In order to truly look at a decade, you first have to look at the genres the decade has been able to conquer. Technology and ideas can change, but the way a decade moves in terms of how it handles genres tells a lot about the nature of film in the decade. So we here at Inside Pulse Movies have opted to tackle the cinema of the first decade of the 2000s, affectionately called the Aughts, by first looking at how effectively it handled genres.
Out of all the genres out there, the one that I love the most is the crime film. I have an entire rack of films devoted to the genre, tracking down as many films as I can to expand my knowledge and enjoyment of that part of cinema. And this decade has seen so many great ones that it’s hard to narrow it down to just 10. In reality there were at least 25 films that could’ve been on this list. And I shuffled this order half a dozen times, up to the day before this has gone live.
And there was such a wide variety, as well. You had great spoofs of the genre and true crime stories, as well as remakes of international films. The opening decade of this century has had some amazing cinema and the crime genre has been one of the higher points of it. With a couple Oscar winners, a number of nominees and other genres brazenly tackling concepts and cinematic techniques long mastered through the crime film.
10. No Country for Old Men
The Coens could stop making films right now and would have their legacy complete as one of the best film-making tandems of all time. And they have an Oscar for a return to the crime film, as No Country nabbed them an Oscar. And it’s well worth it, following the tale of a man (Josh Brolin) who finds a bag of money and the psychotic hired killer (Javier Bardem) after him. But it’s not just a simple chase with an old school police officer (Tommy Lee Jones) trailing the two. It’s about story-telling in the most pure manner, developing characters by letting actors inhabit them.
9. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Sometimes it takes the right cast with the right script, and the right director, to really have fun with a film. Shane Black, the man behind Lethal Weapon, took a standard detective story and spun it on its ear as it told a story about an idiot (Robert Downey Jr.) and a gay detective (Val Kilmer) trying to solve a murder. But the murder is the least of his worries, as an old high school flame (Michelle Monaghan) wanders into his life to complicate things further.
But it’s more important because it marks the beginning of the rejuvenation of Robert Downey Jr’s career, the first real film role he had that said “I am back as the best leading man of my generation” before Iron Man began his ascension back on top.
8. Layer Cake
Before Casino Royale introduced Daniel Craig to the world, Layer Cake introduced him as a leading man in a crime film few saw. Directed by Matt Vaughn, it follows an unknown drug dealer (Craig) as he goes for one last score. Things don’t go as planned, however, but the thrill of the film is in the hunt, as Craig shows the screen presence and charisma that got him the job as 007, Britain’s best secret agent.
7. I, Robot
Will Smith has a knack for picking great projects, and I, Robot is my favorite of his. The film is a detective story with sci-fi elements, as Detective Spooner (Smith) finds himself investigating the murder of a scientist (James Cromwell) at US Robotics. What he uncovers is much more sinister then the mere death of one man, and it’s a great trek to discover it.
6. Better Luck Tomorrow
Before Justin Lin became another studio hack, he crafted a crime masterpiece with money lent to him by M.C Hammer. Following the tale of some rich Asian kids from California, the film follows a group (including future star John Cho of Harold and Kumar fame) who evolve from petty crimes to something much darker, and their attempts at dealing with the consequences. Lin shows deft promise in his story-telling manner, following honor roll students in California through some interesting times in a film that’s as much character study as it is crime flick. Watching this film is depressing because it shows what Lin can do as a director with something of substance to say, instead of a vapid Fast and the Furious sequel.
5. American Gangster
True crime stories are usually the best and the takedown of Frank Lucas, and his Country Boys gang, is one of the best. The tale of one of the first major black crime figures of New York, Lucas (Denzel Washington) rises to power from mere street hood to heroin importer extraordinaire with the sort of tenacity that would’ve made him a Wall Street kingpin in different circumstances. While we see Frank become a man of extraordinary means via Heroin, we get to see Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) put together the task force and the unbelievable true life events that led to Lucas’s capture and incarceration. With Ridley Scott at the helm, this is an epic crime film of two stories converging into one unforgettable film.
If this had been live action, it’d have made $300 million at the box office and made Daniel Craig into a bigger star then he would become with Casino Royale. But as an animated film, rotoscoped with a green screen from a French studio in black and white, it wound up in the art house circuit and struggling to find an audience it so richly deserved. A detective story set in the future, with a detective (Daniel Craig, voice only) finding himself getting deeper into something he never thought he would with a pharmaceutical company.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt went from being the kid on Third Rock from the Sun to the best young indie actor in such a short time it’s hard to remember him from being a child actor. And while Mysterious Skin established his indie cred, Brick was the film that you had to see because how good it was. An old-school noir piece set in a high school setting, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has to solve the riddle behind the death of his ex-girlfriend the drug dealer. As he gets in deeper, the motives behind her death get as murky as the water he finds himself in.
Before Tom Cruise went crazy, he embodied the essence of the soulless hit-man in Michael Mann’s classic. Vincent (Cruise) has one night to kill five people. Max (Jamie Foxx) is the cab driver who takes him around, finding himself in Vincent’s world of death and mayhem. As the two drive around Los Angeles, waxing existential philosophy and Jazz music, Max finds himself getting into darker parts of life he never wished to experience.
What I loved about the film is that it didn’t mimic Le Samourai, a classic of its own right but every film about a hitman that just apes from it so relentlessly that its cliché. Collateral is about a ruthless man who doesn’t learn any sort of lesson; it’s about one night between two men on opposite sides of the good and evil equation.
1. The Departed
Scorsese could retire now and he’s in the team picture of greatest director of all time, easily the best of a loaded generation of filmmakers and master of the crime genre in a way no one has been able to master the genre since Melville. And following in the footsteps of Casino, Goodfellas and Mean Streets is no easy task but if anyone could it would be Marty. And what did he give us? The best crime film of the decade and a return to form.
Remade from the Hong Kong b-grade thriller Infernal Affairs, Scorsese takes the original film and has crafted something more epic and grandeur with it. This isn’t a quick action flick about a mobster and a cop undercover; this is about two men who find themselves teetering the fine line between good and evil. With perhaps the best cast of the decade, and the preeminent director of his era, The Departed is easily the best crime film of the 2000s.
Tags: Coen Brothers, crime, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, No Country for Old Men, Robert Downey Jr, The Departed