As we approach the two-decade mark of the 21st century, a discussion on the way our society and culture has changed will inevitably appear. In the context of film, the 21st century, so far, has produced a number of innovative, imaginative and great titles that reflect both the present and honor the past.

Here is our list of 25 of the greatest films to be released this century thus far.
There are titles on this list, readers will agree on, and titles they will disagree on. Overall we have strived to assemble a list of films that have had an impact on moviegoers, the box office and culture in general. Let us know your thoughts!

In The Mood For Love (2000) – directed by Wong Kar Wai

  Nate: I wrote extensively about In The Mood for Love (which you can read here). It is a pivotal piece of foreign cinema that everyone who is even a remote fan of cinema should view. It’s a film on restraint and subtlety which makes the usually frenetic camera movements of cinematographer Chris Doyle all the more impressive. Instead of the rush and blur that is commonplace among other Kar-Wai / Doyle collaborations like Chungking Express or 2046, In The Mood For Love captures it energy through stealth. We see the backs of heads,  the flow of bodies under the cover of darkness and the viewing of our leads through frames within frames, almost as if we are spying on the pair as they engage in their emotional affair.

It all culminates to perfection, not because the ending was what we expected or even wanted but it’s perfect because it captures the thrill, the emotional power of the relationship in an incredibly effective manner.

Related: In The Mood For Love is a Modern Masterpiece

The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)- Directed by Peter Jackson

Michael: Yes, these are actually three separate films. But like the novels that inspired them, the Lord of the Rings cannot be considered complete without looking at each entry and putting them together as a whole. 

Just as J.R.R. Tolkien’s  literary work is epic in its scope, so too is Peter Jackson’s ambitious film trilogy. Translating the beloved novels to the screen had been attempted in the past, with varying degrees of success. And so many questions would arise about Jackson and his team’s ability to not only recreate Middle Earth and its inhabitants but to do so effectively.

And luckily for us, this fantastic world was not just filmed but brought to life in spectacular visual and emotional fruition. Shot concurrently the production values that went into these films (or one long epic film) reveals a great love for the project.

Costumes, makeup, special effects, the musical score, the casting, and the very emotional and heroic storytelling. From the beautiful and peaceful Shire to the evil lands of Mordor, and the battlefield of Helms Deep, what was considered an ‘unfilmmable’ series succeeded in the most spectacular fashion. Its effects on pop culture remain immense, and its characters like Gollum, Gandalf, and Frodo remain instantly recognizable even to those who haven’t watched these films. 

Released at the beginning of this century, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings affirmed that 21st-century filmmaking would indeed be prosperous. Beyond awards (The Return of the King won 11 Oscars), the lasting power of this series has never been in question, and it shines as one of the very, very best in filmmaking not just in this century, but perhaps of all time. 

BY THE NUMBERS:

Oscars Won

Total Worldwide Gross (in Millions)

Oscar Nominations

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Average Tomatometer Score

Total Awards Won

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Average Metacritic Score

Mulholland Drive (2001) – Directed by David Lynch

Mulholland drive 1 Nate: The work of David Lynch is polarizing, to say the least. This is true of his work in television with Twin Peaks and in his films stretching back to his debut feature Eraserhead. It is very hard to characterize Lynch as a filmmaker because to classify as just one thing or even a list of things is to limit the creativity that fuels every David Lynch work.

This applies to his 2001 film Mulholland Drive particularly well because it is a film that can’t be digested or even appreciated to its fullest extent in just one viewing. A product that began as a potential television series, it was passed over by networks because did not see its appeal to a wide audience. Maybe this is true. Mulholland Drive is at its very core an “arthouse” film both in its surreal dream-like design and the way it seems to jump from one narrative point to another. In fact, Roger Ebert once described the film as having “no explanation…not even a mystery” leading to the film being a source of great debate and analysis within the film community.

A very basic – raw interpretation is that Mulholland Drive is a backhanded deconstruction of Hollywood, of its business first approach that has seen studios ignore “true art” in the name of big dollar blockbusters and the overall fakeness of the people who inhabit the industry. With no real central protagonist or really anyone that you would even be overtly compelled to cheer for, it seems that Lynch is expressing his own frustrations with Hollywood, a reflection of his struggle to get his work produced and seen by the masses. In many ways, Mulholland Drive is before its time given how strongly studios have turned in favor of the mindless summer blockbuster but to that same point, reliance on studio financing is at an all time low given the influx of technology and reach that has given rise to a new breed of indie filmmaking.

Regardless of where you stand on David Lynch though, Mulholland Drive deserves a spot on any 21st-century list for its ability to encourage conversation, to engage an audience to think critically about film and the thematic choices that it makes. Films like these might not have mass appeal, they may get brushed off by people who only see it as pretentious but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. As much as I can enjoy a summer blockbuster, there needs to be a duality within the arts that allows for something challenging or controversial like Mulholland Drive to exist because these films that encourage deeper thought, foster a desire to create different things and stops humans from becoming soulless drones.

 

“Every viewer is going to get a different thing. That’s the thing about painting, photography, cinema”

David Lynch

Director, Mulholland Drive

Spirted Away (2001) –  Directed By Hayao Miyazaki

spirited-away-1 Nate: Hayao Miyazaki belongs in that upper echelon of innovators in cinema. His legacy within animation is unquestioned garnering fans worldwide for his work as well as the work of his studio (Studio Ghibli). Like Walt Disney, Miyazaki has a knack for creating imaginative yet immersive worlds that appeal to all demographics.

The world that Spirited Away inhabits is one of these fantastical worlds, filled with unique spirits and creatures all drawn with flair each roaming the land with their own movements and behaviors that make them unique. For the average human entering, such a universe would elicit a response somewhere between fear and amazement which is exactly the situation that young Chihiro finds herself in when all of a sudden, her parents have turned into pigs and she is surrounded by creatures beyond your wildest imagination.

To rescue her parents, Chihiro must conquer her fears but along the way she discovers that appearances are not always what they seem nor is her outlook on life as clear as it once was. In a journey expertly crafted by Miyazaki, Spirted Away not only pushes the limits of animation to new levels but also asks the audience important questions about themselves and the society they live in.

“We have made “Totoro,” which was for small children, “Laputa,” in which a boy sets out on a journey, and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” in which a teenager has to live with herself. We have not made a film for 10-year-old girls” Hayao Miyazaki on the target audience for Spirited Away

Director, Spirited Away

Lost in Translation (2003) – Directed by Sofia Coppola

Lost in Translation Whisper Still

Nate: In contrast to her famous father Francis who is known for extravagant spectacles like the Godfather or Apocalypse Now, Sofia Coppola is known for subtle intimacy. Her films often depict a person on the brink, struggling with the inner turmoil that is not apparent when viewed from the surface. After all, her characters from Marie Antoinette to the Virgin Suicides to Somewhere all appear to be these beautiful people from high social standing? How could life possibly be bad?

Coppola excels at exploring these themes perhaps no better than in her most renowned film Lost in Translation. Starring Bill Murray as washed up Hollywood star Bob Harris and a young Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, the two kindred spirits meet in Tokyo where they find solace in each other’s company as they both face the prospect of what to do next in their lives. For Bob, it’s a question of if he is anything more than a has been and if the pursuit of fame was worth the strain on his family, For Charlotte, it’s a question of where to go next following her studies while also contemplating if her marriage was the right choice.

The foreign setting of Tokyo further alienates the pair from their surroundings giving way to a heightened sense of isolation. So when they do find each other and begin to bond it’s not physical attraction that brings them together it’s the shared feeling of ennui. So often we attribute intimacy to sex or grand romantic gestures but there is something about exposing that inner vulnerability that I would argue is equally as intimate. Coppola understands this and never tries to force anything, it’s a natural progression of a beautiful relationship molded together thanks to superb acting,  

As such it’s almost fitting that we never hear what Bob whispers to Charlotte near the end of the film, like an intimate secret shared between just the two of them

“It’s about misunderstandings between people and places, being disconnected and looking for moments of connection. There are so many moments in life when people don’t say what they mean, when they are just missing each other, waiting to run into each other in a hallway.” Sofia Coppola

Director, Lost in Translation

Music plays a pivotal role in conveying the tone in Coppola’s films. For Lost in Translation, she included this atmospheric song from the band Air that also contributed to The Virgin Suicides soundtrack

FUN FACT:

Coppola who studied art history in college shows off her artistic flair in the iconic shot that accompanies the title card (above) – a nod to John Kacere’s 1973 photo realistic artwork entitled “Jutta” (below). 

Finding Nemo (2003)- Directed by Andrew Stanton

Michael: Pixar Studios and their tremendous output have done so much for the advancement of animated films, that having their films compete against one another are both tough and not totally fair. Any Pixar film is eligible for this list, whether it’s Wall-E, Ratatouille, or Up, and so choosing Finding Nemo, is in no ways an indicator of superiority.

Released in 2003, it was, however, the first smash hit for the studio in the 21st century. While Monsters Inc. (2001), too was very successful, Finding Nemo broke box office records for an animated film, and whose stunning color and breathtaking animation left an immediate impression on audiences. As a precursor to the films mentioned above, Finding Nemo was the sign that some very special movies could be expected from Pixar; and they have not disappointed. 

And so while one could argue that Pixar’s films could all be on this list, Finding Nemo gets the nod for starting a series of 21st century animated masterpieces from a wonderful film studio. 

Pixar  in the 21st Century by the Numbers (Tomatometer Score)

  • Monsters Inc (2001) 96%
  • Finding Nemo (2003) 99%
  • Toy Story 3 (2010) 99%
  • The Incredibles (2004) 97%
  • Ratatouille (2007) 96%
  • Cars (2006) 74%
  • WALL-E (2008) 96%
  • Up (2009) 98%
  • Cars 2 (2011) 39%
  • Brave (2012) 78%
  • Monsters University (2013) 78%
  • Inside Out (2015) 98%
  • The Good Dinosaur (2015) 77%
  • Finding Dory (2016) 94%

Spider-Man 2 (2004)- Directed by Sam Raimi

Michael: The film that Roger Ebert described as “the superhero movie for people who don’t go to superhero movies, and for those who do, it’s the one they’ve been yearning for.”, the strength of Spider-Man 2 is that it doesn’t overly focus on the superhero himself, but as Ebert further stated on “the humans behind them.”

While the human side of the superhero has been explored in subsequent films (including The Dark Knight, also on this list) Spider-Man 2 was one of the first to do so with genuine pathos and relatable characters. 

Peter Parker shows his uncertainty at the great responsibility he’s been dealt as Spider-Man, knowing that being both a superhero and a good boyfriend, student and citizen requires great sacrifice and difficulty. 

The villain Dr. Otto Octavious is too an emotionally complex creation. While his actions are evil, he’s a sympathetic and tragic figure. Unlike Peter’s realization that he must use his powers for good, Doc Ock becomes corrupted but is ultimately redeemed. 

Of course, the special effects are great and there are a number of thrilling fight scenes and action sequences. A horrifying scene of Doc Ock massacring a group of emergency doctors is also well crafted and effective. 

Alvin Sargent’s screenplay is smart, funny, and very touching. Spider-Man 2 is a triumph because bolstered by its superhero background, it shows the vulnerability and resilience of the human spirit. Spider-Man isn’t just a masked man in a fantasy world, but a real person. A person we can relate to, a person we can understand, and a person we can actually see ourselves being. Spidey’s powers are strong and so is this film. 

The Evolution Of Spider-Man In Film

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Directed by Michel Gondry

Nate: We are often drawn to films because of the actors starring in them or the director behind the camera but rarely does a screenwriter entice people to see a film. Charlie Kauffman is one of those rare writers whose name alone attached to a script is enough reason for me to seek it out. With credits like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Anomolisa and Synechdoche New York to his name, Kauffman is known for his complex writing layered with ample amount of thought provoking material that will leave you wondering about the film long after the credits roll.

Teaming with director Michel Gondry who’s for his manipulation of traditional filmmaking techniques, the duo produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  A fascinating exploration or perhaps deconstruction of a relationship between Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), it tells the tale of wanting to remove someone from your memory after the pain of a breakup. In typical Kauffman fashion, the story will leave you weighing the pros and cons of such a decision but ultimately the conclusion you reach is heavily dependent on the viewer in question.

More importantly, though, the film posits the idea that regardless of your feelings on that moral debate, relationships are inherently interesting insofar as they reflect our individual selves in the way we approach them. While Kauffman does approach with an air of cynicism he acknowledges the differing positions on the matter (hence the ending which can be read an assortment of ways)  and above all else deems relationships to be necessary. Of course, to reach any conclusion requires the actors to motivate you to want to continue watching the film in search of an answer and both Carrey and Winslet are stellar in their respective roles. Carrey especially comes as a surprise as he tones it down about 7 notches from his usual persona to give a heartfelt performance. You won’t be needing Lacuna Inc. This is one to keep in the memory forever. Okay?….Okay.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)- Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Michael: A visual and emotional feast for audiences, Pan’s Labyrinth is undoubtedly director Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece. This richly allegorical fantasy film is a mesmerizing and moving film. combining both the human spirit and its imagination with the unspeakable horrors of war.

Even from a just a visual point of view, Pan’s Labyrinth is clearly a triumph. The fantastic creatures, settings and wonderfully odd scenes are just plain beautiful to see. As the winner of the Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Makeup, the visual splendor of this movie is magnificent. 

And complimenting these scenes is its heartbreaking and uplifting story of love and faith. Coupled with the highly imaginative sequences, this becomes at the end of the day a human story. Del Toro achieved a rare feat of combining high fantasy with real human emotion and created a masterpiece of world cinema. 

“‘I was also trying to uncover a common thread between the “real world” and the “imaginary world” through one of the seminal concerns of fairy tales: choice…the way your choices define you. And I thought it would be great to counterpoint an institutional lack of choice, which is fascism, with the chance to choose, which the girl takes in this movie.” Guillermo del Toro

Director, Pan's Labyrinth

Children Of Men (2006) – Directed By Alfonso Cuaron

Nate: Enter Alfonso Cuaron’s post-apocalyptic alternate universe where women have become infertile and the remaining political system is in shambles. Clive Owen plays diplomat Theo Faron who is unexpectedly tasked with the job of protecting a young refugee who may be humanity’s last hope.

As a science fiction film, it may not be as influential as Blade Runner, 2001 or Metropolis but Children of Men rivals the greats in quality. Masterfully shot by Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the entire film plays out like a thrill ride from end to end. Some of the long shots this film uses should be housed permanently in an exhibit to be studied for generations to come. That may sound like hyperbole but this film is stunning in nearly every frame.

As is a common thread with most of our selections, Children of Men shines a light on human nature and the impact of faith in seemingly hopeless situations. Cuaron’s distaste for exposition allows the viewer to focus their attention on the story at hand without questioning the how and why of it all. In a sense doing so allows Cuaron to go to different depths without necessarily having a rock solid backstory to justify it. He trusts the audience to fill in the necessary gaps themselves and takes the viewer on a cinematic journey worthy of their intelligence.

This list exemplifies the power that film has. Yes, it is a tool of entertainment that can bring great joy into lives but it can also tell stories that make us think, make us feel and make us assess where we are as humans. Children of Men is a masterclass in technical prowess and as a conduit to deeper thinking as well.

“I despise movies that explain. I cannot stand exposition in movies. I start getting, like, a rash. It’s like getting suffocated in the theater. Because I love cinema. And cinema is becoming something that is not cinema. Cinema is becoming a medium of illustrating stories. Cinema is becoming a medium in which you can close your eyes and you can watch the movie.” Alfonso Cuaron

Director, Children Of Men

Borat (2006)-Directed by Larry Charles

Michael: The comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen can be both hilarious and revolting. But whether one likes or dislikes his brand of humor, it is hard to deny his pop cultural impact and the originality of his character creations. 

Known for such characters as Ali G, Bruno, and of course, Borat, Cohen’s 2006 film focusing on the life of Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, proved to be a launching ground for mainstream success outside his native Britain. 

The film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is indeed like Cohen’s brand both hilarious and revolting, depending on who you ask. But through it all, Cohen also manages to create an incisive commentary on cultural relations, bigotry, racism, sexism, and even basic societal values. It’s a type of shock humor that also turns out to be incredibly insightful.

 Cohen and only a few others in the film were acting, with the majority of the people appearing in the film believing that Borat and company were real people.  This ignorance of the fictional nature of Borat shed light on the behaviors, reactions, and prejudices of individuals in response to an outrageous and culturally different person like Borat. 

But even putting the social commentary aside, there are many great and genuinely hysterical moments highlighted by Cohen’s ability to never break character and the performance by Ken Davitian as Borat’s manager Azamat. 

For creating a culturally significant and controversial time in cinema, it is right to consider “Borat” as one of the best films in this century so far. 

There Will Be Blood (2007) – Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson

Nate: Paul Thomas Anderson could very easily have 3-4 films on this list and there wouldn’t be much debate but in the interest of opening up the list for other talented directors, we selected 2007’s There Will Be Blood as Anderson’s marquee film from this century.

Teaming with Daniel Day-Lewis, the acclaimed method actor embodies the role of Daniel Plainview entirely. A true commentary on the nature of humanity, the story follows Plainview as he searches for oil and any way to climb the social ladder. Arguably well intentioned to start, the power of greed overcomes Plainview as he grows increasingly cold. There is no morality here just power to be taken.

Day-Lewis completely immerses himself in the role, from his voice which sounds like he drank a cup full of sharp pebbles before coming on set to his demeanor, it all comes together to create this fascinating character study. Is Plainview like this because he is inherently evil or is that just the effects of capitalism? Do we even have a responsibility towards morality in our pursuit of the American Dream or is it just a race to the top with no regard for non-personal consequences? Released during a period where America was engaging in questionable ethics to acquire resources, sacrificing significant amounts of human capital in pursuit of those resources, the themes that There Will Be Blood tackles holds resonance today when though the film takes place over 100 years ago.

No Country for Old Men (2007) – Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Javier Bardem No Country For Old Men

Nate: It is incredible to think that this film, There will be Blood and Zodiac (which narrowly missed the cut) all came out in the same year. Based on the 2005 Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, No Country For Old Men seems to be tailor made for the stylings of the Coen Brothers in a story filled with tension, violence and dark humor.

Reminiscent of their seminal classic Fargo, this film also involves greed and different parties chasing each other across desolate landscapes. Anchored by an all-time great performance from Javier Bardem as sadistic hitman Chigurh, The Coens weave an intricate tale from beneath its neo-noir stylings also lies a layer of humanity and questions of ethical morality.

It is a testament to the film’s excellence that it was able to secure Academy Awards for Bardem (supporting actor), the Coens (for director and Adapted screenplay) as well as nabbing the illustrious Best Picture award especially in the aforementioned stacked field.

La Vie en Rose (2007)- Directed by Olivier Dahan

Michael: What does it mean to embody a character? Beyond makeup, costuming, and creating an accent, to truly embody a role is to deeply understand the essence of that person. From speech to the movement to raw emotions truly embodying a role is indeed a difficult task for any performer. Yet when it is done well, it truly stuns and moves us. 

Marion Cotillard’s turn as the great Edith Piaf is surely then one of the finest examples of a deep understanding of the person and a brilliant display of embodiment. 

Edith Piaf (1915-1963) has rightfully earned her place in the pantheons of world music and remains not only one of the greatest singers of all time, but a continued and cherished part of France’s musical identity. Yet despite her successes, Piaf’s personal life was filled with moments of tragedy, sadness, and longing. Her belief in the goodness of life and the promise of love, however, helped her overcome all the negatives. As she so famously sang in a song seen to be biographical “Non-Je Ne Regrette Rien” (No, I regret nothing). 

To play this beautiful and complex soul, Marion Cotillard not only physically transformed herself but understood deeply the emotions and motivations that made Piaf unique. In understanding her psyche, her performance exemplified the real life woman that was Edith Piaf. And it further accentuated the brilliance of method acting and Cotillard’s great acting ability. 

She won a slew of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actress. Cotillard’s performance elevated “La Vie en Rose” from being just another biopic to a stunning portrait of a 20th-century musical giant. Though biopics are relatively common, the emotional realism of Marion Cotillard’s performance has made this truly one of the best films of the 21st century so far. 

“At certain moments, you felt her presence. I often felt like we were working together. And then, you leave your ego to one side and just go for it. It’s frightening but absolutely thrilling. The first scene I had to play like that was set in the apartment on Boulevard Lannes, when Charles Dumont brings her Non, je ne regrette rien. I found myself speaking and moving as if Piaf were inside me. Even if we had to do it again and again, even though it was tough, that’s when I realized that I was going to get a great kick out of playing her.” Marion Cotillard on becoming Edith Piaf

The Dark Knight (2008)- Directed by Christopher Nolan

the-dark-knight Nate: Many of the current superhero movies suffer from a villain problem in that often times the villain depicted in opposition to the beloved hero is boring or has no personality (looking at you Ultron). Perhaps this is true or perhaps Heath Ledger set the bar so high that no villain in any super hero movie has matched it. All the problems we associate with the current run of villains is answered by Ledger’s Joker:

No personality? Ledger has it in spades

Boring? Have you seen what he can do with just a pencil?

Doesn’t challenge the hero? Without spoiling it, Ledger’s Joker gets more than a few shots in on the Caped Crusader

Ledger’s Joker was so good, the Academy gave him an Oscar for his performance. He almost single handily elevates The Dark Knight to a completely different level. Now, all due credit to Nolan and Bale who put together two very good Batman films before and after Ledger’s appearance but there’s a reason why The Dark Knight is almost universally regarded as great and it begins with Heath Ledger. In constructing a movie around the hero vs villain dynamic, The Dark Knight not only succeeds because it has arguably the greatest foil in comic book history to play with but also because it stays true to the stakes. Too often now, comic book movies have lost sight of the scope. Not everything has to have the universe at stake. If you simplify and execute in a low-stakes situation well, the resulting product can be just as good if not better than a massive production affair.

The Wrestler (2008)- Directed by Darren Aronofsky

The wrestler still

Michael: There have been many inspirational sports films, yet the brilliance of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, goes beyond sports (or the mat). Offering a deeply affecting, saddening, and uplifting tale of redemption and failure, The Wrestler gives a rare glimpse behind the scenes of professional wrestling and the effects of living in a fantasy for too long. 

Randy “The Ram” Robinson( Mickey Rourke in a masterful performance) was a main event headliner in the 1980s and 90s, but he’s now beaten and scarred from years of in-ring abuse and drug addictions. In the process, he’s alienated his family, any semblance of real friendships with others, and lives a solitary life. Though crowds at church basements and gyms still cheer his name, Randy is personally a very lonely man. 

After a heart attack that nearly kills him, Randy has to take a second look at his lifestyle and tries to build new relationships, and rebuild the ones he’s destroyed. 

The film is immensely touching and saddening but also provides a surprisingly poignant commentary on the realities of living in a fantasy world, where real world problems are swept aside. In this case it is the sport of pro wrestling that is highlighted and the actual wrestlers whose lives inspired this fictional tale of Randy. Wrestling stars like Mick Foley, Roddy Piper and Bret Hart all praised the film for its realism, commending both Rourke and Aronofsky for their work. 

Though pro wrestling is used as a backdrop, The Wrestler transcends the sports theme by bringing to audiences a richly rewarding drama on the fragility of the human soul and its ability to get back up again. 

Inglorious Basterds (2009)- Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Inglorious Basterds 1

Michael: Quentin Tarantino’s 21st-century filmography is by and large stellar. From Kill Bill to Django Unchained, Tarantino’s unique brand of filmmaking has undoubtedly left its mark.

While any of his films could be on this list, 2009’s Inglorious Basterds features one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time, which alone could be enough to recommend it. But it’s also the brilliant pastiche Tarantino assembles (in all of his films fairly) of imagination and actual history that makes the movie so great. 

This alternate history of the Third Reich is both terrifying and amusing. Beneath the layer of Nazi evil, Tarantino proclaims that it really is all a farce; certainly a murderous and violent farce, but that in the end if one never takes Nazi ideology seriously, it’s true nature as ridiculous and dangerous can be seen. Indeed if only Hitler’s rise could have been seen as a farce, perhaps support would have eluded him?

Standing out most brilliantly in this film is Christoph Waltz, a then unknown outside of Austria, who so masterfully embodies Colonel Hans Landa of the SS. A suave, extremely intelligent, yet ruthlessly cunning individual, Waltz is mesmerizing in the role. He not only speaks German, French, English, and Italian in the film, it’s his combination of calmness and intensity that make him in Tarantino’s own words “the greatest character I’ve ever written.” He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and immediately shot to well-deserved acclaim and fame. Though it may be tough to choose between Tarantino films, Inglorious Basterds awesome retelling of the end of the Nazis we wish could have happened, and Christoph Waltz’s performance makes it a suitable choice as one of the best of this century. 

“the technique I was trying to employ in this movie was this: the suspense is like a rubber band that’s being stretched throughout the scene, getting tighter and tighter and tighter. And if I’m pulling that off, if I am successful in that, then the idea isn’t to make the scene shorter. The idea is to see how long I can stretch the rubber band out. The scene should be as long as it can be, as long as the rubber band will hold. It should take it to its finest, finest point. And then – snap! And when it snaps, it’s over in a second.” Quentin Tarantino on crafting tension

Director, Inglorious Basterds

Tarantino’s Body Count (Number of Deaths in his Films)

Reservoir Dogs

Kill Bill Vol. 2

Pulp Fiction

Inglorious Basterds

Jackie Brown

Django Unchained

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Hateful 8

Midnight in Paris (2011)- Directed by Woody Allen

Midnight In Paris Still

Michael: There are many things to be said about the film career of Woody Allen, who has for the most part consistently produced solid scripts and movies. From Annie Hall to Match Point to Blue Jasmine, Allen’s own quirkiness is often evident in the characters he writes, which can be charming and funny as well as sad and pathetic. 

2011’s Midnight in Paris once again features that quirky guy, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an old-fashioned romantic, looking for meaning in the modern world. But beyond just a sense of romanticism, Allen creates comedy (as he often does) and blends it with very original fantasy that makes this movie one of his more memorable recent works. 

Including beautiful vistas of Paris, there is a charm to this movie which also comes from its characters. Gil is both the everyman, but also the dreamer, believing that life in another time period would be better. In his surreal experiences, he somehow travels back to bygone eras where he meets literary and artistic greats like Salvador Dali, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. This fantasy combined with deeper existential questions about life and love, make Midnight in Paris a lovely film. 

“When you think of Paris, you think of romance, so I came up with the title Midnight in Paris, which seemed to me very romantic, but I couldn’t think of what happens at midnight. I went for a couple of months without being able to come up with anything. Then one day it occurred to me — if I had my protagonist walking around Paris at midnight and a car pulled up and they said get in and they took him on an interesting adventure. So that’s how it formed.” Woody Allen

Director, Midnight In Paris

Capped with a memorable and beautiful guitar theme, “Bistro Fada”,  by French composer Stephane Wrembel, this movie is very smart, funny, sweet and highly original and a great entry into Woody Allen’s celebrated filmography.

Life of Pi (2012)- Directed by Ang Lee

Life of Pi Still 1

Michael: Another instance of a book that was supposed to be ‘unfilmable”. Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” like Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is both visually stunning and emotionally rewarding. 

The story of a young Indian man stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with the company of wild animals, including a ferocious Bengal Tiger affectionately named Richard Parker, is a journey of discovery, love, and faith. 

The special effects and computer generated animation are breathtaking, especially in the creation of Richard Parker. The animal appears and moves so realistically, it can be shocking to find out that he is completely digital. And lead actor Suraj Sharma’s performance opposite this wonderful digital creation is very commendable. 

But “Life of Pi” also shines because of its allegory and themes of love and family. It’s a heartwarming and uplifting story that is beautifully accentuated by the awesome visual effects. Ang Lee was named Best Director at the Oscars and the film won Best Cinematography and Visual Effects. 

The relationship between a very moving human story and stunning visual effects (like Pan’s Labyrinth) can make a film a truly wonderful experience, and “Life of Pi” does just that. 

“I wanted the experience of the film to be as unique as the book and that meant creating the film in another dimension. 3D is a new cinematic language, and no one really takes it as an art form yet” Ang Lee

Director, Life Of Pi

Nebraska (2013)- Directed by Alexander Payne

Michael: Alexander Payne has cemented himself as a director and screenwriter of great talent, with titles like “The Descendants”, “Election” and “About Schmidt” to his name. 

While these are all excellent films in their own right, Payne’s 2013 work “Nebraska” features an eloquent, poetic, funny and heartwarming story that makes the movie a real pleasure to watch and a standout in his filmography. 

Shot in black and white, this story of an older man grappling with senility and his family’s attempts to confront and appease him is touching and quaint in its approach. With an Oscar-nominated lead performance by Bruce Dern, “Nebraska” is a tale of Americana, but also of the everyday heroes and villains, and the pains we go to for our loved ones. 

It’s a beautifully executed film, with a sharp script, great performances (particularly from Bruce Dern and June Squibb, who was also nominated at the Oscars) and an emotional message. While a 21st-century film, it has the feel of classic cinema, a reason why this movie is very special. 

Her (2013) – Directed By Spike Jonze

Nate: We jokingly named this site “Before The Cyborgs” to mark the oncoming invasion of Artificial Intelligence or as we slowly morph into increasingly mechanical beings. See, humans are inherently flawed, I won’t go into the philosophical debate of inherently good vs evil but unquestionably flawed. Part of this is because humans have a fragility to them that machines just don’t. We form attachments and emotionally invest in things/people that in the event that it suddenly disappears, it feels like the worst pain imaginable but that is also what makes life beautiful.

In Spike Jonze’s Her, we follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) as he reels from his recent divorce and finds himself alone. Struggling to find fulfillment and just meandering through day to day,  he meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the catch? Samantha is not an ordinary girl, in fact, she’s not even human, she’s the ultra advanced operating system. It’s a premise that if done incorrectly has the makings of a really bad rom-com (When Theo Met Siri) but Jonze manages to craft a compelling story behind the romance that is reminiscent of Charlie Kaufman (who he teamed up with on Being John Malkovich) and Sofia Coppola (his ex-wife) in style and structure.

People have speculated whether or not this is semi-autobiographical and if Her functions as a sort of response to Coppola’s character Charlotte in Lost in Translation but in any case, whatever Jonze did to draw inspiration, the performances are fantastic all around, the color scheme is vibrant and the score is subtle but effective.

The concept behind this movie could have potentially tried to force an overarching message on human relationships or our reliance on technology but it doesn’t. Instead, Jonze recognizes human fallibility as an asset, not a detriment, it’s okay to love (even when it doesn’t always work out). Things change and it is in that adaptability that we learn and measure our next ventures. The process itself though at times painful or hard also produced moments of absolute joy.

The ability to convey the power of relationships and to resonate feeling or connection in a film is one of the things that make film great. It is what makes Her great and it is the reason why it belongs on this list.

 

“We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.”  Her (2013)

Whiplash (2014) Directed By Damien Chazelle

Michael: A discussion of 21st-century films wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Damien Chazelle. While his feature film filmography is still small, his films so far have been all great and worthy of the critical praise they’ve received. Before La La Land, however. it was his semi-biographical tale of a drummer determined to succeed against a ruthless music instructor that gained him widespread attention. 

“Whiplash” is both brilliantly written and executed, as well as masterfully acted from Miles Teller and especially J.K. Simmons. 

Andrew’s (Miles Teller) blinding ambition to be the best in the world and Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) abusive and reprehensible conduct collide in a fascinating portrait of perseverance and perversion. 

J.K. Simmons is absolutely terrifying (especially considering his actual demeanor in life is the total opposite of Fletcher) in this role and rightfully won an Oscar for it. This film showed that Damien Chazelle was a serious contender in Hollywood, and he’s continued to prove it. 

“When I started the script, I was just writing something in my mind about a drummer, though it could be any kind of artist, going as far as possible to be great, and the price of that. I was also trying to write about the physicality of music, trying to write a music movie as though it were “Raging Bull.” Damien Chazelle

Director, Whiplash

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Directed By Wes Anderson 

The Grand Budapest Hotel Nate: The whimsical depiction of a baroque period Europe that exists somewhere with one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy makes The Grand Budapest Hotel one of the most unique films of this century. Embracing his full eccentricities, all of the Wes Anderson staples are on full display.  The colors, the symmetry, the awkward humor it’s all there with Anderson employing Ralph Fiennes (in a rare comedic role) as Gustave, the head concierge of the eponymous hotel.

Shot in three different aspect ratios to differentiate between the 3 different timelines occurring in the plot, Anderson explores murders, the aristocracy, jail breaks and delightful pastries in a film that balances comedy with moments of melodrama and melancholia. It is all set to a light-hearted score by Alexandre Desplat used effectively to promote the overarching feeling behind the scene.

Though Wes Anderson’s unique style may take some getting used to, it is virtually impossible not to succumb to the charm that this movie possesses. Playful, fun and witty, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a standout in Anderson’s illustrious career and certainly deserving of a space on this list.

Related: The Enigmatic Brilliance Of Wes Anderson

The Colors of Wes Anderson

Birdman (2014) – Directed By Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Nate: One take no edits…that’s the illusion Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu would like you to believe with his 2014 film Birdman. Reminiscent of a similar experiment Alfred Hitchcock did with Rope (1948), Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) follows former movie star Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) who attempts to return to the level of success he had playing Birdman (a parody superhero similar to Batman) by starring in a play. As pressure mounts to deliver a standout performance, we witness Riggan’s slow descent into madness gradually believing himself to have powers and eventually believing that he is truly the Birdman.

It’s a biting satire on Hollywood from Inarritu and he could not have cast the film better. Obviously given Keaton’s own personal experience playing Batman in the late 80s and his struggle to find meaningful work afterward, the character of Riggan feels very true to himself. Another perfect casting choice was Edward Norton as the talented but demanding actor Mike Shiner playing opposite Riggan in the play. Norton who is notorious for being difficult to work with yet extremely talented (as evidenced by his roles in Primal Fear and American History X) falls right into the role and together the two demonstrate the duality within actors that sees them possess massively inflated egos yet also a crippling fear of failure. Ironically it is from this film that Keaton himself would see himself experience a bit of a career resurgence so perhaps art imitates reality after all?

For its inspired filmmaking technique that so cleverly masks cuts and the standout performances from both Norton and Keaton, Birdman is not a film you want to miss.

Carol (2015) – Directed By Todd Haynes

Carol Still 1 Nate:  Cinema can give a voice to those who don’t have one. To send a message to people that there are people enduring the same struggle. Carol does this, not just for those in same-sex relationships but for all those who have been denied the chance at romance due to the bigotry in the world.

Telling a beautiful tale of love and desire, Carol stars Cate Blanchette as the title character,  a woman in the upper class who captures the attention of one department store worker (Rooney Mara as Therese) one faithful day. Through fleeting glances, stolen touches, and an overwhelmingly tense ambiance, the two get closer with each encounter. The setting, however, is  1950s New York where conservative values would never accept a same-sex relationship especially for someone of Carol’s social standing so the pair can not act on their emotions.

The result is a film that hinges heavily on every subtlety, every look has increased significance, every interaction is layered with a subtext that carries its true meaning. Despite not being overtly obvious to a common passerby these interactions are filled with warmth, a product of genuine chemistry between Mara and Blanchette where each understands their role. Blanchette’s Carol is cool and collected never giving off any excess feeling whereas the innocent doe-eyed Mara is more overwhelmed at times even confused about their situation.

Tears are shed under the cover of rain blurring the identification of one or the other, lips quiver slightly but composures are not compromised. This is an exercise in patience. A film that challenges you but encourages you to feel the warmth generated by the two. No, it’s not a film built on grandeur or loud proclamations of love but sometimes that’s not necessary. Sometimes you just know. Life is transient marred by the notion of its impermanence but love? in its purest form transcends that,  becoming everlasting so the convey a version of that with such grace beneath its subtlety is an achievement upon itself.

That’s our list. While by no means comprehensive just due to the sheer amount of quality films, we attempted (through some very difficult cuts) to give a snapshot of some of the most influential, innovative and personally meaningful films to us.   What do you think of our picks? What is on your personal list? Let us know via social media or in the comments below!

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