, which movie nowadays aren’t predictable? Hell, even 21 grams was predictable but so damned good. It’s not about how it ends, you can always predict how a movie would end if you’ve ever taken a half-decent script writing class or have some common sense. It’s always about how well you tell a story.

    I’m grateful there are still directors who aren’t tied down to this new epidemic of including a plot twist simply because they need a plot twist.

    Pan’s Labyrinth features some of the best storytelling and attention to detail without being affected by the now ever-popular opinion of cameras having to be put through several technical difficulties to make the shots eligible to be called a brilliant shot.

    I am also grateful for them not dubbing it. Watching it in its’ original language is much, much more rewarding even if I had to rely on the subtitles for most of the time.

    This is a brilliant movie. Watch it.

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