The Film Critics and The Nerds Find Common Ground

It was about a decade ago that VH1 debuted their “I Love” series with the inaugural I Love the 80’s. The initial premise was pretty straightforward (and would end up being very influential for an entire section of pop culture commentary), each hour-long segment would feature comedians, critics, and public figures giving commentary on various aspects from a given year. They would talk about politics, commercials, news stories, film/TV, tragedies, and just some bizarre happenings from the specific year. It was a fun, nostalgic exercise, and it lead to many other series.

VH1 I love the 90sThey revisited the 80’s, they did I Love the 70’s and I Love the 90’s, but the question always came up, “do you think they will start commenting on the current years?” It was a valid question, part of the fun of the I Love series was the nostalgic element to it. We were removed from the events by several decades, and there were interesting points to be made in the “look how far we have come” type of way. Well, in the year 2008, they just went for it and released I Love the New Millennium, commenting on events from 2000-2007. No one is saying it was any less entertaining, but it was weird commenting on pop culture in this nostalgic fashion even though some of the events were only eight months old.  

Especially in the age of the internet, we love nostalgia. It is fun to watch old commercials and go through historic must-see lists of films. While the end of each year (marked by the end-of-year awards season) marks a good time to wrap up an individual year, sometimes we want to give some bigger commentary on the century as a whole. Only problem, we are only 16 years into this century. So while this list covers only ⅕ of the 21st century, BBC has polled over 100 film critics to lay the ground level of the Greatest Films of the 21st Century.

Having individual film critics submit their lists and weighing their choices accordingly is a pretty fun exercise (I did this last year with the critics that made up my twitter feed). By doing this, some consensus is formed and you can make a Top 100 list (with hundreds of others left out, these critics have some pretty wild choices). We are going to take a look at some particular nerdy choices, but let’s gain some perspective by taking a look at the Top 10.

Critics Top 10 Greatest Films of the 21st Century 

10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)

9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)

7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

As you can see, the Top 10 (and the majority of the list) reflects what we have come to term as “Oscar Movies.” We all know that “type” of movie, it is the high-end drama that lives in allegory and usually has some strong social commentary. If you took a look at the list and found yourself only recognizing a small portion of films listed, worry not, you are not alone. These are professional film critics, and they tend to have different tastes from what we would call the “general audience.” Devin Faraci (Birth. Movies. Death.) said it best when he broke down the Top 10 he submitted to the BBC:

“I liked the fact that it was going to be the result of a lot of people bringing their own thoughts to the table, and I liked the idea of submitting a list that would be very much MY list while also reflecting what I hoped was a reasonable swath of moviemaking in the 21st century.”

With all that being said, there were some films that both the critics and the nerds have agreed on, these are some of the best of the 21st century:

Critics and Nerds Love Sci-Fi and Animation

We are going to focus in on two specific films below, but there were a spattering of nerd-friendly film throughout the Top 100. We can break them down into two categories. First, we have the animated films. Even with so many critics polled, the consensus is obvious: Pixar is good at what they do. Finding Nemo (#96), Ratatouille (#93), Inside Out (#41), and WALL-E (#29) all made their way on to the critics’ choices. That is impressive in its own right, and shows that Pixar has absolutely dominated the animation market this century.

Second to the animated films, critics seem to have always had a soft spot for science-fiction films when it comes to picking favorites that also line up with nerdy tastes. In addition to the two films discussed below, critics’ consensus has revealed that Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (#83) and Mad Max: Fury Road (#19) have risen above their sci-fi peers. Given that it is a reboot/sequel of a 30 year old Mel Gibson franchise, it is remarkable that Fury Road is on the list. But if you were paying attention last year, you know that Fury Road struck a particular chord with audiences and film critics alike. The film made $150 million domestically, holds a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director last year. Oh, and it is also an insane post-apocalyptic action film packed to the brim with practical effects and strong themes. So yeah, good for the critics on choosing this sci-fi champion of a film.

Inception (Christopher Nolan) (BBC’s #51)

Not the only Christopher Nolan film to make it to the BBC list, Inception is the perfect example of how a blockbuster can transcend its genre and become truly great. The film is executed in a near perfect fashion in everything it attempts. We have an original concept laid out using both exposition and action. We have a great cast all-around (special highlights are Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Coltiard). We have some of the best editing out there (at any one time there are four storylines happening continuously, editor Lee Smith masterfully crafted the footage together to keep the narrative coherent). Second only to Nolan, the strongest voice is that of composer Hans Zimmer, whose score works perfectly in tandem with the photography and is truly memorable.

Inception film

While The Dark Knight Trilogy had Nolan giving us his take on a familiar tale, Inception is 100% him. From the initial concept, to the final screenplay, to his meticulous directing style, Inception is the perfect example of Nolan at his best. The film encapsulates his legacy by not only being a box-office smash, but resonating with both general audiences and critics alike. The film was nominated for Best Picture in 2010, and it is truly one of the best science-fiction films ever made.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) (BBC’s #33)

What else can be said about The Dark Knight that hasn’t already been said. The very fact that film critics, who love foreign films and worship at the altar of the Coen Brothers, were able to have such a strong consensus to include this film in the top third tells you everything you need to know. While the Academy made the huge mistake of not nominating The Dark Knight (the Academy changed their rules the following year to help include films like The Dark Knight after the backlash in 2008), critics are not going to let history forget the masterpiece that is Nolan’s definitive Batman story.

The Dark KnightIt was the perfect series of events that led up to The Dark Knight being such a wonderful film. We had laid the groundwork in Batman Begins, leaving the sequel to jump straight into a strong, conflict-oriented story. The choice had been made to feature the Joker, Batman’s greatest adversary, perfect opportunity for some strong thematic conflict between Batman’s opposite. Much like Inception, everyone involved was at the top of their game: Hans Zimmer built upon his Batman Begins’ score with the eire Joker theme, Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister made an unprecedented move to film action scenes with large IMAX cameras, and (as we all know) Heath Ledger gave us one of the best performances of all time, defining who The Joker is for generations to come.

As the years have gone by, many have come to point out the flaws in The Dark Knight. There’s not much to argue with here. Yes, there are some plot holes (does The Joker’s plan make sense at the end of the day?) and yes, the editing is pretty chaotic (“chaotic” is used as a negative here). But there is something about great films, a film like The Dark Knight, where the overall finished product is just so good that some of the specific details need not be sweated. The three central characters of Batman, Joker, and Harvey Dent make up what is one of the most thematically deep stories of this century. Yes, we get some cool action scenes, and yes it is cool to see Batman in a more down-to-earth story, but at the bottom of the day it is these three characters interacting with one another that elevates The Dark Knight to greatness.

So as you can see, the critics and the nerds can find some common ground. Though they may not have made the final cut, everything from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Drew McWeeney) to Spider-Man 2 (Devin Faraci) to Star Trek (Jordan Hoffman) to The Avengers (Scott Collura) to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Brian Truitt) were submitted in critics’ individual lists. This just goes to show you that you can love both Summer Blockbuster season and the Fall Oscar Movie season, movies are so wide-ranging in their scope and the topics they address, and it is a great time to be a film fan. For some reference, here is my (extremely tentative/subject-to-change-at-anytime) Top 10 films of the 21st century:

10. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)

9. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

8. The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2014)

7. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, 2013)

6. Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)

5. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015)

4. Signs (M. Night Shymalan, 2002)

3. The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)

2. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

1. The Dark Knight (Chrisopher Nolan, 2010)

Now that is just my list, what is yours? Are you drawn more to dramas or comedies? Do you feel as though any particular “nerd” films should be recognized by history? Do you have any favorite films that you are embarrassed to tell others you like? Let us know in the comments below!


Feature Image via Blondinrikard Fröberg

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About the author

Josh Tarpley

is a film critic and all around movie enthusiast. Along with being a Marvel fanboy, he is also a husband, college graduate and proud Beagle owner. Josh loves to celebrate art and tries to incorporate his faith into every aspect of life. You can follow Josh on twitter @JoshTarpley7

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