I have been in the mood to write and yet I have been unable to get into the routine and mindset of wanting to write on a few of the topics I hoped to tackle. I decided the best way to (hopefully) combat this is to go back and continue the series of my BEST OF THE DECADE lists as I have not done lists for the 2000s and the 2010s.
The 2000s were quite the bizarre time and despite some of these years leaving me a little cold, you can definitely find some hidden gems…or even films that were out in plain sight but seemed to not grab the attention of the critics or mainstream public or award voting bodies as they should have.
Despite the rather erratic feel I have for this decade in film, I do have a certain fondness for it in the sense that I was able to begin truly following films as I approached my teenage years.
So, with that in mind, I will start off with ten honorable mentions before listing my top 10:
ALMOST FAMOUS, CITY OF GOD, DANCER IN THE DARK, MEMORIES OF MURDER, MOTHER, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, UP, THE WHITE RIBBON, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, and YI YI
#10-WALL-E (2008- Andrew Stanton)
I have noticed that a lot of people tend to bash WALL-E as it seems to be one of those movies that got SO hyped up when it came out that it couldn’t live up to expectations. When it comes to how I often respond, it is very rare for me to find myself agreeing with a lot of the hype.
Recent example of me actually agreeing with the hype? PARASITE.
An even more recent example of me wondering why something was getting as highly praised as it was? THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT.
So, yeah…I don’t think I need to go much further as to say WALL-E was a movie I adored upon viewing it and I still think back on in it fondly 12 years later. PIXAR is simply a powerhouse studio and this was around the time they were at their absolute peak with offerings such as this film, UP, and RATATOUILLE.
WALL-E is set in the 29th Century after severe and rampant consumerism and environmental neglect (basically how the United States of America has always been). Earth has essentially been destroyed and is no longer populated by humans, who are now living a life of luxury about massive spaceships flying around the galaxy. This was a system that had been created during the 22nd Century when things became too much for the human race….quite the dark concept.
The Buy-n-Large Corporation, the ones behind the spaceships, left behind Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robots to help clean up the mess…AKA WALL-E’s. Only one of these robots remains active after all of this time and he is the main character we follow until he comes across EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). WALL-E becomes smitten with EVE and eventually she takes him up to one of these spaceships from which she had been sent.
However, from here, a misunderstanding leads both robots to end up being labeled as “rogue” and they face potential demise.
WALL-E is a movie that felt unique in that it didn’t really rely on dialogue but rather than visuals and random noises to move along a good portion of the story. In some ways, you could argue that it felt like a hybrid of a silent film, particularly something like CITY LIGHTS.
A lot of film fanatics talk about how THE DARK KNIGHT was egregiously snubbed from Best Picture that year…and perhaps it is true that it was better than at least 4 of the nominees but I still think WALL-E should’ve made history as the first Animated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture….(although I also think the first TOY STORY should’ve been in battle for that as well).
#9-THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY (2007- Julian Schnabel)
This film seems to have slipped from a lot of people’s minds in the last decade but in 2007, this French film actually came close to receiving a Best Picture nomination…but I guess they just HAD to nominate ATONEMENT and JUNO……sigh….
THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY was based on the autobiography of French writer Jean-Dominique Bauby, who in the film is played by actor Mathieu Amalric. Bauby suffered a severe stroke that has left him in “locked in syndrome”, a condition in which a person is left completely paralyzed but still retains full mental capacity. The only part of his body in which he can seemingly communicate is through one eye via blinking.
Director Julian Schnabel, who previously directed another strong outing in 2000’s BEFORE NIGHT FALLS with Javier Barden, chooses to film a good portion of the movie in first-person perspective while Almaric’s Bauby narrates his thoughts which are, at first, what he thinks are his own actual words he is speaking to people.
Despite the exhausting method of trying to communicate, he has a woman hired for dictation and he drafts a novel explaining how it feels to be trapped inside with no real escape…and this is only after his unable to do his original for a novel: THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISCO told from a female perspective).
There was something so utterly entrancing about this movie and a lot of that credit has to go to Schnabel, whose direction is quite remarkable and he should have easily won the Oscar for it…even over P.T. Anderson from that year (you will be seeing that film shortly).
#8-THE SQUID & THE WHALE (2005- Noah Baumbach)
In 2019, writer/director Noah Baumbach released MARRIAGE STORY, a film that was inspired by his own recent divorce. Despite it being a good film, I almost felt like some of it was a more polished and rather glossy rehash of an earlier film of his: THE SQUID AND THE WHALE.
The major difference between these two movies is that SQUID & THE WHALE has such a raw and edgier quality buoyed up by the fact that the setting (both in Park Slope and Flatbush, Brooklyn) is grittier, the characters are rougher around the edges, and we get more of a viewpoint from the children than we ever did with the son in MARRIAGE STORY….and that indie edge is strongly apparent due to the fact that Baumbach chose to film it in Super 16mm with a handheld camera.
The movie is also less than an hour and a half long; Baumbach knows what needs to be told and doesn’t put in any kind of filler.
So here are the characters: dad Bernard (Jeff Daniels), mom Joan (Laura Linney), elder son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and younger son Frank (Owen Kline). Bernard is a novelist who has been struggling for quite some time and has a rather strong arrogance streak. Joan has found more success as a writer and has also frequently been stepping out on Bernard which leads to them telling their sons that they will be separating.
A lot of the movie then delves into how this rather volatile divorce affects young Walt and Frank and how Bernard and Joan are not exactly the best at helping either one of their sons since they barely can even manage their own lives. There is also a very key factor in how memory can fault you as you might suspect that one parent is the hero when in fact they may have been more of a villain.
Despite Daniels and Linney as the parents, you do feel more of an attachment to how everything is coming off on Eisenberg and Kline. All four of them are truly wonderful in this film and it is a shame to think this movie was only nominated for its Screenplay at the Oscars and that it lost to CRASH…the fact that CRASH even won is another discussion to have but one that would end with me wanting to throw something across the room.
#7-CHILDREN OF MEN (2006- Alfonso Cuaron)
In the last decade, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron was a part of a trio of Latino directors who dominated the Best Director category at the Oscars. In 2014 and 2019, Cuaron himself won Director for GRAVITY and ROMA respectfully. (For reference, the other two were Alejandro Innauritu who won back to back Oscars in 2015-2016 for BIRDMAN and THE REVENANT while Guillermo del Toro won in 2018 for THE SHAPE OF WATER).
As great as this domination was to see, none of them really won for their best work. In the case of Cuaron, his best work was in the 00s with Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and also for my #7 selection: CHILDREN OF MEN.
Set in a year we are now getting a lot closer to, 2027, the story revolves around a rather dystopian society in which society has been plagued by two decades of infertility…and it is leading to a severe collapse. A lot of the main focus is on the Asylum seekers who are looking for sanctuary in the United Kingdom, where they are subjected to detention and refoulement by the government.
Looking back at 2006, which was my favorite year for film in that decade, I feel like most of the films that have retained a sense of importance and respect amongst cinephiles were mainly ignored by the awards circuit…which isn’t an unusual practice sadly.
Even at that time, CHILDREN OF MEN seemed like one of those highly praised movies that despite the immense pedigree, never got the respect of the awards voting bodies in any major categories.
Time does things to movies and there is a reason why CHILDREN OF MEN is now discussed as one of that decade’s best even though it received less attention than some rather questionable films that year such as BABEL or DREAMGIRLS.
#6-LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003- Sofia Coppola)
Back in 1990, there was a rather massive push to attack Francis Ford Coppola for casting his daughter Sofia in a pivotal supporting role in THE GODFATHER PART III playing Mary Corelone, the daughter of Michael and Kay Corelone. Her performance felt lifeless and wooden and it led many to pass off the decision as nothing short of nepotism when it really seemed like a hasty choice due to the fact that actresses like Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder, and even Madonna had either passed on the role or needed to drop out due to other conflicts.
The performance led to Sofia Coppola winning two Razzies for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star of the year…and a lot of negative press. Despite all of this, the young Coppola would upstart her own career as a writer/director and would have a promising debut in 1999 with THE VIRGIN SUICIDES.
However, just a few years after, Sofia Coppola would become an Oscar winner (for Original Screenplay) and also become the first American woman to be nominated for Best Director for her crown jewel to date: LOST IN TRANSLATION.
Set in Tokyo, a washed-up actor by the name of Bob Harris (played by the brilliant Bill Murray) is visiting the city in order to shoot commercial bits for a Japanese whiskey brand. While there, he encounters a much younger woman named Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johannsen in her breakout role) who is in Tokyo with her husband, a paparazzi. Since her husband is off and about a lot, she and Bob end up taking on a rather close and intimate friendship as the two of them feeling completely lost in their lives find themselves having more in common emotionally than expected as they both explore Tokyo.
Coppola shot this movie in 27 days. It is the kind of example that shows how Indie filmmaking can still lead to rather glorious and impactful results…so much so that the film was a relatively huge box office success on top of receiving immense critical praise.
For many years, people have (rightly) expressed rather questionable concerns over Woody Allen’s frequent penchant of casting either himself or other older male actors opposite younger and far more attractive women. It rings false and lately even more uncomfortable due to Allen’s rather sad dip in quality…but that age difference doesn’t feel the least bit weird under Coppola’s guidance. Both Murray and Johannsen are simply lovely in their roles…and in the case of Murray, he should’ve won the Oscar for his very subtle and rather delicate performance which felt like a rather big departure for him.
#5-THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007- Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson may be the greatest filmmaker working today. I actually once compared him to Stanley Kubrick by way of Robert Altman in that his quality output has been consistently impressive like Kubrick plus he does really well with large ensemble films like Altman.
While I do have a strong passion for some of his other films, I can’t deny that THERE WILL BE BLOOD is simply epic and a lot of that has to be traced back to the stunning performance of Daniel Day-Lewis.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD was loosely based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel OIL!, which had been written in response to the then-recent Teapot Dome Scandal that had plagued the brief and disgraceful Warren G. Harding administration.
Anderson moves the action to the turn of the 20th century and centers on Daniel Planview (Day-Lewis), a very ruthless silver miner-turned-oil baron who is on a quest for immense wealth who comes across twin brothers Eli and Paul Sunday (both played by Paul Dano). Paul wants to seel Daniel a piece of land on their family farm that contains oil while his brother Eli, an Evangelical preacher, is dead set against this which sets off a rivalry of sorts.
This movie is epic in a way that makes it feel like it could be viewed as a more modern example of those big sprawling epics of Hollywood’s supposed “Golden Age”. It is long in run time (just shy of 3 hours) and its aesthetics are big and sprawling…certainly Anderson’s biggest film to that date.
I think it is another film that has grown on me over time. Even now I almost feel like I should give it another viewing to see how I feel about it because I certainly admire it immensely for how well it is made and for the acting duo of Day-Lewis and Dano and you can’t deny the brilliance of P.T. Anderson!
#4-MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001- David Lynch)
“This show is going to be long…but not as long as it took to explain MULHOLLAND DRIVE”- Whoopi Goldberg while hosting the 2002 Oscars in which director David Lynch was MULHOLLAND DRIVE’s sole nominee.
In 2001, MULHOLLAND DRIVE was one of the two critical darlings of the year. It did well at the Cannes Film Festival and also on the American Critic Award circle prior to the Oscars…however the awards attention fell short once they got to the more mainstream prizes.
Anyone who knows David Lynch knows his films aren’t exactly…how should I put this…easily accessible. Even a movie like BLUE VELVET, which is pretty straightforward in its approach compared to most of his films, still deals with brutal sexual violence that would make anyone feel uncomfortable.
MULLHOLAND DRIVE felt like the movie that David Lynch was building up to in his career. You have his usual tropes: a woman in trouble and shrouded in mystery, bizarre supporting characters, and a storyline in which you aren’t even sure if you are either watching something happening in reality or if it is someone’s fantasy.
The movie was originally intended to be the pilot for a TV series that Lynch had pitched to ABC in 1999, however the pilot he made simply didn’t come off in a way that appealed to the network. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; ABC basically botched TWIN PEAKS when they aired it and by this point, they were owned by Disney. It almost makes you wish Lynch would’ve gone to premium cable like he did with his TWIN PEAKS revival.
As it stands, this pass by ABC led to Lynch filming additional scenes to flesh out the content and also to spice up the material (such as sex scenes, nudity, and profanity)…and the results are a film that can take a lot out of you while viewing it.
How does one even begin to describe the synopsis of this movie?
I am going to cop out and do a synopsis copied from Wikipedia: “It tells the story of an aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Watts), newly arrived in Los Angeles, who meets and befriends an amnesiac woman (Harring) recovering from a car accident. The story follows several other vignettes and characters, including a Hollywood film director (Theroux)”.
I don’t think this is necessarily the right place to go into a deep analysis for the movie as I am discussing 9 other films and I couldn’t even begin to explain or describe how things unfold. Also, I think a lot of what works about the film needs to be experienced by watching it without having too many expectations about the story.
That year at the Oscars were a travesty in which the films nominated for Best Picture were all unworthy of the honor. I do think MULHOLLAND DRIVE deserved to win Best Picture, Director, and Actress for Naomi Watts whose breakout performance in this was simply fantastic. Her snub here was truly shameful.
#3-IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000- Wong Kar wai)
When it comes to a history of truly stunning character studies in cinema, I think the output of content that has been given to us by Asian cinema is nothing short of astounding. Japanese directors like Yosujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa were so influential in their styles that many directors to this day still owe a debt of gratitude to them. You also have Korean directors like Kim Ki-young, Park Chan-wook, Lee Chang-dong, and Bong Jong-ho; you have other Japanese directors like Hiroshi Teshigahara and Hirokazu Koreeda; and not to mention ones who truly found success directing in the English language like Ang Lee.
Then we have Wong Kar-wai, a director from Hong Kong who came to prominence in the 90s with such films as DAYS OF BEING WILD, CHUNGKING EXPRESS, and HAPPY TOGETHER. Each film got better and better and then in 2000, right as the decade and new millennium began, he gave us his crown jewel: IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.
The film is set in 1962 Hong Kong, which was then still a British colony. Chow Mo-wan (played by Tony Leung) is a journalist who rents an apartment in a building on the same day as another resident: Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). Both of them are married to other people but soon they discover that their spouses are having an affair which leads them to sort of fall into each other’s lap…but despite the betrayal of their spouses, they can’t quite get the same grasp on an intimate relationship.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is one of those movies where when you hear the description, it sounds so simple and maybe even something that might have been done in various ways already over the years. However, this movie works extremely well thanks to the very delicate script, very sleek direction, lovely performances from our two leads, and a setting that feels and looks like an intimate dream.
The fact that a film about adultery and a forbidden romance comes across as a delicate and even heartbreaking film as opposed to a melodrama is nothing short of praiseworthy. Wong Kar-wai hit this out of the park and with each viewing of this film, I find myself more engrossed than ever before.
#2-ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004- Michel Gondry)
In light of the recent Charlie Kaufman outing I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, which was the 3rd film he has directed in addition to writing the script, I feel as though Kaufman may have worked better solely as a writer of his films. I did love his directorial debut, which was SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK while also finding his second effort ANOMALISA to be interesting….however I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS just didn’t work. I almost want to see his scripts back under the helm of another director. After his brilliant scripts for BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPATATION (which were directed by Spike Jonze), he then teamed up with Michel Gondry on ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND…which I would just BARELY call Kaufman’s masterpeice.
I revisited this film during quarantine for the first time in over a decade and I was amazed at not only how well it held up but how much better it seemed to me after all these years. Originally I might have ranked it around 5-6 for the decade but the recent viewing propelled it up.
In it, Jim Carrey (in yet another role that showed what a fantastic and underrated actor he is) plays Joel, who skips work one day to make a random trip deeper out into Long Island in the dead of winter. On the LIRR back from Montauk, he encounters a rather kooky girl with blue hair named Clementine (Kate Winslet, in the role that should’ve won her the Oscar instead of THE READER). They seem to have a very weird but endearing energy but then the film starts to slip into a more darker whimsical territory when we see Joel & Clementine begin to date but their romance crashes and burns.
In order to rid herself of the pain, Clementine chooses to participate in a new program with a company called Lacuna, who specialize in a process that allows you to have your memories erased of a particular person. Joel discovers this when he encounters Clementine at the BARNES & NOBLE she works following their breakup…and this leads him to wanting to do the same.
A lot of the movie that delves into flashbacks within Joel’s subsconscious while he is put under by the group from Lacuna, a crazy group of people that includes Mary (Kirsten Dunst), Stan (Mark Ruffalo), and Patrick (Elijah Wood) whom the latter actually tries to take the whole situation to his advantage in a rather shady way. They are all led by the founder of the company, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) who is also in a rather questionable relationship with Mary.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE is a movie that is basically close to perfection. It feels as weird and quirky as any indie movie might but there is also such a relatable emotional core to the film that is extremely bittersweet. I feel like some movies flounder at the whole “fanciful timeline jumping” concept but I would say that this particular film might be the best example of the art form.
It is a film that is as beautiful as it is kooky as it is brilliant.
#1-PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006- Guillermo del Toro)
One of the oldest sayings around, and one that borders on the side of cliché, is “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. I do think this kind of philosophy of sorts is especially apparent with movies. I am not really someone who likes fantasy, science fiction, action adventure, or western movies that much. There are always exceptions to the rule and some of those ended up being films I have loved passionately.
I think, perhaps, the biggest example of this occurred for me in 2006 when I went into Guillermo del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH with some hesitation. I knew it was getting great reviews and I knew it was going to have an edge considering it looked like a creepy children’s movie that just so happened to warrant an R rating by the MPAA.
By the time the movie was over, I was sitting in the theatre sobbing.
This movie was depressing, brutal, fascinating, whimsical, and beautiful all at once. Choosing a movie like PAN’S LAYBRINTH as my #1 movie of that particular decade is a choice that isn’t exactly unusual but it isn’t exactly a typical choice either. It does often show up on “Best Of” lists of films that have come out since 2000 and it managed gain quite a following even here in the United States despite being in Spanish.
It is a film that I have actually only seen 3 times and I am sure I will watch it again but it isn’t a film I frequently revisit…and I almost feel slightly weird choosing it to be my #1 film when I actually have a stronger connection to a couple of the films below…but as it stands, PAN’S LAYBRINTH blew me away and made me question how I respond and look at movies. It simply kicked my ass and never let up and I marveled at every moment that Guillermo del Toro devised for this piece.
And what exactly IS this movie about?
The story takes place in Spain during the summer of 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War, during the early Francoist period. The narrative intertwines this real world with a mythical world centered on an overgrown, abandoned labyrinth and a mysterious faun creature, with whom the main character, Ofelia, interacts. Ofelia’s stepfather, the Falangist Captain Vidal, hunts the Spanish Maquis who fight against the Francoist regime in the region, while Ofelia’s pregnant mother Carmen grows increasingly ill. Ofelia meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.
This is a movie that manages to leave you feeling both emotionally warped in the best possible way. You are, at once, both devastated and empowered…and I can’t think of many movies that made me feel such a way and also proceeded to make me eat my hat in the process.
I will be short and sweet: you can find gold in most places if you look hard enough….I wish that were true to life and in my quest to make more money but I digress…
The 2000s may have seemed a desolate wasteland for film at first glance but looking back on it, there was quite the explosion of high quality film and TV….you just had to look beyond the popular lexicon to find most of the best successes.