How often have we all heard that resigned expression? How often have we said it ourselves? ‘The death of cinema’ is debated in university film studies programs worldwide. Critics lament the loss of ‘small movies’ in favour of superhero spectacles. Box-office analysts look for signs of an industry on the brink. Studio executives fear that video-on-demand may destroy the idea of going to the cinema more than broadcast and cable TV ever did.
And what can we really call a new classic? What in recent vintage can hold its own on the big screen with the likes of The Searchers, The Godfather, The Rules of the Game, Seven Samurai or Citizen Kane? Some film journalists even think the movie star is a thing of the past.
Perhaps the fault lies not in our movie stars, but in ourselves. If you can’t find masterpieces amid the blockbuster flotsam, you simply aren’t looking hard enough. Film-making today, whether massively expensive or made with tiny budgets, shot on celluloid or video, is thriving artistically as much as it ever has. But today you’ll find greater diversity in the kinds of films being made, if not in the people who are making them. That’s why we, the editors of BBC Culture, decided to commission a poll of critics to determine the 100 greatest films of the 21st Century. Last year, we asked critics to name the greatest American films of all time, and we were surprised that only six films made since 2000 made the top 100. Is there a feeling that time sanctifies a classic? Perhaps. But this time, we wanted to prove that this century has given us films that will stand the test of time, that you will continue to think about and argue about if only you give them a chance and watch them.
For our poll to determine the 100 greatest American films, we surveyed 62 film critics from around the world. This time, we received responses from 177 – from every continent except Antarctica. Some are newspaper or magazine reviewers, others write primarily for websites; academics and cinema curators are well-represented too. For the purposes of this poll we have decided that a list of the greatest films of the 21st Century should include the year 2000, even though we recognise that there was no ‘Year Zero’ and that 2001 is mathematically the start of the century. Not only did we all celebrate the turn of the millennium on 31 December 1999, but the year 2000 was a landmark in global cinema, and, in particular, saw the emergence of new classics from Asia like nothing we had ever seen before.