Personally I could care less who thinks when the decade ended or began. Many people are saying that the decade actually began in 2001 and ended in 2010, others are saying it began in 2000 and ended in 2009, while many are oddly insisting the decade began in 2000 and ended in 2011. I could care less who thinks what anymore. Since we basically missed the boat on posting our thoughts on our favorite movies of the decade back in December of 2009, we’ve decided to finally catch up and post our top films of the decade starting from 2000 and ending on 2009. That’s that. We’ve spent the last three months trying to figure out how to best voice our thoughts on our best films of the first decade of the millennium, and we figured we may as well just post our list embedded in one big article.
We were going to originally post just ten of our favorite films of the decade, but really we figured we may as well just pick the films we thought were the best in no particular order. We could go on forever explaining which films we thought were the best of the decade and we did go on for hours trying to decide which movies we thought were the best. While the list is mainly mainstream material we couldn’t help but experience immense enthusiasm for these films that managed to meet our high expectations and completely surprise us. We really looked forward to 2003’s 28 Days Later but when we finally managed to sit down and watch it upon its release we were shocked to discover it was one of the best horror films we’d ever seen. There were many excellent horror films in the decade but none of them were able to mesh science fiction and horror so flawlessly as Danny Boyle’s stab at the genre.
Not just an outstanding genre film, but an outstanding film altogether, “28 Days Later” takes no mercy on its characters and constantly introduces us to heroes who we discover are only human as Boyle sets us up to grow attached to people only to kill them off within minutes. It all starts with rabid monkeys in an animal testing lab to set off the end of the world as a man with no memory struggles to cope with the end of society and all he knows and must come to grips with his new way of living and be forced to adapt to the new conditions of his surroundings which involve infected human beings fueled by the infection turning them in to murderous rampaging monsters. Boyle’s horror film made a big impact in the states garnering mostly positive reviews and inspired directors to re-visit the concept of running zombies. The “Dawn of the Dead” remake blatantly ripped off a few key scenes in the film, and Boyle’s haunting opening scenes inspired the opening pages of the award winning comic book series “The Walking Dead.”
Back when released, Boyle’s film managed to be utterly remarkable and earned its place as one of the best horror films of the decade and one of my favorite films of all time. Years after its release, “28 Days Later” has proven to be a marketable franchise, but the best of the series continues to be Boyle’s. In the category of unexpected surprises, 2008’s Let the Right One In was a masterful vampire romance that dared to dabble in story themes involving pedophilia, homosexuality, and sexual awakening in the face of lost innocence between a constantly bullied boy named Oscar, and a mysterious neighbor named Eli who takes a liking to the young boy. Isolated and alienated, the two form a bond with one another and this relationship culminates in a haunting take on kismet where Eli’s infatuation with Oscar becomes a connection that changes both of their lives forever.
Filmed with impressive direction by Tomas Alfredson, the modern masterpiece ends in a wicked form of karma involving bloodshed and torn limbs at a public pool where Eli reveals the lengths she’s willing to through to protect her young friend and maintain his purity in a world filled with pure evil and madness. Atmospheric and grim, the film watches like a morbid fairy tale and even in spite of its melancholy closer, is still quite spooky. There was also 2005’s Twelve and Holding a very under-appreciated indie film about the loss of innocence in the face of harsh crimes, and utter infatuation. When one of their friends dies in a horrible prank initiated by two local bullies, three of the children involved (which include the boy’s twin brother) struggle to come to terms with his death and must figure out what type of people they’re doomed to evolve in to after the death splits them apart and forces them to re-evaluate themselves and their relationships with their loves ones.
Along with some incredible performances by its mostly juvenile cast, there is also an excellent performance by future Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner as an ex-firefighter who gains the infatuation of young Malee Chaung a child torn between two divorced parents who interrupts his life leading to a rather disturbing climax demonstrating the emotional and societal confusion of most twelve year olds. 2005’s Sophie Scholl is another movie that completely blindsided me upon watching it. Admittedly I have a real soft spot for films involving the Holocaust and the Nazi’s but this film was different. In a sense it’s a court room thriller but it’s also the accounts of the final days of Sophie Scholl a young girl who refused to bow to the power of the Nazi regime and is eventually caught by authorities after being caught passing around flyers protesting the movement. Imprisoned, she manages to evade her accusations by outwitting the best interrogators enlisted to her case and in spite of managing to fight her case in court, is eventually beheaded along with her two cohorts. But not before warning the authorities that the time of the Nazi regime is coming to a close and that their crimes will not go unpunished. This prophecy is made ever more bitter when the climax fades to black and we hear the swishing of the blades ending Scholl’s life.
There’s no prison worse than our own body and in 2007’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly we’re given an emotionally exhausting view in the eye of Jean-Dominique Bauby whose severe stroke leaves him completely paralyzed and only able to function by communicating with the blink of one eye. From his realization of paralysis to the origin of his stroke right down to being unable to communicate with his beautiful nurses, Bauby’s struggle is raw and grueling to sit through and it becomes even worse to watch when he’s lost all will to live and can do nothing about it but lay on his bed and await his death. It’s truly an amazing drama you have to experience to comprehend and a look at his final days through his eyes makes the film powerful and truly heartbreaking. Due to Disney’s continued affiliation with Studio Ghibli, American audiences were introduced to the beautiful animated epics directed by Hayao Miyazaki and 2001’s Spirited Away stands as one of Studio Ghibli’s crowning achievements. Taking the charge Hayao Miyazaki writes and directs this modern take on “The Wizard of Oz” where a young girl manages to crash in to a world filled with wonders and horrors in a struggle to discover how to turn her parents back to humans when they suddenly become giant pigs during a visit in to a mysterious town. Possessing some of the most vivid images ever created in the fantasy genre, Miyazaki is at his absolute best and almost tops one of his greatest “My Neighbor Totoro.”
Filled with amazing animation and a brilliant string of characters, Miyazaki’s masterpiece is still not as noticed as it should be. Yet another movie that managed to wow us with a vivid world was 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, yet another incredible masterpiece by Guillermo Del Toro that tells the tale of a young girl who happens to be the resurrected princess of a hidden world while also watching her mother slowly die after the birth of her baby brother. Forced to live with a vicious stepfather leading the charge to bring down a brigade of rebels in 1944, the entire film envisions a world beyond young heroine Ofelia’s harsh reality where she must endure three arduous tasks to prove herself worthy of reclaiming her throne. Filled with some masterful direction and beautiful make up effects, the story comes full circle in the heartbreaking final scenes. Yet another import that managed to wow genre fans across the world was 2004’s Shaun of the Dead a brilliant and absolutely hysterical ode to the zombie sub-genre that envisions a world so involved in its own daily doldrums that it can’t even realize the walls are crashing down around it and is being overthrown by a zombie apocalypse.
Filled with ingenious sight gags and physical humor not to mention a wonderful script, director Edgar Wright hands us a trio of unlikely heroes which include the lovelorn Shaun who goes from a store manager to a zombie fighting hero in an attempt to save his friends and family and wait out the apocalypse in his favorite pub. While not a box-office smash, it’s arguably the best horror comedy ever made. Fan tested, Romero approved! Continuing with the imports, there was 2000’s Battle Royale a demented controversial science fiction masterwork from Kinji Fukasaku that envisions a Japan where the youth have become reckless delinquents tormenting adults around the city. A class of young high school students falls unconscious and awaken to discover they must take part in a game where they’re handed various weapons and must fight one another for survival until the last man stands or risk having their heads blown from their necks thanks to their explosive collars. Packed with social commentary and a sick opening scene, Fukasaku’s film contains some truly memorable sequences and imagines a fight for survival where self-preservation takes top priority over humanity and generosity. Initially restricted from being released in America thanks to the Columbine shootings, the film eventually made its mark on American audiences and became a classic.
Yet another import is 2005’s The Descent a second effort from incredible genre director Neil Marshall that experienced piss poor publicity and a horrible theatrical release, but still managed to gain momentum as a modern masterpiece that gathered a group of females who take an expedition in to a cave they’ve discovered has never been explored before. After a cave-in they learn all too late that they’re being stalked by hideous monsters whose home is littered in darkness and bones of various animals and humans. Filled with incredible direction and raw performances, Marshall’s horror film is a look in to the sheer primal madness that ensues when human beings are put in to a corner and must fight to survive against impossible odds. The deck is stacked against our heroines from minute one, but the battle for life is captivating. In the category of films that threw me for a loop there is 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin an underdog romantic comedy that bred the obnoxious term “bromance comedy” centered on the relationships of men who all bond to help their outcast friend Andy live his life to the fullest and break out of the rut of video games, comic books, and a bachelor pad. In the midst of living, he falls for a local mom who helps him come to terms with his age and learn to grow up and experience true love.
The film is filled with memorable one liners and has some hilarious performances from people like Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and the one and only Steve Carell who embraces the man child persona and gradually matures in to someone with actual responsibilities. This is a comedy worth re-watching on a lazy Sunday. Originally I did not look forward to Richard Linklater’s follow up to “Before Sunrise,” but after watching 2004’s Before Sunset I was sorry I ever doubted him because not only does it work as an incredible companion piece to his aforementioned indie film but it is very superior because everything in this sequel is so well refined and sharp that it makes the original seem like a minute introduction in to a bigger picture. With everything from the incredible dialogue to the top notch performances, this stands as one of Linklater’s best cinematic achievements and possesses one of the most amusing romance tales ever put to film. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy do not miss a beat and their portrayals of more mature and cynical adults coming down from their amorous night ten years before is captivating all leading up to a very charming climax that has to be seen. Speaking of sequels, pretty much everyone expect 2008’s The Dark Knight to be fantastic and they were right.
While “Batman Begins” was a great film with a fresh take on the lore, this movie just seemed to amp up the talent a hundred percent by presenting to us a story about morality and the battle between good and evil that all boils down to superb performances by folks like Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and a fantastic final performance by Heath Ledger who surprised legions of Batman fans by his horrifying portrayal of the Joker. In spite of the tragedy attached to this, director Christopher Nolan delivers a bonafide masterpiece that proved most influential and quite amazing. Yet another take on the superhero was 2004’s The Incredibles arguably the best film from the Pixar/Disney teaming that puts a more domestic spin on the superhero mythos with director Brad Bird finally being able to put his full potential on display after his masterpiece “The Iron Giant” went basically unnoticed. Filled with great voice work, fantastic animation, and wry humor, this twist on the superhero origin takes a look at the remaining superheroes on Earth forced in to everyday life after the government bans their crime fighting. Relying on fresh ideas and a very entertaining script, Brad Bird pus forth an excellent new variety of characters and really hits it out of the park.
2000’s Almost Famous stands as Cameron Crowe’s best film to date as an autobiographical account of a young man who experiences the pitfalls and highs of sudden fame when following a band named Stillwater across the country. This film introduced the likes of Kate Hudson to the movie going public who came off as almost otherworldly in her portrayal as the enigmatic Penny Lane, and managed to garner wonderful performances from Jason Lee, Billy Crudup, Zooey Deschanel and has a great supporting role from Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Providing a slew of memorable sequences and a phenomenal soundtrack, Crowe’s rock film stands as one of his greatest that you can watch over and over. I suggest it for any fan of classic rock. Yet another excellent piece of filmmaking that took me by surprise was 2001’s Donnie Darko, the feature film debut of Richard Kelly that took him out of the depths of obscurity and managed to build a massive cult following. Based around themes of the supernatural, time travel, and Christ-like sacrifice, Kelly’s film is a haunting tale that has eluded movie buffs for years as many have tried to decrypt what the film actually means and what its ultimate climax means.
Jake Gyllenhaal is stellar as the less than mentally sound vessel granted the task to unveil the social facade and mediocrity in his town while also fulfilling his ultimate task thanks to the guidance of an apparition dressed in a bunny suit. If you’re looking for a jarring and tale of lost innocence you can also find it in 2004’s disturbing Mysterious Skin a tragic and heartbreaking tale about two young men dealing with a past they’d both prefer to forget. Director Greg Arraki focuses on these two men and how their past demons have affected them. One of whom is a promiscuous prostitute who has come to accept his past with his baseball coach who took advantage of him at such a young age, while another young man is convinced he was abducted and probed by aliens as a child. What seems like separate narratives revolving around self-destruction and pain eventually comes down to a horribly heartbreaking climax where the ultimate results of stolen purity and rape affects those involved for decades to come. This incredible indie features top notch performances by Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon Levitt who remains one of this generations best actors, bar none.
There weren’t many people not affected by the 2005 indie Hard Candy a fantastic revenge film that focuses on karma and fate when a pedophile ensnares a young girl over the internet and entices her in to meeting with him. Upon bringing her home with him he discovers that he’s not so much the predator as he is the prey. Introducing us to David Slade’s intense filmmaking style not to mention providing some incredible performances from the likes of Patrick Wilson as the conniving Jeff and Ellen Page as the sadistic avenging angel Hayley who makes a point of robbing Jeff of every inch of his dignity and pride by dehumanizing him through painstaking mental torture that does more to him than anything physically painful can manage to ever accomplish. By the end as we reach the final turn of the screw we realize that Hayley never actually has to do much to defeat her self-destructive nemesis. Yet another masterwork from the Coen brothers 2007’s No Country for Old Men was a direct contender with “There Will be Blood” for a spot in the list, but in spite of the aforementioned films incredible method of storytelling, the Coens eventually won me over thanks to the mind blowing performance of Javier Bardem who plays death incarnate Antoine Chigurh a mop topped gun toting assassin who displays little to no mercy on his victims and has a penchant for letting fate play a hand in their demises.
Based around the concepts of karma, crime and punishment and destiny, the Coens adapt the Cormac McCarthy novel in to cinematic royalty pulling out top notch performances from folks like Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin and ends in a thinker of a climax left up to the viewer to interpret for themselves as an old crime fighter must admit defeat in a world giving way to a new method of evil. What capped off the year of 2009 for me was Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a movie that is arguably his best and most mature film to date enlisting the talents of newcomers and seasoned vets to help fuel his radical re-interpretation of the Nazi regime and their final doom at the hands of Nazi hunting Jews in the middle of the woods led by the eccentric Aldo Raine whose paths diverge with a young girl named Shoshanna whose family was murdered when she was a child and is forced to seek revenge when her old nemesis Hans re-enters her life. Meanwhile there’s Bridget who is an undercover spy helping the Basterds track down and stop Hans and it all ends with one hell of a demented sequence in a movie theater that’s pure Tarantino up and down. Yet another Oscar contender with very little wins, its Tarantino’s absolute dedication to the power of film and caps off an otherwise fantastic decade of movies.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Lost in Translation, Good Night and Good Luck, Right at Your Door, Funny Games US, Training Day, Cloverfield, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Hurt Locker, In the Bedroom, The Woodsman, Requiem for a Dream, Crash, Roger Dodger, Shattered Glass, Paranormal Activity, Garden State, 25th Hour, Snatch, REC, The Devil’s Backbone, Oldboy, Wall-E, Children of Men, A Tale of Two Sisters, Gerry, Elephant, Waking Life, Mulholland Drive, Little Miss Sunshine, Half Nelson, Once, Juno, Kill Bill 1 and 2, In America, A History of Violence, (500) Days of Summer, Brick, Iron Man, Shattered Glass, Spanglish, The Bourne Trilogy, Superman Returns, Batman Begins, Gone Baby Gone, Audition