My Favorite Movies of the Decade: 2000-2004

MovieRantby Ben Pearson

Disclaimer: This list is not a "best of" list. Rather, it's a list of my personal favorite films of each year of the aughts. Disagree with any choices? Think I've left something off? Let me know in the comments.

 

2000

Snow DayI never had snow days as a kid (I grew up in Florida), but this film totally captures the essence of what that experience must be like. A great kids movie, but one that I honestly enjoy (free of irony) to this day. Look for an early appearance from super hottie Emmanuelle Chriqui.

GladiatorRussell Crowe stormed into the action hero's handbook in Ridley Scott's sword-and-sandal epic. Winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards, this one will most likely be on everyone else's list: but that's for good reason.

Memento: The world's introduction to Christopher Nolan (aside from the little-seen Following), this masterpiece of cinema is a mindbending story expertly told. A sign of the great things to come from one of the most talented directors working today. Guy Pearce was fantastic, and the cinematography is so good it looks as if it were shot yesterday.

American Psycho: Mary Harron's ultra-sharp satire of 1980's culture went over my head the first time I saw it, but has since become one of my favorite flicks. The ambiguous ending (was it all in his head? Or did he actually do those things?), the business card scene, Huey Lewis, kittens and ATM machines - hilarious comedy and disturbing violence collide to impressive results.

Remember the Titans: This wasn't the first great sports movie, but I don't think one has topped it in the years since its release. The subject matter wasn't new, the genre archetype wasn't new, but this movie accomplished its goal with style, class, emotion, flair, and fun.

X-Men: Inspired casting and the novelty of seeing some of my favorite cartoon heroes on the big screen overshadowed a too-small budget and some slow pacing here. This movie wasn't the first comic book film by a long shot, but it started off this decade with a bang and its success laid the groundwork for everything that came after. I'm still pissed Cyclops was shafted in this series, though.

Mission: Impossible III wrote a review of this a couple years ago, and while I don't agree now with everything I wrote then, this movie still rocks. I've become very fond of MI:III in recent years, but I still think this one has the edge over it. Visit that review, watch the motorcycle chase scene at the bottom, and tell me that isn't awesome. Plus, it's John Freaking Woo.

Likely to see on everyone else's "Best Of" lists: Amores PerrosAlmost FamousRequiem for a DreamSexy BeastTrafficCrouching Tiger, Hidden DragonCast Away

 

2001

Ocean's Eleven: Director Steven Soderbergh put on his casting pants and filled this movie with the best ensemble cast to hit the big screen in recent memory. The chemistry between the characters was great, Julia Roberts didn't make me want to kill myself, and it's a heist film wrapped in slick visuals: any one of those things normally warrants a view from me, let alone all three in one package.

Swordfish: This is one choice of which the online film community (and possibly the community, in general) will most certainly not approve. But that's the point of this series - to let you know what my favorite movies of each year were, and not which one's are going to make everybody else's lists. The opening scene to Swordfish is one of my favorite ever put to screen, and each person in the cast plays their character to perfection. They completely commit to the material, even though it ludicrously features a climax where a bus is lifted by a helicopter. This is modern action-tech at its most fun, and needless to say, it's director Dominic Sena's best film.

Super Troopers: One of my all-time favorite comedies, this movie just freaking dominates. The one-liners are endlessly quotable, and the rewatchability is incredibly high; it seems like every time I revisit it, I come away with a new favorite scene. Little things from the confusion about which "biker" to dress like, to Farva's "liter of cola" line, to the "soap in the coffee" gag makes this one required viewing for anybody who likes comedy. Any day is a good day to revisit Super Troopers, so go ahead and get to it, OK meow?

Mulholland Drive: David Lynch's failed ABC television show was reworked into this feature film, and holy crap - it blows some minds. I've only seen it once and it was my first Lynch film, so it's safe to say it's changed the way I view the cinema landscape. It's so incomprehensible that it can't be explained.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: To me, this was the best of the LOTR movies because it was the introduction into the massive world that Peter Jackson created. The scope of this movie was unlike anything I'd ever seen, and I think this part of the story is the most interesting part of the overall adventure. Seeing how these characters come together was (and is) more interesting to me than seeing the inevitable conclusion (plus a tacked on 40 minutes of run time just for the hell of it in Return of the King). A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture in 2001, and in retrospect we can easily see which of these two films is still in the public's memory.

Likely to see on everyone else's "Best of" lists: AmelieVanilla SkyMonsters, Inc.Donnie DarkoA.I. Artificial Intelligence

 

2002

Spider-Man: I was arguing with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago about the status of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. He feels that it's still the best superhero film out there, and while I've spoken at length about that notion before, I think my friend is right to some degree: the essence of the character was captured so well by Raimi, and the use of technology was expertly utilized to bring us the first truly breathtaking comic book film of the decade. I must also take this moment to thank this film in particular for singlehandedly leading me into the world of upcoming movie news on the internet. I was just a lad when I first heard Spider-Man was actually coming to the big screen - not the long-rumored James Cameron version, but a real version - and I was just becoming comfortable enough with the internet that I put two and two together: perhaps I could learn a thing or two about the production before the movie came out. And thus began a curious streak that has only strengthened in the ensuing years. So thank you, Spider-Man. You've given me more than you'll ever know.

Brotherhood of the Wolf: I came across this film much later in the decade (somewhere around 2008, I'd wager), but I'll tell you what - this movie kicks ass. It's a French film, but believe me when I tell you it's worth enduring the subtitles. Blending mystery, martial arts, murder, werewolf mythos, and historical fiction,Brotherhood of the Wolf has become one of my favorite foreign films of all time.

City of God: Speaking of foreign films, let's knock those out quickly, shall we? The previous sentence should in no way diminish the quality of City of God, since this 2003 movie had about an equal impact on me as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. A Brazilian crime film, this movie provided a look into a culture I never knew existed, and it did it with a visual flair that was as technically impressive as it was viscerally thrilling. I had never seen a film like this before, and after years of watching bad movies and cookie cutter Hollywood formulas, City of God was a breath of fresh air that I would recommend to just about anybody.

The Count of Monte Cristo: I'm almost certain you won't find this one on anybody else's list. But for my money, this adaptation of the classic novel is the best revenge story on screen. I'm a sucker for revenge movies in which the protagonist spends years researching the most effective ways to enact his/her master plan, and Monte Cristo delivers that in a big way. The performances were top notch (especially Guy Pearce's weaselly villain), and the feeling of satisfaction at the end is only comparable (for me, at least) to the end of The Shawshank Redemption.

Minority Report: Spielberg has two spots on this list, which means he remarkably put out two stellar films in the same year - a fact I hadn't fully realized until creating this post. Minority Report was released in June, and it's one of the best science fiction movies I've ever seen. The world (specifically, the technology in that world) that Spielberg and his team created (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick) was groundbreaking at the time, and the desaturation of the film gave the movie a unique look that separates it from others in its genre. I think this is also one of Tom Cruise's most enjoyable, if not necessarily iconic, performances: John Anderton, the down-on-his-luck detective emotionally crippled by his own inability to care for his child, who then takes on the role of surrogate father to Agatha, the "precog" who predicts Anderton himself will murder someone. An underrated movie that deserves revisiting.

Catch Me If You Can: The much more breezy of Spielberg's one-two punch of 2K2, CMIYC was released in December of that year. Again, fantastic performances by Hanks and DiCaprio (not to mention the bevy of small parts for actors like Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner) coupled with a great story make this one of the most rewatchable movies of the year for me. The Barry Allen gag gets me every time, and the Walken speech about mice churning cream into butter has been an intermittent running story in my personal relationships with friends.

Orange County: Speaking of personal, this film is the most personal to me of all the ones on this list. In fact, rarely has a film spoken to me on a deeper personal level than this one. I've always enjoyed writing, and there wasn't a film that spoke to my generation of writers quite like this one did. Check out my review for more on why I love this flick, but for now I'll leave you with the one thing YOU probably remember from it - CrazyTown's "Butterfly."

The Transporter: My introduction to Jason Statham was punctuated at first by outrage that the missile-deflection featured in the trailer was nowhere to be found in the actual movie, but soon gave way to utter appreciation for the ass-kickery that was on display during the film's short run time. The simple premise was extremely well directed by Corey Yuen, and the movie features fight sequences (the bus terminal) and car chases (the opening chase) that still make me shake my head and smile at their sheer awesomeness. Sure, the plot is threadbare and derivative - but it doesn't matter when it's done with as much style as this, and Statham plays the role so straight we almost miss the joke.

Likely to see on everyone else's "Best Of" lists: Punch-Drunk Love,The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Bourne Identity,25th HourAdaptation. [I must admit, though - I still haven't seen25th Hour and it's popping up on a lot of lists that I've seen so far. I dig Ed Norton, so I'll have to check this one out and maybe come back to revise this post later.]

 

2003

X2: X-Men United: Bryan Singer topped his original X-Men movie with this one, which held the esteemed title of "Best Comic Book Movie Ever" for a short time among those who argued such things, myself included. The opening scene with Nightcrawler was extremely well done, and the Cerebro storyline with William Stryker hell-bent on destroying all mutants made for a fascinating action film that was unafraid to tackle some complex philosophical questions. The ending, hinting at the Phoenix saga, was enough to have even the most passive X-Men fan clamoring for more; unfortunately, Brett Ratner and Bryan Singer switched franchises (Ratner to X-Men, Singer to Superman) after the release of X2 and everything started heading downhill fast.

Mystic River: I've only seen this film once, but it instantly became one of my favorites. Powerhouse performances from Sean Penn (whom I normally dislike) and a supporting cast of Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne, and Emmy Rossum make this worth seeing, even if it wasn't directed by Clint Eastwood (which, you know, it is). Check out my review of it for more on this flick, and don't forget to catch up on the comments section of that post where I recant basically everything bad I said about Eastwood's directorial ability.

Big Fish: This is not only my favorite film of 2003, it's in my All Time Top Ten. I love this movie so much, which is surprising considering I'm not the biggest Tim Burton fan in the world. Perhaps it's not that surprising after all; Burton shies away from his typical darkness in this film and presents an emotionally powerful story of a man and his son wrapped in a fanciful tall tale of wonder and romance. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and rectify that situation immediately.

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of The Black Pearl: Who could have predicted that a movie based on a theme park ride could be so much fun? Launching Johnny Depp into the mainstream star he is today, this movie's rewatchability is incredibly high. The script is fantastic, the story is tight and purposeful, the performances are great all around, and most importantly it's freaking FUN. I have yet to meet someone who dislikes this flick, and I don't foresee it happening any time soon. The sequels were a dreadful mess, each getting worse as they came out, but this one was a blast.

Shattered Glass: I'm not going to pretend like I watch this movie all the time, because it's just not true. I've seen it a couple times, but I don't really plan on watching it again for at least a year. Why? Because there are too many other things to catch up on in the world. That said, Shattered Glass is, for me, one of the absolute best journalism movies ever made. Journalism movies is a genre I have a particular fondness for, and I think this movie deserves more recognition and respect for both Hayden Christensen's performance (he gives a good one - shocking, I know) and the fact that it's based on a true story. This flick also introduced me to Peter Sarsgaard, whose other work almost demands to be seen thanks to his work on display in this movie.

The Italian Job: The ensemble cast and lighthearted pace makes this a perfect companion piece to Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. Another fun movie that doesn't need a full dissection, this one is equivalent to a comfort food: I know what I'm getting, and I like how it tastes. I'll be surprised if they can ever reconvene this cast again for the long-rumored sequel, The Brazilian Job.

Likely to see on everyone else's "Best Of" lists: Lost in Translation,Cold Mountain, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World21 GramsThe Last SamuraiThe Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

 

2004

Spider-Man 2: I know, I know. You must be getting tired of superhero movies making these lists. But honestly, Spidey 2 is still the gold standard for some people when it comes to the genre. It was Sam Raimi at the absolute top of his game, crafting a better film than the original and populating this one with a relatable, believable villain and utilizing the best technology at his disposal to create the best (OK, the only) Doc Ock we've ever seen on the big screen. Great flick.

Troy: I minored in Classical Studies (aka Greek and Roman mythology) in college, so naturally I was stoked when I found out an epic adaptation of the Trojan War was hitting the silver screen. Needless to say, this movie isn't the most well-respected among critics or the most accurate portrayal of the quasi-historical events, but that doesn't mean that I can't love the hell out of it. The casting was pretty great (standout performance? Eric Bana), and the solid direction from Wolfgang Petersen makes this one a movie I certainly don't mind rewatching.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy: I'd argue that 2004 was the best year for pure comedy in the entire decade. WithAnchorman and Dodgeball coming out in the same summer, audiences everywhere were busting their guts at the antics of the Frat Pack, a comedy crew that dominated the decade. Will Ferrell delivers his career-defining performance (to me, at least) as the buffoonish San Diego anchorman and spits out so many quotable lines it's unwieldy to list them all here. I'd almost guarantee that you still hear at least one Anchorman quote a month.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: I spent years battling myself in my head over which was funnier between Dodgeball and Anchorman until I finally realized that it truly doesn't matter - both films are spectacles of hilarity, infinitely quotable, and laugh out loud funny almost all the way through. They hold up on repeat viewings (especially well if there's some time between viewings so you forget the small jokes), and redefined the comedy landscape of the aughts. Vince Vaughn has never been better; after a string of holiday-themed movies and average comedies, I'm still holding out hope that he reaches his peak yet again in the years to come.

Collateral: Michael Mann enthusiasts may hate me for this, but I like this movie more than Heat. Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx were fantastic, and Jada Pinkett-Smith did an admirable job not making me hate her character (an unfortunate pattern from the actress and her son). The style, tone, and execution of this movie are flawless, and Mann's digital filmmaking is on masterful display here. I can't wait until this movie comes out on Blu-ray, because I'll be first in line to pick it up.

Garden State: It seems cliche, but this movie affected me in a very personal way. Zach Braff is astoundingly confident behind the camera in his directorial debut, and characteristically charming in front of it as the lead actor. The emotional beats this movie hits are powerful and genuine, and Natalie Portman secured her spot as one of my favorite actresses with her performance as the "manic pixie dream girl" against which all others must be measured.

The Village: Another unpopular choice, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village had me from the get-go and never released its grip. I bought the entire story, never once complaining about predictability or ridiculousness; this movie captures an eerie sense of the unknown, and the spectacular Pennsylvania locations add to the heightened tensions of the woods surrounding the village. Complain about the "twist" ending all you wantm but the climactic shot where Ivy Walker is alone in the woods and the camera reveals that she is, in fact, NOT alone - I was on the edge of my seat. More than anything, the uneasy vibe that the film emanates is what keeps me coming back. Also, this movie was my introduction to Bryce Dallas Howard, and for that I am thankful.

Likely to see on everyone else's "Best Of" lists: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindSidewaysMillion Dollar BabyThe AviatorShaun of the Dead

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