The 50 Best Films of the 2000s

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

In the course of its more than hundred-year history, cinema has undergone numerous transformations. Places on general best lists are accordingly often occupied by groundbreaking classics for the further process. At this point, we hold the pioneers of the 20. However, we prefer to keep our memories of the twentieth century locked away and focus instead on films that have particularly excited cineastes since the dawn of the 2000s. Visual blockbusters, empathetic dramas, fantastic worlds, or masterful snapshots of our reality are all in the mix!

1. The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (2003)

The first major cinema phenomenon of the 2000s was, without a doubt, the monumental adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s standard fantasy work “The Lord of the Rings” by director Peter Jackson. After both fans of the original and newcomers had first glimpsed “The Fellowship” (2001) on the big screen and toured “The Two Towers” (2002) with them, “The Return of the King” (2003) was hotly anticipated, to say the least: It was the only part of the trilogy to break the billion-dollar barrier in terms of worldwide revenue in U.S. dollars.

At the Oscars, the epic finale was nominated for a whopping eleven Academy Awards… and won every single one of them, including Best Picture!

2. Walk the Line (2005)

The cinematic tribute to musical greats has given us a number of good genre representatives this millennium; think “8 Mile” (2002), “Ray” (2004), “Control” (2007), or “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018). Here today, however, we sing the praises of the big-screen biography of Johnny Cash and June Carter, portrayed in “Walk the Line” by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Both received the blessing of their real-life role models in the run-up to filming, whose shared highs and lows they stirringly recreate.

For corresponding sequences, they took months of music lessons and recorded over a dozen songs themselves – an effort that was honored with Golden Globes in each case. Witherspoon gets an Oscar on top of that!

3. Children of Men (2006)

In the near future, for some unexplained reason, it has been almost two decades since a newborn human child has seen the light of day. Civilization descends into chaos in the face of its imminent extinction, which is to be contained in Great Britain with the help of a draconian police state. An illegal immigrant turns out to be pregnant amid the turmoil, whereupon washed-up Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is entrusted with her safe evacuation.

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The dystopian thriller impresses not only with its dense atmosphere but also with minute-long, seemingly cutless sequences that, with their documentary overtones, convey an oppressively realistic impression of shattered London.

4. Lost in Translation (2003)

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an aging movie star at the temporary peak of a midlife crisis which is in the Japanese metropolis of Tokyo for a whiskey promotional shoot. Almost every evening, he meets young Charlotte (only 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson) at the hotel bar, who accompanies her husband, who has also come on business and is mostly bored in his almost permanent absence. This disillusioned with their current way of life, the two insomniacs begin to wander together through the night of the big city.

An all-around endearing tragicomedy and adult romance with a difference, featuring gorgeous images and actors!

5. Gladiator (2000)

The “Ben Hur” (1959) for the 2000s features Russell Crowe in probably his most popular role: viewers suffer and root for the Roman Empire’s commander cruelly betrayed by Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who then fights for his overdue revenge as the titular gladiator.

As Maximus Decimus Meridius, Crowe is convincing all along the line in both sentimental and bloodthirsty scenes and moves confidently through a production that has set new standards with its epic staging and lavish set design. Five Oscars, including one for Crowe and Best Picture, were won!

6. Mulholland Drive – Road to Darkness (2001)

In 2016, the BBC’s culture desk launched a survey of 177 film critics and other experts to identify the most significant films of the 21st century to date. The story of the twentieth century. The top position was claimed by David Lynch with “Mulholland Drive,” which is why it is in the best place on our list: His multi-layered and appropriately opaque thriller reworks classic Hollywood myths in its usual “weird” way, inviting viewers to indulge in an enigmatic fever dream without a linear storyline. Creatively and directorially, Lynch fires from all cylinders, earning him a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards. More significant, however, seems to be the immense reverence that the film and its creator continue to receive to this day!

7. Spirited Away (2001)

For an overwhelming majority of anime fans, the name Studio Ghibli goes hand in hand with a kind of seal of quality. After “Princess Mononoke” (1997), founder Hayao Miyazaki originally wanted to take a step back. Still, four years later, he returned with his most successful film worldwide: The ten-year-old title character and her parents come across a supposedly abandoned amusement park, where not everything is as it seems.

Like many other Ghibli works, this one, known in the English-speaking world as Spirited Away Flick a delight in terms of both content and visuals. An Oscar for Best Animated Feature and one for “Your Name.”The record held in 2016 as the most lucrative Japanese film of all time has given wings to the entire genre!

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind! (2004)

Especially in the 1990s, Jim Carrey was virtually the epitome of typecasting: time and again, especially in comedies, those responsible relied on the Canadian-American actor’s seemingly arbitrarily malleable facial features. After “The Truman Show” (1998) and “The Fool” (1999), however, it is this relationship drama alongside Kate Winslet that particularly highlights his talent for serious material. At the center of the story are Joel and Clementine, embodied by the two stars, who have their memories of their tumultuous time as a couple erased. One mistake?

The sometimes literally dreamlike presentation and an achingly true-to-life screenplay (author Charlie Kaufman was allowed to take an Oscar for a good reason) definitely remain in the memory!

9. City of God (2003)

The eponymous Cidade de Deus is a poor neighborhood in western Rio de Janeiro that is the setting for this memorable milieu study. Youths without prospects indulge in megalomania under the protection of their gangs and attach shockingly little value to human life, as no one makes clear more carelessly than the completely desensitized Locke the Boss (Leandro Firmino da Hora). In the midst of a spiraling gang war, Buscapé (Alexandre Rodrigues), the most righteous amateur photographer possible, comes into contact with Locke after years of detached observation.

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Much of the cast was recruited from actual residents of local slums, making the four-time Oscar-nominated result all the more approachable.

10. Avatar (2009)

There are conceivably different criteria that elevate a film to one of the “best” of a given period. While some shine through ingenious scripts or poignant acting, others set new trends and standards in technical categories. No film of the 2000s can claim the latter as securely as James Cameron’s science-fiction fairy tale about the blue Navi, which was, after all, the commercially most successful blockbuster ever: Groundbreaking computer effects and a pioneering role for 3D cinema, which was heavily promoted in subsequent years, distinguish the opener of this series, which is set to run for several installments. Three technical Oscars and Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director are part of the prize haul!

11. In Bruges (2008)

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two Irish hitmen who are ordered to go into hiding after a job in Bruges, Belgium. While Ken is enraptured by the charm of the historic buildings, Ray, doubting life, seeks out the seedy corners of the city, having little use for the local tranquility. Which holds certain ironies: the stay is a benevolent parting gift from choleric client Harry (Ralph Fiennes) before he wants Ray liquidated for an unforgivable mishap during the last job.

Director and screenwriter McDonagh manages the perfect mixture of tragedy and comedy against an idyllic backdrop!

12. The Dark Knight (2008)

Christopher Nolan is without question one of the most successful filmmakers of the 2000s – “Memento” (2001), “The Prestige” (2006), and even “Inception” (2010) were only removed from the Top 20 with a great stomachache. However, the perfect combination of visual vision, a certain depth, and mainstream appeal is represented by the second part of his Batman trilogy, in which The Dark Knight (Christian Bale) is subjected to the perfidious trials of The Joker (Heath Ledger).

While Nolan manages the difficult balancing act between blockbuster action and emotional drama in exemplary fashion, it is Ledger’s acting performance in particular that sets the flick apart from its genre peers: For the first time ever, a comic book adaptation was able to score an Oscar in one of the acting categories. This honor was unfortunately posthumous for Ledger, who passed away before the film was released.

13. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

How freely and humorously the Second World War and its main protagonists can be dealt with is still a much-discussed matter, especially in Germany. A notorious enfant terrible like Quentin Tarantino is entirely exempt from such misgivings, as his unique melange of War film and black comedy resolutely proves: The titular paramilitary group is enlisted behind enemy lines to spread proper fear and terror among the Nazis by collecting scalps. This operation doesn’t go unnoticed for long by cunning SS man Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). In addition to Waltz, who won an Oscar for his role, Brad Pitt (Aldo Raine) and Eli Roth (“The Bear Jew”) also play characters for the ages!

14. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

The fact that Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood also puts himself in the running for this list with “Mystic River” (2003) or “Gran Torino” (2008) says more than enough about his late work in the director’s chair. The winner here, however, is this drama starring Hillary Swank, which for long stretches tells a grippingly staged but so far typical sports story: Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) struggles to make a career as a boxer despite all the rejection, and in the process builds a close bond with her coach (Eastwood). But a shocking twist changes everything from one second to the next… four Oscars, including for Swank, Best Picture, and Best Director, were awarded to the film!

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15. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Some of the best films ever made are ones you’d rather never see again – and few flicks hit that rarefied notch as relentlessly as the stirring drug addiction drama that first introduced director Darren Aronofsky to a broader audience. With quick cuts, it follows an addicted foursome (played by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, as well as Ellen Burstyn, who is Oscar-nominated for her role) who simply cannot escape the clutches of addiction despite desperate attempts and embarks on a physical as well as psychological descent that viewers must bear similarly helpless witness to. Surviving the test of time alongside the film itself is its soundtrack, whose leitmotif “Lux Aeterna” has since been reused in numerous emotional trailers for other works.

16. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

While he personally only received an extensive Oscar blessing in 2018 with “Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro already proved himself to a broad audience with “Pan’s Labyrinth” as an expert in the visually stunning fusion of fantasy and the darker aspects of human reality. With a unique sense of the surreal, the Mexican (here both director and screenwriter) tells the story of young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who comes into contact with a supposedly alien world at the traumatic time of World War II in this fairy tale by no means aimed at children.

A modern classic beloved by fans and critics alike.

17. In the Mood for Love (2000)

The Asian market has certainly not only attracted attention through animation in the new millennium: the most worthy real film representative seems to be this critical darling set in 1960s Hong Kong, which tells the bittersweet story of Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung). Both move into apartments in a house and soon come to the conclusion that their respective partners have a secret relationship with each other. Despite the obvious attraction to each other, the cuckolds refuse to play the unfaithful game on their part, however.

“In the Mood for Love” sets the stage for unrequited love in an incomparably touching, depressing, and enchanting way. Leung became the first Hong Kong actor ever to win the Best Actor award at Cannes!

18. 25th Hour (2002)

The titular “25 hours” refers to the meager time Montgomery “Monty” Brogan (Edward Norton) has left – when the convicted drug dealer must serve a multi-year prison sentence. In fresh from the 11. In New York, devastated by September, he seeks some much-needed clarity from those closest to him, including his father (Brian Cox), friends Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Frank (Barry Pepper), and his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson).

The poignant, superbly acted flick is especially notable for Brogan’s multi-minute hate speech against the Five Counties. It is based on a novel by future “Game of Thrones” showrunner David Benioff.

19. There will be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis becomes Daniel Plainview in his early 20. A twentieth-century businessman who makes his fortune through oil. To further improve his situation, it is content with many means, and his word does not carry much weight, as a local preacher, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), learns firsthand. In addition to the competition for black gold, the capitalist Plainview also turns the spiritual community against him.

Paul Thomas Anderson relies on powerful images and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s musical score, used as an ominous motif, to direct Day-Lewis to his second of three leading-actor Oscars!

20. The Departed (2006)

By the early 2000s, Martin Scorsese was already a living legend of directing – and yet some of his most famous, successful, and simply best flicks were to follow only in this millennium!

The highly suspenseful last scene of the Gangster movie is a remake of the Hong Kong prequel Internal Affairs (2002). It relies on an explosive cat-and-mouse game carried by an impressive ensemble (Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, and, of course, Scorsese favorite Leonardo DiCaprio).

21. WALL-E (2008)

22. Casino Royale (2006)

23. Cast Away (2000)

24. The Prestige (2006)

25. The Bourne Identity (2002)

26. Up (2009)

27. Training Day (2001)

28. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

29. Kill Bill – Volume 1 (2003)

30. Minority Report (2002)

31. Hangover (2009)

32. Iron Man (2008)

33. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

34. No Country for Old Men (2007)

35. Unbreakable (2000)

36. Gran Torino (2009)

37. The Hurt Locker (2008)

38. Memento (2000)

39. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

40. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

41. The Wrestler (2008)

42. Amélie (2001)

43. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

44. Batman Begins (2005)

45. District 9 (2009)

46. Finding Nemo (2003)

47. Mulholland Drive (2001)

48. Almost Famous (2001)

49. Mean Girls (2004)

50. Blind Side (2009)

In conclusion, we certainly couldn’t complain about a lack of choice – a clear testament to the wonderfully diverse quality that the big screen has already given us this millennium.

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