Top 50

Eye For Film's pick of the best films of the last decade.

by Jennie Kermode, Amber Wilkinson, Scott Macdonald, Anton Bitel, Andrew Robertson, George Williamson, Severine, James Benefield, James Gracey, Val Kermode, Steve Harwood, Stuart Crawford

Picking just 50 films to represent a decade is a difficult job, and our reviewers nominated a couple of hundred which we managed to whittle down to this list. Now you can sit back and enjoy reading about our pick of the finest films of the Noughties.

50 - The Quiet American

Just scraping in at number 50 on our list, this perfectly judged Graham Greene adaptation evokes the complex social and political environment of pre-war Saigon. It features a central performance from Michael Caine at the height of his powers, matched ably by Brendan Fraser in a rare dramatic role. Do Thi Hai Yen is the woman over whom they fight, sometimes seeming to represent Vietnam itself. We like it because it's thoughtful, morally challenging and inventive in its approach to the conventions of cinematic romance.

49 - Grizzly Man

The Noughties have been referred to as the decade of the documentary, and this striking work by Werner Herzog was one of several nominated by the Eye For Film staff. Telling the story of Timothy Treadwell, a man whose frustration with civilised life led him to live in the wilds and identify increasingly with bears, it reveals folly on a grand scale but never loses sight of the heroic nature of his actions. We like it because it's insightful, ambiguous and stunningly photographed.

48 - Belleville Rendez-Vous

The Noughties were also a great decade for animation, which, in the west, finally proved it could please adults as well as kids. This is a film for all the family, following a devoted granny and her dog Bruno as they search France for her kidnapped cyclist grandson, yet it's far from sentimental and in places quite gruesome. We like it because it's quirky, imaginative, has a stunning Thirties-style soundtrack, and has a great sense of fun.

47 - Lost In Translation

When Sofia Coppola chose to become a film director, everyone thought that she'd got there just because of her dad. With this poetic exploration of isolation and unexpected intimacy among westerners in Japan, she proved that she's a force in her own right. Paralleling the culture clash between West and East with the generational difference of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanson - both on top form - she weaves a tale of unrequited emotion and subtle dissatisfaction that haunts the viewer. We like it because it's intimate, subtle and different.

46 - The Class (Entre Les Murs) This Palme d'Or winning quasi-documentary is based on a book but also draws on a wealth of real life experience. François Bégaudeau, the book's author, stars as a young teacher struggling to help his pupils express themselves in a multi-ethnic school where prejudice and inter-cultural misunderstandings are common. The young people were played by real schoolkids during their summer break. We like it because it takes a positive, intelligent look at a difficult subject.

45 - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Have you ever broken up with someone and just wanted to forget they existed? Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) undergo a surgical procedure to make it happen, but in the process, Joel discovers that the good times they had together still matter to him despite the pain. A smart science fiction premise with a strong human story at its core, this features wonderfully understated performances. We like it because it's inventive, witty, and genuinely romantic.

44 - The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon)

A film about a man who can hardly move after a stroke may not sound riveting, but Julian Schnabel's beautifully realised film, based on the real-life memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby, will grip you all the way through. Mathieu Amalric plays the former fashion editor determined to reconnect with the world, whilst Emanuelle Seigner is the beautiful assistant who falls hopelessly - and uselessly - in love with him, in a complex reversal of power. We like it because it's smart, insightful, gorgeously filmed and surprisingly funny.

43 - The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King The Lord Of The Rings films were inarguably one of the biggest cinematic phenomena of the decade, and our writers felt that this was the strongest of them. Detailing the final stages of two little hobbits' epic quest to defeat the forces of evil, it features some stunning battle sequences. The monsters are genuinely scary and the tormented character of Gollum contributes to a complex emotional core. We like it because it really delivers on the action and creates the tremendous sense of scale essential to good fantasy.

42 - After The Wedding (Efter Brylluppet)

Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) runs a struggling orphanage in India. When Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård) offers him millions of dollars, it seems too good to be true, and, indeed, it soon emerges that there are conditions attached. This tightly-written film will keep confounding you, but its twists are all consistent with a strong underlying plot and it uses the structure of a thriller to tease out deep emotional truths. We like it because it's clever, unusual, and emotionally resonant.

41 - Far From Heaven

Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank (Dennis Quaid) seems to lead the classic all-American fifties lifestyle, with a successful business, a big suburban house and immaculately groomed children. But uner the surface nothing is as it seems. Frank struggles with desire for other men and the lonely Cathy finds herself unexpectedly falling for the gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), whose skin colour makes the liaisons equally contentious. Todd Haynes' assured direction evokes a fragile society full of vulnerable human beings. We like it because it's intelligent, sensitive and visually stunning.

40 - Memento

Leonard (Guy Pearce) has recurring memory loss. Everything that happens to him he knows he will forget shortly afterwards, yet he is determined to find the man who murdered his wife. Are those around him helping or hindering? It's often hard to tell in a complex, paranoid tale handled with confidence the then-inexperienced Christopher Nolan. We like it because it's full of intriguing puzzles and dark humour.

39 - A Scanner Darkly

One of the strongest Philip K Dick adaptations so far, this presents a world not so very different from the one we live in now - so far as we can tell, anyway, from the perspective of a drug-saturated hero (Keanu Reeves) whose odd relationship with the world is perfectly mirrored by director Richard Linklater's use of rotoscoping. Is he an undercover agent hunting down dealers or has he become the character he played? Is he hunting himself? We like this because it's refreshingly honest about the world of drug use and its dark themes are balanced by unexpected optimism.

38 - Zodiac

Between 1968 and 1969, the Zodiac killed murdered seven people in northern California. He was never caught. David Fincher's film focuses not on the killer himself but on the mystery and on the extent to which it obsessed various journalists, including the cartoonist Robert Graysmith (here played by Jake Gyllenhaal). It's an intriguing look at attitudes to crime and mystery that in turn acts as a window into a changing culture. We like it because of its willingness to do something different, its astute observations and its stunning imagery.

37 - Children Of Men

Set in a future world where no child has been born for years, this is an examination of humanity in crisis that takes on all sorts of political issues highly relevant today. It's also a story about fatherhood, with Clive Owen on fine form as the man who suddenly finds himself protecting a pregnant refugee whose condition could represent salvation or a major embarrassment to the state. with great supporting performances from Michael Caine and Julianne Moore, it also features some amazing cinematography. We like it because of its perfect fusion of action movie and human drama.

36 - 25th Hour

Spike Lee has always been interested in looking at life on the margins and at what happens in and around life's obvious dramatic moments. Here the hero, played by a carefully understated Edward Norton, is about to go to prison, and is spending his last hours trying to do the things most important to him - discovering, in the process, that his priorities are changing. There's strong support from Anna Paquin and a superb cameo by Brian Cox. We like it because it's emotionally intelligent and the best portrait yet of post-9/11 New York.

35 - Amelie

The film that launched Audrey Tatou on an unsuspecting public, this quirky comedy from Jean-Pierre Jeunet combines screwball humour with a sometimes terrifying awkwardness as its eccentric heroine gets herself into all kinds of strange situations. Ebullient and vital, she lives in a magical semi-reality where it seems that anything might happen. We like this because of its childlike exuberance, its love of fun and its intriguingly different perspective on everyday details.

34 - Hidden (Caché)

What happens when a middle-class Parisian family starts receiving video tapes of the outside of their house? Michael Haneke's deceptively simple thriller piles on the suspense and elicits real terror even before there has been a hint of violence. Watching a film of people watching the videos also draws in the audience to a point where they are almost complicit, and the story invites them to leap eagerly to conclusions that may in fact be terribly wrong. We like this because it's clever, confounding, politically and morally challenging, and has something to say about art itself.

33 - The Dark Knight

Not all the Eye For Film staff preferred this film to Batman Begins, but the general feeling was that it's a superbly plotted, thematically challenging sequel which has elevated the whole comic genre as realised in film. Heath Ledger's deservedly Oscar-winning performance is really something else and Aaron Eckhardt and Maggie Gyllenhaal both shine, whilst Christian Bale gives us a difficult, introspective hero. We like it because of its spectacular ambition, its stunning special effects and the multiple surprises it delivers.

32 - Dogville

Filmed entirely on a sound stage with the outlines of houses sketched in chalk, Lars Von Trier's penetrating examination of American culture is too self-consciously arty for some, but for those who can get into it, it delivers quite a punch. Nicole Kidman is perfectly cast as the young woman who seeks only to be helpful in a context where everyone is struggling to get by, and the gradual process of her disillusionment, fact to face with ugly human nature, builds to a shocking climax. We like this for its boldness, its moral complexity, and its stunning final sequence.

31 - Adaptation

The complex relationships between an author, a scriptwriter, their characters and the re-imagined versions of these individuals who inhabit their fantasies are explored in a fantastically complicated, multi-layered story that could only have come from Charlie Kaufman. Nicolas Cage plays himself and his twin brother, whilst Meryl Streep is fiercely charismatic as the author of the book that Kaufman was originally asked to adapt. We like this because it breaks down barriers in an intriguing, honest and delightfully witty way.

30 - Audition (Oodishon)

Few films have ever gripped their audiences with the mercilessness of Takashi Miike's Audition, a masterpiece of modern cinema that fuses horror and art. Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) thinks he has found his dream girl in the shy Asami (Eihi Shiina), but whilst both are romantics, Asami is looking for a level of commitment few would contemplate, and her vengeance when disappointed is terrifying. We like this because Miike's intensity and refusal to look away force us to confront our own terrors - and our own principles - in a wholly new way.

29 - Moon

Astronaut Sam Bell is nearing the end of a solitary three year mission looking after a base on the moon when an accident leads him to make a shocking discovery. This thoughtful film, which uses the tropes of popular science fiction to produce numerous red herrings, is a startlingly assured début from Duncan Jones. It's the sort of film that requires several viewings to untangle, not least because it's not as rational as it might first appear. We like it for its mystery, its masterful management of suspense, and Sam Rockwell's terrific performance.

28 - Four Minutes (Vier Minuten)

What does it mean to be imprisoned, or to be free? Young Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung), a convicted killer, is as much a prisoner of her own temperament as the jail where she resides, whilst aging piano teacher Traude (Monica Bleibtreu) has been in the prison longer than any of the inmates. Both experience a form of release through the music they share. Chris Kraus' astute and unpredictable film is more than the sum of its parts. We like it for both its bluntness and its subtlety.

27 - Werckmeister Harmonies (Werckmeister Harmóniák)

Beginning with a group of drunks re-enacting the cosmic order, Béla Tarr's poetic, philosophical film follows a newspaper delivery-man as he watches the cyclical world he understands break down into something chaotic and unfathomable, partly due to the arrival of a stuffed whale in the town square. With another character tangentially explaining the process in musical terms, this is a film of enormous scope, appropriately shot using astonishingly long takes. We like it because it's imaginative and unnerving and there's nothing else quite like it.

26 - Brick

This decade has seen several attempts to update the film noir, one of the boldest being this film, which utilises the appropriately convoluted social setting of a high school. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect as the naif hero determined to unravel the mystery behind the death of his girlfriend (the remarkable Emilie de Ravin) and falling foul of wannabe gangster Lukas Haas (a long way from Witness). We like it because of its style, its wit, and its perfectly structured - albeit decidedly odd - dialogue.

25 - Let The Right One In (Låt Den Rätte Komma In)

There have been a lot of vampire films this decade, but this one is something different - it's also one of the most convincing portraits of young people in crisis. Directed with a refreshingly light touch by Tomas Alfredson, it tells the story of an unhappy, bullied boy (Kåre Hedebrant) who falls for a girl (Lina Leandersson) with a terrible secret. We like it because it's tender, it's sympathetic, and it has a lot more to say for itself than is immediately apparent.

24 - In The Mood For Love (Fa Yeung Nin Wa)

A love story which was deliberately designed to allow no physical contact between the leads (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung), this film is a masterpiece of restraint and immaculate timing. Though both its characters realise that their spouses are having an affair, they are too polite to discuss the matter, or their developing feelings for one another, yet far from making the film boring, this gives it depth and rare beauty. We like it because of its eloquent depiction of restrained passion and the way director Wong Kar Wai finds extraordinary beauty in the smallest things.

23 - Red Road

Sometimes it's the most ordinary looking films that have the most impact, and this extraordinary thriller by Andrea Arnold takes everyday characters and pursues them in unexpected directions. Slow to start but sinister even when we know very little about what's going on, it stars Kate Dickie as a CCTV operative with an obsessive interest in ex-con Clyde (Tony Curran), whilst Martin Compston delivers a startling supporting performance. We like it because it's so well rooted in realism that the characters and their difficulties get under the skin.

22 - Downfall (Der Untergang)

Probably the most parodied film of the decade, this is nevertheless a stunning piece of work, a look at the last days of the Nazi elite in the bunker where many of them went on to die. Bruno Ganz gives an unforgettable performance as Hitler, intense and charismatic, yet plainly losing his mind, with the others desperately trying to pretend it's not happening in scenes which are at once hilarious and, by context, deeply sinister. We like it because it brings a fresh perspective to the horrors of the war, it's brilliantly acted all round, and it's a fascinating portrait of paranoia.

21 - Innocence

In the cloistered environment of a girls' boarding school, so cinema tells us, a different kind of society can exist - one unconstrained by traditional rules. Yet few films have explored the full surrealist potential of this as intently as this one, where the girls arrive in coffins and the older ones mysteriously disappear each night at nine. Kafkaesque and richly allegorical, it depicts a sinister yet enchanting childhood world. We like it because it's unashamedly peculiar and it inspires us to notice the peculiarity of social processes we too often take for granted.

20 - The Man Who Wasn't There

Another of the decades several new films noirs, this little gem from the Coen brothers is rather more old fashioned in style than most of its contemporaries. It's the story of Eddie (Billy Bob Thornton), a small town barber who gets out of his depth when trying to blackmail his wife's boss, but his real struggle is a more existential one, centered on the desire to be somebody who matters. Introspective and understated, this is the Coens at their most restrained. We like it because its careful pacing challenges the zeitgeist and even its ugliest characters are easy to feel for.

19 - Before Sunset

Some films are technically good, some films are artistically good, and some films simply invite us to fall in love with them. Though it doesn't do too badly on the first two counts, Before Sunset is really one of the latter type. A sequel to 1995's Before Sunrise, it looks at what happens when that film's two young lovers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, meet again nine years later. It asks questions about memory, connection and intimacy. We like it because it's appropriately awkward and cynical about its characters yet still enormously likeable and genuinely romantic.

18 - The Fog of War

Another of the Noughties' outstanding documentaries, this is a portrait of Robert McNamara, one of the most influential military advisors in US history. It's surprisingly stark, its subject apparently keen to discuss his experiences and philosophies despite a reputation as a taciturn, emotionless man. Yet despite the emotional complexity he projects, his view of world politics, and of humanity's chances of survival, is a depressing one. We like this film because it's incisive, absorbing, and manages to discuss complex issues without ever becoming dull.

17 - The Lives Of Others (Das Lebern Der Anderen)

Whilst several of the films on this list deal with intimacy, this one goes about it in a very different way, exploring the forced, uncomfortable intimacy between government spies and an author suspected of subversion in East Germany. Exploring issues of art, politics, and individualism versus the security of the state, it is often bleak, with human commitments unable to survive the pressure brought to bear upon them, yet in the end it manages to be strangely uplifting. We like it because it's an astutely observed look at different kinds of power and at human survival mechanisms.

16 - Inland Empire

His first film shot entirely on DV, this is a work that David Lynch saw as a breakthrough - in particular, as an opportunity to draw out a career-best performance from leading lady Laura Dern. Playing an actress who falls for leading man whilst they play an adulterous couple in terrible danger, she leads the viewer on a surreal journey that questions the fate of women in the Hollywood system as her own personality fractures and even time and causality seem to be coming apart. We like it because it's unashamedly experimental but doesn't let that get in the way of what it wants to say.

15 - Monster

Based on the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Patty Jenkins' film has been accuse of being feminist apologism, but it certainly doesn't glamorise or soften the image of the deeply troubled woman at its centre. It features a tour-de-force performance by Charlize Theron who inhabits the central role with an intensity rarely seen on the big screen. Christina Ricci is also good in the understated but duplicitous role of her teenage lover. We like this because of the tremendous acting, in combination with an edgy script and grim but insightful humour.

14 - The Saddest Music In The World

Shot in crackly black and white like an old RKO picture and set around a beer baroness' competition to discover the saddest music in the world, this is a gently humorous, intriguingly surreal and at times outrageously silly tribute to classic cinema. Though it's too odd for some tastes, it's consistently smart and inventive in its exploration of the ways people get by in hard times. We like it for its quirkiness, its daring, its style, and Isabella Rossellini's amazing beer-filled glass artificial legs.

13 - The Last King Of Scotland

A fictionalised account of the rise to power of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, which nevertheless hits very close to home, this is a film remarkable both for its incisive script and for the powerhouse performances at its centre. Forest Whitaker is devastatingly charismatic yet dangerously childlike as Amin, gradually turning on the people who loved him, whilst James McAvoy also excels in the more understated role of the young Scottish doctor from whose perspective the story unfolds. We like it because it's gripping, involving, and appropriately disturbing.

12 - Talk To Her (Hable Con Ella)

When spending time with the wome they love, who are in comas, two men form an intense friendship that survives even when it becomes apparent that one of them didn't know his love-object before she fell unconscious and has since impregnated her. Curiously translated (the Spanish title means 'talk with her'), this is all about those nuances and differing interpretations of communication. We like it because it dares to ask difficult questions yet remains sensitive and humane.

11 - Mulholland Drive

With a challenging structure built around layers of dream, fantasy and nightmare, this film proved too obscure for mainstream audiences yet has at its heart one of David Lynch's most powerful narratives. Naomi Watts is riveting in a complex role as a woman whose passion for Laura Harring's femme fatale has driven her to destroy everything that made her who she was. It's at once a devastating critique of the Hollywood experience and a boldly experimental modern film noir. We like it because it's stylish and clever yet still heartbreaking.

10 - Synecdoche, New York

Another success for Charlie Kaufman - who this time directs as well as writes - this is, as you might expect, a tangled tale open to multiple interpretations. It centres on Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the decade's most consistently excellent actors), a playwright who is losing his identity - and perhaps even his sense of his own existence - as he attempts to pull together his magnum opus. We like it because it's strikingly original, full of fascinating ideas, and deeply affecting in its treatment of human fallibility.

9 - Brokeback Mountain

Lacking the overt artistry of many other films on this list, this is a simple film that stands out because it's beautifully made and because the story it tells feels so genuine. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play the cowboys who drift into an intimate relationship without ever identifying themselves as homosexual, a relationship complicated by the family lives they go on to acquire. We like it because of its gorgeous cinematography, its tender portrait of a romance struggling against convention, and the perfect performances of the two leads.

8 - United 93

Docudrama is a controversial form, but no-one uses it quite as effectively as Paul Greengrass, and in this imagining of what happened on 9/11, where a group of passengers overwhelmed their captors and brought down the plane before it hit its intended target, he provides an emotional focal point for all those who suffered on that day. The film is also politically astute and more effective for delivering terrorists who also seem vulnerable. It is lent authenticity by the appearance of many real ground staff recreating what they did at that time. We like it because it's an intelligent tribute, saddening and uplifting at the same time.

7 - Spirited Away (Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi)

Our favourite animated film of the decade, this story of an innocent but tough little girl making her way in a capricious fantasy world recalls Alice in Wonderland. It's the work of the much-admired Hayao Miyazaki and has all his trademark inventiveness, drawing on Japanese folklore to create a panoply of strange creatures, gods and demons who variously taunt and offer help to our heroine, who ultimately has to learn to grow up and help herself. We like it because it combines childlike wonder with narrative maturity, it's dazzling to look at and it's refreshingly unsentimental.

6 - City Of God (Cidade De Deus)

Fernando Meirelles' blistering journey through the slums of Rio delivers a brutal depiction of live in the raw, as lived by angry young men - and boys - in a city where there seems to be no hope. Framed by the physical and emotional journey of a young photographer (Mateus Nachtergaele), its scenes of violence are all the more shocking for being rooted in reality. It's stunningly short, vivid and often beautiful, and full of great performances. We like it because it's vivid, edgy, uncompromising and full of vitality.

5 - Hunger

Bringing a startling immediacy to the story of the 1981 protests in the Maze that led to the hunger strike and death of IRA terrorist Bobby Sands, Steve McQueen's sensually photographed yet unrelentingly brutal film is nothing short of a triumph. Michael Fassbender's intense commitment to the central role (for which he lost nearly two and a half stone) makes the charismatic and undeniably principled Sands all the more compelling, though we are never allowed to lose sight of the ugly reasons for his incarceration. We like this film because it brings striking beauty and emotional depth to a challenging story.

4 - Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring (Bom Yeoreum Gaeul Gyeoul Geurigo Bom)

One of several Kim Ki-duk films nominated for this list by the Eye For Film staff, this is a work whose power lies in its stillness even as it illustrates change, the growth to maturity of a young monk paralleled by the changing of the seasons and nature's cyclical changes. Despite the heavy use of symbolism it has a light touch that complements the exquisite photography with which the director has made his reputation. We like it because it's quietly eloquent yet still sometimes startling, a delicately crafted poem.

3 - The Fall

The number one choice for two of our reviewers, this astonishing fairytale was only director Tarsem Singh's second film, but you'd never guess it. Staggeringly inventive and gorgeous to look at, it takes the viewer on an epic quest with fresh surprises and challenges at every turn. As friendship develops between a suicidal young man and a precocious but courageous little girl, we enter a fantastic world where anything seems possible, yet there's always an underlying flavour of tragedy. We like it because of its dazzling imagination, its brilliant use of colour, and because it leaves us asking, who was that masked man?

2 - Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto Del Fauno)

Just shy of the top spot is another film in which fairytales collide with the real world, Guillermo Del Toro's superbly crafted Pan's Labyrinth. Ivana Baquero is the young girl whose pregnant mother takes her to live with a brutal army captain in the middle of Spain's civil war - but is she also, looked at another way, a fairy princess whose key to returning home may lie in series of challenges presented by a mysterious faun? By turns terrifying and seductive, like all the best fairytales, this film uses fantasy to underline the horrors of war but also to explore the heroism essential to childhood. We like it because it's visually stunning, startlingly inventive.and emotionally devastating.

1 - No Country For Old Men When Josh Brolin's trailer-dwelling nobody stumbles upon a heap of dead bodies and a bag full of money, temptation is too strong for him. Unfortunately, he's in a classic Coen brothers parable, and nothing comes without complications. In this case it's Javier Bardem's quiet but ruthless psychopath, a man fascinated by luck, a man who keeps his word. We watch through the eyes of the town's world-weary sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) as everything goes to Hell. Bold, bleak and underscored with bitter humour, this haunting modern western is in a class of its own. It's stunningly photographed and impossible to look away from. We like it because it takes a well trodden road to unexpected places.

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