The 20 Best Movies of the 2000s

iStock/danr13 and IFC Films
iStock/danr13 and IFC Films

The world changed in the 2000s, and not just because the years started with “2” now (although that was huge). In movies, the spread of digital technology made filmmaking less expensive than before, resulting in a new batch of young directors entering the playing field. Out in the real world, the events of September 11, 2001, would influence movies for the rest of the decade and beyond. Here are 20 films from 2000 to 2009 that we consider the best of the decade.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

It remains the highest-grossing foreign-language movie in U.S. box office history, and even adjusting for inflation, the highest since at least 1980. Such is the power of Ang Lee's masterful, breathtaking action epic that changed martial arts movies forever and was most Westerners' first introduction to Michelle Yeoh. Timeless romance and flying warriors never blended so well.

2. Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent embedded with a touring rock band didn't turn a profit in its initial release but has since come to be one of the most beloved movies of its kind, with excellent performances by Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and more.

3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

We're cheating by counting three movies as one entry, but Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy was filmed as one giant project, not three separate ones—and besides, it means we don't have LOTR taking up three spots. Aside from being a monumental technical achievement, with special effects that still look good today, it's a rousing spectacle full of weighty themes, inspiring heroes, noble sacrifices, and Viggo Mortensen.

4. Memento (2001)

Before he gained legions of fans with his Batman movies and Inceptions and Dunkirks and whatnot, Christopher Nolan (along with co-writer/brother Jonathan) made Memento, an ingeniously constructed neo-noir about a man with short-term memory loss trying to find his wife's killer—oh, and the movie starts with the final scene and works its way backward. More than a twisty thriller, it's about the tricks our memories play on us and the lies we tell ourselves.

5. The Hours (2002)

Stephen Daldry's story about three women in different eras each impacted by Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway offered brilliant performances by a trio of Hollywood's best actresses: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman (who played Woolf herself and won an Oscar for it). And the rest of the cast: John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, Margo Martindale, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels!

6. Spirited Away (2002)

The fervor with which people love Hayao Miyazaki's imaginative animated films—particularly this one, about a girl who travels to the world of spirits—rivals the passion felt for Disney and Pixar (albeit without the same level of box office success). The inspired, magical weirdness of Spirited Away offers a glimpse at worlds most other animated films never even thought of.

7. About a Boy (2002)

There are movies on this list that are more hoity-toity, but few as breezy, charming, and heartfelt as this comedy about Hugh Grant becoming friends with a bullied kid (Nicholas Hoult) and his mom (Toni Collette). Deceptively simple, it turns rom-com and other clichés on their heads while delivering a frankly beautiful story about connecting with others.

8. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

It wasn't Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, or even DreamWorks that made one of the decade's most visually hilarious animated films, but Frenchman Sylvain Chomet. His gentle yet insane, almost dialogue-free adventure has something amusing or wonderful to look at in every frame—everything from surrealism to caricatures to Looney Tunes-style anarchy.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

A 21st-century love story from the brilliantly sad mind of Charlie Kaufman, directed by the visionary Michel Gondry, in which Jim Carrey seeks to erase his memories of a lost love (Kate Winslet). Visually, it's ingenious; thematically, it's melancholy and insightful (not to mention funny) in its exploration of true love and the persistence of memory.

10. The Incredibles (2004)

Everything Pixar put out in the 2000s could have made this list (except Cars, obviously), but we’re going with Brad Bird’s widescreen action comedy about a family of superheroes. Even without the “animated” qualifier this is one of Hollywood’s best superhero films, with vivid characters, relatable problems, dynamics visuals, and a sly sense of humor.

11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

After writing Lethal Weapon and a handful of other noisy, ludicrous buddy-cop movies, Shane Black made his directorial debut skewering the genre, mocking the very conventions that Black helped create. A pulpy detective story a la Raymond Chandler, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and a post-Batman Val Kilmer yukking it up with a Hollywood mystery and a screenplay full of screwy one-liners.

12. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

In an alternate universe, Ang Lee’s beautifully rendered adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about love between two cowboys won the Oscar for Best Picture and Crash was never spoken of again. In our universe, we have Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s emotional, taciturn performances centering a powerful film that taps into the universal aspects of falling in love.

13. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

More than a decade before he would win Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro dazzled audiences with this lush, dark fairy tale for grown-ups set in fascist Spain. Existing in a world between fantasy and nightmare, Pan’s Labyrinth is morbid, stunning, gorgeous, thematically rich, and chock-full of amazing things to see and consider.

14. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)

We knew at the time that Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian sci-fi thriller—about a woman getting pregnant in a world where no children have been born for 18 years—was technically brilliant and thematically layered. What we couldn’t have known was how prescient its depiction of a society trying to hold onto hope would seem in 2019.

15. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Joel and Ethan Coen have made at least one film in each decade since the 1980s that could reasonably be considered their best, and each of those bests is better than most of the other films released that decade. Such is the case with this Best Picture winner, a perfect marriage of filmmakers and material (Cormac McCarthy’s novel already had Coen-esque touches) that ruminates on fate, luck, and destiny.

16. There Will Be Blood (2007)

It was Citizen Kane for the new century: a sprawling epic about a flawed, wealthy man who lets his own power destroy him, directed by a wunderkind already revered by most of Hollywood. Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano all do some of their best work in the story of a duplicitous oilman who meets his match in the fiery son of a preacher.

17. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

After scoring with screenplays for loopy, melancholy comedies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman directed this one himself and out-weirded everything he’d done before, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director who creates a massive stage production based on his own life. Surrounded by whimsical, surreal details, it’s an unforgettable piece of art about how life can slip away while you’re not looking.

18. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Surely there was no better Hollywood satire in the 2000s than Ben Stiller’s scathing, piercing, merciless mockery of showbiz egos set during a disastrous film shoot in the jungles of Asia. Among the most astonishing achievements: Tom Cruise nearly unrecognizable as a vicious studio exec, and Robert Downey Jr. being in blackface the whole time—and getting away with it.

19. In the Loop (2009)

An extension of the British TV series The Thick of It and predating Veep, this profanely scabrous political satire directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci depicts both English and American politicians as cynical, petty, conniving opportunists. It’s a dismally accurate view but a hilarious one, and the film features the decade’s best, most creative swearing.

20. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Several films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged in the second half of the decade, but this one, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by journalist Mark Boal, is unique in its emotional resonance. Jeremy Renner stars as a bomb technician so numb to the dangers of war that he’s become addicted to it, resulting in a sharp, tight, and suspenseful action drama.

Isaac Hempstead Wright Explains Bran Stark's Intense Staring in Game of Thrones

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

There's always been something off with Brandon Stark's empty stare that we see so often in Game of Thrones. This week, actor Isaac Hempstead Wright explained exactly how he pulls it off.

The 20-year-old went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and shared a few of his experiences from working on the show, including accidentally dropping a spoiler in his math class and the interesting sex ed talk he was forced to have with his mom given his tender age when he began filming the show.

He also talked about his "intense stare"—and his preparation for the role may not be as deep as you think.

"I'm kind of getting good at this sort of intense stare," the star began. "But it's actually aided by the fact that I'm completely blind when I'm on set. I don't have my glasses, and I don't have contact lenses."

"How thick are the glasses?" Kimmel asks him, to which Hempstead Wright replies, "They're not that thick, but I need them to see."

He recalled another time when his vision problems aided his character. In season 7, while filming a scene with Sophie Turner (a.k.a. Sansa Stark), he recalled Turner making a comment along the lines of "Isaac, your stare is like—you're staring into my soul!" to which the actor replied "I can't see you!"

Actors—they're just like us.

Richard Madden Shared a Hilarious Throwback Photo With Game of Thrones Co-Stars Kit Harington and Alfie Allen

Charley Gallay, Getty Images for Netflix
Charley Gallay, Getty Images for Netflix

Richard Madden may not have held the title of King in the North for long on Game of Thrones, but his memories of his time on the series—and the lasting friendships he forged—live on. Madden, who played Robb Stark, was famously killed off in season 3’s penultimate episode, “The Rains of Castamere” (a.k.a. The Red Wedding episode). But he has continued to champion the series, and his former colleagues, in the years since his premature demise. People spotted his latest tribute to his Game of Thrones days: a #TBT Instagram post that serves as a stark (no pun intended) reminder of just how long we’ve all been watching the epic HBO series.

The image features Madden with co-stars Kit Harington and Alfie Allen—each of whom is almost recognizable—after taking a ride on the Wheel of Belfast following their first read-through of Game of Thrones’s pilot episode. Which means that Madden’s caption that the photo is about 10 years old is pretty spot-on; the original pilot episode filmed in Northern Ireland in 2009, which would make all three of the actors about 22 years old at the time.

The show's actors have remained tight even after Madden’s brutal on-screen murder. In June 2018, Madden was a guest at Harington and fellow Game of Thrones co-star Rose Leslie’s wedding. Just a few months later, the 32-year-old actor—who won a Golden Globe earlier this year for his Netflix series The Bodyguard—was there to support his on-screen little sister Maisie Williams when she made her stage debut in I and You at London’s Hampstead Theatre. Which means that Madden might know more than any of us do in terms of how Game of Thrones will end, and could have been on to something when he predicted that ultimately, "[I]t’s just going to be three dragons flying around and everyone else is dead.” Hey, it could happen!

[h/t People]

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