As 2010 rolled around every film critic, blog, magazine and movie lover compiled their lists of the best films of the previous decade. Who is to say we can't do that every year though? New films come in. Others drop off as they fail to make the stipulations of the 10-year cut. Probably because that would be as "quite lame" as Newman's Millennium party with Christopher Cross. Exceptions can be made though, especially when we choose to examine a director's particular output during that period. Christopher Nolan officially broke through to our attention with his 2001 Sundance sensation, Memento. And with the release of his eagerly-anticipated masterpiece Inception, a film being called a "masterpiece" by many and possibly making Nolan a frontrunner for this year's Best Picture & Director Oscars, we must ask if anyone has owned this last decade of cinema as much as him.
There are certainly enough challengers for debate. To narrow the field we are going to eliminate anyone who didn't make more than three features. After all, Nolan has made six in that time and it is only fair to say that to own a decade, one should consider quantity along with quality. So, apologies to anyone wanting to put Paul Thomas Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, Alfonso Cuaron, Spike Jonze or Roman Polanski into this discussion. Not that Mr. Polanski isn't finishing off this last decade with a bang and if you want to argue he's been a little preoccupied, by all means.
Ten different directors won the Oscar since 2001 (including Bigelow & Polanski.) Eleven when you include both Coen brothers. So we'll consider any of them if the statuette gains some extra points with you. Even with Brokeback Mountain, it's doubtful anyone can make a serious mount for Ang Lee. And this is coming from someone who believes Hulk is the best film he's made in that period. Can he really contend with his post-Oscar output of Lust, Caution and Taking Woodstock though? We could do this list alphabetically, but where is the fun in not giving you the opportunity to throw tomatoes at me? Constructive discussion is obviously encouraged but when it comes to lists like these, the passion tends to come out. To balance it a little, I have included the general critical consensus on these filmmaker's output along with my own opinions. Now let's hear yours.
#10 - STEVEN SODERBERGH
He has to make the list just for churning out as many films as he did from 2001-10. A little something for the effort, you know. And this is not even including his double Oscar-bill of Erin Brockovich and Traffic from 2000. 11 films (ten if you count Che as one) and they varied from the experimental (Bubble) to the mainstream (the Ocean's Trilogy). Without finishing out as strong as he did with last year's The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant, he may have been left off.
Positives: Ocean's Eleven (81%), The Informant (77%), Che: Part 2 (76%), Che: Part 1 (73%), Bubble (72%), Ocean's Thirteen (70%), Solaris (65%), The Girlfriend Experience (63%)
Negatives: The Good German (32%), Full Frontal (37%), Ocean's Twelve (55%)
#9 - CLINT EASTWOOD
Another on the ist of guys who seem to have a movie every six months, Mr. Eastwood put out eight films in our time span with a ninth (Hereafter) on the way this October that I have high hopes for. If anyone could own the middle of the decade, or at least steal it away from Scorsese, Eastwood certainly did in 2003 & 2004 with back-to-back Oscar winners Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, the latter winning his second Picture & Director statuettes. 2006 added a third Best Picture contender in Letters from Iwo Jima, a vast improvement over the American side of that story, Flags of our Fathers. Invictus may have missed the bill with voters but was a passable work. Moreso than Gran Torino and Changeling, even if others disagree. Only Blood Work failed to gain much favor way back in 2002 and it is clearly the weakest film on his resume since then.
Positives: Million Dollar Baby (91%), Letters from Iwo Jima (91%), Mystic River (88%), Gran Torino (80%), Invictus (76%), Flags of our Fathers (73%), Changeling (61%)
Negatives: Blood Work (54%)
#8 - JOEL & ETHAN COEN
If we were going to compare halves of careers, I would certainly take the one that included Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, Lebowski and O Brother. But this decade the Coens finally won their Best Picture & Director Oscars for No Country for Old Men and critics went gaga over last year's A Serious Man. I may be one of the few on the train for their underrated remake of The Ladykillers, which I'll argue all day over their weakest effort to date, Intolerable Cruelty. Certainly not my favorite part of their resume, but their redux of True Grit this December with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin has me giddy with anticipation.
Positives: No Country for Old Men (95%), A Serious Man (88%), The Man Who Wasn't There (80%), Burn After Reading (78%), Intolerable Cruelty (75%)
Negatives: The Ladykillers (55%)
#7 - PEDRO ALMODOVAR
Higher on the list than I would like, but critics are in the bag for this guy and who am I to discount their opinions entirely. His Oscar-winning screenplay for Talk To Her is a definite standout, but I was only half in the bag for both Volver and Broken Embraces. Are you a fan?
Positives: Talk To Her (92%), Volver (92%), Bad Education (89%), Broken Embraces (81%)
#6 - DANNY BOYLE
Another director I have been lukewarm on for years really burst through for me (as much of the world) with his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. I enjoyed both 28 Days Later and Millions and really liked Sunshine up until one of the worst final acts of the decade. It's unclear whether his 127 Hours with James Franco is going to make its way onto the schedule for 2010, but as I have a mean streak when it comes to mountain climbers getting what's coming to them who knows if his potentially compelling survival tale will turn me around.
Positives: Slumdog Millionaire (94%), 28 Days Later (88%), Millions (88%), Sunshine (74%)
#5 - QUENTIN TARANTINO
Statistically, Mr. Tarantino is harder to rank since many split up their thoughts between the whole of Grindhouse and the individuality of Death Proof. Both are pretty great for my money and while I have certainly had my share of criticism over the years on some of the talkier portions of his films, I consider myself a fan and am immediately interested whenever a new project is coming. One of the few directors whose work gets better with repeated viewings, he is also one of the many that could own a decade if he only worked more.
Positives: Inglourious Basterds (88%), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (85%), Kill Bill Vol. 2 (85%), Grindhouse (82%), Death Proof (64%)
#4 - PAUL GREENGRASS
Aside from taking the Jason Bourne from its so-so Identity ranks to a trilogy that actually gets better as it goes along with Supremacy and Ultimatum, Greengrass also made two of the best true-life thrillers in years. 2002's Bloody Sunday and 2006's United 93 are both masterstrokes of directorial confidence. People were more mixed on this year's Green Zone which fictionalized a real-life conspiracy and was still pretty good, albeit not as timely. Still, a film every two years and at least four of them very highly regarded earns him a top five slot.
Positives: The Bourne Ultimatum (93%), Bloody Sunday (92%), United 93 (91%), The Bourne Supremacy (81%)
Negatives: Green Zone (55%)
#3 - PETER JACKSON
Whatever the fallout over the disappointment of The Lovely Bones might have been, you can't deny that Mr. Jackson had one helluva a decade. He took on the monumental task of filming The Lord of the Rings. Three films in three years that translated into 17 Oscars, including a record-tying win (not to mention sweep) of 11 for The Return of the King. He followed that up with the seemingly impossible task of remaking King Kong and delivered more than just spectacle. The ice pond scene still remains as romantic a moment as we have seen in recent years. If it wasn't for the long-gestating mess that The Lovely Bones turned out to be, he might have been Nolan's one true challenger.
Positives: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (96%), The Return of the King (94%), The Fellowship of the Ring (92%), King Kong (83%)
Negatives: The Lovely Bones (32%)
#2 - MARTIN SCORSESE
This is where it gets really tough (unless you are already cursing the list.) The man finally won his ridiculously overdue Oscar. Every narrative feature under his direction got nominations for both Picture and Director. The Departed won. The tale is yet to be written on Shutter Island, though I still contend if it gets its release last October as initially planned, that could have been 4-for-4. And we're not forgetting about his Stones concert doc, Shine a Light. Though we're leaving out his PBS doc, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Maybe if we could ever see his cut (and not Harvey Weinstein's) of Gangs of New York that would have put him over the top. Or maybe a good night's sleep and a little less bias would do it.
Positives: The Departed (93%), The Aviator (88%), Shine a Light (86%), Gangs of New York (75%), Shutter Island (67%)
#1 - STEVEN SPIELBERG
The director everyone loves to love or to argue that he's not deserving of such love is nevertheless one of the most consistent workhorses in the business. OK, so he has only delivered one film since 2005 and it's a film that has become hip to sling arrows at (Crystal Skull), but what about the six films he made between 2001-05. Minority Report is undeniably one of the best science fiction films of the last decade, if not ever. Fervent supporters of AI: Artificial Intelligence might even say the same. I can almost feel the "he doesn't know how to quit when he's ahead" third act complaints welling up in readers while I write this. Only helps cement the consistency angle. Cause that is what he has been through the better part of his career and if my bias extends to believing The Terminal, War of the Worlds and Munich is the best allegorical 9/11 trilogy ever, then so be it. Take me on. I can defend it.
Positives: Catch Me If You Can (96%), Minority Report (91%), Munich (78%), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (77%), War of the Worlds (74%), AI: Artificial Intelligence (72%), The Terminal (61%)
This is all just a moot point anyway, isn't it really? With due respect to both Pixar and all the Judd Apatow productions, we are looking specifically at the "directed by" credit here and Nolan wins this race hands down. If that makes me a Nolan-oid or whatever the Armond White wannabes want to label people who respect masterfully articulate and original filmmaking, then fine. I'll listen to the Inception haters but don't ask me to respect their late-to-the-party, reactionary and frustratingly lost opinions. The same people miffed at getting too much emotion from Spielberg now want the same from Nolan. So Armond thinks Nolan doesn't measure up the Neveldine & Taylor, the auteurs of Gamer. Rex Reed doesn't like it cause he gets nervous with any film dealing with theft. "Skip it" on Inception, but "See it" on The Back-Up Plan? Mr. A.O. Scott, why? No wonder film critics have trouble finding respect. Of course, someone reading this no doubt is saying the same thing about me. Isn't arguing movies fun? In conclusion:
Positives: The Dark Knight (93%), Memento (93%), Insomnia (92%), Batman Begins (85%), Inception (85% currently), The Prestige (75%)
(NOTE: A.O. Scott actually ended up giving Inception a "see it" on At the Movies although his review at Rotten Tomatoes displayed a rotten splash and was not presented with a favorable quote. Or maybe I just dreamed the whole thing.)