10 Films That Surprised Me In the Last 10 Years

After my post about the unfortunate Crimson Peak, I started thinking about the movies I have seen and loved.  They had to be out there, right?!  I’m kidding, of course.  I can easily list a number of films I’ve seen in the last few years that I thought were brilliantly done.

Oddly enough, in my email the following day there was a message from StumbleUpon, a site I haven’t visited in quite a while, about The 30 Best Films of the Decade (this list discusses films from 2000-2009).  I decided to utilize this list as a spring board to create my own “10 best in the last 10”.

This was a difficult task.  There really have been some wonderful films in the last 10 years, a great many of them that I still have yet to see are on a virtual running list, so this list is about the films that truly surprised me and left a lasting impression from a variety of genres; those I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first saw them.

In order of their release date, I present to you the following:

W&GdvdWallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) – I adore this animated film.  The characters make their full length feature debut in this wonderful tale about a man and his dog trying to save the annual giant vegetable competition from a destructive beast with a taste for veg.  The thing I discovered about Wallace and Gromit, and why I love it, is the subtle humor and the dark side of their stories.  Almost more for adults because of the humor, kids can definitely still enjoy the movie because they won’t understand half the jokes anyway, just like Pixar films.  This one takes multiple viewings to catch all the little nuances and cleverly placed verbal and visual cues, and then you’ll find yourself like The Sis and I, quoting it fairly regularly in your daily life.

PansLabyrinthPan’s Labyrinth (2006) – The Sis had not seen this film prior to Halloween, but after watching Crimson Peak, and being disappointed, I encouraged her to watch this beautiful, moving, and surprising adult fairytale by Guillermo del Toro.  This import was nominated for dozens and dozens of awards, and one viewing will give you the insight as to why.  Set in the 40s during a rebellion against the fascist government in Spain, a young girl with a wonderful imagination takes a journey to discover who she really is.  I like to mix reality and fantasy in my own writing and I think that’s why this film struck me – it does exactly that, perfectly.

VforVendettaV for Vendetta (2006) – I knew nothing of this film upon seeing it, and I’m not sure who introduced me to it, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  I like the idea of alternate universes, and the idea of “what if” in regards to history.  England is in a police state following Germany’s win in WWII, and V, voiced by Hugo Weaving, is considered a terrorist for his actions that would lead the people to freedom from their government.  Along his journey he saves a young woman (Natalie Portman) and discovers an ally to his cause.  One of my favorite aspects of this film is that we never see V’s face.  He wears the Guy Fawkes mask the entire time, and although you think that would lead the audience to disconnect, it’s more symbolic that he could be any of us.

Lars&RealGirlLars and the Real Girl (2007) – I turned this film on out of curiosity and discovered a truly moving film.  Ryan Gosling plays Lars, a man who is sort of detached.  He doesn’t like to be touched, and desperate to find a connection, orders himself a girlfriend – a full size doll.  Despite his family’s protest, that he’s crazy, a doctor encourages them and the whole town to embrace his delusion, and his girlfriend becomes an active member of society.  It sounds strange, but it’s a wonderful story about family and how easy it is to write someone off rather than try to help them.  As adults it’s easy to become self-involved, we constantly worry what others might think, and sometimes we want the easy way out of a situation, but this film shows us otherwise.

LetTheRightOneInLet the Right One In (2008) – I had already read the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist before seeing the film, a rarity, so I knew the story going in, but the film still surprised me.  This Swedish film about the bond of friendship is an interesting take on the vampire genre.  Oskar is a shy boy, bullied at school, who befriends his new, odd neighbor, Eli.  Oskar comes off as a bit of a goof, but he’s a 12 year old boy, so, you know, it’s expected, and Eli is wary of him, but also intrigued.  Eli is compelling to watch, and going against Hollywood standards of “beauty”, there is something so interesting about her.  The story builds like a romance, so much so that sometimes you forget you’re watching, what is technically, a horror movie.  An American remake was filmed within 2 years and it wasn’t nearly as memorable.  Give the original a watch.

TropicThunderTropic Thunder (2008) – You may find this a surprising add to the list, but I think it’s an underrated comedy about the Hollywood system.  Ben Stiller directed the film, and there are a few versions available strangely, but despite not loving all of Stiller’s films, this one is hilarious.  I’m not kidding.  Stiller plays the typical action star who has had a string of flops, including a turn in a serious role as a man with a mental disorder who has been cast as the lead of a Vietnam War epic based on a novel.  His costars are Jack Black, a crude comedy actor, Robert Downey Jr., a multiple Academy Award winning actor who really gets into his roles, and Brandon T. Jackson, a rapper who wants to break into acting.  They end up having to become actual soldiers as the location where they’re shooting is an actual war zone.  There are homages to other war films, the jokes are funny to those who know about Hollywood, and the casting choices, I thought, were spot on.  One of my favorite parts of the film is the fake trailers at the beginning of the film.

District9District 9 (2009) – As you know, I like sci-fi.  I’m currently writing a space odyssey.  So believe me when I say, this movie completely took me by surprise.  This is not an invasion film like so many other alien movies, it’s about what happens when they seek refuge.  They become second class citizens, relegated to internment camps, where their well-being is not a concern, but learning more about their technology is.  They are not cute, friendly looking aliens, they are hard, bug-like creatures which makes empathizing with them an even greater challenge, and one director Blomkamp achieves.  This story could be looked at as a metaphor, but let’s keep it simple.  This story takes place through the eyes of a government worker who contracts an illness upon visiting one of the districts, and learns first hand how cruel and brutal the humans are and have been to their refugees.  There have been rumors of a sequel for years, and after watching this film, you’ll definitely want one.

FantasticMrFoxFantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – This is the first of two Wes Anderson films on my list.  I didn’t plan it, I swear.  The Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on the book by Roald Dahl, one of my favorite writers, and is the perfect story for Anderson’s signature style.  Using stop motion animation, this is the story of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who is doing his best to fight his true nature for the sake of his family.  Eventually he can’t fight it any longer, and his stealing starts a war with three local farmers.  First off, the film is beautiful.  Then there’s that subtle humor and dark side again that I so enjoy.  You don’t have to have children to watch this or Wallace and Gromit, and you don’t have to be embarrassed that you liked them, just remember that animated films can be smart and fun.

IngloriousBasterdsInglorious Basterds (2009) – By far, my absolute favorite Tarantino film, and one of my favorite movies in long time.  Following that same “what if” idea that I like, Tarantino proposes a fantasy about ending WWII by killing Hitler and his closest advisors.  This film introduced us to a wonderful villain, and the actor who played him, Christoph Waltz, that I think scared more people with his cool demeanor, and random bursts of excitement, than any horror movie villain.  I tried to stay away from the big-budget Hollywood movies for this list, and as I think Tarantino is still more of an independent director, I think I can get away by adding this one.  His signature brutality is still prevalent (and how could it not be in a war movie?!), as is his penchant for killing off everyone, but you still leave the film satisfied.

GrandBudapestHotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – I appreciate Wes Anderson’s sense of humor, but that wasn’t always the case.  It had taken a few years of cultivating my own dry sense of humor to appreciate his work more fully.  Sometimes his stories take a strange turn, but that was not the case here, and that is why I was so pleased with Grand Budapest.  As The Sis is a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, we were going to see this movie regardless, but what we discovered was a beautiful film with a wonderful, surprising story – it is no wonder why this is considered his best work.  Keeping in line with his signature style and set in the 30s, a grand (pink) hotel serves as the backdrop for a mystery involving Fiennes’ character, Gustave H., the hotel’s concierge, who provides his clients world class service.  Along with his protégé, Zero, the lobby boy, they embark on a unique adventure.  This film garnered Anderson a slew of nominations, including best film, and it is because of his quirky characters and interesting story that you will understand why.

So there you have it.  When I first started putting together my list, I was at nearly 30 movies that I considered truly wonderful in the last 10 years, so as you can see, this was really taxing to decide on just 10 (and by no means is this list complete).

I’d love to hear from you.  Do you agree with my list?  What movies have you loved these past 10 years?

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