As we quickly approach the end of the year, we also grow closer to the conclusion of the decade. With the end of a decade comes retrospectives and I offer mine in the form of a two-part list of my 21 favorite films of whatever this decade was called. Why 21? Because this was the first decade of the 21st century. There is logic behind my madness.
“High Fidelity” (2000)
John Cusack co-produced, co-wrote and starred in this sharp adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel about music obsession and the confusion of love. Cusack's recently dumped Rob Gordon tries to figure out where he went wrong by looking back at his past disasters. The film is honest and insightful about relationships and often hilarious with Jack Black in his breakout role. This is perhaps the definitive romantic comedy of the decade.
“Almost Famous” (2000)
Writer/director Cameron Crowe's autobiographical love note to rock and roll fictionalizes his real-life experience working as a writer for Rolling Stone as a teen. Some complained this a rose-colored look at the 1970s, but it is the nature of nostalgia to remember and enhance the best parts. This is a warm and funny film with terrific performances from Frances McDormant, Jason Lee, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a never better Kate Hudson.
“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001)
Writer/director Wes Anderson, whose “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is currently in theaters, followed up his breakthrough hit “Rushmore” with this look at a dysfunctional family of former prodigies. Anderson perfected his deadpan, quirky style and his ability to jump between comedy and drama within the same moment. The great ensemble cast includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover and Bill Murray.
“Ocean's Eleven” (2001)
This was the decade in which Hollywood went remake and sequel crazy, but here's a remake done pitch perfect and actually spawned two worthy sequels. Director Steven Soderbergh has made a career of balancing indie projects with Hollywood films, but luckily he brings the same vitality to all his projects. This is an all style film that works thanks to the charismatic all-star cast that includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck and Carl Reiner.
“28 Days Later” (2002)
Thanks to the adaptation of the video game “Resident Evil,” the zombie genre was resurrected, but it was this English import that made the genre relevant again. Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland balance social commentary with scares and add humanity and beauty to the mix. Shot on digital video, the film has a gritty, realistic feel especially in the opening scenes in which Cillian Murphy walks through a completely deserted London.
“The Bourne Identity” (2002)
A spy thriller with a twist: The trained assassin has no memory, but retains all his skills. It was no surprise that Matt Damon was able to bring a lot of humanity to the character of Jason Bourne, but what was a shock was how well Damon handled himself in the fight sequences. Along with the “Ocean” movies, this would go on to spawn one of the decade's few consistently solid franchises.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003)
A movie based on a Disneyland ride could have been nothing more than an extended advertisement, but what may have been never was thanks to a brilliantly off-the-wall characterization by Johnny Depp. Depp's Jack Sparrow is a true original, one of the all-time great characters. Geoffrey Rush as his main adversary is nearly his match and their double act is a lot of fun. The two sequels attempted to replicate the magic, but largely missed the mark.
“Lost in Translation” (2003)
Writer/director Sofia Coppola's second film was a perceptive, quietly funny and lovely film about two lonely people, an actor (Bill Murray) and a photographer's wife (Scarlett Johansson), who connect while in Japan. This is a love story, but not in any conventional ways. Even familiar plot developments don't play out as one might expect. Murray is as funny as ever but also much more, and Johansson proves to be a perfect foil.
“School of Rock” (2003)
Much like Soderbergh, director Richard Linklater is a filmmaker that balances smaller projects with more mainstream work. Linklater brings an edge to all his films that rises what could be very standard material to a higher level. Jack Black, in a role written for him, is hilariously perfect as a wannabe rocker turned substitute teacher who transforms his students into a rock band. This is a prime example of a formula movie that works extremely well.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
The wonderfully weird and wholly original writer Charlie Kaufman takes on the idea of memory itself in a film about a man (Jim Carrey), who decides to have the memories of an ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) erased. Both actors beautifully play against their respective types with Carrey giving an understated and believable performance. Largely taking place in Carrey's mind, director Michel Gondry's execution of the film is inventive and full of imaginative visuals.