2000-2009 offered epic fantasy, fascinating indies and great dramas
Movie fanatics love to have fun putting together lists, especially when a decade comes to a close. In honor of that tradition, I’ve put together a list of my favorite movies from the past 10 years. In the ebb and flow of the movie biz, there seems to be an unforgettable decade of movies about every forty years. The decades that qualify in my book are the 1930s and the 1970s. If I can hold on for ten more years, perhaps the films of 2010-2019 will keep the trend going. In the meantime, here are the films from 2000-2009 that were the best of the best, a nice mix of epics, indie favorites and international cinema. For comedy fans, my apologies, but dramas and sci-fi are my two favorite genres.
In alphabetical order, my faves for the past decade:
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Children of Men (2006)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Far From Heaven (2002)
Garden State (2004)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and II (2003, 2004)
The Lives of Others (2006)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2006)
The Station Agent (2003)
James Cameron’s awesome blend of breakthrough technology and emotionally satisfying storytelling in Avatar lived up to my expectations. It’s a spectacular flight of fancy that has a strong enough story to keep up with — and be enhanced by — the OMG technology.
Back in 2002, hot indie filmmaker Doug Liman (Go, Swingers) invaded the land of Hollywood genre filmmaking with his blissfully old-fashioned spy thriller, The Bourne Identity. Although set in modern times, the movie’s ambiance is from the time when spies were out in the Cold War, spying around colorful European locations and John Le Carre set the standard.
Children of Men is a disturbing and effectively chilling peek into an all-too-possible dystopian future. Directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón, the “repent, the end is near” theme is played out with engaging visuals that punch us in the gut with the disheartening notion that this ugly world of racism, violence and homeland security gone mad is a more likely futuristic scenario than a world in which shared humanity and peace reign supreme. Clive Owens plays zombie-like disillusionment to perfection and Cuarón leaves us with an ending that presents the possibility that hope is still a relevant emotion in the midst of chaos.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a martial arts masterpiece and epic love story by Ang Lee that is action packed, emotionally fulfilling and unforgettable.
With Far From Heaven, director Todd Haynes brilliantly pays tribute to the delightfully overripe Douglas Sirk melodramas of the fifties. Edward Lachman’s oversaturated cinematography is stunning and the music by Elmer Bernstein evokes his own To Kill a Mockingbird score. The film features remarkable acting by Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert.
The Jersey fresh Garden State made writer-director Zach Braff (Scrubs) the independent cinema breakout star of 2004. Braff’s film is small in scope, but rich in character-defining details. He builds a sweet, lighthearted tale about dysfunctional families, love, friendship and regaining one’s soul. Natalie Portman is adorable as the woman he loves. While it presents universal truths about suburban life in general, the Jersey particulars give the movie added flavor.
Beyond the fact that the Jersey coast is vulnerable according to the global warming scenario in An Inconvenient Truth, the top doc of the decade, the truth hits you like a Category 5 hurricane as you watch Al Gore give his thoughtful and engaging presentation.
With Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), Quentin Tarantino unleashes his passion for the chop-socky genre with more arterial spray than a Texas Chainsaw Massacre marathon. He raises carnage to an art form, with a large Samurai slice of comedy on the side, plus great tongue-in-cheek (and sword-in-hand) performances by Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu. Filmmaking genius or blood-loving freak? Tarantino is a bit of both, but his reverence for the power of moving images, and his ability to express that passion with his own unmistakable brushstrokes, tilts him more toward the former than the latter. Kill Bill Vol. II finishes the tale with classic Tarantino verbosity.
The debut feature of writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others brilliantly delineates the complex nature of a police state, and the desire to hold on to one’s freedom and beliefs when “Big Brother” is always watching.
Often enchanting, with rich, layered characters, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a rousing adventure with a lovely air of sadness. The dark side of this adventure is beautifully balanced with the light, comic side by New Zealand director Peter Jackson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Fran and Philippa Boyens
Peter Weir’s rousing adventure at sea, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World features Russell Crowe, an exemplary action hero as the rugged Captain Jack, but the top acting kudos go to Paul Bettany as the ship’s philosophical doctor. Weir melds rip-roaring action with invigorating historical details while never letting us forget that war is not pretty; it is savage.
Christopher Nolan’s engaging existential thriller Memento told in a reverse narrative style, features a great performance by Guy Pearce as a man who was assaulted, his wife murdered and his short term memory destroyed. He will never get over the death of his wife because it is time that heals all wounds, and he can’t feel the passage of time.
Clint Eastwood delivers a knockout punch with Million Dollar Baby, a dazzling drama about redemption, pride, loyalty and love. That he finds these qualities in the world of boxing makes his accomplishment even more impressive, enhanced by the Oscar-winning performance by Hillary Swank.
Small in scope and starring an actor small in stature — the remarkably expressive Peter Dinklage — The Station Agent is about three lonely people who become unlikely friends. Written and directed by New Jersey-native Tom McCarthy, the movie is quietly effective, touching one moment, hilarious the next, thanks mostly to the star-making turn by the fascinating Dinklage.
Like most people outside Chicago, I first saw and heard Roger Ebert talk about movies on the PBS television show Sneak Previews opposite another Chicago newspaper critic, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune in 1975. As the critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, that made them rivals, and the show had an undercurrent of that rivalry as they passionately discussed movies and provided their thumbs up and thumbs down critiques.
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