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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Movies That Defined the 2000's: 20-11

Boston Red Sox celebrating 2004 World
Series victory courtesy of
Our countdown continues with #20 through #11 of our definitive films of the aughts. Some much more serious topics here, though we do have a few comedies sprinkled in. One weird observation - the 00s had a lot more culturally significant documentaries than the 90s did, mostly because we had a lot more globally impacting matters in the decade compared to the seemingly easygoing 90s. Two of them are here, as well as one ridiculous mockumentary. Enjoy.


#20. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

I have argued since I first saw Darren Aronofsky's film that it should be required viewing for teenagers. Requiem for a Dream showed a warped, but horrifyingly honest look at what drug addiction (of more than one kind) can do to a person, to a family, and to friendships. Headlined by dark performances from Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Oscar nominated Ellen Burstyn (should've won, but lost to Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich), Aronofsky's fable was graphic, scary, and a wonderful snapshot of how drugs can ruin your life. There's no happy ending here - not an easy watch, but well worth your time.

#19. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Sacha Baron Cohen burst onto the scene in England in 2000 with "Da Ali G Show," a skit show that eventually found its way to HBO in 2003. In 2006, he took one of his regular characters on the show and did what is basically an anthropological study of America with Borat, a farcical mockumentary about a news reporter from Kazakhstan sent to the United States to learn about the culture. Most take him at his word and show their true colors, exposing some hidden bigotry and cultural indifference while Cohen interviews and films them unsuspectingly. Trekking across the country to find his love, Pamela Anderson, Cohen meets various characters from all walks of life and, though he does so quite hyperbolically, he shines a light on just how funny (and ignorant) we, as a nation, can be.

#18. Elephant (2003)

Director Gus Van Sant wrote and directed this Palme d'Or winner at Cannes that went, for the most part, unseen. If you haven't seen it, sit down and prepare to be floored. A fictional representation of a school shooting that breaks down narrative and shows a number of different angles of the exact same section of time, Elephant is filled with  unprofessional actors, but manages to make heavy impact anyway. Still feeling the effects of the Columbine shooting in 1999 and, subsequently, 9/11, Van Sant's film was too dark for the general public, but is an absolute anvil drop of darkness, refusing to fluff up any narrative or even develop its story beyond this one horrifying day. Few films will punch you in the gut as hard as this one.

#17. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Hey,'s Al Gore. I'll point out that this Oscar winner for Best Documentary does not mean Gore won an Academy Award. Regardless, this non-fiction look at Gore's campaign to increase awareness of the global warming problem was a pretty big deal upon its release, even if it seemed like nothing more than a political statement (which most influential docs are). Gore stripped out his politics and simply focused on the science of global warming, the changes that need to be made to fix it, and how it will affect the world if we don't. It's a little boring and preachy, but what it really does is create a rallying cry for the world to stop ignoring an obvious issue. The film itself may be forgotten, but the movement it helped bring to the forefront is impossible to overlook.

#16. The Hangover (2009)

When you think about recent films that came out of nowhere, your eyes should focus somewhere close to The Hangover, the hilarious buddy comedy about a night in Vegas gone horribly wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it). Starring sex symbol Bradley Cooper, up and comer Ed Helms, and comedic nutjob Zach Galifinakis, the group tries to find their friend Doug (Justin Bartha) on the morning after as they scramble to figure out what went on the previous night at his bachelor party. Their search takes them all over Sin City: to Mike Tyson's house, to a wedding chapel, and to the Nevada desert to meet up with an Asian crime boss (Ken Jeong). Sidesplitting, unpredictable, and crude, director Todd Phillips used this Golden Globe winner for Best Picture (Comedy) to recapture the comedic promise he showed six years earlier with Old School.

#15. Gladiator (2000)

So, there was this general named Maximus (Russell Crowe) who Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) promised could take over the throne when he passes on, even choosing him over his own son. As you would expect, his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) doesn't take this too kindly, condemning him and his family to death. And, we go from there. Ridley Scott's epic Best Picture winner set the stage for a decade of attempts at recapturing the magic of this film, with a bevy of movies suddenly set in ancient Europe (i.e. Troy, Alexander, etc.). Russell Crowe's insanely aggressive performance and Phoenix's deliciously evil role makes for an exciting call back to the gladiator films of old, while also building a solid character study. It had a similar effect that Braveheart did in the 90s - a film that, at its heart, is just an action fable, but also comes out pretty affecting.

#14. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

In 1999, the country was shaken by the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado as two boys opened fire on their teachers and classmates. In 2002, Michael Moore decided to take a closer look at America's fascination with gun ownership and violence with Bowling for Columbine. Moore has always been a bit of a sensationalist and, though it's toned down here, he still manages to stir the pot, though sometimes unnecessarily. But, he won the Oscar for Best Documentary (he then tried to use his acceptance speech as a podium for political activism) and opened our eyes to some of the hypocrisy and ignorance of some of our leaders without even trying, in some cases. It's his best film to date, though (feel free to disagree, but it was the only one he has made that I thought was both entertaining and informative).

#13. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

The movie that launched a million Halloween costumes. As Will Ferrell's reputation as a funny man expanded, he headlined what really amounts to an ensemble comedy with Adam McKay's Anchorman, a sexist parable set in 1970's San Diego (German for "a whale's vagina"). Ferrell stars as Burgundy, a local news anchor who is "kind of a big deal," supported by his news team - Champ Kind (David Koechner), Bryan Fantana (Paul Rudd), and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). When a new reporter named Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) joins the station, tempers flare and sheer insanity ensues. It's really just joke-joke-joke placed on top of a pretty overdone story, but it sure is a fun ride. Plus, this is the first major motion picture produced by Judd Apatow, who would dominate the industry in the following years and corner the market on crude, adult humor with heart.

#12. Memento (2000)

So, there was this first-time director in 1998 who made a little movie called Following (pretty good - check it out). In 2000, he got a few more well-known actors and a bigger budget and made Memento, an inventive story of a man suffering from short term memory loss who tries to put the pieces together (through notes and tattoos) to find the man who killed his wife. Director Christopher Nolan's first mark on the industry came with this independent gem, co-written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan (who remains his writing partner to this day). Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano, Memento quickly became the gold standard for films with broken narrative with Oscar nominations for editing and writing. There have been plenty of imitators, but none will match the impact of this brilliant indie.

#11. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

The last foreign film on our list was one of the biggest hits from overseas on American soil. Director Ang Lee had made much lighter, romantic films up until he decided to tackle this story of Asian warriors looking for a stolen sword. Starring Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh (and completely in Chinese), this high-flying, stunt-filled action film was nominated for 10 Oscars (including Best Director and Best Picture), winning for Art Direction, Cinematography, Foreign Language Film, and Original Score. If anything, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon proved that if you have people fighting on trees, it doesn't matter what language it's in - people will watch it.

Next up, the top ten definitive films of the 2000's. The suspense is killing me...I hope it will last.

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