My Top Films of the Century So Far – Part 1

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BBC Culture recently commissioned a poll of film critics to choose the 100 best films of this century so far. 177 critics from around the world voted, and from their respective top 10’s, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was declared as number 1 late last month. 

Off the back of this, I pick my top 20 films of the 2000’s to date. I acknowledge there are likely many great films from this century that I haven’t yet seen, but I have tried to be as dispassionate as possible with those that I have watched. I have also tried to be as representative of films across the span of years as possible.

Without further ado, after much consideration, here are numbers 20-11…

20) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2012)

Novelistic and sweeping in tone, this Turkish crime drama about a police team who discover a body on the Anatolian steppe is a slow-burning revelation. It once again proves that foreign-language films can sometimes have more insight on serious matters than our own, and makes an intellectual thriller out of what is basically a long series of conversations.

19) District 9 (2009)

This strange sci-fi is an incredible mixture of ideas film and action adventure, and it proves to be equally adept at both. In essence, aliens have landed in South Africa and are being forced to live in slum-like conditions. Government operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is sent in to evict them, but then he has a life-changing accident, and great turmoil ensues. To say more would be to spoil this thought-provoking and ultimately moving tale.

18) Inside Llewyn Davis (2014)

The beautifully-told story of the titular struggling folk singer (Oscar Isaac) in the Greenwich Village scene of the 1960s, this quiet, subtle Coen brothers venture boasts a soulful central performance from Isaac, and some brilliant songs. Sadly un-nominated for major awards following its release, it can take solace from the fact that it’s an extremely well-crafted piece of work. The magical melancholy of Llewyn Davis has stuck with me for a long time.

17) Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

This hip and original vampire flick from Jim Jarmusch is filled with pop culture references and literary in-jokes, whilst running remarkably light on plot. However, it has just enough incident to sustain itself, and two intriguing protagonists in bloodsucking lovers Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, both superb). Despite its lack of narrative, it has a remarkable sense of forward motion due to brilliant writing, themes that reel you in, and acting that makes you want to stick around.

16) Macbeth (2015)

This violent 2015 film version of the Scottish Play boasts incandescent performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the murderous Lord and Lady Macbeth. Its sumptuous cinematography, rousing score and ingenious new ways of doing the important scenes only burn it even further into the memory. Macbeth hasn’t looked the same to me since.

15) Tell No-One (2007)

This French film (originally Ne Le Dis à Personne) marks itself as being out of the ordinary from the beginning. A doctor’s wife dies in an accident, only for the doctor (François Cluzet) to receive a message, supposedly from her, 8 years later. What follows is a tantalising mystery, but it becomes an emotionally involving story too, as its key themes becomes clear. Tell No-One illustrates all too plainly our current fascination with crime and its human consequences, as well as being a cracking film.

14) The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The conclusion to the trilogy about the eponymous amnesiac assassin (recently, and wrongly in my opinion, brought back for another outing) is a breathtaking thrill ride from start to finish. Featuring Matt Damon’s best and most subtle performance as Jason Bourne, Ultimatum’s action is lean, the plot is taut and the pay-off is immense. It also contains one of the most perfect and fitting final scenes I’ve ever seen.

13) Frozen (2013)

The peak of Disney’s powers this century (aside from the next film on this list), Frozen managed to be both an endearingly old-fashioned tale with entertaining characters, and a film that strayed from convention, and was almost subversive at times. Those songs may now verge on annoying, but it’s still a very good film in its own right. Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) is the star of the show, though.

12) The Emperor’s New Groove (2001)

The Emperor’s New Groove may not exactly be an original concept for a film (nasty Emperor forced to come face to face with own nastiness, with added llama transformation for good measure), but what this Disney caper does, it does right. It’s also hilarious, with bumbling manservant Kronk, that crazy squirrel and the little off-the-cuff moments like ‘the chimp and the bug’ being particular highlights. I come back to this kooky little gem time and again.

11) Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The best film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in my opinion, this encompasses both epic action and character moments in equal measure, giving real heft to the quest to destroy the One Ring. Return of the King may go on too long, but it is a fully-realised vision of another world, as well as an emotional conclusion to a much-loved series, which deserves its place in the pantheon of great cinematic achievements.

Top 10 to follow…

Alex Nicholson

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