It is a widely held belief among both hardcore movie nerds and fairweather film fans that cinema is not what it used to be. Too many sequels, franchises, TV adaps, Adam Sandler films, zero imagination, less originality. It’s a perception that Adam Smith’s guide to the cream of millennium movies throws into question.
As Smith — Empire’s Senior Features Writer — points out in his introduction, film fans are inveterate list-makers and part of the joy of any book like this is nodding in quiet agreement or seething with unbridled anger at the inclusions/exclusions. The 101 films under discussion here traverse the obvious crowdpleasers (Avatar, Harry Potter, Twilight), the usual critical darlings (The Artist, There Will Be Blood), and the venerated indies (Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko). But this is no bland play-it-safe list. Films of debatable artistic merit (Hostel, Knocked Up, The Day After Tomorrow, Transformers) are included because they say something about the cinematic times. There are also choices that will initially bemuse — 3:10 To Yuma? Carnage? De Palma’s barely seen Femme Fatale? — but Smith makes passionate, persuasive arguments for their inclusion.
Each film gets a savvy, witty discussion of its own merits but Smith also takes a helicopter view, analysing its critical reception and its place within the decade. The tone here is enthusiastic but eminently sensible, particularly when it comes to assessing noughties cinema as a response to 9/11 or analysing the current state of the art — Smith argues the ratio of good to bad movies remains the same, there are just more films and more ways to view them. He retains, however, a healthy amount of scepticism for the rise of ‘immersive’ tactics such as 3D and IMAX. Arranged around these 101 flicks, we get thought-provoking mini essays on key contemporary trends, fads and movements — from superheroes to torture porn to the so-called death of the movie star — and brief, spiky pen portraits of new talents (Carey Mulligan) and comeback kids (Robert Downey Jr.).
It will be interesting to see, 20 or 30 years from now, how many of these films would still feature in a similar survey, but as a snapshot of cinema right now, Smith’s list suggests that modern movies may be in a much better state than the cynics would have you believe. Any period that throws up Let The Right One In, Little Miss Sunshine, The Lives Of Others, LOTR and Lost In Translation as its Ls can’t be all bad.
Reviewed by Ian Freer