The 20 Best Movies of the 2000s

iStock/danr13 and IFC Films
iStock/danr13 and IFC Films

The world changed in the 2000s, and not just because the years started with “2” now (although that was huge). In movies, the spread of digital technology made filmmaking less expensive than before, resulting in a new batch of young directors entering the playing field. Out in the real world, the events of September 11, 2001, would influence movies for the rest of the decade and beyond. Here are 20 films from 2000 to 2009 that we consider the best of the decade.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

It remains the highest-grossing foreign-language movie in U.S. box office history, and even adjusting for inflation, the highest since at least 1980. Such is the power of Ang Lee's masterful, breathtaking action epic that changed martial arts movies forever and was most Westerners' first introduction to Michelle Yeoh. Timeless romance and flying warriors never blended so well.

2. Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent embedded with a touring rock band didn't turn a profit in its initial release but has since come to be one of the most beloved movies of its kind, with excellent performances by Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and more.

3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

We're cheating by counting three movies as one entry, but Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy was filmed as one giant project, not three separate ones—and besides, it means we don't have LOTR taking up three spots. Aside from being a monumental technical achievement, with special effects that still look good today, it's a rousing spectacle full of weighty themes, inspiring heroes, noble sacrifices, and Viggo Mortensen.

4. Memento (2001)

Before he gained legions of fans with his Batman movies and Inceptions and Dunkirks and whatnot, Christopher Nolan (along with co-writer/brother Jonathan) made Memento, an ingeniously constructed neo-noir about a man with short-term memory loss trying to find his wife's killer—oh, and the movie starts with the final scene and works its way backward. More than a twisty thriller, it's about the tricks our memories play on us and the lies we tell ourselves.

5. The Hours (2002)

Stephen Daldry's story about three women in different eras each impacted by Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway offered brilliant performances by a trio of Hollywood's best actresses: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman (who played Woolf herself and won an Oscar for it). And the rest of the cast: John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, Margo Martindale, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels!

6. Spirited Away (2002)

The fervor with which people love Hayao Miyazaki's imaginative animated films—particularly this one, about a girl who travels to the world of spirits—rivals the passion felt for Disney and Pixar (albeit without the same level of box office success). The inspired, magical weirdness of Spirited Away offers a glimpse at worlds most other animated films never even thought of.

7. About a Boy (2002)

There are movies on this list that are more hoity-toity, but few as breezy, charming, and heartfelt as this comedy about Hugh Grant becoming friends with a bullied kid (Nicholas Hoult) and his mom (Toni Collette). Deceptively simple, it turns rom-com and other clichés on their heads while delivering a frankly beautiful story about connecting with others.

8. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

It wasn't Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, or even DreamWorks that made one of the decade's most visually hilarious animated films, but Frenchman Sylvain Chomet. His gentle yet insane, almost dialogue-free adventure has something amusing or wonderful to look at in every frame—everything from surrealism to caricatures to Looney Tunes-style anarchy.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

A 21st-century love story from the brilliantly sad mind of Charlie Kaufman, directed by the visionary Michel Gondry, in which Jim Carrey seeks to erase his memories of a lost love (Kate Winslet). Visually, it's ingenious; thematically, it's melancholy and insightful (not to mention funny) in its exploration of true love and the persistence of memory.

10. The Incredibles (2004)

Everything Pixar put out in the 2000s could have made this list (except Cars, obviously), but we’re going with Brad Bird’s widescreen action comedy about a family of superheroes. Even without the “animated” qualifier this is one of Hollywood’s best superhero films, with vivid characters, relatable problems, dynamics visuals, and a sly sense of humor.

11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

After writing Lethal Weapon and a handful of other noisy, ludicrous buddy-cop movies, Shane Black made his directorial debut skewering the genre, mocking the very conventions that Black helped create. A pulpy detective story a la Raymond Chandler, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and a post-Batman Val Kilmer yukking it up with a Hollywood mystery and a screenplay full of screwy one-liners.

12. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

In an alternate universe, Ang Lee’s beautifully rendered adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about love between two cowboys won the Oscar for Best Picture and Crash was never spoken of again. In our universe, we have Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s emotional, taciturn performances centering a powerful film that taps into the universal aspects of falling in love.

13. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

More than a decade before he would win Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro dazzled audiences with this lush, dark fairy tale for grown-ups set in fascist Spain. Existing in a world between fantasy and nightmare, Pan’s Labyrinth is morbid, stunning, gorgeous, thematically rich, and chock-full of amazing things to see and consider.

14. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)

We knew at the time that Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian sci-fi thriller—about a woman getting pregnant in a world where no children have been born for 18 years—was technically brilliant and thematically layered. What we couldn’t have known was how prescient its depiction of a society trying to hold onto hope would seem in 2019.

15. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Joel and Ethan Coen have made at least one film in each decade since the 1980s that could reasonably be considered their best, and each of those bests is better than most of the other films released that decade. Such is the case with this Best Picture winner, a perfect marriage of filmmakers and material (Cormac McCarthy’s novel already had Coen-esque touches) that ruminates on fate, luck, and destiny.

16. There Will Be Blood (2007)

It was Citizen Kane for the new century: a sprawling epic about a flawed, wealthy man who lets his own power destroy him, directed by a wunderkind already revered by most of Hollywood. Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano all do some of their best work in the story of a duplicitous oilman who meets his match in the fiery son of a preacher.

17. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

After scoring with screenplays for loopy, melancholy comedies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman directed this one himself and out-weirded everything he’d done before, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director who creates a massive stage production based on his own life. Surrounded by whimsical, surreal details, it’s an unforgettable piece of art about how life can slip away while you’re not looking.

18. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Surely there was no better Hollywood satire in the 2000s than Ben Stiller’s scathing, piercing, merciless mockery of showbiz egos set during a disastrous film shoot in the jungles of Asia. Among the most astonishing achievements: Tom Cruise nearly unrecognizable as a vicious studio exec, and Robert Downey Jr. being in blackface the whole time—and getting away with it.

19. In the Loop (2009)

An extension of the British TV series The Thick of It and predating Veep, this profanely scabrous political satire directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci depicts both English and American politicians as cynical, petty, conniving opportunists. It’s a dismally accurate view but a hilarious one, and the film features the decade’s best, most creative swearing.

20. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Several films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged in the second half of the decade, but this one, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by journalist Mark Boal, is unique in its emotional resonance. Jeremy Renner stars as a bomb technician so numb to the dangers of war that he’s become addicted to it, resulting in a sharp, tight, and suspenseful action drama.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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