My last blog on HuffPost was on politics and I needed to shower half a dozen times before I washed off the stench. So today, I am returning to the sweet smell of cinema. However, I am writing on a topic that is sure to get many people questioning all five of my senses. Today, in honor of Akira Kurosawa'a 116th birthday, I am offering up the best movie of each of the last ten years. (Warning: This actually has nothing to do with Kurosawa.)
Identifying a movie by year can be tricky, so for purposes of this list, I am using the year that the movie opened in theaters in my home country. (USA) I will also offer the briefest of explanations and throw in a runner-up or two. Then I will turn it over to you to slice and dice away at my selections.
Sounds like fun, right?
2006 - The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
A lot of people were shocked and angry when this German movie upset Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar in 2006. Who am I kidding? A lot of people are still mad about that one. Not me. This slow-burning suspense story and intimate character study is one of the two best movies made thus far in the 21st century. And it had to be good to get my vote here, because Paul Greengrass's United 93, also released in 2006, is among the most riveting movies I have ever seen.
2007 - Superbad (Greg Mottola)
From the sublime to the ... Superbad. Mottola proved that raunchy teenage sex comedies can have wit, heart, and enough hilarious vulgarity to achieve greatness. This set a standard for what was generally a marginalized genre. And it was a smidge better than Paul Thomas Anderson's epic There Will Be Blood, which featured one of the greatest performances in all of cinema.
2008 - Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani)
Movies don't have to be about superheroes and brushes with Armageddon. There is enough drama and humor and humanity in many honest, true stories to touch our hearts and minds. Ramin Bahrani, who has been chronicling the working poor for two decade, shows that better than anyone in this story of a homeless boy making a life for himself on the streets of Queens. Of course, if you do prefer superheroes, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, did come out the same year.
2009 - You, the Living (Roy Andersson)
Roy Andersson is an acquired taste. But it's a taste well worth having. His quiet observations of the sad and lonely and striving sneak up on you and morph into one of the wittiest movies you will ever see. A static camera, deadpan playing, and a series of blackout vignettes amount to something unforgettable. After you watch it, you can dive in on last year's companion A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence. If you want something in English, try Duncan Jones' Moon, the movie 2001 would be if it weren't so damn pretentious.
2010 - The Social Network (David Fincher)
You try making a movie about the birth of a new technology. It isn't easy. But Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are supreme storytellers working at the height of their powers. And Jesse Eisenberg is adorably nerdy. Speaking of adorable, if J. Law is growing a little too cute for you, watch her in Winter's Bone and you'll see how great she really is.
2011 - A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
The other best movie of the 21st century (see above). This is a searing drama about the way good people find themselves in devastating situations. Farhadi milks human drama out of the most benign and realistic of scenarios. That's what makes him among the best filmmakers in the world today. Sure there may have been good American movies in 2011, but this Iranian movie, along with the Korean Poetry and the Finnish/French/German co-production Le Havre were the best movies of the year.
2012 - Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
2012 was the weakest year for movies in the past decade but this can hold its own. I was not a fan of Bigelow's previous collaboration with screenwriter Mark Boal, 2008's The Hurt Locker. But here, they make the complexity and moral ambiguity of the war against terrorism palpable. The only other movie that touched me nearly as much from 2012 was Michael Haneke's lovely and difficult contemplation of aging, Amour.
2013 - Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve)
I know people who refused to see Villeneuve's suspense story because of a misunderstanding about the subject matter. Though it is kicked off by the disappearance of two young girls, that is merely a McGuffin to enter into a much more nuanced story about how far we are willing to go when we can never be sure of anything. This is among the most sophisticated themes any recent movie has tackled, and it is handled brilliantly. I wasn't going to start listing documentaries in this little exercise, but I am making an exception here because Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is among the most audacious and memorable docs I have ever seen.
2014 - Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
An unflinching look at what it means to devote your entire being to the pursuit of excellence. A career-defining performance by J.K Simmons. And a kick-ass jazz soundtrack. What more do you want? If you want an unflinching look at what it means to devote yourself to your faith, check out John Michael McDonagh's Calvary. And if you just want a super-cool movie, see Joon Ho Bong's Snowpiercer.
2015 - About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)
Made in 2009 but opened here last year. See the note about A Separation above. And see the note about Bahrani's Chop Shop above for insight into the second best movie of 2015, 99 Homes.
I'm on a 1,000 word diet so I'm stopping there. But take as many words as you want to disagree. Or else just watch them all and enjoy.