Monday, September 12, 2016


A couple of weeks ago the BBC, that well-respected bastion of film culture, revealed its list of the 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century, as determined from the submissions of 177 film critics around the globe. Even more apparently random than the BBC of all entities commissioning such a poll is its timing—such grandiose subjectivity is usually reserved for the big anniversaries, like after 25, or 50, or maybe even after a hundred actual years have passed in a new century. But here we are, 16 years into this new one, and forces are already trying to marshal some sort of groundswell consensus of movie greatness.

Well, it all seems a bit early on, if you ask me. But on the other hand, the BBC didn’t ask me, did they? Frankly, I would have been damned surprised if they had, so much so that I probably would have registered my objections/confusion, however briefly, over the whole enterprise before excitedly going about filling out my ballot. And those that were asked were held to a list of 10 movies from which the ultimate list of 100 would be assembled. How restrictive! The BBC’s top 10 alone features two movies (The Tree of Life and There Will be Blood) that wouldn’t even place in my top 100, and the rest of their top 10 features three that certainly would.

And since I like a silly list as much as the next critic who likes to complain about lists and pretend that she/he doesn’t enjoy making them, I decided to make my own variation on the BBC list. I couldn’t bring myself to label it “greatest” or “best” or anything like that—these are the movies released since 2000 that have meant the most to me and my movie-going experience in those 16 years, so the "mostest," I guess. Nor did I feel compelled to stick to just 10. Like the BBC, I can be random too—if suddenly 2016 is the time we start bloviating about the greatest films of the century, then I can make a list as long as I want. I pick, um…. 39! For extra credit, you can even compare my list with the BBC’s and see for yourself just how out of touch I am with critical consensus! Think of the fun you’ll have declaring what a low-brow jackass I am!

Here then is a list of the 39 movies that have meant the most to me since the advent of the 21st century, in alphabetical order (linked quotes are from pieces I wrote here at SLIFR):

Antichrist (2009; Lars von Trier)

"And now once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart." - Mary Shelley

"Grief changes shape, but it never ends." - Keanu Reeves

"Chaos reigns!" -- The Fox

Birth (2004; Jonathan Glazer)

Boyhood (2014; Richard Linklater)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011; Joe Johnston)

My favorite Marvel movie, directed by the woefully underappreciated Joe Johnston, who brings wit and feeling to the least of the sort of special effects spectacles he usually directs. Maybe it's simply because of the period setting that this one stands out from all the rest of the Marvel pictures-- it's not beholden to the restrictive mold in which the others are cast. But I think it has more to do with the players-- Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Toby Jones, all great-- and Johnston's sensitivity to them as human beings, not just pawns on the MCU chessboard, that sends this one to the top. (See also Johnston's marvelous epic Hidalgo.)

Chi-raq (2015; Spike Lee)

“We retain his verse to show love for the universe.” - Dolomedes (Samuel L. Jackson)

"Of the strike, Gbowee says, ‘The [sex] strike lasted, on and off, for a few months. It had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention.’ On and off for a few months? If you can’t find the humor in this line—in this brilliant, powerful women acknowledging that she and the other women who attempted a sex strike, sometimes caved in to their baser desires (because, in the end, it wasn’t the sex strike that was going to help them succeed anyway, and because they also probably just wanted to have sex), there’s a good chance that the humor of Chi-raq was lost on you. Or perhaps, you just didn’t like the damn movie." 

Shannon Houston, Paste magazine, on Chi-raq 

CSA: Confederate States of America (2005; Kevin Wilmott)

"She chose to disguise President Lincoln in blackface and travel with him along one of the many secret slave routes. When Lincoln scoffed at the plan, Tubman, never one to mince words, reminded him of the huge bounty on his head. She said simply, 'We're both niggers now, Mr. President.'"

-- Talking head interviewed in CSA: The Confederate States of America 

Death Proof (2007; Quentin Tarantino)

Femme Fatale (2002; Brian De Palma)

"The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." - Albert Einstein

"That's what noir feels like to me. It feels like some kind of recurring dream, with very strong archetypes operating. You know, the guilty girl being pursued, falling, all kinds of stuff that we see in our dreams all the time." - Brian De Palma

Gerry (2003; Gus Van Sant)

Lost in America...

I don't think American independent films have ever really been particularly experimental, except for the original guys from the '60s who were huge influences, like Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer, and Stan van der Beek. They were the true independents. But the American independent cinema as it has grown up at Sundance... A lot of films play to college audiences and are a lot of fun, like Clerks or Pulp Fiction. Sometimes, when an audience looking for Pulp Fiction comes to see Gerry, I'm not sure it works out so well." - Gus van Sant

Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (2015; Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomo Elkabetz)

You shouldn't be able to look away from that face... and the Elkabetz's harrowing courtroom drama plays like a procedural in which there can be no looking away. It might well be subtitled Scenes from the Death of A Marriage.

"It's easy to blame the one who yells. The one who whispers venom is innocent." - Vivian Amsalem

Gosford Park (2001; Robert Altman)

In the midst of his third act of rejuvenation, the director and screenwriter Julian Fellowes evoke ensemble glories of the past and nod presciently toward future cultural phenomenon Downton Abbey. Altman seems more like Altman here than he ever did in overpraised "comebacks" like The Player or Short Cuts, more free from the pressure of "being Altman." I think Gosford Park is the most purely entertaining picture of the director's late period-- it's an old man's movie that betrays no graying of spirit or energy.  

Grizzly Man (2005; Werner Herzog)

"What haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior." - Werner Herzog

Holy Motors (2012; Leos Carax)

Idiocracy (2006; Mike Judge)

In the Mood for Love (2001; Wong Kar-wai)

“He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.” - Wong Kar-wai

"You notice things if you pay attention." - Su Li-zhen Chan (Maggie Cheung)

Inglourious Basterds (2009; Quentin Tarantino)

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013; Joel and Ethan Coen)

Jackass: The Movie (2002; Jeff Tremayne)

I saw J:TM when it was first released, just about two years after my first daughter was born and a few months before my second would arrive-- in other words, just at the point when I was supposed to be putting away childish things in favor of focusing on the responsibilities of parenthood, of being a true grown-up. So of course the Jackass troupe's aesthetic of self-destructive arrested development and barely suppressed homoerotic shenanigans was just the ticket. I can't shake the feeling there's some socially significant madness within this bodily-harm-as-performance-art methodology. But when Johnny Knoxville (made up as a deranged senior citizen) gets kicked out of a mini-mart for relentless shoplifting and shouts indignantly at the shop's owner "I was Lon Chaney's lover!", who cares about significance? I just like to laugh.

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006; Clint Eastwood)

"From headquarters. We regret that we are unable to send reinforcements to Iwo at this time. We earnestly hope you will fight honorably and die for your country."

Without ever discounting the lionization of the Greatest Generation, Eastwood offers an enormous and overwhelming act of empathy for the men fighting on the other side. Interestingly, this was a far more convincing and deeply felt film than its companion piece, Flags of Our Fathers.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003; Joe Dante)

"The theatrical cartoons that (Warner Bros.) produced after 1960, which I remember having to suffer through at the movies, were just abominable. They weren’t funny, they were badly animated, they were sub-television level and almost everything they’ve done since is just a pale shadow of what the great cartoons were. I can tell you from experience that the people currently running Warner Bros. have no interest or understanding of that period or those characters. I was making a movie for them with those characters and they did not want to know about those characters. They didn’t want to know why Bugs Bunny shouldn’t do hip-hop. It was a pretty grim experience all around." - Joe Dante

All that said, I think LT:BIA  captures the Termite Terrace spirit remarkably well, flaws and all-- it's exhaustively, and exhaustingly, funny, and it was the first movie my then-three-year-old daughter and I bonded over. (We saw it opening night and three more times together in the theater!) I understand Dante's frustration, but this end-user will always be grateful for the Warners legacy he managed to conjure on screen.

Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003; Thom Andersen)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015; George Miller)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015; Guy Ritchie)

Maps to the Stars (2015; David Cronenberg)

This might be the scariest Cronenberg movie since The Fly. It's certainly the director's funniest ever. This is an RPG shot straight into the black heart of the Hollywood dream machine, where the resulting explosion splatters nightmares onto every clean surface. The uproariously mean-spirited, vengeful tenor of the director's collaboration with satirist Bruce Wagner is contagious, and by the end I was convinced that if the day of the locust wasn't already nigh, it well should be. What a double bill this would make with Seed of Chucky!

Meek’s Cutoff (2011; Kelly Reichardt)

No Country for Old Men (2007; Joel and Ethan Coen)

O.J.: Made in America (2016; Ezra Edelman)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014; Jim Jarmusch)

"The possibility of having a historical overview was really interesting to me, because there’s a point where Mia Wasikowska’s character calls them snobs, when they’re throwing her out of their house, which on a certain level they are. It’s important it’s in the film, in a way. But who wouldn’t be considered a snob if you’d been alive for a thousand yeas and had all of this knowledge and accumulated experience? That’s ten, twenty times as much as any normal person. The idea of seeing history in a timeline by having lived through it, but from the margins, from the shadows: observing it half in secret is very interesting to me. I’ve always been drawn to outsider type of characters, so what more perfect shadowy inhabitants of the margins are there, than vampires? Who are not undead monsters, by the way, they’re humans that have been transformed and now have the possibility of immortality, but are reliant, like junkies, on blood." - Jim Jarmusch

Perfect Sense (2011; David Mackenzie)

Premium Rush (2012; David Koepp)

“(The “Wilee Vision” scenes, when the camera freezes and we see Wilee decide which route to take through an intersection) were the one time when we were allowed to use effects — allowed by our own rules, that is. We wanted the movie to be a stunt movie, not a CG movie, and wanted it to be about what well-trained actors and stuntmen can do physically, and to have that joy of watching something like an athletic performance as well as the usual performance. So we didn’t want to use effects, but in those scenes, because we were in his head space and it was a fantasy anyway, we decided to give ourselves some latitude and figure out a cinematic way to show the decision-making process a person goes through in those moments. Obviously there are several different components in those shots, so you shoot bit-by-bit and assemble the shot.” – David Koepp

Room 237 (2013; Rodney Ascher)

Seed of Chucky (2004; Don Mancini)

A Serious Man (2009; Joel and Ethan Coen)

"When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love
Wouldn't you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

Your eyes, I say your eyes may look like his
Yeah, but in your head, baby, I'm afraid you don't know where it is
Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love
Wouldn't you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love"

- Darby R. Slick

"Embrace the mystery." - Clive Park's father

Speed Racer (2008; The Wachowski Brothers)


True Grit (2010; Joel and Ethan Coen)

“Of course, True Grit is a Western, but we never considered our film a classical Western, and honestly never thought about genre at all. We didn’t talk about John Ford or Sergio Leone, even though we like their films. Really, we were driven only by our enthusiasm for Charles Portis’s book. We loved the language in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country, which is really about the region, while in True Grit it’s more about period: people did speak more formally and floridly. But I think that the great thing about the book is this compelling first-person narrative, from a girl so young, and we wanted to put the audience in her mind, so they’d see the story through her eyes. The music was important there, too. Choosing that hymn (“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”) was important, because that Protestant attitude is such a part of who Mattie is. The music speaks of faith and certitude, and that she has in spades.” – Ethan Coen 

25th Hour (2002; Spike Lee)

"(I chose not to ignore the reality of 9/11) because I am a New Yorker and a couple of studios had a chance to show stills of the WTC but they chose to punk out. The project was based on the bottom line. I don’t think they should fear the sensitivity of the movie going audience. I don’t think Spider-Man would have made a nickel less if they would have kept those images in, but that’s their decision and on this film I was able to implement my decision and I would like to add that the decision regarding 9/11 was not a big decision. I made that in a millisecond. I knew I was going to do; I just had to think how I was going to do it. That was a much bigger and harder decision because I didn’t want to offend anyone and we still knew there was a way to deal with it in a tasteful way but not run away from what happened. We did not want to do something that looked like it was slapped on.” – Spike Lee

Under the Skin (2014; Jonathan Glazer)

The Witch (2016; Robert Eggers)

Zodiac (2007; David Fincher)

"Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity

'Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love"

- Donovan Leitch


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Beautiful selection of films.