Who doesn’t love a good list?
This week, as part of our new weekly feature Top Ten Tuesday, Chris Shortt continues his retrospective of the decades of modern cinema with the Top 10 films from the 2000s.
The first decade that I personally grew up with in full, the 2000s really are an astonishing, eclectic array of the best of modern cinema. Even the top-grossing blockbusters were often among the year’s crème de la crème – whilst the animations that started thriving in the ‘90s continued to do so here (to heights that are still unsurpassed).
This was the most challenging list to compile yet, simply due to the amount of true greats released this decade (many of which are deeply personal to yours truly). As such, there are several high-profile omissions, some of which you will probably take issue with. My DMs are always open.
10. Zodiac (2007)
Still defined by his ‘90s classics Se7en and Fight Club, I’d argue David Fincher has actually only improved – with his flurry of late-00s/early-10s work making the case for him to be one of the most adept filmmakers working today.
Zodiac, for me, represents the zenith of his powers – a dramatization of the real-life, titular serial killer, who terrorised San Francisco in the early 1970s. At 158 minutes, it’s an ambitious and disturbing watch (incredibly, the runtime flies by).
Jake Gyllenhaal is on peak-form (a role he developed to even greater heights in Prisoners) – whilst Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. give performances worthy of shutting down the whole MCU. Give up the blue shorts and the iron suit, guys – come back to the crime thrillers.
9. Apocalypto (2006)
As accomplished in The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s next feature was a similarly sparse, ‘non-English’ historical epic. Set in Mesoamerica at the tail-end of the Mayan civilisation, Apocalypto principally follows the journey of Jaguar Paw – a tribesman whose village is destroyed, which traps his heavily pregnant wife at the bottom of a well.
The film is a stunning exercise in visual storytelling – on the rare occasion the cast do speak, it’s in the laconic Indigenous language Yucatec Maya. Watching Apocalypto is certainly a brutal experience, with Gibson (unsurprisingly) not shying away from the savage conflicts.
8. Ratatouille (2007)
Akin to being asked your favourite child, choosing your favourite Pixar film (especially your favourite from the ‘00s) is a daunting, often upsetting task. Finding Nemo is the first film I remember truly loving on a personal level, while you’d be hard pushed to find a more entertaining film than The Incredibles (roll on this summer’s sequel).
Yet, there’s just something about Ratatouille, isn’t there? The basic, high-concept premise is vintage Pixar, and while the Parisian backdrop is perhaps not so characteristic, it slots into the brand with an effortless suitability anyway.
The highlight, undoubtedly, is Emile’s gastronomic awakening. A moment of euphoric synthesia in the most joyous film.
7. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Receiving a lot of attention of late due to his similarly spellbinding The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s morose fairy tale has lost none of its magic.
Set during the early Franco regime in Spain, del Toro grapples with the weighty themes of autocracy, the patriarchy and guerrilla warfare – whilst still making this very much a film about a young girl’s own journey and exploration of the fantastical.
6. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Often described as the most beautifully shot film of all time, Wong Kar-wai’s romance is indeed a masterclass in vibrant colour and calculated framing. The central pairing of Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung is one of cinema’s greatest on-screen connections – with Leung in particular building upon his similar roles in Wong’s earlier films.
Yet, perhaps most striking of all is in its use of music as a means of narrative repetition. Indeed, the film’s title is itself a musical reference, while Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme” – a perpetual constant throughout the film, usually accompanied with slow-motion interactions between the pair – is as harrowingly beautiful a composition as you’re likely to find.
5. Hot Fuzz (2007)
The follow-up to his equally brilliant Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright’s riotous buddy cop film further showcases the director’s dense knowledge of cinema. Whilst Shaun paid homage to George A. Romero’s horror films, this time Wright draws heavily on action flicks like Point Break and Lethal Weapon. Despite the comic factor, though, these aren’t just spoofs – Wright walks the line perfectly between parody and reverence.
Wright has since crossed the Atlantic to make the mega-American Baby Driver and Ant-Man (in an early treatment). All the best British folks do, but I’ll take Sergeant Angel over Ansel Elgort any day of the week.
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
I was tempted to list the whole trilogy as one entry here, such is their consistency and overall ‘wholeness’. Instead, I’ve gone for what is my current favourite of the three (it tends to fluctuate) – the epic climax that is the final instalment.
Of course, all three films are epic – but Return of the King incredibly still seems to go one further (the extra 20 minutes of runtime can’t hurt). There’s Howard Shore’s rousing score, the ensemble cast which boasts at least 15 stellar performances, the Witch-King… it’s little wonder it won all 11 Oscars it was nominated for.
3. Spirited Away (2001)
The fantasy that seems to transcend animation would also not be the same without it – showcasing the very best of Studio Ghibli’s hand-drawn artistry and phenomenal world-building.
Ghibli films almost exclusively feature lone young girls as their protagonists, and Spirited Away’s Chihiro is the most recognisable and heartening of them all. Her friendships with co-worker Lin and the eight-armed Kamaji are especially comforting, but it’s the unexpected bond with No-Face that seems to have made Spirited Away the iconic and endearing feature it still remains.
2. There Will Be Blood (2007)
A black screen slowly fades into the barren desert of New Mexico – meanwhile, Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral score hits a discordant crescendo. From the very opening seconds of There Will Be Blood, you have the immediate feeling that you’re in the presence of something remarkable. Indeed, it’s an opening that has invoked numerous comparisons with the approach of 2001: A Space Odyssey – but make no mistake, this is its own film.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth feature is an epic unknotting of a ruthlessly unhinged individual – Daniel Day-Lewis’ oil tycoon, Henry Plainview, who embarks on a relentless, violent hunt for land, oil and wealth at the turn of the 20th century. Greenwood’s aforementioned score is sublime, but the film also incorporates Brahms and Arvo Pärt’s sensational “Fratres” to extraordinary effect.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
A lot of people love The Dark Knight, and you’d be hard pushed to find a compelling argument for it not to be the greatest comic book film ever. Yet, it often seems as though the plaudits end here – falling just short of the debate over the ‘greatest films’ full stop.
Perhaps it’s snobbery, but I for one can’t think of a more effectively constructed film that manages to entertain as much as it does encourage profound discussions on deeply significant themes. Whether it’s morality and our blind veneration of ‘heroic’ figures, or just simply the knife-edge chaos of the post-9/11 world we find ourselves living in.
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard build impressively on their score for Batman Begins, while Wally Pfister’s Heat-esque cinematography still remains his finest work. As for the incomparable Heath Ledger, there’s little to say that hasn’t been already – so perhaps just a final note of recognition for what is, unquestionably, the finest performance the medium’s ever seen.