“Essential” has different meanings for different people, but at least it is not as concretized as the term “best.” Compiling a list of the “best” of anything, especially movies, seems a bit on the self-serving side since even film critics who get paid to sit through the worst possible schlock don’t get around to seeing every single film released. Cracks occur and objects slip through them. For this reason, Jason Cangialosi and I studiously avoided loading this collaborative experiment with the baggage that comes with announcing to the world that by reading our respective articles you would somehow be exposing yourself to a definitive list of the very cream of the crop of films released in the first decade of the 21st Century.
“Essential” carries its own baggage, of course, not the least an untoward communion with a certain weekend airing on Turner Classic Movies. Keep in mind, however, that both Jason and I have written extensively on film and whether you agree with what we have said in the past or will say in the future, we earned our right to voice an opinion that we consider intellectually engaged and discerning. In other words, neither of us are Rose McGowan when it comes to speaking about the art of film, so you can rest assured that we actually do know something about which we are talking.
Our methodology was simply to narrow down the list to 10 films that excluded both documentaries and animation because we have plans to tackle both those genres in the future. We further decided to split the 10 essential films we chose between us so that I would offer a more analytical take on five of them and Jason would offer a personal take. And vice versa. In other words, on this page you will find all 10 films that made our list but all from an analytical perspective. To discover what a more personal perspective reads like, please follow this link to Jason Cangialosi’s half of this two-part article.
Amelie(by Timothy Sexton)
Anyone who loved the slightly Brechtian style of the sorely missed and utterly lamented ABC series Pushing Daisies will feel right at home in the world of Amelie. The whimsical surreal touches that paint the palette of this artsy story will raise the hackles of those insistent on Hollywood’s deranged commitment to deadening realism, but for those looking to escape the unbearable lightness of naturalism, Amelie arrives to raise the dead.
A Tale of Two Sisters (by Jason Cangialosi)
Emotional depth within dynamic, surreal horror is what inspires American remakes of Korean and Japanese horror, yet always fails immensely. This film sums up that phenomena, Kim Ji-woon’s masterful 2003 Korean film was hacked to pieces by the American remake The Uninvited.
Donnie Darko (by Timothy Sexton)
Donnie Darko is made coherent the first time around by paying close attention to how songs like “The Killing Moon” and “Head Over Heels” underscore both the narrative thrust and emotional core at the center of the scenes in which they are used. All the explanation and clarification of time travel narrative that strips away the mystery in the Director’s Cut are unnecessary if you pay attention to how the songs are integrated into the narrative.
The Host (by Jason Cangialosi)
This smorgasbord of cinematic emotion from Bong Jo-ho is Korea’s highest grossing film. It raised the bar for monster movies, with a creature both viscerally thrilling and symbolically invigorating. The Host‘ssatirically balanced suspense and subtle CGI quiver is intellectual brain candy. JC’s article on The Host
Let the Right One in (by Timothy Sexton)
A little lesson in filmmaking for the folks responsible for Twilight. Here is a movie that doesn’t romanticize the brutal and ugly business of depending on a steady supply of fresh blood for your survival. Along the way, vampirism is also turned into a metaphor for how the strong dominate the weak in daytime society.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (by Jason Cangialosi)
Lush, sepia-tinted hills and finger-lickin folk music ice the cake of the most imaginative reinterpretation of Homer’s Odyssey. Directing an irresistible troupe, the Coen brothers struck an unlikely vein of Americana as we entered the futuristic promise of 2000; showing classics will prevail.
Oldboy (by Timothy Sexton)
Movies that gradually unveil important revelations can do so clumsily like The Sixth Sense or seductively like The English Patient. Oldboy does not cheat its audience by framing its information untruthfully like The Sixth Sense; it is an entirely seductive film that continually offers a little bit more information every 20 minutes or so until the horrific truth becomes literally impossible to escape.
Slumdog Millionaire (by Timothy Sexton)
At the heart of this emotionally engaging film is the simple yet somehow radical notion that knowledge cannot be ripped from experience. The symbiotic relationship between what you experience and what you know is instrumental in the ultimate goal of making you who you are. Some politicians seem to be either unaware of this concept or so familiar with it that they base their entire ideology on obstructing what is allowed to be experienced.
Syriana (by Jason Cangialosi)
A powerhouse cast, painted by the light of cinematographer Robert Elswit, conducted by Tim Squyres brilliantly schizophrenic editing. Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana is the film America had coming in 2006; a beautified dose of reality about petroleum, fueling our naive intrigue into the ambiguity of interconnectedness we needed to realize. JC’s article on Syriana
There Will Be Blood (by Jason Cangialosi)
Daniel Day Lewis’s brought his milkshake to this Upton Sinclair inspired film, and Oscars like ‘its better than yours.’ Beyond Lewis’s tour de force, P.T. Anderson’s well-oiled cinematic machine gushes as a collaborative work of genius with Robert Elswit’s cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s score. JC’s article on There Will be Blood
Other movies from the first decade of the 21st Century that I strongly encourage you to see: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Nacho Libre, Infernal Affairs, Happy Birthday Harris Malden, Bubble Boy, Gone Baby Gone, Joint Security Area, Atonement and Memories of Murder.