I was asked to pick just one top film of the past decade. Such a task is impossible. Even choosing just ten was a monumental task, and lord knows I am probably forgetting some movie (when you see as many as I do that happens a lot). So below is my list, in chronological order, of what I consider the top 10 films of the 2000’s. My criteria was pretty simple: Make me change the way I think about film. All of these films succeeded.
1. Beau Travail, directed by Claire Denis, 2000
If you ever want a lesson in semiotics, watch this film. Denis continues to be one of the best directors in France and the world. This loose adaptation of Melville’s Billy Budd, set among French Legionnaires in northeast Africa, is sublime, haunting and beautiful, with a gorgeous soundtrack. One man’s struggle with his own jealousy and frailty, the strange man in a strange land, and the dry wide terrifying desert. Not for the faint of heart or frail of mind.
2. Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan, 2000
This really doesn’t need explanation. Original in narrative, format, with a spot-on cast and inflicting a fear of tattoos.
3. Adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze, 2002
Despite my dislike for Nicholas Cage, this film’s exploration of what it means to write, what it means to find another person’s passion, and your own. Not since Psycho has a film managed to change directions so quickly and effectively and with as much suspense.
4. City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles
A stunning and brutal depiction of life amongst the lower classes Brazil, and how two lives that begin the same can end so differently. Part fantasy, part documentary, but all engagement.
5. Dogville, directed by Lars von Trier, 2003
Von Trier burst onto the film scene in the 1990s with his Dogme 95 manifesto of films, but it has been this decade that has seen him hit his stride as a filmmaker. Despite my continuing belief that with the exception of To Die For, Nicole Kidman can’t act her way out of a paper bag, this film takes the Dogme theory and turns it askew, by creating a film in such claustrophobic conditions that it could be considered a horror film.
6. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, directed by Liang Tsia-Ming, 2006
It was a tough choice between this and his previous film Good-bye Dragon Inn. Obviously from this list I seem to have a taste for films with little dialogue. Well, perhaps not given what’s after this. But this film blew me away with its bravado of long takes, large scale sets with small scale people, and scaling the heights of interaction, intimacy and sexuality.
7. There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007
Even now, I can’t help thinking was an odd film this is. Its mood is unlike anything I’ve seen before or since. Daniel Day-Lewis is always guaranteed to give a great performance, but this went even beyond his usual standard. Paul Dano was fully capable of holding his own, ranting and raving and spitting in his church. But the image that sticks with me is of Day-Lewis ranting alone in his mini bowling alley, all he has left to show for a lifetime of greed.
8. Let the Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008.
Best. Vampire. Movie. Ever. And because it’s not about vampires; it’s about puberty and friendship and sacrifice and hunger and the long long dark dark night of the soul.
9. Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh, 2008
There are good documentaries of boring subjects and boring documentaries of good subjects. This film is a rarity: an extraordinary documentary of an extraordinary story. I avoided seeing this for a long time due to a fear of heights. But it was worth the wait. An achingly beautiful story of an extraordinary feat never to be repeated.
10. Pontypool, directed by Bruce McDonald, 2009
If Beau Travail is a lesson in semiotics, Pontypool is a lesson in linguistics. This is not just any zombie movie; it’s not even a zombie movie. It’s a true horror movie, in that the horror is real and tangible. And it does it with almost no monsters in sight. Fear is all about language, how we communicate and more importantly, how we understand.