Runner-Up. Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, 2006)
Blood Diamond tells the story of a Rhodesian diamond smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose life is changed by his interactions with an American reporter (Jennifer Connelly) and a Mende fisherman (Djimon Hounsou). As usual, director Edward Zwick crafts compelling action sequences, gets great performances from his actors and constructs a variety of gorgeous and lasting images. DiCaprio is convincing and forceful here, but the most resonant performance is Djimon Hounsou. Hounsou's character is motivated to find and recover his son who has been captured and absorbed into the RUF - the raw emotion and potency of his performance is a thing to behold. His is one of the great supporting performances of the decade.
Runner-Up. Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2004)
Director Chris Kentis paid out of pocket to make this movie on weekends over the course of a year, telling the story of a couple left behind by their boat on a SCUBA diving trip. The couple are played by unknowns (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis), but they bring a panicked believability to their roles. The longer the couple is left in the water, the more panic begins to overtake them and Kentis does a magnificent job crafting palpable tension. Eventually, the couple attract the interest of various sea creatures, in particular the sharks, making for one of the most harrowing and intense film going experiences of the decade.
Runner-Up. Cinderella Man (Ron Howard, 2005)
Cinderella Man tells the true story of Bayonne, NJ native boxer James Braddock. Braddock had been a middling fighter in the time leading up to the depression, but he gets the opportunity to get back in the ring and makes the best of it. Paul Giamatti and Renee Zellweger are effective in support, but the soul of the movie is in Russell Crowe's stirring and authentic performance as Braddock. He has the look and physicality of a prize fighter, but brings a humanity to the role that makes the film so effective.
Runner-Up. Tigerland (Joel Schumacher, 2000)
Joel Schumacher, best known for junk like Batman & Robin, The Lost Boys and 8mm, crafts his most effective story about the infantry training at Ft. Polk, LA during the Vietnam war. One of the best performances of his career sees Colin Farrell play a ne'er-do-well compelled to serve in the army. Farrell is incredibly believable and magnetic in the role as a soldier resistant to his training and the film is aided by strong supporting turns from Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Matthew Davis. One of the better boot camp movies ever made, Tigerland has been tragically overlooked.
Runner-Up. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
Christopher Guest's mockumentary style is pitch perfect in this satirical look at dog shows. Led by hilarious turns from Guest himself, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey and Eugene Levy, Best in Show is certainly the best dog show movie ever made. Special note goes to the uproarious dog show commentary by Fred Willard - one of the funniest performances of the decade.
Runner-Up. Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
Eastwood takes on a brave experiment in attempting to tell the battle of Iwo Jima from both perspectives in 2006 pair of Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fatehrs. While the American side (Flags) is muddled by some strange editing issues and some sloppy acting, the Japanese side is where Eastwood seems to have found his stride. Led by stellar work from Kazunari Ninomiya and Ken Watanabe (of The Last Samurai and Batman Begins), Letters really takes life. Ninomiya's performance is perfectly understated and has some real emotional impact, especially in the last moments the character spends with his wife before being sent to war.
Runner-Up. Saw (James Wan, 2004)
And right about now you're wondering what on Earth I could be thinking with this selection, but hear me out. The first Saw, which is now overlooked because of 5 messy sequels (and a 6th coming this Halloween), is actually a damn fine horror movie. Nowhere near as exploitative as the series, and the torture porn genre it inspired, have become, director James Wan masterfully manipulates the audiences comfort level and tension throughout the movie. Thanks to strong work from Tobin Bell as the villainous Jigsaw and Cary Elwes as a trapped doctor, Saw builds tension throughout the entire film up until its effective twist ending. Wan, unlike future Saw directors, allows the tension of the horror trap situation to build for over an hour before reaching a startling climax. One of the best horror movies of the decade...
Runner-Up: Blood Diamond (Zwick, 2006)
Runner-Up: Open Water (Kentis, 2004)
Runner-Up: Cinderella Man (Howard, 2005)
Runner-Up: Tigerland (Schumacher, 2000)
Runner-Up: Best in Show (Guest, 2000)
Runner-Up: Letters from Iwo Jima(Eastwood, 2006)
Runner-Up: Saw (Wan, 2004)