OK, here’s my list of cen­tury’s top 20

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - PHILIP MARTIN Cate Blanchett There, I’m Not

For the past two weeks we’ve been run­ning our critic Piers Marchant’s thoughts on the best films of the 21st cen­tury. And people have been ask­ing me for my list ever since The New York Times came out with its list.

So while reg­u­lar read­ers know I’m averse to hierarchical sys­tems — any Top 10 I spit out is sub­ject to con­stant re­vi­sion and grad­ing — I’m go­ing to play, too. I lim­ited my­self to one film per di­rec­tor, and started my mil­len­nium on the cor­rect date — Jan. 1, 2001.

1. I’m Not There (2007) — Todd Haynes’ mul­ti­lay­ered med­i­ta­tion on Bob Dy­lan might baf­fle some very bright people who haven’t com­pleted the req­ui­site Dy­lan work­shops, but it is the best film for and about rock ’n’ roll ever. Haynes’ Carol (2015) and Far From Heaven (2002) could have made this list were it not for my ar­bi­trary rules.

2. Cer­ti­fied Copy (2011) — Ab­bas Kiarostami’s film is so dif­fer­ent from most movies one is likely to en­counter in this coun­try that it’s likely to throw those who are un­fa­mil­iar to the Ira­nian master’s style. He em­ploys long con­ver­sa­tions in mov­ing ve­hi­cles, philo­soph­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, vis­its to dream­ily ren­dered small towns, a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with chil­dren, and un­re­solved (and pos­si­bly un­re­solv­able) rid­dles pre­sented in rig­or­ously clean doc-

umen­tary style. Cer­ti­fied Copy is a beau­ti­ful, el­lip­ti­cal fairy tale of adult life.

3. Spir­ited Away (2001) — Filled with haunt­ing im­agery, subtly ren­dered char­ac­ters and an emo­tional core ab­sent from most anime, Spir­ited Away is a rich cine­matic ex­pe­ri­ence, a story that reads like a di­rect trans­la­tion of di­rec­tor Hayao Miyazaki’s dreams. We’re in Miyazaki’s head, im­mersed in a world with a con­sis­tent if alien logic, where weight­less and time­less things co­ex­ist with buck­ets and mops.

4. The Visi­tor (2008) — Tom McCarthy’s se­cond film as di­rec­tor and writer (after 2005’s The Sta­tion Agent) is pre­cisely the sort of movie Hol­ly­wood has aban­doned, a lit­er­ate and low-key char­ac­ter study of an or­di­nary man in de­press­ingly av­er­age straits. It hon­ors mea­sured ges­tures and sug­gests that small acts of kind­ness can be heroic and life-chang­ing. It ac­knowl­edges mi­nor truths with­out de­fault­ing to con­ven­tional de­vices of up­lift. It al­lows us to be­lieve in an un­happy end­ing if we wish. And it fea­tures a mon­u­men­tal lead per­for­mance by Richard Jenk­ins, a ven­er­a­ble char­ac­ter ac­tor fi­nally given a chance to star.

5. Take Shelter (2011) — Jeff Ni­chols’ plau­si­ble hor­ror story fea­tures award-wor­thy per­for­mances from Michael Shan­non and Jes­sica Chas­tain. This is the real deal, a tough and vi­tal film that latches onto some­thing deep in the Amer­i­can psy­che — our na­tional vice, cor­ro­sive and en­fee­bling fear. Ni­chols’ Shot­gun Sto­ries (2007) and Lov­ing (2016) could have made this list as well.

6. A His­tory of Vi­o­lence (2005) — For the past 30 years David Cro­nen­berg has been the most con­sis­tently in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tor work­ing in English. While he is widely per­ceived as the king of vene­real hor­ror, his body of work ar­gues for a re-eval­u­a­tion of him as a gen­uine master, a film­maker of ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­sion and no small range.

A His­tory of Vi­o­lence is an art movie dis­guised as a blood-soaked ac­tion thriller; the lat­est and great­est of Cro­nen­berg’s self-de­scribed sell­outs to the main­stream. With its roots in a pop­u­lar graphic novel, this mock genre piece tells the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), an os­ten­si­bly av­er­age guy with a se­cret bloody past. On an­other day, I might have taken Cro­nen­berg’s Spi­der (2002).

7. 3-Iron (2004) — Kim KiDuk is one of the lead­ing lights of world cin­ema, an orig­i­nal and tren­chant vi­sion­ary who has writ­ten and di­rected a clutch of ex­quis­ite films that, de­spite dif­fer­ences in tone and tex­ture, seem of a piece.

Per­haps the best way to un­der­stand the movie at hand is to think of it as Wings of De­sire in re­v­erse. In that film by Wim Wen­ders, an an­gel longs to be­come part of the world. In this film, a mys­te­ri­ous, ge­nial young man teaches him­self to tread so lightly on the earth that he ef­fec­tively be­comes a spirit. And yet, like Wings of De­sire, 3-Iron is also a sweet if unset­tling story of tran­scen­dent ro­mance.

8. A Se­ri­ous Man (2009) — So grounded in a spe­cific re­al­ity that it has the feel of a mem­oir, A Se­ri­ous Man is a mem­ory piece pop­u­lated by fil­tered ver­sions of ac­tual people and places. These are the Coen broth­ers’ people — and if they treat them roughly, we might also as­sume they love them, if grudg­ingly.

The Coens’ In­side Llewyn Davis (2013) and No Coun­try for Old Men (2007) are also richly de­serv­ing of en­shrine­ment.

9. Broke­back Moun­tain (2005) — Ang Lee’s movie isn’t so much a “gay West­ern” as a uni­ver­sal love story to which all but the most prone-to-tit­ter­ing might re­late. In a pro­found way, the movie isn’t about ho­mo­sex­ual cow­boys. It is about the some­times tragic con­nec­tions that might be made be­tween two people who, be­cause of cir­cum­stances or con­ven­tion, have no right or op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue in­ti­macy with each other. It is a love story that ends badly, and its tri­umph is that it makes us care deeply about those made-up people on the screen.

10. Me­lan­cho­lia (2011) — Lars von Trier’s Me­lan­cho­lia is a dev­as­tat­ingly pow­er­ful film about how we are all go­ing to die mean­ing­less deaths and there’s noth­ing we can do about it.

It is a work of art and, like a poem, the best, most con­cise de­scrip­tion of the movie may be the movie it­self. Me­lan­cho­lia is to a large de­gree about its own ar­tic­u­la­tion: the vis­ual and lin­guis­tic gram­mar that it em­ploys to con­vey it­self.

Von Trier’s An­tichrist (2009) is an un­pleas­ant film that ham­mers you into that place be­yond lan­guage and in­tel­lect, the an­i­mal id of the scream­ing self.

11. The Lives of Others (2006) —Flo­rian Henckel von Don­ners­marck’s re­mark­able evo­ca­tion of the state-ex­am­ined ex­is­tence East Ger­mans were com­pelled to live in the bad old days be­fore re-uni­fi­ca­tion. It is re­solved through a cou­ple of end­ings, one bru­tal and tragic enough for the old Greeks, the other grace­ful and up­lift­ing. It re­calls mid-pe­riod Hitchcock in its sus­pense­ful­ness and Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s The Con­ver­sa­tion in its de­pic­tion of the para­noia and iso­la­tion of the se­cret agent.

12. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) — Bru­tal and brave, Piers Marchant’s choice for the best film of the 21st cen­tury so far is a hor­rific snap­shot of mar­ket forces in com­mu­nist Ro­ma­nia.

13. No Man’s Land (2001) — Bos­nian di­rec­tor Da­nis Tanovic’s film that won the award for best screen­play at Cannes; it’s a gritty ab­sur­dist war story set in 1993.

14. Wall-E (2008) — To be fair, my fa­vorite Pixar film loses some­thing when it gets to the third act and the space colony of en­do­morphs. Be­fore that, it’s thrilling.

15. Cache (2005) — Michael Haneke’s shocker is an es­say on the cor­ro­sive ef­fects of ter­ror­ism as well as an al­le­gor­i­cal in­dict­ment of French racial bias, with won­der­fully cal­i­brated per­for­mances from Daniel Au­teuil and Juli­ette Binoche. It pains me to leave off Haneke’s The White Rib­bon (2009) and Amour (2012).

16. L’En­fant (2005) — Bel­gian film­mak­ers Luc and JeanPierre Dar­denne em­ploy non­pro­fes­sion­als as ac­tors, keep their films spare, and rec­og­nize mo­ments of ev­ery­day grace. A mi­nor clas­sic. Other Dar­denne films that could have been in­cluded: Two Days, One Night (2014), The Kid With a Bike (2011).

17. Mul­hol­land Drive (2001) — After all this time, I still don’t know that I can tell you what David Lynch’s film is about — after the crit­ics’ screen­ing at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val you could over­hear what might have been (were movie re­view­ers not nat­u­rally phys­i­cally tim­o­rous people) over­tures to fist­fights. Some folks thought it all a fraud, others a work of ge­nius. Com­par­isons were made to Bunuel and D.B. Cooper. Snide re­marks were passed. Gen­u­flec­tions were made. Lines were drawn — Mul­hol­land Drive is a movie that de­mands we take a stand for it or against it. Count me as a be­liever.

Like dreams, movies needn’t be co­her­ent to be af­fect­ing, and the best art pro­vokes emo­tions not eas­ily ren­dered in lan­guage. Lynch’s movie is a sin­gu­lar piece of film­mak­ing, a com­pelling and con­found­ing work of dark imag­i­na­tion. Like the wind­ing road it’s named for — the spiny drive through the hills sep­a­rat­ing Los Angeles from the San Fer­nando Val­ley — Mul­hol­land Drive twists and veers, ca­reer­ing through some dim and woolly ter­ri­to­ries.

18. Wak­ing Life (2001) — Richard Lin­klater’s odd and thrilling an­i­mated mas­ter­piece plays like a cross be­tween Lin­klater’s Slack­ers and Ralph Bak­shi’s Amer­i­can Pop (and other ro­to­scoped ex­per­i­ments) with a bit of Louis Malle’s My Din­ner With An­dre thrown in for good mea­sure, but the truth is, it’s like noth­ing you’ve ever seen (or heard).

19. There Will Be Blood (2007) — I could have cho­sen P.T. An­der­son’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002) or The Master (2012).

20. Mar­garet (2011) — As much as I liked Manch­ester By the Sea (some of you didn’t), this long and talky film that stars Anna Paquin as a young woman who wit­nesses — and maybe causes — a hor­rific traf­fic ac­ci­dent is Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s finest film to date.

Hon­or­able men­tions: Biu­ti­ful, Wendy and Lucy, Sum­mer Hours, Zo­diac, In Tran­sit, Moonlight, White Ma­te­rial, Lost in Trans­la­tion, Yi Yi, Good­bye Solo.

is Jude, one of sev­eral Dy­lan-es­que pro­tag­o­nists in Todd Haynes’ in­ven­tive quasi-bi­og­ra­phy that critic Philip Martin thinks may be the best film of the 21st cen­tury so far.

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