Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Best Movies of the '00s: Part 4

24.  The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Greengrass)
This movie stands for the whole trilogy, the most consistently thrilling action movies of the decade.  I regard this as one of the great purely kinetic action films in history, taking its place alongside The Road Warrior and Aliens as an unrelentingly intense thrill ride.  Bourne is the most influential action hero of the new century, and his desperate search for self mirrors America's own.

23.  King Kong (2005, Jackson)
Both a faithful work of epic reimagining and a subtle work of film criticism, Peter Jackson fills the film with dozens of homages, references, and expansions on the comparatively bare-bones original, making room for all the different interpretations that have grown up over the years, but most of all giving free reign to all the dreams he's ever had about Kong since he saw it in boyhood and attempting to make those dreams reality.

22.  Hot Fuzz (2007, Wright)
Yes, I actually think this is better than Shaun of the Dead.  I laugh harder, at least, and I find Nick Frost's character here more endearing.  And who doesn't love Simon Pegg's apocalyptic-stranger ride back into town, toothpick in his mouth and crossed shotguns on his back?  Or the glee with which the two friends fire two guns whilst jumping through the air? I'm sure I'm not alone in my eager anticipation of the next installment in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

21.  Let the Right One In (2008, Alfredson)
A horror movie for people (like me) who aren't really fans of horror movies.  A gentle story of first love, twisted and darkened into a disturbing tale of supernatural bloodlust and outsider vengeance that haunts the shadows of an apartment complex on a snowy evening.  Perhaps something like an early Grimm's Fairy Tale, before it was made safe for children. Heartbreaking, beautiful, and disturbing.

20.  The Royal Tenebaums (2001, Anderson)
Wes Anderson's masterpiece. A hilarious, stylized, ensemble comedy that darkens suddenly into generational tragedy, before offering the possibility of forgiveness and redemption in a final sequence remarkable above all not for its ludicrousness, but for its truly generous spirit.  The cast, led by Gene Hackman in his last great role, is one of the best of the decade, the writing by Anderson and Owen Wilson is as clever and witty as it could possibly be, and the soundtrack is, as ever, perfect.

19.  The Wrestler (2008, Aronofsky)
Mickey Rourke gives perhaps the decade's greatest male performance as a minor league professional wrestler, past his prime, who can't manage to stop his slow spiral of self-destruction. Sometimes inertia really is too great, even when lifelines are offered.  I remain a bit of an Aronosky skeptic, but this heartbreaking neo-realist throwback really is his masterpiece.

18.  The Departed (2006, Scorsese)
Is it Scorsese's best work? No, of course not.  Does it dissect the foibles of the male impulse to rage and machismo as well as his work in the seventies?  Unfortunately, no.  But it does do things Scorsese had never done before--it generates tremendous suspense, it twists and turns with astonishing ease, and it has the ferocious bite of Cape Fear and Gangs of New York without losing sight of its central plot. It also has one of Scorsese's best casts ever (even if Nicholson goes over the top), and it finally justifies his devotion to DiCaprio with that uneven actor's first really great grown-up performance.

17.  Children of Men (2006, Cuaron)
Probably this decade's most persuasive view of the apocalypse, Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of P.D. James's novel envisions a humanity incapable of reproducing and living out its final days by tearing itself apart in pointless conflict.  Cuaron's long-take aesthetic creates an incredibly immersive and terrifying Britain of constant danger that unfortunately doesn't look much different from present-day war-zones in Africa and the Middle East.  Into this world, a child is born, and the weight of it all shall be on his shoulders.

16.  Finding Nemo (2003, Stanton)
Pixar had made brilliant films before, but this is the point where the studio cemented its all-time great status.  Nemo is beautiful in a way so far only surpassed by Wall-E (and parts of Tangled) among CGI films, and its story is still the most moving to me of all Pixar features.  There are moments here I still can't think of without a lump in the my throat (the tragic beginning, the sojourn in the whale's mouth, Marlin's sad swim away from the Sydney harbor).  Plus I still laugh at the kiddie humor.

15.  Mystic River (2003, Eastwood)
Eastwood's finest film since Unforgiven (narrowly edging A Perfect World), this titanically acted drama is a profound meditation on the ways time can change people and break down relationships.  Anchored by the finest performance of Kevin Bacon's career (who underacts while his co-stars overact), there were few more wrenching films this decade. 

14.  O Brother Where Art Thou (2000, Coen)
The most purely enjoyable of all the Coens' films.  A hilariously unique adaptation of The Odyssey that draws from Preston Sturges-style comedies, classic American literature (particularly Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath), and early-20th century bluegrass and gospel music, in a wild, allusion-filled journey through a mythological Depression-era South.  It also features one of the Coens' finest casts, wittiest scripts, and most hopeful views of human nature.

13.  The Prestige (2006, Nolan)
A character study wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, with both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale turning in stellar double roles.  A dissection of obsession and revenge embedded in a richly detailed steampunk-ish world, where nothing is as it seems.  For anyone who doesn't think Nolan can tell stories with images.  Are you watching closely?

12.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Dominik)
This haunting evocation of the last days of the West's most famous outlaw can be seen as a synthesis of the disparate influences of John Ford, Terrence Malick, Henry King, and Robert Altman, with a historical didacticism reminiscent of Ken Burns.  It has many ancestors, yet there is still else nothing quite like it.  As others have pointed out, the film (aided by the magnificent performances of Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck) maps the moment at which legend fades into mere celebrity.  Perhaps a bit too long, it would still be worth a look for its musical score and cinematography alone, both among the best of the decade.

11.  The Incredibles (2004, Bird)
My vote for the finest Pixar film (at least before the heartbreaking and elegiac Toy Story 3), this Brad Bird directed epic is a complex satire of the superhero, drawing from The Fantastic Four and Watchmen, paired with an analysis of the modern American family and a critique of the suburbs and middlebrow education system.  It wraps all that up in a top-notch action movie that puts just about everything else released this decade to shame with its thrilling fight sequences and hilarious dialogue, and manages to make it all a massive, PG-rated blockbuster. Considering the skill, risks, ambition, and originality on display here next to all but two or three other blockbuster movies of the decade just about boggles the mind.


  1. I'm a little late to the party here Stephen, but I've had a serious stomach virus, that has limited my activity. Love many of your choices here in this grouping, especially CHILDREN OF MEN and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES, both of which were among my five best movies of their respective years. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is another I regard highly and I admire O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, FINDING NEMO and MYSTIC RIVER for sure.

    1. Glad you like so many of these, Sam! Yeah, The Assassination of Jesse James might be my favorite on this post, despite the fact I put The Incredibles behind it. You know how it is--you make the list one day and you're so sure of it, and then a few days later you think, "Why on earth did I put this one HERE?" Which isn't a knock on THe Incredibles--I think I just put it there because I thought a Pixar film should be as close to the Top Ten as possible.

  2. I'm so so SO glad Hot Fuzz made the cut here! I agree, it's better than Shaun of the Dead in every way.

    Assassination of Jesse James definitely deserves its spot... and I'm glad you agree with me that The Prestige is brilliant!

    I was underwhelmed by Let the Right One In, but I see where you come from. There haven't been many notable horror films in the past decade, in my opinion (especially after seeing The Shining, nothing lives up).

    Are these in order, so that we are now awaiting your top ten films of the decade??

    1. Well of course they're in order, Daniel. Why would I post a numbered, sequential list if it wasn't all in order?? :) But I guess it does look sort of weird on the main page, with the numbers going down in the main post but then suddenly going back at the beginning of the next post or whatever. So yes, the next post will have my Top Ten, though I think I'm then going to do a whole other post for my #1. Hope to get the next post up this weekend.

      And yeah, The Prestige might be the single most underrated movie of the decade. With the possible exception of The Village.