The Top 100 Films of the 00s
Ranked in December 2009 // Click here for snazzier version with frames
Throughout December, I have reminisced about my fondest in-cinema memories of the 00s and catalogued the films that I am most eager to encounter or revisit. Sure, I longed to catch up on everything that eluded me earlier, and to reassess films for which I suspect, auspiciously or ominously, my first appraisal might have missed the mark. But this goal was hopeless and, I think, unhealthy: it's good to have things to look forward to, and lingering prospects for reacquaintance. It's silly to treat the end of any year as a now-or-never deadline for artistic enrichment. Besides, the 100 films I have collected here, whatever I omitted through neglect or misjudgment, are as thrilling a time-capsule as I could ever want of a decade's ecstatic pleasures.

1. MORVERN CALLAR
 
United Kingdom
dir. Lynne Ramsay
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2002

 
Because virtually the entire story, minus one impulsive vacation, is right there in the first handful of shots: a girl, a body, a book, a note, a tape. Forsaking voiceover, hitched to a character who eschews talk, every single thing we come to know or intuit or ask about Morvern emerges in ways completely unique to cinema. Against all odds, it's a tremendous amount.
2. RUSSIAN ARK
 
Russia
dir. Aleksandr Sokurov
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2002

 
Because Sokurov posed two huge, impetuous questions, about coming to grips with his country's painful history and about the lean chance that narrative cinema had anything truly new to attempt. Or was it cinema's history and the country's future that inspired him? Either way, he brilliantly pulled off a real experiment, and new horizons gleamed in every direction.
3. DANCER IN THE DARK
 
Denmark/Sweden/etc.
dir. Lars von Trier
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because even though the cinema at large and even von Trier himself mostly avoided the kinds of emotional, formal, and political dares that this film laid down at the dawn of the decade, Dancer's wild, divisive spirit, howled out with the same uncanny power as Björk's inimitable tunes, hasn't remotely subsided. Saturated with color, sound, feeling, and conviction.
4. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
 
United States
dir. Michel Gondry
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because packed into every minute is some dazzling effect or narrative loop or blazon of the makers' quirks, but for all of those amazing and endearing convolutions, the emotions are played impressively straight. In good times and bad, in duck sauce and in health, it's the truest-feeling deconstruction of love in an American movie since Annie Hall.
5. WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES
 
Hungary
dir. Béla Tarr
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2001

 
Because Tarr perseveres in believing that a film can have the scope, the daring grammars, the seriousness, and the compelling inscrutability of a great modernist novel, and though he fulfills all of those ambitions with power and finesse, it still feels like a "people's" movie: accessible, funny, tuned in to common questions and angers.
6. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
 
United States
dir. David Lynch
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because as banal as it is to see picket fences, L.A. stuccoes, or a Hollywood "dream place" and suspect some malfeasance beneath, Lynch's underlayers of being and terror never work the way you expect, exerting strong, febrile claims on surface "reality" that no one can fully prepare for. Sound, image, sequence, performance, and temporality are stretched to their limits, as are we.
7. TALK TO HER
 
Spain
dir. Pedro Almodóvar
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2002

 
Because the auteur made good on his new rep for "maturity" without hugging the audience quite so often as he did in his prior outing, and in fact by push-pulling them through an illicit tale of the permeabilities between care and harm, beauty and outrage. Inspired by dance, music, color, and older film forms, but seriously, who else would ever have made this? And so perfectly?
8. AMORES PERROS
 
Mexico
dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2001

 
Because before the decade overdosed on fractured narratives, González Iñárritu's blazing direction of a tricky script nailed global viewers to their seats. Somehow the movie swims in the blood and the dank without coming across as touristic or condemnatory, and it hops storytelling idioms without a hitch. Each thread makes the others more interesting.
9. DEMONLOVER
 
France
dir. Olivier Assayas
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2003

 
Because the movie would atomize into ludicrousness if it lacked the carnivorous force of its framing and editing. Instead, from the fallen Olympus of the corporate jet to the last cathode hell and its lethal irrealities, demonlover flays the skin off of media and finds desire, and flays the skin off of desire and finds money, and more media. Assayas keeps it honest with the stains of his own obsessions.
10. GRIZZLY MAN
 
United States
dir. Werner Herzog
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because in a world that pathologizes almost every form of ardor, burdening romantic love with the combined weight of all of them, I learned a lot from Timothy's unwavering, fundamentalist love, in some ways because but also regardless of its object. Herzog's POV comes through indelibly, but this survives as a crazy, unpolluted emblem of a real character.
11. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU
 
Romania
dir. Cristi Puiu
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2006

 
Because Dante Remus Lazarescu's allegorically loaded name cannot help him. His yen for drink and his sour, corpulent body can't, either, yet none of this turns the film against him. Puiu finds compassion in spaces where you'd settle for a good 60-watt lightbulb, yet it's not some sentimental paean; it holds fast to a pragmatic intelligence.
12. BLACKBOARDS
 
Iran
dir. Samira Makhmalbaf
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2002

 
Because the paths taken by the two leads represent no tidy dichotomy, just two among a small menu of fates that two men in this situation might meet. The abstracted threat and other occluded elements of the story spark against the austere realism of the filming style and locales, yielding a drama of invisible bondage and arbitrary choice that Brecht would have loved.
13. JUNEBUG
 
United States
dir. Phil Morrison
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because two oft-presumed elements of any great movie, a totally fresh story or a distinctive style, are hard to claim for Junebug, which is instead a great movie because every single cut, line-reading, ellipsis, and rhythmic beat serves to evoke these characters with increasing complexity. It's precise and wonderfully warm, even though its characters can turn cold.
14. THE NEW WORLD
 
United States
dir. Terrence Malick
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because it's a great subject for Malick, a marvelous if massively unrecouped use for New Line's sudden bankroll, and a tale that despite endless retellings has never quite felt like this: from the scuffed, rude, and suffering Virginians to the visually striking but evenly personified Indians to the diamantine rhapsodies of the grass, water, light, and sky. Just when you think the film is ending, in England, it comes alive in a new way.
15. IN THIS WORLD
 
United Kingdom
dir. Michael Winterbottom
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2003

 
Because I cannot imagine a more moving chronicle of the refugee experience, or one rendered with more integrity to the lives it purports to represent. The film's guerrilla production and ethical conviction amount, pleasingly, to the same thing. It's also a feat of editing and location shooting, composed of the sorts of salient global environments that never seem to make it into Baraka and its ilk.
16. ATANARJUAT (THE FAST RUNNER)
 
Canada
dir. Zacharias Kunuk
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2002

 
Because this movie embodies a consummation of something new, the kind of high-quality and portable digital equipment that makes a film like this even possible in this environment, and something believably if not actually old: a heroic tale that the film asks us to invest with mythic grandeur. Kunuk's craftsmanship has made that an easy call to answer.
17. 11’09”01
 
11 Nations
11 Directors
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2003

 
Because the world profits from having a record not just of the insights and artistic interventions prompted in the direct wake of the towers' collapse but also of the bathos, confusion, and asymmetries that flourished in that moment. Which is not to say that any version of this project would be foolproof. Half of the films are truly stellar; the sum of all of them is even stronger.
18. INLAND EMPIRE
 
United States
dir. David Lynch
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2006

 
Because key actor Karolina Gruszka plays someone called "Lost Girl," and even though everyone watching knows just how she feels, Lynch's ability not just to marshal new aesthetics out of eccentric work habits and shifting technology, but to make those aesthetics ferocious, affecting, and coherent in their own unique way, remains a blessed enigma of modern film.
19. THE CORPORATION
 
Canada
dirs. Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2004

 
Because we know the dangers of treating any film, no matter how much aura of transparency it performs, as a substitute for researched facts, and yet The Corporation has the detail, heft, breadth, and context of an invaluable textbook. That it's also pretty damn lively and ends on some notes of hard-fought optimism and encouragement is all the more wondrous.
20. OASIS
 
South Korea
dir. Lee Chang-dong
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2004

 
Because this movie keeps a hell of a lot of plates spinning: two high-wire Method performances at the center, including one by an unafflicted actress approximating cerebral palsy; a boldly lit realist drama with sudden splashes of magical realism; a resident's profile of a bright, nervy Seoul; and a vision of madness, all tied up in romance. Every bit of it soars.
21. LOVE AND DIANE
 
United States
dir. Jennifer Dworkin
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2003

 
Because it's the movie that fans and non-fans of Precious ought to see, if only it were easier to find: a multi-year saga of a hard-working mother and a despondent daughter, both on welfare, who are not "types" or enemies, though they sometimes make a very hard life even harder for each other. A paragon of socially conscious but humanly grounded documentary.
22. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
 
United States
dir. Charlie Kaufman
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2008

 
Because it's the Moulin Rouge! of total, congestive depression. Like Luhrmann, Kaufman knows that his intensest emotions rhyme with pathetic clichés, so his strategies are to stretch them to a colossal scale and embed such creative nuance at every moment that the feelings reconnect. I love both movies, but this is the one that lingers.
23. TROUBLE THE WATER
 
United States
dirs. Tia Lessin & Carl Deal
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2008

 
Because it starts with the filmmakers meeting the couple who become its heroes and co-creators, and remains ever after an equal testament to Kimberly and Scott's resolute acts of witnessing and to the directors' determination to circulate the evidence of gross bias and ruin, but also of humanity's creativity, resilience, decency, and spunk.
24. THE COMPANY
 
United States
dir. Robert Altman
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2003

 
Because it deftly showcases the artistry of the Joffrey Ballet while summoning that restive interplay of characters, plots, and peccadilloes that typify an Altman film. The ethos of ensemble furnishes a lovely meeting-ground for these two sensibilities; the ballet is no sacred cow, but it does coax the director toward one of his most delicate movies.
25. ONCE
 
Ireland
dir. John Carney
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2007

 
Because with "real" indie film culture closer than ever to death's door, at least in terms of reaching an audience, Once feels like an awfully rare gift. Building a movie atop an untested song is even harder than it looks, but the long takes, unbeautified light, and anecdotal, romantic construction make the film's form and its feeling impossible to separate.
26. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS
 
Romania
dir. Cristian Mungiu
world premiere 2007
U.S. release 2007

 
Because one of the decade's greatest Palme d'or victors, despite being one of the least heralded in advance of the festival, has the combined air of unimpeachable excellence and fresh discovery, from its phenomenally assured acting and direction to its mature collapsing of any line between politics and "real life."
27. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
 
Hong Kong/France
dir. Wong Kar-wai
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2001

 
Because, hard as it is to enjoy such gourmet sounds and images without worrying that you're being snookered, I can't see almost anything wrong, save a highfalutin finale, with Wong's formal and visual masterpiece. Plus, it doubles as an exposé of how where, when, and how we live ultimately shapes the ways we fall in (or short of) love.
28. THE CIRCLE
 
Iran
dir. Jafar Panahi
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2001

 
Because after a breakout decade of global hype, largely subsisting on male-authored and (often literally!) male-driven meditations, Panahi surged to the highest rank of an august pack of filmmakers with a movie that wastes neither a shot nor a second, and which marks its women clearly as individuals while encapsulating and decrying a crisis common to all of them.
29. LATE MARRIAGE
 
Israel/France
dir. Dover Kosashvili
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2002

 
Because most films that take such surprising views of sexuality make a more grandiose show of Challenging Ideas of Sexuality, and most avatars of a rarely filmed culture are a little more averse to such acerbic, harsh portrayals, no matter how funny and oddly affectionate. Kosashvili works so unfussily that many of the film's heroic idiosyncrasies only gradually reveal themselves.
30. THE HURT LOCKER
 
United States
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2009

 
Because Bigelow has been a dazzling orchestrator of action and lightstorm for her whole career, but folks finally sat up and noticed her much-needed, ground-level view of American soldiering, of their dangers and head rushes and their contemplations of their lot, and of each other. The images of thought are as galvanizing as the images of threat.
31. YOU, THE LIVING
 
Sweden
dir. Roy Andersson
world premiere 2007
U.S. release 2009

 
Because the movie's obsession with purgatory, even its anxiety about annihilation, never lures it into cheap-shot nihilism or empty detonations of violence. Andersson comes across as a conscientious objector to modern humanity but also a tough-love benefactor. No one who'd renounced all hope could be this funny, or so obviously dote on all these exquisite, unusual vignettes.
32. Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN
 
Mexico
dir. Alfonso Cuarón
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2002

 
Because the film sympathizes fully with the lusts of youth, not as an abstraction but as something bodies radiate when they fuck, move, and crave. Still, the dialogue, the character of Luisa, the visual and narrative POVs, and "peripheral" scenes certify how much more there is to life, and to this film, than chauvinistic hedonism. A core sample of modern Mexico, styled as a buddy romp.
33. I'M NOT THERE
 
United States
dir. Todd Haynes
world premiere 2007
U.S. release 2007

 
Because the simple way to go, as though such a thing would ever interest Haynes, would be to offer Bob Dylan as someone whose uniqueness lifted him above his hidebound country and his narrow times. Haynes finds Dylan complicated because he both embodied and dissented from a polychromatic country and a rotating cycle of weighty, complicated times, rendered gorgeously via a kaleidoscope of filmic idioms.
34. THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED
 
France
dir. Jacques Audiard
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because this ambitiously cross-cultural, cross-generational adaptation of an odd character study grounds itself in the wisdom that every person is actually many people at once. So what if this guy happens to be a grotty crook and an aspiring musician? He hasn't got a move in him, tough or sonorous or tender, that Audiard and his helpmeets can't match.
35. THE HOLY GIRL
 
Argentina
dir. Lucrecia Martel
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2005

 
Because the final shot confirms Martel's mastery of titillating endings, but further viewings may be needed to appreciate how dextrously she plots the centripetal forces that converge around that pool. She assiduously avoids anything like an arrogant or moralizing tone, and despite its highbrow polish, the film suggests that she's having a grand time telling this story.
36. TIME OF THE WOLF
 
France/Austria/Germany
dir. Michael Haneke
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2004

 
Because this film's continued neglect, despite its creator's ever-rising stock, all but proves the intolerable force of its bleak, uncompromised vision of how human life would look in a state of total, abrupt fugitivity, minus any specifics of why. Haneke's least sensational movie, I think, despite having the highest stakes. Its relative modesty is a thin cover on scary plausibility.
37. MARIA FULL OF GRACE
 
United States
dir. Joshua Marston
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because the white, L.A.-born, first-time filmmaker has the sense to tell this story in Spanish and hire a Colombian woman to act it, but more than that, much more, he forges a full rapport with her subtle expressions and narrative plights, depicts New York minus the usual b.s., and directs the heck out of the supporting cast. Gracias.
38. BIRTH
 
United States
dir. Jonathan Glazer
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because the film finds equal sublimity in romantic optimism and perverse longing, and then gradually darkens the mood with harbingers of self-deception, threats of poverty, cheated chances, and caustic rivalries, even beyond the grave. Kidman's performance, Savides's photography, and Desplat's magisterial score all belong on a short list of the decade's greatest triumphs.
39. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
 
New Zealand/USA
dir. Peter Jackson
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because it inherits, polishes, expands, and exalts what felt like a lost ideal of what Hollywood studios and generous budgets can achieve when fused to unhomogenized creativity, an uncynical team of artists, and a powerful but unstuffy respect for complex source material. The artform owes millions of new believers around the world to this movie.
40. TO BE AND TO HAVE
 
France
dir. Nicolas Philibert
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2003

 
Because a school in Auvergne turns out to be a Rosetta stone, revealing how patience is the bedrock of professionalism; how toddlers become youngsters; how youngsters react to incipient teendom; how kids coddle and berate themselves as well as others; how learning happens; how life is, in rural France; how life is, one way or another, wherever you are.
41. DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY
 
United States
dir. Michel Gondry
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2006

 
Because no one on screen, the haves or have-nots, visibly lacks a strong sense of self, yet the film avoids the allergenic mien of so many music docs that presume your idolatry of the performers. Dave is on fire with his on-stage bits but the piece is rooted in his just-folks jocularity. As a gift to the 'hood, the film's right up there with the concert.
42. OCEAN'S ELEVEN
 
United States
dir. Steven Soderbergh
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because these debonair outlaws slink up to a huge, impersonal, obscenely wealthy institution and rob it blind, with killer suavity and style... and Soderbergh is just as suave. He actually made money for the studio, but he and his irresistible chums have such cracking fun that it always feels as though they're getting away with something.
43. WE OWN THE NIGHT
 
United States
dir. James Gray
world premiere 2007
U.S. release 2007

 
Because the movie attains the pungency of noir without the usual shortcut of ostentatiously mannered photography. Gray takes the tougher road, i.e., a confident, expressive mastery of every fundamental technique of scene construction, without letting his scrupulousness impede the velocity or the emotional vise of the story. A mood-piece that sticks.
44. HUNGER
 
UK/Ireland
dir. Steve McQueen
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2008

 
Because while the film's persistent impulse to challenge itself doesn't always pay off perfectly, the refusal to abstract moral or political principles and impose them onto a narrative leads, thrillingly, to a host of inventive means for deriving complex insights from the evidence of bodies, spaces, movement, and light. A knuckle, it turns out, is worth at least a thousand words.
45. JULIA
 
France/USA/Mexico
dir. Erick Zonca
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2009

 
Because Zonca supersedes the dichotomous dramatics of his best-known feature with a new, more heightened style, indistinguishable as realism or expressionism given the hyperactivity and epically poor judgment of the lead character and many of her intimates. Tilda Swinton assumes the headspace, the physicality, the glands, and the bloodstream of a totally dissimilar person.
46. THE CELL
 
United States
dir. Tarsem
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because the film pulls such a whopping bait-and-switch on the credibility of Lopez's protagonist that Tarsem's moderate grasp of narrative barely matters. Even the tiredness of the childhood-abuse trope gets ironically recuperated. And the visuals and soundscape are so heady and disreputably luxurious that these quibbles, settled or otherwise, barely register until days after the film ends.
47. ERIN BROCKOVICH
 
United States
dir. Steven Soderbergh
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because almost everyone I knew was jiving to it in 2000, but how many people realized how sturdily Erin had been built to last? I thought I got it, but I'm still awestruck by how electrically it holds up. You'd think it would need three different directors to nail the star performance, the communal cross-section, and the political platform, but Soderbergh works his own miraculous hat-trick.
48. FAR FROM HEAVEN
 
United States
dir. Todd Haynes
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2002

 
Because Haynes respects his audience enough to engage our intellects and our cultural memories, while caring enough about us to grasp and reward our emotional needs. Heaven has a few built-in release valves where we laugh at outmoded manners and aesthetics, but mostly we hand over our hearts to Cathy Whitaker, in whose longings and failings almost every viewer has some stake.
49. OSAMA
 
Afghanistan
dir. Siddiq Barmak
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2004

 
Because notwithstanding the indisputable topicality in 2003 of this Afghani drama (a genus that barely extends beyond this film), it's the form and style that allow the film to hold up: the segues between documentary reality and subjective perspective, the empathetic but unstinting attention to the young actress's face, the awful intractability of her dark destiny.
50. MILLION DOLLAR BABY
 
United States
dir. Clint Eastwood
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because Oscar can't be wrong all the time, notwithstanding that even stronger movies went unnominated in a uniquely majestic year. This was still the decade's worthiest Best Picture champ, and a late-breaking surprise to critics and audiences: lean, tough, and immediate in its storytelling and its sense of time and place, but radiating the delicate patina of an old-timer idiom, magically unearthed.
51. GOSFORD PARK
 
United Kingdom
dir. Robert Altman
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because what read on paper like a gimmick—Altman moving his human-cornucopia schtick to an English manor, that favorite staple of the Stateside arthouse—showcased a tense and zesty chronicle of human foibles, delivered with gusto but not without sincerity under beautiful gaslighting. Every performance, especially by the women, honors the actors and the auteur.
52. A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES
 
Iran
dir. Bahman Ghobadi
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because since the 90s, the best Iranian films about children have rarely been the same films as the devastating, politically inflected tragedies, but Drunken Horses furnishes an unforgettable overlap. When a film about a cute, disabled child foregoes almost any ounce of easy sentiment, you know you're watching something special.
53. MONSTER
 
United States
dir. Patty Jenkins
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2003

 
Because as soon as Aileen begins narrating her scabbed childhood, the steady zoom defining her life as a strangling crush of constraints, we know the film has fully thought and felt its way into this terrorizing character. Backing away neither from horror nor understanding, Monster thrives on paradox and goes courageously toe-to-toe with everything Aileen doles out. Which is a lot.
54. TROPICAL MALADY
 
Thailand
dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2005

 
Because despite the director's enviable four-for-four track record, and despite the fact that I seem to have a different favorite every week, Malady takes his trademark bifurcated structure into the strangest, most insinuating places, chronicling the tenderest amalgam of friendship and desire in any of his movies, as well as, to date, his only talking baboon.
55. DARK DAYS
 
United States
dir. Marc Singer
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because this non-fiction record of an entire society of homeless people living underground in the abandoned Amtrak tunnels of New York City ranks among the great shoulda-been hits of the decade. There is no substitute for the kind of documentary that emerges from years spent among one's subjects, and with their creative input. Even the (rare) flaws are suggestive; the peaks are dizzyingly high.
56. UP THE YANGTZE
 
Canada
dir. Yung Chang
world premiere 2007
U.S. release 2008

 
Because this documentary has the grace to admit upfront that its intended subject has long ago vanished, visible only in fleeting traces, nostalgic myths, and commodified decoys. But what the film finds in the place of ancient China is a saga of profound social upheaval, simultaneously swift and lumbering, impressively captured on film.
57. YOU CAN COUNT ON ME
 
United States
dir. Kenneth Lonergan
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because siblings deserve more of the frank, textured, good-humored, and compassionate dramas that are the usual birthright of parents and children and lovers and friends and enemies. Watch this movie and prove that Linney and Ruffalo haven't known each other forever, and that Lonergan hasn't been witness to all of it.
58. PALINDROMES
 
United States
dir. Todd Solondz
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2005

 
Because the movie has two ambitious, divisive, reciprocal subjects: the horrible things that can happen to American kids and the almost equally lurid way in which we fetishize children at an impossibly high standard of sentimental value. The bitterness of Solondz's critique is obvious, but I feel a real compassion and intelligence underneath it.
59. ZOO
 
United States
dir. Robinson Devor
world premiere 2007
U.S. release 2007

 
Because for all of the traditionally executed non-fiction films that dazzled throughout the decade, one hungers for more experiments that really revise the paradigm. Devor's necessarily elliptical approach to the topic of human-animal congress prompts an impenetrable but prismatic poetics that's eerie without being tabloid.
60. DEEP WATER
 
United Kingdom
dirs. Louise Osmond & Jerry Rothwell
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2007

 
Because no matter how many forms of folly and madness emerge in the tale of Donald Crowhurst, there's quite a bit of valor here, too: in his bold lunge, however misguided, to save his family from ruin; in his wife's and his son's candor in confronting their memories and placing themselves in his shoes; and in the film's flawlessly plotted dramatic course.
61. SPIRITED AWAY
 
Japan
dir. Hayao Miyazaki
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2002

 
Because it promptly converted a huge passel of no-account anime avoiders like myself into fervent fans, remaining a benchmark against which almost all animated features, and a number of fantasy films and children's adventures, would later be compared. Yet Miyazaki achieves this prominence (and an Oscar to boot) without visibly trying to curry favor with anyone but himself.
62. THE WRESTLER
 
United States
dir. Darren Aronofsky
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2008

 
Because no amount of laying things on a bit thick at the end can override a performance and a movie with so much heart, it practically has veins and ventricles instead of shots and scenes. The whole cast gets the vibe, and the soundtrack and photography excel themselves. Even if, like me, you think Aronofsky was coming off his best previous film, he hit a new peak here.
63. CLEAN
 
France/Canada/UK
dir. Olivier Assayas
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2006

 
Because while comparably great filmmakers revised the maternal melodrama with Sirk as their polestar, Assayas did the same without relinquishing his fascination with modern art and commerce. Cheung and Nolte are unimprovable. The film had a rare aura even before it took two years reaching the States, and before we knew it would effectively be Cheung's last. Or will it?
64. THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA
 
United States
dir. Tommy Lee Jones
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because Arriaga's möbius scripts passed from sensation to cliché over the decade, but here he was at his most rigorous and resonant. Jones, in his helming debut, built more than an ideal performance venue; he took a starker, wittier, smarter look at his country than many veteran filmmakers even attempted.
65. THE PIANIST
 
France/Poland/Germany/UK
dir. Roman Polanski
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2002

 
Because Polanski sustains two precarious balancing-acts: he reprises all his trademarks of formal tension and chilly irony while nonetheless honoring a mainstream genre that often resists more individual styles; and he delivers scene after indelible scene of escaping the Nazis and avoiding the Holocaust, while somehow making a movie that all comes together in the closing sequence.
66. PRODIGAL SONS
 
United States
dir. Kimberly Reed
world premiere 2008
U.S. release forthcoming

 
Because unlike so many autobiographical documentaries, this one never crosses that palpable line into self-exploitation, and unlike so many filmic rejoinders to "traditional" sex, gender, and sexuality, this one refuses to cloister those issues apart from broader tapestries of personal identity and family life. If there's any justice, this will be a major hit in the coming year.
67. THE PIANO TEACHER
 
Austria/France
dir. Michael Haneke
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2002

 
Because while Haneke has made more thematically ambitious and formally complex works, neither he nor virtually anyone else has offered such a resolute study of such an imposing character, whom it's impossible not to call "frightening," though one comes to pity her for this. Huppert's performance makes a strong bid as the best of the decade. Top ten, easily.
68. EUREKA
 
Japan
dir. Shinji Aoyama
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2001

 
Because no matter how many films grappled with the slow, crawling process of recovering from traumatic experience—and sadly, the decade kept ratifying the relevance of that theme—few films made the catastrophe as well as the aftermath as memorable as this one did. Among its greatest assets are its unusual palette and extraordinary length, though it's hypnotic from end to end.
69. JINDABYNE
 
Australia
dir. Ray Lawrence
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2006

 
Because I'm almost always game for an unexpected approach to adaptation, but what Beatrix Christian and Ray Lawrence have wrought from Raymond Carver's well-known story yields both a revealing cultural dissection and as generous a set of acute psychological profiles as anyone could ask. Extra points for such painstaking use of widescreen framing and all-natural light.
70. TRILOGY: THE WEEPING MEADOW
 
Greece
dir. Theo Angelopoulos
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2005

 
Because even though U.S. arthouses and critics would rather die than truly rally behind an Angelopoulos film, they are so painterly and prodigious that they single-handedly restore a sense of awe to the cinema. If his style rarely changes much between projects, its mythic muscularity is always welcome.
71. BLISSFULLY YOURS
 
Thailand
dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2004

 
Because the second half is so saturated with sex, the way I recognize real people having it, lying about it, hoping for it, and talking about it. Lest one forget, the first half is just as flawlessly wry and truthful about work, bureaucracy, and the mundane world of errands. The linking strength is the shrewd handle on human behavior and the playful manipulation of film form.
72. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
 
Taiwan
dir. Ang Lee
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because I find the mix of wuxia with sentimental romantic drama interesting and honest, given Lee's established strengths and point of view. I don't find either facet of the film dulled by the other, and indeed, the women's expressions of poignant restraint, unbridled anger, and fuming desire make some of the strongest impressions to be found anywhere in Lee's body of work.
73. LA CIÉNAGA
 
Argentina
dir. Lucrecia Martel
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because already in her debut feature, Martel runs the show as though she simply isn't beholden to the usual rules of exposition, editing matches, inconspicuous sound cues, evident links among characters, and pre-set points of audience identification. Yet still, tossing aside all those protocols, she makes us interested, makes us laugh, makes us care.
74. FAT GIRL (À MA SOEUR!)
 
France
dir. Catherine Breillat
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because I haven't succeeded in staying as furious as I frankly wanted to stay, after first experiencing its brutality and climactic nihilism. The zero-bullshit portrait of sisterly love-hate and of sexual brainwashing, including of oneself, resonate even longer than the horror and rage that Breillat quite deliberately evokes. And not a shot is out of place.
75. BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
 
United States
dir. Julian Schnabel
world premiere 2000
U.S. release 2000

 
Because Reinaldo Arenas's prose is an inebriating, sometimes maddening blend of seduction, hedonism, naïveté, and political lucidity, and the film blends unbashful doses of all those flavors into its bracing sounds and images. The rare film in which, truly, almost every still-frame would make for an arresting photograph.
76. SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY
 
Thailand
dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2007

 
Because "Joe" was to the 00s what Kiarostami was to the 90s: pushing deceptively simple techniques into a disarming, fresh poetics, culminating in sad, playful stories, specific to a culture but breathtakingly accessible. Who else can pick up a dehumidifying tube and turn it into magic? Just by tracking up to it and holding still a while?
77. BEFORE SUNSET
 
United States
dir. Richard Linklater
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because Celine and I agreed that a sequel seemed like a dubious idea, but Jesse, Richard, Kim, Ethan, and Julie really pushed, and they had it right, delivering an intimate, persuasive post-date with all the friskiness and melancholy of the original. The characters are a little wiser, but in some ways just as endearingly foolish. Some things shouldn't change, even as they grow.
78. MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD
 
United States
dir. Peter Weir
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2003

 
Because it's so easy to think of corsets when you think of "historical drama," and so easy to think of vainglorious manly men when you think of action-adventure. And then comes M&C, with its remarkable envelope of period reality, its natural, lived-in performances, and just the right ratios of illuminating down-time and rousing spectacle.
79. THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND
 
United States
dir. Sam Green
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2003

 
Because a documentary based around historical footage and talking heads is one of the hardest targets to hit in modern filmmaking, and could easily seem like the wrong format for a story about domestic terrorists. But the combo of coolness and heat, of young idealism, tempered reflection, and courage of conviction, translates potently.
80. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
 
United States
dir. Paul Greengrass
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because it drains all the glamour and refutes the myth of imperviousness that so often attach themselves to tales of spy vs. spy, and yet it attains this bedrock of seriousness without tsking the audience for wanting a good time. The balance of vicarious entertainment and bitter medicine is smartly judged, and the craft on display is formidable.
81. IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
 
United States
dir. James Longley
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2006

 
Because Iraq at long last ceases to be a visual, conceptual, and discursive impasse, springing to life as a deeply striated space that we sorely need to study. And Longley's color-rich images and evocative sounds make us want to study it. And his solitary, revelatory brio in bringing off this film throws down the gauntlet to all the journalists who don't even try.
82. DRAWING RESTRAINT 9
 
United States
dir. Matthew Barney
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2006

 
Because the warm, gummy waxiness of the Cremaster films suddenly achieves a sharp, chic elegance, even as the film explicitly worries the tensions between the chic and the abject. From the gift-wrapping overture to the slicing climax, Barney has found a new host of objects to glorify and reshape, including Japan, including the sea, including cinema itself.
83. CODE 46
 
United Kingdom
dir. Michael Winterbottom
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2004

 
Because it furnishes one of the few sci-fi glimpses of the future that feels fully and plausibly realized, despite having a tenth of the budget this genre usually exploits. That wealth of detail is even more suggested than it is directly depicted, so the story has the fertile, impacted, kernelish feel of a top-drawer novella.
84. ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL
 
United States
dir. Sacha Gervasi
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2009

 
Because in this case the broad, committed, sympathetic vantage of the fan-filmmaker beats the odds of cliché as fully as Anvil themselves do. Gervasi captures the hurting hearts of the band as well as the absurdity of both their struggles and their joys, and nothing outranks anything else. It's a whole portrait. Plus "Thumb Hang."
85. HALF NELSON
 
United States
dir. Ryan Fleck (& Anna Boden)
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2006

 
Because the story, the look, the editing, and the splendid performances, especially but not only from Ryan Gosling, confound all those generic teacher-student dramas that never catch anything close to the pulse of a real classroom. Still, the film doesn't come across as a contrarian gesture, but as an honest, incisive study of character.
86. SOUTHERN COMFORT
 
United States
dir. Kate Davis
world premiere 2001
U.S. release 2001

 
Because the cruel, unusual plight of a charismatic, belatedly visible Southern gentleman becomes a prism through which we perceive a community of friends who are also, for better and worse, a family, plus a social critique that warrants the air time, and a plainspoken snapshot of what happiness looks like, whatever its eventual tolls.
87. CREMASTER 3
 
United States
dir. Matthew Barney
world premiere 2002
U.S. release 2002

 
Because the (literally) monumental centerpiece of Barney's five-film cycle is also its ordinal and textural capstone, amplifying his interests in restraint and release, collision and expansion, solids and fluidity, terror and beauty, the human and its others. Bless him for ensuring that those are not just parallel dichotomies.
88. SINCE OTAR LEFT
 
France/Belgium
dir. Julie Bertucelli
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2004

 
Because the three women in the movie make indelible individual impressions while also embodying an affecting but unprecious identity as a matrilineal line. And because stories of cultural transition, alienation, and contact are rarely this intimate or this subtly moving. And because of Gorintin's final solo scenes.
89. KINGS AND QUEEN
 
France
dir. Arnaud Desplechin
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2005

 
Because Desplechin persists in stretching character, incident, backstory, and velocity until his movies feel like eight-course novels, but the swooning soundtracks, nimble performances, and heightened style make clear that he doesn't want cinema to be literature, he wants it to be cinema.
90. LORNA'S SILENCE
 
Belgium
dirs. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
world premiere 2008
U.S. release 2009

 
Because the controlled but restive camera found such probing, poignant poetry in a scenario that afforded no easy choices, and because for me, this is the movie where the Dardennes most allow the story to yield up the spirituality and the metaphysics, rather than the other way around.
91. DOGVILLE
 
Denmark/Sweden/Norway/Finland/UK
dir. Lars von Trier
world premiere 2003
U.S. release 2004

 
Because von Trier's splicing of Brechtian Verfremdung and Greenaway vengeance-by-numbers yields a more productive set of prompts and constraints than Dogme ever gave him. And because you get three parables at once: of Grace, the ruthless victim; of Tom, the evacuated philosopher; and of that plummy narrator, the giggling overseer and the mordant, jubilant scold.
92. DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT
 
United States
dir. Julia Loktev
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2007

 
Because it insists on the difference between provocation and sensationalism, and doesn't predicate our empathy or interest on the constant provision of backstory. The protagonist has to memorize all kinds of fake "facts," while we react to the austere but plaintive truths of what she's doing, and to the riddles of why or why not.
93. NOTRE MUSIQUE
 
France/Switzerland
dir. Jean-Luc Godard
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because there is no pejorative that scares Godard: not pedantic, not abstruse, not sullen, certainly not ambitious, and because he uses the frank, dazzling fact of his montage as an introductory credential toward doing whatever he wants. As daring or dry or kitschy or alarming as it gets, you keep wanting to finish the essay.
94. WOLF CREEK
 
Australia
dir. Greg McLean
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because there is no sense to the trip, or the attraction, or the humor, or the breakdown, or the arrival, or the captation, or the sadism, or the deaths, or the survival. The single edit from unnerving mishap to ghastly catastrophe really knocks the wind out of you, and the whole film is shot and shaped with such precision that the arbitrariness of horror packs a punch.
95. DAWN OF THE DEAD
 
United States/Canada
dir. Zack Snyder
world premiere 2004
U.S. release 2004

 
Because the decade was positively rotting with millennial and apocalyptic visions, but there was no use being a genre snob, and no reason to, either: Snyder's stranded survivors made for an especially moving and well-defined bunch. And the filmmaking popped. And the zombies raced.
96. CAPOTE
 
United States
dir. Bennett Miller
world premiere 2005
U.S. release 2005

 
Because amidst an ocean of biopics that would have bored even Paul Muni, this one chased something thornier, riskier, and more humbling than Wikipedia profiling and virtuoso mimicry. The Faustian arc of Capote's soul traces itself in chilly, bone-stark whites, against a field of ink-ribbon black.
97. RAGING SUN, RAGING SKY
 
Mexico
dir. Julián Hernández
world premiere 2009
U.S. release forthcoming

 
Because it would be terrible if Genet and Cocteau had lived for nothing, and the world was badly in need of a steamy, sinister, repeatedly circular surrealist epic of homo cruising and Aztec dream-visions. Or at the very least, queer cinema needed a shake-up like this, skirting parody, landing powerfully.
98. JOHNNY MAD DOG
 
France/Liberia
dir. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
world premiere 2008
U.S. release forthcoming

 
Because its coruscating look at West African child soldiers has all the harrowing vividness of City of God without veering into a romantic apotheosis of thug life and villainy. The neglect from U.S. distributors is hard to grasp, but the trenchant filmmaking casts a scary, unforgettable light where one is badly needed.
99. THE DEPARTED
 
United States
dir. Martin Scorsese
world premiere 2006
U.S. release 2006

 
Because the film achieves a prodigious verticality, plumbing the depths of DiCaprio's and Damon's best performances of the decade, while at the same time it attains a dazzling horizontality, spreading its personality, energy, and force across a sprawl of thinking, wounding, hustling characters. Just a shame about Jack.
100. MOTHER
 
South Korea
dir. Bong Joon-ho
world premiere 2009
U.S. release forthcoming

 
Because Bong starts his movie so broadly and eccentrically you barely know what to make of it, and though the movie is often loopy, it wrests something recognizable, something convulsive, out of its jagged story and defiantly weird sensibility. It never for a moment feels like anything else, and the finale, true to form, is a different kind of heartbreaker.

Permalink Home Features Blog E-Mail