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Top 100 films of the decade

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Posted: Saturday, January 16, 2010 12:00 am

The end of the decade coincides with the 10-year anniversary of this column, and what better way to mark the occasion than with an obsessive ranking of the decade's best films?

I've seen around 1,500 new releases during my time here at the News-Sentinel (with a couple hundred more to still catch up on — mostly documentaries and obscure foreign films), and out of what I saw, these were the ones that mattered.

1. "Kill Bill"

(2003-04, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)

No film in the past 10 years made cinema come more vibrantly alive for me than Tarantino's epic two-volume ode to B-movies. The 2000s were all about taking what was old and making it new again, and Tarantino embraced this idea with an enthusiasm that proved to be infectious.

2. "Requiem for a Dream"

(2000, Darren Aronofsky, U.S.)

This unflinching examination of addiction in all its forms was unspeakably depressing and completely devoid of anything resembling hope, but the film tackled its subject in such a mesmerizing manner that it was impossible to look away. Decades from now, Ellen Burstyn's shattering performance as a diet pill addict slipping slowly into insanity will be the stuff of legend.

3. "Gone Baby Gone"

(2007, Ben Affleck, U.S.)

Affleck's remarkably assured directorial debut about the investigation into a child abduction case was more than just the best genre piece of the past 20 years; it was also an engrossing, deeply profound exploration of societal ethics and personal morality, and what happens when the two become irreconcilable.

4. "The Departed"

(2006, Martin Scorsese, U.S.)

Edgy, thrilling and very, very entertaining, this old-school crime drama represented Scorsese's best work since "Taxi Driver." Every single scene was charged with the kind of electricity only Scorsese can deliver, and the film's shocking third-act coup-de-grace was merely the masterstroke.

5. "The Passion of the Christ"

(2004, Mel Gibson, U.S.)

The film had many critics, but this is one case in which I suspect that the most nakedly ridiculous criticisms (It's torture porn! It's anti-Semitic!) were the result of straight-up anti-Christian bias. How else to explain why so many otherwise reasonable people failed to see the brilliance of Gibson's beautifully rendered Passion Play, which, if nothing else, was quite obviously a masterpiece of religious iconography?

6. "Memento"

(2001, Christopher Nolan, U.S.)

One of the most starkly original movies of the decade, this tale of an amnesiac's search for revenge was told backwards, with the "last" scene occurring first, and the "first," last. A total gimmick, but I've never seen a gimmick work so incredibly well. I, for one, will always remember Sammy Jankis.

7. "There Will Be Blood"

(2007, Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S.)

Despite being a total Anderson fanboy, I vastly under-rated this one when it was first released. But several more viewings have set me straight: This oppressive study of the structural tensions between capitalism and organized religion was one of the decade's truly vital films, and as a portrait of greed and ego run amok, comparisons to "Citizen Kane" were valid. Daniel Day-Lewis' Oscar-winning performance as a turn-of-the-century oilman may be cinema's most grandly entertaining oddity.

8. "In the Bedroom"

(2001, Todd Field, U.S.)

At times uncomfortably realistic, Field's probing, controlled character study was eerie and quietly intense. A trio of great performances from Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei punctuated this story of grief and vengeance in suburbia, but it's Field's crackling screenplay that really brought everything together.

Best filmmakers

The best directors and their best films, narrowed to the top 15 because sometimes, 10 just isn't enough.
1. Quentin Tarantino ("Kill Bill," "Death Proof," "Inglourious Basterds")
2. Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight")
3. Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York," "The Aviator," "The Departed," "Bob Dylan: No Direction Home")
4. Lars von Trier ("Dogville," "Dancer in the Dark," "Antichrist")
5. Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler")
6. Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Children of Men")
7. Mel Gibson ("The Passion of The Christ," "Apocalypto")
8. Paul Thomas Anderson ("Punch-Drunk Love," "There Will Be Blood")
9. Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle," "Ponyo")
10. Todd Field ("In the Bedroom," "Little Children")
11. Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings," "King Kong")
12. Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead," "Watchmen")
13. David Cronenberg ("A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises")
14. Paul Greengrass ("Bloody Sunday," "United 93")
15. David Fincher ("Panic Room," "Zodiac")

9 "Whale Rider"

(2003, Niki Caro, New Zealand)

I don't mind saying it: "Whale Rider" made me bawl like a little girl. This story of a young Maori girl trying to fulfill her destiny as a tribal leader offered me more emotional engagement than 100 other, less observant family films combined, but it never relied on manipulation or cheap shots. Keisha Castle Hughes was just 11 years old at the time of filming, yet her heart-wrenching performance ranks as one of the finest I've ever seen.

10. "The Dark Knight"

(2008, Christopher Nolan, U.S.)

Nolan scored huge with his bold reimagining of the Batman universe, and this could easily be called the greatest superhero movie ever made. But is it really a "superhero movie" at all? The film is so rooted in neo-noir style and Nietzschean philosophy that it seems wrong to reduce it to such a level.

11. "The Lord of the Rings"

(2001-03, Peter Jackson, U.S.)

I generally can't stand this sort of thing, but under Jackson's masterful direction, this trilogy temporarily made me a fan of fantasy filmmaking. The best part: P.J. finally got the respect he deserves.

12. "Lilya 4-Ever"

(2003, Lukas Moodyson, Sweden)

This devastating chronicle of one young woman's descent into forced prostitution may be the greatest and most important "issue" movie ever made.

13. "Sin City"

(2005, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, U.S.)

A visually intoxicating, admirably chivalrous adaptation of Miller's crime-themed graphic novels, and quite simply one of the best damn times I had at the movies all decade. I've a strong suspicion that Tarantino ghost-directed the whole thing.

14. "A History of Violence"

(2005, David Cronenberg, U.S.)

At once repellant and really, really awesome, Cronenberg's hyper-violent film (another graphic novel adaptation) dealt with the potential for brutality that lies dormant in "civilized" men.

15. "Dogville"

(2004, Lars von Trier, Denmark)

The decade's defining statement on imperialism, von Trier's heavily experimental film essentially served as a defense of terrorism and a general middle finger to the U.S. Outrageous? You bet. But so, so compelling.

16. "The Wrestler"

(2008, Darren Aronofsky, U.S.)

Behold, the triumphant return of Mickey Rourke! Only he could have played the role of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed-up wrester seeking redemption, and with Aronofsky's help he's given us his best work to date.

17. "Tell No One"

(2008, Guillaume Canet, France)

The decade's most romantic film was also one of the most suspenseful. The story, concerning a man who is contacted via e-mail by his deceased wife eight years after her murder, played out with the detail of a great novel. Repeat viewings were unavoidable.

18. "Inglourious Basterds" (2009, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)

Proof of Tarantino's continued growth as a filmmaker, this film was propelled by an incredible momentum that reached an apex with a bold act of historical revision that won't soon be forgotten. And that tavern scene… Oh man, that tavern scene…

Most over-rated

1. "Million Dollar Baby" (2004, Clint Eastwood, U.S.)
2. "All the Real Girls" (2003, David Gordon Green, U.S.)
3. "Mulholland Drive" (2001, David Lynch, U.S.)
4. "Chocolat" (2000, Lasse Hallstrom, U.S.)
5. "The Reader" (2008, Stephen Daldry, U.S.)
6. "Revolutionary Road" (2008, Sam Mendes, U.S.)
7. "Atonement" (2007, Joe Wright, U.K.)
8. "Babel" (2006, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, U.S.)
9. "The Hours" (2002, Stephen Daldry, U.S.)
10. "Hero" (2004, Zhang Yimou, China)
11. "House of Sand and Fog" (2003, Vadim Perelman, U.S.)
12. "Elephant" (2003, Gus van Sant, U.S.)
13. "Avatar" (2009, James Cameron, U.S.)
14. "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004, Michael Moore, U.S.)
15. "Juno" (2008, Jason Reitman, U.S.)

19. "Y Tu Mama Tambien"

(2002, Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)

This story of two young men embarking on a road trip with an older woman was sexy and involving, with a social conscience that always felt genuine.

20. "Kung Fu Hustle"

(2005, Stephen Chow, Hong Kong)

A deliriously goofy fusion of kung fu movies and "Looney Tunes" comic sensibilities that made me giggle like a maniac from start to finish.

21. "Antichrist"

(2009, Lars von Trier, Denmark)

This epic battle of the sexes was painful, misogynistic, hateful, and perhaps even stupid. Yet it was also engrossing, terrifying, beautifully filmed, and provocative in ways that only a von Trier film can be.

22. "Death Proof"

(2007, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)

Once again, Tarantino took a forgotten genre (in this case, the grindhouse "gearhead flick") and injected it with new life and vitality. Way better than its sister film, Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," despite what you may have heard, and the final car chase is peerless.

23. "Watchmen"

(2009, Zack Snyder, U.S.)

Snyder revealed himself as a visionary with this adaptation of the noted graphic novel. A thrilling stripping-down of superhero lore, it also served as a fascinating treatise on war and aggression.

24. "Let the Right One In"

(2008, Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

A haunting, aesthetically flawless gem of a film that really put the rest of the current vampire craze in perspective. If you saw "Twilight" instead of this, then you are what is wrong with America.

25. "Unbreakable"

(2000, M. Night Shyamalan, U.S.)

Forget the awful "The Sixth Sense"; this moody superhero riff was Shyamalan's real achievement. As a man whose superpowers slowly begin to dawn on him following his involvement in a train crash, Bruce Willis has rarely been better.

26. "Gangs of New York"

(2002, Martin Scorsese, U.S.)

Scorsese's historical gangland epic featured another fantastic turn from Daniel Day-Lewis. But then, when isn't the guy amazing?

27. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

(2006, Larry Charles, U.S.)

A hilarious and pointed satire that poked fun at American intolerance while at the same time appealing to viewers' inherent xenophobia. A careful balancing act, that.

28. "Dancer in the Dark"

(2000, Lars von Trier, Denmark)

Lars von Trier broke Bjork, but at least it was for a good cause.

Best scenes

1. The extended action set pieces of Quentin Tarantino
* Showdown at House of Blue Leaves ("Kill Bill")
* Ship's Mast ("Death Proof")
* La Louisiane ("Inglourious Basterds")
* Revenge of the Giant Face ("Inglourious Basterds")
2. Winter ("Requiem for a Dream")
3. Finished ("There Will Be Blood")
4. "The Times, They Are a-Changin'" ("Watchmen")
5. Randy's comeback ("The Wrestler")

29. "Munich"

(2005, Steven Spielberg, U.S.)

Another badass film that I originally under-rated, and Spielberg's best work since "Schindler's List." Revenge might be cyclical, but evidently it can also be awesome.

30. "The Mist"

(2007, Frank Darabont, U.S.)

Perhaps the decade's most pleasant surprise, although considering the grim material, I'm not sure "pleasant" is the right term. "Soul-sucking," maybe. (Fellow entomophobes, be warned.)

31. "Chicago"

(2002, Rob Marshall, U.S.)

Marshall's direction was worthy of Fosse, and the musical numbers were all doozies. This would be the era's best musical if it wasn't for "Dancer in the Dark," but it still certainly qualifies as the most fun.

32. "Oldboy"

(2005, Park Chan-wook, South Korea)

Two words: Hammer time. And that's all that really needs to be said.

33. "The Descent"

(2006, Neil Marshall, U.K.)

This kind of thing doesn't usually scare me, but this horror flick about a group of cavers who get trapped underground with "something" was so atmospheric that it had me climbing the walls.

34. "Zodiac"

(2007, David Fincher, U.S.)

A different kind of serial killer thriller than Fincher's "Se7en," but at times just as hair-raising. A film that gets better each time you see it.

35. "The Last King of Scotland" (2006, Kevin Macdonald, U.K.)

Expected a relatively dry biopic on Ugandan dictator Idi Amin; got a white-knuckle thriller. Hey, I'm not complaining.

36. "United 93"

(2005, Paul Greengrass, U.S.)

There's no way this should have worked. But somehow, Greengrass' recreation of the Flight 93 hijacking was both respectful and suspenseful, somber yet engaging. Erect all the buildings you want, but there will never be a more powerful 9/11 memorial.

37. "Panic Room"

(2002, David Fincher, U.S.)

Fincher's virtuoso technique was on full display in this home-invasion suspense film, and Jodie Foster was in top form.

38. "Children of Men"

(2006, Alfonso Cuaron, U.K.)

Cuaron's vividly dystopian portrait of a world plagued by infertility featured some of the decade's most impressive and immersive action sequences.

39. "Monster's Ball"

(2001, Marc Forster, U.S.)

Halle Barry won the Oscar, but it's Billy Bob Thornton's performance as a troubled man struggling with his racist upbringing that left me shaken.

Best performances

1. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood"
2. Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in "Requiem for a Dream"
3. Heath Ledger as The Joker in "The Dark Knight"
4. Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in "Gangs of New York"
5. Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in "The Aviator"

40. "Closer"

(2004, Mike Nichols, U.S.)

A carefully observant study of screwed up people doing screwed up things to one another in the most fascinating manner imaginable.

41. "Open Water"

(2004, Chris Kentis, U.S.)

This indie horror film about a scuba-diving couple stranded in the middle of the ocean was as heartbreaking as it was heart-pounding.

42. "Dawn of the Dead"

(2004, Zack Snyder, U.S.)

Even better than George A. Romero's original "zombies in a mall" scenario, and it flowed with the fluidity and consistency of a well-oiled machine. Popcorn filmmaking at its absolute finest.

43. "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009, Spike Jonze, U.S.)

If this was any indication, then perhaps only weirdo hipster filmmakers should be hired to adapt children's books.

44. "A Beautiful Mind"

(2001, Ron Howard, U.S.)

Howard is hardly a "great filmmaker," but he's made some great films. This is his finest, with a career-best performance from Russell Crowe as mentally ill mathematician John Nash.

45. "Pan's Labyrinth"

(2006, Guillermo del Toro, Spain)

With this adult-oriented fairy tale set in Franco's Spain, del Toro showed that he has a wild imagination — and the filmmaking skill to back it up. Sometimes, at night, I can't shake the feeling that the Pale Man is coming to get me.

46. "Paranormal Activity"

(2009, Oren Peli, U.S.)

I can't tell you how glad I am that this ultra-creative, micro-budget haunted house thriller became a legitimate box-office phenomenon.

47. "Frailty"

(2001, Bill Paxton, U.S.)

Paxton pulled double duty by starring as a widowed father who involves his two young sons in his serial-killing exploits, which may or may not be guided by God. A bold, surprising horror story, and quite a debut for Paxton as a feature director.

48. "Little Children"

(2006, Todd Field, U.S.)

As in "In the Bedroom," Field again displayed a knack for observing characters in domestic strife. As a confused, adulterous housewife, Kate Winslet turned in what may be the decade's sexiest performance.

49. "Apocalypto"

(2006, Mel Gibson, U.S.)

A hugely entertaining chase film set in Mayan civilization, and compelling evidence that "The Passion of the Christ" wasn't a fluke.

50. "Finding Nemo"

(2003, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, U.S.)

Pixar's strongest offering in the past 10 years, with a whip-smart screenplay and a great voice cast.

51. "Almost Famous"

(2000, Cameron Crowe, U.S.)

Crowe's mature, autobiographical coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the '70s rock scene should be required viewing for all teenagers — and adults, for that matter.

52. "The Aviator"

(2004, Martin Scorsese, U.S.)

As the eccentric Howard Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio dispensed with impersonations and made the character totally his own. Wave of the future, indeed.

53. "In the Loop"

(2009, Armando Iannucci, U.K.)

A completely irreverent war satire so funny that it harkens back to "Dr. Strangelove." And always remember: In the land of truth, the man with one fact is the king.

54. "Spider-Man 2"

(2004, Sam Raimi, U.S.)

By far the most emotionally affecting superhero movie, with spectacular action and a superior villain in Alfred Molina's sympathetic Dr. Octopus.

55. "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009, Wes Anderson, U.S.)

Quirky and riotously funny, this kid-lit adaptation would make a great double-feature with "Where the Wild Things Are." I'm telling you, when it comes to this stuff, hipsters know what's up.

Best films of the 1990s

1. "Pulp Fiction" (1994, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)
2. "Exotica" (1995, Atom Egoyan, Canada)
3. "Magnolia" (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S.)
4. "The Sweet Hereafter" (1997, Atom Egoyan, Canada)
5. "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992, James Foley, U.S.)
6. "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" (1990, James McNaughton, U.S.)
7. "The Usual Suspects" (1995, Bryan Singer, U.S.)
8. "Drunken Master II" (1994, Liu Chia-Liang, Hong Kong)
9. "Se7en" (1995, David Fincher, U.S.)
10. "Reservoir Dogs" (1992, Quentin Tarantino, U.S.)
11. "Braindead" (1992, Peter Jackson, New Zealand)
12. "Fight Club" (1999, David Fincher, U.S.)
13. "Breaking the Waves" (1996, Lars von Trier, Denmark)
14. "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999, Stanley Kubrick, U.S.)
15. "The Celebration" (1998, Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)

56. "Trick 'r Treat"

(2009, Michael Dougherty, U.S.)

A delightful, punchy horror anthology in the vein of "Creepshow," infused with a "Pulp Fiction"-esque narrative sensibility. Definitely "my kind of thing."

57. "Shaolin Soccer"

(2004, Stephen Chow, Hong Kong)

The decade's best sports movie was stupid in all the right ways.

58. "Spirited Away"

(2002, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)

Miyazaki does "Alice in Wonderland." On acid. It's a good thing.

59. "Bloody Sunday"

(2002, Paul Greengrass, U.K.)

Greengrass' in-the-moment account of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre was an expertly assembled thriller as well as an enlightening bit of social drama.

60. "Return to Sleepaway Camp" (2008, Robert Hiltzik, U.S.)

Never mind. I don't expect you to understand anyway.

61. "Battle Royale"

(2001, Kinji Fukasaku, Japan)

Technically never released in the U.S., but I'll make an exception and include it here. This action film about a group of teens forced to fight to the death on a remote island was horrifying, but also incredibly fun.

62. "Eastern Promises"

(2007, David Cronenberg, U.K.)

Like in "A History of Violence," Cronenberg abandoned his old ways in favor of a new, subversive style, and it fit right in with this brutal film about the Russian mafia.

63. "Nine Queens"

(2002, Fabian Bielinsky, Argentina)

No movie has better captured the step-by-step mechanics of the long con. Predictable, yes, but charmingly old-fashioned.

64. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"

(2005, Nick Park/Steve Box, U.K.)

Still waiting for a follow-up to the feature debut of everyone's favorite cheese-eating Brit and his super-genius dog. Unfortunately, I'll probably die waiting.

65. "Cache"

(2005, Michael Haneke, Germany)

The first Haneke film that I actually liked, it concerned a family who begins to receive threatening messages accompanied by surveillance footage of their home. Hitchcock would be proud.

66. "21 Grams"

(2003, A. Gonzalez Inarritu, U.S.)

"Amores Perros" and "Babel" were both pretty dumb, but Inarritu did manage to impress with this intentionally disjointed drama about damaged people drawn together by tragedy.

67. "Punch-Drunk Love"

(2002, Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S.)

Most of Adam Sandler's comedies make me want to stab myself in the face, so when I say that he should have won an Oscar for his performance here as a lonely, emotionally retarded collector of frequent-flier miles, it is not a statement that should be taken lightly.

68. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

(2000, Ang Lee, Hong Kong)

Wuxia filmmaking hit the U.S. in a big way with this stunning swordplay epic. In a film full of wonderful characters and performances, young Zhang Ziyi owned every scene she was in.

69. "Gladiator"

(2000, Ridley Scott, U.S.)

How could you not be entertained by Scott's Oscar-winning actioner, which brought the sword-and-sandals epic into a new millennium?

70. "Unfaithful

(2002, Adrian Lyne, U.S.)

A restrained adultery drama that went places I wasn't expecting it to go. Regrettably, Lyne ("Fatal Attraction," "9 1/2 Weeks") hasn't made a film since.

71. "Once"

(2007, John Carney, U.K.)

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova had great natural chemistry as a pair of lovelorn musicians. Their acceptance of the best song Academy Award (for the lovely "Falling Slowly") might be my all-time favorite Oscar moment.

72. "Lost in Translation"

(2003, Sofia Coppola, U.S.)

Past master Francis Ford Coppola hasn't been sane or functional as a filmmaker for the past 30 years, but thankfully he has daughter Sofia ("The Virgin Suicides," "Marie Antoinette") to take over the family business. She had a strong debut decade, and this unique "older man/younger woman" romantic comedy was her best work.

73. "Batman Begins"

(2005, Christopher Nolan, U.S.)

Nolan's initial reboot of the Batman franchise was significantly over-shadowed by its stronger sequel, but that in no way diminishes the effectiveness of Christian Bale's first outing in the bat suit.

74. "Wet Hot American Summer" (2001, David Wain, U.S.)

This trippy exercise in absurdity was not tailored to all viewers. However, if you found the prospect of, say, an elaborate rendition of "Day By Day" performed by kids at a Jewish summer camp to be irresistibly hilarious, then you, my friend, were in luck.

75. "Gosford Park"

(2001, Robert Altman, U.S.)

A playful piece of class commentary cloaked as a manner-house murder mystery, staged by a very detail-oriented filmmaker. Seeing it once simply wasn't enough.

76. "Ghost World"

(2001, Terry Zwigoff, U.S.)

Thora Birch ("American Beauty") made some poor choices following her starring role in this counter-culture slice of life, but at least we'll always have Enid.

77. "Traffic"

(2000, Steven Soderbergh, U.S.)

It deals with contemporary issues, but this globe-trotting War on Drugs thriller feels like it was made in the '70s. That is seriously the highest compliment one can pay a film.

78. "Nurse Betty"

(2000, Neil Labute, U.S.)

This is the film that made me fall in love with Renee Zellweger. Betty, a traumatized woman obsessed with a soap star, might still be my favorite of her roles.

79. "Spellbound"

(2003, Jeffrey Blitz, U.S.)

This documentary on the 1999 National Spelling Bee evoked a strong sense of patriotism, even in a grumpy anti-nationalist like myself.

80. "Moulin Rouge!"

(2001, Baz Luhrmann, Australia)

I'm willing to bet that Luhrmann's revolutionary musical melodrama came as close as any film has to replicating the effects of dangerous psychotropic drugs.

81. "Sexy Beast"

(2001, Jonathan Glazer, U.K.)

Dude, Gandhi is freakin' terrifying.

82. "Shattered Glass"

(2003, Billy Ray, U.S.)

An account of fraudulent journalist Stephen Glass that unfolded with the precision of a thriller. Peter Sarsgaard gave a very true, lived-in performance as the editor who brought him down.

83. "About Schmidt"

(2002, Alexander Payne, U.S.)

Payne's "Sideways" got all the love, but I much preferred this study of a retired widower who slowly begins to realize that his life is pretty much meaningless. Yet I still can't figure out if the ending is meant to be uplifting or depressing (I found it the latter). Either way, it's cathartic.

84. "Waking Life"

(2001, Richard Linklater, U.S.)

A freakishly animated, metaphysical rumination on life, the universe and everything. It gave me the most satisfying headache ever.

85. "Better Luck Tomorrow" (2003, Justin Lin, U.S.)

A true-life crime story about over-privileged, bored, disaffected youths that stood out thanks to writer/director Lin's layered characterizations.

86. "Team America: World Police" (2004, Trey Parker, U.S.)

Parker's painstakingly filmed marionette show also happened to be one of the decade's funniest movies, and among the best political satires.

87. "Femme Fatale"

(2002, Brian DePalma, U.S.)

Come for the opening heist scene set at a film festival; stay for the head-spinning twist ending. DePalma may be irrelevant at this point in his career, but here he temporarily redeemed himself.

88. "Syriana"

(2005, Stephen Gaghan, U.S.)

Like "Traffic" with oil instead of drugs, and every bit as sprawling and intricate as Soderbergh's film (Gaghan wrote both). Who would have guessed that George Clooney could effectively play a schlub?

89. "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" (2006, Park

Chan-wook, South Korea)

Americans can get out of here with their weak, watered-down torture porn. This was an example of the genre done right, partially because in Chan-wook's universe, violent actions actually have moral implications and real-world consequences.

90. "Before Sunset"

(2004, Richard Linklater, U.S.)

Through two movies, we waited for that one, achingly beautiful, perfectly delivered line: "Baby, you are gonna miss that plane." So worth it.

91. "Gran Torino"

(2008, Clint Eastwood, U.S.)

Eastwood isn't exactly the most consistent director out there, but this low-key story about the friendship between a Hmong youth and a grizzled war vet was one of the high points of Eastwood's career.

92. "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008, Guillermo del Toro, U.S.)

I demand to know how del Toro convinced the studio to sign off on a project so dementedly avant-garde. Still, he had to have slipped in that final, perfectly ridiculous freeze-frame under the radar.

93. "The Hurt Locker"

(2009, Kathryn Bigelow, U.S.)

Bigelow's tightly paced Iraq War action flick skillfully supported the idea that war is a drug — and addicts make the best soldiers.

94. "The New World"

(2005, Terrence Malick, U.S.)

This Pocahontas tale was grilled for its lack of historical accuracy, but to be honest, I was in it strictly for Malick's breathtaking images. Haters can go read a history book.

95. "Howl's Moving Castle" (2005, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)

Apparently, Miyazaki can always be counted on to come out of "retirement" to deliver a fresh visual masterpiece.

96. "North Country"

(2005, Niki Caro, U.S.)

If this harrowing film about the harassment and humiliation faced by female coal miners didn't make a feminist out of you, then I'm afraid you lack a conscience.

97. "City of God"

(2003, Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)

Who wanted to go to Rio de Janeiro after seeing Meirelles' unblinking portrait of poverty and violence? Nobody, that's who. It probably hampered tourism, but few films have exhibited such a finely tuned sense of location.

98. "Snatch"

(2000, Guy Ritchie, U.K.)

The last great film from Ritchie before ex-wife Madonna got her spidery little hands on him. He's probably a broken shell of a man by now, but I've hope for the future.

99. "Frost/Nixon"

(2008, Ron Howard, U.S.)

Another very good Howard film made great by a magnetic central performance. Apologies to Anthony Hopkins, but Frank Langella made the best Richard Nixon ever.

100. "Pineapple Express"

(2008, David Gordon Green, U.S.)

Green's "All the Real Girls" stands as the single most excruciatingly boring film experience I've ever had, but he made amends (somewhat) with this genre-bending buddy flick, featuring a nicely goofy performance from James Franco as a good-hearted drug dealer.



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