Guy’s top 50 of the decade: #21-30

Posted by · 7:01 pm · January 4th, 2010

Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for LoveA little late, but we’re at the halfway mark now, and I must say I couldn’t be more delighted and flattered by your warm response to the list so far.

I mentioned in my intro to the first installment that I’d prefer you to view this as a loose playlist than as a rigid ordered assessment, and I’m thrilled that some of you have already taken me at my word, seeking out less-seen titles like “Last Resort” on Netflix and the like. On behalf of the movies, I thank you.

With that said, today’s bracket of ten perhaps offers less buried treasure than yesterday’s, even turning up a pair of Best Picture Oscar winners. Hey, sometimes films get popular for a reason — I’m not such a snob, after all.

That said, I suspect at least one of the following inclusions might prompt some healthy disagreement. The list continues after the cut.

“WOLF CREEK” (Greg Mclean, 2005)
Wolf CreekBrilliantly crafted, tight as a drum and more flat-out terrifying than anything I saw in a darkened theater this decade, Mclean’s ruthless horror debut enriched the torture-porn formula with needlessly well-drawn character dynamics and a dose of grim humor. It’s not pretty, but it sure got me.

“THE DEPARTED” (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
Leonardo DiCaprio and Ray Winstone in The DepartedMany will have you believe that this is lower-tier Scorsese, as if it’s somehow cheapened by the Academy’s delayed blessing. But this is pristine popcorn fare, with some of the nimblest storytelling of his career, while a love scene choreographed to “Comfortably Numb” is a thing of beauty.

“SPIDER” (David Cronenberg, 2002)
Spider“A History of Violence” may have garnered more critical notice, but it was with this delicate, sharply textured study of mental illness, child abuse and trauma that Cronenberg made his boldest aesthetic about-face. Its evocation of 1950s working-class London all but peels off the screen.

“ONCE” (John Carney, 2007)
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in OnceThe kind of jangly, off-the-cuff cinematic sketch that can’t be faked, calculated or, in all likelihood, repeated; the artless chemistry between its two amateur leads, and their sincere investment in the songs that propel their tentative, shivering romance, make for a unique screen musical.

“NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN” (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
Josh Brolin in No Country for Old MenThe Academy’s finest Best Picture selection in almost three decades and the most immaculate film of its makers’ considerable career, this lean, brooding thriller was a dream marriage of artists: Cormac McCarthy’s words lent the Coen’s cockeyed filmmaking unprecedented muscle.

“JINDABYNE” (Ray Lawrence, 2006)
Laura Linney in JindabyneLike so many of the greatest adaptations, this was an unlikely proposition on paper: an expansion of a Raymond Carver story already filmed as part of Altman’s “Short Cuts” tapestry, the film’s relocation of the story to rural Australia added moral and political layers to Carver’s human conflict.

“IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE” (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)
Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in In the Mood for LoveA seamless atmospheric experience, as cinematography, design and music melt into each other to form a film that is more spell than story. Aching romance, however, gives the mood piece a beating heart; Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung made for a pair of cinema’s most beautiful lovers.

“BEAU TRAVAIL” (Claire Denis, 2000)
Beau TravailClaire Denis’s remarkable decade began with its riskiest endeavor, an enigmatic visual poem that reworks “Billy Budd” through dance, body language and a score that veers from Benjamin Britten to Eurobeat. The mesmeric crevices of actor Denis Lavant’s face are left to supply the pathos.

“THE CLASS” (Laurent Cantet, 2008)
The ClassCantet’s lithe, literate, emotionally generous account of one year in the life of a put-upon, refreshingly imperfect high school teacher should be the last word in the classroom drama genre; avoiding easy morals, the film revels in the push-pull rhythms of argument and conversation.

Brokeback MountainMedia fuss over “the gay cowboy movie” threatened to overwhelm the soft, agenda-free voice of this deftly shaded love story that just happens to be between two men. Heath Ledger’s wary, wounded performance would have entered the history books even in a film half this great.

Ten more tomorrow. Catch up with #41-50 here, and #31-40 here. Here’s the list so far:

1-20. TBA
21. “Brokeback Mountain”
22. “The Class”
23. “Beau Travail”
24. “In the Mood for Love”
25. “Jindabyne”
26. “No Country for Old Men”
27. “Once”
28. “Spider”
29. “The Departed”
30. “Wolf Creek”
31. “Last Resort”
32. “Wendy and Lucy”
33. “There Will Be Blood”
34. “Fish Tank”
35. “The Bourne Ultimatum”
36. “A Prophet”
37. “Moolaadé”
38. “Me and You and Everyone We Know”
39. “Intimacy”
40. “The Good Girl”
41. “The Hurt Locker”
42. “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”
43. “Lust, Caution”
44. “Iraq in Fragments”
45. “Jesus’ Son”
46. “Japanese Story”
47. “Saraband”
48. “City of God”
49. “Zoolander”
50. “Devdas”

→ 37 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

37 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2010 at 7:07 pm

    James D. said...

    Definitely more mainstream. I have seen all but Wolf Creek.

    Since The Class was your number one for 2008, does that mean that dreadful year is done being on the list? Or have you perhaps fallen for something in the last year or so?

  • 2 1-04-2010 at 7:12 pm

    Kevin said...

    I personally think The Departed is Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas. I wasn’t a fan of The Aviator at all. And Gangs of New York is a snooze if you ask me. But The Departed is crisp, symbolic, and flat out awesome. The film never drags or feels long. It’s funnier than most comedies, and deeper than most dramas. It’s great storytelling start to finish. One of my all time favorite films.

  • 3 1-04-2010 at 7:14 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Off topic, but I’ll always be slightly irritated by “Jesus’ Son” by succumbing to poor punctuation (or at least Chicago style).

  • 4 1-04-2010 at 7:21 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    You were right about this one: I’m baffled by the shout-out for “Wolf Creek”. The big thing about the torture-porn genre (which I count “Wolf Creek” as part of) is the total hopelessness of it all. They’re all about “What fucked up way can we kill of this next person?” The characters’ deaths are more or less a given, and it’s all about the money shot of how they’re gonna eat it. In a horror film, I’m much more interested in situations where doom isn’t prerequisite. Survival stories can be compelling when done right. For my money, the two best horror films of the decade, without question, are “The Descent” and “Open Water”. The final shot of “Open Water” is one of the single most haunting images put to celluloid. Wow.

  • 5 1-04-2010 at 7:25 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Can’t win ’em all!

  • 6 1-04-2010 at 7:27 pm

    Me. said...

    The “No Country for Old Men” shot that you put on the article is simply stunning. I love it! That film has great cinematography! I also like your incusion of “Brokeback Mountain”. I would’ve cut some parts out but I think it was very well done and the ending was very emotional. I personally prefer “Milk” though, it’s much more universal. I also liked “The Class”. I used to be in the French system so the film felt incredibly familiar. Haha.
    So far, the only film from my short list of favorite films of the decade has been “City of God”. I hope some others will pop up. If not, great list! There are some titles that I have to check out including “Mooladée” which looks amazing.

  • 7 1-04-2010 at 7:28 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Oh, Kris, thanks for reminding me about “Jesus’ Son”. I’m curious, Guy, what your benchmark for release dates is. Because all my searching has said that “Jesus’ Son” and “Beau Travail” are 1999 films.

  • 8 1-04-2010 at 7:29 pm

    Jim T said...

    WOLF CREEK?? Are you nut? :p I guess this one is what made you expect disagreement. Healthy? Don’t defend before we attack! :p

    Seriously now, I liked that movie too. I feel totally unintellectual when I agree with you on the “least artistic choices” like this and “good girl” and “not that into you” but not on “Once”. Although I loved the beginning and even cried at the song after which they meet, I got a little bored after a while.

    And I couldn’t stand “Spider”. I didn’t get “No Countrly for Old Men” (I’m beginning to feel hopeless :p) and although I liked Class, well, I thought it was just a nice little film. Yeah, I love Brokeback but I’m gay, so it doesn’t really count.

    Anyway, you (and Nick Davis) made me really want to see JINDABYNE.

    Did I mention how I thought Departed was only good? I’VE GOT to stop!

    We kind of agree on Lust, Caution. Heartbreaking and beautifully made!

  • 9 1-04-2010 at 7:36 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Chad shares your view of Wolf Creek, unless I’m mistaken. I, on the other hand — never saw it. Guess I should remedy that.

  • 10 1-04-2010 at 7:48 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Adam: To the best of my knowledge, “Beau Travail” and “Jesus’ Son” only played festivals in 1999. It’s a finicky call, but I’m going on the basis that if they got their first theatrical release in the 2000s, then they count as 2000s films.

    (For that reason, I can’t include “White Material.”)

  • 11 1-04-2010 at 7:58 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    @Guy: Thanks for the clarification.

    And may I say “Oh snap!” I was interested to see how “White Material” was gonna fare on this list.

  • 12 1-04-2010 at 8:00 pm

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    Once is my number two film of the decade (after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Such a beautiful film.

  • 13 1-04-2010 at 8:15 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I don’t who else, but I actually prefer “2046” to “In the Mood for Love.”

  • 14 1-04-2010 at 8:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    *I don’t KNOW who else

  • 15 1-04-2010 at 8:39 pm

    Chase K. said...

    Eh – “Once” is cute, but…

    I think if any horror film should sneak into a “Best Of” list, it would be Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” – if for nothing else than its extremely claustrophobic opening 45 minutes.

  • 16 1-04-2010 at 8:44 pm

    decs said...

    Guy, I thought Jindabyne was a fine film, but paled in comparison to Lawrence’s previous film Lantana, which would probably be in my top 10 of the decade on certain days. However, as an expat Australian, I am thrilled to see the likes of Jindabyne and Japanese Story get the sort of attention they deserve. Great list so far, intrigued to see the rest.

  • 17 1-04-2010 at 9:21 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Kris- I haven’t seen Wolf Creek

  • 18 1-04-2010 at 9:45 pm

    Glenn said...

    “Wolf Creek” sure is an intriguing inclusion. it’s certainly more ‘artful’ (for lack of a better word) than, say, “Hostel”.

    LOVE the inclusion of “Jindabyne”, my #1 movie of 2006 right there. I do wonder if you have seen “Lantana” and if it is still to come in the list.

    I loathe “Once”. That is all.

  • 19 1-04-2010 at 9:49 pm

    Arlo said...

    My favorite off-the-wall pick is still Me and You and Everyone We Know. I prefer that it is little seen though; I like having this quirky gem to myself for some reason.

  • 20 1-04-2010 at 9:52 pm

    Danny King said...

    Just so happens I’m listening to the soundtrack of Once as I’m reading this article. The music is as beautiful as the film. What a charmer.

    As whacked as Wolf Creek sounds, and despite Ebert’s zero star review, I think I’m going to give that one a shot. I have never really been affected by a torture-porn film before, perhaps this will finally be the one.

  • 21 1-04-2010 at 10:17 pm

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    Are there even many torture-porn aspects in Wolf Creek? I can only remember one real scene which could be considered that.

    Fantastic film, especially considering it’s quite slow to get going. There’s just an overwhelming sense of dread sinking in for the first twenty minutes or so.

  • 22 1-04-2010 at 10:46 pm

    red_wine said...

    I agree No Country is probably the best Oscar winner this decade(and 1 of the best in history) along with Million Dollar baby. I know a lot of people hate that movie and Eastwood for some reason but I think that movie is a masterpiece and would be a sure-shot inclusion in my Top 10. I also prefer No Country to There Will Be Blood.

    Once & Brokeback are great inclusions. But yeah I’m one of those folks who considers The Departed lower-tier Scorsese. I feel his work over-all has been sub-par this decade. I also noticed that in the numerous Best of decade lists and polls released thus far, Scorsese could barely find a single mention. Eastwood also is faring rather badly.

    The Class is a superb film but I don’t think it stayed with me while In the Mood For Love is a magnificent film. I was really enamored with Maggie Chueng and the almost British reserve and the inherent decency of the leads lent it a great unforgettable sadness.

  • 23 1-05-2010 at 1:37 am

    the other mike said...

    interesting list, i liked The Departed and No Country.

  • 24 1-05-2010 at 1:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Adam: I wrestled with the decision for a while. But in summing up on Wednesday, I will give an indication of where “White Material” would have placed.

    Decs and Glenn: I have seen “Lantana.” More than that, I’m not saying.

  • 25 1-05-2010 at 5:33 am

    frank said...

    Jindabyne’s got a great concept and great acting, but it ended up leaving me cold for some reason. Otherwise, loving the list.

  • 26 1-05-2010 at 6:58 am

    Carson Dyle said...

    You could have put 20-odd films from 2007 on a dartboard, and hit a worthy BP winner, but I’m so glad AMPAS managed to hit one of the two films that rose above the superb field that year. The other one being… Atonement. Rather than TWBB. I still say that Unforgiven was the best pick of the last 30 years, but NCFOM is close enough.

  • 27 1-05-2010 at 6:58 am

    Joseph Knowles said...

    Cantet’s Time Out (L’emploi du temps) is also superb. Any chance that might get love in the Top 20?

  • 28 1-05-2010 at 7:04 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I couldn’t possibly say!

  • 29 1-05-2010 at 7:05 am

    Adam Smith said...

    @Carson: I’d probably agree that “Unforgiven” and “No Country” are the two best of the past 30 Best Picture winners (but that could be because I haven’t seen “The Deer Hunter”). Though I have to say my favorite win of the past decade was “The Departed.” Just a spot-on choice.

  • 30 1-05-2010 at 7:16 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Indeed, when I said “in almost three decades,” “The Deer Hunter” was the stopping point.

  • 31 1-05-2010 at 7:22 am

    James D. said...

    Why can’t White Material be on the list? You had no problem putting Fish Tank and A Prophet on.

  • 32 1-05-2010 at 7:32 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Because “Fish Tank” and “A Prophet” were theatrically released in Europe.

    I don’t mind being a bit cheeky with my 2009 list, but listing a film that no one in the world has seen outside of a festival in a best-of-the-decade list isn’t good form.

    Maybe I’ll make a special-case designation.

  • 33 1-05-2010 at 11:54 am

    Michael said...

    Wolf Creek is an underrated masterpiece in the horror genre imho – so glad to see it on your list. As someone else said above, I actually prefer 2046 to In the Mood for Love but they are both beautiful movies. I have always wanted to see Jindabyne and Spider, but now I really want to! This is shaping up to be a great list Guy.

  • 34 1-05-2010 at 2:10 pm

    Patryk said...

    Cronenberg did some of his best work this decade. “A History of Violence,” “Eastern Promises,” and “Spider” would all be in my own top 50 of the decade.

    Too bad Miranda Richardson’s miraculous performance didn’t pick up awards traction. It remains for me one of the Best Supporting Actress turns of the decade.

  • 35 1-05-2010 at 2:23 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    The Departed is not just lower-tier Scorsese. It’s god awful junk. Still enjoying the list though Guy.

  • 36 1-05-2010 at 6:49 pm

    TheEluardianInstance said...

    i actually preferred Infernal Affairs, the original Hong Kong film, over the Departed. In the Mood for love, NCFOM, and entre les murs (the class) were all excellent films. I don’t really know what to think of Once though… very interesting list nonetheless.

  • 37 9-20-2013 at 9:13 pm

    Danny King said...

    Beau Travail (which I saw tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in a gorgeous 35mm print).