1. Requiem for a Dream (2000)—Director Darren Aronofsky took Hubert Selby's book about drug addiction and created a kinetic, transcendent masterwork about loss and unfulfilled promise. A trendsetter, including both visually and for Clint Mansell's relentless score, this gut punch of a film—more than any other this decade—advanced the art of cinema.
2. Memento (2000)— His superb Batman movies notwithstanding, Christopher Nolan's best film remains this hypnotic thriller/ character study. The film's celebrated backward/ forward structure is far more than a structural gimmick; this is sublime cinema that combines indie inventiveness with populist moviemaking, resulting in a neo-film noir that is made better by its narrative loose ends.
3. The Pixar canon (2001-2009)—Pixar's sterling film collection continued to be enjoyable for viewers of all ages, while managing to mature with its audience. Consider this: 7-year-old kids who started off watching Toy Story back in 1995 became the 15-year-olds diving into the underwater Finding Nemo, 16-year-olds taking flight with The Incredibles, 19-year-olds escaping into the world of a Parisian kitchen in Ratatouille, 20-year-olds captivated by the futuristic WALL-E and today's 21-year-olds floating away to far-off adventure in Up.
4. There Will Be Blood (2008)—Part Citizen Kane, part Stanley Kubrick, director P.T. Anderson's tour de force speaks to the valor and iniquity of American individualism, and also encapsulates the longstanding tension between capitalism and orthodox religion. Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of oilman Daniel Plainview is the defining film performance of the decade.
5. United 93 (2006)—The most emotionally affecting film experience of the decade. Five years after September 11, 2001, director Paul Greengrass accomplishes the unthinkable: a technically proficient rendering of that horrible day that manages to honor the departed, praise the heroes, explicate and damn the villains, and skewer the bureaucratic morass that paralyzed our governmental institutions. It is not only an exacting post-mortem on the day our world stood still, but also a celebration of the better angels of our nature.
6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)—Far and away, the most underrated film of the decade. Director Andrew Dominik, backed by original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and gorgeous cinematography from Roger Deakins, composes a gorgeous, lyrical meditation on celebrity and the concept of hero worship, a longing gaze on the sepia-soaked days of yesteryear refracted into a piercing commentary on our contemporary culture.
7. Munich (2005)—Critics have lashed Stephen Spielberg's most provocative film with every strap of iniquity—amoral, pro-Jewish, anti-Israel, pro-Arab, anti-American, misogynistic, an act of appeasement, etc. These contrasting labels are integral to Spielberg's complex portrait of Israel's reaction to the murder of its athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and, by extension, America's post-9/ 11 foreign policy. The film, from a script by playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), is designed not to advocate but to critique the sons of both Isaac and Ishmael.
8. The Bourne trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)—This is the authoritative movie series of the decade (not The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider-Man or the Star Wars prequels), along with being the most exhilarating, intelligent additions to the indispensable action-thriller lineage. Doug Liman directed the first before Paul Greengrass took over for the next two.
9. Traffic (2000)—Using several interconnected storylines, Steven Soderbergh conjured a sprawling, multifaceted examination of the war on drugs from viewpoints both macro and personal. This is filmmaking at its most epic and informative.
10. City of God (2002)—The beauty of this film, set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, can be found in its narrative scope and visual poetry. Director Fernando Meirelles crafts a gritty, powerful saga that is as poignant as it is brutal.