With the beginning of a new century came new ideas within the film industry, expanding on the use of rapidly improving technology to create effects more realistic than ever before. Computer animation replaced traditional hand-drawn or model animation as the dominant medium, seen in the rise of franchises such as Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda. However, hand-drawn animation from around the world, such as Japan, gained more mainstream exposure, seen in the popularity of 2001 movie Spirited Away.
Fantasy films were more popular than ever, with franchises such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia all beginning in the early noughties. It seems that after fears of the world ending as calendars changed from 1999 to 2000, (commonly known as the Year 2000 Problem or Y2K bug) consumers desired a filmic retreat into a fantasy world, away from the worries of real life. Similarly, superhero franchises gained more popularity, becoming a mainstream genre.
Foreign films gained a larger American audience, and according to ‘They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’ a website that calculates film reception amongst critics, the most critically acclaimed film of the 2000s was Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), closely followed by the Taiwanese Yi Yi (2000) at number three, and Spirited Away at number five.
The decade’s most popular films were James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), which became the highest-grossing film ever, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), which followed in second and third place as highest-grossing of the decade. However, these films overshadowed lots of brilliant cinema with their overly showy visuals and gimmicky techniques, such as Avatar’s 3D and 4D viewing appeal.
The 10 greatest films of the 2000s:
10. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
The second instalment in the beloved Before trilogy, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Sunset is gloriously simple, yet absolutely incredible. Set nine years after Before Sunrise (1995), the film follows the two characters, Celine and Jesse, as they reunite in Paris. Taking much inspiration from French auteur Eric Rohmer, the pair spend the entirety of the film walking and talking, shot in long takes as they stroll through the warm summer streets of Paris.
The chemistry between the pair is simply heart-warming; they discuss their lives, from politics, to love, to work so naturally that you feel surprised to learn that Hawke and Delpy aren’t in a real relationship outside of filming. The film’s spectacular ending, which features Celine singing a song she wrote about Jesse, is beautifully captivating and arguably one of the 2000s’ most tender movie moments.
9. The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000)
This documentary sees French cinematic icon Agnes Varda explore the word gleaning, and the various forms it can take. Mainly focusing on food scavengers, who glean scraps from bins and fields, Varda interviews an array of people who glean for moral and ethical reasons, and others that see it as a necessity to survive. Whilst doing so, Varda weaves herself, as a filmmaker, into her exploration, comparing her ageing, wrinkled hands with shrivelled potatoes, and filming her greying hair with a handheld camcorder.
Varda becomes a gleaner of images, things, and experiences on her travels across France. The genuine and non-intrusive method of filmmaking from Varda makes The Gleaners and I one of the best documentaries of its time, thoroughly thought-provoking and enjoyable in its entirety. Everyone she speaks to is given much chance to explore whatever it is they have to contribute, from art projects to stories of homelessness. Varda reminds us that she is one of the greatest cinematic minds to have ever graced our screens, excelling as much at documentary-making as she does at narrative film.
8. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
Based on the book of the same name by Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher is an astounding erotic psychological drama that was perfectly executed by Austrian visionary Michael Haneke. The film stars French icon Isabelle Huppert as a piano teacher who starts a sadomasochistic relationship with her pupil, played by Benoît Magimel.
The film is incredibly disturbing, to say the least, as with all of Haneke’s films, yet this stands out due to the incredible “performance of a career” given by Huppert, whose terrifying sadomasochistic acts linger rather unpleasantly in the mind long after watching. Many people dubbed the film one they could never watch again, but that’s what makes it so perfect. Haneke masters the depiction of a horrifying reality that lingers below the surface of everyday life, making it one of the most memorable and astounding films of the decade.
7. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Part of the Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight is the superhero genre at its best, with a career-defining performance by the late Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker, a terrifying mass-murderer, donning smeared white face paint and an unnerving red painted-on smile. Despite many superhero films that gained popularity in the 2000s losing any sense of cinematic integrity to lousy plotlines and gimmicks, The Dark Knight proves that superhero films can also be a work of art.
The film contains a star-studded cast, which includes Christian Bale as Batman, alongside Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman. The Dark Knight reinvigorated the action genre, with flawlessly executed characterisation and attention to detail, as well as a breathtaking score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. By February 2009, the film had grossed over $1 billion, an incredibly impressive feat.
6. Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003)
Very few films have captured isolation and loneliness like Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a recent college graduate who spends much time alone in Tokyo while her husband works as a photographer, and Bill Murray as a fading movie star who arrives in Japan to film whisky commercials. The characters face feelings of disorientation and uncertainty as they grapple with where they are in their lives, forming a connection with each other, which critics have labelled as an atypical portrayal of romance.
Featuring gloomy shots of the big city enveloping the characters in their loneliness, the film is visually stunning, translating the melancholic feeling the characters experience directly to the film. Coppola’s choice of music to accompany these scenes are perfect – the shoegaze and dream-pop influenced soundtrack features many tracks by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, as well as pieces by Air, Squarepusher, and Death in Vegas. Undoubtedly a film that sticks with you for a lifetime, after almost twenty years, Coppola’s second film still remains one of her greatest.
5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)
Wong Kar Wai is arguably the biggest name in Hong Kong cinema, consistently creating distinctive and deeply touching explorations of isolation and love, leading him to be considered a modern-day auteur. In the Mood for Love was the directors’ seventh film, and definitely his best to date. Starring the incredible Maggie Cheung as Su Li-zhen, and Tony Leung as Chow Mo-wan, the film depicts the relationship the two form after discovering that their spouses are having an affair with each other.
Often bathed in gorgeous warm yellows and reds, In the Mood for Love has such a memorable atmosphere to it that only emphasises the unforgettably emotive performances given. Rolling Stone labelled the film as “alive with delicacy and feeling,” a sentiment that is echoed in Wong’s gentle depiction of the couple’s blossoming relationship that is a simply sublime piece of cinema.
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
For 19 years, the Studio Ghibli produced Spirited Away was Japan’s highest-grossing film, earning $13.1 million in just three days upon release. The film, which centres around a ten-year-old girl, Chihiro, who finds herself transported to a realm of spirits, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003, making it the only non-English language film to win the award.
Despite the film’s themes of traditional Japanese culture and the criticism of Western consumerism, Spirited Away found itself a worldwide audience, of both children and adults alike. The film’s universal themes of resilience and bravery, paired with stunning hand-drawn animation, made the film widely popular, heralded by critics as the greatest animated movie ever made. For the first time, animation was being taken seriously as an art form that could be seriously appreciated by adults.
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 epic drama, There Will Be Blood, set during the Southern California oil boom at the turn of the 19th century, is undoubtedly one of the decades most memorable films. The film explores capitalism, greed, obsession, power, religion, and America – to name a few. There Will Be Blood explodes with destruction and rage, with Day-Lewis and Dano providing spine-chilling performances.
The film’s gorgeously shot and Oscar-winning cinematography, carried out by Robert Elswit, paired with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood in charge of the score, elevated Anderson’s directing to new levels. There Will Be Blood earnt Day-Lewis countless awards for his performance, including an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Actor. The film undeniably cements Anderson as one of cinema’s modern masters; an outstanding highlight of his incredible filmography.
2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Arguably the king of surrealist cinema, David Lynch delivered one of his finest works in 2001 with the neo-noir mystery masterpiece Mulholland Drive. Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Justin Theroux, the film follows aspiring actress Betty (Watts) as she helps amnesiac Rita (Harring), who has suffered a car accident and ended up in Betty’s aunt’s house, discover who she is. The film is as complicated to figure out as it is beautiful, with striking performances from every cast member, however, Mulholland Drive is where Naomi Watts truly shines best.
The film is deeply emotional, terrifying, and mesmerising, featuring a memorable performance by Rebekah Del Rio, who sings Roy Orbison’s Crying in Spanish at Club Silencio, before collapsing on stage. Lynch demonstrates the power of music like no other, eliciting tears from Rita and Betty in the audience, who looks as though she is having a seizure. Much can be theorized about what the film all means, but what is for certain is the film’s status as one of the greatest of not only its decade, but of all time.
1. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
Amélie is the ultimate whimsical Parisian fantasy, featuring eccentric yet loveable characters and a distinctive green and red colour palette. The film follows the innocent title character, played wonderfully by Audrey Tatou, as she sets out to silently change the course of people’s lives for the better. After a relatively isolated, and somewhat traumatic, childhood, Amelie moves to Paris and is demonstrated to be attentive and observant, an enjoyer of the little things, such as collecting stones to later skim.
Over the course of the film, Amelie gets revenge on the greengrocer that makes fun of his disabled colleague, befriends a man that stays inside for fear of breaking his brittle bones, and even plays matchmaker for an obsessive café customer and a hypochondriac. Yet, when she realises that she is neglecting her own life, she takes it decisively into her own hands, determined to get her childhood crush Nino to reciprocate her feelings. The film presents an enchanting depiction of Paris; it is an equally perfect mix of heart-warming and humorous.