As 2009 comes to an end we also find ourselves closing another decade and so many film fans will debate over what exactly were the best films of the 2000s.
This list comes at a bittersweet time for me. The current films of 2009 have been so utterly pathetic to me that they have sucked all the joy of cinema out of me. The decade on a whole I would argue was a disaster. It started off to wide spread disappointment. The films of 2000 were considered by and large to be vastly disappointing. Only a selected few films from the year have managed to last.
At the time I was very critical of the following years. Now, knowing what I know now, I wish I could take back some of those remarks. In hindsight, the first half of the decade wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. It was from 2006 onwards that the decade went into a horrific slump which it hasn’t been able to get out of. But these last two years in particular have been disgusting.
Going over my ratings and reviews for the decade I believe 2001-2005 were the high points. In fact the films on this list were made in between those years. Only two films were made after. Nothing from 2007, 2008 or this year is on the list. The years 2002 and 2001 were the most honored with three films apiece.
Just to give readers a sense of how disappointing these last two years have been take this into consideration. In 2004 I gave 15 films a four star rating compared to 2005 were I gave 18. In 2008 I only gave 8 films and this year (though not over) I have only given 6 films four stars. Even in a pathetic year like 2006 I still managed to give 13 films four star ratings. And 14 films in 2007.
So sadly I can’t honor the decade in the way some might like me to. The films as of late have been simply terrible. No longer, does it seem, that Hollywood can make lasting, important films. Films which I believe will be remembered 10 years from now. You’ll hear me repeat that cry in my year end list, which so far looks like I won’t make an official “top ten” list.
Still I did manage to come up with some titles which I think have proven themselves. The films on this list were films which have stood with me these past 10 years. I never forgot about them. My mind kept going back to them over and over again. And hopefully they had the same effect on you. At the time when I first saw many of these films I honestly didn’t realize I was going to remember them so many years later. But they had a lasting power. I think a majority of movie films will recall some of these titles. There is one title I’m fairly certain no one will recall, but it is still a modern masterpiece. Surprisingly, for me anyway, a majority of the films are American. I tried to expand the list to include international titles but I couldn’t think of many which truly touched me and inspired me. The films in this list will be listed alphabetically. I honestly couldn’t pick one over the other. They are all important to me one way or another.
Here are the best films of the 2000s!
1. 21 GRAMS (Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; U.S. 2003) – This was actually my choice for the best film of 2003. I remember when I saw this film in theatres. It was Inarritu’s English language debut film, coming off the critically successful Mexican film “Amores perros” (2001). But as much as people praised “Perros” it was this film which blew me away. I felt it had much more of a punch to it. I can still recall how I felt watching the film. I was actually in pain. I felt so strongly for the characters on screen.
The film became the middle part of Inarritu’s trilogy of films dealing with communication. It came to a conclusion with “Babel” (2006). “21 Grams”stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro. It was nominated for two Oscars; one for Watts and Del Toro. Unfortunately Penn wasn’t nominated though did win an Oscar that year for “Mystic River” (2003). But it was his work here which touched me most.
2. BLESS YOU, PRISON (Binecuvantata fii, inchisoare, Dir. Nicolae Margineanu; Romania 2002) – Nicolae Margineanu is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers in Romania. Of all the films I have seen by him (I have even reviewed one of them on here, “Somewhere in the East” (Undeva in Est, 1991)” this seems to be the film he was born to make. It is a powerful true story based on Nicole Valery-Grossu’s life who was imprisoned in 1950s Romania for her opposition to Stalin. It was only her faith which kept her strong and gave her the courage to continue. The film is a harrowing reminder of what life was like in Eastern Europe during the dark days of communism. Maria Ploae’s performance may very well be one of the best of her career.
Margineanu isn’t as well known in this country as he should be. Though with the recent interest in Romanian cinema hopefully some film fans will search for his work.
3. (TIE) THE DEPARTED (Dir. Martin Scorsese; U.S. 2006) / GANGS OF NEW YORK (Dir. Martin Scorsese; U.S. 2002) – There was a time during the decade film critics were actually beating up on Scorsese. “Gangs of New York” received a lot of negative press from many, many critics, Rex Reed and Manhola Dargis among them. Many had accused Scorsese of making “Oscar bait” pictures just to quench his desire to finally win a “Best Director” Oscar. But the critics should eat crow, time was on Scorsese side. Most people probably don’t remember the reception “Gangs of New York” was treated with. Now it has survived. I picked it as one of the best films of the year. I said it was one of Scorsese’s most visually stunning films. I even thought it was the movie he should have won the directing Oscar for. The film won 10 Oscar nomination and Scorsese won a Golden Globe for “Best Director”.
“The Departed” was a different story. It was cited as a “comeback” for Scorsese after “Gangs” and “The Aviator” (2004), another unfairly damned film. Of course it became the film which finally won Scorsese his Oscar, though many at the time, myself include, felt it was more of a “pity” Oscar. An attempt by the Academy to clear its name and give Scorsese his long overdue award. But “The Departed” has also stood the test of time. Though it was based on the Asian crime series “Infernal Affairs”, Scorsese took the material and made it his own.The film was nominated for 5 Oscars winning the “Best Picture” award as well.
4. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Dir. Kar Wai Wong; Hong Kong 2001) – This marked the first time I ever saw the work of Kar Wai and it stood with me ever since. I simply could not forgot the cinematography and the musical score. Though a sequel was made “2046” (2005), which I liked, it couldn’t match this film. Here was a movie which really brought me into the world of the characters, played magnificently by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. The was nominated for three awards at the Cannes Film Festival including the top prize, the Palme d’or. Tony Leung won the “Best Actor” award.
5. MATCH POINT (Dir. Woody Allen; U.K./U.S. 2005) – Prior to this film so many people had thought Allen’s best days were behind. The old and frankly worn out criticism that Allen had lost his touch was and still is a fashion sentiment which all critics and the public seem to have taken on. But Allen showed them all when “Match Point” was released. It was Allen’s first film in decades to be entirely shot outside of New York and began what some called his “London trilogy”. The film was similar in many ways to his “Crimes & Misdemeanors” (1989) dealing with social class and murder. Though I felt Allen found a better metaphor to express his ideas here.
The film became Allen’s most successful film in 20 years. Allen was even nominated for an Oscar for “Best Screenplay”, nearly 10 years had pasted since his last nomination. And the film went on to earn 4 Golden Globe nominations including “Best Picture” and “Best Director”. I still think it was unfair Allen’s directing wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.
6. MOULIN ROUGE! (Dir. Baz Lurhmann; Australia/U.S. 2001) – Here was a dazzling spectacular which seemed to move at a frantic devilish pace. I called the film at the time one of the greatest love stories to hit the screen in recent years. That might have been a bit of an over statement on my part, but, it expressed the sheer enthusiasm which I felt for the film. I thought it should have won the Oscar that year for “Best Picture” and was one of the many people who felt Lurhmann was wrongfully over looked for a “Directing” nomination. The film was nominated for 8 Oscars winning 2; “Art Direction” and “Costume Design”. It was nominated for the Palme d’or at Cannes and did win the “Best Picture” award at the Golden Globes.
7. MULHOLLAND DR. (Dir. David Lynch; U.S. 2001) – This was the first David Lynch movie I had seen. The style of the film recalled Fellini and John Waters to me. But something about the film captivated me. It wasn’t smartly written and some of the acting seemed amateurish, a Lynch staple in my opinion, but the performances by Naomi Watts (this is where I first discovered her) and Laura Harring blew my socks off. The weird unpredictable nature of the film was jarring but spellbinding as well. Originally intended as a pilot for a TV show (which wasn’t picked up) Lynch went back to it and made it into a feature. I saw the original pilot material. All I can say is Lynch really transformed it. In that state it made no sense. “Mulholland Dr.” remains one of my favorite Lynch films with only “Blue Velvet” (1986) coming close.
8. PAN’S LABYRINTH (Dir. Guillermo del Toro; Mexico 2006) – The international favorite at the time managed to be one of those rare foreign films which American audiences flocked to. It is a powerful examination of the power of imagination. A young girl living in fascist Spain is afraid of the man her mother has chosen to marry. As as escape from that cruel world the young her finds herself lost in her thoughts only to face other grim horrors. The film won 6 Oscar nominations winning three; “Cinematography”, “Art Direction” and “Make-Up”. The film opened the eyes of many to the cinema coming from Mexico.
9. THE PIANIST (Dir. Roman Polanski; France 2002) – Although Polanski’s name has been in the news lately gossip can never take away the man’s genius. And if you don’t think the man is a genius try watching this film. I believe it is Polanski’s greatest film and the best film dealing with WW2. I even think it is stronger and more emotionally involving than Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” (1993). This, like “Bless You, Prison” and Margineanu, was the movie Polanski was born to direct. To much surprise Polanski won the “Best Director” Oscar and Adrien Brody won the “Best Actor” award for his portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman. The film was nominated for a total of 7 Oscars and won the Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival.
10. SUNSHINE (Dir. Istvan Szabo; Hungary/Canada 2000) – Hungarian filmmaker Istvan Szabo has long made films dealing with Hungary’s troubled past but none of his films I felt have been as powerful as this one. It is his crowning achievement. The story deals with the 20th Century history of Hungary as seen through the eyes of a Hungarian Jewish family which tries to hide their Jewish blood but society will not let them. Raplh Fiennes gives a tour-de-force performance playing a grandfather, father and son. The film shamefully didn’t receive one single Oscar nomination (becoming one of the main reasons I refuse to watch the show) though it did win three Golden Globe nominations including “Best Picture” and “Best Director”.
11. TRAFFIC (Dir. Steven Soderbergh; U.S. 2000) – Here is the movie I felt should have won the “Best Picture” Oscar that year. It is my favorite Soderbergh film. This was an intense look at the war on drugs in American with some amazing performances by Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle and a young lady I honestly thought was going to become a star Erika Christensen. Sadly her career never quite lived up to the potential suggested here. Though that could be because the material never presented itself again. Still Soderbergh won the “Best Director” Oscar that year as the film was nominated for 5 Oscars.