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The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

Auteurist artistry and genre craftsmanship remain vital filmmaking avenues throughout the decade.

The 100 Best Films of the Aughts
Photo: Warner Bros.

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 tent-pole 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



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

100. 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



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

99. 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



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

98. 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 100 Best Films of the Aughts

97. 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



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

96. 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



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

95. Little Otik (Jan Svankmajer)

Recalling Terry Gilliam’s fairy-tale phantasmagoria by way of It’s Alive, Jan Svankmajer evokes a culture’s icky sexual subconscious through the eyes of a precocious girl, Alzbetka, who asks inappropriate questions during dinner and snoops on the neighbors, an infertile couple who out of desperation carve a wooden baby and treat it as their own offspring. Alzbeta’s vivid imagination seemingly portends every impending disaster that befalls the couple, but Svankmajer suggests that she, unlike her repressed parents, is keenly aware of and even fascinated by all the sick shit that goes on around her. When Otik comes to life and starts eating the building’s tenants, she takes matters into her own hands, and Svankmajer makes delirious use of bloodletting—a gruesome satire of society’s mores bursting at the seems. Paul Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

94. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)

By now, Werner Herzog’s doom-laden pronouncements intoned in his heavy Germanic drawl have become something of a stale trademark, but before the filmmaker’s persona started to harden into shtick, it had its fullest flowering in 2005’s Grizzly Man. Juxtaposing his own view of a malevolent nature with the far more optimistic philosophy of the film’s bear-loving subject, Herzog draws on the video footage left behind by the late Timothy Treadwell during his sojourn in the grizzly habitats of remote Alaska to reflect on not only the moral orientation of the universe, but the art of the filmmaker as well. Andrew Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

93. House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou)

Hyper-hypnotic with intoxication to spare, House of Flying Daggers is a ravishing martial arts melodrama with a mythic/political slant. It’s also seriously fucking cool. The almost overwhelming visual heft suggests a silent film (though music, like the sounds relied upon by a sword-savvy blind girl, is key), with each inspired set piece a spellbinding evocation of allegiances in combat (for self, for love, for country), while emotionally color-coded templates are used to simple yet profound effect. From the poetic swooshes of blood to the way CG snowflakes tickle the frame, every detail is a wonder. Rob Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

92. Forty Shades of Blue (Ira Sachs)

Set against the backdrop of the Nashville music scene, this slow burn of a movie centers on a Russian trophy wife named Laura (Dina Korzun), who remains emotionally dormant as she struggles with her raucous good-old-boy producer husband (Rip Torn). Korzun’s glacial performance reveals surprising depth; a character we might initially write off as unknowable slowly draws us in. For all the joyous country music, filmmaker Ira Sachs created a film like the surface of an icy lake, with chilling depths underneath. The final shot of Laura walking away from a glaring pair of headlights is either an act of empowerment or a refusal to accept a life of hell. Either way, it haunts and resonates. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

91. Intimacy (Patrice Chéreau)

The unnerving eroticism and visual precision of Patrice Chéreau’s pictures pegged the filmmaker early on as a kindred spirit of the great Bernardo Bertolucci. Indeed, not since Last Tango in Paris has a film so fiercely elaborated on the fine and fiery line between desire and obsession. A grubbily grandiose tapestry of discordant gazes, furious clawings, and other furtive appeals for affection, Intimacy’s genius derives not only from its alternately tantalizing and gloomy sexual primalism, but also from its unspokenness: Every gesture Claire (Kerry Fox) and Jay (Mark Rylance, in one of the decade’s great performances) exchange in the film becomes a profound indication of their most desperate and pained desires. To these actors, like Chéreau, sex becomes like theater: lived-in, improvisatory performance art. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

90. Revanche (Götz Spielmann)

A self-reliant codger intent on conserving his remaining energy contrasts with a younger foursome squandering theirs on misdirected passions and poisonous emotions in this somber ethics rumination in daylight-noir trappings. His would-be robbery career disastrously scotched on job one, Alex (Johannes Krisch) retreats to his grandfather’s farm, where a woodpile becomes a conduit for grief, regret, and rage at a perceived victimizer tantalizingly nearby, while a mournful cop and his unfulfilled wife trod their own emotional minefield and a web of unacknowledged connections draws taut. Justice is a fool’s preoccupation in Götz Spielmann’s morally serious domain, and revanche a road to ruin. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

89. Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau)

“I love her as a collector does his most prized item,” reflects haute bourgeois Jean Hervey of his eponymous wife, but his smug inner monologue is shattered when he discovers a letter announcing Gabrielle’s departure. A failure of nerve precipitates her return and the rest of Patrice Chéreau’s richly novelistic, late 19th-century-set film unfolds as a series of densely rendered dialogues which chart the inevitable displacements and epistemological gaps inherent in the power structures of upper-middle-class life. In one of his last articles, Robin Wood wrote that Gabrielle “is so much more…than a period movie about a marital breakup,” and in its precise rendering of a specific social milieu, Chéreau’s film extends beyond its constricted setting to expose an entire set of cultural assumptions. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

88. Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili)

Dover Kosashvili’s first feature is a scathing critique of a culture’s marriage rites and the psychological harm it inflicts. The 31-year-old Israeli son of Georgian Jewish parents, Zaza slyly eludes his parents’ attempts to arrange a marriage between him and a proper suitor (rich, young, doting), meanwhile secretly dating a 34-year-old divorcée named Judith on the side. Kosashvili understands that Zaza’s life lacks real tragic structure, and he mercifully avoids the solipsism of Eytan Fox’s The Bubble, instead using barbs to poke fun at absurd cultural norms; near the end, Zaza pays his family heritage a backhanded compliment by kissing his father on the crotch. The director doesn’t pull any punches, but the ease he shows is remarkable, especially in a sex scene between Zaza and Judith, which might be the closest cinematic approximation to what it’s like to fuck somebody you love. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

87. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)

With its poignant belief in salvation through canine camaraderie and its unwavering attention to the dollar sum separating an embattled, Alaska-bound drifter from destitution, Wendy and Lucy provides an American neorealist movement its Umberto D., one versed in the native self-justifications that stop us extending a hand to our neighbors. Drabbed by hiker garb and boy hair, Michelle Williams vanishes behind her unlucky loner, whose self-identification as the only caregiver of her dependent—dog Lucy—is humiliatingly tested when fate maroons her in a strip-mall hinterland. With this unadorned personal crisis drama, Kelly Reichardt creates an arousal to advocacy documentarians should envy. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

86. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)

Beyond its fanciful hook of medical technicians-for-hire that wipe out memories of a lost love (“technically, brain damage”), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind serves up some of the ugliest lovers’ quarrels in the annals of romantic comedy. Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’s original, moving fable hinges on a high-maintenance couple, Jim Carrey’s introverted artist and Kate Winslet’s “fucked-up girl looking for (her) own peace of mind,” who meet cute for the first time, twice, before and after breaking up and having each other expunged from their cerebral cortices. Romance is ultimately hard, tearful work. “What do we do?” “Enjoy it.” Bill Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

85. Big Fish (Tim Burton)

For the first time since Danny DeVito’s Penguin shed a tear for the parents who abandoned him in a sewer at the beginning of Batman Returns, Tim Burton connects his outsize set design to an enormous depth of feeling, a magical-realist costume party that is also profoundly rooted in the fraught relationship between fathers and sons. Big Fish unspools in circles, suggesting not only that the truth is slippery, but that stories are more fun when they’re harder to pin down. An aging patriarch tells his family tall tales about his travels through American history as a young man (catching the biggest catfish in the world, befriending a giant). No one is sure when he’s honest and when he’s fibbing, least of all his pragmatic son, but there’s much more at stake in Burton’s ravishing compositions, which at once recognize the debt we owe our forbearers and one man’s deep, abiding love for his country. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

84. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov)

Is it merely enough to expand the parameters of cinematic language, and not just the form? In other words, would it have merely been enough for director Aleksandr Sokurov and cinematographer Tilman Büttner to simply hit the “record” button before taking a stroll through a dog park in St. Petersburg? Maybe, and I’m sure I’d still watch, but duration and ambition are in this case conduits, not vessels. (Want an example of the flip? Suffer Mike Figgis’s Time Code.) Sokurov’s synchronous, one-shot tour through the Hermitage Museum and Russian history argues on behalf of retaining your cultural connection with exactingly choreographed history. Eric Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

83. Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas)

Olivier Assayas’s pet themes on everything post-Y2K, from globalization to digital lust, are a difficult pill to swallow, but few other directors commit themselves to their projects so fully or deliver such a visceral punch. Assayas finds a kinky soul mate in Asia Argento, who so single-mindedly embodies her role as a slutty drug-runner caught in a web of deception, you feel compelled to watch just to make sure she doesn’t implode. Assayas’s typically booby-trapped plot jumps from Paris to Hong Kong as frantically and hypnotically as his camera passes through hallways, making it almost impossible to know what’s going on at any given moment. But the details are less important than the game Assayas is playing—a sinuous sexual power play in which characters are treated like stocks bought and sold on the market. Argento is only too happy to oblige. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

82. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)

“You can’t be on both teams at once,” a chambermaid tells an American interloper in Robert Altman’s exhilarating Gosford Park, set at a 1932 English country house where the history of upstairs-downstairs relations undermines a weekend pheasant shoot and prompts the host’s murder. Confused with “light” entertainment because of its rich humor, this satire of the aristocratic instinct to toss the emotions (and offspring) of menials on the scrap heap doesn’t stint on laughs, sublime set pieces—as when the servants surreptitiously listen to a famous guest croon at the piano—or reminders of its transatlantic cast’s wit and versatility. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

81. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)

From Monsters, Inc. through Up, Pixar’s formula throughout the decade remained nailed down, on point, and irresistible to children, parents and critics alike. (Even their biggest misfire, Cars, was still embraced as a reasonably entertaining Tex Avery knockoff.) But none of their movies hit the sweet spot quite as majestically as 2008’s galactic ecology fable, a secular Left Behind in which a button-cute robot janitor enamored by Jerry Herman showtunes and a hair-triggered lady iPod learns to value others’ prime directives. And, unlike the soda-irrigating retards of Idiocracy, learns how to keep a sprig alive. Call it Children of Men, for Children. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

80. Mission to Mars (Brian De Palma)

An argumentative line in the sand for what cinema means, Mission to Mars might be the greatest ‘50s sci-fi film ever, even if came half a century late. 2001 by way of irony-deprived B-movie euphoria, this wide-eyed space odyssey subverts big budget expectations with bigger feelings, actively and eagerly engaging one with expressionist emotion. Like Kubrick’s masterpiece, Mars takes comfort in the probability of life elsewhere but more profoundly does it appreciate what human life means to itself. The film ponders and posits, elevating those thoughts to religious wonder. Where did we come from? We may never know, but we can always dance the night away. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

79. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Perhaps the most substantive American movie about Judaism since Enemies: A Love Story, the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man approximates the arc of the Book of Job (sans God’s climactic intervention) in burdening a mid-1960s Minneapolis physics professor with all manner of marital, professional, and familial tsuris, to which he and his equally cursed genius brother can only plead, “I haven’t done anything.” Some critics have mistaken the Coens’ blackly comic take on existential mysteries as a byproduct of anti-Semitism or their past dalliances with misanthropy; heeding the guileless junior rabbi, they need to “just look at that parking lot!” Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

78. The Hurt locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

In retrospect, only a filmmaker with balls as big as Kathryn Bigelow’s was really equipped to tackle the Iraq War, to translate both the tremendous psychological fallout and the bang-’em-up chaos of IEDs exploding around every corner. If the reason soldiers so often watch war movies is not as some huh-rah jingoistic pep rally, but rather because they feel like they can connect with what’s happening on screen, then The Hurt Locker is certainly a soldier’s war movie—one that takes pains to recreate the experience of having been there. But by combining documentary-like veracity with Hollywood suspense, Bigelow also presents the audience with a moral dilemma: How can war be this harrowing and this compulsively watchable? Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

77. L’Intrus (Claire Denis)

More than virtually any other modern filmmaker, Claire Denis is bent on distilling cinema to tactile sensation and instinctual imagery. Her search for the ultimate fugue reaches a zenith in this ravishingly discordant cine-riddle, a sustained moment of mysterious exaltation between palpable flesh and unknowable psyche. Eschewing narrative strictures, Denis and her great cinematographer Agnes Godard unleash a procession of ripped-from-the-unconscious moments—ranging from the hypnotic sway of the South Seas to the magnificent vision of a fur-swathed Béatrice Dalle roaring at the camera—that suggest sensuous, scary new ways of seeing. The effect is not unlike that of a fever, but one from which intrepid cinephiles might hope not to recover. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

76. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón)

Extrapolating homeland-security paranoia and the Terror Decade excesses of the Bush-Blair coalition into a worst-case dystopia, Children of Men freely spins P.D. James’s much stodgier literary fable into a digitally tricked-out thriller of an infertile Earth in 2027. Playing a disillusioned burnout in the Bogart mold, Clive Owen finds himself tasked with guiding the first pregnant woman in 20 years, a young “fugee,” through the obstacle course of an authoritarian Britain, presumably the last Western power left standing. Alfonso Cuarón directed with the facility for jolting high-tech action and pointed references to Abu Ghraib and 9/11 that were underlaid with anguish. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

75. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke)

How to give cinematic life to the utter surreality of China’s Three Gorges Dam initiative, a project that resulted in the displacement of a million and a half people from their homes? If you’re Jia Zhang-ke, you supplement your trademark location-immersive aesthetic with left-field touches (a building launching off into space, a tightrope walker plying his trade amid the rubble) that transform the setting into something resembling a sci-fi landscape. As the film follows a demolition worker and a woman searching for her lost husband, Jia mines the complex interplay of the personal and the political, crafting one of his richest examinations of his country’s willful obliteration of its own past. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

74. Zodiac (David Fincher)

Working from San Francisco’s famously unresolved Zodiac serial murders, David Fincher’s ‘70s-set epic pays lip service to genre suspense while focusing its true, rigorous gaze on the self-destructiveness of obsession-run-wild, the multifaceted influence of media (and cinema) on society, and the problematic search for irrefutable knowledge. Weaving a sprawling tapestry of facts and figures that lead only to further questions and gnawing uncertainties, Fincher’s film views the dawning information age with skepticism, even as its striking digital cinematography and deft computerized flourishes embrace the very modernity that typified his story’s deadly, press-exploiting killer. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

73. The Pledge (Sean Penn))

Somewhere in the barren, dirt-blown hills of Nevada, Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is still guarding a vacant lot and a landscape of tundratic memories with perversely rigid somnambulism, just as he was at the denouement of Sean Penn’s The Pledge. It’s hard to say, as the years listlessly drift past, what precisely snapped him: Was it the masculinity-combusting shame of having very nearly made the same mistake twice, even with his law enforcement instincts? Was it the blinding grief of having sacrificed a warm, willing hearth of a body for a slim chance? Was it Chris Menges’s burnt-toned deserts that seem to be squeezing the sweat out of the milieu and its inhabitants? Or was it the teasingly cold, hard evidence of a handful of miniature porcupines with a payoff only visible to God? Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

72. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies)

Adapting Edith Wharton’s novel for the screen, Terence Davies creates a period drama that’s every bit as rhapsodic and devastating as his queer autobiographical remembrances. Indeed, as the heroine (a splendid Gilliam Anderson) moves through visually exquisite yet spiritually suffocating tableaux, the genteel high-society 1905 New York is gradually revealed to be just as brutal as the working-class British tenements of the filmmaker’s childhood. Davies depicts a woman’s downfall and society’s games with the unsentimental precision and spectral grace of one of Max Ophüls’s carousels; passion throbs under the film’s corseted surfaces. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

71. Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette)

Next to Rachel Getting Married, perhaps no other film more tellingly exposed the cynicism—the wariness of earnestness and emotional boisterousness—that hijacked film criticism in the aughts. Like a person who divulges too much information on the first date, Jonathan Caouette may be self-pitying, but his uncomfortable frankness bravely attests to the pleasures and pains of both his life and that of his mother, who was subjected to electroshock treatment when she was younger. Using photographs, old home movies, short films, and pop-cultural artifacts from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Caouette spliced together the images of his life using split-screen and recoloring effects, creating a kaleidoscopic found-art project that creepily conveys how the human mind, in our multimedia age, processes thought and conveys feeling. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

70. Audition (Takashi Miike)

For a while, this nasty little offering from Japanese shockmeister Takashi Miike resembles a slightly misogynistic, deadpan comedy, as a film producer mourning the loss of his wife holds auditions for a fake movie in order to find a girlfriend. The new girl is a former ballet dancer, now a seemingly docile wounded bird and quiet object of his affection. The nightmare scenario creeps up on us when we see that obsessive love is never pretty, safe, or easy, and the traditional role of the woman gets flipped when pins and needles, piano wire, and an evening of bloodletting, take the battle of the sexes into the subterranean territory of extreme body horror. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

69. Last Days (Gus Van Sant)

The culminating final chapter in Gus Van Sant’s Trilogy of Death is a haunting dirge whose timbre remains sublimely attuned to the anguished romanticism of its source of inspiration, the late Kurt Cobain. Envisioned as an aching fallen angel who appears to be disintegrating before our eyes, the grunge martyr wanders through an impressionistic landscape that’s both primeval garden and paradise lost, seeking the consummation of the death-as-liberation impulse that seemed to permeate his art. Closer to Sokurov’s Mother and Son than to the average biopic, it’s a work of thematic obsession and aesthetic purity. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

68. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel)

Just as her earlier masterpiece The Holy Girl mimicked the dampened cadences of an arid love story while depicting acts of statutory frotteurism, Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman is a socially resonant, Roman Polanski-style psychological thriller sans actual thrills. In the title role, María Onetto streaks across the movie’s moral-economic landscapes with ferociously elitist, gratuitously over-imaginative guilt—her vehicular carelessness is both a distant allegory of class nervousness and the most gut-torking plot device of the last cinematic year. Under Martel’s steady, shrewdly observatory gaze, we’re both in the thick of, and innocent bystanders to, a fetid downward spiral. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

67. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-Liang)

That’s all, folks. Game over. Last one out, please hit the lights, lock the doors, and toss the buckets of rainwater. Tsai Ming-liang’s characteristically damp movie-house ghost story is a loving memento mori to cinema itself. A single-screen movie house in Taipei rolls off its presumably final screening ever to a spare and largely preoccupied handful of viewers. The King Hu wuxia enthralls only those old enough to have starred in it, or those young enough to find the whole concept quaint and otherworldly. Everyone else stumbles into the darkness, missing connections, shelling phantasmagorical peanuts, seeking ass, indifferent to the passing of an era. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

66. Julia (Erick Zonca)

Built around a stunningly forceful performance by Tilda Swinton as the eponymous booze-and-sex queen, Julia is a heady dose of inspired wonkiness, following our downwardly spiraling heroine as she perpetrates a harebrained kidnapping scheme, effects a border crossing with the feds in hot pursuit, and becomes involved in a second kidnapping, this time perpetrated by Mexican gangsters. The result is an odd and oddly satisfying mix, a sharply observed character study—with Swinton embodying the recognizable tics of a very credible, if possibly insane, individual—crossed with a wonderfully loony thriller narrative that quickly dispenses with plausibility in favor of a round of giddy thrills. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

65. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier)

The film that won Lars von Trier his precious Palme d’Or but lost him the respect of many highbrow critics and certainly his leading lady. Dancer in the Dark may be a dog-eared provocation, lacking both the psychosexual rawness of Breaking the Waves and the seamless rage of Dogville. And the conceit of shooting each musical sequence with more than 100 fixed digital video cameras and editing from the resulting footage resulted in, at best, ungainly asymmetry. But there but by the grace of Von goes Björk, who, between sessions spent gnawing away at her costumes, delivered not just one of the most violently unhappy performances in movie history, but also the finest song score of our era. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

64. Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola)

A sly critique of today’s frazzled, easily distracted youth, Sofia Coppola’s third film appropriates the biography of a doomed French royal for its story of a teen queen’s dawning, imperiled maturity. Stylistically modern in all but its period accoutrements, Marie Antoinette interprets its powdered bee-hived heroine’s “problem of leisure” (so phrased by Gang of Four over hot-pink titles) as one of lifestyle addiction, preventing her from meaningful self-assertions that could lead to utilization of her inert political power and maybe save her neck. With shots held past their natural cut and space carved for Petit Trianon’s clarifying serenity, Coppola solidifies a case for preserving intellectual breathing room. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

63. Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho)

As with David Fincher’s Zodiac, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho’s second feature is a taut policier wrought with anguish and hopelessness over the difficulty, if not impossibility, of attaining truth. Colored by its 1986 Chun-dictatorship timeframe, which proves the root source of both police and criminal misconduct, Bong’s film is packaged as a serial-killer genre exercise but also operates as an investigation into the relationship between country and citizen, and the ultimate inability to fully attain what one seeks. Futility has rarely been rendered as thrillingly, and despairingly. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

62. Friday Night (Claire Denis)

The euphoria of unexpected amour infiltrates every sumptuous nook and cranny of Claire Denis’s gem, in which a woman stuck in gridlock opens her door, and for a time her heart, to a wayward traveler. Drollness, fear, and passion naturally commingle throughout this languorous romantic reverie. Shot with a dancer’s grace and a lover’s warmth by cinematographer par excellence Agnes Godard, Denis’s snapshot of two strangers’ surprising one-night stand is a thing of tactile sensuality, with intimate close-ups of hands, necks, and faces generating swoon-worthy sensory immediacy. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

61. Wolf Creek (Greg McLean)

Greg McLean’s debut is a raw, nasty piece of old-school terror cinema, eliciting fear not only via its deranged Outback crazy, but also from a sense of oppressive dislocation. Foreboding vistas of imposing sky and empty wastelands situate the Aussie countryside as the outer edge of reality, fitting for a locale that’s home to a psychopath preying upon three vacationing twentysomethings foolish enough to view the world as a playground rather than a hostile battlefield. Primeval ugliness abounds, eventually overrunning protagonists whose relatable, sympathetic humanity further amplifies the suspense wrought by McLean’s horror show. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

60. The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola)

A faithful, vibrant Sofia Coppola adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel about the unfathomability of teenage girls, The Virgin Suicides captures the album-rock ambience of mid-1970s suburban adolescent purgatory with just the right quantities of fetishism and pity. Edward Lachman’s sourball-candied cinematography and Air’s languid musical theme were key ingredients in this smart, regretful fairy tale of the failed rescue of a quintet of Michigan Rapunzels from their repressive parents by a chorus of clueless, telescope-equipped local swains. (It did free Coppola of her Godfather III acting albatross.) Will Kirsten Dunst ever again approach the pathos she stirred waking up alone on the 50-yard-line? Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

59. War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg)

No mere F/X demo reel, and certainly not your standard-issue annihilation porn, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds takes the same property Orson Welles once used to convince an already edgy populace their world was ending and recontextualizes it as an abstraction of collective national trauma. As noted by critics wise enough to look beyond the surface thrills (which are, admittedly, as brutal and relentless as I trust Jaws must’ve seemed back in the day), the film’s sci-fi-cum-disaster-movie tropes only barely mask the signposts of our post-9/11 experience: wanton death, floating clothes, homemade missing persons posters, ashes and dust. Between this and Munich, no one tapped into mass paranoia with tenser results. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

58. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro)

How fitting is it that the decade’s most bombastic work of cinematic terrorism was also the only one capable of shutting down an entire American city for a day? Through the anthropomorphic trio of Master Shake, Meatwad, and Frylock (the id, ego, and superego), creators Matt Maillero and Dave Willis posit south New Jersey as the unofficial center for modern-day disharmony, encoding in every subversion an aggressively defiant and transcendentally uproarious disregard for the unexamined life. Perpetually self-devouring, Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s meta-madness builds to an unprecedented cultural tsunami, redefining all in its path. Prepare the way for the movie-film revolution. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

57. La Commune (Paris, 1871) (Peter Watkins)

A recalcitrant firebrand of experimental activism, Peter Watkins knots documentary aesthetics with Brechtian debate to shattering effect. In this astonishing blur of history lesson, impassioned political tract, and sardonic media satire, the filmmaker huddles a nonprofessional cast on a dilapidated industrial soundstage and recreates the working-class uprising that took briefly control of 19th-century Paris as a fleeting instant of egalitarian utopia covered by the cameras of partisan news networks. Nearly six hours of unflagging ingenuity and ardor, it is a maddening, unique, shake-up epic that suggests Godard directing a mix of PBS special and reality show. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

56. The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda)

Without being precious about it, Agnès Varda documents urban and rural “junk collectors” who search for food, household items, and materials to sell—and throughout, she uses them as a meditation on herself “catching” images with her camera. In lesser hands it might feel cute, but Varda is as earnest as she is humanitarian, seemingly disinterested in your approval. If she wants to linger on a shot of her shadow or on trucks passing, she’ll do as she damn well pleases. When the camera lingers on her lands, the audience gleans an awareness of this monumental giant of the French New Wave still using the camera to catch moments in time, we hope her vitality and fascination with life rubs off on us. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

55. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami)

Abbas Kiarostami’s mid-career masterwork is a casually paced “stranger in town” tale that camouflages its central concern with intimations of mortality until the final reel. A broadcast engineer arrives in a remote Iranian village, awaiting the demise of a sick woman so he can record the local funeral ritual. After instinctively resisting the environment (he races to his car whenever his cellphone rings and drives to higher ground), he succumbs to the inhabitants’ vitality, and his final gesture with a fossilized bone links The Wind Will Carry Us with the death-haunted themes of Rossellini’s great Voyage to Italy. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

54. Into Great Silence (Philip Gröning)

Philip Gröning’s epic documentary evokes spiritual harmony through a patient excavation of the relatively unseen lives of the Carthusian monks residing in the French Alps. Greed and sins of the modern world are brushed away with ease as the seemingly invisible kino eye emphasizes symbolically loaded rituals. Groning turns observation into a hypnotic cine-essay on the nature of a human being’s faith, both in themselves and a higher power, here grounded in a daily and morally-rooted commitment. Argues the film, it is only through the spiritual act of waiting that we can hope to experience transcendence. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

53. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin)

I can’t refute the charge leveled by critic Mike D’Angelo against the latest works of Arnaud Desplechin, that they’re self-consciously “bursting with fruit flavor.” Certainly Kings and Queen brought the overachieving French director an entirely new audience even as it caused previous devotees to lose interest. I’m damned if I can figure out why. The maxim was “a new idea every minute,” right? That means K&Q has eight more ideas than graced Esther Kahn. Okay, so it’s not particularly in control of itself (it’s basically the cinematic manifestation of its lead character, played with manic bravura by Mathieu Amalric). The sprawl is worth wading through for those moments of shocking clarity, as when a father ruins his daughter with a few carefully chosen words. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

52. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)

Through a series of grisly acts of violence at once exciting and shocking, David Cronenberg’s beautifully, meticulously prismatic A History of Violence interrogates the way we respond to bloodshed in movies, but it’s cheap to say the director is content reducing his audience to a pack of Pavlovian dogs. This moving Rorschach test’s prodding isn’t one-way. Indeed, Cronenberg’s jabs encourage a very critical engagement between the audience and the emotional, corporeal surface of his film. In the end, more important to him than any plain critique of movie culture’s history of violence is how one man’s relationship to his gun reflects a very specific American legacy of lone-wolf, vigilante justice. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

51. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)

In which Sally Hawkins, a hitherto only marginally celebrated, auxiliary-grade Mike Leigh repertory player, receives her starring turn in the director’s career-length game of protagonist musical chairs. The resulting offspring is Poppy, a kookily good-natured, irrepressibly effervescent elementary school teacher, and Leigh’s most immediately rewarding dramatic collaboration since David Thewlis’s whiskered Armageddon urchin Johnny stalked the dystopian wasteland of Thatcher’s England. Happy-Go-Lucky isn’t much more, or less, than a convoluted character study, but Hawkins’s full-body immersion into punch-drunk optimism under Leigh’s guidance—at every minor tragedy one can see the tiny wheels turning in her head as they convert sorrow into optimism—achieves a singularly mercurial humanity. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

50. The White Diamond (Werner Herzog)

The attitude of The White Diamond toward Graham Dorrington, the fortysomething British engineer whose quest to fly his new airship over the Guyanese jungle it tracks, isn’t immediately easy to divine—visionary or dangerous crackpot?—even if it is a documentary by Werner Herzog. Despite his giddy boy-scientist persona, Dorrington is a seeker with darker layers; he’s trying to expiate his guilt over a cameraman’s death in an earlier experimental flight. Beauty, whether found in flocks of birds nesting behind a giant waterfall or the placid mysticism of a local miner, is Herzog’s subject, along with “levity” in human and aeronautic terms. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

49. Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhang-ke)

Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke’s last movie set in his native Shanxi province and his first shot on digital video, Unknown Pleasures captures the desperations of dead-end rural youth better than any almost other film this decade. Caught between the promise of a nation’s modernization and the lack of opportunities provided to those left behind, the film’s two young protagonists pursue their pop dreams—often modeling their behaviors on Western film characters—before their own superfluousness catches up with them, epitomized by a stunningly pathetic bank robbery and a police station humiliation in which a forced a cappella vocal performance turns into a heartrending lament. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

48. In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín)

Pure filmic ecstasy, In the City of Sylvia begins with an apple, an orange, and a map. A man—scruffy, tormented, a romantic no doubt, suggesting a young Rimbaud or Modigliani—sits on a bed, scribbling on a notepad with the quiet desperation of someone who’s blocked, trying to regain time or something lost to memory. At a coffee shop, an epic search begins. Built on sensuous interplays between the landscape of the human face and the labyrinthian streets of a small French town, reality and representation, the man behind the camera—Spanish filmmaker José Luis Guerín—creates a rapturously alfresco movie that uses an erotically voluptuous language of spatial-temporal equations to conflate one’s love of people with one’s love of movies. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

47. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

Hou Hsiao-hsien finesses time like other masters tweak color, and his gorgeous, century-hopping ode to Taiwan’s strive for freedom contains passages suggestive of event horizons, in which time (and by implication, progress) appears to move infinitesimally, before abrupt transitions realign our perception. A billiards-game seduction in 1966, between a soldier and a pool hall chippie, has its sensualism and forwardness amplified by a succeeding, 1911-set vignette with a silent milieu recalling a chokingly conservative past, though these are preamble to Hou’s thrilling 2005, in which unprecedented cultural acceleration finds Taiwanese youth acting as self-contained mini-nations poised for a momentous break with history. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

46. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)

What to say to the nonbelievers? You either accept Richard Kelly’s quasi-Lynchian probing and Hughes-inspired emotional transparency as a fittingly executed yin yang, or you don’t. Not unlike a beating, bleeding heart laid out to see in all detail, Donnie Darko is a wrenching, intimate evocation of existential angst held into place by adolescent hopefulness of things to come. The film owes to Lynch, certainly, but it’s also a modern equivalent to The Twilight Zone, eerily rendering the impossible and misunderstood with quotidian balance, a science fiction diary with equal parts personal and political insight. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

45. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)

The years have run like rabbits, as the Auden poem quoted by Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Sunrise promised. Reacquainted after a decade, the open-faced travelers who shared a night of electrifying talk and outdoor sex in Vienna resume their conversation, and find that their hyper-awareness of time—a Sunrise hallmark first expressed in Jesse’s use of a “think of this as time travel” pickup line on Celine (Julie Delpy)—has spared neither its effects. As a second, more compressed afternoon commences, catch-up banter gives way to heartbreaking admissions of personal compromise and vividly confessed nightmares of warm bodies just out of reach, and two magnetically attracted souls again stir. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

44. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis)

Sensual and provocative, Trouble Every Day uses the iconography of classic monster movies as a means of expressing doomed love. Newlywed husband Vincent Gallo arrives in present-day Paris in an anxious, feverish state, willfully avoiding sexual contact with his wife, though there are some suggestive bruises on her body and he relishes kissing her on her open wrist, close to the veins. The sexual hunger is palpable in every image, which swoons over the texture of skin and to the yearning music of Tindersticks. Victorian trappings such as shuttered rooms and contemporary embellishments of cannibalistic delight merge into a fever dream of pure cinematic intensity. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

43. Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes)

Doused in the autumnal Technicolor palette and glacial social friction of Douglas Sirk’s heyday with only the faintest whisper of kitsch sensibility, Far from Heaven jarringly juxtaposes dissonant layers of relationship superficiality and aesthetic authenticity. Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid embody the disillusioned ethos of mid-century suburban sexual bewilderment with angst that neither condescends to obsolete mores nor provides tidy, empowering paths to self-actualization, and the supporting characters—particularly Dennis Haysbert’s sable, green-thumbed scion and Patricia Clarkson’s retractable-taloned gossip—approach their “stock” attributes with prototypical savvy. Todd Haynes’s interpretation of 1950s cinema is far more sociological than it lets on: candy-color coordinated, obsessed with deceiving surfaces, and laced with dull, aching bitterness. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

42. Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas)

A purposefully repellent portrait of carnal desire that merits a place next to the provocations of Oshima, Breillat, and Tsai, Carlos Reygadas’s confrontational minefield treats the intersection of art and pornography not as a prurient peepshow, but as a pipeline into a culture’s class tensions and political catatonia. Chronicling the deliberately unappetizing genital collisions between a princessy rich lass, a dumpy prole, and other alienated dwellers in bustling, fractured Mexico City, Reygadas crafts an audacious tragicomedy of degradation and salvation that openly challenges voyeuristic audiences’ complacency about life’s many battles. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

41. No Country for old men (Joel and Ethan coen)

A desolate time capsule of a nation in dual moral/spiritual crisis, the Coen brothers’ second major round of Oscar validation is arguably their finest hour since the ferocious Blood Simple. Posing its existential “what if?” queries with rigorous, mathematic poeticism, the film is as drunk with the notion of blind chance as Javier Bardem’s nightmarishly realized devil-in-the-flesh Anton Chigurh is reliant on the outcome of a coin toss. Something’s coming, you can’t stop it, and No Country for Old Men dares you to seek out the light of the world as it wages a battle with overwhelming darkness. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

40. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)

For Quentin Tarantino, flesh and celluloid are perpetually mingled. A multilayered study of (spoken, visual, cinematic) language posing as an exuberant paean to wartime adventure movies, his self-declared masterpiece turns WWII into a volatile arena in which truculent heroes and suave villains try on role-playing masks as they wrestle for control of the screen. All of QT’s staples—dialogue, violence, overflow of love for filmmaking—here feel larger, fuller, deeper. Pulling all of the film’s coruscating simulacra and direct emotion into a sublime, literally incendiary image, Tarantino exalts the medium’s transformative force by simultaneously looking back at its past and ahead into its future. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

39. Dogville (Lars Von Trier)

The allegorical urgency of Dogville is recondite enough that the film might not even be about specifically American opportunism; we can just as easily read post-colonial arrogance into the appropriation of Bertolt Brecht’s belligerent bare stage or the casting of yesterday’s celebrities (Lauren Bacall, James Caan) as immature, bull-horned elders. This is Lars von Trier’s feverish paean to what society, theater, and film are capable of if gestated in nocuous, misanthropic wombs, and Nicole Kidman’s aptly dubbed Grace is both our transubstantiated surrogate and our failed saviorette; she’s the goddess we yearn to martyr in the name of art and reckless progress, even as her destruction leaves us as useless and lonesome as broken porcelain dolls and abandoned mineshafts. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

38. Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont)

This minimalist horror film from French auteur Bruno Dumont pares all aspects of narrative storytelling back, reducing plot, character, action, and image to the bare essential as a pair of bickering lovers venture out into the California desert on a photojournalism assignment, using the opportunity to screw and fight their way through a remote landscape. There is an unaccountable feeling of dread in the images, perhaps suggested by a threateningly arid soundscape, and one has the feeling that predators are lurking just beyond the edge of the frame waiting to pounce. The climax is as harrowing as I Spit on Your Grave, only told through the eye of an art-house provocateur. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

37. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)

A fiery cauldron of internal and external calamities, Paul Thomas Anderson’s loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! is one long, slow prelude to an explosion of grotesque madness. With more than a nod to Kubrick’s The Shining, There Will Be Blood pivots around Daniel Day-Lewis’s ferocious turn-of-the-century oil man, whose ambition, greed, and heartlessness make him a literal (to his son) and figurative (to the capitalist nation) daddy dearest. Clashes of religion and business, sanity and lunacy erupt like geysers, with Anderson’s formal dexterity and Jonny Greenwood’s otherworldly score lending malevolent majesty to this slow-burn portrait of individualism’s simultaneously creative and destructive power. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

36. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)

Keeping its two low-key, generally closemouthed protagonists in the foreground amid excerpts from The 400 Blows and a large, cockroach-eating fish, Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time Is It There? takes the measure of human life with a serene, globe-embracing vision. Tsai mainstay Lee Kang-sheng is a Taipei street salesman of watches who briefly meets Shen Shiang-chyi’s young Paris-bound woman; as the film parallel-tracks their daily lives (his late-night peeing rituals and coping with his father’s death, her alienation in a strange city and cemetery proposition from Jean-Pierre Léaud), there is no conventional drama, just the quotidian connections of food, seduction, clock-adjusting, and bad plumbing. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

35. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki)

Swapping his usual gasoline rainbow of queer bacchanalia for a sultry, slowly simmering study of sublimated victimization, Gregg Araki nails both the surrealism and the subsequent aura of poison surrounding events of child abuse with Mysterious Skin. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet—as the recklessly promiscuous, now-grown molestee and the nebbish sci-fi fan attempting to piece together one fatefully damaging night—excel at implying their hazily unholy union until the film’s anti-climax batters through the repressive floodgates, but it’s Araki’s strangely gentle imagery and eloquent comparison between the ineffability of pedophilia and extra-terrestrials that provide the movie’s poetry. A shower of earthbound Froot Loops has never seemed so beautifully alien. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

34. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Shot for shot, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s exquisite objet d’art offers more aesthetic liftoff than a dozen of the decade’s more celebrated art-house offerings. Composed of two sections, each taking place in a different hospital (one a rural building from some decades back, the other a contemporary urban complex), the Thai director links past and present through a rhyming structure that recasts earlier scenes from a slightly altered perspective. If the film invites us to luxuriate in the sun-drenched greenery of the opening section, then it also asks us to contemplate the imposingly sleek modernity on display in the second, aided by ambient drones and mysterious, abstract imagery (flashes of colored jerseys moving past the camera, smoke getting sucked through a tube) and filtered through Apichatpong’s surrealist sense of play. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

33. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu)

The lengths to which we go to deny death its due are given fascinating portraiture in Cristi Puiu’s wrenching medical crisis ride-along odyssey, which eschews staid TV drama heroics in depicting a Romanian EMT’s frantic night-ferrying of a rapidly expiring, unsympathetic senior to a succession of overrun, dilapidated hospitals. Stoically accepting her chance-designated role as final advocate for the diminutive, semi-conscious Lazarescu on a calamitous evening of other, greater tragedy, Puiu’s unassuming angel shames a system beneath the effort while providing a galvanizing moral center for an epic otherwise fiercely devoted to depicting a night of utter chaos. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

32. Platform (Jia Zhang-ke)

If China’s relentless globalization embodies much of where our world is heading, then director Jia Zhang-ke, whose films best embody the contradictions and displacements of that project, deserves to be counted among the world’s essential filmmakers. In his 2000 masterpiece, Jia matches an epic framework (a turbulent decade in the life of a small-town musical collective) with an anti-epic aesthetic (long, fixed takes, elliptical narrative) that (de-)dramatizes both the cultural developments and the personal strivings of the Chinese ‘80s and those whose lives were defined by its changes. In later films Jia would move toward more contemporary settings, adopting digital technology and employing docu-fiction hybrids, but Platform remains his most fully realized consideration of his nation’s recent history. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

31. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)

As a director, Jonathan Demme has always been more concerned with caressing and expanding surfaces than with penetrating them, but never before has he had the busily psychographic landscape of a family event around which to structure his mindful, cinematographic frottage. The script of Rachel Getting Married occasionally seems to push in all the wrong places (dramatic reveals of deceased siblings and impromptu buns in the oven disturb the quivering, pre-marriage vibe a bit too typically), but Demme is never afraid to push back, whether by lingering a few seconds too long on a rack-focused floral arrangement, mimicking the familial Novocain that is marathon rehearsal dinner toasts, or (in one of the decade’s most inspired inter-universal bleeds across film and music) triumphantly pronouncing obscure Neil Young lyrics as wedding vows. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

30. Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon)

Satoshi Kon’s sophomore effort is still his most incisively oneiric and plaintively archetypical leap forward; the sexually repressive, prepubescent brain-teaser larvae of Perfect Blue seem to morph into neon butterflies of critical and media theory alongside Northrup Frye and André Bazin with Millennium Actress. The film’s mind-melting premise is deceptively simple (a documentarian interviews the title celebrity regarding her personal history and screen career), but Kon’s perpetual time-warping and lysergic art direction give us the impression of having traveled through a worm hole into a parallel universe that fails to distinguish between film and reality. It’s the stuff Eisenstein’s dreams were made of. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

29. Gerry (Gus Van Sant)

It was a political decade for Gus Van Sant, but while he clearly cares about his work, his enigmatic choices are often more infuriating than anything else. Milk, Elephant, and Last Days all cashed in on the notoriety of their subjects, but in each case it felt like Van Sant had nothing new to say. Like its two protagonists, Gerry was doomed from the start—a small-budget improvisation starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (also writing collaborators) as hikers looking for “the thing” somewhere in Death Valley. This simple allegory refuses easy answers, but it’s never less than transfixing to watch. As in Mala Noche, Van Sant’s camera sinuously follows his characters from beginning to end, hyper-self-conscious of the way in which his carefully composed shots become increasingly fraught with tension as the journey goes awry. Most Van Sant movies are not without their gay undertones, but Gerry provocatively conflates the sexual with the spiritual; the infamous “wrestling” scene near the end can be read as both a failed romance and one man’s struggle over his weaker self. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

28. The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana)

From a summer day in Roma in 1966 to a winter night in Norway in 2003, Best of Youth chronicles some 40 years in the lives of the Carati family and their friends. If not as visually intoxicating as Emir Kusturica’s Underground or Bertolucci’s 1900 (director Marco Tullio Giordana conceived the film as a miniseries for Italian television but the idea was deemed too “bourgeois” by the powers-that-be), this epic elegy to family and country is no less seductive as a towering work of narrative fiction, generously giving itself to the people of Italy in the same way that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children give themselves to the people of Colombia and India, respectively. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

27. Son Frère (Patrice Chéreau)

The primacy of blood bonds would be a difficult theme for Son Frère to support if not for Patrice Chéreau’s cliché-free presentation of such ties as, among other things, inequitable shackles that force on disparate personalities shared responsibilities by their lack of an easy opt-out. Two adult brothers, one gay and one less than accepting, are reacquainted by the latter’s degenerative blood disease and commence suffering together (not least through their father’s insensitivity) while others with rip cords yank them and the inescapability of familial obligation during crisis is likened to the fading brother’s inability to escape his skin through breathtaking sequences of physical vulnerability. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

26. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)

In much the same way Wall Street captured the greed-is-good value system of the 1980s, Ghost World captures the deadpan confusion of the aughts—with teenager Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) as an articulate mouthpiece for contemporary frustrations that reach beyond the disaffected. There’s also a poignant death of a friendship when she realizes her best friend (Scarlett Johannson) views entering the mainstream as a way of growing up. The film exists as a tough but loving badge-of-honor film for outsiders, spitting on strip-mall suburban culture. Also, it’s a career high point for Steve Buscemi as Enid’s grouchy, borderline misanthropic middle-aged love interest. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

25. The Company (Robert Altman)

Robert Altman recognized an element of dance in almost every genre he tackled throughout his stellar career, so it was perhaps inevitable that he would take his gorgeously skulking camera into the halls of a ballet school. The Company is worth a thousand movements, and it allowed this great filmmaker to vicariously discuss the way he made movies. Malcolm McDowell’s crusty Alberto Antonelli is Altman’s doppelganger, both embolden and weathered by the beautiful, prickly creative ambitions of his dancers at the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Injury is a recurring metaphor, and the way characters respond to pain beautifully reflects their unique personalities. Altman’s organic, matter-of-fact observations complement the Neve Campbell character’s refusal to let her professional disappointment bleed into her personal life. In short: If the show can’t go on, then love can. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

24. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

If you want to be precise about it, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s inscrutably gorgeous piece of jungle fever is a bifurcated, horny phantasmagoria stemming from within the animal urges of two young male lovers, as formally liberated as their surprisingly lick-happy interpersonal interactions. But there’s no reason to put too fine a point on a movie with this much poetry to offer. In keeping with the profile of a knowing sensualist who still insists you call him Joe, Tropical Malady is a mysterious object that contains, at its core, an emotional bull’s eye. If there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

23. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg)

Not since Empire of the Sun has Spielberg been so bleak in his outlook, and not since E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has he been so nakedly emotional about the loneliness of childhood. But unlike his usual movies about an imaginative boy gazing out at the world with wonder, the child in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (played by Hayley Joel Osment) is a simulacrum, almost a cipher—causing all sorts of nightmarish questions about what it means to be single-minded in the quest for love, and how much parents project on their children. The seemingly happy ending, which leaps 4,000 years into a future where only computers remain, was about a false reconciliation based on faith. The climax is so boldly transgressive that virtually no one at the time of the film’s release knew what to do with it. Time will reveal this to be one of Spielberg’s landmark masterpieces. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

22. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)

Fat Girl supplies a startling portrait of the prickly crawlspace between innocence and sexual awakening, with Catherine Breillat’s notions of perseverance feeling at once sensible and unnerving. Key here is how Breillat cannily forces the audience to look at the world through her titular character’s observant, judgmental, humane point of view, intelligently and with a sly mix of humor, engaging with and teasing the spectator’s morals. It’s brilliance lies in its deceptive simplicity—its dawdling sketch of virtue on the brink of collapse. It remains Breillat’s boldest provocation for how it uses sex for perverse philosophical titillation, a disturbing and funny portrait of a girl struggling to redirect her desires and essay her sexual experience completely on her own terms. Gonzalez



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

21. Spider (David Cronenberg)

No pun intended, but David Cronenberg dangles sanity by a masterful thread in his career-shifting Spider. Gone are the icky body horrors, but just as squeamish is his frightening eye for psychologically charged framing, his titular protagonist’s fractured psyche the result of repressed traumas now threatened by a downward spiral of self-realizations. Tragic beyond recovery, his is truly a beautiful mind, intensely captured by Ralph Fiennes and carefully charted by tracking shots as scary as anything in Kubrick’s The Shining. It may be the greatest film ever made about mental disease—a work of genuine humanitarian worth. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

20. Miami Vice (Michael Mann)

A freestyle meditation on identity and self-perception, Miami Vice finds a perfect union of form and content via ravishingly rendered digital cinema, flattening the world into an expressionistic vista of interconnected tides and currents of bodies in space, subtextually loaded with ultra-gritty genre juice to spare. Michael Mann’s recurring themes of freedom and the nature of will reach the metaphysical realm as the film scrutinizes the performance art inherent in undercover life, the metaphorical meaning we assign to our lives made literal. It’s pulp and opera, an off-the-cuff balancing act, a liquid cinema statement from the moment Mann sends his everyman surrogate across the ocean he’s for so long merely gazed upon. Like Moby’s awesomely cued “One of These Mornings,” it’s a forever-remembered bliss. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

19. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)

A delicately handcrafted photo collage of a movie, Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum illustrates the complex clumsiness of adult filial relationships as a series of wordless, urban gestures; train car lights coruscate and rice cooker lids clank so subtly they appear like impressionistic memories of objects in motion. Denis infuses her soon-to-be-empty-nest plotline with bittersweet rumination about the emotional burden of senescence, but the perpetually wind-whipped and rain-swept visual rhythms lull us into a rare sense of genuine rather than putative coziness. It’s a film that exudes intimate warmth in spite of its seemingly laconic detachment, and an homage to Yasujir? Ozu less in his debt than indelibly haunted by his domestic sensitivity. Lanthier



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

18. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson’s directorial idiosyncrasies often lead to charges of aloofness, claims strikingly rebutted by his third film, a saga of familial dysfunction that courses with deep, abiding humanism. Anderson’s eccentric formalized style reaches an apex with his tale of the genius Tenenbaum clan, fracturing under the strain of past and present indiscretions perpetrated by Gene Hackman’s estranged paterfamilias. With a drollness perfectly pitched between comedy and sorrow, The Royal Tenenbaums is a masterwork of both aesthetic and thematic symmetry, finding grace and beauty in both abnormality and togetherness. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

17. Munich (Steven Spielberg)

“Don’t fuck with the Jews!” blusters a Mossad agent—played by the future James Bond, no less—in Munich, the finest installment of Steven Spielberg’s barely recognized 9/11 trilogy, and a political thriller that crushingly reveals the price of state-exacted vengeance. Derision was obtusely heaped on the scene of Eric Bana’s Avner, home from years of liquidating enemies of his homeland, haunted in the midst of procreative sex by the 1972 Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes; the film’s link between life and death, heritage and bloodshed, is inescapable and tragically resonant through Spielberg’s act of cinematic conscience and Tony Kushner’s piercing dialogue. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

16. Two Lovers (James Gray)

Few recent films have inspired such outpourings of critical warmth as Two Lovers—and with good reason. James Grey’s incisive, emotionally complex drama is a movie to be lived inside. Taking place in a slightly antique Brighton Beach that’s as much Grey’s creation as authentic outer borough neighborhood, Lovers stars Joaquin Phoenix as a crisis-stricken thirtysomething caught between a retreat into the womb of his familial Jewish community and a reentry into a world beyond. The two poles are embodied by the two women of the title (neighborhood Jew and Manhattan-leaning goy), and in dramatizing Phoenix’s romantic vacillations, the film gives us a deeply personal view of the fevered yearnings and fractured identity of a not-yet-middle-aged misfit. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

15. L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

A devastating assay of the demise of feeling in contemporary society, L’Enfant’s title refers not to its newborn bartered for cash, but to Bruno (Jérémie Renier), the infant’s soft-brained crook father for whom a newly purchased hat trumps fatherhood. With their fixed, Bruno-centric gaze approximating Bruno’s inability to countenance other characters’ motivations, the Dardennes lend deep consideration to a man-child bereft of religious or humanist sentiment, and consequently existing without living. That his late grab at moral choice may be less the birth of conscience than cow-prodding by others’ emotional swells is a forgivably cynical conclusion after visiting the brothers’ land of the spiritually blind. Stewart



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

14. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki)

More than Pixar, Hayao Miyazaki kept animation alive and noble in the new millennium. In this highly personal and bracingly strange animé fable, the Japanese master turns Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland into an enchanted, liminal bathhouse where the young heroine encounters gloriously bizarre creatures, has her courage tested, and discovers the spiritual dimension of the elements all around her. Endlessly imaginative yet breathtakingly serene in its beauties, it’s a heartfelt, impressionistic fantasy that blends the vibrant pleasures of cartoons with the deeper meanings of an inquiry into identity, communication, and illumination. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

13. George Washington (David Gordon Green)

The only short story the author ever wrote, Toni Morrison’s Recitatif was a deliberate attempt to remove racial codes from the story of two women for whom race is crucial. David Gordon Green’s George Washington acknowledges the burden that race bears on the impoverished lives of a ragtag team of children in small-town North Carolina, yet he emphatically refuses to see them as anything except the kids that they are. Girls talk about the foolishness of boys while doing their hair, a boy with an undeveloped skull role-plays as a superhero directing traffic. Green’s lush 35mm CinemaScope suggests the aesthetic beauty of Terrence Malick, but Green owes a more fundamental debt to Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, another poetic rumination of life on the fringes. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

12. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

In Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s peerless Luddite creepfest, the Internet is not only the preferred highway for the film’s lost souls, but also a vehicle for a generation’s growing disconnect with the past, each other, and reality. Envisioning a cyberspace-purgatory in which phantoms travel via infested floppy disks, chatrooms, and web images, Kurosawa erects a modern horror classic not on facile shocks but on unsettling mood, the most delicately sustained mise-en-scène of dread since the glory days of Jacques Tourneur, and the ultimate fear of humanity trailing into the abyss, keyboard and screen-cam and all. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

11. Beau Travail (Claire Denis)

The French Foreign Legion soldiers in Claire Denis’s update to Herman Melville’s Billy Budd walk a tightrope between animal instinct and “unit cohesion,” a fascinating push-and-pull that Denis exploits for erotic tension between an officious sergeant and a hot-headed (and, well, hot) troop who faces the jealous wrath of his higher-up. At times, Beau Travail plays like an experimental film version of the sweaty workout sequences in Madonna’s “Express Yourself” music video: The Legion soldiers circle each other in a balletic rhythm that suggests either lovers getting ready to fuck or a hunter preparing to attack his prey. Denis sympathizes greatly with the daily turmoil of military life, and she likens the troops’ flux of emotions (like war itself) to a kind of dance. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

10. The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

The most keenly observed of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “naturalistic,” handheld fictions, the psychological credibility of The Son lies in the brusque, stony façade of Olivier Gourmet’s performance. As a vocational-center carpenter who encounters the paroled boy guilty of strangling his son five years earlier, then with ominously opaque motives takes the unknowing teen on as an apprentice, Gourmet’s overalls-and-truss stolidity is never contradicted by his awkwardly paternal mentoring of the juvenile, and when he wheezingly performs a half-dozen daily sit-ups in his kitchen, it seems a touching correlative to the conditioning of his soul’s capacity to forgive. Weber



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

9. Femme fatale (Brian De Palma)

Cahiers du Cinéma declared Carlito’s Way the movie of the 1990s, and we still say Brian De Palma had the comeback of the 2000s with this, his most masterful burlesque on the dualities that have always delighted him: the difference between right and wrong, the games between cat and mouse, the shape of a woman’s left breast compared to that of her right. For almost the entirety of Femme Fatale’s running time, it threatens to collapse into exactly the sort of all-purpose excoriation critics accused Body Double of embodying. The movie’s denouement represents the most surprising and heartening twist of events in De Palma’s extraordinarily hard-earned career, one that proves yet another duality. You can’t truly understand optimism until you’ve reckoned with pessimism. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

8. Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar)

The best shot in Milk, of a stark-naked James Franco swimming in a pool, was taken from Bad Education, which was in itself an allusion to the paintings of David Hockney, whose pop-art riffs on gay love can be read in nearly everything Gus Van Sant and Pedro Almodóvar have done (call it a new genre: meta gay). But Almodóvar’s pastiche isn’t nearly as delicate as Van Sant’s, shattering as it does the romanticized erotica of Hockney’s images and exposing it for the farce that it is. You could say that Bad Education, the story of two Catholic school boys’ burgeoning affection for each other and the crippling power that a pedophilic priest holds over their future lives, is the director’s most cynical film. But ugly though the subject matter may be, like Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, Almodóvar’s narrative—full of cinematic references, jumping from past to present, from one flabbergasting stylistic turn to the next without a moment’s hesitation—is also alive with feeling. In the end, the antidote to misery is the director’s own love for the movies. Schrodt



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

7. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr)

Far from being a mere stylistic flourish, Béla Tarr’s marathon takes, achieved through an intricate choreography of camera movements, serve to immerse the viewer in his dreary rural landscapes, while opening up fresh ways of looking at the world. In his 2000 masterpiece, that landscape consists of—and that vision is trained upon—a universe poised on the brink of collapse. As a tiny circus sets up business in a town square, hordes of thuggish visitors gather outside, awaiting orders to unleash a ghastly destruction. The plot (violent revolution followed by equally violent repression) is otherworldly allegory, but in Tarr’s absorptive sensitivity to the visual and aural textures of his setting, the fantastic becomes the actual, turning the film’s final horrors into the stuff of a nightmare reality. Schenker



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

6. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi)

The chasm between social classes is the subject of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s intensely unnerving parable. Opening with a botched robbery that ends in cold-blooded murder, we jump back to the chain of events that build to this moment. Almost playing out like a Middle-Eastern variation on Taxi Driver, a pizza deliveryman and war veteran skulks through the war-torn streets of Tehran, including a young people’s party where the police make arrests whenever anyone steps outside. Refused admittance, the quixotic hero hands out pizza to the cops. The discomfort of a life in full-on survival mode leads to an understanding that discontent and want is the best clay from which to mold a villain. Kipp



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)

Wong Kar-wai’s trademark obsession with surfaces speaks not only to fetishistic pleasures, but to possibilities, chances, and fate, the opportunities that lie just beyond the self-imposed veils of the world. Rarely have the arts witnessed as ravishing an unconsummated romance as in his In the Mood for Love, an elegiac dance of the bruised and broken souls in which mutual heartbreak is but a minor crutch in the face of worldly indifference. Physical and social frameworks shape and guide the paths of the wounded protagonists—the betrayed opposites of an adulterous relationship—and so too does the film’s effortless visual devices channel pent-up emotional longing with scintillating restraint, a mounting ecstasy that suggests the desires of the spirit freed from the shackles of the flesh. Humanick



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

4. The New World (Terrence Malick)

Terrance Malick’s retelling of Pocahontas and John Smith’s 1607 romance is a nation’s creation myth, wrought with tender lyricism and a palpable sense of heartache over the inevitable tragedy of individual, communal, and spiritual birth. A patient, poetic rumination on the tense relationship between ruin and renewal, Malick’s film radiates distressed ambivalence about its historical turning point while simultaneously concentrating its gaze on the larger collisions of man and nature, modernity, and primitivism. Its portrait of one couple’s doomed cross-cultural union ultimately functions as a microcosm of life’s endless cycle of devastation and regeneration. Schager



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

3. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)

A tapestry of expansive human interaction as rich as a Robert Altman panorama, Edward Yang’s wondrous ensemble drama offers a portrait of societal mores, family rituals, and spiritual bonds that’s both rigorously analytical and so intimate that you feel you could reach into the screen and touch the characters. Following the ebb and flow of a large, troubled Taipei clan with the structural fluidity and emotional insight of a master, Yang creates a canvas that glows as a profound snapshot of changing times and, in its portrayal of a young boy’s discovery of the photographic camera, an eloquent plea for humanist cinema. Croce



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

2. Inland Empire (David Lynch)

You wake up damp, clinging to your crushed pillow, your knuckles perspiring, your nostrils flaring. The music in your headphones feels like it’s playing double-time. Your blood has congealed. You’ve just had the most terrifying nightmare of your life. The last sound you heard before waking up continues to ring, drowning out your clearing consciousness. You sink beneath the covers and tell your lover everything you can recall, to exorcise the memory, to dissipate its spell. Everyone you know is in the bed with you. You tell them the whole dream, lingering over each detail so they’ll know the terror from which you just barely escaped. They all laugh uproariously. Your nightmare is the funniest story they’ve ever heard. They continue to laugh until the rabbits arrive. Henderson



The 100 Best Films of the Aughts

1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)

David Lynch’s meta noir Mulholland Drive literalizes the theory of surrealism as perpetual dream state. Told as it is using a highly symbolic, ravishingly engorged language of dreams, this bloody valentine to Los Angeles naturally leaves one feeling groggy, confused, looking forward and back, hankering to pass again through its serpentine, slithery hall of mirrors until all its secrets have been unpacked. Its genius is not just the scorching eroticism of Lynch’s sensualist bag of tricks, but how every rabbit he pulls out of his hat bitingly reflects the simultaneous beauty and ugliness of Los Angeles, compassionately illuminating the intoxicating pull the City of Angels has on the aspiring starlet, regardless of her hair color: Welcome to Tinseltown, where women are so desperate for success that they slowly become unrecognizable to each other and themselves. Whether Mulholland Drive anticipated the YouTube Age we live in (and which Inland Empire’s digital punk poetics perfectly embody) is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that this movie-movie will continue to haunt us long after Lynch has moved on to shooting pictures using the tools of whatever new film medium awaits us—tools that he will no doubt have helped to revolutionize. Gonzalez

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