30. 28 Days Later
(2003) Danny Boyle - UK
This one revitalized an entire genre of horror. Instead of the lethargic, slow moving zombies we've come to know, the "infected" are much more like ferocious animals. But beyond that, I liked the way the story starts out with Cillian Murphy's character having awoken to a vastly changed world and having no idea about what's going on until he meets other survivors. Unquestionably my favorite horror film of the past 10 years.
(2000) Lynne Ramsay - Scotland
Set in Glasgow during the garbage strike in the early 70's, Ratcatcher is a very quiet film about a young boy both coming of age in seemingly hopeless surroundings and coping with the grief of having lost a young playmate. While it has a dingy squalid look to the film, there are moments of strange beauty to be found. There isn't a tremendous amount of dialogue, so it's often left up to the young actor at he center of the film to convey feelings through subtlety, and it's rare to see a child actor pull that off like William Eadie does here.
28. The Hurt Locker
(2009) Kathryn Bigelow - USA
With so many war films, it seems like the attitude is "we've got a $150 million budget, and damn it, we're gonna show you $150 million worth of crap blowing up," I think The Hurt Locker was smart to instead opt for keeping your attention by escalating tension. In showing the complexities of diffusing the IEDs hidden in the ground and amongst the rubble, the explosive experts at the heart of this story have to carefully watch their every movement while also keeping a keen eye peeled on every little thing happening around them. While I can't say how realistically it depicts taking on these tasks in war torn Iraq, it felt authentic every step of the way.
(2004) Ousmane Sembene - Senegal
This was the final film from Ousmane Sembene, Africa's most noted filmmaker, and I think it might have been his best. Moolaadé, or "Sanctuary," is a damning look at the African practice of female circumcision and woman's fight to prevent it. When a group of girls runs away from the ceremony, a woman named Collé, who has had to live with the devastating effects of her own circumcision, places a spell of protection over the girls, and instigating a huge rift amongst her clan. I found it a really fascinating film and one that gave me some insights into a world I'm not likely to ever see and a great call to stop a barbaric practice that still goes on in Africa.
26. City of God
(2003) Fernando Meirelles - Brazil
A brutal look at the crime and turf wars taking place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Told over the course of three decades (man, I feel like I've used that phrase a lot over the course of this little project) this one follows a group of kids into adulthood and their descent into a violent life of crime. Lil' Dice may be the youngest villain on this list, but in no way does his lack of size equate to a lack of ruthlessness.
25. The Pianist
(2002) Roman Polanski - France/Poland/Germany
While I may have lamented earlier about WWII films and how they rarely feel unique anymore, this is just one of those times where a traditionally told story about the era works because it's made so exceedingly well. I think part of why it worked so well is Polanski had his own experiences to draw from and incorporate into the story and it shows that it's a deeply personal one he's telling. And while I can't say that I've been particularly impressed with him since this film, I love that Adrien Brody picked up the Oscar (along with Polanski) for his turn here. Two well deserved Oscars.
24. United 93
(2006) Paul Greengrass - USA
I think this among the most memorable experiences I've had in a movie theater over the past decade. I recall playing hookie from work and catching a daytime screening in a mostly empty there in those rows of cheap movie theater seats, nestled amongst strangers, it enhanced the fly-on-the-wall feeling Greengrass creates. And even though you know how it's all going to end before you walk in, the entire theater sat in stunned silence long after the plane has gone down and the credits were rolling. 9/11 obviously taps into some deep emotions for everyone, even if we merely sat glued to their television that day, and I think Greengrass was the right director to helm the first film about it: it's not manipulative or exploitational in any way, but instead shows a realistic hypothetical for what those passengers endured in their final moments.
23 No Country For Old Men
(2007) Joel and Ethan Coen - USA
While the Coens be hit or miss for me, I think a lot of what I love about this is because of the chances it took. It's hard to articulate exactly what I mean by that since citing examples would reveal some crucial plot points. But suffice it to say that I like that things don't play out as you've come to expect with a lot of films. I really loved Tommy Lee Jones in this film, and as evil incarnate, Javier Bardem made for an unbelievably creepy villain, and not just because of his Dorothy Hamill haircut.
22. Yi Yi
(2000) Edward Yang - Taiwan
I couldn't find a trailer for this one, but I was able to find a clip of Ebert & Roeper reviewing it, which may be better anyhow. An epic tale about a Taiwanese family, I loved the way the stories of the parents connected with the stories of the children. It kind of reminded me of all the advice my parents tried to give me as a kid that I just wouldn't take and in retrospect, wished I had. And little Yang-Yang was the heart and soul of this movie, and I want to adopt about 10 of him.
21. Lilya 4-Ever
(2003) Lukas Moodysson - Sweden
A pretty brutal film about a young Russian girl who is abandoned by her mother. Left to her own devices, Lilya goes out partying all night and when she's not hosting glue-sniffing parties, she's spending her days with the young neighbor boy, Volodya, who has his own set of problems at home and becomes sort of her adopted little brother. She gets the promise of a way out and to have a better life in Sweden, but her naivete blinds her to the fact that true hell is just beginning. A devastatingly bleak story, and sadly, not too far removed for many youngsters in poverty stricken areas of the world.
Coming soon... The Top 20!