The 50 Best Movies of the 2000s

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25. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)


Writer/Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López i Ayats
Studio: Picturehouse
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s vision of what’s, ostensibly, a childhood fable hews closer to the dark corners of the young mind (think the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen) than any squeaky-clean Disney versions. Our determined heroine, little Ofelia, maintains a fantastical imagination—filled with fairies like insects and a benevolent yet nightmarish fawn—even in the face of a facistic stepfather.—Andy Beta

24. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)


Writer/Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter
Studio: Touchstone
T-Bone Burnett’s soundtrack got all the attention, but this twist on Homer’s Odyssey—set in Depression Era Mississippi—had all the effortless storytelling, imaginative characters and quotable lines we’ve come to love from the Coen Brothers’ best comedies, with George Clooney joining a celebrated list of Coen comic leads. Holly Hunter and John Goodman basically reprise their hilarious Raising Arizona roles, only with more kids. And an eye-patch.—Josh Jackson

23. Traffic (2000)


Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Studio: USA Films
Steven Soderbergh’s simulated documentary about modern drug culture twists and glides with a calculation as deep and complex as the cavernous topic it so effectively dissects. Ever the visionary, Soderbergh displays an objective, impartial eye (quite literally—he photographed the film as Peter Andrews), digging into his characters’ explosive trajectories as they reach their tragic and ambiguous ends, and leaving us with more questions than answers.—Sean Edgar

22. Dogville (2003)


Writer/Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Chloë Sevigny, Paul Bettany, James Caan
Studio: Lions Gate Films
When Lars von Trier pits idealism against human selfishness, the latter always wins. His hubristic characters become what they hate by inescapable degrees. Dogville is his most trenchant polemic, with a minimal black-box theater set cultivating fevered lucidity. It’s about a town that destroys a woman by loving her, and a woman who loves a town by destroying it. In von Trier’s world, idealism inevitably leads to ruin, and there are only two kinds of people: martyrs and buffoons.—Brian Howe

21. In the Loop (2009)


Writer/Director: Armando Iannucci
Writers: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche
Stars: Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Steve Coogan
Studio: IFC Films
If clever verbal humor were easy, we’d have more comedies like In the Loop. But it’s not, and this one stands in a class of its own. It’s the most quotable film of the decade—by miles—and the cynical potty mouths on screen are so articulate and creative that, after the avalanche of witticisms, you’re left with the lingering sense that you’ve seen not just a funny movie but also a wicked political satire of the highest order, the kind where the absurdity speaks for itself.—Robert Davis

20. Elephant (2003)


Writer/Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson
Studio: HBO Films
The immense tragedy of 9/11 defined this decade, but 1999’s Columbine massacre remains haunting for its intimacy. Van Sant’s dramatization is almost unbearably fragile, an exquisite exercise in mood and tone—it’s as though he turned a horror movie into a poem. His steadicam sweeps the high-school hallways, and what you notice most is the eerie stillness, the deafening silence. When the killing comes, it’s brutally matter-of-fact: a fall from grace, a serenity violated.—Nick Marino

19. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)


Writer/Director: Cristian Mungui
Stars: Adi Carauleanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Madalina Ghitescu
Studio: IFC Films
With eerily realistic performances and stunning direction, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days combines an uncomfortably forthright discussion of abortion with long, virtuosic handheld camera takes. In Cristian Mungui’s hand, these shots are more than just a gimmick; they position the audience behind the camera and refuse to let us look away from the horrors on screen. At times, it’s difficult to watch, but few films have ever displayed as perfect a marriage of form and content.—Sean Gandert

18. Syndromes and a Century (2006)


Writer/Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Stars: Nantarat Sawaddikul, Jaruchai Iamaram, Sophon Pukanok, Jenjira Pongpas
Studio: Strand Releasing
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul doesn’t mind if you call him “Joe.” It’s a strategy he picked up while living in Chicago. He studied architecture in Thailand and filmmaking in the windy city, and his experience straddling two cultures informs his tender, highly experimental films. They’re objects of beauty that cleave in the middle. In one moment, his camera is idling in a verdant Asian village, and in the next it’s gazing through portals of time, like the mind-blowing films of Kubrick or Antonioni. Syndromes is the oblique story of how his parents met. They’re both physicians, and the film tells their story twice, each time following them from a rural clinic to a modern hospital, as if they too straddled worlds.—Robert Davis

17. Memento (2000)


Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan (short story)
Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Studio: Newmarket Films
During a brutal attack in which he believes his wife was raped and murdered, insurance-fraud investigator Leonard Shelby (played with unequivocal intensity, frustration and panic by Guy Pearce) suffers head trauma so severe it leads to his inability to retain new memories for more than a few minutes. This device allows Nolan to brilliantly deconstruct traditional cinematic storytelling, toggling between chronological black-and-white vignettes and full-color five-minute segments that unfold in reverse order while Pearce frantically searches for his wife’s killer. The film is jarring, inventive and adventurous, and the payoff is every bit worth the mindbending descent into madness.—Steve LaBate

16. Half Nelson (2006)


Writer/Director: Ryan Fleck
Writer/Producer: Anna Boden
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie
Studio: ThinkFilm
The debut feature film by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden is a compelling personal story about a high-school teacher who’s failing himself and his students. It’s a rich political allegory for the liberal malaise of the Bush era, and it’s a sly subversion of a tired Hollywood cliché. Fleck and Boden wrote the script, edited the footage and directed at least three best-of-decade performances from their young cast (Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps) earning a place on our “must see” list for years to come.—Robert Davis

15. Juno (2007)


Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Stars: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirby
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
At the center of Diablo Cody’s quickly drafted first movie script is a teenage girl going through a difficult situation and handling it with more maturity and aplomb than most of the adults around her. Ellen Page’s Juno is a delightful counter to vapid high-school stereotypes that litter the genre, but the challenges of pregnancy and the arrested development of Jason Bateman as the potential adoptive father take the precocious teenager in way over her head. The film’s honesty in tackling these issues makes its many laughs well-earned.—Josh Jackson

14. Up (2009)


Writer/Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Stars: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures (Pixar)
In an oeuvre already overstuffed with classics (The Incredibles, Wall-E) that enchant both children and parents Pixar’s Up towers. Instilling heart into a trash compactor was a feat, but a comedic triumvirate consisting of a septuagenarian curmudgeon, a boy scout and an androgynous bird makes for a truly uncanny combo. That the film gracefully alights on abandoned dreams, old age, loss and the burden of domesticity is just the cherry on top.—Andy Beta

13. Mulholland Drive (2001)


Writer/Director: David Lynch
Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux
Studio: Universal Pictures
Naomi Watts’ soulful and fearless dual performance as a wide-eyed ingénue and a jaded junkie anchors David Lynch’s puzzlebox film, an update on mid-century Hollywood vice flicks that twists itself into a powerful tragedy. Only superficially exploitive, Mulholland Drive gives its girl-on-girl action a tenderness rarely seen in mainstream sex scenes and never seen in Lynch films. Even as the director further blurs the distinctions between fantasy and reality, he finds the dark heart of this tangled romance.—Stephen M. Deusner

12. There Will Be Blood (2007)


Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Upton Sinclair (novel)
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
Studio: Paramount
There’s a whiff of Citizen Kane about There Will Be Blood. Both Charles Foster Kane, the center of Orson Welles’ 1941 masterwork, and Daniel Plainview, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 gem, are Shakespearean in their contradictions—too creative and too wounded to be fully condemned, and too ruthless to be fully admired. Like Welles, writer/director Anderson fashioned an original cinematic language to reveal Plainview’s strange mix of genius and monstrosity. Long stretches are virtually dialogue-free, but the close-ups of Daniel Day-Lewis’ glowering face—splattered with blood, sweat and petroleum—and the long shots of rickety derricks and shacks perched precariously on a savage landscape say more than words ever could.—Geoffrey Himes

11. The Dark Knight (2008)


Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer, Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Aaron Ekhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Memento director Christopher Nolan surpassed Batman Begins’ immaculate resurrection of the Caped Crusader with this multi-layered comic flick. In The Dark Knight, he orchestrates a pool of crisp performances into a compounded plot that intertwines the rush of the superhero genre with the unnerving drama of a psychological thriller, showcasing Heath Ledger’s endearingly heinous embodiment of The Joker, and upping the stakes for all comic-book adaptations to come.—Gage Henry

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

9. No Country For Old Men (2007)

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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