Ross Douthat blogs at the NYT:
The Best Movies of the 21st Century
JUNE 13, 2017 12:22 PM
Over in the serious part of this newspaper, my colleagues A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis have a list of the twenty-five best motion pictures of the new millennium.
Here is the Dargis/Scott official NYT choices:
1. There Will Be Blood — Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007
2. Spirited Away — Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2002
3. Million Dollar Baby — Directed by Clint Eastwood, 2004
4. A Touch of Sin — Directed by Jia Zhangke, 2013
5. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu — Directed by Cristi Puiu, 2006
6. Yi Yi — Directed by Edward Yang, 2000
7. Inside Out — Directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen, 2015
8. Boyhood — Directed by Richard Linklater, 2014
9. Summer Hours — Directed by Olivier Assayas, 2009
10. The Hurt Locker – Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, 2009
11. Inside Llewyn Davis — Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013
12. Timbuktu — Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, 2015
13. In Jackson Heights — Directed by Frederick Wiseman, 2015
14. L’Enfant — Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2006
15. White Material — Directed by Claire Denis, 2010
16. Munich — Directed by Steven Spielberg, 2005
17, Three Times — Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2006
18. The Gleaners and I — Directed by Agnès Varda, 2000
19. Mad Max: Fury Road — Directed by George Miller, 2015
20. Moonlight — Directed by Barry Jenkins, 2016
21. Wendy and Lucy — Directed by Kelly Reichardt, 2008
22. I’m Not There — Directed by Todd Haynes, 2007
23. Silent Light — Directed by Carlos Reygadas, 2008
24. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Directed by Michel Gondry, 2004
25. The 40-Year-Old Virgin — Directed by Judd Apatow, 2005
Here are Ross’s choices:
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/”The Forty-Year-Old Virgin”/”Mad Max: Fury Road”
These are the three choices on my colleagues’ list that I’ll happily endorse: The most complete and accessible and moving Charlie Kaufman movie, the peak of the Apatowian marriage of gross-out sex-comedy and social conservatism, and the only aesthetically de novo action blockbuster of our superhero-ridden age.
Eternal Sunshine is excellent, although Kaufman’s Adaptation is much funnier. Mad Max had the greatest trailer of the century, but the rest of the movie is just like the trailer … only longer. I’ve seen most of the other Apatow comedies, but not the first one. From the NYT list, I’d endorse The Hurt Locker.
Here are the rest of Ross’s choices, with my comments.
“Mulholland Drive” – David Lynch, “Eagle Scout from Missoula, Montana” (as he likes to identify himself), is a highly original American artist. Prone to self-indulgence and incomprehensibility, this is his movie where he got enough resistance from the suits that, partway through, he had to force himself to come up with a semi-intelligible plot to make sense out of about 80% of the weirdness he’d shot already.
“The New World” – Terrance Malick, another original conservative American artist, made this John Smith / Pocahontas period piece. Too slow for my tastes (I preferred Malick’s Tree of Life) but maybe it’s worth a second watch.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” – Guillermo Del Toro’s Spanish Civil War fantasy movie. Haven’t seen it.
“Moulin Rouge!” – Baz Luhrmann’s musical version of the tragedies of La Boheme / Camille. It took me two viewings to figure out how great this is. Baz’s goal is to make a Bollywood-style movie in which the plot is predictable and the songs are familiar because it’s aimed at the peasant masses. Ultimately, there’s no ironic self-awareness, just simple, powerful emotion. Watch how the speed of the editing cuts slows down from the MTV-fast opening to the glacial climax.
“The Squid and the Whale” – Noah Baumbach wrote and directed this divorce dramedy with a great performance by Jeff Daniels. His recent While We’re Young with Ben Stiller and Darth Vader Jr. is good too. These are basically Woody Allen-type movies but Baumbach only gets to make one when he has a good enough script to get funding, whereas Woody gets funding to make movies as fast as he can so his mean quality isn’t that high.
“The Social Network” – David Fincher and Aaron Zorkin’s Mark Zuckerberg biopic. One of the earlier versions of a favorite new genre: the realistic business biopic.
“The 25th Hour” – Spike Lee directs Edward Norton with a screenplay by the Game of Thrones guy. Not at all bad, but not really top 25.
“Ida” / “Of Gods and Men” / (“Calvary”) – Ross’s Catholic movies, none of which I’ve seen. “Calvary” is by John Michael McDonagh. I just watched on Netflix last night his pretty good 2016 buddy cop movie War on Everyone with Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Pena as the most cynical policemen in Albuquerque.
“The Passion of the Christ”/”Apocalypto” – Mel’s movies.
“The Lives of Others” – The terrific East German Stasi drama.
“No Country For Old Men” – Ross goes with the most obvious choice for a Coen Bros. movie: the Best Picture Oscar winner. Critics like to come up with complex arguments in favor of less-entertaining Coen films like Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, or Inside Llewyn Davis, but No Country is pretty clearly peak Coen Brothers.
By the way, in replaying the 2007 Best Picture race between No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, I had lunch last week with somebody who had a minor role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. He had a story about the great Daniel Day-Lewis staying in character as his John Huston-like Daniel Plainview on the ride to and from the remote set.
The reason, it turns out, that Daniel Day-Lewis gets away with his crazy Method Actor demands like carrying a flintlock weapon everywhere he went while not on the set of Last of the Mohicans or insisting the crew carry him everywhere so he could stay in character as a quadriplegic in My Left Foot is, because other than the demands he makes for his Art (and he’s just about the best movie actor in the world), he’s also just about the greatest guy in the world, the perfect English gentleman (his father was Poet Laureate), but without the snobbishness.
Anyway, my friend started to rave about how great the 2007 West Texas movie he wasn’t in, No Country for Old Men, was. I diplomatically said that No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were clearly the two best movies of the year. “Yeah,” he replied, “But much as I wanted to root for it as a loyal member of Team There Will Be Blood, about halfway through No Country I had to admit the Coens’ movie was better.”
“The Royal Tenenbaums” – Early Wes Anderson. I’m not a big fan of this particular directing Anderson (compared to Paul Thomas Anderson and Paul W.S. Anderson), except for The Grand Hotel Budapest, which wholly won me over.
“The Queen of Versailles” – A documentary I haven’t seen about a rich couple who spend an outlandish amount and then go broke. Sounds good.
“Arrival” – Denis Villeneuve’s girly sci-fi movie with Amy Adams. It seems to be beloved by people who read the sci-fi story before seeing the movie, such as Christopher Orr at The Atlantic. I haven’t, so I merely thought it was fine. But I’d be open to the idea that it’s even better than that.
“Lord of the Rings” – The second installment, The Two Towers, seemed at the time like the peak movie achievement of the era. Since then, Peter Jackson has made us more familiar with his flaws, but whether that should undermine one’s view of LOTR is another question.
“Grizzly Man” – Memorable Werner Herzog documentary about a guy who gets himself eaten by a bear. Pretty hilarious, although peak Herzog came in his next documentary, about the South Pole, when he asks a penguin expert, “Is there such thing as insanity in penguins?”
“Eastern Promises” — I liked this one more than David Cronenberg’s previous “A History of Violence.” Great performance by Viggo Mortensen, one of my favorite leading men.
“The Incredibles” – Brad Bird’s rightwing Pixar superhero comedy.
“Gladiator” – Hellacious Sir Ridley period piece that launched Russell Crowe on his five year stretch as the top leading man.
Some (random) honorable mentions:
“Bridesmaids” for comedy, “28 Days Later” for zombie apocalypse, “There Will Be Blood” for near-masterpieces horribly damaged by their endings, “The Devil Wears Prada” for great feminist popcorn movies horribly damaged by their endings, “Edge of Tomorrow” for Tom Cruise movies, “Catch Me If You Can” for both Spielberg and DiCaprio movies, “The Dark Knight Rises” for Batman movies, “Memento” for non-Batman Christopher Nolan movies, “Brick” for noir and high school melodrama both, “Planet of the Apes” for franchise reboots, “Brooklyn” and “Sing Street” for movies about the Irish before and after the cultural revolution, “Brokeback Mountain” for good movies robbed of their Best Picture by terrible ones, “Miami Vice” for Michael Mann movies, and the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” for blockbusters absolutely ruined by their sequels.
Most of these choices of Ross’s are pretty good, too.
Bridesmaids seems kind of weak to represent raunchy comedies compared to Wedding Crashers or The Hangover and not really girly enough compared to movies that women really like such as Pitch Perfect.
There Will Be Blood could have been, by acclamation, the greatest movie of this century so far (as is, it’s still pretty close) if Paul Thomas Anderson had stuck closer to the real life of Edward Doheny (sci-fi writer Larry Niven’s grandfather), such as the Teapot Dome scandal and the Greystone mansion murder-suicide that inspired the writing career of a fellow Los Angeles oil executive named Raymond Chandler. Bizarrely, Anderson’s screenplay is less lurid than Upton Sinclair’s muckraking novel about Edward Doheny, which is less lurid than the Doheny’s real life.
Tom Cruise stars in an extraordinary number of above average quality movies, and Edge of Tomorrow — Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day — is a worthy representative of Cruise’s contributions to audiences getting their money’s worth in the second half of his 35-year career.
The Devil Wears Prada is representative of how entertaining Meryl Streep has been in the later 40% of her 40-year-career.
The Spielberg / DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can is pretty close to perfect. It inspired Scorsese to stop trying to make the Great American Movie like Gangs of New York (in which DiCaprio was badly intimidated by Day-Lewis’s great Butcher Bill) and instead to lighten up to get better acting out of Leo in movies like The Aviator and The Departed. The Aviator was personally just about my favorite movie of this century because Howard Hughes, airplanes, and movies are my backyard. When I was a senior in high school, most of the fake Howard Hughes wills (cinematized by Jonathan Demme in Melvin and Howard), tossed a few hundred notional million dollars to Rice U. where I was headed in the fall, so I was an advocate of Melvin Dummar’ s dubious will. In The Aviator, when the president of Lockheed comes in 1943 to sell Hughes on TWA buying the Constellation airliner, which my dad worked on, my father said 62 years later, “No, the president of Lockheed had a much rounder face.”
The 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Ape s is pretty awesome in an iSteveish way.
And … here’s the top 10 of a 2016 Guardian poll of film critics:
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Aggregated critics’ lists like this last one tend to favor movies that critics like to argue in favor of, even if they have flaws. E.g., Scoresese’s The Departed doesn’t do as well as Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street, even though The Departed is clearly better all around. But it’s kind of boring to make up an argument in favor of a highly competent, Oscar-showered hit movie like The Departed, while it’s more fun for a critic to construct a theory for why an obviously flawed movie like the overly long, repetitious Wolf of Wall Street is actually great.
Critics’ lists tend to favor strong visual directors, while Oscars tend to go to social message movies constructed more by producers than by directors. So, critics’ favorites tend to be implicitly rightwing because the auteur theory favors strong men as directors.