The Aughts were a decade of turmoil and confusion. 9/11 led the United States into the war on terror and spawned a flurry of both documentaries and Hollywood films about the event. According to New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, Hollywood executives decided that "in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism." Big-budgeted blockbusters and fantasy franchises dominated the box office as viewers flocked to the cinema to drown in escapism. In fact, 80% of the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time were released in the 2000s.
However, Michael Moore popularized the documentary and, in the later years of the decade, Neo-Neo Realism arose to combat the escapist films brought about by the recession. While bombastic musicals not unlike those of Depression-era director and choreographer Busby Berkeley are still being produced, audiences and filmmakers (thanks to French and Italian cinema) seem to have grown up, if only by a little.
There's nothing wrong with escapism. I love to turn my brain off and watch Lord of the Rings as much as anyone. But escapist cinema is all too ubiquitous in an era which has many problems. Films such as Chop Shop (2007) and Gomorra (2008) reject Hollywood glitz and glamor in favor of a gritty, realist point of view. The world has problems. They won't be erased by wizardry, vampirism or singing and dancing.
All tangential discussions aside, here is my list of the best films released in 2000-2009. Well, perhaps I should rephrase. These are my favorite films of the decade.
Entre les murs (The Class, dir. Laurent Cantent, 2008) - The final shot of empty desks piled in the middle of an empty classroom was moving and symbolic of the tragic fate of the inner-city students.
United 93 (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2006) - By far one of the best films about the 9/11 attacks, United 93 surprisingly does not feel as whorish as Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) or World Trade Center (2006).
Runners-up (in chronological order):
Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I, dir. Agnès Varda, 2000)
The Fellowship of the Ring (dir. Peter Jackson, 2001)
Elephant (dir. Gus Van Sant, 2003)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (dir. Wes Anderson, 2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry, 2004)
Caché (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005)
Vals Im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir, dir. Ari Folman, 2008)
Wendy and Lucy (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
And the best film of the past decade (in my humble opinion, of course) is
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7 months ago