The Top Ten (or so) Films of the Decade: #2 Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003)/ The Incredibles (Bird, 2004)/ Ratatouille (Bird, 2007)/ Wall*E (Stanton, 2008)

I refuse to believe that this is cheating. For one thing, I’ve been hinting at it all along– these are me top ten or so films, 2000-2009. For another, I honestly can’t decide. Two years ago, I was pretty sure Pixar’s aughties opus was The Incredibles. This time last year, I was dead set on Wall*E. Today, I’m thinking Ratatouille. So it goes.

These four films are, to be sure, very different critters. But what they represent, when taken together, is something singular and astonishing: Four movies, two directors, and one studio with a passion and a sense of integrity that set their work in a class entirely of its own. If you’re making all-ages, animated movies in the 00s and you’re not working for Pixar– well, chances are, it sucks to be you.

Animation aside, these are standard-setting films, uniform in their commitment to excellence in terms of plot and character. Visually, they’re dazzling, but only in service of story. They’re witty, too, but not cluttered with pop culture in-jokes or lowbrow humor. They’re movies for kids and adults, made with the conviction that if you’re going to make a great children’s movie, it must also work as a great grown-ups’ movie.

Taken separately, all are landmark films., and they deserve superlatives that have nothing to do with their animation. Consider, if you will, that Finding Nemo is among the most colorful and exhilarating adventure movies of the last ten years. Consider that The Incredibles is the most creative superhero movies of the decade, and one of its most compelling family dramas. Consider that Ratatouille belongs on the short-list of the all-time great movies about art– and about food. And consider that Wall*E is arguably the decade’s finest, purest science fiction; and with its virtually silent opening act, it’s one of the bravest mainstream, summer blockbuster offerings.

Taken together, these are movies that stand for something. It’s telling, I think, that a new Pixar movie is almost always greeted with attempts at politicizing; the left-wing was, you might recall, annoyed at The Incredibles for portraying a traditional family in a positive light, while the right was up in arms over Wall*E as some kind of environmentalist propaganda. These are shallow and silly readings both; ultimately, these films are all about something much bigger. They are, I think, about respect: The respect between parent and child; the respect between family members, and members of a society; the respect of the artist; and the respect for our world and our own shared humanity.

I will note that, in an effort to be at least somewhat decisive with the Pixar canon, I have included here only four of their seven post-2000 films. Monsters Inc. is a wonderful Saturday morning cartoon, zany and original but not quite as substantial as the films listed here. Cars, too, is a great movie, but comes up just a touch short of grade-A Pixar magic. And Up, though one of the best movies about marriage I’ve ever seen, is still just a bit too recent for me to feel right about including it among these classics. But give it a year or so and I’m sure this mortal lock will be even tougher for me to sort out.

#1. There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)
#3. The New World (Malick, 2006)

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6 responses to “The Top Ten (or so) Films of the Decade: #2 Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003)/ The Incredibles (Bird, 2004)/ Ratatouille (Bird, 2007)/ Wall*E (Stanton, 2008)”

  1. thewritingwriter says :

    I am much less impressed with these films, they are still to me kids movie, and their appeal to an adult audience is very lacking. I really just don’t like Finding Nemo, except the fact that it’s visually impressive, it’s portrayal of how vast the ocean is, is rather impressive, however I’d say one could be much more impressed by watching something produced by Nat Geo. The Incredibles was only impressive in it’s success of parodying the action/superhero film genre, and that it referenced about a hundred movies that fit that genre. Ratatouille was alright, I thought it had an interesting story but lacked certain qualities that would have made it much better. I thought Wall*E was decent, but it’s underlying message about how we’re killing the planet became a little annoying. I was also sick of hearing the robots say each other’s name in annoying tones by the end. These movies provide somethings for the kids and some things for the adults, no kid under 12 is gonna get most of the references in The Incredibles, it references movies like Citizen Kane, War of the Worlds, Mission Impossible, several Bond films, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Return of The Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Cast Away, and the list goes on and on, these are things most adults will get but very few children will, there’s also some humor that I consider low-brow, not because it’s inappropriate necessarily, but because it’s childish and unlikely to be funny to adults. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s a kids movie, although I don’t think it’s “Fun for the whole family,” I think it’s fun for the kids and tolerable for the parents but you can’t tell me they wouldn’t rather be watching another movie meant for adults. I mean, I understand that Finding Nemo probably was probably praised more by critics than Gangs of New York, but I’d rather watch Gangs of New York any day. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the movies, but they’re “kids” movies, not “family” movies as they’re often tagged, and I don’t think I’d ever put them in a general flim top 10 list. The only movie of that sort that I’ve ever liked that I can truly say I think bridges the gap between children and adults was the recent “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” I suppose there’s a chance I’ll be much less impressed the second time around but I don’t think so. I never felt like I was watching a movie intended for kids, I appreciated all the humor. if anything, it might have had a few moments that would have meant more for adults then kids but the kids were never entirely secluded. Anyways, I think I’ve made my point but I also may have rambled some, this is an issue I’ve considered often when hearing adults praise these sorts of movies, there’s nothing wrong with it, I just disagree, it’s a preference, not even an opinion really.

  2. anchors says :

    While, I still have yet to see Nemo, the other 3 are definitely among some of the best of the decade…and I’m 33.

  3. Josh Hurst says :

    I am fairly well convinced that these movies– particularly the last three– are subtle and sophisticated in ways that only grown-ups are really going to appreciate. Ratatouille, for instance, is essentially an allegory of the rise and fall of Disney, and of Pixar’s relationship with them– and a meditation on the pursuit of excellence in art-making. It’s a parable that takes some digging to really understand. The Incredibles, likewise, is rich in metaphors; far from being a mere parody or spoof, it matches superpowers to family members in a way that illuminates the different roles played within the family itself. And Wall*E… well, gosh.

    I also happen to think that Finding Nemo is a much more substantive and interesting film than Gangs of New York– but maybe I’m just being childish? :-)

  4. KEN says :

    “the left-wing was, you might recall, annoyed at The Incredibles for portraying a traditional family in a positive light,”

    What?

  5. Josh Hurst says :

    My thoughts exactly, Ken.

    I wish I could remember which paper said it, exactly– it may have been the NYT, actually– but I remember some reviewer who felt that the film was making a case against non-traditional families, homosexuals, etc. Which is, of course, patently absurd.

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