Last weekend the New York Times released a list of the “25 Best Films of the 21st Century (So Far)” because after all, as the paper astutely pointed out, we “are one-sixth of the way through the century.” The list was, to put it kindly, erudite; and to put it unkindly, trash. Million Dollar Baby? Had that film been any more overwrought and disingenuously affecting, they’d have titled it Crash.
Anyway, the Medium Happy staff sought out its resident film connoisseur, Chris Corbellini (Yaayyyyyyy!), to compile a list. He was kind enough to turn around the assignment in under 24 hours. Here it is:
Below are my own top 25 films of the 21st Century.
Thank you, New York Times, for allowing me to put thought into this based off your 25, and a tip of the cap to you, John Walters, for allowing me to post a counter-list.
There was no complex formula involved. These movies simply got to me, or wowed me on a technical level, or both. It was and should be the only standard that matters. I started by writing out some of the titles that most affected me and tabulated afterward, hoping I hit 25 on the nose. Instead I listed 28, and begrudgingly took out three (Once, Slumdog Millionaire, Skyfall). Tougher still was ranking them all, 1-25.
While I’m here, some titles that just missed: Amelie, The Big Short, Zero Dark Thirty, War Horse, Inception, the Aviator, the Sapphires, and Love and Mercy. And I have not yet seen the O.J. doc, so perhaps one of the 25 gets bumped in the coming weeks.
Clearly I like the popular stuff, and Alfonso Cuaron movies (he has three on this list).
Feel free to come at me, you slack-jawed swill merchants. Counter-counter list me.
25. The Departed – Went back-and-forth between this and The Aviator, which is more aesthetically pleasing (so much green in the frame, and crispy edits). Decided on The Departed because I had to get a drink to decompress after viewing it.
24. The Hurt Locker – The slo-mo shots of the opening bomb blast, and Renner’s speech to his son about things you love sealed it over the other war films of this era.
23. Y Tu Mama Tambien –
So much more than a road trip coming-of-ager about two horned-up teens trying to score with the 30-year-old hottie that’s tagging along.
22. Catch Me If You Can – Great opening credits, plus the flight attendant escape, the always-reliable Hanks, and Walken-DiCaprio looking so much like father and son.
21. Sideways – Wine = Lust for Life. According to that lovely speech on the porch to poor Miles by Virginia Madsen (perhaps the best speech within this entire list).
20. Anchorman – Introduced me to Steve Carell, who obviously went on to a bigger movie career (it’s still going strong), and led a very good U.S. version of “The Office.” A mediocre sequel tarnished this comedy, but there are just so many quotable lines.
19. Michael Clayton:
Get in the way of big business, and you’re a fucking dead man. The last shred of Clayton’s soul got him out of that car to see those horses, but his soulless approach to his job saved him thereafter (“I’m a fixer! I’m a bagman!”)
18. Shaun of the Dead: Not sure Simon Pegg will ever be better (he co-wrote it as well). But the director, Edgar Wright, has an even bigger one ahead. You can feel it.
17. La La Land: Perhaps too high for a new entry. I’m still a little drunk on it. I loved “Fools Who Dream,” and it made me nostalgic for my time living in Santa Monica.
16. Before Sunset:
The one in the middle, not about what could be between Jesse and Celine, or what happened, but what they’ve missed out on in between.
15. Mad Max: Fury Road: The batshit crazy entry. Director George Miller no doubt put his stuntmen, stars and himself in serious danger at many points, dangling bodies off the side of speeding, fire-breathing trucks. But the end result is magic.
14. Lost in Translation: The final images of the film, after Murray whispers to ScarJo and kisses her goodbye, are moments in his travels that are passing him by while he thinks of her, lost in their time together, replaying the moments in his imagination.
13. Whale Rider:
I thought the lead — 12-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes — was going to become a Hollywood superstar. Then in her teens she got pregnant, battled alcoholism, and to complete the child-star trifecta, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Thankfully now she’s getting TV parts, the biggest being “Game of Thrones.”
12. Finding Nemo: The opening barracuda scene is borderline-traumatic, especially for kids. That was a big risk by the creatives at Pixar. Yet because of it you are right there with the father’s overprotectiveness, and Nemo’s wish to return home.
11. Inglourious Basterds: Tarantino turns Hitler into hamburger helper.
10. The Dark Knight: Film historians may label the years 2000-2020 as the comic-book era. At least we’ll have this one at the top. The villain won a posthumous Oscar, and the “two-ferry, two-bomb” scenario elevated TDK to the best of its genre.
9. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Biggest jaw drop moment for me, in a movie full of them … when the Riders of Rohan charged the elephants head on. Still, the loudest ovation came from the women in the audience when the female lead shouted “I am NO man!” before plunging her sword into an enemy’s face. I never forgot that, and I’m not surprised that Wonder Woman is doing so well this summer.
8. Midnight in Paris:
Woody gives Gertrude Stein this line: “We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” And somehow, this is a comedy.
7. The Royal Tenenbaums: The final 15 minutes of The Life Aquatic hits me deeper emotionally, but this novel (in a movie format) is a better Wes Anderson story credits to credits, carried by whimsy, family, a pitch-perfect soundtrack, and that son of a bitch Gene Hackman. It also has a spectacular dolly shot around a fire truck.
6. Gravity: A masterpiece of technical achievement. Could have been a silent movie.
5. Children of Men:
Imagery grotesque and intense, and brilliantly staged throughout. Interesting to note that despite the carnage that circles Clive Owen and the pregnant girl he’s destined to protect, he never once picks up a gun.
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: What a script. An Oscar-winner. You want to be a screenwriter? Here’s the standard you should be reaching for. Kate Winslet had to play three versions of her character: how complicated she was pre-breakup, how vivid she was in his memory, and how lost she became after the operation.
3. Gladiator: The most re-watchable movie on this list. I thought it was a three-and-a-half star movie exiting the theater the first time I caught it, but it holds up spectacularly on the small screen. When Crowe hissed “The frost. Sometimes it makes the blade stick,” I realized I was watching bad-assery bound for Cooperstown.
2. City of God:
In stark contrast, I only watched C-O-D once. It practically seared my skin, and felt so grimy I checked for dirt under my fingernails. The main character would’ve won a Pulitzer for the gangland photos he snapped on the fly at the end.
1. Almost Famous: All you need is love. Love is all you need.