Where to begin? Superficially, it's a fantastic sex comedy/road trip movie/coming of age film, some of the most well-worn genres in filmmaking, but chances are the viewer won't even notice that it fits into those genres. The performances of the three leads are uniformly magnificent, and the drama, or even melodrama, never seems forced, and leads to a climax that's shocking, funny, necessary, joyous, and tragic all at once.
But that initial description doesn't even get into the undertones of class and race which pervade the film, nor the expertly accomplished foreshadowing. It's not just my favorite film of the decade, but probably my favorite of all time (primary competition: The Seven Samurai and The Big Lebowski.)
See the full review, "Best film of the decade".
The fantasy genre doesn't lend itself well to movies, for whatever reason. Before this decade, fantasy films were much more likely to end up on MST3K or, at best, in a "Most Nostalgic Kids Films of the 80's" list. Perhaps it's the Spanish-language tendency towards "magical realism" instead of the English-language trend towards Tolkein and Dungeons & Dragons, but Pan's Labyrinth shatters those expectations almost immediately, by melding a little girl's personal fairy tale to a horrific, violent chapter of the Spanish Civil War in beautiful and unexpected ways. And I'll challenge anyone not to choke up at the ending....
See the full review, "Fantasy filmmaking at its best".
Director Wong Kar-Wai's films are less stories than sensory experiences. What is it that makes In the Moodfor Love so great? I can barely remember the story, and even specific scenes flow in and out of my memory. But what I remember are feelings - most specifically, the feeling of longing and inablity to act on that longing which pervade the film. Also, Maggie Cheung's dresses.
The most tense thriller with the most frightening villain, certainly. Also, slightly more bizarrely, the Coen Brothers' major foray into the mainstream. But it's the little touches, and the minor characters. Tommy Lee Jones' narration and actions - or lack thereof - transcend the thriller and turn it into a meditation on live, as does Kelly Macdonald's final monologue and choice. The rare Best Picture Oscar to fully deserve the award.
Apparently I love Alfonso Cuaron, who directed both this and Y Tu Mama Tambien (as well as the third Harry Potter film). And, in many ways, I like both films for similar reasons: they work on the superficial genre level as well as on deeper intellectual and symbolic levels. Children of Men is an effective science fiction action movie as well as a stellar vision of dystopia, while also serving as religious metaphor, warning of fascism, and the old adage to beware becoming your enemy in order to defeat it.
It ends on one of the most intense and incredible scenes of the decade, a drawn out gunfight in a prison camp, shot mostly in a single take on a handheld camera following the protagonist's attempts to survive the chaos. And out of that, it builds a moment of epic, unexpected beauty.
See the full review, "Dystopia, action, and miracles".
Pixar has always made great children's films, easily enjoyable by adults as well as young 'uns. WALL-E, on the other hand, starts out as simply a fantastic, almost experimental film. The opening third is almost totally free of dialogue, but filled with intense charm, humor, and sadness. As it segués into a more conventional madcap cartoon, it loses a bit of the experimental charm, but maintains its good humor.
Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost, the creative team behind Hot Fuzz as well as Shaun of the Dead and Spaced, understand what the "Movie Movie" people don't: in order to do an effective parody, you have to like the source material, and in order to do an effective movie, you have to have likeable characters.
Hot Fuzz takes the buddy action movie tropes and turns them into both an effective, hilarious parody and a kickass action movie at the same time.
As a nerd and a fantasy fan, I knew many, many Lord of the Rings fans who were deathly afraid of the new movies. The trend of terrible fantasy movies beforehand, as well as the utter collapse of the previous Ralph Bakshi attempts, gave them good reason to be scared. So it came as an complete shock that when The Fellowship of the Ring came out, it wasn't simply not-bad, it was fantastic. As was The Two Towers, and perhaps most of all, The Return of the King.
The Man Who Wasn't There is often lost in discussions of the Coen Brothers' best films, and it's easy to see why, when compared to the madcap Big Lebowski, dark comedy of Fargo, or the thrills of No Country For Old Men. It is a much subtler film, held together by Billy Bob Thornton's taut lead performance. It's superficially a film about going through the motions, and then rejecting going through the motions, and as a film, it does that itself.
Okay, I'll be real here: Battle Royale probably isn't the tenth best film of the decade. Perhaps Superbad or The Royal Tennenbaums or A Scanner Darkly or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Primer might be better. But Battle Royale is just so odd, distinctive, grimy, and awesome, it's almost impossible to ignore. Unreleased in the States (though acquirable if you care to look), it's the story of a Japanese class who, in order to fulfill some socio-political imperative, are released onto an island and forced to kill each other until only one survives. It sounds like total schlock, and it succeeds at that. But it also manages to succeed at being emotionally affecting, thanks to sympathetic directing.