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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Movies That Defined the 2000's: 30-21

Steve Carell on NBC's "The Office"
courtesy of
We're at about the halfway point of our list of the 50 movies that defined the 2000's. More comedy in this portion, but with a few pretty  dark entries. Note that the film I think is the best movie of the decade is at #25, so I don't play favorites. Regardless, we're getting higher and higher, so feel free to start hating my picks more and more. Argue with me - I dare you.

#30. Little Miss Sunshine

Part road trip movie and part crazy family comedy, this independent Best Picture nominated film somehow found it's way into the social fabric. Thanks, in part, to the appearance of up-and-coming IT man Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine opened to critical success and relatively light box office, but managed to take hold through word of mouth. A heartwarming story of what it means to be a family and be there for the people you love, newcomer Abigail Breslin's Oscar nominated performance (alongside Alan Arkin's Oscar winning role) is incredibly endearing as the heart and sole of this ridiculous family unit. Didn't hurt to have Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, and Paul Dano in there either. And a sweet bus.

#29. Milk (2008)

Films with homosexual themes slowly began to earn their way into major circles in the 2000s. Director Gus Van Sant worked with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black to bring a fictionalized account of California politican Harvey Milk to life in this 2008 film, nominated for Best Picture. Sean Penn won the Oscar for his portrayal of Milk, the first openly gay elected politician in the United States. Released around the time of the Proposition 8 vote in California, the film hit the public like a hammer, partly due to the work by Penn and his cast-mates, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, James Franco, and plenty more. A touching film about an important topic, Milk stood out among the major studio releases that began to take cinema focusing on homosexuals seriously for the first time.

#28. Spiderman 2

I know what you're thinking...why the sequel and not the original? Well, while Sam Raimi's original Spiderman helped begin the wave of comic book adaptations, his second in the series re-defined what it could be. Spiderman 2 was one of the earliest comic book adaptations to actually work as a stand-alone film, as opposed to depending heavily on the lore of the source material. It wasn't just action. It wasn't just fan-boy pop. It was a solid look at the characters within its world, took time to develop a story and a villain, and had some underrated performances that will always be overlooked: Alfred Molina's work as Dr. Octopus is one of the best superhero villain performances of all time, hands down. It may not have perfected the practice, but it sure led the way.

#27. Zoolander (2001)

I could say "no one had ever made a film about this topic" or "it marked VH1's first major involvement in the film industry." But, let's be honest - it's just hysterical. Ben Stiller had made his mark on the world with There's Something about Mary and Meet the Parents, but it wasn't until this movie - which he co-wrote and directed, too - that he became a true comedic leading man. Helped out by pal Owen Wilson and wife Christine Taylor (as well as fantastic work from Will Ferrell), Zoolander was a ridiculous look at the male modeling industry in the guise of a Manchurian Candidate-style thriller. This film was actually originally rated R in the United States, but switched to PG-13 after appeal. Imagine - a world where kids under 17 couldn't see Blue Steel, Magnum, or Le Tigra.

#26. Team America: World Police (2004)

From an R-rated film that got switched to a PG-13 to a hard R starring nothing but marionettes. Matt Stone and Trey Parker made the town of Southpark a hotbed for satire and social commentary with the popular TV show and a movie in the late 90's, but decided to branch out into "live action" films (not to discount Baseketball by any means) with this one. In the wake of the over-patriotic times of post-9/11 America, Parker and Stone created Team America: World Police as a satire on foreign policy, celebrity endorsements, and puppets, I guess. A hilarious film with the same smart-ass flavor we've gotten used to from Parker and Stone, they managed to lampoon every possible person they could, most memorably Matt Damon. And besides - who doesn't want to see puppets having sex?

#25. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

As I said in the intro (and you will not argue with me about), this is the best film of the decade. But it didn't make the cultural impact needed to jump to the top of the list. The second collaboration between screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry (2001's little seen Human Nature), Eternal Sunshine is a psychological look at love, relationships, the paradigms of memory, and how to handle your past and future. When Joel (Jim Carrey) finds out that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) had him erased from her memory with a new medical process, he decides to return the favor, only to realize he doesn't want to lose those snapshots of a happier time. It's funny, dark, and brilliantly written and acted (supporting cast includes Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, and Elijah Wood), and it says more about the trials of love than any conventional romantic comedy ever could.

#24. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

It failed miserably at the box office upon its release, but somehow became one of the biggest selling DVDs of the year. A bizarre story about a bizarre teenager, Napoleon Dynamite featured no name actors as they navigate the social norms of an Idaho high school. The title character is played by newcomer Jon Heder as he helps his new friend Pedro (Efren Remirez) run for class president against one of the popular girls, all the while trying to land a date to the school dance. It's the simplest story you can think of and essentially just becomes a set of stand-alone skits, but somehow it all fits together to make a hyper-quotable movie with a weirdly passionate fan base. My suggestion - watch it at midnight with a plate full of tater tots in front of you. It makes it that much better.

#23. The Hurt Locker (2008)

The Best Picture winner that made no money at all, director Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker was the definition of a David vs. Goliath story. First, Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar (beating her ex-husband James Cameron). Second, it took home the top prize by beating the biggest moneymaker of all time (Avatar). Third, nobody saw it. So, how does it make the list? Well, it was a brilliant movie, a gripping performance from Jeremy Renner, and it proved that the Academy could still think for itself and pick a good film as its champion, as opposed to a big, brash special effects spectacle.

#22. Saw (2004)

I have to pay respect where its due, even if the result is a dying genre. James Wan's terrifyingly simple story about a serial killer who gives his victims tests to see what they're willing to do to survive was a precursor to a weird fascination with has come to be called "torture porn" for the horror genre. Saw may have been an interesting idea, but instead of building on the mystery of it, they released five sequels and plenty of imitators that were essentially made for gore and shock value only. I don't care much for the film itself, but at least Saw's premise was promising in the discussion of what is ethical and what isn't, especially when faced with your own mortality.

#21. Donnie Darko (2001)

Just when you thought passionate cult films had gone by the wayside, Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko crept into theaters, left, and found a die hard following on DVD. Portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, the title character goes through bouts of schizophrenic visions, talking with a giant rabbit named Frank, seeing time portals, and fearing the end of the world is upon him, all after a jet engine falls into his bedroom. Littered with a talented cast including Gyllenhaal's sister Maggie, Patrick Swayze (his best role ever), Drew Barrymore (co-producer, too), and Noah Wyle, the film you have to decipher on your own is still a symbol of what an independent film can be, whether you understand it or not.

Past the halfway mark and getting into some interesting discussions. Your move...#20-#11 coming up next.

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