I never could decide what to call the past decade. The '00s? The aughts?
Befitting the hard-to-define era was a hard-to-define body of films, as well.
Past trends in films were more easily recognizable. The '60s had the French new wave (Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut). The '70s saw the birth of the blockbuster ("Jaws," "Star Wars") and the rise of American auteurs (Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese).
The '80s reflected its tacky excesses with movie franchises ("Halloween," "Friday the 13th"), while the '90s gave us big-budget event films ("Jurassic Park," "Titanic") and the rebirth of independents (Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino).
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This past decade doesn't exactly show a clear trend, but there were an obscene number of remakes and sequels. And since these were some of the worst economic years since the Great Depression, Hollywood and audiences turned to fantasy for escapism, with science fiction, animation, comic books and superheroes leaping from the screen.
As we head into a new decade, which of these films will be remembered? Which were groundbreaking enough to stand the test of time? (Or should?)
Here are my picks for the 10 seminal movies from the past decade (in alphabetical order), along with a salute to the best filmmakers, performances and cult classics.
"Avatar" — Sneaking in at the last minute, James Cameron's 3-D space epic is a jaw-dropping technological marvel, with a scope and sense of awe never seen before.
"Brokeback Mountain" — The "gay cowboy movie" certainly triggered a lot of giggles when it was released, but then everyone saw it, and most were moved by its daring, aching, longing heart.
"The Dark Knight" — Epic (almost too much so) in scale and pounding with urgency. Christopher Nolan transcended the "comic book movie" genre and created something monumental.
"The Departed"— This culmination of director Martin Scorsese's career — which finally won him an Oscar — was mob drama at its most searing, twisty and enjoyable.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"— If only to represent that the entire Potter series will always be revered, this installment finally blossomed with true emotion, a real sense of danger and — whaddya know — magic.
"The Incredibles"— Pixar's amazing creative streak proliferated over the past decade, but this was a highlight — and its message about finding the hero in all of us will remain timely.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"— Again, more as a representation of the "Rings" trilogy as a whole, this first installment was exciting, surprisingly moving and absolutely breathtaking.
"No Country for Old Men" — A thrilling, suspenseful career high for the Coen brothers, and probably one of the most debated film endings of all time.
"Spider-Man"— Sam Raimi captured the wonder of the comics with playful glee. And it was all grounded by Tobey Maguire's winning performance.
"Wall-E"— One of the most romantic movies of all time in a story with robots that don't talk, proving that love really is a language all its own.
10 seminal filmmakers
Pedro Almodovar — The Spanish auteur's films continued to make up their own rules and radiate with a vibrant sense of place, peaking with "Talk to Her" and "Volver."
Danny Boyle — The Brit's eclectic body of work included horror ("28 Days Later"), fantasy ("Millions"), space travel ("Sunshine") and a love story that won him an Oscar ("Slumdog Millionaire").
Joel and Ethan Coen — The prolific brothers continued down their quirky path, exploring everything from Homer's "The Odyssey" ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") to Jewish identity ("A Serious Man").
Clint Eastwood — His remarkable late-career surge gave us films with characters who were an actor's dream, full of remorse ("Mystic River"), anguish ("Letters From Iwo Jima") and promise ("Million Dollar Baby").
Peter Jackson —"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was a staggering triumph, but his ability to inject small, intimate moments amid the grand battles was most impressive.
Pixar — Even after setting a bar for itself that was extremely high, the digital animation studio kept topping itself, including this year's buoyant "Up."
Steven Soderbergh — After winning his Oscar for "Traffic," he gave us everything from just plain fun (the "Ocean's" series) to weird ("Bubble") to extravagant ("Che").
Steven Spielberg — His decade was filled mostly with fun, adventurous fare ("Catch Me If You Can," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), but he embraced sci-fi, too ("Minority Report," "War of the Worlds").
Gus Van Sant — He stubbornly, bravely pursued his artistic growth in films that were experimental ("Gerry"), numbing ("Elephant") and eloquent ("Milk").
Lars Von Trier — One of the founders of the indie Dogme 95 movement, the Danish rebel continued to make genre-defying films that had everything from actors miming on bare sets ("Dogville") to Bjork in an unexpectedly heartrending musical ("Dancer in the Dark").
10 milestone performances
Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood" — His Daniel Plainview roiled with rage, determination, inhumanity — and we saw it all in his eyes.
Johnny Depp, "The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" — His slurred turn as Jack Sparrow wasn't just hilarious, it was an impressive, full-blown creation.
Jamie Foxx, "Ray" — He brilliantly embodied Ray Charles with reverence, charm and charisma.
Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls" — Her knockout delivery of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" simply poured out of her heart, and cemented her Oscar.
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight" — His explosive, maniacal turn as the Joker is one of the most sinister — and watchable — screen villains of all time.
Helen Mirren, "The Queen" — She let us see every struggle and doubt behind the stoic facade that Queen Elizabeth II wore like a mask.
Sean Penn, "Milk" — His ability to disappear into roles is dazzling, and he stepped into the role of the slain gay activist like he was putting on a comfortable suit.
Julia Roberts, "Erin Brockovich" — She was bold, gutsy and commanding, and the film would have been less memorable were it anyone else in the role.
Tim Robbins, "Mystic River" — His portrayal of a character confused, tortured and haunted was so riveting, we ached every moment he was on screen.
Hilary Swank, "Million Dollar Baby" — She not only acquired an accent, but she also fearlessly transformed into a rebellious boxer with nothing to lose.
10 cult classics
"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" — Judd Apatow was the king of comedy in the past decade, but this breakout hit had heart — and lots of other body parts.
"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" — Sacha Baron Cohen's culturally clueless reporter was hilariously indecent, and Cohen will never be able to pull this off again.
"Donnie Darko" — This time travel/giant rabbit tale was a dud when released, but became a huge underground hit years later on video.
"Memento" — Talk about taking chances, this noirish mystery told backward was innovative storytelling, and fascinated fans.
"Mulholland Dr." —David Lynch's wonderfully loopy tale of amnesia proved unforgettable to loyal Lynchians.
"Napoleon Dynamite" — This quirky little comedy's wildest dreams came true: it was a flippin' hit.
"Once" — A low-budget musical love story that struck a chord with even the most cynical nonromantics.
"Shaun of the Dead" — It tore through the zombie genre with bloody bite, and made an unlikely star of Simon Pegg.
"Superbad" — Through all of its juvenile humor, this was actually a commentary on male friendship and growing up. And everyone wanted to hang out with McLovin.
"Team America: World Police" — Trey Parker and Matt Stone's puppet farce was offensive, absurd, crude — and hilarious. But the real social commentary was the fact that they had to trim back their simulated puppet sex to keep an "R" rating.