What Do You Think? Most Important Films of the Decade

January 22, 2010
By | 16 Comments

Continuing with our series (TV here, websites here, musical recordings here), what films would you nominate as the most important of the decade? As with the other lists, we’re not asking for the “best” per se, and we’re leaving it open with regards to what constitutes “importance,” but humor us and play along. We’ve started the ball rolling with a few personal picks, but the list needs your participation too.

All we ask is that you only list one item per post, then let others have a turn, since we want this list to form communally, not simply to be a collection of everyone else’s lists. Also, be sure to say why it’s important.

Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) (Matt Sienkiewicz).  An honest to goodness non-Hollywood Blockbuster that put Chinese filmmaking on the map worldwide.  The film’s unique action sequences have echoed throughout the decade and the fear it struck by proving that Big Films can be made outside of California still casts a shadow over any discussion about Hollywood in the era of globalization.  Also a pretty good film.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (Jonathan Gray). Surely, there are few people (cough, James Cameron) who studios love working with more than Judd Apatow.  Not only do his films gross huge amounts, but they’re also star-makers, meaning that a bunch of them got their talent for cheap. As for audiences, Apatow and friends have created a massively popular genre of geek chic bro comedies. And this is kind of where it began.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Lindsay H. Garrison). My apologies for going with what I think might be a fairly obvious one (or three). Eight years, $285 million dollars, and what seems like the entire country of New Zealand brought to life this monumental epic, one which re-invented notions of the film franchise in 21st century fashion.

There Will Be Blood (Nick Marx).  It wasn’t an industry game-changer, and dropping an “I drink your milkshake” into conversations today will likely draw puzzled looks.  But I’m confident that after some passage of time (and after those historians W always talked about finally get around to proving him right), the salience of this film’s “American dream” allegory will be much more apparent.  Importance issues aside, was there a better American movie this decade?


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16 Responses to “ What Do You Think? Most Important Films of the Decade ”

  1. Myles McNutt on January 22, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Crash is a movie that I found laughable, and yet it stands as one of the most important films of the decade for revealing both the sham that is the Academy Award voting system (and the marketing scrum surrounding it) and for demonstrating the degree to which online responses to a film can ultimately define its legacy far more effectively than any award might be able to (although, I do think that Roger Ebert and others have a point that the film is certainly not the worst made in the decade, so there’s also a case to be made for Crash also demonstrating how internet attacks can go too far).

    List as it stands is on target: would add that 40-Year Old Virgin is also important for having rescued the Office both in terms of reputation and in terms of helping the writers discover Michael Scott as a character, and that at least on first viewing last night (I’m terrible at keeping on top of movies) There Will Be Blood was mighty good.

    Although, I’m going to call Lindsay out a bit: if you had to pick one LOTR that was the most important, which would it be?

  2. Sean C. Duncan on January 22, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    I’m not sure one can pick a single film for LOTR. They were released as individual films, as the books were released as individual books, but the films were all filmed at the same time, and Tolkein’s books were originally intended to be one long book. So, it doesn’t much make sense to break them apart, does it?

    My suggestion isn’t a film, but a studio: Pixar. They reinvigorated animated film and lifted CGI-based animation in particular out of being a curiosity into a major creative and financial force. Not to mention spurring on this revival of 3D that might be making it into our homes sooner rather than later.

    • Myles McNutt on January 22, 2010 at 6:36 PM

      I think it’s possible to separate them in terms of their individual parts (Two Towers for the battle at Helm’s Deep and for the introduction of Gollum as a fully CG character, Return of the King for its neverending ending, etc.). I’m not suggesting that one has to tear them apart, and putting them together for the sake of this list makes perfect sense, but I would argue that the films can (and perhaps should) be judged on their own merits and that it’s possible to consider their individual impacts as part of the discussion at hand.

    • Lindsay H. Garrison on January 22, 2010 at 7:22 PM

      I agree w/ Sean – I kind of put them together as a franchise. I’m not sure if could really separate them out. But if I had to, it might be the first or the last one. Fellowship of the Ring set the whole thing in motion, and came with some incredible promotional work. Return of the King was my favorite of the three, for what that’s worth, and I think the ending actually worked really well. So, I don’t know.

      • Myles McNutt on January 22, 2010 at 9:28 PM

        Yeah, I wasn’t insinuating that you need to pick just one, but it’s interesting to look at each film individually. While they were obviously adapted as one, the way the second and third films deal with Tolkien’s fractured narrative is particularly interesting, and demonstrates some really intelligent work from Jackson/Walsh/Boyens. One of the things that has always captivated me about the adaptations is that, through both promotional work and quality, the “purist” argument faded away fairly quickly, and that they were able to make as many changes as they did is demonstrative of the intelligence and thought behind the entire process (which proves your point of that their importance is more collective than individual, although I maintain that the latter is still an integral part of their identity).

        And as for the ending, I think it would have been perfectly fine if they faded to something other than black. Which sounds really bizarre when I type it out, but I actually do think it would have alleviated the concerns of those who kept mentally thinking it was over, thus taking them out of the film.

        [Oh, and I’d probably pick The Two Towers: I think it proved that the story could maintain momentum despite being fractured, and I think it sell both talking trees and the Battle of Helm’s Deep in a way that I had never expected them to. Fellowship felt like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth being adapted to the screen, but I thought Two Towers felt like that world coming to life, and Return of the King’s success was able to build from that as a result. Might not be the best film, but I’d say it was the most important in terms of “solving” the adaptation.]

  3. Kyra Glass on January 22, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    I am going to cheat and propose two films for the same reason: Amelie and Spirited Away (or Howl’s Moving Castle if you prefer) because these films made a particular kind of foreign film exciting and accessible to new audiences. Amelie was a french film that charmed enough americans to make its roaming gnome part of our symbolic vocabulary and Spirited Away taught American audiences that Japanese animation could be for adult audiences. Similarly to Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon these films changed how many Americans felt about “foreign” films.

    • Myles McNutt on January 22, 2010 at 9:35 PM

      Love Spirited Away, and I’d add Pan’s Labyrinth to the list of films that managed to change expectations of what foreign film means in terms of North American audiences, one terrifying pale man with eyes in his hands at a time. It was a nightmare for me, but a real eye-opener for those who considered foreign film the realm of the “dramatic” only.

  4. Ky Boyd on January 22, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica for taking LGBT characters and stories into the mainstream; Fahrenheit 9/11, Shut Up and Sing, and Good Night and Good Luck for the portrayal of dissent and the negative impact of censorship; The Queen and Frost/Nixon – both brilliant back stage tales on world events.

    • Lindsay H. Garrison on January 22, 2010 at 8:51 PM

      Great suggestions on Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica. I completely agree with you.

  5. HMH on January 23, 2010 at 12:45 AM

    Sex and the City, Mamma Mia and Twilight. Whatever we might think of them, they were a wake up call to Hollywood not to underestimate the impact female audiences can have on its box office. Women go to the movies too.

  6. Evan Davis on January 24, 2010 at 6:20 PM

    The titles mentioned by the earlier commenters definitely speak to the films that strongly affected mainstream American culture. Beyond that, certain filmmakers tried to tap into global cultural concerns while also pushing the form of the medium forward.

    DIGITAL CINEMA: The totality of digital visions by David Fincher (ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), Michael Mann (MIAMI VICE, PUBLIC ENEMIES), Jia Zhang-ke (STILL LIFE, 24 CITY), David Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Pedro Costa (IN VANDA’S ROOM, COLOSSAL YOUTH) and Steven Soderbergh (BUBBLE, CHE, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE) sought to bring out the “digital-ness” of their imagery, thereby accepting and developing the (unfortunately) inevitable move away from celluloid.

    GLOBALIZATION: Fewer filmmakers exhibited a deeper comprehension of 21st-Century global capitalism better than Oliver Assayas (demonlover, CLEAN, BOARDING GATE, SUMMER HOURS) or Jia Zhang-ke (PLATFORM, UNKNOWN PLEASURES, THE WORLD, STILL LIFE, DONG, USELESS, 24 CITY).

    NARRATIVE: Apichatpong Weerasethakul is king. The Thai master made five nearly flawless features (MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON, BLISSFULLY YOURS, THE ADVENTURES OF IRON PUSSY, TROPICAL MALADY, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY), all of which experimented with what kinds of stories should be told, and how they could be told. Narrative bifurcation was his trademark, but as his career progressed, that trope became more and more organic and strange. Much still needs to be said about how Apichatpong does what he does, but for my money, nobody was more thrilling this decade.

    THE OLD MASTERS: Several filmmakers who exploded in the 1980s and 90s–Wong Kar Wai (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, 2046), Claire Denis (TROUBLE EVERY DAY, FRIDAY NIGHT, THE INTRUDER, 35 SHOTS OF RUM, WHITE MATERIAL), Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (THE SON, THE CHILD, LORNA’S SILENCE), Hou Hsiao-hsien (MILLENIUM MAMBO, CAFE LUMIERE, FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON), Tsai Ming-liang (WHAT TIME IS IT THERE, GOODBYE DRAGON INN, THE WAYWARD CLOUD, FACE), Edward Yang (YI YI), Ousmane Sembene (FAAT KINE, MOODLAADE), and Terrence Malick (THE NEW WORLD) continued to make superlative work, refining and crystallizing their styles.

    NATIONAL CINEMAS: China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, and France continued to stay vital. Three discoveries brought about major changes on the international cinema landscape: South Korea, Argentina, and Romania. Interesting filmmakers are far too numerous to name, especially given how freewheeling this entry has already become.

    As you may notice from the above-mentioned films and filmmakers, they skew heavily toward the favorites of film festivals like Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and New York. This unfortunately ignores the interesting stylistic developments in American independent & experimental cinema and other sectors of global filmmaking where great advances are being made. But it is important to recognize that these films tend to lack influence on mainstream American filmmaking. (Darren Aronofsky’s aping of the Dardenne style in THE WRESTLER is an interesting exception.) This should not preclude their influence on internationl filmmaking, however. The above films and filmmakers had a significant impact on how film form and style is discussed in the 21st Century, as well as how film festivals are used as a marketing tool inside and outside America. Now there’s a dissertation topic.

  7. Evan Davis on January 24, 2010 at 6:21 PM

    Nick: My vote for best American film of the decade would be Malick’s THE NEW WORLD.

  8. John Powers on January 25, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    For me, the most exciting films of the decade were those which comprised avant-garde filmmaker Phil Solomon’s “In Memorium Mark LaPore” quadrilogy: Crossroad (2005), Rehearsals for Retirement (2007), Last Days in a Lonely Place (2008) and Still Raining, Still Dreaming (2009). Solomon formerly worked exclusively on film, but these works represent a shift to digital imagemaking. The source material for all four films is a video game – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This links them to the “machinima” genre, which flourishes online, but Solomon’s aesthetic is still firmly rooted in the poetic strain of the avant-garde. Because GTA:SA is such an immersive gaming experience, Solomon is able to probe the nether regions of the game, exploring the texture and atmosphere of its digital world.

    Because these films are both firmly committed to the exploration of the peculiar aesthetic character of digital video and to the rich legacy of American experimental filmmaking, they suggest that there are still exciting possibilities for avant-garde filmmakers as 16mm dies right before our eyes. For this reason, I nominate them as the films of the decade.

    • Jonathan Gray on January 26, 2010 at 7:57 PM

      sounds neat, John. Where would I find these?

      • John Powers on January 27, 2010 at 8:37 AM

        Hi, Jonathan.

        The films haven’t played in Madison yet; in fact, all four haven’t been shown on the same program together anywhere. We’re trying to make this happen at the Wisconsin Film Festival in April, however. Meg Hamel, the Festival Director, is looking at the films now. Hopefully everything comes together and Madison can host the first complete screening. In the meantime, however, Phil posts excerpts from the films on his website, http://www.philsolomon.com.

    • Sabine Gruffat on January 30, 2010 at 10:08 AM

      While I appreciate that Phil Solomon is embracing machinima, he is definitely not the only machinima maker involved in “probing’ the nether regions of video games. I would defy the dwindling “avant-garde” to take the machinima genre seriously enough to study it.