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The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000-2009)

November 3, 2009  |  7:00am
The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000-2009)
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10. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Writer/Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Owen Wilson
Stars: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Andrew Wilson, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
With his third movie, Wes Anderson let all his quirks run rampant: a storybook setting that is and is not New York, a uniform for each character and an obsession with childhood detritus. Rather than deflect the family’s conflicts (as Anderson’s critics claim), these elements only enhance its spiritual conundrums, making The Royal Tenenbaums Anderson’s most directorially confident and emotionally cathartic film—a bittersweet ode to regret, forgiveness and hard-won contentment.—Stephen Deusner

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9. No Country For Old Men (2007)
Writer/Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Writer: Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Stars: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson
Studio: Miramax Films
What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme: the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil. But the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sherrif Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well.—Andy Beta

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8. The Son (Le fils) (2002)
Writer/Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Stars: Olivier Gourmet, Morgan Marinne, Isabella Soupart
Studio: New Yorker Films
Renowned Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne found the perfect distillation of their stark style with this masterpiece about a man who teaches woodworking to troubled teens. One boy in particular draws his attention, but the brothers parcel out the plot so carefully that watching it unfold is rewarding in itself. The greatest pleasure, though, comes from watching the Dardennes treat the simple details of building a toolbox and the limits of human forgiveness as if they’re both vital, and maybe somehow related.—Robert Davis

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7. Lost In Translation (2003)
Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris
Studio: Focus Features
Fueled by Bill Murray’s impeccable performance, Sofia Coppola delivered a picture of sublime nuance for her sophomore effort. The physical and emotional unavailability of spouses, words left unspoken, life’s missing purpose, an affair devoid of sex—absence is the looming presence here, and Coppola perfectly captured the ineffable human conditions of dislocation and ennui. Lost in Translation is a testament to the power of a raised eyebrow, a gentle touch and a parting whisper.—Tim Regan-Porter

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6. Beau Travail (2000)
Writer/Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin
Studio: New Yorker Films
French filmmaker Claire Denis has such a keen eye and natural sense of rhythm that her movies often hypnotize viewers even when they aren’t following the plot. She’s subtle. For Beau Travail, Denis transplanted Herman Melville’s Billy Budd to the African landscape where she grew up. She gave her movie one of the greatest endings of any film this decade when her lead character—wound tight as a spring—finally allows himself a spastic, joyous moment. Whether it’s real or metaphorical isn’t clear, but we know this much: It’s music. It’s dance. It’s pure cinema.—Robert Davis

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5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Writer/Director: Michel Gondry
Writers: Charlie Kaufman, Pierre Bismuth
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkenson
Studio: Focus Features (2004)
Michel Gondry’s debut feature, Human Nature, was a whimsical dud, but his follow-up suggested a mature, disciplined director with his playful side intact. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind traffics in his signature sleights of hand, which serve two touching and tragic love stories: between red-haired Kate Winslet and a supremely sad Jim Carrey, and between headstrong Kirsten Dunst and a pining Mark Ruffalo. All of their performances—including Gondry’s—stay in your memory long after the credits have rolled.—Stephen Deusner

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4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)
Writer/Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: J.R.R. Tolkein (novels), Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair
Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies
Studio: New Line Cinema
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy took the work J.R.R. Tolkien himself described as “unsuitable for dramatic or semi-dramatic representation” and translated its epic story in a far more literal manner than could’ve ever been guessed. What comes across in Jackson’s adaptation is a passion not just for telling the epic tale, but for telling it correctly. Corners weren’t cut for time or expense, nor were compromises made to create a tighter plot and more streamlined experience. In a sprawling 11 hours, the series’ meticulous recreation captures the same wonder and awe of the books. We suspect that were he still around, Tolkien would’ve reconsidered his comment and enjoyed seeing his world on screen just as much as the rest of us.—Sean Gandert

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3. Almost Famous (2000)
Writer/Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Studio: DreamWorks
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film perfectly captured the essence of the world music geeks inhabit—the passion for the music; the joy in the concert experience; the obsession over the tiniest details of melody, lyrics, musicianship, artwork and liner notes; the camaraderie of fans and musicians. But even beyond the resonance that music fans feel, Crowe crafted flawless little scenes, peopled with fully fleshed-out characters who were funny, romantic, heart wrenching and utterly believable. Almost Famous is the essential movie for music aficionados, and a great one for anyone who cares about humanity.—Tim Regan-Porter

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2. Amélie (2001)
Writer/Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer: Guillaume Laurant
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Claire Maurier
Studio: Miramax
With the face of an angel, the heart of a child and the haircut of a Parisian pixie, do-gooding waitress Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) swept us clean off our feet. Hers was a love story, a French love story—as if it could get more romantic. And her fantastical adventures in the name of love unfolded in flights of magical realism. Indeed, the film held up love itself as both magical and realistic. Which, of course, is how it really is.—Nick Marino

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1. City of God (2003)
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writers: Paulo Lins (novel), Bráulio Mantovani
Stars: Alexandre Rodrigues, Alice Braga, Leandro Firmino, Douglas Silva, Seu Jorge, Philipe Haagensen
Studio: Miramax (2003)
Originally released in January 2003 to critical praise, Fernando Meirelles’ masterful yet brutal City of God receded from view until Miramax re-released it for Oscar consideration. And while it failed to even garner a foreign-language-film nomination that year, the alternately intense and intimate depiction of Rio’s desperate favelas has only grown in stature and power. Based on the novel by Paulo Lins (and adapted by Bráulio Mantovani), Meirelles turned an unflinching eye on a world forgotten by the wealthy and powerful, ignored by police and indifferent to law and order. City of God set the template for other shocking urban films to follow (not to mention a revival of “favela funk” by music-marauders like Diplo and M.I.A.). But whereas other cinematic studies like Gomorrah (about modern Sicily) and the documentary Dancing with the Devil only wallowed in such viciousness, this film plunged deeper, gripped harder, and yet always allowed glints of humanity into such darkness. City of God’s harrowing depiction of daily violence in the favelas exemplifies in shocking detail the Hobbesian view of life as “nasty, brutish, and short,” but the film never casts judgment. While chaos and bloodshed rule the world of protagonist Rocket and those of his generation—psychotic druglord Li’l Zé, groovy playboy Benny and solemn Knockout Ned (singer Seu Jorge, in his breakout role)—City of God elucidates an underlying symmetry, exhibiting if not poetic justice, then the street version of the same.—Andy Beta

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