Graham Young picks his top films of the Noughties and discovers Birmingham’s role in cinema’s biggest hits.

It doesn’t seem two minutes since Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow became the first major release of 2000.

But, like so many highlights of the first decade of the 21st century, it had a little-known, but still indelible, Birmingham stamp.

Set in 1799, Sleepy Hollow was adapted by Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker from the classic story by Washington Irving – a New Yorker who wrote Rip Van Winkle while based in Easy Row, Edgbaston, from 1819-24.

A grimy, bloody, misty throwback to the Hammer Horrors of old, the last thing Tim Burton’s film would do, I predicted, would be to ‘‘leave you feeling sleepy”.

The same could be said for many other great movies, including the groundbreaking, decade-closing Avatar, the first film for more than 12 years from Titanic’s Canadian director James Cameron.

Its presence in 3D – and in the ten-times bigger, four-times clearer DMR format – at Millennium Point’s IMAX Cinema illustrates perfectly how the industry has moved on.

Thanks mostly to a lack of product, this flagship cinema was closed down on New Year’s Eve 2003, just 27 months after opening in September, 2001.

It reopened at Easter 2004 and has been steadily building business ever since thanks to animations such as Happy Feet and Monsters vs Aliens, ‘motion capture’ movies Polar Express, A Christmas Carol and Avatar, and live-action thrillers from The Dark Knight to Star Trek, The Matrix sequels and Spider-Man 3.

The independent Electric Cinema on Station Street also closed down, then reopened and five years later celebrated its centenary on December 27, 2009, with the distinction of being ‘the UK’s oldest cinema’.

Today, 3D is the exhibition industry’s preferred means of tempting people to leave their computer downloads, DVDs and Sky+ favourites at home in favour of a magical night out.

Although no multiplex can match IMAX, most Midlands cinemas now have at least one 3D-enabled screen thanks to this year’s blockbuster releases including Ice Age 3D and Up 3D.

More than that, Cameron has spent four years reinventing the way films are made.

That there is an industry at all is partly down to the genius of inventor Alexander Parkes.

People often think of his Birmingham birthplace as the metal-bashing centre of the world. But, in 1862, Parkes invented the first plastic, Parkesine, based on cellulose nitrate.

Later that same decade, American inventor John Wesley Hyatt helped to make celluloid commercially viable.

And so the seed was sown for the material which would help Hollywood eventually to become the driving force behind the 20th century’s most glamorous entertainment industry.

The point about the first decade of the 21st century in film is just how important a role Birmingham has played.

Released in 1997 and the winner of a record 11 Oscars from 14 nominations, Titanic easily remains the highest-grossing movie of all time, with a worldwide box office of $1,842 million.

But the boat would never even have sailed had it not been for the backing of people such as William Edward Hipkins.

He was the Birmingham-born manager of James Watt & Co (formerly Boulton & Watt) engineers at the Soho Foundry and managing director of W T Avery Ltd (weighing machinists and engineers). A first-class passenger with ticket number 680 (£50), Mr Hipkins had cabin C-39 on the ill-fated ship which sank on April 14, 1912.

Almost 100 years later, the subsequent success of the movie about its sinking has indirectly led to Avatar, another film about people always wanting to travel to somewhere else in search of both adventure and resources.

The Midlands has played a part in most of the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time.

At No.2 there is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, with The Two Towers at No.9.

The trilogy won 17 Oscars from 30 nominations, grossed $3 billion and was based on the stories inspired by JRR Tolkien growing up in Moseley, at 264 Wake Green Road.

At Nos.5, 7 and 8 there are Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The regular cast includes Smethwick’s Julie Walters, Sutton Coldfield twins James and Oliver Phelps, Northfield’s  Mark Williams and Stratford-upon-Avon-based Richard Griffiths.

All of which just leaves Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace at No.10; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest at No.3 and sequel At World’s End at No.6 and The Dark Knight at No.4.

In this second new Batman movie from Christopher Nolan, Michael Caine’s butler Alfred Pennyworth was again effectively taking over from the late Kings Norton actor Alan Napier.

He had not only played Alfred in the 1960s Batman TV series but was the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, whose latest inspired version of A Christmas Carol has been a big winter hit this year at the IMAX cinema at Millennium Point.

My favourite little piece of Birmingham in any movie this past decade has to be from Road to Perdition, a 1930s gangster epic made by Oscar-winning British director Sam Mendes and featuring cinematography of such a high standard it earned Conrad L Hall a posthumous Oscar.

As a purveyor of salad dressings in later life, former Hollywood superstar Paul Newman’s would have appreciated that one of his own movies should feature some good old HP Sauce.

A highly visible bottle of the brown stuff shared its key scene with that well-known, double Oscar-winning Aston Villa fan, Tom Hanks.

American Beauty director Mendes said he had slipped the HP into the scene because he loved the then Aston-made sauce, which grew in popularity when it was supplied to troops during the First World War.

Road to Perdition was released here in September 2002.  Sadly, the HP Factory off Aston Road North was demolished just five years later. But the bottle in the film will live forever.

Graham Young's top films of the decade > >

Top films of the decade

Listing them in any meaningful order would be impossible. But the criteria should certainly include longevity beyond the initial impact, achievement in making them and, above all, enjoyment and/or appreciation watching them. Except for my No 1, which has to be the Lord of the Rings, these films are in alphabetical order

AMELIE (2001)
Audrey Tautou was just wonderful in Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, as the girl trying to change the lives of others around her.

AVATAR (2009)
New Zealand special effects kings WETA made Lord of the Rings and now this.

Became turbocharged when British director Paul Greengrass arrived to make The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) after Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity (2002).

What a car chase in Moscow. His next film Green Zone, also with Matt Damon hunting weapons of mass destruction, is out on March 10.

Proof that Hollywood can make intelligent films for children.

Ang Lee’s western of the decade illustrated just how far the once mighty genre has fallen away. Crouching Tiger has been much imitated, but this is an original movie of breathtaking beauty. How can the same director then give us Hulk and Taking Woodstock?

Two Michael Mann films that were a joy to watch, one a groundbreaking digital thriller, the other a still-relevant exploration of corporate whistleblowing. Again, how could this be the same director who gave us Ali, Miami Vice and Public Enemies?

CRASH (2005)
An ensemble film about different cultures trying to live together. Topical, relevant and extremely good from writer-director Paul Haggis who polished up the scripts for 007 thrillers Casino Royale and A Quantum of Solace.

A damned good film in its own right, director Christopher Nolan’s amazing scenes shot on IMAX cameras gave us the future of cinema like we have never seen it before.

If you only see one French film about trying to make the most of every second of your life, look no further than Le scaphandre et le papillon, directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) and brilliantly filmed by Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List/Saving Private Ryan).

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Swiss actor Bruno Ganz was the star of Der Untergang, a brilliant German film about Hitler’s final days.

What do you do with unemployed immigrants? Put them under the wing of Clint Eastwood, a product of the 1930s depression. One of the finest film of his distinguished career.

Given the constant flow of seriously-injured casualties from Afghanistan arriving at Selly Oak Hospital this year, Kathryn Bigelow’s stunning, chair-arm-gripping account of what makes a bomb disposal expert tick is the best film about the impact of war on soldiers this decade. And the supermarket scene is the best this year, too.

Pixar continues to redefine the meaning of computer-generated animation with films like this year’s Up. But this story about a family of superheroes remains its finest hour in terms of adventure, story and action.

This Hong Kong film by directors Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak originally called Mou gaan dou earned Martin Scorsese his best director Oscar at last – but only because he remade it as The Departed.

Clint Eastwood showed the Second World War battle from the US perspective in Flags of Our Fathers, but this Japanese insight was extraordinary.

Das Leben der Anderen was set in East Germany just 23 years previously in 1984, when the Stasi was keeping tabs on everyone using a network of informers and Big Brother-style technology. Sadly, actor Ulrich Mühe died of stomach cancer just months after the film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Based on a story originally inspired in and around Moseley Bog and Sarehole Mill, the three films cost £200 million to make – 20,000 times more than the £10,000 JRR Tolkien (1892 – 1973) sold the rights of ‘the book of the century’ for back in 1969.

Seven years’ work for Peter Jackson paid off with 17 Oscar wins from 30 nominations. This production was so colossal that all three films were shot concurrently and out of sequence for 274 days over a 15 period from October 1999.

Thanks to actor Andy Serkis, Gollum remains the finest CGI creature ever made, while the record number of eggs eaten by cast and crew for breakfast on just ONE day of the shoot was 1,440. 

‘Failures’ everywhere should note that after leaving school at 17, Jackson became a photo-engraving apprentice after failing to land a job in the film industry as he had hoped.

A bookend companion to Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant 2001 movie The Devil’s Backbone, this fantasy will appeal to anyone who enjoyed The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Del Toro’s The Hobbit: Part 1, due out in December 2011, would appear to be in good hands since it has been co-written by Peter Jackson.

Directed by Britain’s own Sam Mendes, this 1930s US gangster movie was the equivalent of Brokeback Mountain’s cowboy epic – one of a kind.

A girl wanders into a room ruled by gods in Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, a mesmerising masterpiece from Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki who went on to make Howl’s Moving Castle.

Obesity is an international problem of crisis proportions. Morgan Spurlock’s reality check for anyone remotely concerned about the food they eat was as funny as it was horrifying.

Shine meets Schindler’s List, set in the devastated Warsaw Ghetto. Roman Polanski was back on form with this grotesque Second World War chapter from Eastern Europe.

SPIDER-MAN I & II (2002/2004)
Shame about Part III (2007) running out of steam, but Sam Raimi achieved wonders with the first two films. Better luck with Spider-Man IV (2011).

STAR TREK (2009)
Who would have thought that this reworking of the world’s most popular film and TV franchise would have been this good?

TRAFFIC (2001)
A judge discovers his teenage daughter is an addict. Drugs will always be a problem and this quadruple Oscar winner was easily Steven Soderbergh’s best film (of many) in the ‘Noughties’.

UNITED 93 (2006)
Pushing Clint Eastwood all the way throughout the decade, Paul Greengrass directed this extraordinary film about the last moments of one of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001. The film about the event of the decade defines the ‘Noughties’ brilliantly.

Graham Young's stars of the decade > >


BEST DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
It has to be actor, producer and also composer Clint Eastwood. Since the year 2000, he has released Space Cowboys, Blood Work, Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino and, in the US, the Nelson Mandela film Invictus. Quantity and, by and large, quality. And, yes, he will be 80 next May.

Hard to choose between Leonardo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road) and Matt Damon (Ocean’s Eleven, the Bourne trilogy, Stuck on You, Syriana, The Departed, The Informant! and Invictus) for a consistent body of exciting and often progressive work. No other stars come close. Messrs De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson have only made a handful of top-quality films between them.

BEST ACTRESS : Meryl Streep
Considering women are generally short-changed beyond the age of 45, all three of the veteran Hollywood actors have been outpaced by my best actress of the decade winner, Meryl Streep, who turned 60 in June.

Her films this decade include Artificial Intelligence: AI, Adaptation, The Hours, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Devil Wears Prada, Evening, Mamma Mia, Doubt, Julie and Julia, Fantastic Mr Fox and It’s Complicated, due here on January 8, 2010. We will forgive her Rendition and Lions for Lambs, but the message to the likes of Charlize Theron, Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and Nicole Kidman is that they should all still be capable of doing more great things.

Tony Jaa running across a herd of stampeding elephants in Ong Bak – The Beginning, released here on October 16, 2009.

The Lord of the Rings – Howard Shore.