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The Best Films of the Decade

Wed, Dec 30, 2009
Syndromes and a Century
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

For two decades now, the Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto has polled film curators, historians, archivists, and historians for their lists of the best films of the previous decade. The poll is billed as “The Best of the Decade: An Alternate View” because the results are often strikingly different than most of the lists you'll see compiled by film critics or film buffs across the internet. Cinematheque Ontario senior curator James Quandt describes the participants of this poll as people who thinking about “cinema in a historical context,” which accounts for the dominance of films that casual filmgoers would likely generalize as “challenging.” The poll wasn't topped by a film by the Coens or Paul Thomas Anderson or David Lynch or Michel Gondry as is the case with so many other decade polls. Instead, the film of the decade in the Cinematheque Ontario poll is Syndromes and a Century, by the Thai filmmaker (and past Wexner Center Media Arts Residency Award recipient) Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Within Columbus, this name is probably only recognizable – let alone pronounceable – by Wexner Center patrons but it's incontestable that few other filmmakers this decade have had a bigger impact across the totality of cinema than Apichatpong has.

Of course, with any poll like this the idiosyncrasies and diversity of individual lists are ironed out into a homogenized consensus. A certain type of cinema is being championed as uniformly as the decade lists that only consist of Oscar-approved Hollywood fare to which the Cinematheque Ontario poll is supposed to be an alternative. But however much one can quibble with the specifics of this poll, there's no question that the results indicate what films were generally acknowledged as the most important artistic achievements of the past decade.

You can see the poll results here (scroll down past the press release to see the list of films) and read an analysis of the poll by James Quandt here.

All three of the Wexner Center's Film/Video curators participated in the poll and you can find their individual ballots for the best films of the 2000s below. But before listing those ballots, it's gratifying to see that the Wexner Center is on target with its mission to bring the best in contemporary world cinema to local audiences – many of the filmmakers most frequently noted in the poll have visited the center (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Claire Denis, Pedro Costa, Arnaud Desplechin, Gus van Sant, Abbas Kiarostami, Guy Maddin, Ken Jacobs, Todd Haynes, Olivier Assayas) and nearly all the other filmmakers are regularly programmed on our screen.

Leave a comment about your thoughts on the Cinematheque Ontario's poll, your favorite films of the decade, or the most memorable films you've seen at the Wexner Center over the past ten years. We'd love to hear from you.

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

Bill Horrigan, Director of Media Arts
(in chronological order)
La Commune (Paris, 1871) (Peter Watkins, 2000)
Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)
Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)
Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005)
L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2005)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Tearoom (William Jones, 2007)
Shirin (Abbas Kiarostami, 2008)
Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

If the list were longer: In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000), Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001), Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002), Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003), they shoot horses (Phil Collins, 2004), Chats perchés (Chris Marker, 2004), The New World (Terence Malick, 2005), Play Pause (Sadie Benning, 2006), not a matter of if but when (Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, 2006), My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007).

By far the most startling cinema-related spectacle I encountered during this decade of disaster and disorder was the self-delivered auto-da-fé at the Centre Pompidou, Voyage(s) en utopie, Jean-Luc Godard, 1946-2006: à la recherche d'un théorème perdu.

Kings and Queen
Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004)

Dave Filipi, Film/Video Curator
Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin)
The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Code Unknown (Michael Haneke)
Zodiac (David Fincher)
The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda)
The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth)
I'm Not There (Todd Haynes)
Offside (Jafar Panahi)
Friday Night (Claire Denis)
24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom)

Honorable Mentions: Beau Travail (Claire Denis), The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin), The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu), Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes), Gerry (Gus Van Sant), Dogville (Lars von Trier), Time Out (Laurent Cantet), In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai), Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura), Kill Bill 1 & 2 (Quentin Tarantino), Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov), The World (Jia Zhang-ke), La Cienaga (Lucrecia Martel), What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang), Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman), La Commune (Paris, 1871) (Peter Watkins), Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen), Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan), Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang), Secret Ballot (Babak Payami), 25th Hour (Spike Lee)

The New World
The New World (Terence Malick, 2005)

Chris Stults, Film/Video Assistant Curator
The New World (Terence Malick)
Daylight Moon (Lewis Klahr)
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
In Memoriam, Mark LaPore [series] (Phil Solomon)
Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin)
Song and Solitude (Nathaniel Dorsky)
Biscotts/Biscuitts series (Luther Price)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
When It Was Blue (Jennifer Reeves)

Ten more-than-honorable mentions: ( ) (Morgan Fisher), Before Sunset (Richard Linklater), Birth (Jonathan Glazer), Café Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien), Dogville (Lars von Trier), The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette), The General Returns from One Place to Another (Michael Robinson), The Great Art of Knowing (David Gatten), Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke), Tale of Cinema (Hong Sang-soo)
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