I’m only calling this “The 20 Best Movies of the 2000s” since that’s what everyone else is calling their lists. Because more than attempting to rank the “best” films objectively, this is probably closer to something that should be called “My 20 Movies of the Decade.”
I mean, I’m not just putting random movies on here that I really like yet probably aren’t good (e.g., Death Race, The Fountain or Step Brothers), so the overall quality of the film-making is very important. But I’m also not someone who is going to sit down and watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy again anytime soon, so that’s not going to outrank something that is both really well made and I like better (like, say, A History of Violence) even if Peter Jackson had the greater achievement in the canon of cinematic history.
(Meanwhile, this obviously isn’t a exhaustive survey of movies since I’m just one dude and haven’t even seen stuff like Pan’s Labyrinth, Wall-E, Oldboy, In Bruges, Brick or The Prestige, among many others.) (UPDATE: I saw In Bruges and it’s incredible. It definitely would have been on this list.)
On to the list …
#20. Amélie (2001)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
I’m only including this ahead of 25th Hour, Charlie Wilson’s War, Thank You For Smoking, Iron Man, Requiem for a Dream, I Heart Huckabees, 28 Days Later…, Michael Clayton, Mementoand The Hurt Locker so that chicks don’t think I’m some misogynist. I suppose I shouldn’t call them “chicks” if I want this plan to work though, eh? Still, I feel like there has to be some sort of venn diagram intersection between (a) chicks that don’t mind that I call them chicks, (b) chicks that think I’m sensitive and deep for calling Amélie one of the best movies of the decade, and (c) chicks that dig the clever way I was able to add 10 honorable mention movies to this list because I was too much of coward to just narrow it down to 20.
#19. Snatch (2000)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
A have a theory that whichever of Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels you saw first is the one you like more. And according to some survey results that I just made up, it’s been true among 85% of the people who have seen both movies that I’ve brought this up to at a bar (with a margin of error of ± 2 Jameson shots). There’s a similar theory that applies to Hot Fuzzand Shaun of the Dead, but I’m not a huge fan of either of those so I haven’t bothered surveying that many people. Although, I saw Hot Fuzz first and think it’s better so … case closed.
#18. Zoolander (2001)
Directed by Ben Stiller
Complete absurdity. Done about as well as complete absurdity can be done.
#17. The Savages (2007)
Directed by Tamara Jenkins
If not for Gust Avrakotos from Charlie’s Wilson’s War, this might be might favorite character ever played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who probably gets my vote for Actor of the Decade.The Savages is just a small movie about one theme (the modern guilt/difficultly surrounding elder care decisions) that stays on point, doesn’t meander at all and is done really well. Compared to all the other clusterfucks of complexity that embarrass everyone involved by attempting to make sweeping, pretentious proclamations that sum up the totality of our modern world with a neat little bow on top (like, say, Syrianna or Crash), a film like The Savages is just a pleasure to watch. As Einstein said: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I hear he was a smart dude.
#16. Up in the Air (2009)
Directed by Jason Reitman
I hope this isn’t just recency talking, but I just saw this last week and was floored. George Clooney and Vera Farmiga couldn’t have been better and Jason Reitman’s extremist look at the balancing act we all must maintain between self-fulfillment/career advancement and the other people in our lives makes one of the better comic tragedies you’ll ever see, even if the real-life interviews at the end were misplaced and unnecessary.
#15. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
I’m not sure glib has ever been done better. And that plus a cool, intricate caper plot and an ensemble cast full of enjoyable characters equals good times for all.
#14. The Wrestler (2008)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Staples to back? Check. Razor blade to the forehead? No problem. Treating a deli counter job like it’s Wrestlemania XIV? Why not. Being completely unable to change as a human being, forfeiting any chance you will ever have at forming a relationship with your daughter and brazenly ignoring the last potential vestige you have at living a meaningful existence with another human just so you can instead double dog dare your heart not to explode in the ring? Definitely.
#13. X2 (2003)
Directed by Bryan Singer
I love me some Iron Man, but the second X-Men flick is still the best superhero movie made to date and none of you Dark Knight or Spiderman dorks will ever convince me otherwise. Adamantium claws, bitches.
#12. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Bonjourno. Whether you wanna classify it as revenge porn or just a fantastical romp set in Nazi-occupied Europe, you have to admit that this is the most delightful World War II film where one of God’s chosen people makes a Ted Williams reference as he caves in a guy’s skull with a bat.
#11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by Michael Gondry
I didn’t see this until like 2007 and was uber-skeptical of all the hype. “Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in a chick flick about amnesia? That sounds retarded. There is no possible way it could be as good as you all are pretending it is.” Well, it is.
#10. Old School (2003)
Directed by Todd Phillips
This movie is worth three-and-a-half million dollars that the government knows about — and it can barely read.
#9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Directed by Andrew Dominik
I can totally see why some people might think this movie sucks. And I probably wouldn’t really even put up much of a fight. For a Jesse James movie, nothing particularly exciting happens. It’s long as hell. And it could be argued that it’s more a collection of pretty pictures than an actual good movie — which, as it so happens, is the exact phrase I use to describe Terrence Malik’s The New World. But unlike that flick, I think the story, acting and stunning visuals inJesse James work on every level. The epilogue of Bob Ford crawls along for like a half-hour after the jealousy-motivated climax that we all know is coming concludes, but to me that slow fade out creates a perfect book end effect that reinforces the utter banality of Ford — and it is exactly what makes this movie so great rather than being a dragging, “my God why isn’t this movie over?” attribute like it is in, say, Return of the King or The Hurt Locker. It’s also Casey Affleck’s best performance and certainly near the top of Brad Pitt’s resume.
#8. American Psycho (2000)
Directed by Mary Harron
It would be impossible for me to like this movie any more than I do. It’s a shame that Christian Bale sucks at life now, but I don’t think there was another person on this planet that could have given a performance as great as we got with his take on Patrick Bateman. And because of this alone, me and Bale will never be entirely done professionally. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.
#7. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Even to me — on my own list — seventh feels a little low for PTA’s best film to date. But the fact is that I have some real issues with the final 20 minutes of There Will Be Blood — whereas I would change literally nothing about any of the top six flicks on this list. That said, Daniel Plainview might be the most iconic character I’ve ever seen portrayed in film and I’m not sure there are five acting performances more impressive than what Daniel Day Lewis gives here. In short, the peaks of TWBB might be higher than any other movie of this decade. But the lows are a little silly, frankly, and distract me from staying entirely engaged in what otherwise might have been the best movie of the 2000s. Sick score, colors, visuals, lighting and all that jazz, too.
#6. Children of Men (2006)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
I don’t know a ton about cinematography, but I know that Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera work on this unique dystopian tale is stunning — and given that he is the same guy who filmed other visually impressive flicks like The New World, Sleepy Hollow, Ali and Y tu mama’ también, it’s probably not a fluke. (FYI, Lubezki has also paired up with Terrance Malik again for The Tree of Life, which stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and is slated for release this year.) We also have Clive Owen acting at his absolute apex as a character being forced to disregard hopelessness for heroism. Throw in the fantastic story, and some great outings from Michael Caine, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and it makes it difficult to find a flaw in this picture. I’ve watched Children of Men close to 10 times and it improves on each viewing.
#5. The Lives of Others (2006)
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
I just caught this last week on the recommendation of a few people who knew I was making this list. And, god, am I glad I did. It’s ostensibly the tale of a member of East Germany’s Ministry of State Security (the Stasi) who is tasked with surveilling a writer/actress couple struggling to express themselves as artists behind the Berlin Wall in the 1980s. But what unfolds is both a great character study for the Stasi member who becomes entwined in the life of these artists as well as a profound statement about apathy in the face of tyranny. Given the surveillance-themed plot, it quickly reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, but The Lives of Others has a ton more to offer and, ya know, isn’t boring as shit and full of comically bad exposition.
#4. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Directed by the Coen brothers
The Coen brothers made a flawless film. And I’m not even sure what’s more impressive: That this might be the third time they’ve done so (see: Lebowski and Fargo) or that they turned a dude with a woman’s haircut from the ’70s into “the ultimate badass.” There’s nothing not to like about this flick and if you tell me “yeah, it’s good, but I don’t really like the ending” then I probably don’t really like you.
#3. Adaptation. (2002)
Directed by Spike Jonze
Unquestionably the cleverest movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a film within a movie within a popcorn flick wrapped in a parody. It’s so meta that it should be really pretentious and dumb — like Being John Malkovich, for example. But all the cleverness in this Charlie Kaufman joint is half tongue-in-cheek and more just a structural gimmick for the creators to do what they “unsuccessfully” set out to do in the first place: bring “that sprawling New Yorker shit” to the silver screen. And as it turns out, Hollywood, disappointment and “amazing” flowers can indeed be so happy together.
#2. Anchorman (2004)
Directed by Adam McKay
The only thing stupider than trying to quantify art in list form is trying to quantify comedy. Whatever makes you laugh is funny and whatever doesn’t isn’t. It’s that simple. Still, I do believe that there is some level of objectivity to humor — at least in the technical aspect of joke-making anyway. And Anchorman, even more so than Old School before it (and Airplane! waaaay before it), takes the concept of “it’s not the actual punchline that’s funny but all the peripheral stuff that happens on the way to the joke” to a new level. And that is what has been “funniest” brand of cinematic comedy over the past 10 years.
Humor is pretty ephemeral for the most part. Aside from Airplane!, Dr. Strangelove, Slapshot, Woody Allen/Mel Brooks/Steve Martin stuff, Chaplin/Buster Keaton flicks and maybe some Monty Python if you’re into that kind of thing, how many pre-1980 movies are actually still funny today? Like, not funny to you in a nostalgic, “I remember laughing at that before” way, but funny to people who are just now seeing them? Not many. So I’m not sure even something I obviously adore as much as Anchorman will still be funny in 20 years. But what I am sure of is that the brand of comedy in Anchorman is the exact type of comedy that was the most humorous to the most number of people during the 2000s.
Like pornography, I can’t define the exact components of “2000s humor,” but I know it when I see it. And I see it more in Anchorman than I do anything else. (And, no, I’m not taking points away just because every annoying frat boy in the country quoted this for five years straight and it spawned a ton of watered-down follow-ups and wannabes. That would be like blaming Michael Jordan for Isaiah Rider and Ricky Davis.)
#1. City of God (2002)
Directed by Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund
City of God is a masterpiece. Perhaps it’s because I’m a naive American who has never been to Rio and will never understand the bleak lives of those in these favelas, but this is among the truest-to-life-feeling flicks ever made. It has great verisimilitude, for those of you into the whole multisyllabic thing, and makes things like Slumdog Millionaire (which I don’t particularly like) and Blood Diamond (which I actually do like for the most part) feel more like condescending cartoons that belong in a double feature with an episode of Captain Planet than meaningful depictions of life in the developing world.
Lil’ Zé is one of cinema’s greatest villains, and the entire tale is both entirely compelling and visually stunning. City of God is filmed, scored, acted, constructed and devised to perfection. In my world, it is easily the best film since the 1990s ended, and ranking it number one was the easiest choice I had to make for this list.