By the end of the year we'll be halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, so it's the perfect time to look back on the first decade, yes? Well, I'm going to anyway. Humor me. This list does not necessarily comprise what I think are the 10 greatest films of the decade, but rather the ten (plus) movies I think of when I think of the years 2000-2009. It was a defining decade for me: At its start, I was a freshman in high school; by its end, I had moved to New York City with the guy I would eventually marry (hey, Munch!). The films I saw in those ten years proved just as influential as my out-of-theater experiences and deepened my love of the cinema (and, for better or often worse, the Oscars).
Again, if I were to compile a ranking of the "best" films of the aughts (have we decided that's what we're calling that decade or is this still up for debate? the 2000s?), it would look slightly different than the following in both the movies included and their placement on the list. And full disclosure that I'm totally cheating with numbers six, eight, and nine...but, my list, my rules.
First, several honorable mentions:
Dancer in the Dark (heartbreaking), Billy Elliot (beautiful), Amélie (makes me so happy), Memento (brilliant), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (truly wonderful despite what the haters say), Mean Girls (endlessly watchable), Garden State (that soundtrack!), The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl), The Family Stone (my go-to X-mas movie), Grizzly Man (documentary of the decade), Sideways (possibly perfect), Chicago (second best musical of the decade), Little Miss Sunshine (heart-warming), and Erin Brockovich (best biopic of the decade, hands down).
10. Children of Men (2006)
Before Alfonso Cuarón made Gravity, he already had one masterpiece of tone, tension, and technique under his belt. Children of Men is a haunting, poetic, and expertly crafted science-fiction film that envisions a future where humans have lost the ability to procreate. On an emotional level, the movie doesn't bowl me over and tug at my heart like other favorites, but it captivates my intellect like no other cinematic experience I had that decade. Its reputation has only improved since its release, where it was critically appreciated but lost in the December shuffle of awards season. Nathan wasn't as impressed upon our first viewing, but as the credits rolled following a note-perfect ending, I picked my jaw up off the floor and knew this was one for the ages.
9. 2007's Best: Once, There Will Be Blood, & No Country For Old Men
Cheating, I know, but these three films were far-and-away the top tier of a pretty stellar year in cinema. On any given day they trade places with each other and I'm left with a rotating number one film for 2007. I can't think of that year without thinking of these three, and I can't think of that decade without imagining all three of them collectively on a list such as this.
8. Pixar (2001-2009)
More cheating, but with good reason. With the exception of a certain movie that begins with "C" and ends in "ars," every movie Pixar Studios released in this decade was pure gold. Monsters, Inc. (2001). Finding Nemo (2003). The Incredibles (2004). Ratatouille (2007). WALL-E (2008). Up (2009). Not just six of the best animated movies of the decade, six of the best films period.
7. Before Sunset (2004)
A movie series I recommend to anyone within earshot, the Before films (including 1995's Before Sunrise and 2013's Before Midnight) are some of the most authentic, insightful, and romantic works of cinema ever. Aided by one of the greatest endings in film history (and certainly of the decade), I'd say Before Sunset is my favorite of the three.
6. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Another cheat, though all three films would likely place on a list of the best of the decade individually. (Though I didn't always feel that way about this franchise.) The year 2001 was all about the film at #2 on this list, so I was biased against anything standing in the way of that movie's Best Picture chances. Thus, I went into The Fellowship of the Ring with a terrible attitude (and an unfortunate front-row seat). I re-watched the film just before The Two Towers came to theaters the following year, and thankfully came to my senses. I mean, you've seen them, you know. These films are sensational.
5. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Silencio. Few things bring me as much joy as making people watch this movie for the first time (half-hearted apologies to the dozens of you whose brains I've subjected to David Lynch's genius mystery of a film). Seeing this movie in theaters is one of my favorite cinematic experiences ever. As the credits rolled my dad and I pondered just what the hell we had just witnessed. Films like The Sixth Sense had been fun to appreciate and discuss how they had done what they had done, but Mulholland Drive provoked vivid discourse and impassioned debate that continues to this day. It was thrilling to discover that movies could be more than just movies.
4. Almost Famous (2000)
With the exception of childhood classics growing up and Titanic at the age of 13, Almost Famous was probably was first favorite film. And it stands the test of time - I love it as much now as I did when I was 16. It's a genuine, nostalgic, and touching film that nestled deep into my heart and is unlikely to ever leave.
3. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Yes, it helps in my book that the film's subject matter is gay-centric and that it notoriously lost Best Picture when it seemed assured victory (giving it an underdog status), but the truth is the film would be exactly where it is on this list regardless of content or circumstance. A masterpiece without exaggeration, it is nearly as flawless as Citizen Kane.
2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
To say I was obsessed with Moulin Rouge! in 2001 is an understatement. I fell instantaneously head-over-heels after seeing this exuberant, audacious musical in its (not very well attended) opening weekend. Immediately after leaving the theater, I went to the nearest store, bought the soundtrack, and listened to little else all summer. I dragged friends and family to the theater countless times, wanting to share the experience and hoping that it would leave them as breathless as it did me (occasionally to no avail). It was bold. It wore its heart on its sleeve. It was magic. The unlikely awards path the film took months after its theatrical run (winning the Golden Globe, earning two Oscars from eight nominations including Best Picture), only intensified my already deeply entrenched Oscar fandom -- because, hey look! the Oscars could get it right sometimes! Though the movie has not aged particularly well in my estimation and recent viewings have dampened my enthusiasm, the thrill of that first time will always stay with me. No matter its flaws, it earned a place among my favorite films ever made.
And #1? My defining film of the decade? That will be announced tomorrow as we kick off a week-long celebration of that film here at CineMunch. Stay tuned!
Update: Click here for #1.