The Top 23 Films of the Noughties

So, seeing as I used to run the film department at a university library, and as I did manage to write about film a couple of times for Stylus, I thought I ought to write something about my favourite films of the last 10 years. Here goes.

23’s not some mysteriously significant number; I just jotted a list of my favourite 00s films while starring down my DVD collection, and when I counted them there were 23. It would seem churlish and arbitrary to trim 3 off, and I can’t think of 3 I’d want to remove anyway, so I’ll write about them all.

No 2 films by the same director, no 2 films from the same franchise. Arbitrary, I know, but this is my blog so I make up the rules. If you think there’s something missing, I either didn’t see it (yet) or didn’t like it (lots). For instance, I have a DVD of Moon that I’m gagging to watch and expecting to love, but it only plays with the commentary track overdubbed on my DVD player, and as such I’m shunning it (3rd copy I’ve had that does this). And there are oodles of films I’ve seen once and liked, but not had chance to see a second time and fall in love with yet (Blindness, There Will Be Blood, Ping Pong, The New World). Oh well.

Children of Men
Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2006
These films are presented in no particular order beyond that in which they were thought of, much of which is dictated by the (colour-coded) ordering of the DVDs on my shelves. This, however, is the film I pretty regularly cite as my de facto “film of the decade”; it’s also almost certainly the film I’ve seen most over the last ten years, if you discount Jaws, which I was briefly obsessed with when I first got a DVD player, and which I still hold as one of cinema’s greatest achievements.

Anyway, Children of Men; I first saw it in the cinema with Em, on the recommendation of a friend and with no other contextual foreknowledge of what it was about or even who was in it or who directed it. As such it was the blindest first viewing of a film I’ve ever made, and this blindness probably helped it blow me away. It wasn’t the most profound cinema-going experience I’ve had (more on some of those later), but it was awesome, and cemented Cuarón in my mind as one of the foremost directors of our time. On first thought, this has nothing in common with the excellent Y Tu Mama, which brought Cuarón to my attention. Further rumination reveals that they’re both procreation-obsessed road-movies, but still, tone, plot, and everything else about the films are poles apart in all but quality. That he made a (very good) Harry Potter movie in between just accentuates his skill.

But anyway; the animals, the cars, the anchormen, the dirt, the sound-design, the (pseudo) one-take action sequences, Clive Owen – I love pretty much everything about this film. To me it’s a triumph of cinema, of filmmaking, and something I’ll keep watching for years to come. It’s also a film that, though I’ve not seen Avatar, creates a world that I find more compelling, more real, more convincing, than the one that James Cameron needs big blue 3D breasts to make enticing, even if those big blue 3D breasts are “game changing”. Like the next film, and District 9 further down the list, the world created by Cuarón here is just close enough to our own, just dirty enough, just flawed enough, just real enough, to be thoroughly seductive, even if it’s not rendered in something we need a whole new technology in order to be able to see.

The Dark Knight
Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008
I already wrote a lot about this film back when it came out, so I shan’t say much here, besides that Em and I have a standing joke about never having seen this and “shall we finally put the DVD on?” that would mean nothing to anyone else. Someone, possibly Mark Kermode, said something recently in a radio-based film review of the decade about CGI just not being as exciting as real stuntmen in real vehicles, and I think a big part of the enjoyment of this film was that things like the truck-flip sequence were REAL. Actually maybe it was about the Sony Bravia advert with the bouncy balls, which is also real; finding out that they really did bounce 250,000 balls down a San Francisco hill fills me with joy.

Also, as alluded to above and described in detail in the linked Rocktimists piece, the cinema-going experience for The Dark Knight was extraordinary.

Waking Life
Dir. Richard Linklater, 2001
I think something on ILE made me check out this visual feast; that the philosophical content of the film’s many dialogues didn’t put me off, and in fact lured me in further, just made it better, and I went through a phase early in the decade of watching this (and Koyaanisqatsi) every couple of weeks, purely for the joy of the spectacle. I wish A Scanner Darkly had used the rotoscope as creatively as this did.

The Bourne Identity
Dir. Doug Liman, 2002
Really I mean the whole Bourne franchise here, as I find it hard to pick (or even tell) between them; while convalescing from my hernia op in February I watched them back-to-back as one unfolding narrative. I’m not, despite the occasional dalliance, a highbrow film-viewer; as Roger Ebert reminds us, A man goes to the movies. A critic must be honest enough to admit he is that man; most of my favourite films are just films, spectacles, exciting things. The Bourne films are as exciting as hell, and, as talked about above, rendered all the more exciting for being about real stunts rather than CGI thrills.

Pan’s Labyrinth
Dir. Guillermo Del Toro, 2006
The unthinking cinemagoer’s thinking film choice, to be nasty. A nasty film, to be cynical. A horror film, to be precise; Del Toro’s a genre director first and foremost, and like the best genre directors his best films step just beyond genre enough to impress purely as film, if that makes sense. But they’re still, at heart, horror films, and so the son’s head needs to be mashed-in with a bottle, the commander’s face needs to be self-stitched, the little girl needs to… well. The horror comes from the sins visited by the real upon the real as much as it comes from the extraordinary, creepy monsters; we know this, it’s simple, it’s obvious. It’s still wonderful, though.

Io Non Ho Paura
Dir. Gabriele Salvatores, 2003
A beautiful film, not dissimilar to Pan’s Labyrinth in many ways, but simpler, less fantastical, and also more emotionally and morally complex. I shan’t spoil the plot, but I shall praise the extraordinary cinematography; southern Italy is rendered here as a land of glorious, sun-dried primary colours, yellow corn, blue sky, and a boy’s red t-shirt. Watch this, please.

Team America; World Police
Dir. Trey Parker, 2004
An outrage in many ways; The Guardian also singled this out for decade-end praise. Little made me laugh more unpleasantly than this, much as little made me laugh more unpleasantly than the South Park movie in the previous decade. I’m an unpleasant man, and I like to laugh. Cynicism directed EVERYWHERE is the best weapon.

The Fellowship of the Ring
Dir. Peter Jackson, 2001
The first film is my favourite because what it lacks in awe-striking set-piece battles and spectacle, it makes up for in a pure-hearted sense of adventure. It made me want to start roleplaying and wargaming again, albeit very briefly. I still, occasionally, try and watch them all together.

Wall-E
Dir. Andrew Stanton, 2008
Lens-flare in an animation. If you’re going to create a world in a computer, create a world this convincing, even while still acknowledging its status as a cartoon, and one suitable for children, too, not some adult-aimed, breast-baring Manga titillation.

Brick
Dir. Rian Johnson, 2005
Not something I’d claim as great, but a film I thoroughly enjoyed; the clinching moment came with a line, a moment, and a gesture, when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character was speaking with the principal. At that moment I suddenly bought into the melodrama, into the heightened noir-world that was being displayed, and Brick shifted from sassy, show-off school play into knowing, but caring (for its sources), entertainment.

The Incredibles
Dir. Brad Bird, 2004
The world here may not be rendered as realistically as those first 40 minutes of Wall-E, but the characters are fantastic. It’s essentially the same plot as Watchmen – hell, it even features a giant alien denouement – but by throwing out the actual comicbook and embracing the platonic essence of comicbooks in general it manages to become the second-best comicbook / superhero film of a decade littered with good-to-great examples.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Dir. Shane Black, 2005
In 1986 the cast of Predator featured a gang of ex-athletes, body-builders, and scriptwriting-wannabes who would go on to become state governors and some of the most influential and successful figures in Hollywood. It’s quite astonishing. Shane Black is the irritating skinny bespectacled geek who keeps telling pussy jokes. Then he wrote Lethal Weapon and a handful of other action blockbusters. Years later this was his directorial debut; a noir-ish buddy movie that resurrected Robert Downey, Jr.’s career even though Val Kilmer got all the best lines (including the one about the dictionary definition of the word idiot). This, like Die Hard, is the best kind of Christmas movie; an incidental one. And it makes me laugh like a drain.

Primer
Dir. Shane Carruth, 2004
A dirt-cheap sci-fi time-traveller that I wrote about at length back in the day. I talk about it more than I rewatch it, if only because rewatching still gives me brain-ache.

Spirited Away
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
I’m running out of writing steam here, but I don’t want this list to hang over me and over me and never get finished. So let’s be fast; this film is all those spooky-yet-beautiful dreams of childhood written in Miyazaki’s own extraordinary visual language. It’s a literal wonder to behold.

Napoleon Dynamite
Dir. Jared Hess, 2004
Utterly stupid, almost completely plotless, this baffled me on first viewing, but slowly revealed itself as the kind of character-comedy that rewards repeated viewings.

Superbad
Dir. Greg Mottola, 2007
Adolescent dick-jokes and camaraderie; Judd Apatow’s crew took the romantic-comedy genre, gave it gender-realignment surgery, and owned it for the latter half of the decade.

Little Miss Sunshine
Dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2006
Some may call it hokey or indie or whatever; to me this is an awesome ensemble character comedy. The final fifteen minutes induce both (social-etiquette) terror and deep, rolling laughter – it made me cry with emotion and laughter simultaneously.

28 Days Later
Dir. Danny Boyle, 2002
I’m an absolute sucker for zombies and viruses and shots of cities bereft of people. The metaphorical moral message is rammed home a little too hard in the final third, but this is Danny Boyle, and his films can never, ever be wholly successful; witness the totally unbelievable love-story that one can make no investment in whatsoever but which is supposed to drive the entire emotional heart of Slumdog Millionaire.

The Lives of Others
Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006
I watched a lot of miserable European films this decade; my other half loves them, whether they’re about stealing babies or self-administered abortions or concentration camps or whatever. I’d rather watch Cloverfield (which narrowly misses this list). This tale of the heartless observer slowly coming alive and then dying, however, has just a little more to it than pure realist misery.

Zodiac
Dir. David Fincher, 2007
Just incredibly well put together, Fincher finally showing that he can make a great film, rather than a film with a great USP.

Watchmen
Dir. Zack Snyder, 2009
This is flawed in many ways (both too long and not long enough, too faithful and not faithful enough), but it’s still an awesome achievement and I thoroughly enjoyed it, casual fan of the source material that I am.

District 9
Dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2009
I’m still waiting for this to arrive on DVD, and hence have only seen it the once (in the cinema) so feel a little guilty for including it in case it slips in my esteem; I doubt it will, though. See all I wrote above about Children of Men, The Dark Knight, even Pan’s Labyrinth; this is sci-fi based in a world that’s recognisable, real, palpable and possible. (Em and I are currently motoring through Battlestar Galactica.)

Brotherhood of the Wolf
Dir. Christophe Gans, 2001
What can I say? I’ve had a thing for The Hound of the Baskervilles since I was about 8. This has martial arts and heaving bosoms and religious covens and adventure and heaving bosoms and wolves and beasts and dastardly plots and heaving bosoms and did I mention Monica Bellucci? Never mind her, what about Émilie Dequenne? Never mind her, what about the post-Matrix action sequences? Astoundingly silly cinema. I like bread and circus games, really.

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5 responses to “The Top 23 Films of the Noughties

  1. So nice to see some love for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Genuinely great movie (I agree with most of the rest of these too, and like Brick a lot more than you, but KKBB is the one I never see on these things).

  2. For your apparent opposed-ness to animated breasts, you sure do mention them a lot more than any other person I’ve ever met.

  3. You need to meet more film critics.

  4. Zodiac, yes, Nick. Goddamn what a great movie. Aqua Velva. Also: 28 Days Later is a quarter of the movie 28 Months Later is. The dread, Nick. The dread.

  5. Some of the adaptations I thhguot of have already been suggested Revolutionary Road and The Reader would be great and I can’t wait to see The Road. I’ll also throw in No Country for Old Men into the mix and The Lovely Bones. Also, Where the Wild Things Are may be an interesting one.I’ll suggest Watchmen too to mix it up a little but I loathed the movie.I’d struggle I think with this challenge to find a pair where I hadn’t read or watched one half of the pair (I read a lot AND I watch a lot of films!)

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