Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Film 4's Top 100 Films from the 21st Century (so far!)

100. Casino Royale (2006)

UK. dir. Martin Campbell

Blond Bond had his doubters, but Daniel Craig reinvented 007 post-Bourne in a film that threw out the crusty old formula and made the franchise relevant again. From the brutal torture, close-quarters fist fights and free-running action, to a fantastic villain, ‘Bond girl’ and gun barrel sequence, Casino Royale brought something new to the series while executing classic elements better than ever. JC

99. A Knight’s Tale (2001)

USA. dir. Brian Helgeland

Heath Ledger delivers a true movie star performance in Brian Helgeland’s gleefully anachronistic tale of medieval jousting that strikes a charming balance between the silly and the serious. Paul Bettany’s delirious ‘let’s get ready to rumble’ take on Geoffrey Chaucer and the film’s ‘Golden Years’ dance sequence have to be seen to be believed. JC

98. Irreversible (2002)

France. dir. Gaspar Noe

A deliberate provocation, and a bracing full-body experience from squalid start to cosmic climax. Non-stop Noe goes every which way with his dazzling display of imagination, empathy, energy and technique. DC

97. Goon (2011)

Canada. dir. Brian Dowse

Seann William Scott's Doug 'The Thug' Glatt plucks at the heartstrings while punching you square in the jaw in this so-funny-it-hurts ice-hockey comedy. Writers Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg fly the flag for Canadian cinema with their sweet-natured tale of a lovable dumb-dumb trying to make his friends and family proud by beating the living daylights out of opponents on the ice. JC

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96. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

UK. dir. Danny Boyle

Releasing his boundless energy onto the colourful, conflicted streets of Mumbai, Danny Boyle found a perfect match for his wide-eyed filmmaking style, pushing Vikas Swarup’s novel and Anthony Dod Mantle’s handheld cinematography to the limit with this by turns romantic and harrowing underdog’s tale, which culminates in one of cinema’s most euphoric feel-good endings. ML

95. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

Ireland/UK. dir. Ken Loach

Winner of the 2006 Palme d'Or at Cannes, Ken Loach's Irish period piece is the most assured 21st century film from the master of making politics personal. CB

94. Nymphomaniac (2013)

Denmark. dir. Lars von Trier

Arch provocateur Lars von Trier doesn't get any less salty with age. This sprawling sexual epic provided some of the most honest meditations on female sexuality ever committed to screen, as well as some of the most ridiculous. CB

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93. The Avengers (2012)

USA. dir. Joss Whedon

“If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’re going to avenge it.” The culmination of an ambitious, unprecedented plan to assemble the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in one film, with geek deity Joss Whedon bringing his trademark wit and quippy dialogue to keep the characters as prominent as the action. JC

92. Finding Nemo (2003)

USA. dirs. Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich

Fast becoming the gold standard for Pixar’s enviable run of critical and box office successes, this underwater family adventure found the studio perfecting its mixture of classic storytelling and CGI spectacle, leaving Disney, Dreamworks and all other animated competitors in the dust. ML

91. Adventureland (2009)

USA. dir. Greg Mottola

A sweet, funny and painfully well-observed coming-of-age movie that explores the familial, economic and romantic problems that come with being a teen on the verge of flying the nest. With its distinctive theme park backdrop, Yo La Tengo score and superb young cast on the verge of stardom, Greg Mottola's film stands out from the crowd. JC

90. District 9 (2009)

South Africa/USA. dir. Neill Blomkamp

In the aftermath of Neil Blomkamp’s disappointing Elysium, it’s easy to forget quite how much his debut had going for it; a sci-fi thriller with shades of Kafka, parallels with apartheid and something to say about African politics. Not to mention Sharlto Copley’s brilliant delivery of the line “fookin’ prawns.” JC

89. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

UK. dir. Lynne Ramsay

Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel is brought to life in a nightmarish fashion by Lynne Ramsay, exploring the source’s ‘nature vs nurture’ theme through a haze of memories and heightened emotions, and anchored by a pair of haunting performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. JC

86. Frozen (2013)

USA. dirs. Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck

The once great Walt Disney Animation Studios were firmly in the shadow of Pixar at the turn of the century, lacking identity in the CG-era. But building on successes including The Princess And The Frog and Tangled, the beautiful, progressive Frozen and its iconic anthem ‘Let It Go’ saw their resurgence solidified. JC

85. 25th Hour (2002)

USA. dir. Spike Lee

Shot in the shadow of 9/11, Spike Lee's tragic last-night-before-prison drama is also a compelling snapshot of a city in mourning, twinning the uncertainty of Edward Norton's petty criminal s future with that of NYC itself. ML

84. Attack The Block (2011)

UK. dir. Joe Cornish

Graduating from the bedroom antics of the Adam & Joe show, Cornish here gives inner city London a much-needed break from grime and grit for an unlikely visit from outer space. Lead anti-hero John Boyega may be off to to a galaxy far, far away, but the Carpenter-esque thrills of this aliens vs hoodies monster flick will take some beating. Believe! ML

83. How I Live Now (2013)

UK. dir. Kevin Macdonald

This hard-edged take on Meg Rosoff's WW3 YA novel sees a country idyll cruelly blighted by outside influence, with young love caught in the cross-fire. Macdonald's stylistic gamble of melding sun-kissed romance and harrowing war drama pays off in chilling fashion, ensuring a place for the tragic teen affair between Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) and Eddie (George Mackay) in the canon of 'Britain under fire' films. ML

82. American Psycho (2000)

USA. dir. Mary Harron
As much a comedy as it is horror, and all the better for it, Mary Harron's take on Bret Easton Ellis' skewering of 1980s stock exchange culture sharpened the sweaty status anxiety while dialing down the visceral fascination with women's insides. CB

81. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

USA. dir. Martin Scorsese

Toying with us before baring its teeth, this ferocious satire stands for the five films Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have made together since Gangs of New York in 2002. Is theirs the greatest collaboration of the century so far? DC

80. Lost In Translation (2003)

USA. dir. Sofia Coppola

To date the peak of Bill Murray’s reinvention as indie elder statesman, Lost In Translation netted the comic icon an Oscar nomination for his performance as laconic actor Bob Harris, but Coppola’s jetlag-fuelled travelogue is also a masterful, melancholic subversion of comedic, dramatic and romantic storytelling technique (unlike Murray, the original screenplay did win the Oscar), as well as the film that made Scarlett Johansson into a bona fide star. ML

79. Stoker (2013)

USA. dir. Park Chan-Wook

With a borderline kitsch sensibility that somehow works, this gothic slice of incest-flavoured family drama is both cool and creamy as ice-cream and unpredictable as a disturbed child. CB

78. Old Joy (2006)

USA. dir. Kelly Reichardt

A simple set-up - two old friends reconnect for a rural road-trip - yields a deep reserve of disquiet and mystery in Reichardt's breakthrough film. Feelings are barely articulated but a sense of personal and political upheaval comes through clearly. DC

77. Four Lions (2010)

UK. dir. Chris Morris
"My plan is, right, to put a bomb on a crow." The bungling would-be jihadis with mixed motivations in Chris Morris' send up of terrorist idiocy had as much in common with Dad's Army as they did the edgy humour of Morris' TV comedy - in the best possible way. CB

76. Untold Scandal (2003)

South Korea. dir. E J-yong

As cooly erotic as a provocative marble statue, this poised South Korean take on Les Liaisons Dangereuses smartly relocates the action to the Chosun dynasty, where the sexual hypocrisies and aristocratic machinations mirror those of Choderlos de Laclos' 18th century France. CB

75. In Bruges (2008)

UK. dir. Martin McDonagh

“Maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in f*ckin’ Bruges.” It’s gallows humour for Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell’s existential hitmen in Martin McDonagh’s cool, whip-smart comedy that never loses sight of the darkness and humanity at its core. JC

74. The Dark Knight (2008)

USA. dir. Christopher Nolan

2005 origin story Batman Begins was but a dry run for Christopher Nolan's pioneering, spectacular remoulding of the comic book movie, which dropped the Caped Crusader into the ethically murky electric-blue streets of a Michael Mann thriller, and pitted him against a veritable force of nature in the form of Heath Ledger's iconic, posthumous Oscar-winning Joker. ML

73. Archipelago (2010)

UK. dir. Joanna Hogg

Cringe-inducing comedy-drama with a class conscious edge, Joanna Hogg’s deadpan gem puts an upper middle class family under the microscope to mordantly humorous effect. A pre-Avengers Tom Hiddleston may be the familiar face here, but the ensemble’s on top form, especially Lydia Leonard’s conceited sister, who turns a pig-headed altercation with a restaurant’s waiting staff into an impossibly skin-crawling work of art. ML

72. A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001)

USA. dir. Steven Spielberg

An abandoned Stanley Kubrick project about an artificial boy searching for a soul becomes a haunting futuristic drama full of terror and tenderness, with an unusually pitiless Spielberg offering little in the way of solace. This melancholy tale uses science-fiction wisely to conjure images and confront ideas that couldn’t exist outside of the genre. DC

71. Battle Royale (2000)

Japan. dir. Kinji Fukasaku

As brutal as it is brilliant, Battle Royale's extreme survival tournament may lack The Hunger Games' reality TV satire element, but more than compensates in raw energy and a surprisingly plausible dystopian atmosphere. CB

70. The Hurt Locker (2008)

USA. dir. Kathryn Bigelow

Coming into the century as a director whose best work seemed to be behind her, Bigelow returned to form with this vivid war film. Working from a script fashioned from writer Mark Boal’s Iraq reportage, Bigelow combines intense action with psychological immediacy to capture the nerve-wracking experiences of Jeremy Renner’s bomb disposal expert. DC

69. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

USA. dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen

Underrated on release, the Coens' pitch-perfect pastiche of noir tropes set in and around a traditional barber's shop provided both an early break for Scarlett Johansson and a platform for one of Billy Bob Thornton's finest hangdog creations, laconic barber Ed Crane. CB

68. This Is England (2006)

UK. dir. Shane Meadows

Shane Meadows’ most personal film and maybe his best, This Is England brilliantly captures 1980s England, the skinhead subculture and the white nationalist movement as seen through the eyes of the brilliant Thomas Turgoose’s 12 year-old Shaun. JC

67. The Puffy Chair (2005)

USA. dirs. Mark & Jay Duplass

The filmmakers within the movement didn't like the term, but we all knew the sub-genre characterised by low-budget, heavily improvised, naturalistic films in the Noughties as 'mumblecore', and the Duplass Brothers' The Puffy Chair - an affecting romance/road movie that feels like a slice of real life - may represent its creative zenith. JC

66. Tyrannosaur (2011)

UK. dir. Paddy Considine

Paddy Considine's debut feature is a brutal portrait of rage and love, and the ability of either when left unchecked to overwhelm and destroy the other. Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan all excel in this relentless character piece. JC

65. The Tree Of Life (2011)

USA. dir. Terrence Malick
A voyage through inner and outer space as Malick guides us from the creation of the universe into the souls of a 1950s Texan family. The balance of immensity and intimacy makes for a profound experience; while the director’s spiritual ambitions may be overt, his unique cinematic language is more than capable of realising them. DC

64. Bridesmaids (2011)

USA. dir. Paul Feig

Taking the careers of formidable comic talents Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy to the next level, Annie Mumolo and Wiig's script mixed gross out with social satire to riotous effect. CB

63. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

UK. dir. Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost fulfill the promise of cult TV series Spaced with this comedy-horror treat, which relocates the zombie hordes to humdrum North London and rejuvenates an entire subgenre in the process. ML

62. Magic Mike (2012)

USA. dir. Steven Soderbergh

From a director and a producer/star who spent the 21st century increasingly confounding expectations they set up in the 20th, few could have foreseen that a film about male strippers would have proven such a genuinely engaging and moving piece of storytelling. Plus it had Channing Tatum dancing in his pants. CB

61. The Headless Woman (2008)

Argentina. dir. Lucrecia Martel

Argentina has proved to be a cinematic hotspot this century, but Martel's psychological mystery is arguably the highpoint of the country's recent output. This study in alienation and class privilege operates on its own strange frequency - one finds oneself leaning in, adjusting an internal aerial, in an attempt to see and hear exactly what s going on. DC

60. Mean Girls (2004)

USA. dir. Mark Waters

On Wednesdays, they wear pink: beware the Plastics, the uber-clique who rule the school in this Tina Fey-penned stone cold classic of not just teen cinema, but any cinema. CB

59. The Selfish Giant (2013)

UK. dir. Clio Barnard

A modern-day successor to classic British social realist dramas such as Kes, Clio Barnard's contemporary fable, loosely based on the Oscar Wilde story, finds powerful, naturalistic drama in Bradford's scrap trade and underground horse-racing scene, but the lead double act of young newcomers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas provides the film s endearing, and inevitably tragic, emotional core. ML

58. Fish Tank (2009)

UK. dir. Andrea Arnold

Fantastic in the central role of Mia, Katie Jarvis more than holds her own opposite one of the great actors of this century, Michael Fassbender, in Andrea Arnold’s social-realist drama. Cast after she was spotted arguing with her boyfriend at a train station, Jarvis gives a natural and energetic performance, but tragically she hasn’t acted again since. JC

57. Elephant (2003)

USA. dir. Gus Van Sant

Van Sant's empathy with troubled youth made him the perfect person to capture the tragedy of the 1999 Columbine school shootings. Drawing on the legacy of Alan Clarke, the director found a unique perspective that defused the incendiary material without lessening its impact. DC

56. Ginger Snaps (2000)

Canada. dir. John Fawcett

"So it's all normal?" Becoming a werewolf is confused with the onset of female puberty in this whip-smart Canadian teen horror about the terror of changing bodies and appetites. CB

55. The Descent (2005)

UK. dir. Neil Marshall

An easy contender for scariest film of the century, no doubt, but Neil Marshall’s petrifying potholing horror is doubly effective thanks to a slow-burn opening that treats its female cast with respect before the blood-curdling, claustrophobic carnage kicks off. Who’d’ve guessed that actually liking the characters would make the proceedings more thrilling? ML

54. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

UK. dir. Peter Strickland

The foley studio has never played such an active role in film as in Peter Strickland's eerie mood-horror about a nebbishy sound technician for whom reality unravels on the set of an Italian giallo film. CB

53. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (2001)

New Zealand/USA. dir. Peter Jackson

From Howard Shore’s transcendent score, to DoP Andrew Lesnie’s majestic vistas of Middle Earth, to the superb performances from the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, to the groundbreaking FX work from Weta, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy has it all. Ok, apart from sex. There’s not much sex. CB

52. The Great Beauty (2013)

Italy. dir. Paolo Sorrentino

Sorrentino has worked fast he's very much a filmmaker of this century, having established himself as something of a brand name with six features since 2001. All the high style, superficiality, eccentricity and cultural flavour of his work to date comes together here, a fireworks display of a film in which the director sets all his rockets off at once. DC

51. City Of God (2002)

Brazil. dir. Fernando Meirelles

Fernando Meirelles’ tense crime thriller set amongst the Brazilian favelas is an assault on the senses, tracing the story of a boy named Rocket as he grows up in a world where crime represents a constant threat to some, and an opportunity to others. JC

50. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

UK. dir. Mike Leigh

The tale of an eternal optimist from Mike Leigh, no less. Darkness and negativity exist in the world inhabited by Sally Hawkins’ utterly convincing Poppy, but none of it emanates from her. She takes it all in her stride and tries to infect all around her with her positivity. There’s no irony intended, no comeuppance on its way, and it feels like a singular effort as a result. JC

49. Nobody Knows (2004)

Japan. dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

Koreeda is renowned for being one of the world s best directors of young actors, and this is no more evident than in this devastating, documentary-style drama that sees four siblings struggling for a semblance of domesticity after their mother abandons them in their Tokyo apartment. ML

48. Snowtown (2011)

Australia. dir. Justin Kurzel
A blisteringly uncomfortable drama about what happens when a serial killer inveigles his way into a patriarchal position in a damaged family, Snowtown is all the more disturbing for being based so closely on the real events of Australia’s “Bodies in Barrels Murders” – right down to the music John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) plays as he dispatches his victims. CB

47. The Lives Of Others (2006)

Germany. dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rightly acclaimed at the time for its period detail, finely-tuned character drama and restrained central performance from the late Ulrich Mühe, von Donnersmarck's award-winning Stasi drama has only grown in relevance as surveillance and intelligence have become hotter current affairs topics in the intervening years. ML

46. Kill List (2011)

UK. dir. Ben Wheatley

Boasting sound design that alone could give you nightmares, Ben Wheatley’s second feature saw the real-world grit of two hitmen collide head-on with the weird and frightening world of pagan horror, creating a one-of-a-kind, brain-bending trip into the cinematic heart of darkness. ML

45. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

USA. dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Sandwiched between two of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most sprawling epic dramas, this oddball romantic-comedy starring Adam Sandler - despite its genre and truncated running time - is no less a piece of filmmaking. Stunning performances, perfectly drawn characters, gorgeous photography, and raw, furious emotions mark this out as top tier PTA. JC

44. A Prophet (2009)

France. dir. Jacques Audiard

A rags to riches story told from behind the bars of the French prison system. Tahar Rahim s Malik enters a petty criminal fighting for survival, only to discover ways of bettering himself while negotiating the complex racial politics of his new home. JC

43. Frances Ha (2013)

USA. dir. Noah Baumbach

The quintessential quarter-life crisis comedy-drama, this tale of a 27-year-old (co-writer and star Greta Gerwig) going through a transformative 12 months is replete with near-the-knuckle observations about not-so-young adulthood from the petty jealousies to the simple, ego-busting compromises, all handled with bittersweet humour and hope for a more grounded, grown-up future. ML

42. Gravity (2013)

USA/UK. dir. Alfonso Cuaron

A technical marvel, and a miracle of refined storytelling that packs a range of themes and emotions into the tightest narrative space imaginable. The actual plot may be just one damn thing after another, but Cuaron’s almost uncanny understanding of how images – their shape, size, speed, depth or brightness – can resonate when precisely aligned with story is what makes this such a stirring and soulful experience. DC

41. Sexy Beast (2000)

UK. dir. Jonathan Glazer

Acclaimed commercials director Jonathan Glazer took a tired, cliché-ridden genre and flipped it on its head with Sexy Beast. The enduring image of a bronzed Ray Winstone in his skimpy speedos notwithstanding, Glazer’s film oozes visual style and a constant sense of grim foreboding. Ben Kingsley’s profanity-spewing Don Logan is one for the ages. Fan-dabby-dozy-tastic. JC

40. Ghost World (2001)

USA, dir. Terry Zwigoff

An acid-tongued anti-hipster masterwork made before hating hipsters became cool (oh, sweet irony), Ghost World explores the hairline cracks in both adolescent female friendship and old vinyl with a sensitivity that belies the bolshy angst of iconic teen protagonist Enid (Thora Birch). CB

39. Weekend (2011)

UK, dir. Andrew Haigh

A deceptively down-to-earth Nottingham-set romantic drama, Weekend is a brilliant example of why a modest frame of reference needn't preclude filmmaking greatness, as Tom Cullen and Chris New play lovers taking their first tentative steps towards a relationship. CB

38. A History Of Violence (2005)

USA. dir. David Cronenberg

A small-town family man experiences his five minutes of fame and attracts the attention of some nefarious characters who insist he’s actually a retired gangster in David Cronenberg’s graphic novel adaptation. The director injects a sense of constant unease into the straightforward tale as he ruminates on the multi-layered meaning of the film’s title. JC

37. Moolaade (2004)

Senegal. dir. Ousmane Sembene

Sembene s final film deals with urgent subject matter (female genital mutilation) but in such a way that courage, humour and beauty are the elements that shine through. There s anger here, but the octogenarian director knows that s not the way to get a message across; his relatively relaxed and generous approach is the sure sign of a master at work. DC

36. Tomboy (2011)

France. dir. Céline Sciamma

On the surface a delicate mood piece, Tomboy throbs with angry subtext as the process by which society imposes gender roles on children is given a human face in Céline Sciamma’s compassionate drama. CB

35. Together (2000)

Sweden. dir. Lukas Moodysson

Featuring the best use of ABBA this century (sorry, Mamma Mia), Moodysson’s gently bittersweet satire of 70s Swedish socialism is a witty exercise in bursting the bubble of nostalgia, from its finely observed character comedy to its quietly devastating send-up of hippie hypocrisy. ML

34. White Material (2010)

France. dir. Claire Denis

Denis' return to the Africa of her childhood (and of her debut film Chocolat) prompted one of her finest films, the story of a female plantation owner in an unnamed country who refuses to leave her land even as war approaches. Enigmatic and heavy with foreboding, the film displays Denis' talent for setting off subtle atmospheric vibrations and somehow rendering them palpable. DC

33. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

Turkey. dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

The nocturnal search for the corpse of a murdered man on the Anatolian steppes brings secrets and longings to the surface in Ceylan's demanding tale. Those expecting major revelations may be disappointed; ultimately it's the ambiguities, lingering long after the crime has been 'solved', that give the film its mystery and majesty. DC

32. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

USA. dir. Wes Anderson

A wonderful character-comedy that skilfully laces its laughs with melancholy, Anderson’s confident third feature established a style (and, to some extent, a repertory cast of actors) that has served him well since. And his ear for the perfect music cue is as sharp as it’s ever been. DC

31. Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013)

France. dir. Abdellatif Kechiche

A Palme d’Or winner and a source of much contentious mudslinging between the director and stars at the time, the most enduring aspect of this coming of age romance, sex scenes and all, is how subtly and patiently it documents the yearning, the passion and the heartbreak of a life-changing first love over its three meditative hours. ML

30. The Social Network (2010)

USA. dir, David Fincher

Citizen Kane gets a social media makeover in this talky tech tragedy, fashioned by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin as the fall of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg on enthralling form) from bruised nerd to bruised billionaire, while Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross tease out the dissonance lying beneath Fincher’s cool direction with their Oscar-winning dark ambient score. ML

29. The Return (2003)

Russia. dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev

This taut mystery about two young brothers reluctantly taken on a fateful fishing trip by an estranged father they've never met often edges into the abstract, even as the surface action remains easy to read. Zvyagintsev's three films since have an air of self-importance, but this remains a remarkable debut. DC

28. A ma soeur! (Fat Girl) (2001)

France, dir. Catherine Breillat

Unpredictable and fearless, Breillat’s exploration of adolescent sexuality and sibling rivalry is a typically sure-footed navigation of tricky physical and psychological terrain. The film sets itself up as an uncomfortable comedy, capturing the dynamic between sisters astutely, although Breillat has a surprise in store which changes everything. DC

27. Tropical Malady (2004)

Thailand. dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Where to start with Apichatpong? His shape-shifting features and video art seem to flow through one another, so that trying to separate the films becomes both difficult and pointless. This one is already a film of two linked halves a love story and an animistic fable told in a beguiling free-associative style. DC

26. Let The Right One In (2008)

Sweden. dir. Tomas Alfredson

A gruesome vampire horror film with a tender, beating heart, Let The Right One In busts all tired bloodsucker cliches to tell a superbly simple, yet wholly surprising and in the end utterly twisted story of a young boy’s relationship with a mysterious girl who may look his age, but is in fact more than a little bit older. ML

25. No Country For Old Men (2007)

USA. dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen

“What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?” The Coen Brothers’ deceptively straight-shooting adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s neo-Western novel features one of the era’s most iconic baddies in Javier Bardem’s eerie mop-top assassin Anton Chigurh. And the coin toss paid off, as this darkly humorous, gorgeously mounted thriller took home four Oscars in 2008, including three - adapted screenplay, directing and picture - for the Brothers themselves. ML

24. Memories of Murder (2003)

South Korea. dir. Bong Joon-Ho

One of the key releases in South Korea's post-millennial filmmaking boom, this stylish, based-on-true-events thriller bears all the hallmarks of its slick, cine-literate home country, especially co-writer/director Bong Joon-Ho's gentle reconfiguration of the gloomy murder-mystery genre to include period satire and unexpected, farcical humour. ML

23. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

USA. dir. Ang Lee

"Brokeback got us good, don't it?" The more the years go by, the more insane the Academy voters’ collective decision to award Best Picture to Crash (2005) instead of Ang Lee’s sweeping romance-across-the-decades looks. CB

22. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

Romania. dir. Cristian Mungiu

The emergence of Romanian cinema has been one of the stories of the century - a surprisingly accessible blend of the political and the personal, its serious subject matter thrown into relief by ironic humour (the portmanteau film Tales From the Golden Age is a perfect primer). Mungiu's film does all the socio-political heavy-lifting you'd expect of a film about two girls trying to secure an illegal abortion in Ceausescu-era Bucharest, but works it into an emotive exercise in high-stakes suspense. DC

21. Pan's Labyrinth (2009)

Mexico/Spain. dir. Guillermo del Toro

It’s easy to forget how bowled over we all were by Pan’s Labyrinth when it first came out, but watch it again and there’s no denying del Toro’s brutal depiction of Franco's Spain, the underground terror of the Pale Man, or the heartbreak of that gut-wrenching ending. CB

20. 12 Years A Slave (2013)

UK/US. dir. Steve McQueen

Winner of three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Steve McQueen's third feature film is a masterclass in the art of cinema. Read Solomon Northup's original account of his twelve year period as a slave in Louisiana in the 1800s and you will find a remarkable historical record of a monstrous time. Watch Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave and you will see a living, breathing work of art that immerses us in Solomon’s world without once – as a lesser film might – attempting to manipulate or patronise its audience. Filmmaking talent aside, McQueen had an ace up his sleeve in the form of the consistently excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was here able to show a wider audience exactly what he is capable of.Catherine Bray

I don't want to survive. I want to live.

19. A Separation (2011)

Iran. dir. Asghar Farhadi

A precisely constructed drama that lays bare every facet of a marriage under pressure while concealing key aspects of the story and the characters’ actions. Farhadi’s film captures the constrictions of life in contemporary Iran, even for a couple who have economic and professional freedom, and somehow gets you to see their mutual dilemma through both pairs of eyes simultaneously. The effect is both thrilling and frustrating – one feels free to move around within the film (the production design helps further) but obstacles repeatedly block what’s most important. Farhadi’s previous and subsequent films – About Elly and The Past – open similar panoramic views onto complex situations, but neither gets to the heart of the matter quite like A Separation. David Cox

What is wrong is wrong, no matter who said it or where it's written.

18. Dogtooth (2009)

Greece. dir. Jorgos Ianthimos

In the isolated community in which Dogtooth is set, stray cats are deadly enemies, the word "pussy" means a bright light, and sex is something so unknown that it might not be wrong to attempt it with a sibling. This isolated community consists of one family in a house with high fences around it, but such is the teenage children's naïveté, they might as well be trapped on an island a thousand miles from land. Jorgos Ianthimos's perverse drama is an uncomfortable watch, but has a dark sense of humour that allows a brilliant exploration of insularity, family and control to unfold without ever becoming bleak. Catherine Bray

The animal that threatens us is a "cat". The most dangerous animal there is.

17. Before Sunset (2004)

USA. dir. Richard Linklater

A single, seismic conversation takes place in Richard Linklater’s sequel to Before Sunrise, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s reunited Jesse and Celine communicating so much through what they can and can’t bring themselves to say as they drift through Paris. The wonderful, natural dialogue crackles with underlying romanticism, eroticism and a sense of what might have been as the pair tentatively get to know each other all over again, wary of what acting on their feelings might mean. In the nine years that have passed the stakes for the pair have risen, and so too has the depth of feeling. Joe Cunningham

Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.

16. The White Ribbon (2009)

Germany. dir. Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning black-and-white drama unfolds in a small German village on the precipice of the outbreak of World War I. When terrible, unexplained events begin to occur it’s unclear who’s responsible, but rather than go down the whodunit route, Haneke revels in ambiguity as he explores with compelling depth and detail the themes of violence and morality that he so often finds himself drawn to. Imbued with a constant, oppressive tension, Haneke’s film is at once clinical and eerily beautiful, as he subtly hints at a ‘sins of the fathers’ subtext in a story taking place at a pivotal moment in Germany’s history. Joe Cunningham

I gave God a chance to kill me. He didn't do it, so he's pleased with me.

15. Talk To Her (2002)

Spain. dir. Pedro Almodovar

The warmth and exuberance that had become an Almodovar trademark cools off in this complex story of two men linked by their devotion to the women they love, both of whom are in comas. The filmmaking and the performances are expertly controlled; with very little on-screen that can be read as objective truth, Almodovar is forced to express a range of individual internal perspectives. This tangle of subjectivity is somehow straightened out into a classical structure, with a range of resonant motifs guiding characters and audience through a romantic tale that’s perverse but deeply profound. David Cox

Love is the saddest thing when it goes away.

14. Hidden (Cache) (2005)

France. dir. Michael Haneke

Quietly horrifying in its calculated upturning of thriller tropes, Hidden starts as a chiller about a bourgeois family (led by Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) hounded by mysterious video tapes of their house from an unknown source, but slowly develops into an exploration of how those terrorised can become terrorists, and how protective instincts towards your own home can eventually find one invading others, all told in Haneke’s cool, observational shooting style, which finds new and original ways to cook up tension by questioning the camera’s gaze and jump-cutting between dream and reality.Michael Leader

The tape runs for another hour if you want to watch how he feels.

13. Margaret (2011)

USA. dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Famous for its delayed release (it was filmed in 2005, but got stuck in legal wrangles with the studio over acceptable runtime), Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret became a UK critical darling in 2011 when ecstatic reviews of the 150 minute theatrical cut boosted its profile and helped deliver much-deserved awards success. Anna Paquin plays Lisa, a teen who witnesses - but initially denies causing - a fatal accident. Lonergan's script worries at concepts of responsibility, blame and forgiveness like a compulsive nail-biter picking at a hangnail, in the process teasing a complex performance out of Paquin, who is - like most teenagers - by turns irritating, endearing, sympathetic and amusing. The director's preferred three hour cut is now available on DVD. Catherine Bray

It is Margaret you mourn for.

12. Far From Heaven (2002)

USA. dir. Todd Haynes

Superficially an exquisite, meticulous mash-up of the films of Douglas Sirk and Max Ophuls, Todd Haynes’ elaborate revisionist melodrama digs beyond the lush colour palettes and precise production design of the post-war ‘woman’s film’ to make explicit the genre’s subtle exploration of race, sexuality, gender and class issues. A treat for film history buffs, certainly, but this is not a museum piece or smart-aleck spoof, as best evidenced by the always stunning Julianne Moore’s disarming, sincere performance as a woman whose idyllic suburban life undergoes irrevocable upheaval in the face of social change - a role which landed the actress her sole Lead Actress Oscar nomination this century, the same year she was also nominated for Supporting Actress in The Hours. Michael Leader

We ladies are never what we appear, and every girl has her secrets.

11. Spirited Away (2001)

Japan. dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Though Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki had been crafting gorgeous, magical animated work for decades, Spirited Away benefitted from unprecedented international distribution for a Studio Ghibli film, including an English-language release overseen by Pixar’s John Lasseter. The film itself proved to be an effective distillation of Miyazaki’s thematic and stylistic touchstones: an independent heroine, a collision of Eastern and Western cultural influences, sequences that see the mundane enlivened by hidden magic, and an ecological message. An Academy Award win for Best Animated Film helped spread the word even further, ensuring this must-see anime’s place as both a gateway to Ghibli’s peerless canon and an enduring inspiration to storytellers the world over. Michael Leader

10. Zodiac (2007)

USA. dir. David Fincher

A decade after perfecting the gothic thriller in Se7en (1995), David Fincher here offered a complete reinvention of the murder-mystery, one rooted not so much in gory recreations and page-turner revelations as in the forensic details of period, place and the particular ways a savvy serial killer can hold an entire city’s media in his thrall. Although it was acclaimed at the time for its steadfast refusal to commit to genre conventions and its ensemble cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo passing the baton through the narrative’s three-decade span), Zodiac was ignored by the Academy once Oscar season rolled around. Each of Fincher’s films since - especially multiple award winner The Social Network - has fared much better, but shrewd investigators on the hunt for the director’s best work can trace the evidence back to this prime suspect. Michael Leader

I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it's him.

9. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

USA. dir. Michel Gondry

Director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman prove to be a match made in heaven at the second time of asking; the former brilliantly realising through his trademark visual inventiveness the latter’s story of a damaged soul navigating a fractured mind. Is it truly better to have loved and lost? Is love something that exists in the moment or the memory? Is the key to life living in the moment? Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes? Eternal Sunshine raises these questions and many more, entwining the story of a sweet but flawed romance in moral and ethical dilemmas with a heady dose of pathos and humour. Joe Cunningham

Please let me keep this memory, just this one.

8. The Son (2002)

France/Belgium. dirs. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Since their breakthrough feature La Promesse in 1996, the brothers Dardenne have perfected a blend of social realism, moral drama and finely-crafted suspense that’s served them well across seven remarkable films. This story of a carpenter who hires a young apprentice, his motives for taking him on unspoken, deals with regret, redemption and forgiveness despite barely addressing those themes directly. Everything is revealed through action, gesture and minimal dialogue, with Olivier Gourmet – a Dardenne regular – delivering a largely physical performance of great expressive clarity. Compelling, heartbreaking, uplifting and potentially life-changing – just another Dardenne masterpiece. David Cox

Let him tell me his name.

7. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Hungary. dir. Bela Tarr

A monumental nightmare that draws you into its world – a world of disorder and disharmony - at the inexorable pace of only 39 shots in 145 minutes. In a small Hungarian town, the citizens wait to greet a travelling circus and a messenger-figure known as ‘the Prince’; what arrives is the body of a great whale and then the chaos of riots, as the townsfolk respond as one to some sort of secret order. Tarr renders all this in beautifully bleak extended shots full of banality, mystery and terror, set to the evocative music of Mihaly Vig. Nobody makes films like Bela Tarr and sadly, since his self-imposed retirement from filmmaking in 2011, neither does Bela Tarr. David Cox

Music and its harmony and echo, its unsurpassable enchantment is entirely based on a false foundation

6. In The Mood For Love (2000)

China. dir. Wong Kar-Wai

A ravishing non-romance from the ever-slippery Wong, who makes his films look and feel like one thing while taking the action in a different direction entirely. The impossibly glamorous figures of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung come together in a cramped apartment block when they suspect that their respective spouses are having an affair; their own relationship becomes one of resistance and roleplay, as they attempt to prevent mutual attraction from turning into adultery. Rain, food, clothes, colour, slow-motion, repetition, Nat King Cole – Wong allows his cryptic story to emerge stealthily out of the style and detail; what’s going on is never quite what you think. The film is also a showcase for the talent of Christopher Doyle, Wong’s mercurial Director of Photography. David Cox

Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.

5. Boyhood (2014)

USA. dir. Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater's instant classic may be the most recently released film on our list, but its high placing reflects critics' immediate embrace of its mesmerising, nuanced and amusing take on the mundane magic of growing up. Shot over 39 days spread out over twelve years, we follow Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his mom (Patricia Arquette), sister (Lorelei Linklater) and frequently absent dad (Ethan Hawke) as they negotiate everything life throws at them during that time, big and small. The fact that each year within the drama was shot that same year in real life pays dividends - the contemporary detail feels natural and unforced, and watching the actors age 12 years onscreen over the 160 minute runtime is an unnerving but utterly gripping experience. Catherine Bray

You don't want the bumpers. Life doesn't give you bumpers

4. Under The Skin (2013)

UK. dir. Jonathan Glazer

Perception, perspective, empathy and what it means to be human form the bones of Jonathan Glazer's outstanding Under The Skin. Fleshing out this skeleton is an uncanny career-best performance from Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form that finds humanity gradually seeping into its pores through a range of environmental influences. Those environments are one of the film's many miracles: much of the film was shot guerrilla-style, adding thrilling naturalism to Johansson’s interactions with unsuspecting members of the public. Yet Glazer and his team avoid the pitfalls of most guerrilla filmmaking to create something that feel utterly authored and never compromised. Catherine Bray

You're not from here? Where are you from?

3. There Will Be Blood (2007)

USA. dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

There is nothing Daniel Day Lewis’ intense Daniel Plainview will not do in his pursuit for oil, and by extension power and money in Paul Thomas Anderson’s tense and often terrifying masterpiece, from its wordless opening sequence to the bombastic “I drink your milkshake” finale. Pitting capitalism and religion (at their most corrupt) against each other, Anderson exposes an inherent toxicity at the core of the American Dream, and with clear parallels to modern-day Western foreign policy, the subtext is just potent as Plainview’s story. Both Anderson and Day-Lewis prove themselves masters of their respective crafts, both operating here at their creative peak. Joe Cunningham

I... drink... your... milkshake! I drink it up!

2. Yi Yi (A One And A Two) (2000)

Taiwan. dir. Edward Yang

A family drama in epic form, with Yang beginning his story at a riotous wedding that introduces us to the characters who will inhabit this three-hour marvel. Each has their own story; although individually unexceptional, Yang brings them together to create a symphony of yearnings, frustrations, hopes and fears. Experiences are mirrored, linked and contrasted, while generations are connected or cut off from one another in the space of a cut or a camera move. It’s also a film equally at home in domestic and urban settings, from the cramped quarters of a family apartment to the electric backdrop of Taipei – and Tokyo – at night. By the time we reach the highly emotional climax it seems there’s nothing about life that this film doesn’t know. Tragically, Yi Yi was the final film completed by director Edward Yang, whose death in 2007 left a huge gap in cinema history. Both he and the stories he never got to tell are greatly missed. David Cox

Why are we afraid of the first time? Every day in life is a first time.

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

USA. dir. David Lynch

It may seem odd at first blush to see a reconstituted pilot for an unproduced TV series sitting atop a films-of-the-century list, but this 2001 psycho-thriller sees David Lynch at the top of his - indeed, anyone’s - game. Long before the coffee, the online weather reports and the reinvention as weirdcore blues musician, Mulholland Drive saw Lynch reconfigure his obsessions with fantasy, sexuality and melodrama into the ultimate Hollywood nightmare. Ostensibly a neo-noir about a wannabe starlet (Naomi Watts) striking up a relationship with a woman suffering from memory loss (Laura Harring), and their embarking on a naive investigation to discover her true identity, Mulholland Drive soon becomes much more, replete with terrifying diversions and puzzling red herrings. A tangle of subplots, delusions and twisted storytelling demands that viewers figure out the film for themselves, though Lynch’s own list of deliciously misleading ‘clues‘ seems purposefully designed to throw everyone off the scent. From the opening jitterbug to the final ‘silencio!’, Lynch cobbles together imperfections to create a captivating, perfect whole. Some have called it the director’s best since Blue Velvet, but Mulholland Drive might just be his best ever. Michael Leader

Okay, so you had a dream about this place. Tell me.

Once you meet someone, you never really forget them.

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