Looking back at this decade, these are the 10 films from each of these ten individual years that stand out as part of my film viewing experience and education. I am in no way saying this is the definitive top 10 best films of that decade, these are films that still continue to stand out from the many, many films I have seen in the last 14 or so years as they stayed with me after viewing for the first time and I regularly go back to them finding new things.
I can safely say this list is made very much with the beauty of hindsight.
2000: REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem For A Dream is a harrowing and cautionary tale of a young man (Jared Leto), his girlfriend (Jennifer Connolly), his mother (Ellen Burstyn) and his best friend (Marlon Wayans) all pursuing their notion of happiness but in the desperation of their pursuit pretty much destroy all their entire dreams descending into a never ending nightmare. Their individual addiction to drugs is what ultimately brings them down, but all characters start out with the best of intentions. Not only is the story harrowing in itself, but Darren Aronofsky’s visual style (as well as Clint Mansell’s unforgettable music) creates an unforgettable experience using camera and editing techniques only enhancing the nightmare that the audience is dragged into. The main heart and soul of the film is Ellen Burstein’s fiercely committed performance and it is in my view the closing scene involving her character that is just an outpouring of pure emotion that always breaks my heart. No it is at times not a pleasant experience, and a film many people are happy to only watch only once, but it is unique, unforgettable and my favourite film of all time.
2001: MULHOLLAND DRIVE
Master of the mystery David Lynch created in my view with Mulholland Drive one of his most challenging but rewarding films. This mystery noir set in the dark underbelly of Hollywood as various stories collide is disturbing, hilarious and beautiful, with every viewing experience offering something new. Lynch’s meticulous attention to detail demonstrating just how an amazingly talented and unique film maker he is with striking imagery, his trademark unique use of sound, Mary Sweeney’s editing and Angelo Badalamenti’s sublime score all helping to create a rich and textured experience that works on so many levels. Mulholland Drive may often challenge and sometimes baffle the viewer, but it creates an unforgettable and ultimately immersive world.
2002: LILYA 4-EVER
Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson’s masterpiece is a harrowing tale of a 16 year old girl named Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) living in the extreme poverty of the former Soviet Union who is abandoned by her mother with the 11 year old boy Volodya (Artiom Bogucharskij) her only friend. The two of them have hopes and dreams that are relatively simple, but seem to be an increasingly distant dream. Until she meets a handsome young man who offers her the chance to live a new life in Sweden, she naively abandons Volodya to pursue what she thinks will be a better life.
Never ever harrowing simply for the sake of it, Lilya 4-Ever always remains grounded in reality with many narrative outcomes dark but disturbingly believable, making the experience all the more powerful and unforgettable. This is a film that is an unfortunate reminder of some of the things that happen in the world we live in but choose to ignore; it is often heartbreaking and made with total integrity.
2003: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING
An obvious choice maybe, and as much as I love them, I do tend to find blockbusters pretty disposable, but for me Peter Jackson’s closing chapter of The Lord of the Rings trilogy has set a standard for fantasy epics that is yet to be beaten (Eragon, anyone?). Jackson has managed to create such an immersive world that I often go back to. Yes there may be CGI everywhere, it is perhaps too long and some plot developments a bit mad (a green army of dead people?), but the battle scenes are truly epic and visually stunning. However what makes The Return of the King in my view such a truly memorable experience is at its heart are some extremely rich characters that I became emotionally attached to. It is not only a good old fashioned good vs. evil tale, but with emotive themes of friendship, loyalty and finding courage at its heart it is for me a truly unforgettable and yet unsurpassed epic.
2004: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS
One of my favourite actors of all time, Peter Sellers was such a diverse and immensely talented actor, as well as an enigmatic and complex individual that it would take an extremely special performance to recreate this unique character on screen. I always knew Geoffrey Rush was a very talented actor (I thought he out acted Johnny Depp in Pirates), but his performance in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is extraordinary. He not only looks like Sellers, but recreates with seemingly effortless skill all the many unforgettable characters that Sellers created as well as perfectly portraying Seller’s severe personal demons. Unfortunately due to this being a TV movie in America Rush never got the Oscar nomination and maybe win that he seriously deserved. It is not just a film about a performance, with a unique approach to storytelling that does a magnificent job of getting into the mindset of Peter Sellers. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is funny, tragic, unique and unforgettable.
Master of the matter of fact Michael Haneke has made many intense, intelligent and unforgettable films that truly get under your skin and leave you thinking for a long time after the credits have finished. After Funny Games and Amour, for me Hidden is his next best film. Hidden is a tale of a French Bourgeois couple (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) who receive video tapes through their door simply filming the front of their house and then increasingly disturbing child like drawings, unknown as to why and with no help from the police, they investigate themselves with unforgettable results. Hidden is in my view a pure example of a supremely gifted film maker being the master of his craft. With a deeply intense and sinister atmosphere throughout the narrative through simple suggestion and subtlety, as well as trademark Haneke long takes Hidden deals with extreme intelligence themes of guilt, prejudice, jealousy and colonialism. Every watch brings new ideas and interpretations, with sometimes the most important developments happening in the background.
2006: THE LIVES OF OTHERS
Though very different types of films, due to being released in the same year and both being nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2007 Oscars, this was a close run thing with Pan’s Labyrinth. However for me The Lives of Others just edges as it this is an expertly made, deeply atmospheric and involving experience. This is the story of a 1980s German Stasi officer (Ulrich Mühe) sent by the Minister of Culture to listen secretly to conversations of a well known couple who are suspected of not agreeing to the political party, though darker secrets are gradually revealed. Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark’s debut feature is an extremely well made, intelligently written and superbly acted story that truly grips from start to finish. Taking its time and building the tension, it does requite effort but this is infinitely rewarded with not only the genuinely gripping plot, but also one of the most satisfying but yet very subtle endings I have ever seen in a film.
2007: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
In an age where so many films are just too long, this is one film that I am relieved to see director Andrew Dominik was allowed to take his time with telling the story of the last few years of the life of famous outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his relationship with Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). The film’s long running time, stylistic approach and long title perhaps contributed to a poor box office return, but I felt privileged to have seen this film at the cinema. With a beautiful use of imagery throughout and an incredible use of sound, TAOJJBTCRF is an immersive experience and incredible character study that I found in the end to be deeply moving. Pitt and Affleck both give complex performances that only enhance the power of the themes explored within the narrative and I do truly wish more films were made like this.
2008: IN BRUGES
A deserved winner of the 2009 Oscar for best original screenplay, Martin McDonagh’s film is both an utterly hilarious comedy and extremely dark and violent tragedy. Tragedy, violence, a huge amount of swearing and comedy are extremely difficult to balance, but yet with his incredible script and three great performances McDonagh achieves the impossible. As the two hit men sent to Bruges to lay low after a botched job Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share incredible chemistry, superb comic timing and bring to life two extremely likeable and unforgettable characters. As their boss Ralph Fiennes is also on top form and the picturesque city of medieval Bruges provides not only a lot of the comedy, but provides a deeply atmospheric setting. Every single line of dialogue is memorable and quotable, and In Bruges only improves with repeat viewings.
2009: A SINGLE MAN
A fashion designer having a go at directing his first film that he funded pretty much himself on paper sounds like a self indulgence project set for disaster, yet with A Single Man I personally felt Tom Forde created an unforgettable film that is haunting and brimming with ideas and visual energy. The narrative takes place over a single day in the life of socially awkward English University professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) who is still nursing a broken heart after the tragic death of his long term partner Jim (Mathew Goode). On this day, still disillusioned with life and suffering from unbearable loneliness he intends to get his affairs in order and commit suicide; however during the course of the day he encounters various people in his life evoking a huge variation of feelings, thoughts and memories. As George, for me Firth gives his best performance so far and excellent support is given by Julianne Moore as his childhood friend Charley who has her own troubles. Forde’s meticulous attention to detail means every shot and line of dialogue means something, that combined with Eduard Grau’s stunning cinematography and Abel Korzeniowski’s score mean that every variable available when making a film is utilised to create an unforgettable, deeply moving and stunning work.