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The 25 best films of the 21st Century (so far)

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Another List... The century's 17% done, so, why not rank what's the best (so far)?

Art by @RentonHawkey

This week, NY Times film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis posted a feature article, picking their choices for the best films of the 21st century. Many others have joined the fun.

Here's mine:

  1. Almost Famous
    Crowe’s autobiographical backstage pass is the film from this young century that I’ve watched more than any other. What do I love most about this film? To begin with, everything. "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”
  2. Children of Men
    Alfonso Cuaron’s chilling dystopian prophecy of a future that seems imminent represented one of the century’s most vital filmmakers at the top of his game.
  3. City of God
    Crime cinema pulsing with the dark rhythms of the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Colorful characters. Evocative period details.
  4. The Social Network
    Aaron Sorkin’s frantic dialogue and David Fincher’s performance-serving direction serve the fascinating character study of a Charles Foster Kane of the Silicon Valley startup era.
  5. Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2
    The height of Tarantino’s creativity, a filmmaker whose style is singular, perhaps the most influential of the period; but it’s a film like Kill Bill that proves the hollow futility in emulating him. As much as he wears his influences on his sleeve, his cinematic voice is unmistakable.
  6. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    An overwhelming exercise in scale and world-building, the likes of which the silver screen rarely sees done so well. Ground-breaking with Andy Serkis’s performance capture genius.
  7. Mad Max Fury Road
    Pure action adrenaline and kinetic moviemaking - the perfect blend of practical stunt work aided by clever computer technology.
  8. Boyhood
    Richard Linklater is perhaps the most audacious filmmaker of the century, committing to a project with such an vast dimension of time.
  9. Michael Clayton
    A focused corporate thriller, beautiful cinematography, smart dialogue, great performances.
  10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    The film manages to take a speculative premise that, near the start of this century, seemed implausible in a technical sense but all-too believable on the human scale. In the years hence, its sci-fi premise doesn’t look so unthinkable anymore, and its heart beats with contemporary resonance.
  11. Lost in Translation
    Whenever this film gets referenced, I’m instantly transported to back to its moods and sounds. It set such a specific a tone, creating a geometry of time and space in my mind it feels like a vacation I took at a time I needed that kind of trip.
  12. Inception
    In this period of movie history, Christopher Nolan is the leading architect of massive movie spectacles - a sprawling imagination unburdened by the laws of physics, limited only by what he can dream onto the screen.
  13. Wolf of Wall Street
    Scorsese had two incredible films of this period, this and The Aviator, but he won the long-sought Best Picture for perhaps the least interesting film in his canon. DiCaprio’s Qualuude-crazed performance is one for the ages.
  14. Little Miss Sunshine
    The best “Star Wars” film since “Empire Strikes Back,” in which a plucky band of rebels pack into an iconic vehicle and bring their talents to an assault on the epicenter of an evil enterprise.
  15. A Separation
    I wish every American would see this film about an Iranian couple, experience this culture with the intimacy, sophistication and complexity that Asghar Farhadi brings to this deeply human tale.
  16. Spirited Away
    Miyazaki’s lyrical visual poetry, his boundless imagination, his childlike wonder, are all on display in one of the greatest animated films ever made.
  17. The Hangover
    A comedy that actually delivers laughs consistently from beginning to end. Two hours of non-stop roaring joy and doofusry.
  18. Before Sunset / Before Sunrise
    I tried to limit this list to one per director, but an exception must be granted for Linklater, who’s managed to synthesize the passage of realtime and cinema-time to explore stories with grander scope. This ongoing journey with loquacious lovers manages to compress a decade of living and evolving into each two-hour installment.
  19. The Avengers
    As a lifelong comics fan, it was a thrill to see the legendary team of heroes unite in a thrill ride that was true to its origins.
  20. Sideways
    Paul Giamatti’s midlife crisis wine tour is perhaps an elder cousin of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” both films dealing with a sense of paralyzation at a crucial pivot point in one’s life, set against a beautiful environment. Giamatti’s anguish and melancholy left an indelible impression.
  21. The New World
    Terrence Malick’s meditations on the intersection of civilization and nature, of humanity’s higher yearnings contrasting its natural instincts, are rendered in exquisite frames, every shot a visual wonder.
  22. There Will Be Blood
    The forceful lead character of this film is an oil-man to his core. He bleeds dark crude from his veins. No single performance of the century has quite captured the intensity of Daniel Day-Lewis’s incandescent Daniel Plainview. And he's fueled by drinking your milkshake.
  23. No Country For Old Men
    The Coens have a perfected the cinematic expression of crime stories built upon coincidences, mistakes and bad timing for its eccentric characters. With “No Country” they darkened the experience with a sense of existential and inevitable dread.
  24. In The Mood For Love
    Wong Kar-Wai’s beautiful framing of gorgeously-lit actors Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung is filled with longing and repressed passion, each image given a painterly touch, a soul-wrenching portrayal of hearts in conflict with themselves.
  25. Looper
    Not since the original “Blade Runner” has a dark vision of the future had such an original aesthetic. This elliptical journey, depicting the struggles of the millennial generation versus the boomers via metaphor, is my choice for the most underrated film of the 21st century - one which should be revisited and appreciated.

Honorable mentions:

  1. A.I.
  2. The Pianist
  3. La La Land
  4. In the Bedroom

Milton Lawson

Milton is a writer living in Houston. Comics, travelogues. Go Astros. Go Texans.

A short comic about an indie music shop written by Milton Lawson with art by Dave Chisholm

A travelogue about four friends taking their first trip to Europe. Now available on Amazon.com.