Thursday, 17 November 2011

Best films of the 2000s

The new century began with a bang.  On September 11th 2001, the World Trade Centre literally exploded onto screens across the globe.  Hollywood failed to create anything as shocking, terrifying and unforgettable as witnessing the deaths of all those people on live TV.  Not to mention the years of war that followed, with American bombing campaigns, the hunt for Bin Laden and thousands more innocent lives destroyed in a misguided quest for justice/revenge/oil/power.

But the movies of the decade fought hard to divert, entertain and distract us from the sorry state of affairs outside the multiplexes.  Ok there was a lot of war on screen; from Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers to Jar Head, The Hurt Locker and Redacted.  Terrorism was tackled in The Sum of All Fears, Collateral Damage and within five years, even the events of 9/11  got taken on by Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass.  But like the 90s, Hollywood thrived as did the lower budget indie sector as well as world cinema.  It was another very exciting decade in the movies.

Again, like with my best of the 90s list, I just don't have the self-discipline to keep this to a top 10.  So without further ado, here is my top 15 of the first decade of the 21st century:

15. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) Fast, funny, exciting and moving, this South-African apartheid allegory uses science fiction conventions to tell its story of townships, segregation and xenophobia.  Sharlto Copley is a revelation as the man sent to evict the stranded-on-earth alien 'prawns' from their titular shanty town but who gets more than he bargained for from the aliens.  Mixing wonderful special effects with depressing real locations, the film shows what a modest budget and a great idea can become.

14. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benifit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006) Creating a ridiculous amount of law suits as the real people caught out by talented comedian Sacha Baron Cohen attempted to sue the filmmakers, this film is a tasteless but subversive look at America that demonstates SBC's fearlessness as a performer.  Not only is Borat himself a vile but hilarious comic creation, wait to you meet the ordinary Americans he encounters on his road trip.

13. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003) Opening with a gruelling close up on Uma Thurman's damaged face and closing on one hell of a twisted cliffhanger, the first part of Tarantino's martial arts epic is a belter.  Following The Bride on her quest for vengance, the film is a mash-up of styles from an anime section to black and white sections to split-screens.  Tarantino creates another classic soundtrack and the fight scenes are gory, vicious bloodbaths, outstandingly choreographed by the previously talky Tarantino.  Shame about Vol. 2 though.

12. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)  Simply the greatest comic book film ever made.  Heath Ledger nails the Joker, putting all memories of Nicholson to bed for good.  Director Nolan and his screenplay scribe brother turn a Batman film into a sprawling crime epic, with more in common with Michael Mann than Tim Burton.  Bale has annoyed many but his Bruce/Bat is dark, brutal and bordering on psychotic.  The film also deals with deeper, darker issues than any summer blockbuster dares with Batman resorting to some terrifying techniques in order to stop the terrorist threat posed by the Joker.

11. Saw (James Wan, 2004) Breeding a scary amount of gruesome torture porn imitators, the original in the now bloated franchise is a low budget horror masterpiece.  Occasional moments of dodgy acting aside, the premise is a killer.  Locked in a bathroom by a madman intent on pushing people to extremes, two men must decide their own fates with only a saw and a chain around their legs keeping them from freedom.  The twisty turny narrative grips throughout despite minimal sets and characters, the style is flashy and disturbing but its the final twist that shocks more than the graphic violence.

10. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)
Proving that a documentary could be just as entertaining (and fictional according to some) as a fiction film, Moore took aim at America's gun culture in this funny and powerful film.  Yes it meanders through other problems Moore has with his nation and perhaps there is far too much of Moore himself on screen, but the issues raised are valid and the execution is brilliant.  With real footage of the Columbine killings, interviews with survivors and celebrity appearances from Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone and Charlton Heston, BFC is a stirring look at a country with an addiction to guns but no easy answers.

9. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)  This is science fiction cinema at its gritty, bleak, dystopian best.  Full of contemporary relevance, set in a recognisably grim not-too-distant future England, the premise is that the human race is now infertile.  When the youngest human on the planet is killed, it seems all hope is lost.  Clive Owen plays Theo, a man who like so many others has lost hope for the human race, that is until he comes across a miraculously pregnant woman.  Outstanding performances from Owen, Michael Caine and Julianne Moore and fantastic cinematography from Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki (including some incredible long takes in a couple of thrilling action scenes) make this a classic science fiction thriller.

8. Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000)  Russell Crowe's finest film features bloody battles, epic CGI enhanced armies, ancient cities and a chance to be awestruck by the Colosseum as it was back in the days of the Roman Empire.  Crowe's Maximus is a general turned gladiator out for revenge on the man who killed not only his family but also the true emperor of Rome.  It's a classic tale of good vs evil with a great performance from Crowe and the under appreciated Djimon Hounsou.  Ridley Scott creates a grand old-fashioned swords-n-sandals epic that spawned many imitators (300, Troy etc) but was never beaten.

7. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)  Nolan's second entry on this list is a head-scratching noir thriller with an amnesiac protagonist played by Guy Pearce on the trail of the murderer of his wife.  The narrative plays out in reverse with Nolan choosing to cut the film in a way that reflects the state of mind of the main character.  Roughly ten minute segments are played out and then the audience is taken back to the preceding ten minutes.  Pearce nails the confusion and determination of the character but Carrie-Anne Moss is the real one to watch here with a performance that is as devastating as the ending.

6. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002) Three words: running fucking zombies.  Versatile director Boyle bounced back from the hugely disappointing The Beach adaptation with this terrifying vision of the apocalypse.  Updating and injecting the zombie sub-genre with a shot of the 'rage virus', the film's 'Infected' are running, vomiting, savage creatures that would rip Romero's shuffling zombies to shreds.  And true to the genre's roots, the message that other humans are the real reasons to be worried when the monsters take over, remains intact.  The last act when our heroes reach the supposedly safe army base is bloody, brutal and scary stuff.

5. Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002)  Ok I'll admit it's probably ridiculous to have this slight, silly home-invasion thriller this high up on my list.  But Fincher ratchets up the tension to such levels, that it's difficult to stay perched on the edge of your seat during this tense urban nightmare.  Trapped in their panic room, Jodie Foster and pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart are terrorised by a trio of burglars intent on getting into the panic room to recover some loot.  The performances from Foster and Stewart are brilliant but Jarad Leto, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam are equally memorable as the criminals.  It uses it's minimal set and characters to its advantage with Fincher creating a claustrophobic playground for his camera and the cat-and-mouse antics of the characters.

4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)  A rare book adaptation that is equal to the source material.  First time I read the books, I'll be honest, I found them a struggle.  Slow, strangely structured and stuffed with too many songs.  On the other hand the films nailed the pace but also the beauty of Middle Earth (with the fantastic casting of New Zealand), the horror of the orcs, the sadness of Smeagol and the epic battle scenes that rage for much of The Return of the King.  So many classic moments, great performances and stunning visuals, apart from the overdose on endings, these films are pretty much flawless fantasy epics.  Here's hoping The Hobbit can live up to the memory of this outstanding trilogy.

3. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)  Controversial, cathartic and crushing, this is the story of one of the many real-life tragedies that occurred on 9/11.  The fourth hijacked plane that crashed in a field was taken down by the terrorists when the passengers fought back.  Whether you believe this official version of events or not, you cannot deny the power of Greengrass's film.  Mounting the tension to unbearable levels using a real-time pace, the film explores the events of the day through those in the air on board United 93 but also allowing the viewer to see the confusion and panic unfolding on the ground at air traffic control, NORAD etc.  The last twenty minutes is incredibly difficult to watch with handheld camera adding to the realism, phone conversations scripted from the real thing but also an emotive score that cannot fail to move viewers.

2. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)  Another harrowing film, this time not based on real life but on a book.  Ellen Burstyn gives possibly the most moving performance ever committed to celluloid as a mother of a drug addict (Jarad Leto) who turns to diet pills to try and find happiness.  Stylishly directed by Aronofsky,  it captures the highs but mostly the sickening, soul-destroying lows of drug abuse as (SPOILER!!!) the four main characters descend into prostitution, prison, amputation and madness.  Scored by Clint Mansell, the music is as heart-wrenching as the editing and cinematography is dazzling.  This is one of the hardest films you will ever have to watch.  But you do HAVE to watch it.

1. City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund, 2002)  The best film of the 00's is hardly surprising, it's topped so many lists already.  It's another depressing film but less so than the previous two films on this list.  Set in the favelas of Brazil, it follows Rocket, a young man who dreams of becoming a photographer but has to deal with the day to day struggles that come with being a favela dweller.  Starting in the 80s then flashing back to the 60s, Rocket narrates the changes in his slum as drug lord Lil Ze takes over the business, turning the slums into a cocaine-riddled war zone during the 70s.  The style is manic with choppy editing, handheld camera, improvised dialiogue from an astounding cast of non-professionals and use of real locations.  But it's the characters, Rocket, Benny, Lil Ze, the 'runts' that stay with you long after the film has finished.  It's a difficult watch at times (witness a very small child being forced to shoot an even smaller child) and the end is both hopeful and pessimistic, but overall the film is a powerful peek inside a world you will unlikely ever experience.

What do you think?  What have I missed?  Why are my top three so depressing? 
What are your favourite?  Please comment if you read this... it's very nice to hear from you!