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Top 10 Greatest Movies of the 2000s

Updated on January 30, 2014

Movies in the 21st Century

The film industry changed drastically in the first decade of the 21st Century. Many trends that were not considered for serious films in previous decades became commonplace in the 2000s such as comic books movies, franchise films, and movies based off of young adult novels. The Harry Potter books were transformed into one of the most successful film series of all time while Lord of the Rings proved equally successful as a trilogy. The Pirates of the Caribbeans movies proved that a theme park ride could be turned into a hugely popular movie franchise and legendary directors like Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese continued to shape the industry they became integral parts of three decades earlier.

With all these developments, one of the biggest changes to the American film industry was the fact that film itself began being replaced as the dominant format in Hollywood. In the beginning of this decade film still ruled things and most major movies were being shot on 35mm. But by the end of it, digital technology caught up with film and many major movies were being shot with digital cameras while 3D movies made a huge comeback by 2009.

With all these technical innovations, many true filmmakers still managed to thrive and they used their abilities to continue the century old tradition of storytelling with visual media. Here is a list of ten movies I feel represent the best this decade had to offer...


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10. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson's quirky comedy-drama film about talented siblings whose promising futures are ruined by their eccentric father is by far one the more interesting and stand-out films of the 2000s. The movie stars an ensemble cast which includes Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum, a grossly uncaring lawyer whose negligence and insensitivity has unintended consequences for his wife and kids. Anjelica Huston plays his ex-wife and mother to the Tenenbaum children, an archaeologist and author who eventually runs off with her husband's accountant portrayed by Danny Glover. Royal's kids are played by Ben Stiller, a financial genius; Gwyneth Paltrow, a playwright and the adopted child in the bunch; and Luke Wilson, a tennis prodigy. Wilson's real life brother Owen plays Eli Cash, a friend of the family who grows up with them and begins having an affair with Royal's adopted daughter.

Bill Murray also stars in the film as Huston's character's new husband and the film is narrated by Alec Baldwin. This amazing cast turns Wes Anderson and Luke Wilson's script into a clever and witty display of irony shelled in absurd humor along with touching emotional content that makes this movie hard to classify. It is clearly one of the most original stories brought to the screen in the 2000s and a true highlight of Wes Anderson's career.

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09. Up (2009)

Pixar Animation put out several amazing films in the 2000s such as Monster's Inc (2000), The Incredibles (2004), and Wall-E (2008). But it would seem that they saved their best film of the decade for the last year of it. Up sparked the 3D animation frenzy that would come to dominate animated films in the 2010s. This movie with it's colorful and vividly rich look tells the story of an elderly man who ties several balloons to his home in order to get his house off the ground, into the air, and towards the wilds of South America. But his trip is made difficult by a young wilderness explorer who tags along for the journey.

All of this film is incredible but it's first two minutes, which tell the entire story of the relationship and marriage of the main character and his wife, are so touching and emotional that it will surely bring tears to the eyes of everyone who watches it. The movie grossed over $700 million at the box office and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture making it the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture since 1991's Beauty and the Beast.

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08. The Dark Knight (2008)

There were many comic book-based, super hero themed movies in the 2000s. But the greatest movie adapted from a comic book was by far Christopher Nolan's 2008 epic The Dark Knight. In the second film of Nolan's Batman trilogy, Christian Bale reprises his role of Bruce Wayne/Batman who has to take on the psychotic mass murdering criminal The Joker, portrayed by Heath Ledger in the performance of his career. Ledger tragically died in real life shortly before the film's release but that didn't stop this movie from redefining the comic book film genre. Unlike most comic book films, Dark Knight is shrouded in a cloud of realism and intense darkness previously unseen in a super hero film. The movie deals with the idea of chaos, loss of humanity, and the ultra-thin line between right and wrong.

Ledger's portrayal of The Joker departed from the more comical take on the character given to us by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film Batman. Ledger's Joker is scarier, more psychologically damaged and far more haunting. Ledger posthumously received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the role and the film itself became one the more lauded of the comic book genre.

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07. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

In this underrated western drama directed by Andrew Dominik, Brad Pitt plays one of his most subtle roles as the famous outlaw Jesse James while Casey Affleck plays Robert Ford, a man who befriends James only to later betray him. The film contains a unique style of cinematography that is based on the look of photography in the 1800's. The movie has a soft tone to it that is uncharacteristic for westerns and approaches rugged subject matter with an understated sense of emotion. The film was one of several westerns that was released in 2007 and like many of the best movies of the decade it was not a huge box office success. Despite this it still stands as one of the decade's best with it's engaging performances, stark look and well-written script.

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06. The Pianist (2002)

Roman Polanski surprised many with this stark, shocking tale of a Jewish-Polish musician whose family and life is torn apart by Hitler's Final Solution during World War II. Adrien Brody plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, an accomplished pianist who is separated from his family after they are taken to concentration camps. He is then forced to live in hiding as the war rages on. Everything about this film is authentic from the acting to it's production design and clothing. The movie is based on the real life story of Szpilman who wrote a memoir recalling the gritty details of his experiences in 1946. Director Polanski in real life had a similar experience as the film's main character. He escaped from a Jewish ghetto as a child and spent the remainder of the war living in a barn in Poland. The movie earned Brody an Oscar for Best Actor for his powerful performance as well as the Oscar for Best Director for Polanski.

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05. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This unique film directed by French filmmaker Michel Gondry combines romance with science fiction to produce one of the most fascinating stories of the early 21st Century. The movie stars Jim Carrey, in an unusually serious role for him, as a shy man who gets into a relationship with a free spirited girl played by Kate Winslet. After a fight between the two, Winslet's character undergoes a procedure that erases all of her memories of Carrey's character. Upon finding this out Carrey's character decides to have the same procedure done to him to get rid of his memories of his former lover. By doing so, he relives all of these memories backwards in his mind while the procedure is taking place.

The movie relies on nonlinear storytelling, psychological elements and an insightful dissection of memory, romance and attraction. This brilliant story won it's writer and director Gondry an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and remains to be one of the most enduring films of this time period.

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04. The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese is well known for his films depicting gritty street life and organized crime. The Departed is one of the best examples of Scorsese's flair for creating masterful gangster films. In this complex story of deception and infiltration, Matt Damon plays a cop who is secretly working as a mole for notorious gangster Frank Costello who is played by Jack Nicholson. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young man from the streets who tries to become a cop and ends up working undercover in Costello's crew. The movie uses a jarring style of editing that juxtaposes the real lives as well as the cover lives of the two men who are infiltrating each others organizations.

The movie is a remake of the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs and it's gangster character Costello is largely believed to be based on real-life Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger. The movie won Scorsese his first and so far only Oscar for Best Director having been denied the award for classic films such as Raging Bull and Goodfellas. The movie also won Oscars for it's editing and screenplay as well as the award for Best Picture.

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03. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Joel and Ethan Coen are two brothers and an incredibly brilliant filmmaking duo that writes, produces, directs, and even edits all of their films. No Country for Old Men is so far the greatest masterpiece that they have brought to the screen. This modern western film stars Tommy Lee Jones as an aging sheriff dealing with changing times, Josh Brolin as a man who stumbles upon a slew of dead bodies from a drug deal gone wrong and among them finds a briefcase filled with money which he decides to take and Javier Bardem plays a psychotic killer who is charged with finding the stolen brifecase and will stop at nothing to retrieve it and kill whoever took it.

The film deals with the concepts of chance, fate, and the consequences of people's actions. The movie contains a subtle tone, slow pacing and has many scenes with no dialogue. The film also uses little to no music in order to intensify the action. The movie won much praise upon it's release and resulted in Oscar wins for Bardem for Best Supporting Actor as well as Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture awards for the Coens.

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02. Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men is a chilling, dystopian Sci-Fi thriller that is set in the year 2027 and based on the premise that for the last two decades humans have been unable to produce babies. In this horrid future, all governments in the world (except one) have fallen as a result of human infertility. The U.K. is the only country still intact and it must keep out mass numbers of refugees. Clive Owen plays a British civil servant who discovers that a West African refugee is pregnant and he tries to get her out of the mass chaos that surrounds her. The movie, which was directed by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, makes use of highly innovative one take, single-shot action sequences that contain extremely intricate camera movement. The film contains elements of hope and faith enduring through the most miserable conditions and is steeped with high emotional content, powerful performances and many unexpected twists. Despite not being a large box office success, the film was praised by critics and stands as one of the most unique stories, as well as one of the most elaborately shot films of the decade.

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01. There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood is a masterful film visually, sonically, and performance-wise. The epic drama stars Daniel Day-Lewis as an oilman who becomes morally bankrupt as he becomes extremely wealthy from his ruthless takeover of the oil business. In the film he adopts a young boy who goes deaf after a drilling incident. He is also put at odds with a young preacher, played by Paul Dano, whose family owns land he wishes to drill on and later he seeks revenge on the preacher for publicly humiliating him. The movie, directed by filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, features one of the most powerful performances Day-Lewis has ever delivered and he won an Oscar for Best Actor for the role. The film contains superb cinematography along with an odd yet fitting score composed by Johnny Greenwood from the band Radiohead. The strange music, bold acting, and stark look of this film make it a flawless work of art and truly one of the best films of the 2000's.

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      Akash Vijay 3 years ago

      I'm so glad you didn't include LOTR. I think all 3 are tremendously overrated. Other than The Departed, all the other 9 are terrific films, particularly There Will be Blood.

    • kotobukijake profile image

      kotobukijake 3 years ago

      This is a really good list, and a rather well-written hub. All of these are excellent films, though I would definitely rate There Will Be Blood lower on the list. I was surprised at your inclusion of The Assassination of Jesse James..., but props for a less-than-mainstream pick. Of the ones you missed, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon started the decade off with a bang, and would easily make my Top 10. I'd also easily have Pan's Labyrinth on the list. Maybe these would take the place of The Assassination of Jesse James, There Will be Blood, and The Royal Tenenbaums (this may be Wes Anderson's most influential film of the decade, but I liked The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox more, and none of the three would really crack my Top 10). A few others that definitely warrant consideration: the Lord of the Rings trilogy; WALL-E; The Lives of Others; No Man's Land; Summer Wars; The Girl Who Leapt Through Time; Spirited Away; Match Point; Adaptation; Thank You for Smoking; Juno; Up in the Air; Mulholland Dr.; Ghost World; Sweeney Todd; and Maria Full of Grace. It truly was a fascinating decade for film; good job picking some of the best.

    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 3 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Picking a list of ten from a decade or more is a daunting task to be sure. All of the films you mentioned are certainly great, but you too easily dismissed the finest piece of film making from the beginning of the decade. While Lord of the Rings may have been more mainstream, WETA workshop revolutionized the way motion pictures like this are made. LOTR isn't just great filmmaking - It's epic! That has and will always rank as the best overall cinematic achievement of the last 15 years IMHO. Still, liked your list and voted it up.

    • adecourv profile image

      Alex deCourville 3 years ago

      Earlier this year, I did a countdown of my favorite movies from each year. So many of the movies you picked were represented on that list. The Royal Tenenbaums was my favorite movie 2001. The Departed tied with Pan's Labyrinth as my favorite of 2006. There Will be Blood was my favorite film from 2007. The Dark Knight was my favorite from 2008 and Up was my favorite from 2009.

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      herasyed 3 years ago

      These are great choices. The only one I haven't seen is "The Assassination of Jesse James."

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 3 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      This is a good variety. A decade is a lot of movies to consider.

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      I think lists like this are tough to make because there is always so much room for varying opinions (although that is also part of the fun in constructing a list like this- hearing other people weigh in) overall I think you did a great job with putting it together. I like that you represented some different genres, as well as more mainstream films along with a few that are more independent in nature. I definitely agree with your inclusion of The Dark Knight, Up, and The Departed. And I love everything Wes Anderson does.

      Voted up and Shared.