100 Favorite Films To Recommend Part 9: The 2000s
In the 1920s, the film industry in America and eventually across the globe had grown large enough to become an important part of the American past time. That was followed by four straight decades of the rise and fall of a golden age for Hollywood in which it transcended into becoming a part of the fabric of Americana (If not the world even) before television’s rise forced it to take some lumps. A revolutionary movement of auteurs bridge the gap in the 1970s into an industry that enjoyed big box office franchises and critically acclaimed award winning films into the eighties and nineties. But in retrospect and with hindsight, I would argue that the 2000s was a bridge in a gap the same way the seventies were to a new era for film.
Going into the new century, the Academy Awards and other awards shows were on league with sports championships in ratings and the box office tended to somewhat reflect some connection between films the general audiences were going to and films that were acclaimed and awarded. While movies made bonkers money every now and then, the gap between them was enough that the phrases of “blockbuster” or “lightning in a bottle” still had meaning.
But something seem to shift in the 2000s, and one could argue it was already starting to happen in the mid to late nineties to a point. By the end of the decade the Academy Awards highlighted more and more movies that weren’t resonating with general audiences at the box office, and the popularity of the awards show season waned to being a thing for niche cinephile types. Come the end of the first decade of the new century, Box office records would be broken every year and a decade filled with many billion dollar makers was on the verge of happening. The cinematic universes of superhero cinema would slowly but surely emerge, and by the end of the decade it would be kicking off the greatest era in its history of film adaptations.
In time the 2000s would be a decade in which the American fascination with Hollywood in terms of the glamour and media image, in my opinion, would take a significant hit. Movies were now becoming more of a personal experience with cravings for things that maybe the most artistic minded in the industry would come to debate as not being cinema, and studios gravitated to those types of films to make money while the search for award winning movies shifted more and more towards film festivals by the end of the decade.
For my part as someone who has been writing each week about my favorites movies from each year over the last hundred years of cinema, I can say that perhaps the fact that this is the third straight decade in which no Best Picture winner is listed among my recommendations speaks volumes about what might arguably be the slowly growing gap between general audiences and the films that get all the praise and award statues. But that’s for another type of article in regards to modern cinema in the twenty first century.
This is a piece on recommending my favorite movies for one decade and it seems to be a culmination of picks of all sorts of films that I gravitated to from each decade in previous lists. There’s two down to earth superhero tales, one a completely original take. There’s two giant monster films featuring icons of the kaiju genre. There’s two not so typical romances. There’s two unnerving thrillers in regards to killers, one based on an actual event. And there’s two coming of age tales though both dramatically different in genre and tone. These are my favorite films from each year from the decade that started a new century.
Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is perhaps one of the biggest hit and miss Directors in Hollywood. Making films that end up Academy Award nominated (The Sixth Sense) or movies that end up in the debate for worst films ever (Avatar: The Last Airbender). This original and down to earth spin on the superhero genre are among his hits. In a century of film that would see massive CGI spectacles for the genre, Shymalan’s take on it gives us an origin story of an everyday man played by Bruce Willis himself who has personality flaws and takes time to accept his gift. Along the way he’s guided by the mysterious Elijah Price played by Samuel L Jackson, a man with brittle bones and an obsession with superheroes. The film’s twist ending is among the best and most shocking in cinema. I only wish the sequels to this film were anywhere near as good as this one.
2001: “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack” (AKA: “Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidora: Daikaijū Sōkōgeki”)
Plenty of beloved Godzilla classics came close to making it onto my lists but happen to end up competing in years were a film or two were just better in my mind (Godzilla in 1954 and Mothra VS Godzilla in 1964 for example). From my favorite film franchise of all-time, this is the second movie from it to make one of these lists. What makes what we Godzilla fanboys refer to as “GMK” for short stand out from the plethora of Godzilla movies is its unique premise that makes the king of the monsters take a completely different role than any other film. Whereas as before he played the role of a warning about nuclear weapons or a children’s savior or even a warrior against pollution, in here he is a ghost made up of all those souls that Japan has wronged. He is a true titan of terror in this one, an enemy to mankind with an aura of evil intentions for the land of the rising sun – even being presented with no pupils to give him what may be his most evil look. Like in the 1954 original, Godzilla is a monster with no remorse with scenes in which he strikes down hospitals and a news helicopter. To combat this revenge seeking entity, Japan’s mythical guardians must rise up and take on Godzilla. The guardians come in the form of Baragon, Mothra of course, and Godzilla’s nemesis in King Ghidorah – the only time he plays good guy in one of these movies.
2002: “Punch-Drunk Love”
It really frustrates me that comedians like John C Reilly or Melissa McCarthy are in mediocre to downright horrible comedy films when we’ve seen them do such great dramatic roles as well. Adam Sandler is also on that list. He’s recently (rightfully) got praise for his performance in Uncut Gems, but he’s also had good performances in other dramatic roles including this interesting twist on the love story in which Sandler plays a lonely and troubled man falling in love while he is dealing with threats of extortion off of one phone sex call (You read that right). The movie is a dramedy with plenty comedy and other notable performances including a mesmerizing one by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
2003: “Memories Of Murder” (AKA: “Sarinui Chueok”)
Bong Joon-ho recently broke through from a highly respected Korean film director and into Hollywood royalty when his film, Parasite, became the first non-English speaking film to win the Oscar for Best Picture last year. While I liked that film, I think Bong has given us even better movies and this one is my pick for his crowning masterpiece. Inspired and loosely based on the then unsolved (and since solved) Hwaseong serial murders, this is a stress inducing two hour plus thrill ride in which you follow detectives desperate to solve a case that you know won’t be figured out by the end. The movie has some incredible editorial cuts and camera pans that match with whatever scene is happening in front of us and whatever emotion we should be getting from it. The performances are great and the movie ends on a frightening final frame in which our main protagonist is looking out at the film audience in search for the killer. The crazy thing about it? After the killer was identified, it was confirmed by a cellmate of his he had seen the film and thus that final frame rang true.
Tom Cruise playing a deranged hit man forcing an innocent cab driver played by Jamie Foxx to drive him along on a spree of assassinations to be done all in one night? That’s the plot behind this thrilling Michael Mann neo-noir, and like Foxx’s character you find yourself a captor of Cruise’s as he forces us to watch his heinous acts. Throughout the whole film you find yourself wondering who this hitman really is and while we never get a full answer, we just know its a brush with someone extremely dangerous. Foxx’s performance lead to him getting a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination on the same night he won a Best Actor Oscar for Ray.
2005: “King Kong”
After completing his great The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, Peter Jackson set out to remake a film that made a previous list in this series, 1933’s King Kong. It wasn’t the first attempt at remaking the film, it was tried in 1976 and that adaptation wasn’t met with the best of praise. However by bringing it back to the thirties, adding more depth to the characters, and giving us an even longer adventure on Kong’s Island, Jackson pulled off a kaiju epic that pays homage as much as it re-imagines the 1933 masterpiece. Its not as good as the original but of all the Kong films since its in a very exclusive list of those that come close.
2006: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (AKA: “El Laberinto del Fauno”)
Guillermo del Toro has made some good to incredible dark fantasy films and even directed an Oscar Best Picture winner in The Shape of Water. But for me this Spanish-Mexican dark tale interwoven between real world events and a labyrinth filled with mystical creatures is his best yet. The creature and set designs are amazing, and you’ll find yourself equally in awe and sometimes even horrified at the worlds our main protagonist visits.
This coming of age raunchy sex comedy about two high schoolers trying to lose their virginity and score booze introduced us to a few would be future film stars. But I enjoy it the most because its the only type of these movies that has ever hit close to home with my experience in high school (Though I swear to you things never got as crazy as they get in this movie). Ultimately this movie ends up being a sweeter film than its plot teases, and is an equally smart and enduring comedy that’s ultimately about two best friends.
2008: “The Dark Knight”
If 1989’s Batman showed how you can make a gritty superhero film, 2008’s The Dark Knight (A sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins) took that and made itself the golden standard that future down to earth and yet gritty superhero films will be judged by. The biggest highlight of course is the show stealer of all show stealer performances by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker himself – which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and remains to this day my pick for the best Joker ever presented in cinema (Including Joaquin Phoenix’s). I usually don’t get too worked up over Oscar snubs, but it bothers me to this day this film wasn’t as least nominated for Best Picture. In fact so many people cried out in offense over this, that the Academy expanded their nomination list for the big award the following year.
2009: “The Princess and the Frog”
2009 was a great year to be a fan of animated movies. From the award winning Pixar film Up to Fantastic Mr Fox to Coraline to my choice for favorite movie of this year, The Princess and the Frog. A twist in the old fairy tale and set in 1920s New Orleans, the movie is highlighted by diverse characters, great musical numbers, a great Disney villian voiced by Keth David himself, and the kind of animation that brings you back to the Renaissance era of Disney animation. It is the only Disney animation studios film since the turn of the century that I consider a masterpiece from them, and whenever I see it come on I have to sit down and watch it again.
And thus ends the list of my favorite movies from the 2000s. If you haven’t yet please do read my similar lists for the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s. the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. The goal of this series is to hopefully help others discover some great films they might want to try out while most of us are stuck at home, and as always I do enjoy others’ recommendations in the comments. Next time, we wrap it up with the previous decade of movies – the 2010s.
In any given discussion of “best movies”, the question of “wanna watch it again?” pops up a lot.
Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
I never want to watch it again.
The Dark Knight? Hell, I’ll just pull it up in another window right now…
Does this mean that Dark Knight is a better movie than Pan’s Labyrinth? I don’t think so… really… I mean, Pan’s Labyrinth is a much better movie than Dark Knight (which has a *LOT* of flaws). But I never want to see Pan’s Labyrinth again. Don’t need to. Once was enough. But the flawed movie that wasn’t as good? Hell yes, let’s watch it again. How about a magic trick?Report
I was just struggling with the same question trying to think about the movie Open Water. It’s the simplest plot, but I’m never going to complain about a simple plot executed perfectly. But I probably will never rewatch it, and I don’t know how to rate it.Report
I googled it and the Wikipedia page messed me up.Report
Man, Pan’s Labyrinth is SO good! I’ve heard for a while that Guillermo del Toro’s films are hit of miss, but I’ve only seen that one and The Shape of Water, which was also SO good.Report
Then may I suggest The Devils Backbone? Its even from the right decade.Report
I would have put Hellboy above Collateral for my 2004 movie. I’d recommend you watch that tonight. Get a frozen pizza out of the fridge and make a night of it.
He made the 2nd Blade movie. The one with vampire-vampires. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but think that whomever made this movie suffered from nightmares as a kid. Pacific Rim? Magnificently dumb. Giant Robots fighting Cthulhu. One of the giant robots picks up a battleship and uses it as a baseball bat to hit Cthulhu in the head.
He’s got a couple of stinkers. The sequel to Hellboy was exceptionally disappointing. Crimson Peak was okay… I guess…
But if you don’t mind big-budget pulp, you should check out the ones I’ve praised above. They’re candy bars… but they’re high-end candy bars.Report
I’ve heard that about Crimson Peak. Interesting thing- we have a castle in town. It’s actually a Masonic temple of the Scottish Rite. Anyway, it’s used in that movie, so a lot of people I.know have watched it. They generally said It was okay, I guess.Report
I would describe it as visually and stylistically excellent but coupled with a very average, genre movie story. Seems like a lot went into making something that came out merely serviceable.Report
The Shape of Water is a confusing film for OT, because when people discuss it here you can’t tell if “fishing” means “fishing” or “fishing”.Report
I feel that way about “No Country for Old Men.” I thought it was a great movie, but I can’t watch it again. I tried, but I couldn’t.Report
There are a number of flicks where all I wanted to see was a particular speech. I’ve seen Anton Chigurh’s speeches from the movie… I’ve never seen the movie.
The speeches were good, though.Report
Interesting. I love No Country, and can watch it any time.
I didn’t like Unbreakable–Shyamalan just doesn’t do it for me. The Sixth Sense was good, but the rest of his movies are just meh (or not even meh) to me.Report
I’ve never seen Unbreakable, but I might since it’s recommended in the OP. I agree with you about the rest of Shyamalan’s work (or at least what I’ve seen of it): the Sixth Sense was good, but the rest were, as you say, “not even meh.” In fact, the rest was, in my view, “I can’t believe I wasted about 2 hours of my life watching *that*!”Report
I can’t say I predicted Shyamalan’s career path, but I do remember coming out of the theater after seeing The Sixth Sense thinking that Haley Joel Osment did most of the work. That said, I liked Unbreakable. Bruce Willis is effective, and Samuel L. Jackson isn’t allowed to chew the scenery. The result is that they both have actual characters. And I know everyone does gritty subversions of the superhero genre, but this one is unique.Report
There were some very good movies in the 2000’s, but one movie just broke me.
I’ve only seen two on this list. I agree with Unbreakable as the best movie of 2000. The Dark Knight is very good, but I think it’s a wee bit overrated compared to the first in the trilogy, and I really liked Cloverfield better.
2004 is the toughest year for me to pick. Truthfully I can’t, not without a lot more thought. The Prisoner of Azkaban is a great movie and a turning point for the franchise. But House of Flying Daggers is on my personal top ten. It’s arguably the most beautiful movie ever made, and it outclasses Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in action and romance. So I was waffling between those two when I noticed that The Incredibles was made the same year. I’m stumped.
Also, after playing along during this series of articles, I’m thinking that a biggest disappointments list could be fun too.Report
“Collateral” often seems slept on but is so good and fun and well-acted.Report
I think the thing with the argument that general audiences preferred Movie A to Movie B, but the academy preferred Movie B, so they must be out of touch is that it’s usually argued with the fact that general audiences didn’t actually see Movie B. It can be true that most people didn’t watch a movie, but if they did, they would have thought it was great.Report
I’ll add to this list, not constraining myself to picking only one movie per year: Batman Begins (over Dark Knight), No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Phone Booth when I rewatch it, I find it a little bit cheesy….even so, I like it), and About Schmidt.
ETA: I’d also add Brokeback Mountain and Friends with Money.Report
I like most of your choices, but I am not very fond of King Kong. To me, that exposed how poor an editor Peter Jackson is. Shots go on too long, and sequences have too many shots. This story could be told more economically, and it would have more impact. You can see these tendencies develop over time in LotR. Fellowship is very, very tight, but RotK has many of the same issues.
When I look at the to 10 grossers of 2005 the one that stands out to me is Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Now, I’m married, and that probably adds to the appeal of this, but it’s funny and smart (and fast-paced). Batman Begins also came out that year, but you probably didn’t want two Batman films on your list, which is understandable. Still, if I made the list in 2005, it would probably be on it.Report
Heh, Mr. and Mrs. Smith makes me chuckle… But yeah, King Kong doesn’t even register for me.Report
I saw Collateral on your list and wondered what in the world came out in 2004 to make Collateral the best.
I should say, I like Collateral just fine… but it seemed to say something more about 2004 than anything else. A quick Google of movies released in 2004 make me commend you for the choices you didn’t make.
The one that stuck out for me, though, was Napoleon Dynamite… not because I’d say its the best of anything, but man, that’s just an uncomfortable movie for me. I know a lot of people find it funny, but there’s something vaguely familiar and simultaneously alien that gives me the creeps. I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an entire viewing… just pieces of it on satellite… over and over. What’s even weirder, I can’t quite figure out what weirds me out about it.Report
It was not better than Pan’s Labyrinth but for 2006 I would give an honorable mention to Children of Men. It had probably one of the best battle scenes I’ve ever seen, using the same kind of no-cut filming style they did in 1917.Report
Children of Men fell short for me. There wasn’t enough movie there. I don’t mean it was too short, or too boring, or too slow, but it didn’t give me enough. I have the opposite reaction to Christopher Nolan – the Batman movies, in particular, have too much in them, but I’m ok with it. That’s just how he makes movies. And I don’t mean too much story, or action, or even great acting (although it can get a little overwhelming when there are that many top-notch performances).
Phone Booth could have been a good TV episode of some show. Children of Men needed to be in movie format because the story was so epic. Nolan’ movies are 2:30 hours and feel like they should have been 3:30.Report
Maybe I need to give those Batman movies a try. I feel like I’ve spent 15 years in super hero fatigue but that’s my own problem.Report
2007 had an outpouring of excellent noirish films: There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Michael Clayton, 3:10 to Yuma, Gone Baby Gone, and probably others I’m not recalling. If I had to pick a favorite, probably the Coens.Report
Two of my favorite films of all time start out this decade:
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Spirited Away (2001)
The first is my favorite Coen Brothers movie, and the second is tied with My Neighbor Totoro (1988) as my favorite Miyazaki.
Less enthused, but would go with the following:
Finding Nemo (2003)
Mean Girls (2004)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Dark Knight (2008)
Princess and the Frog is probably tied with Coraline; I feel its the best Disney animated feature film since the classic era, but I remember reading Coraline to my daughter as a bed time story and how excited we were to see it at the theater.Report
Of all the films on all the lists in this series, Chicago, for me, is the absolute worst. I made it through half before I gave up.
This decade was definitely better than the ’90s, but some years were tough. I can entirely understand you leaving out some years.Report
Heh, and here this was my first attempt at a list; I probably could have topped Chicago for you if I tried more lists. The sleezy lawyer tap-dance scene is worth a look if you missed it.
O Brother is one of my all time favorites. I think it’s Clooney’s best performance. I can, and will, watch that whenever it comes on.Report
And the soundtrack! My goodness, the soundtrack.
I can’t imagine a top ten soundtracks list where it isn’t in the top 3.Report
2000 – Almost Famous, a really sweet film of a fictitious Cameron Crowe coming of age. (This was a really tough year; Best in Show, or O Brother, Where Art Thou? could easily replace my choice.)
2001 – Monsters, Inc.
2002 – Bend It Like Beckham
2003 – Open Range (love me some Westerns). Also could have been the 2 Matrix sequels.
2004 – Dodgeball. Excellent lowbrow entertainment.
2005 – Syriana
2006 – Idiocracy (who knew?)
2007 – The Darjeeling Limited (never miss a Wes Anderson flick)
2008 – Gran Torino. Honorable mention: In Bruges
2009 – Zombieland. Murray’s cameo alone makes this worth a watch.Report
This decade had one of, in my opinion, the most profoundly disappointing movies of all time: The Legend of Bagger Vance. I love this novel, and I was so looking forward to seeing it. I was crushed.Report
2000 – American Psycho [Runner-Up: Best in Show]
2001 – The Royal Tenanbaums [Runner-Up: The Man Who Wasn’t There]
2002 – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind [Runner-Up: Adaptation]
2003 – Master and Commander [Runner-Up: Kill Bill]
2004 – Shaun of the Dead [Runner-Up: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind]
2005 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [Runner-Up: Hard Candy]
2006 – Children of Men [Runner-Up: The Fall]
2007 – There Will Be Blood [Runner-Up: No Country for Old Men]
2008 – Synecdoche, New York [Runner-Up: In Bruges]
2009 – In the Loop [Runner-Up: Inglorious Basterds]Report