As what’s left of 2009 runs out, I’ve been inspired by Salon.com‘s “Films of the Decade” series written by guest writers. Not to mention the numerous other movie blogs that list their personal picks for the best movies of the decade.
Being one of the most indecisive people I know, this list was very difficult to finalize. I somehow narrowed it down from 83 to 50. Don’t ask me how. It’s strange to to think back to a certain movie from, say, 2003, and realize I was sixteen when I first saw it. But I feel a sense of accomplishment and enjoyed looking through and reminiscing about all of my favorite films from the 2000s.
Though it was tough, it has to be better than coming up with a “Best of 2009” list. (Because I feared I’d come up with too few to even make a list for this year.) You may disagree with my rankings or even have suggestions for missing films. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and favorites on the best films of the decade!
WARNING: All Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans, please don’t send me hate mail. I’m just a party pooper who couldn’t get into those series…I apologize in advance for being the idiot you’ve already assumed I am.
TOP 50 FILMS OF THE 2000s
50. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007) Dir. Seth Gordon. This documentary about a long-standing rivalry between two men with record-breaking high scores in the arcade game “Donkey Kong” surprised me. For someone who doesn’t care about video games (sorry, folks), I became absolutely enthralled in the story of this real-life hero and antagonist.
49. Brothers (2004) Dir. Susanne Bier. Now a Hollywood remake, this Dogme 95-esque Danish film was one of the grittiest, most emotionally disturbing and powerful stories I’ve seen in film within the past decade.
48. Day Night Day Night (2006) Dir. Julia Loktev. This small film explored social and political stigma in a subtle way. A nameless young woman whose race or religion we do not know is on a suicide bomber mission. The film shows the process and preparation for the mission, but mostly makes the audience question their own stereotypes and judgments of ethnicity, politics and religion.
47. Frozen River (2008) Dir. Courtney Hunt. With a predominantly female cast and crew, this quiet thriller brings two desperate women from completely different worlds together through the issue of illegal immigration across U.S. and Canadian borders.
46. Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) Dir. Susanne Bier. Though not a commercial success by any means, Halle Berry and Benecio del Toro perform their hearts out in this tearful drama about relationships, loss, and drug addiction.
45. Made (2001) Dir. Jon Favreau. Vince Vaughn and “Favs” reunite again after Swingers (1996) in this awkwardly and messily funny film about two Average Joes trying to fake it in the New York City mob world.
44. Away We Go (2009) Dir. Sam Mendes. Husband and wife pair Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida create a perfectly balanced comedic drama. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph break through their own typecasts to play the wonderfully calm but soul-searching expectant couple looking for “home.”
43. The Visitor (2007) Dir. Thomas McCarthy. Perhaps no film has told a story of illegal immigration in the U.S. as poignantly as this one.
42. In the Bedroom (2001) Dir. Todd Field. Based on the short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus, this film about a love affair gone horribly wrong is contemplative and takes its time, but does not disappoint. One of the best movies for careful pacing and thoughtful dialogue.
41. The Yards (2000) Dir. James Gray. Though not very well-known, this film starring Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, and Charlize Theron (among other notables) is one of the most cleverly executed crime thrillers I’ve ever watched. The suspense is overwhelming without being explosive.
40. Jesus Camp (2006) Dirs. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Alarmingly truthful and as unbiased as humanly possible, this documentary lets the audience into the world of an evangelical Christian community in the U.S.
39. Shopgirl (2005) Dir. Anand Tucker. Based on the novella by Steve Martin, this film tells the story of a Saks saleswoman (Claire Danes) who’s caught between the romantic options of a wealthy, older man (Martin) and an awkward, immature roadie (Jason Schwartzman). I continue to be impressed by this movie’s flawless combination of laugh-out-loud humor and beautiful sadness. A unique story of love and self-discovery.
38. Wall-E (2008) Dir. Andrew Stanton. Not being one to love animated movies, this one really affected me. In Wall-E, you have themes of romance, sci-fi, and politics. Children and adults alike can enjoy the film, but adults will see the bigger hidden meanings that children won’t grasp just yet.
37. Grizzly Man (2005) Dir. Werner Herzog. In a way that only Herzog could, he made a documentary about Timothy Treadwell – a man who was killed by the grizzly bears he loved and devoted his life to. With some controversy surrounding Herzog’s film practices (such as the theory that Treadwell and his whole story were made up), this doc is definitely one of the most compelling of the 2000s.
36. Mean Girls (2004) Dir. Mark Waters. Tina Fey scored big time with this hilarious screenplay about malicious teenage girls. Back when Lindsay Lohan was normal and made better choices, this slightly-guilty pleasure remains a favorite.
35. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) Dir. George Clooney. With his second directorial contribution since Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Clooney chose to delve into broadcast journalism and The Red Scare of the 50s. Based on the true story of broadcast reporter Edward R. Murrow, who spoke out against the tactics of outing Communists in the U.S.
34. Saved! (2004) Dir. Brian Dannelly. Mandy Moore has never been so brilliant as the manipulative “perfect” Christian girl in this witty, funny, and sometimes insightful comedy about an extremely religious high school.
33. Best in Show (2000) Dir. Christopher Guest. What better way to start off the 2000s than with a Christopher Guest mockumentary? And one of his best to date, in my opinion. Parker Posey is probably my favorite in this hysterical film presented as a documentary on pet-obsessed people preparing for a very important dog show.
32. The Hours (2002) Dir. Stephen Daldry. Based on the novel by Michael Cunningham, this star-studded movie interweaves stories of women from different generations beautifully through one common thread – Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf. Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Ed Harris star in this tragic and breathtaking film.
31. Half Nelson (2006) Dir. Ryan Fleck. Ryan Gosling amazes with his performance as a charismatic inner city high school teacher with one problem: an ugly drug addiction. The way the conflict unfolds in this film is careful and profoundly engaging.
30. Monsoon Wedding (2001) Dir. Mira Nair. Just when you think this Indian drama is about the preparation of a wedding, deep family secrets come to the surface and make the film a layered masterpiece. Beautiful in cinematography and set design, and emotionally powerful in story (written by Sabrina Dhawan), this has been a constant favorite since of mine these past few years.
29. The Wrestler (2008) Dir. Darren Aronofsky. Mickey Rourke makes his triumphant acting comeback in this aesthetically and thematically rough film. Rourke impresses by playing a washed-up wrestler who’s struggling to get his personal and professional life back together.
28. The Dreamers (2003) Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci. Legendary director Bertolucci combines themes of revolt, sex, and film in this art house movie. An American exchange student (Michael Pitt) finds new friends in France with twins – a brother and sister (Louis Garrel and Eva Green.) The threesome finds a friendship through their love of old films, often reenacting scenes from classics. The friendship starts to get complicated though with sex and the French 1968 student rebellions. A very interesting, sometimes disturbing, and thought-provoking film of the 2000s.
27. 28 Days Later (2002) Dir. Danny Boyle. Though I’m not a fan of zombie movies, this film’s depiction of a society gone to hell by a virus wiping out the population is scary – as a movie and as a study of humanity. The all-too-realistic zombies and images of a completely empty downtown London help make this a unique favorite of the decade.
26. Dogville (2003) Dir. Lars von Trier Edgy Danish director Lars Von Trier’s minimalist film packs a punch with its performances and disturbing plot line. A community (which is presented as a multi-section stage) lets Nicole Kidman’s character stay there in hiding from mobsters in exchange for services. These services get worse as the story goes on. This unnerving film about slavery and abuse makes you think and is one of the most worth-seeing movies of the decade.
25. I ♥ Huckabees (2004) Dir. David O. Russell. Though notorious for its uncomfortable fights and fits of rage on set, the result was glorious. A hilarious, goofy, but brilliant movie about existentialism starring Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, and Naomi Watts. And all of these actors play characters you’d never expect from them.
24. Bad Education (2004) Dir. Pedro Almodovar. Gael Garcia Bernal is amazing in this very Almodovar-esque plot-twisting story of sexual abuse within the Catholic faith, drugs, and transsexuality. There’s never a dull moment, to say the least.
23. Lost in Translation (2003) Dir. Sofia Coppola. At first, I wasn’t crazy about this film, which tells the story of two lonely Americans stuck in Tokyo who go on to have an interesting and complex platonic relationship. But then it grew on me. Bill Murray is damn funny in this subtle film about travel, culture shock, and relationships.
22. Brokeback Mountain (2005) Dir. Ang Lee. This was one of the first mainstream movies to depict gay lovers. It especially shocked by using big-name hunky actors – Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. I thought it was beautifully done and made for good discussions prior to and after viewing the film. I could not overlook it for the best of the decade.
21. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) Dir. Alfonso Cuaron. This Mexican film turned the “road trip” movie on its head by exploring issues of sexuality between two teenage boys and a married woman in her twenties. Cuaron also has a genius way of underlining the socioeconomic conditions of rural Mexico by using the country’s landscape as a background for the main story.
20. Love Actually (2003) Dir. Richard Curtis. I’ve watched this British film pretty much every Christmas season since 2004 when I first caught it on a hotel TV. It’s not just any romantic comedy – it’s one of the best “feel-good” of them all, with some not-so-happy storylines tied in. As far as romantic comedies go, this multi-story one is the perfect balance for me.
19. Catch Me If You Can (2002) Dir. Steven Spielberg. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks are the best pair, with DiCaprio playing a charming young con man and Hanks playing the FBI agent who’s after him. Based on a true story, the things that DiCaprio’s character gets away with are incredible. Overall, it’s the kind of movie you can watch over and over again.
18. The Science of Sleep (2006) Dir. Michel Gondry. Since Gondry is already a dream-like director, Science of Sleep surpasses expectations with its inventive story about dreams and love. With parts claymation and fantastical, this movie achieved what most others can’t – an impeccable combination of reality and imagination (for adults).
17. Milk (2008) Dir. Gus Van Sant. This film about gay rights activist and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk wowed me. Plain and simple, it’s a very powerful and well-told story. I was not absent of tears by the end of it, and when Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars in 2009, I cried even harder. Okay, dammit…Just cried again watching that incredible speech.
16. This is England (2006) Dir. Shane Meadows. This film about a group of young skinheads in 1980s England is harrowing, shocking, and altogether compelling. Its jaw-dropping scenes make for a very enlightening and must-see movie, which is unlike any you’ve ever seen.
15. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Dir. Danny Boyle. Audiences everywhere were amazed by this movie, and some have probably already put it at No. 1 on their best-of-the-decade lists. I enjoyed the film, but I more so appreciate it because it made Hollywood and the rest of America actually pay attention to India and Bollywood.
14. Gladiator (2000) Dir. Ridley Scott. Surprised? Don’t be. This was one of the best epics of the decade, and it was released in the very beginning of it. It has definitely had an impact on film since then. (See: 300).
13. Marie Antoinette (2006) Dir. Sofia Coppola. Go ahead. Do it. Call me “crazy.” But I still stand by my stance that Marie Antoinette is Sofia Coppola’s finest film, and one of the best and most underrated films of the decade. To save space, you can check out my earlier post defending the film here.
12. Michael Clayton (2007) Dir. Tony Gilroy. Never before have I seen a crime drama/thriller portrayed so poetically on the big screen. George Clooney gives one of the strongest performances of his career in this thought-provoking and well-paced, yet edge-of-your-seat film.
11. Inglourious Basterds (2009) Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Can I even describe what I feel for this film in a short blurb? Probably not. But here’s the gist: a true Tarantino modern epic, with all the violence and gore you’d expect, but so refined you might be surprised. The opening scene in particular consists of some of the best 20 minutes I’ve ever seen. Though it’s not in the top 10 of this list, this “killin’ Naaaazis” movie was my favorite film of the year. (Side bragging note: I was disgustingly lucky to see this for the first time in May during the Cannes International Film Festival.)
10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) Dir. Julian Schnabel. Faithful to the equally wonderful memoir, this film captures the humbling experience of a former French Elle editor (Jean-Dominique Bauby) who writes his book even though he can only blink one eye after a massive stroke. Bauby’s memoir is tragically beautiful and inspirational to all artists because of his determination, and the film translated all of these emotions exquisitely.
9. Closer (2004) Dir. Mike Nichols. Now here’s a movie I watched several times over throughout the 2000s and persuaded many friends to watch. Closer makes melodrama look good with this story of two couples and their lies, cheating, and overall complicated relationships. The characters really make this film one of the most captivating and complex of the Aughts. Clive Owen and Natalie Portman are standouts with their performances, but Julia Roberts and Jude Law fair pretty well also.
8. Rachel Getting Married (2008) Dir. Jonathan Demme. You know a movie and a script are good when you completely forget that, for instance, Anne Hathaway is Anne Hathaway for two hours. Demme beautifully portrays Jenny Lumet’s honest script about a family preparing for a wedding but still reeling from a past tragedy. There’s no fancy tricks here – just raw emotion and realistic characters. Read more about my praise for this film here.
7. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2 (2003/4) Dir. Quentin Tarantino. I think I might be more in love with the Kill Bill series than most people. But for me, watching Uma Thurman play this vengeful and violent character was highly enjoyable and never got old. I might be alone in thinking that the first one is better. But since they were really one long movie to begin with, they have to be considered as a series. And let’s not forget that other thing that Tarantino always comes through with – the soundtrack.
6. No Country for Old Men (2007) Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. The Coen Brothers won over pretty much everyone with this adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy book of the same name. This was both one of the best dramas and thrillers I had seen in a long time. A thoughtful, contemplative film that keeps you – literally – on the edge of your seat with your heart beating.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Dir. Wes Anderson. This may be the staple Wes Anderson film that best shows his off-beat humor and style. Played out as scenes from a book, this movie feels like a classic already. And it was only released eight years ago. The members of the Tenenbaum family are noteworthy and memorable.
4. Volver (2006) Dir. Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar strikes again with this movie about generations of women in Madrid, Spain. Penelope Cruz is at the center of this almost entirely female cast, and she is absolutely stunning – physically and performance-wise. A beautiful and colorful film about mothers and daughters, but enjoyable to all.
3. Gangs of New York (2002) Dir. Martin Scorsese. For me, this movie was monumental from the moment I saw it in theaters. (And I actually saw it three times in theaters.) This long movie is engrossing with its well-executed story of the rivalry between the Irish and New York gangs in the 1860s. Leonardo DiCaprio stars, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis was the most notable as Bill the Butcher. Scorsese mentions in the beginning of the DVD director’s commentary that this film was about twenty years in the making before it went into production. And it shows. It definitely shows.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Dir. Michel Gondry. Charlie Kaufman + Michel Gondry = heaven. Heaven in a film. Eternal Sunshine – in 2004 – was so different from any other film you’d ever seen. It probably still is. In my opinion, no one has ever pulled off such erratic jumps through time and space as elegantly and successfully as this movie. In addition, the truths about love’s ups and downs are presented in an entertaining but relatable way. This was also the first time I realized that Kate Winslet is an extraordinary actor, and that Jim Carrey can actually do dramatic roles very well.
1. Children of Men (2006) Dir. Alfonso Cuaron. My No. 1 film pick of the decade was not just a film, but also a frightening glimpse into what could very well be our future. Cuaron’s depiction of 2027 does not seem futuristic, surreal, or avant-garde. It feels real. It feels like today, only worse. Based on the book of the same title, this movie shows a lifeless world on the brink of extinction due to the mysterious inability to produce babies. Clive Owen’s character is an accidental hero who goes through hell to help a pregnant African refugee – an unbelievable and miraculous occurrence. This movie succeeds in every single area of film – cinematography (for which Emmanuel Lubezki was completely overlooked at the 2008 Oscars), direction, storytelling, editing, characters, and themes. With all-too-familiar similarities to our current-day world politics, Children of Men did not just speak to us as moviegoers. It spoke to us as world citizens. And really, I cannot think of any other film that has cared to address such profound conflicts and ideas as this one did.