Top 10 Films of the 21st Century

Saw these lists making the rounds a few weeks ago and figured I would offer up my own Top 10 Films of the 21st Century. Of course, I could choose to disseminate my Top 1000 in chronological order, but I'm not into sadomasochism at the moment (though things, as always, can change).

I tried to force them into some kind of of order, but eventually came to the conclusion that ranking these fine films would be reductive and would serve no purpose, unless you're one of those people that require arbitrarily judged artworks to be stacked on top of one another. So here they are, in no discernible organization whatsoever: 

American Psycho (2001)

"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there."

Let me speak on this film by first mentioning another: I first saw David Fincher's Fight Club when I was 14 or 15 and I enjoyed it in a purely superficial way. I had no real clue as to what the movie (or the book, which I read later) was trying to say about the dangers of unchecked masculinity or the societally-deadening impact of rampant commercialism. At the time it rather appealed to my wholly uninformed teenage anarchism, and for years I continued to appreciate it simply on those terms. It wasn't until much later that I found out you weren't supposed to like Tyler Durden. But he was my favorite character! No, you were supposed to root for the Narrator, right?

Surely, what Durden says to the Narrator, once he's revealed himself to be a function of the Narrator's psyche, must also be for the viewer: "All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not." And if that is the case, and you're still supposed to want the Narrator to stop Project Mayhem, then is it not a failure on the part of the filmmakers for making Durden so likable? And I kind of like Durden's plan! (So did the guy who came up with Mr. Robot!)

So that's why American Pyscho, which tackles a great many of the same themes and also has a slick nutjob as its protagonist, is the better film, and one of my favorites of all time. You don't have the choice between liking Patrick Bateman and someone else. All you have is Bateman and his viewpoint. And director/screenwriter Mary Harron is quite skilled at providing you with very killable "enemies" for Bateman to dispose of. In this movie, unlike Fight Club, Jared Leto deserved what he got. And what he got was an axe to the face.

Points awarded to this film for serving as the proving ground for Bale's Bruce Wayne. Of all the men to play Batman on the big screen, Bale has been the most convincing as Rich Douchebag Batman, which coincidentally was also my favorite Batman action figure from the 90s, right after Volcano Exploration Batman. (And sue me, I like the growl.)

Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

"Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't."

I was in eighth grade when this film was released. And I have no idea why my parents thought to take me, along with my siblings, who are all younger than I, to see it. I don't think they were huge Wes Anderson fans--maybe they thought that Tenenbaums was some sort of wholesome family film, but the truth is, they did not make a Wes Anderson fan out of me that day. I hated this movie so much that I can still remember the car ride home, thinking to myself that my parents had done me a great disservice. They usually had steered me in the right direction... 

I thought the film was boring, that everyone delivered their lines in a uniformly monotonous and wholly unenjoyable way, and that the film was overwhelingly depressing. You're not really in the market for that kind of thing as an eighth grader.

I revisited Tenenbaums years later and can now confirm that I love it deeply and truly. It warms my cold heart to watch Gene Hackman's Royal Tenenbaum attempt to cheat his way back into the family he so thoughtlessly ignored for his entire life, and then realize in the process that he actually quite enjoyed being a Tenenbaum after all. Major points awarded to career-high performances from basically everyone, especially Stiller, Owen Wilson (who co-wrote), his brother Luke Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow (who seems like a demon in real life).

Casino Royale (2006)

M: I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached, but that's not your problem, is it, Bond? 

James Bond: No.

(This is the best James Bond movie ever made. Feel free to @ me.)

Before Daniel Craig was my favorite 007, Timothy Dalton held that honor. And I believe both actors fulfill the promise of Fleming's character: A blunt human-shaped instrument whose desires/inclinations/career goals/love of Queen & Country just so happen to align with MI6's mission. But Craig reaches "Platonic Ideal" levels in his performance. Strip the gadgets and the gags and the cheese and all you are left with is the man. And Daniel Craig is The Man.

Of course, it's all downhill after Quantum of Solace, I'm afraid. Skyfall missed the point of the reboot entirely and, Spectre, God in heaven, is an insult to Bond fans and casual moviegoers alike. Not only does it miss the point, but it attempts to tie a narrative bow around the the whole Craig saga, which is a laughable and offensive endeavor. Furthermore, Sam Mendes has now spent two bloated, pretty-looking films in presenting the viewer with a refutation of the 00-program, only to prove that, no, James Bond is still a necessary figure in statecraft come credit-roll.

Side note: I do find the last few years' worth of chatter about the "problematic" nature of the character to be problematic in its own way. This collective notion that Bond's [chauvinism/sexual aggression/carelessness with women] is an issue for the future of the franchise presupposes that fictional characters need to comport themselves according to the views of the audience and that, I think, is the antithesis of any kind of art. It is okay for you to watch bad men do bad things on the big screen. Also, death to the "Code Name" fan theory. 

Lost In Translation (2003)

"Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun."

Most other movies with Americans stuck in foreign countries would have a very different third act. The protagonist would discover that human beings, wherever we are in the world, are fundamentally the same, only with very minor differences between us. The would realize that the place they've found themselves in is actually quite lovely, the people there interesting and varied, and the views this person had when they arrived ("This place sucks. I want to go home.") would seem like the views of another, less enlightened person entirely. Because they've grown, man.

Lost in Translation doesn't work like that. It's a movie with a true outsider's perspective and that perspective remains intact all the way through to the final moments of the film. You may not appreciate that. It may even strike you as mildly offensive. But, Jesus, it's refreshing. 

Music is top-notch. Scarlett Johansson and Billy Murray (his second appearance on this list) mine some seriously unexpected chemistry. Direction and cinematography are superb. I can't ask for much more.

Midnight In Paris (2011)

Ernest Hemingway: Have you ever made love to a truly great woman? 

Gil: Actually, my fiancé is pretty sexy. 

Ernest Hemingway: And when you make love to her you feel true and beautiful passion. And you for at least that moment lose your fear of death. 

Gil: No, that doesn't happen.

Forgive my comic book leanings, but this movie, to me, is essentially Woody Allen's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. To see and hear Hemingway, Dalí, and Fitzgerald --these paragons of high-art-- interacting with each other, along with Allen's proxy Gil Pender, in a way that a philistine such as myself can appreciate, well, that has to be a good thing, right? Most people are more concerned with Kim Kardashian's ass nowadays then they are with the works of a surrealist nutjob and one of the last "manly man" writers, so anything that can get a person excited about this kind of material deserves all the accolades we can heap upon it. 

You don't like Woody Allen? Okay, fine. I get it. But the man's still got it! Show me another writer who can ape the styles of so many different artists in one sitting. Show me another director who hones in on a city and then squeezes it for all its worth the way Allen does. Show me another humorist who jumps as deftly from romance to comedy in a movie (from 2012) about Picasso and Man Ray and Gertrude Stein all just sitting around drinking wine.

I'll wait.

Also, worth noting: This is Owen Wilson's second appearance on this list.

Drive (2011)

Driver: I don't have wheels on my car. 

Irene: [laughing] Okay. 

Driver: It's one thing you should know about me. 

Is Ryan Gosling a leading man? Some seem to believe that he functions better in ensemble casts, where he can better utilize his comedic talents (which are considerable, see Nice Guys). Some believe that he plays against his inclinations and abilities when he takes on roles as "the Heavy" in films such as Drive or Place Beyond the Pines

Is Ryan Gosling a leading man? Is there an afterlife? Is man good? I don't know! I don't have time for these discussions. I'd rather be watching Ryan Gosling movies (Blade Runner 2, I'm looking at you, baby).

And, I believe that Gosling is uniquely qualified for these roles. Here is a man who got his start as a Disney Cadet, or whatever the hell they're called. If you saw him approaching you in a dark alley, you might find him out of place, but you wouldn't assume there was a lethal creature lurking behind his eyes. But there is. We know this now. There is a quiet, simmering rage to the Driver. And Gosling imbues the character with a volatility most modern pretty-boy actors cannot muster. Watching the Driver attempt to have something of a normal relationship, while also dealing with the poking and prodding of his criminal adversaries, is an exercise in the classic "should've left well enough alone" mode. It doesn't end well. But these things never do.

Also, this movie gets extra points for fantastic ultra-violence synced to a near perfect soundtrack and score. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, who now seems to be in a trolling-the-audience holding pattern, is a master of this form.

Django Unchained (2012)

Big Daddy: Uh, what's the name of that peckerwood boy from town that works with the glass? His momma work at the lumberyard... 

Big Daddy's Mammy: Oh, you mean Jerry? 

Big Daddy: That's the boy's name, Jerry! 

Big Daddy: You know Jerry, don't ya, sugar? 

Betina: Yes, Big Daddy. 

Big Daddy: Well, that's it then! Just treat him like you would Jerry!

Allow me to elucidate in reverse:

My second favorite thing about Django Unchained is that Will Smith didn't take the lead role in this film because he thought it wasn't big enough for him. (Although he has since amended the reason for rejecting this titular role: He wanted to make a movie about "love," not "vengeance.") Chart this man's career from that moment. Use pen and paper if you have to. Here he is at the top as an A-List blockbuster-er and there he is at the bottom as the sort-of-lead in an ensemble picture about DC Comics' C-Listers. It's a powerful and humbling decline. (I quite liked him in Suicide Squad though.)

My first favorite thing about Django Unchained is that Jamie Foxx did the right thing and made a movie about vengeance and love and a dozen other things. (Favorite line delivery of 2012: "Better listen to your boss, whiteboy.")

Points awarded to this film for being one of two films where I think Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't suck (the other is Wolf of Wall Street). The key to a believable DiCaprio character is to have him play someone unlikeable and gross, because that's what he is in real life.

28 Days Later (2002)

Jim: So, know what I was thinking? 

Selena: You were thinking that you'll never hear another piece of original music ever again. You'll never read another book that hasn't already been written... or see a film that hasn't already been shot. 

Jim: Um, that's what you were thinking.

Horror is my least favorite genre. I don't find anything intrinsically wrong with it, but it seems to me that a lot of the films that come from that world are low on character and story and imagination. A lot of style, not a lot of substance. I also think jump scares are the cinematic equivalent of a hand job in a parked car. You will technically achieve something by the end of it, but it is achieved only through a cheap, cruel exercise in laziness.

And the hallmarks of the genre (most of the people in the movie needing to die being chief among them) encourages the creation of loosely sketched, one dimensional characters--I'm usually rooting for the bad guy to kill the stupid, sex-crazed teenagers. (Maybe the problem is with me. Who knows?)

Yes, you've got your Halloween and The Thing and Alien, but these are really more the exception rather than the norm. These films, like 28 Days Later, were crafted by auteurs who have found great success across many genres and subjects. I would add Danny Boyle to this Pantheon, a pantheon that includes the likes of Ridley Scott and John Carpenter. The man can direct anything. Even his bad movies are worth watching.

It is because of Boyle's skill as a director and his ability to craft interesting characters in shitty situations that 28 Days Later feels more like a character-based thriller with genre tendencies. It's got the ridiculous science fiction set-up and zombies (who can run--that was huge for me in 2003) for sure. But following Cillian Murphy's Jim, watching him come to grips with reality, seeing him try to make sense of a now senseless world, finding family and purpose and heroism despite the unyielding need for militant survivalism-- that's the power of the film. And it's scary because you absolutely do not want to see Jim and Selena and Hannah get hurt.

Ocean's 11 (2001)

Rusty: You scared? 

Linus: You suicidal? 

Rusty: Only in the morning

Remakes suck. They suck real bad. They remade Robocop. It sucked. They remade Total Recall. It sucked. They even remade Point Break for some strange reason. It sucked real, real bad.

There are a few remakes that don't suck. These are some of them: The Fly, The Thing, Cape Fear, and The Magnificent Seven.

Ocean's 11 is also a remake that doesn't suck. It's actually quite wonderful.

It's hard to not like a movie with a cast like this. It's called Ocean's 11, sure, but it might as well be called "Charisma Overdrive." It's funny, it's got great dialogue, and it's loaded with awesome performances, from actors who are now all too expensive to appear in the same film. And Steven Soderbergh brings back those old school camera zooms the way Dan Slott brought back the thought bubble.

Extra points for the Claire De Lune scene which is as moving a sequence as we can hope for in this twisted world.

Fury Road (2015)

"By my deeds I honour him, V8."

There are certain directors who lose their abilities as they age, just as certain doctors, plumbers, or used car salesmen lose their skills as they move into their twilight years. Tarantino has said he'll only make another two movies in an effort to avoid this segment of an artist's career, where it's all downhill. I understand that. You don't want to go out on a low note. 

But certain artists don't lose shit. Moebius was as good an artist at 70 as he was at 40-- the man was drawing right up until his death. Spielberg and Scorcese are still killing it-- Bridge of Spies and Wolf of Wall Street are late-period masterpieces. Jay Z is 45 for Christ's sake, that's like 100 in rapper years, and the dude still doesn't write down his lyrics before he spits his rhymes.

And then there's George Miller at 70 years young showing everyone half his age what it takes to create a masterpiece with his opus Mad Max: Fury Road. This movie has more energy, more beauty, and more fucking sand than any other movie that came out in 2015. Not only that, Miller finally put the "Mad" in "Mad Max," with a grunting, twitching Tom Hardy in the lead role.

And so, it is at the altar of the Miller, that we live, and die, and live again, riding chrome death machines, historic on the Fury Road.