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The best movies turning 20 in 2020

It might be difficult and borderline frightening to realize that the beginning of the millennium is now 20 years away, but as a new decade begins, at least we can look back on the films that defined the beginning of this new century of pop culture. Every year, film buffs get to celebrate the most important movies hitting milestones, but 2020 feels like a particularly vital year, considering how many movies are celebrating two decades of audience affection.

Certainly, 2000 had its share of flops, but overall, it was a pretty solid year for film, and this list contains plenty of contemporary classics from period pieces to serious dramas to heart wrenching tales to absurd comedies. Between Russell Crowe classics, career-defining works by Cameron Crowe, films from France, Coen brothers comedies, and classic improv comedy from Christopher Guest, here are the very best movies turning 20 years old in 2020. Light spoilers for these films to follow!

Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe scored an enduring hit in 2000 with this partly autobiographical story of his time in the music industry. After spending time on tour with legendary bands like Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers Band, among others, Crowe had a unique insight into what life was like for touring rock stars and their entourages, and put it on the big screen with Almost Famous, a heartbreaking and heartfelt portrait of a young music journalist trying to get his first big story printed.

Patrick Fugit stands in for Crowe as William Miller, a young and brilliant boy who, at just 15 years old, leaves his difficult home life behind to tour with the fictional rock band Stillwater and write about his journey. As he masquerades as an adult, William becomes a part of Stillwater's inner circle and meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a beautiful yet troubled groupie who will do anything to stay with Stillwater. However, when the band turns on William after his piece is published, he sees the ugly truth of the music industry and the lengths stars will go to in order to save their reputations,

Ranked by the BBC as one of the best films of the new century, Almost Famous was also nominated for several Academy Awards (and won Crowe a statue for Best Original Screenplay). It remains as relevant and endlessly rewatchable as ever, proving that telling your own story can lead to incredible cinematic success.

Gladiator

Directed by Ridley Scott and based on a 1958 book by Daniel P. Mannix entitled Those About to Die, Gladiator became a sensation upon its release in 2000, earning overwhelming acclaim and praise for its performances, gripping visuals, and epic scale. The film tells the tale of Maximus Decimus Meridius, a powerful Roman general (played by Russell Crowe) who begins his story in a high-ranking position in the ancient city of Rome; however, when the corrupt Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) kills his own father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and rises to power, he demotes Maximus from his position, stranding the once powerful general as a slave.

Struggling with his new lot in life, Maximus tries to regain his position the only way he can — by fighting his way through Rome's gladiator pits and winning battle after battle to become a celebrated fighter. He also vows revenge upon Commodus, who murders Maximus' wife and children in a further act of cruelty. Ultimately, Maximus faces down Commodus, finally exacting the revenge he promised.

Gladiator was an Academy Awards darling, with nominations for Phoenix, Scott, and Crowe; in the end, it came away with the top prize of Best Picture and a statue for Best Actor for Crowe. Today, it's still a crowning achievement for Scott, as well as Phoenix and Crowe, and a highlight of the historical action genre.

Cast Away

Tom Hanks is, without question, one of the world's favorite actors, to the point where he can carry nearly an entire film by himself — a talent he showcases in 2000's Cast Away. Helmed by Hanks' Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis, the film follows the story of Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee whose cargo plane crashes on a deserted island during an unexpected accident.

Left alone to survive on a far-flung island as the only survivor of the crash, Chuck must figure out how to live off of the land, as well as how to utilize several FedEx packages that wash up on shore. In one of those packages, he discovers a Wilson Sporting goods brand volleyball, which he names "Wilson" and treats as his friend, even drawing a face around the bloody handprint he leaves on it. After four years, Chuck finally figures out a way to get off the island; after building a raft, he sets out to sea and is discovered by a passing ship, losing Wilson along the way.

Thanks to an engrossing performance from Hanks, who underwent a significant physical transformation for the role, Cast Away remains one of the actor's best-known films, earning him one of his many Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. He may not have won, but Hanks fans are unlikely to forget Cast Away anytime soon.

Memento

Throughout his career, Christopher Nolan has left his mark on modern cinema by crafting gripping, twisty thrillers; in 2000, he made waves with the non-linear Memento. Told from the point of view of Leonard Shelby (Guy Ritchie), a man suffering from anterograde amnesia after a mysterious accident, Memento lets the audience piece together exactly what happened to Leonard, whose wife was murdered in the attack that left his memory fractured and incomplete.

Thanks to meticulous note-taking, Polaroids, and self-inflicted tattoos, Leonard is able to force himself to put the puzzle together, eventually finding the corrupt cop (Joe Pantoliano) who has been pulling the strings in Leonard's life all along. Meanwhile, viewers are given two narratives: one in color, which moves backwards, and one in black and white, which fleshes out the rest of the story. For years, fans have worked to fully dissect Memento's story, finding new tricks and Easter eggs throughout, all of which is a strong testament to Nolan's work.

Requiem for a Dream

Arguably one of the most disturbing movies of the new millennium, Requiem for a Dream was directed by Darren Aronofsky — who would later go on to make equally unsettling films like Black Swan and mother! — and features an all-star cast that includes Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Ellen Burstyn. Considering that the entire film focuses on drug addiction and its impact on all of its characters, Requiem for a Dream is a hard watch, but ultimately a rewarding viewing experience.

As each of the characters, including Sara Goldfarb (Burstyn), her son Harry (Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Connelly), and their friend Tyrone (Wayans), sink further into their addiction, they experience hallucinations and delusions, losing their grasp on reality in increasingly disturbing ways. Though they sell (and use) heroin as a means to try to achieve their dreams and leave their addictions behind, they all succumb; ultimately, Sara is left vegetative, Harry undergoes a harrowing medical treatment, Tyrone ends up in jail, and Marion is forced into prostitution, with all four main characters ending the film in the fetal position as they realize their lives are ruined.

Requiem for a Dream remains one of the most honest, unsettling, and important films about drug use and addiction ever made.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Typically, American and British films dominate the cinematic landscape in the United States, so it's always a welcome surprise when an international film breaks barriers to win over audiences across the world the way Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did in 2000. Starring Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat, Chang Chen, and Zhang Ziyi, among others, the film tells the story of Li Mu Bai (Yun-fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Yeoh), a swordsman and private security officer struggling with their feelings for one another. As Mu Bai prepares to retire from his career, he asks Shu Lien to give his famed sword away to a benefactor; unfortunately, his sword, "Green Destiny," ends up stolen, leading to an action-packed hunt that costs many of the main characters their lives.

With a cast led by powerful women and unforgettable action sequences, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became an instant classic; beyond its overwhelming box office success, it also earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and 10 other categories, ultimately winning Best Foreign Language Film. Twenty years later, its influence on the action genre is still evident, and it's still ranked as one of the best films of the century thus far — further evidenced by the Netflix-distributed sequel that followed in 2015.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Coen brothers are two of the biggest dramatic directors in Hollywood, but they also have a healthy sense of humor, which they showed off in 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou? A modern take on Homer's The Odyssey, O Brother stars George Clooney in one of his more whimsical roles alongside an all-star cast comprised of John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman (among others), with Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill, a man sent to prison for practicing law even though he doesn't have a license. When Everett and his cohorts Pete (Turturro) and Delmar (Nelson) escape from prison, they encounter a baffling series of obstacles, including a cyclops, Sirens, and a devilish sheriff.

Thanks to an incredibly clever script, excellent performances, and a killer soundtrack — Everett and his friends form a band halfway through the film, though Clooney's vocals famously weren't up to snuff — the film remains one of the Coens' most enjoyable works, thanks to shrewd jokes and a clever construct.

Traffic

Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Stephen Gaghan, Traffic hit theaters in 2000 with a starry cast that included Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Dennis Quaid. The story takes a deep dive into the world of illegal drugs from all sides — from politicians to traffickers to users — in a series of vignettes, throughout which some of the characters never even meet at all.

The film's development was fraught; Soderbergh's original studio, 20th Century Fox, wanted Harrison Ford in a leading role and wanted it to be less political, but Soderbergh refused those demands, insisting on the film he set out to make in the first place. Clearly, Soderbergh's instincts were right — Traffic was a box office success and earned several Oscar nods, including nominations for Soderbegh's directing (an award he won), a Supporting Actor nomination for del Toro, and a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Beyond that, Traffic's legacy has clearly lived on; in 2004, the USA Network produced a miniseries of the same name based on the film.

Chocolat

Based on a novel by Joanne Harris and directed by Lasse Hallström, Chocolat stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Lena Olin, all of whom come together to tell the story of a woman running a chocolate shop in a small French village who gains insight into the lives of the people around her. As Vianne Rocher, Binoche doesn't quite fit into this relatively conservative town, but she forms friendships and relationships anyway, winning people over with her friendly, accepting nature — and, of course, her incredible chocolates.

With an endearing star like Binoche leading the film, it's no surprise that Chocolat was such a success; in the end, it even netted an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture of the year as well as nods for Binoche (Best Actress), Best Supporting Actress (Dench), and Adapted Screenplay. It came away empty-handed, but there's no denying that this literally sweet feel-good film has lived on in audience's hearts since it was released 20 years ago.

Erin Brockovich

Clearly, 2000 was a good year for Steven Soderbergh, who struck gold with two films — Traffic and Erin Brockovich. The latter movie, which told the true story of a woman who fought the powerful Pacific Gas and Electric Company and won, stars Julia Roberts in the career-defining title role.

After getting a job in a law firm, Brockovich makes an unexpected discovery: a woman named Donna Jensen (played by Marg Helgenberger) is being courted by PG&E, who wants to buy her home, but Brockovich discovers it's for nefarious reasons. As it turns out, PG&E is aware of toxic chemicals invading the small town of Hinkley, California and they're lying to those who live there, including Donna, and Erin immediately knows she's the only person who can bring the company to justice.

Roberts ultimately won her first Academy Award for the role, and though Soderbergh was nominated for Best Director, he lost to... himself, thanks to Traffic. In any case, Erin Brockovich remains one of Roberts' most important films, as well as a feel-good story about what can happen when an ordinary person makes an extraordinary effort.

Unbreakable

After the success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan was on a roll, and with his next effort, Unbreakable, he proved that he was a bona fide visionary rather than a flash in the pan. This dark superhero film, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, tells the story of a hero named David Dunn (Willis), who survives a train crash without a scratch and teams up with an enigmatic comic book store owner named Elijah Price (Jackson) who can help him come to terms with his new identity.

Unbreakable was successful enough upon its release, but in the years after it came out, it gained new life, earning a cult following — and as it turns out, Shyamalan had a few more tricks up his sleeve where this story was concerned. In 2017, he released Split, which featured Willis in a surprise cameo appearance as Dunn, and in 2019, Glass, a confirmed sequel and the final film in the Unbreakable trilogy, hit theaters and concluded this imaginative and gripping story.

Best in Show

Christopher Guest is known for his talented ensembles, largely improvised dialogue, and dry humor, and his trademark flourishes are on perfect display in Best in Show, a ridiculous parody of dog shows that features all of his most talented players. Starring Guest himself, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara, and Eugene Levy (who co-wrote the script with Guest), the film uses documentary-style interviews with competitors vying to see which dog will take the top prize at Philadelphia's Mayflower Kennel Club show... with ridiculous results.

Best in Show is hilarious, pitch-perfect comedy, due in no small part to O'Hara and Levy's chemistry — and as it turns out, their partnership ended up leading to one of the best shows of the following decade. After working together on SCTV and in Guest's films, the duo reunited to play a married couple in Schitt's Creek (created by Levy's son Dan, who stars as well).