Every month, our contributors submit lists of ten films fitting certain topics. Each month, we feature an alphabetical list of films along with commentary explaining our selections. There will also be an itemized list at the end of each of our individual selections.
Unlike the 1990s where there was a surprising amount of agreement, the 2000s sees a surprising amount of disagreement. Outside of seven films, no film was duplicated on any given list. Those seven films were only common across two lists: Brokeback Mountain, Children of Men, Far from Heaven, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (a single reference in one list and part of the trilogy in the other), Mulholland Dr, Spirited Away, and There Will Be Blood. Further, only one director managed to earn two spots on the list: Quentin Tarantino who landed his Kill Bill films alongside Inglourious Basterds.
After the break, dig into our setups and follow that by reading about each film.
Wesley Lovell: This was perhaps the toughest narrowing yet. I could make an entirely different top ten out of the ones I didn’t choose, including The Aviator, Bowling for Columbine, Dancer in the Dark, District 9, Dreamgirls, Fahrenheit 9/11, Hero, The Others, and WALL-E. The remaining ten selections are some of the best films ever made, not just of the 2000s, which is why they made the list. I also took a number of films and grouped them together like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Kill Bill films, not because they aren’t great stand-alone films, but because they are even better taken as a whole than individually.
Peter J. Patrick: Not only a new decade in a new century, but a new millennium in which many new talents emerged. Films went in many exciting directions within the decade, but the best films, as always, were the ones that told the best stories whether they were by old masters like Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and David Lynch or newer visionaries like Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron, Todd Haynes, Guillermo del Toro, and P.T. Anderson.
Tripp Burton: A lot of these films I addressed a few years ago on our Best Films of the Last 20 Years list, but these remain some of my favorite films of all-time. This was a decade where the big films were letdowns, but the small films were wonderful and rewarding.
Thomas LaTourrette: I think it gets harder to choose top ten films as we reach the point where we saw them in the theaters. It is perhaps easier to look back at films from the 1940s and judge them by how they have held up and what values they reflect of their own time versus the present. Modern films have not had as much time to mature and be looked back at. I was worried that I would not find enough, but that turned out not to be a problem.
(dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – In this French farce, a young shy woman with a vivid imagination decides to try and help the people. It starts with finding a box hidden away in her apartment, and returning it to the original owner makes her decide to devote her life to bringing happiness to the people around her. This includes her lonely father, her coworkers, a meek assistant green grocer, other tenants in her building, and a blind man. She spies a young man who collects the discarded photos at automatic photo booths, and is intrigued by him. Little does she realize that she needs to find happiness of her own, though an elderly neighbor helps her to find that. It is a charmer that surprisingly did not win the Oscar for Foreign Language Film.
Before Sunset (2004)
(dir. Richard Linklater) Commentary By Tripp Burton – I have often said that Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy’s Before trilogy is the greatest series in film history, and this middle film may be the best of the series. It takes the first film and digs in deeper, giving us new shades of Jesse and Celine while also remaining just as hopeful and romantic as the first film. It is funny, charming, honest, heartbreaking, and practically perfect.
Billy Elliot (2000)
(dir. Stephen Daldry) Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – This inspirational coming-of-age film about the 11-year-old motherless boy from a family of coal miners who dreams of becoming a ballet star made an overnight star of 14-year-old Jamie Bell, established the careers of its writer Lee Hall (Victoria & Abdul) and director Stephen Daldry (The Hours), reinvigorated the career of Julie Walters (Educating Rita), and became a phenomenally successful London and Broadway musical that launched the career of the latest Spider-Man (Tom Holland). It holds up a lot better than that year’s Oscar winner, Gladiator.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
(dir. Ang Lee) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Few directors have been able to explore the passion and longing of lovers so simply and evocatively as Ang Lee. Although his prior films each tackled romantic subjects in both present and historical contexts, it was with Brokeback Mountain that he dug into one of the most taboo subjects of cinema: the love of two men for one another. Through the powerful performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, Lee evoked such strong emotional resonance that he was rewarded with a Best Directing prize even though his film of forbidden love was ignominiously defeated by Crash.
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – The most acclaimed film of its year, there was an audible gasp from the audience when Jack Nicholson opened the envelope to read the name of the year’s Best Picture Oscar winner and it turned out to be Crash. Nearly as insulting to many was Heath Ledger’s loss of the Best Actor Oscar for his multifaceted portrayal of the film’s conflicted protagonist to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote. Equally memorable were Jake Gyllenhaal as Ledger’s male lover and Michelle Williams as his wife. Anne Hathaway was almost as good as Gyllenhaal’s wife.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
(dir. Andrew Jarecki) Commentary By Tripp Burton – One of the most intense and captivating documentaries of all-time, Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans started as one thing and ended up something completely different. It is one of the rare films that I finished and then immediately started over again.
(dir. Rob Marshall) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – Rob Marshall showed that a good old fashioned musical could still be made and be successful. It spawned a resurgence in musicals, though none were as good as this one. What impressed me was that it worked better than the stage show. The writers set a lot of it inside Roxie Hart’s head, which made it flow better than it had onstage. A number of Hollywood staples showed that they could sing and dance with the best of them, including Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Queen Latifah. We were given a touch of the old razzle-dazzle and we lapped it up.
Children of Men (2006)
(dir. Alfonso Cuaron) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of mystery novelist P.D. James’ dystopian classic was a brilliant technical achievement about a future where women were barren and the government was on the verge of collapse. In the film, an abducted bureaucrat must keep a pregnant woman out of the hands of the oppressive government. Unfairly ignored by the Academy in several categories, this is one of the finest dystopian dramas ever filmed.
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Despite substantial changes from P.D. James’ 1992 novel, Alfonso Cuaron’s film retains the spirit of the celebrated author’s work which greatly pleased her. Although Cuaron would later win Oscars for Gravity and may again for this year’s Roma, this remains the film for which many will remember him best. Set twenty-one years in the then-future, which is now only nine years away, this is a haunting apocalyptic drama that takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of devastating tragedy yet ending on a note of hope. Clive Owen has never been better than as the film’s reluctant hero.
(dir. Jean-Marc Vallée) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – While Brokeback Mountain was gobbling up all of the attention in 2005, Jean-Marc Vallée’s stunning suburban period coming-of-age drama was a rousing triumph for its successful and empathetic handling of a young gay man growing up in a conservative family in the 1960s with only the music of Patsy Cline and others to guide him. The film was never released in the United States, but it remains one of the best gay films ever made.
The Departed (2006)
(dir. Martin Scorsese) Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Martin Scorsese won his only Oscar to date on the eighth of his so-far-twelve nominations for this star-studded remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Scorsese relocated the action to Boston where crime boss Jack Nicholson plants a mole in the police department while at the same time the FBI plants an undercover agent in the ranks of the Boston crime family run by Nicholson. Double crosses abound as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga among others try to stay several steps ahead of an assassin’s bullet. The film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing.
District 9 (2009)
(dir. Neill Blomkamp) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – An alien ship came to rest above Johannesburg, South Africa, and its population was settled there. A slightly clueless and officious bureaucrat named Wikus is put in charge of moving the settlement of aliens from the suburbs of Johannesburg to a more remote location. He inadvertently sprays himself with a fluid that one alien had been collecting and distilling. The effects on Wikus are startling as he starts transforming into an alien himself. The reactions of the company he works for are disturbing as they can only picture the profit that this might make for their company. This was a different and original take on alien films.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
(dir. Julian Schnabel) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – This is a bizarre but beautiful film about a man who has a massive stroke and can only control one eye after it. The first part of the film, and some later ones, are daringly shown from his perspective and we are privy to his narrated thoughts that the others in his life cannot hear or imagine. A therapist teaches him to communicate via blinking his eye when she lists the letters of the alphabet. Not only can he then talk to people, but he proceeds to write a book about his experiences. It’s a fascinating and very personal look into a man’s life, made even more amazing by the fact that it is based on the memoir of the person this happened to.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
(dir. Michel Gondry) Commentary By Tripp Burton – The 2000s were a period of puzzle films, but Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman took that puzzle to a new level by making it romantic and emotional in ways that few films are capable of. It gets more and more real as the years pass, but it is also funnier, more absurd, and even better that when it first captivated us 15 years ago.
Far From Heaven (2002)
(dir. Todd Haynes) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Todd Haynes was so enamored with the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, that one of his foremost accomplishments was this 2002 film about a suburban wife who falls in love with her black handyman while her husband explores his homosexuality in the sexually repressed 1950s. Anchored by an unparalleled performance by Julianne Moore and a superb supporting performance by Dennis Quaid, the film explores love and lust with forbidden passion, a common theme among the very best films of the decade.
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Todd Haynes’ picturesque period drama set in 1950s suburban Connecticut pays homage to Douglas Sirk’s classic 1955 tearjerker All That Heaven Allows. In place of that film’s older widow with grown children (Jane Wyman) falling in love with a younger man (Rock Hudson) to the consternation of her family, Haynes gives us a happily married woman (Julianne Moore) whose husband (Dennis Quaid) turns out to be gay, resulting in her then own almost-as-scandalous romance with a black man (Dennis Haysbert). Moore won numerous awards and received one of the film’s four Oscar nominations.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)
(dir. Cristian Mugiu) Commentary By Tripp Burton – For a personal drama and character study, the 2007 Palme d’Or winner contains one of the most disturbing, horrific shots I have ever seen. It remains etched in my memory more than a decade later. The horror seeps in through all of the film, though, giving us a dark, personal drama that digs into a sense of realism that isn’t much matched in modern cinema.
Gosford Park (2001)
(dir. Robert Altman) Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Robert Altman’s career had so many ups and downs that it’s only fitting that his last great film took place in the Upstairs / Downstairs setting of a country house in 1932 England. It was similar in style to screenwriter Julian Fellowes’ follow-up TV series Downtown Abbey albeit with an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery taking center stage. Topping the all-star cast are Maggie Smith at her imperious best as an upstairs guest, Helen Mirren as the head housekeeper, and Eileen Atkins as the head cook. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Alan Bates, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, and Richard E. Grant.
In America (2003)
(dir. Jim Sheridan) Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Jim Sheridan and his two daughters co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for this extraordinary slice-of-life drama about a struggling Irish actor and his family transplanted to the mean streets of New York in the 1980s based on their own experiences while Sheridan was waiting for his big break while grieving for the loss of his young son. Paddy Considine as the stand-in for Sheridan and Sarah and Emma Bolger as the stand-ins for the girls turn in exceptional performances as do Oscar nominees Samantha Morton as the pregnant-again wife and mother and Djimon Hounsou as their neighbor dying of AIDS.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
(dir. Quentin Tarantino) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – I was not sure that I would ever truly enjoy a Quentin Tarantino movie until this one came along. Of course it contains countless epithets and a number of overly graphic killings, but it also has a plot that grabs one. A group of special service soldiers is spreading fear through the Nazis with their tactics and success in battle. They plan a mission that will wipe several high ranking Nazis, though their plans go seriously awry. With the surprising help from an SS officer, mesmerizingly played by Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, they are able to carry out their plans and even added Hitler to the hit list. It is an alternate end of World War II, but a gripping one.
Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 (2003-04)
(dir. Quentin Tarantino) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – He may have earned his biggest praise for his 1990s output, but director Quentin Tarantino dug back into his 1970s cinematic inspiration to pull out this brilliant pair of films that celebrate the revenge dramas of the period. As a woman seeks vengeance on her former associates that did cruel and vicious things to her, the Bride (Uma Thurman) hunts them down one by one in increasingly impressive displays of visual splendor. Tarantino’s films have always shared a bright and violent aesthetic and few of his films have captured the best of his impulses than these.
Let the Right One In (2008)
(dir. Tomas Alfredson) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – What distinguishes Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish coming-of-age vampire drama from that of its American remake is its ability to create subtlety and nuance from simple evocations of its roots. The mere suggestion that the vampire child Eli might not be female as her outward appearance suggests makes this film cinematically fascinating, an exploration of the feelings of alienation and societal ostracization that permeate both vampire and gay storytelling. Like his legendary Swedish filmmaking forebears, Alfredson’s film is a delicious and pensive affair.
The Lives of Others (2006)
(dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – This film deals with the spying on their own citizens by the East Berlin Stasi, their secret police. A playwright is put under surveillance, partly because a senior officer wants to have an affair with the writer’s actress girlfriend. The man in charge of the operation is not happy about the reasons for this. At first he dutifully is recording everything about the lives of the writer and the actress. But he starts to doubt all that the state is doing, and begins to make slight changes to the manuscripts. It is a tense film, as one imagines that bad things may happen to many of those involved, and there are many twists and turns to it. It still surprises me that this film was made by Germans and then chosen by them as their Foreign Film nominee. It went on to win the Oscar. And it deserved to.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
(dir. Peter Jackson) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Peter Jackson wasn’t a household name until his adaptation of novelist J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy was brought so vividly to life. Across the span of three years, Jackson and his team of technicians brought to the screen a lush trio of adventures that captured countless imaginations in a way that few films had since the original Star Wars. That his brilliant cast helped bring creativity, passion, and gravitas to a genre that had often been considered the purview of young readers helped usher in a new era of popular culture that allowed society to embrace those who used to exist at its own fringes.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
(dir. Peter Jackson) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – It was difficult to decide which of these films to add to the list. The Lord of the Rings was an epic trilogy of films, with good parts about every one of them. The finale of the series, The Return of the King, would go on to tie the record for most Oscars won by a film. I finally went with the first of the series, as it did such a brilliant job of creating J.R.R. Tolkien’s world and characters to the movie going public. The film introduces us to wizards, hobbits, orcs, elves, dwarves, and more. It is a fully realized vision filled with amazing special effects, roaring battle scenes, and strong acting from the ensemble.
(dir. Christopher Nolan) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – Although I am not sure that the film’s logic really works, it remains a fascinating study of a man who can no longer create new short term memories. He can remember things from before his wife was murdered, but nothing since. He takes Polaroids to remember places and people, but all he knows is that he is working on avenging his wife’s murder. He writes notes on the photos to try and steer him in the right direction, but he never can tell if the people he is working with are really to be trusted or not. The film uses an intriguing mix of black-and-white and color scenes to differentiate time periods and parts of scenes will be played again as we learn more about him and the others in the film. It may have plot holes, but it keeps one riveted wondering where it is going.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
(dir. Baz Luhrmann) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – This musical is an over-the-top extravaganza of color, movement and song. Baz Luhrmann was never known for making sedate films, and he pushes the envelope with this one. Set in 1899 Paris among the Bohemian artists, it is a love story told with intermittent modern songs. Sometimes I wish that they had written some new songs for it (editor’s note: they did with “Come What May”), but the showmanship of them can make one forget about that quibble. Ewan McGregor looks at the never more ravishing Nicole Kidman with his puppy dog eyes and melts her heart. Shows go on, clandestine lovers meet. None of it is believable or real, but it is stunning to watch. There is a definite reason why it won Oscars for costumes and set design, for the riot of color and light is mesmerizing. It is “Spectacular Spectacular.”
Mulholland Drive (2001)
(dir. David Lynch) Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – David Lynch’s highly atmospheric film was to movies what his Twin Peaks was to late-night TV a decade earlier, a labyrinth of odd characters and goings-on that don’t make a lot of sense but captivate you while their story is being played out. Naomi Watts stars as the perky aspiring actress who is the sole survivor of a car crash on Beverly Hills’ winding titled road. Co-starring Laura Harring, Robert Forster, Lee Grant, and Ann Miller in a late career showcase as Watts’ landlady, the film won numerous critics awards and four Golden Globe nominations but oddly just one Oscar nomination for Lynch’s career-topping direction.
Commentary By Tripp Burton – David Lynch makes difficult films, and Mulholland Dr is no exception. Like all of his best work, though, it is also funny, sexy, baffling, frightening, and worth revisiting many times. I have put a lot of the film together, but I also know that I’ll never quite crack this film, and that’s what makes it all the more powerful.
The New World (2005)
(dir. Terence Malick) Commentary By Tripp Burton – The New World may not be Terence Malick’s most well-regarded film, but the beauty of this film captivates me in ways that few other films do. It is poetic cinema at its greatest, with lovely performances meandering through some of the most perfect cinematography ever captured on film.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
(dir. Guillermo del Toro) Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Foreign Language Film, Guillermo del Toro’s Mexican stunner is set in 1944 Spain during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in which the stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer lives in her imagination. There she creates a fantasy world from which she escapes the harsh environment of her actual life. The film won Oscars for cinematography, art direction, and makeup, but del Toro himself, nominated for his screenplay, would have to wait another eleven years to receive Oscars himself Best Picture and Best Directing for 2017’s The Shape of Water.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
(dir. Darren Aronofsky) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Darren Aronofsky’s follow up to his acclaimed Pi was a startling revelation when it debuted at the Cannes film festival in March of 2000. Anchored by a haunting performance from Ellen Burstyn, the film explores the hazards of drug addiction in four distinct, but interwoven stories. With creative uses of quick cuts, extreme close-ups, and vivid sound and visual effects, Aronofsky’s film painted a harrowing and prescient portrait of the soul-rending results of the faded dreams and relinquished morals of substance abuse.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
(dir. Wes Anderson) Commentary By Tripp Burton – I find a lot of what Wes Anderson has done in the past two decades a case of diminishing returns, never quite hitting the strides that his third film did. Filled with one of the greatest ensembles of the decade, and alternating between emotionally devastating and hysterically funny, this is a perfect comedy and a perfect family drama all rolled into one quirky gift.
Spirited Away (2002)
(dir. Hayao Miyazaki) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – There are few directors who have such a command of their craft that every film they make is a masterpiece or nearly one. Such can be said of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki who has crafted a gorgeous array of children’s films that present strong and compelling protagonists forced to come of age in foreign and hostile environments. The childlike wonder and innocence at the heart of his films is no better displayed than in this Oscar-winning pinnacle of excellence. Miyazaki has come close to matching this film’s greatness once since its release and that says all it has to about how much of a bright spot this film is in his career.
Commentary By Tripp Burton – Hayao Miyazaki is a master of animation, and Spirited Away is his masterpiece. It is one of the most imaginative films ever made, and never condescends to its audience, allowing itself to be scary and leisurely, but always beautiful and colorful.
Summer Hours (2008)
(dir. Olivier Assayas) Commentary By Tripp Burton – Summer Hours is, in many ways, the quintessential film of the 2000s. It captures everything that defined that decade — globalism, generational shifts, and bafflement about a changing world — and addresses it all in a seemingly tidy family drama. It is allegory at its best.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
(dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Of the masterful slate of films Paul Thomas Anderson has directed in his sparse career as a director, There Will Be Blood may well be his best. Giving Daniel Day-Lewis one of his greatest roles, Anderson explores greed and power during the California Oil Boom of the late 19th Century. Day-Lewis is riveting as the silver miner obsessed with accumulating and holding his wealth. Based on the Sinclair Lewis novel Oil!, the film is one of the pinnacles of 2000s cinema and may well be one of the greatest films ever made.
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – It took eighty years for Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 novel Oil! to come to the screen, but it took P.T. Anderson, born twelve years after Lewis’ death at age 90 in 1958, to pull it off. Anderson gets a career-high performance from the astonishing Daniel Day-Lewis as the impervious conniving oil man whose sheer ruthlessness would be unbearable to witness in the hands of a less skilled actor. Day-Lewis plays this wretched, hate-filled character with such gusto that it’s impossible to look away and impossible not to like the performance as much as we loathe the character. Paul Dano is also terrific as his foil.
(dir. Pete Doctor) Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – This movie starts with a perfect short film about love, courtship, building a life together, and finally having to part because of death. It is a little gem, full of joy, humor, and sadness. But the movie that follows is also delightful. Curmudgeonly Carl creates a makeshift airship out of his home with thousands of helium balloons. He sails through the city and heads for Paradise Falls in South America. He accidentally brings along a young wilderness explorer. They do land near the falls, and encounter a magnificently colored bird, a dog with a collar that lets him talk, and an explorer who may not live up to Carl’s early idolization of him. It’s a grand adventure and deservedly won the Oscar for Animated Feature and was only the second fully animated film nominated for Best Picture.
Wonder Boys (2000)
(dir. Curtis Hansen) Commentary By Tripp Burton – This is probably the last great screwball comedy, playing with class differences and slapstick comedy in a way that feels right out of the 1930s. A lot of this is thanks to Michael Douglas, whose own connection to the Golden Age of Hollywood lets him echo something that is not seen much in modern movies, and acts as a reminder that Curtis Hansen should have had a major career as a classic Hollywood filmmaker.