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Lisa Schwarzbaum's 10 movie marvels of the decade

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Notice I didn’t say best movies — that territory has been well covered by far more passionate list makers than I am. (By the way, do you agree with me that a devotion to ranking is primarily a male urge?  Tell me three good reasons why I’m right or wrong. At any rate, I don’t have the gene for it.)

As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, though, here’s fodder for your New Year’s Eve party: A list, in no particular order, of 10 movie developments from the past 10 years that have impressed, depressed, excited, upset, baffled, bored, or otherwise moved me.

1. Women were still mostly from Venus in Hollywood’s Mars. Don’t get me wrong, the Harvard-trained attorney Elle Woods, below, played to perfection by Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (2001, pictured left), was one of the decade’s  great  (only-appearing-to-be) dizzy dames, as was the divine Anna Faris as Elle’s sister in subversive sexual politics in The House Bunny (2008). (Thanks go to the same smart femme screenwriters who wrote both.) Also, Mean Girls (2004) had bite, and the one-two combo of Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis was freakily great in Freaky Friday (2003). But way too often, all these years after feminist elders fought for gender equality, younger women were Heiglized into being knocked up in Knocked Up (2007)  or treated with ugly disdain in The Ugly Truth (2009). And older women were gorgons like Jane Fonda in Monster-in-Law (2005) or meddlers like Diane Keaton in Because I Said So (2007).

2. Romania! Romania! Romania! Even as globalization blurred movie boundaries, the astonishing creativity of a specifically Eastern European national cinema introduced audiences to a trio of Romanian masterpieces: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), and 2009’s dark gem Police, Adjective.

3. Globalization’s upside: Thanks to lustrous concoctions like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, pictured left), audacious auteurist amalgams like Kill Bill (2003-04), and martial-arts mash-ups as varied as Kung Fu Hustle (2005) and The Matrix (1999-2003), what was once an Asian cinema specialty became an international craze.

4. More Asian amazement: From The Eye (2002) to Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) to Oldboy (2003) to The Host (2006) to 2009’s Mother, the best horror came from the East.

5. Whereas the cynical sadism of Saw, et al., merely marked the end of civilization.

6. Ring-a-ding-ding movie-star swingers, led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt, had fun amongst themselves while ignoring the audience in the Ocean’s trilogy (2001, 2004, 2007, pictured left). And in so doing, those glittery, self-involved capers encapsulated the decade’s have-vs.-have-not attitude at its most inconsiderate.

7. From the end. Stories that are told. I blame Memento. In pieces. Actually, I really liked Memento (2001), which still holds up as a cool narrative puzzle. Then came the Mexican filmmaking wave– Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Crash (2005), and Babel (2006)–and now it’s, like, stop shuffling the cards already, just tell me the story!

8. Here’s a blast-from-the-past one-hit wonder: My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). What was that about? And on a related note, let Little Miss Sunshine (pictured left) stand as the decade’s default Sundance Film Festival product, a synthetic crowd-pleaser.

9. I could drink a case of these movies and still be on my feet: Spirited Away (2001); Sideways (2004); Waking Life (2001); The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003);  The Fast and the Furious (2001); There Will Be Blood (2007); Letters From Iwo Jima (2006); Wall-E (2008); Tropic Thunder (2008).

10. A parting pronouncement: Matt Damon (pictured left) is the decade’s top under-the-radar Hollywood star, the movies’ MVP.

Happy New Year to you, dear readers. Let’s talk again in 2010!

Image credits, top to bottom: Tracy Bennett, Chan Kam Chuen, Bob Marshak, Eric Lee, Jasin Boland

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