This week, Neil Calloway takes a look at a list claiming to reveal the best films of the 21st Century…
Earlier this week, casual film fans were sent running first to IMDB and then to Netflix or Amazon at the news that David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was named in a poll of 177 film critics as the best movie of the 21st Century so far.
It’s been on my “I need to re-watch that” list for a while, and from what I remember it’s a fine film, but I don’t think it’s the best of this century. I don’t think the critics who put it at the top of the list believe it is either.
Only 16 of the 177 – less than 10% named it as their number one film (and at my count 150 critics didn’t include it at all), but it appeared in the top five in many lists. Half the point of these lists is to create debate and argument, and the other half is largely a chance to critics to outdo each other with how esoteric and obscure their choices are. There is much to agree with on the list; I was pleased to see Spike Lee’s 25th Hour so high up the list at 26 (the writer, David Benioff is the show runner on Game of Thrones), and at the time of Bio-Dome and Street Fighter, I doubt anyone would imagine that a film starring Kylie Minogue would make it into a best of list of films, but Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is there at 16 and deservedly so.
There is also much to disagree with; I would not have put Martin Scorsese’s fun, but ultimately lightweight The Wolf of Wall Street ahead of Andrew Dominik’s sublime The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Harmony Komine’s Spring Breakers is the only film I’ve ever walked out of (I’d wasted my money, why should I waste my time too?)
The list appears, as these things do, to be slightly skewered towards more recent films than those made at the beginning of the century (though of course the top two films were made in 2001 and 2000 respectively), but I imagine that many of the films included won’t be there if a similar poll takes place in ten years’ time; films like Mulholland Drive – work that demands re-watching will benefit from time and distance, and films that might appear to be great at first glance but fall apart a second time won’t. Films that are ahead of their time will shoot up the table.
What’s notable is the distinct lack of box office hits in it; when the history of the first half of 21st Century cinema comes to be written, it will be dominated by comic book adaptations, but only one film of that genre – Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (at 33, some distance behind Nolan’s earlier effort Memento)– makes an appearance in the final list. Only two critics nominated Avatar, the highest grossing film ever made. It’s hard not to think that many critics exist in a parallel universe to the great mass of cinema goers.
These lists are great – when you agree with them they are sacrosanct and carved in stone, when you disagree they are the choices of an out of touch group of snobs who haven’t paid to see a film since 1974. I’m torn between those two positions.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.