Top 50 Films of the 21st Century (so far)
Kristina Chapman | On 18, Sep 2019
Our editor-in-chief put the challenge out there to make a Top 50 Films of the 21st Century to rival The Guardian. Here it is!
After reading the list during breakfast, I saw my main issue. The list reads as if they’ve only considered the impact the story had. While film is clearly a storytelling medium, there’s more to film than what is told. There’s also the how and the why. With that in mind, I’ve compiled my own Top 50 Films of the 21st Century.
50. The Room (2003)
The best worst movie of all time. The premise isn’t too important – successful banker’s fiancé gets bored of said successful banker and seduces his best friend – it’s the acting, filmmaking and dialogue that’s important. A film that can get any audience criticising what makes it good or bad has clearly made an impact. Perhaps not how Tommy Wiseau imagined.
49. La La Land (2016)
This film is a colourful splendour. Colour is used heavily in the set design and the costuming emphasised through well-choreographed dances that pay homage to a number of classic musicals.
48. Napoleon Dynamite (2014)
A dance anyone can learn to support their friend’s school captain speech. Napoleon is an awkward teenager simply trying to survive high school. This film is a Sundance Film Festival success. After it’s showing, the movie was acquired and distributed theatrically. There’s something about Jon Heder’s performance that makes Napoleon a film to watch.
47. Ocean’s Eleven (2003)
The best heist movie with the best cast and the best editing. Everything is timed wonderfully. There’s a reason three more were made after this one. The opening sequence is so great, that’s why Ocean’s 8 (2018) paid homage to it in its opening sequence.
46. The Lego Movie (2014)
Perhaps the greatest branded content of all time. Riding on the success of other brands throughout, The Lego Movie uses catchy music and generic good vs. evil storytelling tropes to engage a wide variety of audiences. I personally know both a grown adult man who keeps his Lego sets done up in a spare room and children who just want to play.
45. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The third film in Baz Lurhmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy. The film continues the musical theatre aesthetic throughout, especially considering it’s a musical itself. Nearly every single shot in the film has the colour red present; that takes a lot of thought. One of the only shots without the colour present is simply because Ewan McGregor’s suit jacket covered the red vest during his acting.
44. The Patriot (2000)
A patriotic American movie starring Australians. Despite that, it’s another cinematic historical masterpiece with Mel Gibson as one of the leads. One could say this movie is a ‘slow’ movie because a good percentage of this film happens in slow motion. Action always looks better when slowed down.
43. The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan establishes his parallel editing technique further during this trilogy. He’s able to intertwine a significant number of multiple stories occurring across the same time without truly confusing the audience (more on that later). The Dark Knight is arguably the best in this trilogy, supported heavily by Heath Ledger’s amazing performance of the Joker.
42. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
This film takes the audience on a journey to find the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything (the answer is in this list). Overall, the timing of the humour is on point throughout this film. Alan Rickman makes a great depressed robot.
41. The Prestige (2006)
Set in the Edwardian period, two magicians ‘break-up’ after a death during one of their performances. As rivals, science comes into play and the magic gets even better! Considered a psychological thriller, Nolan begins to cement his directorial style. Not to be confused with The Illustionist (2006), another Edwardian magic show.
40. Frozen (2013)
Okay, let it go, this film was great plot-wise. It was one of the first Disney princess movies where the romantic love story was pushed to sub-plot standards. The villain was someone right under our noses; someone we thought we could trust. While it hides it’s a deeper lesson through the quote “you can’t marry a man you just met” – also making a jab to previous Disney princess movies – it’s still a great moral to have shown in a child’s movie.
39. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher adds to his love for thriller films by choosing a true crime to base this movie on. The beginning of the film captivates audiences as they view the killings through the eyes of the Zodiac (still, to this date, unidentified). The lag towards the end of Act 2 and the start of Act 3 caused this film to rate lower on this list. While not the strongest Fincher films, there are a lot of great moments to be had. This film is definitely more catered to an audience with long attention spans.
38. Moon (2009)
There are a lot of space movies to choose from, but the added psychological drama and the existence of Kevin Spacey adds to Moon a lot. It’s one of the few sci-fi movies that gets praise for its scientific realism. Like plot twists? Don’t watch the trailer.
37. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
The first film in this franchise established the world of magic for its audience. As the first-year muggle-born students were introduced to Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, so too were the viewers. The actors were originally contracted for just one movie – clearly, the producers weren’t sure how well the film would do – but the high budget and the movie magic was at the right stage of its time to successfully showcase the world of Harry Potter.
36. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Another indie film success. With a relatively low budget of approximately $11, 000 USD, Paranormal Activity used the mute-antagonist trope of the classic horror genre to create a suspenseful supernatural horror film. Without casting a true supernatural entity, make-up and costuming weren’t an issue. Using surveillance and the home-video trope popularised in The Blair Witch Project (1999), this film had a successful film festival run and was later theatrically released.
35. Love Actually (2003)
Despite having eight separate love stories, Love Actually manages to engage the audience with all of the characters, creating tension and suspense as the viewers hope for each couple to get their happy ending. There are a lot of great moments throughout this story, like Hugh Grant dancing, Rowan Atkinson preparing a gift-wrapped necklace, and the best line in the film delivered by Bill Nighy to his manager Joe towards the end of the film. (You can Google that yourself).
34. Deadpool (2016)
A lot of movies tend to pay homage to other films in subtle ways. Deadpool makes it obvious, such as Ryan Reynolds poking fun at his other superhero film that involved a green suit and a lantern. This film gets the humour Guardians of the Galaxy popularised in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and add a dash of crudity throughout.
33. Gladiator (2000)
This is one of the films you need to watch to understand. Set in the gladiator times, a once general is forced to become a gladiator. With an amazing performance from Russell Crowe (and he hasn’t even peaked at this point!), Gladiator hooks its audience further with amazing fight sequences and an amazing score.
32. Mean Girls (2004)
If you can quote this film and nearby teenagers know exactly where it’s from, you know it’s successfully made it as a teen classic. While it’s simply another teen movie, the emphasised focus on teenage cliques adds to the humour. Cady’s narration constantly compares these cliques to the animal kingdom, adding to the peculiarity that is high school.
31. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Cinematic masterpiece. That’s it. Peter Jackson knows how to direct a camera (or he knows how to choose a director of photography (Australian Andrew Lesnie, if you’re curious)). The world of LotR’s is showcased greatly through amazing panning shots of each location, emphasised with colour grading. Action is chosen to be filmed in ways the enhances the cinematic portrayal of the story.
30. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
What this film does that many mainstream teen romance films haven’t done is simple – they cast an Asian-American lead without making it a big deal. Usually, when a minority ethnicity is chosen, the story seems to use it as a major plot point. By choosing to use her ethnicity as a simple backdrop and added an element to her character, director Susan Johnson respectfully incorporates diversity naturally.
29. Saw (2004)
The producers mortgaged their homes to get the near $1.2mil USD for this film! While they were offered funding from production companies, they didn’t want to risk production companies choosing different actors. Saw is another example of a horror film on a budget ($1.2 mil is still low when compared to Hollywood budgets). The main focus is in one room with three actors (even though one is dead in the middle the entire time).
28. Wall-E (2008)
Even eleven years later, this film is still predicting our future. Most of act 1 doesn’t have any dialogue. The entire movie engages its audience through sound design alone. They even managed to make Wall-E’s pet cockroach ‘cute.’
27. Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola directs amazing films about amazing women. Throughout this film, the two protagonists become friends. This whole film is about friendship. However, it’s the use of lighting that makes this film stand out. Coppola was so appealed by Tokyo’s neon lights, she chose to film only using available lighting as much as possible (lights that already exist in the location – nothing brought to set). This was risky, as you can’t preview lighting choices when filming on 35mm.
26. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Sci-fi and comedy-drama all rolled into one! This story is a literal example of what happens when you legitimately mess with people’s minds. You know, take select memories to erase – especially memories of a person you just broke up with because you don’t want to know them anymore.
25. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The epic space-opera gets a Disney makeover. While the story is parallel to A New Hope (1977), the advancements in technology make the franchise nice and shiny again. The production team went as far as designing, creating and patenting a type of robot that could move spherically, but ensure it’s head stays upright (BB-8). While cinematically the techniques are not as groundbreaking as A New Hope was in the 70s, there are still elements worth being awestruck by.
24. Tangled (2010)
The first 3D computer-animated Disney princess. Not only that, but Rapunzel explores the idea of independence throughout the film – though still with the assistance of a man. Interestingly, the creation of Flynn Rider involved cumulating pictures of famous attractive men and asking the female staff in the animation studio what they did or did not like about the photos. I wonder if that’s why the ‘wanted’ posters never got his nose right?
23. Avatar (2009)
James Cameron utilised revolutionary new motion-capture technology to create this outstanding piece of cinema. Sure, the storyline itself is a rehash of Ferngully (1992), however, it’s the way this story was told that gives it a place on this list.
22. Endgame (2019)
Endgame is eleven years of successful build-up of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the biggest success story when it comes to the superhero genre. The team perfectly forward-thought decades worth of content and set the standard of what a modern audience expects from superheroes.
21. 28 Days Later (2002)
It’s this film that helped reinvigorate the zombie genre of horror film. There are also claims that it’s one of the films that popularised the idea of fast-moving zombies.
20. The Hunger Games (2012)
Arguably, this movie franchise helped popularise the modernisation of the dystopian genre to a new generation. Its commentary on political naivety is a great foundation for conversation within a younger audience. By addressing political issues in such a fanciful light, it allows a new generation to view and understand why it’s important to be aware of their own country’s political agenda.
19. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Don’t take any facts from Brick as real. Anchorman highlights the changes in the workplace by viewing the impact of the first female anchor-person for a prime-time news slot in the 70s. By doing so, it allows modern audiences to understand the growth society has gone through (and perhaps reminds us there’s still more growth needed). One impressive filmmaking fact is the actors’ ability to improv some of the major scenes. Because of this, it makes for one great blooper reel.
18. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
There a lot of great road trip films, but the Big Dilemma that occurs on this one is great. The grandfather is amazing, but it’s also rather strange watching Steve Carell play a more serious role. It’s yet another Sundance Film Festival success story – after it’s debut at the festival, the rights were acquired the film was distributed through a limited theatrical release.
17. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
The original list that inspired this post not only put Quentin Tarantino as 100 but is chose Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) as the one film. Tarantino has a number of great works, most of them being from the 90s, but a few wonderful 21st Century films as well. However, the number of homages and filmmaking techniques evident throughout Kill Bill vol. 1 is so significant, it has to be this film that gets chosen. There are amazing birdseye sequences throughout.
16. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Best spy movie of this century. The fight sequences are so extravagant and well-choreographed, the audiences are left in awe throughout a majority of the movie. Let’s not forget that fantastic church scene.
15. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
This movie flopped in the cinemas due to poor marketing. Once audiences realised the cinematic style Scott Pilgrim encapsulated so successfully, and the unique powers of veganism, a cult following began. Because the movie was based on graphic novels, Edgar Wright wanted to keep that aesthetic throughout the film.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
After Marvel further established the audience-preferred tropes of the superhero genre, Guardians added humour and an amazing soundtrack. Being one of the first lighthearted productions in the MCU, this film stood out once audiences started feeling the repetitive nature of superhero movies. This was taken further in Deadpool (2016) – yes, yes, it’s not MCU – and Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
13. Baby Driver (2017)
This movie not only has a fantastic soundtrack, but it visualises its use of music. The opening sequence is more than enough to hook the audience in. To ensure the correctly timed shots to music, editor Paul Machliss was editing live on set. As footage was filmed, they’d give it to him and Machliss would check everything was flowing correctly, according to the timed animatics.
12. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
The animation of this production is phenomenal. To ensure the production looked as if the audience “walked inside a comic book,” the animators didn’t use any motion-blur. This means if you pause the movie at any point, the shot will be perfectly in-focus. It’s clear this effect was successful in the production because the animation was stand-out. Also, let’s briefly mention diversity. Sameik Moore made a great Miles Morales.
11. Moana (2016)
This movie has a great development background. Disney wanted to ensure this particular story was as truthful and culturally respective as possible. The writers visited the Pacific Islands to ensure their story was accurate – not just in the story itself, but the dance choreography and the songwriting. This is a huge move, because if you look back to previous Disney Princesses such as Pocahontas (1995) the clear segregation between the two races. They tried to be more diverse with the inclusion of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog (2009), but the use of witchcraft was negatively criticised.
10. Pan’s Labrynth (2006)
When I used to frequent my local Video Ezy, this movie had disclaimer signs everywhere. “Not a children’s movie.” This is important to note, because the whimsical fantasy-land Guilermo del Toro created was an art department beauty. The set designs and costuming stand out so significantly. Imagine a fairy tale land with a dark and twisted story.
9. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan takes his art of multiple parallel stories and adds dream layers. While some may find the story too overwhelming or complex, it’s not just the unique storyline that gives Inception a place on the list. It’s the filmmaking. There’s a video of how they filmed the hallway fight scene, where they made their own room that could rotate 360 degrees, making the actors change where they have to stand in order to complete their blocking. It’s amazing.
8. Your Name (2016)
This anime feature film uses magical realism to tell the sweetest story. For whatever reason, these two teenagers swap bodies every once in a while. However, things get significantly more complicated when the boy decides to meet the girl. The artwork and story progression stands out wonderfully, making director Makoto Shinkai someone to look out for. Another film of his, Weathering You (2019) has recently hit Australian cinemas and will do just as well. Magical realism is definitely his style.
7. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright’s first film in the Cornetto Trilogy. These film showcases a phenomenal use of visual comedy. His edits, shot composition and camera movement add to the comedic value of this film. He shows comedy is more than well-timed dialogue, it’s the film techniques as well.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson is a unique director with a clear style. With each film, his style gets more distinct and perhaps easier for the general audience to understand. This film is one of the highlights of his auteur style, encompassing every aesthetic known to Anderson, but paired with his best plot to date. He uses different aspect ratios to differentiate the different moments in time. Anderson understands camera movement, set-design and colour palettes perfectly.
5. Spirited Away (2001)
The fact that a movie with a target audience of 10-year-old girls can hold true for years says something. There was a quote somewhere about how Disney films touch your heart; Studio Ghibli films touch your soul. With a typical anime plot about a young girl who tries to save her now-pig parents from the spirit world, Chihiro takes the audiences through a path littered with morals. Watching the spirit world light up the first night heavily showcases the wonderful art style of Hayao Miyazaki.
4. Amélie (2001)
This quirky film is filled with strong set-design and character development. The story follows Amélie as she makes small changes to people around her, creating her own unique experience of the world. Filmed in approximately 80 different locations around France, audiences are able to go sight-seeing from their own home.
3. American Psycho (2000)
Satirical psychological horror is hard to come by. It’s even harder to find one that’s done well. Christian Bale encompasses the crazy serial killer phenomenally well. Through great narration and perfect character performance, American Psycho reminds audiences why the book of the same title is banned in some places. It’s not common having the serial killer not only be the protagonist of the film, but also the narration. The audience gets to witness his thoughts.
2. Children of Men (2006)
This is one of the few dystopian films that followed the original protagonist trope. It’s hard to explain without spoiling. However, what makes this film stand-out is its camera movement. There are a lot of one takes that go for longer than ten minutes that also have dynamic camera movement. Gimbals, as we know them today, weren’t as accessible for Hollywood cameras in 2006. The camera department had to rig a car specifically to create camera movement inside a moving car while they’re chased. Another take digitally removed minor blood splatter from the camera to save them from having to film the otherwise perfect sequence again.
1. Donnie Darko (2001)
Riddled with multiple theories, this movie not only improves with each viewing but has enough depth to encourage discourse for hours on end. I have watched this so many times that hearing any song from its soundtrack outside the context of the movie, I can picture the scene. There is a significant amount of detail considered in a lot of the film elements. For example, the therapist’s clothing colours towards the end of the film reflect the type of damages through, the ending sequence with Donnie going to bed links back to the opening sequence a lot more than simple visionary matches, the time loop is layered with possibilities that many theories are on the internet. You could discuss who Grandma Death is and her importance to the film, especially if you watch the Director’s Cut so you get the additional Grandma Death scene the theatrical release missed. Donnie Darko is a storytelling masterpiece; not just in the script, but in the filming itself.