Anna Bogutskaya, Charles Bramesco, Kambole Campbell, David Jenkins, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Matt Thrift, Hannah Woodhead, Adam Woodward
Part one of our bumper survey of the noughties, featuring Avatar, Borat! and Requiem for a Dream.
Regular visitors to these pages will know that we often celebrate and reappraise older films: they might be modern classics, under-the-radar gems or works which, for whatever reason, have gained deeper meaning or resonance over time. Typically these pieces are pegged to notable anniversaries, and 2020 has so far seen a number of exceptional, era-defining movies reach the 20-year milestone, from Christopher Nolan’s Memento to Mary Harron’s American Psycho to Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. Truly, the start of the new millennium was something special.
Having already surveyed the best films of the 1990s and the 2010s, we thought we’d plug the gap and satisfy our (and hopefully your) nostalgia by checking out what the rest of noughties had to offer. Whittling these lists down to a lean ton is never a straightforward task, so we’ve enlisted the services of some of our nearest and dearest contributors to help us come up with a wide-reaching – but by no means comprehensive – survey of what the world of cinema looked liked two decades ago.
The following ranking is not intended as a definitive canon – we simply hope it stimulates some debate and prompts you to revisit and possibly discover some great films. To keep things interesting, we’ve limited ourselves to just one film per director. Think we’ve missed something? Share your favourite movies of the 2000s with us @LWLies
For his last Stateside project before an extended European sojourn, Brian De Palma – that impish cinematic interrogator of content through form – was handed the keys to Disney’s digital play chest. A return to the genre romanticism of The Untouchables and one of the great CG-driven spectacles, it’s a reflexive commentary on artistry and creativity through FX in service of a god-killing creation myth. Of course, it bombed, but it’s hard to imagine another blockbuster this subversive coming out of the Mouse House again any time soon. Matt Thrift
Charting the respective rise and fall of American psych-revival groups The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Ondi Timoner’s 2004 rockumentary is a riveting portrait of ego and hubris, centred around the not-so-friendly rivalry between band leaders Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Anton Newcombe. Capturing moments of shameless excess, unironic bravado and comi-tragic self-sabotage, Dig! plays out like a real-life Spinal Tap, a sobering, frequently obscene cautionary tale that shows what life is really like behind the music. It’s enough to make anyone want to put down their guitar and take up gardening. Adam Woodward
The third film from M Night Shyamalan is another subdued genre piece (again set in Pennsylvania) about grief and faith. Though often sillier than his previous works (and Mel Gibson is perhaps a strange choice for a timid former reverend) there’s simple power in that restoration of faith, even among events that should shatter it entirely. It stands as one of the best alien invasion films of that decade by (mostly) letting those events play out in the background of its intimate, emotional character study. Kambole Campbell
For a few years, before his move into television, Ti West was one of the bright young things of American horror. Said reputation rested on 2011’s The Innkeepers and this 16mm marvel from 2009. Set in 1983 and shot to look as though it could have been made then too – all soft lighting and soft furnishings – it’s a rare pastiche than eschews a knowing wink for straight-faced reverence, its craft belying its mere $900k budget. Great Gerwig eats, while Jocelin Donahue gets her Rosemary’s Babysitter on. Nota bene: If Tom Noonan offers you $400 for a night’s work and says he’s going to make things as painless as possible… MT
Steve Coogan’s virtuoso role (beyond Alan Partridge) was Tony Wilson aka “Mr Manchester”, the music impresario at the centre of the ’80s and ’90s indie boom. He breaks the fourth wall in Michael Winterbottom’s glorious, freewheeling comedy-drama biopic that energetically rolls through boom and bust, and bustles with well-cast legends of the scene. Sean Harris as Ian Curtis is a stand out. Sophie Monks Kaufman
This Italian gangster epic stormed the festival circuit with Kalashnikovs blazing, ready to show its slick American cousins how it’s done. Matteo Garrone braids five threads of plot – a teen eager for initiation, a tailor with a life-or-death predicament, a morally cloudy moneyman – into one comprehensive image of organised crime and the bloodstains it leaves all over Napolitana society. Garrone doesn’t skimp on the surface pleasures of his genre, however, his whackings every bit as devilishly cathartic as Martin Scorsese’s or Francis Ford Coppola’s. Charles Bramesco
A few years after the death of Shintaro Katsu, the actor responsible for bringing Zatoichi – the blind, cane-sword wielding masseuse – to life across some 25 features and 100 episodes of television, the character was resurrected by Takeshi Kitano, who took the Silver Lion at Venice in the process. While it’s arguably his best known film, in retrospect it feels like a transitional work, bridging the coiled formalism of his ’90s pictures with the zany experimentation that would come in the latter half of the ’00s. Takeshi sticks to the series template but swerves pastiche, bringing a percussive, syncopated musicality – including a curtain call dance number – to moments of levity amid the rainstorms of CG claret. MT
Michael Mann took a cop procedural steeped in cheesy ’80s zeitgeist and dragged it into the present with a top-to-bottom digital makeover. Not everyone responded to the motion-smoothed high-gloss artifice, but his startling new aesthetic contains snatches of futuristic beauty unlike anything the cinematic medium has produced before or since. The grunge-metal soundtrack and fiend-for-mojito one-liners turned some viewers off, but Mann’s bold creative choices earned him a cult that continues to grow today. CB
Rita Azevedo Gomes’ dreamlike second feature tells of an impossible love. João (Bruno Terra) and Vera (Maria Gonçalves) appear to have it all: loving families, close friends and space to call their own. But their devotion to each other is absolute, and so they decide to leave everything behind in search of their own Eden, relocating to a remote forest. Gomes’ impressionistic fairy tale – filmed in sepia-tinged monochrome with occasional bursts of colour – is a stunning evocation of the all-consuming, transcendent nature of young love, a theme the director would return to in 2018’s A Portuguesa. AW
The film that made Maggie Gyllenhaal a star gives BDSM fans a happy ending, in this elongated adaptation of Mary Gaitskill’s brittle short story. James Spader is the pre-Christian Grey man-of-means-with-unconventional-tastes. His chemistry with Gyllenhaal is absorbing, but this is Maggie’s film, and she embodies every inch of her character’s curious flesh with flushed panache. SMK
It’s a crime that Courtney Hunt has only managed to get one film made in the 12 years since she announced herself with this searing debut, starring Melissa Leo as a desperate single mother whose hardened exterior matches the frost-bitten setting. Tempted into illegally trafficking people across the border from Canada after her husband runs off with the downpayment on their mobile home, Leo’s Ryan does whatever it takes to protect her children as Hunt examines the thorny moral and legal implications of her actions. A survival story to savour. AW
Based on her graphic novel of the same name, which in turn was based on her own childhood, Persepolis’ unique style and perspective places it among the best and most valuable pieces of animation of the decade. Like its source the film unfolds in black and white, mixing expressionist visuals with a punkish attitude as it navigates Marjane Satrapi’s complex identity. It’s brisk and sharp and funny and affecting, encompassing all the great and small dramas of a whole lifetime. KC
The many faces of modern heroism is a subject that has obsessed Clint Eastwood for much of the 21st century. Despite the fact that Flags of our Fathers is ostensibly a war movie, it takes place on tainted American soil, as the decision is made to “print the legend” when it comes to parlaying the iconic properties of a photographic depiction of a flag raising at the Battle of Iwo Jima into patriotic propaganda. It’s about lies and manipulations at the highest levels of government – also one of Big Clint’s major bugbears. David Jenkins
There is chemistry and rivalry from the moment that Monica and Quincy meet on the basketball pitch aged 12. Gina Prince-Bythewood traces the contours of their relationship centring it within families and the pressures of the game, as time makes everything more loaded. Gentle observations power this map of growing pains, with autobiographical tidbits adding tender specificity. SMK
Darren Aronofsky announced himself in striking fashion with 1998’s Pi, but it was his gruelling addiction drama, based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr, that cemented his reputation. Starring the impossibly beautiful trio of Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans as young junkies who fall deeper into their addiction and despair. But it’s veteran Ellen Burstyn’s storyline as the retired housewife who unwittingly becomes addicted to amphetamines trying to lose weight that elevates the film about your bog standard drugs-are-bad warning film. Anna Bogutskaya
The Dubya years were begging for a satirist like Sacha Baron Cohen, who needed to do little more than hold out his microphone for America to tell on itself. As mishap-prone Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev, he coaxed out the condescension, anger, and outright bigotry smouldering beneath the placid surface of polite society with unscripted on-the-fly pranks — while still leaving ample space for a highly choreographed nude wrestling match that can never be unseen. Very nice! CB
The highest achievement for a film is to become a whole sub-genre. Battle Royale inspired a wave of entertainment where a select group of people kill each other off, until a single victor remains. Set in a dystopian future, the Japanese government has created a highly organised, bloody battle-to-the-death system to manage the nation’s unruly youth. Battle Royale is pure carnage, but at the centre of it is the universal tension between generations. AB
Australia’s foremost cinematic ethnographer, Rolf de Heer, shared directing duties on 2006’s Ten Canoes with the prominent Aboriginal figure Peter Djigirr, beginning a fruitful creative partnership between the pair. We’re transported back to a time before European settlers had reached the continent, initially observing a group of Yolngu natives on a hunting expedition. What unfolds is a spiritual and frequently humorous celebration of an ancient community erased by colonisation. Narrated in English by David Gulpilil (another or de Heer’s regular collaborators), this was the first Australian feature shot entirely in indigenous languages. AW
Although of late he’s more interested in making slick political movies based on current events, Adam McKay’s finest work is the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, which stars Will Ferrell and John C Reilly as two adult men forced together when their parents marry. The slapstick juvenility of Step Brothers resembles McKay’s past work on Anchorman and Talladega Nights, but there’s something wonderfully pure about this tale of (step-)brotherly love, not to mention how infinitely quotable the (largely improvised!) script is. Seeing Will Ferrell belt out ‘Por Ti Volare’ never fails to bring a tear of joy to my eye. HW
Few narrative films evoke the collective trauma of the Holocaust more poignantly or poetically than Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky’s Werckmeister Harmonies. Based on the 1989 novel ‘The Melancholy of Resistance’ by László Krasznahorkai, whose stark, dystopian themes are a perfect fit for Tarr’s doom-laden cinema (1990’s Sátántangó was based on another of his books, and he later co-wrote the screenplay for 2011’s The Turin Horse), the film follows a provincial postman whose snowbound village becomes blanketed in hysteria following the arrival of a mysterious travelling circus. AW
Avatar’s free-fall in public opinion over the 11 years since its release speaks more to the seismic shifts in the pop-cultural landscape than it does to anything within the film itself, the same demographic that crowned it king of the box office now deeming it at best a pariah, at worst an existential threat to their very identity. James Cameron’s masterclass in world-building and action construction could never be green-lit today, with no reliable precedents to excite the monolithic studios nabobs. It’s a mug’s game to bet against Cameron’s track record – so roll on 2022, when we can once again hold up the set-pieces of a master filmmaker against those algorithmically-gamed by Casa Marvel. There’s only one endgame we’re interested in. Ooh-rah. MT
If Paul Thomas Anderson changed how audiences saw Adam Sandler, Michel Gondry changed how they saw Jim Carrey. In a departure from his larger-than-life comedy persona, he plays the introverted Joel Barish, who falls in love with Kate Winslet’s definitive manic pixie dream girl Clementine Kruczynski. The non-linear script written by Charlie Kaufman details their romance’s rise and fall, investigating whether “I wish I’d never met you” is a maxim worth pursuing. HW
At once a documentary, memoir and psychogeographic essay film from Guy Maddin, My Winnipeg takes a droll stroll through the personal history of the singular Canadian auteur’s “always winter, always sleepy” hometown. “Who gets the chance to vivisect their own childhood?” he asks, before mounting a formal collage of archive footage, rear projections, silent and animated recollections of a childhood real and imagined. It’s a heartfelt, minor key city symphony of sorts too, that takes in everything from the 1919 General Strike to occult masonic rituals, all in just 80 minutes. A miniature wonder. MT
This, in its own rambling, ambling way, is a road trip movie that heads right down into the human psyche. With the use of brain-frazzling Rotoscope animation technology, developed solely for the creation of this film, Linklater allows us to earwig on various conversations which touch on dream logic, philosophy, politics and film theory, while remaining in the company of a kindly slacker who doesn’t appear to be able to wake from this lucid, fragmentary dream. It’s a partner picture to his exquisite corpse breakthrough, Slacker, and, to lean on that old cliché, it’s a film that really makes you think. DJ
In smalltown Romania circa 1987, two young women endeavour to procure an abortion. Between the fact that the procedure is illegal, its prohibitive cost, the difficulty of securing a hotel room for the operation, and a lecherous doctor’s own demands, this proves much more easily said than done. It’s not all that easy to watch, either; Cannes crowds hailed Cristian Mungiu’s unsparing neorealism as a triumph, albeit one forged from excruciating pain. CB
Published 21 Sep 2020
Our countdown of the finest cinematic offerings from 2000 to 2009 continues. How many have you seen?
Our team of writers choose their favourite films from the past 10 years. How many have you seen?