The best of the decade include foreign fare and some American classics such as ‘Sideways’ and ‘No Country for Old Men.’
Richard Foreman/Miramax Films/AP/File
You thought you were finally finished with all those year-end 10-best lists? Not so fast. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, a decade just ended. This can mean only one thing: The 10 Best Films of the Decade.
Unlike my recent essay on 2009 movies, with its tucked-in Top 10 list, this piece will not attempt to cherrypick movie trends or provide an Olympian overview. Let’s just say that, as was also true of 2009, the past decade offered up many films eminently worth seeing and many more that were not. The most notable movies were predominantly from overseas but, in general, even in America, the best work came from independent-minded filmmakers working on the margins of the industry. In other words, it’s still possible to make great movies, but that greatness is largely untethered to any widespread movement, school, renaissance, or resurgence. In an industry increasingly inimical to risk – and this despite the fact that Hollywood just enjoyed its most lucrative year ever – artists are increasingly anomalies.
But I promised not to get too high-flying here, so let’s make our descent to the decade’s alphabetical best. Initially, I planned to create two separate lists of 10 each: One for English-language films, the other for non-English. This would enable me to sneak an extra 10 movies into the pantheon. But I decided not to ghettoize the films in this way. During awards time, foreign-language movies are too often treated as lonely stepchildren. In my list, all movies – whatever their language of origin, whether they be drama, documentary, or animation, or some hybrid – belong to the same happy family.
In 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” Richard Linklater cast Ethan Hawke as Jesse, an American train passenger who convinces a young French woman he has just met, played by Julie Delpy, to disembark with him in Vienna and share his last night in Europe. In “Before Sunset,” we meet the same characters nine years later as Jesse passes through Paris on a book tour. Taken together, the movies are exquisite, but “Before Sunset,” with its undertone of longing and melancholy, is peerlessly romantic. As in some of the French New Wave classics by Truffaut and Godard, language itself here, as it pours out of these two in great gusts and digressions, is a sensual thrill.
The best Romanian filmmakers are among the most remarkable in the world right now, and none more so than Cristian Mungiu. In this masterpiece, set in small-town Romania in 1987 at a time when the waning Ceauşescu regime was still potent, a college girl (the great Anamaria Marinca) covertly arranges for her friend’s abortion. The consequences of this illegality, in a society where all human activity appears to be monitored by the state, are sorrowing.