What a decade of film, particularly for the aficionado of the sci-fi and fantasy genres which got a much-needed boost of quality, thanks mostly to the vastly improved technology available all levels of film makers, but also due to the bar being set incredibly high with the arrival of the Matrix and the unbelievable Lord of the Rings trilogies.
I've looked back at the films I've seen this decade and considered them across several distinctions - quality, script, acting, score and the always-difficult-to-assess emotional impact. Of course, my opinion is just that, but I'll have a go anyway.
Here's my Top 10 films of the noughties, in no particular order:
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
My favourite of the three by a nose, showcasing the best of each: great set pieces, a towering score and arguably the best battle scene yet put to film. Jackson got the Oscar for Return of the King but the sheer achievement of these three films beggars belief.
The sort-of sequel to Days of Being Wild (1991) and the stunning In the Mood for Love (2000), Tony Leung and Li Gong reprise their roles in a film that charts new ground as a visual feast. Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, it is a lavish treat which left me mesmerised and emotionally wrought.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Much has already been said about this action-film-cum-commentary on present-day society. Each set piece seems better than the next: the satisfying action sequences, a sublime cast and, of course, an unbelievable performance by Heath Ledger. What's not to like?
Gus Van Sant's beautiful film about the life of Harvey Milk, played by the impeccable Sean Penn, was a poignant and inspiring story of how we still need heroes to continue the work of creating a more tolerant society. For those of us young enough to only know life since Milk's untimely death, it's a call to action and a bitter reminder that MLK's Dream is not yet achieved. Penn and Van Sant at their finest.
The Lives of Others (2006)
A claustrophobic and stifling tale set in 1984 East Germany. Amazing performances, especially by the excellent Ulrich Mühe, make this a must-see film and will surely peg it in many pundits' decade's Top 10, maybe even amongst the best films ever.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Sheer madness. Sheer genius. Watch it once; watch it twice; then watch it again after reading exactly what the hell is going on. Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are sumptuously paired in Lynch's post-modern fairy tale. Dead ends, twists, lots of sex … and there may not even be a mystery at the end of it. I'm not sure I can take it.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
It was a banner year for film, 2007, and There Will Be Blood could just as easily been in this list – it appears below instead – but NCFOM pipped it by two powerful performances which gripped me by the throat and wouldn't let go. Javier Bardem's gut-wrenching bad boy must be a very close runner-up to Ledger for baddie of the decade; and Tommy Lee Jones's earnest-if-not-meandering lawman were pure delights. The Coen Brothers had a very busy decade but this is the pick of the bunch for me, ahead of the brilliant O' Brother Where Art Thou (2000).
Finding Nemo (2003)
If the excellent Toy Story franchise elevated animated cinema into adolescence, Pixar's sublime Finding Nemo pitched it fervently into adulthood. From the opening scene – a frighteningly-realised death in the family – we know we've found an uncommonly subtle and mature film, lifted by Thomas Newman's inspired, understated and pitch-perfect score. A children's film it is not: for while the eponymous guppy does come of age through the Ring of Fire, it's Marlin's voyage of discovery across the ocean of life which gives us all pause. Great stuff.
City of God (2002)
A stomach knot-inducing view of the violent slums of Rio de Janeiro, the performances by a cast of all ages inspire both wonder and fear. There's precious little joy to be found anywhere in the film but what there is shines radiantly, captured through the lens of the protagonist's camera and Fernando Meirelles's tense cinematic diorama.
Some films I just plum loved and/ or watched repeatedly, even if they didn't crack the Top 10.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Alfonso Cuarón achieved not just a step-change in the Harry Potter franchise but a thunderbolt from the sky, catapulting the third instalment of the series from mundane to monumental. While I think David Yates ultimately surpassed it with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), it was Cuarón who breathed depth, wonder and pathos into the magical literary universe. Subsequent directors would come to thank him heartily.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Agonisingly close to making the Top 10, Paul Thomas Anderson's grim portrayal of the rise of an oil baron makes for difficult watching. I rate Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as one of the decade's best, probably next to Heath Ledger's Joker and there's no question he is all-but-uncontainable on screen as the ruthless protagonist. It is an important film, worthy of its Oscars; but that doesn't mean I have to like watching it.
A star vehicle no doubt for Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott's visceral and lavish portrayal of the Roman gladiator who would bring down an emperor is expertly rendered. It's a shame Scott couldn't shave about 20 minutes or so off the final film, it suffers somewhat under its own weight; but Djimon Hounsou is an excellent addition to an already fine ensemble and the open-air fight sequences are breathtaking. If nothing else, Gladiator is worth seeing for the visual realisation of ancient Rome alone.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Clint Eastwood is a prolific director: he had nine films this decade alone, and Million Dollar Baby is my favourite, just pipping the fine Gran Torino. The brutal story of a wide-eyed boxing underdog – the effervescent Hilary Swank, outstanding here – is gripping. But sappy sports fare this isn't; the denouement is heart-wrenching and features Eastwood at his brilliant best on both sides of the camera.
Violent. Ugly. Disturbing. Add it all up for a very good film that hardly lets you draw breath. Chan-wook Park gleefully watches you squirm along with slimy (and doomed) squid as the delightfully dour Park Cheol-woong's protagonist wreaks havoc in the underworld with little more than the tools from your DIY drawer. Not for the faint of heart, for sure.
Donnie Darko (2001)
What the heck is going on? No, seriously. Richard Kelly's surreal film emerged right in the aftermath of 9/11 and met a mystified public reaction, mostly because there was a lot not to get. But with time – and lots and lots of explanation – a brilliant film shined through. Patrick Swayze will be immortalised here, and his courageous career is filled with quirky roles, but really it's Jake Gyllenhaal's command turn which impressed, reassuring the world his outstanding effort in October Sky (2000) was not a one-off.
Star Trek (2009)
Ending the decade on a sci-fi high, the franchise-zapping fun-fest was everything promised and then some. A wonderfully fresh-faced cast leads what will surely be another multi-film adventure into bold, new – and apparently very shiny – territory. The relatively wizened Zachary Quinto is perfectly cast as one of the 20th century's finest fictional characters, Spock; but it's the superb introduction of new-boy Chris Pine as the indefatigable Captain Kirk and Chris Urban's poetically-caustic Bones that leaves us clamoring for the next instalment. If this is the re-boot of Roddenberry's vision, beam me up for much, much more.
There you go: my faves from the past 10 years. Of course I couldn't include all the films I loved - In Bruges is one notable exclusion - but that's the nature of lists.
Here's to the next decade of fine cinema.