MANOHLA DARGIS We have been talking about — and working on — “The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century” for months, so it’s almost hard to believe it’s actually finished. Now, after many, many (many!) movies and 10,000 words, it may seem strange that we have more to say, but us being us, of course we do.
A.O. SCOTT And so does everyone else. A big part of the reason to do this is to start arguments and invite readers to find fault. I believe I once wrote that “it’s the job of critics to be wrong,” and the response to our list so far has proved me right.
Seriously, though, one of the reasons we did this now was that it felt like a good time for a preliminary sorting and ranking of the thousands of movies we’ve seen and written about since 2000. Not to establish a definitive pantheon of classics but to start a conversation about which movies deserve that honor and also to present a series of arguments about what we value. It wasn’t easy! Winnowing and ordering was tricky. We had to agree with each other before we could invite our readers to disagree with us.
DARGIS Yes, I think it’s important for folks to remember that we were never (ever!) trying to be definitive and that this list of 25 is, of course, entirely subjective. We each completely stand by this list, but it’s also the result of honest compromise, arrived at after a great deal of wrangling, a bit of horse-trading, many emails and a whole lot of hours on the phone. That was the fun part of the process. The tough part was letting great movies slip out of contention because each of us needed to agree. And this was a list of 25, not 50. For me, two of the toughest omissions were (are) Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” and Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love.”
The real goal, though, was to draw attention to 25 great movies, something that’s become increasingly important given the glut of screen entertainment. These days it can be tough to hear the signal for the noise.
SCOTT There are so many movies, and there’s so much other competition for the attention of the public, that a lot of great work languishes in limbo — available (especially since the rise of streaming services) but neglected. One result of this neglect is widespread acceptance of the idea that movies aren’t as good as they used to be. What gave this project urgency was partly the desire to rebut that notion, to put down a marker in favor of the present and the recent past. And also to remind our readers (and ourselves) of the miraculously protean character of movies.
Of course, we left a lot out. I’m kind of amazed (and some of our readers are enraged) that there’s nothing on the list by (deep breath; partial roster): David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Abbas Kiarostami, Pedro Almodóvar, Martin Scorsese. A lot of people are shocked that we rated “Million Dollar Baby” so high; that we included “Boyhood” at all; that we omitted “The Dark Knight.” What were we thinking?
DARGIS “Zodiac”! How could we leave that fantastic Fincher off our list? That kills me. In truth, we could make another list of 25 — or 100 — movies from just the titles we didn’t include. And, as you point out, that’s exactly what some of our readers are doing: They’re making their own alternative classics lists. That’s great, but, after they have argued and discussed the list (and, ahem, “corrected” us for our oversights), I sincerely hope that they find the time to seek out those movies that they may not know, including the likes of “A Touch of Sin” and “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” titles that easily stand alongside the cinematic classics of the 20th century.
SCOTT Amen! If we can encourage people to think about their own favorite movies and make some discoveries, that’s a good day’s critical work.
But “Zodiac”? Sorry. That would top my list of the most overrated movies of the century. “Inglourious Basterds,” on the other hand … I guess we have to start all over again.