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Late to the Party: The Best Films of the Decade

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Well, folks, the Aughts have come and gone, but they’ve left us with a number of great films. (As for the bad, we’ll leave those to the Razzies.) There was room enough for five movies on the list, and the way I chose them was simple: these are the films which have resonated with me the most over the last ten years. There are a few I was sad not to include, The Man Who Wasn’t There chief among them. Don’t feel too bad for the Coen brothers, however; as you’ll soon see, they still made the cut.

5. Capote (2005)

Utterly compelling without anything resembling an action sequence, Capote is the first of two films on this list carried by its central performance. In this case, it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the film’s namesake, author Truman Capote, that draws us in and maintains our interest throughout. I can think of few films which have captivated me in quite the same way: though it would be wrong to say much actually happens in the movie, the nuances of Hoffman’s turn as the author of In Cold Blood require as much attention as do the most involving of plots. There is a certain tragic distance between us and the on-screen Capote (traces of whose eventual downfall we can see, even if he can’t) akin to that of scientist and specimen that, try as we might, we can never quite close. That the film spurs this vain attempt is its greatest success.

4. Sideways (2004)

SidewaysFive years after the fact, it still bothers me that Paul Giamatti was not nominated for Best Actor for playing Miles Raymond in 2004’s Sideways. (Clint Eastwood, however, was nominated for playing himself again.) Never have I witnessed a character only exist for two hours of screen time and yet seem so heartbreakingly real, so human — an amazing feat in and of itself, and one anchored by strong support performances from Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen. Every time Miles gets lost in thought or savors a glass of wine, I feel as though this is a real person I’m watching, and not a fictional character. The question of whether Miles and his soon-to-be-married friend Jack are likable, sympathetic characters has often been raised. This still stuns me. Both are such living, breathing people, so relatable in their desire to go about unencumbered, if only for a week, that it’s impossible for me not to feel for them both.

3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2003, 2004)

Vol. 1 for turning me on to Tarantino, Vol. 2 for living up to the spectacle of its predecessor and ending the bloody affair on a more mature, subdued note. Tarantino’s self-indulgent, reference-laden style is in full effect here, as are the visuals — who can forget the breathtaking serenity of the snow garden after The Bride (Uma Thurman) disposes of the Crazy 88, or, for that matter, the opening moments of Vol. 1? Pulp Fiction proved that there’s no such thing as a forgettable scene in a Tarantino movie, but Kill Bill‘s nonlinear blend of martial arts, anime, snakes, and world travel may make it his most entertaining effort to date.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)

The best adaptation of a novel I’ve ever seen. We’re not likely to see a match-up this perfect again anytime soon: the wood-chipping, Miller’s-Crossing Coen Brothers bringing a Cormac McCarthy novel to the screen was like a dream out of a land of some other order. There is a flatness to the film that makes its scenes of brutal violence that much harsher, but it’s the narration of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) that packs the strongest punch: his monologues bookend No Country for Old Men, and punctuate the idea that our time on this earth is fleeting. And yet we seem obsessed with shortening that time even further. This thought, like most of the others the film evokes, is far from comforting, yet it’s delivered in such a way that, for a moment, it seems cathartic. And then you wake up.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

It seems that much of the praise given to the Rings trilogy went to the first and third films, but in my mind The Two Towers was undoubtedly the best of the three. The real meat of the story takes place here – no requisite introduction or long ending – as do the most moving moments. It is in Towers that we see Gollum (Andy Serkis, who deserved an Oscar nomination for the role) at his most morally ambiguous; we want him to be good, yet know his ultimate turn will be for the worse. Too, we witness one of the most awe-inspiring battle scenes yet filmed: the epic Helm’s Deep, the film’s focus, and the trilogy’s most satisfying segment. There is, of course, the action, but there is also Aragorn (played by the always great Viggo Mortensen) showing us traces of the king he will soon become. I saw this film five times in theaters, and doubt I’ve since gone a year without re-watching it. To call it the best of the decade is debatable; to say it’s my favorite is not.

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