“Kick-Ass” (2010): Some of this decade’s best movies have been superhero flicks, so why “Kick-Ass” over, say, “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man” or “Watchmen?” Its story of a lame duck teen’s transformation into a lame duck costumed vigilante speaks tons about how comic books and their characters have entered the public conscious and become pseudo-role models, for starters. Plus, it’s a hilarious dark comedy with the most audacious child performance since Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver,” and Nicholas Cage channels Adam West for a spot-on Batman parody.
“Adaptation” (2002): Here’s a movie that extends a giant middle finger to all formulaic screenplays ever written. The storyline, written by Charlie Kaufman, is simple: Kaufman pens a screenplay about writing a screenplay that may be the screenplay to the movie we’re watching, although the screenplay…Okay, so it’s not so simple, but Spike Jonze still succeeds in translating Kaufman’s cerebral concepts to the screen while our good friend Nick Cage plays Charlie and his (fake) twin Donald and proves, when he’s not in a bear costume punching women, he’s one hell of an actor.
“No Country for Old Men” (2007): A modern, cynical take on the Western, this is a film made with only the essentials, which means sparse dialogue, no soundtrack and non-stop suspense from beginning to end. That the Coen Brothers can maintain this tension throughout is a testament to their talent. Also, step aside Joker: Anton Chigurh stands as this decade’s best villain.
“Up” (2009): The success of “Up” proves two things: first, you can make a children’s movie with a compelling, adult protagonist, and second, animation has the power to portray human emotions in ways live action can’t. Yet even with all its poignant moments reflecting on life, death and ambition, the movie still has room for high adventure and comic relief that’s not obnoxious, making it the ultimate family film.
“Les Triplettes de Belleville” (2003): For those who want their fix of traditional, non-CGI animation, French animator Sylvain Chomet delivers an absurdist cartoon that’s grotesque, surreal and nonsensical. The plot doesn’t matter much, with its coffin-shaped gangsters and vaudeville singers who fish for frogs with dynamite, but does it need to? A lot of the film’s appeal comes from its peculiar rhythm and flow, like an eccentric symphony, and watching the beautifully drawn images of deformed humans waddle and creep about. It’s not for everyone, but for those who can dig it, “Triplettes” is a real treat.
“Inception” (2010): Yes, “The Dark Knight” was a landmark film that revolutionized how Hollywood approaches superheroes, but Nolan’s greatest achievement is definitely “Inception.” While I coolly admired “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” sucked me in with its labyrinthine plot and, for all its talk of dreams and layers and spinning tops, made me emotionally invested in what happened. If nothing else, Nolan should be commended for making the heist genre relevant again.
“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001): Wes Anderson’s offbeat comedy maintains a lighthearted, quirky attitude despite dealing with dysfunctional families, incest, and suicide, mostly through the help of a storybook format and a fairytale New York that’s simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Anderson flaunts his talent with every frame, while Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller are at the top of their respective games.
“Amélie” (2001): The most unconventional conventional romantic comedy ever made. Like all good rom-coms, it celebrates love without idealizing it, but “Amélie” isn’t just about romantic love. It’s also about love for the little things in life, the small details and quirks that most people overlook. “Amélie” celebrates human eccentricity in the era where it’s easiest to condemn it.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010): While dealing with “niche” topics such as video games and comic subculture, “Scott Pilgrim” captures modern day adolescence and love better than many “serious” romance films. Michael Cera shows off acting chops I didn’t even know he possessed, Beck delivers a killer soundtrack, and Edgar Wright directs the ensemble cast efficiently, allowing everyone their chance to shine. If that wasn’t enough, “Scott Pilgrim “contains a true rarity: a gay character that’s not flamboyant, dramatic, or wimpy. Yay!
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006): “Pan’s Labyrinth,” simply put, is a beautiful movie. A beautiful movie with a universal message about storytelling, how even the most macabre, disturbing stories can help us face the more macabre, more disturbing real life. A beautiful movie that, while in Spanish and set during a conflict in Spanish history, holds universal appeal. A beautiful movie directed with special care and attention by Guillermo del Toro. A beautiful movie and one of the best this decade.