Ah, the Aughts. Remember them? Yeah, not much of a decade, right?
Or was it…
The period from 2000 to 2009 gave us a bunch of pretty memorable trends, events, and inventions:
The iPod and the iPhone
September 11, 2001. And its aftermath
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
A disputed Presidential election and then the first African-American President
“The Wire” on HBO (greatest television series, EVER.)
The collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis of 2008
In technology investing, there is a relentless quest for what venture capitalists like to call “disruptive technology.” This is the kind of innovation that disrupts the existing order in a given marketplace. It destroys existing models for business and creates new ones. The movies I have on my list of the canonical movies from this decade all share a similar disruptive quality. Each of these films either created new visions of how film could understand our times or took tired forms and gave them utterly new interpretations. Here are my watch-again recommendations from the '00s.
Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) looks back with fondness on 1970s rock n’ roll. This movie was a box office dud when it was first released, but it is one of the most affecting and remarkable coming-of-age films of the past fifty years. A high school writer goes on the road with a rock band and his entire world changes. And it features Frances McDormand’s signature shouted warning to her precocious son: “Don’t take drugs!” I smile every time I think of that. I mean, he was traveling with a rock band in the 70s. I guess getting yelled at to not take drugs was about as effective as any other method, other than the obvious method of “No, you’re only 16. You can’t travel with a rock band. Stay home, do the dishes and finish your homework.”
“Blood and sandals” movies have a long tradition in Hollywood. Most of that tradition is pretty undistinguished. Then Ridley Scott gave it a whirl. Gladiator has the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actor (Russell Crowe), and gives us a stoic and fiercely-quiet kind of Maleness. Go ahead and find me a guy out there who hasn’t seen this movie at least five times. I dare you.
Four of the last five Oscars for Best Director have been won by Mexicans. Unsurprising, really. Mexico has had a well-established film and television industry that is as old as Hollywood’s. 2006 was the year that Mexican directors began to imprint their style on American cinema. Alejandro Inarritu (Babel) became the first Mexican nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, but for me the film of the year was this one by Guillermo del Toro (this year’s Best Director). It's really almost impossible to describe what it's about. A fairy tale set in 1944 Spain and concerns a 10 year-old girl who meets a faun who convinces her she could be a princess in the Underworld and, well, it's a complicated story from there… It’s just simply a dazzling film. It’s visually spectacular and worth watching.
When Peter Jackson was going around Hollywood pitching a new film version on J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive three-volume novel, he had a meeting at New Line Cinema. He pitched it as one movie, but the executive there asked: “Aren’t there three novels? Why not three movies?” And away we go.
One of the basic rules I learned when I was writing comedy is that there’s almost nothing more reliably funny than a supremely self-confident idiot. I have probably watched this movie fifty times now. Will Ferrell’s finest.
Zombie movies have always had a high level of ridiculousness that makes them generally amusing, if unintentionally. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was intended to scare people. Hah! Shaun of the Dead (2004) was a wonderful spoof on the genre, but for me Zombieland mocked the genre so spectacularly that it made everything after somewhat hard to take seriously (yes, I’m talking about you, The Walking Dead—I’m not buying what you’re selling.)
James Cameron’s magnum opus. The ultimate science fiction movie. A technological marvel in a hundred ways. Even if the script is almost laughably bad, who cares? I’ll always watch Avatar. In fact, I’m going to just say this—and I know it’s heresy—I prefer the non-3D version. Gasp!
Pixar had a string of strong films in the 00s, but this one is my favorite. How many movies do you know that make you cry in the first three minutes? Up is the only one I can think of. Before the story of the movie even started! A masterful combination of storytelling and animation technology.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.