My top films of the decade (2001-2010)

A post 7 days in the making, given the writer's limited blog time. And now, finally!

This abandoned blog's largest section comprises of ravings on films. And I realize it's 2011, and for the first blog post of the year, I decided to write about my favorite subject again. So this is a list post, on which I think are the best films of the decade. By best, I mean considering everything valid: mise-en-scene, script, cinematography and even emotional (entertainment) and intellectual value. So don't expect any dense chick flick or The Royal Tenenbaums in here.

My reluctance about the credibility of any top films list is that before anyone can even truly pick certain best films, they should have watched all of the films screened within a determined period. That's the only arguable, right way critics can even choose. But to redeem herself, a critic can say, "The best films among those I've seen are ... etcetera." But that's my point, critics never say that.

So the best films I've seen from 2001 to 2010 are, given I'm not missing out on something I truly thought was great:

25th Hour (2003) by Spike Lee
While using expletives in every other sentence, Edward Norton's anti-hero character channels the style of de Niro-and-the-mirror in Taxi Driver, delivering his convoluted insights on life and the human race. An expected ending, but one leaving characters --and viewers--with noble aspirations beyond screen time.

About Schmidt (2002) by Alexander Payne
"We're all pretty small in the big scheme of things ... what kind of difference have I made?" And this small movie lies mostly forgotten in the big world, but its difference lies in compassion, Jack Nicholson and the quirky screenplay's quiet charisma.

Before Sunset (2004) by Richard Linklater
Eighty minutes, two characters talking, a walk around Paris nine years after they first met. No one else could have pulled off such a Hollywood indie feat in the style of French quasi-intellectual, hyper-realistic cinema. Before Sunset only poses as a romantic flick and delivers the genre so subtly.

Big Fish (2003) by Tim Burton
Tim Burton's surrealist-expressionist film about a dying old man's tall tales of his adventures while his journalist son listens on, hoping that for the last time, his father would tell him the truth. Though not a truly great film, not even one of Burton's better creations, Big Fish is a memorable visual, family feast.

Crash (2005) by Paul Haggis
With a surprise Oscar best picture win over crowd favorite Brokeback Mountain which no one but Ebert and me (really, now?) predicted, Crash has a deserving, absorbing charm, not only by an all-star ensemble but by clever, convincing script defining racism in its many forms. While watching this, you'd forget what the word "predictability" means and characterization is thrown out the window: "Who needs it?" After all, even with characters' clashing differences, they share a common humanity.

The Departed (2006) by Martin Scorsese
After watching this, I right away read Ebert's review. "(This Scorsese) movie is not what it's about, it's about how it's about." Take that from a man who wrote an entire book about the director. It's fascinating to watch di Caprio as the good guy pretending to be bad and Damon as the bad guy pretending to be good. And these pretensions cause real tension to viewers who spend the entire screen time knowing, "Oh no, he's just saying that."

Far From Heaven (2002) by Todd Haynes
Haynes resurrects Douglas Sirk's 50s genre-defining melodrama films in a way that's too authentic that film geeks won't miss the late director's shot after shot of symbolism and satire. Forced to convey real human problems, issues and emotions such as class, gender and race. But over Far From Heaven's attempted resolutions, I'd still prefer Sirk's fair, convenient endings.

Finding Nemo (2003) by Andrew Stanton
So many of us probably saw Nemo and Marlin's adventures over and over again, the same way one should repeat things for Dory to remember. A film buff's standard for any children's flick is if grown-ups don't have to  grin and bear it as they would sitting through Barney. And Nemo is not just an entertaining, witty treat, but a technological and artistic feat as well.

In America (2002) by Jim Sheridan
A migrant family finds themselves disillusioned in the land of their dreams. Old storyline with an exceptional delivery. In America is a film that reminds me why drama is my favorite genre in the first place, but not that it's generic. Sure the emotional struggles of characters are moving and heavy, but the plot also has grit and carries hope with it. Best of both worlds?

Insomnia (2002) by Christopher Nolan
Nolan may well be on his way to becoming (and I hesitate) today's Hitchcock, but it's still a long way. An Inception or another The Prestige here and there won't earn him the rep. Personally, I think another Insomnia would do it for him, if only audiences would take time, and if Nolan stops deceiving us with quasi-cerebral plots and actually delivers non-Freudian, realistic, understandable, (but still thrilling) think piece of a film. But then again that's boxing him in Hitchcock too much.

In the Mood for Love (2001) by Wong Kar Wai
I wrote a freshman's take on Wong Kar Wai a few years ago, and he could always redeem himself for My Blueberry Nights (which turned out to be "trifle") with another Chunking Express or Happy Together. But Wong would always be remembered for In the Mood because of its experimental style, like a glorified, feature-length music video relying on non-verbal expressions and score to project the tensions of adultery.At the same time, there's a well-placed moral commitment which makes it tops.

The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003) by Peter Jackson
I gotta be honest. The visualized versions of Tolkien's masterworks weren't my favorites, and it's probably 'cause I was too young to make sense of such long screen times with fantastic characters and hazier plot. Really, there's a difference between dwarfs, elves and hobbits? After just having read Tolkien, I looked back to remember the film trilogy and realized Jackson's almost as wise as Gandalf for pulling it off.

Matchstick Men (2003) by Ridley Scott
Matchstick Men is probably the next best movie about con artists after The Sting (1973). Scott playfully combines the hero's psychological idiosyncrasies--stuff of comedic relief--and crime thriller-drama thematic. And its visuals are not too bad, too. I can still remember one scene which plays like an expressionist work to introduce the hero's OCD. The film, in the end, is about finding a family--literally and existentially.

Mystic River (2003) by Clint Eastwood
When I saw Gone Baby Gone '07, I thought this has got to be a rehashed, minor version of Mystic River. And why not emulate it? In a fine example of his mastery of the craft, Eastwood creates a heavy, sulking crime drama and makes use of ace actors to craft real emotions in audiences.

No Country for Old Men (2007) by the Coen brothers
Okay, okay, so I hafta be honest. I've only seen the first few scenes in this film, and I'm looking forward to finishing it before I die. BUT. It's that good. Bardem is horrific, and this film relies on his character's authenticity. Ty Burr praises the Coens' filmmaking, "The brothers don't make movies 'about' something. They tell stories and they let you do the math."

The Passion of the Christ (2004) by Mel Gibson
Most of the film commentators I've read through the years wrote lengthy reviews on this film in an attempt to reflect not only on its technical qualities, its intentions and issues, but its effort to deliver a message so powerful that it had to justify its use of gore.

The Pianist (2002) by Roman Polanski
Polanski (whom I wrote about a year ago) is undeniably one of the better filmmakers around.It's easy to place this film next to the greatest films on war and redemption ever created, as it triumphantly exhibits the power of evil and shows how a singular human craft and transcendent goodness can overcome it.

The Queen (2006) by Stephen Frears
I've never seen Her Majesty the Queen, whoever she is through the years, being portrayed so humanly than in Frears' account of Britain's Royal Family. Helen Mirren is convincing as the matriarch monarch (as if she's born to be Queen), and Michael Sheen fooled me into thinking he's the actual Tony Blair. Looking at the surface, a viewer might at first wonder whether this is a critical work against the Windsors, but in the end it urges one to be sympathetic to them.

Rescue Dawn (2007) by Werner Herzog
By a director who can easily be found in film theory books and starred by the actor who played Batman in another life, Rescue Dawn was an unexpected treat. But as expected, Herzog shoots a part-fictional film like a non-fictional, real-time documentary. It doesn't really try to express a profound message of survival, good vs. evil, hope or whatnot, only of a reality--dirty, hungry prisoners in the jungles of Vietnam, parched from the humidity and literally scarred by genuinely harsh surroundings, trying to escape.

I'm very much tempted to include the following films, but for one reason or another, I hesitate:
Adaptation (2002), The Dark Knight (2008), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Chicago (2002), Children of Men (2006), The Constant Gardener (2005), Sideways (2004), The Bourne Trilogy, Julie & Julia (2009), 21 Grams (2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

I regret not having seen the following films, which I think could well be included in the list above: 
Spirited Away (2001), Inception (2010), Donnie Darko (2001), The Fighter aka I bet Bale will be with Uncle Oscar this year (2010), The Hurt Locker (2009), The King's Speech (2011), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), Moon (2009), Bowling for Columbine (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Grizzly Man (2005), Brick (2005), Synecdoche, New York (2008)