I usually reserve my year end lists to music but being as it's the end of a decade I can't resist compiling a list of my favorite cinema. It would be nice to suggest that these are truly the greatest films of the decade but there are so many films I didn't see in the theater it's impossible to be comprehensive so below is a list of some of my favorite film experiences of the last 10 years. I don't know how critics decide what is a #3 vs. a #8 on a list like this so these are in no particular order.
Zodiac - David Fincher always creates something interesting but this film is a masterpiece of tense procedural serial killer mayhem. Robert Downey Jr. has reestablished himself in the minds of most cinema goers over the last couple of years but this is my favorite performance of his and Jake Gyllenhaal holds his own surrounded by one the great supporting casts of all time. Special kudos to the strong cinematography, a hallmark of any Fincher film.
In Bruges - Surprising comes to mind with this madcap gangster, buddy, thriller. Especially with Colin Farell giving one of his best performances.
Layer Cake - Daniel Craig can be given credit for making James Bond relevant again (even if Quantum of Solace was a disappointment). But it was Layer Cake that upped the ante for British Crime Dramas. Michael Gambon gives one of the great villainous speeches at the end of the film.
Bourne Identity - I'm settling on the first in this series even though I loved all of them. These movies redefined modern action an somehow gave it a paranoid cerebral feel. After Good Will Hunting the smart money was on Ben Affleck to become the next big movie star. All these years later Matt Damon has turned out to be one of the best and savviest film actors working.
Lord of the Rings - It's fashionable to bag on this sprawling film series now but there is no getting around how monumental of a task it was to translate the books into an enjoyable cinematic experience for readers and a modern film audience that had no knowledge of the books. That it turned out to be a transcendent trip is all the more surprising. I don't know that there has been a better job done of casting the principle actors in recent memory. Particularly Viggo Mortenson and Sean Astin who seem to me to be the heart of this film.
Amelie/A Very Long Engagement - While Amelie is considered syrupy by some a little lightness about the random kindness of a strange girl from Paris was just what was needed in the early 2000s. Engagement, also by Jeunet, is a complex tale of love and sacrifice set during the Great War. It's also a great introduction to Marion Cotillard as a prostitute assassin to die for.
Michael Clayton - On paper this film shouldn’t have been as good as it was. But with knockout performances from Tom Wilkinson, George Clooney, and Tilda Swinton, it was the corporate thriller of the decade.
Children of Men - The look of this film had me from the first frame. it doesn’t hurt that the cast is great and the ending perfect.
Almost Famous - Ensemble acting at its finest in this piece about 70s rock and roll culture and coming of age. There are great actors here (Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and average actors who upped their game (Jimmy Fallon!) . Everything Kate Hudson has done since this has been pretty much shit but she’ll always have a special place in my heart as Penny Lane.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
One of those films that you know is a masterpiece while watching it and spend the last half hoping it doesn’t blow it. It doesn’t. Great performances and gorgeous to look at. Proves once again that Brad Pitt is underrated as an actor. Also one of those great films that I can only watch every once in a while.
Lost in Translation - Middle-aged ennui meets youthful potential in a striking film from Sofia Coppola. And it has one of the best endings ever.
Wonder Boys - A gem of a film about the tortured lives of writers that toys with the cliche and then shatters it. It also made Michael Douglas watchable which is a great feat. Great supporting actor work from Tobey Macguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.
Wes Anderson...I’m torn. Anderson belongs of the best of list for his singular cinematic vision. But it’s hard to decide whether the flawed masterpiece, The Life Aquatic should be here or the earlier Royal Tannenbaums. Or, should it be the Fantastic Mr. Fox? I’m holding off on including any late 2009 film on a list of the best of the decade because it feels too soon to make that judgement. So, Life Aquatic it is. But I reserve the right to change my mind.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Unlike anything else I've seen
The Incredibles - The best of the Pixar creations followed closely by Up
Brokeback Mountain - Heartbreaking
The 40 Year-Old Virgin - Man-Child raunchiness with a sweet spot
And because we are in the age of great cinema created for the small screen I feel it necessary to mention a few of my favorite television shows which were as good if not better than much of what was playing down at the cineplex: Deadwood, State of Play, Bleak House, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, 30 Rock, and The Office (both Brit and U.S. versions).