Looking back, the aughts were a great time for art. Indie rock was really starting to hit its stride in the music realm while movies exploded with the kind of innovation and creativity that can only come from a fresh millennium.
There were duds, for certain. Not many of us use Snakes on a Plane as anything else but a joke while seemingly interesting releases like Garden State are just sorta boring when revisited these days. We’ve had an additional decade to see which cinematic attempts really struck a chord, whether it’s through some phenomenal acting, clever editing, an intoxicating plot, or more.
The first decade of the 21st century was blessed with many a great film. Here are a dozen of the very best:
Punch Drunk Love (2002)
This 2002 release from the revered Paul Thomas Anderson painted Adam Sandler in a shade none of us really thought possible. He played Barry Egan, a role that asked the actor to be serious and introspective in stead his usual silly demeanor. And he knocked it out of the park, becoming the focal point in a complex movie that’s beautifully shot and has brilliant moments of dark humor.
Gangs of New York (2002)
This vintage flick has all of the Scorsese hallmarks, from violence and betrayal to racism and the American immigrant perspective. With blistering performances from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis, the movie has zero dull moments, remarkable set and costumer design, and a faction-filled look at the American experiment that seems eerily applicable to today.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
One of Wes Anderson’s greatest films hit the theaters in 2001. The Royal Tenenbaums boasts an all-star cast including the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Gene Hackman as well as a fantastic soundtrack and Anderson’s clever attention to detail. Family drama has long been the inspiration for all kinds of artwork but this Alec Baldwin-narrated movie is truly unique in its ability to weave together so many emotions and distinctive characters.
The greatness of this 2004 movie is that it’s a brooding comedy masquerading as a wine-fueled adventure. Sure, there are scenes of tasting room debauchery and the glorification of Pinot Noir, but the best of the film involves its darker, more honest moments around themes like infidelity and death. Paul Giamatti is nothing short of brilliant, a perfect blend of cerebral and self-deprecating.
Arguably the best animated film of the aughts if not the last 20 years, Up is a gorgeous ride that ebbs and flows beautifully between youthful joy and the emotional weight of aging. It is wildly creative and accented with montages so touching that you can’t help but weep some. The movie cemented Pixar as king of the animated realm, with its razor-sharp animation and surprisingly complex storyline.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
This Coen Brothers classic took home the Best Picture award in 2007. Since, we’ve never looked at a cattle gun in quite the same way. Commanded by an outstanding Javier Bardem performance, the film is haunting and twisted in a fashion that’s so authentic it feels like a documentary.
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Michael Moore’s most famous documentary deals in school shootings, a topic our country knows all too well. Made in 2002, the movie takes a deep dive into gun culture, offering pointed takes on our history and the commercial aspects involved. It’s hard to watch at times but required viewing nonetheless. The movie set a new standard for popular documentaries, paving the way for future great ones like An Inconvenient Truth and the countless dramatic docs that continue to come out of the Netflix movie pipeline.
The year 2002 was clearly a great year for film. This Spike Jonze joint, written by the incomparable Charlie Kaufman, features stunning performances by Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper. The intersection of the many characters is immensely thoughtful and the way it portrays rural Florida is both romantic and near-mystical.
This Christopher Nolan classic is an elongated think piece, full of head-scratching wonder. It’s a lesson in discontinuity, with time pretty much thrown out the window from the start. As such, it’s engaging throughout, requiring your close attention as the story unravels its many, many threads.
Kill Bill (2003)
Kill Bill almost instantly brought samurai culture back to the fore, in a rock star style built around the one and only Uma Thurman. The movie has pizazz, excellent fight scenes, and Tarantino’s stylishness throughout. The late David Carradine shines here, as does some unrivaled choreography, and a prevailing coolness.
This 2004 biopic highlights the remarkable life of Ray Charles, with deft acting on behalf of Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, especially. Covering three decades of the iconic piano man’s life is no small task but the film does it rather effortlessly. It was almost ahead of its time, given the recent trend of musician-based films (Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody, etc.).
One of the most imaginative popular films of the decade, Amélie is a French rom-com that resonates even more today, given the closed-off nature of the pandemic. The eponymous protagonist lives a life of solitude, prescribed early by her parents for health reasons. But she compensates for the loneliness by letting her mind wander into some wondrous, dream-like territory.
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