Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What is Your Favorite 21st Century Movie?

Scene from Mulholland Drive
The century may only be 16 years deep, but it never feels like the wrong time to ask one simple question: what is the best film of the century? Considering that the 20th is a pretty tough nut to crack in itself, looking at the modern masterpieces as they happen is even more difficult. The BBC decided to hold a poll where they asked critics to name their favorites. To say the least, it didn't go in any conventional way - or at least any that makes sense if you're an Oscar fan. Very few of them are Oscar-nominated films. With director David Lynch's Mulholland Drive topping the list, the question is pretty easy, and one that I want to pose to the reader: What is your favorite 21st century movie so far?

The final list is actually 100 titles long and includes an impressive amount of foreign films. However, there is likely a small contingent out there that may be wondering "Really? Mulholland Drive?" While I appreciate Lynch movies, his more cryptic movies have always escaped my interest, and I don't feel like I gave what seems to be his perennial best the fair shake that it gets here. In fact, I would be hard pressed to put that in my own Top 100, which is to a small degree represented here in fragments.

I encourage you to read the entire list yourself to make your own thought. However, I feel that it's a decent discussion point to publish the Top 10, which doesn't have much in the way of Best Picture winners:

1. Mulholland Drive
2. In the Mood for Love
3. There Will Be Blood
4. Spirited Away
5. Boyhood
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
7. The Tree of Life
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two
9. A Separation
10. No Country for Old Men

While that is far from my personal list, I definitely think that it's an interesting reflection on how modern cinephiles look at movies. While there are some expected favorites, such as There Will Be Blood and The Tree of Life, it seems to lean more heavily on the art house side of things. This isn't a bad thing, though it does suggest that mainstream cinema isn't doing its best work in the past two decades. Also, No Country for Old Men is the only Best Picture winner in the Top 10, suggesting how much the selected critics disagree with the Oscars. In total, there are only three Best Picture winners (the others being Spotlight and 12 Years a Slave). While there are an abundance of nominees, it does suggest that maybe The Academy should be a tad more open minded, maybe?

So, what would I pick as a personal Top 10 released since 2000? The following is that list, plus the ranking, if any, on the list in accompanying parentheses:

1. Blue Valentine
2. A Serious Man (#82)
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. Carol (#69)
5. Juno
6. The Master (#24)
7. Shaun of the Dead
8. Frances Ha
9. The Dark Knight (#33)
10. Inside Llewyn Davis (#11)

As you can see, the subjective medium has produced a rather divisive turnout. Half of my list didn't even make the cut - though I'm mostly surprised by the lack of Edgar Wright on the list. Still, I stand by my particular list, and feel that these best reflect what I look for in cinema that has been released in my own time. For the sake of argument, I thought that I would share my thoughts on Blue Valentine, which maybe strikes some as an odd pick for the best film of the past 16 years.

Scene from Blue Valentine
There are films that hit you at the right time and whose impact never leaves you. It could be that my parents were in a messy part of their lives in 2010, but seeing Blue Valentine helped me to cope with issues. I found profound meaning in Ryan Gosling's naive destruction and Michelle Williams' disaffected desire for a better life. There was meaning in the structure's time jumps, which juxtaposed the happy beginning with the modern misery so beautifully. Most of all, Gosling and Williams felt real, whether they were passionately in love or growing uncomfortably distant. It was a film benefited from director Derek Cianfrance's heady direction that had vibrant and effective uses of color as well as deeper subtext in visual cues. I have tried to love The Place Beyond the Pines as much as Blue Valentine, but there's something missing. I still think that Cianfrance is one of the most promising younger directors. 

To understand why I love the film does force the viewer to recognize that this is a blunt and at times depressing movie. Recommending it to my friends resulted in awareness of this. Still, it continues to have a profound impact me on every level of what I want cinema to be. I still watch the ukulele dance scene at least once a month, and the presidents song has made me a lifelong Williams fan. I only wish that she was more recognized for her brilliance. Gosling's career is odder, in that he seems to have waves of overactive popularity before taking a year off. Whatever the case may be, this film essentially plays the personal card in ways that the best cinema does for you. I know it's an unorthodox favorite - and one of my all time top five - but that's the magic of cinema.

So tell me, what is your favorite movie of the 21st century so far? I would be curious to know if yours is more familiar, or if it's just as unpredictable as mine. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you to look at the BBC list and also share your thoughts on what is posted there. There's plenty of great titles further down, I promise. 

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