Inspired by friends and reviewers who made “best of the decade” lists toward the end of last year, and despite running a bit behind the trend (blame Omar), Russell and I have had a blast (and a couple of fights) over the past several days putting together a list of our top fifty movies of the 2000’s.
I posted them in a note on Facebook last night, but kept the commentary to a minimum and thought (especially since this final list results from a big last-minute reorganization I did by myself and only tweaked slightly where Russell took issue) it might be fun to say a bit more here.
So this is what we came up with:
50 Night Watch (2004)
We loved this wildly creative Eastern European vampire epic, and I fought hard to keep it among these other amazing films.
49 Bowling for Columbine (2002)
An ambitious, unexpectedly personal documentary from a controversial filmmaker we thought deserved a nod.
48 The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
In the particular kind of loud, colorful, lewd comedy that got so popular last decade, this was our favorite. Knocked Up also nearly made this list, and The Hangover was almost one of Russell’s honorable mentions.
47 Almost Famous (2000)
Well-made, cult-followed, and full of classic millennial nostalgia.
46 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
When this came out, it made us roar with laughter and looked like nothing we’d ever seen before. Judged apart from its sequels, it’s exactly the kind of icon that belongs on this list.
45 Love Actually (2003)
A decade of bad romantic comedies basically tried to be this perfect one.
44 Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
This was our favorite of the crazy, classically Tarantino flicks in this modern martial arts-revenge saga, so we used it to represent them both.
43 Ocean's Eleven (2001)
This one made the list mostly for its staying power. It’s still incredibly slick, appealing, and watchable today.
42 Gangs of New York (2002)
I have a particular soft spot for this sweeping urban epic with its jaw-dropping performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Go figure…
41 Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Another one with fantastic staying power, this was a leader in the great revival of musicals last decade, but stands out from most others in sheer creativity.
40 Iron Man (2008)
The best-reviewed superhero movie until The Dark Knight, this one resurrected Robert Downey Jr. and has a serious kick-ass factor.
39 Wall-E (2008)
We could probably have every Pixar movie on this list, but to be fair we let this revolutionary, beautiful, moving love story stand in for a few.
38 The Bourne Identity (2002)
The best, smartest action franchise of the decade.
37 Walk the Line (2005)
To represent the ever-present biopic (of which we aren’t always fans), we chose this great story with fine acting and even better music.
36 Frost/Nixon (2008)
I like small, low-budget movies about the small, low-budget moments at the heart of history. This is one of the best (but several more are still to come.)
35 City of God (2002)
This one’s a favorite of Russell and many of our cinephile friends. My sense that Slumdog Millionaire does a bit better at something similar kept this low-ish on the list, but I still loved it (besides, this one’s actually true.)
34 The Incredibles (2004)
Our other favorite Pixar release, this joined in the superhero fun without a moment of cliché.
33 Super Size Me (2004)
I love documentaries, and this one is so personal, fun (yet gross), and relevant to everyday life that I had to see it included.
32 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Russell only saw this recently, and I’m so glad he agrees that it’s the best acted, most beautiful, and generally greatest export of a certain kind of martial arts film to America.
31 Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Outstripping its also excellent companion Flags of our Fathers by a mile, this evocative and beautifully-acted story shows the grimness this past decade brought to the war movie.
30 Michael Clayton (2007)
An outstanding twist on the otherwise tired business law genre.
29 Lost in Translation (2003)
We love this one’s atmosphere and quiet comedy, and between the themes of aging, disconnectedness, and indecision, it’s as 2000’s as they come.
28 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Its ensemble cast, family dysfunction, and Wes Anderson aesthetic captured the decade’s taste for quirk and paved the way for many other classics.
27 Spirited Away (2001)
I kept ranking this Miyazaki favorite higher and higher for its singular beauty, creativity, and representation of a decade that saw us all fall back in love with animation.
26 Children of Men (2006)
The subject and scope of this dystopian thriller couldn’t be more representative of the decade. I adored it (go figure) and would have ranked it higher, but Russell only let it climb this high due to its rave reviews.
25 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This ranks near or at the top of many people’s lists of movies. We buy that memory and forgetting are among the decade’s most important themes, but think there is too much noteworthy filmmaking elsewhere for this to win.
24 Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Possibly the most fun I had at the movies all decade! I must have watched this five times with different groups of rapturous friends. And its repertoire of 90’s and 00’s influences is magnificent.
23 The Wrestler (2008)
A searing, heartbreaking little movie, one of the most anticipated ever in our household. On a list of best performances of the decade, this would shoot straight to the top.
22 The Hurt Locker (2009)
The decade finally brings us a film worthy of the futility and life-changing brutality of the wars that dominated it.
21 Gran Torino (2008)
Though understandably controversial, this movie stays near to our hearts by reminding us of real men we’ve reluctantly held in them.
20 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Part raunchy, catchy drag-rock spectacle, part unexpectedly personal journey of identity and love: where has this been all our lives?
19 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
We loved this sprawling third-world epic combining harsh reality with gleeful childhood resilience and goofiness with genuine magic.
18 Star Trek (2009)
In a decade of series reboots, the most improbable, ambitious, and anticipated turned out the very best. I would rank this much higher; Russell says time will tell.
17 Amelie (2001)
Treating events in 1990’s Europe with the playfulness of perspective, this unconventional love story combining cutesiness with naughtiness still begs to be watched.
16 Memento (2000)
Another movie about forgetting, this time combined with a murder mystery (as only the 2000’s could) and filmed unforgettably (as no one had before, has since, or will again.)
15 Stranger than Fiction (2006)
Apart from bringing us the sexiest female character of the decade, this seriously underrated literary comedy has some of the greatest smarts, self-awareness, and genre-busting acting the 2000’s had to offer.
14 O Brother Where Art Thou (2000)
Also underrated and still peerless in comedy, creativity, appearance, and soundtrack.
13 Crash (2004)
Tackles race issues head on and makes us cry and cry.
12 Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Offers so many of our favorite things: sports, girl power, controversy, and Clint Eastwood.
11 Milk (2008)
Incredibly timely and unbelievably acted, a joyous, fearless film that packs an emotional punch in terms of both characters past and politics present.
10 An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
A lot of what happens to our planet, big and small, in this decade and the next will be traced back to this movie.
9 Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Another small movie with a big lesson for us all. I loved the messages, characters, and rhythms of this one and luckily didn’t have to fight hard to give it this ranking.
8 The Dark Knight (2008)
In terms of scale and popularity alone, this would have been this decade’s Titanic. Happily, in other areas—like acting by icon Heath Ledger—it blew Titanic out of the water, so to speak. This represents the 2000’s in so many ways: it’s a superhero movie that changes our expectations of superheroes, recognizes that action doesn’t negate expectations for good acting and writing anymore, and engages with deep questions of what exactly are good and evil.
7 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Another big-budget, high-tech crowd pleaser. Except in this case, the crowd included legions of die-hard fans of the beloved literary series. Peter Jackson exceeds all their expectations with this gorgeous, thrilling middle film we’ve chosen to represent the trilogy.
6 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
I would have ranked this “little comedy that could” within the top five: its emphatic stance that dysfunctional families are some of the best ones makes it a quintessential 2000’s story for me. Blonder heads prevailed, but we did agree that the superb ensemble cast, hysterical script, and underdog story (both within plot and without, in critical success) make this a winner.
5 Brokeback Mountain (2005)
This powerful and timely romance definitely wins tearjerker of the decade. The soundtrack alone had me spontaneously breaking down for weeks. Nevertheless (or therefore?), we consider it the true American love story: a love that outlasts but can’t overcome great adversity. We also wish we knew how to quit Heath Ledger.
4 28 Days Later (2002)
We may have ranked this higher than anyone else on the planet would, but I stand by it. Turning every weakness of our beloved zombie genre on its head, the film creates a nightmarish apocalyptic vision still scary after years and years. Add to that a relentless pace, brilliant acting (who among us can forget the scene after Frank looks up at the dead bird?) and timely yet timeless political undertones, and you get something surprisingly watchable time after time.
3 Traffic (2000)
An ambitious, heart-wrenching treatise on the drug wars that had almost flawless reviews and should totally have won the Best Picture Oscar over Gladiator (conspicuously missing from this list, we know.) We hadn’t seen it in years, but found there were multiple scenes we would never forget. I’ve wanted to watch it again since seeing it near the top of others’ lists of favorites, though I expect to be depressed by how little things off-screen have changed since it was made.
2 No Country for Old Men (2007)
This movie does something I would never have guessed possible outside Cormac McCarthy’s prose: it tells an ugly story, set in an ugly place, signaling ugly changes in the ways of the world—yet does it with impossible beauty. Javier Bardem brings the fright, Josh Brolin the tenacity, and Tommy Lee Jones the poetry of one of my favorite authors’ works to the screen. I can’t say enough about the Coen Brothers’ masterful adaptation of this stark, masculine, yet eerily tender drama; I’m so glad Russell agrees.
1 The Departed (2006)
This was a no-brainer for me, and Russell was quickly convinced. This movie combines a half-dozen spectacular performances across two generations of great actors with a razor-sharp screenplay and a powerful sense of place (a place especially relevant to us.) It runs wild with some of the decade’s favorite themes, from identity and deception to aging and obsolescence, and cunningly pairs classic gangster tropes with a healthy dose of today. It also pulls off some of the decade’s best, make-you-miss-whole-lines-of-dialogue laughs. Altogether, it’s one we could watch over and over (and have, and will again.)