Friday, February 5, 2010

Top 10 of the 2000s

Ladies and gentlemen, I have traveled over ten years to be with you tonight. I couldn’t get here sooner because I had films to see all over the country. Those films cost me thousands of dollars and are paying me an income of knowledge as art. So, ladies and gentlemen… when I say I’m a film fanatic, you will agree. You have a great chance here, but bear in mind, my choices are not facts, simply choices. I’m fixed like no other film buff in this field. I can attend nearly half dozen films at one time and have the reviews written in a week. And this why I can guarantee that my top 10 films of the decade are met with great feeling and much deliberation.

I assure you, whatever the others may list as their favorites, when it comes to the showdown, they haven’t seen as much as me.

10. The New World
2005, Terrence Malick
The poetic, philosophical genius behind one of the best war films ever made (The Thin Red Line) presents his own version of Pocahontas. Sound lame? You bet. That’s why this film is such a knockout. With its limited dialogue and extended shots of nature-as-life, you’re in for something different, albeit tragically brilliant.
Favorite Scene: The dazzling climax, scored perfectly to Wagner’s "Das Rheingold: Vorspiel".

9. Million Dollar Baby
2004, Clint Eastwood
The only Best Picture winner on my list, and the best boxing film since Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby is a subtle work of art with a gut punch of a third act. Hilary Swank (who’s only been good in two films), excels in the lead. Note the crafty art direction; you can actually smell that rusty old gym. This movie proves that tough ain’t enough, you need a heart as well.
Favorite Scene: Maggie goes down, in a way no one saw coming.

8. Brokeback Mountain
2005, Ang LeeFind me a film that better details the bliss and hell of love, and I’ll eat my words. Heath Ledger’s flawless performance as Ennis Del Mar will be talked about and studied for decades. Just watching him is heartbreaking. His face, his gestures; there’s pain behind every facet of Ennis. This film is so subtle that it may pass you by after an initial viewing. But if you have any lasting interest, explore it again. It’s the best, most tragic love story of our time.
Favorite Scene: The affecting conclusion as Ennis tearfully accepts his lover’s fate. More on this scene here.

7. Memento
2001, Christopher NolanI typically don’t like films that rely on a gimmick to fill the seats, but when it’s this good, it’s impossible to overlook. Like Pulp Fiction, Memento’s narrative structure has been picked and pulled and copied dozens of times by lesser filmmakers. Go back to the source for a real psychological wallop. Guy Pearce extends his genius as an actor in a role that’s built around a gimmick, but soon becomes so much more.
Favorite Scene: With the simple jotting down of a license plate, the ending all clicks into place. Or is it the beginning? “You can be my John G.” Indeed.

6. Babel
2006, Alejandro González IñárrituThere are a lot of people out there that will disagree with me, but Babel is easily one of the most gut wrenching emotional experiences of the decade. Each story may not seem necessary, but they soon become essential to the development of the characters' conflicts. The highlight: Rinko Kikuchi as a sexually frusterated, borderline suicidal, deaf mute teenager. Like Heath Ledger in Brokeback, Kikuchi embodies the pain of her character in a way rarely seen. I currently have my iTunes playlist on random and while I was writing this paragraph the closing song of the film, "Bibo no Aozora" by Ryuichi Sakamoto, began to play. Everything is connected.
Favorite Scene: Brad Pitt offering money to the man that has helped him more than he could’ve possibly fathomed. In rejecting the money we witness the true capacity of kindness. More on this scene here.

5. Antwone Fisher
2002, Denzel WashingtonSurely this won’t be on any other critic’s list, which is completely understandable. For me, Antwone Fisher falls into a very limited category of films: those that have quite literally changed my life. Is it the best shot, best scored, best developed film of the decade? God no. But it has importance, it has purpose, it has a life.
Favorite Scene: Antwone screaming for help in front of his therapist. The delivery of the line “I don’t know what to do,” should’ve gotten debut actor Derek Luke nominated for an Oscar.

4. The Pianist
2002, Roman PolanskiAdrien Brody, in the Oscar-winning role of a lifetime, excelled as real life Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman. Directing his best movie since Chinatown, Roman Polanski gave his deeply personal film a pulse. While that pulse may seem faint at times, it’s pumping in the film’s many emotional sequences. Unflinching, honest, and poignantly captured.
Favorite Scene: Szpilman playing for his life, as ordered by an imposing Nazi officer.

3. 25th Hour
2002, Spike Lee

Over time, people will forget this, but when this film came out, other directors were avoiding 9/11. Films were re-edited, delayed, dumbed down and so on to skirt the topic. But Spike Lee, America’s most prominent New York filmmaker, actually embraced our country’s new state of terror with awesome vengeance. In the best role of his career, Edward Norton becomes Monty Brogan. We may not like Monty at first, with his pompous attitude and do-no-good frills, but by the end, we hate to see him go.
Favorite Scene: This is tough. The ‘Fuck You’ mirror speech, the ‘make me ugly' bit. But for me it’s the introduction of my favorite character, Francis Xavier Slaughtery as played to perfection by Barry Pepper. As he sits red-eyed and Red-Bull fueled, we almost pass out with him from the pressure of his stock market job. That’s bravado filmmaking.

2. There Will Be Blood
2007, Paul Thomas AndersonThis movie will have influence on future cinema, more than any other film this decade. Daniel Day-Lewis, in the best performance of the decade, let’s you see what true greed actually is. There isn’t a forced moment or unnecessary scene in the film’s 160 minutes. A throwback to 1940s cinema, There Will Be Blood is a movie to be analyzed by any film enthusiast. Each scene could stand as its own short film; it is that well-defined. To quote Mr. Plainview himself: “that was one goddman hell of a show.”
Favorite Scene: Another tough one. I’ll pick the first 15 nearly wordless minutes as the film’s highlight. How the hell does Plainview not only get out of that hole, but make it to a town? Money. To him, it’s more powerful a force than living.

2000, Steven SoderberghI’m surprised I haven’t seen this on any other best of the decade lists. No matter, Traffic is the most searing work of the 2000s. I’ve seen this dozens of times and it simply gets better and more evolved with each viewing. With his shaky, off-hued camera, Soderbergh captures the drug world in a way we’ve never seen (note: The Wire began in 2002). Better than any film this decade, Traffic took a series of stories and entwined them in a way that made them essential to one another. Because of its heart rendering final moments, this film matters to me more than most. “We’re here to listen.” We could all learn something from that.
Favorite Scene: The end baseball game, with a perfect Benicio Del Toro cast under the glow of his warm lights. More on this scene here.

An Alternative Ten
Quite frankly, this is a far more interesting list. Each of these is either indie, foreign or a documentary. They aren’t better or worse than the first 10, they’re just the next in line.
Amores Perros (2000), will shock you and rock you, everytime you watch it.
Dancer in the Dark (2000), is a brilliant, patient art-as-life experiment.
Mulholland Dr. (2001), is a total mind fuck that never gets old.
Irreversible (2002), contains one of cinema’s most violent scenes, which makes its ending that much more endearing.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003), is the decades best detailed, most terrifying documentary.
A History of Violence (2005), snuck up on you with its subtle story, then blew you away with its ferocious power.
United 93 (2006), is the most suspenseful, realistic film of the decade.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), makes you sweat with its patient, evolving dialogue.
The Edge of Heaven (2007), takes a familiar narrative and makes it unique, nearly as well as Babel.
Precious (2009), made you understand and care about a world that you never knew (or wanted to know) existed.
Note: Obviously, all of these films are available on DVD. But for easier access: Memento, Brokeback Mountain, Capturing the Friedmans, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and The Edge of Heaven all are available on Netflix InstantPlay.


  1. I like how different ours are, the favourite scene was a nice touch.

  2. I really enjoy this list, especially #5. I have not seen your #3 and now must.

  3. Really, Alex...Million Dollar Baby?

  4. Good lists....both of them. You surprised me with Traffic as #1. Your alternative list offers some interesting viewing choices.

  5. Actually, I meant Mystic River. Better than The Blind Side... right?

  6. I have SRSLY wanted to see The History of Violence for FOREVER.

    & Memento is like spooky good. Same with Babel...

    Nice list ;)

  7. I have only seen three of these movies. Eeeeep. Will catch up eventually!

    1. I highly recommend ALL of them. Traffic is just... wow. It still, to this day, completely floors me.

    2. I've got a watchlist of nearly 100 movies I have to see, Traffic has just entered it and gone straight into the top 5. Will try to see it soon :D

    3. Nice! Just take that watchlist one at a time, try not to let it burden you!

  8. Excellent post, I recently watched and reviewed Traffic.

    1. Thanks man! Will scope out your Traffic review soon.

  9. Great list Alex!

    "Hilary Swank who’s only been good in two films" - it made me laugh out loud, because it's so true. Interestingly, she won for Oscar for both roles

    1. Thanks!

      She's been okay in a few other things (Insomnia, The Gift) but only exceptional twice, which she was awarded for... twice. Ha.

  10. The list is great. The blog is great.
    Yet I have to strongly disagree when you say Memento relies on gimmick. The reverse chronology could be gimmick but not in Memento. Well, Leonard Shelby suffers from short term memory loss, right? SO reverse order puts the audience in the same situation. They don't have a clue what has happened just a few minutes ago just like Leonard Shelby who doesn't remember anything! So the reverse order is a very cleverly designed technic to put the audience and the hero in the same can really feel how lost he is with no memory. I think its amazing. The point is that with Memento you have only one shot. The repeat viewing (though necessary, sort of) may not be as interesting, naturally.

    1. Wow, Faraz, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate your kind words. Man, I haven't looked at this post in YEARS. Reviewing it now, yeah, I totally agree with you about Memento - it's structure works because it puts us in Leonard's head. There's a nifty feature on the DVD that allows you to watch the film in order. Have you done that? I have, and, while groovy, it wasn't nearly as effective a film.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  11. Nice list but I've only seen 5 of these (1, 2, 3, 6 and 7), and a year ago that number would have only been 2! And those 2 appear on my list, which is:

    10. Memento
    9. Mulholland Dr
    8. The Fountain
    7. Collateral
    6. There Will Be Blood
    5. Wall-E
    4. Gladiator
    3. Children Of Men
    2. High Fidelity
    1. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

    1. Man, I wonder what my list would look like if I made it today. Would undoubtedly be some changes. Really dig your list. Collateral is such an underrated Mann film - arguably his most "LA" film (which I didn't realize until I moved here. I really love it.


  12. Great blog and great list. Completely agree on Traffic. I never see it rated as high as I have it. We share similar tastes. The only movie on your list I didn't care for was Babel - despite having one of Brad Pitt's best performances. I have not seen Antwone Fisher, but now my expectations are elevated.

    My Top 10 would like:

    1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Andrew Dominik (2007)
    2. Traffic, Steven Soderbergh (2000)
    3. There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson (2007)
    4. The Prestige, Christopher Nolan (2006)
    5. No Country for Old Men, Joel & Ethan Coen (2007)
    6. Munich, Steven Spielberg (2005)
    7. Mulholland Dr., David Lynch (2001)
    8. Inside Man, Spike Lee (2006)
    9. Wedding Crashers, David Dobkin (2005)
    10. Unbreakable, M Night Shyamalan (2000)

    Honorable mentions: (500) Days of Summer, Moon, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Million Dollar Baby.

    1. Nice man, thanks so much for the comment!

      Today, I would definitely change a few things on my list, but it's all good. Love that you have Jesse James at the top spot. That movie gets better and better. I really think it'll endure and be remembered as a classic.

  13. I have 4 that you bet that will be there.
    2.There Will Be Blood
    3.21 Grams
    How it would look today your Top 10 of the 2000s?

    1. Top 3 would be the same. Irreversible would be in the Top 10. Million Dollar Baby would be out. 21 Grams would probably make my Top 10 as well.

    2. John Smith: 21 Grams was a movie i loved first time i watched it, the performances from all the actors and moral dilemmas, Naomi Watts screaming which is not really a scream but still so damn heart breaking.

      Then i watched it again and i could not feel the same as i did when i first watched it. A shame when that happens /:

    3. Ahh that is such a bummer, but it definitely happens. 21 Grams will always hold up for me though.

  14. This list made me go and see Traffic a couple of months back, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. It stands far above anything else made in this decade, and, so far, perhaps even the next. Traffic has become one of my favorite films and because of how little coverage I've seen it get I owe that all to you. Thanks man

    Also, I wondered if American Psycho was ever a contender. Female directors are sadly few in number, but Harron did an exceptional job, as did Bale

    1. Awesome man, love hearing this. Traffic will always be one of my favorite films. I even placed it in my Top 10 Films of All Time. Love that movie, so indebted to it.

      American Psycho is one of faves of the 2000s, no question. Definitely one of the most compulsively rewatchable and entertaining flicks of that decade.

  15. 1. Lost In Translation
    2. 25th Hour
    3. Adaptation
    4. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
    5. Broken Flowers (Thank god that your Bill Murray post made me seek out this great movie!)
    6. Sideways
    7. Kaminey
    8. Omkara
    9. Dev.D
    10. Wake Up Sid

    1. GREAT picks. Need to see your 7-10. And man, I'm so happy my post could motivate you to watch Broken Flowers. What a film.

    2. John Smith: That final scene with Muray watching the person going away... So perfect

    3. John Smith: Those are Indian movies, but very innovating and different from most stereotypical indian movies. You would like them (:

    4. Oh cool! I really want to get into that type of cinema. I've been given so many recommendations of the years about them.

  16. Well tonight I learned something very important:

    I was not ready for Irreversible.

    I will see it again. I actually WANT to see it again- if only to make a little more sense of what I just witnessed. Not going to disagree with you though Alex, there is... something about it

    And I'm almost glad you said MDB would be out if you re-did it. Didn't take to that movie at all.

    1. It's a rough ride, for sure. I just learned that Noe was coked out the whole time he shot the opening gay club scene. Which makes sense, you know?