Best Films Of The Decade (2001-2010)

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I think we can safely suggest that this decade has been incredible for films. Think about how far, in these past ten years, filmmaking has been pushed forward to reach the pinnacle of technical perfection.

The further we get away from it, the more I think that this decade will be known as the technical transformation of film. We’ve seen digital film burst forward due to the dawn of the internet and the low price of materials for both amateur and professional filmmakers.

From Danny Boyle & David Lynch’s embracing of the DV format to the superb quality of the RED, mastered by the likes of David Fincher, there have been a lot of technological advancements in recent years.

The rise in 3D came in the latter half of the decade and the push towards photo realism in visual effects has become huge. Look, for example, at the rise in performance capture from Gollum to the Na’vi, from The Polar Express to Avatar, the leaps that filmmakers have taken have been extraordinary.

Also, we should take a look at some of the influential characters from overseas. Mexican cinema was well and truly here by the middle of the decade with Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu bringing over a new exciting cinema style to a western audience and seguing that sensibility into more mainstream work.

We also have the return of Eastern European austerity in the form of Michael Haneke, who has put arthouse audiences through the pain of watching films which are the true definition of uncomfortable viewing.

We should be proud of this decade. Sure, the mass production of films in Hollywood resulting in over 14 films released per week has given us some truly rotten titles that will be listed amongst the worst EVER made(Transformers Revenge of the Fallen, Marley and Me, Catwoman, to name a few), but we’ve also had some of the finest.

With that in mind, check out our picks for the top twenty films of the decade.

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20. Hidden [Caché] (2005, Michael Haneke)

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Michael Haneke is the king of the cinema of unease. He likes making the audience feel pain and he enjoys leading them down uncertain and often unresolved paths of mystery. His finest work is a tense psychological drama where an intellectual Parisian couple get stalked and are sent videotapes of their lives. Haneke offers no resolution to audiences but it is a brilliant meditation on guilt as well as the need for surveillance in society.

19. Sideways (2004, Alexander Payne)

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Alexander Payne is the king of middle class, intellectual comedy and trumps Noah Baumbach or Wes Anderson any day of the week. He is a genius. Sideways is the ultimate road trip movie, as two friends (Miles and Jack) go on a winery tour before Jack goes to get married.

This is a road trip, however, where the two males learn nothing, and by the end they are still the same lying, narcissistic losers they were when they left. We don’t sympathize with them even for a second, despite enjoying their company for a brilliantly written, acted and consistently hilarious couple of hours.

18. A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)

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Cronenberg’s drama comes late in a career of mostly body horror films, but his adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name produces his finest movie yet. Viggo Mortensen is terrific in the central role as a man struggling to come to terms with his identity when mistaken for a mobster by a group of hideous men, led by a creepy Ed Harris. Running at a short 90 minutes, it may lose something in its final act but the rest of the film is unadulterated Cronenberg.

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17. Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron)

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Alfonso Cuaron’s grim, dark portrait of a world gone to hell and of no hope was one of the decade’s biggest wake up calls. While Al Gore preached at us in front of PowerPoint for a good two hours, boring people to death, Cuaron plunges straight into the heart of this terrifying world. It’s oppressive but always gripping and at times, very entertaining. Michael Caine also delivers one of his finest performances in a small role and Clive Owen is a stand out and has never been better.

16. The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

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Aronofsky’s offbeat, docu-drama approach to the world of wrestling gave us one of the decade’s strangest and unexpected comebacks. The return of Mickey Rourke to our screens was a surprise to everybody and he gave one of the decade’s most raw and powerful performances. Often unflinching in its depiction of the independent wrestling circuit, the scenes of violence are nastier than one initially expects. Powerful and very moving, this is a tremendous film.

15. WALL-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)

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WALL•E is the greatest animated film of the last 10 years. The animation is beautiful and sharp and the backgrounds are almost frighteningly realistic. The space scenes and the post-apocalyptic earth both have a certain eloquence to them as they are breathtaking and mesmerising.

Furthermore, the character of WALL•E is utterly heartbreaking. It’s amazing to think that so much emotion comes from a little robot who spends his time creating skyscrapers out of compacted cubes of rubbish, in amongst the shining glass buildings of a familiar US city and whose only friend is a small cockroach. It’s a truly beautiful film.

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14. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)

assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford 4 586x360 Best Films Of The Decade (2001 2010) A western of dark and complex substance and a meditation on the cult of celebrity and the world of obsessive fandom all wrapped up in the Western milieu, albeit with a very art film sensibility. The film is completely stunning to look at, supreme cinematographer Roger Deakins was robbed of an Oscar for his work on this. Brad Pitt is riveting as Jesse James, a scarily good performance from the often irritating screen presence who yet again proves that is best when playing psychologically disturbed nut jobs. Casey Affleck, however, is stand out as the creepy Robert Ford. If you like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or John Hillcoat’s The Proposition then this is for you.

13. The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

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In a time of bad summer popcorn blockbuster films, The Dark Knight shows a high quality standard of filmmaking with substance, instead of being a shallow action movie with flat characters and crummy dialogue. The Dark Knight is fresh, exciting and intelligent entertainment. While it is definitely made on studio money, it isn’t the type of superhero movie a studio would normally market and for them to take this type of risk is great as it will set a high standard for superhero films in the future. It is by far the most ambitious and best comic book film ever made.

12. Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

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David Fincher is a man who is meticulous in his direction and shooting style. We hear all kinds of stories about how he’ll shoot 20 or so takes for simple inserts, but boy does it make a film so much more. In the case of Zodiac, the devil is in the detail and the success of this alternative serial killer drama lies in that. The film is apparently incredibly close to the details of the actual case. That never gets in the way though, it is instead interwoven intelligently into the drama. Greatly underrated and savagely ignored by the awards circles, this is one of Fincher’s best works. Continue reading on the next page…

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11. United 93 (2006, Paul Greengrass)

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United 93 is Paul Greengrass’ masterpiece based upon the true events surrounding one of the hijacked planes involved in the 9/11 attack, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The film is utterly devastating and coming only 5 years after the attacks, many critics were very apprehensive about the film, myself included. Many thought it was too soon and it was still a very tender subject that America was still quite troubled with. There are some very powerful images here, reconstructing the actual flying into the towers with astonishing authenticity and bringing back the terrible memories of that eventful day. It’s a film of true, raw emotion that leads to a deeply cutting and powerful ending. Most importantly though, the film brings back a chance to talk about and educate future generations on one of the most important events in recent history.

10. Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog)

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Grizzly Man is a documentary edited from conservationist Timothy Treadwell’s own footage, a man who spent 10 summers with the grizzly bears in Alaska before being eaten by the same bears he wanted to protect from the park rangers and the poachers. It is interesting that Treadwell is so similar to meglomaniacs which have featured in Herzog’s previous work, driven by a crazy ambition which he almost cannot fulfill, particularly drawing comparisons with Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre Wrath of God. The film doesn’t glorify Treadwell at all, in fact quite the opposite.

Herzog (who narrates the film) often disagrees with Treadwell’s sentimentalised view of nature in that Herzog feels the world all boils down to ‘chaos, hostility and murder’ whilst Treadwell gives the bears names like Mr. Chocolate and Rowdy. He is an idealistic nutter who you could easily laugh at and who can easily get on your nerves. Herzog exposes that, playing it up for all it’s worth. There are times in which you feel that the documentary footage shot by Treadwell himself is faked and that the whole film is faked, but I don’t think that Herzog could ever be that coy or less than sincere. Things like the bear fight, the foxes, the dead bee who comes back to life, a lot of it is awe inspiringly beautiful. Herzog edits and balances the documentary wonderfully, making this is a film that you should not miss.

9. Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)

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Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a triumphant celebration of life, with all the frivolity and joy of his previous Millions and the edgy darkness of work such as Trainspotting, colliding it together with style and a perfectly constructed story, giving us one of the decade’s finest films. Boyle’s direction is nothing less than spectacular, working with digital cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle they create a terrific sense of vibrancy and joy, particularly in capturing the city of Mumbai (all shot on location).

Boyle has said that the film is a celebration of a city, and he is absolutely right. It shows the city for the colourful and alive place it is. The film rightly swept the board at the Oscars, beating off the overrated and hotly tipped favourite The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If nothing else, it shows that the Academy woke up and celebrated the decade’s most poignant and beautiful film about life and love.

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8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)

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Jim Carrey can act?! With Eternal Sunshine, Carrey goes completely against anything he has done before by playing an entirely serious role, in a film which is fairly offbeat and strange.

The story revolves around a romance between Joel and Clementine who simultaneously have their memories of each other wiped after a particularly nasty breakup. Directed by stylish ad-guru Michel Gondry and written by Being John Malkovich-genius Charlie Kaufman, this is a heartbreaking and emotional tale of troubled love.

Kaufman’s superbly written screenplay manages to flesh out the characters in such a short space of time, we feel like we really know the two lead characters.

Also, the film has a beautiful cyclical structure and at the end, when everything all fits together, you see why Kaufman got the Oscar he deserved. Gondry is a marvel too, wonderfully handling the relationships between the characters.

But, it is the visual look of the film that really sets it apart from others. All of Gondry’s effects are done in camera, which must be a bastard to construct but on screen it looks like a dream and it has physicality to it. More importantly, it never shows off or distracts from the story.

7. Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)

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Christopher Nolan’s bold, audacious and unique intellectual blockbuster is the wake up call of the decade to mainstream filmmakers who no longer have an excuse to think that only dumbo franchise movies will make significant sums of money.

Nolan as a filmmaker has always been excellent at combining arthouse ideas with a big budget sensibility. Some of his storytelling asks an audience to really keep up, but at the end it pays off.

I will also take this opportunity to throw in my theory about the end of the film. As those who have seen it will know, Nolan cuts to black before we see Cobb’s spinning top topple, thus leaving us unsure as to whether or not Cobb is still dreaming or not.

My response is that whether it falls or not is not what’s important. What is important is that Cobb ignores it, for the first time in the film he doesn’t look at the top and for the first time we see the children’s faces. He has taken a ‘leap of faith’ and for the first time Cobb is convinced he has arrived home.

6. No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen)

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Based upon the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brothers tackle this pulpy, yet oddly unconventional thriller by turning it into one of the decade’s most provocative films. I do love the Coen Brothers and who would have known this decade would produce some of the best films of their career.

The film is largely a very simple and stripped down genre film, and in the hands of any other director, this project could easily have become just another chase movie. But under the eyes of the brothers it becomes something else.

Taking a lot from the source material, the film beautifully portrays the central thematic idea that the world is moving on and becoming a more violent place for elder generations to keep up, they lose their place in society. Violence has become a young man’s game.

If you don’t enjoy looking for allegory in films then there is a masterfully constructed thriller inside this too, a film which knows how to perfectly crank up tension by keeping things composed and quiet.

A deep, thought provoking and wonderfully engrossing picture.

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5. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

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What is there left to say about David Lynch? He is a true artist of cinema. Many have tried to copy what Lynch does and all fail. This is because Lynch is unique and unlike any other filmmaker. Breaking onto the scene with Eraserhead during the midnight movie craze of the 70s, you could see that the man behind the warped, dark masterpiece was going places. Nearly 25 years after his stunning debut he gave us Mulholland Drive, which is the most complex film he’s made to date.

The performances are great, Naomi Watts who plays the lead really shows her versatility in playing two sides of the same character as well as playing a role which must have been incredibly close to home. She gives the film the emotional intensity and raw sexuality which the role needed. One of the other many strengths of Mulholland Drive is how that dream landscape is created and where reality and dreamland end, and in the case of this it is the boundary between harsh reality and simulated fantasy.

Mulholland Drive is at the apex of Lynch’s career, a dark nightmare with many twists and turns and a complex narrative that has many strands. At the point at which they all seem to be coming together they suddenly collapse, creating an unsettling but essential viewing experience.

4. Pan’s Labyrinth [El laberinto del fauno] (2006, Guillermo del Toro)

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Guillermo del Toro is a master of modern fantasy cinema. Ever since his first feature he has continued to push the boundaries in accessibility for foreign language films in a mainstream Hollywood. Constantly flipping his career from making a film for Hollywood and a film for himself, there is area in there for a writer-director to become a hack, but del Toro never loses his arthouse sensibility. His films are always concentrated on the key ingredients and getting them perfect: the story, the character and then the artifice, in that order.

Pan’s Labyrinth is the first to get them absolutely perfect. To say this was made on a budget of around 20 million euros, the film’s effects are unbelievable. The mythical creatures such as the Faun are beautifully designed and as it is a man (Doug Jones) in foam latex, it has a physicality to it and a certain realism that cannot be achieved by visual effects. This is an undisputed masterpiece, a wonderful fantasy film which is not overblown by cumbersome CGI and badly drawn characters. This is an intense drama posing as a fantasy with true darkness and melancholia running through it.

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3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001/2002/2003, Peter Jackson)

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Peter Jackson’s modern epic raised the bar for fantasy filmmaking this decade with his trilogy adapted from JRR Tolkien’s widely praised novels. It’s certainly up there with the David Lean epics like Lawrence of Arabia in terms of scope and overall power on screen. The series of films took full potential of the cinematic medium and created a viewing experience par excellence in the cinema.

I am one of a very few who prefer the films to the novels, for the simple reason that Tolkien is a fairly dull writer. Jackson on the other hand manages to take that vast plot and provide a better structure and leaner story that makes sense for the cinema.

It’s a profoundly good adaptation of the material. Jackson changed the face of filmmaking by developing the motion capture technique as well as the world of visual effects at WETA, outgrowing the work done by ILM or Digital Domain.

The Lord of the Rings is a beautiful film that shines on the cinema screen and changed the face of modern filmmaking in ways Avatar wished it had done.

2. The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

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My top two films are ‘zeitgeisty’ films. They are films very much of their time, commenting fiercely on a modern society and tearing it to pieces with a harsh critical eye.

Fincher’s film is a very perceptive insight into the dark, lonely world of social networking and how the creation of Facebook was born out of jealousy and nothing but rotten intentions.

Filling itself with a cast of wholly repulsive characters, neither Sorkin nor Fincher care that their audience will find no point of emotional identification with these people. They expect us to be following the fascinating story of this rise to power from nothing, and to be as excited as possible in watching a film about a bunch of people arguing in rooms and occasionally writing code.

What is most surprising about that is they manage to pull it off. And the reason Fincher deserves to raise that golden gentleman above his head is down to his technical, directorial skill in making that cinematic and making it look effortless. It’s pure genius.

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1. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s majestic oil soaked epic is the most profound and complicated film of this decade, not in terms of plot but in terms of theme, character and message. There Will Be Blood plays out as an extended allegory for modern American capitalism as embodied in oil baron, Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day Lewis), as he slowly takes over a small Californian village into an oil city during the turn of the century. Then a spanner is thrown in the works as religious nut Eli Sunday poses a significant threat to the credibility and success of Plainview’s work, as if to symbolise the battle between Capitalism and Religion. Very much in the same way Guillermo del Toro worked his way up to Pan’s Labyrinth, There Will Be Blood is the film Paul Thomas Anderson has been working to, it is everything he has always aimed for.

Daniel Day Lewis is Plainview, he lives and breathes that character. It is truly a remarkable performance, from the opening of the film Day-Lewis dominates the screen and is rarely off it for the rest of the two and a half hours. And the way his powerful voice seductively commands the soundtrack, it is an oddly weird but slick mixture of Noah Cross from Chinatown and Agent Smith from The Matrix. The brilliance of Day Lewis’ performance is how he is able to make a thoroughly hideous man likeable. Plainview is a man made of pure evil and is interested with nothing except money. And yet, due to what we go through with Plainview, we side with him. We track his life and it is only by the end we begin to distance ourselves from his character. This also has a lot to do with Anderson’s direction as well and how he presents Plainview to us, in the framing most importantly.

When I said this is the film Anderson has been working to his whole career, I meant it. Sound and noise is very important in his movies and here it is possibly the most important factor. The score composed by Jonny Greenwood is powerful but also very unsettling and runs completely contrary to the images before our eyes. However, while scores are often used to reflect the emotion of the characters or the pace of a particular scene, in the case of Anderson he uses the music to set the mood and the tone throughout, which he has always tended to do. The offtone screeching strings which pierce the speakers are used to the highest degree to set off a sense of unease in the viewer from the beginning. However, this film is also very different from what Anderson has directed before, whilst in the past he has focused on ensemble pieces with many characters who have interweaving stories very much in the style of the films of Robert Altman or Martin Scorsese, There Will Be Blood is a focused character study on one man more in the style of Citizen Kane, and it works to startling effect.

The film also contains one of the best directed openings ever commited to film, the first 15 minutes which is dialogue free, manages to convey so much by doing so little. In that short space of time, Anderson perfectly sets up Plainview, the standing with his son and his ever growing business prowess and expansion. There Will Be Blood is a monumental achievement of filmmaking, it demands constant attention and benefits from repeat viewings. This is the kind of film to be indulged in by scholars and film lovers and it will be interpreted and studied for a very long time to come.

And there you have it. My top films of the decade. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Richard – The Camera Dolly Guy

    The first few in this article are kind of a kick in the dark,… I mean they are good movies but no way they are top of this decade!

  • Broskeefniaque23

    Deleting comments which contain editorial revisions and then proceeding to make the revisions is just gutless. This website is fascist.

  • Nowayjose

    Hate to break it to you but the last decade was 2000-2009. Before that, 1990-1999. Major fail.

  • J. Mitch

    City of God?

    • Beto

      agree, this movie is so great!

  • bob


    what about “almost Famous” or “Avatar??????

  • SWfan

    What about Star Wars? Maybe not the tippy-top, but for special effects sake they should be on here. Not to mention the were epic.

  • Zac

    Social Network over LOTR? And the Jesse James movie was, awful. Also Wes Anderson is way better than Alexander Payne. Just sayin. I agree with some of these but, dude.

  • Akash Vijay

    Take out Inception and Slumdog Millionaire and replace it with City of God and the Diving Bell and the Butterfly and push the LOTR Trilogy to 17th or 18th and that would be a great list.