Lisa Schwarzbaum's 10 best movies of the decade

It’s almost New Year’s Eve. I’m ready. Let’s party!

1. There Will Be Blood (2007), Paul Thomas Anderson. The entire decade, summed up in a singular American masterpiece.

2. Sideways (2004), Alexander Payne. The decade’s most adult film about men and women.

3. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Peter Jackson. The grand conclusion to the decade’s best epic.

4. Yi Yi (2000), Edward Yang. The decade’s most beautiful family story.

5. The New World (2005), Terrence Malick. The decade’s most imaginative history lesson.

6. Zodiac (2007), David Fincher. The decade’s most unnerving crime story.

7. The Dark Knight (2008), Christopher Nolan. The decade’s best comic-book adaptation.

8. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), Cristi Puiu. The decade’s most profound expression of the personal as political.

9. Moolaade (2005), ¬†Ousmane Sembene. The decade’s most potent handling of terrifying material.

10. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), Park Chan-wook. The decade’s most thrilling tale of revenge.

Image credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

Comments (325 total) Add your comment
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  • Jennie

    I’m a little more in agreement with your list than Owen’s, but I admit that I haven’t seen some of these (8-9). Time to go netflix them!

    • Telly B

      TDK, the decade’s most ridiculously overrated, most uneven “masterpiece”

      • Kevin

        WAAHH, WAAHH, WAAHHH…

      • Justin

        Wow your and idiot, and apparently your taste in movies sucks. Let me guess your more of a fan of Burtons piece of crap.

      • Mark

        Agreed! Awesome movie, but not a masterpiece (that marathon ending, hello?). Justin, check your spelling and grammar before you call someone an idiot. Don’t make the point for other people! You’re=you are.

      • Diggity

        agreed

      • Q

        TDK IS overrated. It is a good movie, but it has problems. The second act is tremendous. The batpod chase and jail section are terrific. However, the third act pales in comparison. Two Face is given short change, the ferry sequence is ridiculous and the fight scenes are a blur. Ledger is great, but the movie is far from a masterpiece.

      • Michael

        Justin…your comments are more idiotic than the poster’s. God forbid anyone have an opinion but you. The only saving grace of the film, for me, was heath ledger. Otherwise, I found it ambitious but extremely messy. That, however, is just my opinion.

      • Al

        I thought Bale’s performance was weak and I agree with Q about Two-Face. Ledger was great and the ‘comic book movie as gangster movie’ style was original and well done but it doesn’t rate in the top ten of the decade.

      • bill

        agreed. two face was not right. bale was off. but ledger was perfect.
        overall feel of film was great, but the actual stitching is messy and incomplete.
        i though bat begins was more even and affecting, bale was perfect, story was perfect, pacing was perfect… but ledger sent TDK into zeitgeist.

      • andrea d

        No, that would be There Will Be Blood- I can’t be the only one who didn’t get this movie.

      • Stephanie Tanner

        @Mark – you idiots who complain about “marathon endings” don’t understand Batman, that ending speech Gordon gave was a great summation of who Batman is and what he means to the City and in comic legend. If they (Chris Nolan/Christian Bale) never make another Batman film, I will be okay because they went out on top, pulled no punches (except for the ferries – I admit I think that ended in a cop-out) but that speech was awesome.

      • James S.

        Hey Justin? It’s you’re, not your, you idiot. Actually, you’re double the idiot, because you made the same mistake twice. Idiot. There, how does that feel?

      • Dex

        Telly, agree 100%. TDK sucked. It should have been called: The Joker and Why He Got to Be the Way He Was. Batman was just a sidenote. Heath was fine but the continuous lip sucking and lip tonguing is distracting and not an acting technique. I can’t decide whom I hate most – the annoying Maggie G. or the cross-eyed Katie? Ugh. Very disappointing.

      • Telly B

        The most interesting to me is how defensive and reactiionary the TDK’s fan response was to some harmless critique of the film. “Idiot”?? Over me disagreeing about TDK’s status as a masterpiece?

        Why?

        And then they wonder why comic book and superhero fans are called “geeks” by some people…

      • kudos

        TDK was a masterpiece and bale’s performance was solid. Two face was one of the weak points (how can you use harvey dent throughout and two face for like 10min.) also maggie was lacking but TDK was the most bold comic adaptation so far.

      • Dave

        OK, I’ll be the crazy guy here: Dark Knight, while a good movie and all, wasn’t even the best comic book adaptation of the year. Watchmen was.

      • J

        Totally agree, the dark night did not live up to the hype.

      • Micky J

        TDK makes over 500 million nad people here are calling it overrated. Can’t see a movie being #2 on the money list being overrated.

      • movieloversmatch

        I think THe first LOTR was better

      • Heilige Bimbam

        Hundred percent agree.Over long, illogical story line, dominated by explosions, explosions, and explsions.

      • Jordan

        I totally agree!

      • Kevin

        @Dave, 1. TDK came out in 2008, Watchmen in 2009. 2. HAHAHAHAHA! The Watchmen was really bad.

      • JTHusky

        While I quite liked Dark Knight, it’s not in my Top 20 of the decade. Plot contrivances, a few weak performances, and poor decisions in plotting and character actions prevented it from being truly great in my eyes.

        Fun fact about Ledger: Originally, he realized he had a Pay or Play contract worth $10 million, and thought: “Hm, if I get tossed, I don’t have to sink months into the film and still am guaranteed my money.” So, he made the performance over-the-top, unsettling, and generally as outrageous as he could, hoping his overacting would get him kicked. It “backfired”, so to speak, when they loved it, and the rest is history.

        Just gotta say: To praise Ledger in TDK and attack DDL in TWBB is hypocrisy.

      • Jason B

        @Stephanie Tanner– I’m not sure what you’re talking about here. I can assure you, however, that I’ve forgotten more about Batman than you’ve ever known. Still, even as a fanboy I disliked the movie. It pulled way too many punches and had terrible pacing. If I was going to judge a movie (especially an action movie!) by a speech I would go watch Kramer vs Kramer.

      • Trevor

        Burton’s Batman IS Batman. People don’t realize the Dark Knight wouldn’t have happened without that first film. Burtonw as the one who took Batman from a campy joke (BAM! POW!) and really brought the element of mystery and darkness into it. The Dark Knight is the eventual product of what Burton initially set up. And Christian Bale is PAINFUL to watch in that role. Someone needs to tell him saying his lines in a deep voice while staring blankly ahead isn’t acting. Michael Keaton is the best Batman. I feel sorry for people who are so dependent on modern effects, editing gimmicks, etc. To really appreciate groundbreaking films like Burton’s original. It basically set the tone for every comic book movie ever to come after it.

        I liked the Dark Knight, but Burton’s is by far the best.

    • The Critic

      Very impressive list. I agree with most of the selections. That said, I would have included No County for Old Men. Btw, much better list than O. Gleiberman

    • hidalgo

      Sure could, if you had never seen There Will Be blood

    • Celia

      It kind of seems like Lisa read all the comments in Owen’s list before she made her own. I’m not even going to lie…every movie on this list bored me to tears or was pointless or I didn’t see it with the exception of The Dark Knight, Sideways, and Return of the King.

  • There Will Be Boredom

    sorry but the decade’s most overrated flick is there will be blood

    • Adam

      how was TWBB overrated? It got overlooked at the box office, it didn’t win Best Picture…

    • Ashley G.

      I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!

    • Jess

      that’s because you probably didn’t understand it and yes I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE

      • There Will Be Boredom

        i guess it just means im not intelligent if i think a movie you liked is boring, jess. you stay classy

      • Kevin

        Well, There Will Be Boredom, admittance it the first step towards recovery. I hope you find some intelligence some day…I’m pullin’ for ya! But you’ll need to stop watching those Michael Bay and James Cameron movies…they’ll rot your brain!!

      • Skip182

        The ending was pathetic. It’s like they couldn’t think of a legit ending, so they went with “uh…let’s just have him…drink milkshakes and kill people… yup, that sounds like an artsy thing to do that people can pretend to like while others “just don’t get it.”” Good film? Yes. “Masterpiece?” Frak no.

      • rick

        I agree wholeheartedly that There Will be Blood was the best picture of the decade, but I think if I hadn’t thought so I would rather simply be called an idiot than be told I “didn’t understand it”. There is quite frankly no more condescending rebuke to a differing opinion on a film than “you didn’t understand it”.

      • movieloversmatch

        My Milkshake brote them to the yard

      • neil

        There is hype and then there is the intellectual’s hype.

    • Amy

      I completely and wholeheartedly agree with the number 1 choice. I remember just sitting in the theater throughout the entire credits and laughing, hysterically, in awe, unbelievably, and thinking why nobody else wanted to see it with me, there were about 5 people in there with me. I couldn’t believe that I had just seen this masterpiece.

      • invaliduser

        same happened with me. i saw it in theatre by myself. my friends hadn’t even heard of it. there were three people in the theatre i think. daniel day lewis, paul thomas anderson and the soundtrack. i was blown away.

      • Kevin

        I too was in a virtually empty theater and I also started laughing out of joy when “The End” came up on the screen…just one of the greatest movies ever.

      • Johnification

        Me too! I went by myself, and it was the first time I’d ever sat with my mouth literally hanging open at the end of the movie. One of my fondest movie memories of the decade.

      • ben

        I was sitting in that audience with you, Amy. And I thought it sucked.

      • Linda L

        I made my husband watch it with me and he was reluctant cause he had no idea what it was about. He was glued to the screen. At the end, we just looked at each , laughed and said “There Will Be Blood”. We loved it.

      • Brian

        Saw it in a fairly packed theatre. Am a huge DDL fan. Will forever be one of my least favorite films of all time!!

      • Hapless Loser

        This is a great pick! It’s so intellectually intimidating no one even wanted to be in the theatre. Any movie where I have to go by myself (and not convince a friend, if i had any they wouldn’t “get it” anyway) and with a handful of other people who also came alone (strangely enough these are the same people I see shopping @3am in the grocery store when I am trying to “avoid the crowd”)and watch three hours of ridiculous banter and DDL’s extreme commitment to his character (OVERACTING!!! NO WAY!!!!)deserves to be one of the best of the decade.

    • mike

      One of the worst endings ever.

      • Meier

        It kept the title’s promise! :-)

      • Skip182

        Stupid ending. Good movie, just a crap ending.

      • Kevin

        The ending was the best part!! The whole movie led up to that moment, then he just sits down and says “I’m done”. THE END. Frakkin’ brilliant!

    • Veracity

      I completely agree. I just don’t get what’s so great. So many of the scenes are so ridiculously over the top that I was laughing at completely inappropriate moments. And the only award Daniel Day-Lewis deserved for his acting in this film was a Daytime Emmy. Yeah, I said it. He’s given some fine performances, but this wasn’t one of them. This was Soap Acting 101. Finally, the reason “I drink your milkshake” became such a sensation was because it was laughably, ridiculously over the top, not because it was great or anything. I keep thinking that this is some sort of colossal practical joke being played by film critics.

      • lux

        you’re clearly not smart enough to appreciate a film like TWBB. sorry. DDL like a soap actor?! you’re freaking delusional. the first sequence with DDL silver-mining refutes your “soap actor” comment. that was masterful–and there was no dialogue. at all.

      • ryan

        really the ending sucked???? i thought they did a good job at wrapping up the movie which was all about Daniel Day Lewis’ character and what he was truly after…he never loved that little boy and how that scene went and lead into the scene with the pastor preacher or whatever he was, was brilliant.

      • Veracity

        lux, you’re obviously not smart enough to tie your shoes. I can say something idiotic, too. See how that works?

    • Dex

      Dear Boredom: Right On. This was a hugely overrated ridiculous mess. What the hell was it all about. I can’t waste another 3 hrs. of my life watching it again to try to figure it out. There was some interesting thing about the relationship with the brother who turned out not to be the brother and the scenes around the son were the only redeeming qualities about this pic. Killing the preacher guy at the end so brutally was just bizarre and f’cked up.

      • Skip182

        I saw it in the theatre with about a dozen people in it, and as the credits started to roll, someone in the theatre said “really?” and everyone burst out laughing. Crap ending.

    • milkshake

      The movie was unique, different, with brilliant acting and cinematography – and one of the most shocking out-of-left field endings. But far from boring

  • Jason

    now this is a good list

    • L

      My sentiments exactly! And I’m both shocked and pleased to see Sympathy for Lady Vengeance on the list.

      • Laurence

        Agree with L and Jason. Both her and Owens lists are surprising, both in their agreements (Sideways was that good? Preferred About Schmidt myself) and in their slightly obscure choices. I find There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men completely deserving. But The New World and The Dark Knight cancel each other out. Should’ve went with Memento. That was a game changer.

    • Pippi

      this is a s**ty list by a typical film buff who figures to be esoteric and controversial means you must know what the hell you’re talking about

      • john

        of all the facile comments on this message board, yours ranks near the top. Congratulations, keep up your accutely accurate hypothesis that smart people don’t really exist, only in their imaginations. I guess if someone found brilliance in a piece of work that you found over the top, that makes THEM the ignorant one??? REDICULOUS. But hey its definitely easier to tell yourself you’re the smart one and hte movie sucked, rather than accepting your foolishness and realizing the movie was just beyond your grasp of understanding.

  • mlb

    Sorry, but I felt like I wasted 2 hours of my time watching There Will Be Blood, couldn’t get into Sideways and the only reason The Dark Knight was any good was because of Heath Ledger. Can’t deal with Lord of the Rings and the rest I’ve never heard of, must less seen. Meh.

    • Alastair

      You didn’t like any of those movies? You never heard of the rest? – Do you like movies?

    • Ron

      very hard to please

    • Michael

      It’s easier to criticize than support something. mlb is just taking the easy way through life. :-)

      • Sara

        Hear, hear, Michael. It takes little intellectual energy and insight to roundly criticize.

    • Stephen

      I guess that’s why its her list and not yours, can’t believe the amount of criticism leveled at lists for the decade’s best movies. Everyone has their own taste, why must we always tell each other why their choices suck and ours are better?

  • T

    FANTASTIC LIST!

    • Pippi

      it sucks rocks

    • Dave

      It’s missing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was better than many of the movies listed.

  • Greg

    Really good list. But New World is garbage.

    • Mel

      Agreed! What a heinous piece of crap.

      • kim in kentucky

        you have to like/understand Malick’s style –it was gorgeous

      • mel

        yeah, Kentucky Kim; we loathe it because we JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND – you are such a pretentious beee-atch

      • C

        I thought the New World was gorgeous!

    • Trubie

      New World was pure poetry. Terrence Malick is a genius.

    • Jhg812

      Someone agrees! That movie was a sentimental load of tripe with little plot and too many close-ups of water running over rocks.

    • Lauren

      Truly! One of the few films I’ve found too slow to finish. That it was horrifically inaccurate really didn’t help matters.

  • Aaron

    Awesome list, Lisa!

  • Nini

    Sideways?? Adult?!? Yuck. Precocious annoying dreck.

    • Mary Q. Contrary

      Agreed. I like to think of myself as an appreciator of good film, but for only the second time in my life, and on my wedding anniversary, no less, I walked out of the theater before the credits rolled. I thought the actors might actually start to choke on their own preciousness. Unfortunately, nothing that exciting, or anything remotely close to it, ever happened.

    • Laura

      100% agree. The inexplicable critic love for Sideways, a smug, pretentious movie about a-hole losers, is beyond me.

      • Lindsay

        Sideways was the true boring movie on this list. I haven’t seen There Will Be Blood, but its got to be a lot more interesting than watching two of the most miserable/uninteresting people in the world schlep through wine country. It took me three separate viewings to finish it. I got further through From Justin to Kelly before I walked out than I did the first time I saw Sideways.

    • eric

      I respectfully submit that you people are nuts. Sideways is terrific: No villain, no manufactured drama, just great actors perfectly cast in a funny, touching, charming film. In an ideal world all 4 acting Oscars would have gone to the cast.

      • LOL @ Lindsay

        If you actually watched From Justin to Kelly anywhere, much less a movie theater, that nullifies any opinion you have about movies.

      • Georgia Madman

        Sideways was only the second movie I walked out on (Aliens being the first). I still hate Sandra Oh and Paul Giamatti to this day because of that movie. But I was happy to see Thomas Hayden Church working again. So loved him in Ned and Stacey.

      • SIDEWAYS

        Ditto. A classic that will be remembered for generations

      • Trevor

        Word. Sideways is the bomb. It’s a dead on movie about human interaction without any of the filler Hollywood typically adds.

        Giamatti is where it’s at!

    • The Critic

      SIDEWAYS was a brilliant character study and timeless love story. Giamatti, Church, and Madsen were at the top of their game. This could have easily been the #1 film of the decade

    • Jennk

      Amen! I heard so many good things about it, but it was so pretentious and un-funny that I almost walked out. I saw that it was on a few days ago, and turned on to see if maybe I might change my mind about it. I made it through 10 minutes before I turned it off. Nope – still awful!

    • Trevor

      I think the word precocious is misused here. Your statement doesn’t make sense. Precocious generally means “prematurely developed.” The only logical thing you could possibly be saying is that the film was made, but there wasn’t much to it? Sideways is all about the subtleties of human relationships.

      Like another reader said, some people are put off by it because it’s a film about the way people really are. There’s no CGI, stunt casting, song over the credits performed by Jennifer Lopez. Sideways also doesn’t feature Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan playing cops, cool slo-mo scenes of people getting shot at, gratuitous nudity, or the story of Pocahontas reenacted by blue aliens.

      And I love it. It’s timeless, yet really speaks to where we are as a society. And if you disagree with someone’s opinion, don’t say it’s because the other person didn’t get it. Get over yourselves.

  • st√©phane

    Far From Heaven?…Hello!!!

    • Trevor

      Word. Far From Heaven is a MASTERPIECE. Why wasn’t it even nominated for Best Picture?

  • Chenbot 2.0

    Glad to see ZODIAC get some love! And SIDEWAYS belongs on any top 10 list for the decade – and it gets better with age!

    But LOTR is a snoozer and while Daniel Day-Lewis was outstanding, BLOOD was merely a mediocre movie with little story or depth beyond one performance.

    • Jenny

      well, i disagree with you on LotR and There Will Be Blood (not my favorite movie of the decade by far, but I liked it well enough), I totally agree on Sideways. First time I watched I liked it okay; second time, I wanted the DVD and every time after that I just love it even more. It really does get better with age.

      My personal favorite movie of the decade was probably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I loved that movie from the first time I saw it and it never gets old. Amazingly original and great love story. Although, I really don’t know… this was the decade I really got into movie watching and there were so many fantastic ones to rave about.

    • timatokake

      i totally agree about zodiac. loved that movie! and i may not think that twbb is even the best movie of that year (uh, no country for old men?) it’s a movie not unlike badlands or mccabe and mrs miller where it converys a mood of an era through its tone. its not about the story as much as the piece as a whole. and dd-lewis was amazing but was matched by paul dano.

      i’m still trying to figure out where no country is. tommy lee jones monologue at the end… c’mon! that was as close to a perfect movie that we had this decade

      • mel

        No country for old coots is another pretentious load of crap – but you have to love it to be IN because it has no redeeming qualities. It’s a story about a guy who goes around killing people
        — oooh, i’m just creaming myself…yuck

  • Jose

    Hooray for “There Will Be Blood”
    When I first saw it, I thought it was OK, eventually it grew on me and now its one of my personal top 3,
    I can honestly say its this generation’s “Citizen Kane”. The rest of the list? Good job Lisa!

    • mel

      oh, get over yourself…

  • Mary Q. Contrary

    I’m so glad to ‘The New World’ finally get some love. I couldn’t understand everyone’s disappointment. Excluding the breathtaking beauty of every single shot, I loved the entire thing from start to finish. It literally left my head spinning, it was so good. And it was also nice to be reminded that a film can be completely devoid of the typical Hollywood whiz-bang bag of tricks and still manage to dazzle.

    • GoMe!

      Totes agree! New World was simply a beautiful film. It’s not really in my top 10, but I’m glad it’s getting some long overdue acclaim!

    • val

      Yes! The New World is beautiful from start to finish, and what a lovely, poignant, quiet performance from Colin Farrell. I always have to watch the last 10 minutes on repeat because it’s so moving.

    • eric

      Plug practically any other actor into that film and you’ve got instant Oscars. Colin Farrell is terrible in everything–why he gets any work at all is beyond me. Every performance is exactly the same, with all the nuance he brought Bullseye in that godawful Daredevil movie. Women think he’s hot; fine. But that doesn’t make him an actor.

    • Lauren

      It was certainly stunningly gorgeous but it had these overly indulgent meandering scenes that came out of know where and lasted for minutes at a time. I’ve never seen such a beautiful mind-numbingly beautiful movie. Also it was terribly inaccurate.

  • Greg

    Wait, Sideways is the second best movie of the decade but Away We Go is the second worst of the year? That’s gotta be generational because I found the Sideways gang whiny and pithy and the two main characters of Away We Go (not the whole cast of characters, mind you) charming and engaging. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida are genius.

    • Lisa Schwarzbaum

      Greg, I think you’re on to something really interesting about generational differences re Sideways and Away We Go….

      • annie

        Um, Sideways was supposed to be for my generation, and I found the characters whiny and boring. I do not see anything special in that film.

    • l.d.

      I am but a 20 year old and I really enjoyed Sideways but could not stand Away We Go. Maybe I was born in the wrong generation, ha.

      • Kevin

        32 here and I enjoyed Sideways (not Top 10 of the Decade liked, but I did enjoy it) but absolutely HATED Away We Go…it was like Garden State, Lost in Translation, Juno, and I Heart Huckabees were cross-inseminated with The Tao of Steve, raised by Harold and Maude, and then grew up to write an awful 00’s version of Lost in America . Man, I really hate hipsters and I REALLY hate Away We Go!

    • Jennie

      I’m 26 and I loved Away We Go and thought Sideways was just ok.

    • Michael

      Away We go just wasn’t that good. Those characters were merely whiny. Due to the Payne’s excellent writing, the very flawed characters of Sideways become more human and sympathetic. There’s nothing generational about the films. Sideways is merely the far superior film.

      • Greg

        I thought ‘Away We Go’ was a very good, but slight, film. To me, the main characters were very real and reflect the idealistic wing of Generation X (remember them?) who never quite figured out how to make life work for them. They realize over the course of their journey that their ideals are becoming more rare and perhaps obsolete. They want to instill good values in the child that they are preparing to have, but wonder whether the world is working against them.

        The main characters in Away We Go are anything but whiny. Within the context of the film, they were the only characters who had any passion. I call Michael’s bluff. He hasn’t seen the movie.

        Sideways was terrible. Consider: when the 4 principle characters went out together for the first time, it was clear that there was tension between the girls and the guys. But then, instead of dramatizing the conversation and showing how they break down walls, the director assembled a musical montage of the group drinking and laughing. This was the dramatic core of the movie, and the director -skipped it-. I call bullsh#t.

  • Kevin

    Though there are some glaring omissions (where’s Amelie? Pan’s Labyrinth?), I like Lisa’s list better than Owen’s (there’s a first for everything!). There Will Be Blood is easily the best movie of the decade (best American movie since The Godfather, IMHO), Zodiac and The New World get deserving mentions, and you included an Ousmane Sembene film (one which I haven’t seen and just added to Netflix, so thanks!). Still…tsk tsk for no Amelie love.

    • Michael

      Moolaade is a totally great film.

  • Wil

    I like this list. :)

    • jethrine

      gawd, you’re easy to please…

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