Gene Triplett picks Top 10 movies of the decade
Decade’s top films stand test of relevance
Armed-and-dangerous characters played prominent roles in many of my favorite films of the past decade, and I hesitate to seek professional analysis of my taste for movie mayhem. Is it vicarious fulfillment of vengeful desires in the wake of 9/11? A lot of moviegoers seemed to be looking for a Superman in the frustrating aftermath of that turn-of the-century tragedy, making huge box-office heroes out of Spidey and the Caped Crusader in the process. Others escaped into the fairy tale pleasures of Pixar.
But many of the decade’s most relevant cinematic offerings featured anti-heroes and bristled with guns and knives and grittily realistic lessons in the violent nature of humankind. Also, thankfully, there were a few disarming works that flashed no weapons at all.
1. “No Country for Old Men” (2007) — Writing-directing brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are the most original partners in crime the genre has to offer when they aim their brilliantly devious minds in that direction (“Blood Simple,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Fargo”), but they outgunned even themselves with this grim adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel of incorruptible good (Tommy Lee Jones’ classic world-weary, frustrated Texas sheriff), unstoppable evil (Javier Bardem, winning an Oscar as a truly frightening, soulless killing machine) and an opportunistic fool caught in between (Josh Brolin excelling as a shiftless cowboy who stumbles across ill-gotten gains). This is easily one of the most mesmerizing, suspenseful and memorable treks through the moral badlands I’ve seen in years.
2. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) — Director Ang Lee’s elegiac story of forbidden love featured a pair of courageous, poignant and heart-grabbing performances from Heath Ledger (arguably the pinnacle of his short career) and Jake Gyllenhaal as hard-luck cowboys who take on a lonely sheepherding job in the majestic Wyoming mountain country of 1963 and find camaraderie, then a deeper intimacy that must withstand not only the bitter cold mountain nights but also the hard climate of social intolerance in the America of the ’60s and ’70s. Based on a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and adapted for the screen by Pulitzer Price-winning novelist Larry McMurtry (“Lonesome Dove”) and Diana Ossana, this was a tragic and towering testament to the enduring power of love in the face of extreme adversity that was unjustly stood up by Oscar in the best picture category (losing to “Crash”).
3. “The Departed” (2006) — Martin Scorsese directed a high-caliber cast in this gripping, gritty crime epic of a good cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) working undercover within Boston’s Irish-American mafia and a bad cop (Matt Damon) serving as the mob’s mole in the upper ranks of the Massachusetts State Police, each seeking to discover the other’s identity. Jack Nicholson’s over-the-edge performance as the criminal mastermind who runs both their lives should have scored him a supporting actor trophy, but justice was blind on and off the screen that year.
4. “A History of Violence” (2005) — Another high-concept thriller fraught with guns and graphic gore came from dean-of-darkness director David Cronenberg, teaching a profoundly effective lesson in what is real and what is illusion in the lives of an ordinary American Midwestern family, and what unseemly traits can rise to the surface when their normal existence is strained by sudden, deadly violence. Viggo Mortensen’s low-key portrayal of a small-town community pillar with an unsavory big-city past was dead-on, while Maria Bello exhibited impressive emotional range and vulnerable sexuality as the wife at once repulsed and aroused by the discovery of her husband’s hidden, dangerous side. Ed Harris has never been more menacing as the heavy who comes calling, and William Hurt brought a memorably chilling touch of pitch-black comedy to the final showdown scene. This one pulled all the right emotional triggers with killer accuracy, but it wasn’t for the squeamish.
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