I was trying to do 100 of these, but ultimately I need to watch more films, I just really need to watch more films anyway, but especially to get to 100. The BBC has a great list, but it lacks comedies, something which, as a standup, I find inexcusable, because there have been numerous great comedic films since 2000. Too me, the next four films can go in any order, but they’re some of the greatest cinematic works I’ve ever seen, and though that is a limited frame, it’s still more expanded than the average person of my age.
21 Jump Street, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2012
Jump Street is something special – a comedy that works on the surface, but has returnable jokes, something taken for granted in this century. Look at some of the “greatest” comedies from the last ten years, going back to Step Brothers, and after one or two viewings, it no longer works. It stops being funny. But that’s not what Jump Street does, it continues to work long after the first time you’ve seen it, and it’s because its humor sticks with you and ages with you, and it’s why Lord and Miller are considered one of the best pairings in comedy today. This is not to knock Will Ferrell and John C Reilly – Anchorman is one of the greatest comedies ever, despite its less than stellar sequel, and Walk The Line: the Dewey Cox Story is one of the most underrated comedies of all time, and Reilly is a welcome addition to any film, dude’s a chameleon of the best sort.
Goodbye to Language, Jean-Luc Godard, 2014
Throughout this list, I will put films that have done something new, something not done before, something done better than anything done since then. I would likely put The Blair Witch Project on this list (it was made in 1999, though) for inventing the found footage film, and perfecting it – only Cloverfield has the potential to rival it – and I would/will put Iron Man on my top 100 since 2000 because of it’s launching of the Marvel franchise, and the fact that it remains one of its best films. There is no Marvel today if Iron Man had not worked, had not been great. /rant.
What Godard does, and has been doing since becoming an experimental filmmaker in his latter life, is use 3D cameras as they’ve never been used – for experimental film, instead of a straight narrative, and he makes both the best use of the cameras and the most interesting because of it. As you watch the film, there is no straight narrative, but the film is worth it because of the visual trickery Godard enables – keeping one camera on the initial subject while walking with the other somewhere else, creating a blending effect of two different shots, for an example. The result is visually stunning and not exactly explainable without those same visuals.
Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino, 2009
With one of the greatest opening scenes, Tarantino created what I believe to be his finest work of the century – to me, nothing will rival Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and that is the opinion of many a film critic as well. Basterds is the creation of Tarantino’s comedic alter-ego, appearing and re-appearing throughout all of his films, but perfected and utilized throughout in Basterds, especially in the character of Aldo Rayne (Brad Pitt). It also creates a more fascinating and entertaining look at one of the most important moments in history – WWII, and one of the best revenge movies.
The film is also able to jump from perspective to perspective, something which Tarantino has always been the master of – throwing in performances from Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender, coming from different places than the titular Basterds, but with the same goal – killing Hitler and ending the war. It’s also the best performance from Mike Myers since Wayne’s World and it’s because he’s so hidden within the film, and barely made note of. I still love the image of Churchill, this massive man, sitting in the corner.
Good Night and Good Luck, George Clooney, 2005
A look back at when journalism was actual journalism, a return to the times of Watergate being broken by the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers being delivered to the world from the New York Times – Good Night and Good Luck focuses on the crusade by one of America’s finest journalists, Edward R. Murrow as he tries to slay the monster that was Joseph McCarthy and the red scare in 1950’s America, an event which ruined many a life, including in Hollywood.
David Straithairn deserved the Oscar for his performance as Murrow, and Clooney, following up Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, creates his most intimate film, a look at the work that goes into telling the truth. Murrow goes through hell for trying to stop a plague, and it shows that bravery isn’t just the work of firefighters and the guys who climb to the tops of towers, fixing lightbulbs so planes can see, but something that can be done by professionals rallying against evil in Washington so that those firefighters and tower climbers can do their jobs. I just wish there were more of those journalistic professionals today. We need another Murrow, another Kronkite, and we lost that when Jon Stewart retired.
6. The Before Trilogy, Richard Linklater (1995, 2004, 2013)
Alright, so maybe this one should not be included, because of the 1995 starting date, but because the average date of all three films is 2004, I’m gonna count it, and give it to that year, the year perhaps the best of the three films, Before Sunset, came out.
Linklater, before his overrated – yeah I’ll say it – Boyhood came out, was already messing around with the concept of time in film with this trilogy. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are three personal looks at the same couple – Jesse and Celine – who meet in Sunrise, get together nine years later (and nine years later the film came out, so the concept of real time comes out here, and the films are far more impressive than Boyhood) in Sunset, and work through their marriage in Midnight. All three are films entirely based around the dialogue of the two characters, as they walk through beautiful European cities and in the third film countryside, and discuss their lives, their relationships, their marriage, and fall and re-fall and continue into love.
It’s one of my favorite film series, and it’s a look into what a real relationship is with more fleshed out characters and dialogue than exist in more high profile Linklater films. (For the record, here’s all the Linklater films better than Boyhood: The Before Trilogy, Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!, Slacker, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly, and School of Rock. So most of them.)
5. Whiplash, Damien Chazelle, 2014
For the longest time, I’ve had an internal debate about which was a better film – Birdman or Whiplash. I’ve agreed that Birdman likely deserved the Oscar for being the more entertaining film, and for doing something not quite unique – the singular shot has been done before, including in Russian Ark – but something done for the first time in the American mainstream, and brought that ability of cinema to focus. But Whiplash is the better film, because of it’s intimacy, because of it’s writing, because of it’s subject, because of it’s depth, because of just how fucking personal, in your face, and tense the film finds itself able to. Chazelle created a modern masterpiece in Whiplash and that’s why it seems his new film La La Land might be the complete opposite – you can’t follow up that amazing a debut film with another straight drama.
The cinematography, the torture that is possible in a teacher-student relationship, the sacrifice that must be made to achieve if not perfection, than as close as it comes – it makes Whiplash a standout film just as how the intensity, cinematography, and intimacy made No Country for Old Men one of the greatest films of the century as well. For the record, that film barely missed out on this list.
Whiplash may not have had the wide-spread appeal of Birdman, but it’s better in almost every way.
4. The Big Short, Adam McKay, 2015
The top comedy on this list, McKay’s The Big Short follows the trend I’m apparently setting on this list – my love for political movies that boil down a subject into something digestible, something understandable, something moving. In this case, it’s the Housing Crisis of 2007 that nearly bankrupted the American economy and created the massive job loss and economic recession that if Barack Obama hadn’t have been one of the greatest economic presidents we may not have recovered from. And then hit us with the startling fact that it’s being set up for again in the exact same way.
Big Short is this high because it takes such a complicated matter – the economy is a really intricate concept, and it needs heavy explanation and hours of learning to fully get a skin level handle on – and makes it palatable, uses comedy and cut aways to explain concepts that must be understood for society to better educate and handle itself. McKay shows that he’s always had the capability to work without Ferrell, and that he can elevate actors – Steve Carell had a really good two years with Foxcatcher and The Big Short, and he’s clearly better than one character (I personally find his more recent work 1000x better than the Office, but I don’t like awkward humor).
3. There Will Be Blood, PT Anderson, 2007
In perhaps the greatest film year of the decade, and the early century, There Will Be Blood was the standout film. It is one of the best films ever, period. There Will Be Blood isn’t just a film about oil and what it means to follow the American Dream and leave everything else in your wake – it’s Anderson’s meditation on masculinity and what it means to be a male with power in America.
And that means crazy.
But besides that, it’s a deep look into the psyche of a man willing to chase his dreams of becoming rich through every possible hoop, causing devastation and destruction to everything and everyone around him, including his son.
It’s also so much more than that – I just need to re-watch it to discover how. This is a film that requires multiple viewings, not because its too complicated to understand the first time, but because it takes more to get the full breadth of the film.
2. The Tree of Life, Terrance Malick, 2011
The Tree of Life is another meditation on masculinity and how to act in this world, and warning – as a white man, most of my films so far have been about what it means to be a white man in America – but then again, that’s too much of Hollywood as well. (Just a quick BTW, one of my favorite films is Girlhood, a piece by Celine Sciamma about what it means to be a low-income black teenaged girl in the slums outside of Paris, and that’s just a completely hidden gem that really matters and makes you feel it even as a white boy living in America. Also that was me trying to feel better about myself.)
But every part of Tree of Life contributes to the film, and while it doesn’t seem like a straight narrative, it tells its story masterfully and through incredible imagery, and yes, Brad Pitt’s in two of these films. Dude needs a boost this week.
Yes, that includes the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are in this film for a reason, and while I could not recognize it upon my first viewing of this film (as a Junior in high school), its another film that simply gets better as you continue watching and it’s one of my favorite films.
1. The Social Network, David Fincher, 2010
The Social Network is one of my favorite films. Period. End paragraph.
It’s only beaten by what I believe to be Stanley Kubrick’s true masterpiece Dr. Strangelove. But this is not a piece about why Strangelove is perhaps the greatest film ever made and why it still rings the same message today.
The Social Network is an inner look at genius, that all geniuses are crazy, and that even if you’re one of the smartest people in the world, it doesn’t mean your a decent one. Zuckerberg is shown to be in pursuit of his own achievements, and much like Daniel Plainview, is willing to ruin relationships and cause havoc to get there.
Holy shit – I’m now realizing how close There Will Be Blood and The Social Network truly are. Wow. They’re both about driven, insane, competitive men who are willing to sacrifice in the name of personal achievement and glory but end up alone, isolated from a world they changed and did not want them. FUCK.
But yeah, everything, from the music, to the cinematography, to Zuckerberg’s portrayal as this little man who did what he became famous for out of revenge and did not know how to handle himself once it grew beyond what he could personally control. That’s a good morale to learn, that you should always be a decent person, especially to your friends, because they will feel the most hurt if you don’t, and because you’re not alone in this world like Zuckerberg, at least in the film, thinks himself to be.
Also, I just plain love this film, and Fincher could have made this list twice with Zodiac, so check that one out too.