The Top Five Films Of This Century So Far
Written by Dave Copper on 21st May 2016
The Top Five Films of this Century so far
by Harry Banton
In a generation of cheesy remakes and bizarre films about sharks trapped in tornados it often feels like we are living through the worst age of cinema. But now that we are almost two decades into the 21st century it is time to start looking at all of the gems that the last 19 years have brought. Below are my 5 favourite films this century so far and why, we know that this topic will provoke some strong passions (and fighting) and that whether you agree or disagree that you’ll be letting us know down below in the comments.
5. No country for old men (2007) Ethan and Joel Cohen
Would a top five films list be complete without a Cohen brothers entry? This modern fable revolves around the working-class hunter who stumbled onto a briefcase with millions in drug money. He then spends the film trying to escape with the money as a relentless hit man hunts him down, the hunter becomes the hunted. An ageing Sherriff follows this trail, always two steps behind and feeling out of his depth with what he views as a new, modern kind of brutality and evil. The film has just 16 minutes of music in the soundtrack and most of that is in the end credits. This quiet atmosphere, the rugged and desolate locations and the hopeless storyline make this a bleak watch but an unforgettable one.
It’s been called a neo-Western, because it subverts the expectations that come along with a Western, that somehow the hero can win against the odds and save the girl and ride into the sunset. Instead Ethan and Joel Cohen force the audience to sit in almost unbearable tension as the inevitable conclusion rumbles closer. Its a film about an older generation that view the modern evil, embodied by Javier Bardem’s assassin, as an undecipherable phenomena. The film never concludes definitely whether this is true, whether its the Sheriff and his outdated nostalgia or whether there has been some societal shift, or whether the world has always been this violent and leaves that to the audience to figure out.
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Martin Scorsese
How did Leo not win his Oscar? That was the question I had in the months after the release of what is probably the money-greed-success-drugs story to end all the money-greed-success-drugs stories. Margot Robbie, DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and all the other cast shine as characters revelling in their unimaginable wealth.
It’s truly a film for our ages and in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash taps into our cultural contradictory views of the wealthy and powerful. On one hand we hate them, they rip off the poorest and get to enjoy all the world can offer at others expense. But on the other hand we just can’t get enough of seeing Jordan Belfort’s lavish parties, his women, his cars and his unbridled power. Seeing a scammer getting taken down by the FBI should fill all of us with a certain glee at watching Jordan get his just-desserts, then why did we all secretly find ourselves rooting for him? Hoping against the odds that he’d take the money and run, escape justice and live a good life with his wife and children. It’s exactly this tension that Scorsese gets to at the end of the film when Jordan, now out of prison gives a talk about success to a crowd of Average Joes and they look at him like a holy prophet. It’s more intelligent and better produced but fundamentally this film operates under the same logic as Keeping up with the Kardashians or Made in Chelsea, watching the personal dramas of people far wealthier than ourselves, both loathing and envying them.
3. Django Unchained (2012) – Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s gore-soaked Western is criminally underrated because its almost universally agreed to be good, but not always thought of as his best. The excellent double act between Jaimie Foxx and Christopher Waltz makes this film play at times like a buddy-comedy and the soundtrack and visuals are (in classic Tarantino fashion) stellar the whole way through. At once it is an homage and subversive of all the Westerns that came before and inspired his filmmaking.
Our two heroes ripping their way through hordes of KKK members and Slave-traders is satisfying and its given more weight to it by the brutal scenes of violence against helpless slaves. But this leads some to (wrongly) argue that this makes this film too simple, too morally straightforward. The reason I love this film so much is because it actually goes beyond the obvious ‘look how mean these slavers are’ that so many other films in this era fall into. Django Unchained gives a systematic skewering of the logics that propped up the slave trade, and arguably support modern American racism.
The film makes constant references to the love that American capitalists had for European culture and civilization despite their version being but a meek imitation. Whether it’s slavers telling Mr Schultz to ‘speak English Goddamit’ when Schultz says the word ‘converse’ or the villainous ‘Monsieur Candie’, who doesn’t speak French and would be embarrassed if Mr Schultz tried to speak to him in French. This exposes the hypocrisy in the uncivilised American slavers using European civilisation to justify their business and sets up the bloody finale when Mr Schultz just cannot stand the slavers playing Beethoven in his presence any longer.
2. Hereditary (2018) – Ari Aster
The only horror film to make this list but one which towers above anything else recent in this genre. This film puts all of the teen-slashing, jump-scare, torture porn remakes of this last generation of horror hang their heads in shame. Hereditary shows just how sound, some strange (to say the least) events and a really gripping storyline can make an audience so deeply uncomfortable without relying on gimmick. Hereditary demands to be watched in silence with the lights off if you can stand it and it leaves a lasting impression on everybody who watches it.
This emotional plot could only be carried by a really talented cast and so much has been said of Toni Collette’s gripping performance as a mother, wife and daughter failing in every aspect of her life. But the rest of the cast is also fantastic and a character driven horror like this wouldn’t work with any weak links in that chain.
Those who’ve seen it will already know but for anyone who hasn’t Hereditary is on one level a dark story about a demonic prophecy, but on another level is a heart-wrenching story about a family pulled apart by grief and mourning. It’s themes are quite literally in the title, about how trauma is passed down through generations and placed on the children, a burden on their shoulders, or in Peter’s case, a crown on their head.
1. There will be blood (2007) – Paul Thomas Anderson
There is no question and I’m not the first to say that Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in this film puts him in a pantheon that very few if any other actors can hope to reach. Day Lewis’s Daniel Plainview is a poor silver miner and the film chronicles his ruthless quest to reach the top of the oil trade as he crosses every moral line he can. The orchestral soundtrack and bleak imagery emphasise the loneliness in this story that is about the making of America and the modern world and it’s foundations. It’s also notable that this film was including the climate crisis as one of its themes far before it was popular and on-trend. But the most interesting dynamic of the film was the tension between business and religion. This tale of a man who throws aside all morals or ethics in order to dominate and succeed is something that our whole society should reflect on. This staggeringly good film succeeds in every way that a film should and that is why it tops this list.