A reminder of films 11-20:

The Constant Gardener
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Fall
Grizzly Man
Kill Bill
The Lord of the Rings
Love Actually
Minority Report
Pan’s Labyrinth
Secret Sunshine

Today I begin to count down the top ten, starting with numbers 10 through 8:

Year: 2000
Director: Curtis Hanson
Writer: Steve Kloves (from the novel by Michael Chabon)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand

Why it’s one of the best: I was surprised when Wonder Boys topped my list of the best films of 2000. After seeing it that March, I expected something of greater impact or scope to come along, but found that there was no film that year I had the same deep affection for. In subsequent years my admiration for it has only increased, and upon repeat viewings the intelligence of its screenplay and the tender humanity of its direction and performances only grow richer. From Curtis Hanson, the eclectic filmmaker who also made L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile, it stars Michael Douglas in a beautifully understated performance as Grady Tripp, a novelist and English professor navigating the cutthroat politics of academia while dodging a literary editor hungry for an update about his next novel. But it’s the relationship he forms with Tobey Maguire as a morose but talented student that is the heart of the film. They’re both lonely, and in their unique ways both hiding. They bring each other, bit by bit, back to the surface.

Year: 2004
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Paul Haggis (from stories by F.X. Toole)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman

Why it’s one of the best: Clint Eastwood, the erstwhile Dirty Harry in front of the camera, is on a short list of the last decade’s most accomplished directors, producing a string of terrific films, each with the same minimalist grace. This was the very best. He stars as Frankie Dunn, a boxing trainer who grudgingly agrees to work with a female athlete, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank, who won a well deserved second Oscar). For a while the story develops as a conventional rags-to-riches narrative, with Maggie learning the ropes and winning bouts, but the film reveals its true purpose after a tragic turn of events. If you don’t know it by now you’ve been living under a rock, but I’ll refrain from spoiling it just in case. I’ll say only that the film about boxing turns out really to be a film about family, about making choices out of love and then living with them.

Year: 2007
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (from the novel by Cormac McCarthy)
Cast: Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem

Why it’s one of the best: The Coen brothers were reportedly very faithful to Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which I have not read, and they owe him a great debt. From the very first line to the very last, the dialogue is poetry, and they match it with their stunning work behind the camera. With somber, slow-burn intensity, they circle three characters in their pursuit of a bag of money and each other, but the money is a MacGuffin. The real subject of the film is violence, which pervades our culture more with every passing generation until we no longer recognize the world we live in. That’s the plight of Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the sheriff investigating. As he follows the stolen money and the string of murders left in its wake, he bears witness to a brand of crime he doesn’t understand. In the face of such depraved indifference sometimes all you can do is laugh, he says, but he really wants to cry.

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