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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Movies that Defined the 2000's: 50-41

Scene from HBO's "The Wire"
courtesy of
I had so much fun making my list of definitive movies of the 90's that I decided to take on a much more difficult decade: "the aughts." These movies haven't aged enough to attach themselves as much to the societal norms and embed themselves in culture. The ones that have are further up the list, though. As I always say, this is NOT a "best of 2000's" list. In fact, some of the best films of the decade are either not on the list or are in this first ten or so. So, to start, let's look at #50 - #41.

#50. Castaway (2000)

The movie that nobody wants to watch twice begins our list. After dominating the 90's with Oscar nominated performance after performance, Tom Hanks turned in the best dramatic performance ever to be supported by a volleyball. Thank God those rescuers never saw him talking to Wilson or they may have just left him on the island. Either way, the slow, excruciating film proved that Hanks can more than carry a film by himself, just in time to watch him start taking steps back into middle-of-the-road films (i.e. Larry Crowne, The Da Vinci Code).

#49. 500 Days of Summer (2009)

The love story that isn't a love story took quirky to another level, but did it in a tolerable and mostly sweet way. She had been a character actress in plenty of films, but Zooey Deschanel didn't become the "quirk princess" until she starred opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer, one of the best romantic comedies of the decade that lays on the cuteness thick throughout, but folds in some true heartache at the same time. Broken narrative and all, the film tells a pretty honest love story, happy ending or not. Also - an early supporting role for Chloe Grace Moretz, who has slowly proved that she will own this industry in the next ten years on her talent alone.

$48. Shrek (2001)

As much as Mike Myers and company have beaten this movie series into the ground, the first non-Pixar CGI film to grab the country was Shrek, an ingenious take on fairy tales and what "happily ever after" really means. A clever story and a solid cast, including voice work from Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and John Lithgow, the story of the lovable ogre was fun for children and adults alike. The subsequent sequels have done their best to tarnish the reputation of the first, but seeing a gingerbread man spit in a guard's face will always be good entertainment.

#47. Let the Right One In (2008)

This list has a few more foreign films than the 90's list, to say the least. In a decade where the public demanded an overkill of vampire movies, this Swedish film is the gold standard of how you tell a story of isolation and fear that just happens to feature vampires. A surprisingly touching story of young love and friendship told in between violent murders to feed Eli, our vampire protagonist, this one stands out among all the movies that tried to make vampires "cool" by making the species more of an afterthought than a driving plot force.

#46. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

The biggest Oscar landslide winner (up until this past year) in recent memory, Danny Boyle's film about undying love in the face of incredible circumstances uses a fascinating story structure to tell its tale. Setting Jamal's (Dev Patel) attempts to win the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" against his youth and connection to a lost love named Latika (Freida Pinto), Boyle's epic story of separation and a romance that could never seem to blossom is a touching story that hit all the right notes in 2008, making it an early favorite for the Oscar and rode the wave all the way to victory with almost no competition.

#45. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Another foreign film that somehow snuck its way into the American culture, Pan's Labyrinth was a type of "adult fairy tale" that was both breathtaking and a little scary. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, the story of young girl in 1944 fascist Spain takes the audience into an eerily fascinating world were Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) can escape the tyranny of her new stepfather. Visual effects that are both terrifying and encapsulating, del Toro's film took the innocence of an imaginative child and made it into a story of heroism and confidence in the face of insurmountable odds. We may remember the monsters most, but we should never forget how powerful the story is.

#44. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson had made films with big themes and interwoven storylines (i.e. Magnolia, Boogie Nights), but he had never taken on a movie this grandiose. Based on Oil!, by Sinclair Lewis, There Will Be Blood starred Daniel Day Lewis in a sweeping epic of greed, power, and family in the youth of the United States. As Daniel Plainview builds his empire as an oil barren, he is faced with a disapproving son, various competitors, and an arrogant young preacher named Eli (Paul Dano) who can never outsmart the sadistic and ruthless Plainview. The film doesn't just widen your eyes and you show you evil incarnate - it drinks your milkshake.

#43. Casino Royale (2006)

In the 90's list, we discussed Goldeneye and the need to re-work the Bond series. Well, ten years later, it needed to be done again. This time, director Martin Campbell took a very different approach. Instead of trying to find another Pierce Brosnan, he decided to switch it up, in both tone and look. Daniel Craig's Bond isn't calm, cool, and collected. He's aggressive, emotional, and arrogant. He's what the film series needed. Casino Royale kicked off the new type of James Bond movie with a bang, causing plenty of shake-up among Bond purists at the same time. A blonde James Bond? Ridiculous. But damn if he isn't a badass.

#42. Finding Nemo (2003)

Pixar pretty much dominated the decade with hit after hit, but none of them is more beloved than the simple story of a fish looking for his son in Finding Nemo. With more voice talent than you can ever understand (Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Geoffrey Rush, Willem Dafoe, Stephen Root, etc.), Nemo took to the seas to give us one of the richest films Pixar has ever made, ripe with beautiful colors and visuals set against a beautiful story of a father who wouldn't give up on finding his son. Loaded with wonderful characters and a script that can make anybody crack up hysterically, directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich changed the game and proved what Pixar can do if they put their mind to it.

#41. City of God (2002)

Another foreign film! The Brazilian film City of God is kind of like HBO's "The Wire," but set in Rio de Janeiro. Fernando Meirelles directed this story of two friends growing up in the slums and taking two very different paths - one becomes a freelance photographer, one a drug dealer. This big, layered story of gang warfare and the difficulty of slum upbringing is engaging, fascinating, and brilliantly imagined. Based on a true story, we see what happens when circumstances are dire and the only way to survive is to turn your back on the world you know. It premiered around the same time as "The Wire," but most every film now that follows  the shelf life of characters in drug-addled areas owe a little to this movie.

Well, that's #50-#41. It's good so far, right? Well, it may not get "better," but it will certainly get more culturally significant. Next up, #40-#31.

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