The TONY top 50 movies of the decade

We count down the movies that mattered.



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  • Movies of the decade: Friday Night (2002)

  • Movies of the decade: A Christmas Tale (2008)

  • Movies of the decade: Zodiac (2007)

  • Movies of the decade: Dogville (2003)

  • Movies of the decade: Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) (2000)

  • Movies of the decade: In the Mood for Love (2000)

  • Movies of the decade: The New World (2005)

  • Movies of the decade: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

  • Movies of the decade: There Will Be Blood (2007)

  • Movies of the decade: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Movies of the decade: Friday Night (2002)


Friday Night (2002)

At decade's end, French director Claire Denis stands tall as the respected purveyor of a signature sensibility: gauzy, intimate, suspended in time. (Her most recent stateside release, 35 Shots of Rum, might be too fresh for this poll, but you can expect it on several year-end lists.) Could it be that her sexy 2002 hotel-room romance, at the time considered minor, is actually her most profound and expressive work? Friday Night takes only the merest steps toward plot—in a cacophonous Parisian traffic jam, a young woman picks up a handsome stranger. Together, they are cocooned in a private spell that enraptures them; the evening is young. Lush imagery by Denis's cinematographer, Agns Godard, brings tears to any movie lover's eyes as the amorous duo slips between the sheets, into each other's consciousness and then, as these things go, apart. There's not a false note here.—Joshua Rothkopf

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A Christmas Tale (2008)

Anybody can make a movie about how miserable holiday family get-togethers are; it takes a filmmaker like Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen; see also No. 26), however, to turn this premise into a sprawling, free-form meditation on morality, mortality and unresolved matters of the heart. The Vuillard clan's matriarch (vive Catherine Deneuve!) has been diagnosed with leukemia, which killed her firstborn ages ago. The resident black-sheep son (Mathieu Amalric) is an eligible donor, though not even his good bone marrow can cure the bad blood between them. That's only one of several stories in Desplechin's novelistic take on the ties that bind and gag, which follows various siblings, grandchildren and cousins as they trade barbs and deal with age-old baggage. This French drama's subversion of the usual seasons-gratings conventions is enough to make it unique, but it's the graceful, organic way that the director lets these characters interact—and his refusal to pander with easy emotional resolutions—that make this movie such a rich, rewarding gift.—David Fear

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ZODIAC (2007)

Zodiac (2007)

Has a director ever grown up so well in the limelight as David Fincher? Starting with platinum-tinted Madonna videos, he matured by millennium's end into a Hollywood subversive with style to burn. And still, no one—not his critics nor his fans—expected the shockingly intelligent exploration of obsession that Zodiac appeared to be. On its surface, Fincher's subject was California's notorious late-'60s serial killer, a vague memory from the filmmaker's own Marin County youth. But the movie's real power came in its latter scenes, the police leads running dry, our heroes unable to drop their quest even as it ruins them. Directorially, Fincher was transformed. Gone was the gruesome prankster who made 1995's Seven. Instead, here was a cynical heir to Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang. Zodiac presents a city haunted by a ghost: We float high above nighttime San Francisco as voices whisper. It was way too close for comfort.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Dogville (2003)

rikkkan-style, turns chalk outlines on a sparsely furnished stage into a full-fledged version of a typically quaint burg. It also allows the Danish enfant terrible to engage in his two favorite pastimes—bashing the USA's penchant for pious facades and dragging his hapless heroines through hell and back. For once, the stars perversely align, and Von Trier delivers what may be his funniest, most savage satire. The odd coupling of minimalist theatrical techniques and high-melodramatic grandstanding is the perfect pomo combination. A once-in-a-lifetime cast—Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Harriet Andersson, James Caan, Udo Kier—complement the material, but it's Nicole Kidman as the avenging angel who wins the MVP award, proving that she doesn't need a prosthetic nose to give a great performance. Those end credits also qualify as the best parting flipped bird to an audience ever conceived. Check and mate.—David Fear

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Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) (2000)

Too often, we critics will celebrate a movie's foreignness, forgetting that even curious viewers need a passport. So let's go the opposite way with Yi Yi, a masterful Taiwanese family drama that was certain to place in this poll. The movie, set in a present-day city, is about every extended family you know. It's Rachel Getting Married and the Cosbys and Hannah and Her Sisters. The Jiangs, a middle-class clan of Taipei urbanites, are pivoting in transition: There's the long-foreseen death of their elder; a teenage love triangle preoccupying Sis; and a naughty younger brother who should study more. (These people are your neighbors.) Soulfully at the center of the whirlwind is the Jiang patriarch, played by the magnificent Nien-jen Wu, straining under the weight of his business. (He's your dad.) Director Edward Yang—lost to cancer in 2007—struck a note of such universal clarity, his movie became instantly recognizable. To explore his legacy is to come home.—Joshua Rothkopf

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In the Mood for Love (2000)

The consummate unconsummated love story of the new millennium, Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece fetishizes early-'60s fashion more thoroughly than several seasons of Mad Men (how many cheongsam dresses can one person own?) and turns Nat King Cole's Spanish balladry into the official soundtrack of lonely hearts. Yet it isn't the nostalgia factor, pop-culture appropriation or even Wong's color-drunk visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, that makes the movie such a metaphysical aphrodisiac. His tale of two neighbors—the stately Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and would-be pulp writer Mr. Chow (Tony Leung)—who obsess over their spouses' affair in lieu of their own attraction works its spell by perpetually keeping passion at bay. Glances are exchanged, bodies brush against each other in hallways, hands are tentatively held...and then their buildup simply fades away before our very eyes. Thanks to Wong and his leads, both of whom give career-best performances, such small gestures turn unfulfilled longing into hothouse eroticism. The director himself would spend the rest of the decade burning out, and not even a sequel—the sci-fi-inflected 2046—could help him find his mojo again. This peerless ode to snuffed desire, however, still makes our hearts pitter-patter.—David Fear

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The New World (2005)

All of Terrence Malick's characters—from the romantic couple on the run in Badlands to the ruminating soldiers in The Thin Red Line—seem to spring from some Edenic source, only to be trumped by the indifference of the cosmos. So it was inevitable that the writer-director's lyrical eye would find its way to America's origin myth. Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and the Indian princess Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) frolic through Malick's trademark fields of wheat, their intimate snatches of voiceover as deeply rooted in the landscape as the trees. It's always clear that history is not on the side of their love affair, yet while tears are shed, melodrama is never indulged. The particular power of this tone poem comes from how quietly resigned both characters are to their fates, as if they sense a guiding hand in their every action. The final passages of Malick's idyll, after Pocahontas takes a fateful ocean journey, are the finest work of his career, most notably in his portrayal of the princess's death and transfiguration—a shattering five-minute sequence that never fails to move.—Keith Uhlich

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

If you'd had your heart broken, would you erase part of your consciousness? For Joel (Jim Carrey), the question's a no-brainer: He's so devastated over being dumped by his darling Clementine (Kate Winslet) that he'll have his remembrances of her wiped clean. Until, of course, Joel decides that a mind full of memories really is a terrible thing to waste. In the past, both director Michel Gondry's kindergarten arts-and-crafts aesthetic and Charlie Kaufman's Mbius-striptease scripts have come off as insufferably twee and gimmicky. So why does this existential meta-rom-com always leave us teary-eyed and genuinely moved? That fact that it isn't simply McSweeney's: The Movie is faint praise. Rather, the duo finally finds the right combination of high-concept and humanity here, taking the what-if idea of a company that lobotomizes the lovelorn into territory that's funny, painful, poetic and unsettlingly weird. (That midnight parade of elephants marching through midtown Manhattan!) Sunshine is the rare mind-fuck that never takes its eyes off that aching, wounded organ beating away in your chest. It's a work whose oddball, off-kilter romanticism and bruised ideas about beginning again make it feel both of its moment, and somehow, eternal.—David Fear

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There Will Be Blood (2007)

A man strikes a pickax against a stone wall. Later, after this same enterprising individual has found black gold, taken over a small town, gained the world and lost his soul (assuming he had such a thing to begin with), we watch him do the exact same gesture—only this time he's grasping a bowling pin, and that isn't rock he's bashing. Paul Thomas Anderson's revision of Upton Sinclair's Oil! jettisons the source material's muckraking in favor of something far more ambitious: mapping the moment that our nation's bootstrap mentality curdled into a cutthroat corporate culture. Credit goes to Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who transforms the movie's inscrutable gargoyle, Daniel Plainview, into the very embodiment of American rot; he even makes a ridiculous non sequitur ("I drink your milk shake!") sound terrifying. But this is Anderson's film, and his black-hearted epic proves that the New Hollywood acolyte deserves a seat in the pantheon. As an oblique critique of Bush II's self-made power brokers and winner-take-all capitalism, There Will Be Blood cuts to the bone. As the work of a visionary artist, it's truly sui generis.—David Fear

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Mulholland Drive (2001)

At the top of our poll is a film split in half: a glamorous romance that suddenly morphs into bitter rejection, a Hollywood mystery that plunges into doom. Can there be another movie that speaks as resonantly—if unwittingly—to the awful moment that marked our decade? Viewers grappled over the meaning of the movie's "blue box," finding little purchase. But in the troubled autumn of this psychodrama's 2001 NYC release, we might have understood it all too well. Mulholland Drive is the monster behind the diner; it's the self-delusional dream turned into nightmare. The triumph belongs to David Lynch, who could have rested on the laurels of his three landmarks, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Creatively, though, he saved this project (originally a misunderstood TV pilot) from dismissal, retooling it and extending his story into complexity. Along the way, a star was born: the extraordinary Naomi Watts, whose fearless double performance wrecked all who submitted to its spell. Is the movie too dangerous and surreal to be our champion? Hardly. It was, after all, a dangerous and surreal decade.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Users say


Bruno Dumont's "29 Palms" in which a candy-apple red Hummer, an aimless and violently copulating couple, and the barren desert of Palm Springs, California acts as the searing, nightmarish allegory of George Bush's utterly mind, body and soul-dead America, circa 2004. My choice over MD and TWBB.

Shobhit Bhatnagar
Shobhit Bhatnagar

the movies which must be in list city of god, The Dark Knight, Lords of the ring , Departed, No Country for an old man the movie which must not be in list is AI Artificial Intelligence i love Steven Spielberg but it (AI) Is a weired and boring kind of Science fiction movie how ever in the beginning movie is good but after that movie is getting bore and pleasure less