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Matt's Best Films Of The Decade

As I mentioned last week, another decade is about to come to a close.  Over the weekend, I put my thinking cap on to determine how I can sum up these 10 action packed years of cinema.


With roughly 10 weeks remaining this year, I’ve decided to do my wrap up over this period.  Each week, I’m going to focus on a different genre and name my 2 best films from each.  I was only going to name one film initially in each genre but just found it too hard.  The buffer gives me a chance to expand a little further.


Just because a film featured prominently in my top 10 list for a certain year didn’t guarantee it a spot in my decade wrap.  Some films do age better than others and have had the chance to see some of the films a second, third, fourth… time has helped me develop a better appreciation for just how great it is.


In total, I’ve seen and reviewed 2,021 films between 2000 and 2009.  There’s still two months to go of course so the final total is to be determined.  I point this out because it wasn’t an easy assignment trying to pick my favourites.  I started with a brainstorming session on a bit of paper and slowly narrowed the field.  It was sad to leave certain films out but I might sneak them in for a quick mention along the way.


Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Foreign Language Films (19/10/2009)


Foreign language films have exploded in Australia over the past decade.  With many new cinemas opening their doors, the demand for different types of movies has increased.  At the start of the decade, one of your only chances to see foreign language films was at the Brisbane International Film Festival.  Now, it seems there’s a foreign language film released each week.


On top of that, there’s a multitude of mini festivals shown in Palace and Dendy cinemas.  There’s also Bollywood which has infiltrated Australia – there’s a new film shown at the Hoyts Regent here in the city each week.


Having sifted through them all, my two favourites were:


Y Tu Mama Tambien (released in 2002) – full review can be found here.


The Lives Of Others (released in 2007) – full review can be found here


I remember seeing Y Tu Mama Tambien at the 2002 Brisbane International Film Festival.  It started with a full-on sex scene and it finished with one of my all time favourite endings – Julio and Tenoch sitting in a café with a narrator describing events.  Mexican director has since gone on and made Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban (the third in the series) and Children Of Men.  He’s creative and knows how to tell a story.


The Lives Of Others was my favourite film of 2007.  It had won the Oscar for best foreign language film but even I wasn’t prepared for how good it was.  It opened my eyes to a period of German history that I didn’t know much about.  Many German films focus on the atrocities of World War II but this film was set in the 1980s – just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I have to say that I was saddened to learn of the passing of star Ulrich Muhe who died not long after the film was released.  Her earned a posthumous BAFTA Award for best actor but lost to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.


Honourable mentions in the foreign language category go to films including The Spanish Apartment, The Motorcycle Diaries, Downfall, Turtles Can Fly, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, The Counterfeiters, Summer Hours, No Man’s Land, The Man On The Train, Talk To Her and Kitchen Stories.


Next week, I’ll look at my favourite animated films of the decade.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Animated Films (26/10/2009)


Last week, I started my look at the best films of the decade.  This week’s focus is on another area of cinema which has grown exponentially over the last decade – animation.


Back in the mid 1990s, it was Disney who dominated the animation game.  They’d release one big blockbuster every year.  Things changed in 1995 with the arrival of Toy Story – the first computer-generated full length film ever made.  You can forget how quickly times have changed.  Animation is everywhere today.


In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences introduced a new category at the Oscars – best animated feature.  It’s a category which has been very competitive since its inception.  Shrek took the honours in 2001 and WALL-E won last year.


It wasn’t easy coming up with my two top animated films for the decade and the two that I’ve decided on may catch people off guard – because they’re both in a foreign language.  They are…


Spirited Away (released in 2002) – full review is here.


Persepolis (released in 2008) – full review is here.


What’s also a little strange about my two choices is that they’re both simple, hand-drawn animation.  It’s cool seeing a computer animated film which is rich in detail (like anything coming out of Pixar lately) but it’s the story which is important above all things.


Spirited Away is from acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and won the Oscar in 2002 for best animated film.  It’s pretty “out there” but that’s what I loved about it.  Miyazaki has such a vivid imagination, a creativity which cannot be matched.  It has a permanent space in my DVD collection and I never get tired of seeing it.  A beautiful tale.


Persepolis blew me away at last year’s Brisbane International Film Festival.  It’s actually a rarity too in that it’s black and white animation.  It’s a darker story (not necessarily suited for young children) and left me feeling uneasy at times.  It proved that you don’t need to have real actors to convey raw emotions.


I have plenty of honourable mentions this week and they include Chicken Run, Shrek, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Ratatouille, Kung Fun Panda, WALL-E, Cars, Up and Coraline.


You can bet there’ll be a lot more animation in the years to come – especially of the 3D variety.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Thrillers (2/11/2009)


Now it’s time for part 3 of my best of the decade series.  We’re looking at a more familiar genre this week – thrillers.


I need to point out that there a lot of films which cross genres.  Many thrillers could just as easily be classed as a drama.  I had my trouble myself trying to split my own short-list of films between thrillers and dramas.  It gets even harder when you start looking at the romantic or comedy genres.


Anyway, it was a tough choice once again but the two films which I’ve settled upon this week are…


Donnie Darko (released in 2002) – full review is here.


The Talented Mr. Ripley (released in 2000) - full review is here.


Donnie Darko is a heck of a motion picture.  It’s got some really stylish stuff.  I loved the montage at the start of the film to “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears.  Just as amazing was the final sequence set to “Mad World” by Gary Jules.  The story is complex and you’ve got to keep on your toes.  I’ve seen it several times and not even I am convinced I fully understand it.  The film also boasts one of the best individual scenes in a movie – the part where Jake Gyllenhaal confronts Patrick Swayze at an open forum.  I went through this scene a few weeks ago in my blog and I laughed so hard when I saw it for the first time.


The Talented Mr. Ripley is in my opinion, the best film from the late director Anthony Minghella.  Minghella will be more remembered though for The English Patient, which swept the Oscars in 1996.  I’ve read the novel on which The Talented Mr. Ripley is based and this is one of those rare instances where the full essence of the book (and maybe even more) comes through on screen.  It’s always been a benchmark for me on how to adapt a great novel.  Matt Damon’s character is incredibly complex – he is insecure but incredibly cunning at the same time.  He shares some wonderful sequences with Philip Seymour Hoffman (my favourite actor of the last decade).  It also has a great film score from Gabriel Yared (the soundtrack is in my collection) and ends on a perfect note.


Honourable mentions this week (which will get a certificate of commendation from me in the mail) go to Mulholland Drive (which will be mentioned again very soon), Hidden, Memento, The Pledge, Insomnia, The Mothman Prophecies, 28 Days Later, Mystic River, Notes On A Scandal, The Others, Collateral, The Bourne Supremacy, Wolf Creek, Let The Right One In, Duplicity and State Of Play.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Musicals & Action/Adventure (9/11/2009)


My fingers are sore so let’s quickly get to part 4 of my best of the decade series.  This week, I’m looking at musicals and action/adventure films – two very different genres.


We’ll start with musicals and whilst there aren’t a lot of them to choose from, there were two clear standouts…


Moulin Rouge (released in 2001) – full review is here.


Chicago (released in 2003) - full review is here.


I do love a good musical and these two were exceptional.  The great thing too with a musical is you can watch it again and again and again.  The songs are forever imprinted in your brain.  Honourable mentions in this category go to Mamma Mia, Hairspray and High School Musical 3.


Action/adventure films are my least favourite genre (well, aside from romantic comedies).  I find so many of them formulaic and predictable.  The plot is often underdeveloped.  The best of the bunch though were:


The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (released in 2001) – full review is here.


Batman Begins (released in 2005) – full review is here.


I loved all of the Rings films but it’s the first one I consider the best.  Batman Begins was an iconic movie as far as I’m concerned – director Christopher Nolan proved that you can take a dead franchise and reinvigorate it.  The same thing happened this year with Star Trek.  My honourable mentions are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gladiator, Spider Man, Snakes Of A Plane, Death Proof, King Kong, Master & Commander and Apocalypto.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Documentaries (16/11/2009)


This decade has been huge for documentaries.  When I started reviewing in the mid 90s, you’d be lucky if you saw one documentary in a movie theatre.  I can remember seeing Hoop Dreams at the old Myer Centre Cinemas (man, they were bad) in 1996.


How times have changed.  It seems the new way of getting your message across isn’t through the Discovery Channel or 60 Minutes, its through the medium of cinema.  Michael Moore has led the craze.  Bowling For Columbine set a record in 2002 my grossing $21m at the U.S. box-office.  Moore smashed his own record 2 years later when Fahrenheit 9/11 (which I saw in London) grossed $119m.  Outstanding.


So far this year, I’ve seen 15 documentaries in a movie theatre.  I saw 19 last year.  In comparison, I saw a total of just 12 between 2000 and 2004.


Whilst I am a fan of Michael Moore’s works, my two picks for the best documentaries of the decade are:


Spellbound (released in 2003) – full review is here.


The Corporation (released in 2004) - full review is here.


I can remember seeing Spellbound on a Saturday afternoon after a French class (a fad which lasted a total of 5 weeks).  It was incredible.  It was about the national spelling bee competition in the United States and it focused on eight kids who made it through to the final.  This was edge of your seat stuff.  More suspenseful than a horror film.  13-year-olds were trying to spell impossible words – one mistake and they’re eliminated.  All the study, the hard work, adds up to nothing.


The Corporation was equally compelling and focused on a subject close to my heart – the way in which corporations make ridiculous amounts of money and whether they help the world, or hinder it.  You’d say this was ahead of its time also because the recent global financial crisis has come about largely as a result of corporate greed and risk-taking over the past few years.  It’s one of those films that not only provides entertainment but it can change the way that you live your life.  That’s powerful stuff.


Honourable mentions go to Bowling For Columbine, Capturing The Friedmans, Fahrenheit 9/11, My Flesh & Blood, The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill, An Inconvenient Truth, The Fog Of War, DiG!, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Forbidden Lies, Deliver Us From Evil, American Teen and Man On Wire.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Romance (23/11/2009)


My least favourite type of a movie is a romantic comedy.  I usually find them formulaic and predictable.  I also struggle to see chemistry between the two leading characters.  Romantic dramas are more my thing – there’s time for character development and actual emotion.


Almost every film contains an element of romance somewhere and so the pool of films I could draw from to pick my favourites is quite wide.  But my choices for the two best of the decade are:


Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (released in 2004) – full review is here.


Lost In Translation (released in 2003) - full review is here.


Eternal Sunshine is one of the most beautifully creative films that you could ever imagine.  It was written by Charlie Kaufman, who penned Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  Why I highlight this film in this genre is because it’s a reverse romance.  Two people fall out of love and then fall back in love through the “memory erasure” process (see the film if you need this explained).  It stars Kate Winslet (my favourite actress of the decade without question) and the underrated Jim Carrey.  This film will only get better with age.


Lost In Translation is a different type of romance.  Some may not even call it that.  Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in Tokyo and spend a few days together.  They don’t kiss, they don’t say I love you.  But there’s some connection between them.  Something a little more than an ordinary friendship.  They know deep down that they’ll never see each other again after they both leave Japan.  It’s simply one of those special moments that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.


If you haven’t seen these two films yet, please do so!!!  They’re just too good.


Honourable mentions go to Once, Brokeback Mountain, Moulin Rouge, 500 Days Of Summer, Elegy, Before Sunset, The Notebook, Something’s Gotta Give, Kissing Jessica Stein and Little Manhattan.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Comedy (30/11/2009)


I’ve said this many times but the hardest genre to master is that of comedy.  We all have a different sense of humour and what one finds funny, another may find offensive.  I think it’s for this reason why comedy films do so poorly in major award shows.  It’s a lot easier to create a moving drama that will reduce audiences to tears.


The Simpsons is the greatest comedic television show ever made and it has moulded my own warped comedic stylings.  When it comes to movies, I like my comedies dark.  The blacker, the better.  There’s nothing better than taking something serious and making light of it.  Perhaps the best black comedies I’ve ever seen is Election, released in 1999 and starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.


But as for the past decade, my two favourite comedies are…


Ghost World (released in 2002) – full review is here.


Juno (released in 2008) - full review is here.


Ghost World is pure brilliance.  So many memorable one liners.  And it ends in such brutal fashion too with regards to the Steve Buscemi character (which I won’t spoil for those yet to see the movie). 


Juno came out just last year but it earned as swag of Oscar nominations and won an Academy Award for best original screenplay.  It too has an edge and doesn’t always go in the direction you might think.  The sarcastic Juno MacGuff is one of cinema’s great creations.


Honourable mentions in the comedy genre must go to Nurse Betty, Gosford Park, Galaxy Quest, Series 7: The Contenders, Shadow Of The Vampire, Adaptation, Igby Goes Down, Bend It Like Beckham, Intolerable Cruelty, Punch Drunk Love, The Rage In Placid Lake, The Spanish Apartment, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Squid And The Whale, Superbad, Burn After Reading and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  A long list.

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Mind F*** (7/12/2009)


We’re down to the last two weeks of my “best of the decade” series.  I had to come up with a new genre so as to be able to include these two particular films.


I saw both of these movies at the Dendy George Street Cinemas and they blew me away.  They are visually amazing and you could watch them 10 times without fully appreciating everything.  Darren Aronofsky and David Lynch are two amazing directors.


These two films are…


    Mulholland Drive (released in 2002) – full review is here.


    Requiem For A Dream (released in 2001) - full review is here.


Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Drama (14/12/2009)


For the past 10 weeks, I’ve been slowly revealing my best films of the decade.


We’re done to the grand finale this week – my two favourite drama films.  And I have to admit that when I think about, these two films would be my OVERALL favourites of the decade.  I’ve seen them a lot of times and I’ve never grown tired of them.


Both were released back in 2000 and they are…


    Billy Elliot (released in 2000) – full review is here.


    Magnolia (released in 2000) - full review is here


I ended up seeing Billy Elliot five times at the cinema.  That sounds a little crazy I know but I took different groups of friends each time.  It’s an incredible story which is told so beautifully by director Stephen Daldry (who earned an Oscar nomination).  There are so many great scenes and if I started talking about it now, I wouldn’t stop.


In 2005, I went to London to attend the British Open golf but also high on my list to do was see Billy Elliot: The Musical.  I queued up for 3 hours to get tickets (front row, centre) and simply adored it.  To see it with the original cast made the experience all the more special given it has become a worldwide sensation and is still being performed in both London and New York.


Magnolia is a completely different film – a 3 hour ensemble piece that you will either love or hate.  Paul Thomas Anderson is a talented director and this is his masterpiece.  He tells a compelling story but does so poetically – with the use of his camera lens and Jon Brion’s film score.  My favourite scene is a continuous take where the camera follows around a group of characters with no editing whatsoever.  He used the same technique in Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love.  The opening is brilliant and the ending is poignant.  This could be my most watched film on DVD.


Drama is a huge category and honourable mentions go to – American Beauty, Traffic, Monster’s Ball, The Quiet American, Million Dollar Baby, Capote, The Departed, United 93, The Wrestler, The Cider House Rules, The Insider, Topsy-Turvy, Wonder Boys, Almost Famous, Cast Away, The Contender, Thirteen Days, Bloody Sunday, Black Hawk Down, Last Orders, City Of God, The Emperor’s Club, The Pianist, 21 Grams, Elephant, House Of Sand & Fog, Touching The Void, The Constant Gardener, Good Night And Good Luck, Look Both Ways, Mysterious Skin, Sideways, Match Point, Atonement, Blood Diamond, Michael Clayton, The Namesake, No Country For Old Men, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, There Will Be Blood, Milk, The Reader and Revolutionary Road.  Just to name a few…