The 17 Best Films of the Last 17 Years

Inspired by the New York Timesrecent list of the "25 Best Films of the 21st Century," and because it's always fun to draw attention to masterpieces of cinema that people should see, I decided to compile my own list of the best films of the century so far. 

I limited my picks to 17, since we are 17% of the way through the century thus far. That does not mean I picked one film from each year, however. Some years don't have any representation on my list (2010, 2014, 2015), and some years have several (2007 was a great year for cinema). 

There were three main criteria for me as I considered which films to include in my top 17:

  1. Does the film capture the zeitgeist of the early 21st century, asking the questions we were asking and grappling with the challenges of the moment, such that generations from now, viewers of this film will understand something true and insightful about this era? 
  2. Does the film also have a transcendent quality to it, both stylistically and thematically, probing deeply human questions and depicting truth via moving images in ways that will be resonant 100 years from now? 
  3. Do I return to this film often and discover its pleasures and insights anew, as opposed to simply understanding it as "great" or "important" in theory but not wishing to watch it again? 

All of the films below meet at least two of these criteria for me, and most of them meet all three. 

To make any such list is always personal and somewhat arbitrary. And on any given day the list might be different. But here are my picks, plus 17 more that could easily have made the list too. 

The Best 17 Films, 2000-2016

  1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
  2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
  3. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)
  4. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
  5. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2009)
  6. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2002)
  7. L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2005)
  8. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
  9. Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
  10. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
  11. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
  12. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
  13. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
  14. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013)
  15. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
  16. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
  17. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)

The Next 17 (in Chronological Order)

  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)
  • Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
  • The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
  • Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006)
  • I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
  • Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
  • There Will be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
  • Munyurangabo (Lee Isaac Chung, 2007)
  • Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)
  • The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
  • The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
  • Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois, 2010)
  • The Kid With a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011)
  • Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
  • Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016) 
  • Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)