Why The New York Times, in their own June 9th ranking of the twenty-five best films of the twenty-first century, felt the need to take this moment to reflect on the best cinema of our still-young century is anyone’s guess. My suspicion is that they are just starved for content during the summer months, traditionally the worst time for serious-minded moviegoers, although there are some promising films coming soon, including the long-awaited U.S. release of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Poesía sin fin,” a year and a half after its premiere at Cannes. In any event, film critics and fans have been chiming in with their own lists of the best twenty-five films from the first seventeen and a half years of the new millennium (for math geeks, that comes out to 1.43 films a year).
Great films abound on the Times list drawn up by chief film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, but the selection is middle-of-the-road and predictable. The critics seem to mistake diversity for quality, casting a large net that falls over indie favorites, art house fare from the world over, and even Hollywood blockbusters. You can almost imagine Tony and Manohla going down a checklist: Computer animated film? Check! Goofy comedy that is nevertheless really really good? Check! High-octane blockbuster? Check! Oscar films that actually deserved to win? Check check and check! Spielberg, the Coen Brothers and P.T. Anderson? Present and accounted for. It’s a list with wide appeal, since there’s a high probability that readers of The New York Times, The New Yorker and New York Review of Books have seen, or at least heard, of most of the titles, expecting the Asian or Romanian entries.
Richard Brody of The New Yorker riposted with a list of his own, one that is far more personal than the Times’s list. Ever since the launch of newyorker.com Brody has made little secret of his quirky, eccentric taste. I disagree with many of his choices but can’t help but admire what has turned out to be an unexpected and wide-ranging list. A similar impulse for inclusiveness seems to guide Brody’s selections, which are on balance far more creative and individualistic than those that Dargis and Scott agreed on. An odd choice, in an of itself, for two independent critics to find common ground in a single list: “American Sniper,” for example, instead of “The Hurt Locker”; and “Chi-Raq” instead of “Moonlight.” And who else would think to draw up an index with Josephine Decker and Ronald Bronstein balanced out by Judd Apatow and Jared Hess?
Brody’s is a list that still finds room for Scorsese and Eastwood alongside Godard, Varga, Lanzmann, Kiarostami, Jia Zhangke and Hong Sang-soo, without forgetting Sophia Coppola (although I think it’s best to forget her), Wes Anderson or Kenneth Lonergan.
List-making, for all its fun, ranks highly among life’s more pointless exercises. While I find some of his choices absolutely baffling (“Darjeeling Limited”?!), I side with Brody when he insists on a fiercely-individual selection that makes no claim to being exhaustive or definitive, nor that tries to establish a canon, both of which, I suspect, are goals of the Times’ list.
With that in mind, here is my own list of the Twenty-Five Best Films of the 21st Century, a catalog of films that have lingered with me for their artistry, their humanity, their beauty and their mystery. They span a huge range in terms of subject, style, tone and provenance. The only common denominator being that, they are all utterly unique. To try and put these in any sort of order would be a fool’s errand.
“The Tree of Life” (directed by Terrence Malick, starring Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, 2011) [see our REVIEW]
“Leviathan” (directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, cast: Aleksey Serebryakov and Elena Lyadova, 2014)
“A Separation” (directed by Asghar Farhadi, starring Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatemi, 2011) [review]
“Mulholland Drive” (directed by David Lynch, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, 2001)
“Talk To Her” (directed by Pedro Almodovar, starring Rosario Flores and Javier Cámara, 2002)
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (directed by Julian Schnabel, starring Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner, 2007)
“American Hustle” (directed by David O. Russell, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper, 2013) (see our REVIEW)
“The Piano Teacher” (directed by Michael Haneke, starring Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel, 2001)
“The Great Beauty” (directed by Paolo Sorrentino, starring Toni Servillo and Carlo Verdone, 2013) [see our REVIEW]
“My Winnipeg” (directed by Guy Maddin, starring Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage and Louis Negin, 2007) (review)