A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Beckie issued the challenge for us to come up with our top 20 movies of the decade. I liked the challenge, but felt at somewhat of a disadvantage because, while I have seen plenty of movies over the past 10 years, even good movies, I didn't feel that a majority of them would be considered the kind of life-changing, mind-changing, or mind-blowing movies that typically make these sorts of lists. This feeling was further exacerbated as I read through the lists she and my brother came up with, lists that many movie critics might agree with overall, but that felt out of my reach because I had seen relatively few of those movies.
Still, I did not want to give up on the idea of creating my own top 20 list (I just couldn't seem to pare it down to just 10), so I picked up the proverbial gauntlet and began my cinematic analysis of the best films made since 2000. I began to feel that it should have, perhaps, been a top 20 movies of the year 1999, since a lot of the movies that first came to mind were put out that year. Still, undaunted, I kept at it. It has been a long process over the last few weeks, (and I'd hoped to get this done BEFORE the Oscars- alas, too many other demands on my time...) but I feel that, at long last, I have compiled a list of movies that I, at least, feel have been the most meaningful and/or entertaining to me, movies that either changed the way I looked at the world or changed the way I looked at movies (or simply created a thoroughly entertaining experience).
So, without further ado, I give you:
The Top 20 Movies of the Decade (according to Elise Lambson)
20. Enchanted: Okay, so I know a lot of you would think this a fluffy enough film to wonder why it would make the top 20. However, I am always one who appreciates the non-conventional. (I loved Ever After so much for that reason- it twists the traditional story and makes it even stronger and more meaningful as a result, not to mention fun to watch.) What I loved about Enchanted was that a) it showed that the classic-style musical is not totally obsolete where film is concerned (come on, how can you NOT want to get up and dance with "How Will She Know?") b) it pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale genre (gross as it is, the Snow White-esque scene where she gets all the vermin to help her clean while she sings is cleverly sardonic.) c) it twists the genre by not only switching the "princes," but by having the princess save her true love. And let’s be honest, Susan Sarandon is a pretty fantastically evil queen!
19. Runaway Jury: I'll be the first to admit that typically, I'm not one who exerts a lot of effort to predict an ending- I just like to sit back and enjoy the journey. Thus, when a bit of a twist comes my way, it is usually extra delightful. Such was the case with this one. But even more than the twist, even more than the superb acting by John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, what I loved about it was the integrity of Dustin Hoffman’s character. As much as he wanted to win the case, and he wanted it very badly, he decided that the price of the jury was worth neither his soul nor his integrity. An amazing movie with fantastic suspense and tension!
18. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: I have said it often enough- Peter Weir is one of the most underappreciated directors ever. Yet I always find him insightful and profound in so many ways. Master and Commander was no exception. Aside from being just a good, old-fashioned adventure on the high seas, there are so many moments filled with poignant realization—the relationship between the captain and the doctor, the heartbreaking innocence of Blakeney that quickly dissipates in the midst of such experiences, the tragic misfortune of Hollam… I love Peter Weir!
17. Pirates of the Caribbean: Speaking of adventures on the high seas, this movie was just so much fun! It was a bit of a tough choice between this one and Stardust- both are truly entertaining, and Stardust is so delightfully unconventional (DiNiro dancing in a tutu never fails to make me giggle!). Ultimately, though, it was Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow that won out- such a “defining without defining” role for Depp.
Runners Up for Swashbuckling entertainment (yeah, I stole Beckie’s idea- so sue me…): Stardust, The Count of Monte Cristo (I love poetic justice, and this is a fantastic revenge film that successfully rises above the cliché.)
16. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: I was introduced to this little known jewel by my roommate, Rachel. I had never heard of it. She brought it home one day and asked if I wanted to watch it with her. I didn’t have anything else pressing on my time, so I did. Once again, the tragic innocence of the two boys of the film, one the son of a high-up Nazi officer, the other a Jewish boy in a nearby concentration camp, is absolutely heart-rending. It is an interesting look at the Holocaust from the eyes of children, how these two boys’ lives are forever changed by the friendship they dared to create… I highly recommend it (though I warn you, it is a definite tear-jerker).
Runners Up for Historical Fiction: Gladiator (I love how it makes history interesting, yet is not so at odds with historical facts that it couldn’t have happened that way.)
15. The Others: This movie proved that a director can still create an effectively spooky atmosphere without overdone, over-hyped special effects. The chills from this movie come from superb usage of light, shadow, scripting, and acting. From beginning to end, it is eerie and unsettling, with quite a thrilling twist.
Runners Up for Scary/Spooky films: The Mothman Prophecies (Bizarre, I’ll grant you, but also nicely disquieting and provocative), The Village (I love the relationship between Lucius and Ivy, made more profound because it is so restrained and subtle, and I find the twist at the end intriguing.)
14. Minority Report: Like Beckie, I am a fan of the dystopian story, and this one is fantastically done. What I love most about it, though, is the emphasis on the power of choice. Despite the impressive “technology” behind Pre-Crime, it is proved repeatedly that we can still choose to be the masters of our own fate.
*Profound line: “Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” (Dr. Iris Hineman)
Runners Up to Sci-Fi Action films: Paycheck (Yes, it perhaps unrealistic, and yes, it has Ben Affleck, but I just really like the mind-bending use of time, puzzles, etc.)
13. Invictus: Contrary to popular belief, this is not really a sports film, and that is where it is significant. While the plot seems to center around rugby, the team and the game are simply used to reflect the strong and harsh political issues and realities surrounding these people. We still care about the underdog team fighting against all odds, but the story manages to transcend the sport, and the rousing victory at the end becomes not just an athletic one, but a political one as well. Morgan and Matt are rock solid as the men fighting against the deeply ingrained prejudices of their beloved homeland who lead their people to greater heights as a result.
Runners Up to Underdog Films: Cinderella Man (Another one that successfully avoids being a “sports film” – wonderfully acted by all involved!), Remember the Titans (Yes, this falls under the more traditional “sports film” category, but stands apart because the sports story becomes more allegorical and meaningful as these kids also fight strong racism and prejudice.)
12. Avatar: Whatever else one may say or feel about James Cameron, this movie is incredible. The visionary technology is amazing, and honestly, I think he manages to create characters that become real to us, characters that we find ourselves interested in, that we end up caring about (I didn’t cry when Michelle Rodriguez’ character died, but I was deeply saddened by the event). The story is, perhaps, a bit predictable, but that doesn’t equal meaningless. There is still a lot of meaningful relevance about the film, whether about conservation, spirituality, or simply peacefully co-existing with those that seem different from us. And quite honestly, it is worth the three-hour watch time just to see the exotic creativity and the amazingly breathtaking scenery.
11. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: I get completely enthralled by these books, and I feel that the last two movies were especially well-done—the music is extraordinary and original and fits the story perfectly, the acting is finally as solid as it should be (with very few exceptions), and they do a nice job of paring down the epic novels into reasonable movies without losing out on the essentials (and even some of the bonuses). While Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix gets kudos because it made me enjoy it when I hadn’t really enjoyed the book much, Half-blood Prince wins out because a) it is one of my favorites of the series (tied for first place alongside Prisoner of Azkaban) and b) the whole episode with Harry and the Felix Felicis is just too funny!
Runners up to Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy films: All the other Harry Potter films because they helped bring us to this point, Coraline (I just think it’s clever, creative, and I enjoy Neil Gaiman.)
Stay Tuned: Coming up soon, my Top 10 picks...