Friday, August 26, 2016

Top 10 Movies of the 21st Century

his week, the BBC released a list of the top 100 movies since 2000, based on a survey of 177 movie critics. Of course, they didn’t ask me, but I made up a list as if they did anyway. 9 of the 10 films on my list made the top 100 – and one didn’t – although it picked up a few votes. One thing to note, as I did when I did my ballot had they asked me for my top 10 films of all time for the 2012 Sight and Sound poll, I decided to limit myself to one film per director – I could have filled the list with multiple films by Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coens, David Fincher, Michael Haneke and Wes Anderson, but wanted to cast a slightly wider net. For each film where I did consider another film by the same director, I do make note of those. And after my top 10, I give 15 more that I highly considered, before settling on my top 10.
As with all lists I make two notes: 1) All lists ranking movies are really rather silly and 2) I love doing it anyway, and make no apologies for it. If you don’t like my list, make your own. Everyone else on the internet does.

10. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
This film made this list for a few reasons. One, I think it is a stylistic masterpiece – Ramsay finds a way to do visually what Lionel Shirver’s brilliant novel did through prose – which is to put us inside the mind of the main character – a brilliant Tilda Swinton, as the mother of a high school shooter, flashing back and forth in time to his upbringing, and the aftermath, without resorting to voiceover. The way she draws comparison between the mother and son is wonderful, and visual – and Swinton, and Ezra Miller, are bother wonderful. It’s also a story that I loved when I first read Shriver’s novel, and has absolutely terrified me since I became a parent myself – the main character is someone who never should have been a parent in the first place, and knows it – she just doesn’t have that “mom” gene. So is she at fault for her son’s actions? The movie gives us two brilliant portrayals – the mother telling the story of her demon child, to shield herself from blame, but also the one she unwitting gives of herself, which damns her – and leaves it all undecided. This was one of those films that got lost in the year end shuffle when it came out, but whose reputation keeps growing. We need another Ramsay film, pronto.
Other Films By Director Considered: None – as much I loved Movern Callar, and Samantha Morton’s performance in it, it wouldn’t really be considered for a list like this.
9. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

For the first decade of this century, Pixar was the most consistently great producer of mainstream American movies – from Finding Dory to The Incredibles to Ratatouille to Up to Toy Story 3. They’ve been slightly more hit or miss since then (although Inside Out is a masterpiece) – but WALL-E has been my favorite Pixar film since I first saw it in 2008, and countless viewings since have confirmed it. The first hour of Wall-E – almost wordless as Wall-E works on earth by himself is comedy on par with Chaplin, Keaton and Tati, and the “romance” between Wall-E and Eve is tender, and makes me tear up just thinking about it. The second hour is admittedly more conventional – but it’s just as entertaining. Wall-E does what Pixar does best – make mainstream entertaining that doesn’t talk down to kids, no patronize adults – but entertains them both in equal doses. The level of artistry in the film is unrivaled. It’s a masterpiece, pure and simple.
Other Films By Director Considered: I know they are by different directors, but I knew I needed a Pixar film on this list – but the only ones I really considered were Brad Bird’s Ratatouille, which I think is one of the most profound films about art and artists (and critics) ever made and Pete Docter’s Inside Out which was Pixar at its most original and daring – and emotional. Wall-E has always been my favorite – but these two make it a close call for Pixar films.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
The most Wes Anderson film the director has ever made, The Grand Budapest Hotel is, of course, meticulously crafted – the art direction is the best we’ve seen this century so far, with sets built on top of other sets, all brilliantly colored, and period specific – the costumes are equally specific – as is the music, the shifting aspect ratio of the cinematography and the delivery of Anderson’s dialogue. It’s also the most complex film of Anderson’s career – in terms of structure, the film is a masterpiece – a Russian nesting doll of a story, with one built on top of each other. It is as funny as anything Anderson has ever made – but also as melancholy – it is nostalgic for a time that was over before Anderson was ever born – even before his main character, played by Ralph Fiennes in one of the great performances of the century, was born – without wallowing in that nostalgia. It is a touching film in many ways – and one that sneaks up on you – becomes endlessly re-watchable, quotable, and quietly moving. Anderson has built a one of a kind career so far, and this is his best work.
Other Films by Director Considered: The Royal Tenenbaums would have easily made this list had it not been for The Grand Budapest Hotel – I also love Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox – but I don’t think either would have quite made it this high.
7. Cache (Michael Haneke, 2005)

As a filmmaker, Michael Haneke is perhaps the most merciless moralist in history – his characters, like all of us, sin, and he makes them pay for those films, in films that are chilly, brutal, disturbing and brilliant. You could certainly argue for any number of his films for a spot on this list – but Cache is my favorite of his – I think perhaps that’s because the film works brilliantly well as a paranoid thriller, before it becomes something so much more disturbing than that. It stars Daniel Auteil as an upper class TV intellectual, who starts to receive videotapes of his house – nothing overtly threatening, just static shots on his front door. Who is sending them? Why? He will, eventually, unravel them – as his past comes back to haunt him, and his family, in ways he never could have realized. There is a moment in the film that is more shocking than any other in a film this century – and while there’s no denying that Haneke put it in for shock value (this is the director of Funny Games after all – he appreciates shock value) – it’s also much deeper than that as well. Haneke is one of the most essential filmmakers working right now – and this is his best film.
Other Films by Director Considered: Amour would be an equally fine choice for this list – I go back and forth between the two as to which is Haneke’s best and The White Ribbon is haunting as well, and would be a good choice. Isabelle Huppert’s performance in The Piano Teacher would likely make my list of the greatest performance of the century – if not quite the best movie list.
6. Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s best film – a film that, like all of his films, is in love with his dialogue – but unlike the rest of his films, actually makes that dialogue – that language – a theme of the film. Told in chapters, Inglorious Basterds is an alternate history about WWII, in which Hitler gets vengeance struck down upon him. But that’s only the hook – the real theme of the movie is how all of these characters, speaking multuiple languages, communicate with each other – or don’t as the case may be – cultural differences being giveaways. Tarantino has built his career – his late career anyway – on revenge films, and Inglorious Basterds is the best distillation of that. It is also one of the most entertaining films you will ever see – with great work by Christoph Waltz as a Nazi, not a true believer, but someone who will do whatever to get him ahead, Melanie Laurent as a Jewish woman, determined to get revenge, Brad Pitt as the head of a Dirty Dozen like groups of Jewish American soldiers looking for revenge, Michael Fassbender as a British spy, etc. I have never not had a lot of fun at a Tarantino film – never not thought they were extremely entertaining. But it was here that he started to go deeper – taking things beyond movies (along with, of course, movies) and producing something more meaningful than ever before.
Other Films By Director Considered: As much as I love Kill Bill, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight (hell, even Death Proof), I’m not sure any would reach the top 10 other than Basterds – top 25, sure, not top 10.
5. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)

I’m not sure there is another filmmaker who airs their insecurities and neurosis’ quite the same way as Charlie Kaufman does – literally in Adaptation, where he is a character, and more figuratively in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Anomalisa and this – his best film. Like Anomalisa, I think Synechdoche, New York is a portrait of what Kaufman feels he could become – obsessed with his own work to the point where he ends up achieving nothing, and shut out from the world and everyone around him. In the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a brilliant performance as a playwright, who gets a genius grant, and spends the rest of his life writing and rehearsing the play, without ever actually staging it – he just keeps writing the scenes from his own life into the play – his personal relationships crumble, and the glimpses we see of the outside world make it clear it’s all going to shit, but he’s lost in his own world, too obsessed with analyzing his life, that he never lives it. The massive cast is all great – especially Samantha Morton, and the film is endlessly fascinating, funny, entertaining, and just downright brilliant.
Other Films By Director Considered: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would easily be in my top 10 had it not for Synecdoche – and yes I know, Michel Gondry directed it, but it’s as much Kaufman’s film as Gondry, so having two with his stamp in the top 10 felt like the same thing as having two Wes Anderson’s – it is a masterwork though.
4. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
David Fincher’s Zodiac is many things. It is a first rate crime drama and police procedural, where multiple cops and reporters investigate the infamous Zodiac killings, piecing together clues and following leads to dangerous places. It is also kind of corrective to previous serial killer movies – like Fincher’s own Seven – which ends with cathartic violence, whereas in Zodiac, it is all frontloaded and seemingly random – the film is kind of like The Godfather Part II to Seven’s The Godfather. It is also a tale of obsession – as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Greysmith gives up everything else in his life – his family replaced around the dinner table my boxes and stacks of paper – all to find an answer that convinces no one but himself. Like many of Fincher’s films, the film is about the passage of time – and death waiting for us. It is also Fincher’s best film technically – brilliantly shot, edited, scored, etc. Fincher has become one of the best directors in the world – but this is his masterpiece.  
Other Films by Director Considered: The Social Network is one of the most entertaining, endlessly re-watchable films of the century, and may have cracked the top 10 if not for Zodiac and Gone Girl keeps growing in my mind – an absolutely brilliant film.
3. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is one of the mysterious, haunting and ambigious films of the century so far. It follows Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell – an alcoholic, troublemaker returning from WWII, and getting into trouble everywhere he goes – until he meets up with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s L. Ron Hubbard inspired Lancaster Dodd, and the two form a strange, symbiotic relationship. Dodd is intellect and calm, Quell is all raging id – but who the hell is teaching who, and why do they continue to drawn to each other, when they are so different. The film, brilliantly shot on 70MM, is a history of spirtal movements in American history (as Kent Jones brilliantly described in his Film Comment piece on the film – perhaps the best film criticism of the century so far) – but it comes down to these two men, two sides of the same coin, inscrutable, maddening, sexual, violent men. The end of the film is very much like the end of There Will Be Blood – but with no physical violence, and a scene tacked on at the end, that changes the meaning. The Master haunts me like few other films in history.
Other Films By Director Considered: I go back and forth as to what is Anderson’s best film - There Will Be Blood or The Master (in 2012, I had There Will Be Blood on my top 10 of all-time list) – I ended with The Master, because I think it accomplishes something similar without the bombast – and is the two handed, There Will Be Blood never quite became. And even if Anderson never made either film, both Punch-Drunk Love and Inherent Vice would be in consideration, for at least the top 25.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
There are not a lot of movies about failure – probably in part, because the people who get to make movies are successful artists, so making movies about unsuccessful ones can feel like punching down (as the worst moments in, say, Birdman do). It’s to their credit that the Coen Brothers – two of the best artists the film industry has ever produced – were able to make Inside Llewyn Davis, and make it is as well as they do. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is not a talentless folk singer/songwriter – he is not the musical version of Barton Fink – but rather he’s just not talented enough (the movie gives us a glimpse of true genius at the end). The movie is about Llewyn’s journey of discovery to that – and all the minor heartbreaks along the way, that ends with him saying farewell. It also isn’t afraid to make him into a selfish asshole, which he clearly is. Isaac gives what is probably my favorite performance of the century so far – you like Llewyn despite yourself, and he is a very good singer, whose vocals haunt the soundtrack, and the viewer after the film ends (the audience hears the pain in those songs, more than the people in the movie, because we’re right there with Llewyn every step of the way). The line “I don’t see any money in this” is one of the most heartbreaking in all of film history. The film itself is also meticulously crafted – of course – with arguably the best cinematography of any Coen film. The film just keeps growing in my mind – and every time I see it, I love it even more. Ask me again in 10 years and maybe it will have moved up this list.
Other Films By Director Considered: No Country for Old Men would easily be a top 10, if I didn’t think Llewyn Davis was just a little bit better - and A Serious Man, could well be. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a personal favorite, I wish more people loved as much as I do.
1. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

I saw Mulholland Dr. more times in the theater than any other – and I’ve continually revisited the film in the past 15 years, finding new things every time – and just being swept up in Lynch’s dream world that slowly becomes a nightmare all over again. The film has been endlessly discussed and debated – with internet forums out there convinced they have “solved” the film. Like everyone, I have my own theories (yes, it’s pretty much the widely accepted one) – but I think “solving” Mulholland Dr. is beside the point – Lynch makes films that are deeper than that. Mulholland Dr. is about Hollywood, the spell it holds, the romantic image it gives itself – and we buy into – until we see the reality underneath. It’s also a lot more than that. The film is one of the best acted films ever – Naomi Watts is brilliant, as is Laura Harring, and everyone else. What I love most about Mulholland Dr. is the spell it weaves over me every time I see it. Movies can be our collective dreams at their best – I love that feeling – and I get it from Mulholland Dr. more than any other film I have ever seen. It’s Lynch’s masterpiece – and the best film I have seen this century so far. Easily.
Other Films by Director Considered: Lynch has only made one other film since 2000 – and as much as I love Inland Empire (it’s on my top 10 of 2006), I have to admit, that it probably would not have factored into a list like this.
Had it been a top 25 list, these are the films, in roughly 11-25 order, that I would have included: The Tree of Life (Terence Malick, 2011) is the film I cannot believe isn’t in my top 10, but here we are – Malick’s mixture of the epic and the intimate is mind boggling, and even if he’s slipped since then, that hasn’t dimmed the brilliance of this film. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013) is like if Malick directed a Cronenberg screenplay – with a brilliant performance by Amy Seimetz. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) is among Lee’s very best films, and the best portrait of post 9/11 New York – a brilliantly acted, made, and terribly sad film (When the Levees Broke was also considered for Lee). The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006) is my favorite filmmakers best film since 2000 – and one of the most entertaining films of the century so far (The Wolf of Wall Street was also considered). A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005) is Cronenberg’s best since Crash, a brilliant Western in crime drama disguise, about a man running from his past – and an incisive portrait of marriage. Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005) ranks in my top 3 or 4 Spielberg films of all time – and his absolute darkest and most haunting (although if Munich weren’t here – A.I. would be – another masterpiece). Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang Dong, 2007) is a film I loved since I saw it at TIFF in 2007 – and whose reputation continues to grow since it got the Criterion treatment (especially since it didn’t really get a commercial release in North America) – an absolute brilliant examination of grief and belief (Lee’s follow-up, Poetry, is almost as good). Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) is arguably Miyazaki’s best film, but inarguably a masterwork – and one of the best animated films ever made. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015) is the most romantic – and sexually charged – film of the century so far, and Haynes best (although both Far From Heaven and I’m Not There would also be here had this one not been). Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000) Yang’s final film is this intimate, three hour masterpiece about a middle class Taipei family that I took way too long to catch with (and reminds me I need to see his A Brighter Summer Day, newly minted by Criterion). In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2001) is the only film that makes me question my assertion about Carol being the most romantic of the century – Wong’s beautiful, stylistic film about two people whose spouses are having an affair with each other, and fall in love as a result. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) is Linklater’s best film – a staggering achievement, hugely ambitious, and although you can dismiss it as a gimmick if you want, you’d be wrong. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) is Lonergan’s big, long, messy, brilliant portrait of a young woman, and everyone around him – a crime the way it was treated, but it’s finally gotten the reception it deserved. Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011) is pure movie style, and just slightly deeper than that, and I love every second of it – even if for the most part, Refn is very hit or miss with me. Last Days (Gus Van Sant, 2005) is a film that has haunted me for 11 years now, and never leaves my mind for long – the best of Van Sant’s death trilogy (although Elephant would be here if this wasn’t). I could go on, but 25 is already pushing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment