With much celebrated and hated in the first decade of the 21st Century, cinema was no less rewarding. Compiling a “Best of” or “Top Ten” list is near impossible with a richly diverse decade of films. Now, before you go lambasting Mr. Sexton and I for attempting this, keep in mind it is a retrospective of 10 “essential” films. These 10 films are by no means the absolute best of the decade, but 10 films to be celebrated for bringing truly original visions to cinema.
We’ve purposefully omitted documentary films and the treasure of animated films released between 2000 and 2009, because they deserve lists all their own. There are some common threads here; such as South Korea, George Clooney and elevating the horror genre to the top-shelf, but these films run the gamut. Everyone has their own 10 favorites of the decade, but this list was developed with much scrutiny by two highly informed critics. Most of all we see these films as an advancement of cinema into the 21st century by re-imagining classical storytelling, innovating the medium and raising the bar for filmmakers in the coming century.
On this page you will find 10 films that made our list from a personal perspective by the authors. To discover a more analytical perspective of the films please follow this link to Timothy Sexton’s half of this two-part article.
Amelie(by Jason Cangialosi)
2001. Written and Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Starring Audrey Tautou. A cinematic lesson that love does not conquer all, but it does propel the mysteries of the universe. Everything is perfect in this film for me and I can take tremendous pleasure from all its inner workings with each viewing. Love, sex, the mind, loneliness and the ridicule that results from these human tendencies all intertwine in the eyes of Amelie.
A Tale of Two Sisters (by Timothy Sexton)
2003. Written and Directed by Kim Ji-woon, Starring Im Soo Jung. I learned that the creepy girl with the long straggly black hair in The Ring was not just a cinematic invention that every Asian horror film seems to copy. The continual reappearance of this onryo character is as much a part of Asian mythos as the vampire in Western culture. The onryo in Two Sisters is the creepiest of them all.
Donnie Darko (by Jason Cangialosi)
2001. Written and Directed by Richard Kelly, Starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Seeing The Matrix in 1999 renewed my faith that filmmakers could produce blockbuster quality films and still stimulate philosophical ideas. Then the 21st century birthed Donnie Darko and topped it ten-fold. Yet, the box office agreed with me on the latter, but without Darko’s cult fans the film was lost within its own time warping existence.
The Host (by Timothy Sexton)
2006. Directed and Co-written by Bong Joon-ho, starring Song Kang-ho. I learned that the most exciting movies being made in the 21st century were being made in Korea by watching The Host. This film set me on a personal mission to find out more about this national cinema. The best monster movie of all time led me to the best serial killer movie of all time: Memories of Murder. Directed by the same man, yet! Check out Tim’s full review of The Host, as well as my own review.
Let the Right One in (by Jason Cangialosi)
2008. Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Centuries old cure for bullies; let a vampire child into your life, not your neck. This award winning piece of Swedish perfection is proof to me that authors should adapt their own novels into screenplays, as John Ajvide Lindqvist did here with grace and complexity. Read Tim’s full review of Let the Right One In
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (by Timothy Sexton)
2000. Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, Starring George Clooney. Or, ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love George Clooney’. The value of this Coen Brothers film for me personally was that it unclouded my mind toward Mr. Clooney and thereby allowed me to embrace films as diverse as Syriana and The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Oldboy (by Jason Cangialosi)
2003. Directed and Co-written by Park Chan-wook, Starring Choi Min-sik. This cinematic masterpiece has convinced me that Asian film directors have more in common with Shakespeare than all of his European offshoots. I was visually paralyzed for 120 minutes by Park Chan-wook’s direction, unable to blink no matter how horrific it got, both literally and symbolically. Read Tim’s full review of Oldboy.
Slumdog Millionaire (by Jason Cangialosi)
2008. Directed by Danny Boyle and Written by Simon Beaufoy. Danny Boyle always had a knack for creating a diverse mesh of stylistically cool films that reached into the warmest strengths of humanity. This was his pinnacle; Slumdog pounced off the screen at me like a diplomat of cross-cultural globalization and the universality of love and determination.
Syriana (by Timothy Sexton)
2005. Written and Directed by Stephen Gaghan, Starring George Clooney. The war in Iraq was a private business endeavor conducted by the President of the United States and sold on a mission statement of lies. Branded as too complex by movie reviewers paid by conglomerates owned by conservative business interests, the reality is that Syriana makes the complex relationship between the oil industry and American political interest in the Middle East all too easy to understand. Therein lies its true fault. We both have full reviews of Syriana; Tim’s here and Jason’s here
There Will Be Blood (by Timothy Sexton)
2007. Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Christianity and unbridled capitalism began as antagonists since they shared little in terms of ideology. The warning that there will be blood refers to the outcome of the future resolution of the conflict between religion and commerce in America, and casts a shameful finger at religion for abandoning its Christ-centered ideals in order to take an active role in helping camels get through eye needles and rich men into heaven. The most powerful American film of the decade dares to suggest that when the defenders of Jesus Christ make a pact with the devil, that devil won’t take the shape of a bearded snake in the desert. The devil wears not only Prada, but Brooks Brothers suits and Rolex watches. There will be blood when the two most important forces in American history finally sit down to share a milkshake, and the Eli Sundays of America have just as much of that blood on their hands as the Daniel Plainviews. (Didn’t get enough? Read our full reviews, Tim’s here and Jason’s here
If you haven’t already go read Timothy Sexton’s half of the article: A Cinematic Retrospective: 10 Essential Films
Jason Cangialosi’s other notable mentions: 28 Days, 3-Iron, City of God, District 9, Ink, In the Mood for Love, Into the Wild, Momento, The Motorcycle Diaries, Napoleon Dynamite, Nowhere in Africa, Once, Pan’s Labyrinth, Requiem for Dream, and V for Vendetta.