So much has happened since the turn of the millennium, we don’t blame you for not seeing as many movies as you should have.
Let us be your guide to the most underrated films of the first decade of the 21st century; the movies that don’t get nearly as much love and respect as they deserve…
Roger Dodger (2002)
Imagine if Tom Cruise’s character from Magnolia took his misogyny tour off-road and used it for personal gain and you have some idea of the morals of the title character in this blistering deconstruction of romance. Campbell Scott – doing a pretty good impression of what a with-it Robert Downey Jr might have offered in 2002 – plays a smooth-talking lothario and advertising executive who is able to strip down a woman’s defences in seconds, while runaway Jesse Eisenberg plays the young virgin he ends up tutoring.
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Charming and alarming in equal measure, Roger Dodger is worth watching even just for Campbell’s devastating put-downs: “I’ve gotta get home, look for work. As we speak, consumers everywhere need reminding of just how fat and unattractive they are.”
The rise of Rian Johnson was meteoric: with just three films under his belt, he found himself directing a Star Wars movie. His own saga started with Brick, the solid foundation of his entire career and a blazingly original and unique genre piece. One part modern high school drama to one part old-school detective noir, Brick sees a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt – whose career in the 00s was full of formative movies such as this – play a loser kid turned amateur gumshoe, out to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girl. The script is full of era-appropriate Chandler-esque quips and lingo (we’re not talking about the guy from Friends) and the plot is a labyrinthine tangle of blind alleys and dead ends, but Brick is a world worth getting lost in: debut movies are rarely this distinct.
A History Of Violence (2005)
Often overlooked in favour of the showier, more naked-er Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg’s first hook-up with Viggo Mortensen resulted in arguably the tighter, more effective movie. Mortensen plays a small-town family man, whose secret violent past returns with a vengeance when he foils a robbery, inadvertently thrusting himself into the limelight and exposing his sins. Everything about A History Of Violence is hyper-real – from the blood-letting (sudden, explosive, gory) to the sex (sudden, explosive, graphic) – making it one of the best adaptations of a graphic novel to date. Praise be also to William Hurt, who scored an Oscar nomination with a bare minimum of screen time; he’s the quiet calm at the centre of an angry, simmering volcano of violence.
Okay, so it’s hardly an unknown and it’s not entirely underrated but David Fincher’s Zodiac was absolutely unappreciated in its own time. The recipient of a grand total of zero Oscar nominations (Juno got four), Zodiac was released outside of the typical awards season and was overshadowed by the one-two punch of No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Arguably, Fincher’s work is the more superior film: mature and elegant with a haunting quality that’s hard to shake loose, Zodiac is the best serial killer movie ever made, grounded as it is in the cold sweat of fear. Cleverly, it’s not about the killer or even his victims, but the toll the search took on the men trying to catch him; Jake Gyllenhaal has never been better. Forget Fight Club, screw Se7en: Zodiac will go down as the defining movie of David Fincher’s career.
Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003)
Miramax must have thought they had a hit franchise on their hands while watching the dailies from Peter Weir’s salty sea tale: starring a twice-gilded Russell Crowe and arriving on the wake of the phenomenally successful Pirates Of The Caribbean, Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World felt like it was riding a wave of popularity. However despite a whopping ten Oscar nominations – and two wins – it barely made its money back at the box office (most likely losing millions after marketing costs were factored in). Shame, because it’s truly a ripping yarn, the kind which don’t get made much any more, and Crowe is at his charismatic best as Captain Jack Aubrey – it’s just unfortunate that it was the other Captain Jack who got his shot at a sea-faring saga. Still, it remains a fun adventure to dive into.
The Rules Of Attraction (2002)
Featuring a cast of disgustingly attractive narcissists who are deeply unpleasant to a man, The Rules Of Attraction isn’t your typical tale of college kids running wild – it’s way more disturbing than that. Roger Avary took Bret Easton Ellis’s nihilistic novel and faithfully brought its finer excesses to the screen; Ellis claims it’s his favourite adaptation of his work to date. The brilliant cast – led by James Van Der Beek aka Dawson from the darkest timeline – are dazzlingly deplorable, but Avary is the star man, staging some fearlessly inventive sequences including a breathless jaunt through Europe in four minutes and a heartbreaking suicide scene that stops the movie in its tracks. It’s a movie of dizzying highs and desperate lows: no wonder Ellis loves it.
Joe Carnahan’s gritty cop thriller literally hits the ground running: opening with a pounding foot chase between perp and narc, the rest of the movie mainlines that early adrenaline and doesn’t let up. Revolving around the murder of an undercover police officer, ‘Narc’ evolves into something that goes beyond the typical boundaries of cops and robbers: the thin blue line is not so straightforward. Jason Patric displayed hitherto unseen talents (wasted on the likes of ‘Speed 2’) and Ray Liotta is at his devious best, but Carnahan’s propulsive direction keeps the movie hurtling towards its emotionally devastating twist ending, delivering on his promise to make a challenging and complex police movie like they used to in the 70s.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Jon Favreau and Iron Man get the credit for Robert Downey Jr 2.0, but really it’s Shane Black who deserves the praise for bring RDJ back from the brink of career ignominy. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was Downey Jr’s first credible post-meltdown leading role, successfully channeling his spastic energy into a film that was as jittery and caffeinated as he was.
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Whip-smart with a one-liner seemingly every three seconds, Black’s directorial debut was great value for money and cracked the key to unlocking Downey’s bottomless charisma; pairing him off with Val Kilmer’s acerbic PI Gay Perry was a masterstroke. The bickering and bitching is grade-A and laid the ground work for the era of Tony Stark. Thank you, Shane.
Bill Paxton directed two movies in his career. One is The Greatest Game Ever Played, a movie about Shia LaBeouf playing golf in 1913. The other is Frailty, one of the most effective and underrated psychological thrillers of the modern age. Paxton also stars as Dad Meiks, an ‘avenging angel’ that claims he can see demons who recruits the help of his two sons – both played by Matthew McConaughey – to despatch the cursed souls with the swing of an axe. It won’t leave you breathless with excitement but it does get under your skin and stay there, thanks to a great score from Brian Tyler and sterling work from its principal cast – and the shocking twist ending is the spooky cherry on the cake. But we’re sure the Shia LaBeouf golf movie is fun too.
Charlie’s Angels (2000) / Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
It’s fair to say that the Charlie’s Angels movies were made in the wrong time. Had they been made a decade later, they would likely have been hailed as important feminist classics; ten years previous, however, they were dismissed as disposable bubblegum fluff. Fools! These movies are clearly brilliant. Noisy! Colourful! Entirely ludicrous! Sisters quite literally doing it for themselves! It’s rare we get action movies with quite so heightened a sense of fun, but the sheer joy of dress-up action-hero make-believe that radiates from stars Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore could keep your house warm for a week. Great soundtracks, too. And loads of Bill Murray! What more do you want?