Updated: May 15, 2019
My Journey Through the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century (so far)
Firstly, I should begin by saying that the title of this article is a misnomer. There are actually 102 movies on the list. A three-way tie for the 100th spot. And secondly, with films like “Carlos” running 335 minutes (5 and a half hours), it’s unlikely that it will be exactly 102 days. Perhaps 104 days stretched out over several months, though I aim to keep the time between films to an absolute minimum. Part of me wishes I had enough time to do a film-a-day, straight through. But you see, I’m in the process of making my own movie and as things progress my free time becomes less and less. Priorities, I suppose… Anyway, it’s a commitment nonetheless and an exciting challenge. Clocking in at exactly 13,016 minutes or 217 hours, I will spend the better part of 9 and a half days watching what 177 world film critics (only 50 of them female) consider the greatest movies of our century -- up until 2016. I’ll be returning to old favorites, giving films a second chance (looking at you “The Master”) and discovering new modern classics. Hopefully I won’t be saying the customary quip that so many disgruntled moviegoers have said before me, “That’s two hours of my life I won’t be getting back!” Even though I have about 200 more hours at risk, I doubt it very much, and if I’m wrong, well, these are days I wouldn’t be getting back, anyway.
So, why do this little experiment? There are several reasons. 1. I love watching movies. 2. I think it’s good to really get to know the films that belong to your century, especially for me, as this is the century I will work in as a filmmaker. 3. Movies are olive branches to different cultures and human experiences. Modern films are all the more relevant for that reason. Our world is getting bigger and more confusing, more inclusive and yet more polarizing, more nuanced while simultaneously becoming morally black and white. Film is a passageway to empathy and education. Sure, I want to have fun watching a rat cook in the finest Parisian restaurants, but I also want to get insight into what life is like for women living in Iran. Movies, amazingly, can be both those things, and much in between. 4. I own so many damn movies (close to 3,000) that I am often paralyzed when it comes time to pick what we should watch. We stare blankly at several walls of movies and then decided to go watch Frasier on Netflix. Tisk, tisk. This helps curate a playlist... And 5. For me this is a special opportunity to examine the word "Great." What makes a film great, specifically? Looking over the list, this isn't the collection of films I would personally put together (No Birdman? No Adaptation? No 127 Hours? No Moonlight?). Why should I consider something great outside of my own tastes and perceptions? Is there greatness that supersedes personal connectivity? I don't love every Picasso I see, but does that diminish his greatness? I don't think so. Even if I hated every Picasso I saw, he'd still be 'great' wouldn't he? Perhaps just not great to me. "Zero Dark Thirty" is a title on the list, a film I thought was average upon release. What makes it great? I'm curious. Can I view the film academically and call it 'great,' objectively? Is that the point of cinema? Or should it only be 'great' to me? Was I wrong the first time? Did I miss something? What kind of baggage did I bring to the film? I get into conversations with fellow cinephiles all the time about the general "greatness" of filmmakers like Tarantino and P.T. Anderson. I always acknowledge their talent, because you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss it, but I think they are falsely labeled as 'great' because of something more intangible -- something I perceive as emptiness of their spirit. I feel they're often dealing in dime store Freud as a way to thinly mask their own masturbatory impulses. Can I admit that only makes them half great? Am I just scared of making the same mistake? I love how The Master looks, but not what it's saying. Is it saying anything? I'll double check this time around. And to put a finer point on it, does a film have to 'say something' in order for it to be great? Maybe to me it does. I don't really know. Obviously I have more questions than answers. I tend to judge talented filmmakers more harshly because I want them to be as good as their talent suggests. Not always the case. I mainly look for sincerity. I can deal with narcissism. I can deal with pretentiousness. Sometimes it's required to try and do something great. You could easily label 2001 as "pretentious," because it subverted all cinematic expectation, but it was also sincere. Stanley was really trying to communicate genuine thoughts and feelings. The fact that he was able to do that through spectacle only shows his true, enduring genius... but that was last century. This list of movies provides a boggling cross section of cinema. We'll watch “Brokeback Mountain,” “Inside Out” and “12 Years a Slave” in the same week. So comparing them against each other is not only silly, it's impossible. You are forced to judge the film in a singular fashion. Did it do what it intended to do, or what we think it intended to do? Did it succeed as a singular cinematic vision? And finally, was it great? Below, I’ll be providing information about each film and a short review as we go down the list. I’ll also be giving each film a “star” rating of 1 (being the worst) and 4 (being the best) because shiny things are fun. Beginning backwards from 100(ish):