Friday, January 20, 2012

The Best Movies of the '00s: Part 2

54.  Open Range (2003, Costner)
Arguably the first good traditional western in a generation.  The plot is classically simple, the archetypes are natural and believable, Robert Duval is superb, Kevin Costner proves he can still direct. This is why I love the genre.

53.  Eastern Promises (2007, Cronenburg)
Viggo Mortenson transforms himself into a hulking, tattooed Russian mobster with a noble secret in one of the finest performances of the decade.  The inverse Mortenson and Cronenburg’s other crime drama, A History of Violence, where a decent family man has a disturbing secret. As dark and viscerally compelling as mob movies get.

52.  Brick (2005, Rian Johnson)
This brilliant first film from writer/director Rian Johnson transforms a SoCal high school into a Chandler-esque mean street, populated by characters speaking the best hardboiled dialogue since the Coens' Miller's Crossing.  Made on a tiny budget, this one proved that it's possible to make a foot pursuit as exciting as a Michael Bay car chase, if you have enough talent.

51.  Catch Me If You Can (2002, Spielberg)
Spielberg outdoes even Ocean's Eleven in '60s caper film style, and perhaps, anchored by DiCaprio's career-second-best performance, develops his daddy issues themes to their fullest, most realistic extent.

50.  Wall-E  (2008, Stanton)
I have a feeling this would rank higher if I had seen the film in theaters instead of waiting a year to catch it on Netflix Instant Play.  Nevertheless, one of Pixar's most beautiful films-- the weightless fire extinguisher dance is a highlight.

49.  Apocalypto (2006, Gibson)
A nightmare vision of a foreign civilization about to be snuffed out forever.  Unrelenting and remarkably realized, shot entirely in an ancient language in the middle of the jungle, the ambition alone has to be applauded.  After a horrific first half of rape and pillaging, the second half becomes one of the most tense and exhilarating chase thrillers ever made.  Perhaps the twisted reverse image to The New World?

48.  Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, Eastwood)
Eastwood's account of the Japanese defense of Iwo Jima is gripping and humane, an act of compassion that nevertheless sees clear-eyed the flaws in the Japanese aggression, strategy, and culture that led inexorably to Hiroshima, defeat, and national shame.

47.  The Hurt Locker (2009, Bigelow)
When every other Iraq War movie could only offer elephant art liberal bromides, Kathryn Bigelow crafted a tense, termitic action film that focused on the war on the ground and the men who lived it.  The movie may strain credulity in its final act, but their are at least three set-pieces here among the most intense and suspenseful ever filmed.

46.  Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004, McKay)
Probably the most influential American comedy of the decade--Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd and Judd Apatow and Adam McKay all made it big here--but it's mostly on the list because of Baxter.

45. City of God (2002, Meirelles)
The movie Slumdog Millionaire wished it could be.  A searing portrait of slum life in Rio de Janeiro, following dozens of characters across a decade in a terrifying, hilarious, endlessly exciting mosaic.

44.  Gran Torino (2008, Eastwood)
Eastwood takes a step back from Oscar-bait and crafts his most unassuming and funny movie of the decade.  The humor and simplicity enliven the underlying themes, however:  The old gunslinger learns his guns are no longer acceptable, but manages to find an even more heroic alternative.

43.  Black Hawk Down (2002, Scott)
One of the most adrenaline-pumping, you-are-there war movies ever made, this was the about the only good depiction of American soldiers in the Middle East until The Hurt Locker 8 years later.

42.  Stranger Than Fiction (2006, Forster)
Detractors might call it Charlie Kaufman-lite, but this clever high-concept comedy still plays with philosophical problems as diverse as destiny vs. free will, existentialism vs. nihilism, reality vs. fiction, and the very nature of stories, and the lighter touch means you still feel good about yourself in the morning.

41.  Gladiator (2000, Scott)
Shallow and inaccurate, but gloriously epic entertainment. Russel Crowe's Maximus is the most heroically heroic protagonist of the decade--no angst, underdog, unlikely, or anti- prefix required.

40.  Battle Royale (2000, Fukasaku)
The set-up is nonsense: Apparently Japan has collapsed because unemployment reached 15%, so in response to the violent uncontrollable youth the government decides to send one class of high school students per year to an island where they all have to fight to the death for the country's amusement.  The concept is ridiculous, but the resulting movie is spectacular, 2 parts Lord of the Flies, 1 part The Most Dangerous Game, and one part Saved by the Bell. The kids’ characters are sketched in brief, bold strokes, and the film gradually comes into focus as a metaphor for the social violence of high school, writ large by the addition of machine guns and horror gore.  There's nothing else like it.  I could really put this one a lot higher.


  1. I'll admit I'm not a fan of STRANGER THAN FICTION, GRAN TORINO nor BLACK HAWK DOWN, but I am a huge admirer of LETTERS OF IWO JIMA, CITY OF GOD and WALL-E, the latter my favorite film of its year.
    The visionary animated film that may well be regarded one day as one of the greatest of all animated features, stretches the boundaries of the form, and of art in general. This science-fiction parable/love story is wrought in the mold of Spielberg’s E.T., but its a film that echos the silent era in it’s post-apocalyptic extended early sequence. The film’s soaring emotional center is the robot trash compactor “WALL-E’s” infatuation with songs from the film Hello Dolly! and the later relationship with his counterpart, Eve. The film has it’s level of cynicism, and there’s a hopelessness that recalls A.I. Technically and in its painstaking attention to detail it may well be the most accomplished of animated films. It is an exhilarating film of great physical beauty and wonderment, yet like all great art, its heartbreak is palpable. The voice work and Thomas Newman’s score are first-rate, but the lion’s share of the credit must go to director Andrew Stanton, who made a film of extraordinary depth, bringing together an arsenal of cinematic resources, and shooting a laser beam to the very center of the human heart.

    As always an excellent presentation of your favorites here.

  2. Thanks, Sam. Yeah, I gotta watch Wall-E again. Your defense is passionate, as always. I probably underrated it.