75. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)
Michael Clayton is the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy. Gilroy, who had previously written the Bourne movies, is more than up to the task of telling the story of a corporate law 'fixer' tasked with covering up what starts as the meltdown of a law firm partner but develops into a broader legal conspiracy. George Clooney does well subverting his star persona, playing a downtrodden, debt riddled and alcoholic attorney. Tilda Swinton does particularly wonderful work as a high powered, but desperate, in-house counsel for an agricultural company involved in the conspiracy mentioned earlier. Her character, the evil lawyer - often played in other movies with such overt malevolence that you half expect them to twirl their mustache after ordering an employee around - is, here, a nervous and doubting villain, seen mumbling a speech to herself repeatedly in a mirror until perfected. Her performance in particular brings credibility and weight to the entire story.
I enjoyed Gilroy's other film this decade, 2009's Duplicity, and I look forward to seeing what he constructs in the coming years.
74. Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg, 2004)
In some ways I think the growth in use of handheld 'shaky' cameras during the past decade was one of its worst innovations, but Peter Berg's Friday Night Lights is one of the handful of examples of where it really works. Berg's goal is not to tell the typical melodramatic sports story: it is to get inside the world of high school football in the South. The use of the handheld cameras helps give each scene an immediacy and presence that might be lost with more detached camera work. The movie itself is incredibly compelling (so compelling that it helped spawn a TV series that will conclude after its fifth season next year). The actors are all well cast and give believable performances. Much praise was given to Billy Bob Thornton when the film was released, but I think that praise would have been better given to the four young actors who really make the material work: Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke and Jay Hernandez. Lucas Black has a wonderful intensity as the team's quarterback. Hedlund is involved in one of the film's most powerful and affecting scenes: the night after his character had fumbled in a game, his father (a startlingly effective Tim McGraw) drunkenly tapes his son's arms to a football and taunts him while attempting to smash the ball out of his arms. The scene is chilling and all too believable. The film is particularly successful in the way it concludes, not necessarily the final 'big game' moment but in the time afterward, in the melancholy moments the players realize they must face life without high school football, without the Friday night lights.
I should also take a moment here to recognize Friday Night Lights, the TV show, as one of the best creative ventures of the decade. Despite a rocky second season (a result of studio tampering to try to up the ratings), the show has been one of the real joys on television since it began.
73. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2006)
The Descent is, without a doubt, the scariest movie of the decade. It tells the story of an all female group of spelunkers who encounter cave dwelling creatures when they decide to venture off the beaten path. The actors do good work with the material and bring a feverish and panicked energy to each scene. Director Neil Marshall does a great job with the camera to utilize the natural darkness and angles of a system of caverns to create palpable claustrophobia in the audience. He also, wisely, chose not to use any CGI and, rather, cast ballet dancers to play the film's creatures. The dancers imbue the cave dwellers with a deeply unsettling, and inhuman, way of movement that makes them all the more terrifying.
72. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)
In the Loop is an acerbic British political satire about the lead up to a potential Middle Eastern war (featuring The Sopranos' James Gandolfini). Armando Iannucci, directing his first feature film, has a master's sense of rhythm and comedic timing. A skill he needs in spades because every single scene in In the Loop is overflowing with humor, from subtle references to overt profane rants. Peter Capaldi, playing the Prime Minister's communication chief, gives, perhaps, the most savagely hilarious performance of the decade. Every minute Capaldi is on screen crackles with spectacular energy and constant laughs. The film has one of the wittiest and most scathing scripts I've ever seen. More than that, it has as good a laugh-per-minute rate as any movie the last decade.
71. In the Shadow of the Moon (David Sington, 2007)
In the Shadow of the Moon is a documentary about the manned missions sent to the moon in the late 60s and early 70s. The film uses the narration of nearly all the men to ever walk on the moon along with archival footage and previously unseen material from the NASA vaults to give a fresh and compelling look at the Space Race. The astronauts give candid, emotional and, sometimes, hilarious insights into the totality of the space race and into each of their individual roles and stories. If you have even the faintest interest in the Space Race or the Cold War, you owe it to yourself to see In the Shadow of the Moon.
Runner-Up: Blood Diamond (Zwick, 2006)
Runner-Up: Open Water (Kentis, 2004)
Runner-Up: Cinderella Man (Howard, 2005)
Runner-Up: Tigerland (Schumacher, 2000)
Runner-Up: Best in Show (Guest, 2000)
Runner-Up: Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood, 2006)
Runner-Up: Saw (Wan, 2004)
101: Big Fish (Burton, 2003)
100: State of Play (Macdonald, 2009)
99: Marley & Me (Frankel, 2008)
98: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher, 2008)
97: Sunshine (Boyle, 2007)
96: 8 Mile (Hanson, 2002)
95: 21 Grams (Iñárritu, 2003)
94: The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)
93: Y tu mamá también (Cuaron, 2001)
92: Breach (Ray, 2007)
91: Away from Her (Polley, 2007)
90: Stranger Than Fiction (Forster, 2006)
89: Old School (Phillips, 2003)
88: The Queen (Frears, 2006)
87: Garden State (Braff, 2004)
86: Miracle (O'Connor, 2004)
85: Banlieue 13 (Morel, 2004)
84: The Fall (Singh, 2008)
83: Spider-Man/Spider-Man 2.1 (Raimi, 2002/2004)
82: The Last King of Scotland (Macdonald, 2006)
81: Pineapple Express (Green, 2008)
80: Into the Wild (Penn, 2007)
79: Juno (Reitman, 2007)
78: Cast Away (Zemeckis, 2000)
77: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, 2007)
76: The 40 Year Old Virgin (Apatow, 2005)
75: Michael Clayton (Gilroy, 2007)
74: Friday Night Lights (Berg, 2004)
73: The Descent (Marshall, 2006)
72: In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009)
71: In the Shadow of the Moon (Sington, 2007)