Ode to an era: Goodbye Dragon Inn reached the top of many writers' decade lists in a time of disappearing screens.

Top 10s of the 2000s

Susan Gerhard December 30, 2009

It’s no surprise that we—a group of critics, fans, exhibitors and filmmakers in the Bay Area responding to survey questions on the best films of the decade—did not arrive at a consensus. It would be a terrible sign of the aggregation era if we had. Indeed, the eclectic nature of this list proves that the long tail may continue to wag, happily, into the next decade, bringing diversity, perhaps even democracy, to a screen near you. The lists below are published in the order they were received, with director/country of origin on first mention of a film, with comments offered in a few cases. Please, offer us lists of your own in the "comments" box below.

Cheryl Eddy, S.F. Bay Guardian
in chronological order:
American Psycho (Mary Harron, Canada)
Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, USA)
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, USA)
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, USA)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
Reflections of Evil (Damon Packard, USA)
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, UK)
Oldboy (Chan-Wook Park, South Korea)
Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski, USA)
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, UK)
Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, USA)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, USA)
A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, USA)
Brick (Rian Johnson, USA)
The Host (Joon-Ho Bong, South Korea)
The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK)
Borat (Larry Charles, USA)
Half Nelson (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, USA)
No Country for Old Men (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK)
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, USA)
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)

Jeffrey Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Yi Yi (Edward Yang, Taiwan)
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, USA)
Ghost World
Werckmeister Harmonies (B‚la Tarr, Hungary)
Spider (David Cronenberg, Canada/UK)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, USA)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, USA)
Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan)
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, USA)
Let the Right One In

Marcus Hu, Strand Releasing
Zodiac (David Fincher, USA)
Mulholland Drive
The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, USA)
35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, France)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
Yi Yi
Time Out (Lauren Cantet, France)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong)

Chris Metzler, filmmaker, Tilapia Film
A History of Violence
DiG! (Ondi Timoner, USA)
High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, UK/USA)
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, USA)
Before Sunset
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, UK)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, USA)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, USA)
The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, USA)
Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter, David Silverman, USA)

Rod Armstrong, S.F. Film Society
Cache and The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, France)
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, France)
City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
Head-On (Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey)
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, USA)
Lilya 4-Ever (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Mulholland Drive
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung, France/Vietnam)

Marc Huestis, Outsider Productions
Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrman, Australia)
Lord of the Rings
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA)
Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, USA)
Crash (Paul Haggis, USA)
Brokeback Mountain
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, USA)
Requiem For a Dream
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, UK)
The Hours (Stephen Daldry, UK)

Peter Stein, S.F. Jewish Film Festival
Brokeback Mountain
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany)
Ratatouille (Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava, USA)
The Pianist (Roman Polanski, France)
Far From Heaven
Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, France)
Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, UK/USA)
Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK)
Juno (Jason Reitman, USA)
Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel)

George Rush, entertainment lawyer
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA)
American Movie (Chris Smith, USA)
A Time for Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi, Iran)
Color of Paradise (Majid Majidi, Iran)
The Lives of Others
The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy)
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, USA)
Requiem for a Dream
Russian Ark (Aleksander Sukorov, Russia)
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, France)
Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 1-12 (R. Kelly and Jim Swaffield, USA)

Michael Hawley, film-415
A Christmas Tale
Grindhouse (Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, USA)
I’m A Cyborg and That’s OK (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
Moolaade (Ousmane Sembene, France/Burkina Faso)
Opera Jawa (Garin Nugroho, Indonesia)
The Princess and the Warrior (Tom Tykwer, Germany)
Rivers and Tides (Thomas Riedelsheimer, Germany)
Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
Y Tu Mama Tambien

James T. Hong, filmmaker
Too many things forgotten.
Out for a Walk and The Singing Lesson (Artur mijewski, Poland)
Reflections of Evil (Damon Packard, USA)
Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, France/Portugal)
Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, France)
Hero (Zhang Yimou, Hong Kong/China)
Dream Work (short, Peter Tscherkassky, Austria)
DVD release of Tribulation 99 (Craig Baldwin, USA)
The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, USA)
Bumfights: A Cause for Concern (Ryen McPherson, USA)
Asses Masses Volume 3

Sean Uyehara, S.F. Film Society
La Ci‚naga (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains ( )
Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA)
Grizzly Man
Mulholland Drive
Taxi to the Dark Side (Hany Abu-Assad, France/Palestine)
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
La Libertad
Waltz with Bashir

Brian Darr, Hell On Frisco Bay
Ten never seemed like so small a number.
Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2002)
The New World (Terrence Malick, USA, 2005)
Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin, Canada, 2007)
Sparrow (Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 2008)
The Company (Robert Altman, USA, 2003)
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2000)
The Day I Became A Woman (Marzieh Meshkini, Iran, 2000)
The Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, France, 2005)
The Death of Klinghoffer (Penny Woolcock, UK, 2003)

Bill Banning, Roxie Theatre
Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico)
A History of Violence
No Country for Old Men
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
The Best of Youth
The Lives of Others
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Beau Travail
Man on Wire
Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time
The Fog of War (Errol Morris, USA)
No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson, USA)
Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald, UK)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, USA)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, USA)
Capturing the Friedmans
Sicko (Michael Moore, USA)
Grizzly Man

Jonathan Marlow, San Francisco Cinematheque
Cowards Bend the Knee (Guy Maddin, Canada)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fantasma (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)
The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Belgium/France)
Interkosmos (Jim Finn, USA)
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, UK)
Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Le Pont des Arts (Eugene Green, France)
PTU (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson, Sweden)
Time Out

Marlow’s honorable mentions
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
The American Astronaut (Cory McAbee, USA)
The Beat that My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard, France)
Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Cach‚ (Michael Haneke, France/Austria)
California Trilogy (El Valley Centro, Sogobi, Los) (James Benning, USA)
In the Mood for Love
Last Life in the Universe (Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
Let the Right One In
Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Anderson, USA)
Lunacy (Jan Svankmajer, Czech Republic)
Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, USA)
Oh, Uomo (Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, Italy)
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Michel Hazanavicius, France)
Pan’s Labyrinth
Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, France)
The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia)
RR (James Benning, USA)
Running on Karma (Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai, Hong Kong/China)
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand)
That Day (Raoul Ruiz, France/Switzerland)
Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke, China)
Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Francois Ozon, France)
Zodiac (David Fincher, USA)

Marlow’s shorts
7 Fragments for Georges Melies (William Kentridge), Angel Beach (Scott Stark), Dream Work (Peter Tscherkassky), Flotsam/Jetsam (Nathan Zellner & David Zellner), The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin), Hotel Chevalier (Wes Anderson), House (Ben Rivers), In Absentia (Stephen Quay & Timothy Quay), In the Dark (Sergei Dvortsevoy), Pitcher of Colored Light (Robert Beavers), Sarabande (Nathaniel Dorsky), Your Truly (Osbert Parker)

Marlow’s note: Animated films deserve their own list. Documentaries deserve their own list.

Jonathan Kiefer, The Faster Times, KQED, San Francisco Magazine, SF360.org
Time Out
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, USA)
Touch the Sound (Thomas Riedelsheimer, Germany)
You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, USA)
Saraband (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
Before Sunset
Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
The Royal Tenenbaums
Let the Right One In

Sara Schieron, Box Office magazine, Rotten Tomatoes
Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein, USA)
Good Night and Good Luck (George Clooney, USA)
Idiocracy (Mike Judge, USA)
Solo Dios Sabe (Carlos Bolado, Brazil/Mexico)
Donnie Darko
The Departed (Martin Scorsese, USA)
Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA)
Look Both Ways (Sarah Watt, Australia)
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

Michael Fox, SF360, SF Weekly
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada)
Forever (Heddy Honigmann, Netherlands)
The Pianist
Werckmeister Harmonies
The Five Obstructions (Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth, Denmark)
Time Out
Waltz With Bashir
Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Good Night and Good Luck
Ghost World

Jason Sanders, Pacific Film Archive
In the Mood for Love
Seems like it has been around for decades, not just one; when it debuted it already seemed timeless. Possibly the most romantic film of the decade, with Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung providing the old-school star power, Christopher Doyle the neon-and-rain-soaked cinematography and atmosphere, and Wong Kar-Wai the sheer mystique.

Songs from the Second Floor
At first glance this somber film seems like just another art film, complete with non-moving camera angles and extreme long takes (only 46 in the entire work). Then the strangeness comes in: subway riders burst into opera; crucifix salesmen critique a new line of plastic Christs; a senile WWII-era general asks visitors to "give my regards to G”ring," the modern ruling class gather cliffside to sacrifice a virgin. “Monty Python directed by Ingmar Bergman,” “Short Cuts meets Night of the Living Dead ”—read some of the reviews, but this was an original in 2000, and an original still. Gorgeously peculiar, it remains a singular vision of society and an even more singular vision of cinema.

Distance (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2001)
Nobody Knows and After Life are his more famous works, but this little-seen drama (still unreleased theatrically or on DVD in the U.S.) is arguably his masterpiece. On the anniversary of a cult’s murderous attack on a city water supply and then mass suicide (inspired by the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system), the family members of the dead cult members gather to remember their loved ones, and to try to understand why they could do such a thing. Improvised and filmed with a fluidity that feels utterly organic, Distance is impeccably acted, photographed, and directed; it addresses the many ways we are human: how we love, how we connect, how we remember, how we grow distant, and how we are capable of the most horrific acts, and the simplest. Nine years on, it’s still the most powerful, moving film I’ve seen this decade.

Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2001)
This dreamlike tale of the literal—and murderous—ghosts in the machine of contemporary life may be one of the eeriest, most influential works of the decade’s J-horror wave, but it’s also one of the most intriguingly philosophical examinations of modern online culture. Kurosawa’s astonishing set designs, from the countless darkened “living” rooms of Internet users to the apocalyptic, Tokyo-on-fire finale, are the stuff of genius (and nightmare), but it’s the underlying refrain—“Will I just go on living? All alone?”—that harbors our darkest fears. An odd little horror film, its prescient look at the power of the internet to connect—and disconnect–us seems even more terrifying now.

Mulholland Drive
Suffice to say that decades from now people will be thinking, “Wow, 2001 was a great year for American film if it made, released and made successful a film like Mulholland Drive.”

Goodbye Dragon Inn
It’s a rainy night in Taipei and the crumbling neighborhood kino-barn is showing King Hu’s swordplay classic Dragon Inn to a suspiciously inattentive audience of the too-old, too-young and too-lonely. Most of the audience appears to be elsewhere, either mentally or physically; some sleep through the action while others cruise the aisles and bathrooms seeking a different kind of action entirely. Visualizing the fantasies of anyone who’s ever worked in a movie theater, or just adored being in one, Goodbye underscored the essence of why people watch films: the desire to be reminded of what it is to live, and what it means to dream. In a decade where more and more theaters closed, and where even the idea of celluloid projection came into question, it seemed like not only a tribute to cinema, but a requiem.

Before Sunset
Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke sequel was utterly unlike any Hollywood romance before it, and unlike any Hollywood romance made afterwards. No gay best friends, no moments of high comedy with blundering relatives. Just a measured, melancholy take on love, loss and coming to terms not only with what your life didn’t become, but what it probably never will be.

The Holy Girl
“God sends us signs, that’s what matters,” notes a church choir teacher to her charges in this hallucinatory look at small-town religious devotion and sexual awakening. The film blends its Lolita obsessions and Catholic repressions with a delirium-soaked visual and aural flair as memorable as any from this decade. The probing camera hovers barely inches away from each character, seemingly guarding them from any potential sin, while the soundtrack echoes with a satanic litany of half-heard conversations, overlapping sounds and odd industrial noises. An impressive work that, along with Los Muertos, spotlighted the emergence of Argentine cinema as an international force.

No One’s Ark (Nobuhiro Yamashita, Japan, 2004)
If you could only choose one loser-comedy from the decade, forget Apatow, Rogen, Cera or anyone else; this deadpan Japanese comedy (from the director of Linda! Linda! Linda!) perfectly encapsulates the (rather slow) pace of contemporary youth, where just getting out of bed seems like a pointless triumph of the will. Admittedly, the lead characters, a young couple more slack-jawed and senseless than angry and restless, whose get-rich-quick idea involves selling a foul-smelling “health drink,” aren’t up to much, but Yamashita makes sure they accomplish it so badly and with such an appealing lack of skill or planning that their struggles expand to heartbreaking proportions. Comical throughout, unbearably sad by the end and with a memorable, untraditionally beautiful cast, Ark positioned Yamashita as one of his generation’s sharpest, most distinctive voices.

Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina 2004)
Alonso’s game-changer, the first poster child of a back-to-nature docu-fiction movement best described as New Agrarian Cinema, opened in the jungle, like a portrait of verdant nature, of the light and shadows of the tropical world, until its prowling camera discovers something more: the murdered bodies of two boys. The plot, what little there is, involves a man just released from prison, and his trip down-river towards something, but the film’s refusal of easy explanations leads to a wealth of metaphorical interpretations: humanity’s affect on nature, or vice versa; the isolation of Argentina; the path from guilt to absolution; ex-criminals re-integrating into society, etc. Like Mexico’s Japon or Thailand’s Blissfully Yours, Los Muertos invigorated cinema by creating a true “motion picture;” luxuriating in the senses, sights, and sounds of the tropics, its camera captures not still life but a moving one, filled with the colors and texture of a classic painting. The story and meaning can be anything, to anyone; what matters is the material world that surrounds the story, the one we all live in, but rarely take time to see.

The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, USA), and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Hollywood blockbuster continued its long slide towards overblown imagery, narrative mediocrity and bland characters—and away from any semblance of humanity—as the decade went on, but these franchises at least stemmed the tide somewhat. Bourne’s tight narrative drive and thrilling (and human-made) stunts reminded audiences what they were missing, while Lord of the Rings gave viewers a taste of what they rarely saw from Hollywood hits: epic imagination.

The World (Jia Zhang-ke, China, 2005)
The world comes to China—but not the other way around—in Jia’s sly parable on globalization’s papier-mƒch‚ promises, set in a Beijing Vegas-by-way-of Epcot Center theme park where the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Twin Towers (“ours are still standing”) are all within unpaved blocks of one another. “See the world without leaving Beijing!” is the park’s slogan, but for the film’s luckless inhabitants—former farm girls and country hicks, now performers or security guards—that promise seems more like a prison sentence. Jia’s most accessible film is also his most pointedly political and his most heartbreaking. Even amid the fake skyscrapers and neon dance numbers, it’s still one lonely planet.

In Vanda’s Room (2004) and Colossal Youth (2006)
Pedro Costa of Portugal is possibly the most intriguing, relevant filmmaker at work today, captivating viewers with his spare, austere aesthetic, willful ambiguity, and combination of documentary, avant-garde, and fiction. While his slow-burn, trancelike style is wholly his own, Costa’s earthy portraits of the immigrant and marginalized communities of Lisbon’s slums have emerged from a recognizable, classic narrative background of Ford, Lang, Ozu and Chaplin, touched with the more modernist palette of Straub-Huillet and B‚la Tarr. Costa’s two final films in his Fonta¡nhas trilogy are some of the most remarkable and mysterious city films ever made, portraits of individuals lost in a razed urban renewal zone that’s at once utterly familiar and totally alien. There’s little boundary between fiction, documentary and avant-garde filmmaking here, but the films are connected by Costa’s painterly eye for composition and above all by their subjects/authors, a Bukowski-by-way-of-Lou-Reed collection of dazed junkies, hard-living women, wheezing madmen, wiry immigrant workers and other individuals living in the cracks of the New Europe. Certainly inaccessible for some, but utterly essential for others.

Syndromes and a Century
Dedicated to the filmmaker’s doctor parents and loosely based on their recollections, it begins in a rural hospital that basks in a light so radiant it finds all doctors in love. Dentists serenade their crushes with flossing-related karaoke and even job interviews sound romantic. Concerned with how memory (and, by extension, cinema) works to recall and rephrase stories and emotions, Syndromes is blissfully impervious to narrative concerns, but it’s as pleasurably seductive as an afternoon spent under swaying trees. With this and his earlier Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady, Apichatpong’s attention to and embrace of wind, light, and other actors of the natural world influenced an entire decade of filmmakers.

Two-Legged Horse (Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran/Afghanistan, 2008)
A crippled rich boy, the son of a mullah who’s more interested in the prostitutes he brings home, hires a poor mute boy to be his “two-legged horse,” complete with a bridle between his teeth and hooves nailed to his feet. Filmed with non-actors in the middle of an Afghan war zone (the production was shut down several times under threat of violence and once, a bombing on the set), Horse is both utterly questionable in tactics (what Makhmalbaf forces her non-pro child actors to endure is at times beyond the pale) and utterly effective in terms of metaphor. There is no division between fiction and nonfiction here; all is madness and no film better captured such insanity—of the war in Afghanistan, of man’s cruelty to other men—than this controversial film.

Susan Gerhard, SF360.org
Gerry (Gus Van Sant, U.S.)
In the Mood for Love
Me, You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, U.S.)
George Washington (David Gordon Green, U.S.)
Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, France)
Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/Italy)
Man Push Cart (Ramin Bahrani, U.S.)
Once (John Carney, Ireland)
Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, U.S.)
Lost in Translation
The Royal Tenenbaums
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, U.S.)
Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S.)
The Fog of War
Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas, France/Germany/Mexico/Belgium)
In the City of Sylvia (Jos‚ Luis Guer¡n, Spain/France)
The Son’s Room (Nanni Moretti, Italy/France)
A Time for Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi, Iran)
Daughter from Danang (Gail Dolgin, Vicente Franco, U.S.)

Gerhard’s cannot forget/equally great list
Chuck & Buck, Let the Right One In, City of God, Cach‚, Rachel Getting Married, Capturing the Friedmans, Bus 174, Bowling for Columbine, The Bourne Ultimatum, Police Beat, Syndromes and a Century, Dig!, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,
Adaptation, The Edge of Heaven, Goodbye Solo, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Paradox Lake, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Tropical Malady, Persepolis, Y tu mama tambien, Zatoichi, Snow Angels, Brick, The Host, The Son, Sicko.

Thanks to SF360.org contributor Michael Fox for editing and compiling these lists.

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