The Twenty-One Best Films of the 21st Century

· Films & Video Games

I probably should have written this list at the very beginning of the year.  2021 wasn’t a great year in cinema, nor was the year before it.  In fact, the last couple of decades have not been particularly great for cinema as an art medium nor a positive force for shaping popular culture.

But since it’s only too late if I say it’s too late, and since many of us have been spending more time at home watching what’s available for them to watch (whether it’s of interest or not), I figure I would make up for the fact that I provided neither a list of favorites last year, a list of favorites this year, nor a list of favorite films of the 2010s decade.

Preface #1: This list consists of great films, most of which were popular to one degree or another, many of which contributed beautifully to those aspects of our culture today that are actually good and worth redeeming, and all of which I personally think are incredibly important.  In that sense, it’s a list of significant films, but it is also a list that includes underrated films that are not popular or universally acclaimed but have, at least in my humble opinion, something important to offer us.

Preface #2: The 2010s featured the greatest disconnect between the Hollywood elite and the American public since the 1980s.  Quick: without looking it up, name three films from that decade that won Best Picture.  Most of you can’t.  And soon enough you won’t be able to do that for the 2010s.  Not because you’re ignorant but because most of the films that won Best Picture not only weren’t, but simply do not deserve to be remembered at all.

Preface #3: One of the enduring themes of this list, and a great lesson I once learned from a fellow critic is that films do not change.  We do.  Over the past two years, we have all changed, and you may find yourself surprised that a film you saw years ago but didn’t like then may now suddenly ring a new meaning for you.  Great works of art may definitively mark their spots in time, but their experiences are timeless.

Preface #4: My favorite movie of the century, The Lord of the Rings (any/all of them) is omitted from this list because it’s too obvious and easy.  Call it the most honorable mention.

Preface #5: I’m not going to explain my list.  If you’ve seen these films, you’ll understand that they speak for themselves. I’m not going to rank them either.  That’s too hard.  Seeing them is enough.

21 centuries, 21 years into the 21st century; here’s 21 movies in alphabetical order.

1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001); Dir.: Steven Spielberg
2. Apocalypto (2006); Dir.: Mel Gibson
3. Battle Royale (2000); Dir.: Kinji Fukasaku
4. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017); Dir.: S. Craig Zahler
5. The Dark Knight (2008); Dir.: Christopher Nolan
6. Dunkirk (2017); Dir.: Christopher Nolan
7. Hot Fuzz (2007); Dir.: Edgar Wright
8. Incendies (2010); Dir.: Denis Villeneuve
9. Kung Fu Hustle (2004); Dir.: Stephen Chow
10. The LEGO Movie (2014); Dirs.: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
11. Lions for Lambs (2007); Dir.: Robert Redford
12. Mean Girls (2004); Dir.: Mark Waters
13. Munich (2005); Dir.: Steven Spielberg
14. The New World (2005); Dir.: Terrence Malick
15. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019); Dir.: Quentin Tarantino
16. Ratatouille (2007); Dir.: Brad Bird
17. Sully (2016); Dir.: Clint Eastwood
18. Unbreakable (2000); Dir.: M. Night Shyamalan
19. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013); Dir.: Martin Scorsese
20. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018); Dir.: Peter Jackson
21. 12 Years a Slave (2013); Dir.: Steve McQueen

Go see these films. If you’ve seen them already, see them again. They deserve it.

– Vivek

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