One thing I’m interested in is how perceptions about works of art change, and how reputations can slowly rise. Let’s look at this with movies. Some films are immediately acknowledged as being among the best of the art form. Schindler’s List made the AFI top ten within a few years of its release. Others take longer. Raging Bull was in 23rd place in the 1998 list, and fourth place in the 2007 list. Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction have started to do very well in modern rankings. Films from the late 90s and onward haven’t done as well, as some movies from the first half of the decade (Forrest Gump, Unforgiven, Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs) and it’s worth considering why that happened.
Did it take a while to realize which of the films that was pretty good would stand the test of time? Were particular eras weak? Did it take a while for slightly older films to be seen as classics, and for earlier films once solidified as classics to be seen as dated?
The implicit theory I have is that films usually hold up because a combination of factors, rather than just one big thing. For example, Some Like It Hot was a great comedy, but it was also a great work by a notable writer/ director, and it was also the best screen performance by Marilyn Monroe. 2001: A Space Odyssey was an innovative sci-fi epic, but it also had one of the all-time great villains in Hal, and an excellent score, and it was by Kubrick.
I’m wondering what films of the 21st Century are going to be rated highest in the future. This is slightly different from the question of which films are the best. One thing that matters a lot is whether a film can have a slightly bigger devoted following than another. The main aspect I’m looking at is films that seem to have the best combination of factors.
My top ten…
10. Selma: It’s a very good film that hits a lot of sweet spots for certain critics/ film professionals, with a female director covering the strategy of activism in the Civil Rights movement. It also tells the story of someone who will still be considered significant decades from now.
9. There Will Be Blood: Daniel Day-Lewis seems to have developed a well-earned reputation as the best actor of the modern era. This is probably his finest performance in a film that’s about something.
8. The Social Network: I might be biased because I really liked this film. The director is a critical favorite, the writer has a major following, and it’s about something modern and interesting. The young stars are on the rise, which means if any of their reputations increase significantly, it helps this film. Rooney Mara got two Oscar nominations; Andrew Garfield just got his first, and Armie Hanmer is getting acclaim for Call Me By Your Name. So that’s all happening.
7. The Avengers: This was a massive success critically and commercially, and the most notable of the MCU films. It also did something that’s groundbreaking by merging four film franchises together for one massive crossover. A slight issue with the MCU is that there may be a splitting of the vote with future lists, and I think the Avengers marks a compromise for those who might otherwise go for Iron Man (the first of the MCU films) or Captain America: Civil War (a particularly acclaimed and high-profile one.)
6. Moonlight Last year, I would have put Brokeback Mountain in the top ten, since it was probably the most notable film to deal with gay issues, and the reputations of the stars (Ledger, Gyllenhal, Williams) and director (Ang Lee) have only increased after the release. Then Moonlight came out and won Best Picture, and got a higher Rotten Tomatoes score, while providing racial milestones (first Best Picture winner directed by an African-American.)
5. Django Unchained: It gets the support of the people who like Tarantino (to say nothing of Leonardo Dicaprio and Samuel L Jackson, both of whom have memorable performances) and it does deal with a serious topic (slavery.) It also has the best buddy pairing of the decade with Django and Schultz.
4. Wolf of Wall Street: This is probably Dicaprio’s most iconic performance, and he is the most important actor right now. It’s a film with an A-list director, and a great supporting cast. It’s about something relevant to the modern era (capitalist excess) and if you want something fun and Hard-R, there really isn’t any serious competition.
3. Wall-E: It’s slowly getting the reputation as one of the best Pixar films. Cinephiles like the completely silent first act. And it’s probably the best science fiction film in a generation, so it’s going to get support from that crowd.
2. The Dark Knight: Generally acknowledged to be the best example of a type of movie that is very popular right now, with an excellent supporting cast and one of the best cinematic villains ever.
1.The Lord of the Rings: These were all filmed back to back, so I think this is going to go down as one series, the way some combine The Godfather & The Godfather Part 2, to avoid splits by critics when they’re trying to figure out if they should vote for The Fellowship of the Ring (which kicked off the saga) and Return of the King (which won all those Oscars, brought the saga to a successful conclusion, and had a bigger role for Gollum, arguably the best character.)
As I noted, these aren’t the best films of the 21st Century, nor are these my favorite films.
But I think these are the ones that are most likely to pop up in Top 100 lists made twenty years from now, often for reasons that have little to do with quality.