Best Movies of the Century, Year by Year
Looking back over my ten-best lists for the past decade, I see that my tastes are slightly out of the mainstream, at least as far as my fellow reviewers and the number ten itself are concerned.
Mike’s Eight Top‐Ten films of 2009
Inglorious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino’s audacious approach to the war film refuses to follow any rules and ends up being thoroughly engrossing and original.
Avatar. Despite its flaws, James Cameron’s s‐f adventure creates a beautiful, richly detailed world that’s a joy to discover. Along with Tarantino, he reminds us what big‐screen movies are all about.
An Education. The year’s best coming‐of‐age story. Carey Mulligan’s performance is remarkably mature and Peter Sarsgaard is equally seductive.
The Informant! The forgotten comic drama of the year with Matt Damon’s best performance. One of those stories that would make no sense unless it were true.
Up. Pixar continues to make the most imaginative, surprising and moving stories, CGI or live action.
The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow’s emotionally cool look at a slice of the Iraq war is as understated as Tarantino’s war film is operatic.
Star Trek. J.J. Abrams’ take on a familiar franchise is fast‐paced and thoroughly entertaining.
Harry Potter and the Half‐Blood Prince. The latest entry in the series is darker and more complicated and still engrossing.
Honorable Mentions: The Hangover; (500) Days of Summer; Adventureland; A Single Man; District 9; Anvil, the Story of Anvil; It Might Get Loud; Up in the Air; Sherlock Holmes.
Mike’s Eight Top Ten Movies of 2008
Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle’s Dickensian epic about a kid who grows up in the slums of Mumbai and competes on the Indian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is the year’s best pure crowd‐pleaser.
Iron Man. Everything I want to see in a big summer special effects movie: Good effects, solid story, excellent acting and humor.
Bank Job. Based‐on‐fact heist movie with smarts, humor, grand plot twists and a solid performance by Jason Statham. The year’s sleeper.
Burn After Reading. The Coen brothers at their best with the wicked story of half a dozen characters who are in way over their heads. Terrific ensemble led by George Clooney, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt.
Frost/Nixon. Frank Langella is going to get an Oscar nomination for his interpretation of Richard Nixon during his first public interrogation after Watergate.
Milk. Sean Penn is going to get an Oscar nomination for his interpretation of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official who was murdered in office. Excellent political biopic.
The Visitor. Richard Jenkins ought to get an Oscar nomination (and he ought to win) for his interpretation of a widower who finds himself after he meets two immigrants.
Wall‐E. Admittedly the first half is better than the second, but Wall‐E is the animated equivalent of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, a hard‐working little guy who falls for a glamorous babe and wins her.
Mike’s Seven Top‐Ten Movies of 2007
Michael Clayton. A multi‐million dollar product liability case drives one lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) insane and forces another (George Clooney) to question everything about his life. Complicated in all the right ways with brilliant dialog, legitimate surprises and great characters. Best film of the year.
Hairspray. Pound for pound, to use an apt metaphor, the adaptation of the Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ original is the most enjoyable movie I saw all year. I smiled a lot. Watching John Travolta and Christopher Walken dance together is worth the price of a ticket or a DVD all by itself.
Zodiac. O.K., after Fight Club, I’m now convinced that David Fincher is the real deal. Instead of focusing on the bloody details of the famous San Francisco murders, he’s interested in the way that people become obsessed and what that obsession does to them. He sticks closely to the facts and arrives at exactly the right ending.
Juno. The stars are perfectly aligned for young Ellen Page, writer Cody Diablo and director Jason Reitman in an intelligent, funny story of a pregnant teen, her family and an adoptive couple. What could have been an exercise in stereotypes is bracingly original all the way through.
Lars and the Real Girl. The premise—shy guy buys an anatomically correct sex doll and calls her his girlfriend—sounds creepy, but the filmmakers turn it into a genuinely sweet, slightly Woebegonian story with superb performances from Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer as his understanding sister‐in‐law.
Charlie Wilson’s War. Three stars—Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman—at the top of their game ought to be enough to separate this comedy from the pool of contemporary war movies that nobody’s going to see. It’s bright, sharp, sexy and the office scene is a brilliant set‐piece.
Lust, Caution. The intense sexual scenes have earned Ang Lee’s film an NC-17 rating, but at heart, it’s a carefully wrought spy tale in the John LeCarré mold. Stars Tony Leung and Tang Wei are letter perfect as lovers in occupied China during World War II.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten Movies of 2006
Children of Men. An adventure with an unheroic hero (Clive Owen) and a grim look at a possible near future, this one has stayed with me more than any other movie of the year.
United 93.Perhaps the most unconventional film of the year is also the best, to date, on the events of 9/11. It’s good to see that Paul Greengrass has been nominated as Best Director.
The Departed. Wildly violent, complicated and funny, this is the most entertaining movie Martin Scorsese has made in years. “And Oscar goes to…”
The Devil Wears Prada. Who knew that Meryl Streep could turn in such a brilliantly understated comic performance? Well, we all should have known. One of my favorite comedies of the year.
Little Miss Sunshine. A terrific ensemble cast (don’t forget Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette), a sharp script, and, a tone that’s never too cute. Sleeper of the year.
Letters from Iwo Jima.Clint Eastwood’s view of the battle from the Japanese point of view is a more straightforward war film than Flags of Our Fathers, and more moving.
The Illusionist. For sheer old-fashioned, what’s-going-to-happen-next story telling this one is hard to beat. And then there’s Paul Giamatti’s supporting work which deserved an Oscar nod.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten Films of 2005
King Kong. An impressive, if overlong remake of a masterpiece.
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Tommy Lee Jones tells a fine complicated story of contemporary western violence.
Good Night and Good Luck. Nicely nuanced view of a complicated piece of history and superb black and white cinematography.
Capote. Phillip Seymour Hoffman at his best as the troubled writer creating his masterpiece.
Jarhead. Nightmarish view of the first Iraq war.
The Squid and the Whale. Excellent examination of a very troubled family.
Munich. Suspenseful, complicated, morally complex—simply the year’s best.
Honorable Mentions: Match Point, Walk the Line, Upside of Anger, Crash, Batman Begins, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Lord of War, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Wallace and Grommit: Curse of the Were Rabbit, Syriana, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.