Selections by year
2000: “Best in Show”
2002: “The Good Girl”
2003: “Cold Mountain”
Craig As a new decade begins, it’s time to reflect on what the past 10 years have brought the world in terms of film accomplishments.
There were precedent-setting highs, like the elaborate world of Middle Earth in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and new lows with memorably horrendous misfires such as “Gigli” and “The Happening.”
Let’s not even mention anything that Larry the Cable Guy headlined.
But every year had its own unique offerings, whatever your preference.
The following list entails a yearly selection of a variety of personal picks made by yours truly.
These may not necessarily be the best movies of each year, but each stands out in its own way — some of which instantly became mainstream favorites, while some have remained hidden gems.
• 2000: “Best in Show”
A film crew follows the contestants of the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show as they prepare their canine companions for the biggest competition of their lives.
One of the great mockumentaries of all time features a heavy amount of improvisation from its wonderfully low-key comic ensemble cast.
Director Christopher Guest hit his high point here, using his usual troupe of actors to their full potential.
• 2001: “Iris”
Accomplished Irish writer Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench) has lived a full life and has a loving relationship with husband John Bayley (Jim Broadbent), but their marriage becomes exceedingly difficult when she begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
Dench is thoroughly convincing as a woman whose already low inhibitions and impulse control cause her spouse no small amount of grief as she unravels mentally.
Kate Winslet gives a passionate showing as the young Iris, nicely matched by Hugh Bonneville as her fuddy-duddy, scholarly suitor.
• 2002: “The Good Girl”
Justine (Jennifer Aniston) is an unhappily married woman working a retail job that is interminably boring.
Her life is shaken up when a young co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal) approaches her and they start an affair.
Aniston gives the best performance of her career — which she almost matched in 2009’s “Management” — as a woman whose life isn’t quite as unpleasant as the heroines of these kinds of stories.
Gyllenhaal also excels as the young man who becomes Justine’s lover, a disturbed, cynical kid who believes he is the embodiment of “The Catcher in the Rye” protagonist Holden Caulfield. As if he were the first to emulate the literary favorite.
• 2003: “Cold Mountain”
Having only the briefest yet powerful connection with a sheltered woman (Nicole Kidman) before being sent off to fight for the South, a Confederate soldier (Jude Law) deserts his post to return to his beloved.
Likewise, she finds her comfortable North Carolina life uprooted by the terror-driven tactics of the Home Guard, among other troubles.
Although it’s not quite sprawling enough to be considered an absolute epic, this is a return to grand scale war stories, with a number of parallels to “Gone with the Wind.” And as innovative as its predecessor was, the newer take on the Civil War is unflinchingly graphic in combat, wartime politics and romance.
There’s no shortage of talent, with Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Baker, Giovanni Ribisi, Natalie Portman, Ethan Suplee, Ray Winstone and more filling out rich supporting personalities.
• 2004: “Sideways”
Failed novelist and sulky divorcé Miles (Paul Giamatti) hopes for a pleasant bonding experience when he takes best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a week-long bachelor party vacation to California’s Santa Ynez Valley wine country. But the salacious bridegroom has different ideas, as they meet and woo a pair of local women (Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh).
With the kind of premise that could be completely raunchy and worthless in the wrong hands, the adaptation of Rex Pickett’s novel is a real writer’s flick — a hilarious, thoughtful look at love, manhood and wine.
Giamatti is particularly sympathetic as the perpetual loser at the center, but his co-stars bring just as much to the story, whether it’s Haden Church as shameless aging actor Jack or Madsen as sharp, sensual waitress Maya.
The whole movie is as quaffable as any of the wines downed by its characters, be it a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay or Miles’ prized ’61 Cheval Blanc.
But not Merlot!