100 Favorite Movies of the 2000s Part 5/5
Logo courtesy Milton Bradley.
20. O Brother, Where art Thou? (2000)
Although the Coen Brothers have made a career out of their brutal, pithy tragedies their forays into comedy – Raising Arizona, an early one – are surprisingly robust. The twist here is that the Southern, Depression-set Odyssey interpretation-cum Preston Sturges homage is also a music-movie. Not a musical, but a movie about music – folk, bluegrass, country and other American stylings. Tack on a white-hot George Clooney, and you have a hit for the ages.
You knew it had to be the Soggy Bottom Boys:
19. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi made his name in the immortal Evil Dead horror trilogy long before he helmed Spider-Man into international success. After a long hiatus from his trusted genre, fans were eager to catch his foray back into horror. Don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you, Drag Me to Hell is chockfull of Raimi’s trademark gross-out humor and well-crafted scares. Critics and audiences alike appreciated the film for its subtext (there is a strong argument about bulimia to be made) and its general air of fun. I saw this movie twice in theaters, and I ain’t no fool!
What to eat: Harvest cake
18. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
I have a confession to make: I love the Mission: Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise assembles an exciting crew of directors to helm his actions flicks, and with the third film he gave TV maven JJ Abrams the chance to try features. JJ’s moved on to Star Wars, but his first film is a crackerjack action movie with thrills and a superb performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Some critics likened the film to an extended Alias episode (Abram’s spy TV show), but they miss the forest for the trees. Abrams borrowed a trick or two, but only to support Cruise doing what he does best. The proof? Check out the near 3 minute scene of Cruise running. Thank you, JJ.
17. Up in the Air (2009)
Every year there are approximately 12,000 articles bemoaning the death of the adult drama. Studios only want to make tentpoles or cheap Blumhousian horror features. It’s a shame for filmmakers and viewers everywhere, which makes Up in the Air all the more marvelous. Had Jason Reitman not adapted it with a career-best George Clooney and a career-starting Anna Kendrick, this could have been turned into the average VOD indie dreck. Instead, the portrait of a corporate downsizer approaching middle age touches hearts and minds exactly how a good film should. It came about a year after the economic crash, but the timely themes didn’t hurt its box office total one bit. Perhaps studios should get back in the adult drama game.
16. Star Trek (2009)
JJ Abrams is showing up again, so I’m sure I’ve lost some reader’s respect. Yet all but the most hardcore Trekkies can agree that the first Star Trek film is a ton of fun. Even with only minor knowledge of the show and its mythology, I could tell that the time travelling, hyperspeed film was messing around all in good fun. The set pieces are big, the characters strong, and the pace relentless. This is how summer movies should be.
Double Feature: Uh, MI:III, am I right?
15. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Is it a comedy? Is it a horror film? Surely, it can’t be both! Perhaps Shaun of the Dead is something else entirely. The amazing birth of talent by Edgar Wright and his buds Simon Pegg and Nick Frost has blossomed beautifully and it all started here. (Ok, it started before the movie, but this is the entry for most people). Frankly, what makes the movie stand out is not just that it’s fun to watch Shaun avoid zombies, but that there is an actual character arc for him that is plausible and well-drawn. Yes, beneath the special effects and quips, it’s a textbook example of good film writing. That’s the reason why the call-back jokes feel so sharp and it holds up well on repeat viewings. Snip a single scene, or most lines/shots, and the film would start to fall apart. It’s a well crafted machine.
Eat: A Cornetto
14. LOTR – Two Towers (2002)
It’s worth noting that while I inherited many a famous franchise (Indiana Jones, Back to the Future) and witnessed the sequels to other (Star Wars, Jurassic Park), The Lord of the Rings was my childhood. Other than perhaps the Star Wars prequels, nothing came close to engaging children with mythology and product placement. Everyone liked these movies. Interesting to note how little I cared for The Hobbit films then. Anyway, The Two Towers – like the Empire Strikes Back before it, the second in the trilogy is also the best. It’s a chess match of a film.
Remember…this awesome trailer
13. The Prestige (2006)
Now that Interstellar has come and gone, Christopher Nolan’s invincibility has faded in the eyes of some. His original films can be startling, but he does have a knack for adaptation – a knack that keeps him out of trouble (Gravity? Love? Really what were you thinking). Case in point The Prestige, where he and his brother took a good book about magicians and improved it greatly in their translation to the screen. While the book presents two similar accounts by each of the dueling magicians in succession, Nolan weaves them together crafting amazing tension simply through editing. It’s a fantastic use of the medium to comment on perception, literally the basis of magic. Unfortunately, some cried foul at the ending, which is only natural. Like M. Night Shyamalan, Nolan has branded himself as a trickster, who must provide huge, moving and revelatory endings. Not to ruin the film for those who haven’t seen it, but some felt it broke the ‘rules’ of the film. Hate it break it to you guys: the ending supports the themes of science v.s. faith and even gives a hint as to which side ole Nolan comes down on. As Michael Caine tells us, “You want to be fooled.” As the audience, we learn that the hard way.
12. Inside Man (2006)
In 2006 I had watched very little of Spike Lee’s filmography, so seeing his electric style applied to a heist thriller was a huge jolt for 12-year old. While the film is mostly concerned with Denzel Washington’s hostage negotiator vs the supercool Clive Owen baddie, it features a healthy dose of that Spike Lee commentary. Beneath the twists and turns are more than a few jabs at race and gender relations in the Big Apple. If you don’t know anything about the movie, I’ll shut up now and encourage you to find a copy. If you have a friends who thinks Now You See Me is the gold standard of fun thrillers, make ‘em watch too.
Great scene, basically:
11. Up (2009)
Rewatchability is a big factor in my favorite’s calculus. Pixar’s success comes from making excellent films that also can play endlessly. They’d better because they’re gonna be used on car trips and Spanish classes for a decade. Despite the fact that the first ten minutes of Up turn the average person into a quivering puddle of tears, it’s counterbalanced by the adventurous second and third acts when the geriatric hero actually flies his house to the Amazon. In addition, while Pixar often traffics in small things (bugs, toys, and rats) this leans closer to The Incredibles on the epic scale. Animation can bring bugs to life, but it can also capture the magic of a house tethered to thousands of balloons.
The Facts: 2009 comes out of nowhere with the big win in the teens.
10. Adaptation. (2002)
- A movie about screenwriting.
- A movie about an Orchid thief.
- A movie about sibling rivalry.
- An impossible to define film that features Nicolas Cage’s best performance, Charlie Kaufman’s heady writing, and Spike Jonze’s gonzo direction.
9. No Country for Old Men (2007)
While hunting in West Texas, an ordinary man Llewelyn Moss finds a briefcase of cash from a botched drug deal. Soon, he’s on the run from a psychopathic hit-man and a weary sheriff. The movie shifts so quickly into white knuckle mode that it’s easy to forget Moss isn’t even given a chance to enjoy his cash. There’s no montage of him buying cars or being foolish. In fact, the way he avoids his pursuers is fairly impressive, making his challenge all the more unfortunate. By chance, he’s opened Pandora’s Box. On the other hand, the inexorable and brutal path of the hit man suggests that destruction is inevitable for someone, if not him. Therein lays the movie’s great conflict: chance vs. fate. Can conflict be avoided, if only by probability, or are we drawn into violence? It’s safe to say No Country for Old Men is the most non-controversial choice on here. The ending rubbed some folks the wrong way, but anyone with an appreciation of movies can see the stellar work in all departments.
8. Zodiac (2007)
Unlike most movies on the list, Zodiac is based on a true story. Between the mid-sixties and seventies, the Zodiac killer intermittently plagued the San Francisco Bay area. He communicated with the San Francisco Chronicle in code, often taunting and threatening further violence, setting off a race to identify him. The film tracks the decades’ long investigation from the dual point of view of the police detectives and Robert Graysmith, an increasingly obsessed cartoonist at the Chronicle. It’s a long movie and requires a certain amount of patience to digest its pace – first blistering and then spooling out slowly. In doing so, the movie has the chance to succeed in a multitude of sub-genres: detective movie, serial killer movie, newspaper drama, and period piece. Using the Zodiac zeitgeist as an entry way into Bay culture, the film captures a hugely transformative period in American and the region. The world slowly transforms before your eyes. I wasn’t alive during the period, so I can’t comment on the accuracy, but the immersion is top notch. This movie proves that you don’t have to watch a movie about Middle Earth to feel transported to a new time and place.
7. Children of Men (2006)
Gravity will probably land in more film textbooks, but Children of Men is the better film. They do have something in common, which is that they relentlessly hoist set-backs on their protagonists until a hopeful ending. To be fair, Gravity ends on a much lighter note than Children, but it’s still a great screenwriting technique. When your characters are never given a break, it doesn’t let your audience stop caring about them. And if you do latch onto Clive Owen’s weary protag in Children, you’ll be given plenty to care about. In a completely childless world, he’s charged with protecting the first pregnant women in 20 years. Of course the fascist government and the rebel forces have their own agenda with her, making his job even harder. Plus, it’s his one chance at redemption after giving up on life. So yeah, there’s a lot riding on it. Children of Men is often hard to watch but also a fantastic use of sci-fi to highlight timeless truths about humanity.
6. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Shaun of the Dead is a great movie, but Hot Fuzz is CLASSIC worthy of all caps. Similar to its predecessor, it’s a great film beneath the sheen of parody. While it makes fun of Michael Bay/Renny Harlin action fests, the movie easily laps their shit by packing in a worthwhile mystery and – you guessed it – real character arcs. As the second in the Cornetto Trilogy, it’s also the best (second films are wont to be) if not also the darkest. In addition, Edgar Wright’s aesthetic of quick cuts, extreme close-ups, and overhead shots really came into its own here. Now, film students would rather knock off his style than Wes Anderson’s.
5. Casino Royale (2006)
Nowadays we have reboots, remakes, re-hashes – everything redone! But the Bond universe had been making a business of reinvention for years. Each generation was given their own Bond to be their own and for me, the switch from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig was my entry into the famous franchise. Sure, I’d seen Bond movies before, but Craig’s moves were suave and brutal at the same time. The writing brought an emotional heft that had not been there in the Brosnan years and a dark humor that Connery would be proud of. And of course, director Martin Campbell’s brilliant action staging gave audiences some of the best set-pieces in years. As I often say, it’s the rewatch value that makes a favorite film and the rewatch value of Casino Royale is beyond question. I can watch Daniel Craig leap off a crane a billion times and it never gets dull.
4. Minority Report (2002)
Spielberg has been accused of sentimentality for his entire career, so how then to explain his streak of ugly, mean-spirited films at turn of the new millenium? Yes, 2002 heralded the bittersweet Catch Me If You Can, but it also started Spielberg’s “blue” period of Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and Munich. As the first of the bunch, Minority Report took on some prescient post-9/11 issues concerning extra-judicial action and survivor’s guilt. It also features Cruise in a pitch-perfect role (guilt-ridden, on-the-run cop) and some of Spielberg’s best set-pieces. Simply put, the challenging, exciting film is everything we claim we want from studio fare.
3. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
I’m not as big of Tarantino fan as some, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film in the top ten. More so than Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds is a riotous and profane revision of history that grabs you and doesn’t let go. Brilliantly conceived in five epic chapters, the film unfolds as a series of Tarantino’s most taut scenes, pretension be damned. It’s the kind of film that works because it shouldn’t. When it’s should be funny, it’s horrifying, and when it’s funny, there’s always some horrifying twist. Plus, it gave us Christoph Waltz, and for that we can be forever grateful.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
It’s kinda weird to think that Christopher Nolan (Sir Christopher Nolan in a few years, no doubt) has released 3 movies since The Dark Knight, his undoubted masterpiece. It’s still been less than ten years and I hope it never feels too far removed from this highly significant film. My blurb could go a number of ways, either discussing its legacy, its potent themes, or its masterful craftsmanship. Instead, I’ll assume you’ve seen the movie, and that you’ve seen it many times, and that you probably still like it, but maybe not that much anymore. All I’ll add to the discussion is that the film transcends some of the crime movies it wears as influence and that the climactic scene on the ferries is the key to its lasting impact. For those who forget the set-up, the Joker has rigged two ferries with explosives. One ferry holds regular people and the other convicts. They each hold a trigger for a bomb located on the other’s ferry. If no one pulls it then…Boom! What other movie has the balls to place the agency of the climactic decision in the hands of regular people – characters we’ve never even met before in the movie! Batman may technically capture the Joker and take the heat, but it’s the citizens of Gotham who actually save themselves. That’s a goddamn powerful statement in an otherwise grim film.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
I don’t have much rewatch value to discuss here. I’ve only seen Eternal Sunshine once, though I’d like to watch it again. The Michael Gondry directed, Charlie Kaufman penned script takes a gonzo idea – that people can have memories of past romantic relationships erased – and runs with it to a deeply emotional place. Kind of like Inception or The Matrix for romantics, the film isn’t without its fair share of sci-fi and braininess. But the performances from Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood elevate it back to a heartfelt league that far outstrips Pixar’s recent weepie Inside Out. The actors become fully lived people, endearing and plenty flawed. Although I keep throwing around easy terms like ‘romance,’ this movie is brave enough to move past sentimental mush. It’s willing to show both sides of people and that gives it real authority on love, that most mysterious human feeling. I can’t recommend a time to watch it, who to watch it with, or a snack to eat during it. Just watch it sometime. You may feel things, but I doubt disappointment is one of them.
The Final Facts:
2000 – 15 films
2001 – 7 films
2002 – 11 films
2003 – 8 films
2004 – 14 films
2005 – 4 films
2006 – 11 films
2007 – 10 films
2008 – 9 films
2009 – 10 films
It’s a great question. For example, why did I write this 100 film list? Why did anyone read it (if in fact anyone has)? Why does my final count only have 99 films? All I can say is that I love lists. I love to have my thoughts organized, to have a source text for my opinions. I also hate that every time I tried to add up the years, I got a different number and I’m too lazy to use Excel.
Writing this list has taken far too long. I started last summer, paused for three seasons and finished slowly this summer. That’s a terrible pace, but it has served me as a surprisingly Zen exercise. It was surprisingly hard to write something short but worthwhile about 100 movies. However, whenever I did a good job, I felt proud. Still, I apologize to those annoyed by my overreliance on cliché phrasing, not to mention my punctuation extravaganzas. I’m sure my spelling and grammar is a nightmare too. Hopefully it’s occasionally a funny nightmare. At its worst, this list contains all of my bad habits in a nice organized fashion. At its best, I reminded myself of great films and why I love them. Most of the films on the list were seen when I was young, but not in a theater. I really grew up in the Blockbuster age which later became the Netflix one. Now, I see more movies in theatres than I could ever imagine. It’s nice to know that cinema works on the small screen too.
Rindler, Over and Out.