The 30 Best Films of the Decade

20. Super Troopers

Say what you’d like about the movies they’ve made since, but don’t spread ill-will toward Broken Lizard’s breakout hit. The first ten minutes of this film might be some of the best scripted comedy in history, let alone the decade. This is one of two most-quotable films on our list, one that forever popularized the mustache ride. It has just as much wackiness as it does earnest human moments, which makes all the difference. -NM

19. The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The poem and namesake for the film is about a young man leaving his love behind to face the tumult of rebellion and dirt and death. Fitting, then, that Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning film faces the harsh reality and struggles of Ireland and England in the early 20th century with dirty realism. Cillian Murphy practically introduces himself to the world as a premier acting talent, and Loach’s vision was so startling that it earned him a comparison to Leni Riefenstahl. Hard to watch, yes, but even harder to miss out on it. -CA

18. Brick

One of a few directorial debuts that made our list, Brick was crafted by Rian Johnson on a shoestring budget with a little-known actor named Joseph Gordon-Levitt leading this tale of high school corruption. It was an innovative, energetic and deeply thought-provoking mystery that captured the spirit of noir, but put us all back in high school. We look back at it now as the first in a career that will certainly yield great results, as well as one of the most inventive works of the decade. -NM

17. The Departed

It’s hard to make a list of the decade’s best and not include the work of Martin Scorsese, who finally broke into Oscar gold with this 2006 release. It wasn’t exactly his masterwork, but certainly his best in a decade of ups and downs. But much like his film, Scorsese was a fighter. And with The Departed, he assembled the perfect cast and writer to strike a tone that resonated in a big way, completing his epic knockout at the Academy Awards. And unlike a few of this decade’s Best Picture winners, this gritty drama was more than deserving of its prize. -NM

16. High Fidelity

What effing Ian Guy? If you didn’t connect with the tortured, music-loving soul of John Cusak’s Rob, there might be something wrong with you. With razor sharp performances from Jack Black (when he was funniest) and the eclectic Tim Robbins, along with a perfectly-pitched script adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel, High Fidelity is the modern rom-com of choice. Honest, fun and touching all the way around. -NM

15. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

If director Peter Jackson did anything right in his run with the Lord of the Rings franchise (as if there were only one), it was building. He spent two films building up tension, piecing together Tolkien’s complex and eternally imaginative story and promising us that it would all pay off some 6 hours later. In 2003, he did just that with Return of the King. It was the biggest, most impressive display of epic storytelling to come about in this decade, and something that might never be matched in size and scope. And in a decade that seemed to be all about size and scope for a while, that’s certainly saying something. -NM

14. Whale Rider

If nine-figure budgets were a staple of this decade, Whale Rider is a quiet reminder of the power that can come from a modest budget, a deeply felt story, and the right actress bringing a character to life. Instead of expensive fireworks, the film does the hard work of exploring traditions, family, and our place in a changing society with humor and reverence. Scary, funny, painful, sweet – a perfect balance that makes for a brilliant family film disguised cleverly as a drama. -CA

13. Up

The hardest thing in this world of cinema appreciation to peg is that of the best film from Pixar Animation Studios. In this decade, they delivered six masterpieces, all near-perfect in their own right. And while The Incredibles seems to be the one that shot them into the stratosphere, we can’t help but think that they’ve gotten better at telling human stories in animated worlds with each successive release. It leads us to Up, their most touching, adventurous and vibrant movie to-date. -NM

12. Children of Men

Oh, you thought you understood what went into making a great tracking shot? Sorry to hear that. I imagine that since your jaw was probably already on the ground by the transcendent story and technical craft, it was digging its way to China by the time Alfonso Cuaron decided to let the camera run for four minutes straight. It took a special-made rig, a speeding car, and a ping pong ball, and Cuaron decided to outdo himself later on in the same movie. The exhaling sound you just made remembering that scene is proof enough that this film is the epitome of brilliance. -CA

11. O Brother, Where Art Thou

What can you say about a film who took a dormant genre of regional music and made it a national phenomenon? For the briefest moment, pop star blonds were knocked off the stage by an old blind man singing his bluegrass guts out. I’ve already gushed over this film once this year, and not only is it all true, it all stacks up viewing after viewing. The Coens have created some indelible films this decade, but this is an epic of great proportion. Not to be tellin’ tales out of school, but every thing about this film is soul-soaring amazement that will save you from eternal damnation. -CA


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