10 Great 2000s American Movie Classics You Probably Haven’t Seen

Given how many films are released these days, it’s understandable that many of them go under the radar and end up becoming completely forgotten. For every box office hit or critical success of the 2000 to 2009 era, there are tons of movies that died at the theatres and received an often unfair kicking from the film critics. Like any other decade, the 2000s were full of such films, movies that speedily saw themselves get lost in the vast cinematic library of our time.

Readers will no doubt have their own favourites from this time period, and I myself could have easily listed dozens more, but for now here are ten overlooked American films of the 2000s that you may or may not have seen, but either way are movies that deserve a lot more recognition.


1. Delirious (2006)

In Tom DiCillo’s Delirious, Steve Buscemi plays New York paparazzi photographer Les Galantine, who constantly corrects people that he is not some seedy hack, but in fact “a licensed professional”. When a homeless man called Toby (Michael Pitt) literally runs into him, Les agrees to take him in and let him sleep on his couch. In the morning, Toby asks Les if he needs any help and quickly becomes his assistant; carrying his bag, taking notes, elbowing his way into good photo spot opportunities. Les even clears out his cupboard and makes a little private room for him – granted it’s a cupboard, but it’s his cupboard!

The main focus for the paps seems to be pop star K’harma (Alison Lohman), who Toby feels he has a connection with. While Les shows Toby the ropes, the latter manages to get into the in-crowd, spending the night with K’harma and eventually moving upwards when a casting agent (played by Gina Gershon) gets him on the hottest soap opera in America. Hurt by the rejection and the sudden fame of the man he helped from homeless oblivion, Les plots to kill him at a show business event, using a camera made by his father which conceals a gun.

Les is one of Steve’s most multi layered parts, and he brings him to life in every aspect of his character. At first, we think he’s a hot shot professional, but when we see his shabby apartment we realise he hides much from the outside world. With his PC set up in a corner, Les emails his intrusive pictures out into the world as if they are works of art, where they are hopefully snapped up by gossip magazines. This is not a noble profession, but Buscemi’s insistence that this is an art form makse you warm to him.

Thankfully, DiCillo doesn’t use the film as an opportunity to make a damning statement against the paparazzi. This would have been predictable. If anything, he approaches them with warmth, and it’s the stars who look the most shallow and cold. Delirious chooses to focus on a friendship, and rightly avoids preaching to the viewers, and steers clear of heavy handed satire.

While it may not flow as smoothly as earlier Buscemi/DiCillo collaborations, this is still a lost little gem, one to see for the performances, which are sensitive and well thought out.


2. The Pledge (2001)

The Pledge (2001)

In Sean Penn’s gripping The Pledge, Jack Nicholson plays Jerry Black, a police detective about to retire after years of loyal service as one of the best cops on the force. In the middle of his retirement party, a call comes in that a young boy has found a murdered girl in the snow, and an Indian clumsily running away from the scene.

Leaving his own party, Jerry rushes to the scene with his fellow officers. He comes across the body of Ginny, but is troubled by the inept and unprofessional behaviour of the younger officers. They miss out vital details, stand on evidence and, worst of all, “don’t feel like” telling the victim’s parents what has happened. Of course, it’s down to Jerry to do the deed, and he journeys to their turkey farm (there’s a brilliant scene with Jack walking through the hundreds of turkeys to deliver the awful news), promising, in the intimidating face of a cross held by the mother of the victim, to find the killer.

Though the Indian fleeing the scene is blamed for the crime, he kills himself in the station before he can be trialled. Unconvinced he was the killer, Jerry, though retired, continues to snoop around and gather clues about other unsolved child murders of recent times. Jerry finds out Ginny regularly met up with a “giant” and after seeing the girl’s painting of the said giant handing her gifts (porcupines) takes the theory to the station, where they brush it off and make him feel like an old fool.

Giving up on the case, at least on the surface, he goes fishing and decides to buy an old gas station, taking over the business and moving into the adjoining house. He then works up a friendship with a local bar maid, Lori (Robin Wright Penn), and gets close to her daughter. The only problem is, he cannot forget the case, and when the girl gets friendly with a local pastor, he suspects the man is the killer he has been searching for.

Though the film has a gripping plot line running through it – Jack finding this elusive killer being his true obsession – at one point in the film it kind of disappears from your mind. One gets so involved in Jerry’s gentle new life, his routine, his moving relationship with Lori’s daughter and the strengthening rapport he has with Lori herself, that the murder mystery becomes almost secondary, for a while at least.

The Pledge’s Jerry Black is among the finest Nicholson creations since the 1980s, perhaps even before then. Jack disappears into Black, his familiar Jackisms and trademarks fading into the face of this slightly crinkled, likeable and, deep down, decent man. Penn directs it all with such grace, and beauty too I might add, that every second of the film, every shift in tone and pace, seems perfectly measured.

Overlooked these days, The Pledge is a film that will appeal to Jack fans, thriller fiends, and also admirers of character-based cinema.


3. Broken Flowers (2005)

Bill Murray in Broken Flowers

While the dust was still settling off his Oscar nominated role in Lost in Translation, Bill Murray’s transformation into one of the screen’s greatest actors continued with his turn as Don Johnston in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005). It was a role he effortlessly slid into, and one which seemed tailor made for him.

He plays an ageing ladies’ man who finds out he might have a child to one of his ex girlfriends. When his current partner (Julie Delpy) leaves, he finds the letter that informs him of the possibility of him being a father. Encouraged by his neighbour Winston to get off his arse and do some investigating, Don begins his journey, flying on planes, driving rental cars and staying in hotels on his quest for the truth.

In a superb performance, Murray captures the essence of Don very well and the subtle observations of irony in that dry, droll style of his. It’s a low key movie with no unnecessary or implausible thrills and it never attempts to make your mind up for you. Everything is left to the viewer and their interpretation. Jarmusch couldn’t and wouldn’t make a manipulative film; he lets the road trip flow, never giving answers to Don’s problems. It’s a chance to watch Bill Murray speak in silences and pauses, a man of loneliness who, although at first is horrified by the idea of a long lost son, actually seems to desire it by the film’s end.

Premièred at Cannes, the film made back over 40 million at the box office, four times its budget. While it didn’t cause quite as many ripples as Lost in Translation, it was still very well received. Murray was so impressed by the work he and Jim put into Broken Flowers that he briefly contemplated retirement. This is pure Murray Melancholia at its peak. It’s impossible to think of anyone else in the role and equally impossible to imagine another writer-director telling this tale.


4. John Q (2002)

John Q (2002) is one of those extremely enjoyable and enthralling thrillers of the late 90s/early 2000’s that we just don’t seem to see any more. Starring Denzel Washington as a father whose son suddenly needs vital heart surgery or he will die, it becomes a hostage situation when John takes a gun into the hospital and demands the surgeons act fast. He hasn’t the money to pay, but he does have a gun!

Suspenseful, with heavy drama and much tension, it’s excellently directed by Nick Cassavetes, has a tight and sharp script by James Keams, and, just as importantly, is superbly played. Washington is the film’s heart (no pun intended), his anger, frustration and undiluted emotion powering the film forward in every respect. Much of the supporting cast, though representing types to a certain degree, prop up the film around him, and it is certainly one of the meatiest secondary casts I can think of.

The two strongest players, for me, are Anne Heche as Rebecca Payne, a hospital administrator who borders on heartless for the first part of the picture, and James Woods as Dr Turner, the cardiologist who hammers the reality down John’s throat from the get go, points out the unfair injustices of the health system (without the money, you’re in trouble), but eventually aids him in his singled minded pursuit to save the life of his son.

Some critics criticised the obviousness of the message, that the health system in America is just plain unfair, but for such a point to be made it has to be as sharp and pointed as the surgeon’s scalpel. John Q is both highly entertaining and thought provoking, even if the thoughts are not had during the picture, but once it’s finished (after all, it’s too engaging a movie to allow distracted sessions of pondering).


5. The Ice Harvest (2005)

The 1990s and 200s were something of a golden age for the comedy crime flick, particularly those based around the heist – more often a heist gone wrong – and one of the real joys of going through this period of time is to seek out the lost gems and buried bits of gold that have disappeared into time.

In my view one of the best crime comedies of the 2000s was Harold Ramis’s Ice Harvest, based on Scott Phillips’ novel. Featuring an all star cast, including John Cusack, Randy Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, it stars Thornton and Cusack as two shady chaps who having stolen 2 million dollars from their boss, are attempting to leave town on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately for them, they are prevented from doing so by the icy roads, while an ever mounting series of complications make their get away more and more difficult.

Full of very dark humour, many twists and turns in the script, and moments of extreme high tension, The Ice Harvest is one of those violent comedies you sort of feel guilty enjoying. Indeed, there is a perverse pleasure in watching the two thieves as their chances of escape crumble around them. It could have easily fallen flat on its face, but the tight screenplay and Ramis’s assured direction prevent this. Superbly acted and full of genuine surprises, The Ice Harvest is a mid 2000s lost classic.