Best of the Century, Pt. 1


On Tuesday, the BBC released a list of the 100 best films released in the 21st Century at this point. That includes movies released from 2000-to present. It was compiled by a list of critics voting and the overall list is quite surprising.

Today and tomorrow I'm going to look at the list. Today, I'm going to react to the movies that made it, specifically the top 10. Tomorrow, I'm going to highlight a few of my favorite movies from this stretch that weren't included.

If you want to see the whole list, visit http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160819-the-21st-centurys-100-greatest-films.

Here's the top 10 according to the BBC:

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
2. In the Mood For Love (2000)
3. There Will Be Blood (2007)
4. Spirited Away (2001)
5. Boyhood (2014)
6. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
7. Tree of Life (2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and A Two (2000)
9. A Separation (2011)
10. No Country For Old Men (2007)

When you look at that list, you'd be forgiven if you hadn't seen them all. In fact, I'd be willing to wager most people would be lucky to have seen three of 10. Even I haven't seen them all. This list, naturally, includes all films worldwide, and four of the 10 films are foreign films. "In the Mood For Love," "Spirited Away," "Yi Yi: A One and A Two" and "A Separation" were all produced outside the United States, and weren't widely appreciated or seen in this country. "A Separation" was a Best Foreign Film winner, "Spirited Away" won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but the other two didn't even receive Academy Award nominations.

But awards don't usually play a crucial role in these lists. In fact, of the 15 films eligible for the list that have won Best Picture in this century, only three made this list. Those three are "No Country For Old Men" (10), "The Hurt Locker" (67), and "Spotlight" (88). If you expanded the pool to Best Picture nominees, you'd get many more. But it's telling that only 20 percent of Best Picture winners this Century were named to this list.

In looking at the top 10, I am shocked by almost all the entries. The two that made the most sense to me were "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country For Old Men," which were released in the same year; a year that was arguably the best for films so far. I prefer "No Country For Old Men," which won Best Picture, but both are phenomenal cinematic achievements.

Others on the list were a mixed bad. "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is a fascinating film that's often underappreciated (though not by this group). I'm not surprised it's on the list, but this high up? That's shocking.

Two others on this list were polarizing for audiences. When "Tree of Life" debuted at the Cannes film festival, half the audience vigorously applauded and half the audience booed. It was on Top 10 lists and bottom 10 lists the year it was released. I've long found it a fascinating and confusing film, but never expected it to be in the Top 10 of a list like this.

"Boyhood" was beloved by critics but got mixed reviews from audiences. It was a Best Picture nominee that many thought might win the top prize. Instead, that honor went to "Birdman," a film that didn't even make this list. I, for one, was not a fan of "Boyhood." It's a noble achievement in terms of doing something radical to advance the craft of filmmaking, but it's a pedestrian story to watch.

But the most controversial, by far, is David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," which captured the top spot on this list. BBC published a side story justifying the choice (http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160822-why-mulholland-drive-is-the-greatest-film-since-2000) and that makes some sense. But I still can't fathom its selection as the best film. Here is a portion of their justification:

"Its dream-like qualities give rise to many confusing and unexplained things that naturally encourage interpretation. But as critic Roger Ebert, one of the film’s greatest champions noted: 'There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.' The film is undoubtedly challenging. Interesting plot tangents are cut off like cancerous limbs; characters appear and disappear. Late in the running time, after a scene that appears to show her waking from a dream, the protagonist morphs, unexplained, from the optimistic Betty to a haunted-looking, failed actress named Diane."

There is no filmmaker like Lynch, and "Mulholland Drive" is unlike any other film I've ever seen. It's probably best remembered by most audiences, however, for it's graphic sex scene than it's fascinating plot. The opinion of the masses isn't sacrosanct, and I'm sure this list is more a reflection of the advancement of cinema as an art form than just pure story metrics, but this still strikes me as an odd choice. I've seen the film, more than once, and I would never have pictured it sitting atop this list. It will be interesting to see if the appreciation of this film continues to grow. In the piece by BBC it draws comparisons to "Citizen Kane," another film not widely appreciated by mass audiences that has often been at the top of these type of lists.

Despite my quibbles with the top 10, there were many films I was pleasantly surprised to see on the list. Some include: "Children of Men" (13), a fantastic dystopic story that has become a personal favorite, "The Dark Knight" (33), Christopher Nolan's finest film and one of my all-time favorites, "Inglorious Bastards" (62), one of Quentin Tarantino's finest films, and the previously mentioned "Spotlight," which I think will be remembered as one of the most important films of this decade.

No list is perfect, and all these lists are subjective and a matter of personal taste, despite what people argue about criteria. Still, it makes for a fun discussion. Tomorrow I'll highlight a few of my favorite films from the 21st Century that were excluded from this list.

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