Guy’s top 50 of the decade: #41-50

Posted by · 3:48 pm · January 2nd, 2010

Tang Wei in Lust, CautionHere we go. I’ll reserve a more complete intro for the final part on Wednesday, but a quick word on the compilation of the list that will unfold over the next five days.

When, several months ago, I began the long, occasionally maddening but not altogether unpleasant process of sifting out the best films of the last ten years, I thought reducing a decade’s work of high-quality cinema – the first time I’ve really been of an age to attempt such an exercise – to a mere 10 films seemed an impossibility.

So I rather naively decided that a Top 50 – the equivalent, if you will, of a decade’s worth of Best Picture nominees (though not equally allocated by year) – seemed a less punishing task. More room for the films I love, less fretting about inclusions, happy days.

And then a funny thing happened.

As I drew up longlists that became gradually, incrementally shorter, my Top 10 became comfortably, if surprisingly, clear to me. The rest – chaos. Over the various drafts I’ve drawn up of the list, films have slid recklessly up and down the rankings.

Depending on mood, memory or perhaps just the weather, last week’s #30 could be this week’s #50, or worse. When the films are all this good, such numerical rankings are little more than a formality – a fun formality, mind, which is why I resisted the temptation to cop out and go alphabetical.

Still, sometimes you just have to draw the line and let it be. I can hardly regret including any of the films I have, though I’ve stunned myself with some of the titles I’ve left out. See it less as a qualitative assessment – in the first instalments especially – and more as a kind of individual playlist, and we’ll be fine. Hope you enjoy.

“DEVDAS” (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002)
Aishwarya Rai in DevdasI freely admit that when it comes to Bollywood cinema, the old “I don’t know much, but I know what I like” maxim applies. And there’s nothing about this vast, immersive, slightly bonkers kitschtacular that I don’t like. An acquired taste, certainly, but worth the effort.

“ZOOLANDER” (Ben Stiller, 2001)
Ben Stiller in ZoolanderNeedless to say, not every film here is on the list for the same reason. But as crudely drawn as it is, Stiller’s sweet, silly, brilliantly designed bauble has afforded me more straight-up laughs (and quotes) than any film this decade. Say it with me: “Moisture is the essence of wetness.”

“CITY OF GOD” (Fernando Meirelles, 2003)
City of GodI had let a few years slide between viewings of Meirelles’s raggedly beautiful patchwork of Brazilian slum life, and in that time, had slightly forgotten what an individual, electric experience it really is. Happily, the jolt returned on a recent reappraisal.

“SARABAND” (Ingmar Bergman, 2004)
Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in SarabandThe master’s criminally undervalued swansong bookended his immortal “Scenes From a Marriage” with a tense, adroit study of the lifelong scars left by a failed marriage. It may derive some power from its relationship to Bergman’s oeuvre, but it’s a devastating experience on any terms.

“JAPANESE STORY” (Sue Brooks, 2003)
Toni Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima in Japanese StoryI had the immense good fortune of entering a screening of this fragile Australian miniature with no knowledge of the twist that was to come, and was floored by the emotional somersault its accidental love story performs. Still unnerving on repeat viewings, with Toni Collette’s finest hour.

“JESUS’ SON” (Alison Maclean, 2000)
Samantha Morton and Billy Crudup in Jesus' SonEight years after her startling debut, “Crush,” Maclean followed up with this loose-limbed, literate and blackly funny account of a junkie’s wanderings through 1970s America, with immense performances from Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton. Now where is Maclean’s third feature?

“IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS” (James Longley, 2006)
Iraq in FragmentsDoing exactly what it says on the tin, director-producer-cinematographer-editor-composer-sound-technician Longley’s astonishing splintered portrait of the eponymous country’s people (as opposed, for once, to politics) is an extraordinarily generous and humane achievement.

“LUST, CAUTION” (Ang Lee, 2007)
Tony Leung in Lust, CautionMystifyingly ill-received by many critics upon its Venice premiere, Ang Lee’s lushly appointed, muscularly told and, yes, highly erotic espionage romance had the feel of an immediate classic to me, channeling vintage Hollywood by way of another world. Tang Wei was robbed of every award going.

“THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED” (Jacques Audiard, 2005)
The Beat That My Heart SkippedThe longstanding marriage of French art and American genre enjoyed a particularly happy anniversary with Audiard’s sleek, sexy, but hard-as-nails reworking of James Toback’s “Fingers.” It improved on the sly delights of Audiard’s previous work, but there was even better to come.

“THE HURT LOCKER” (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt LockerWhat more can I say at this point about Bigelow’s riveting body-slam of a war film? Just that after two vehicles this decade that were oddly (if fascinatingly) mismatched to her near-peerless gifts for action filmmaking, it was a joy to see her click completely with script and subject. An Oscar hopefully awaits.

That’s it for today. Part Two, with Nos. 31-40, coming tomorrow.

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31 responses so far

  • 1 1-02-2010 at 4:04 pm

    James D. said...

    Hmm, had never even heard of some of them. Devdas is not even available on Netflix.

    Knowing you, The Beat That My Heart Skipped is the beginning of honoring some fantastic French films.

  • 2 1-02-2010 at 4:11 pm

    Chris said...

    I am so very very happy to see Zoolander on here. Ben Stiller is one of the finest comedy directors alive. Maybe Tropic Thunder will make the cut…?

  • 3 1-02-2010 at 4:19 pm

    Shelby said...

    Props for the Devdas love. If you’re going to go Bollywood, you might as well turn it up to eleven.

  • 4 1-02-2010 at 4:21 pm

    Shelby said...

    PS on Devdas – surely this is one of the greatest dance numbers in the history of… well, anything?

  • 5 1-02-2010 at 4:24 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    The start of what will surely be a very unique list. Really excited for the rest.

  • 6 1-02-2010 at 4:26 pm

    Reuben said...

    The best Bollywood film I watched this decade was “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India” – just pure fun!

  • 7 1-02-2010 at 4:44 pm

    Me. said...

    I made my list of the 15 best films of the decade on New Year’s Day. It was impossible for me to rank them. Here they are:

    “Amélie” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

    “Babel” by Alejandro González Inárritu

    “City of God” by Fernando Meirelles

    “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Julian Schnabel

    “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” by Michel Gondry

    “Hero” by Zhang Yimou

    “The Lord of the Rings” by Peter Jackson

    “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Walter Salles

    “Pan’s Labyrinth” by Guillermo Del Toro

    “The Pianist” by Roman Polanski

    “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki

    “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter …and Spring” by Kim Ki-Duk

    “The Triplets of Belleville” by Sylvain Chomet

    “Volver” by Pedro Almodóvar

    “Water” by Deepa Mehta

    Honorable Mentions:

    “Almost Famous” by Cameron Crowe

    “Billy Elliot” by Stephen Daldry

    “Chicago” by Rob Marshall

    “The Dark Knight” by Christopher Nolan

    “Into the Wild” by Sean Penn

    “The Lives of Others” by Florian Henckel von Donnesmarck

    “Talk to Her” by Pedro Almodóvar

    Also I would like to mention:

    “Micmacs” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

    Which would be on the list had they not changed the international distribution to 2010

  • 8 1-02-2010 at 4:52 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Shelby: Rob Marshall should take notes.

  • 9 1-02-2010 at 5:51 pm

    Citron said...

    wow, glad you loved devdast and lust, caution. yay!

  • 10 1-02-2010 at 5:53 pm

    Chris said...

    Only one of these will probably make my own top 50 (it’s my current 4th place at that), but damn this is a fine selection of films.

    Although I wouldn’t do it myself I applaud you for the inclusion of Zoolander.

  • 11 1-02-2010 at 5:59 pm

    Sulman said...

    reuben – im glad someone else mentioned lagaan; clint eastwood should have watched lagaan before making invictus. just an absolutely wonderful film, and having watched a bunch of bollywood films, it would be a shame if devdas made this list over lagaan.

  • 12 1-02-2010 at 7:03 pm

    Speaking English said...



    Yeah. Don’t know how to explain that one other than to say it’s an attempt at looking different. Utterly bizarre choice.

    Still don’t get the love for “The Hurt Locker” either. Most overrated film of the last decade.

  • 13 1-02-2010 at 7:06 pm

    Shelby said...

    Bollywood movies have themselves changed rapidly over the past decade. Both Devdas and Lagaan represent some of those changes (bigger and bigger budgets, greater and greater exposure to the west – including films made specifically for the Westernized tastes of NRI’s)

  • 14 1-02-2010 at 7:09 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    It’s not an “attempt” at anything, English. It’s a film I happen to love. Like it or lump it.

  • 15 1-02-2010 at 7:12 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Okay. Just so odd you could declare such a juvenile, low-brow film one of the most exemplary products of the decade.

  • 16 1-02-2010 at 7:32 pm

    Emily said...

    “…and wetness is the essence of beauty.”

    If I were to make a top 50 list, it would probably contain Zoolander. But I do agree with Speaking English on the overratedness of The Hurt Locker.

  • 17 1-02-2010 at 7:54 pm

    Benito Delicias said...

    I found it hard to include pictures from 2009 on my decade list. I don’t feel they have aged yet and haven’t even gotten the chance to watch them one more time at least and see if what I saw the first time still holds.

    I saw Basterds and Up and The Hurt Locker twice this year. The first two were extremely close to joining, but the Hurt Locker, while a fine film in 2009, is nowhere near a top50 for the decade…it is a bit overrated, it’s only slightly better (but never “best movie ever”) the second time you watch it.

  • 18 1-02-2010 at 8:01 pm

    red_wine said...

    Whoa Guy what a way to start! As surprising a pick as ever you could have picked. This list is gonna be so fun. Doesn’t matter if I like the movies or not. Devdas is a good movie, albeit extremely overdone. But I’m sure you’ll agree that Ashwariya Rai is a goddess if ever there was one. I would highly recommend another film starring Rai with the same director, Straight From The Heart(Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) made in 1999, that is if you’ve not already seen it. Its one of the Best Bollywood films I’ve seen.

    I didn’t know you liked Lust Caution so much. It was very well made and extremely well directed(good enough for a nomination) but the film is nothing great I felt. The cinematography was glorious and while I’m no fan of the film, great to see it included here. Its certainly an interesting choice.

    The Hurt Locker would easily make my Top 30-4o too if I were to make a list. I somehow feel very sure that it will eventually win Best Picture.

    But a lot interesting titles to seek out and watch from this list.

  • 19 1-02-2010 at 8:39 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Zoolander was on my best of the decade list too.

  • 20 1-02-2010 at 9:00 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    I haven’t seen most of these, shamefully, but I’m delighted to see Zoolander here. So endlessly quotable and rewatchable. The Orance Mocha Frappucino sequence culminating in the explosion is demented brilliance.

  • 21 1-02-2010 at 11:31 pm

    bw said...

    Thrilled to see Jesus’ Son on your list. I love that movie. The book is one of my all time favorites. Have you read it? It’s full of such lovely, lyrical prose and Maclean embraced it fully, incorporating it through a flawless voice over track that really captures the disjointed, dreamlike spirit of the book. Can’t say enough good things about it.

  • 22 1-03-2010 at 12:52 am

    Glenn said...

    Yawn. Lists like these always get people harping on about what’s “worthy” and “deserving” as if they’re the barometer of taste. I’m not a fan of “Zoolander” in the slightest (except for the hypnotising scene in which I fell out of my chair laughing for reasons I’ll never know), but it’s certainly a movie that has its devoted fans.

    Guy, am loving the “Japanese Story” mention. It wouldn’t be on any list I’d made, but Toni Collette performance sure would be. One of the finest of the decade if you ask me. I remember seeing it early because I didn’t wanna find out what the twist was. Absolutely floored me. I never would’ve assumed Toni Collette was a ghost the entire time!

    No, but seriously, the twist is quite shocking, really. Unexpected to say the least.

  • 23 1-03-2010 at 3:11 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Chad: We can’t both be wrong. (Looking forward to checking out your list. I began avoiding other lists in the final stages of compiling mine — better to keep a clear head.)

  • 24 1-03-2010 at 5:07 am

    DJRamirez said...

    haha nice to see zoolander and Japanese story in your top 50

    LOVED “Me’s” top 15 too (comment #7)

  • 25 1-03-2010 at 5:20 am

    Michael said...

    Great list Guy, as usual, I have only seen half of the films listed and have not seen (and in same cases not even heard of) the other half. I have some catching up to do it seems. I liked Zoolander too, I just hate how much of a blatant rip-off of Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis it is. That is a book that needs to be made into a very intense and hopefully unhinged film by someone like Gaspar Noe or Oliver Assayas. Anyway, I cannot wait to see your remaining 40 films.

    Also, excellent top 15 list Me. I am in complete agreeance with over half of those for my own top 20.

  • 26 1-03-2010 at 5:35 am

    timr said...

    Only a one-film overlap, so far! I’m with you and Glenn on the Collette love — it’s her best work I think, and the movie is certainly underrated. Liked Jesus’s Son a lot at the time, though it didn’t work for me quite so well on a second go-round…

    Beyond the immortal School of Rock, the frat-pack comedy I’d have been tempted to include isn’t Zoolander, Anchorman, or Dodgeball, though all of those have their adherents … it’s Blades of Glory. Priceless, for the costumes alone.

  • 27 1-03-2010 at 8:41 am

    Silencio said...

    I’m pleased with the inclusion of Saraband. Very.

  • 28 1-03-2010 at 9:10 am

    Filmoholic said...

    Guy, no love for Desplat’s Lust, Caution score?

    Otherwise, good list.

  • 29 1-03-2010 at 9:16 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I have massive love for Desplat’s “Lust, Caution” score. (Ditto his “Beat That My Heart Skipped” score.) Space requirements prevent me from singling out all outstanding elements — otherwise, I’d gush on forever.

    Anyway, it goes without saying that he’s a genius.

  • 30 1-03-2010 at 12:20 pm

    Joseph Knowles said...

    A fine start to your list. I can’t argue with any of the choices. And good to see some ongoing love for Ang Lee, who is maybe taken for granted too often.

  • 31 1-03-2010 at 10:06 pm

    PJ said...

    Great start to what I’m sure will be a brilliant list, Guy. On “Devdas”, I get you were into its stupendous ‘kitschtacular’ quality, which really hasn’t been topped since in Bollywood, but I found it a tad excessive with the sumptuousness sacrificing some of the character the film had built up as a melodrama. (“Lagaan” is a better bet personally; more well rounded without seeming diluted)

    I loved the inclusion of “Lust, Caution” and “Zoolander” though. They both struck me much as it did you; Tang Wei’s face when the diamond ring rolls out in front of her was absolutely mesmeric, and “Derelicte” still cracks me up.