The first decade and a half of the 21st century has brought a lot of changes to the landscape of film. The advancement and sophistication of computers has made realistic computer generated effects a mainstay in both big-budget and small-budget films. The internet and streaming technologies have given big Hollywood new competition in films produced independently and by non-traditional means. We went from purchasing films on yards of tape to plastic disks, and now we can simply upload them to the cloud. Advertisements for films have reached a higher, more ruthless level where generating hype through trailers and teasers is crucial for a film’s commercial success. Movie attendance has fluctuated along with the economy, but that hasn’t stopped films from breaking box office records, including having films gross more than $1 billion on a regular occasion. Finally, as technology has developed, so too has a worldwide appreciation of film. No longer is a film’s commercial success dependent mainly on the North American market. Asian markets especially have become a major source of business for film studios worldwide. Also consider that easier access to film has created an appreciation for films of foreign countries and cultures.
To reflect on all the changes that film has gone through over the past 15 years, we’ve chosen the 100 best films of the 21st century (so far). These are films released in theaters or independently in the years 2001-2015 (the 20th century century ended in the year 2000, not 1999). To create this list, we reviewed several hundred of the best-received films of the last fifteen years. An algorithm was generated to create rankings based on a number of important criterion for all of these films. These criteria include a film’s impact on filmmaking, society, and pop culture. We looked at box office earnings to determine commercial success, and awards nominations and wins to determine critical success. We compared ratings from popular movie websites such as Rotten Tomatoes, MetaCritic, and IMDB which combine audience and critic opinions. Finally, we included a bit of our own preferences in order to come up with the final ranking of movies you see here. For films that have come out recently, we’ve taken into account the incompleteness of their box office results, critical reviews, and awards nominations/wins by making predictions as best we could based on previous years. For films released earlier during this time period, we took into account the effect of inflation as well as the growth of information technology and the impact this would have on everything from website ratings to number of awards nominations.
Note that we have decided to leave off documentary films. There are plenty of fantastic documentary films that have been released over the last 15 years, some of them among the best films released in a particular year. But the truth is that a documentary is difficult to compare to a traditional film for purposes of ranking when taking into account the criteria mentioned above.
Here are our picks for the 100 best films of the 21st Century (So Far), Part 2 #75 – 51:
75. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Synopsis: Faced with an unresponsive mother and a criminal father, Ozark teenager Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) does what she can to manage the household and take care of her two younger siblings. Informed by the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) that their father put their home up for bond and then disappeared, Ree sets out on a dangerous quest to find him. Her entire family’s fate now in her hands, Ree challenges her outlaw kin’s code of silence and risks her life to learn her father’s fate.
74. The Aviator (2004)
Synopsis: Billionaire and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a successful public figure: a director of big-budget Hollywood films such as “Hell’s Angels,” a passionate lover of Hollywood leading ladies Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), and an aviation pioneer who helps build TWA into a major airline. But in private, Hughes remains tormented, suffering from paralyzing phobias and depression. The higher he rises, the farther has to fall.
73. Take Shelter (2011)
Synopsis: Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) lives in a small Ohio town with his loving wife (Jessica Chastain) and hearing-impaired daughter (Tova Stewart). Though money is tight, he and his family are very happy. But then, Curtis begins having terrifying dreams about an apocalypse that threatens them all. Rather than confiding in Samantha, he begins building a storm shelter in the backyard, and his strange behavior causes tension in their marriage and the surrounding community.
72. Life of Pi (2012)
Synopsis: After deciding to sell their zoo in India and move to Canada, Santosh and Gita Patel board a freighter with their sons and a few remaining animals. Tragedy strikes when a terrible storm sinks the ship, leaving the Patels’ teenage son, Pi (Suraj Sharma), as the only human survivor. However, Pi is not alone; a fearsome Bengal tiger has also found refuge aboard the lifeboat. As days turn into weeks and weeks drag into months, Pi and the tiger must learn to trust each other if both are to survive.
71. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Synopsis: Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a remote Delta community. Wink is a stern taskmaster, but he is preparing his young daughter for the end of the world. When Wink falls mysteriously ill, nature seems to fall ill with him. Temperatures rise, the ice caps melt and fearsome prehistoric beasts called aurochs run loose. Rising waters threaten to engulf their community, sending Hushpuppy in search of her long-lost mother.
70. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Synopsis: A pair of brothers living in Brooklyn are caught in the middle of, and deeply affected by, the divorce of their erudite parents, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan Berkman (Laura Linney). Older sibling Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) sides with dad and acts out at school, while younger brother Frank (Owen Kline) quietly backs up mom. The household tension rises further when Joan’s writing career takes off and surpasses the failed ambitions of her professor ex-husband.
69. American Hustle (2013)
Synopsis: Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) dabbles in forgery and loan-sharking, but when he falls for fellow grifter Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), things change in a big way. Caught red-handed by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), Irv and Sydney are forced to work under cover as part of DiMaso’s sting operation to nail a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Meanwhile, Irv’s jealous wife (Jennifer Lawrence) may be the one to bring everyone’s world crashing down. Based on the 1970s Abscam case.
68. Children of Men (2006)
Synopsis: When infertility threatens mankind with extinction and the last child born has perished, a disillusioned bureaucrat (Clive Owen) becomes the unlikely champion in the fight for the survival of Earth’s population; He must face down his own demons and protect the planet’s last remaining hope from danger.
67. Mother (2009)
Synopsis: A widow (Kim Hye-ja) resides with her mentally challenged son (Won Bin) in a small South Korean town, where she scrapes out a living selling medicinal herbs. Mother and son are plunged into a nightmare when the body of a murdered young girl is discovered. Circumstantial evidence indicates the son’s involvement, and he becomes the prime suspect during the sloppy police investigation. Betrayed by the legal system, the mother takes the law into her own hands to clear her son’s name.
66. Capote (2005)
Synopsis: Reading of the murder of a Kansas family, New York City novelist Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decides to cover the story himself, and travels to the small town with his childhood friend, aspiring novelist Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). When Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) are arrested and charged, Capote forms an emotional bond with Smith during his jailhouse interviews despite the young criminal’s apparent guilt.
65. Silver Lining’s Playbook (2012)
Synopsis: After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) winds up living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange.
64. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Synopsis: Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran Los Angeles boxing trainer who keeps almost everyone at arm’s length, except his old friend and associate Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman). When Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) arrives in Frankie’s gym seeking his expertise, he is reluctant to train the young woman, a transplant from working-class Missouri. Eventually, he relents, and the two form a close bond that will irrevocably change them both.
63. 4 months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)
Synopsis: The courage and friendship of two Romanian college students is tested when Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) discovers that she is pregnant by her boyfriend (Alex Potocean), and seeks an illegal abortion with the help of her classmate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca). Enlisting the services of the shady Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the two girls find themselves in extremely tense and uncomfortable situations and must rely on their mutual support to get them through the ordeal.
62. Precious (2009)
Synopsis: Pregnant by her own father for the second time, 16-year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) can neither read nor write and suffers constant abuse at the hands of her vicious mother (Mo’Nique). Precious instinctively sees a chance to turn her life around when she is offered the opportunity to transfer to an alternative school. Under the patient, firm guidance of her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Precious begins the journey from oppression to self-determination.
61. A Prophet (2009)
Synopsis: This acclaimed crime drama follows Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a delinquent young Muslim man, who is struggling to get by in a French prison. When he is taken under the wing of powerful Corsican mob boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), he begins performing regular assignments for him, proving himself invaluable to the imposing criminal. As Malik rises in the mob ranks, he gains more power, but also more enemies, a situation that eventually brings conflict with his mentor.
60. Juno (2007)
Synopsis: When precocious teen Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) becomes pregnant, she chooses a failed rock star and his wife (Jennifer Garner) to adopt her unborn child. Complications occur when Mark, the prospective father, begins viewing Juno as more than just the mother of his future child, putting both his marriage and the adoption in jeopardy.
59. Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)
Synopsis: In mid-1980s Texas, electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is stunned to learn that he has AIDS. Though told that he has just 30 days left to live, Woodroof refuses to give in to despair. He seeks out alternative therapies and smuggles unapproved drugs into the U.S. from wherever he can find them. Woodroof joins forces with a fellow AIDS patient (Jared Leto) and begins selling the treatments to the growing number of people who can’t wait for the medical establishment to save them.
58. The Pianist (2002)
Synopsis: In this adaptation of the autobiography “The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945,” Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish Jewish radio station pianist, sees Warsaw change gradually as World War II begins. Szpilman is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, but is later separated from his family during Operation Reinhard. From this time until the concentration camp prisoners are released, Szpilman hides in various locations among the ruins of Warsaw.
57. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Synopsis: Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the despot’s five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner and former captive. Fortified in the massive, armored truck the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.
56. The Lego Movie (2014)
Synopsis: Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary LEGO figurine who always follows the rules, is mistakenly identified as the Special — an extraordinary being and the key to saving the world. He finds himself drafted into a fellowship of strangers who are on a mission to stop an evil tyrant’s (Will Ferrell) plans to conquer the world. Unfortunately for Emmet, he is hopelessly — and hilariously — unprepared for such a task, but he’ll give it his all nonetheless.
55. City of God (2002)
Synopsis: In the poverty-stricken favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s, two young men choose different paths. Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) is a budding photographer who documents the increasing drug-related violence of his neighborhood. José “Zé” Pequeno (Leandro Firmino da Hora) is an ambitious drug dealer who uses Rocket and his photos as a way to increase his fame as a turf war erupts with his rival, “Knockout Ned” (Seu Jorge). The film was shot on location in Rio’s poorest neighborhoods.
54. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Synopsis: A French teen (Adèle Exarchopoulos) forms a deep emotional and sexual connection with an older art student (Léa Seydoux) she met in a lesbian bar.
53. Her (2013)
Synopsis: A sensitive and soulful man earns a living by writing personal letters for other people. Left heartbroken after his marriage ends, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes fascinated with a new operating system which reportedly develops into an intuitive and unique entity in its own right. He starts the program and meets “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), whose bright voice reveals a sensitive, playful personality. Though “friends” initially, the relationship soon deepens into love.
52. Amour (2012)
Synopsis: Retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) have spent their lives devoted to their careers and to each other. Their relationship faces its greatest challenge when Anne suffers a debilitating stroke. Though Georges himself suffers from the aches and infirmities of old age, he bravely ignores his own discomfort to take care of his wife, and is determined to keep his promise to her that she never go back to the hospital.
51. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Synopsis: Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor-in-chief of French fashion bible Elle magazine, has a devastating stroke at age 43. The damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome, with which he is almost completely paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking an eye. Bauby painstakingly dictates his memoir via the only means of expression left to him.
Check back next week for Part 3!