Posted: 01/13/2010


The Top 50 Films of the Decade

by Jef Burnham

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These are my 50 favorite films of the decade spanning 2000-2009, which offered up some pretty incredible cinema if you were willing to look for it. I’ve decided to do write-ups for only the top 5 entries (though The White Ribbon’s is the same as that in my Best Films of 2009 list) and let the rest speak for themselves. I could certainly ramble on for days about these films, but it would quickly become redundant since I love these films for many of the same reasons. Suffice it to say I highly recommend every single one of these pictures.

But before we dive in, I’ll give you a little insight into how I came about the order of the films in this list. These films first and foremost had to present us with the prospect of a better cinema than the dreck that the media bombards us with on a daily basis. Secondly, it had to make me feel something, and not the manufactured emotions of Hollywood, but something genuine and powerful. Lastly, and this is pretty obvious, I know, it had to leave an impression on me.

And so, here are my 50 Favorite Films of the Last Decade:

1. No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007) - The Coen Brothers, working from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, demonstrate how the tired conventions of American cinema can live anew in the right hands. This modern Western is an extraordinary work of minimalism that is funny yet terrifying, languid yet action-packed, and cold yet profoundly beautiful. Filmmakers should fall in line with the Coen Brothers. They’re taking film in the right direction.

2. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away) (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) - It goes without saying that animation can take an audience places that most live action cinema cannot, and perhaps no animated work has realized this idea as fully as Spirited Away. In his storytelling, Miyazaki captures flawlessly the methods of a child’s imagination, often becoming wildly outlandish and making connections where there normally wouldn’t be— and all before settling down for equally powerful moments of silence. Of all the films on this list, I return to this one most often.

3. Le Fils (The Son) (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2002) is a film that will tear you apart in a way that is truly difficult to verbalize. It is an emotionally tumultuous experience that is made all the more effective in the Dardenne Brothers’ realistic distancing of the action through their distinct documentary style. The Dardennes are the modern-day equivalent of Robert Bresson, challenging the conventional aesthetics of cinema with their minimalism and their use of typically frenetic handheld cinematography to linger statically on the actors’ backs for extended periods. They are among a small handful of truly exciting filmmakers working today.

4. Das weisse Band (The White Ribbon) (Michael Haneke, 2009) - I have never encountered a film so subdued, yet so intensely powerful. Michael Haneke’s screenplay and direction along with cinematography by Christian Berger conjure up shades of Bergman and Tarkovsky and other masters of European cinema of the ‘60s and ‘70s. One cannot help but feel as they sit in the theater that they are watching a film from those decades past. And although it is a tale of the past with an atmosphere of the cinema of the past, with Haneke’s overwhelming minimalism and rigorous deconstructionist storytelling, it is the cinema of the future.

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) does something exceedingly extraordinary these days: it captures love. Though many films profess to do exactly that, no other film does it with quite the right blend of the humor, excitement, heartbreak, and nostalgia that typify modern relationships. Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay honestly depicts love as forming between people who are different, flawed, and often difficult to be around (even for the viewer); and so, they invariably butt heads. Cinematic melodrama makes way for the always unpleasant, vengeful immaturity of bitter lovers. In playing much of the story in reverse, we see how relationships that go awry often begin in beautifully mundane ways, reminding us that even if things turn out terribly for us, we shouldn’t deny ourselves the memories of happiness.

6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)
7. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
8. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
9. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
10. Fa yeung nin wa (In the Mood for Love) (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)

11. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
12. O Brother, Where Art Thou? ( Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000)
13. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
14. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
15. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

16. A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009)
17. Oldboy (Chan-Wook Park, 2005)
18. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
19. Brick (Rian Johnson, 2006)
20. Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

21. Vals Im Bashir (Waltz With Bashir) (Ari Folman, 2008)
22. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004
23. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)
24. Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ) (Ang Lee, 2000)
25. Antichrist (Lars Von Trier, 2009)

26. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
27. Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
28. Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
29. Odishon (Audition) (Takashi Miike, 2001)
30. 28 Days Later… (Danny Boyle, 2002)

31. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
32. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)
33. Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)
34. The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
35. Up (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, 2009)

36. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
37. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005)
38. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
39. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2005)
40. Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004)

41. Dancer in the Dark (Lars Von Trier, 2000)
42. Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) (Sylvain Chomet, 2003)
43. I Love You, Man (John Hamburg, 2009)
44. Kikareta onna no mirareta yoru (Man, Woman & the Wall) (Masashi Yamamoto, 2006)
45. Love, Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)

46. Ratatouille (Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava, 2007)
47. El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
48. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
49. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
50. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of

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