The A.V. Club names the best films of the decade

18. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Mulholland Dr. began as David Lynch’s attempt to return to network television, the medium that left him embittered after his experiences with Twin Peaks. He never got a chance to get frustrated a second time; ABC declined the pilot he shot. Where most directors would simply have walked away, Lynch reworked the material from Hollywood black comedy to a reality-warping tragedy that uses film-noir conventions and Lynch’s effortless ability to find the surreal in the banal everyday to show a soul getting warped and corrupted under the blaring spotlights and the warm California sun.
17. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson followed up his beloved breakthrough film Rushmore with The Royal Tenenbaums, a dazzlingly ambitious comedy-drama that filtered The Magnificent Ambersons and J.D. Salinger’s stories about the Glass family through his unmistakable sensibility. In a majestic lead performance, the great Gene Hackman plays the patriarch of an eccentric New York clan that had the misfortune of peaking early. The Royal Tenenbaums is a masterpiece of production design—every detail is perfectly in place and realized down to a molecular level—but the perfectionist visuals always serve the story and the melancholy mood instead of the other way around.
16. Almost Famous (2000)
Between the underwhelming box office and mixed reviews of Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe had a rough decade, but it began on a transcendent note with Almost Famous, a funny, sad, deeply humane autobiographical coming-of-age story inspired by the writer-director’s experiences traveling with the Allman Brothers as a teen journalist for Rolling Stone. Just as François Truffaut eschewed the kneejerk cynicism that pervades most films about filmmaking in favor of swooning affection in Day For Night, Crowe offers a clear-eyed but overwhelmingly romantic take on the well-wrought mythology of the touring rock band. Crowe and his adorable surrogate (Patrick Fugit) are true believers who are able to see the glory and wonder in even a second-rate rock band like the film’s fictional Stillwater.
13. Grizzly Man (2005)
Obsessives and quixotic dreamers have long fascinated Werner Herzog, so he was perfectly suited to bring the tragic tale of Timothy Treadwell to the screen. A spacy former heroin addict and actor whose career peaked when he almost got the Cheers role that launched Woody Harrelson to stardom, Treadwell decided to devote his life to living among grizzly bears in Alaska. Treadwell set out to protect the bears he loved not wisely, but too well, but he was ultimately the one in desperate need of protection; it’s remarkable that Treadwell somehow managed to spend 13 summers with his beloved grizzlies before meeting a tragic, seemingly inevitable fate. Drawing on more than a hundred hours of footage shot by Treadwell and his girlfriend, Grizzly Man builds into a devastating cautionary tale about the dangers of idealizing and anthropomorphizing wild animals.
12. Before Sunset (2004)
The perfect “will they or won’t they” ending to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise seemed like exactly the sort of ambiguous question that most emphatically doesn’t require an answer. It takes roots in the viewer’s imagination: Depending on who you are, romantic or cynic, you either believe that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunited in Vienna exactly one year later, or that they would only have that one night together, and never see each other again. And yet from their very first scene together in Before Sunset, everything feels right about the sequel—better, even—because the conversation that Hawke and Delpy continue so naturally 10 years later is now seasoned by the experiences they’ve had in the interim. Turns out that one night meant a great deal to both of them, but they aren't necessarily in a position to pick up right where they left off.
7. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Detractors have long accused Quentin Tarantino of being all style, no substance, a master craftsman with a pop-culture encyclopedia instead of a soul. 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1, Tarantino’s first film since 1997’s refreshingly mature Jackie Brown, would seem to validate that conception, but when you have style this audacious, inventive, and just plain fun, substance seems downright irrelevant. Tarantino’s giddy, overstuffed tribute to the movies that rattled his soul as a kid casts Uma Thurman as a professional assassin who goes bucking for revenge after her creepily paternal boss has her shot and left for dead on her wedding day. Much badass motherfuckery ensues as Thurman goes after her former partners in crime, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. Tarantino’s kung-fu adventure soars as pure cinema, a sustained adrenaline rush that skips giddily from one unforgettable setpiece to another while quietly laying the groundwork for its quieter, more substantive, and dialogue-heavy second volume.
5. Memento (2000)
Director Christopher Nolan, working from a story by his brother Jonathan (later to be his writing partner on The Prestige and The Dark Knight), tells the story backward, starting with a killing that makes no sense out of context, then moving back through time to establish why that initial/final murder happened, and what it means in a tragic larger context. Along the way, he reveals a lot about protagonist Guy Pearce, a man with a baffling memory condition that opens him up to monstrous errors in judgment—and yet the exposition is so deftly handled that it never feels forced, in the usual Hollywood “people telling each other what they already know” way. In spite of its audacious structure, Memento manages to reveal its backstory more organically and smoothly than most linear films do. On top of that, the small cast is fantastic, the mystery is genuinely compelling, and Memento gave us one of the most outrageously funniest film moments of the decade, summed up with the lines “Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy? [One gunshot later…] No, he’s chasing me.”
4. No Country For Old Men (2007)
When Joel and Ethan Coen accepted the Best Director Oscar for No Country For Old Men, Joel thanked “all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox,” which was an apt way to describe a career that can progress from the goofy Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers to an award-winning Cormac McCarthy adaptation. With No Country, the ever-inscrutable Coens reached beyond themselves and connected with a wider audience, turning McCarthy’s sparse, allegorical thriller into a finely tuned anxiety-delivery device. They were ably aided by Javier Bardem, playing a grinning jack-in-the-box who springs out every time the Coens turn the crank just enough, and by Josh Brolin, playing a muttering hunter who seems to be having a running conversation in his head. While those two chase each other (and a suitcase full of money) across the southwest, lawman Tommy Lee Jones stands off to the side, as the old man this newer, scarier country has left behind.
3. There Will Be Blood (2007)
For a filmmaker with such a bold, unmistakable vision, P.T. Anderson has written and directed a remarkably eclectic array of films, covering everything from the hard-boiled world of professional gamblers (Hard Eight) to the porn industry of the ‘70s and early ‘80s (Boogie Nights) to the interconnectedness of humanity and the universality of suffering (Magnolia) to the romantic angst of a tortured man-child (Punch-Drunk Love). True to form, Anderson’s bruisingly intense 2007 Upton Sinclair adaptation There Will Be Blood looks and feels nothing like any of his previous films. It’s a brawling, two-fisted indictment of conscienceless capitalism built around Daniel Day-Lewis’ volcanic performance as a ruthless oilman who gains the world and loses what little is left of his soul. Anderson has made a film at once epic and intimate, a character study of a man whose lust for money and power knows no bounds. As long as we remain addicted to oil, Anderson’s gut-punch of a film will retain extraordinary contemporary resonance.
2. 25th Hour (2002)
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, filmmakers were rushing to digitally blot out any evidence that the Twin Towers ever existed on the New York skyline. Not Spike Lee. New York is his town, and he alone was committed to documenting it truthfully and poignantly, as an event that touched everyone’s lives in that specific time and place and should not be papered over. That sense of profound loss dovetails beautifully with David Benioff’s story of a convicted New York drug dealer (Edward Norton) spending his final day of freedom before serving a seven-year sentence. Lee connects his regret over the life he’s led—compounded by the realization that the world will keep turning without him—with the vibrancy and resilience of the wounded city he at one point professes to hate, but loves with bone-deep transparency.
1. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
The Michel Gondry-directed, Charlie Kaufman-scripted (from a story by Kaufman, Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth) Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind takes this process to an absurd, moving extreme by positing a world in which technology facilitates our ability to smooth out our past, eliding over the events that hurt us, and removing the people who did the hurting. It’s a freedom that comes, as the leads played by Kate Winslet and a never-better Jim Carrey discover, at a considerable cost.
Though Kaufman is hardly a purely cerebral writer, his philosophical inquiries find an added emotional weight under Gondry’s direction. Portraying the fading and flaring of love in gargantuan bookstores and on railway lines, Gondry captures a moment that’s quintessentially of the 21st century, and yet timeless.
Eternal Sunshine’s lovers, whose circular path brings them back together for an ending that’s ambiguous but guardedly hopeful about the possibility of a future not necessarily doomed to reprise the hurt of the past, though it also may well revisit the same mistakes. It’s the rare film that shows us who we are now and who we’re likely, for better or worse, forever to be.

More films from 21-50 of the list:
21. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher is notorious for his hyper-demanding, Kubrickian pursuit of perfection, where even the simplest shot can demand a hundred takes. With that in mind, rarely have filmmaker and subject been as compatible as in Fincher’s Zodiac, a mesmerizing procedural that follows the still-unsolved case of a Bay Area serial killer all the way down an obsessive-compulsive rabbit hole. What begins as a gorgeous evocation of a region under the grips of a cryptic serial killer—the opening, from the fireworks on July 4, 1969 to the haunting “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sequence that accompanies the first murder, is as good as it gets—becomes all the more fascinating once the case goes cold and only a miserable few can’t bring themselves to let it go.Jake Gyllenhaal talks about his role in "Zodiac" - This is Zodiac (behind the scenes)

It’s an obsessive movie about the nature of obsession, made by a man who can’t distance himself from the puzzle any more easily than his bleary-eyed characters can.
41. The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan redefined how deep a comic-book movie could cut with this sequel to his own Batman Begins in which good and evil battle for the soul of a city. Except that good takes the form of a vigilante with often-questionable methods (Christian Bale’s Batman), and evil, in the form of the late Heath Ledger’s stuff-of-nightmares Joker, has a nagging way of not being wrong beneath his madness. Nolan’s action scenes match the stunningly grand scale of the themes he raises by depicting a political landscape that’s become corrupt and self-serving.
43. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
It can be prohibitively difficult to separate the considerable aesthetic merits of Brokeback Mountain from the culture-wide wave of controversy, snickering jokes, and embarrassed tittering it unleashed upon its 2005 release. Honestly, it was as if Americans had never seen a serious film about gay cowboys before. Four years on, it’s much easier to extract Ang Lee’s tragic romance from the hype. In a powerfully internal lead performance, Heath Ledger plays a tormented ranch hand who stumbles into a passionate affair with rodeo cowboy Jake Gyllenhaal while tending sheep one summer. Over the next two decades, their forbidden bond looms over their doomed attempts to conform to society’s narrow conception of masculinity. Brokeback Mountain attains a devastating cumulative power as time, circumstances, and Ledger’s profound ambivalence and self-loathing conspire to keep these two lovers apart. Though the seemingly incongruous juxtaposition of cowboy iconography and homosexuality made Brokeback Mountain a pop-culture phenomenon, it endures as a powerful, universal story of love won and lost". Source: