|Yours truly, a reel FilmFreeQ|
The BBC recently assembled a group of 177 film critics to rank what they consider to be the best films of the 21st century so far. As most critics tend to do, their choices consisted of incredible artistic and filmmaking merit. Yet a large majority of them are films with bleak worldviews or stories, including The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan's unprecedented sequel featuring Batman against his famous nemesis, the Joker, from 2008), top pick Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch's haunting, surreal Hollywood thriller from 2001), and There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson's dark version of late-1800s to early-1900s America, with an Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, from 2007). Yet, a few other films managed to lighten up the list, including four Pixar animated features that have become instant classics (2003's Finding Nemo, 2015's Inside Out, 2007's Ratatouille, and 2008's WALL*E).
For the following list, I've picked four films from this decade so far (you can read my lists under the title of "Standout Films of the Decade," of which the following summaries come from). For me, these films not only encompass a sense of longevity and timelessness. They are also artistic, with both moral and spiritual merit. To be fair, these films do have some difficult (even some depressive) subject matter in their contexts, yet these are films that have universal significance and deal with experiencing life anew. (Click on film titles to read my respective full reviews.)
A breathtaking, harrowing, and visceral (3D) experience like never before. Director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron, co-writer (and son) Jonas Cuaron, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki immerse moviegoers into the beautiful and mysterious atmosphere of space and never let go. Sandra Bullock is a tour-de-force as an astronaut in a universal story of adversities, life, death, and rebirth.
No other film last year has shaken me nor moved me as much as this one. Based on the bestselling novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), Room is hard to watch at times, due to its strong subject matter. But at its heart, it’s a powerful and loving story of a mother and child who escape captivity and discover the world. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are remarkable, heartbreaking, and thoroughly engaging. A unique portrait of childhood innocence, family heartache and drama, and unbreakable love.
Toy Story 3
Third time proves the rarest charm in this third outing in the popular Pixar series of toys coming to life when owners aren't looking. With owner Andy off to college soon, the remaining toys question what will become of them, and accidentally get shipped to a day care center, headed by the tyrannical Lots'O Huggin' Bear. The results are an amalgamation of different genres, childhood memories, and themes of ownership, independence, death, and life. A great ensemble cast of characters in a truly universal story.
The Tree of Life
Director Terrence Malick's ambitious project on the creation of life (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey) juxtaposed with a Texas family in the 1950s didn’t play well in theaters (its non-linear direction reportedly caused several walkouts, as well as several boos at the Cannes Film Festival, where it ironically won the top-prize Palme D’or award). Rotten Tomatoes says it very well: “Terrence Malick's singularly deliberate style may prove unrewarding for some, but for patient viewers, Tree of Life is an emotional as well as visual treat.”