[Note: Every Friday on First Thoughts we host heated, half-serious, half-cocked arguments about some aspect of pop culture. Today’s theme is the best movies of the past ten years. Have a suggestion for a topic? Send them to me at jcarter@firstthings.com ]

The most remarkable thing you’ll discover in making a list of the best movies of this decade is how many unremarkable movies have been made in the past ten years. Choosing ten great film for the entire decade would have been challenging enough, but I compounded the difficulty by choosing only one film (and a runner-up) from each year. Some years were better than others (Good: 2000, 2008; Bad: 2003, 2007) but overall it was lackluster decade—with two exceptions: animated films and superhero movies.

Historically, these genres have been dismissed by both film critics and fans as lighthearted entertainment. Yet from 2000-2009, some of the strongest, most emotionally resonant films have been those based on animated, anthropomorphic characters (fish, cars, rats) or comic books heros (primarily from DC and Marvel). The divide between these genres and other categories was so wide that I found it easier to make two lists—one composed of only animated and superhero films and one for all other genres.

Any such list made by an amateur critic who sees relatively few films is bound to have serious blind spots. This list is no exception. Although I’ve seen (literally) hundreds of movies this past decade there are a number of possible contenders ( 13 Conversations about One Thing , Atonement , The Hurt Locker , Whale Rider , Hotel Rwanda ) that I simply haven’t seen.

There is also one glaring, though intentional, omission: The Lord of the Ring trilogy. I can’t include them on the list because I’ve never been able to sit through a single one without falling asleep. On the advice of friends and critics, I’ve repeatedly tried to watch them to see what I was missing. So far, no luck. Normally, I would defend the superiority of my own taste but in this case the fault may lie with me. So I’ll concede that this may be a howlingly ridiculous oversight, if you’ll agree not to mention it.

First, the list of superhero and animated films. I believe all of the following are deserving of being considered the best of the decade even though a few of them ( Wallace and Gromit , Chicken Run , Shrek , Ice Age , Watchmen ) aren’t personal favorites:

2000 – X-Men ( Chicken Run )
2001 – Monsters, Inc ( Shrek )
2002 – Spider-Man ( Ice Age )
2003 – Finding Nemo ( X2: X-Men United )
2004 – The Incredibles ( Spider-Man 2 )
2005 – Batman Begins ( Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit )
2006 – Cars ( X-Men: The Last Stand )
2007 – Ratatouille ( Spider-Man 3 )
2008 – The Dark Knight ( Iron Man )
2009 – Up ( Watchmen )

The list of other genres was much, much more difficult to compile.

2000 - Memento ( The Claim )
2001 – Amelie ( The Royal Tenenbaums )
2002 – Gangs of New York (Tie: City of God / About a Boy )
2003 – In America ( Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World )
2004 – Maria Full of Grace ( Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind )
2005 – Munich ( Pride & Prejudice )
2006 – The Lives of Others ( The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada )
2007 – Juno ( No Country for Old Men )
2008 – Gran Torino (Tie: The Fall / Man on Wire )
2009 – The Road ( Zombieland )

Looking over the list, I notice that there is only one film that I could recommend to all audiences without reservation: Pride & Prejudice . There are also three that I would suggest skipping the movie and reading the book of the same title: The Road and No Country for Old Men (both based on Cormac McCarthy novels), and Herbert Asbury’s 1928 nonfiction book, Gangs of New York .

If you’re looking for an overlooked gem, try The Fall and The Claim . If you like documentaries, the only one that made the list is Man on Wire (though 2005’s Fog of War was a close runner-up to the runner-up). The Royal Tenenbaums is the movie I’d most want to live in while City of God is the one I’m most thankful I don’t.

My personal favorites are Gran Torino and Amelie . Zombieland is hard to justify and will likely be replaced before the year is out (by Sherlock Holmes , perhaps?)—but it’s the funniest film on the list.

The rest I could only recommend on a case-by-case basis, so if you watch them and are disappointed, don’t blame me.

What did you think of the movies this decade? Which ones would your “best of” list?

Correction: For some inexplicable reason I included Metropolis (2002), thinking it was Metropolitan (1990). I don’t know how I got that mixed up.

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