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Staff writers pick their favorite of the decade

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Staff writers weigh in on their favorite movies of the decade.

'Finding Nemo' (2003). Maybe it's because they rarely get Oscar nominations in the major categories, but animated films still are treated as if they exist in a nether-region between harmless kiddie fare and Films That Matter. It's amazing because the kind of top-shelf computer-animated films made by Pixar Animation Studios in the '00s were not only increasingly bankable but, with each new release, also showed increasing artistic sophistication.

From "Monsters, Inc." to "The Incredibles," "WALL-E" and "Up," Pixar had a peerless winning streak. (The lone clunker might have been 2006's middling "Cars," but some would disagree with me.) Near the start of that run was "Finding Nemo," which embodied everything brilliant about Pixar. It had a Disney-worthy, family-friendly vibe, truly great voice performances from Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres, then-cutting-edge animation (those water effects!) and a story with heart that was neither cloying nor weighed down with pop-culture references, a la "Shrek."

Pixar would top itself over and over with subsequent movies, but "Nemo," the story of a daddy fish seeking out his lost son, was perhaps its most perfectly crafted, universal and timeless film yet.

— Omar L. Gallaga

'The New World' (2005).

What is it? What is it about our ambitious, Anglo-centric mindset that impels us toward domination and exploitation and control? How is it that we're prone to demonize those different from ourselves? Why is it that we ignore the voice of our own conscience and ravage the welcoming planet that is our garden? This heartbreaking film — about colonial America, circa 1609 — is just as much about modern America, circa 2009.

Pay heed to Terrence Malick's camera, the way it falls on Pocahontas. She is clearly the daughter of God, the personification of Nature — and of our own better nature. Listen to what this nature-goddess says, exactly, in sequence, to the Anglos who profess to love her in the film: "Why have you not come to me? .... Come. Let's sit by the river . . . Are you kind? ... Can we not go home now?"

The only thing more cinematically beautiful than the majestic, ominous opening sequence of Malick's film — roughly eight minutes, with no dialogue — is its crushing, exquisite farewell. Again, no words. Yet the emotional impact is overwhelming. A big film in the truest sense of the big screen, "The New World" is nothing if not poetic, nothing if not achingly pertinent.

— Brad Buchholz

'Pan's Labyrinth' (2006). For all its animatronic splendors, "Pan's Labyrinth" is at its heart a wrenching blood-and-bones rumination about obedience and resistance. How do the gentle-hearted among us seek meaning in a world of war and torture, cruelty and domination? Who ultimately must be served, and at what cost?

Guillermo del Toro sets his film at the end of the Spanish Civil War, in 1944 — but time and place are incidental to his larger purposes. His story speaks to anyone yearning for rescue, or justice, while trapped in a dynamic that demands subservience to morally bankrupt authority.

"Pan's Labyrinth" is a violent, jolting, savage film. At the same time, it's very much a woman's film. Watch del Toro's women for what they do and say and represent. It is a girl — the protagonist, the innocent Ofelia — who imagines that we might navigate a labyrinth of moral chaos and somehow, somehow, reach a place where justice prevails and blood of the innocent is spared. It is a dream. And it is a dream.

— Brad Buchholz

'AlmostFamous' (2000) Watching "Almost Famous" is like living deep in the grooves of your favorite classic rock record or soaring on a guitar solo as it reaches the upper bleachers of a giant stadium. Cameron Crowe's tribute to his teenage days as a Rolling Stone reporter in the early 1970s — a hedonistic time marked by an innocent belief in the purity of rock — is full of heart and humor.

Besides the music and Crowe's painstaking attention to detail, from the streets of San Diego where the young William meets the great/crazy music writer Lester Bangs to the Max's Kansas City bar in New York, the movie gets its soul from some of the decades's best actors — Philip Seymour Hoffman as Bangs, Billy Crudup as guitarist Russell Hammond and Frances McDormand as Williams' mother. It also got the best performance out of a young Kate Hudson (just don't think about "Bride Wars" or A-Rod, and you'll be fine).

It might not be the decade's most profound film, but it was its most enjoyable and quotable — "I'm a golden god!", "I know what's going on!" "Rock stars have kidnapped by son!" (ESPN's Bill Simmons even used 50 of his favorite Almost Famous quotes to re-cap the NBA signing period this summer.)

My favorite scene: Where groupie Penny Lane (Hudson) learns she's been traded to Humble Pie during a game of poker. (The Director's Cut version is even more poignant \u2013 we learn that they're celebrating her birthday).

My favorite quote: "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when you're uncool." (Lester Bangs to William.)

The critics might take it apart, the airplane scene might have been overdone, but there's something about "Almost Famous" that makes it almost perfect.

— Kathy Blackwell