Return of the King--We have to start with Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson's achievement with the trilogy is unprecedented and historic. Of the trilogy, "Fellowship" proved the concept, "Towers" was great action, but the climax was the best movie. And, yes, that's despite the longest anticlimax in the history of great movies since "Gone with the Wind".
The Departed-Yes, it is cops and robbers, of which I've had more than enough to last my lifetime. I found the acting and scripting to be superlative, though: the tension involved in being undercover was captured beautifully, and Jack Nicholson's mob chieftain provided a welcome corrective to decades of trying to make them too human, too good, too powerful (not that I didn't enjoy The Godfather, Pt. II).
The PianistWorld War II was never done bigger or better. The Eastern Front was the critical one of the War, and we have rarely seen it, certainly not like this. The history of Warsaw is one of the most poignant in the entire saga; the choice of the protagonist and his story emphasizes nicely the culture that was consumed in the chaos.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind What a brilliant idea, and so well executed! There are few among us who wouldn't like to wipe out memory of a relationship or two. And then, somehow, do it again, right this time.
The Man Who Wasn't There My vote for the best Coen Brothers movie of the decade (pending "A Serious Man", coming out soon) goes for this underrated noir about the death penalty. Billy Bob gives his best performance, easily better than "Monster's Ball".
Angels in America (TV miniseries)--Best drama of the decade. Miracles visit AIDS patients in New York (retrovirals being one, though not emphasized as such). Incredible performances too numerous to list, though I have to mention Jeffrey Wright and Meryl Streep (even better than "Julie and Julia", which for my vote has to be the Best Actress performance of '09, with the caveats that I won't consider anything yet to come out, as discussed in Pt. 1). I wish I'd seen the original theater production, which I've heard was shattering and life-changing.
The New World Gets my vote as the most successfully ambitious movie of the decade. Not as technically difficult as some; the challenge is creating the strange feeling of the arrival in Virginia of the first colonists. Of course, we can't know if it's the true one, but I certainly got it.
Diving Bell and the Butterfly This one edges "A Mighty Heart" as my tear-jerker of the decade. The story is gut wrenching from start to finish.
Shrek Best pure amusement of the decade. Filled with classic comic dialogue, delivered by many of the best. It shows the power of moviemaking that no one questions that the ogre can truly be lovable.
Wall-E The biggest subject there is, the legacy of humanity, tackled with humor, which makes the didacticism go down easy.
There's no doubt I'm a sucker for the auteurs, as follows, respectively: Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Michel Gondry (with Charlie Kauffman at the pen), Joel and Ethan Coen, Mike Nichols, Terrence Malick, Julian Schnabel, DreamWorks, and Pixar.
Who's missing from this list? The answer is Clint Eastwood. I liked "Letters from Iwo Jima", a lot, but I'm waiting to see whether "Invictus" matches up with his greatest, "Unforgiven".
The first ten were unranked, but my next ten definitely starts with Children of Men--like this year's "2012", tackles the great fictional idea of what people would really be like if there were no hope. I felt "Children's" premise ludicrous until I started hearing about the chemicals in the plastic bottles which could make all men sterile. Still, I liked the execution better than the story. Clive Owen's performance gets my vote for best hero of the decade.
Eleven More Films Mentioned with High Honor
Monsoon Wedding, Into the Wild, Little Miss Sunshine, Where the Wild Things Are, Up, High Fidelity, Batman Begins (I prefer it strongly over The Dark Knight), A Mighty Heart, Julie and Julia, Pan's Labyrinth, and The Fountain.