The Top 100 Movies of the 2000s

The following is a list I created in late 2009 and posted on another website in early 2010.  I don’t necessarily stand by every choice I made on it and I’ve certainly seen other films from the decade since making it that would surly make the list if I were creating it today, but I’ve opted to post the list in its original form as a snapshot of my views at that particular moment in time.  I’ve made some minor typographic and stylistic alterations to my original captions, but they too have remained substantially unchanged.  For the most part, I do think the list more or less holds up.

Jump to: #90, #80, #70, #60, #50, #40, #30, #20, #10

100. Gangs of New York

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 12/20/2001
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Writer(s): Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, and Brendan Gleeson
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 160 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

The first ten or so movies on this list is largely (but not exclusively) made up of movies that have something great about them, but which are ultimately brought down by flaws which hold them back from true greatness.  Few films exemplify this as much as Martin Scorsese’s bold and well thought out tale of Civil War Era New York and the gangs that fought it out on its streets.

That the film shows a time and place which heretofore had not been seen,  and shows it in a richly detailed way, is probably what brings this film so damn close to greatness.  That it also sports a stunning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as one of the most vile villains in cinema history also makes this something I really want to like.  However, when one considers that the film’s main storyline is a pretty standard revenge story it really brings you down off your high, and the storytelling in here can be really laggy and at times boring.  Also, Cameron Diaz is almost as bad in it as Day-Lewis is good.  Ultimately, the movie is more interested in exploring its world than it is in telling a good and effective story, and that’s why this is only number 100.

99. X-Men 2: X-Men United

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date: 5/2/2003
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Writer(s): Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter
  • Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, and Anna Paquin
  • Based on: The “X-Men” comic book series created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 134 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

Aside from ambitious but flawed epics, these bottom ten spots have also become the domain of extremely effective genre films that are great at what they’re trying to be, but which just lack the weight to really get much higher on the list.  And that’s pretty much the definition of how I view X-Men 2 in the context of this list.

Bryan Singer’s film probably doesn’t get as many mentions as some of the other comic book films that are higher on the list, but I think it really raised the bar for the whole genre, and this might be because it was the first one to not have to tackle with a tired origin story.  From its kinetic opening Nightcrawler scene, to the great Blackbird chase scene, to the extended climax at a seemingly abandoned facility on an Alaskan dam, the film managed to top both the action and production design of Raimi’s first Spider-Man film.  The political overtones of both the civil rights movement and about the current struggle for GLBT rights adds a certain gravitas to the proceedings, but for the most part this is simply a great example of how to make an action/effects vehicle in the 21st Century.

98. I’m Not There

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 11/21/2007
  • Director: Todd Haynes
  • Writer(s): Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: The Weinstein Company
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 135 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original ReviewHere

 

Back when I first saw Todd Hayne’s experimental Bob Dylan biopic, I gave it only a middling three star review.  The odd thing was that for a movie that I had only moderately liked I managed to write the longest review I’d written up to that point in describing the whole affair.  That’s the thing about this movie, if it’s flawed (and it is) it’s only because it has too many ideas in it to turn into a simple streamlined narrative.

The act of analyzing a single life through six separate narratives involving six separate actors is something that’s never been done before.  While the results aren’t perfect they are compelling.  Coming out of the movie I felt that the Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett parts were a lot better than the others, but on further viewings I‘ve really come to see a lot of the virtues in the Christian Bale segments and even in the bizzaro Richard Gere parts (unfortunately the Heath Ledger parts still kind of grate on me).

Of course the film isn’t for everyone and if you don’t have a fairly intimate understanding of Bob Dylan’s life and music I can’t see this offering you much, but it’s kept me coming back more than any “three star” movie this decade.

97. The Devil’s Rejects

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 7/22/2005
  • Director: Rob Zombie
  • Writer(s): Rob Zombi
  • Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, and William Forsythe
  • Based on: Sequel to The House of 1000 Corpses
  • Distributor: Lionsgate
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 109 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

This is a movie I’m probably going to get flack for including… bring it on.  While he may not have  repeated his success in the horror remakes he went on to make, I think Rob Zombie proved himself to be a legitimately original voice in horror filmmaking with this embodiment of what a certain type of kitch cinema is all about.

Many lumped the film into the “torture porn” bunch, but this isn’t really accurate.  Those are films which use the act of binding and torturing innocent victims as their central horror technique, and while there are a few torture scenes here they aren’t the focus.  In fact, I’m not really prepared to call this a horror film.  It’s really more of a Tarentino-esque genre exploration, but using the movies that Zombie grew up with rather than the ones Tarnetino did.

There’s an energy to the filmmaking here that the Roths and the Wans of the world lack and Zombie also elicits strong performances from Haig, Moseley, and Forsythe the last of which brings to the screen one of the decade’s most awesome villains.

96. Elephant

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date: 10/24/2003
  • Director: Gus Van Sant
  • Writer(s): Gus Van Sant
  • Starring: Alex Frost and Eric Deulen
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: HBO Films
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 81 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Gus Van Sant’s “Death Quadrilogy” was a cinematic experiment with enough audacity to deserve representation even if I think one of the four films was terrible (Last Days), that one was enjoyable only in the most detached and theoretical sense (Gerry), and that one was good but over-rated (Paranoid Park).  The one movie that this important experimentation really paid off for was the bold Elephant, a movie which tackled the recent plague of school shootings and did it without seeking easy answers or sensationalizing the material.

The film uses lingering shots on seemingly banal conversations to an effect that has real payoff when the chaos takes over in the final act.  It isn’t exactly fun to watch, but it is an important work which has probably influenced a lot of other films like United 93.

95. High Fidelity

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 3/31/2000
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Writer(s): D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, and Scott Rosenberg
  • Starring:John Cusack. Iben Hjejle. Jack Black. Todd Louiso. Tim Robbins. Catherine Zeta-Jones. and Lisa Bonet
  • Based on: The novel “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby
  • Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 113 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

The way this was advertised and released made this seem like something to avoid with all due prejudice.  But as word of mouth began to spread I learned that what seemed like a standard romantic comedy was actually a really smart movie about relationships amidst the background of music fanatics in Chicago.

I don’t think many Americans had heard of author Nick Hornby before this came out, but his clever and honest writing shone through excellently in this adaptation of his 1995 novel.  It also provided John Cusack with a good role, something that doesn’t come along for him very often, and it also proved Stephen Frear’s directing chops and introduced those not knowledgeable of his underground TV show to a certain comedian named Jack Black.

Also, the music fanaticism that the main character displays is something that most movie buffs will be able to relate to, it may be a different medium but the lingo and rituals are all the same.

94. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 12/25/2008
  • Director: David Fincher
  • Writer(s): Eric Roth
  • Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas, and Tilda Swinton
  • Based on: The short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Distributor: Paramount
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 166 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original ReviewHere

 

When this film came out in 2008 it became the target-du jour for smart-asses who think it’s their duty to call out Hollywood films which they declare to be “Oscar-bait.” Rather than finding actual problems with the movie, most of these haters just found some similarities to the movie Forrest Gump then jumped on the “Forrest Gump retread” dismissal bandwagon and ran with it.

Alright, I’ll admit that this isn’t the most original movie ever made and that its script alone is only worth maybe a B-, but what I like about the film is the way that David Fincher took that middling script and through impassioned visual filmmaking was able to turn it into something grander. The use of cutting edge visual effects in something other than an action spectacle was refreshing to me, and this the all around directorial tour de force was more than enough to make up for any Gump comparisons as far as I was concerned.

93. The Devil’s Backbone

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 11/21/2001
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Writer(s): Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, and David Muñoz
  • Starring: Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, and Íñigo Garcés
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: Spain
  • Language: Spanish
  • Running Time: 107 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

This gothic Spanish ghost story from Guillermo del Toro is not as good or as successful as its spiritual successor, Pan’s Labyrinth, but it has a lot going for itself just the same. Though the film is not particularly scary, it works really well as the story of a Spanish Civil War orphan who finds himself at the center of the creepy goings on of a haunted orphanage.

Del Toro’s love of genre is on full display and he’s going through some interesting creative development here that will propel him to greater things later in the decade.

Between the creepy atmosphere, well thought out set pieces, and the Lord of the Flies style ending, this film is a really good little exercise. I also highly recommend the film’s DVD audio commentary (or any other Del Toro commentary for that matter), which goes into some real depth about the history of the film’s ideas and will give the viewer a newfound respect for the film.

92. Synecdoche, New York

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 10/24/2008
  • Director: Charlie Kaufman
  • Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman
  • Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan, and Emily Watson
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 123 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

This movie is a confusing mindfuck and there’s no denying it. If you go into this without being really dedicated to unraveling its complexities and analyzing its themes the movie will be a frustrating experience.

The directorial debut of writer Charlie Kaufman, the film is clearly his examination of (among other things): aging, mortality, the nature of creativity, the responsibility of leadership, the role of art in humanity, the way communities work, and the way we perceive time.

Outside of the wild screenplay, Kaufman does prove to be a pretty formidable craftsman. There’s a truly elaborate set at the center of the whole movie and the extensive cast also works quite well together.

I’m not going to pretend that I understand everything that the film is supposed to be, but it will be my mission throughout the next decade to rewatch the film numerous times to figure it out.

91. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 8/19/2005
  • Director: Judd Apatow
  • Writer(s): Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
  • Starring: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, and Kat Dennings
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 116 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

If this list is going to have any one weakness, it is probably that comedies are going to get the shaft. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to rank the achievements of comedians against the merits of dramatic film. However, the genre is important and I’m going to try to add representatives, just take some of the rankings with a grain of salt.

Ultimately I decided there was only enough room for one film directed by Judd Apatow, and choosing which one wasn’t too hard. I have a lot of respect for Funny People and Knocked Up gave this a run for its money, but The 40 Year Old Virgin proved to simply be the flat out funniest of his movies.

It might be because Steve Carell proves to be a more likable lead character, it might be because the whole thing felt really fresh in 2005, or maybe its just that I love the impression of David Caruso in Jade, but this movie just knew how to tickle my funnybone.

90. A Scanner Darkly

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 7/7/2006
  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • Writer(s): Richard Linklater
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane, and Winona Ryder
  • Based on: The novel “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick
  • Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 100 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

I’m a big supporter of people who use animation to make films that are unambiguously for adults. This is probably the best example of this I’d seen in a long time. Richard Linklater uses rotoscope animation to give this trippy little science fiction film a layer of unreality over everything going on, much as the characters are stuck seeing the world in just such a haze.

What’s so interesting about this film is that it has a lot of smart, hard sci-fi that coexists with some kind of Apatow-esque story of dudes getting high and hanging out. That said, this is not really a comedy or a stoner film, as fun as it is to see some of these guys tripping out, the dark side of both this world and the drug use are thoroughly explored in the film’s final act.

Many people have adapted Philip K. Dick novels into action films, and to varying degrees of success, but what Linklater has done here is provided the world with a cinematic adaptation of one of these works that’s true both to the ideas and the spirit of the man’s work, and that’s something valuable.

89. The Bourne Ultimatum

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 8/3/2007
  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Writer(s): Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Édgar Ramírez, Albert Finney. and Joan Allen
  • Based on: The character created by Robert Ludlum
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 116 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original ReviewHere

 

Howard Hawks once said that every great movie has three good scenes and no bad ones, if he was serious about that, then this is a movie that would make him proud. The cat and mouse scene in Waterloo Station is certainly a great scene, the brutal fist fight in close quarters in Morocco is certainly a great scene, and the car chase at the end is also great. Throw in the re-positioning of Supremacy’s final scene, a really slick escape in Spain, and Bourne’s final discovery of his past and you’ve really got an accumulation of great material here. And while the story here is maybe not exactly Shakespeare, it does work really well at feeling smart while stringing together amazing sequences. This is how you make an action movie.

88. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 6/29/2001
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Writer(s): Steven Spielberg
  • Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, and William Hurt
  • Based on: The short story “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss
  • Distributor: Dreamworks
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 146 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was hyped as a major production, possibly the next E.T. from one of the greatest audience pleasers in Hollywood. This perception probably has a lot to do with why people freaking hate this movie, because the film they actually got was in many ways quite dark and disturbing.

This is a movie that’s all about a robot who can never get what he most desires, love, and is tortured throughout his life because of it. It’s a really dark movie to its core and in many ways it’s all the darker because of the Spielbergian sentimentality that is always out of reach for the kid.

However, I’m with everyone else who can’t get behind the film’s strange ending, which is made all the more jarring by the way we are teased by another, darker place to end. When it’s at its best, this is one of the best science fiction films of the decade, but it’s massively flawed.

87. Cloverfield

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 1/18/2008
  • Director: Matt Reeves
  • Writer(s): Drew Goddard
  • Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, and Odette Yustman
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Paramount
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 84 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Cloverfield was a movie whose secretive viral ad campaign was talked about so much that once it actually came out its many good qualities were kind of overlooked.

The “found footage” hook here is not a gimmick, it was actually a brilliant tactic that allowed the film to do something that no other film had ever done before: make a giant monster scary. Films that were filmed conventionally have certainly made creatures like Godzilla and King Kong into fun spectacles, but by bringing the action to the street level Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams managed to create a genuinely intense thriller, that never makes the mistake of explaining too much (another benefit of its format), and which also paints a pretty good picture of this decade’s Youtube culture of self documentation (yet another benefit of the format).

As far as I’m concerned this is the best use of the “found footage” format we’ve seen and also the best thing J.J. Abrams has brought to the big screen.

86. Kingdom of Heaven

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 5/6/2005
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writer(s): William Monahan
  • Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas, Liam Neeson, and Edward Norton
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 194 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

No one does traditional epic filmmaking like Ridley Scott… NO ONE. And in this era where the notion of an epic has increasingly turned from “armies of men” to “CGI superhumans,” that’s a rare and valuable thing.

I liked this a lot when I saw it in the May of 2005, but it seemed to be missing a certain something. I learned exactly what that something was when the Director’s Cut was released and served as a bit of a revelation. Not since, well… Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has a director’s cut been such a revelation. What had once felt like a story that took place over a couple weeks was now a sprawling epic about a span of many years in the Crusader states.

The story of the crusades was of course going to have a lot of resonance in a Post-9/11 world and I’m glad that the filmmakers got it right even if the audiences weren’t really there. This tale of inter-faith relations from hundreds of years ago is sad in that things haven’t really changed, but at the same time exhilarating as a work of Hollywood storytelling.

85. Once

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 5/16/2007
  • Director: John Carney
  • Writer(s): John Carney
  • Starring: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Fox Searchlight
  • Country of Origin: Ireland
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 86 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

This low budget Irish film has something that not a whole lot of movies on this list have: sweetness. A romance between a pair of struggling singer-songwriters as they try to cut an album because of the great chemistry they have both in life and in the recording studio. That plot could easily be turned into a horrible Hollywood romantic comedy, instead it has been made with some real heart and passion and with a realistic view of how a relationship like this would work.

What’s more, the music in the movie is beautiful and that’s saying a lot coming from someone like me who generally isn’t too interested in this kind of acoustic pop. In fact I don’t know if I would have dug the music if I was listening to them on a CD, but in the context of this story, with these performers they were really special.

84. Hustle & Flow

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 7/22/2005
  • Director: Craig Brewer
  • Writer(s): Craig Brewer
  • Starring: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, and DJ Qualls
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Paramount Classics
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 116 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

On its surface and in its trailer, this was not a film that looked overly promising. Movies that are made to appeal to “urban” audiences tend to be dumb and condescending, but the looks of this are deceiving, it’s actually one of the most intelligent look at “the streets” to ever be given a wide release.

The characters in the film may be criminals, but Craig Brewer doesn’t let it end at that. These are intelligent people with the same aspirations that are encapsulated by the “American Dream,” and that’s what this is all about, achieving the American dream through Hip-Hop.

Brewer dedicated the film to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, clearly Brewer sees an affinity between Djay and Elvis Presley, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, and all the other great black musicians who came out of the poverty of the South. There have been a lot of great movies about Rock and Roll, I think this is the first great movie about Hip-Hop.

83. Spartan

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 3/12/2004
  • Director: David Mamet
  • Writer(s): David Mamet
  • Starring: Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, William H. Macy, Kristen Bell, Tia Texada, and Ed O’Neill
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Warner Bros.
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 106 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Spartan is a movie about an Agent trying to find the President’s daughter, who’s been kidnapped. How much more clichéd do you get? Well, that description is deceptive, this is actually one of the most creative and intelligently written thrillers to come out of Hollywood and it all comes out of the storytelling and not necessarily the story.

The film begins with Val Kilmer searching for someone, but they never waste any time on exposition. It isn’t even until almost half way through the film that you realize who they’re looking for and what her fate has been. The reveal of what was behind the kidnapping is a classically cynical David Mamet twist that makes you rethink the whole film. Also, the action set pieces, while not large scale, are really well choreographed and intense.

This is probably one of the least famous films on my list, and it deserved a bigger audience. It puts lesser thrillers like Taken to shame.

82. Zodiac

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 3/2/2007
  • Director: David Fincher
  • Writer(s): James Vanderbilt
  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr, Anthony Edwards, and Brian Cox
  • Based on: The book “Zodiac” by Robert Graysmith
  • Distributor: Paramount
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 157 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

All right, so I’ve kind of badmouthed this film over the years because of its flawed third act. And I stand by my criticism of that ending, in which the movie removed itself from the meticulous factual grounding and delved into a half-baked conspiracy theory made up by a geek with too much time on his hands in order to sell books.

And yet, the fact that this has such a firm spot on this list is a testament to just how much I like the first two thirds of this movie, in which David Fincher uses his visual flair, his dark sensibilities, and his abilities as a storyteller in order to bring a true story to life with utter authenticity.

The suspense set pieces in this movie are intense, chilling and really well staged. Really, the movie is a tour de force for the better part of two hours, its too bad that real life couldn’t give the movie a more satisfying end.

81. Oldboy

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 3/25/2005
  • Director: Park Chan-wook
  • Writer(s): Hwang Jo-yoon, Im Joon-hyeong, and Park Chan-wook
  • Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, and William Hurt
  • Based on: The manga “Old Boy” by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi
  • Distributor: Tartan
  • Country of Origin: South Korea
  • Language: Korean
  • Running Time: 120 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Every time there’s a major international film movement, there always seems to be one or two films that stand out and spearhead it. For Italian Neorealism it was Rome: Open City and Bicycle Thieves, for the French New it was Breathless and The 400 Blows. For the “Asia Extreme” movement that became a major part of International genre cinema, that film was Park Chan-Wook’s film Oldboy.

Part of what made the film really stand out of the Asia Extreme ghetto is that it had a very salable high concept at its center. Tell any even slightly open minded viewer about the story of a man imprisoned for seven years who comes out for revenge and they’re going to be interested. The film’s other major asset in the international market is that it generally avoids some of the inaccessible comedy that Asian movies like this often get bogged down in. More importantly, the movie generally has a whole lot of energy that propels it forward and makes you go along with even the strangest elements that would otherwise be off-putting.

80. Collateral

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 8/6/2004
  • Director: Michael Mann
  • Writer(s): Stuart Beattie
  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Mark Ruffalo
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Dreamworks
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 120 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

This wasn’t really a good decade for Tom Cruise, a man who’s career trajectory disproves the notion that “all publicity is good publicity.” But on the screen, the guy’s been doing some interesting things, and I think his best turn as an actor in recent years has been playing a villain in Michael Mann’s Collateral.

As the assassin Vincent, Cruise is able to play down all the movie star glamour and nice-guy charm that he cultivated through the 80s and 90s and unleash his inner cold-blooded badass. Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx is also making a really strong star turn as the film’s confused hero stuck in the middle of this assassin’s killing spree.

But all the talent isn’t just in front of the camera, this is also a turning point in Michael Mann’s career as a visual stylist. As he was not making an epic with a huge cast, Mann felt comfortable experimenting with HD Cameras which give the film a really naturalistic look. This is probably the first major Hollywood film to experiment with this look and it made the first good argument for its use.

79. King Kong

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 12/14/2005
  • Director: Peter Jackson
  • Writer(s): Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh
  • Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, and Andy Serkis
  • Based on: The screen story “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 187 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

The reason I love this movie isn’t just that it had top of the line visual effects (which it did), and it wasn’t just that the scenes were so well choreographed (and they were), but what really made this movie stand out to me is the sheer love of cinema that Peter Jackson shows with every frame of the movie.

The film has a genuinely adventurous heart that few filmmakers other than Spielberg have been able to channel, seeing these sailors go toe to toe against dinosaurs with Tommy Guns of all weapons is like crack to me.  And that CGI, man is it perfect, the stuff with Kong is to me the very best use of CGI ever up until maybe Avatar.  I’m more than willing to forgive that unfortunate stampede sequence when I consider just how much of a real thing Jackson was able to turn that gorilla into, I really believed the bond that it formed with Naomi Watts, and when it went up to that Empire State Building… man I really didn’t want to see it go.

78. The Queen

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 9/15/2006
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Writer(s): Peter Morgan
  • Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, and Sylvia Syms
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 97 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

I have very little respect for the Queen of England or anyone else who gets great power simply on the basis of being born in the right family.  Perhaps my distaste for the institution of the monarchy only makes the achievements of Stephen Frears’ The Queen all the more clear.

Rather than making a birth to death biopic, Frears’ film focuses in on a single two week moment in Elizabeth II’s life, the weeks after the death of Princess Diana.  Seeing the royal family react to this crisis and watching the queen try to cope with her family’s difficult tragedy with the public breathing down their neck.

Helen Mirren gives an excellent performance in the title role for which she deservedly won an Oscar and it isn’t just because she gives a good imitation of a real person, it’s because of the emotional arc that she tackles perfectly.

77. The Road

  • Year: 2009
  • Release Date: 11/25/2009
  • Director: John Hillcoat
  • Writer(s): Joe Penhall
  • Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, and Guy Pearce
  • Based on: The novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
  • Distributor: The Weinstein Company
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 111 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

In the waning years of this decade, 2005-2008, we began to see a number of powerful films from Hollywood directors that seemed to be subconscious reactions to post-9/11 confusion, anxiety, and Bush era discontent.  All of these movies seemed to be made with a certain intensity, they were all movies about uncertainty, about people who had to reconsider their assumptions or about people who fail to rethink their assumptions and paid for it.  I feel like this 2009 film that was made in early 2008 may be the final movie of this wave that we’re going to see, and I suspect that if it had been released a bit earlier it would have been better received.

Many have called the film “grim,” “depressing,” and “unpleasent.”  Well, no one said that the end of the world would be anything but all of the above.  No, this movie isn’t a laugh riot, but there’s a power to its vision and a certain ugly beauty in its realization of a world that’s near death.  At its heart is a story about a father and a son, and it’s one of the better movies to examine that bond.

76. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 8/15/2008
  • Director: Woody Allen
  • Writer(s): Woody Allen
  • Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: The Weinstein Company
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 97 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

I’m a pretty big fan of Woody Allen, but I’m more than willing to admit that half of the movies he makes are kind of crappy.  But every third film or so he manages to make something that’s really special, and this decade his biggest triumph has to be this film about a pair of students spending a year in Spain.

Part of the film’s success may be that Allen assembled a perfect cast of actors like Rebecca Hall, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Scarlett Johansson to bring his signature dialogue to life.  These actors have a lot of chemistry and the line deliveries are genuinely funny.

What’s more, the film never abandons character and story in order to seek bigger and better laughs.   At the end of the movie you really feel like you get to know Vicky and Cristina and that you’ve seen a pretty important summer in their lives.  Although they pretty much end the film in the same place they began, the journey to get to that same place is a joy.

75. Let the Right One In

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 10/24/2008
  • Director: Tomas Alfredson
  • Writer(s): John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, and Peter Carlberg
  • Based on: The novel “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • Distributor: Magnet
  • Country of Origin: Sweden
  • Language: Swedish
  • Running Time: 114 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Seeing Let the Right One In in the November of 2008 wasn’t just a night at the movies, it was a statement.  There was another movie about young Vampires coming out of Hollywood at the time that looked like total bullshit, and it felt like my duty to support the artier, Swedish vampire film.  I was pretty proud of myself for that little bit of cinematic protest, but the movie itself didn’t really wow me at first.

But a funny thing happened, it stuck with me even though I was initially underwhelmed.  There are images and ideas to this movie that can be pretty haunting, and when I rewatched it recently I could much better appreciate the film’s simplicity.  I still think the scene with the CGI cats is really stupid, but I’m willing to forgive that when the rest of the movie is so cool.

74. 21 Grams

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date:12/26/2003
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Writer(s): Guillermo Arriaga
  • Starring: Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Benicio del Toro
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Focus
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 124 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Of the three films that Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga made, this one was probably the one that got the least attention, and that’s probably because it isn’t exactly easy viewing.  It is however a rewarding movie if you’re willing to really work on it.

The movie has what is probably the most confusing chronology you can imagine, at times it seems completely random and infuriating.  However, if you put the pieces together the story that is formed is really powerful.

The acting in the film is also first class; Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn, and Naomi Watts give some of the best performances of their careers. Iñárritu also directs the film masterfully and brings the whole affair together in a way that pays off excellently by the end.

73. Clerks II

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 7/21/2006
  • Director: Kevin Smith
  • Writer(s): Kevin Smith
  • Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Rosario Dawson, and Trevor Fehrman
  • Based on: Sequel to Clerks by Kevin Smith
  • Distributor: The Weinstein Company
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 97 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

This list has had a lot of really sophisticated and important movies on it.  So what the hell is this cheap comedy with discussions about going ass to mouth doing in the middle of it?

Firstly, Kevin Smith is an icon and a personal hero of mine, and as such he deserved a spot on the list.  Secondly, I found the idea of revisiting these fondly remembered characters after a decade of their lives was an interesting means of exploring the state of slackerdom.  Thirdly, it’s fucking funny.  I crack up during this movie in a way I rarely have over the course of the decade.

I have no regrets about putting this on the list, though admittedly this might be a bit higher in the rankings than it needs to be simply because I wanted to spread the comedies evenly over the list.

72. Requiem for a Dream

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 10/27/2000
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Writer(s): Darren Aronofsky and Hubert Selby, Jr.
  • Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans
  • Based on: The novel “Requiem for a Dream” by Hubert Selby, Jr.
  • Distributor: Artisan
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 101 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Not many people will argue that Darren Aronofsky is one of the best directors to emerge in this decade, he’s a fearless visual craftsman and he isn’t afraid to make movies that will make his audiences uncomfortable.  And uncomfortable is definitely something you will be while watching this journey into the hell known as hard drug use.

This is an unflinchingly dark work but also a visual ride that’s not to be missed.  Aronofsky uses adventurous angles and editing throughout and never gratuitously.  But Aronofsky isn’t the only star of the film; Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and even Marlon Wayans do good work here but the real standout is Ellen Burnstyn who gives a heartbreaking performance as an aging woman who finds herself addicted to diet pills that kill whatever happiness she has retained in life.

I’ve stated before that this is a dark, dark, dark, film.  It’s almost like some form of cinematic mind-rape, and I can understand how that can be something people wouldn’t want to see, but it is an important film nonetheless.

71. Eastern Promises

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 9/8/2007
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Writer(s): Steven Knight
  • Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, and Armin Mueller-Stahl
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Focus
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 100 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original ReviewHere

 

For someone who is essentially a genre filmmaker, David Cronenberg has been surprisingly resilient over the course of three decades.  During the 2000s he set aside some of the more supernatural elements of his vision and has made a series of seemingly conventional crime thrillers but has injected them with his own kind of gross sensibilities.

The film was written by Steven Knight, whose film Dirty Pretty Things showed the seedy underbelly of London and had an interesting look at an immigrant community therein.  This might have been a similar film were it not for David Cronenberg coming in and made it into something different, largely by the injection of some truly audacious violence, the standout being a fight scene between two knife wielding thugs and a nude Viggo Mortensen.

It also has some really good acting by Viggo Mortensen, who seems to really be in his element when working with Cronenberg.  Naomi Watts is good too, she seems to be in a lot of the movies on this tier of the list, and the whole thing is just one of the most creative crime thrillers of the decade.

70. The Class

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 9/24/2008
  • Director: Laurent Cantet
  • Writer(s): Laurent Cantet, Robin Campillo, and François Bégaudeau
  • Starring: François Bégaudeau, Louise Grinberg, Franck Keita, Carl Nanor, Esmeralda Ouertani, Burak Ozyilmaz, Rachel Régulier, Vincent Robert, Jean-Michel Simonet, and Boubacar Toure
  • Based on: Based on the book “Entre les Murs” by François Bégaudeau
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Language: French
  • Running Time: 128 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

I absolutely hate movies that try to depict “inner-city” schools and get it wrong, and most Hollywood movies do just that.  Who would have thought that the French would find a way to get such a setting right.

This film, set in a school located in a tough section of Paris, is all about a teacher trying to reach a class of students that don’t all see the value in what he’s trying to push on them.  What makes the movie unique is that the students are not hopeless cases and the teacher is not some kind of inspirational martyr to the cause of education.  He’s a guy who doesn’t have all the answers and who struggles with his role as much as the students struggle with theirs.

Nothing extraordinary happens over the course of this term, and some might find this to be hard to take, but I found the simple scenes of him trying to teach to classroom to be so authentic and so interesting that this alone makes it a triumph.

69. Gladiator

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 5/5/2000
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writer(s): Kevin Smith
  • Starring: David Franzoni, John Logan. and William Nicholson
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Dreamworks
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 155 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Is Gladiator a particularly insightful or smart film?  No, not really.  But you know what, sometimes all you need to make two and a half hours of compelling cinema is a great actor like Russell Crowe being a man’s man while stabbing shit in an arena.

This is the movie that started the wave of neo-epics that sort of took over the first half of the decade, but it’s important to remember that this was pretty much the first film of its kind since Braveheart.  What this film did was to make this old fashioned genre relevant to a new generation.  The way that Ridley Scott (who made a huge comeback with this) has brought a very new kind of Rome alive is a revelation.  This is an action movie for adults and it isn’t afraid to get pretty serious at times and really dwell on the pathos and suffering of the central character.

Add to all this a fairly interesting subtext about the tactic of achieving power though popularity in an age that predates media as we know it.

68. In the Loop

  • Year: 2009
  • Release Date: 7/24/2009
  • Director: Armando Iannucci
  • Writer(s): Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche
  • Starring: Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, and Chris Addison
  • Based on: The TV series “The Thick of It” created by Armando Iannucci
  • Distributor: IFC
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 109 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Good satire is an important part of the Western literary tradition.  It’s an important tactic in trying to make biting points more palatable to the masses who would otherwise be offended and it’s a good way to bring important and powerful people down to size.

Given that this has been such a tumultuous decade, it’s a bit surprising that our best satire has been on the small screen rather than the big screen; shows like “South Park,” “The Daily Show,” and “The Colbert Report” have spun circles around anything in theaters, and it’s probably no coincidence that the best political satire was also derived from a television writing team, specifically that of a British show called “The Thick of It.”

In the Loop follows a pair of British politicians as they find themselves in the midst of the run up to a war in the middle east, they never specifically name the conflict but it’s obvious that this is a film about the start of the Iraq war.

At the comedic center of it all is Peter Capaldi  playing Malcolm Tucker, a fixer for the Parliament who has a habit of putting people down with some of the most profane and artfully crafted insults you’re likely to ever hear.

67. Talk to Her

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 12/25/2002
  • Director: Pedro Almodóvar
  • Writer(s): Pedro Almodóvar
  • Starring: Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Geraldine Chaplin, and Rosario Flores
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: Spain
  • Language: Spanish
  • Running Time: 112 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

There are some world directors who have simply become an institution and Pedro Almodovar is one of them.  While his magnum opus (All About My Mother) came out a year before the start of the decade, I still felt he had earned at least one spot on the list and the film that I’m putting there is Talk to Her.  While Volver and Bad Education had their merits, this is ultimately the least flawed and most accessible of the movies Almodovar put out in the last ten years.

The film is a bit of a departure for Almodovar because the main characters are men and both of them are more or less heterosexual.  And yet, these guys are even more kinky than the average Almodovar protagonist because the infatuation at the center of it all is of a man who lusts after a woman who’s in a coma.

Almodovar just makes a lot of really colorful and smart movies.  There’s a really unique, very European sensibility to his films and it goes to show that Spanish cinema isn’t all about ghosts and monsters.

66. The Aviator

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 12/25/2004
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Writer(s): John Logan
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, John C. Reilly, Kate Beckinsale, Alan Alda, and Alec Baldwin
  • Based on: Based on the book “Howard Hughes: The Secret Life” by Charles Higham
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 170 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Biopics were huge in the 2000s, probably because actors realized that playing a real person was a sure-fire path to an Oscar.  Some of this lead to creative and avant-garde takes on peoples lives, while other simply focused on showing peoples lives down to the detail and doing it with a lot of energy.  To me, The Aviator is one of the best examples of the later kind of biopic.

While this movie probably wasn’t as personal a project for Scorsese as Gangs of New York was, but that detachment in many ways allows him to focus on his craft and make a really meticulous period environment.

Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio is giving what’s probably the best performance of his career, if you want to know when he really shed the burden of living down Titanic, look no further than The Aviator.

65. Antichrist

  • Year: 2009
  • Release Date: 10/23/2009
  • Director: Lars von Trier
  • Writer(s): Lars von Trier
  • Starring: Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: IFC
  • Country of Origin: Denmark
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 108 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Oh Antichrist, you’re such a crazy fever dream of a movie, what is it about you that has me so intrigued?

Probably because you work really well as a horror thriller of sorts, albeit a very unconventional one.  Seeing your stars being tormented by some kind of crazy inexplicable animal ghost things is just as disturbing as any of your violence.  Also, your stars give really good penetrating performances that are really memorable as well.  Then there’s your symbolism, which can elicit all sorts of crazy interpretations depending on the viewer.

I understand how 90-95% of audiences think you’re nonsense, and I understand that the scenes of graphic violence in your third act is just too much for some people.  But I found you to be a really smart and unique film going experience that I will not soon forget.

64. The Constant Gardener

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 8/31/2005
  • Director: Fernando Meirelles
  • Writer(s): Jeffrey Caine
  • Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Koundé, Danny Huston, and Bill Nighy
  • Based on: The novel “The Constant Gardener” by John le Carré
  • Distributor: Focus
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 129 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

There were a lot of political films in the mold of the thriller that came out in the middle years of the decade, and The Constant Gardener was one of the best of them.

One of the film’s strengths is that it always stays grounded in the human story at its center and uses that to explore the politics rather than the reverse.  Rachel Weisz won an Oscar for the film deservedly and Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast, he’s sort of the go to guy for these kind of euro-tinged adult dramas.

The other thing that makes it special is its depiction of Africa and the people that live there.  This is a continent that I don’t think was particularly well served this decade by Blood Diamond or The Last King of Scottland, but here the filmmakers have managed to show the African people without dwelling on their suffering or treating them as an “other.”

63. Matchstick Men

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date: 9/12/2003
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writer(s): Ted Griffin and Nicholas Griffin
  • Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, and Bruce McGill
  • Based on: Based on the novel “Matchstick Men” by Eric Garcia
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 116 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Matchstick Men is a little film made by big people, one that maybe didn’t get the best treatment it deserved back in ‘03.  I’ve been championing the movie for a while, championing it so hard that I’m maybe a little surprised to be putting it this low on the list… but, whatever, that’s how the cookie crumbles some times.

The first thing to talk about is the cast: Cage, Lohman, Rockwell.  Rockwell is perfectly cast, this is the kind of role he was born to play.  Cage also works really well because his weirdness fits his OCD character well while still being a solid leading man, and then there’s Alison Lohman who was twenty four when the film was made but who was 100% believable as a fourteen year old girl.

The film also sports great talent behind the camera, Ridley Scott directs the movie with all the seriousness that he brought to his historical epics and the writers have provided us with a script that’s entirely compelling right down to the twist ending which would have been predictable if the audience wasn’t too wrapped up in the machinations of the characters to notice.

62. Waltz with Bashir

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 12/25/2008
  • Director: Ari Folman
  • Writer(s): Ari Folman
  • Starring: Ari Folman, Miki Leon, Ori Sivan, and Yehezkel Lazarov
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: Israel
  • Language: Hebrew
  • Running Time: 90 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

I have disqualified the documentary genre from this list and it isn’t because they aren’t worthy, but I have a pretty strong conviction that documentaries work in a way that is separate from fictional filmmaking and should be separated for the same reason that fiction and non-fiction books are separated.

Given that Waltz With Bashir has found its way on the list, it should be pretty obvious that I don’t think of it as a documentary.  And yet, there can be a compelling argument that it is a documentary.  It is certainly a non-fiction work of sorts, the interviews here are mostly authentic narratives by the people who experienced the events, but that doesn’t change the fact that 99% of the visuals material here was created in an animation studio rather than caught in the midst of events.

It’s odd, this is a foreign movie, an animated movie, and arguably a documentary, it’s like it wanted to be eligible for all the supposedly ghettoized categories of the Academy Awards, but that alone made the whole thing unique.  And even if you ignore the strange format, the fact remains that this is a really interesting study of both war and identity.

61. Batman Begins

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 6/17/2005
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Writer(s): Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman
  • Based on: The “Batman” comic book series created by Bob Kane
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 141 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Part of the problem with Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film was that it spent a lot of time retelling the same origin story we’d already heard a million times.  You’d think that Christopher Nolan’s Batman film would have run into the same problem, but what’s great about it is that Nolan made it feel newer than it was.

The trick was making the transition from Bruce Wayne to Batman feel like an organic character development rather than a means to a predetermined end.  The idea of him becoming a superhero through ninja training almost made the whole thing seem plausible in some wacky way.

This was hardly the first story to make Batman a dark and brooding character, but it was the first one to make him and the world he inhabited to feel real, or at least real-ish.  Nolan just took the gig seriously and it made all the difference. The result was the reborn Batman that no one knew they wanted.

60. Caché

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 10/5/2005
  • Director: Michael Haneke
  • Writer(s): Michael Haneke
  • Starring: Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil, and Maurice Bénichou
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Language: French
  • Running Time: 118 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

There are few in the know who won’t agree that Michael Haneke is one of the most important directors in the world today, and I’m on board with that even though I don’t necessarily love all his movies.  I think Funny Games is condescending bullshit and The Piano Teacher didn’t do a whole lot for me.  But Caché is pretty awesome and I’m more than happy to make it my Haneke representative.

This is kinda’ sorta’ a thriller, but it isn’t really delivering suspense, instead it deals in unease and dread.  This cold sense of dread lingers throughout the film up until it is released through one of the greatest acts of violence I’ve ever seen in a film.

Beyond the film’s tonal qualities, there’s a lot of thematic resonance.  I didn’t expect the film to be about race, but it’s really one of the most profound explorations about western racial relations of the decade.

59. Superbad

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 8/17/2007
  • Director: Greg Mottola
  • Writer(s): Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
  • Starring: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, and Bill Hader
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Columbia
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 113 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Is Superbad really better than Caché? Probably not on an analytical level, but for what it sets out to do an argument can be made.  This might be the best “one crazy night in adolescence” since Dazed and Confused and it’s one of the laugh out loud funniest movies  of the decade.

Who would have thought that one of Judd Apatow’s producer-only movies would have far surpassed his directorial efforts.  Part of this can only be explained by the fact that Greg Matola brings a lot of extra skill to the proceedings.  Part of it may be that it’s easier laugh with instead of at losers when they’re teenagers as opposed to people in their late twenties who should know better.

Either way, this is a movie with a close to perfect cast, it had Michael Cera before people were sick of him, Jonah Hill in a role that was perfect for him, and Chris Mintz-Plasse in the nerd-role to end all nerd roles.  Add to that some cool interplay between Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as some crazy cops, and you’ve got a mainstream comedy classic on your hands.

58. Before Sunset

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 7/2/2004
  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • Writer(s): Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy
  • Starring: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
  • Based on: Sequel to Before Sunrise
  • Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 80 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

This is an unconventional sequel to the type of movie that normally doesn’t get revisited.  The original film, 1995’s Before Sunrise, was a breathtakingly romantic movie and not the kind of romance you needed to leave your brain at the door to enjoy.  Perhaps it’s most famous element is that it left the characters, after a single night of romance, deciding to part ways at a train station and meet up again one year later, whether they do so or not was one of the great unanswered questions of 90s cinema.

To make a film that would answer that question ten years later seemed like an act of madness, this was one unambiguous case where a lackluster sequel could really ruin the original, but the great triumph of this film is that they answer that question without it being lame.

While the first film was all about the joys of being young and free, this is a film about the sober realities of aging and giving yourself a place in life.  Of course Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy have another fascinating conversation while walking through Paris.  Add to that a perfect ending that gives us another great unanswered question to mull over for at least another decade.

57. Apocalypto

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 12/8/2006
  • Director: Mel Gibson
  • Writer(s): Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia
  • Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo, Mayra Sérbulo, Dalia Hernández, Ian Uriel, and Gerardo Taracena
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: Mayan
  • Running Time: 138 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

There’s no doubt that Mel Gibson is a batshit crazy, anti-semitic, alcoholic, loon… but man that motherfucker can film an action scene.

I don’t think anyone knew what to expect when Mel Gibson said that he was going to make an epic set in the world of the ancient Mayans in the Mayan language.  Certainly no one thought we’d be getting a badass action/chase movie, but that’s what we got.

This movie has some really grizzly scenes of violence, and the way they build Mayan society is a technical wonder, but what this film will forever be remembered for is the extended 45 minute chase scene through the jungles complete with the hunting and killing of a half dozen pursuers.

56. Yi Yi

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 10/6/2000
  • Director: Edward Yang
  • Writer(s): Edward Yang
  • Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Issei Ogata, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang, Hsi-Sheng Chen, and Su-Yun Ko
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: No American Distribution
  • Country of Origin: Taiwan
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese
  • Running Time: 173 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Edward Yang’s Taiwanese epic Yi Yi seems like the kind of film that belongs on a list like this more than others simply because it really captures what it was like to be alive in this decade, a feat that’s all the more surprising when one considers that the decade had hardly begun when the film came out.

Chronicling a year in the life of a common family, the film seems to encompass a lot of the human experience of living in our modern world.  The movie does not follow a straightforward narrative, instead it simply sits back and lets life unfold.

It’s not a fast moving film, movies from this wave of Taiwanese filmmakers rarely are, but in its stillness an in its deliberate pace we are allowed to sit back and meditate on what we’re seeing.

55. Spider-Man 2

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 6/30/2004
  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • Writer(s): Alvin Sargent
  • Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Alfred Molina
  • Based on: Based on the “Spider-Man” comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
  • Distributor: Columbia
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 127 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

It’s a bit hard to justify placing this popcorn movie above other weightier fare like Waltz With Bashir and 21 Grams.  I’ll admit that part of it is that, like with the comedies, I wanted to space out the mainstream action movies but this is a movie that belongs on the list because it took one of the defining genres and sort of stews it to perfection.

I had never really embraced the first Spider-Man film, it had a lot of goofy moments and they totally screwed up the Green Goblin, but this sequel was a blast.  For starters, I found Peter Parker’s story to be a lot more compelling than the tired origin story of the first film.  I also thought that Sam Raimi was a lot more directorially adventurous than he was in the first one.  I also thought they brought one of my favorite comic book villains, Doc Ock, to life really well.  Aside from all that, this just has a lot of really good set pieces.  I’m thinking in particular of the train scene, the botched bank robbery, and the birth of Doc Ock.

The batman films might have a little more street cred, but this entry into the Spider-Man series is probably a better representation of what has worked so well in this genre during this decade.

54. Million Dollar Baby

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 12/15/2004
  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Writer(s): Paul Haggis
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank. Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Brían F. O’Byrne, and Margo Martindale
  • Based on: Short stories by F.X. Toole featured in the collection “Rope Burns”
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 132 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Some people dismiss this film as melodrama, and to a certain extent it is, but I don’t accept that as the end of a conversation.  This is a movie that has dedicated itself to being a melodrama, that’s just what it is, to criticize it for that makes as little sense as calling Casablanca a romance, and I don’t see why 50s suburbia is the only place where melodrama is acceptable.

Part of what makes the film so successful is the way it manages to transition from being a mildly interesting feminist sports film to being high tragedy without really telegraphing what it’s going to be ahead of time, even though the whole thing is filmed with a melancholy atmosphere from the beginning.

Clint Eastwood has had a really good streak of movies this decade, and while this isn’t necessarily the one I would have given him the Oscar for, it is a pretty strong movie and probably one of the more Oscarworthy of this decade’s winners.

53. 24 Hour Party People

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 8/9/2002
  • Director: Michael Winterbottom
  • Writer(s): Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Starring: Steve Coogan, Paddy Considine, Andy Serkis, Paul Popplewell, and Shirley Henderson
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: United Artists
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 117 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

24 Hour Party People is a film about the world of the latter years of the Manchester Punk Rock scene, but this isn’t really a music film and it has plenty to offer for people who have no interest in the punk rock.  Specifically it deals with Factory Records, the label that brought us Joy Division. At the center of it all is  Tony Wilson, owner of the label, who is played hilariously by Steve Coogan.

More importantly, this is a Michael Winterbottom film, and it’s the kind of post-modern Michael Winterbottom film that I most enjoy.  Hardly a straightforward biopic, the movie begins with a short bit about Wilson crashing a hang glider, after that Wilson looks right at the camera and explains in case you miss the symbolism.  The whole film is full of fourth wall breaking moments like that: sometimes the real people being depicted show up to point out inaccuracies for example, and the movie even ends with a rather peculiar conversation between Wilson and God, who vindicates Wilson for not signing Mick Hucknall because “his music’s rubbish, and he’s a ginger.”

How meta is that shit?

52. Road to Perdition

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 7/12/2002
  • Director: Sam Mendes
  • Writer(s): David Self
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, and Stanley Tucci
  • Based on: The graphic novel “Road to Perdition” by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner
  • Distributor: Dreamworks
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 117 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Road to Perdition was a film that was pretty well received in its time, but whose reputation has waned now that the critical community has turned against Sam Mendes for some reason.  Personally, I stand by it.

First and foremost, this movie is absolutely gorgeous.  The great Conrad Hall clearly saw this as his swan song and what he delivered is perhaps the most stunning cinematography that’s ever been committed to celluloid.  But that’s not where the visual splendor ends, Mendes has decorated the film with elaborate period detail and then meticulously framed every shot.  You could press the pause button at pretty much any point of the film, print out a screenshot, frame it, and have a beautiful painting worthy of placing on your wall.

The story beneath all this visual beauty is a little bit pulpy and self serious, but I think it mostly works at what it sets out to do, visuals aren’t everything here but that’s certainly the department that achieves singular greatness.

51. Wonder Boys

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 2/25/2000
  • Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Writer(s): Steven Kloves
  • Starring: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Rip Torn, and Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Based on: the novel “Wonder Boys” by Michael Chabon
  • Distributor: Paramount
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 111 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

The title “wonder boys” refers to the people who achieve greatness at a very young age and spend the rest of their lives trying to achieve that greatness again.  Michael Douglass’ character was one such wonder boy and in a recent writing student played by Tobey Maguire he sees a similar quality.

Douglass’ performance in this film is really strong and so is the writing.  It would seem appropriate that this movie about trying to follow up greatness would be directed by Curtis Hanson, whose 1997 film L.A. Confidential would prove to be a pretty tough act to follow.  That he’s used this quite drama and the Eminem vehicle 8 Mile to do it is pretty interesting.

The film is also the home to some nice photography a really authentic look at college campuses, and a pretty good Bob Dylan song.

50. Signs

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 8/2/2002
  • Director: M. Night Shyamalan
  • Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
  • Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 107 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

M. Night Shyamalan is a guy who’s done a lot over the last ten years to kill off all the good will he had after The Sixth Sense, but I’m not going to let the idiocy of his last three films taint what I like about his third and in some ways best film, Signs.

I really like this film as a straightforward thriller and science fiction film.  In the last act Shyamalan is able to build the family tensions and the growing threat of the situation at hand like a real master.  There’s also something really creepy about how he shows what an alien invasion would really feel like by telling the story entirely from the perspective of a single family.

There’s also a pretty mature exploration of the nature of faith in society throughout the film, and while I don’t personally agree with the film’s conclusion on the subject or particularly like the literal way it’s resolved, I thought it was an interesting internal debate just the same.

49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 12/8/2000
  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Writer(s): Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, and Tsai Kuo-Jung
  • Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, and Cheng Pei-pei
  • Based on: The novel “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” by Wang Dulu
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: Taiwan
  • Language: Mandarin
  • Running Time: 120 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

These kind of Wuxia swordplay films have been made in China for decades, but the west never really saw any of them because there were a lot of stray elements to them that made them inaccessible.  One director who wanted to change that was Ang Lee, a Taiwanese director who had made a number of successful films in Hollywood.

Though the film is in Mandarin, it was really made more for a western audience and wasn’t a big success in China.  It usually isn’t labeled as such, but this is essentially a fantasy film, one that lives off the folklore of a different culture than we are used to.

Making a foreign action film for the world market probably would have been a box office disaster, luckily the movie came out a year after The Matrix, and everyone was looking for their next fix of wire-fu action.  It’s a good thing too, because it allowed a large audience to see a really lyrical film filled with great fight choreography and beautiful images.  It was a movie that could be appreciated both by arthouse crowds and those just looking for some cool sword fights.  The result was a wave of pretty cool action epic imports from the east over the course of the next decade.

48. Babel

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 10/27/2006
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Writer(s): Guillermo Arriaga
  • Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Kōji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, and Rinko Kikuchi
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Paramount Vantage
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English, Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic
  • Running Time: 143 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

In spite of its relative success amongst Academy voters, a lot of the more literary critics out there really turned against Iñárritu when he made this film.  The main reason for this was probably that the style of “hyperlink cinema” was beginning to wear out its welcome in 2006 and the Oscar success of Crash really soured a lot of viewers to the method.

I didn’t think this was entirely fair, because for the most part these stories are connected by theme rather than narrative.  I was particularly interested in the story of a deaf Japanese girl isolated from society, as well as the story of two Moroccan boys who are in a world of trouble after an accidental shooting incident.

The other thing that sets this film apart is the acting in it, both by world class celebrities like Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchet, and Gael Garcia Bernal but also by less known actors like Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza.  The amazing score is just icing on the cake.

47. Black Hawk Down

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 12/28/2001
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writer(s): Ken Nolan
  • Starring: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, and Sam Shepard
  • Based on: The book “Black Hawk Down” by Mark Bowden
  • Distributor: Columbia
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 144 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

If anything stands out about Black Hawk Down, it’s probably the production values.  It is really amazing how Ridley Scott is able to recreate the battle of Mogadishu almost to the detail.  Scott fills the frame with every helicopter, every soldier, every Somali militiaman, every burned out building that was around during the military tragedy being depicted, and most of it looks like it wasn’t CGI.  Ridley Scott spent the better part of the decade recreating elaborate battle scenes but he really outdid himself with this one.

The film does not attach itself to any one soldier and it doesn’t try to manufacture some kind of trumped up storyline to place over the real event at the center of it all (both merciful decisions in the year of Pearl Harbor).  Instead what Scott gives us is a straight and simple recreation of the battle, warts and all.

46. Nowhere in Africa

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 8/2/2002
  • Director: Caroline Link
  • Writer(s): Caroline Link
  • Starring: Juliane Köhler, Merab Ninidze, Sidede Onyulo, Matthias Habich, Lea Kurka, and Karoline Eckertz
  • Based on: The novel “Nowhere in Africa” by Stefanie Zweig
  • Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Language: German
  • Running Time: 141 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

This under seen film tells the story of a family of German Jews who are forced to flee to Africa in order to escape Nazi persecution.  Once there, the family must adjust to the foreign land and build a new life from scratch.

This is one of those films that managed to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and then just sort of disappear.  That’s unfortunate because this was a very deserving award recipient.  The movie is absolutely engrossing, after just a few minutes of watching the audience is entranced, fascinated for the film’s whole running time by the plight of this family.  It’s a lot better than the similar “white people living in Africa” film Out of Africa that won the Best Picture Oscar back in 1985.

The Holocaust and its fallout have been the fodder for a lot of movies, many of them prone to saccharine sentimentality.  Because this movie focuses on the human story rather than wading through in the horrors of the event it works a lot better than most of the films that try to tackle that genocide.

45. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date: 9/19/2003
  • Director: Kim Ki-duk
  • Writer(s): Kim Ki-duk
  • Starring: Oh Yeong-su, Kim Young-min, Seo Jae-kyung, Kim Jong-ho, and Ha Yeo-jin
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Cineclick Asia
  • Country of Origin: South Korea
  • Language: Korean
  • Running Time: 103 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a pretty long, unwieldy title that seems more suited to a nature documentary than to a great film, but it is important first because it announces the film’s structure and secondly because it establishes the theme of cycles that runs throughout the film and throughout Buddhist philosophy.

The film is divided into five sections, and you can probably guess what each of them is called.  The setting is a Buddhist monetary that floats on a lake deep in the woods of South Korea that is usually only inhabited by a monk and his apprentice.  The five sections don’t refer to the seasons in a single year, the sections are spread out over the course of the life of the monk’s apprentice.

Over the course of the film, the many emotions of human life make themselves known and are explored through the stoic eye of the monk.

44. In the Bedroom

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 11/23/2001
  • Director: Todd Field
  • Writer(s): Todd Field and Robert Festinger
  • Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, and William Mapother
  • Based on: The short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 130 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Domestic dramas often don’t really do it for me, often because I just don’t see the same stakes involved in movies about suburbanites with petty problems, but In the Bedroom transcends those concerns.

What I appreciate about this film is how well it deals with the issues of grief and loss, both of which are things that are common in the human experience.  Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, and Marisa Tomei all earned well deserved Oscar nominations as people trying to cope with a death that occurs midway through the film.  I already feel like I’ve spoiled a bit too much so I won’t get into the theme that’s introduced in the ending.

This is not the kind of movie that blows you away from minute one and makes you want to watch it over and over again.  It’s more likely to elicit respect than love, but it’s hard to deny that  this is strong work.

43. Che

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 12/12/2008
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Writer(s): Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen
  • Starring: Benicio del Toro, Demián Bichir, Rodrigo Santoro, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Franka Potente, and Santiago Cabrera
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: IFC
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: Spanish
  • Running Time: 257 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35.1/1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Steven Soderberg can be a really fun and playful filmmaker, but when he wants to he can be dead serious, which is what he needed to be as he crafted the ultimate biography of the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.

Don’t be intimidated by the film’s four and a half hour running time, I went to see the movie in its entirety, but I’m pretty sure it would work just as well if not better when it’s split into two films (I’m mostly just keeping them as one on the list for the purposes of saving space).

The film’s first half, dubbed “The Argentine,” depicts Che as he is leading the revolution in Cuba while also flashing forward to a visit he made to the UN.  The Second half, dubbed “Guerrilla,” shows him as he attempts to lead an insurrection in Bolivia where he is ultimately trapped and killed by the CIA assisted Bolivian army (if that’s a spoiler for you, you should probably hit the books harder).

Individually these are both engrossing war films, but when they are compared, one begins to see a keen political message about the challenges of trying to interpolate people into your ideology when they aren’t yearning for change.

42. Gosford Park

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 12/26/2001
  • Director: Robert Altman
  • Writer(s): Julian Fellowes
  • Starring: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kelly Macdonald, Camilla Rutherford, Tom Hollander, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, and Clive Owen
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: USA Films
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 137 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

One of the great crimes of the unthinking Academy during this decade is when they blew their last real shot at giving Robert Altman a competitive Oscar in favor of giving one to fucking Ron Howard.

While he made two films afterwards, Gosford Park really is the last hurrah for the great filmmaker and in many way it’s the culmination of what he had been working towards his entire career.

Set in a 1934 English country house straight out of La Règle du jeu during a hunt.  The film examines the goings on both “above the stairs” and “below the stairs.”  There’s a murder late in the movie, but that’s  really just there to fulfill a trope in the genre that Altman is toying with, it isn’t really a mystery.

The real theme here is class and the ridiculous anachronisms that run this world.  Of course all of this is examined through a smart script and a typically brilliant Altman ensemble that features a who’s who of British talent from Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith to Clive Owen and Kelly Macdonald.

41. Adaptation

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 12/6/2002
  • Director: Spike Jonze
  • Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman
  • Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Cara Seymour, Tilda Swinton, and Brian Cox
  • Based on: The book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean
  • Distributor: Columbia
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 114 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

What probably put my opinion of this over the top was the moment I learned that “The Orchid Thief” was a real non-fiction book and not an invention of Charlie Kaufman’s twisted mind.  The idea here is that the act of adapting the book was so hard that instead he wrote a screenplay about himself writing the very screenplay that we are watching.  How meta is that shit?

Perhaps the most endearing character of the film is Kaufman’s fictional twin brother Donald, and both of the Kaufman’s are played by Nicholas Cage.  Anytime people decry the state of Nicholas Cage’s career, they always find themselves having to admit that he was actually good in Adaptation.  His performance really is great in the movie, he plays both of the roles uniquely and never uses makeup to differentiate the two of them.  Add to that a pair of really good performances by Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, who won an Oscar for his work here, and you have one wild and trippy ride from the master of weird meta-films.

40. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 11/30/2007
  • Director: Julian Schnabel
  • Writer(s): Ronald Harwood
  • Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, and Max von Sydow
  • Based on: The book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Language: French
  • Running Time: 112 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

I remember talking to a friend in late 2007 about the films I’d seen recently and when I mentioned having seen The Diving Bell and Butterfly to him he just looked at me and said “what kind of gay-ass movie is that?”

That’s not exactly a great attitude to have and I don’t support his choice of words there, but I could understand where he was coming from.  That title is intimidating, it makes the movie sound like the kind of art house movie that people are afraid of and the fact that it’s French doesn’t help it seem much more accessible.  But don’t be fooled by that title, this is a movie the kind of film that requires vast film literacy to understand, it’s a movie that I think anyone could watch and be inspired by.

The film tells the true story of a man who, at forty two years old, suffered a massive stroke and wound up entirely paralyzed, able to control only one eyelid.  The first half of the film is all about trying to relate to his situation and this is done through a daring first person perspective for a good forty-five minutes.  The second half deals with his triumph against his situation through the writing of a book via a blinking code he would use to dictate to an assistant.

This is certainly a ghastly situation to be in, but the film doesn’t make it seem ghastly, that this beautiful film can make you relate to someone in such a predicament is a testament to its greatness.

39. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 11/3/2006
  • Director: Larry Charles
  • Writer(s): Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, and Dan Mazer
  • Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, and Pamela Anderson
  • Based on: A character from the T.V. show “Da Ali G Show”
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 84 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Forget all the tools who ran the character into the ground by saying “my wife” in a bad impersonation.  Instead take yourself back to 2006 when this felt really fresh, even if you had already been introduced to the Borat character through Sacha Baron Cohen’s HBO series “Da Ali G Show.”

Any way you cut it, this needs to be appreciated.  First of all, this is completely different from any of the other mainstream comedies that were being put out when this was going on.  How many other comedians were drawing in huge audiences to see performance art experiments into human behavior?  I also love how this movie was completely willing to piss off and offend people, and not just through cheap gross out gags like most studio produced comedies.

Beneath all of that, this is some really smart satire both into American prejudices and into the limits of courtesy.  Plus, it’s funny as fuck.

38. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 1/25/2008
  • Director: Cristian Mungiu
  • Writer(s): Cristian Mungiu
  • Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, and Vlad Ivanov
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: IFC
  • Country of Origin: Romania
  • Language: Romania
  • Running Time: 113 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Every once in a while, a handful of films will seem to trickle out of a country that hadn’t previously on the radar of the cinema world and feel like a new wave.  Such a thing happened in a number of countries during this decade, but perhaps the most remarkable example is the body of work coming out of Romania, the best of which was the 2007 Palm D’or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.

The film is about a pair of girls, one of which is pregnant with an unwanted fetus, trying to procure an illegal abortion during a time when women did not have the right to choose in 1980’s Romania.

The film is first and foremost a suspense film, the procedure they are seeking can get them into major trouble and because it must be done in a less than medically sterile environment, it is also quite dangerous.  Director Cristian Mungiu uses long shots and a subdued atmosphere to drench the film in dread, we are always uneasy about how the situation will play out and if they will finish the night free and alive.  It’s not only a strong pro-choice argument, but also a masterful example of how to elicit suspense out of the mundane.

37. The Wrestler

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 12/17/2008
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Writer(s): Robert D. Siegel
  • Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Fox Searchlight
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 109 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Darren Aronofsky quickly proved himself to be cinematic wunderkind with his films Pi and Requiem for a Dream. Unfortunately his murky and overambitious third film, The Fountain, was a pretty big misstep.  The film had its supporters, but it was generally a failure both critically and commercially.  That kind of mess could have kept him down, but instead he made a back to basics independent film that kept his stylistic excesses maintaining the thematic heart at the center of his work.

Like the characters from Aronofsky’s first two films, Randy “The Ram” Robinson suffers from an addiction, an addiction to fame.  While he doesn’t end up injecting a wounded arm or have to go ass to ass in order to give him a fix, his addiction proves to be every bit as self destructive as the addictions from Requiem. I find it a bit odd that so many people seem to have interpreted the film as a Rocky-like inspirational underdog story. At its heart, the film is a tragedy about a man who succumbs to his self destructive tendencies, if you think about it, it’s a lot more like Raging Bull than Rocky.

I’ve purposely neglected to mention Mickey Rourke’s performance up to this point, not because it isn’t worthy but because discussions of this movie tend to overlook the film’s many other virtues in favor of a focus on the performance at the center.  The movie deserves more than that, it’s not just a performance piece, it’s a fascinating story being told really well by an important filmmaker.

36. The Lives of Others

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 3/23/2006
  • Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
  • Writer(s): Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
  • Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, and Ulrich Tukur
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Language: German
  • Running Time: 137 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

The topic of surveillance seems to have taken on a new meaning in this age of the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping.  Perhaps that is why Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film The Lives of Others struck such a chord in 2006.

Set in East Germany during the early 80s, the film follows a loyal Stasi agent assigned to do surveillance on a playwright that the government believes to be a closeted subversive.  He finds no such evidence but as he engages in this he begins to undergo an identity crisis of sorts as he begins to question the ethics of what he’s doing.

Set in a world of paranoia and focusing on a character that is forced to internalize his every thought, this film is remarkably clear in the way it conveys the transformation at its center.  As effective as this is as a spy film, it is even better as a study in the changes in a society’s values as well an exploration in the rewards and consequences of heroism.

35. The Proposition

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 10/6/2005
  • Director: John Hillcoat
  • Writer(s): Nick Cave
  • Starring: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston, David Wenham, and John Hurt
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: First Look
  • Country of Origin: Australia
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 104 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

John Hillcoat’s The Proposition openly invites its viewers to look at it as a western; it certainly looks like one, and treads on themes familiar to a genre, and has action that is not unlike that of a western.  But the movie isn’t a western, not technically anyway.

The film is set late in the 19th Century, but not in the old west, it is set on the Australian Outback  as it was going through a remarkably similar process of “taming.”  The film also doesn’t ignore the unsavory aspects of this “taming,” the abuses committed against the Aboriginal people is covered, and the harsh realities of frontier justice are also covered in this bloody tale.  But while all this is in the background, none of it is really what the movie is about either.

At the center of it all are the story of three outlaw brothers.  The youngest has been arrested by a soldier named Captain Stanley who comes to the middle brother with the titular proposition: bring him the eldest brother (the one who’s REALLY bad) and the youngest shall be spared.

John Hillcoat shoots scenery with all the necessary harshness and doesn’t hesitate from depicting the brutality at the center of the story.  This isn’t a film for the faint of heart, but it’s committed to its tone and will keep you thinking about who the true villain is up to the very end and beyond the credits.

34. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date: 11/14/2003
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Writer(s): Peter Weir and John Collee
  • Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy, and Edward Woodall
  • Based on: The novels “Master and Commander” and “The Far Side of the World” by Patrick O’Brian
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 138 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Part of what makes Master and Commander so remarkable is just how peerless it is within its genre.  I can’t think of a single nautical adventure of this kind that’s anywhere near as good as Peter Weir’s film.

This is an old fashioned film in many ways.  It’s based on an old book with old values and it stars someone that has a kind of gravitas that is rare in a movie star today.  The whole thing harkens back to the kind of epic that someone like Kirk Douglass would have starred in back in the 50s or 60s.  That’s probably what makes it so noteworthy, this was a very high budgeted film that was made for an older demographic in an age where pretty much every large movie seems to be made for 13 year old boys.

It paid the price for that at the box office, where it was soundly beaten by the vastly inferior but 13 year old targeted POTC films.  Because of that the likelihood of us seeing the franchise expand is slim, but at least we have this film to remind us that sometimes they can make ‘em like they used to.

33. Downfall

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 2/18/2005
  • Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
  • Writer(s): Bernd Eichinger
  • Starring: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler, and Thomas Kretschmann
  • Based on: The Memoirs of Traudl Junge and Melissa Müller
  • Distributor: Newmarket
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Language: German
  • Running Time: 155 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

It’s no secret that Adolf Hitler is the ultimate villain of the 20th Century, the mention of his very name can arouse some of the most angry and emotional responses and the act of comparing anyone to anything to Hitler still seems to be a powerful tactic in discourse.

Bringing such a loaded character to screen in any kind of way is a hell of a challenge, but it’s one that director Oliver Hirschbiegel was more than willing to tackle with his film Downfall, about the final week of the Third Reich.  At this final point of the war, Hitler is hiding in a bunker in the middle of Berlin, the Russians are marching in.  The end seems inevitable, but Hitler still stubbornly tries to fight it out until he and his followers reach a point where they can no longer pretend that there’s anything in their future but death.

Bruno Ganz takes on this detestable role and inhabits it, the Hitler here is a barking lunatic, but he’s a believable one.  What’s more, the period detail and production design here are off the chart.  This is a strong and unflinching take on an important, if not always pretty, moment of world history.

32. The Pianist

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 12/25/2002
  • Director: Roman Polanski
  • Writer(s): Ronald Harwood
  • Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox, and Michał Żebrowski
  • Based on: The book “The Pianist” by Władysław Szpilman
  • Distributor: Focus
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 150 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

The holocaust is a powerful but often misused subject to rest a film on.  To me, The Pianist is the single best film about the Jewish experience under the Nazi regime.  It’s better than The Reader, it’s better than Sophie’s Choice, and yes, it’s better than Schindler’s List.

Perhaps the basis for its success is that the film focuses in so closely to the experience of a single man rather than claiming to represent an entire people’s plight.  The fact that Władysław Szpilman suffered a lot less from the situation than many other Jews perhaps adds to palatability of the film.

Roman Polanski recreates the Warsaw Ghetto in all its horror and depicts the atrocities that happened there.  This all had an incredible personal connection to Polanski who, as a child, was forced to escape from a similar ghetto and live in a barn until the end of the war.

Polanski uses this film to exercise some of the demons of the past and one can tell how important the subject matter is to him.  But he never allows the film to go off course into the sentimental territory that other filmmakers have gone to.

31. Sideways

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 10/22/2004
  • Director: Alexander Payne
  • Writer(s): Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
  • Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh
  • Based on: The novel “Sideways” by Rex Pickett
  • Distributor: Fox Searchlight
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 127 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Alexander Payne’s Sideways was a pretty damn big hit for what it was.  It was not a large budget film, its cast was not wildly famous, and its humor was neither pandering nor easy to cut into a trailer.  In spite of all these setbacks the film managed to strike a chord with critics and audiences and its relative box office success in many ways launched the massive Fox Searchlight machine that would bring us Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and (500) Days of Summer,  Maybe that’s a bit of a troubled legacy, but Alexander Payne’s film was a much more genuine effort than any of those films that it spawned.

Perhaps the secret to the film’s success is that it deals with the central theme of friendship with a keen insight that not a lot of films have.  It also progresses the relationships at its center in a way that’s both assured and honest.  The cast is really stellar with each of the four performers shouldering a lot of the burden.  There are also a lot of smart and well earned laughs here, but the film doesn’t need to go out of its way to elicit them, they all exist organically within the texture of the work.

There’s just a perfection to the whole affair which few movies can try to touch.  Everything just came together to form a brilliantly charming piece of cinema, and while it doesn’t tackle a weighty issue or reinvent the language of cinema, it satisfies on a level that is extraordinarily rare.

30. Memento

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 3/16/2001
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Writer(s): Christopher Nolan
  • Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano
  • Based on: The short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan
  • Distributor: Summit
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 113 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

As cool as Memento was, it’s sometimes hard to forget just how much of an out of left field indie it was.  Made for less than five million dollars by an unestablished filmmaker, the film only emerged after getting great word of mouth on the festival circuit.  Its success made the film feel like a Reservoir Dogs for a new generation.

Like Reservoir Dogs the film became famous in part for its unconventional chronology.  Press notes would claim that the reverse chronology was done in order to make the audience empathize with the main character’s confusion.  That effect probably does work, but the chronology really serves a much simpler and more important purpose: to make the big twist come at the end rather than the middle.

But I’m not just choosing this because it’s chronology is clever, but because the crime yarn at the center is pretty damn neat as well.  The film perfectly captures a noir feeling but does it without directly borrowing that genre’s tropes, not unnaturally anyway. More importantly the film examines the emptiness of revenge in a way that I find refreshing as well.

29. The Wind that Shakes the Barley

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 3/16/2007
  • Director: Ken Loach
  • Writer(s): Paul Laverty
  • Starring: Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham, Padraic Delaney, and Orla Fitzgerald
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: IFC
  • Country of Origin: Ireland
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 127 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

This Ken Loach film about IRA activity in the 1920’s is a brilliant film on many levels.  It firstly functions as a great depiction of the historical events at its center, recounting a good decade’s worth of rich Irish history in a way that brings it to life on the screen.  On another level, it acts as a great human drama, telling the story of two brothers brought together and then split apart by the epic events at hand.  And finally, the film also functions as an allegory of sorts, using the IRA as a means of examining the terrorism issues of our own time.

The does not glorify the IRA, nor is it condemned.  The film shows both sides of the conflict as being capable of violence and brutality.  What the film is unequivocal about, is that people who see themselves as freedom fighters will not be dissuaded by violent retribution, if anything it shows such a reaction to do nothing but escalate a perpetual cycle of violence.

28. Inglourious Basterds

  • Year: 2009
  • Release Date: 8/21/2009
  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
  • Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, and Daniel Brühl
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: The Weinstein Company
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 152 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original ReviewHere

 

There was a lot of speculation as to why Quentin Tarentino chose to use such eccentric spelling in the title of his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds. Some thought it was to get around censors, some thought it was a homage to poorly translated Italian war movies, others thought it was simply a reflection of the ignorant antihero played by Brad Pitt. But I don’t think any of those are the true reason. I think he spelled the title that way in order to make it clear right from the start that this wasn’t a movie that was going to play by the rules. It isn’t going to follow the rules of grammar, it certainly isn’t going to follow the rules of history accuracy, but most importantly it isn’t going to follow the rules Hollywood set out which have made most mainstream films so damn formulaic in the last twenty years… the only rule he was going to follow were his own.

The result is a film that’s completely unconventional for a project of this size. This is a movie with a seventy million dollar budget which features twenty minute dialogue scenes, a significant amount of material that’s in foreign languages, and an ending that will be a complete head-scratcher for those unwilling to go along with Tarentino’s unconventional vision. Those who took its unconventional view of history too seriously miss the point completely, this isn’t a movie about WW2, this is a movie about the power (literal and figuratively) of the cinema and by extension art.

27. Into the Wild

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 9/21/2007
  • Director: Sean Penn
  • Writer(s): Sean Penn
  • Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Katherine Keener, and Hal Holbrook
  • Based on: The book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer
  • Distributor: Paramount Vantage
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 148 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Having missed out on his earlier directorial efforts (The Pledge and The Crossing Guard), I had not expected such an assured and confident hand behind the camera of Sean Penn’s film, Into the Wild.  Even if this weren’t an excellent recounting of a fascinating true story, the film would probably still have made the list for the beautiful scenery that Penn has captured.

The film, based on Jon Krakauer ‘s non-fiction account of the same title, tells the story of a young man named Christopher McCandless who found himself going on a long journey across the American landscape before dying in an ill-fated attempt to live in the wilds of Alaska.

Emile Hirsch introduced himself as one of the best young actors in the game today with his work here, and just about everyone he meets along is also played by a great character actor, especially noteworthy is a small role played by veteran actor Hal Holbrook late in the film.  The film also sports a really cool folksy soundtrack by Eddie Vedder.

Many misinterpreted the film as a simplistic celebration of McCandless’ life, but that’s a complete misinterpretation made by people prone to putting words in Sean Penn’s mouth.  At no point does the film ignore the less savory aspects of McCandless’ journey it doesn’t sugarcoat his eventual fate.  Overall, it’s a story about a young man who made a mistake and who probably could have learned from it had he survived.

26. Brokeback Mountain

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 12/9/2005
  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Writer(s): Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
  • Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams
  • Based on: The short story “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
  • Distributor: Focus
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 134 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

There is no disputing that Brokeback Mountain succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams at selling a gay themed film to mainstream audiences.  The film was a pathfinder, the film which pushed the envelope in its domain, the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner of out times.  But none of that is why it made the list.

The reason it did make the list is that it is a perfect example of directorial restraint.  Ang Lee does not resort to gimmickry and he isn’t in any hurry to move the story at an unnatural pace.  He simply lets us meet these guys, sympathize with their situation, and then allows their lives to play out.  Had he given in to sensationalistic urges the whole thing would have fell apart like a house of cards, but there are no missteps.

The refrain of those who disliked the film usually tends to be: “it’s just a romance.”  Ummm… yeah, and I guess Star Wars is “just” a science fiction film.

25. Vera Drake

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 10/22/2004
  • Director: Mike Leigh
  • Writer(s): Mike Leigh
  • Starring: Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, Eddie Marsan, Anna Keaveney, and Sally Hawkins
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Fine Line
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 125 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Most film lovers will eventually find a special place in their hearts for the films of director Mike Leigh, and this film was one of his very best.  Leigh famously works in an unconventional way, developing a script through extensive rehearsals with the actors he works with. It’s a great way to give the films the immediacy of improvisation while grounding them in some real planning.  This usually results in a deep film made by casts who are invested in their characters and who deliver absolutely stellar performances.

That’s certainly the case of Leigh’s 2004 film, Vera Drake, which tackles the tumultuous issue of abortion.  The message at the center is not unlike the message of the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days: that taking away a woman’s right to choose will still result in abortions, albeit dangerous ones that will greatly harm the woman effected.  The difference is that this film focuses less on visceral peril and more on the characters involved.  The woman at the center, is a middle –aged housewife in 1940’s London who has been helping girls obtain illegal abortions.  She’s done this out of a genuine sympathy for desperate woman who, unlike their rich contemporaries, must look underground in order to deal with their situation.

This is not a simple-minded film, the fact that Vera’s abortion method is more dangerous than she realizes is not sugar-coated and the morality of what she’s been doing is given hard questioning.  Imelda Staunton is excellent in the film, and the moody atmosphere sets up the society in the center of the film perfectly.  This is not a film that grabs you by the throat and demands your love, but if you stick with it the film’s great strengths pay off in big ways.

24. The Dark Knight

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 7/18/2008
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Writer(s): Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Morgan Freeman
  • Based on: The “Batman” comic book series created by Bob Kane
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 152 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

Some people will see this on the list and think it’s an awesome choice, others will see it as a concession to an out of control fan base.  I think after a year and a half of contemplation that this film’s place is clear and I’m not leaving it off just to avoid looking like a fanboy.

The fact that this is basically the best film ever made within its genre would earn this film a really high place on the list no matter what, but really it doesn’t even need that kind of handicapping, and judging by the seriousness with which it was made I doubt that Nolan would want such a concession.

Perhaps the film’s most high-brow accomplishment comes in the way it plays on the unease we have as a society about how to fight against uncompromising foes in this post-9/11 world.  I don’t want to reduce the film to a mere allegory, nor do I think the film really takes a side in the debate, but the theme is there for anyone looking for it.

But one doesn’t need to go that route if they don’t want to, the film also works really well as a straight ahead crime thriller, one that happens to be impeccably crafted and well acted all around.  Or if that’s also requires to much thinking, it also happens to be a top of the line action film in which a lot of stuff blows up real good.

23. Rachel Getting Married

  • Year: 2008
  • Release Date: 10/3/2008
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Writer(s): Jenny Lumet
  • Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe, and Debra Winger
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 114 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

 

If you looked at the trailer to Rachel Getting Married you’d find it pretty obvious that the studio was trying to sell it as a light and quirky indie along the lines of Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, but this really wasn’t that kind of movie at all.  It was darker and more complicated than that more audience friendly fare and certainly a lot more real.

The film makes for a particularly interesting contrast to Little Miss Sunshine, a film which clung to simplistic notions of family bonds overcoming all.  Family doesn’t overcome everything in the real world and it doesn’t overcome everything in this film.

One of the things I really like about the film is that the movie isn’t afraid to make its characters unlikable, in fact there are times when you really want to slap some sense into the film’s main character, Kym.

The film feels a bit like a cross between Robert Altman and Mike Leigh, it has the ensemble work of the former and the immediacy of the later.  The ensemble here seems to be working together like a well oiled machine and so much of the film feels authentic.

22. 25th Hour

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 12/19/2002
  • Director: Spike Lee
  • Writer(s): David Benioff
  • Starring: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox
  • Based on: The novel “25th Hour” by David Benioff
  • Distributor: Buena Vista
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 135 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

25th Hour’s biggest claim to fame is almost certainly the way that it documents what life was like in New York very shortly after the attacks of September 11th.  The New York that the story plays out over is filled with melancholy, there are constant reminders of what has happened; like the yuppie apartment that sits right across from Ground Zero that sits like a scar in the middle of the city.  All this was especially poignant because it was made really soon after the event, it was pretty much the first film to acknowledge what had happened, and that must have taken a lot of courage.

But even if this film wasn’t an important document of our times it still would have found a place on this list.  The film shows the less sexy side of crime narratives.  The main character is a drug dealer who’s been caught and sentenced to seven years in prison.  What plays out is the final day in his life as a free man.

There are some great actors here and it’s easily one of the best projects since He Got Game, and maybe even since Malcolm X.  And it’s all capped off by a perfectly executed and deliciously ambiguous ending.

21. The Departed

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 10/6/2006
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Writer(s): William Monahan
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin
  • Based on: Remake of Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s Infernal Affairs 
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 151 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Martin Scorsese was frequently criticized for “chasing Oscars” this decade, an accusation which I believe to be complete bullshit.  Gangs of New York is well known to have been a passion project he had been developing for decades and The Aviator was a film that he mainly attached himself to as a favor to Leonardo DiCaprio.  And if anything, the film he actually won the Oscar for was the least Academy friendly film he’d made in the last decade.  Seriously, a police thriller hadn’t won the award since 1971, and if you think something like this is Oscar-bait you either know nothing about that institution or you’re just looking for something to complain about.  And yet, strangely enough, this very un-Oscar-like film proved irresistible not only to the Academy but also to critics and audiences.

Much has also been made of the fact that this is a remake of a Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs.  Many claim that the original was superior, but I frankly don’t have the slightest clue why anyone would think that.  I saw Infernal Affairs about a year before Scorsese’s film came out and I was pretty unimpressed.  That film had a pretty cool premise, but it felt kind of wasted on a slow film with vanilla execution.  Scorsese’s version took that sweet premise and basically used it to construct the ultimate crime film.

I don’t want to turn this into too much of a Scorsese love-fest because I think William Monahan’s screenplay also had a whole lot to do with the film’s success.  The Mamet-like dialogue here is imminently quotable and it’s brought to life by a great cast.

Would I have rather seen Scorsese win for some of his earlier films, probably, but that’s not an entirely fair comparison.  Ultimately this is a work of genre filmmaking, and a great example of it, comparing it to Mean Streets and Goodfellas is to miss the point.

20. Pan’s Labyrinth

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 12/29/2006
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Writer(s): Guillermo del Toro
  • Starring: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, and Álex Angulo
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Picturehouse
  • Country of Origin: Mexico
  • Language: Spanish
  • Running Time: 119 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Guillermo del Toro sure likes monsters doesn’t he?  Though his dark 2006 fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth, didn’t have the budget of the Hellboy films he made for Hollywood it still manages to bring some freaky fucking monsters lurking throughout.  The faun itself is a really cool creation, as is the giant frog, and the pale man is a scary motherfucker.  And yet the true villain of the film is an all too human character, the main character’s stepfather, who’s a brutal fascist in the Spanish Civil war.

The idea of children in tough domestic situations using fantasy as a means of escape is hardly a new idea in this genre, but I think Del Toro does something pretty special with the theme here because he’s really willing to “go there.”  This is a kid with some real problems, not some brat whining about having to do some chores and the fantasies she delves into are similarly “out there.”  The film manages to use fantasy to dark means without resorting to vulgar Todd McFarlane extremes.

19. Kill Bill

  • Year: 2003/2004
  • Release Date: 10/10/2003 / 4/16/2004
  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
  • Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Sonny Chiba, Vivica A. Fox, Gordon Liu, and Julie Dreyfus
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 247 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

It was a tough call deciding whether or not to count this as one film or two, but I ultimately decided to count it as one on the virtue of it having originally been written and even filmed as a single project, besides, this opened up a slot for an extra film.

It was no trivial decision however, as I think this amounts to a whole lot more as a single entity than it did as separate halves.  Vol 1 was an amazing action film filled with great set pieces and audacious moments, but it was easy to under-rate… at least until Vol 2 came out and revealed that this was a much more clever story than it initially appeared.

It didn’t seem like it at first but The Bride turned out to be a really interesting character and Bill turned out to be more than he appeared.  Even the film’s central revenge theme turned out to be a whole lot more intelligent than it first appeared.

Overall, this movie is the ultimate, if maybe not the best, Quentin Tarentino experience.  The film is a kaleidoscope of pop culture and a celebration of cinema.

18. Amores Perros

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 3/30/2001
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Writer(s): Guillermo Arriaga
  • Starring: Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Álvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche, Jorge Salinas, and Adriana Barraza
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Lions Gate
  • Country of Origin: Mexico
  • Language: Spanish
  • Running Time: 153 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Alejandro González Iñárritu has the interesting distinction of being the only filmmaker to have his complete filmography represented on this list.  As cool as his other two films are, the best of them was probably the first: Amores Perros, which translates to Love’s a Bitch.

The film tells three almost entirely separate stories that intersect only at one central point in the film.  All three of these (especially the first and third) are interesting and they all thematically link together in fascinating ways.  The stories respectively deal with  the three stages of the adult age spectrum (adolescence, middle age, and old age), the three different classes in society (middle class, wealth, and poverty) and most importantly they  deal with three different forms of love (romantic, domestic, and familial).

Aside from all that, I love the film’s gritty depiction of Mexico City.  This is the world third largest urban area and we’ve hardly ever seen it depicted on film before this decade.  The film is in many ways the first of a triumphant wave of Latin American cinema that emerged over the course of the decade.

17. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 9/21/2007
  • Director: Andrew Dominik
  • Writer(s): Andrew Dominik
  • Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Zooey Deschanel, and Sam Rockwell
  • Based on: The novel “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” by Ron Hansen
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 159 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

When a movie has a title as unwieldy as this one, you have to wonder why the filmmakers insisted on such un-commercial name.  In this case it was simply essential to the film’s central message.  Firstly, the title perfectly mimics the kind of faux-elegance that was rampart in late 19th century dime-novels, the kind of books that created the legend of gunfighters like Jesse James, exactly the kind of mythos this film completely de-glamorizes. Secondly it firmly establishes Robert Ford as the main character rather than Jesse James, and makes the assassination the center of the film. Most importantly, it reminds the viewer of what Robert Ford’s legacy is, that of a coward.

That’s the film’s central irony, Robert Ford wasn’t any more of a coward than Jesse James but he didn’t have the media on his side.  The film is all about how legacies are formed, but if you don’t want to worry about that its still a great human tragedy.  It’s also filmed beautifully and has some really raw violence in it.

16. Mystic River

  • Year: 2003
  • Release Date: 10/15/2003
  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Writer(s): Brian Helgeland
  • Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney
  • Based on: The novel “Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 137 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

I was never a huge appreciator of Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker before this decade.  You have to remember that up until 2003 his directorial work mostly consisted of a lot of movies that were vehicles for his acting career and he’d kind of found himself starring in a lot of medium to very good potboilers.  Of course he’d made Unforgiven, but that sort of seemed like a fluke.  Oddly though, his having aged seems to have been a blessing in disguise, as he’s been forced to remain behind camera his skills have really bloomed and Mystic River was the film that announced a pretty big winning streak for him.

Mystic River is a pretty decent police procedural on its surface, not really a mystery, but a pretty good murder investigation all the same.  But that’s not really what’s important.  The bigger story is that of three childhood friends, who’s troubled past comes back to influence current events.  Tensions started in their youth bubble up during the current crisis.  It’s high drama set in a Boston neighborhood, and that location adds a lot to the movie as well.  I think what’s so special about Eastwood’s current output is simply that he’s been bringing an old Hollywood style into a new age.  I’m all for CGI and jump cuts and stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to see a movie where they just let the material take front and center and stay out of the way.

15. The Royal Tenenbaums

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 12/14/2001
  • Director: Wes Anderson
  • Writer(s): Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
  • Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Danny Glover
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Buena Vista
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 109 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

While he’s been faltering as of late, Wes Anderson started this decade as one of the best and most promising filmmakers.  His style, which incorporated bright colors, montages, and cool classic rock choices felt like nothing that had come before… at least if you hadn’t been familiar with the French New Wave when you first saw it.  I think there’s no doubt that he’s had a huge influence on the more populist “independent” films and really brought the term “quirky” into the film lexicon in a way that it hadn’t been before.

The Royal Tenenbaums is easily my favorite of Anderson’s films, possibly because it’s his purest mix of comedy and pathos.  There’s a solid story about a troubled family underneath all the quirk, and the casting here is just about perfect.  Gene Hackman is especially great in the movie and the whole thing just feels like the culmination of everything that Anderson was working toward in his first two films.  The music selection is spot on, the stylistic choices all work effectively without becoming obnoxious and all the characters are really balanced.

14. The New World

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 12/25/2005
  • Director: Terrence Malick
  • Writer(s): Terrence Malick
  • Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, and Christian Bale
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: New Line
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 135 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Terrence Malick’s name has been synonymous with beautiful lyricism since 1971, and it must have taken guts to come back after a thirty year hiatus only to keep on doing what made him great, but to do it even better.

The New World finds Malick in his element, the clash of man and nature has always been the defining theme of his work and what could be a more pure analysis of this than the clash of English settlers and an un-colonized tribe?

All the Malick staples are there: the voice over, the shots of nature, the deliberately paced and visual storytelling.  But Malick isn’t the meanderer people accuse him of being, he doesn’t let his style get in the way of the actual storytelling and he isn’t afraid to throw a skirmish in when its needed.

The film’s depiction of the Powhatan Indians and of the early stages of Jamestown seem wholly authentic and the final act of the film, which turns the table on the film’s title is breathtaking.

13. Traffic

  • Year: 2000
  • Release Date: 12/27/2000
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Writer(s): Stephen Gaghan
  • Starring: Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Based on: The mini-series “Traffik” created by Alastair Reid
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 148 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Politically, Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic almost feels like a relic from the last decade.  Rightly or wrongly the issues in America’s drug policy kind of fell out of public debate after the events of 9/11.  But the film itself hardly feels like a relic, in fact it seems to have provided a template for a decade of issue-movies inspired by paranoid 70s thrillers.

Examining the drug trade at all levels, the film has a great authenticity to it.  We see Benico Del Toro as a Mexican cop trying to make a difference, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a wife of a drug trafficker who will do anything to maintain her lifestyle, Don Cheadle as a frustrated DEA agent investigating her, and Michael Douglass as a Drug Czar who finds that his daughter is addicted to the very stuff he’s trying to keep off the streets.

These are not disconnected stories that blend together though Altman-esque coincidence, they are blended together in a very realistic way and the fact that these disparate characters are so inter-connected is a big part of the message.  Ever the experimenter, Soderbergh differentiates the three threads by giving them divergent, yet oddly similar visual looks.

12. Children of Men

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 12/25/2006
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón
  • Writer(s): Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby
  • Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam
  • Based on: The novel “The Children of Men” by P.D. James
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: UK
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 109 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

I think it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this has formed such a great reputation.  It’s pretty much the film that film buffs, internet fanboy types, and critics had been wanting to see made for the last ten years.

This is hard science fiction and one of the more convincing looks at a dystopian near future.  The hook of course is that this takes place in a future where no children are being born, but when I look back and remember the film that’s usually the last thing I think about.

The first thing I think about is the film’s bleak tone.  This is set in a world that is about fifty years away from going out with a whimper, and yet life is sort of going on.  That veneer of continued peace is really sort of a ruse, step out of the urban areas and its utter anarchy.

I wouldn’t exactly call this an action movie, but it has two of the most technically proficient set-pieces I’ve ever seen.  This is a science fiction film made for and by adults and it has some really clear political messages as well.

11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  • Year: 2004
  • Release Date: 3/19/2004
  • Director: Michel Gondry
  • Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman
  • Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Focus
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 109 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

Is the relationship between Joel and Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the definitive romance of our times?  Given the neurotic nature of their affair, I kind of hope not, but its no coincidence that this messy pairing struck a chord with a generation of  hipsters who like to over-think their relationships.

At this point, Charlie Kaufman was a pretty well established talent and this film’s plot sounded suitably trippy.  But there was a question mark over the film, and that was Michel Gondry.  Gondry had taken on a Kaufman script before with the film Human Nature, but that movie was sort of a mess.  So its pretty interesting that as years go by this feels less and less like a Charlie Kaufman film and more and more like a Michel Gondry film, because he sort of steals the show in a peculiar way.  Many of the images in the film became instantly iconic and the movie singlehandedly elevated Gondry from being a clever music video punk to being a genuinely important filmmaker.

Science Fiction and Romance are rarely mixed, and when it is it rarely does so with remotely believable relationships.  Eternal Sunshine doesn’t necessarily feel like a Science Fiction film because of this, but the way it examines the limits of technology when dealing with human emotions is true to the genre in a way that a lot of space operas are not.

10. Minority Report

  • Year: 2002
  • Release Date: 6/21/2002
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Writer(s): Scott Frank and Jon Cohen
  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow
  • Based on: The short story “The Minority Report” by Phillip K. Dick
  • Distributor: Dreamworks
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 145 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

A pet peeve that some people had with Spielberg’s 2002 science fiction opus was that it was set a mere fifty years in the future and yet it had a host of futuristic technologies all over the place like controller gloves, living cereal boxes, and futuristic cars.  All of it seemed ridiculously unattainable technologies… but here we are just eight years later and what do we have: the Xbox Natal (which many have compared to those magic gloves), that lit up Esquire cover (much like the cereal boxes), and more effort is being put into making the cars of the future than anyone would have expected.

But all that’s just window dressing.  The real core of this is a fascinating meditation on the importance of civil liberties, one that has all the more resonance in a post 9/11 era in which we are pondering how to punish people before they commit the crimes they’re being punished for.

Additionally, this is the very model of how intelligent filmmaking and creative science fiction can co-exist with populist entertainment in the same movie.  This is my exhibit A whenever people tell me I should judge a movie less harshly simply because it’s a summer action film.  If Spielberg can entertain people with a smart movie this effectively, Michael Bay has no excuse.

9. A History of Violence

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 9/23/2005
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Writer(s): Josh Olson
  • Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt
  • Based on: The graphic novel “A History of Violence” by John Wagner and Vince Locke
  • Distributor: New Line
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 96 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

For most of his career, director David Cronenberg became famous for making horror films with  distinctly perverse sexual undertones, but over the course of the 90s he slowly began to drop the horror trappings while continuing to explore the perverse themes.  This evolution came to fruition this decade particularly with his 2005 effort A History of Violence.

The theme of confused identity surges throughout the films of this decade, from the warped perspective of Memento’s Leonard Shelby to the mixed up covers of The Departed’s main characters.  A History of Violence is the pinnacle of this theme in this decade.  Cronenberg masterfully reveals the existential hang-ups of his main character, your perception of him by the end is completely altered from what you expect in the beginning.

Then there’s the violence.  The killings in this movie are not action scenes in the conventional sense.  They aren’t fast paced duels, and they’re really graphic.  There’s a real sense of lives coming to an end whenever a character dies.  It’s tough stuff, and yet… you love every minute of it.  There’s a genuine visceral rush to watching the deaths, and after a little while you start feeling guilty for having this much fun while watching increasingly unpleasant acts of violence.

That primal reaction that people have to violence is  what the movie is all about and the fact that Cronenberg makes the audience confront this while they’re watching is pretty damn unique.

8. Y Tu Mamá También

  • Year: 2001
  • Release Date: 6/8/2001
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón
  • Writer(s): Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón
  • Starring: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, and Diego Luna
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: IFC
  • Country of Origin: Mexico
  • Language: Spanish
  • Running Time: 106 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

If there’s one genre of film I tend to have a bit of a pet peeve against it’s the coming of age story.  All too often coming of age stories are self indulgent, autobiographical,  nostalgia trips made by filmmakers who are under the mistaken impression that their youth is interesting to anyone else.

While most coming of age stories annoy me, this one is a pretty huge exception.  I suspect that the reason this one succeeds where others fail is that  it doesn’t seem to be autobiographical… at all.  Alfonso Cuarón and his co-writer Carlos Cuarón clearly have a whole lot more on their mind than nostalgia with this material.

For one thing, the addition of a voice-over is ingenious.  While the characters may cruise through rural Mexico with nothing but poon tang on their mind, the film reveals that their exploits exist in a world that’s a lot harsher than they realize.  That’s what this movie is ultimately about, the way the upper classes are blind to the suffering of those around them.

That said, those looking to ignore politics will also see a very good story about adolescence and friendship.  Even the coming of age stuff works really well here.  Most coming of age movies depict sexual awakening whereas this is a film about sexual maturation.

7. The Lord of the Rings

  • Year: 2001/2002/2003
  • Release Date: 12/19/2001 / 12/18/2002 / 12/17/2003
  • Director: Peter Jackson
  • Writer(s): Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens
  • Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, and Sean Bean
  • Based on: The “Lord of the Ring” novels by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Distributor: New Line
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 558 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

In looking back on a decade of cinema, there’s really no overlooking Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The question is how to analyze it, as three films or as one.  While some like to single out individual pieces, I think the only way to really judge it is in its entirety.  They were made and financed as one film and the stories blend together seamlessly.

I probably don’t even need to talk about the film’s production values and effects, they’re elements that almost everyone agrees are stellar.  Probably the most important thing about what Jackson got right was to avoid turning the movies into green-screen fests like the Star Wars prequels.

Also important is the cast, which works in perfect unison.  No one was miscast and everyone seemed able to juggle what must have been an extremely hectic schedule.

The score managed to work excellently and all of the less effects related technicals are spot on.  The script chooses exactly the right things from Tolkien’s novels to take out and what to leave in.  Basically, this is a movie where absolutely everything managed to go right, Jackson made all the right decisions and everything fell into place.  In many ways the film is simply a miracle.

6. No Country for Old Men

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 11/9/2007
  • Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
  • Writer(s): Joel and Ethan Coen
  • Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald, and Woody Harrelson
  • Based on: The novel “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy
  • Distributor: Paramount Vantage
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 122 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

The Coen brothers were really floundering at the beginning of the decade.  The first four movies they made this millennium ranged from respectable near-misses (The Man Who Wasn’t There) to critical and financial bombs (The Lady Killers).  For a minute there, it seemed like the guys were washed up.  Then they made a movie that was greater than anything they’d made before.

Adapting a Cormac McCarthy novel (their first adaptation, unless you count O Brother), the Coens are able to use their unique sensibilities to color scenes without breaking the drama for random quirkiness.  This is one of the most tense thrillers we’re likely to ever see.

Of course no discussion of this film would be complete without mentioning the character of Anton Chigurh, one of the greatest villains to ever grace the screen.  Javier Bardem gives a remarkable performance as this remorseless killer, he’s a haunting presence.

But this isn’t just a movie about a guy with some cash being chased by a guy with a shotgun.  This is a movie about how older and supposedly wiser people view the world.  Is the world really going to hell in a handbasket, or is it all a matter of perception?

5. United 93

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 4/26/2006
  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Writer(s): Paul Greengrass
  • Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Christian Clemenson, Cheyenne Jackson, J. J. Johnson, Sarmed al-Samarrai, and David Alan Basche
  • Based on: N/A
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 110 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

 

I don’t think anyone will deny that the single most important event of the decade was the attacks of September 11th and it took five years for someone to tackle this landmark event, even then there was all sorts of talk about whether the project was “too soon.”

As it turns out, it wasn’t too soon, in fact it maybe wasn’t soon enough.  I initially didn’t think that Paul Greengrass would be the right match for this material, but the guy proved me to be completely wrong on that front.  The film is made in a way that’s completely antithetical to the typical conventions of the Hollywood disaster film.  There are no celebrities, no embellishments, no artificial dialogue and no unnecessary set pieces.  This is more like a re-enactment down to the point where actual participants in the event are cast as themselves.

Were it dealing with different subject matter this probably would have been like one of those Gus Van Sant movies where nothing really happens for two hours, but that’s not what this is.  In fact when you consider just how real they’ve made anything it’s surprising just how engrossing this movie is as some warped kind of thriller.  There is an undeniable visceral quality to how Greengrass has made this movie, the tension builds throughout the movie and when those passengers finally start to charge the cockpit you really just want to jump out of your seat and let out a cathartic scream.  There have been better movies made this decade but I know of no movie in this or any other decade that so viscerally grabs the attention of its audience.

4. Letters from Iwo Jima

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 12/20/2006
  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Writer(s): Iris Yamashita
  • Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryō Kase, and Nakamura Shidō
  • Based on: The book “Picture Letters from Commander in Chief” edited by Tsuyuko Yoshida
  • Distributor: Warner Brothers
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: Japanese
  • Running Time: 141 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

Clint Eastwood’s Flags for our Fathers was one of the most anticipated films of 2006.  It was the favorite to win the Oscar that year and everyone expected it to be one of the best world war 2 films since Saving Private Ryan.  Needless to say, that movie underwhelmed.  But one of the strangest bits of news to come out of the hype from that movie was news that Eastwood would simultaneously make a movie about the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective.  To the shock of everyone, that side-project ended up being significantly better than the headliner.  Not only that, but it was one of the best World War 2 films ever made.

They say that history is written by the winners, but this film is proof that it maybe shouldn’t always be that way.  Letters From Iwo Jima is a death-soaked movie about people who are prepared to die but who serve out their duty in the face of the inevitable.  Though it was meant as a companion to “Flags,” I think that it’s actually closer to 2005’s Downfall in many ways.

But this is not just a movie about losing a war.  It’s also a movie about two people on this doomed island and how they react to their situation.  One is a lowly recruit named Saigo and the other is an ingenious General named Tadamichi Kuribayashi, played brilliantly by Ken Watanabe.  The film has a lyrical, almost Malick-esque quality to it.  It’s a powerful exploration into the fateful events of that moment in history.

3. Munich

  • Year: 2005
  • Release Date: 12/23/2005
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Writer(s): Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
  • Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, and Geoffrey Rush
  • Based on: The book “Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team” by George Jonas
  • Distributor: Universal
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 163 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: N/A

The 2000s brought the concepts of terrorism and Middle East conflict home for Americans in a way it hadn’t before, but it was not a new phenomenon.  The events of 9/11 were rooted in a major world conflict that had been going on for decades (some would argue centuries) beforehand.

Steven Spielberg’s Munich is the greatest film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I’m sure that it required a lot of courage to make.  Spielberg is on record as a pretty proud Jewish man, but de doesn’t let that blind him to the complexities of the situation.  The movie’s fair outlook on the issues lead to criticism of both sides of the conflict, proof-positive of an honest exploration if there was one.

Like many people, Spielberg is confused and frustrated by the seeming hopelessness of the conflict.  As the film follows a revenge squad on a mission to eliminate accused terrorists in Europe in the wake of the ’77 Olympic massacre, the Eric Bana character finds that all he’s participated is the furtherance of the cycle of violence.  That such as story was being told just as America was beginning to learn similar lessons only adds to the provocative nature of the work.

This project clearly meant more to Spielberg than the average film, and he directs the movie with a special intensity.  The craftsmanship is right up there with the director’s best work, outside of all the politics is a fully functional thriller that works better than most pure suspense film.

I don’t for the life of me understand why this didn’t capture the zeitgeist of the public when it first came out.  When it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar it almost seemed like an afterthought and half the critics seemed completely uninterested for reasons I can’t beginning to fathom.  Many just dismissed it over one mildly problematic scene towards the end, one of the most ridiculous acts of missing the forest for the trees I’ve ever seen.

2. There Will Be Blood

  • Year: 2007
  • Release Date: 12/26/2007
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Writer(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, and Kevin J. O’Connor
  • Based on: The novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Language: English
  • Running Time: 158 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original Review: Here

It became a bit of a cliché to say that Paul Thomas Anderson re-wrote the language of cinema with There Will Be Blood, and that probably is a bit hyperbolic, but this is a movie that incites such passion for a reason.  This is one of those rare movies that can function as high art while still being fairly accessible to a wide audience.

The film has the trappings of a period drama, but the movie never falls into an easy groove.  There’s a gothic undertone to the whole affair, and Jonny Greenwood’s completely unconventional score gives the film an aura of unease throughout.  Then there’s Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, which is up there with the greats.

Also, The film’s clash of oil-based capitalism and religious exploitation also resonates strongly with the tenor of our times.

Many are comparing the movie to the works of Kubrick, some compare it to Chinatown, but the movie I most find myself comparing There Will Be Blood to is Apocalypse Now.  Like that Coppola masterpiece, this film seems to exist on a subconscious, almost primal level as we explore the darker side of humanity.

1. City of God

  • Year: 2006
  • Release Date: 4/26/2006
  • Director: Fernando Meirelles
  • Writer(s): Bráulio Mantovani
  • Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Alice Braga, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen, and Douglas Silva
  • Based on: The novel “City of God” by Paulo Lins
  • Distributor: Miramax
  • Country of Origin: Brazil
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Running Time: 130 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original Review: N/A

For those who don’t know, City of God is a Brazilian film from the director Fernando Meirelles which chronicles three generations of gang violence on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

To be labeled the number one film of an entire decade means being great on almost every conceivable level.  One must ask if your choice fits that criteria, and I think City of God does.

On a narrative level the movie succeeded like few others.  The complex script manages to weave multiple stories spanning dozens of years and brings them all together at one moment in an incredibly satisfying way.  That all of this are fit into a lean 130 minutes is a testament to the film’s dense but fast moving script.  Ignoring that, the stories behind the people who inhabit the movie are fascinating all on their own.

On a technical level, the film also succeeds on an almost unparalleled level.  Meirelles shoots the film aggressively, bringing just the right technique to almost every shot of the film.  Many movies throughout the decade worked hard to strike just the right balance between documentary style grit and Hollywood watchability, and I think this was the movie to crack the code.  The influence of the film’s visual style is clear in subsequent films like Man on Fire and especially Slumdog Millionaire.

On a political level the film is relevant to the decade as it exemplifies an interest in the third world that emerged over the last ten years.  The film fits well a trend from the decade of muscular Latin American films, but at the same time it feels like it’s above that and above many of its peers.  The film ultimately implicates the cycle of violence as the result of crushing poverty and a lack of options on the part of the participates.  That’s not a wildly original message, but there’s something very original about seeing a cycle like this play out right in front of the audience.

So we have a film with great writing, great filmmaking, and political relevance but the same can be said about a lot of movies in my top ten of the decade, so what sets this one apart?  What made this one rise to the top?

Well, that’s a matter of what the movie means to me on a personal level.  Like most people, I didn’t get a chance to see the film until after it earned a number of surprise nominations at the 2003 Academy Awards.  That honor was enough to get the movie a screen at my local multiplex (which had always been a relatively adventurous multiplex).  I went to the movie knowing to expect something great, but I didn’t expect something as transcendent as this.

That the film came from a director who was up to this point an unknown quantity made this all the more shocking.  It felt like Meirelles would be a talent for the ages and the thought of being with the guy from the very beginning was incredibly tantalizing.  There was a perhaps naïve sense of discovery that the film gave me and I loved watching a real following form behind the film as it rose to prominence over the course of a decade.  I’ve recommended the film to dozens of people and have rarely heard anyone refer back to the film in anything less than glowing language.

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One response to “The Top 100 Movies of the 2000s

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