The Best Films of The 21st Century According to Me
Recently The BBC polled 177 film critics from around the world and asked them to list the ten best films from the 21st century.
They didn’t send me a ballot, but if they had, this is how I would have answered.
Not that it matters, and not that you asked, and not that my opinion means anything to anyone, and not that it’s really even possible to “rank” movies.
#1 There Will Be Blood
This is the best film I have seen that was made this millennium.
Directorially flawless, thematically all encompassing, visually arresting, and endlessly profound.
Easily the best film since Saving Private Ryan.
This film is one of the greatest pieces of American art and it should be seen and emulated by anyone who makes movies.
There Will be Blood is simply the best film that has been made in the 21st century.
#2 The Departed
In The Departed, director Martin Scorsese is at his absolute best, working with the best cast of any film in the last two decades, telling a story that ties together the entire gangster genre.
Scorsese’s film is intimately personal (an acceptance of his own damnation at the hands of the Christian God for his betrayal of Christ and the Church) while at the same time, one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen.
He draws upon Scarface, The Informer, Public Enemy, Little Caesar, The Third Man, nearly all of his own films, and dozens of other classic films of the gangster genre, to synthesize what stands as one of the most complete and compelling articulations of the ideas addressed in this medium’s treatment of that genre that has ever been created.
It baffles me that Scorsese was even intellectually able to conceive of this caliber of artistic vision, let alone possess the faculties necessary to execute it at such a high level of performance. As much as I respect his power as an artist, I’m still dumbstruck by this film every time I see it.
The Departed is a towering masterpiece by one of mankind’s greatest artists and is easily one of the best films ever made.
#3 The Dark Knight
In The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan turned cartoon characters from an old, pulp, comic strip, into real life representatives of opposing ideologies fighting their eternal struggle over the hearts and minds of mankind in a modern urban context.
This film is deliciously entertaining and one of the most re-watchable films I’ve ever seen.
Every part of this movie is outstanding. The soundtrack, the script, the cinematography, the directing, Heath Ledger’s incomparably magnetic performance as The Joker, all come together to make a truly remarkable cinematic experience.
In an age where movies largely consist of blockbusters and superhero films, this one stands as the unquestioned benchmark for quality, in all respects, for all following work in the genre.
The Dark Knight is elegant, beautiful, and so very much fun, without sacrificing substance, and deserves to be held up as one of the finest films ever made.
#4 Mulholland Drive
First of all, no one knows what this movie is about, alright? It’s just a thing you experience and then have feelings about. So don’t get hung up on the fact that it’s incomprehensible. You’re not dumb. You didn’t miss anything. We’re all gonna be OK.
Upon reading all of the ballots from the BBC survey, the thing that shocked me the most was that 47 out of 177 critics voted for this film, and a shocking 16 of them listed this film at number 1.
I would never have guessed this enigmatic riddle of cinematic brilliance would resonate with such a broad spectrum of film critics, but I suspect they like it because it’s good, it’s impossible to understand, and it’s about Hollywood and movies.
But I am very pleased to see David Lynch so revered.
Mulholland Drive is a psycho-sexual mystery about an attractive but naive young woman who comes to Hollywood to become an actress.
The film is full of allusions to the golden age of Hollywood and is in many ways a perverted retelling of Gilda combined with Godard’s masterpiece Contempt (and a lot of other things) to result in a mesmerizing but ultimately inscrutable mystery of a film, which actually may not even have a mystery at all.
David Lynch is a notoriously eccentric but undoubtedly gifted filmmaker and the way this film circles back on itself is a mind tangling cinematic feat.
Again, I can’t imagine how a person could think of something this complex let alone execute it so well.
Many viewers will watch this and come away with no idea how such a seemingly incoherent mess could be considered a great film, let alone one of the greatest ever. But believe me, based on nothing other than film making excellence, it deserves the highest order of respect.
Just the opening dance sequence alone is a better example of film editing than most filmmakers display in their entire careers.
But it’s still really weird, creepy, and actually impossible to understand.
Mulholland Drive is one of the most challenging films ever made, but it is also a masterpiece in every way and one of the finest films of all time.
#5 Finding Nemo
This movie is underrated by critics because it’s an animated comedy, but I think it has some of the best storytelling I’ve ever seen and it makes wonderfully creative use of the possibilities afforded by animated film making.
Everyone has their favorite Pixar film, and there’s no doubt almost all of them are great films, but, to me at least, this one stands out from the rest.
The story is timeless, the characters are delightful, and the film is really extraordinary in every way.
Finding Nemo is a masterpiece of animated film making that will be imitated for years but I doubt if it will ever be equaled again.
#6 The Lord of The Rings Trilogy
I’m not even going to explain this choice much or bother differentiating between the three films because it seems unnecessary.
Regardless of what any critic puts on any ballot, this trilogy is part of the human subconscious. It transcends the medium, and in a sense, defies critical evaluation.
It’s just part of the world we live in.
Peter Jackson’s film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books is one of the best examples of story telling ever produced and deserves recognition as a treasured part of human culture.
Christopher Nolan’s dream within a dream makes use of prior art ranging from Edgar Allen Poe’s poems, to the borrowed story structure from the old Bogart film Passage to Marseilles.
The characters are dynamic, the story is ingeniously creative, the visual effects are iconic and unforgettable.
Nolan’s use of cross cutting, slow motion, and other cinematic techniques allows him to manipulate time with masterful control and grace while telling a complex story in a wildly imaginative universe.
Inception is one of my favorite movies of the 21st century, but also stands as some of the finest work ever done in film.
#8 No Country for Old Men
Joel and Ethan Coen are master filmmakers and No Country for Old Men is easily the best western since Unforgiven.
No Country for Old Men is as perfectly scripted and balanced as they come.
Tommy Lee Jones’ voice over narration at the beginning features the phrases “hard to believe”, “I just don’t understand that”, and “Ok, I’ll be part of this world.”, and this speech perfectly sets up the film that follows.
The story is one defined by chance, chaos, and evil. Javier Bardem’s astounding performance as Anton Chigurh is both chilling and spellbinding.
There are so many lines which speak to the film’s multilayered meaning but, “Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” sums it up well I think.
Tommy Lee Jones ends the film as a retired sheriff with nothing to do recounting prophetic dreams about his father in one of the best monologues in film history.
The Coen Brothers are among my personal favorite filmmakers. Their films usually feature some level of comedy, but this one is somber and looks with an unblinking eye into the chaos, evil, and agnostic agony of human life and challenges the audience to hold onto faith.
Faith that there will be light and love and warmth and peace waiting for us if we are brave and good enough to carry ourselves “into all the cold and all that dark.”
No Country for Old Men is fearfully and wonderfully made and deserves a place among the best films of all time.
#9 Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
This movie is unqualified brilliance. I’ve never seen anything like this. The visual effects are so well executed and serve the purpose of telling an amazingly intimate and elegantly interwoven love story.
The film amounts to one of the best meditations on the hardships of failed romance that I’ve ever seen and plays with some of the most powerful of all human emotions in inventive, memorable, and cinematically excellent ways.
The film’s success is owed to amazing performances by an all-star cast, in the hands of a very gifted director and cinematographer, with a script by one of the best screenwriters of his generation.
Film is collaborative and everyone involved turned in the best work of their career on this movie.
Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is a film that should be seen by anyone who has been in love, and especially by anyone who has been in love with someone they couldn’t be with, or had to forget.
#10 A Separation
A Separation is about a married couple who get divorced over a disagreement about whether they should try and improve the life of their child by moving to another country, or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer’s disease.
The word for this movie is intimate. The director unfolds his story little by little and each new turn adds another level of complexity to the ever increasing moral dilemmas faced by each character.
He masterfully uses his camera and his actors to communicate the problems and points of view of each member of the family, but does not pass judgement or make a ruling on any situation the characters experience.
And in addition to this delicate balance, he creates a feeling that we are part of this family, part of this decision, part of this divorce. Almost as if the disagreements are taking place in our own living rooms.
In the end, the couple’s daughter is asked by a judge to choose which parent she wishes to live with, but the director does not show her decision, and leaves the audience to sort out how they feel about what they have seen.
A Separation is a marvelous drama and an excellent example of screenwriting and directing that comfortably ranks among the best films of the 21st century.
My Favorite Films of The 21st Century
Finally, below is a list of my 10 favorite films from the 21st Century.
I won’t explain these selections because I’m not basing this off of anything other than the fact that I just love watching these movies as much as I can.
Which is a lot.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Wolf of Wall Street
Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl
The Dark Knight
Catch Me If You Can
…and Tropic Thunder