Over the past decade, the cinematic landscape has been forever altered by the exquisite craftsmanship of talented filmmakers whose unique visions have continuously inspired various audiences, both intellectually and emotionally. The impact of these artists’ work is immeasurable because these movies must be analyzed through their perpetual impression on the culture and each individual filmgoer, rather than some arbitrary box office figure. Personally, I believe the future of cinema is in great hands, with young filmmakers continuing the pursuit of their initially stellar careers and legends creating masterpieces that enhance their foundation in the history of movies. Although many courageous and revolutionary films affected me immensely in ways that previously seemed impossible, there were ten movies that did this better than all the others. Here are the ten best films of the decade, in order of preference.
1. Monster’s Ball (2001)
Easily the best and most emotionally challenging film of the decade, “Monster’s Ball” is a harrowing and hopeful story of two people desperate to make a connection with immense obstacles that seem impossible to overcome. Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, in two great performances as Leticia and Hank, never deviate from the consistently somber, yet optimistic tone. The story unfolds revelations beautifully, with tragedy being the common denominator that could eventually lead to a discovery of hope. Marc Forster’s film makes stark and unambiguous statements about racism, poverty and class, the death penalty, and the omnipresent nature of abuse without lecturing or struggling for authenticity. Through their experiences, these people become better as exhibited by subtle gestures sometimes known only to them. The ending shows the growth in Leticia and her newly found resolve to choose the possibility of perpetual happiness over the certainty of never-ending loneliness.
2. The Wrestler (2008)
Darren Aronofsky’s film is a flawless masterpiece that follows the tumultuous times of Randy “the Ram” Robinson, played by Mickey Rourke in perhaps the best individual performance of the decade. Randy is attempting to reconnect with his daughter, cherish a flourishing relationship with a local stripper, and find a peaceful balance with the ability to change but not the desire. The handheld camera and gruff look illustrates the harsh and unforgiving realities these characters inhabit, and the terrific performances enhance the vivid pollution of these people’s souls. These people are emotionally naked to the audience, and every moment is significant in recording the inevitable march to judgment day when Randy’s trespasses will be catalogued with nobody standing in his corner.
3. Sideways (2004)
Hilariousness and poignancy are pervasive in Alexander Payne’s simple tale of two men on a final trip in the California wine country before one of them gets married. Paul Giamatti, one of the best actors working today, initially exhibits a pillar of pessimism that overwhelms his insecurities as Miles and Thomas Haden Church is Jack, a person whose sunny disposition is a rouse for the childlike behavior and emotional immaturity that constitute his life. The story is about whether Miles, who lives vicariously through Jack, will grow enough as a person to pursue a relationship with Maya, played with unmatched believability by Virginia Madsen, and if Jack will become enough of an adult to take responsibility for his mistakes and make the best life decisions. “Sideways” ends in the same manner as it begins because the universal themes it explores are forever ongoing in various lives as long as relationships blossom and evolve.
4. Crash (2005)
Paul Haggis co-wrote and directed a frank assessment of the prevalent racism that still plagues our society, while quietly acknowledging the immense progress that has been made. The film tells the interlocking stories of people of different races whose prejudices are uncovered because of either misunderstandings or actions that are escalated into incidents because of the discriminatory attitudes of those involved. “Crash” pulls no punches with its subject matter, containing neither perfect heroes nor wholly evil villains. These are real people with genuine flaws who, as the film argues, must first identify their cancerous racist attitudes before they can hope to confront them.
5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
“Brokeback Mountain” is one of the greatest and most passionate forbidden love stories ever filmed. It deals with connections that are still largely prohibited in an society between two cowboys, played with remarkable delicacy by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, whose love seems like a futile enterprise because of their inability to cherish the flourishing relationship. The poetic story illuminates an intolerant world that makes all of these people victims, and the epic filmmaking style is still tender and reflective enough to understand the universal tragedy of unfulfilled desires from perceived differences.
6. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood’s best film is a heartbreaking story of loss, sacrifice, determination, and, ultimately, love. Hillary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a female boxer who simply wishes to ascend from the life of despair and denigration to a societal place where she is respected as a courageous champion. Clint Eastwood is her trainer, Frankie Dunn, whose immense guilt for an unknown past transgression plagues his every decision and movement in the present. Morgan Freeman also has an important part in enhancing the relationship between the two, and Eastwood’s direction is exquisite and perfectly measured.
There was asinine controversy over the ending after the film was released because of the ignorant belief that it supported a particular point of view of a contentious issue. “Million Dollar Baby” is not interested in playing politics with its ending, but is completely immersed in illustrating complex characters who make realistic, painful decisions in the context of the agonizing information they are provided.
7. Monster (2003)
Charlize Theron perfectly embodies Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ brutally honest portrait of the first documented female serial killer in American history. Although her superb performance is essential in creating the disturbing atmosphere of the story, the film stands on its own as an accurate depiction of events that seemed incomprehensible and becomes understandable, but nonetheless tragic, as the end of her life is painfully, mercilessly chronicled. The great feat of “Monster” is intimately focusing on the humanity of Wuornos, which includes a wonderful scene at the skating rink that briefly examines her dreams, without condoning any of her actions. The film is uncompromising and unblinkingly dark, believing that the best day in Wuornos’ life was most definitely her last.
8. City of God (2003)
This Brazilian film by Fernando Meirelles has the kinetic energy and pacing of “GoodFellas” and the bleak, but realistic, vision of otherworldly destitutions in “Slumdog Millionaire.” It tells the story of a child who views unimaginable horror growing up and believes this to be standard, while continuing to mature as a person with real morals that are unwavering. The film does an outstanding service in outlining the complexities of the manner in which gangsters, drug dealers, and thieves, mostly children, are forced to defend and protect members of the surrounding community because of the corrupt law enforcement, while being the main cause of the seemingly endless escalation of violence. “City of God” is fascinating throughout, while also being exciting and pensive, riveting and thoughtful sometimes simultaneously, and clearly one of the best and most powerful experiences of the decade.
9. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
An inspirational tale that is also a realistic depiction of the pervasive poverty in the slums of India, Danny Boyle’s tour de force is both a touching love story and exciting thriller. Its brisk pace seizes for genuine moments of tearful and poignant subtleties, with the characters understanding the most humane course of action that must be taken. The story holds the belief that beginning from the depths of hell does not prevent someone from achieving a sense of heaven in a more spiritual than financial manner. It is also about how a type of brilliance can be found from unpredictable places and the underdog story is a reminder that paradise is attainable with an ardent desire for a better life, even for a slumdog.
10. A History of Violence (2005)
This is a spellbinding thriller and an exceptional meditation on the primal nature of people that forces them to resort to violence in solving problems without first drawing on the compassion derived from their humanity. Viggo Mortenson gives an extraordinarily complex portrait of Tom Stall, a man whose past transgressions begin to haunt and expose the true nature of his character. Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, and Ashton Holmes are all tremendous in their respective roles, but the impressive craftsmanship of David Cronenberg closely highlights important themes that give the story an intricacy rarely permitted among thrillers.
Here are other great films that missed the list:
11. Far From Heaven (2002)12. Mystic River (2003)13. Juno (2007)14. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)15. No Country for Old Men (2007)16. Adaptation (2002)17. The Departed (2006)18. Gangs of New York (2002)19. Minority Report (2002)20. Munich (2005)21. Gone Baby Gone (2007)22. Revolutionary Road (2008)23. Little Children (2006)24. Once (2007)25. About Schmidt (2005)26. Half Nelson (2006)27. Matchstick Men (2003)28. Junebug (2005)29. Cinderella Man (2005)30. The Woodsman (2004)
There are many other films that deserved to be honored and remembered as treasures that will continue to influence the ongoing maturation of the cinematic landscape. The hope is that the next decade will maintain the persistence in fruitfully expanding the ability for filmmakers to express their uninhibited and innovative visions, while providing the same avenue of acceptance for new ideas as the previous ten years.