The 2000s offered plenty of opportunities to declare the death of film, or at least the end of moviegoing. Why not forgo the hassle of a packed theater and rising ticket prices in favor of watching movies at home? Or on your phone?
1. The answer, in two words, is Miami Vice (2006), Michael Mann's outrageously ethereal policier. Mann made two other movies this decade (Collateral, Public Enemies) in which texture figured as prominently as narrative or character in the impact and ideas contained within, but Miami Vice manages to feel not of this world. Mann creates a miniature universe that is just familiar enough to understand but his aesthetic decisions are mysterious enough to keep the ground shifting beneath our feet. Simultaneously of the moment, with the most effective use of digital photography as yet seen in a narrative film, and anachronistic, a movie you have to see in the theater to grasp, the world of Vice is a mind-bending one in which paradoxes exist gleefully.
2. Claire Denis' The Intruder (L'intrus) (2004) is a very close second for my favorite film of the decade. Loosely following the story of a man who goes to fascinating extremes to get the heart transplant he needs, Denis downplays the severities of his measures, instead using them as a pretext to hop around the globe. She perfectly captures the feel of everything from the sweaty confines of a sake bar to the dark expanse of the open sea, giving them all a deep connection to her protagonist. Denis can transform the deeply personal inner workings of any of her characters into a universal, unique series of images.
3, 4. Arnaud Desplechin's Kings and Queen (2004) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002), which both deal with men on the edge of emotional oblivion and the smarter, more likeable women who love them, were two of the funniest and most moving experiences I had in theaters in the Zeroes.
5, 6. A pair of instructional films, Jean-Luc Godard's Notre Musique (2004) and Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) attempted to re-educate audiences in the art of movie watching—in Andersen's case, by positing that geographical realism is as important to a film as its emotional believability or narrative plausibility. And he pulls it off.
7, 8, 9. Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen both found a strong voice with a rougher approach than they usually employ, the former with Margot at the Wedding (2007) and the latter with Cassandra's Dream (2007). These tattered films felt more immediate and relevant than the more polished, Oscar-nominated outings that each director offered this decade (The Squid and the Whale and Match Point, respectively). More hypnotic but similarly ragtag was Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers (2005), which—despite Wes Anderson's best efforts—features the best use of a Kinks song this decade.
10. It saddens me that I can't list Lars von Trier's seemingly abandoned USA trilogy as one entry here, but maybe Dogville and Manderlay (2005) are innovative enough to compensate for the absence of a completion piece. Von Trier has continued to make films that are just as much commentaries about how to keep changing the filmmaking game as they are political provocations. (Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark similarly felt like a new kind of movie.) In a decade in which there was no shortage of sentiment about how the movie-going party was about to end, von Trier's reminders that the artistic possibilities of the medium are endless were cheering, serious-minded watermarks.