Best of the noughties?
February 24, 2009 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend me some recent films.

I haven't really been keeping up with the movies very much over the past few years and I'd like some recommendations before I dive back in. I'm most interested in "arthouse" films for want of a better word, powerful stories with really good characters and realistic psychology, the quality end of Hollywood, American independent movies, psychological thrillers, drama, European directors like Michael Haneke or Mike Leigh. I'm definitely not into: sci-fi, comedy, horror and such.

What's been an unmissable movie over the last couple of years?
posted by dydecker to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I'll say my favorite films of the last few years have been:
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Fog of War
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In the Shadow of the Moon
La Vie En Rose

on the TV miniseries route:
Angels in America
Elizabeth I
posted by Heliochrome85 at 11:34 AM on February 24, 2009

I have been trying to watch as many as possible of Halliwell's 4* movies, and they are uniformly excellent, IMHO. Since 2000 we have:
Gosford Park (2002)
The Barbarian Invasions (2003, French)
Downfall (2004, German)
Capote (2005)
United 93 (2006)

I am looking forward to see others' answers, too.
posted by mjg123 at 11:35 AM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: For instance, someone took me to see Wendy & Lucy last night, which I thought was such an amazing movie. It was the first film I've seen in two years though so it was bound to blow me away i guess.

Also: could you please recommend fictional movies and not documentaries (I've been keeping up with the docs.) Thanks.
posted by dydecker at 11:37 AM on February 24, 2009

You might like Once.
posted by sexymofo at 11:39 AM on February 24, 2009

Some favorite films of mine from the last year or so:

The Wrestler - Best film of 2008, IMO
Synecdoche, New York - I really enjoyed it, but it's pretty polarizing in audience responses
JCVD - Don't let the fact that Jean Claude Van Damme is in it scare you away
Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) - A good French thriller
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:40 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ill second Gosford Park. God I love that movie.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 11:40 AM on February 24, 2009

The Lives of Others - a German film from a few years ago. A slowly unraveling masterpiece.
George Washington - a very slow, delicately crafted movie from David Gordon Green. Probably one of the most unique death scenes I have ever watched.
The Visitor - another Indie gem. I guess I really like slow thoughtful films. This one is about finding a new direction and compassion late in life. Great score.
The Hammer - Adam Corolla's movie. Really quirky humor, especially for those who like tools and boxing.
Green Street Hooligans - a fast paced, violent film about the wars between football fans in the UK. Don't have to be a soccer fan to like this one.
posted by anniek at 11:48 AM on February 24, 2009

Oh yes, JCVD is fabulous.

Also: Burn After Reading, Let the Right One In
posted by arcticwoman at 11:49 AM on February 24, 2009

What, no mention of Slumdog Millionaire ?
posted by kanemano at 11:56 AM on February 24, 2009

I really liked In America (2002), and I'll second Once.

It's still in theaters, but I also thought Revolutionary Road was phenomenal. If you have Netflix (which, if you don't, I highly recommend! I love it), you can add it to your queue now, and it'll go into your list when it's released.
posted by AlisonM at 11:56 AM on February 24, 2009

Synecdoche, New York - I really enjoyed it, but it's pretty polarizing in audience responses

by FAR the best movie of 2009. See it. It's pretty intense; pretty much everyone in the theatre cried when I saw it, but it's amazing, miles beyond Danny Boyle's Oscar-grubbing tripe.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:58 AM on February 24, 2009

"best movie of 2008" I meant.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:59 AM on February 24, 2009

Little Miss Sunshine.

I'd say they had funny moments but were not really comedies as such. Avoid the disaster that is Happy Go Lucky. What a suck-fest that film was.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:00 PM on February 24, 2009

Old Joy (by the same Director as Wendy & Lucy, and based on a story by the same author)
Tell No One
This is England
Happy-Go-Lucky (Best movie of 2008, or at least the best one I saw)
Michael Clayton (Best movie of 2007, or at least . . .)
Black Friday (an Indian movie but by no means a 'Bollywood' movie)
Black Book
Rescue Dawn (and Little Dieter Needs to Fly, for that matter)
The Squid and the Whale
posted by kid_dynamite at 12:00 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Visitor -- an excellent film.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:01 PM on February 24, 2009

Hmmm, you're severely limiting yourself by automatically saying "I don't like X type movies", but I can roll with it. I tend to be more into "Foreign Classics" according to Netflix, so take these with a grain of salt.

The Air That I Breathe (2007)
Brick (2005)
Synecdoche, New York (2008)

And the requisite Oldboy (2003) mention
posted by phrakture at 12:03 PM on February 24, 2009

The Lives of Others, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, already mentioned.

- The Downfall (Der Untergang in German if I'm not screwing that up)
- A Scanner Darkly
- Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
- Inland Empire
- Syriana
- Good Night and Good Luck
- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
- Magnolia
posted by Iosephus at 12:04 PM on February 24, 2009

Tsotsi (2005)
Katyn (2007)
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:06 PM on February 24, 2009

P.S. - Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire should be avoided at all costs. They are all wonderful examples of everything that's wrong with movies these days. Except Toni Collette. She's awesome.
posted by kid_dynamite at 12:06 PM on February 24, 2009

Seconding Squid and the Whale, but be careful: that movie lampoons the very audience that lauded it as a brilliant cinematic accomplishment.

Also: Two Lovers, Happy-Go-Lucky, Rachel Getting Married, Let the Right One In, and while it's not terribly recent or high-brow, I recently enjoyed Maggie Gyllenhaal's first (indie) solo in Secretary.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2009

Although it has some flaws, some of the scenes in Children of Men are unbelievably good.

City of God is probably one of the best movies ever made, frenetic and moving and with great sympathy and realism and clarity.

As a Martin Scorsese fanatic, I loved the Aviator. But even if you aren't a big Scorsese fan its good because its so hard to believe that there was ever a man who dated movie stars and flew experimental airplanes but also lived in a closet for years collecting his own urine in jars, and the film's pacing and editing are phenomenal.

Another great Scorsese: Bringing out the Dead.

You might not like it because it's creepy as hell, but Dead Ringers is a film I recommend to basically everyone, with the caveat that it. is. creepy. as. hell.

Wit is one of the saddest, best acted films... Ebert gave it four stars but said he could never watch it again because its story of cancer hits too close to home for him and that it would be too overwhelming to ever rewatch it.

I saw Rachel Getting Married this weekend and thought it was an unbelievably clear look at the stress of family and addiction, two things that Hollywood tends to over or underplay. Plus the music in it was great.

I don't watch a lot of foreign films, but a lot of Afterlife's subtle humor carried over in the subtitles, which I think rarely happens with Japanese films. Plus its cool that it weaves together real people's stories with fictional characters in a quirky post-death environment.

I can't think of a more imaginitive or better animated film than Monsters Inc.

Finally: Goya's Ghosts. Pan's Labrynth. The Prestige. Punch Drunk Love. I could go on all day but I should probably stop here.
posted by Kiablokirk at 12:09 PM on February 24, 2009

Let The Right One In
Pan's Labyrinth
The Prestige
There Will Be Blood
Children of Men
In Bruges

Just a few of the recent ones that I would recommend. The Wrestler and Slumdog Millionaire are excellent as well.
posted by purephase at 12:12 PM on February 24, 2009

I hardly ever get to the movies because I'm so frickin' lazy, but Charlie Wilson's War was fantastic. Seconding Rachel Getting Married, too.
posted by rtha at 12:12 PM on February 24, 2009

Can't believe I forgot Children of Men and City of God. Both are incredible.
I'm also a very big fan of Spider-Man 2, though I've found that I'm somewhat out on an island with that one.
posted by kid_dynamite at 12:13 PM on February 24, 2009

Seconding Old Joy, another (even better, if you ask me) film by the director of Wendy and Lucy.

Other great films that you might have missed:
I'm Not There, directed by the amazing Todd Haynes, released in 2007.
The Band's Visit, released in 2007.
Waltz with Bashir, which got its US release in 2008 and is still showing in a few theaters. This is an animated documentary and it is unlike any movie I've ever seen.
posted by Mender at 12:15 PM on February 24, 2009

Note: these run the gamut from wide releases almost too obvious to mention (which you've certainly heard of even if you haven't seen) to obscure film festival films (I don't guarantee that they've even been released on DVD, so they may be impossible to find):

10 Items or Less (not to be confused with the unrelated TBS series of the same name)
Away from Her
Brokeback Mountain
A Coat of Snow
Day Night Day Night
Dogville (its sequel Manderlay is good too but not as good as the first)
The Fall
Her Majesty
The Hours
House of Sand and Fog
Into the Wild
James' Journey to Jerusalem
Rabbit-Proof Fence

I'm assuming you're interested in feature-length films only, but if you want recommendations of short films also, let me know.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:16 PM on February 24, 2009

German film about a woman who is trying to escape her old life. Creepy, slow-building suspense. It has stayed with me since I saw it.

Winter Sleepers
Tom Tykwer's first film (he did Run Lola Run). Snowbound mountain town and a somewhat surreal mystery. (actually 1997, but oh well)
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:18 PM on February 24, 2009

Oh, crap, did I forget No Country for Old Men? Essential.
posted by Mender at 12:18 PM on February 24, 2009

I'll elide movies that I liked that I don't think fit your criteria (comedies, mostly, except when they're good enough to justify being in on their own; other genre flicks).

From 2000:

American Beauty was pretty decent. Amores Perros was pretty good. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou was pretty good.


The Believer was good. Donnie Darko is a cult fave. Waking Life was animated, and pretty great.


24 Hour Party People was a pretty fun biopic. Adaptation was great. City of God was pretty great. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was solid.


There are a lot of movies that might fit your criteria in 2003, unfortunately most of the ones I've seen I'd recommend against (Lost in Translation is monumentally overrated). Swimming Pool was pretty excellent, though I'd warn you that the description of it as a thriller is misplaced—it's a character study that has a buncha French nudity in it.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is OK, but not great. I Heart Huckabees is also pretty good, but not great.


History of Violence is a deeply flawed movie that nonetheless manages to be pretty damn good. Jarhead was solid.


Pan's Labyrinth was probably the best movie released that year, though it was incredibly late in the year.


Eastern Promises is another deeply flawed Cronenberg joint worth seeing. Michael Clayton was surprisingly good. No Country For Old Men was excellent. There Will Be Blood was OK. Walk Hard was a comedy that I have to sneak in here because it was hilarious.
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 PM on February 24, 2009

Michael Haneke remade his own film shot for shot of "Funny Games" (1997) released in 2007. I found it dark, sadistic and aggressively confronts character stereotypes.Some other recent world cinema films I enjoyed were "The Lives of Others", set during the 1980's in East Berlin is pretty amazing and Pedro Almodovar's "Volver", which first made me realise that Penelope Cruz was a really good actress. Oh...also "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", biographical film and beautifully shot through the protaganists eyes. Enjoy:)
posted by tokidoki at 1:05 PM on February 24, 2009

Ghost World
Burn After Reading
No Country for Old Men
The Departed
Paranoid Park
Rachel Getting Married
A History of Violence
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
There Will Be Blood
posted by porn in the woods at 1:06 PM on February 24, 2009

Some obvious ones you've probably already heard about:

The Wrestler, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, The Departed

less obvious ones:

Manic, (and others starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, who has really grown as an acting talent: Mysterious Skin, and Brick.)
Oldboy (from Korea, part of the Vengeance trilogy)
Matchpoint, one of Woody Allen's few movies that is neither a comedy nor stars him.
Before Sunset, which does the impossible and outshines the original, Before Sunrise.
Good Night, and Good Luck. A remarkable film, especially pertinent during Bush's Administration.

lastly, I suppose I'd recommend expanding your horizons a bit. While I can understand not being a sci-fi geek, anyone who never sees Children Of Men simply because it's science fiction is honestly missing out. likewise for a number of fine comedies, including but not limited to Little Miss Sunshine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (comedy and sci fi both! the horror!) and The Science of Sleep.
posted by shmegegge at 1:08 PM on February 24, 2009

Some good recommendations, but I'll concentrate on the non-American/English-speaking cinema over the last 5 years or so. I'm sure I'm forgetting some seminal works, but here's some you might not have heard of.

L'Enfant, by the Dardenne brothers is the very definition of powerful stories with really good characters and realistic psychology.

I'd also recommend Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring for a more meditative experience.

The Lives of Others has one of the most understated, powerful performances I've ever seen in my life.

Frozen Land the Finnish 'Pay it Forward': you do something bad to someone else, and they take it out on someone else and they take it out on someone else until someone ends up dead. Depressing but excellent.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:09 PM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: lastly, I suppose I'd recommend expanding your horizons a bit. While I can understand not being a sci-fi geek, anyone who never sees Children Of Men simply because it's science fiction is honestly missing out.

Sorry, I didn't mean my post to imply I'm not interested in sci-fi or comedy movies just because of their genre - I was typing quickly and didn't think. Basically I meant to convey I'm generally interested in quality films of all sorts and not really genre flicks or comic book adaptations and such. It's a hard (and blurry) distinction to make, but judging by people's great lists so far I think people understand.
posted by dydecker at 1:21 PM on February 24, 2009

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring was nicely shot but had little to say.

I really enjoyed 5 x 2 which is a French film telling the story of a couple getting together and breaking up with a similar conceit to Momento, i.e. its told with the break-up first then working backward. Sounds like it would be pretty derivative but works quite nicely in setting up and answering questions about the nature of the central relationship.

Staying French, 36 (or 36 Quai des Orfèvres in the original) was quite decent, concerns two competing cops, one more upright than the other. Its been called the French 'Heat' but that didn't really ring true for me.

Even more French, 'The beat that my heart skipped' is worth a look too.
posted by biffa at 1:30 PM on February 24, 2009

I forgot to mention Stranger Than Fiction. It's Will Ferrell at his finest (IMO).
posted by purephase at 1:50 PM on February 24, 2009

You mentioned Mike Leigh. If you've been out of the loop, you should know that he's still making incredibly good films. Have you seen his latest, Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)? Great movie about a woman who's remarkably bright and happy, almost like a British Amelie if Amelie were a much smarter and more thoughtful film. You probably heard about Vera Drake (2004), which is quite good, but you should also know about All Or Nothing (2002), which I think is his best since Secrets And Lies - it's searing drama about a poor cab driver and his wife and family, and it stars Secrets And Lies' fantastic Timothy Spall.
posted by koeselitz at 2:12 PM on February 24, 2009

I want to underline those recommendations: I think it's true, as it was ten years ago, that Mike Leigh is the greatest director working in films today, and the fact that shinier, though far inferior, movies get more play is no excuse to miss his movies. He's one of the few directors I've ever watched who can be captivated by nearly any even in any person's life; his love of humanity runs miles deep without being sentimentalized or debased. It seems to me that this only becomes more true with every movie of his that I watch; All Or Nothing tore me to pieces, though it had none of the exaggerated elements of most movies and was generally just a movie about people as they are.
posted by koeselitz at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2009

A couple more:
Yi Yi is a fantastic family drama from Taiwan, directed by the late Edward Yang
Raising Victor Vargas is a fine coming-of-age story with an intensely naturalistic style and a largely nonprofessional cast (though Victor Rasuk has since built an acting career)
Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) is fantastic, as is most of Pedro Almodovar's work this decade
Zodiac was wildly underrated upon its release, as was Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Miami Vice was pretty interesting and very different from the TV show, to say the least.
posted by kid_dynamite at 3:02 PM on February 24, 2009

Another piece of advice - get a netflix account. This will do wonders for your movie watching, as you have options to get all sorts of things you can't get at Blockbuster.
posted by phrakture at 3:41 PM on February 24, 2009

I'm surprised Cashback (2007) hasn't been mentioned once in all 40 posts preceding me. A young insomniac attempts to cope with his sleepless nights by taking a job at a local supermarket, only to discover that he possesses a curious coping mechanism.

Originally a short film, it was so well received they went back and filmed more to make it feature length. I hope you can find the full-length one.
posted by lizbunny at 3:46 PM on February 24, 2009

Angel-A (2007), from director Luc Besson (5th Element, The Professional) is a French black-and-white film about a small-time hood who's in deep trouble for owing debts all over town, who gains a guardian angel when a gorgeous leggy blonde jumps off the bridge next to him and he saves her. She's no angel though. Often funny, frequently shocking, good for something different.
posted by lizbunny at 3:56 PM on February 24, 2009

have no new ones to add. But I can strongly second:

Good Night and Good Luck
Angels in America
posted by marsha56 at 4:48 PM on February 24, 2009

Please, don't waste your time watching Slumdog Millionaire. It's an overrated, overhyped POS that should never have even gotten a nomination. If you want an Indian movie, I would try Black Friday, Taare Zameen Par, or Lagaan. Bend It Like Beckham, maybe.

Seconding whoever recommended La Vie en Rose. Beautiful movie, in either language.

Iron Man. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but give it a shot. Best damn superhero movie I've seen, and I'm a dyed-in-the-wool DC girl.
posted by Tamanna at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2009

n'thing Happy Go Lucky, In America and No Country for Old Men.
I can also recommend The Assasination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, This is England and Scoop
posted by sconbie at 6:26 PM on February 24, 2009

I haven't seen The Visitor yet (it's worth mentioning that Richard Jenkins was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for that film, up against Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn), but I can vouch heartily for Thomas McCarthy's first film, from 2003: The Station Agent. It's a wonderful small comedy about a group of wounded people connecting to one another in odd and interesting ways. It's clever and human and indie in the best ways.
posted by mediareport at 8:37 PM on February 24, 2009

Why did I like Blood Diamond so much but no one else has mentioned it?
posted by snowjoe at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2009

I liked Blood Diamond, too. But I wouldn't call it "arthouse."
posted by dpcoffin at 4:44 PM on February 25, 2009

The Man Who Wasn't There. Featuring what should have been an Oscar-winning performance by Billy Bob Thornton's eyebrows.

Seconding The Prestige.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 5:17 PM on February 25, 2009

Crank and Sin City are the two best films that you'll probably want to avoid.
posted by talldean at 5:29 PM on February 25, 2009

One that I'm surprised not to see mentioned is "In the Valley of Elah," which struck me as the potent and powerful and moving depictions I've seen of the Iraq war and it's results. I was all set to hate it because Tommy Lee Jones always plays the same character, but man, that movie really knocked me over. And "Primer"....oh, what a movie! Great to see such a well-worn sci-fi topic feel new again.

I completely understand what you mean about genre films; it's the same reason I haven't read any fantasy books since elementary school; the genre itself isn't broken, just so many books within the genres are so monumentally awful that the work required in finding out which are good isn't worth it.
posted by msbrauer at 11:20 PM on February 25, 2009

I will also recommend There will be blood. It's one of the most powerful tragic films I've seen, and the mental struggle between the two rival main characters is beautifully written and acted.

The level of hate left me puzzled at first, but, if you look carefully, I think it can be explained.
posted by Anything at 12:49 PM on February 26, 2009

Dead ringers isn't exactly recent. But creepy it is, in a unique way. Creepy, creepy drama.
posted by Anything at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2009

Children of men is also very good. It's not really a character-focused film, I think, but the world it depicts scared the hell out of me. A near-future dystopia that looks completely believable, even with the science-fictiony infertility premise that's mostly kept out of the way. The cinematography is excellent.
posted by Anything at 1:07 PM on February 26, 2009

Frozen River.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:03 PM on February 28, 2009

I'm going to suggest 2002's "Être et Avoir" - it is a documentary and you did not mention your liking for them one way or another. But it does fit some of your other criteria.
posted by rongorongo at 3:21 AM on March 3, 2009

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