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A glance back at the best films of the decade

The last 10 years in film was a digital decade, benefiting both Hollywood and poor DIYers

Chris Garcia

The 'Pulp Fiction' knockoffs died, an era of rowdy man-boy comedies was born and American independent cinema survived hard blows in the distribution realm only to discover new, if not terribly lucrative, avenues of online viewing and video-on-demand.

It was the decade of digital. Beyond distribution and viewing formats, including the primacy of DVDs, the emergence of Blu-ray and theatrical digital projection, the digital revolution flourished with the spectacular progress of computer animation and digital special effects. Aptly, James Cameron's 'Avatar' slid into the decade just in time to encapsulate everything digitally made movies can be — and reveal what the future of film will look like. (Also: 3-D is back. For good.)

Perhaps Cameron was encouraged by Peter Jackson's justly celebrated 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, which, loosing an arsenal of digital sorcery, rejuvenated the action epic (the overrated 'Gladiator' doesn't count) and helped make the decade safe for unfettered geekdom. Comic book movies — 'X-Men,' 'Spider-Man,' 'The Dark Knight' — were cranked out with nerdy enthusiasm, yet with wildly varying success. (Too-da-loo, 'Watchmen.') Fanboys got their 'Matrix' and 'Star Wars' sequels, plus a pretty good 'Star Trek' reboot. All the rest — fanboy, fangirl, fan-mom and fan-dad — got the 'Harry Potter' juggernaut.

Horror found three ways to turn a buck: remake popular Japanese horror movies ('The Ring'), remake classic American horror movies ('The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' 'Friday the 13th') and forge a new subgenre, lurid 'torture porn' ('Hostel,' a half-dozen 'Saw' movies), which, with snuff-film abandon, reveled in watching characters meet slow, painful, very creative demises. Zombies stumbled back to life in a big way ('28 Days Later' to 'Shaun of the Dead') and vampires bit back hard ('Let the Right One In' and, sigh, 'Twilight'). 2009 ended with the mini-budget fluke 'Paranormal Activity,' an implausibly effective, hugely successful ghost story that recalled the hype and ingenuity of 1999's 'The Blair Witch Project.'

Pixar led the charge in digital animation, with a jaw-slacking string of insta-classics, from 'Finding Nemo' and 'The Incredibles' to 'Wall-E' and last year's 'Up.'

On the flip side of mega-budget blockbusters was a corps of young, hungry filmmakers who used the digital revolution for their own new wave. Digital cameras purchased at Best Buy instantly turned wannabes into doers, and the avalanche of shorts and features made for mere dollars saturated festivals and video-sharing Web sites.

On its punk terms, micro-budget indie film thrived, and even produced the loose, critically lauded sub-movement 'mumblecore.' These grainy, human-scale pictures typically used hand-held cameras, non-professional actors and semi-improvised dialogue and included Andrew Bujalski's Austin-made 'Beeswax' and Mark and Jay Duplass' Austin-made 'Baghead.' The term mumblecore was coined during the 2005 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, the city, appropriately, where the proto-mumblecore, DIY classic 'Slacker' was made.

A decade in drastic need of laughter produced some of the freshest, bawdiest comedies in years. The most popular — 'Anchorman,' 'Old School,' 'Zoolander,' 'Wedding Crashers,' 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin,' 'The Hangover' — were made by a tight group of funnymen with sex and crude jokes on the mind: directors Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, Adam McKay and Ben Stiller and performers Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd, to name a few.

As crass and crotch-oriented as these comedies were, they by turns delivered withering commentary on pop culture and took aim at male immaturity and, with surprising heart, encouraged the evolution of the sex.

After a stellar run in the '90s, Iranian cinema continued a healthy output, with such films as Jafar Panahi's 'The Circle,' Bahman Ghobadi's 'A Time for Drunken Horses' and Abbas Kiarostami's 'Ten.' But these were easily eclipsed by a surge of creativity from Mexico. Filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón ('Y tu mamá también,' 'Children of Men'), Alejandro González Iñárritu ('Amores perros,' 'Babel') and one-time Austinite Guillermo Del Toro ('Hellboy,' 'Pan's Labyrinth') created border-crossing critical and commercial hits, showing that film done well can entertain a world.

cgarcia@statesman.com; 445-3649

In a noirish mood

'The Dark Knight' (2008, Christopher Nolan)

'Oldboy' (2003, Park Chan-wook)

'Memento' (2000, Christopher Nolan)

American indies

'Funny Ha Ha' (2002, Andrew Bujalski)

'Chop Shop' (2007, Ramin Bahrani)

'Raising Victor Vargas' (2002, Peter Sollett)

Romantically

'All the Real Girls' (2003, David Gordon Green)

'Punch-Drunk Love' (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)

'Knocked Up' (2007, Judd Apatow)

With a song

'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' (2001, John

Cameron Mitchell)

'Dancer in the Dark' (2000, Lars von Trier)

'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' (2000, Joel Coen)

Non-fiction

'Grizzly Man' (2005, Werner Herzog)

'Spellbound' (2002, Jeffrey Blitz)

'Dogtown and Z-Boys' (2001, Stacy Peralta)

Bonus: 'Los Angeles Plays Itself' (2003, Thom Andersen), 'To Be and to Have' (2002, Nicolas Philibert)

Weird and wonderful

'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (2004, Michel Gondry)

'Donnie Darko' (2001, Richard Kelly)

'Brotherhood of the Wolf' (2001, Christophe Gans)

Foreign

'Irreversible' (2002, Gaspar Noé)

'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (2007, Julian Schnabel)

'L'enfant' (2005, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)

Majestic

'The New World' (2005, Terrence Malick)

'There Will Be Blood' (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)

'No Country for Old Men' (2007, Joel Coen)