Compiling a list and putting it in order was very difficult. Thanks to both The Lab Rat and Bootleg Willy for paving the way.
The beginning of this decade marks the time that I really started to become obsessed with film, so this list is very personal to me.
There are many more excellent films that I did not include and on a different day they might have made the final cut, but right now these 25 stand above the rest.
25) Wall-E – Andrew Stanton, USA, 2008
Everything Pixar does right is highlighted in this touching story of robot love. It is also a sci-fi masterpiece that shows where our society is heading.
24) Wayward Cloud – Tsai Ming-liang, Thailand, 2005
A man and a woman tentatively connect during a long drought. Melons, porn and big-budget musical numbers. Tsai Ming-Liang knows how to create a mood with his odd style, but he always keeps his characters real no matter how absurd the film gets.
23) Irreversible – Gasper Noe, France, 2002
Brutal content and dizzying style help tell this story of loss and revenge. Showing the scenes in reverse makes the climax touching rather than sadistic. A very powerful film.
22) The Constant Gardener – Fernando Meirelles, UK, 2005
It’s a thriller, a mystery, and a political drama full of social commentary. But at its heart it is a love story. Meirelles shows that his first film was not a fluke. That he can tell a mature, beautiful and assured story in the way it deserves.
21) Birth – Jonathan Glazer, USA, 2004
It’s a moody story that builds and builds and lets loose at just the right time. The performances are very strong, the direction is superb and the story is full of questions that kept me hooked.
20) The Squid and the Whale – Noah Baumbach, USA, 2005
An educated New York family starts to fall apart when the parents get divorced. This film is full of people too smart for their own good. They spout incredibly smart and funny dialog but still can’t get their lives in order. Their misery makes for a great and truthful film.
19) The Saddest Music in the World – Guy Maddin, Canada, 2003
Guy Maddin is unique. This film highlights his talent. A Canadian beer baroness holds a contest to find the saddest music in the world. If you haven’t seen a Maddin film before, this is a great one to start with.
18) Requiem For a Dream – Darren Aranofsky, USA, 2000
One of the most intense films of all time. It’s a non-stop display of people trying to get their lives in order but being pulled down by the power of drugs. The surreal style fits the subject matter and the soundtrack is a milestone in cinema.
17) Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman, USA, 2008
Where to begin describing this film? The exercise would take too long and give the reader no good information. I’ll just say that the film delves deeply into psychology, philosophy, the fear of dying, the effort we put into making our mark on the world and connecting with the people we love.
16) Oldboy – Chan-wook Park, South Korea, 2003
This film blew me away when I first saw it. Just the summary is intriguing. A man is locked up for 15 years and has 5 days to find out why. What follows from the opening to the climax is a ride you will not forget.
15) Mulholland Dr. – David Lynch, USA, 2001
This film threw me for a loop many times, but the best thing about it (besides the performances and the mood), is that at the end it just might make sense. The joy about it is trying to figure out how to unravel it all.
14) Match Point – Woody Allen, UK, 2005
Woody Allen changes tone a bit for this serious study of a man who pulled himself into the elite circle of society and will do anything to keep himself there. The tension is high and the twists in the story or believable and well-earned.
13) Shaun of the Dead – Edgar Wright, UK, 2004
The best zombie comedy of all time, and the best zombie film in the past thirty years. The script is brilliantly symmetrical, and the set-pieces are hilarious. From the early-morning walk through the zombie outbreak to the synchronized fight scene, the whole film is fresh and new.
12) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Michel Gondry, USA, 2004
Charlie Kaufman found a very unique way to tell a story about love and memory and how when given the chance, we will do it all over again. The real brilliance of this film is that human emotions are examined in a story about memories being erased and people running around inside their own heads.
11) Happiness of the Katakuris – Takashi Miike, Japan, 2001
Miike makes many movies. This one is his most touching. It is a story of family and sacrifice. Together, the Katakuris decide to open up a bed and breakfast in the country, but when the patrons start dying they have to work together to save the family. Oh, and its a musical. With zombies.
10) Spirited Away – Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 2001
It’s cliche to call a Miyazaki film magical. But oh my god this is most magical film I have ever seen. I had a huge smile on my face the whole time I was watching all these fantastic images unfold across the screen. But even though his head is in another world, Miyazaki creates a main character that we can all relate to.
9) City of God – Fernando Meirelles, Brazil, 2002
The colorful and vibrant film about a colorful and vibrant city. It is all told through the eye of a young would-be photographer, but the story is really about the city itself. A city of crime, danger and child gangsters.
8) Memories of Murder – Joon-Ho Bong, South Korea, 2003
This is a mystery, horror, action, drama, police-procedural hybrid. It tells the story of South Korea’s first serial killer. The cops in the small country town are not ready to deal with the case and the big city detective sent in will have his hands full solving it. It’s an immensely entertaining film with genuinely interesting ending.
7) Dogville – Lars von Trier, Denmark, 2003
Lars von Trier’s gimmic of painting the set on the floor actually helps this story of a woman who is giving the chance to hide in a small American town. It’s a story of power and how good intentions can get turned on their head so easily.
6) 25th Hour – Spike Lee, USA, 2002
Edward Norton plays a character who has to report to prison to serve an eight year drug-dealing sentence. The films shows his last night as a free man and examines what happens to his mind and the minds of those who love him. Surreal and affecting, it has one of the best endings of the decade.
5) Lord of the Rings – Peter Jackson, USA, 2001
The trilogy has made it to the realm of “more than a movie.” It’s cinema on a grand scale. Taking one of the most beloved books of all time and putting it on the screen without losing any of the grandeur, depth and emotion that was on the page is quite a feat. Epic, epic, epic!
4) The Piano Teacher– Michael Haneke, France, 2001
Haneke is one of the best directors working today and this film highlights his mastery of the art. It also contains two of the best performances ever put to celluloid. Fearless, intense, and unique.
3) The Son – Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2002
I will not say what this film is about. It gives out information in small amounts at the perfect times in order to further the story. But there is even more to it. The film follows a character in such a way that you start to understand everything about him. It’s a perfect combination of style and substance and one I will never forget.
2) There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2007
This is a powerhouse film with two powerhouse performances. We all knew that P.T. Anderson would one day do something great and this is it. It’s an awe-inspiring tale of a driven oil tycoon clashing with a young preacher. But there is so much more below the surface.
1) Once – John Carney, Ireland, 2007
The simplest film on this list. It is about two people connecting through music. No violence, no sex, no conflict. It is about two people supporting each other in order to create something special. It shows that the only thing you need to do to make a good film is to be genuine.