The BBC has published a list of the '21st Century's 100 Greatest Films", collectively compiled by 177 critics from around the world. Such a venture is of course likely to generate a mixture of delight, incredulity, opprobrium and heated debates as readers search for where their favourite films have come in these rather arbitrary rankings, and people all over the country will be saying things like "Film X is in the top twenty despite being pretentious bullsh*t, but 'Film Y' doesn't even make the cut? These critics don't know anything".
The problem with these lists, which seem to be published on some website or another on a weekly basis, is that they are largely reductive in their quest to be definitive. They're not billed as 'The Critics' Favourite Films' or '100 Great Films', but as 'The Greatest', as if creating this list of the 100 best films was an exact science. But there is no empirical way in which a US thriller can be deemed to be better or worse than a German documentary or an Argentinian comedy; and trying to find a set of criteria by which to judge every film uniformly runs the risk of diminishing the variety and scope of the cinema industry.
These lists also tend to give too much authority to critics and turn film-watching into an elitist activity. I enjoy reading film reviews because I respect the views and interpretations of critics who have spent years building up an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema. Critics watch every film that's released to help us then decide which films to prioritise and which it might be best to avoid. But the best critics are those that present their reviews as their personal (albeit educated) opinion and not as gospel; those that leave room for readers who may think otherwise to engage in a tacit debate. Critics provide a valuable service in this way, but their role as I see it, is to guide the casual movie-watcher, not to tell him/her that 'Film X' is objectively the 16th greatest, and 'Film Y' is only the 78th, and you're wrong to think that it could be any other way.
The late Roger Ebert, one of the most revered film critics in history, understood the insurmountable and redundant nature of compiling a definitive list of 'the greatest' films. He simply collected all his favourites in a section called 'Great Movies' without any attempt to rank them. When, in 1991 he acquiesced to writing a list of 'The Ten Greatest Films of All Time', he presented them alphabetically and with an emphasis these were his very personal choices:
"If I must make a list of the Ten Greatest Films of All Time, my first vow is to make the list for myself, not for anybody else [...][i]f I have a criterion for choosing the greatest films, it's an emotional one. These are films that moved me deeply in one way or another".
If the BBC's list has achieved one positive thing at least, it is that it very visually demonstrates how many great films have been made in the last decade and a half (it's some 84 years too premature to start calling them the greatest of the century), despite the fact that the continuous rise of the franchise movie has led many to lament the state of contemporary cinema. In keeping with Ebert's ethos, I'm going to finish this post by sharing some of the exceptional movies released since 2000 which have made a lasting impression on me, and which I'd strongly recommend. No rankings, no ratings, just great films.
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi, 2009)
The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
Barbara (Christian Petzold, 2012)
Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2014)
City Of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002)
The Consequences Of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, 2005)
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011)
Good Night And Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)
The Intouchables (Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano, 2011)
The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2001)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
Midnight In Paris (Woody Allen, 2010)
O Brother Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000)
Nine Queens ( Fabian Bielinsky, 2000)
The Road To Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002)
The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2015)
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010)
Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, 2009)
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, 2006)
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson 2007)
Two Days One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, 2014)
United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)
Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)