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The aughts. The naughties. The O’s. Whatever you want to call them, it was a decade deceptively unsure of itself — looking back over its shoulder while charging forward full-tilt.

Cinema in the 2000’s grew out of trends starting in the 80’s and 90’s, when the term “indie film” first gained currency. Barely-financed auteurs like Richard Linklatter and Robert Rodriguez started with handheld cams and blind hope. In the 2000’s many of them hit the mainstream with support from studios with marketing budgets and real production values. 

The results were often uneven, but the decade managed to surface some remarkable films:

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Donnie Darko (2001): A teen in 1980’s suburbia is tormented by visions of a giant psycho bunny. Patrick Swayze shows unexpected acting chops as a child-molesting preacher. Nothing is as it seems, ever. That’s the message. Perhaps there’s a parallel universe involved. You’ll want a companion volume to go with this one. It’s called “The Internet.”

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There Will Be Blood (2007): Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of an Upton Sinclair novel makes us ask where God is in his universe. The answer: God is under the ground. God is oil. Daniel Day-Lewis chews scenery for almost three hours, but then again he’s competing with stark landscapes and relentless despair. No one is spared in this tale as dark as that substance oozing from the ground and demanding worship over all other gods.

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A Serious Man (2009): The Coen Brothers preserved their quirk better than most others to emerge from the indie uprising. Here, the quirk is on full display: A pious Jewish Minnesota physics professor tries to make sense of it all as his life falls to pieces in the 1960s suburbs. “Are you enjoying the new freedoms?” asks his sexy, sunbathing neighbor. No, he really isn’t. He’s still trying to be a serious man.

 

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Memento (2000): Memento should have been released at the end of the decade, not the start. But given the sequencing of the film, perhaps it’s only fitting. The 2000s were about looking back in hopes of understanding what brought us to the chilling events of 9/11. Throughout the decade, we used film the way Leonard used tattoos — to remind ourselves of who we were and where we had been, and to not rest until vengeance for some awful act was finally ours. Of course, Leonard was getting played. 

The 2000s delivered some remarkable films in the last years before Hollywood was dominated by CGI and comic-book adaptations. It’s worth looking back.

It’s worth remembering.

 

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