By now, if you’re anything resembling a fan of cinema you have more than likely seen the BBC’s so-called “21st Century’s 100 Greatest Films” list. (If not, you’re welcome and I’m sorry.) You may notice, as you scroll past its unnecessary introduction, that the BBC has helpfully linked to an adjacent article defending the list’s top entry. I did not read “What makes Mulholland Drive so good?” but I presume the article doesn’t begin and end with “It isn’t.” Pity.
I could probably devote an entire essay solely to the rebuttal of naming Lynch’s failed-television-pilot-cum-Frankenstein’s-monstrosity-of-a-movie the crowning achievement of global cinema in the last sixteen years, but I’m sure someone else more irate (and, preferably, better cited) will handle that self-evident chore soon enough. So rather than discuss why I think the list and its leader are rubbish, I just wanted to take note of a few no-shows I think deserve distinction.
First, for the sake of full disclosure, the movies on the list I’ve seen are:
96. Finding Nemo
95. Moonrise Kingdom
94. Let the Right One In
78. The Wolf of Wall Street
68. The Royal Tenenbaums
67. The Hurt Locker
62. Inglourious Basterds
57. Zero Dark Thirty
53. Moulin Rouge!
44. 12 Years a Slave
41. Inside Out
33. The Dark Knight
27. The Social Network
22. Lost in Translation
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel
19. Mad Max: Fury Road
17. Pan’s Labyrinth
13. Children of Men
10. No Country for Old Men
7. The Tree of Life
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
4. Spirited Away
3. There Will Be Blood
1. Mulholland Drive
That makes 33/100. My first observation is that the makers of this list and I are apparently both fond of Wes Anderson and Pixar, though the fact that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou didn’t make the cut while Budapest did is disconcerting. My second observation is that I’ve just opened the door for the sort of mouth-agape horror that always befalls film fans upon hearing that no, I have not in fact (yet?) seen, among many others: Requiem for a Dream; The Pianist; A.I.; any of the Linklater trilogy; Brokeback Mountain; City of God; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; either Oldboy; Zodiac; or Spring Breakers.
Spring Breakers? Really? Okay.
Having missed 2/3 of the movies, I can’t really speak to the quality of what is there (Mulholland notwithstanding). The majority of the ones which I have seen, I’ve deeply respected (if not always enjoyed). But browsing through the DVDs and Blu-ray discs in my collection, I found a handful that matched or exceeded the way I’ve felt about that 1/3, and their absence ranges from disappointing to intolerable.
The Fall. This is, bar none, the film whose absence I find most egregious. I suppose I oughtn’t be surprised, as both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic depict massive disparity between how critics and audiences have historically responded to Tarsem Singh’s absolutely stunning fable. I don’t want to flood this post with media, but I’ll make exception for this one trailer:
Persepolis; The Artist; Birdman. Three of the very few films I’ve made a point of buying in recent years; I’m not sure whether any of them is more deserving of a spot on the list than the films that are there, but I think they are all at least as deserving. Persepolis is gorgeous and moving animated memoir of war, prejudice, and coming of age; The Artist is mastercraft filmmaking and ancestral homage; Birdman is breathtaking editing and provocative contemplation of the theatrical vis-à-vis the cinematic.
Offside. Kiarostami rightly gets a few nods on the list, but his countryman Jafar Panahi’s story of Iranian girls trying everything they can to see a soccer game has just as much heart and daring as any movie here. That, plus the funniest use of an athlete’s poster you will ever see in a film.
The Big Short. It may not have had the moral clout of Spotlight, but last year’s story of the greedy mortgage serpent that ate its own tail was arguably the better film. Perhaps critics felt that Wolf of Wall Street scratched that particular itch in their nominations, but when it comes to over-the-top tellings of Wall Street avarice featuring Margot Robbie, my money’s on the one that didn’t make me feel like I needed to watch a porno to get clean again after.
Little Miss Sunshine. I’ll never understand why anyone tried to reboot the Vacation series when this rollicking (yet also painfully poignant) family trip already hit all the Griswold beats (dead grandparents and all) in a perfectly modern way.
I think it is worth noting two caveats to what I have said here. The first is that, by the very virtue of my not being a critic by trade (or even, really, by hobby) I should be expected to have a less developed (and thus, if not less valid, at least more flawed) sense of what does or does not deserve exceptional merit or recognition. I have studied film cursorily, and while my tastes have occasionally ventured into deep cuts territory I am still more dilettante than connoisseur. Do I think critics have a tendency to sleight popular taste on one side and embrace controversial taste on the other more in the name of staying avant-garde than anything else? Absolutely. But bias doesn’t guarantee error; it merely increases error’s likelihood.
The second, and arguably far less frivolous of my concerns, is that my exposure to films outside mainstream American cinema has been very limited over these sixteen years, and while I’ve made efforts in recent years to rectify this slightly there remains not a likelihood but a certainty that I’ve missed many worthy and outstanding cinematic contributions in the twenty-first century, and this not only from foreign filmmakers but from non-mainstream domestic filmmakers too. One friend referred to the list as very white and very male, and for the most part my suggestions here do not change that composition. I am left with two different, and likely complementary, implications: first, that I have neglected to see (and thus consider) many excellent films made by nonwhites, women, or anyone else outside the prevalent social hierarchy; second, that lack of resources and support have hindered these alternative voices from achieving their full cinematic potential (which is to say, if the movies aren’t good enough to be the greatest, that’s on us, not them).
With that in mind, I’ve enjoyed thinking back over so many great films, and I look forward to using this list for about the only two things an amalgamation of other peoples’ tastes is ever really good for: First, seeking stories I might not otherwise have discovered; and second, starting conversations (and, given Mulholland, probably arguments) with fellow lovers of story.