10 Amazing Films from the 2000’s Worth Rediscovering
“Buffalo Soldiers” (2001) is an intense and wildly enjoyable military satire starring Joaquin Phoenix as Ray Elwood, a U.S. Army Specialist stationed in West Germany in 1989. Bored and unengaged by peacetime activities, Elwood immerses himself in the criminal underworld, stealing and profiteering on black market materials and cooking heroin that he sells to the corrupt military police on base. Elwood’s world is shaken up by the arrival of a new, no-nonsense First Sergeant (Scott Glenn) and his alluring young daughter (Anna Paquin)—both of whom quickly come to see through Ellwood in dramatic and consequential ways. Phoenix is superb as the deceitful yet touchingly humane Ellwood, carrying a story that evolves in intensity from darkly humorous to jarringly perilous. Wonderfully directed and co-written by Gregor Jordan from the book by Robert O'Connor—a real gem of a film destined for repeat viewings.
“Let the Right One In” (2008) is a Swedish drama/horror film that follows the burgeoning friendship between Oskar (Korea Hedebrant), a lonely boy living on the outskirts of Stockholm, and his new neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), a mysterious young girl who just happens to be a vampire. Cared for by an enigmatic older man named Håkan (Per Ragnar), Eli grows close to Oskar even as Håkan hunts and kills in the nighttime in order to provide the human blood she desperately craves. Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, “Let the Right One In” is a sharply engaging, emotionally enthralling experience that vividly captures the complexities of young love within the framework of darkly twisted vampire story. Exceptionally well directed by Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and lensed by Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk), "Let the Right One In" is an unusually touching horror film with just the right amount of wickedness.
3) Sin Nombre
“Sin Nombre” (2009) is a stunning and unforgettable Spanish language thriller that follows a teenage Honduran girl, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and her family as they attempt to emigrate to the United States atop a train traveling through Mexico. Sayra’s fate becomes intertwined with that of Casper (Edgar Flores), a young member of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), as the two find themselves on the run together from Casper’s ruthless fellow MS-13 brethren. Written and Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) in his feature film debut, “Sin Nombre” is as much a searing adventure film as it is a harrowing and authentic depiction of the true-to-life struggles behind so many individual stories of immigration and the pursuit of opportunity on American soil. Amazingly well-shot by Adriano Goldman (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, The Crown)—a one-of-a-kind experience not to be missed.
4) The Five Obstructions (De Fem Benspænd)
“The Five Obstructions” (2003) is a Danish documentary featuring Lars von Trier and his longtime mentor, Jørgen Leth, as they engage in an ambitious filmmaking challenge at von Trier’s dubious behest. Building upon Leth’s original 13-minute short film The Perfect Human (1967), von Trier challenges his colleague to recreate his most famous film five separate times according to a series of prescribed limitations that include remote locations, atypical frame rates, alternate mediums and other “obstructions” to Leth’s storytelling ability. What ensues is a captivating process of psychological gamesmanship as Leth strains to meet Von Trier’s expectations despite his wildly idiosyncratic restrictions, giving the viewer a wonderfully candid look into Leth’s creative process. Trier himself is perfectly villainous in his role as Leth’s gleeful tormentor, and the overall experience amounts to a wildly enjoyable experiment in documentary filmmaking.
5) 13 Tzameti
“13 Tzameti” (2005) is a razor-sharp French thriller starring Georges Babluani as Sébastien, a poor Georgian immigrant living in France and working construction jobs to support his family. After the untimely death of his employer, Mr. Gordon, Sébastien learns that he won’t be paid for work rendered—and in a fit of retribution steals an envelope linked to a mysterious job opportunity. Sébastien subsequently follows the directions within the envelope to a secluded house, where he learns that an ambiguous gambling event involving Russian Roulette is to take place—and that he must stand in for Mr. Gordon. Also written and directed by Babluani, “13 Tzameti” is a thrilling nail-biter shot impressively in black-and-white, and imbued with edge-of-your-seat suspense and palpable dread, as the minutes tick by and the rounds of participation progress. Quite a showing from then just-26-year-old Babluani—a real sleeper of a film worth seeking out.
6) Wonder Boys
Based on the novel by Michael Chabon, “Wonder Boys” (2000) is the story of Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), an aging novelist and English professor whose second novel has run well past due as he fills his days smoking marijuana, carrying on an affair with his chancellor’s wife (Frances McDormand) and entangling himself in the lives of James Leer (Tobey Maguire) and Hannah Green (Katie Holmes), two of his top students. The storyline finds Grady’s life coming to a head as his editor (Robert Downey Jr.) arrives from New York just as James is caught up in the theft of an invaluable piece of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia—launching the story off on a madcap adventure featuring James and Grady as the unlikeliest of cohorts. Directed by Curtis Hanson, “Wonder Boys” is a wonderfully original comedy-drama full of great humor and pointed insight into self-discovery—a lively and fun coming-of-age story for all ages.
7) Half Nelson
“Half Nelson” (2006) is an assured indie drama starring Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, a junior high school teacher in Brooklyn, NY, dedicated to opening the minds of his young students, even as he battles his own unrelenting addiction to drugs. Coaching the women’s basketball team, Dunne is found one evening by one of his players/students, Dre (Shareeka Epps), strung out on crack—a moment that becomes the genesis for an unlikely camaraderie between the two. Directed by Ryan Fleck (Sugar, Mississippi Grind), “Half Nelson” is a genuine, touchingly real human drama aided immeasurably by Gosling and Epps’ winningly naturalistic performances. Tip of the hat to Anthony Mackie as well, in his refreshingly unclichéd role as Frank, the drug dealer that ties Dan and Dre together. Overall a real winner that highlights the best of what independent cinema has come to offer in the 21st Century.
“The Proposition” (2005) is an Australian western set in the 1880’s and starring Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns, an outlaw member of the notorious Burns Gang. When Charlie and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are captured by the ruthless Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), Charlie is given a choice between hunting down and killing his elder brother Arthur (Danny Huston), a vicious psychopath known as “The Dog Man", or watching Mikey die on the gallows. Given nine days to complete his task, Charlie sets off into the Outback in search of his formidable sibling, a journey that leads him deep into the perilous, remote interior of the Australian continent, and ultimately face-to-face with his own precarious mortality. Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, Triple 9), “The Proposition” is a vicious yet artful affair that delivers a nice shot in the arm to the western genre. As elegant as it is brutally effective—certainly worth checking out.
“Tigerland” (2000) is a Vietnam-era military drama set in 1971 that follows a squadron of U.S. Army recruits preparing for active duty in the waning years of the Vietnam conflict. Assigned to Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, many of the young draftees openly pine to dodge military service altogether, with the exception of Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis), an aspiring writer who enlists in in the hopes of propelling his career as a journalist. Paxton’s closest ally within the squadron is Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell), a draftee who openly rebels against the war and against military authority. Built around the advanced stages of military training, "Tigerland" is a galvanizing human drama centered on Bozz’s open rebellion against the military, and Farrell (in his career-making debut) delivers a phenomenal performance as the smart, savvy and wholly individualistic Bozz—one of the great cinematic rebels in recent memory.
Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, “Persepolis” (2007) is an animated French-Iranian drama that follows Satrapi's early life in Iran, as a born rebel and fierce opponent of the Shah of Iran and later the Islamic Republic. The story follows Marjane from her childhood as a spirited youth spurred on by her burning desire to become a prophet, through her tumultuous adolescence during the Iranian Revolution when many family and friends were prosecuted and jailed for their political beliefs and acts of civil disobedience. At heart, Persepolis is the story of an agitator and individualist, dedicated to spurning the unjustified and inequitable policies of the oppressive Iranian regime. Marjane’s tribulations are both heartening and harrowing, providing a striking glimpse into the life of one idealistic young dissident in one very distinct place-in-time.