It’s difficult to discern the “best” of anything. What’s the best song? Or the best country? Or the best historical period? Quantifying anything is bound to lead to disagreement, after all. So it is with “Best” lists in general: they are, more often than not, based on opinion. Perhaps by providing a few qualifiers, however, at least some can be persuaded to see why something would be considered “greater” than another–if not necessarily agree with the opinion.
This list is not a “Best Of” 2000s films, but simply what’s currently available on Netflix. And most of these movies aren’t obscure indie films or underrated gems–in fact, a good number of them experienced great success both critically and commercially at the time of their release. However, that decade is now nearly a decade behind in the rearview, and as hundreds and thousands of films continue to be released, even the most prominent films of a time period can become obscured beneath the seemingly never-ending flow of the new and now.
For your consideration, and in case you’ve perhaps only heard of these films but have never actually sat down and watched them, here are the 10 best movies from the 2000s that are currently available on Netflix. If you haven’t seen them before, now would be a good time to do so–before they disappear from streaming and fall back into just a title you’ve heard of but have never actually watched.
10. Coraline (2009)
When young Coraline moves far away from her hometown and into an old house subdivided into three residences, and with her parents too busy to pay attention to her, she starts to feel neglected. Exploring their new home one day, Coraline finds a small door that’s bricked up on the other side. However, later that night she checks the door again and finds that it’s turned into a long, illuminated passageway that leads to another world.
In this “Other World,” Coraline finds that it’s just like hers, complete with an “Other Mother” and “Other Father,” who are only too happy to pay attention to her. Coraline begins to spend night after night in this Other World, and preferring that world to the real one, she is eventually offered by her Other Mother to stay there forever, on one condition: she has to have buttons sewn into her eyes. When she refuses this request, Coraline must fight to find her way back to the real world.
This brilliantly imagined stop-motion dark fantasy, directed by Henry Selick (who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas) and adapted from a Hugo Award-winning novella by Neil Gaiman, is an atmospheric and strange fairy tale that’s very different from most fare made for children. Critically acclaimed and wonderfully realized, Coraline is a dark fantasy film that children and adults can enjoy alike.
9. Chicago (2002)
Celebrity, scandal, and corruption–and the populace’s fascination with all three–aren’t new preoccupations in modern culture. As detailed in the 2002 adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical Chicago, this tabloid fascination with the lurid has been around as long as there have been papers to print the stories and pictures.
Set in 1924, during the Roaring Twenties in Chicago, the story centers around Roxie Hart, a wannabe entertainer who’s having an affair behind her husband’s back with a man that claims he can break her into show business. When he reveals he has no such connections, however, she shoots him to death. This gets her imprisoned and put on trial for murder, but after hiring a high-price, high-visibility lawyer, Hart begins to see a new path to stardom–even if it’s a notorious one.
Featuring Renee Zellweger as Roxie and Catherine Zeta Jones as her idol Velma Kelly, who is similarly on trial for murder and using the publicity to further her career, Chicago is a slick and highly entertaining film that brought the film musical back from the dead. The first musical to win Best Picture since 1968’s Oliver!, Chicago still holds up as a fine example of how to adapt a musical from stage to screen and is a career highlight for many of the actors involved.
8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Wes Anderson’s known for his hyper-stylized, unmistakable films that feature whimsical characters, a melancholic tone, and dysfunctional family units. With a visual style that’s detailed, symmetrical, and often lavish, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Anderson’s highest-budgeted film and a film that has every penny spent evident on-screen.
The intricate world Anderson builds in “Zissou” involves a fictional Jacques Cousteau-like figure, the titular Steve Zissou, who has a full-sized research vessel at his disposal, including a helicopter and submarine. Played with weariness by Bill Murray, Zissou is a faded version of a once-vital oceanographer, with his fantastic ship a living memorial to better times.
After his partner dies during a film shoot by an unseen “Jaguar Shark,” and with his personal and professional life crumbling around him, Zissou finds a lifeline in the form of Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a young pilot who claims Zissou is his father. After joining the oceanographic team, Zissou experiences a series of adventures and downturns as he and Ned try to sort out their potential relationship, in the process recapturing his own passion for his life’s work.
Besides the story, the film itself is gorgeous to watch. Shot in various locations around the Mediterranean and with often stunning set pieces and life-sized diorama-like sets, The Life Aquatic… is like watching a travelogue with a great plot. Featuring the standard excellent soundtrack that Anderson affixes to his films, complete with acoustic renditions of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by Seu Jorge, The Life Aquatic is a look at what Anderson can do with a big budget–and the answer is impressive.
7. Man on Wire (2008)
On one summer morning in 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit pulled off an incredible stunt by walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Performing for 45 minutes while making eight passes along the wire suspended 1350 feet above the ground, Petit’s performance is not only unparalleled but–thanks to Man on Wire–has become a lasting tribute to the monuments of human ability that were the Twin Towers.
This 2008 documentary recounts the preparation Petit went through to carry off his high-wire act (which was illegal, of course), including the years of secretly preparing for the stunt by trespassing on the then-unfinished buildings to figure out logistics. Then the documentary takes off, covering the actual walk between the Twin Towers, as Petit walks, dances, and lays down on the wire ¼ mile in the air.
His stunt brought positive attention to the towers, which previously had been seen as ugly buildings that marred the New York City skyline, while Petit was let go with a slap on the wrist. The documentary is a thrilling piece of work, staged like a heist film–but the only crime that takes place at the end is an astonishing feat of daring atop two now long-gone feats of engineering, both the likes of which we may never see again.
6. Gomorrah (2008)
Opening with a massacre of gangsters and ending with a murder of two wannabe gangsters, to call Gomorrah grim doesn’t do it justice–it’s deprimente. But this Italian gangster film, which focuses on the Casalesi clan, a crime syndicate within the Camorra (hence the play-on-words title), is also a true-to-life look at the street level effect of the gangster world in Italy.
Following five intertwining but separate stories of people whose lives are affected in some way by organized crime in Italy, Gomorrah takes a realistic look at the climate of fear and corruption mob clans and warring factions infect all levels of society, from the young to the professionals to those who aspire to be part of the lifestyle, only for all of them to find the price they have to pay to be involved with the Casalesi clan isn’t what they bargained for.
For gangster film fans that are seeking a more authentic look at life inside of a clan and the more personal, heart-rending effects of doing business outside the law, stripping away the glamour that most American-made crime films tend to coat their bitter with, Gomorrah will have you thinking twice about how “cool” a life of crime may be.