The eighties may hold a place in my heart when it comes to the films released during a particular decade but it wasn’t until I got a good look at the last ten years worth of films in preparation for this list that I realized just how good of a decade the aughts were when it came to movies.
Crafting this list was incredibly difficult as there were a ton of really great movies that came out between January 2000 and December 2009.
From the wealth of comic book movies that overran theaters to the mainstream-ification of and easy access to independent cinema to the constant stream of films from visionary directors hitting their stride, I was never more then a few weeks away from a incredible film experience at the movie theater.
While I put a lot of thought into this list (perhaps too much thought), I can’t guarantee it won’t change with time and perspective. Besides my own evolving tastes, there were also a lot of great films in the last decade that I missed out on and am slowly catching up with thanks to Netflix.
Ten years from now a list of my favorite films of the aughts could look very different. But in the meantime, here are ten of my favorite films from the last 120 months.
While James Cameron’s box office record-breaking movie may have just been released a handful of weeks ago and at the tail end of the decade, it made such an impact on me at the theater that the film managed to sneak its way onto this list — even if at the very bottom.
Avatar may not be a perfect film — there are some serious issues of originality in the story — but the special effects and sheer spectacle of seeing it in the theater more then make up for any defects in the movie’s plot. Cameron knows how to craft pure, concentrated epic and Avatar delivers the goods in spades. Awe-inspiring in its scope and beauty, the film has a very strong possibility of loosing a lot of its impact on a home theater system so out of all the movies on this list, Avatar has the biggest chance of being squeezed off upon future reflection.
In the meantime, though, Cameron can rest easy with the knowledge that he delivered a movie that once again made going to the theater an event worth looking forward to. Avatar may not be high-brow cinema but it is blockbuster at its finest.
The majority of film fans may prefer director Matthew Vaughan’s crime film Layer Cake to his attempt at fantasy, but for me Stardust took the cake when it comes to fantasy films of the last decade. An adaptation of one of my favorite books from one of my favorite authors, Stardust took a lot of liberties in its translation to the big screen — but it managed to retain 100 percent of the novel’s tone and wit.
Actors Claire Danes and Charlie Cox are pitch perfect in their roles as “star”-crossed lovers who find romance while on the road — kind of like a Hans Christian Anderson version of Midnight Run if Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin were lovers.
A grown-up fairy tale in the vein of The Princess Bride, Stardust was an unmistakable box office bomb when it was released in 2007. While it has not yet found its audience on DVD, I remain confident that Stardust will be discovered in the next ten years — turning it into a true cult film and not one of those manufactured cult movies that studios love to license merchandise for.
Plus, I’m so gay for the film’s theme song by Take That.
8. About Schmidt
Jack Nicholson, for my money, had no better role this last decade then as Warren Schmidt in Alexander Payne’s 2002 movie About Schmidt.
In the film, Nicholson plays a man who, after his wife dies, decides to head to his daughter’s wedding a bit early in the hopes he can persuade her not to marry a man he considers an utter loser. Hope Davis, Kathy Bates and Dermot Mulroney fill the supporting cast.
A somber reflection of a man beset with loneliness during his twilight years, About Schmidt is painful for me to watch because of how much Nicholson’s character reminds me of my own father. Watching Nicholson in emotional pain as Schmidt makes me think of my own father going through such pain. That, though, is the power of Payne.
Payne, the director of Election and Sideways, excels at working with actors to create characters that are so believable they instantly become synonymous with real people in your own life.
7. Shaun of the Dead
In the last decade, Edgar Wright has quickly become one of my favorite directors. Shaun of the Dead, the movie that, for the most part, introduced him to American audiences, is a brilliant parody of zombie films that rises above the dreck that the parody genre has devolved into and becomes something much more.
The film is really a romantic comedy that just happens to have zombies in it. Not content with just being a single love story though, Shaun of the Dead contains three love stories (a man and his woman, a man and his best friend, and a man and his mother) and gives them the proper emotional weight to make audiences actually care when zombies crash through walls and start eating the innards of the film’s heroes.
But even more the romance and violence, the movie excels at humor — righteous, laugh-out-loud humor. Shaun of the Dead is a great film and I can’t wait to see what Edgar Wright has for movie fans next.
6. Moulin Rouge!
I’ve gotten a lot of grief over the last eight years due to my love for Moulin Rouge. Yes, it’s a musical. Yes, it’s unbelievably sappy. Yes, it’s loud and obnoxious. These are all the reasons, though, why I love the film so much. It’s a grand exercise in excess — combining everything I love in movies: dazzling effects, an earnest love story and a great soundtrack.
Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are fantastic in the film — providing both their acting chops and singing voices to breathe life into Baz Luhrmann’s crazy vision of a fantastical Paris where poets, prostitutes and dukes mingle in vibrant nightclubs.
Even if I have to turn in my Man Card, I will always stand in proud support for my favorite musical of the last decade.
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
One of the biggest transformations in my movie inclinations from the ’90s to the ’00s was my increasing distaste for Jim Carrey. The rubber-faced actor went from one of my idols to a guy whose movies I generally avoid — with exception.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a brilliant film — largely due to the involvement of writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry. A mindtrip of a film about a clinic that specializes in selectively erasing people’s memories to help them cope with loss, the film proved to be a perfect vehicle for Carrey’s talents.
What I love about Gondry as a director is the clear growth of his skills on display throughout the course of his career. While a lot of filmmakers will stagnate with their work, Gondry’s evolution as a storyteller is obvious in everything he does. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a clear progression of Gondry’s work as a music video director but even more so, it was a great story brought to life in a visually stunning way.
Amelie, or Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain as is the film’s full title, is my favorite romantic film of the last decade.
A wonderful exploration of destiny and optimism, the movie is beautifully filmed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and stars the lovely Audrey Tautou as a innocent girl seeking true love in the streets of Paris. Utlizing a Rube Goldberg series of events, the film’s plot sends Amelie from a series of adventures helping others achieve happiness to the film’s final adventure — a shot for Amelie to find her own happiness.
Jeunet’s whimsical style is a perfect fit to this impossibly cheery movie. There is no way you can watch this movie and not smile — unless you are secretly a demon-hearted gorgon of hatred.
3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
While Judd Apatow has been producing movies and television series since the early ’90s, The 4o-Year-Old Virgin is the film that introduced the world to Apatow and his pals — paving the way for the majority of comedies that have been influenced by Judd in the last five years.
What sets Apatow’s comedies apart from the imitators, though, is the heart and soul that shine through every minute of the director’s admittedly long films. The film’s star, Steve Carrell, broke through and achieved true fame with his role as Andy Stitzer, hapless loser and lifetime geek. While there were plenty of dick and fart jokes to be had at Andy’s expense, the reason this movie is so high on my list has more to do with the emotional weight found in the film then the huge laughs provided by Carrell and his supporting cast.
Apatow has been responsible for a lot of great films these last ten years. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, though, is simply the best.
2. The Dark Knight
There is really not much to say about this film other then the fact that I love the movie like most people love their first born child.
A life-long Batman fan, The Dark Knight is, in my opinion, the perfect Batman movie. It is so well-crafted in its story, production value, acting and execution that I seriously question the need for any more Batman movies. That is, of course, unless Christopher Nolan wants to do more. Please say you do, Mr. Nolan.
The Dark Knight is my favorite super hero movie in a decade where there were a lot of really, really good super hero movies. A comic book nerd through and through, I would have made The Dark Knight my favorite film of the decade if it wasn’t for that little film that kept nagging in my ear…
1. 25th Hour
I did not see 25th Hour when it was originally released in theaters. In fact, I didn’t see it until almost five years after it had been released on DVD. Since then, I have watched it almost every six months — a total of well over half a dozen times.
25th Hour is my favorite film of the last decade purely for that reason — I can watch it over and over again and it never looses its freshness or appeal. Edward Norton turns in an amazing performance as Monty Brogan, a man facing immanent jail time for narcotics possession. Looking at his last day as a free man, Monty goes out for a night on the town with his best friends (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson).
Everything from the film’s writing (Brian Cox’s final monologue is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I have ever witnessed in a motion picture) to the direction from Spike Lee to the beautiful music by Terence Blanchard makes 25th Hour my favorite movie of the decade.
Tags: Alexander Payne, Avatar, barry pepper, Batman, Brian Cox, Charlie Kaufman, Christopher Nolan, Dermot Mulroney, Edgar Wright, Edward Norton, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, ewan mcgregor, jack nicholson, James Cameron, Jean-Pierre jeunet, Jim Carrey, Judd Apatow, Kathy Bates, Michel Gondry, Moulin Rouge!, Neil Gaiman, Nick Frost, Nicole Kidman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Rosario Dawson, Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg, Spike Lee, Stardust, Steve Carrell, The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Dark Knight, The Princess Bride