V’s Movies of the Century: Year by Year

· Films & Video Games
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The Best of the Century List can be found here.

So begins a new tradition on V for Verbatim.

Lists are fun. They’re what movie writing is all about; they’re instant conversation starters, useful catalogues that remind people “hey, this movie exists too.”

But cinema has had something of a problem lately that goes beyond a decade of stagnation and disconnect. The 2010s is one of the worst decades in the history of cinema, and contained easily the biggest divide between what was popular and what was considered Oscar worthy, which was only exacerbated further by tribal condescension. But it’s not possible for a year to go by without at least one good film being released. Even a year like 2020, which saw the flow of nearly all cultural trends grind to a halt for a year of misery and insurgent terrorism.

Last year, I published a list of the 21 Best Films of the 21st Century, which felt appropriate for the year 2021 – a year that could barely be bothered to have its own cinematic identity. Things have not improved much in 2022. So in an effort to keep things interesting, every year will see a pair of lists. One of them will list out my own personal favorite films for each year in the 21st century. The second list will simply contain the century’s best films, independently of my own most subjective preferences, with one film added each year.

The challenge, of course, is to compose these lists without overlap. But surely some overlap has to be allowed. I mean, The Dark Knight and They Shall Not Grow Old are really, really good movies, and both of them came out in a year that gave them very little competition. Any list of the century that doesn’t include both of those films would be one to question. So there’s going to be some, and I apologize in advance if that offends you, but there have also only been 23 years of movies, including this one. Basically what I’m saying is that this is why you need both lists. Some films stand out heavily in one year, but they pale in comparison to the century overall. Some films prove themselves to be among the most significant and noteworthy of all time, but you’d barely notice them in its year because of the strength of the competition.

There are also two ways to cheat. One of them is to do what I already did and simply exclude The Lord of the Rings trilogy from the Century Best list because of the distinction it bears as my favorite of all time. The second is to list a runner up for each year. That’s fair, right? After all, the runner up wouldn’t count as an overlap even if it did overlap with the Best list.

So without further ado, a list of my favorite films of the 21st century, year by year.

2000 Movie of the Year: “Battle Royale” (Dir.: Kinji Fukasaku)

Runner Up: “Traffic” (Dir.: Steven Soderbergh)

2001 Movie of the Year: “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (Dir.: Peter Jackson)

Runner Up: “Shaolin Soccer” (Dir.: Stephen Chow)

2002 Movie of the Year: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (Dir.: Peter Jackson)

Runner Up: “Minority Report” (Dir.: Steven Spielberg)

2003 Movie of the Year: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Dir.: Peter Jackson)

Runner Up: “Bruce Almighty” (Dir.: Tom Shadyac)

2004 Movie of the Year: “Spider-Man 2” (Dir.: Sam Raimi)

Runner Up: “House of Flying Daggers” (Dir.: Zhang Yimou)

2005 Movie of the Year: “Munich” (Dir.: Steven Spielberg)

Runner Up: “Lord of War” (Dir.: Andrew Niccol)

2006 Movie of the Year: “The Departed” (Dir.: Martin Scorsese)

Runner Up: “Casino Royale” (Dir.: Martin Campbell)

2007 Movie of the Year: “Lions for Lambs” (Dir.: Robert Redford)

Runner Up: “There Will Be Blood” (Dir.: Paul Thomas Anderson)

2008 Movie of the Year: “The Dark Knight” (Dir.: Christopher Nolan)

Runner Up: “Gran Torino” (Dir.: Clint Eastwood)

2009 Movie of the Year: “District 9” (Dir.: Neill Blomkamp)

Runner Up: “Inglourious Basterds” (Dir.: Quentin Tarantino)

2010 Movie of the Year: “Inception” (Dir.: Christopher Nolan)

Runner Up: “Toy Story 3” (Dir.: Lee Unkrich)

2011 Movie of the Year: “War Horse” (Dir.: Steven Spielberg)

Runner Up: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (Dir.: Brad Bird)

2012 Movie of the Year: “Cloud Atlas” (Dir.: Tom Tykwer)

Runner Up: “Looper” (Dir.: Rian Johnson)

2013 Movie of the Year: “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Dir.: Martin Scorsese)

Runner Up: “Pacific Rim” (Dir.: Guillermo del Toro)

2014 Movie of the Year: “Fury” (Dir.: David Ayer)

Runner Up: “John Wick” (Dir.: Chad Stahelski)

2015 Movie of the Year: “The Martian” (Dir.: Ridley Scott)

Runner Up: “Creed” (Dir.: Ryan Coogler)

2016 Movie of the Year: “Sully” (Dir.: Clint Eastwood)

Runner Up: “The Nice Guys” (Dir.: Shane Black)

2017 Movie of the Year: “Dunkirk” (Dir.: Christopher Nolan)

Runner Up: “Logan Lucky” (Dir.: Steven Soderbergh)

2018 Movie of the Year: “They Shall Not Grow Old” (Dir.: Peter Jackson)

Runner Up: “Searching” (Dir.: Aneesh Chaganty)

2019 Movie of the Year: “Dragged Across Concrete” (Dir.: S. Craig Zahler)

Runner Up: “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” (Dir.: Henry Dunham)

2020 Movie of the Year: “True History of the Kelly Gang” (Dir.: Justin Kurzel)

Runner Up: “Greyhound” (Dir.: Aaron Schneider)

2021 Movie of the Year: “Nightmare Alley” (Dir.: Guillermo del Toro)

Runner Up: “Nobody” (Dir.: Ilya Naishuller)

2022 Movie of the Year: “Top Gun: Maverick” (Dir.: Joseph Kozinski)

Runner Up: “Ambulance” (Dir.: Michael Bay)

With all of this in mind, a few wrap-up thoughts are worth mentioning:

My directorial winner of the 21st century is Peter Jackson for having directed a MOTY four separate times. But if we don’t want to count The Lord of the Rings for three separate wins, then Christopher Nolan takes the prize for his own three, followed by Steven Spielberg, who directed two MOTYs and one runner up.

My lists are almost exclusively male centric, which can’t be helped. But the winning actor (again, assuming The Lord of the Rings doesn’t count for three separate wins) is Leonardo DiCaprio for having starred in three MOTYs. Second place winner is Tom Cruise for having starred in two MOTYs and one runner up.

2018 and 2022 are remarkable for the fact that my two favorite movies of each year are notable for the way they were filmed. They Shall Not Grow Old featured revolutionary technology that allowed for the restoration and colorization of century-old photographs in a way that does more than maybe any other film in history to bring the dead back to life for just a brief moment and return to them an identity and sense of dignity that the “Great War” took away from them. Searching stands out for being set entirely on computer screens, smartphones, surveillance cameras, and news footage, and capturing the common experience of internet paranoia in a way that elevates the medium. 2022 was not quite the same year of tech fetishization as 2018, but the two standouts of the year are remarkable for the immaculate reality of their action sequences, with the actors actually flying their F-18 fighter jets in Top Gun: Maverick and with the use of first-person drone footage in Ambulance.

The other notable thing about 2018 is the technicality that both of my favorite films of the next year (Dragged Across Concrete and The Standoff at Sparrow Creek) were both actually 2018 films, and also made by the same producer Dallas Sonnier. But I saw both of those films in 2019, they were released in the States in 2019, and I just think 2019, and the pessimistic foreboding of the 2020s decade to follow, is better represented by those two films than by anything else. But if I had to pick two films from actual 2019 that I’d count as my favorites, they would be Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

Here’s to the next year and the movies to be added in the future.

– Vivek

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