The best films I saw in the past ten years tended to be light on plot, heavy on texture and mood, and usually gorgeously photographed. Films include ones with strange worlds-within-worlds fictions, dreamlike stories, and a high kind of comedy that caused delight more than outright laughter.
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000).
Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 2000) &Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufmann, 2008). Both are Charlie Kaufmann movies; the second one, directed by the writer, wasn’t seen by enough people, but it is one of the three best films of the decade.
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001). Arguably the decade’s best animated film.
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001).
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001). Leave out the last ten minutes and set aside the first 8 episodes of “Twin Peaks” and this is David Lynch’s best movie.
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2002).
Être et Avoir (Nicolas Philibert, 2002). A French teacher in his last year of teaching elementary school. The title means “To Be and To Have,” which sounds like philosophy until you realize that the moviemaker is showing us something that is usually entirely invisible, but deep: a great teacher opening up young people to learning.
Rivers and Tides (Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2004). A portrait of the artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose work embraces erosion, change and impermanence.
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2004). Imagine your family’s carton of movies being discovered and edited together, with a voiceover by Thomas Pynchon.
Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2004). Gus Van Sant in an existential mode: strange, lovely images of being lost.
Wedding Crashers (David Dobkin, 2005). Do we have a funnier comic performer than Vince Vaughn?
L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne, 2005). The best of the decade from the Belgian brothers.
The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005). Painful observational comedy, it includes one of the decade’s best performances by Jeff Daniels.
Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou, 2006). No more beautiful movie was made in the past ten years.
Iraq in Fragments (James Longley, 2006). A great Seattle filmmaker working at the level of Chris Marker.
24 City and Still Life Jia Khangke (2006, 2008). A friend reached for a phrase from Beckett to explain how the image itself digests time in this strange new naturalism from China.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007). Blown images and a story about the human will.
Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel, 2007). Part of the new wave in Argentina.
Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008).
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008). Something in American film seemed to change when we watched the Joker make the pencil disappear.
Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008). The film is slow story about a drunk isolato at the bottom of the world until it metamorphoses into a work of art.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009). Anderson’s best film.