The 21st Century Films Prepared For Classic Status

A fairly rare concept in the world of cinema is “the instant classic.” Over more than a century of celluloid, there of course has been a wide variety of films that immediately were showered with praise, awards, and a devoted following. These include The Godfather, Casablanca, La Dolce Vita, Pulp Fiction, Sunset Boulevard, The Bicycle Thief, and Star Wars, to name but a small sample. Equally common, however, is the plethora of cinematic gems that were ignored upon initial release but eventually became regarded as iconic masterpieces of the medium. These include The Night of The Hunter, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Fight Club, Tokyo Story, and Harold and Maude. It is astounding to imagine today that in 1980 the most buzzed-about film was the soapy, yuppie-friendly domestic drama Ordinary People, while Raging Bull, a raw and tragic landmark of modern American cinema, was met with poor notices and a surprisingly low haul of merely two Academy Awards.

Today it is considered one of (if not THE) greatest films of all time, but in 1942 it lost Best Picture to John Ford's How Green Was My Valley
Today it is considered one of (if not the) greatest films of all time, but in 1942 Citizen Kane lost Best Picture to John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley

Similarly, the old fashioned 1996 romantic weepie The English Patient dominated the Oscars and entranced moviegoers across the nation, but 20 years later it is the Coen Brothers’ Fargo which has emerged as a contemporary classic, even spawning an acclaimed FX television series. Therefore, it is with trepidation that one endeavors to predict the films of the still-green 21st Century which will emerge as timeless classics. The following four films are remarkably disparate, but all share hallmarks of cinema that will stand the test of time; a visionary auteur working at the top of his or her game, career-defining performances, and a sense of innovation.

It will take many years to see if these works truly will be regarded as among the best of all-time, but it is clear that each of these films stand out among a decade and a half of endless remakes, sequels, and comic-book adaptations.

Brokeback Mountain

Controversial in 2005, the film now appears ahead of its time in its message of tolerance
Controversial in 2005, the film now appears ahead of its time in its message of tolerance

One way to secure a film’s timelessness is to make a period piece that contains eerie contemporary parallels. Ang Lee’s 2005 adaptation of the Annie E. Proulx short story is set in the early 1960s in Wyoming, but despite how many advances the nation has achieved since then, there is a woeful relevence to the material that transcends the era in which it is set. As same-sex marriage is now the law of the land in the United States, it might appear as a distant, archaic memory to recall the widespread backlash Lee’s film faced when released just over a decade ago. It was derided as the “gay cowboy movie” by moviegoers who went out of their way not to see it. In conservative states across the nation, from West Virginia to Indiana, it was marketed as a conventional heterosexual love story, the posters adorned with co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.

Despite winning an endless array of critics’ prizes and the Golden Globe for Best Picture-Drama, Brokeback Mountain lost the Oscar to Crash, a film with decidedly mixed reviews which was not even nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Picture. This failure to win Best Picture is a constant for some of the most hallowed film masterpieces, from the aforementioned Raging Bull, Citizen Kane, and Pulp Fiction, to Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, and The Graduate. Meanwhile, the Best Picture winners which have faded into obscurity are legion, including The Greatest Show On Earth (1952), Around The World in 80 Days (1956) Shakespeare in Love (1998) and The Artist (2011).

Far more than the preachy and sensationalistic Crash, Brokeback Mountain is a subtle, emotionally resonant film, which despite elements of the western and romantic melodrama, appears fresh and highly distinctive. Subverting the hyper-machismo of the Hollywood Western archetypes of John Wayne and John Ford, Lee sensitively delves into the implicit homoeroticism present in numerous cowboy films. The film is clearly one of the most vivid-and tragic- love stories of our time, but is is far more than just a tear-jerking romance, a la James Cameron’s Titanic. Although Gyllenhaal gives a brilliantly rendered performance, by far his most fully realized until 2014’s Nightcrawler, Heath Ledger’s nuanced, complex, and searing portrayal is one of the most affecting of the century so far. Unlike other forbidden romances, Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar cannot even admit that he loves Gyllenhaal’s flamboyant Jack Twist, as his reticent, macho exterior hides his burning and authentic homosexuality.

The film begins deliberately, detailing the minutia of Ennis and Jack’s solitary existence on the picturesque ranch, owned by the taciturn Joe (Randy Quaid). Slowly, it becomes clear that the two have a raw, intimate connection, culminating in an infamous (and completely chaste) sex sequence. The picture’s pace picks up after the ranchers leave and head off into separate lives- and wives. Despite their clear homosexuality, both are forced to hide their true selves in the rigid masculinity of the rural West, and both become hitched to simple but perceptive women who eventually see through their husbands’ facades (a brilliant Michelle Williams and the previously noted Hathaway).

Lee’s direction is at its absolute peak, eschewing the CGI of his later Life of Pi or the slow-motion virtuosity of his groundbreaking martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Shooting in a classicist style which indeed recalls the gorgeous formalism of John Ford, as well as such lush stylists as Terrence Malick and Wim Wenders, Lee produces an epic of atmospheric Americana, to rival the latter filmmakers’ Badlands and Paris, Texas. In addition to the cowboys’ alienation and buried lust (and love), the film effortlessly captures the dead-end lives of small-town American life. Depicting blue-collar rural poverty in a conservative region of the United States, as well as strictly enforced codes for gender behavior, Brokeback Mountain could just have easily been set in the year of its release.

Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas was a predecessor to Brokeback Mountain in its melancholy Americana and outsider's perspective on the heartland
Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas was a predecessor to Brokeback Mountain in its melancholy Americana and outsider’s perspective on the heartland

Despite the strides the nation has made, the message of tolerance for those of all sexual orientations still resonates. The on-going battle over contentious anti-transgender “bathroom laws,” and the similar Oscar snubbing of the acclaimed lesbian romance Carol (2015), reveal that the United States needs to make further progress in order for true equality to take place. Yet, Brokeback Mountain is not solely a work of “queer cinema,” a curio to be placed in the gay and lesbian interest section. It’s a tortured and devastating romance, a portrait of time and place which appears shatteringly authentic, and a deconstruction of a century of Hollywood western myths. Above all, it is film that is expertly directed, written, and acted, and addresses concerns that transcend time and place. As the U.S. (hopefully) continues to destruct the remaining remnants of homophobia, Lee’s masterpiece is likely to become a consensus classic of American cinema.


Akin to Brokeback Mountain, Richard Linklater’s 2014 release Boyhood won a lion’s share of critics’ awards and the Golden Globe Best Picture, only to lose to the (quite brilliant) Birdman at The Oscars. Just as Crash‘s dissection of contemporary Los Angeles delighted the Hollywood insiders who vote for Oscars, Alejandro Gonzalez Inirritu’s knowing Hollywood satire entranced Academy voters. However, as both an experimental landmark and a deeply human drama, Linklater’s intimate epic should prove to be the film that lasts and resonates in future decades.

The unorthodox nature of its production is naturally the most hyped aspect of Linklater’s film, which unfortunately led to a misguided labeling as gimmicky in some circles. Famously filmed over 12 years, with the same principal actors (Ellar Coltrane as the protagonist, Linklater’s daughter Lorelai as his sister, and Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the parents), Linklater has produced perhaps the most epic and ambitious coming of age film to date. Rather than casting vaguely look-alike actors to play the part of an aging adolescent, Linklater brilliantly allows the audience to watches an entire family age before our very eyes. The culmination of years of filming over nearly three hours is moving in itself, and it enables a moviegoer to feel an intimate connection with characters who he or she has never actually met.

The bond between father and son has rarely been captured more vividly
The bond between father and son has rarely been captured more vividly

If the time-lapse element was the only notable feature of Linklater’s masterwork, however, it would not have received such massive, overwhelming critical acclaim. Conversely, it is the film’s warm humanity, magical evocation of the mundane ups and downs of existence, and unvarnished, deeply felt performances, which subtly make Boyhood a transcendent experience. Coltrane, as the aspiring photographer and quintessential Linklater slacker Mason, gives a subtle, stunningly authentic performance, his understated personality changes over a decade-plus span perfectly matching his physical transformations. Linklater’s daughter’s effervescent presence works as a perfect foil to the deadpan musings of her younger brother.

However, it is arguably Arquette and Hawke who dominate the picture, despite the inherent “supporting” nature of their performances. Arquette gives one of the screen’s most unforgettable portraits of being a mother; as a conflicted intellectual trying to find herself amidst a series of heinous dating decisions, Arquette is as three-dimensional and fully human as celluloid creations are allowed to be. Hawke, a mainstay in Linklater pictures, pitches an equally multi-faceted turn as an archetypal deadbeat “cool Dad” who eventually develops maturity, and whose love for the children he rarely gets to see is overpowering. The realistic nature of the film’s characterizations is not surprising, as Linklater has made clear in interviews that the screenplay is heavily drawn from his own life experience.

This accounts for the film’s lack of Hollywood contrivances, but it does not indicate that Boyhood is simply a narcissistic vanity project, or a big budget home movie. Linklater’s work is timeless and universal, portraying the rhythms of daily existence which nearly all humans can identify with. The search for meaning during the ardors of adolescence, the eternal struggle to find a romantic partner, and the difficulties of adapting to new surroundings, among other human concerns, are lucidly explored. However, it is the film’s free-flowing warmth and surprising humor that elevates this film to a masterpiece of contemporary American cinema. Boyhood easily works as a time-capsule of the contentious era of which it was filmed; references to Bush and Obama, a soundtrack featuring everything from Coldplay to The Arcade Fire, visual references to Harry Potter and Dragonball Z, among others, make this as accurate a portrayal of its time as any documentary.

Simply for its invaluable status as a historical artifact of its age, Boyhood ensures an audience for years to come. However, as a portrait of life’s development in any era or nation, the film’s true timelessness is made clear. Despite its Oscar snubs (it only won, deservingly, for Arquette’s performance), Linklater’s bold experiment is likely to be cherished decades from now, as much for its technical achievements as its humanity.

Yi Yi

By far the most obscure film here (at least in the United States), the late, brilliant Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s 2000 release is in some ways akin to Linklater’s Boyhood in it epic, free-flowing three-hour evocation of existence. However, rather than merely focused on coming-of-age, Yi Yi focuses on all ends of the life cycle, from the adventures of the precocious, intuitive young Yang-Yang and his teenage sister Ting-Ting, to the middle-aged sorrow and regrets of patriarch NJ and his dying mother-in-law. This focus on all generations of a “typical” middle-class family calls to mind Yasojiru Ozu’s immortal Tokyo Story, but the film’s grandiosity and sweep owe much to peak Francis Ford Coppola, while the intersecting story lines and ensemble cast reveal a debt to Robert Altman. This blending of Eastern and Western influences has helped Yang’s film reach a wide audience far beyond the shores of Taiwan, but it does not imply that his approach is derivative. Like all great filmmakers, Yang synthesized his cinematic influences while adding his own distinctive stamp. The result is a work of cinematic art which captures such a multitude of facets of humanity it could be re-titled “Life Itself.”

Opening at a wedding (akin to The Godfather and Upton Sinclair’s classic journalistic novel The Jungle), Yi Yi immediately introduces the viewer to an array of colorful and deeply human characters, while subtly signaling the screenplay’s theme of tumultous interpersonal relationships. Calmly scored to a lilting piano theme, Yang’s direction is as soothing and refreshing as a cup of tea, but beneath the placid surface raw emotions bubble under.

East meets West in Yang's masterwork
East meets West in Yang’s masterwork

In contrast to the bright colors and aforementioned calming piano, the dysfunctional lot of characters is immediately introduced, from NJ’s superstitious, stubborn brother-in-law to a hilariously scheming ex-girlfriend who disrupts the wedding in a nearly soap-operatic fashion. There have been few films released in the 21st Century thus far, if any, with such an abundance of vividly sketched characters. Even better is the sense that Yang is not merely shoehorning these people into a contrived plot, but orchestrating a series of stunningly lifelike situations with human-size characters.

Although this is an ensemble piece, by far the most resonant and dominant character is NJ, as befitting the patriarchal societies of many East Asian nations. A prototypical upper-middle class businessman, husband, and father, he projects an outward feeling of success and happiness which hides the deep pain and regrets seething beneath. Nien-Jen Wu’s performance is subtle, understated, and at times silent. This implosive nature makes it all the more affecting, and his relationships with the other characters in the film are always involving and deeply moving.

These characters include a Japanese video-game developer who he is trying to close a crucial deal with. The sequences between these soulful middle-aged men constitute one of the film’s many highlights, abound in wisdom and insight. Equally illuminating are the scenes detailing the could-have-been romance between NJ and his ex-girlfriend, who he has not seen for thirty years before ironically bumping into her during the opening wedding sequence. Rarely has lost love, an eternal, overused themes in works of art, been explored so unforgettably.

This is not simply a mid-life crisis movie, however, as the film touches upon the ardors of a new marriage, the tentativeness of teenage dating, and the mysteries of life as they appear to a child. Love, death, sorrow, and attempted suicide are among the film’s weighty themes, but the three hours waltz by as effortlessly and gracefully as a classical dance.

Few movie are as universal and transcendent of time as Edward Yang’s epic domestic drama, and therefore it is likely to be as relevant in San Francisco or Santiago in 2100 as it was Taipei in 2000.


Just as Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain masqueraded as a period piece when in reality it was a film clearly and urgently of its time, Spike Jonze’s 2013 release Her is both a haunting Orwellian warning and a stunningly accurate reflection of the period of its release. On one level, Her is a speculative sci-fi fantasy; in the 2010s, it is still virtually unbelievable that someone could undergo a relationship with an operating system, let alone fall in love. Yet, the point that Jonze is trying to make about our technologically-obsessed, intimacy-starved society is transparent. In a world of Tinder hook-ups, Facebook “friends” who will never meet in person, and a collective population who would rather send messages on WhatsApp than actually speak to each other on the phone, Jonze’s vision is eerily relevant. However, this trend is likely to only accelerate rather than dissipate, enabling his Oscar-winning screenplay to become more and more relevant as the years drift by.

The clever conceit of Jonze’s film is of course instantly memorable, but this conceit would grow thin without developed characters or inventive direction. Luckily, Jonze cast one of the most remarkable actors of his generation in an uncharacteristic but typically brilliant performance. Joaquin Phoenix, best known for explosive, eccentric turns in films ranging from Gladiator to The Master, dials down his Method-isms to deliver a subtle, delicate performance as a lost soul living in the Los Angeles of the near future. Divorced and isolated, the soulful Theodore writes online letters addressed from loved ones who cannot express their feelings as eloquently and lucidly as the talented writer can.

As haunting a portrait of urban alienation as Travis Bickle
As haunting a portrait of urban alienation as Travis Bickle

Regardless, his actual social life is shockingly dormant, even as he feigns interpersonal warmth through his electronic messages. His attempts to interact with his robotic boss (Chris Pratt) or his married friend (Amy Adams, once again proving she is one of the most invaluable actresses of the 21st Century so far) are as artificial as the gadgets permeating the city’s cold yet sunny landscape. It is only when he receives a new phone with a convincingly human AI OS, named “Samantha” that his life begins to rocket back to life. Initially, Theodore is merely intrigued by her efficiency, intuition, and oddly human qualities, but eventually an unorthodox love story emerges. Her is far from the first unconventional love story to find an audience; predecessors range from Harold & Maude to Lars & The Real Girl, but Jonze’s work excels in its combination of social commentary, sci-fi satire, and a surprisingly authentic romance.

The futuristic trappings and cutting-edge satirical edge make it a film of its time, but Her transcends its era in its haunting portrait of urban alienation, joining an endless array of portrayals of this universal theme, from Fydor Dostoyevky’s novella Notes From Underground to Martin Scorsese’s screen classic Taxi Driver. The love story angle is made astonishingly convincing by the voice acting of Scarlett Johansson, whose distinctive purr enlivens the artificial operating system, blurring the line between human and android. It is film that works on nearly every level, but Jonze’s deliberate pacing and novelistic depth may cause some audiences to find it tedious and mind-numbingly slow.

As the apparent science fiction of its premise eventually becomes reality, it is destined to become viewed as a prescient docudrama rather than a silly sci-fi love story. Its timeliness (and ahead of its time nature) ensures its longevity, as does the pitch-perfect duo of Phoenix and Johansson. It also proves that Jonze is not merely a visionary interpreter, whether it is the screenplays of Charlie Kaufman or children’s literature of Maurice Sendak, but an original and thoughtful writer-director. The former music video auteur’s films have defined the 2000s as well as any other American director, reflecting our contentious modern age in subtle, visually rich works of cinematic art. With Her, Jonze had made a graceful, lyrical work of art that should linger far beyond its era.

With a mere 16 years into a brave new world, it is still highly difficult to predict the films which will transcend the age and emerge as masterworks of the medium. Some of the most acclaimed works of their day eventually fade into obscurity, while few would have imagined the longevity of Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, or Vertigo. 

It is therefore virtually impossible to know if these four 21st Century releases; Brokeback Mountain, Boyhood, Yi Yi, and Her; will be remembered vividly five decades from now. It is clear that each film is the work of its distinctive creator, and that all of these cinematic works are both of their time and transcendent of it. Above all, each film rebuffs Hollywood formulas, affirming that summer blockbusters and remakes are far from all that the cinematic landscape has to offer in the new millennium.


Burr, Ty. “‘Boyhood’ Gets Much out of Its Young Star, and Cinema Itself,” The Boston Globe, 2014.

Jones, Kent. “‘Yi Yi’: Time and Space,” The Current, 2011.

Orr, Christopher “Why ‘Her’ Is The Best Film of the Year,” The Atlantic, 2013.

Patterson, Eric. On ‘Brokeback Mountain’: Meditations About Masculinity, Fear, and Love, 2008.

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  1. wonderful article

  2. The Matrix.

    The first one naturally. It’s as much a classic (an instant classic actually) as much as the second and third installments are not.

    I think that the Matrix will be still remembered and watched – let alone analyzed – decades after the abominable sequels will fall into obscurity which is in practical terms what really means to be a classic film. No other film in recent memory came even close to replicating its success as a work of art.

  3. I think Blue is the Warmest Color will hold up very well. It is mostly known for its graphic sex scenes but it is a well acted and gorgeous film. Both actresses had an incredibly difficult task and they killed it

  4. I also think Boyhood will no shadow of a doubt be a classic film of the 21st Century in years to come. Great piece.

  5. MY LIST:
    Yi-Yi: A One And A Two
    Black Swan
    The Tree Of Life
    In The Mood For Love
    Amour (and also, Caché)
    Talk To Her (and also, To Return)
    Spirited Away
    A Separation

  6. chrischan

    This is a fantastic article; your analysis of each film is really in depth and is really effective motivation to watch those of these that I’ve yet to see.

  7. Lorenzo

    Besides obvious ones like LotR trilogy and TWBB, I think District 9 is a contender. Think about the first time you watched that movie. For me, the story was so perfect, the effects were well done, and the acting (especially Sharlto Copley) was superb.

  8. There Will Be Blood is the movie from 2000-2009 that I can see people talking about 30-40 years from now and talking about it in high regard. Also I think movies right now are good. Yeah, there are a lot of bad movies coming out but there are a lot of great smaller movies coming out right now. I hope studios take more chances instead of only releasing sequels, remakes and superhero movies. I hope Warner Bros keep on taking chances. They released Her so they’re on the right mind.

  9. Boyhood will go down as a milestone.

  10. Shante´Mann

    It really goes down to what a “classic” means but I believe that it’s down to three factors – a movie has to address both its own story and some of the reality of the time when it was made and it has to be technically well done. While The Shawshank Redemption works as a classic in practice it really isn’t one like the Godfather is for example.A cult classic or quasi-classic is more precise as I think there are similar “quasi” classics that are typically left out because of stupid snobbery – like Back to the Future for example.

  11. Hartmann

    Most of the work of these directors; Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, The Coen Brothers, James Cameron, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Terry Gilliam.

  12. I choose City of God as a good contender. It is one of my all time favorite movies. I love the way the entire movie feels like an aside meant to explain the first scene, with Rocket running into Lil’Zee and his gang. Then it cuts back to the first scene at the end and the context just makes it so powerful.

    • mazzamura

      Definitely. City of God is an incredibly powerful and difficult film, but one that every person should experience at least once. Stellar editing and cinematography, and that story is killer.

  13. My picks:
    Her (2013)
    No Country for Old Men (2007)
    The Departed (2006)
    Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
    City of God (2002)

    • I really don’t get the love for The Departed. It’s a well-done crime film, but given that the stage was set by Scorsese himself in a way that The Departed hasn’t done anything new or definitive, the status of a “modern classic” is ridiculous.

      • mazzamura

        It’s probably one of his crappier films. Specially when there are films like Raging Bull, Taxi, and even Hugo, in the mix. The Departed simply fails to add up to an amazing film, much less an enduring masterpiece.

  14. I wanted to see Children of Men on this list.

    • Donahue

      I remember reading an interview with Clive Owen who gave up playing James Bond in Casino Royale to do this movie and he said he had no regrets. At first I thought, “right…”. Now I believe him and he was right. This movie is brilliant.

    • I just watched Children of Men quite recently. I love how Cuaron and Lubezki shoot the movie like a chase scene. The number of heart-stopping moments pile onto each other, which creates an alarming sense of panic and desperation, tempered only by some striking moments of real beauty.

    • The thing that stuck with me the most for Children of Men was the sound. It’s been a while since I watched it, but I had the luxury of seeing it in the theaters with a good sound system. The lack of a score and the perfect sound mixing made certain parts of that film completely immersive. I caught myself leaning around in my chair to see around corners because I could hear things so clearly.

  15. Tigey

    “In a world of Tinder hook-ups, Facebook “friends” who will never meet in person, and a collective population who would rather send messages on WhatsApp than actually speak to each other on the phone, Jonze’s vision is eerily relevant.”

    You’ve crystallized the contemporary technological placebo for intimacy in one powerful, sad sentence. Even a voice over the phone is too risky… as talk to you via the Internet. We’re all screwed.

  16. Vinita Oreilly

    Pan’s Labyrinth certainly deserves classic status. It came out in 2006.

  17. Im not a fan of the movie but frozen will definitely become a classic. And maybe Inside Out.

  18. I find it somewhat counter-productive to kind of come up with classics. It’s how the “canon” was built, and it limits most viewing of older films to a few standouts while ignoring many, many others that are simply less known. If we were to accept this list as a list of masterpieces, for example, we would be ignoring huge numbers of fantastic movies, many of which are the equal or better to the above, simply because they were less known. And that’s still taking into account films that captured significant audiences and receive tremendous critical praise, just not the same scale of attention as a film like Her.

  19. Sorensen

    There Will Be Blood.

    • There Will Be Blood is an amazing movie. I remember watching it for the first time not knowing anything about it at all. I never even saw a trailer but it was on HBO one day. My favorite scene is when Daniel is reflecting on his past about playing with his son. He ends up rich, a drunk, and angry. But he sits and remembers the times working in the field with his son and the good times they had. That shit always hits me.

    • I admire Paul Thomas Anderson so damn much, I just wish I liked him more. His films are idiosyncratic, intelligent, beautiful, intelligent, and complex, but they frustrate me to no end because I don’t find them accessible. But that may well be a problem with me rather than the films.

  20. This is a great article. However, I can’t agree with you about Shakespeare in Love. It deserved an Oscar and it is a film I really love that holds up well.

    • mazzamura

      Shakespeare in Love is a great film, but definitely one with a solid 90s feel, which makes it difficult to truly be an enduring classic film. It’s somewhat hard to watch today, although it was amazing when it first came out.

  21. I would add Mulholland Dr. (2001), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), and Synecdoche New York (2008).

  22. I just didn’t get Her. Sure it tackles some thought provoking issues and definitely opened my eyes to the notion of ‘love.’ However, the movie, I found at least, lacked an arc. There wasn’t really a major conflict until the end. The first hour or so seems a bit self indulgent in a futuristic setting. I also never felt that the main character’s love interest was as controversial as they implied.

  23. Lauren Mead

    I haven’t seen a few of those movies (but I’m going to check them out now). I liked “Her” quite a lot because of the inventiveness of the futuristic world.

  24. moonyuet

    Boyhood is very underrated and it deserves the Oscars. As a fine artist and also a CGI Major, I deeply feel the spirit behind the movie. I mean our technology can improve and can change; but we can’t change our time. We cannot do time-travel, that’s the fact. This becomes one of the reasons contributing to my lacking concern on the Hollywood blockbusters. I desperate to watch Hollywood movies again. CGI? I’m working in CGI, I know how it makes and most importantly I know it’s fake. I don’t mind to tell my last movie in cinema is Gone Girl in 2014. I like Linklater’s “before” trilogy too. Linklater shows the real and inner part of the movies.

  25. I think it’s safe to say that most of Pixar will be classics.

  26. Great group of films! I would also add There Will Be Blood and Drive

  27. I agree with what was said about the movie Boyhood. I feel it was a phenomenal film, one I could watch over and over again. The use of time (the incredible 12 year period) developed the characters in such a unique way. Being able to watch each individual character age and mature was just so unique, making the film irresistible.

  28. reesepd

    “Boyhood” is inevitable, for sure.

    I’m not sold on “Her”, however. I loved the film, but it’s also one that doesn’t seem to have the residing emotional status to actually penetrate some kind of cultural iconography. It doesn’t help that it’s not as prevalent in modern circles as something like, say, Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” – which I think is probably going to become the director’s most remembered.

    • I think “Her”‘s status as a “classic film” will depend upon how technology progresses in our society in the future. If our technology resembles that of Samantha’s function in the film, I think this film would be heralded for its forward thinking views from its time.

      Completely agree with your opinion about “Boyhood.” Even if it is only for its filming process, the movie has fantastic lessons in filmmaking and character studies.

  29. scole

    Boyhood is one of my favorite films ever!

  30. One of the defining factors for breaking the ceiling of traditional cinema formulae is also assimilating the movie goer’s present experience and culture into the film context but also transcending time and place. Unlike the classic films of the 20th Century, Citizen Kane, 2001 A Space Odessey, Raging Bull that stay within the contextual strategies of film making itself, 21st century films like Birdman, Brokeback Mountain, and Her, let you see the mechanics behind the camera, giving the viewer a bird’s eye view of the surreal relativism of life itself which is unbounded by time and place. Birdman and Yi Yi both do this brilliantly by bringing us back time and again directorally to the tools behind the camera, letting the viewer in the “now” partake in the illusory tactics behind the film medium (breaking the fourth wall etc.). By expanding the boundaries of the film audience’s perameters, classic films are created by their mere sustainability in magnifying the human condition despite the film’s context as well. Just some thoughts!

  31. It seems like the movies that have a connection to the struggles everyday people face do not get much credit. They seem to win small awards, but when it comes to the major awards they are never rewarded.

  32. Great directors are great in different perspective, but they always share something in common: the ability to capture the nuance in life and human emotions. In my opinion, this is the key for actors and audience to communicate, and for the audience to soak in the scene. The best movies I’ve ever watched stuck in my head for days before they go away; they got me thinking relating to my own experience, and somehow, they have the magic to make me feel what the characters feel; which is why I believe a movie can be good without a good plot or music.

  33. Brandon T. Gass

    Perhaps The Social Network would also fit nicely in this list.

  34. Great list. I would also add The Truman Show, The Social Network, Little Miss Sunshine, and American Beauty.

  35. I completely disagree about Boyhood. The strength of the film lies just in its premise, rather than its storytelling. It was ambitious and a great experiment, yes. But it was also filled with cliches and pacing issues. I don’t think anyone will be watching Boyhood twenty years from now.

  36. Agreed with breadeater above. I loved the movie Boyhood. However, thinking more deeply about it, my love for the film was dominantly held in its striking and unheard of direction. In fact, the main reason I even watched the film in the first place was to take part in watching actors grow up before my eyes. Regardless of the quality, THAT, in and of itself, is worth watching for. However, a great movie cannot just rely on new techniques to spark an audience’s attention. There needs to be more underneath the surface.

  37. When I saw this article I got so excited because I feel like I’m always thinking about what books and films from our generation will be remembered in years to come. I’m glad you included Boyhood on the list because I feel like even though people liked it, some felt it was a little bit empty and too free-flowing, but that was what I loved most about it. It remind me so much of my past because the character is the same age as me, but also because the ways in which you change from one year to the next is so drastic, but you never really see it unless you look at pictures or judge it in conjunction with your friends. When this film came out it was when my friends and I were all going to college and so it made us feel super nostalgic, but also it was kinda cool to feel like this character was with us because at the end he was in the same boat that we were in. Maybe it’s because Boyhood came out so recently, but that’s one of the films on your list that I just absolutely agree is going to be a class. However I am also a fan of every other film you listed, but I must admit I haven’t heard of Yi Yi.

  38. I respect your articulated reasoning for most of these films being on the list, but I thoroughly disagree with you on nearly all of them. I think Her will be the only one that you listed that will endure. When I think of modern films that will one day be classics, I have to think “30 years from now, will this film be revered like Jaws is today?” I forgot that Brokeback Mountain even existed until I saw it in this article as I think most of the general public would also do. Don’t you think for a film to be surefire classic, it needs to be memorable with widespread appeal? I think of BIG films that pushed the medium forward in a meaningful way.

    Something like Inception which proved that intelligent and blockbuster can work together. It changed the way blockbusters are marketed and opened the door for mind-bending stories to be widely marketable. Not to mention the its patented WHHOOOOOOOOOOM bass boom that is now in every film trailer.

    Another film that comes to mind is Mad Max: Fury Road. I find it to be no stretch of the imagination that this film will continue to be revered 30 years from now. It is widely regarded as one of the best action movies of the past 30 years, even all time. I have no problem thinking it fits in with the likes of action classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, Terminator 2, or The Matrix.

    No Country for Old Men is one that came out 10 years ago and is still regularly discussed and revered. It is some of the best work of The Coens who are arguably the greatest modern American filmmakers. Think about how many films you have seen since No Country came out that have tried to copy it. There are SO many of them, some good and some bad. It notched the Oscar for Best Picture which isn’t an award that necessarily determines classics, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. On top of that it has one of the greatest film villains of all time. All attributes of a memorable classic.

    I know it seems that I am spouting off some very popular movies and it isn’t…well…popular to do that on this site, but when you are talking about films that will be classics, you kind of have to go with popular films. How will a film be ingrained into the hearts of viewers if only the high-brow viewers watch it. Most high-brow films are generally disliked by general audiences, even if they may be better films. As much as I wish some of my favorite films like Inside Llewyn Davis, Children of Men, Birdman, The Lobster, or Ex Machina would be lauded as classics 30 years from now, I just don’t see it. Either way, there is no real way to tell what will be remembered and revered in the future, so we could all be wrong.

  39. Love your analysis of each movie and thank you for introducing me to Yi Yi. I believe most people forget that there are more than just Hollywood films that deserve recognition as cinematic masterpieces.

  40. Love your analysis of each movie and thank you for introducing me to Yi Yi. I believe most people forget that there are more than just Holly
    wood films that deserve recognition as cinematic masterpieces.

  41. This is a really fantastic article! Not only because of the strength of the list as a whole but it was so interesting to read such an analysis of these movies. And it’s a really fascinating concept to think – what films will endure? Will what is valued now be valued later? Interesting to think of cinematic development in terms of past to present and present to future. Great list and great article!

  42. Matthew Simmons

    The only film on this list that I can get behind as far as being a classic would be Brokeback Mountain. Like you said the film is still very relevant today and was overall an outstanding film. However, like someone else in the comments pointed out, it is not a film that just stands out. I can not see any of the other films becoming classics. Boyhood was an okay film, not a great film. Yes, the way Boyhood was filmed was amazing and could be something that other film-makers try but the film itself was simply okay. I also thought that Her was a very overrated film. The idea of the film was great but the execution not so much.

    It is very hard to think of films that could be classics. Some that I could get behind are No Country For Old Men (2007) and The Dark Knight (2008).

  43. Very well thought out.

  44. HeatherStratton

    I am very happy to see Boyhood on this list as I believe it is a seriously underrated and unrecognized film. Gimmicky as some may think it was to film the same actors for a movie more than a decade in the making, this idea is fresh and dogmatic in a very real and poetic way. There is a beautiful realism that is felt not only with the progression of time on the characters’ faces and bodies, but also within their connection to one another as actors.

    I really enjoyed reading this article, but was hoping to see more than four films mentioned. I adore finding lists of obscure or underrated films that deserve a second glance, and these four are really good examples of what Hollywood has glossed over a bit in the recent past. Lists like these are generally where you find some of the best cinema. I would personally include Interstellar and Brick for their innovation and demanding stories; however, to become a classic, I suppose there has to be a good deal of people who have actually seen those films.

  45. ivanly

    I don’t think Boyhood should be prime example for greatness.
    I liked the movie, even thought it was great and innovative. But I think there are plenty of other examples that would be better suited, including other Linklater works

  46. Just like most of the 20th centuries ‘classics’ weren’t recognized in their time, I think that the sentiments, issues, and cultural and political atmosphere of the end of the 21st century will largely determine what will be considered classics. Of course, that probably goes without saying…

  47. Great article! Really good to see Boyhood and Her on the list. I was a big fan of those films.

  48. In today’s world, originality is what makes films stand out, and innovation, which forms classics. Personal stories make for the most memorable films. Her is a great example of a timeless story about love and the human condition, rather than a comment on social media and other technologies of today.
    Recent classics in my opinion include:
    Django Unchained
    Inglorious Basterds
    No Country for Old Men
    …and many more.

  49. Lexzie

    I appreciate the in-depth analysis of each film and it is clear you thoroughly thought about which films to include in your list. I can’t say I agree with your analysis, mostly because I haven’t watched any of the films mentioned. I feel a bit out of the loop now…
    One of my personal favourites that I would consider to go down as a classic is Pan’s Labyrinth. I’ve seen the film multiple times and I still learn something new every time I watch it.

  50. Her is one of my favourite films, overall this was a great list !

  51. I’m not so sure about “Her”. While a great movie in and of itself, it does fall trap to a very hipster trend that could easily be reflected in films made decades ago that have fallen flat due to now non-existent cultural trends. Just like some movies from the 80s are seen as “yuppie” and some movies from the 60s “hippie”, “Her” can easily fall into the category of hipster that future audiences will not find as strong of a connection to or respect for.

  52. I could see Her being considered a classic and maybe (not certainly) Brokeback Mountain, but not Boyhood or Yi Yi.

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