A couple months ago Backer had the idea of posting our top 10 movies of the decade. He followed through and posted his list, as has Cake Man, and Zombie has his full list coming. Inspired by their efforts to sift through ten years of cinema for ten movies, I went ahead and put together my top 10 for the decade. This list does not represent the top 10 greatest films of the decade. These movies (in no particular order) are my personal favorites over that time span, and I've learned from it. I've learned that I am clearly a dude...and I understand more clearly why my girlfriend and I can never agree on anything to watch.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
There's a lot to love about this Cohen brothers film, but it makes my list because of Javier Bardem's portrayal of Anton Chigurh, one of the most intimidating and relentless villains I have ever seen. His determination and sheer lethality took me back to The Terminator where we saw a seemingly unstoppable force barreling towards our protagonist. The fact that the terminator couldn't be killed by any bullet only added to its fear factor. Chigurh is a flesh and blood human and can be done in by any well placed bullet, but you almost begin to doubt that in the way he takes life. Even when Chigurh is wounded it's only a brief delay in his pursuit of Llewelyn Moss. As we saw in The Terminator, the antagonist takes a scene to mend his wounds himself. It's the only time Chigurh and the terminator aren't in direct pursuit of the protagonist and it doesn't last that long. What more could you want from a bad guy?
It always surprises me that I can't remember if I saw one of my favorite movies in theatres. I'm sure Cake Man remembers the exact date, time, and place he first saw the forest battle in Germania or Maximus' first battle at the coliseum. Everyone has a few movies that you can just sit down and watch again regardless of how many times you've seen it. Of the movies made in the 80s, I came back to Predator more times than any other. Of the films made in the 90s, The Princess Bride took the replay value crown. For this past decade, Gladiator was that movie. Each time I watch it I still hope Maximus can return to his estate in time to prevent the slaughter of his family. That's when I know I really love a movie, when I keep hoping despite having seen the outcome dozens of times.
My college roommate recommended this Korean movie to me back in school when he realized I was somewhat of a military junkie. I should have been studying at the time, but instead I was glued to my computer screen as the dvd played, fighting off tears at times.
Taegukgi follows two brothers who are forced into the Korean War. Jin-tae is the street-smart older brother who always looks after his book-smart kid brother, Jin-seok. When Jin-tae learns that recipients of a prestigious medal of valor are granted special requests, he volunteers himself for any mission no matter how dangerous in the hopes of winning the medal and sending his brother home. But as the brothers fight for their lives and the fate of their country, Jin-seok seeks to step from within his brother's shadow and stand on his own as a soldier and a man.
Taegukgi has intense military action sequences that can stand with anything Hollywood can put out, but the movie also has character and lots of heart. If you enjoyed Saving Private Ryan and can stomach subtitles Tai Guk Gi is well worth a watch.
It didn't take much more than mention of Michael Mann and a hitman to get me to watch Collateral in theatres. I'll admit, Tom Cruise had something to do with it too. I feel as though I'm one of the few people who openly like the guy. He had me at Top Gun, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing him transformed into Vincent, the ruthless silver-haired hitman. Jaime Foxx was excellent in his role as a cab driver who gets the unfortunate task of driving Vincent around the streets of Los Angeles for one night while he eliminates his targets. It never hurts to have Michael Mann direct in my opinion. I can't quite pinpoint all that I like about his directing, but I find myself drawn to his movies and I certainly appreciate that when guns go off in his films you instinctively feel like ducking.
When I first saw Go in my Japanese Cinema class it was my first exposure to the racial tensions that exist in Japan between Koreans and Japanese. I wasn't surprised that such tensions existed, but this was my first exposure to them, and although a movie isn't the real thing, it can be a very intimate portal into those experiences we otherwise wouldn't know. The human emotion that propels us through these experiences are the same on both sides of the world, but it's always refreshing to see it through another perspective.
Go is a teen drama that follows Sugihara, a Korean national who lives in Japan with his parents. He attends a communist Korean school, but he speaks Japanese and hangs out with Japanese kids. When he falls in love with a Japanese girl, Sakurai, he hides his heritage from her in fear of rejection. There's a great deal of anger within Sugihara as he is a young man who doesn't quite know how to blend into Japanese culture while being at peace with his heritage.
Go is an exciting, stylish film, but it has great emotion at its core in a story propelled by youthful love. It manages to go beyond teenage angst. It's not just about the pressure of Sugihara's love for Sakurai. The film touches on real societal pressures and familial pressures that add to Sugihara's strife. I don't really remember caring about a character recently in the way I cared about Sugihara.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
There were a lot of movies I was thinking about including over Black Hawk Down, but I'd just be lying to myself if I didn't put it on my list. I'm a sucker for great military drama and action, right next to the guy kissing the girl at the end of the movie. I'll admit there are other places to look for better military drama, but Black Hawk Down is a spectacle for military action. This movie was almost exhausting in its relentless action as it portrayed what was described as the most intense gun battle involving US military forces since the Vietnam War. I remember it fondly as one of the loudest and most entertaining movie going experiences I've had, and Mark Bowden's book was just as good. I wish there was something I could say on a character or story level but there really isn't. As much as I love great characters and great stories, sometimes I just want to see something blow up.
Kill Bills (2003 and 2004)
Never has a quest for vengeance been so much fun. If we're not being wowed by stylish slice and dice fight choreography amid an ultar cool soundtrack, we're sitting through drawn out scenes of dialogue that we absolutely don't mind sitting through. I consider Tarantino to be a master of dialogue, and he so often manages to create a full cast of great characters. In some movies you might lose track of the supporting cast, but how often have we seen small 1-3 three scene roles in Tarantino movies go down in the better part of cinema history? Congratulations to Tarantino for creating Beatrix Kiddo, the best movie heroine of the past decade in my opinion.
Our love of movies has to start somewhere, and I'm not ashamed to say that Jean Claude Van Damme was one of my favorites as a kid. When I got older and began exposing myself to films that contained more than spin kicks and shootouts, it was easy to see the shortcomings in a lot of Van Damme's work, but you have to keep in mind that movies like Bloodsport and Double Impact aren't being put out as oscar bait. Van Damme is an aging action star, and I'll always respect his legacy in entertainment.
When JCVD was released it was interesting to be able to hear people collectively talk about a Van Damme film in a positive way. JCVD is an intimate film, semi-autobiographical and semi-fictitious as Van Damme plays himself and touches on his difficulties as an aging action star, marital woes, and the pressures of public criticism. The story follows Van Damme retreating back to his home country of Belgium in an attempt to escape the madness, but the national icon can't seem to catch a break as he becomes one of several hostages in a botched post office robbery. The film is a gift for any Van Damme fan, but as critics' praise revealed, JCVD is a solid film that any movie goer should be able to find merit in.
The Last Samurai (2003)
Every once in a while a movie comes along that you feel was made just for you. Cake Man has The Dark Knight, and I have The Last Samurai. I'm not sure if I'm ready to call it my favorite movie over the past decade, but it stands out as my most rewarding movie going experience over that time. Some might say that I should have seen more movies, but let me try to explain the way the stars aligned for me on this one.
I tend to enjoy Tom Cruise and his off screen antics don't really have an impact on whether or not I see his movies. In addition, I have long had a fascination with samurai and that fascination continues to this day with my study of Kendo (the way of the sword). In the film Hiroyuki Senada played the role of Ujio, one of the most fierce and enjoyable characters in the movie. I've long had an appreciation for him considering that he voiced the protagonist in Dagger of Kamui, a 1985 anime that certainly played a major role in my love of movies. Let us not forget that the music in the film was composed by Hans Zimmer, my personal favorite. Oh yeah, it also has ninjas.
There was no way I wasn't going to see The Last Samurai and there was no way I wasn't going to like it. The film was well acted all around, especially by Ken Watanabe. Its epic action is right up there with Gladiator and Braveheart, the ninja ambush being one of my all time favorites. It was beautifully shot and the score perfectly complemented the drama and the emotion. I bought it on dvd the first day it was out.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Master and Commander was released a few months after the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. I was a freshman at NYU at the time and I remember that I was doing my best to capitalize on my interest in piracy by developing a true to life screenplay on pirates. As much as I enjoyed Captain Jack Sparrow and company, I always felt that the romanticized take on piracy overshadowed a very dramatic and movie worthy reality that took place on the high seas. Master and Commander wasn't directly about the golden age of piracy, but in it I found a serious representation of men of action on the high seas. I always see in it the potential for what a serious pirate movie might be.
What I love about Master and Commander is that it's a chess game in the form of a pursuit across entire oceans. One day the HMS Surprise and Acheron are exchanging broadsides at twenty yards, then the next the two vessels are separated by hundreds of miles of ocean. Another day one vessel is in hot pursuit, a few miles off the bow of the other. By morning the vessels have swapped places, and a few days later they're separated by hundreds of miles of ocean again. With no vessel captured by the next it's all due to the cunning of two captains, Jack Aubrey being portrayed by Russel Crowe. With Master and Commander it's like keeping a car chase exciting across an entire country rather than a city block. With Peter Weir at the helm I believe they did a masterful job.
There's the list. No turning back now, but here are a few other titles that could have just as easily been included. Lost in Translation, Pan's Labyrinth, Spirited Away, Amelie, Inglourious Basterds, Princess Mononoke, and History of Violence.
Shame on District 9, Body of Lies, Miracle at St. Ana, and The Hurt Locker for not being what I had hoped for.