The BBC recently asked 177 film critics from around the globe to create a master list ranking the greatest films of the twenty-first century. It’s awful.
Last year, when the BBC queried critics and came up with the hundred greatest American films of all time, only six were made after 2000. The editors were perplexed by the results. Why don’t we make great films anymore, they wondered? Well, maybe we do, and critics are too busy celebrating dreck?
For example, one of the most important things we learn when collating both lists is that critics give films like David Lynch’s noir “Mullholland Drive” far more credit than it deserves. Now, “Mullholland Drive” isn’t unwatchable or even uninteresting. Let’s face it, though, it’s directed by someone who excels at offering bizarre, moody psychological films that are completely incoherent.
More importantly, if critics consider “Mullholland Drive” the greatest film of the twentieth-first century — and it is ranked as 21st best American movie ever made, perched right above “Double Indemnity,” “The Conversation,” “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Raging Bull,” and “Pulp Fiction,” which is utter insanity — it puts us in the position of questioning everything else on the list.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen a number of the foreign movies featured on the list, though many of the ones I have watched — “Spirited Away,” “City of God,” “The Lives of Others,” and “Old Boy” (definitely not for everyone), in particular — are powerful and deserve even more recognition. Though I’m no cultural populist, critics seem to completely discount movies that consumers actually want to see.
Isn’t “Training Day” a more compelling movie than, say, Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” — a fine film with a fine lead actor based on a fine book that is most definitely not the 26th best movie of this century. Why isn’t Ben Affleck’s “The Town” or “Gone Baby Gone” on the list, but two pretentious, pseudo-intellectual Lars von Trier films do make the cut? Why are there no Lord of The Ring movies on the list, when they are surely as well done as “Pans Labyrinth?” Are fan favorites like “Gladiator,” “The Revenant,” or even “Best in Show” (with a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) less deserving than middling efforts like “Before Sunset” or “Requiem for a Dream”?
Critics say yes.
There are plenty of movies that are technically impressive and creative, even beautiful, that do not qualify as masterpieces. I enjoy P.T. Anderson films. A lot. I can even sit through his most boring, meandering, self-indulgent work and be happy. I know this because I recently watched “The Master” and “Inherent Vice,” both of which make this BBC list for some reason.
Sometimes you can just sense that ideological sensibilities of the critics come into play. “Up” and “The Incredibles” were surely as artistically impressive as “WALL-e” (the 29th greatest movie of the twenty-first century, according to critics). I imagine the environmental disaster message warmed the hearts of critics. Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” (evil rich bros are the worst) and the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” (romancing the ’60s counterculture) also both tap into topics that critics favor.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Coen Brothers. But, despite its high rank, “Inside Llewyn Davis” isn’t better than “True Grit” or “A Serious Man.” I love Scorsese, but “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not a better film than “The Departed,” which doesn’t even appear on the list. Is the “The New World” really a better film than “Apocalypto?” Or is Terrance Malik (I’m a fan, but is “The Tree of Life” is the seventh best movie of the twenty-first century?) always going to get the benefit of the doubt over someone like Mel Gibson?
Anyway, I could have lived with all this if the critics had not made the unforgivable mistake of including the following films:
1. “Synecdoche, New York.” Watching this meaningless, jumbled, pompous, depressing, technically incompetent, mind-numbing, please-give-me-an-Oscar effort by Charlie Kauffman felt like I was reading “Infinite Jest” backwards in Chinese. Ostensibly, it’s the “story” of a theater director who begins to lose understanding of the boundaries of fiction and reality…ugh, even trying to explain it is annoying. You know, not every part of your neurotic imagination needs to be shared with the group. For the love of God, let’s stop pretending this is a good movie.
2. “Spring Breakers.” Just because Harmony Korine and James Franco decided to call their inane T&A movie a satire doesn’t mean smart people have to play along. “Spring Breakers,” though sporadically funny, is only really impressive if you believe getting once-chaste actresses to pretend to do coke, rob people, and take their clothes off is an accomplishment. If Alan Smithee directed Nick Cage in this movie it would have gone straight to Redbox rather than the greatest movies of all time list.
3. “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” I get that Stanley Kubrick (and the fact that “Doctor Strangelove” is only at 74 on the all-time best list is a problem) wanted to make this movie. Maybe that’s why I want to like it so much. I imagine Kubrick would have created something challenging and unique rather than this flaccid, saccarine, halfhearted effort to re-imagine Pinocchio. There’s no reason for this movie, rather than “Ex Machina,” to be on a list of greatest movies of this century
4. “Boyhood.” Just because you’ve come up with some schticky act for your movie – like filming it over 11 years — doesn’t mean you’ve made a great movie (even if it’s at 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Take away this film’s schtick and you have something very average.
5. “Spotlight.” Okay, this movie isn’t garbage, technically speaking, but it’s so infuriatingly overrated that I feel compelled to speak out. I know it won Best Picture. So did “Ordinary People.” “Spotlight” is a like a competent two-part “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” episode. I do appreciate its realistic view of a newsroom. It’s interesting also that Tom McCarthy, who played a corrupt reporter in season five of “The Wire” — which offered perhaps the best depiction of a newsroom ever — directed the film. So please watch season five of “The Wire,” because it’s a lot more intriguing than this movie.
Come to think of it, I’ve watched episodes of two television series this week — “The Night Of” and “Bloodlines” — that are more aesthetically and intellectually exciting than “Spotlight.”