Today the BBC released a list of the 100 best movies of the 21st century, a list that was arrived at by polling a couple of thousand film critics - including yours truly! Each of us submitted our top ten movies of the new century and they did the number crunching and came up with a ranked list of 100.
I don't really like lists; they're reductive, for one, and they seem to spark the worst conversations - "What, no love for _______?" - but this list was intriguing to me. I liked the fact that it was going to be the result of a lot of people bringing their own thoughts to the table, and I liked the idea of submitting a list that would be very much MY list while also reflecting what I hoped was a reasonable swath of moviemaking in the 21st century. So I approached the list with a couple of rules for myself:
- I didn't want to put anything on the list that was too new. I didn't feel comfortable looking at 2015 and ranking any of those movies as "the best of the last sixteen years." Mad Max: Fury Road came very close to making my list, but I really wanted to make sure the movies I submitted were movies I had a lengthy chance to consider. As such, my list leans earlier in the century.
- I wanted to submit a true mix of movies I like and movies that are great. I looked at some other critics' lists and I wonder if they ever feel like revisiting the films they submitted; they're lists of movies that are weighty and important and slow and a little orthodox. I wanted to submit a list of movies that I would watch gladly but that are also great works of art.
- I wanted to create a list that at least hinted at the diversity of talent out there. I don't know that I succeeded at this, but it sparked some interesting internal dialogues about which movies I like the best and what kind of people make those movies.
- I wanted my list to feel like my list, not just another hive mind Film Twitter list of Accepted Modern Classics.
- Movies are not sports. There are not previous statistics you can use to argue who is best, and that includes previous end of year lists. Just because a movie was my #1 film of 2008 doesn't mean the #7 movie of that year hasn't aged better, grown in my estimation or been reconsidered by me. Art changes and grows with you.
One last note: I could have submitted a list of ten other movies and have felt as good about it. We are living in a great time to love movies, and narrowing this list down to ten - even using y specific criteria - was a truly difficult task.
And so, without further ado:
10. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
I'm bummed this, or any other Wright film, didn't make the final 100. Shaun of the Dead is legitimately a perfect movie - perfectly structured, perfectly balanced, perfectly made - and I wonder if its status as a horror-comedy kept it from other people's lists. I like all of Edgar Wright's movies, but Shaun is still the best one to me, the one that combines the right anarchic sense with his clockwork storytelling skills and manages to have a guy get ripped in half graphically.
9. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
So I wanted an Aronofsky on this list. He's one of the modern greats, I believe. Requiem is aging in its own weird way - a byproduct of the 90s indie boom it's unflinching but also maybe a little too gleeful in how it rubs your nose in filth. At the same time, that in-your-face nature feels fresh again in a world where everybody seems unwilling to upset anyone, or to push the envelope. In the end it's the film's propulsive and inventive editing that catapults Requiem into being one of the best of this young century.
8. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
This is the greatest 9/11 movie, even though 9/11 is technically tangential to the story. Based on a great novel by David Benioff, Spike Lee's film compares one man's last day of freedom to the smoldering hole at Ground Zero, and it forces us to ask the question of how we carry on and live in a world where things have been totally, irrevocably fucked up. It's heavy, it's funny, it's full of great performances and it understands the days after 9/11 in a way no other film ever has.
7. Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013)
Here's the one that has gotten me the most blowback on Twitter. First of all: yes, I like Frozen better than all the PIxar movies. Honestly. I like the story and the characters the best. But what's more, I love Frozen as a musical. It has at least three songs that are legitimate all-timers - people will be singing Do You Want to Build A Snowman and In Summer in 20 years, and they'll be singing Let It Go for a hundred. I believe Frozen is the great original musical of our time.
6. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
You could fill half a list with Tarantino movies alone. I love Inglorious Basterds for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's just so much fucking fun. But most of all it's a great testament to the power of cinema as a tool to confront and rewrite our personal and global traumas. Any movie that has the heroes gunning down Hitler is a movie that deseres all our love.
5. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Listen, I'll admit it - I'm bad with foreign films. I recognize that my interests are largely US-centric, when it comes to the movies. That said, Oldboy is one of the most compelling and exciting movies ever made, let alone made in the 21st century. It's a film from a director who is at the height of his powers, who is controlling tone and pacing with such ease that you almost don't notice what a bravura, shocking piece of work he has delivered.
4. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)
First of all, the 21st century is the century of superheroes. To approach the history of this era without acknowledging that is to miss the story. Many of my peers opted to make The Dark Knight the film that represented superheroes for them, but while I like that movie it's a crime film in superhero drag. Spider-Man 2 is an unabashedly comic book superhero movie, a film that is pulsing with the vibrant four color life of the best comic book panels and that is soaked in the sudsy soap opera of the best comic book word balloons. It's a movie that is a perfect fusion between filmmaker and material, and it is, without a doubt, the best example of superhero filmmaking ever attempted.
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
For some this movie is a slog, or a duty to be done in the name of cinema. I find it enthralling. It's not as fun as Boogie Nights, but it's got a thrumming rhythm, the rhythm of the oil derricks themselves, that pulls me in and disarms me and renders me helpless before its majesty. I like PTA best when he's nimble and working with an ensemble, but to deny the monumental magnificence of There Will Be Blood is an exercise in futility as pointless as trying to scam Daniel Plainview.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
Another perfect movie from a pair of perfect filmmakers. Inside Llewyn Davis is melancholy and funny, sweet and furiously bitter, rambling and laser-focused all at once. It's an examination of art and failure, it's a dissection of the worst of our impulses and the best of ourselves, and it's an impeccably made homage to a weird moment in pop music history where authenticity and artifice butted heads in a fascinating, beautiful way. And the movie's structure is simply extraordinary, making it a film you want to start rewatching the moment it is over.
1. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
The BBC kindly asked me to write up this movie, so once I remind you how absolutely technically perfect Zodiac is I'll just cut and paste what I said to them:
David Fincher, famed for doing dozens of takes, might know something about obsession. ZODIAC, his meticulous, gorgeous and haunting true crime movie, is a deep dive into obsession, following a newspaper cartoonist who becomes consumed by the 1970s Zodiac murders. Featuring astonishing performances from a pre-resurgence Robert Downey Jr and a pre-NIGHTCRAWLER Jake Gyllenhaal, ZODIAC pulses with jittery energy while luxuriating in its own peculiar slow burn to nowhere.