t’s easy to say that we’re well passed the golden age of cinema. Boomers especially can boast that they lived through the 70s, arguably the greatest decade for films. But to brush aside the current cinema culture would be denying yourself some truly great films and some that will undoubtedly go down among the greatest films ever made.
Recently, BBC commissioned a poll to the film critics around the world to select the greatest films of the 21st century. While that list is full of some truly great films, tastes tend to differ between film critics and the average film goers. With that in mind, we thought we’d take our own crack at the list and countdown the 25 greatest films of the 21st century. Enjoy your watching!
25. Casino Royale (2006) dir. Martin Campbell
Plot: Armed with a licence to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, but things are not what they seem.
This was the introduction of Daniel Craig as the 21st century’s first James Bond. It was also a reintroduction of the character who had wondered into silliness and self-parody in the early 2000s. To amend this, the series decided to go in a grittier direction and Craig plays 007 as a brawler who gets himself bloodied more often than he wears a tuxedo. The action scenes are spectacular and very well may be the greatest Bond film of all time.
24. Sideways (2004) dir. Alexander Payne
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen
Plot: Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle.
Sideways is a small film with no big name actors to draw you in but rather a beautiful script that tells its story using a cultural hobby that isn’t often explored on film; wine tasting. The characters are flawed people in many ways, but also good friends who have each other’s backs even way they should probably just smack some sense into their buddy. It’s a film about aging and regret, but also about taking advantage of what’s in front of you now.
23. Gravity (2013) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Plot: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
If by the time you read this post you have yet to see Gravity, then you sadly missed out on the unbelievable experience of seeing the film in theatres. Nevertheless, how ever you watch this film, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Using new technology, we are taken on a tension-filled spaced adventure all seemingly done in one long continuous shot.
22. Best In Show (2000) dir. Christopher Guest
Starring: Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard
Plot: A colorful array of characters compete at a national dog show.
Christopher Guest has made a career out of his heavily improvised “mockumentary” style films and this would no doubt be his masterpiece. The simple setting of a national dog show is used brilliantly and introduces us to all the strange characters who take part in the event. It’s laugh out loud funny and will rocket to the top of your list of favourite comedies.
21. The Dark Knight (2008) dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Plot: When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the caped crusader must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice.
You might be puzzled to see a Batman movie appear on a list of greatest films, but make no mistake, this childish superhero film. The film takes a grounded approach to the crime fighting tale, making it feel like a epic crime saga that happens to feature a man dressed as a bat. And while Batman is the hero, the film belongs to the villain. In his last completed role before his death, Heath Ledger delivers creates a terrifying, funny, and distubing version of the Joker which will go down as one of the greatest performances of all time.
20. Ratatouille (2007) dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano
Plot: A rat who can cook makes an unusual alliance with a young kitchen worker at a famous restaurant.
Pixar has made a lot of money by proving that children’s movies don’t have to just be for the children. While the kids will no doubt get a kick out of a talking rat who cook French cuisine, but adults will likely get a lot more out of the film which deals with following your passions regardless of the barricades in your way.
19. The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Plot: Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business.
You might hesitate to watch a film about Facebook, but don’t let the subject matter fool you, this is no flippant cash-in on a cultural phenomenon. The film follows Mark Zuckerberg’s controversial founding of the social media juggernaut while inter-cutting between the several lawsuits he finds himself. It’s a fascinating look at a significant figure of these time and handles the scenes of verbal sparring like it’s a action movie.
18. Minority Report (2002) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell
Plot: In a future where a special police unit is able to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, an officer from that unit is himself accused of a future murder.
A brilliant plot is only the beginning of what makes this sci-fi mystery so interesting. Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time and he has quite a lot to play with here. It’s a thrilling chase film as well as a nice twist on the classic murder mystery all set in a realistic future.
17. Inside Out (2015) dir. Pete Docter
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind
Plot: After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.
The second Pixar film on this list (though not the last) and another fine example of how they can hide really powerful messages within their fun, bright cartoons. Although the film centers on a young girl, parents will likely get more out of the film thanks to the benefit of hindsight. It’s a great fun ride with ends with the important conclusion about how to deal with your emotions.
16. Midnight In Paris (2011) dir. Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams
Plot: While on a trip to Paris with his fiancée’s family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s everyday at midnight.
Woody Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers. In his advanced age, he still find time to make a new film almost annually. This 2011 comedy, it’s clear that his best days are not yet behind him. This is a light, breezy film that treats its silly premise with a charming approach.
15. The Royal Tenebaums (2001) dir. Wes Anderson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Luke Wilson
Plot: An estranged family of former child prodigies reunites when their father announces he is terminally ill.
Writer-director Wes Anderson was a unique style which may not be to everyone’s tastes but this is a wonderful introduction to his style of filmmaking. A film that is unconcerned with giving the audience sympathetic or relatable characters nevertheless find heart in this dysfunction family. It’s sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious and unlike any film you’re likely to see.
14. Shaun Of The Dead (2004) dir. Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
Plot: A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.
Shaun of the Dead is a typical romantic comedy about a directionless man who’s trying to get his girlfriend back– it just so happens to take place during the zombie apocalypse. The film is made with such high-energy that you’ll be unable to wipe the smile off your face from start to finish. At once a hilarious comedy and actual loving interpretation of the typical zombie films.
13. In Bruges (2008) dir. Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
Plot: Guilt-stricken after a job gone wrong, hitman Ray and his partner await orders from their ruthless boss in Bruges, Belgium, the last place in the world Ray wants to be.
Dark comedies are not for everyone, but if you don’t have any trouble finding the humor in some truly twisted things, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this small Irish film. Anchored by an amazing script and stellar performances from the three leads, this is a hilarious crime film that mixes violence and laughs in a unexpectedly effective way.
12. Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007) dir. Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell
Robert Ford, who’s idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.
You’ll need to devote some serious time to this nearly 3-hour long western, but it will be time well spent. Brad Pitt shines as the infamous bandit Jesse James and the film follows his final years when he formed a ill-advised friendship with a man named Robert Ford. It’s a haunting look at obsession and celebrity in a unique time period.
11. Zodiac (2007) dir. David Fincher
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo
Plot: A San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac killer.
Based on the decades long search for the infamous Zodiac killer, this film may not be what you were expecting. Directed by the man who made the grisly Se7en, this film does feature some bloody moments but also has a surprising amount of humour as it follows the people at the center of the investigation. Meticuously researched and crafted, it’s a film that will have you playing detective along the way.
10. Memento (2000) dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Plot: A man creates a strange system to help him remember things; so he can hunt for the murderer of his wife without his short-term memory loss being an obstacle.
A risky bit of filmmaking that paid off extremely well. Unlike most any mystery you’ve ever seen, this film starts at the end and works backwards until it reaches the beginning. It might take you a little while to adjust to the usual approach but rest assured, it enhances the story rather than just acting as a gimmick. Go in fresh and don’t let the ending be spoiled for you.
9. Spotlight (2015) dir. Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams
Plot: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
Similar to Zodiac, this is a film that deals with the investigation into a topic we all know the conclusion of, and yet that doesn’t take away any of the impact of the film. Not too many films like this are made nowadays,, but it harkens back to those classics, especially All the President’s Men. Aside from that, it’s also a ode to the type of journalism that is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
8. The Incredibles (2004) dir. Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson
Plot: A family of undercover superheroes, while trying to live the quiet suburban life, are forced into action to save the world.
Once again, Pixar creates a modern masterpiece. This is the film all of those superhero films are trying to be. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s touching, it’s action-packed, it’s funny and it leaves you totally satisfied. It’s also a nice story of family and all you do for family. Needless to say– perfect family film.
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) dir. Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Plot: When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.
Here’s a film that totally and completely necessitates a second viewing at the very least. It’s a trippy, mind-bending movie that will have you trying to figure out what any of this means. The ending so perfectly ties everything together in a way that you’ll want to immediately watch it from the start. But it’s the journey that’s so amazing and it’s funny, and touching, and will resonate with so many people who have had their hearts broken.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tom Revolori, Jude Law
Plot: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
Another film from Wes Anderson and this one is his artistic flourishes turned up to the highest possible level. It’s a beautiful film with some really wonderful production design and an array of entertaining characters. At the center of it all is a hilarious performance from Ralph Fiennes, an actor not known for his comedy skills. It’s a real treat of a film.
5. Inglourious Basterds (2008) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz
Plot: In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner’s vengeful plans for the same.
Tarantino is a filmmaker who is all his own, so it’s maybe not surprising that his first World War II film would take liberties with history. Regardless of that, the film is a stunning display of how much language and good dialogue can bring a film to epic heights. Yes, there is action (and some pretty brutal violence) but the standout scenes come from tense conversations. The film’s opening 20-minute long scene will rank as one of the greatest beginnings of a film ever.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) dir. George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Holt
Plot: A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in post-apocalyptic Australia in search for her home-land with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshiper, and a drifter named Max.
The Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson had quite a passionate following back in the day, but even the most die-heard fans of the original trilogy must admit, this film is a level above. The film builds a world effortlessly without drowning us in exposition and it wisely follows a bare-bones plot rather than making it convoluted. The result is a 2-hour long thrill ride through the desert wasteland where you’ll see some of the most impressive stunts and action set-pieces ever put on film.
3. No Country For Old Men (2007) dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
Plot: Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.
A film that uses landscape and setting as a character in its noir tale of a man who made one bad decision and the repurcutions of that. The film features one of the most iconic villains in cinema in the form of remorseless killer, Anton Chigurh. But hidden under the violence caused by two men, the real story is about a sheriff trying to come to terms with a world he no longer understands.
2. There Will Be Blood (2007) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds
Plot: A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.
A story of capitalism gone wrong, this is a film that leaves quite an impression. It’s dark, quiet with a underbelly to it that suggests something will go very badly at anytime. All of it is anchored by a performance by Daniel Day Lewis that could very well be the greatest piece of acting in a film.
1. Children Of Men (2006) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Plot: In 2027, in a chaotic world in which women have become somehow infertile, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea.
You can certainly find similarities between this film and Minority Report, both being films set in the distant future focused on very intriguing plots at the center. This film however, trades away all the shiny, glossiness of Spielberg’s film and replaces it with a cold, dirty look at a dystopian future with only a glimmer of hope to it. The film is shot in such a way as to put you squarely in the chaotic mess of the world which leaves you shaken. A true masterpiece.