(Note: Movies listed in chronological order)
"Almost Famous" (2000)
Cameron Crowe, you're my hero. This story of a fictional band and the innocent teenager who leaves high school to write about it captures the powerful, magical effect music can have. The film is hilarious, touching and at times heartbreaking, and will make you fall in love with music all over again. Oh, and the "Tiny Dancer" scene still gives me goose bumps.
Amelie Poulain is a young waitress in Paris, living an ordinary and lonely life. But when she decides to become an anonymous do-gooder to help others, she also learns how to help herself. The insanely adorable Audrey Tautou plays Amelie with a lovably mischievous innocence, and her surrounding cast of characters add layers of hilarity, wackiness and heart. I could watch this French film without subtitles and still be wildly entertained. Its outstanding direction, vibrant colors and whimsical score evoke enough emotion to carry the audience through; the clever dialogue and omniscient narrative voice simply provide the caramel on top of the creme brulee. I have seen this movie about 10 times, and my heart soars with every viewing. Note: This also happens to be my favorite movie of all time.
"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-2003)
Peter Jackson and Co. turned J.R.R. Tolkien's epic literary masterpiece into an epic cinematic masterpiece. LOTR was groundbreaking with its use of motion-capture technology, miniature sets and the film-makers' decision to film all three films at once. That, and it significantly boosted New Zealand's profile as a vacation destination.
"City of God" (2002)
Outside of Rio de Janeiro is a place called the City of God, a slum run by young hoodlums and drug dealers. This is the true story of how organized crime evolved in the slum during the late '60s, '70s and early '80s, told from the point of view of Rocket, an aspiring photographer who grew up in the slum and is trying to escape its grasp. It's violent. It's gritty. It's shocking. And it's incredible to watch.
"28 Days Later" (2002)
Wait a second ... zombies are fast? And they're not really zombies, they're rage-infected humans? Um, yeah, I'm scared now. Danny Boyle's neo-zombie thriller was one of the first movies to be shot almost completely digitally, giving it a decidedly rugged, urban feel and making "the infected" seem even faster. It is also one of very few horror movies where I actually cared about the characters and whether they lived or died. And even if you aren't into the plot or scary-movie genre, you most certainly can marvel in the sight of bicycle messenger Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up from a coma in a deserted hospital and wandering the abandoned streets of London. Chilling.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)
At its root, this offering from the often-bizarre mind of Charlie Kaufman is a love story. Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet, robbed of an Oscar, if you ask me) were in love and then they weren't. It was so heartbreaking that they decide to have all memories of their relationship erased from their brains. Have you ever felt that way? That erasing memories of a certain part of your life would actually make you happier? This movie certainly will make you reconsider that logic, while also making you laugh, cry and marvel at just how creepy Elijah Wood can be.
"The 40 Year Old Virgin" (2005)
The first of the Judd Apatow comedies is still the best, paving the way for crude jokes and bromances for years to come. But what made this movie so great was Steve Carell as Andy, the movie's namesake and emotional and moral center. His awkwardness oozes off the screen and yet we're rooting for him the entire way. The movie is endlessly quotable and helped launch the careers of Carell and Seth Rogan while rebooting the careers of the indomitable Jane Lynch and Leslie Mann, who puts together what could be the best drunk chick scene of all time. Of all time.
"Children of Men" (2006)
It's 2027, and infertility has struck the world; no human child has been born in 18 years. How's that for a grim scenario? Director Alfonso Cuaron (incidentally, he's also the director of my favorite of the Harry Potter films, "The Prisoner of Azkaban") shows us the UK in 2027, gray and hopeless and deconstructed. It's an action film, a political film and a drama all in one. "Children of Men" also features incredible camera work in the form of several lengthy single-shot sequences. Simply jaw-dropping.
I already marveled at the music in this film in my top 10 albums of the decade; now it's time to marvel at the movie itself. The simple story of two musicians, each lonely in their own way, coming together to make incredible music over the course of a couple weeks. The clock is running on their relationship, but the art that they create together will last forever. An amazing thought, no?
Perhaps the most unlikely blockbuster of the decade: An animated feature with very little dialogue about two lonely robots making a love connection (sans Chuck Woolery, of course) and featuring songs from "Hello, Dolly." Pixar never ceases to amaze me. Somehow this movie made me care more about two animated robots than I do about 95 percent of people in movies.
"Inglourious Basterds" (2009)
Quentin Tarantino produced another bloody good film, this time based loosely (and I mean loosely) on World War II and Nazi-occupied France. The movie is quintessential Tarantino: long, cerebral conversation scenes that serve to build anticipation, shockingly violent scenes that wreak havoc on your gag reflexes, and iconic characters that will forever be imitated and quoted. (If Christoph Waltz doesn't win an Oscar for his turn as SS Officer Landa, then, well, I'll ... I'll ... I'll be mad, OK?)