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Top 100 Films of the Decade

Written by on December 31, 2009 

For the past few months here at The Film Stage we have had endless debates on the 100 films that defined the decade. After many late nights whittling the list down and some films that hurt to let go, we have landed on 100 films that we believe everyone should see and share. The order isn’t as important as what the list contains; 100 films that changed the way we view the world and how we lived our lives during the past 10 years and undoubtedly well into the next decade and beyond.

100. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)

After dissecting the nature of paranoia (Following), the nature of memory (Memento) and the nature of guilt (Insomnia), writer/director Christopher Nolan dissected the nature of lying in this mini-masterpiece about magicians and the depths of each performance. Both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale rise to a script that is, itself, a magic trick. And, like all great tricks, one worth getting swept up in again and again. – Dan M.

99. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)

It’s Clue with England’s most accomplished, most refined actors, plus a dynamite, dialogue-driven screenplay by Julian Fellowes from an idea by late master Robert Altman and the always reliable Bob Balaban. At once a satire of Hollywood (both now and then), a mockery of the upper class and a fun romp full of witty dialogue in darkly lit hallways, it’s certainly Altman’s best of the decade and one he will be always remembered for. – Dan M.

98. Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)

An amazing documentary chronicling tightrope-walker Philippe Petit’s meticulously-calculated, illegal and purely insane feat of sneaking to the top of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1974 and doing his tightrope routine between the two towers. 1350 feet in the air, Philippe successfully accomplishes a nearly unbelievable act while making the journey to that point one of the most interesting heist stories ever told. Touted as the “artistic crime of the century,” Man on Wire is one of the most engaging and enjoyable documentaries ever, let alone the decade. – Addam H.

97. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

I was quite upset when Pan’s Labyrinth lost the Foreign Oscar to this film a few years ago. Then I watched it. This gripping tale of betrayal and fear played out by some of the finest foreign actors around was one of the most memorable films of the decade. Not since The Conversation has surveillance been captured so well.  – Jordan R.

96. About a Boy (Chris and Paul Weitz, 2002)

Hugh Grant’s apparently most appealing when he’s a pompous shut-in on the cusp of an emotional breakthrough. This warmhearted comedy from Chris and Paul Weitz is not groundbreaking but its spirit is one of a kind. The chemistry between Grant and then-newcomer Nicholas Hoult is a delight. As a testament to Nick Hornby’s culturally aware books-turned-films, it’s packaged with great music:  Badly Drawn Boy’s gentle Brit pop-rock. – Mark M.

95. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)

The 60’s had Lawrence Of Arabia, the 70’s had Apocalypse Now, the 80’s had Full Metal Jacket, the 90’s had Saving Private Ryan, and, finally, at the tail end of the 00’s one film stood out as THE war film of this past decade. The Hurt Locker is perhaps the best look at the effect on soldiers fighting in the current war against terrorism. The enemy isn’t going to put their body on the line anymore when they can kill you via cell phone. They can get you anywhere at any time. That kind of danger is faceless and without warning. Only those with the bomb detectors can find the answers. – Merrill B.

94. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000)

Blending comedy and drama without blinking whilst allowing Michael Douglas the best performance of his career, director Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of this Michael Chabon novel is bittersweet and melodramatic, just like the writers it examines. Some shrug it off as a mere acting showcase. And while this much is true, there’s great writing courtesy of Steve Kloves and a great soundtrack, of which Bob Dylan is partly responsible. It’s hard to ask for much more than that in a movie about artsy people, for artsy people. – Dan M.

93. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)

Adolf Hitler was a terrible and evil man. there is NO doubt about that. What Downfall was able to do was give a unique characterization of this man. Many consider this to be the ultimate movie of Hitler’s third Reich. Every character showed on screen actually existed. Every fight and error shown actually happened. On top of that, we are given emotional insight of what might have gone through Hitler’s mind as his power started to decline.  – Hash M.

92. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)

After a string of misses, the legendary Sidney Lumet finally delivered a film that stands next to his early classics. The cast is filled with true pros including Albert Finney, Philip Seymor Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Morisa Tomei. The ending may go a tad over-the-top, but the extreme nature of these characters makes it all believable. –  Jack G.

91. Anchorman (Adam McKay, 2004)

This over-the-top story of an anchorman’s trials to become the best that there ever was certainly moved me to tears… as I fell out of my theater seat laughing insanely. Will Ferrell has never been this funny. With a cast that features the main players of modern comedy, you have to have no soul to not enjoy Ron’s crying, dog loving, rival news fighting, slightly homoerotic trek to the top.  – Hash M.

90. American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

A dark, twisted, and hilarious parody on the high-class rich folks from the 80s. Any film in which Jared Leto gets thwacked in the face with an axe by psychopathic Christian Bale is pure gold. This is a truly funny and unsettling must-see. – Jack G.

89. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)

A film student’s wet dream. This is not a back-handed compliment. Ambitious auteur Richard Kelly delivered this little gem as his debut, and he’s yet to find a voice as tight and sound to follow it up with. Featuring a break-out turn by Jake Gyllenhaal as the twist protagonist and great supporting turns from Patrick Swayze and Holmes Osborne (Donnie’s dad), Darko offers twists that don’t feel cheap and long shots that don’t feel (quite) pretentious. Well done, Mr. Kelly. – Dan M.

88. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)

One of the most beautiful and pure films in recent memory, Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s timeless children’s story is an incredible achievement in cinema and a heartfelt journey to the best, and darkest, moments of your childhood. Max is ten years old and the weight of dealing with his family not paying much attention to him pushes him to create a world of monsters to escape to. A world where he is king. Where The Wild Things Are is a short children’s book of only 48 pages and around 340 words total, brilliantly expounded on by Dave Eggers and vividly brought to life by Spike Jonze. – Addam H.

87. Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007)

This is a film that defined (and redefined) several things at the movies: an Apatow-esque film, a man-child, bromances, the R-rated comedy, the accepted running time of a comedy, etc. It also made stars out of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. Luckily, this film is worth all of the reference and all of the praise. – Dan M.

86. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)

Reading Wladyslov Szpilman’s memoir in high school, I shuttered at the thoughts of a child being beaten to death trying to escape a Jewish ghetto or a paralyzed man being thrown out of a four story window only to have the rest of the family running away while being shot like dogs. Polanski kept every last detail of Szpilman’s life incredibly accurate with appropriately disturbing details. Seldom movies captures the horror and traumatizing actions war makes men do. The Pianist is one of them.  –  Hash A.

85. The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy, 2003)

One of the best examples of a small movie doing big things without saying much or even having much to say. Writer/Director Tom McCarthy tells the story of Fin, a dwarf who lives in an abandoned train station and prefers the isolation. This, of course, doesn’t last as he encounters people, both outgoing and troubled, in the form of Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson and Michelle Williams. Peter Dinklage owns the film as Fin and the rest of the cast is up for the challenge. McCarthy practices the old “less is more” adage here, and you’ll get more than you could ever expect. – Dan M.

84. In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001)

Frank is the only son of a normal New England family. Dad is a doctor, Mom is a school teacher and Frank is in his summer break from his first year of college. Frank is in love. Not in love with a fellow college student though. He is in love with an older woman from town with two kids and a violent ex-husband who is still dealing with the not-quite-finished divorce.  Soon Frank’s choices bring an unspeakable tragedy to this quaint and simple New England family. Tragedy that leaves the family forever changed. – Addam H.

83. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrman, 2001)

Eccentric without apology, director Baz Lurhmann managed to bring together a classical love story, visually-warped cinematography and pop musical numbers to great effect. Whilst directors would go out of their way to remove anything unprofessional from their film, Luhrmann feeds off the amateurish look of his sets and the realistic voices of his actors. Musicals are a rare success but Moulin Rouge was an addictive pleasure to watch repeatedly. – Josie M.

82. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

I’ve seen Inglourious Basterds twice now, the first time opening weekend in a packed theater and I waited until it’s release on DVD to catch it again. In the words of David Bowie’s “Cat People,” it had been so long. Watching it again, I was nearly astounded at how much Quentin Tarantino had thought out each line and each character action down to a T. The film is distinctly aware of what we’re watching, and thus the filmmaker at hand has made what is a feast for any film lover who is willing to go along with it. There’s a lot to be said about the movie, in terms of the moral complexity at hand, about Christoph Waltz’s hopefully harrowing (and humorous) supporting performance as Hans Landa, about the ending, of it’s design as a movie itself, and so much more.  – Nick N.

81. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)

The Wrestler is a unique animal. Made with great skill by Darren Aronofsky, whose polarizing previous film The Fountain either worked for you or didn’t. His latest is expertly made, acted to heartbreaking degree by Mickey Rourke in the lead and Marisa Tomei in a supporting role, and says a lot about failed dreams and the attempts to recoup them in any way possible. At the same time, while I recommend it to everybody who can see it or asks about it, it’s also a movie I have absolutely zero desire to ever see again. Depressing in a way that is hard to outdo because it feels all too real, The Wrestler quite literally ruined my day when I saw it and I was feeling grim for the rest of the week. So, in a word, The Wrestler is a movie you absolutely must see, but remember you’ve been forewarned. – Nick N.

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