This is a list of the 40 movies of the last ten years that affected me the most. They aren’t the “best” movies by any stretch of the imagination (Even the stubborn narcissist in me can’t call movies 22, 23 or 27 “good”), just the ones that moved me, entertained me, and enlightened me. They are the 40 movies I will remember, and care about, from the 2000’s.
The hope is that reading this list will help you to learn more about Jason Matthews (aka “The Jay’). It shouldn’t be an exercise in bashing my taste. Cause we all like some really bad pop culture (hey Keanu!), and no one should be judged by their guilty pleasures. The idea is not for me to tell you what to like or what you should think. I’m not making a case that my list is any better or valid than any of the other indulgent Best Of The Decade lists (which all suck) that are overloading the Internet right now. I didn’t pick these movies to make you think I’m some cool, with it know-it-all. Frankly, all that doesn’t matter to me.
I’m simply saying, for me, these were the ones that mattered. For whatever it’s worth.
40 – Mean Girls
Was the catalyst for the rise (and fall) of Lindsey Lohan: failed actress, successful tabloid whore, ginger person; introduced the world to Rachel McAdams; tried to make “fetch” happen. This movie had a lot going on.
39 – Collateral
Tom Cruise is more fun to watch as a villain. Consider: Magnolia, Interview with a Vampire, Tropic Thunder, Vanilla Sky. Wait, he wasn’t the villain in Vanilla Sky? But then why was he trying to eat my soul with his mis-aligned upper teeth, serial killer mask and frightening intensity?
38 – High Fidelity
Lloyd Dobler grew up, got way into music and became a manic-depressive. A happy ending? Not quite. But it did result in a smart, hyper-literal movie with Tim Robbins getting a long-deserved beat down, totes supes CZJ side boob, Lisa Bonet singfucking us some Peter Frampton, Jack Black being actually funny instead of the not funny he’s become, the obliges John Cusack standing forlornly in the rain shot and maybe the hottest sex scene of the 2000’s (starring, shocker, Tim Robbins).
37 – Juno
Is it obnoxious writing? Yes. (I considered writing ‘honest to blog there, but didn’t really want to throw up on my keyboard, so you know.) Is Ellen Page too precocious by half? Correct. Is what the movie has to say kinda offensive? Pretty much. But I can’t take away the amazing work done by Jason Bateman, Jen Garner (her scene in the mall is a killer) and Allison Janney. And any movie that makes its male lead a Cross Country and Track star is all right by me.
36 – Old School
“He’s gonna do one!” Nuff said.
35 – Unbreakable
The best comic book origin movie that you didn’t realize was actually a comic book origin movie ever. I miss M. Night’s fastball.
34 – Atonement
If only for the score, the library sex scene and BRIIIIOOOOONNNNYYY! Also? Everything else about this movie.
33 – Moulin Rouge!
I can sing both parts of Elephant Love Medley by heart, nine years later. That has to count for something.
32 – Sideways
I hated this movie for a long, long time. And I can’t forgive the movie for causing a fungal rash of sad bastard men movies to be made (mostly all starring Paul Giamatti or PSH, obvs). But the movie got people into wine, my favorite hobby, and shined a light on Santa Barbara Wine Country, my favorite place in the world. And despite my issues with the story, THIS is amazing writing:
“I like to think about the life of wine. How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline. …And it tastes so fucking good.”
31 – The Queen
A stunning picture, credits to credits. Gets extra credit for making me want to do to horrifyingly sexual things to a septuagenarian. (What? Helen Mirren is HOT. #fact)
30 – The Bourne Ultimatum
For the Waterloo Station sequence alone.
29 – Mission Impossible 3
Secretly the best action movie of the decade. And easily one of the best action movie teasers of all-time.
28 – Pride and Prejudice
The film that made me turn the corner on Keira Knightley. It’s a beautiful adaptation, has the most sweeping camera work, and the ensemble brings it with powerful yet subtle acting. Loved this movie.
27 – The Perfect Score
A perfect 80’s teen movie, twenty years too late.
26 – The Blind Side
The best movie of 2009. And it’s not even close. Saw it in theaters twice, cried both times. The best work Sandy has ever done, and she’s done a lot of great work. Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this anymore, but they should.
25 – Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Shane Black at his sardonic, quippy, violent action best, RoDoJu bringing the funny, Val tapping into his Real Genius performance, AND Michelle Monaghan topless? How was this movie not a GIANT success?
24 – Zoolander
The movie I have quoted the most this decade. It isn’t a particularly good movie, but there’s not a person I know who doesn’t, every so often, cough lightly in public and say “I have the black lung, pop”.
23 – Taken
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”*
*Gets extra credit for being the only time I went to the Bridge Cinema and didn’t have the worst movie-going experience in my life. What is WRONG with those people? Take your idiot conversations, text messaging and general hooliganery OUT of the theater. There are people trying to watch Liam Neeson kill foreigners here!
22 – The Core
Quite possibly the dumbest disaster movie Hollywood has ever put out, and that includes the one where Dennis Quaid runs away from weather, but I can’t help but love something that knows how stupid it actually is. And I can’t help but be charmed by a movie that has its hero pitch a full-on temper tantrum AT his love interest. That takes balls.
21 – Iron Man
The most fun of any blockbuster in the last ten years. Gets props for casting RoDoJu right off of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, when no one thought he had a Franchise in him. Made Gwyneth Paltrow fun again (no easy feat). And the scene of Stark testing out the flying mechanism in his workshop is an underrated special effects stunner.
20 – Minority Report
If for this scene alone:
You may weep now.
19 – The Aviator
As someone who has fought (and occasionally won) the battle of obsessive-compulsive disorder, I can relate to this film on a molecular level. And I could watch Leonardo dress down Cate Blanchett every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
“Don’t you ever talk talk down to me! You’re a movie star, nothing more!”
18 – No Country For Old Men
Was the Best Picture in the best year for Best Pictures of the decade. And putting this here means I get to link to my Javier Bardem Oscar post, one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. Done!
17 – Ocean’s Eleven
A compulsively watchable flick, the best star cast of the decade, an instant TNT New Classic and just plain, good old-fashioned fun. Brad Pitt eating in every scene, the wink wink lame ‘happily ever after’ kiss at the end, Julia emailing in her performance, “Whisky and a whisky”, the all of the everything that is Topher Grace and Matt Damon FINALLY making me like him (if not so much his pig nose).
16 – Catch Me If You Can
Some of the best work Spielberg has done in two decades, and it all feels tossed off, making me love it all the more. Haunting, genuine work by Christopher Walken (not easy at this point, if you think about it), the best knock knock joke ever, a game Tom Hanks, my favorite opening credits of the decade and Leo being Leo. There’s something about D-Cap’s work in the 2000’s that hit me hard. He played guys missing answers and trying desperately to find them, which I heart. You’ll notice that starts to be a recurring theme from here on out.
15 – Punch Drunk Love
A mesmerizing movie, if only for the pillow talk.
14 – Mr. & Mrs. Smith
The schadenfreude alone qualifies the movie for Best Ever status. Smith has no business being good, considering its troubled production, and the fact that the movie could have just put a close up on Brangelina’s faces for two hours and called it a day and we would have ate it up, and yet it is. Very good, in fact. The Brad on Angelina fight was fantastic, the freeway gunfight with Truths Revealed sequence was electrifying (“Art?” “History! It’s reputable.”), Vince Vaughn was stellar, Adam Brody got beat up (counts for a LOT), and I can’t get enough of Brad telling Angelina she “looked like Christmas morning”. I’m on Team Aniston, for the real, but this movie almost makes up for her trauma.
13 – Bring It On
The Citizen Kane of cheerleader movies. Also, the only movie Kirsten Dunst has EVER been likable in. And, um, hello, Eliza Dushku in a bikini, washing cars. My work here is done.
12 – Kill Bill ½
Part 1 is ultra-badass, Part 2 is exhilarating filmmaking. Would rank higher if QT had taken out the anime sequence (not interested, thanks), reduced the time Uma was trapped in a coffin (my greatest fear), and eased back on the foot fetish. We get it, Uma has great toes! Can we get back to the swords and exploitation now?
11 – The Notebook
I get that I’m a guy and therefore shouldn’t have this on my list. But you can’t tell me this wasn’t a seminal movie of the decade. That it didn’t change things. You can’t. Gosling and McAdams were the most watchable lovers in any movie of the last ten years. Period. I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and when I rewatched it again for this list, you know what I found out about my love for it? It wasn’t over. It’s still not over!
/makes out with this movie in the rain
10 – X-Men
I saw this movie in theaters five times, maybe the most I have ever seen any movie in the theaters. The movie is not without issues: the ending is small, Halle Berry is atrocious, Anna Paquin makes me Ralph and the pace is like an injured turtle. But man alive, Hugh Jackman’s arms. Hugh freaking Jackman’s. Arms.
Please excuse me while I go do 150 push-ups.
9 – Garden State
I make no apologies for this movie. It’s trendy to bash Garden State because of the weak, cliché writing, but you know what all you people? Go fuck yourself. This movie is GREAT. The Coldplay, the slow motion zooms, the WIDE establishing shots, the Natalie Portman, what’s not to like? Guys ding this movie unfairly because they are jealous Zach Braff got to make out with Natalie Portman in the rain, which is (not so) secretly our greatest wish in life. But we need to get over ourselves. And wannabe filmmakers hate this movie because they believe they could do it better. But if they could, they would, and they haven’t. Braff may be a King Douche, but he gets credit for doing it. And the doing is the whole point.
8 – The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson, irritating storytelling warts and all, is a singular voice in American filmmaking. This is his best work, and it’s not even close.
“The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. “Vámonos, amigos,” he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.”
7 – Wedding Crashers
Any film that opens with a ten minute montage of partying, bare boobs, cake and great dialogue, and then gives us Walken being an oddball, McAdams being luminous, Jane Seymour MILF-ing it up, Bradley Cooper playing a character named Sack Lodge, and the everything of the all that is the stage-5 clinger Isla Fisher, with a truly hilarious Will Ferrell cameo to boot, automatically makes me Top Movies of the Decade list. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just obey them. So no excuses, play like a champion.
6 – Anchorman
I submit to you the following:
It could be the dialogue. It could be the style. It could be the camera work. It could be the score. But really, it’s about the journey. Of a guy looking for answers. A guy who refuses to just leave it be. A guy who needs to know. And who pays the price for that information.
4 – Harry Potter 3 and 5
Parts one and two are kids movies. Four is easy to digest mainstream snore. Six is too insular for its own good. But 3 and 5, Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix? They’re about something. They have something to say. They are filmmaking of the highest order. Two harsh, magnificent, brutal chapters in the life of a tragic boy, who wants nothing more than to be normal, happy and loved, and continues to suffer for wanting those things and having the gall to ask for them.
It’s easy to write this franchise off because of its popularity, but never forget that this is a story of a boy whose parents were murdered, a boy being hunted down every moment of his life, a boy with the literal world on his shoulders, a boy who can relate to no one, but who never backs down for a fight and will stop at nothing to protect those he cares about, even if it means dying. Let’s see Team Bella do that.
3 – Spartan
I’m a doer. I see a job that needs to get done, I do it. No complaints, no questions. I will go to the ends of the Earth to make it happen. Spartan is a movie made for people like me. Gripping, intense, honorable and the best Mamet dialogue an aspiring playwright could ask for.
And if you ever wanted to pull life advice from a movie, this is the movie to do it.
“You had your whole life to prepare for this moment. Why aren’t you ready?”
“The hardest thing, y’know what it is? It isn’t going in the door, it’s coming out.”
“Why would I want to know? I ain’t a planner, I ain’t a thinker. I never wanted to be. You got to set your motherfucker to receive. Listen to me. They don’t go through the door, we don’t ask why. That’s not a cost, it’s benefit. Because we get to travel light. They tell me where to go. Tell me what to do when I get there.”
2 – The 25th Hour
I tend to respond the most to movies about conflicted characters reflecting on their past, trying to figure out where things went wrong, and considering how to fix it going forward. This is the finest version of that story.
I dream of writing something as beautiful as the last ten minutes:
1 – Before Sunset
I look at my Top Ten and I see a pattern. And the pattern is me. We love movies for all sorts of reasons, but the ones that matter to us, tend to matter for one specific reason. Their story, in a fashion, is our story.
I started this decade as a freshman in College. All optimism, energy and naïveté. I was a hopeless romantic, with not an ounce of practicality. I had done nothing, but believed I felt everything. I end this decade a professional. I am hardened, realistic, unlike that 18 year-old boy in every way. I spent ten years searching for answers. Trying to discover the right path to happiness. And I haven’t found it yet. But I can look back, see the course of my life and understand how things fit. Why they went the way they did. Why I am here, in this place, in this moment, today. Which is good.
But that doesn’t mean I like it. And it doesn’t mean I accept it.
Before Sunset is that story. Tracking your life across a long span, deciphering the choices made, from love to career to everything else. Seeing so clearly how it all went down, but being powerless to alter things for the better. And then, in the most perfect cinematic way, two people are given a second chance. They are given an opportunity to get it right, this time, knowing now what they wish they knew then. And it’s on them to make it happen.
Before Sunset is an escape in the best way possible. It’s fun imagining I’m Neo or Riggs or John McClane or the guys from Wedding Crashers, shooting guns, being a hero, getting laid, etc. But it’s better, and more fulfilling, to imagine getting that second chance. To imagine saying all the right things in all the right ways to the right person. And hearing them say all the right things back to you.
It’s a movie about hope, the one thing I take with me the most into the new decade. The hope that I will figure it out. The hope that I won’t need that second chance, because when it counts, I will get it right the first time.
Movies are and always have been my education. I learn who I am from what I watch. These 40 movies, more than any others, taught me the most about myself this decade. And I will take the knowledge I have gained into the next decade and try to better myself, little by little, every day.
I am smarter, stronger, kinder, and more able to survive and thrive. What’s the job? Find me. I’ve had my whole life to prepare for this moment.
I am ready.
(Follow me on Twitter @jasonamatthews)