My best of the decade comprises joyful movies I’ve watched five, 10 times or more. There is no day so drear that one of these films cannot improve it.
1. Bunty aur Babli (2005), a Bollywood caper comedy directed by Shaad Ali Saigal, tops the decade. Bunty (Abhishek Bachchan) and Babli (Rani Mukherji) extract revenge on some cheaters who fleeced them and discover the thrill of the con. They do not meet cute (she timidly asks him to escort her to the bathroom on a dark train platform) and their characters are developed thoughtfully, so by the time romance blooms you are completely invested in their relationship. Every song in Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s score is fabulous, the costumes, the locations crisscrossing India and the supporting actors are perfection, including a flamboyant turn by Amitabh Bachchan (Abhishek’s father) as the policeman in hot pursuit.
2, 3, 4. This was the decade I discovered Hindi cinema, and my obsession still burns white hot. Other top Bollywood favorites include Munnabhai M.B.B.S. (Gangster Doctor; 2003), Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come; 2003) and Bluffmaster! (2005). Munnabhai stars action hero Sanjay Dutt as a good-hearted gangster who cheats his way into medical school to impress his father. Kal Ho Naa Ho is a family melodrama starring Shahrukh Khan as a charismatic interloper resolving a Queens, N.Y., family’s problems. Bluffmaster stars Abhishek Bachchan as a charming swindler who discovers he has only a short time to live. These films all provoke laughter and tears, and they feature infectious music.
5. Bend It Like Beckham (2002), a British film directed by Gurinder Chadha, is a sports movie, a coming-of-age story and an immigrant tale wrapped together, unexpectedly, in both sari and soccer jersey. Jess firmly respects her parents, unlike many rebels. Also on her team is a teenage Keira Knightley.
6. In Amélie (2001), director Jean-Pierre Jeunet creates a magical meld of fantasy and reality in a highly stylized Paris so appealing you want to jump right on a plane. Amélie (Audrey Tautou in a star-making turn) is a kind person, and her good deeds include solving the mystery of an album of photo-booth snaps for her whimsical, undiscovered soul mate (played winningly by Mathieu Kassovitz).
7. Chris and Paul Weitz’s About a Boy (2002), adapted from a Nick Hornby novel, features Hugh Grant as Will, a misanthropic heir to a Christmas-novelty-song fortune who becomes embroiled in 12-year-old Marcus’ desperately messy life. Grant is the antithesis of his usual dithering dreamboat boyfriends. The dialogue crackles; Will describes Marcus’ hippie mother’s hairy sweater as looking “like a yeti.”
8. Down With Love (2003) may be the least likely “best” on this list. It was inexplicably poorly reviewed, but I adore Raleigh director Peyton Reed’s spot-on parody of those morally Neanderthal-ish Doris Day/ Rock Hudson movies. Renée Zellweger is prissy perfection as the author of a manual that disparages love (not sex), and Ewan McGregor swings as a ladies’ man enlisted to sabotage her. Done in haute ’60s style (complete with fake-looking rear projections and painted cityscape backdrops), it also boasts Daniel Orlandi’s drool-worthy costumes and a crack supporting cast, including a cameo by veteran Tony Randall in his penultimate performance.
9. The Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) is a rollicking Depression-era Preston Sturges homage with a stellar George Clooney, T-Bone Burnett’s evocative score and catchy dialogue: (“Do not…seek…the treasure…”)
10. To round out the list, as much as I hesitate to include a 2009 film, I’ve already seen the jazzy new Star Trek three times. The original series was an integral part of my youth, and J.J. Abrams’ reboot is a brilliant riff on the Trek canon, with inspired recasting of the Enterprise crew. Zachary Quinto totally owns those pointy ears.