The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

The 100 Best Films of the Aughts


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To tidily summarize a decade in world cinema is to attempt the impossible, yet if there's one overriding theme of Slant's Top 100 of the aughts, it's that despite a mainstream movie culture dedicated to increasingly expensive, techno-enabled infantilism, auteurist artistry and genre craftsmanship remain vital filmmaking avenues. Between the proliferation of cheap digital tools and the rise of non-theatrical distribution channels, small-scale idiosyncratic works have grown in number even as they've been crowded out of the general consciousness by Happy Meal-tie-in tentpole series that have now become the major studios' primary means of revenue generation. Which is to say, James Cameron and Michael Bay are still the real kings of the filmic world, proffering easily digestible large-scale popcorn to a youth-driven mass audience that craves spectacle over all else.

Nonetheless, if box-office coffers begin ringing with the announcement of every subsequent Transformers, our Netflixed society now has options to such big-budgeted cacophony, allowing the most remotely located cinephile access to the legion of groundbreaking filmmakers whose works rarely make a theatrical dent even in New York or L.A. For those interested in seeking out more than the latest CG-ified sound and thunder, directors as diverse as Terrence Malick, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Michael Mann, Wong Kar-wai, Béla Tarr, David Cronenberg, and Gus Van Sant (to name only a scant few) took cinema to unique and exciting unexplored realms, experimenting with the form's marriage of image and sound in ways that push the boundaries of both aesthetics and narrative. Despite the dominant '00s story of franchises-run-amok, it was audacious, inventive artists like these that truly made it a decade worth remembering. Nick Schager


Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky)

A triumph of balls-out B-movie aesthetics, Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream was among the decade's most influential pictures. It was also one of its most divisive—and understandably so. As in the world of Hubert Selby Jr., it wants for our sense of identification before titillatingly, risibly even, inviting our revulsion. With the film, it seemed as if Aronofsky was announcing himself as a kind of kitchen-sink Sirk, and only a person who's never fallen under the spell of substance abuse can fail to relate to the powerful sense of anguish summoned by its high-wire performances (and music)—or fail to see how Aronofsky's cannily and freakishly operatic conflation of the grotesque and beatific constitutes a supreme act of compassion. Ed Gonzalez


Time Out (Laurent Cantet)

Even in the early part of the aughts, the economic state of the world was taking a shift toward the miserable, with unemployment sweeping through the white-collar community like a plague. Existential terror sets in when one realizes how much you define yourself by your job. In Laurent Cantet's Time Out, middle-class office manager Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) has been laid off, and lies to his family about the downsizing while making a daily adventure of hauntingly sterile office buildings, maintaining his impeccable image as a man in a business suit, dutifully reporting to the workplace. His desperate clinging to hollow values builds to a final scene where Vincent, sitting in an office, proclaims, “But I am not afraid.” It's chilling: a man trying to believe the corporate lie. Jeremiah Kipp


Café Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

For his first film outside his native Taiwan, Hou Hsiao-hsien commemorates Yasujirô Ozu's 100th birthday by channeling the Japanese master for this Tokyo-set tale of a young reporter coping with impending pregnancy. Once again charting the essential bond shared by the past and the present, Hou uses his trademark long takes and doorway-framed compositions to delicately convey the tug-of-war constantly waged between the then and now, as well as of time's inexorable forward march, here encapsulated by pensive Ozu-indebted imagery of passing trains. Schager


The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)

A grand concept album about human mortality with a persistent backbeat of hopefulness, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain fulminates, Zeus-like, against the gross inequity of inevitable bodily failure through Hugh Jackman's emo mad scientist, questing to save a beatific Rachel Weisz from her brain cloud. His fist-shaking fury and point-blank denial of reality point the way to religious obscurantism, a path to which this resplendent, secular hymn presents two deceptively grounded alternatives: a narrative in which eternal life is achieved through surviving memory and fiction, and one for those comforted by the body's ultimate transmutation into (and resurrection as) vegetation, then nebulae. Ryan Stewart


Birth (Jonathan Glazer)

Do we fear the 10-year-old boy who claims to be Anna's reincarnated husband with such definitive intensity because of Cameron Bright's spooky chubbiness, the script's refusal to play straight with us, or (the most likely answer) Nicole Kidman's painfully convicting, glassy-eyed and terrified belief? As darkly intimidating as director Jonathan Glazer makes the idea of pithily sentient resurrection, thinking back on the film's horror is mostly a precisely emotive slideshow of Kidman's strenuously controlled, yet invitingly organic, reactions—the way her body trembles and her pupils dilate when the boy tells her things he shouldn't know and then dissolves into the cool, deep shadows of her grimly vintage apartment. Joseph Jon Lanthier


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