Lots of "Best Of" lists everywhere the next couple weeks, which is fine--and often fun. But I've always thought that the more interesting list would be "Most Influential." As in, what were the most influential movies of the decade, as opposed to the "best." I suspect that there wouldn't be much overlap between the two.
As a for instance, some version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy shows up on almost everyone's "Best Of" list. It certainly would be on mine. But I don't know that those movies were particularly influential, either on movies themselves or the industry at large. By contrast, the first X-Men now looks fairly influential because it proved that even a troubled, mid-budget superhero movie could make money. Which lead to the explosion of comic-book movies; the giant grossing Spider-Man series and Dark Knight; and the eventual independence (and then acquisition) of Marvel. Not a great movie, but a very important one for the business.
Artistically, I'm not sure what the most influential movies of the decade would be. Maybe someone else (Santino?) has thoughts on the subject.
Update: Galley Friend DR has an interesting version of this: A list of the most detrimentally influential movies of the decade. He includes 300, The Ring, and Saw.
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As a tweak on that idea, I'd consider films that launched influential careers. "Memento," for example, was mildly influential for its willingness to play with the story's timeline in a unique way, but it was incredibly influential insofar as it put Christopher Nolan on the radar of every major Hollywood studio. He went on to have (what I consider to be) the best decade of any director: Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight are all either "Very Good" or "Great."
Other ideas: "The Ring" for launching the American J-Horror boom of the mid-aughts; "28 Days Later" for sparking the resurgence in zombie movies; "Fahrenheit 9/11" for giving studio execs a reason to greenlight bigger budget documentaries (and for helping spark outrage in the midlands and pushing Bush over the top in '04); "Sin City" for its image-by-image fidelity to the comic book images from which it sprung (think "300," "The Spirit," "Watchmen"); "The Wrestler" for giving people a reason to put Mickey Rourke in everything and drive him to a(nother) drug-induced breakdown five years from now; "40 Year Old Virgin," of course, for the Apatow boom and the rebirth of the R-rated adult comedy.
That good enough to get people started?
I think you have to include "Old School" for starting the whole adult acting like teenagers comedy genre. Think about, Wedding Crashers, Step Brothers, The Hangover and the entire Apatow catalog.
The argument for considering Lord of the Rings influential would probably rest more on the visual effects work than on anything else. It's where Weta Digital really made a name for themselves. Aside from the movies they've worked on themselves, including Avatar, they've undoubtedly had some influence on special effects more generally.
It is certainly true that we haven't exactly seen an explosion of fantasy movies however.
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