Top 20 Movies of the Decade

Inspired by my friend Kyle’s list and everyone else’s, these are my Top 20 Movies of the Decade. Every movie on this list was made between 2000-2009. Looking at my list, I definitely stopped watching new movies during my college years and pre-having a car. You won’t find any horror movies on the list as I’m easily scared. I like road-trips (6 movies), superheros/epic fantasy (8 movies), strong women leading/co-leading roles (15 movies), and LGBT characters (7 movies).

Transamerica Kill Bill Vol 1 Brokeback Mountain Juno Lost in Translation Capote Ice Princess Watchmen The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Hedwig and the Angry Inch Bend It Like Beckham Batman Begins The Royal Tenenbaums The Golden Compass Star Trek Milk The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Little Miss Sunshine Iron Man Secretary

20. Transamerica (2005)

Road trip movies involving oddly placed families certainly deserve a genre of their own in my movie collection. Transamerica is a touching film about a mtf woman who meets her son Toby, a troubled teen who’s landed himself in jail. Bree decides against telling Toby she’s his father during their trip, which provides for a lot of the film’s tension.

Felicity Huffman really gives a standout performance as Bree. She’s the real reason this movie makes it to #20 on my list. Her talent brings Bree’s story to life and gives the character sympathy when needed.

Felicity Huffman as Bree and Kevin Zegers as Toby
Felicity Huffman as Bree and Kevin Zegers as Toby

19. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

While certainly the second movie is worth the watch too, Vol 1 remains my favorite. I love how it takes everything Quentin Tarantino and puts it in one revenge drama. It’s not a ninja film or a spaghetti Western. It’s full of comically, numb violence. When those parental watchdog groups warn about evil movies making light of extreme violence, they are talking about this movie.

And of course, Tarantino’s doing it on purpose.

Uma Thurman as The Bride works so well here. She’s believably tough, hot enough to attracted attention, and yet seemingly soft in her moments about her daughter. Mixing it up with lots of sword play makes this a great movie, undefinable by the genres it plays with.

Uma Thurman as The Bride in Kill Bill Vol 1
Uma Thurman as The Bride in Kill Bill Vol 1

18. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

While famous for gay cowboys, losing the Oscar nod to Crash, and being the best grossing LGBT film of decade, Brokeback Mountain makes my list due to its realistic view of the modern cowboy. I saw this movie three times in theater.

The cinematography is gorgeous. I love the scope. Growing in Central Oregon and on 20-acres, I felt if nothing else this movie captured the current spirit of the West. Most cowboy movies are nostalgic looks at the past, when there was a wild frontier. But Brokeback Mountain is set on the dying ranches and the mega-operations.

Yes, the ending falls into the horrible dead gay cliche with Jack’s death via gay bashing. But it was nice to see an acknowledgment of small-town cowboys being gay. Because yes.

Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack
Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack

17. Juno (2007)

I’m usually not one for teen romance movies — since I’m not a teen anymore — and I also don’t care for movies about pregnancy. However, Juno‘s quirkiness wore me down. See my fondness of John Hughes’ flicks as reference.

I had to applaud the movie for not having Juno immediately and forever regret giving up her baby. In fact, it’s pretty clear the child is more welcome and loved by Vanessa than anyone else. I also enjoyed Juno in the sense that it actually showed a woman not being thrilled to have a baby. (Another 00’s movies which did this, though recanted in the end, was Waitress.)

For all the quirkiness, Juno retains her heart and her relationship with her family and friends. Allison Janney as Brenda, the seemingly sentimental, but no-nonsense stepmother, exemplified the coming together Juno ended up having around her. She was not alone. Even Paulie sticks by her and doesn’t question her decision. The movie felt real, and I think that’s why it makes the list over its snappy one-liners.

Ellen Page as Juno
Ellen Page as Juno

16. Lost in Translation (2003)

This movie is perfect picture of the lonely, the disconnected, the lost. Its cinematography, framing, and costuming wonderfully capture exactly the emotions it’s going for.

The odd-ball friendship between Charlotte and Bob works well because it’s just that, a friendship captured in an unknown and unfamiliar place. Certainly, this movie could not have taken place in NYC, Paris, London, or any Western country. It plays off the quirks of Japanese culture without putting the culture down. It’s just different.

And when I’m in a mood where I feel different, it’s good to know I’m not alone and can have the bizarrely in-sync friendship of Charlotte and Bob on my screen.

Bill Murray as Bob and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte
Bill Murray as Bob and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte

15. Capote (2005)

I’m not a huge biopic fan, but when done right, this genre can be brilliant. Capote was definitely done right.

Throughout the 00s, Philip Seymour Hoffman became one of my favorite historical character actors. His performance here was stellar. And reminds me what a versatile actor he can be, considering I also greatly enjoyed him in Almost Famous as rock critic Lester Bangs. Two very different personalities.

This movie has a great tone. The dark lightening gives a wonderfully creepy feel for the uncertain times of the late 1950s in rural Kansas. Especially given the grisly real life murders Capote writes about during his interviews with killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. One of the movies eeriest scenes is not with the killers, but Capote reading from In Cold Blood.

As Capote gains humanizing sympathy for Perry, the movie never loses pace with the horrific nature of the murders and the guilty.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee

14. Ice Princess (2005)

This movie is a highly underrated exploration of the tensions between Second Wave and Third Wave Feminism. Seriously. Meg Cabot wrote a very smart, layered story that flew right over the Disney producers’ heads.

Teenage physics-whiz Casey rebels against her professor and 2nd wave feminist mother Joan. How does she do this? By applying her physics lessons to figure skating. In a classic 2nd vs 3rd wave argument, Joan critics figure skating as exploitative of women’s bodies. Not to mention, taking away from Casey’s study time and putting her scholarship to Harvard at risk.

In the end, mother and daughter make up as this is a Disney movie. But more importantly, Casey gets to be both an ice princess and a physics scholar in true 3rd wave feminist potential.

Michelle Trachtenberg as Casey
Michelle Trachtenberg as Casey

13. Watchmen (2009)

Okay, I probably fail at comic books to admit that I liked the movie a whole lot more than the source text. Of course, what makes Watchmen such a great film is the vigilance to the source text. Riddle me that Rorschach.

I was sold on the opening sequence alone in its exploration of the Minutemen’s history as the history of the Western World since WWII. The stories of the Minutemen make Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ text layered and world-build it so much; I’m glad to see that it wasn’t lost in the movie.

The casting was brilliant as where the slight updates to the costumes. (Though I’m still not sold on Silk Spectre II’s.)

I know this movie disappointed movie-goers who were used to seeing Superman save the day or even a message of hope like the end of an X-movie. Watchmen just isn’t that movie. There are no real heroes, and no one saves the day. Of course, that’s one of the many reasons why it’s brilliant.

Matthew Goode as Ozymandias and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian
Matthew Goode as Ozymandias and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian

12. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

My favorite part of this movie is how it keeps the full fantasy alive, while removing some of the overbearing Christian elements. Not that giant lion Jesus Aslan can never not be Jesus. I saw this in theater for my birthday and my friend Erik’s where we sat next to each other and made comments about Jesus’ second coming. Because we’re rude like that.

But Aslan also becomes a fantasy even the non-believers can believe in. Who doesn’t want to ride a giant lion?

All the best book elements make their appearance, and the casting of the children was spot-on. You really believe the child actors are who they say the are. Mr. Tumnus and Lucy’s friendship is just as endearing as ever. The White Witch remains as ferocious and intriguing, played by the cool-headed Tilda Swinton. And the mix of animation, green-screen, and robotics blends nicely into the world of Narnia.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and Skandar Keynes as Edmund
Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and Skandar Keynes as Edmund

11. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

There’s just something about a musical about a transgendered woman from East Germany that tugs on my heartstrings. But okay, really, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is an absurd, surreal musical. With the backdrop of the Cold War, Hedwig starts off as a young boy in love with American rock n’ roll. Who then falls in love with an American soldier and gets a botched sex change operation to escape East Germany. Who then becomes a rock star.

This movie’s shining point is the music. From the artists played in the background to the musical numbers themselves, the music stands out both as works on its own and as an illustration of Hedwig’s journey.

Hedwig is about creating yourself, about peeling back the layers within yourself, and just being as you are in front of the whole world. Naked and unashamed.

John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig
John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig

10. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Okay, yes, I’m sadly disappointed that the romance between Jess and Jules was scraped in this movie. However, this movie had many other breakthroughs, including a delightful friendship between the two, a serious sport movie about women, and showing a multi-racial Britain. The movie pokes fun at both upper-lip British culture and Hindi culture without compromising eithers cultural integrity.

Both Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley are outstanding as Jess and Jules respectively. They’re clearly having fun and celebrating who they are. Which is really what this movie is about. Yes, it’s about a love of football; but mostly it’s about the two women finding themselves and carving out their own less traditional futures. Proving that football just isn’t for the boys.

Keira Knightley as Jules and Parminder Nagra as Jess
Keira Knightley as Jules and Parminder Nagra as Jess

9. Batman Begins (2005)

Yes, Batman Begins makes it onto my list whereas Dark Knight does not. Okay, the Batman-origins story has been done to death. In fact, in Batman: The Animated Series, the the writers forbid any story lines about his origins. Everyone knows them anyway: Bruce Wayne’s parents shot in an alleyway by a random thug; he blames himself; and he uses his gobs of money and free time to become a vigilante fighter known as Batman.

However, David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan take Batman’s origin story and make in shine in every way it should. It’s not new. But it reclaims the franchise in very needed way. This Batman is darker. This Batman gets his face dirty. This Batman is as much a creation of Gotham City as Batman’s villains are a reflection of him. And the casting of the movie was pitch perfect.

Ra’s Al Ghul training of Bruce and ultimate betrayal was the highlight of the story for me. I believed how much both Bruce and Ra’s wanted a better world. How much they both wanted the other to change his mind. I loved the stark contrast of the blue flowers against the seemingly perpetual night of Gotham. This movie is Batman brought to life.

Christian Bale as Batman
Christian Bale as Batman

8. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Another quirky family movie to make it onto my list. Is anyone surprised? My favorite Wes Anderson movie of the 00’s was his first in the decade.

In way, this is an absurd study on the eccentrically rich and what they have to do when their lives change — either by death, marriage, lack of money, or rehab. And at the same time, the movie retains its humor. The tracksuits Chas makes his sons wear are both a morbid reminder of their mother’s death and part of his hilarious idiosyncrasies.

There’s a lot of psychical humor in this movie. Several chase scenes. However, most of it’s underplayed in a subtle way that stops the movie from being a slapstick.

I appreciate the smart, silly ways the Tenenbaums keep on striding through their adversities and neurosis. But that’s what you have to do when you’re secretly in love with your adopted sister.

Ben Stiller as Chas, Danny Glover as Henry, Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot, and Anjelica Huston as Etheline
Ben Stiller as Chas Danny Glover as Henry Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot and Anjelica Huston as Etheline

7. The Golden Compass (2007)

I know this movie wasn’t well-received, but I loved it. The Golden Compass captured my full attention and wonder. It was the Narnia tale and the Tolkien adventure that I never got to lead. But here, Lyra led the adventure with her spirit daemon Pan. She’s stubborn and child-like, while wise and brave.

Her adventure is about growing up as much as it is about exploring and doing what’s right. She’s off to find her friend Roger and rescue him and the other children who are having horrid medical/supernatural experiments done to them. There are witches and talking ice bear warriors. Battles worthy of any fantasy movie.

I wish this movie had been popular in the United States to make enough money for sequels. It captured my imagination and my heart. And not just because I want to be friends with Iorek Byrnison too.

Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra and Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellen voice)
Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra and Iorek Byrnison Ian McKellen voice

6. Star Trek (2009)

As a long-time Star Trek fan, I was very leery of this movie. I’d seen disasters before. But thankfully, J.J. Abrams’ reboot didn’t disappoint. I do think it was a good call to set this in an alternative universe. Mostly because Star Trek fans, like myself, always notice the continuity problems and would spend the entire movie bitching about them, instead of enjoying the flick.

Overall, this was a tight sci-fi action movie. Star Trek had some hand-wavey “science” plot to fill in the blanks, but was pretty much a straight-up coming of age for our heroes.

The casting was done well. Even with my familiarity with some of the actors, Jennifer Morrison as Kirk’s mother was the only one who took me out of the universe. My favorite casting was Karl Urban as Bones. He really brought the spirit of DeForest Kelley to the screen. The only casting I really wanted to change was Scotty’s. Mostly because the movie would’ve been served better by adding more women to the cast and why couldn’t Scotty have been played by Catherine Tate.

What makes the reboot so brilliant is that it makes new Star Trek fans. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc., have a roguish quality that transcends nicely into the ’00s. The Star Trek universe isn’t so clean and refined anymore and frankly, we need that in heroes we can related to.

Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as Bones, John Cho as Sulu, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura
Chris Pine as Kirk Simon Pegg as Scotty Karl Urban as Bones John Cho as Sulu and Zoe Saldana as Uhura

5. Milk (2008)

When I first studied Harvey Milk in college, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of him before. So I’m glad Harvey now has a worthy biopic about his life and times as the United States’ first openly gay politician. His story is both about the 1970s and about how the best politicians evolve. Harvey is the bridge between the hippies — his inspiration to move to the Castro — and the establishment — his election as City Supervisor. His story is about changing your life and your world.

Sean Penn does a marvelous job at bringing Harvey to life. He’s both the hero and the man. While Penn was praised for how much he looked like Milk, I’d say his acting made the role more than body type similarities.

This is one not-to-miss biopic about Harvey Milk, a great LGBT community leader, who’s life ended tragically, but who’s inspired generations of activists and politicians.

Josh Brolin as Dan White and Sean Penn as Harvey Milk
Josh Brolin as Dan White and Sean Penn as Harvey Milk

4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

I rewatch these movies religiously every Thanksgiving. All three of them in the extended versions. That’s how much I love these movies. I thought about picking one over the other, but really, they go together. My favorite bits are scattered throughout. In many ways, the epic structure of the movies (and the books) told from many points of view lend themselves to this.

Sometimes when watching, I see the love story of Frodo and Sam. Two brave hobbits, who’s love for each other and hearts warmed by loyalty to happier times, make them face unknown peril and ultimate danger. From the moment Sam spies on Frodo and Gandalf to Sam carrying Frodo on his back up Mount Doom, there seems to be nothing more pure than this relationship. (Of course, Tolkien was writing about the romantic friendship bonds which formed between soldiers and during his own time in the trenches of WWI.)

Other times, the LotRs becomes an eco-story. The Ents are saving their civilization by letting the forest run free, by taking back what industry has thrust on them. Even as the graphics themselves age, I’ll never forget seeing the drowning of Isengard. Or the sheer oddity of Treebeard’s friendship with Merry and Pippin.

And sometimes, I’m just waiting for the third movie to see Eowyn rip of her helmet, declare that she is no man, and kill the Witch-king of Angmar.

Those are definitely a few reasons why these movies make my playlist at least once a year.

Sean Astin as Sam, Elijah Wood as Frodo, Dominic Monaghan as Merry, and Billy Boyd as Pippin
Sean Astin as Sam Elijah Wood as Frodo Dominic Monaghan as Merry and Billy Boyd as Pippin

3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Road trip? Check. Quirky family dynamics? Check. Momentarily hilarious? Check. Finding yourself? Check. There’s no doubt that I love this tightly crafted story about a weird family going on a road trip so their young daughter can complete in a beauty pageant. In an old VW bus that sometimes breaks down.

I love the smart humor in this. That the script wasn’t dumbed down and doesn’t expect everyone to get every joke. I love the pokes at Nietzsche and Proust peppered right in with Edwn’s (the grandpa) sage advices about getting laid. And Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t loose its pace or message when the story has more serious moments. In fact, those tragedies and epiphanies only make the characters come together and realize what they have is a little messed up, but they can carry on.

Plus, who doesn’t love the entire family dancing to “Super Freak.”

Abigail Breslin as Olive
Abigail Breslin as Olive

2. Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man is by far my favorite superhero movie: my documented love of Iron Man. While Watchmen was bleak and Batman’s always heroic, Tony Stark is an asshole. He pretty much becomes Iron Man to save his own butt from a situation he largely created and then continues to build the Iron Man suit because he can. Tony has the time, the money, and the brains.

Tony only becomes a hero when he’s forced to. Or when the nagging sense of guilt about global problems he helped create comes to very directly bite his ass. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Scott Summers, or the Crimebusters, Tony doesn’t have the do-good-er drive. And that’s part of what makes this movie stand out. Robert Downey Jr’s casting is brilliant.

This movie also nicely plays with superhero gadgetry and villains in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy or cartoon-y. I know Iron Man was a comic book first, but it feels modern. (Of course, a lot of that is thanks to comic author Warren Ellis’ modernization of Iron Man in Extremis.) The entire movie seems plausible and fitting for its time. Iron Man never looses pace, and I can’t wait for the sequel in May 2010.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

1. Secretary (2002)

Talking about this movie seems very personal. Even for a personal blog. This movie is not only my favorite of the decade, Secretary is my favorite romantic film ever. (My favorite romance film for the ’90s was The English Patient, so we’re building on a theme here.)

The first time I saw Secretary, I saw it as a joke on a date with my boyfriend-at-the-time. We’d rented it when a friend of his had mentioned that he needed to see this oddly sexy, kinky film. It was present to me as a film about a lawyer taking advantage of his mentally ill secretary, in the way that many shows portray the boss starting affair with his secretary.

But Secretary is not like that at all. Except perhaps at its very base plot outline.

Secretary is about kinks and fetishes. But it’s also a love story about finding someone when you don’t quite fit the traditional bounds of relationships. And how, of course, unless you know the inner-workings of that relationship most people assume it’s very vanilla on the outside.

Secretary is about finding and accepting yourself as much as it about finding true love and never letting go. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal completely sell their parts as Edward and Lee. You don’t doubt for a moment that their actions are only moving them closer together. I love Spader as the self-loathing Edward; his voice almost selling the part alone. And Maggie’s wide-eye Lee moves their journey further than either ever seemed to have expected.

I love this movie.

James Spader as Edward and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee
James Spader as Edward and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee

0 Replies to “Top 20 Movies of the Decade”

  1. I love your choices and totally agree with your favorite movie of the decade. I absolutely love “Secretary” and it is hands down my favorite romantic movie ever! James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal are both such fine actors that they never allow you not to believe in this unusual relationship.

    Equally “Ironman” is my favorite action hero movie ever. Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark was inspired casting and he has the acting chops to take the character to levels that the script alone cannot.

  2. Thanks!

    The casting director for Secretary definitely hit a goldmine with Gyllenhaal and Spader. Not many actors could pull those roles off.

    Especially since Iron Man basically didn’t have a script when they started filming it. (Which is rather unbelievable considering how tightly woven the story turned out to be.)

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