The “Best of the Best” Are Pretty Bleak

The BBC recently polled 177 film critics from around the world and asked them what the “best” films of the 21st century are. They came up with a list of 100, naturally, and the results were pretty dispiriting.

I mean that quite literally, by the way. The films I’m familiar with that made the list are, by and large, bleak and depressing slogs. Entertainment? Hardly. As Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote for Salon, “If there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that film critics sure do love unrelenting sadness.”

Mulholland Drive from 2001 was No. 1, followed by the 2000 Chinese film In the Mood for Love and the 2007’s grim There Will be Blood (one of the first movies I reviewed for Plugged In, incidentally). Things grow darker as the list goes on, with such laughfests as Children of Men, Shame, City of God and The Act of Killing landing spots. Looking for nice children’s fairy tale? Well, there’s the dreamlike Pan’s Labyrinth, an R-rated fantasy about a little girl who winds up (spoiler alert) dying. A musical perhaps? Critics liked Moulin Rouge, apparently, though the lead character in that dies tragically as well. A nice superhero flick? Naturally, The Dark Knight made the list. All you need worry about there is a nihilistic supervillain who stabs people in the head with a pencil. Comedies are as rare here as the Mewtwo in Pokemon Go.

“These are beautiful, poignant, challenging works,” writes Williams. “Also, a lot of people die in them. If you are thinking about adding ‘watch every film on the 21st century’s greatest film list, in order’ to your bucket list, I should warn you it’s going to get pretty dark as you blaze through The Pianist, The Headless Woman and Spotlight, or when you hit those double features of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Dogville, or Melancholia and Amour.”

But the list is not all irredeemably depressing. Four Pixar films made the list: WALL-E (No. 29), Inside Out (No. 41), Ratatouille (No. 93) and Finding Nemo (No. 96). Add Hayao Miyazaki’s dreamy animated 2002 film Spirited Away (No. 4), and there are more movies that won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature (five) than won an Oscar for Best Picture (three: No. 88 Spotlight, No. 67 The Hurt Locker and No. 10 No Country for Old Men).

Also interesting: International critics tend to dig directors with the last name “Anderson.” Both Wes Anderson (who made the list with Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice, The Master and There Will Be Blood) earned three spots on the list, which ties both with the Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, A Serious Man) for the most films.

You can check out the full list here. And, if you feel so inclined, tell me what you think about it.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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