On June 9, The New York Times film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott listed their 25 best films of the 21st century so far. Other critics, including J. Hoberman and The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, have since weighed in, or crashed the party, as Hoberman put it. It’s not just a party, it’s a heavy gauntlet to pick up—and an irresistible game. Here’s my list, ranked from 25th to 1st, followed by a brief commentary.
25. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
24. Li’l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont, 2014)
23. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
22. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
21. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
20. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2005)
19. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
18. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)
17. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
16. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
15. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
14. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004)
13. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)
12. Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014)
11. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
10. Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz, 2013)
9. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
8. Spider (David Cronenberg, 2002)
7. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
6. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)
5. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
4. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
I once asked the film critic Pauline Kael if she ever distinguished between great films and films she enjoyed for pleasure. She said she did not—that they were one and the same to her. I cannot share her opinion. Some masterpieces can seem dull or dour; some films that are trash are thrilling.
Sections of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice (1986) and Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (number six above) seemed interminable to me, even tedious, yet I knew I was being enriched by drinking in the stoicism and suffering of their characters. When the tone shifts in those films, or when seismic events occur, it seems as if the world beyond the film, or one’s perception of it, has changed irrevocably.
This is a way of saying that film isn’t just about entertainment, or, at least, that entertainment is best when it’s enlightening. Violence and sensuality are vital ingredients in cinema, but when they’re delivered mindlessly, you can feel you’ve wasted your time.
There is a lot of ravishing imagery, excitement, and art for art’s sake in the films listed above, but there is also violence, paranoia, and real-life dread. The two documentaries, The Act of Killing and Citizenfour, are especially painful to watch—and salutary. Hopefully, it’s a balanced selection.
Fun? Check out Denis Lavant (with Eva Mendes… and Kylie Minogue!) in Holy Motors,Carey Mulligan “effing and blinding” in Inside Llewyn Davis, and Philip Seymour Hoffman cavorting like a satyr as he sings “Maid of Amsterdam” in The Master.
I also considered the 61 films below when making the list. Some are here because they brought me “epiphany moments,” among them Bright Star, Children of Men, A Field in England, The Forbidden Room, Red Road, and The Miners’ Hymns.
When the desert-island-bound raft with the portable DVD player arrives on my doorstep, it’ll be tough deciding which films to leave behind.
Adaptation (2002), The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu (2010), Birth (2004), Bitter Money (2016), Bright Star (2009), Caché (2005), Café Lumiere (2003), Cemetery of Splendor (2016), Children of Men (2006),A Christmas Tale (2008), A Dangerous Method (2011), Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), Demonlover (2002), Dogville (2003), The Edge of Heaven (2007), L’Enfant (2005), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), A Field in England (2013), Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), The Forbidden Room (2015), 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), A History of Violence (2005), Hunger (2008), Ida (2013), Inherent Vice (2014), In the Cut (2003), The Invisible Woman (2013), Julieta (2016), Keane (2004), The Kid With a Bike (2011), Lady Macbeth (2016), The Last of the Unjust (2013), Lincoln (2012), The Look of Silence (2014), Lost in Translation (2003), Match Point (2005), The Measure of a Man (2015), Meek’s Cutoff (2010), The Miners’ Hymns (2010), Moonlight (2016), Museum Hours (2012), Mystic River (2003), No Country for Old Men (2007), A Prophet (2009), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), A Quiet Passion (2016), Red Road (2006), Russian Ark (2002), The Saddest Music in the World (2003), Spirited Away (2001), Still Life (2006), Summer Hours (2008), Synecdoche, New York (2008), 25th Hour (2002), White Material (2009), The White Ribbon (2009), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), Yi Yi (2000), Zodiac (2007).
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.