NOTE: Screw the two at a time.
8. Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002): The first film in Chan-wook Park’s “revenge trilogy” (best known for its second film, Old Boy), Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance was a powerful representation of vengeance in its most cruel and unfortunate state. The satisfying and invigorating vengeance of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series was no where to be found, as Park blended right and wrong into one and pitted his characters against one another despite the good intentions each of them lived by. When his dying sister needs a kidney transplant, deaf Ryu resorts to kidnapping his former boss’s daughter and holding her for ransom; a series of misfortunes and heinous retributions ensue. The quiet of the film played key to the intensity of Mr. Vengeance, whose tragic story was alone enough to make it one of the best of the decade. Park’s trilogy turned the world’s gaze toward Korean film, and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance was a leading example of the amazing talent going little noticed in the region. Why this film was important: For me, Park’s film solidified my yearning for foreign film, setting in motion a desire to experience further unknowns, little-knowns or distant films. For everyone else, it was simply one of the most affecting films of the decade.
7. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): When Pan’s Labyrinth debuted in 2006, the world stood stunned at Guillermo del Toro’s work. A fairy tale with challenging motives and numerous displays of brutal violence, Pan’s Labyrinth was a masterpiece of storytelling and cinematic execution. Following a young girl, Ofelia, who befriends a mysterious faun where she lives on a military outpost in mid-World War II fascist Spain, the film is a combination fantasy and period-piece, a complimentary duality that was as fresh as it was breathtaking. The film is a dark portrayal of a family’s suffocated existence under the nose of a cruel, maniacal military captain, which is only heightened by Ofelia’s terrifying encounters with numerous fantastical creatures as she races for the opportunity for a new life. The film’s art direction was stellar: the more separated Ofelia became with reality, the more gorgeous and imaginative became the imagery. Del Toro’s interpretation of a time of squashed innocence and a revival of hope was breathtaking to behold, and will surely be remembered as one of the best of the decade. Why this film was important: Remember? There are Spanish-language movies too.
6. Gladiator (2000): Propelled almost entirely by its performances, notably those of Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was inarguably good. No matter how grandiose the film came off as, it was undeniably one of the best character tales in recent memory. In any other hands it could have easily become something superficial and meaningless, but executed by Scott and its all-star cast, it was a perfectly woven web of action, emotion and soliloquies: a true feast of films. Why this film was important: Re-ignited our faith in epics, hero stories and period-pieces that Judi Dench had no part of.