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Films of the Decade: 2000 – 2009


With the first decade of the twenty-first century concluding at the end of 2009, a lot of film critics and media sources are compiling lists of the best films of the last ten years. This is not one of those lists.

Instead, on today’s show I’ll be counting down a list of twenty-five films that were the decade. The following films have been assembled as a sort of cultural collage, representing the times through cinema. That means the list is not about quality. This is not a list of my favorite films of the past ten years, nor is it a list of the most prestigious motion pictures the decade has to offer. The following films have been assembled based on how they reflect the trends in cinema over the past ten years and how the films capture the culture in which we live.

A list like this of 1980s cinema might include a few critically acclaimed or award winning movies such as Out of Africa or Wall Street, but it would also include popular entertainment like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Breakfast Club, Rambo: First Blood Part II and even Friday the 13th. A comparable list of 1990s films would likely include critical darlings like Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption but it would almost certainly have to name South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Natural Born Killers, and The Matrix. This list is about each film’s cultural impact, either on the film medium or on the culture at large, or its embodiment of the decade in which it was released.

What follows are twenty-five films that captured the essence of the first decade of the 21st century. These are the films that, for better or worse, defined the past ten years.

25. Scary Movie (2000)

Directed by: Keenen Ivory Wayans

Premise: A parody of Scream and other slasher films.

Why It Made the List: It may have seemed unlikely at the time of its release, but Scary Movie is among the most influential films of the decade. Scary Movie broke new ground in the area of explicit comedy and inspired a stream of similar (but not as funny) parody pictures throughout the decade. Ironic, postmodern humor took hold with the rise of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and a resurgence of relevance for Saturday Night Live, as a lot of successful entertainment was based upon ridiculing how stupid other successful forms of entertainment had become. Scary Movie and its followers established a formula of gross out humor and pop culture references that became a standard comedic style. Scary Movie is also important in its use of politically incorrect, boundary pushing gags. Sex comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, and The Hangover, which came to dominate the comedy genre later in the decade, are a direct result of the gags in Scary Movie

24. United 93 (2006)

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Premise: A dramatization of the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, with a focus on the crew and passengers aboard United Airlines flight 93.

Why It Made the List: If any one event shaped this decade, the September 11th attack was it. By the time United 93 was released in 2006, there had already been several film adaptations of the attack. In the various other films made about the attack, from dramatizations to documentaries, the event has been distastefully carved up and used as political fodder with the horrific images of that day thrust in our faces with partisan hysteria. But Paul Greengrass’ film stands out for its ability to actually place the audience back in the fear and confusion of that day. Although the film may not tell us what 9/11 means, it does convey a sense of what that day was like with its cinema verite style and naturalistic acting, and in years to come United 93 will be the film we turn to in order to convey to future generations what happened on September 11th. 

23. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)

Directed by: Darren Grant

Premise: Helen (Kimberly Elise), a woman married to a high profile lawyer (Steve Harris), has to start her life over when he kicks her out of the house for another woman.

Why It Made the List: No single Tyler Perry film stands out but Diary of a Mad Black Woman launched his film career. Although it was not directed by Perry, he did produce, write, and act in it. In the second half of the decade, Perry directed two films a year, many of which were big hits, and he brought films with African American actors into mainstream theaters located in non-minority neighborhoods. Although his films range in quality and suffer from excessive preachiness, Tyler Perry is nevertheless an important figure in the films on this decade.

22. The Hurt Locker (2009) 

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Premise: Set in Iraq in 2004, a staff sergeant (Jeremy Renner) joins an Army bomb squad that is kept busy diffusing roadside bombs and other explosives. The staff sergeant’s reckless actions put him into conflict with the other soldiers on his team. 

Why It Made the List: There were a lot of films about the Iraq war produced this decade but if any single picture stands out, The Hurt Locker is it. Unlike a lot of films dealing with the war, the debate over whether the United States should be there is noticeably absent and the film is not overtaken by a political agenda. Instead, The Hurt Locker focuses on life on the ground and delivers a story about the everyday horrors, hardships, and triumphs of US servicemen and women. The result is a film that stands as a rational voice. Within the cinema of the decade, especially in films dealing with politics, that even temperedness was in short supply and The Hurt Locker is a film contrary to many of the trends of the decade but for that reason it stands out enough to belong on this list.

21. Children of Men (2006)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Premise: Twenty years from now women have lost the ability to reproduce. As a result the world is quickly descending into chaos. In the UK, Theodore (Clive Owen) must escort a pregnant woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) across the violent countryside to safety while being pursued by the government and by rebels who want to use the baby for political purposes.

Why It Made the List: In a decade in which Americans were confronted with the mass murder of September 11th, the brutality of Abu Griab prison, and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, there were a lot of stories about the end of the world from zombie pictures like 28 Days Later and Land of the Dead to Roland Emmerich crap-fests The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. While a lot of these films suggested that the world would end with a bang, Children of Men confronted the apocalypse as a slow bleed in which civilization would rot away. A cerebral film, Children of Men brought the third world to the first world and asked what it means to survive both personally and culturally. It also played into fears of the anti-globalization movement and raised questions of sustainability that had begun to cross over from academic discourse and into the mainstream zeitgeist. Despite all of its chaos and cynicism, Children of Men also displays the hope for a better world that also marked the end of the decade.

20. 1 Night in Paris (2004)

Directed by: Rick Salomon

Premise: Paris Hilton’s sex tape.

Why It Made the List: At one point in time, a sex tape might have ended a celebrity’s career, but in Paris Hilton’s case, it made her career. Over the course of the decade, the press and the public could not get enough of Hilton’s antics and the success she had marketing herself created the foundation for the rise of TMZ and other celebrity news sources, which proved so popular and so powerful that they changed the style and content of traditional and so-called respectable news sources. Hilton’s tape was followed by a barrage of celebrity sex tapes, some intentionally made with the purpose of jump starting or reviving careers. Like it or not, Paris Hilton is the poster child for a decade that saw the rise of reality television, the use of viral marketing, the emphasis of fame over substance, and a collapsing regard for personal space and privacy. The public’s reception of the tape and the media blitz the followed are also indicative of a new change in the culture’s regard for pornography. With porn so easily available online, the advent of “sexting,” and the adoption of hardcore scenes in non-pornographic films like Antichrist and The Brown Bunny, whatever distinction existed between art and porn has been largely erased.

19. Gladiator (2000)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Premise: A Roman military general (Russell Crowe) is betrayed by the new leader of the Empire (Joaquin Phoenix) and becomes a gladiator. Working his way up the ranks to a bout in the Coliseum, the former military leader finds political power in the ability to manipulate the crowd. 

Why It Made the List: On the surface, Gladiator might seem like just another sword and shield epic but it is much more than that. The picture calls upon the imagery of epic films like Spartacus and Nazi propaganda like Triumph of the Will, but Gladiator is self conscious about it and uses references to older movies with a sense of irony. Parts of Gladiator could almost pass for a Quentin Tarantino film, as its use of the gladiator games is not that far departed from the finale of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Gladiator draws a triangle connecting the spectacle of the Coliseum with the power of celebrity and the politics of the Senate, and that link has a contemporary urgency about the way the public’s perception of its leaders and of itself can be stage managed. In addition to reinventing the sword and shield genre, Gladiator’s visual style and music score were later imitated in historical epics that followed like Alexander, King Arthur, and 300.

18. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Premise: Jamal (Dev Patel) gets on the Indian version of the TV game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in an attempt to win the money he needs to buy a new life for himself and the woman he loves (Freida Pinto). The story cuts between his time on the show, an interrogation by authorities who believe he has cheated, and flashbacks to his childhood in Mumbai in which he encounters the answers to the questions on the show.

Why It Made the List: The decade saw a swell of productions that were truly international pictures: films financed or released by major American studios but staring a non-American cast, spoken in non-English languages, and set in foreign countries. Films like this have been distributed in American theaters for some time but in this decade international pictures found a wider audience than they’d had before. The trend started with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and grew with films like Amelie, Monsoon Wedding, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Pan’s Labyrinth, Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, and The Kite Runner and finally reached a crescendo with Slumdog Millionaire. The film’s mix of Hollywood storytelling and Bollywood filmmaking was a look at cinema’s possible future.

17. The Bourne Identity (2002)

Directed by: Doug Liman

Premise: A superspy (Matt Damon) suffering from amnesia follows clues to piece together his identity while evading assassins.

Why It Made the List: The heroes of action films made a significant change in this decade as compared to the heroes of the 1980s and 90s. Gone were the confident, wise cracking, patriotic, muscle bound heroes like John Rambo, James Bond, and John McClane. Instead, Jason Bourne recalled the paranoid, antiestablishment protagonists of 1970s thrillers like The Paralax View and The French Connection. Bourne was wounded, lonely, and just trying to figure out who he was and that weakness made him a human being in the very ways previous action film heroes had not. The style of The Bourne Identity also recalled these 1970s films with its gritty handheld style of cinematography and practical stunts. The film changed the conception of what an action film could be; the genre had often been dismissed as an excuse for mindless violence and inarticulate masculinity. The Bourne Identity proved that character and story could work in the genre and as established franchises returned to theaters with films like Rambo, Casino Royale, and Live Free or Die Hard it was not difficult to see the impact of The Bourne Identity and its sequels on these new installments.

16. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Directed by: Larry Charles

Premise: A pseudo-documentary of Kazakhstani filmmaker Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) who travels across America to meet Pamela Anderson.

Why It Made the List: Borat purported to be a satirical expose of the hidden intolerance in everyday America; in that regard the film comes up short. But Borat is important to the past decade of film as a prime example of two major tendencies: blurring the distinction between the real and the fictional and pushing the boundaries of acceptable taste. Television programs like The Daily Show and Reno 911 imitated the form of news casts and reality programs and horror films like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity deliberately adopted the styles of documentary films to further frighten their audience. Borat did this as well, mixing in staged moments with unscripted pranks so that the two became indistinguishable. In the process, Borat and films like it deliberately undermined the integrity of film and television, telling us it’s all a stage. The film also included gags that were not just shocking because of their sexual nature but also as affronts to multiculturalism and feminism. Just as Paris Hilton epitomized the quest for fame at all cost, the film Borat embodied the grotesque one-ups-man-ship in the comedy genre.

15. Juno (2007) 

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Premise: A sarcastic teenager (Ellen Page) gets pregnant and plans to give her baby to a couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) unable to produce a child.

Why It Made the List: From beginning to end, the decade saw a rise and fall of independent film, especially those with domestic or suburban settings, starting with My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002 and carried on by the critical and box office success of films like Little Miss Sunshine and The Notebook. Juno makes this list because of its combination of winning elements:  Jason Reitman established himself as one of the hot new directors of the decade, Diablo Cody’s script was a post-John Hughes treasure trove of quotable dialogue that captured the dialect of the text message generation, and actors Ellen Page and Michael Cera delivered that dialogue in ways that embodied the sarcastic and ironic tendencies of the culture but their performances countered the acerbic wit with authentic emotion. In searching for a film that embodied youth culture and contemporary hipness, Juno is it. 

14. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann

Premise: A musical about an idealistic young man (Ewan McGreggor) who gets involved with a vaudeville musical troupe and romances the leading lady (Nicole Kidman).

Why It Made the List: Throughout the decade there was a deliberate attempt to manufacture a cult hit with films like Snakes on a Plane, Grindhouse, and Repo: The Genetic Opera. These were not successful because cult films tend to spring up organically and their audiences respond to authenticity. One film that did achieve cult status was Moulin Rouge! The film resurrected the musical genre and paved the way for Chicago, Across the Universe, and High School Musical. Moulin Rouge! is significant in its use of contemporary pop songs and music video styles and it opened up the musical genre to an audience that grew up watching MTV. Despite its weaknesses and excesses (or perhaps because of them) Moulin Rouge! was adopted by a fiercely devoted cult audience, which ensures its longevity and impact more than any number of Oscar statuettes. 

13. Shrek (2001)

Directed by: Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson

Premise: A send up of traditional fairytales. An irritable ogre (voice of Mike Myers) teams with a chatty donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy) to rescue a princess from a dragon.

Why It Made the List: Shrek was not the first computer animated film but it was among the most successful. Its box office success was important because DreamWorks Animation could be called “The Studio That Shrek Built.” In 2001, the studio was still the new kid on the block and had yet to prove itself; the Shrek franchise provided a financial foundation for the studio and solidified its place in the industry. Although Pixar often had an edge over DreamWorks Animation and others in the quality of their films, Shrek made the bigger impact. The film’s combination of ironic humor, pop culture references, and occasional blue humor set out a formula that was imitated in many animated films throughout the decade like Shark Tale and Madagascar. Even though this combination wore out its welcome pretty fast, it was the dominant trend in animation and Shrek is the film that established that trend.

12. Loose Change (2005 – 2009) 

Directed by: Dylan Avery

Premise: A documentary purporting to expose the “truth” behind the September 11th attack. The film claims that the attack was an inside job.

Why It Made the List: Loose Change did more than any other single source to perpetuate the urban myth that the September 11th attack was an inside job, and that myth has since taken on such a strong hold in the culture that politicians and mainstream news sources have had to refute it. The film was primarily disseminated through various “tube sites” on the Internet, making Loose Change the viral video of the decade. The film went through several drafts in its online form, displaying the new plasticity of the film medium in the digital era as the filmmakers addressed various criticisms of their work. Although the argument put forth by the filmmakers is intellectually disingenuous and ethically repugnant, Loose Change is a palatable example of the power of Internet-based film distribution and its effect demonstrates how film has shaped our (mis)understanding of one of the defining events of the decade.

11. Brokeback Mountain (2005) 

Directed by: Ang Lee

Premise: Two cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) fall in love while herding sheep for a summer in Wyoming. The two continue the relationship in secret as they go on with their heterosexual marriages.

Why It Made the List: Although Milk won Academy Awards in some of the key categories (screenplay and actor) that Brokeback Mountain didn’t win, Ang Lee’s film remains the breakthrough and a film that grew into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. It was initially ridiculed as the “gay cowboy movie,” but when the public actually saw Brokeback Mountain it ceased to be a joke. By putting a human face on homosexual relationships, this film has an important place in the normalization of same sex couples and although it may be a coincidence, the fact is that soon after Brokeback Mountain was released, a movement to legalize gay marriage (and the pushback against it) gained serious traction. The film also has the tragic distinction of showcasing one of Heath Ledger’s two great performances of the decade.

10. Transformers (2007)

Directed by: Michael Bay

Premise: A war erupts between two groups of gigantic alien robots. A high school student (Shia LaBeouf) and his crush (Megan Fox) find themselves caught between the aliens and government officials when the parties realize that a family heirloom holds the key to the robot’s war.

Why It Made the List: Transformers best embodies Hollywood’s appeal to the nostalgia of twenty and thirty year olds who grew up in the 1980s. This appeal was present in a number of sequels or reboots of 1980s franchises such as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Rocky Balboa, Miami Vice, Star Trek, and Terminator Salvation. The significant investment of studio resources into these films and the box office that was generated from them ushered in the emergence of Generation Xers as a primary target audience. Transformers is also a relevant film of the decade as a spectacle of destruction. Filmmakers took advantage of the new digital tools available to them in order to depict massive destruction and the climax of Transformers is among the most memorable as downtown Los Angeles becomes a wrestling ring for giant robots. Transformers is also significant in a change in the relationship of a film to merchandising. For over thirty years, the marketing strategy for summer movies was based upon a kitchen table model with the film as the table top and merchandising as the legs. With the release of Transformers, that model took an official shift as the film became another leg and the merchandise, namely toys, took the primary role.

9. The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Premise: The three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series. Set in the fantasy world of Middle Earth, two hobbits must journey across the land to destroy a magical ring that holds the power to manipulate  the forces of darkness.

Why It Made the List: In a decade that saw a great amount of science fiction and fantasy franchises get adapted to film, The Lord of the Rings stands as the crowning achievement. The film redefined what could be done in an epic and its scope, ambition, and detail set a new bar for fantasy. Like the release of the original Star Wars in 1977, The Lord of the Rings benefited from its timing. With the first film released just months after the September 11th attack, the story of a cosmic struggle between absolute good and evil found a very receptive audience. The success of the film raised the bar for hoopla over event pictures and raised the respectability of the genre as Return of the King tied the record for most Oscars won at the annual Academy Awards ceremony. Years after its release, the film gained a less esteemed legacy as legal battles broke out between New Line Cinema and the director Peter Jackson and the Tolkien estate over residual payments. The litigation and legal decisions that followed exposed one of Hollywood’s dirty secrets: the cooking of studio books to hide profits by inflating the cost of the film.

8. The Passion of the Christ (2004) 

Directed by: Mel Gibson

Premise: A retelling of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Why It Made the List: One of the most controversial films of the decade, The Passion of the Christ was criticized for alleged anti-Semitism and intense scenes of brutality and violence. The film became a flash point for a growing cultural conflict over the role and value of religion and it mobilized both conservative Christians and a burgeoning atheist movement. The violence of The Passion is significant in a couple of ways. First, this new portrayal of Christ was embraced by the contemporary religious audience and their enthusiasm for it reveals what element of the Christ story they consider most important; in this case, the physical suffering of his execution is given the highest status. Second, the violence is also significant for the politics of aesthetics in film. In the past, this kind of brutality was limited to extreme horror films that had a countercultural function and were often protested by conservative parents groups but now that kind of imagery was adopted in a film celebrated by social conservatives. This change has implications for the established arguments against the supposed negative effects of violence in films.

7. Saw (2004) 

Directed by: James Wan

Premise: A serial killer sets two men in an elaborate puzzle that can only be solved if one of the men kills the other.  

Why It Made the List: In the first half the decade, the horror genre was in a sorry state. The last of  Scream’s sequels and knock offs had run their course and the only horror pictures released were PG-13 drivel. Into this void came Saw, a mix of hard-R gore and psychological suspense that melded a traditional gothic story with modern technology and overt sadomasochism. Horror films often take hold when they embody cultural anxieties or act as frightening send-ups of the dominant ideology. Released during a conservative presidency and the same year as The Passion of the Christ, Saw twisted the Christian theme of suffering towards redemption into a horror show of self mutilation. Audiences responded to the film and by the end of the decade, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) had risen among the ranks of horror’s top villains like Freddy Krueger and Dracula. Following the box office success of Saw, a steady stream of extremely violent horror films followed, many of them remakes of or references to the horror films of the 1970s and 80s. Saw and its followers may not have been popular with mainstream critics, who attempted to marginalize the films by labeling them “torture porn,” but like a repeating nightmare, they did not go away and in a strange way their dirt, blood, and flesh were an authentic and organic counterpoint to the clean, plastic, and digitized state of the culture.

6. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Directed by: Michael Moore

Premise: A documentary accusing the Bush administration of corruption and deceit from the 2000 election through the handling of the September 11th investigation and the start of the war in Iraq.

Why It Made the List: Michael Moore directed several feature length documentaries throughout the decade and some of them, namely Bowling for Columbine and Sicko, are better than Fahrenheit 9/11. But of all his films, this one is most essential to the decade. Moore proved that the documentary could be entertaining and appeal to a mass audience and it inspired a cottage industry of activist documentaries, both to the political left and right, and it brought the documentary genre to whole new audience. This occurred in part because Moore set himself up as separate from the corporate media that wasn’t telling the public the truth. This became a popular and profitable stance for various figures and media sources, even those who were in the mainstream. Fahrenheit 9/11 also had a significant effect on the 2004 presidential race. Although George W. Bush was reelected, the election was probably much closer than it would have been without the film. 

5. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) 

Directed by: Judd Apatow

Premise: A forty-year-old man (Steve Carell) who has had no success in his romantic life attempts to correct his bad luck when he meets a single mom (Catherine Keener).

Why It Made the List: The comedies in the second half of the decade were dominated by the influence of Judd Apatow and his crew of actors and writers. Although Knocked Up and Funny People were better films, The 40 Year Old Virgin was the breakthrough and it initiated both a strong investment in comedy by Hollywood studios and created new kind of coming of age story. Apatow’s films echo the early work of John Hughes but Apatow’s distinct stamp can be observed in the work that he created or influenced. The male protagonist of an Apatow film was typically a thirty-something man-child stuck in a rut between adolescence and adulthood who is confronted with the realities of life and forced to grow up. Apatow’s films mixed crude humor with a sincere good-heartedness that captured this particular male experience and these stories have an important place defining life in the decade. Curiously, the sexual ethics in Apatow’s work—and The 40 Year Old Virgin was the best example of this—is a cross between the hyper-sexuality of mainstream culture and traditional sexual morays. In that, this film captured the culture in a transition as it struggles to define what sexual morality actually is.

4. 300 (2006) 

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Premise: An adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. In 480 B.C.E., three hundred Spartan soldiers led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) face off against the invading Persian army.

Why It Made the List: In a decade that was filled with comic book adaptations, 300 is among the most important. Where most adaptations were set in urban environments, 300 took on actual history and the timing of the film and its political themes are very much a time capsule of this period. This is perhaps the essential neo-conservative film of the decade as it depicts the last stand of the three-hundred Spartans as a conflict between a noble and enlightened Western civilization and a decadent and violent Middle Eastern civilization. Whether it was intentional or not, 300’s manipulation of history played into the hawkish rhetoric that justified the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As future generations use art and film to understand the mindset of those who advanced the war effort, 300 will be among their main exhibits. 

3. Team America: World Police (2004) 

Directed by: Trey Parker

Premise: A cast of marionettes portray a United States anti-terrorism team trying to stop a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction.

Why It Made the List: Team America is many things: a gross out comedy, a parody of action films, a satire of leftist celebrity activism and rightwing American jingoism, and a criticism of American ethnocentrism. This mix works thanks to the talents of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who have emerged among the great satirical voices in American culture. Although Team America displays the kind of crude humor that the two are known for, Team America also has enough substance to make it a defining film of the September 11th era. The film is unsparing in its criticism of both the political right and left, making fools of them all. In a decade that was marked by the rise of sarcasm, satire, and parody, Team America stands as one of the shining examples of that in film.

2. The Girlfriend Experience (2009) 

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Premise: The film follows a high-class escort (Sasha Grey) in New York as she meets with clients and interviews with a writer researching her line of work.

Why It Made the List: One of the most prolific directors of the decade was Steven Soderbergh, who released a wide range of movies like Traffic, Che, and Erin Brockovich. The Girlfriend Experience sits high atop this list for the way it captures the intersection of economics and human relationships, which came to a head at the end of the decade with the banking crisis and the Wall Street bailout. There were several damning films about capitalism this decade such as There Will Be Blood, American Psycho, and Capitalism: A Love Story but The Girlfriend Experience edges out these others in its specific depiction of the times. The escort, played with vacant detachment by Sasha Grey, is a woman who is bored by her life and is emotionally unfulfilled.  All of her interactions are impersonal and even though she rents a nice apartment and dresses in designer fashions, there is nothing underneath the surface. In this, The Girlfriend Experience illustrates a dominant theme of a decade in which people, craving human connection and interaction, registered with social networking websites and purchased phones and other technology that allowed them to be more connected than ever and yet, in the end, they are isolated and alone.

1. The Dark Knight (2008) 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Premise: A sequel to Batman Begins. As Batman (Christian Bale), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) close in on Gotham City’s organized crime syndicate, the local crime lords turn to The Joker (Heath Ledger), an anarchic criminal genius with no scruples and a hidden agenda.

Why It Made the List: While the decade saw a rise in fantasy and science fiction films it also saw them mature and grow. Where The Lord of the Rings benefited from its immediate post-9/11 release and embodied the sense of a cosmic conflict in which axes of good confront axes of evil, The Dark Knight, released post-Fallujah and post-Abu Grhaib, suggested that in the process of defending the good we may very well become the evil we are fighting. The question of America’s responsibility to its citizens and to the world was a defining feature of the decade and political, ideological, and cultural stakes were planted with different camps suggesting what America’s future should be. While this argument is an ongoing debate and is not exclusive to the decade of 2000 – 2009, in that ten year span the culture was faced with shocks to its foundation that put various cultural agendas and visions for America’s future in relief.  At several time this decade, in the 2000 presidential election, the 9/11 attack, the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the protests against the Iraq War and later against heath care reform, the tension and anxiety in the culture seemed so great that we might be torn apart by it. The Dark Knight encapsulates much of what was central to the decade, including the fear of terrorism, the compromises we might make in our pursuit of stability and justice, and the hope for a better future.

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