Before I get to my list, let me say I hate historical epics and biopics, I think no movie should really be over two and a half hours (learn how to edit people!), and while there are some literary adaptations on my list, for the most part I value originality. Oh, and I despise the Lord of the Rings films… So with that here’s my list of the Top Twenty Films of the 2000s:
1. Almost Famous (2000): How often have I seen a movie and thought, “man, why isn’t this movie longer?” No more than a handful of times. How often have I wished a film was longer after seeing it a second time? Just once. And that film was Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. Just to clarify, I don’t think the film NEEDED to be longer, but watching this film is such a fun ride, I didn’t want it end. It may be the only film on my list that I would recommend to anyone and be almost certain they’ll like it. While all the films on this list have impressive casts, the list of talented actors in Almost Famous is ridiculous: Jason Lee, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin and many others I’m forgetting.
2. Memento (2000): I love puzzle movies, those flicks where the filmmakers give the audience a few pieces at a time and it’s their job to put it all together. Memento’s “start at the end, end at the start” format could have felt gimmicky, but it never does because it makes perfect sense to tell this story. Oh, and then there’s the ending, a twist so brilliantly executed, I’d put it on par with The Sixth Sense and The Empire Strikes Back on the “Oh. My. GOD!” scale.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): If there’s one screenwriter who spent the decade trying to disprove the adage “there’s nothing new under the sun,” it’s Charlie Kaufman. I give Eternal Sunshine the nod over Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York because it has much more heart than those other films written by Kaufman. Jim Carrey gives one of his best performances here in a very non-Jim Carrey role, and Kate Winslet is her usual amazing self.
4. Serenity (2005): As a Joss Whedon addict, I had a hard time deciding where to put Serenity on my list. On the one hand, a legitimate case can be made for its place as the top sci-fi film of the decade. On the other hand, my judgment may be clouded by rampant fanboyism. So, Serenity lands at #4 for serving as a brilliant conclusion to a brilliant television series, introducing me to Chiwetel Ejiofor, and making me laugh my ass off right before ripping my heart out and jumping up and down on it.
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005): One of the reasons I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon is his ability to take genre clichés and turn them on their head, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang follows that part of the Joss Whedon playbook with great success. In KKBB, you’ll recognize one scene after the next from other buddy cop films, but each one ends in a manner you’d rarely expect. Plus, it’s Robert Downey Jr. teaming with Val Kilmer, so the performances elevate the great script to another level.
6. The Incredibles (2004): I suppose it’s a bit odd that in this age of comic book superhero films, the best super hero film of the decade wasn’t one adapted from a comic book. Brad Bird’s The Incredibles does, however, borrow from a long list of comic book classics, most heavily from the Fantastic Four and Watchmen. As a comic book fan, moments like Elastic Girl going all Plastic Man and turning into a boat had me routinely geeking out throughout the film. And Dash’s chase scene towards the end of the movie is one of the greatest chase scenes in the history of cinema.
7. The Fountain (2006): I give director Darren Aronofsky a ton of credit for assuming an audience would have the intelligence and patience to last through the first twenty or so minutes of this film when they’d have no clue what was going on. The Fountain’s another one of those puzzle films, like Memento, that gives the you a little information at a time and trusts you’ll be able to figure it out. Visually, The Fountain is one of the more interesting films on this list, as Arnofsky decided to film the first scenes of the film with a palette so dark and drab you can barely make anything out and then increasing the brightness of the film throughout until he ends with an explosion of light.
8. Thank You For Smoking (2005): Before directing Juno, Jason Reitman wrote and directed an underappreciated dark comedy titled Thank You For Smoking (based on the novel by Christopher Buckley). And as perfectly cast as Ellen Page was in Juno, Aaron Eckhart was equally perfect as tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor here. The rest of the cast is sensational too. Talents like Maria Bello, Rob Lowe, JK Simmons, Adam Brody, Katie Holmes and William H. Macy all bring their A-game in small supporting roles.
9. Shaun of the Dead (2004): Shaun of the Dead is the only film on my list that I didn’t love the first time I saw it. On first viewing, I was enjoying the comedic elements and then all these characters I liked starting dying. It was quite unexpected. On second viewing, I realized that’s the brillance of Shaun of the Dead, it bounces from comedy to straight horror with ease. And unlike most horror movies, SotD makes you care about its characters before killing them off.
10. Young @ Heart (2007): While there were a ton of great documentaries released in the 2000s (off the top of my head: Religulous, Michael Moore’s films, Who Killed the Electric Car, Man on Wire, and An Inconvenient Truth), Young @ Heart makes my list because it’s an emotional rollercoaster without feeling manipulative. Following this elderly choir, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and, most of all, you’ll be inspired. And the Young @ Heart choir’s performance of Fix You by Coldplay may be my favorite movie moment of the decade.
And the next 10:
11. Hard Candy (2005): 2 characters in a house for 104 minutes, that’s it. It’s ballsy as hell (pun intended), and totally works. Also, anyone who questions Ellen Page’s range as an actress, her character here is definitely not the same as Juno, needs to see this film.
12. Big Fish (2003): I saw this movie with my dad. Towards the end, I looked over at him and he looked over at me, we were both weeping. I find Tim Burton films are usually visually feasts with very little at the heart of them, but Big Fish is definitely an exception.
13. Wall-E (2008): Wall-E makes my list for two reasons. First, the opening thirty minutes or so that features no dialogue. Second, PIXAR’s vision of the future of the human race if we don’t change our ways.
14. Garden State (2004): I have a feeling if you’re not a guy in your 20s, this movie might not be quite as enjoyable. Nonetheless, I’m a guy in his 20s, so I love it. Also, it easily has the best soundtrack of the decade.
15. The Lookout (2007): If you’re looking for a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, this is it. Definitely the most intense film on my list, The Lookout is much more than your standard crime drama.
16. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): Visually stunning, Pan’s Labyrinth features a crazily inventive new world crafted by director Guillermo del Toro. And I love that the ending is wide open for interpretation.
17. Juno (2007): The second appearance on my list for both Ellen Page and Jason Reitman, Juno is packed with tight dialogue and great performances.
18. Stardust (2007): After seeing Stardust and Coraline, I now fully understand the obsession some geeks (especially female ones) have with Neil Gaiman. Stardust is just an incredibly fun fairy tale fantasy with a series of really clever scenes with really clever dialogue.
19. The Descent (2005): The Descent is a horror film that features an all-female cast and yet it’s more about female empowerment than exploitation. Weird. Also, the movie is scary as hell.
20. Iron Man (2008): I had to put at least one comic book adaptation on my list. Spider-man 2, X-Men 2, and The Dark Knight were the other contenders. I went with Iron Man almost entirely because of Robert Downey Jr’s gleeful performance as Tony Stark. “Yeah, I can fly.”