Great 21st Century Films
Apropos of nothing more than the usual banter between friends a few Tuesday nights back, the question was raised of “truly great films since 2000”. The ones that - at least in 50 years time towards the end of my estimated lifetime - could truly be held up as “classics”.
So for the indulgence of nothing more than revisiting a few old favorites, here is my list of 10 in nothing more than alphabetical order:
Almost Famous (2000)
No other film can sum up perfectly for me that feeling of breaking away from childhood; growing up in a few respects and the often mystical quality that - at least I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter - one or two women posses.
Happily set in a fictional-but-informed hey-dey of Rock and Roll, following the almost-coherent (indeed almost-famous(!)) mechanics of a travelling rock and roll show - Stillwater, and their entourage led in part by the enigmatic Miss Penny Lane.
With a soundtrack featuring a then rare appearance by Led Zep, amongst other greats - especially an unforgettable sing-a-long moment of Tiny Dancer by Elton John, that encapsulates the healing powers of truly great music.
Sure that sounded a bit hippy; but Almost Famous is my kind of life.
I’m not certain I’ll ever watch that scene in the same way again, but this is a masterful insight into the very human reality of one of history’s most recent and famous monsters.
The film reminds me that not only was Hitler a cold and calculated character, with some very obvious insane twists on the world; but that the people around him perpetuated the Nazi ideology; right through to the end. In perhaps the most memorable scene outside of the bunker, Hitler still persists his futile ideology by rewarding Hitler Youth, whilst Berlin crumbles around him.
The Nazis weren’t the cartoonish villains we often think of them as - as mad power-crazed goose-steppers - but a serious threat to the stability of the human race; and a warning from history that should always bear repeating.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The most defined ‘love story’ on this list [a runner-up position in this spot would go to 500 Days of Summer], which I had forgotten that key aspect to, until I re-watched this a few months ago.
You might remember it from the kooky memory messing led by a first-major-diversion-from-a-Hobbit Elijah Wood, but the two leads, Jim Carey in particular bringing the Truman Show side of his acting to the film.
Spiritual in succession to Being John Malkovich also - not surprising given the talent involved.
When the idea for this list came up in conversation, Gladiator was the first film to be cited. And for good reason.
A seminal moment in my film-going career (it remains one of my schoolfriend’s most-loved films) that brought back the sword-and-sandals-epic, and did it right.
From Crowe’s perfect general; to Phoenix’s perfect evil emperor. Supporting greatness from Richard Harris and Oliver Reed. But the star was the spectacle of it all - pretty much everything was justly rewarded at the Oscars and beyond.
With one exception that beggars belief - the soundtrack [I’m sure Crouching Tiger was all very interesting and 'experimental’ for the academy, but really? Over Gladiator?!].My goodness what a soundtrack (Zimmer has never bettered it, despite coming close with Inception); a modern classical classic that I will listen to until my dying days.
In The Loop (2009)
Okay so this one is a bit of a cheat, as it is informed by the superlative The Thick Of It - but I do like my satirical humour and there is no finer example since 2000 than thi-OH MY GOD I FORGOT TEAM AMERICA.
On balance I think In The Loop just edges it; my reasoning being that whilst Team America is eminently more quotable, it has a very-slight superior in South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut - whereas this Armando Iannuci piece of brilliance ably demonstrates how governments of the “special relationship” spanning the Atlantic, probably actually really work - rather than how you might characterise many aspects of American foreign policy.
Damn it’s very close though.
I think I’ll leave the last word to one Malcolm Tucker: “Fuckity bye!”
Kill Bill (2003 / 2004)
Counting as two films, making this the 6th and 7th on the list, this revenge masterpiece still ranks in the dizzying heights of my 'all time favourite films’ list.
Did I ever mention the time I went to London and saw Vol. 1 a week before the rest of the country :-P
Taking along a policy of not-having-heard-anything-about-it (which I continue to enforce for all Tarantino films - giving the opening to Inglorious Basterds a magical touch), I came out of the Empire Leicester Square stunned by the crazyness that had gone before.
And I really had not seen the very end of Vol. 1 coming!
Of course like many others I went into Vol. 2 with high expectations - but unlike some, I did not leave the cinema with those hopes in tatters.
Yes the second film was a departure from the action of the first; a deliberate nod to the slow Western aspect of the second part, with the crackling dialogue of the hotel pregnancy scene and of course Bill’s superhero-laden final monologue.
Being the first Tarantino I saw in the cinema, I hold this one above his others for the [cliche incoming!] emotional roller-coaster that I join The Bride on; masterfully told by every single person involved.
Spirited Away (2001)
Being a little slower on the uptake than some of my peers; this was my first exposure to Miyazaki and the wonderful Studio Ghibli.
My time watching Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was still a few years away, but watching this first Anime was a spell-binding experience, in every respect.
Whether it was laughing at the soot-balls; or marvelling at the colourful animation, and the feeling that I was experiencing something quite different to Western culture - that was the main hook to this.
Since then I’ve seen more Ghibli - of which Grave of the Fireflies is a unique and unforgettable film in ways that the others do not tread - but the adventures of Chihiro are to be fondly remembered.
The Lives of Others (2006)
Another great lesson from history - less well-known than the exploits of World War 2 - but a consequence of that conflict, that resonates well within the dark corners of the 21st Century.
Ulrich Mühe gives an unforgettable performance as a Stasi officer spying on a Germany playwright in his own home; the microcosm of the deception and double-deception that goes on, sometimes elicits laughter - but mainly provokes thought on the perspective of the lives of others - and how our own suspicions can be exploited for often terrifying ends.
I haven’t watched the film for a few years now, but this is a perfect companion piece to Downfall on this list.
The Prestige (2006)
And finally, a film that celebrates the magic (go on then, pun intended) of the spectacle of cinema - and manages to conjure (oh god) genuine wonderment from its audience, that would normally be reserved for seeing magic performed in real life.
I would still argue this is the greatest of Christopher Nolan’s films (Memento a close second); thanks of course to the indomitable Christian Bale, but with the equally brilliant Hugh Jackman, the peerless Michael Caine, a divisive turn from Scarlett Johansson - and (most surprising) a bafflingly brilliant appearance from David Bowie, as the incomparable Nikola Tesla.
Beautifully framed with the three stages of a magic trick that keeps you guessing throughout - even when re-watching the film again.
Even on second and third watch-throughs you think you remember all of the twists and turns as the third act plays out - but then revelation after revelation makes you smile deliriously as the final reveals are made.
And so there you have it - my top 10 great films of the 21st Century so far.
Are there more? Probably. I may have even watched one or two, but not quite held them up here just yet.
I am sure time will - hopefully - reveal more contenders as well.