Inspired by the New York Times' recent list of the "25 Best Films of the 21st Century," and because it's always fun to draw attention to masterpieces of cinema that everyone 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. There were three main criteria for me as I considered which films to include in my top 17.
I woke up on the first day of 2017 in Rome, the "Eternal City," feeling the weight of a world where even the most enduring things are laughably far from "eternal." I was in Rome on a trip with Kira and six young adults from our church. It was a trip we designed around early church history. For six days we led our group to the many sacred Christian sites of Rome: the prison where Peter and Paul were held captive; the churches where Peter and Paul are buried; the early Christian catacombs; the Vatican; churches from the 4th century; churches on top of older churches on top pagan temples.
It may be true that “You cannot conquer Time,” but the attempt to conquer it through moment-capturing art and particularly cinema can be quite beautiful. This pretty much sums up Richard Linklater’s "Before" trilogy, his "Boyhood" masterpiece and his just-released "Everybody Wants Some." Linklater is a filmmaker who knows well the powerful potential that cinema has to capture that peculiar, elusive mystery of time.
In spite of North Korea-sponsored hacks and Hollywood's subsequent self-censorship, constant doomsday talk of box office decline and much ink spilt about The End of Movies, it was a terrific year for cinema. It's always difficult in years like this to narrow down to ten favorites, but below is my attempt. These are films that moved me, astonished me, taught me, and focused my attention more clearly than any others this year. I heartily recommend them all to you:
I think it was Kierkegaard who said that while life is lived forwards, it can only be understood backwards. Certainly most art proves the truth of this statement. While life presses on breathlessly and leaves nary a moment for sense-making, artists are the ones who press pause and rewind, arranging the pieces, plot-points and colors for us in such a way that the full (or fuller) picture is seen.
A professor I admire once said — while discussing the films of Yasujiro Ozu, or maybe it was semiotics (can’t remember) — that watching the sun set can be both a thing of incredible beauty and deep sadness, often simultaneously. I thought of this as I watched Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, which includes a scene of a couple sitting by the sea in Greece, watching the sun slowly dip below the horizon. It’s there, there, there — and then it’s not there. A fleeting flare of arresting orange. Present and then absent. Perhaps the beauty and sadness of a sunset has to do with the fact that it’s the process in nature we humans most identify with. Ours is a context of ephemerality.
Another year half-way through, another pause to reflect on the best films of the first half. Last year by this time, The Tree of Life topped my list, followed by Meek's Cutoff. Below are my picks for the five best films I've seen in theaters in the first six months of 2012.