Denis Villeneuve, Sofia Coppola, and More Directors Pick Favorite Films of the 21st Century
Six high-profile directors shared their favorite films of the 21st century with the New York Times.
Last week, the New York Times published a list of the 25 best films of the 21st century, according to its chief film critics, a handful of Hollywood mainstays, and Facebook cineastes. Now, the NYT has enlisted six directors to select their favorite films of the 21st century.
The directors—Antoine Fuqua, Sofia Coppola, Paul Feig, Denis Villeneuve, Brett Ratner, and Alex Gibney—chose highly personal films for their lists, though the selection process proved easier for some more than others.
Gibney wrote, "I don’t like 10-best lists. How do you rank Spirited Away over Eastern Promises? And I don’t even like proclaiming 'great films.'"
"Apples and oranges. Lists are for grocery stores," wrote Villeneuve.
Though each director selected films that bore stylistic and thematic resemblances to his or her own work, there was quite a bit of overlap in the selections. Whether it was Birth, Under the Skin, or Sexy Beast, a Glazer film showed up on almost every list. Polanski's The Pianist also appeared on multiple lists, including on Ratner's, who also, dutifully, had the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired on his.
Every director's list showcases a variety of genre, suggesting that even the most genre-specific directors can appreciate diversity of cinema. The fact that Feig has both This is the End and the subtle foreign indie Mustang on his list of favorites bodes well for the future of blockbusters.
I usually like more subtle movies but can enjoy all kinds. [For this list] I just thought about movies I liked from the last 15, 20 years. I find them inspiring, especially when it’s something you haven’t seen before, and not close to anything I’m doing.
1. Force Majeure (dir. Ruben Ostlund, 2015)
Great acting—I loved the little moments, the details that said so much.
2. The White Ribbon (dir. Michael Haneke, 2009)
3. The Savages (dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)
4. Head-On (dir. Fatih Akin, 2005)
5. Daddy's Home (dir. Sean Anders, 2015)
6. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2014)
7. The Incredibles (dir. Brad Bird, 2004)
8. Together (dir. Lukas Moodysson, 2001)
9. Grizzly Man (dir. Werner Herzog, 2005)
10. Ida (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski, 2014)
11. Fish Tank (dir. Andrea Arnold, 2010)
12. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland, 2015)
I’m a very non-cynical filmmaker. I like uplifting endings, I love romance, just feel-good movies. The best experience I ever have [is] when I forget I’m watching a movie. Or when as a filmmaker, I’m going, “How did they do that?”
1. Napoleon Dynamite (dir. Jared Hess, 2004)
One of those movies I could watch over and over again, because it was just so out of left field. In comedy, we feel that we’ve seen it all and done it all, but then an original voice comes in and you go, "damn."
2. Moulin Rouge (dir. Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
3. Sing Street (dir. John Carney, 2016)
4. Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)
5. This Is the End (dir. Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, 2013)
6. Amélie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
7. Love Actually (dir. Richard Curtis, 2003)
8. A Single Man (dir. Todd Haynes, 2009)
9. Moon (dir. Duncan Jones, 2009)
10. Casino Royale (dir. Martin Campbell, 2006)
11. Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
Which movie is the best one ... “There Will Be Blood” or “No Country for Old Men” (both from 2007)? Strange question. I’m driven by the impact these movies had on me then, and still today. Time is the ultimate judge.
There are specific shots that went directly through my skull, like a bullet spreading particles of my brain on my walls. Like the shot of Daniel Day-Lewis baptizing a baby with oil, making “There Will Be Blood” an instant new classic. I felt the same way watching the Coen brothers’ opus “No Country for Old Men.” The image of the policeman’s boots making dark marks on the floor as he is being strangled by the nightmarish killer, portrayed by Javier Bardem, has haunted me since then.
The deer being killed in slow motion by a car in “A Prophet” (2010) remains one of the most powerful cinematic shots of the last decade. But is it better than following Scarlett Johansson in a pool of darkness in “Under the Skin” (2014)? Apples and oranges. Lists are for grocery stores.
The madness in “Dogtooth” (2010) is the most refreshing thing I’ve seen in a long time. Yorgos Lanthimos may be one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. I’m still laughing at the crazy adults running to catch airplanes falling into their garden, because their father convinced them that they were fruit dropping from the sky.
I vividly remember Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” (2004). The idea of making a set without walls to show the cowardice of a community was genius.
God, I love cinema. And I wish I could add more films I love … like “Children of Men” (2006), “Inception” (2010) or “Amores Perros” (2001).
When I started making movies at the end of the 20th century, the previous generation of filmmakers said cinema was dead. Well … long live cinema!
1. The Kid Stays in the Picture (dir. Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen, 2002)
One of the greatest documentaries ever made. At the time, it was groundbreaking for Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein’s use of taking still photographs and bringing them to life. The film made me dream and was a story of survival of one of the greatest living producers.
2. The Pianist (dir. Roman Polanski, 2002)
3. The Hangover (dir. Todd Phillips, 2009)
4. Borat (dir. Larry Charles, 2006)
5. The Social Network (dir. David Fincher, 2010)
6. Y Tu Mamá También (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2002)
7. Sexy Beast (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2001)
8. Birth (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
9. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (dir. Marina Zenovich, 2008)
10. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
I don’t like 10-best lists. How do you rank “Spirited Away” over “Eastern Promises”?
And I don’t even like proclaiming “great films.” I remember that my father spent most of his life wanting to be a “great man,” but became more interesting and important to me when he became a “good man,” sharp, curious and more interested in listening than making speeches.
My list comprises “good films” that stirred my heart in unexpected ways.
Many are documentaries. So far, in the 21st century, documentaries have often been more profound and form-bending than fiction. One day, at the Toronto Film Festival, when I saw both “The Gatekeepers” (2012) and “Stories We Tell” (2013), I thought I had been transported to cinematic Elysium.
Here’s a list of other remarkable films, chosen almost at random from my longer list of 30.
1. City of God (dirs. Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund, 2003)
Wow! The chicken and the knife!
2. Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy, 2007)
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
4. No Country for Old Men (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, 2014)
6. I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, 2017)
7. Nostalgia for the Light (dir. Patricio Guzmán, 2011)
8. Waltz With Bashir (dir. Ari Folman, 2008)
9. Iraq in Fragments (dir. James Longley, 2006)
10. Grizzly Man (dir. Werner Herzog, 2005)
11. Heart of a Dog (dir. Laurie Anderson, 2015)
12. The Big Short (dir. Adam McKay, 2015)
I love all types of films: great character-driven pieces like “There Will Be Blood,” and entertainment like “Gravity” and “Avatar” that transported me to other places and filled me with wonderment—a reminder to us all to continue pushing our vision. “Fences” reminded me of my childhood growing up in Pittsburgh; “Munich” educated me while being entertaining and suspenseful in a way that only Steven Spielberg or Hitchcock could pull off. And like everyone else, I just like to grab my popcorn and sit back and enjoy what Hollywood is all about in movies like “Gladiator,” a throwback to the David Lean days of epic filmmaking.
Narrowing this list was a feat in itself—here we go!
1. Fences (dir. Denzel Washington, 2016)
A feast of masterful acting. Denzel Washington did an incredible job of not only directing, but also having the laserlike focus and discipline to stay true and elevate to the big screen one of our most talented and celebrated playwrights. I believe August Wilson would be proud.