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Why I took them off the list: After I compiled my list of underrated films of the 21st century so far, I realized there were still plenty of underseen 2000s films that deserved championing. So, I decided to give some of them the love and recognition that few ever got during their initial release and beyond.
There were so many, in fact, that I decided to split the subsequent list up into the 2000s and 2010s, and then separate drama/comedy from the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy flicks of the period. You can expect those other mentioned lists sooner or later, but for now, we’ll focus on underrated 2000s drama films. So, let’s dig in.
Hallam Foe (2007)
Director David Mackenzie’s previous films Young Adam (2003) and Asylum (2005) are also pretty underrated and worth a watch, but this strange little film is definitely my favorite among them. Perhaps because I saw it while still in my teens, and the story of a boy who runs away from his rural Scottish background to find himself in the city maybe resonated just a little more!
Hallam Foe stars Jamie Bell as the peculiar title character, who’s grown up sheltered in his family’s country estate and still hasn’t gotten over his mother’s apparent suicide. He’s also paranoid that his new stepmother was responsible for the death and has it in for him, so he flees to Edinburgh.
Once there, he makes his home in the empty clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel and becomes obsessed with a woman (Sophia Myles) who happens to be the spitting image of his mother.
The film is often uncomfortable (Hallam’s stalking efforts are quite disturbing in retrospect) and sexual in a weirdly perverse way (his interest in his mother’s lookalike is not totally innocent).
And both Bell’s and Myle’s roles now feel somewhat icky and dated at times. But Mackenzie shows empathy towards his damaged characters, and the redemptive arc of the story is ultimately quite satisfying.
Plus it has an absolutely incredible soundtrack that showcases some fantastic Scottish indie performers from the 2000s, like Clinic, Franz Ferdinand, King Creosote, and Son And Daughters. Not to mention an awesome animated title sequence by artist David Shrigley.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
One of ace director Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves, Interview with the Vampire, The Crying Game)’s most underrated films, Breakfast on Pluto tells the eventful life story of a unique character, Patricia “Kitten” Braden. Born Patrick, “Kitten” escapes her stifling rural Irish upbringing to find herself in 70s London, searching for her long-lost birth mother along the way.
The film is joyful and inventive, and Jordan employs surreal touches and atmospheric period detail to sell the strange, sprawling story. And although nowadays his casting may be seen as problematic, there’s no doubt that Cillian Murphy absolutely makes the film with his lead performance, completely disappearing into the role as few other actors can.
In The Cut (2003)
If this erotic thriller is remembered for anything, it’s for being the film in which Meg Ryan took her clothes off and attempted a darker role to break out of her rom-com typecasting. But that’s not really fair, because as directed by the great Jane Campion, this low-key serial killer thriller is a dream-like, atmospheric gem.
While many see it as Se7en-lite, Campion gives the material a fascinatingly feminine spin as only she can. Ryan is surprisingly good as the dazed and confused protagonist Frannie, and really sells a touching relationship with her sister (played by the always-excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh). Plus, Ryan’s intimate scenes with Mark Ruffalo’s gruff cop come across as incredibly sensual, and, even – a rare thing in a film like this – erotic.
The Good Girl (2002)
Mike White is enjoying unprecedented success thanks to the phenomenon that is The White Lotus, so it’s a great time to go back and revisit some of his earlier work. One of his best early writing efforts is this underrated dark comedy starring Jennifer Aniston as a bored married supermarket worker who falls in love with a dreamy teenage co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Much as he did in his amazing but sadly short-lived series Enlightened (2011-2013), White expertly balances touching drama with black humor, much of it delivered by Zooey Deschanel in a scene-stealing turn as a jaded young cashier. Aniston gives one of her best, most nuanced performances, and the film is also packed with memorable supporting turns from the likes of John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, and White himself.
In My Father’s Den (2004)
Quietly devastating is the best way to describe this criminally underrated mystery/drama from New Zealand. The film follows a successful photographer (Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen) who, following his father’s death, returns to his rural South Island town years after he abandoned it.
Shunned by most of his remaining family, he forms an unlikely friendship with an unusual local teenage girl. But when she goes missing, he’s implicated in the disappearance and has to clear his name.
Macfadyen is fantastic at conveying a world-weary man weighed down with guilts and secrets, and the film also boasts a great supporting cast, including Emily Barclay and Miranda Otto. What makes it stand out, though, is the masterful unraveling of the mystery and the moody vibe director Brad McGann sustains through the runtime.
The Deep End (2001)
Tilda Swinton is always great in a thriller (see also: Micheal Clayton, I Am Love) and the same goes for this sadly forgotten psychological drama. Swinton plays the mother of a teenage son who gets into a sticky situation, and her protective instincts kick into overdrive as she desperately tries to cover up his involvement.
While the film gets a bit convoluted and outlandish toward the end, it’s totally worth watching for Swinton’s frantic, believable performance.
Katalin Varga (2009)
The first feature directed by Peter Strickland, Katalin Varga is a tense and atmospheric thriller that follows the titular character as she makes her way through the Romanian countryside on a quest of revenge.
While not as aesthetically distinctive as Strickland’s later films (such as Berberian Sound Studio and In Fabric)), it’s an enigmatic and beautifully shot slow-burn full of tense sequences. It also supplied the excellent Fatma Mohammed with a brief early role and led to an incredibly fruitful long-term creative partnership between the actress and the director.
The Visitor (2007)
Directed by Todd McCarthy, whose exquisite The Station Agent (2023) made my first list, The Visitor is a low-key film but an undeniably charming and moving one. The story concerns an embittered college professor (Richard Jenkins) who discovers a couple of illegal immigrants living in his disused New York apartment.
Caught unaware, he reluctantly decides to let them stay and ends up coming out of his stupor through the unexpected friendship that subsequently forms. Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman (Breaking Fast), and Black Panther‘s Dani Gurira all shine in rare leading roles, and McCarthy continued to show he is a true humanist, ultimately able to draw comedy and pathos out of sometimes harrowing drama.
Morvern Callar (2002)
In her second feature, Scottish helmer Lynne Ramsey showed her mastery in conjuring in a certain mood and feel, which she has since put to good use in We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) and You Were Never Really Here (2017). Morvern Callar is a somewhat slight, yet pleasingly escapist story about an unremarkable woman who takes the credit and rewards for her boyfriend’s novel manuscript (dubbed a feminist masterpiece) after his suicide.
But in Ramsey’s hands, the film is a vibrant, woozy trip. And, much as she did with Tilda Swinton in Kevin, she draws an incredible performance out of Samantha Morton, whose enigmatic turn as Morvern keeps you riveted to the screen.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Joseph Gordon Levitt had a great 2004/2005, as he starred in both Rian Johnson’s classic teen noir Brick and this searing drama from Queer indie cinema favorite Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation). The film tells the story of 2 teens who reconnect years after suffering the same trauma as children, although both of them have learned to deal with the event in vastly different (although equally problematic) ways.
The story is often incredibly harrowing, so be warned. But Araki unspools the mystery of what happened to these 2 boys in a sensitive, empathetic way. And Gordon Levitt gives an absolutely astonishing, heartbreaking performance as a hardened teenage hustler who gradually unravels as he desperately tries to escape the demons of his past.