20. Up in the Air (2009): This movie felt simultaneously of the moment and like a classic Hollywood comedy/drama done right. Clooney is the best he's been, and he has tremendous support from Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. After a second viewing I'm thinking this maybe doesn't quite deserve top 20 placement, but it's quite an achievement. Special props to director Jason Reitman, who recovered after the highly overrated Juno, which is many miles away from my top 50.
19. The White Ribbon (2009): Disturbing director Michael Haneke makes a movie that uses stunning black and white cinematography to tell the engrossing and disturbing story of a German village in the early part of the 20th century. It will stick with you long after its over. The fact that the fun but unremarkable Secret in their Eyes beat this for Best Foreign Film last year is an outrage.
18. Wall-E (2008): Perhaps no production company had a more commercially and critically successful decade than Pixar, and this is my favorite of their movies. An homage to Charlie Chaplin, an environmental parable, and a biting satire of the direction of our country. Oh yes, and the sweetest love story between non-verbal robots you've ever seen.
17. Into the Wild (2007): Director Sean Penn tells a sprawling, deeply American true story of a confused and idealistic young man journeying gradually away from traditional society. Emile Hirsch is exuberant in the lead role, and great supporting roles from Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook lend depth to the proceedings in their crucial supporting roles.
16. The Hurt Locker (2009): Someone finally made a great movie about the Iraq War, and it was Kathryn Bigelow, who also made history as the first female director to win an Oscar. A great suspense movie that, instead of wasting time preaching about the war, simply puts you in the action. Suspenseful and disturbing, this is truly expertly crafted cinema.
15. A Serious Man (2009): I may have laughed more at this movie than any other this decade. Only the Coens could make going through complete hell this funny. A modern day Job story that uses all the magic of the Coens and their collaborators to tell its story.
14. Gosford Park (2001): Robert Altman, who made one of my favorite movies of all time (Nashville), hit another peak in 2001. Gathering perhaps the best cast of the decade, Altman created an absorbing comedic mystery about social class. This is truly a movie that improves on repeat viewings, and almost requires them to appreciate the nuances of the sprawling ensemble cast.
13. Before Sunset (2004): Director Richard Lanklater astonishingly made a movie even better than Before Sunrise (1995), one of the most charming movies of the '90s. This movie is an older movie, full of regret and lost opportunities. Shot in real-time, its almost unbearably emotionally tense and resonant.
12. You Can Count on Me (2000): Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo give two of the decade's best performances as a responsible sister and her ne'er do well younger brother. This type of movie, a realistic slice of life about family bonds, is one of my favorite types. And this is one of the best.
11. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001): Director Alfonso Cuaron shows American directors how to put real emotion and social commentary into a teen sex comedy. About a road trip between two teen boys and an older woman, this movie is perfectly crafted and filled with so much humor and heart.
This 10 seems to lack a unifying theme, doesn't it? I guess many of these films successfully tread that difficult line between comedy and drama ( Y Tu Mama, You Can Count on Me, Gosford Park, Up in the Air, Wall-E). Finding that balance can be a very tricky thing. Another thing that I notice about these movies is how strong their scripts are. Any of them could stand alone as a work of art, and provided a great basis for the director's vision.