The Best 100 Movies of the 21st Century (So Far) Named by 177 Film Critics

Mulholland Drive Cover

When prompt­ed to think of the cin­e­mat­ic peaks of the 20th cen­tu­ry, or of spe­cif­ic decades like the 1930s, the 1970s, or the 1990s, we can usu­al­ly thread up spe­cif­ic exam­ples in the pro­jec­tor of our mind right away. Grand Illu­sion and Gone with the Wind! Taxi Dri­ver and The God­fa­therPulp Fic­tion and Far­go! But in this cen­tu­ry it gets trick­i­er. This prob­a­bly does­n’t have to do with a pre­cip­i­tous drop in the qual­i­ty of cin­e­ma itself, nor with a lack of films to con­sid­er — indeed, the 2000s and 2010s so far have bur­dened cinephiles with more crit­i­cal­ly-acclaimed pic­tures than they can get around to see­ing.

The rel­a­tive recen­cy of the movies of the 21st cen­tu­ry presents some­thing of a chal­lenge, since the zeit­geist has­n’t had quite enough time to digest most of them. And what now con­sti­tutes the “zeit­geist,” any­way? We live in a post­mod­ern time, we often read, and that usu­al­ly seems to mean that a greater vari­ety of aes­thet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ties, his­tor­i­cal peri­ods, and world cul­tures now coex­ist for us on an essen­tial­ly lev­el play­ing field than ever before. The expe­ri­ence of the mod­ern movie­go­er reflects this con­di­tion, as does the BBC’s list of the 21st cen­tu­ry’s 100 great­est films (so far), the top ten of which fol­low:

  1. Mul­hol­land Dri­ve (David Lynch, 2001)
  2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
  3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Ander­son, 2007)
  4. Spir­it­ed Away (Hayao Miyaza­ki, 2001)
  5. Boy­hood (Richard Lin­klater, 2014)
  6. Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
  7. The Tree of Life (Ter­rence Mal­ick, 2011)
  8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
  9. A Sep­a­ra­tion (Asghar Farha­di, 2011)
  10. No Coun­try for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)

To pro­duce the list, the BBC sur­veyed 177 crit­ics “from every con­ti­nent except Antarc­ti­ca. Some are news­pa­per or mag­a­zine review­ers, oth­ers write pri­mar­i­ly for web­sites; aca­d­e­mics and cin­e­ma cura­tors are well-rep­re­sent­ed too.” They note that they include the year 2000, though not tech­ni­cal­ly part of the cen­tu­ry, since “not only did we all cel­e­brate the turn of the mil­len­ni­um on 31 Decem­ber 1999, but the year 2000 was a land­mark in glob­al cin­e­ma, and, in par­tic­u­lar, saw the emer­gence of new clas­sics from Asia like noth­ing we had ever seen before,” not just Yi Yi and In the Mood for Love but Ang Lee’s Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Drag­on a bit down the list.

France, though a coun­try close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with mid-20th-cen­tu­ry cin­e­ma, makes an admirable show­ing here with the likes of Agnès Var­da’s The Glean­ers & I, Michael Haneke’s Caché, Claire Denis’ White Mate­r­i­al, and Jean-Luc Godard­’s voy­age into 3D, Good­bye to Lan­guage. Some films shame­ful­ly over­looked at their ini­tial release, like Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s Mar­garet and Andrew Dominik’s The Assas­si­na­tion of Jesse James by the Cow­ard Robert Ford, appear here as per­haps a pre­lude to their right­ful redis­cov­ery. We can tell which auteurs have defined the cin­e­mat­ic cen­tu­ry so far by the pres­ence of more than one of their works: the late Abbas Kiarosta­mi’s Ten and Cer­ti­fied Copy both appear, as do three films by Thai­land’s Apichat­pong Weerasethakul and six by those still-ambi­tious once-wun­derkinds of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma, the Ander­sons Wes and Paul Thomas.

Most of these movies exploit, to a deep­er extent than the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed pic­tures of decades pre­vi­ous, the cre­ation of dream­like expe­ri­ences pos­si­ble in film. None do it more vivid­ly, per­haps, than the occu­pi­er of the top spot, David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Dri­ve. The selec­tion will sur­prise some read­ers, and oth­ers not at all. What makes that par­tic­u­lar movie so good? Con­ve­nient­ly, the BBC pro­vides on the side­bar a link to an arti­cle by Luke Buck­mas­ter explain­ing just that.

Buck­mas­ter com­pares Mul­hol­land Dri­ve to Cit­i­zen Kane, “writer/director Orson Welles’ esteemed 1941 fea­ture film debut – BBC Culture’s crit­ics poll of the 100 great­est Amer­i­can films last year put Kane at num­ber one. If Kane can be viewed as an essay on the nuts and bolts of film-mak­ing – a mas­ter­class in tech­ni­cal process­es, from mon­tage to deep focus, dis­solves and the manip­u­la­tion of mise en scèneMul­hol­land Dri­ve’s appeal is more the­mat­ic and con­cep­tu­al. It is less a demon­stra­tion of how great cin­e­ma is achieved than what great cin­e­ma can achieve, its capac­i­ty for ideas seem­ing­ly end­less.” May the remain­ing 84 years of the 21st cen­tu­ry find that capac­i­ty more end­less still.

See the BBC’s com­plete list here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 846 Film Crit­ics

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 358 Film­mak­ers

120 Artists Pick Their Top 10 Films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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