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Best Films of the 21st Century

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The New York Times decided to allow every website on the internet to set comment section records by choosing its 25 best films of the 21st century. And it’s predictably controversial. I’ve seen 18 of the 25 (and Mad Max is actually the next movie in my Netflix queue). Many selections I can’t disagree with. There Will Be Blood is amazing. So is Spirited Away. But Million Dollar Baby at 3rd? Really? Eastwood is the most overrated director in American film history. This film is completely fine. Good, even. But the 3rd best film in the last 17 years? Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t even a very good movie, outside of the cat. If you have to include a Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men or A Serious Man are far superior. I was fine with I’m Not There as a film, even for all its Baby Boomer Dylan wankathon mythmaking, but no. There are films such as The Gleaners and I and Silent Light that I might consider worthy. Three Times is just so damn slow though, much like many Taiwanese directors that so many people love today. Munich: no. Yi Yi: yes. I certainly have no problem with including an action film like Mad Max or a comedy like 40 Year Old Virgin, although I’m not sure I would pick it, it’s certainly a funny movie.

Throwing together what might be a Top 25 for me, with the understanding that I am weaker on the last few years because so much of my watching is at home and thus delayed. In no real order, although perhaps generally be stronger at the top and somewhat in order of date early on:

1) In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai, 2000 (how this was left off by Dargis and Scott is mystifying)
2) Yi Yi, Edward Yang, 2000
3) Talk to Her, Pedro Almodovar, 2002
4) Dirty Pretty Things, Stephen Frears, 2002
5) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michael Gondry, 2004
6) Vera Drake, Mike Leigh, 2004
7) Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee, 2005
8) Tell No One, Guillaume Canet, 2006
9) Katyn, Andrzej Wajda, 2007
10) Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog, 2010
11) The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach, 2005
12) Tony Takitani, Jun Ichikawa, 2004
13) There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2005
14) The Baader Meinhof Complex, Uli Edel, 2008
15) The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino, 2016
16) Exiled, Johnnie To, 2005
17) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, 2007
18) Silent Light, Carlos Reygadas, 2008
19) A Christmas Tale, Arnaud Desplechin, 2008
20) The Beaches of Agnès, Agnès Varda, 2008
21) Sweet Sixteen, Ken Loach, 2002
22) Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt, 2010
23) Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold, 2009
24) The Missing Picture, Rithy Phan, 2013
25) Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal, 2006

There are many more that could be on this list–The 25th Hour, No Country for Old Men, You Can Count on Me, Blue is the Warmest Color, Clouds of Sils Maria, Mesrine, Carlos, 2046, 12:08 East of Bucharest, A History of Violence, etc., etc.

I think Inside Llewyn Davis would come in about 400th.

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  • FOARP

    Honestly don’t know why Lost In Translation doesn’t get more love.

    • scott_theotherone

      Damn skippy.

    • Pat

      I slept through it. My spouse was disappointed.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Honestly don’t know why Lost In Translation doesn’t get more love.

      Because the plot checks out for most of the last third of the movie and the audience is reduced to watching what amounts to little more than a beautifully photographed travelogue of Tokyo? That’s what drags it down for me.

    • Ernie

      Lost in Translation is a lovely, lovely movie. Wistful, languid, and visually gorgeous. Brings to mind another of my 21st century favorites — Cairo Time. If you liked the former, odds are good that you’ll enjoy the latter.

  • FOARP

    Honestly don’t know why Lost In Translation doesn’t get more love, but In The Mood For Love deserves its top-spot. Pity Wong Kar-Wai doesn’t seem to have done much good stuff lately.

  • Thom

    Winter’s Bone

    • wjts

      Didn’t see it, but the Jennifer Lawrence connection reminds me that American Hustle should probably be on the list.

    • Moravagine

      Winter’s Bone is a phenomenal film

      • jeer9

        Agreed. Missed that one.

  • Q.E.Dumbass

    OT: RIP Adam West.

    • wjts

      I liked Batman as a kid, but my favorite thing Adam West did was the (sadly failed) pilot for Lookwell.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      not so OT: the Self-Styled Siren had commented on the NYT list, saying “there’s nothing wrong with making people laugh”. Which is how I feel about Adam West’s Batman

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    I have seen maybe ten of those films.

    Of the animated films, Up was the best, Wall-E pretty good. I hated Finding Nemo. The Incedibles was meh. Though its politics were less strident than I had been led to believe.
    Let The Right One In is the best horror movie I have seen.

  • Bobby Krimpit

    Children of Men, Spirited Away and Mad Max: Fury Road are my favorites so far this century.

    Some others I liked:

    Arrival
    Before Sunset
    Edge of Tomorrow
    Michael Clayton
    Dark Horse
    Bourne Identity
    Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus
    Agora

    Wonder Woman was really good too.

  • Just_Dropping_By

    I know that I’ve said it before, but I still find the ranking of Dirty, Pretty Things dubious. It’s a good movie, but the scene towards the end where the plot literally gets put on hold for Chiwetel Ejiofor to deliver a lecture about the themes of the film (which should have been obvious by that point to anyone paying attention) really takes it down several pegs. I’d like to know if that was Stephen Frears’s idea or if the studio made him do it.

  • bender

    I think Serenity is seriously underrated as a piece of filmmaking, and deserves a place on a list of top 100 American movies of the twenty-first century. My main basis for this is the opening sequence from the Universal logo to the distant shot through the nose window of the spaceship. This sequence contains something like five nested flashbacks, each distinct from the others, different in style and narratively clear. AFAIK, no other screenwriter has ever attempted something like this, and no director has carried it off.

    Other things I like about Serenity are the balance between character, mood-setting and action; the editing which is extremely tight without being rushed; and the pacing, which after the first half hour begins a slow, relentless acceleration like Bolero. The acting is good too.

    Whedon used a different costume designer than he hired for Firefly, and she isn’t as sophisticated, particularly in Inara’s costumes. Of course the astronomy and physics are a mess, but Whedon did make good use of one scientific fact, the absence of sound in a hard vacuum.

    • econoclast

      I thought Marvel’s Civil War was a model of the screenwriting art, in that it had to service a thousand existing characters and introduce several new ones, while featuring several action set-pieces, and it did so efficiently. Black Panther, for example, had a completely clear character arc in only about six lines of dialogue.

      I still wouldn’t put it on the list of Top 100 movies of the 21st century though.

      • bender

        That’s why I specified American movies, not all movies.

  • Mark Centz

    Tony Takitani fails the empirical test of being a top 25 movie, because even in this group no one appears to have seen it. 212 replies so far and no cites until this one. But if Loomis hadn’t ever written about dead horses, American graves, or noted days of labor history, this act of including on the best movies of the last 16 years would gain my friendship. Saw it on a whim at SIFF and was blown away, my favorite that year in a year I caught many. A beautiful, poetic masterpiece.

    • Jean-Michel

      I loved it too, though if there were room for an Ichikawa film on my list it would probably be Tokyo Marigold instead. It’s a shame he was taken so young, particularly since he seemed to be moving in a new independent direction very unusual for any filmmaker of his stature (his last movie was shot on a budget of, like, a hundred bucks, all within a couple of miles of his home).

  • Jean-Michel

    I have extreme difficulty ranking films, to the point that if you gave me a list of five movies and asked me to sort them from best to worst I would probably come up with an almost totally different order an hour later. (I’m a little envious of critics whose opinions are so granulated that they can grade movies on a 1-to-100 scale—I have enough trouble with just a 1-to-10 scale, which I’m required to use as part of my work.) So I’m only going to rank my #1 pick, partly because it’s a work of such outsized and heartfelt ambition that I can’t deny it and partly because of its own massive significance to my own development as a spectator. The rest are just in alphabetical order. If you prefer, consider it a 24-way tie for second place.

    1. Platform
    Bright Future
    Café Lumière
    The Forbidden Room
    The Future Perfect
    The Go Master
    Gone With the Bullets
    The Grandmaster
    (130-minute version)
    The House of Mirth
    I Am Not Madame Bovary
    Inland Empire
    Leviathan
    (2012)
    Like Someone in Love
    Los Angeles Plays Itself
    Le Moulin
    Our Sunhi
    Ow
    Resurrection of the Little Match Girl
    Routine Holiday
    S21, the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
    Shamo
    Syndromes and a Century
    Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    Yi Yi

    • I keep forgetting Platform was released in 2000 and not in 1999. Mountains May Depart could easily be on the list too.

      I love Café Lumière and debated whether to put it on the list but I think I might still go with Three Times. Or both.

  • Colin Day

    What about Enemy at the Gates? I find it ironic that the conflict between two of the most collectivist societies comes down to individual snipers.

  • wengler

    The Raid: Redemption is probably the most influential action film of the last 25 years.

  • aretino

    There aren’t any from Erik’s list that I would rate, and only three from the NYT list. Other than the plodding, overdone Katyn, there aren’t any that I dislike, and there are quite a few I haven’t seen.

    I would have to think more about a list of 25, but it would include at least these (in rough order):

    Il fils
    Night Catches Us
    A Separation
    L’enfant
    Daratt
    A Screaming Man
    Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
    The Willow Tree
    35 Rhums
    War Witch
    The White Meadows
    Grigris
    Moonlight
    Timbuktu

  • Bloix

    Turtles Can Fly, which in spite of the absurd title is one of greatest movies ever made, not just of the 21st century.

    • djw

      That’s a great addition; one that I was forgetting as I mentally compiled my own list. Definitely top 25, if not top 10

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