By Ann Silverthorn
Few decades in world history have seen as much upheaval and chaos as the 2000s. Just as we wiped our brows in relief after getting through Y2K successfully, the unthinkable occurred when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and another plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field as heroes tried to overtake the hijackers. Other terrorists detonated bombs in London and Mumbai. Meanwhile, natural forces nearly destroyed the city of New Orleans in the form of Hurricane Katrina, and a southeast Asian tsunami consumed nearly 300,000 lives. As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, the “great recession” figuratively drowned countless households whose property was “underwater” in debt.
Just as in other tumultuous decades, the action, drama, and comedy found in movies provided a welcome escape from the chaos outside the theater walls. Let’s take a look at some of the Oscar winners from the 2000s that are well worth renting.
In a daring role for the times, Hilary Swank’s portrayal of a transgender person in Boys Don’t Cry won her the best-actress in 2000. Based on actual events, Swank’s character, Brandon, enjoys life and love in a small Nebraska town until his true identity is discovered. Chloë Sevigny (American Horror Story, Bloodline) won best supporting actress for her role as Brandon’s love interest.
At the 2001 Academy Awards, best-picture Gladiator took home five Oscars in 2001, including best actor for Russell Crowe. As Maximus, a powerful Roman general, Crowe shed the 40 pounds he had gained for his previous role in The Insider.
Russell Crowe exchanged his gladiator armor for a suit and tie in the best picture for 2002. A Beautiful Mind has all the intrigue and suspense of a spy movie, with a Princeton mathematician (Crowe) at the center. This film is based on the true story of John Nash, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994.
Nicole Kidman won best actress at the 2003 Academy Awards for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours. The skillfully intertwined stories of three 20th-century women in different time periods are all connected with the novel, Mrs. Dalloway. One is writing the novel, one is reading it, and one is living it.
Finding Nemo won best animated film in 2004. Watch this one, starring the voices of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, and you’ll never look at a goldfish bowl the same way again. Set underwater with the main characters being colorful, lovable fish, two of them set off to find a third who has been scooped up to inhabit the four walls of an aquarium.
In 2005, the idea of a procedure that would wipe out all memories of a specific, unpleasant part of one’s life was probably appealing to more than a few people. That’s what Kate Winslet’s character did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She won best actress in 2005 for her portrayal of a woman who decides to erase all memories of her ex-boyfriend (Jim Carrey). He decides to do the same, but then changes his mind. Is it too late?
Penguins like we had never seen them before! Turns out, these creatures deserve some respect, because they’re awfully smart. Winning best feature documentary in 2006, March of the Penguins follows a year in the life of emperor penguins living in the Antarctic. In addition to being rather intelligent, it seems these creatures can teach us a thing or two about monogamy.
Strong, loyal families don’t always look pretty, do they? That’s evident in Little Miss Sunshine, which won Oscars for best supporting actor (Alan Arkin) and writing. When a little girl (Abigail Breslin) has a dream of winning a beauty contest, her parents and extended family pile into a van and head to California. The passengers include a heartbroken uncle, a self-imposed mute brother, and a patriarch who sells heroin at his retirement home. In the fashion of road-trip movies, much is to be learned about the family along the way, but no one is prepared for what happens at the pageant.
Daniel Day Lewis won best actor for his part in There Will Be Blood. He plays a man who seeks to become rich in the silver mining industry. He buys up land in New Mexico and promises the sellers that he will build infrastructure, but he never intended to do so. This is a story of wealth, greed, lies, and broken promises. And blood. But whose?
In Slumdog Millionaire, which won best picture in 2009, a young man (Dev Patel) wins a lot of money, fair and square, on a game show in India. Unfortunately, he’s accused of cheating and is arrested. While he’s in jail, he goes through the game-show questions one-by-one, reviewing his life and how his experiences taught him to help him answer the questions correctly. He’s only one question away from the big prize. Will he be allowed to finish the game?