Updated on December 6, 2009
That’s this decade we’re in now, the decade no one could name. Best of the decade time!
This is an alphabetical list, since ranking the movies by greatness was too tough for me.
Movies that have been out for some years, say five, have the added burden of remaining relevant over time. For example, Gladiator resonates as much now as it did in 2000. Will The Wrestler be able to say the same in 2013?
And remember, the list is composed only of films I have seen personally. So there certainly can be others to add.
Now, I’ve done all the hard work. You as reader have two tasks:
1) Indicate which of these movies is NOT one of the best in the period 2000-present.
2) Indicate which other movies SHOULD be on this list.
A plethora of comedians tell the same raunchy joke in their own unique ways. Sounds uncreative, but it’s amazingly unique, with some side-splitting, standout standup by Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Saget (seriously), and Bill Maher.
Married couple trying to save their marriage during an overseas vacation suffers a tragedy when she’s shot by a sniper. And that’s only a third of the intertwining stories. Gripping, terrifying thriller starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.
A Beautiful Mind
Brilliant mathematician (Russell Crowe) dabbles in espionage – or is he merely losing his remaining faculties? Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris costar. Crowe, who won an Oscar for this, is outstanding in a compassionate, conflicted role.
The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 as told through the eyes of several incidental characters. Filmed in a cinema verite style, the movie is so intense that it all adds up to a most satisfying vicarious experience. Great ensemble cast, including Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Anthony Hopkins, and Lindsey Lohan.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Sacha Baron Cohen’s side-splitting, dead-on parody of all things American is sharp and witty, and what’s more, it leaves the real funny parts to the everday, Americans who little suspect that their foibles and prejudices are on display for all the world to see.
My favorite of the Pixar films (aside from Toy Story), Cars succeeds because of its vivid characterizations and top-gear fun.
The Broadway musical is turned into a powerhouse Hollywood standard for modern-day tunesmanship. Excellent performances by Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (who won an Oscar); rousing, soaring score.
Children of Men
Sci-fi thriller hits you hard from the get-go and never lets up. In the future, women have become infertile, and the human race is doomed. When a young woman becomes pregnant, a former activist (Clive Owen) is asked to shepherd the expectant mother to safety. With a dystopian London as the backdrop, the movie doesn’t so much as ask you along for the ride as insist vociferously. Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine are all top notch, and the set pieces are jaw-dropping – as is the cinematography.
Director Henry Selick’s gorgeous, vivid, and highly imaginative fantasy about a little girl who moves into a strange house – and finds a duplicate of her mother and father behind a forbidden door – is full of rich visuals and exceptional craftsmanship. It’s a must see for anyone with a creative pulse.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
A baby is born with the physicality of an old man and proceeds to age backwards while living his life forwards. Poignant, touching, and astounding in its grasp of the intricacies of human relationships, this movie belies its length (nearly three hours) despite often slow pacing. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett star, with Blanchett offering a dynamic, inspiring performance.
A young woman (Naomi Watts) finds an old diary and becomes involved with the Russian mafia and a tortuous old-world-values story. Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel, and Viggo Mortensen (who’s terrific) costar. Watch for the naked-wrestling scene (not involving Watts, though)!
Devastating look by Michael Moore to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 – and the government’s reaction to it. Under Moore’s withering lens, almost no officials are spared, and no matter your politics, you’re likely to come away from this one feeling shortchanged and outraged.
Beautiful story of how J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), the writer of the beloved story Peter Pan and came to write the classic tale. Kate Winslet plays the struggling single mom who inspires him; Dustin Hoffman and Julie Christie also lend their considerable talents. Not to be missed.
Sweet story about a struggling actor (Zach Braff, who also directed) who returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral and undergoes an awakening of the soul thanks to an old friend (Peter Sarsgaard) and a new friend (Natalie Portman). Andrew’s despair is heart wrenching, but the film’s sincerity compensates for any maudlin attitudes.
Ridley Scott’s swords-and-sandals epic has held up rather well over the past eight years, with a deposed general (Russell Crowe) avenges the loss of his career and social standing and the murders of his wife and son by fighting in a gladitorial arena. Full of vim and vigor, Crowe makes for an intrepid, steely eyed hero.
Good Night, and Good Luck
A hateful Senator is brought to his knees by a fearless, sincere newsman in this biopic of legendary reporter Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn, nominated for an Oscar). George Clooney, who directed, costars as producer Fred Friendly.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I liked this a little better than even the previous one (see below). The kids are practically grown up now, and this one is easily the scariest of the series so far. Harry is entrusted with adult tasks by Dumbledore, who still doesn’t tell him everything. The Dark Lord is everywhere.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
All of the Potter films were released this decade, but I liked the fifth (and most recent, to date) the most. Harry and his pals age realistically while facing literal and figurative demons with panache and vulnerability. Here, Harry wishes to avenge his stepfather’s murder and to discover more about the prophesy made when he was born. Great cast continues to awe, particularly newcomer Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius Black’s murderess.
Hustle and Flow
Great story of a small-time pimp trying to add “rapper” to his resume. As DJay, Terrence Howard is scary and uncompromising, and unlike in most rags-to-riches stories, his character is almost entirely unsympathetic – and yet he’s not some single-minded monster. Ludacris also appears.
In the Bedroom
Before making Little Children (see below), Todd Field directed this little gem about a young man who falls for an older, divorced mother; then tragedy strikes, drawing the young man’s parents into the situation. Nick Stahl (as the kid) and Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek (as the parents) are all great, but what struck me most about this psychological thriller is how perfect Marisa Tomei, as the older woman, is. I hadn’t really seen Tomei since My Cousin Vinny, which most people assumed was a fluke performance. This movie put her on the Great Actresses map.
An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore’s probing – and not preachy – documentary on the environmental crisis facing the planet won plenty of awards, including a Nobel prize for its creator. Gore doesn’t simply beat his viewers over the head with How We’ve All Failed; he eschews castigation for hope.
Nicole Kidman as a South African UN worker who may have overheard assassination plans, Sean Penn as a Secret Service agent who’s not sure he should believe her claims. Political thriller from Sydney Pollack shows he’s still got game.
Into the Wild
Gorgeous scenery is only half the appeal of this slice of Americana, about a young man who gives up his worldly possessions and sets out to see the country, ending up in the wilds of Alaska, where he eventually meets his demise. As the protagonist, Emile Hirsch turns in a beautiful, breakout performance; Catherine Keener, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and Vince Vaughn offer able support.
Charming, witty tale of an acerbic high schooler who finds herself knocked up by a meek-minded, unassuming track athlete. Diablo Cody’s tale isn’t a mere cautionary tale, it’s a story about growing up mentally as well as physically. It’s about friendship and family, too. Ellen Page as the titular heroine, Michael Cera as her befuddled beloved, and J.K. Simmons as her pop are all fantastic.
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Characteristically violent Quentin Tarantino fare is only slightly better than its descendent, a stark revenge movie about a woman out to perform the titular act. Uma Thurman is well cast in the lead, and the whole thing is a stylish nod to the chop-socky movies of the 1970s. Great soundtrack, strong characters with even stronger convictions, and some totally creepy scenes.
A flawless remake of a classic. King Kong is much longer than its 1933 predecessor, but it’s time well spent. The effects are spellbinding, and even the acting is up to snuff. Great fun, with nonstop action for the bulk of the movie. Check out those dinosaurs! And you won’t be disappointed with the denouement atop the Empire State Building, either.
Todd Field’s look at disillusioned suburban life suffers few missteps. Kate Winslet falls for stay-at-home dad Patrick Wilson, while a child molester (Jackie Earle Haley) tries to reintegrate into society. Adding to the storytime quality of the film is the narration, which doesn’t inhibit the plot as much as you’d think. Gripping drama.
Little Miss Sunshine
This is not a bonding-family-road-trip adventure; it’s a dysfunction disaster. A little girl is chaperoned across the state to enter a beauty pageant. With her are her parents, her drug-addicted dad, her suicidal uncle, and her mute brother. Fun for all! Original, sentimental, and funny – particularly Steve Carell as the uncle and Abagail Breslin as the young contestant.
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Yes, they all count as one movie, because I said so. To my thinking, each of these could have been Best Picture – each stands well on its own, each combines the original text with vivid realizations of the author’s true vision, and each has commanding performances and viable, volatile plotlines. There’s hardly anything to be disappointed with here.
Lost in Translation
Beautiful story of two lost souls – who couldn’t be more different – meeting up and talking and bonding in Tokyo. Call it a Brief Encounter, or even Before Sunrise, for this century. Bill Murray turns in his best work in a long, long time, if ever, and Scarlett Johannsen disposes of the myth that the pretty ones can’t act. Sofia Coppola got some strong directin’ genes!
Man on Wire
Suspenseful documentary about a man who walked on a tightrope between the fledgling Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Incorporates archival footage, reenactments, and interviews with the conspirators, and it’s positioned almost like a heist flick.
The Man Who Wasn’t There
Billy Bob Thornton is a small-town barber who wants to invest in a newfangled craze called dry cleaning, so he blackmails his wife and her boss/lover, but nothing goes according to plan in this efficient, black-and-white Coen Brothers film noir. Also stars Frances McDormand and James Gandolfini.
Guy Pearce suffers from short-term-memory loss, which is a real hindrance to his finding out who murdered his wife, so he tattoos clues on himself. He’s not even sure if his friends are foes. And everything’s shot out of sequence, so we wonder right along with him.
Sean Penn plays the first openly gay man elected to public office, Harvey Milk in San Francisco in the 1970s. Great work by Penn, who might get an Oscar nod this year, and by James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin.
A surprisingly good Tom Cruise movie, this one’s based on a Philip K. Dick short story. Cruise is in charge of Precrime, a goverment arm that stops crimes when they’re merely conceived of, with the help of Precogs that know the name and address of each miscreant. Imagine Cruise’s shock when he’s named as the next villain! A lot more thrilling than you’d expect from Cruise, for sure. Directed by Steven Spielberg, perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Solid drama about a prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who gets involved with the widow (Halle Berry) of a man he just executed. Complicating matters is his relationship with his dad (Peter Boyle) and son (Heath Ledger), both of whom are also guards. Raw, bitter, multilayered (but racist) characters abound; some scenes are almost too intense to watch, although the sex scene between Berry and Thornton sure isn’t.
Clint Eastwood directed this story about a connected neighborhood man (Sean Penn) who’s daughter goes missing and is discovered to have been murdered. As he searches for the killers, two of his older friends – Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins are drawn in as well, and we learn about something that happened to the trio when they were young boys growing up together. Riveting, traumatic film grabs you right away with Penn’s dead-on performance.
No Country for Old Men
This Best Picture winner didn’t please everyone with its ambiguous ending, but the Coen Brothers knew what they were doing. Tommy Lee Jones is a sheriff out west, Josh Brolin is an Everyman who stumbles upon a cache of cash in the desert, and Javier Bardem is unforgettable as the terrifying murderer Chigurh, chasing after Brolin and being chased by the grizzled Jones.
Notes on a Scandal
Decadent tale about two teachers, one a staid, by-the-book spinster (Judi Dench) and the other a free-wheeling art teacher (Cate Blanchett) who has an affair with one of her high school students. Their worlds spiral downward after that, but not all is as it seems. Great work by the two leads.
One Hour Photo
Robin Williams, in one of his quietest, most sensitive roles, is a hermit-like photo-shop worker who lives his life vicariously through the lives of his customers, one family in particular. His obsession gets the better of him in this character study that gives us a heavily nuanced performance from Williams.
In this thriller, a woman cares for her two strange kids while waiting for her husband to return from the Civil War. But there’s something odd about the servants in their mansion.. Genuinely spooky horror movie makes good use of Nicole Kidman’s talents and is helped by startling lighting, too.
Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy about a little girl looking to save her mother from the clutches of an evil Spanish despot during WWII is visually arresting and, at turns, terrifying. Highly imaginative and not easily dismissed.
Ed Harris is alcoholic artist Jackson Pollock, a man hell bent on destroying all remnants of his talent, despite the efforts of his lover and agent, played by Marcia Gay Harden (who won an Oscar). Harris, who also directed, is stellar as the painter.
I’ve liked almost all of the Saw films, but the first one will always be number one. Two men wake up on a long-unused pubic-restroom floor, chained. A dead man lays in the middle of the floor. One of the men must kill the other by 6 pm, or his family will be murdered. Exciting, if quite bloody, horror stew kicked off a spate of imitators, and its visceral attitude gets under your skin, figuratively speaking.
This time, Michael Moore takes on the American health-care industry. As with Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore’s knife is sharp, and he twists it (and, sometimes, the facts) to great effect. A worthy movie for anyone who’s had to deal with an HMO.
In India, a young man is poised to win a boatload of money on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – but did he somehow cheat his way to the top? How could a boy from the slums know so much trivia? Fascinating look at true love with a game show as the backdrop.
Several stories are told in this Steven Soderbergh drug thriller, including those about a conservative, family-oriented judge appointed to the post of U.S. Drug Czar, a somewhat-corrupt Mexican cop who undergoes a series of crises of conscience, a woman who watches as her husband is taken away by the police on charges of drug smuggling, and a 16-year-old golden child who dabbles in soft and hard drugs. Convincing, realistic, and complex, well told.
The US president is shot while giving an anti-terrorism speech in Spain; the event is replayed for the viewer through the eyes of several characters, and each replay gives the audience additional insight as to what has actually happened. It’s not just a matter of determining the chain of events, it’s a matter of figuring out who is involved in the shooting, and to what extent. Expertly shot, well acted by pros like Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, and Forest Whitaker.
Walk the Line
It seemed improbable beforehand, but Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash are perfect singing and acting. James Mangold’s biopic of the legendary crooner doesn’t suffer the same cliches as most singer biopics, and it’s mostly because of the wonderful work by the two leads.
Some said this Alan Moore graphic novel would never be filmed, but Zack Snyder proved them wrong. The superheroes aren’t always good, and they’re not always right, and that dose of humanity is what helps this movie soar. That and the astounding special effects. Brilliant.
Widely billed a Mickey Rourke’s comeback, this movie also offers a very strong – to the point of should-get-awards status – performance by Marisa Tomei in an unflattering role. Rourke’s a rapidly aging pro wrestler who suddenly sees the end of the road and tries to keep on keeping on. Desolate, even mournful at times, The Wrestler leaps off the top rope and into our hearts. Okay, so I couldn’t end this without a cliche.
David Fincher, between movies like Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, gave us this grimy, dark look at the infamous Zodiac killer who stalked San Franciscans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Despite knowing the endgame, you simply can’t look away at the perseverence and/or insanity on the part of those who would bring the baddie to justice.