I love films. Films are the ultimate art form. The result of thousands of years of cultural development encapsulated into two hours of heart-bursting joy, life-altering insight, overwhelming sadness or any one of the millions of feelings and emotions that are felt by human beings every day.
Films reflect our best and worst qualities. They touch something inside us in a way that no other medium can. Brilliant films translate literature into screenwriting, art into cinematography and music into soundtracks, resulting in a sum much greater than its individual parts.
Although I hold many films from the 20th century very close to my heart, films of the 21st century have a special significance for me as they are the films that have shaped my cinema going experiences, from seeing Finding Nemo as a young child right the way through to recently watching the Oscar-nominated crowd-pleaser Green Book. With this in mind, I have set to work compiling a list of what I believe to be the top five best films released since 2000, along with a short description of why I rate them so highly.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (d. Wes Anderson)
One of my favourite directors, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Anderson at his most whimsical and colourful, telling the story of a concierge and his trainee who find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities in the fictional but realistic Republic of Zubrowka.
Against the backdrop of the rising tensions of interwar Europe, the film tenderly explores the developing relationship between M. Gustave and Zero Moustafa as they lurch from one escapade to another, whilst also painting a tragic image of a golden age of European culture and lifestyle destroyed by the brute force of warmongering fascists. In particular, the genius of The Grand Budapest Hotel stems from its achievement of being able to completely encapsulate this feeling of an age of sensitivity and civility that produced cultural wonders such as the (also fictional) Renaissance masterpiece Boy With Apple. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman fills the space around the perfectly centered shots with eye-popping colour, rendering the film’s whip pans and alternating aspect ratios a joy to behold. Wes Anderson at his very best.
4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (d. Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
The standout film in a year of standout films, Birdman soars to the heights of brilliance both in its technical mastery (Birdman was famously shot as if it were one take) and in its absorbing subject matter concerning washed-up actor Riggan Thomson and his struggle to rediscover his past relevance.
The film makes use of extended takes often lasting more than ten minutes alongside subtle cuts hidden in whip pans and shots with overwhelming levels of light or dark imagery, all of which is spliced together into a seamless exploration of Riggan’s crumbling mental state as the stress of writing, directing and starring in his play meets visions of his earlier stardom as the eponymous superhero Birdman.
It is a film cloaked in ambiguity throughout its two-hour run-time, from its very first scene – Riggan floating in a meditative state in his dressing room – right through to its ending in Riggan’s hospital room following his attempted on-stage suicide; as his daughter, Sam, gazes blissfully into the New York sky, we can only speculate as to the ultimate fate of the man once known to the world as a superhero. Or perhaps that should be the superhero once known to the world as a man?
3. Wall·E (d. Andrew Stanton)
Pixar’s ninth feature film and the studio’s finest to date, the sublime Wall·E is simultaneously a considered critique of humankind’s penchant for consumerism, environmental impact and greed. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful exploration of love and human emotions told through the lens of non-human robots, and a highly entertaining adventure through space for both kids and adults.
Stanton’s film is a triumph of ‘show, don’t tell’ film making, relying on its stunning visuals and the body language of its two principle characters, the titular Wall·E and EVE, to allow the story to unfold. The on-screen action is backed up by a futuristic blend of orchestral and electronic harmonies in its Oscar-nominated score by Thomas Newman, creating an understated sci-fi ambiance which echoes the narrative as it journeys from earth into deep space. A masterpiece of animated story-telling.
2. Roma (d. Alfonso Cuarón)
Directed, written, produced and shot by Alfonso Cuarón and based on his childhood experiences in Mexico City, Roma is a masterwork of quiet intimacy told at the slow pace of domestic life, punctuated by the sporadic bursts of violence and upheaval typical of the volatile circumstances of 1970s Mexico.
The film meanders through the life of its main characters as if we were seeing it through Cuarón’s own eyes, each frame tinted with the reminiscence of experiences alien to us, yet still somehow nostalgic, with the monochrome imagery of the city and the family home intensifying these emotions.
The black and white cinematography is also emblematic of the societal partition between the predominantly indigenous maids (who count the film’s protagonist “Cleo” among their numbers), and the white middle-class family who employ them. Race and its relation to social class continue to play a significant role throughout the film, demonstrated most clearly in the climactic beach scene during which Cleo’s maternal instincts urge her into the churning waters of the Gulf of Mexico to rescue them despite her inability to swim; for her efforts, she is rewarded only with more chores once the family returns to the city. If there were any doubts at Cuarón’s command of cinematic technique before, this is surely the film to dispel them.
1. The Social Network (d. David Fincher)
A film I still believe was robbed of best picture at the 2011 Academy Awards, The Social Network is essentially a flawless film mapping the sordid development of one of the most popular websites in existence, as well as providing a character study of the cast of hyper-ambitious, Machiavellian personalities who played a role in its conception.
Fincher is unerring in his meticulous portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg and his motivations, painting a picture of a man driven by a cold desire to lead humanity into the digital age and characterized by a borderline-sociopathic disregard for those he deems incompetent. The film features Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield acting at the peak of their powers, with a razor-sharp script from Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, all set to one of the finest scores in recent film history – a chilling, distant collection of electronic melodies. A score (and indeed a film) in many ways eerily reminiscent of Zuckerberg’s creation itself.