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My Top 17 Films of the 21st Century

September 7, 2017

The Toronto Film Festival has arrived. What this actually means for most Torontonians, are long line ups to see films you can easily see at the multiplex for half the price in a few weeks from now; the occasional brush with celebrity, after taking advantage of the rare 4am last call (why isn't last call always 4am??!!); and of course the parties (HINT: Ben Affleck is not at the same club as you).

 

Jokes aside, I love the city during TIFF. Toronto has matured into a global city before my very eyes, and TIFF is a big reason why. In light of this, I decided it was time to reflect on the past, and in short, the very near past: the 21st century. This summer the New York Times posted "Six Directors Pick Their Favorite Films of the 21st-Century" (shout out to my buddy Mikelle Vein and AJ Messier for the Facebook and text shares), which included dispositions from fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve, Sofia Coppola and Antoine Fuqua. The article was cool because I got to read what these masters saw as great fare from this past century. Some surprised me, some didn't. But it made me think. Seventeen years is a lot of film to take in. I did a survey and realized I only saw 159 of 528 critically acclaimed pieces from this century. I also saw a lot of movies I'd rather not see again. Nevertheless I have decided to make my own list. My niche, I suppose, is that I like to take in popular film through a more critical and analytical lens. My viewing is somewhat incomplete, but I have seen many films, perhaps more than the average person, but likely much less than other snobbish film critics (I'm assuming all film critics are snobs, except my former classmate Adam Nayman who's vocabulary for cinema discourse trumps my entire understanding of the English language).

 

Some films on this list may surprise you, and some won't (especially if you know me). I have narrowed my list to 17 of my favorite dramatic films. I am basing these films on several levels, namely its direction, theme, style, music, acting and impact on the industry. I also thought about rewatch-ability. If I caught this film on TV would I watch it again? If the answer was "yes", how many times could I watch it and learn something new from it, or enjoy it even more than the first time? This might seem shallow, but watching movies is not all that different from dating. You might enjoy a first date, but do you really want to see that person again? If the answer is yes, than you have a winner...and hopefully a second date.

 

Lists are always selective and subjective to each person's life experiences, and my list is no different. Please feel free to comment below, and hopefully this will inspire a different way of looking at these cool popular films. Enjoy your TIFFing this year, people. 

 

17. Gravity (2013) - Alfonso Quaron

 

This movie is on my list because, well...it looked awesome. This movie literally made me go "Holy shit." Movies are about experiences and emotion, and by putting on those cheesy popcorn stained glasses in the theatre, I felt I was transported into another world. Avatar (2009) by James Cameron definitely set the bar in this cinematic territory, but Gravity brought things to a whole other level (especially in IMAX). Quaron's story also raised the bar in terms of it's themes. With allusions to 2001 Space Odyssey (1968) and humankind's role in defining ourselves in the universe, it spoke louder to me than the "Dances with Wolves" narrative Cameron tried to play with.

 

Quite simply, Gravity was one of the most fantastic visual experiences I have ever seen (it's a close second to my real life experience of touring Iceland). I actually don't like 3D films. But Gravity and Avatar didn't use the novelty of throwing knives at the screen or other cheesy gimmicks. These films were shot using story first, and 3D to enhance that same story. Gravity and Avatar did this to perfection, which is why they are important films of this century.

 

16. Cloverfield (2008) - Matt Reeves

 

I can feel already some of you rolling your eyes on this one, but bear with me here. Cloverfield, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of the found footage horror movie genre. This to me, was the accumulation of the pioneering classics Blair Witch Project (1999) by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, which would be on this list if not for its release date (though I break this rule later on) and Orel Peli's Paranormal Activity (2007). These two films really set the bar for creative, low budget filmmaking, and Cloverfield was the execution at its highest level. JJ Abrams knew exactly how to market this film, and took a page from the Blair Witch Project, by essentially, not spoiling the monster. We don't get a glimpse of the aliens until two thirds into the film, and even then, we are given only glimpses until the very end. 

 

What I like best about Cloverfield, was the subjective nature of its story-tell. Much like real life, one doesn't have a 360 degree look at the world. Our hero is limited in what he sees, and we must tag along with him, and only find out what he experiences. It's the lack of dramatic irony that makes it so intense. Some might argue that Cloverfield was a Hollywood exploitation of the found footage medium. I won't dispute that. At the end of the day, does that take away from it being such a bomb ass horror flick? In my opinion, the answer is no.

 

15. The Squid and the Whale (2005) - Noah Baumbach

 

Some of you more familiar with more mainstream popular films might be saying "Huh?" but the fact is, this indie film set in 1980s Brooklyn, is a fantastic film. Definitely in the spirit of low budget filmmaking (not sure if Baumbach had to push a wheelchair full of gear around), but I just really love the director’s use of cinema-verite. And when I say that, I don't just mean a movie trying to recreate life on screen using a hand-held camera, I mean a type of realism that is written, shot and edited with a raw, honest and self-reflective style of the director at hand. The camera becomes a surveyor and not just a tool. In many ways you feel caught in a docu-drama divorce film, and the performances are right on point, especially a young Jesse Eisenberg as a coming of age teenager, and the intellectual father played by Jeff Daniels. 

 

The film really captures the awkward experiences of childhood and adolescence. Fortunately I never lived through a broken home, but I witnessed first hand with my cousin, and saw exactly what kind of nightmare it can be for a young man. This movie has one of the most satisfying endings I have seen, and makes you realize that truth, even with idols, must come from within. 

 

14. Sleeping Giant (2015) - Andrew Cividino

 

My favorite Canadian movie of the century makes this list, and I am proud to say I have some mutual affiliation to the director Andrew Cividino (shout out to Josh Clavir and the brilliant cinematographer Stephen Chandler Whitehead).

 

Similar to The Squid and the Whale, and its raw realism, Sleeping Giant offers us a glimpse into adolescence, without having to pull out all the stops. This is a film about boys; and summer; and growing up. Beautifully shot, Cividino wins major style points for his realistic depiction of youth, using gorgeous off-speed shots, and honest, real-off the cuff dialogue, using no name actors. This film felt liked a stylized doc in the Canadian NFB tradition. 

 

Growing up as a whipping boy myself in my social group, I could relate to the younger character, who's shyness and naïveté towards the opposite sex sets him apart as a young man. Being coerced to do things to be "cool" was pretty much my life from age 12-16. This film captures that in such a raw real way that it has to make my list. 

 

13. Moneyball (2011) - Bennett Miller 

 

I told you this list was subjective. Maybe it's my sports background in video producing or just my love of sports in general, but Bennett Miller's film about the dawn of baseball analytics is just so addicting. Sports aside, this film has heart. That scene where Jonah Hill shows Brad Pitt the video of the guy who trips and falls and doesn't know he hit a home run, gets me every time. "Who says baseball isn't romantic?" Miller's style is simple, yet original, and captures the essence of backdoor politics in professional sports to a tee. 

 

Working for the National Hockey League for 10 years, I know how traditional mindsets work in this business, and baseball is no exception. Moneyball teaches us that at the end of the day, life decisions, much like in sports, need to be made from the heart, and one just needs to "enjoy the show."

 

12. Traffic (2000) - Steven Soderberg

 

For me this film isn't just about the great characters, or the exposé of drug trafficking in the United States and Mexico. This film is actually just pound for pound a really well directed film. Style wise, Soderberg is a master of taking us places and contrasting those places with allegorical imagery. Heck, I can attest to having borrowed his orange and blue tint to separate narratives in my first TV documentary "Behind the Stripes." I was proud of my work, but needless to say, I have to give credit where it is due. 

 

This film is as much visceral as it is visual, and really introduces the world to a much more complex reality of the war on drugs. Even when watching the extremely well shot Sicario (2015) by the great Denis Villeneuve, I still yearned for the pioneering work of Soderberg. I'm pretty sure as well, this was the film that sold Donald Trump on building that "beautiful wall.” Idiot. 

 

11. Django Unchained (2012)- Quentin Tarantino

 

This nod to one of my favorite all time auteurs, must also acknowledge the unbelievable achievement done by Tarantino in the Kill Bill movies (2003-2004). That was an awesome saga, but so much so, that I'm sure Uma Thurman is still recuperating from all those water bucket stair climbs. 

 

I read that Spike Lee refused to see Django Unchained because Tarantino wasn't black, and his pervasive use of the "N word", didn't give him the right to do so. I'm not African-American, so I cannot comment on how I'd feel if someone took artistic liberty with one of the most demeaning and racist words the English language has ever known. I do know, however, that this film is awesome. Tarantino said he made this film because he felt America "hadn't fully dealt with the holocaust that was slavery." The onslaught of slavery movies thereafter actually told by African-American filmmakers such as Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013), Lee Daniels The Butler (2013) and Nate Parker’s Birth of Nation (2016), show that Django somehow paved the way for audiences to sink into this dark part of American history. 

 

In my opinion, this is Quentin's deepest film, measured by it's competent and uncensored reflection of slavery in America. This isn't Quentin trying to show blood for the sake of blood (OK maybe when Django gets his revenge at the end). His motivation more so seems to be about putting a very brutal mirror to the horrors that existed only a short time ago, and having a hero right a very wrong part of history. DiCaprio and Jackson are mesmerizing, and Foxx does a great job carrying his arc. All this, and the fact that Tarantino continues to splice genres together so effortlessly, it's almost a pastiche genre in itself. 

 

This is a revenge story not just for Django, but for the audience as a whole. There is just no greater satisfaction than seeing all those bad guys get their due at the end, and if nothing more than a movie, it still gives us some type of metaphorical closure to a haunting chapter in American history. 

 

10. Boyhood (2014) - Richard Linklater

 

Similar to The Squid and the Whale and Sleeping Giant, Boyhood demonstrates the power of just telling stories without high stakes. Linklater is a master of realism, whom made his way at crafting characters and stories from doing one not so simple thing: telling the truth. Nothing really happens in Boyhood. I mean, stuff happens, but there isn't one huge emotional impact that throws one act into another. It's just a series of scenes about a boy growing up and some good stuff and not so good stuff in between. Guess what though? That's life. And before you know it, life passes you by, unless you are present enough to realize it. 

 

It's an existential understanding of life through cinema using a man's life never done on screen before. The ending is also truly beautiful, and cuts to Linklater's thematic point, which is "enjoy the now." As I write this, I have come to realize that movies like Boyhood, Squid and the Whale and Sleeping GIant are all part of my favorite films, because they in part, serve as a therapeutic fulfillment to me. As a young man, I have tried to find truth and meaning to myself, and these three films, using young male protagonists, have helped me grow into the person I am today.

 

9. Drive (2011) - Nicolas Winding Refn

 

As shallow as this film may be compared to others on this list, I must admit I am a sucker to awesome visuals and a kick ass soundtrack. Winding Refn may just be a raging psychopath in real life, (re: Only God Forgives (2013), but this film has everything you want out of a popcorn summer film. Gosling is so cool in this, you literally want to hit the gym, get a haircut and learn that weird Canadian-New Yorkish accent the moment the credits roll. Those chase scenes are as good as any, and the cinematography by Newton Thomas Siegel (The Usual Suspects, X-Men franchise) is so sexy, that you just have to watch more. 

 

I've watched this film several times now and wondered why I like it so much. It's the visuals and music. The soundtrack and score are so well done, that even the edits are timed to actions within the music. This film is a fantastic visual and musical achievement, and it's the one inspiration that made me actually want to learn how to drive a manual car (note: I never did and thank God for automatic).

 

8. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - Kathryn Bigalow

 

A victim of politics at the Oscars, tragically this film never got its due. The movie lost to the fraudulent and uneven storytelling of Ben Affleck's Argo  for Best Picture in 2013. This movie is a war film to end all war films. Much like the new age of guerrilla warfare and global terrorism that we live in today, there exists no happy ending in sight and no transparent way of destroying an enemy. Unlike Argo, which glorifies U.S foreign policy in the Middle East, Zero Dark Thirty shows its raw ugly reality. The climactic scene for the hunt for Bin Laden is one of the most impactful and suspenseful scenes of war I have ever seen. The interrogation scenes in Guantanamo Bay (borrowed from classified files from the CIA, then callously denounced shortly before the Oscars in a sad PR attempt to thwart the truth behind the United States real war time political tactics) must be honored to Bigalow for fearlessly going where so called “patriots” had never gone before. 

 

Unlike Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (2014), which all too conveniently labels bad vs. good, ZDT blurs the lines. By the end, our stoic hero played by Jessica Chastain, who has dedicated her life to the inevitable capture of Bin Laden is left amiss. "Where do you want to go?" a solider asks Chastain as she sits down inside a helicopter by herself. Chastain has no answer, and is simply left to tears. This serves as an apt reflection of American foreign policy in my opinion, where no certainty exists, and there are only losers in the current fight against global terrorism. There are no happy endings in these times of war, and any sense of heroism and nationalism, is thwarted by Bigalow.

 

7. The Social Network (2010) - David Fincher

 

As you can already tell, I'm not averse to watching movies with unhappy endings. The Social Network is a film with an anti-hero. It's hard to route for the condescending lead Mark Zuckerberg, played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg. I always wondered if Eisenberg studied Zuckerberg and noticed that he talked quickly, thus leading to the quick witted, fast talking 20 something billionaire, he ultimately created. After doing some digging this wasn't in fact the case. Aaron Sorkin likes to write dialogue. Lots of it. Brilliant as it is, Fincher needed the delivery ultra quick to ensure the picture didn't exceed the already lengthy 2.5 hours. Fair enough. 

 

This film is not only a work of art in terms of its perfectly framed intimate Fincher-Esque images, but also its adapted screenplay by Sorkin, and melancholic score by Nine Inch Nails leadman Trent Reznor. Pulling this altogether are the stakes in this film. Facebook literally changed the world, and this film is a fantastic chronicling of this important part of history. This was my history; I joined Facebook the year it started as a second year undergrad at U of T when it was still called "The Facebook." Though Sorkin fudges some details in order to make this a feature film, and not some boring autobiography about coding (which would have likely be more the truth), The Social Network is a voice to a generation of a world brought together, and also torn apart because of social media. As Sean Parker explains to a wide-eyed Zuckerberg amidst loud background dance music, that "This is our time," that scene serves as a metaphor for the impending impact of social media bringing people together, but also creating a background full of distraction.

 

6. Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Darren Aronofsky

 

Watching this scathing, hypnotic film about junkies and false realities created by television and popular culture, I can't help but feel that it's played out. The reason for this I think is simple: it’s been a source of parody. And as we all know, parody is the highest form of flattery. From the ridiculously cool drug montages, to the famously menacing score, this film brought a fresh new approach of style to the screen. 

 

In my opinion, Requiem isn't on the same level as Aronofsky's later work, The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010). So in turn, those two movies also belong here on my list at number 6. Aronosky is a brilliant director. He's influenced me to a very large extent, from his down and out subject matters, to his allegorical themes which I love to unravel. These three films, although super dark, make filmmaking fun again (sorry, no pun here towards Donald Trump). Aronofsky's style is that of a true auteur and to see his progression starting with Pi (1998), to his first mainstream hit in Requiem, has been exciting to watch as an artist. I read he had major issues with the studio in making his first high budget feature in Noah (2014), which leads me to believe he will once again go grassroots. I hope so, because I can always use a dose of inspiration.

 

5. Half Nelson (2006) - Ryan Fleck

 

Ryan Gosling makes my list once again, this time as a crack smoking high school teacher. I just love the scripts Gosling takes. This movie is good on so many levels, and is likely the dirtiest of all the films on my list. By dirty, I don't mean something where Jenna Jameson makes a sudden cameo, but rather the cinematography, and overall tone of the film. This film is raw. It has heart, but Andrij Parekh shot most of this using hand held long lenses, which might be jarring for some used to watching more classical stabilized shots. The story and style are perfectly in synch in Half Nelson though.

 

Most of all, Gosling is fantastic. In fact, I believe this film really started his ascent in Hollywood, especially after receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The scene where he confronts Anthony Mackie's character (who is also amazing) on the street is one of Gosling's best scenes ever. After he tells Mackie to stop using his student to sell drugs, Mackie confronts Gosling on his hypocrisy. At a loss, Gosling turns back and responds: "I don't know? I don't know!?” Stumbling through his words, it's as honest and vulnerable exchange as you will ever see. The cat that Gosling picks up as he exits the scene by the way, was completely improvised (the cat wandered on set).

 

4. The Dark Knight (2008) - Christopher Nolan

 

This might surprise you, but a super hero movie made my list...and my top five to boot. I personally don't see Nolan's Batman treatment as a super hero series, however. He chose to shy away from the campy Joel Schumacher versions that almost destroyed the credibility of the franchise. While Batman Begins (2005) was a very solid beginning to Nolan's trilogy, The Dark Knight finds itself on another level. Led by unbelievable lead performances by Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart, this film for me is legendary on so many levels. 

 

For one, Nolan and David Goyer’s screenplay sends us through such a whirlwind, that I remember watching the credits come up before I could exhale. It was 2.5 hours of intense drama and action, with great twists and turns, and stakes big enough to swallow up Gotham City. 

 

Nolan pits idealisms against each other, and forces us to decide which is best. Even in the face of nihilistic anarchy that the Joker wants to infuse on the city, the Joker still makes pretty interesting points. Like his assessment on "Everyone having a plan." It's the kind of dialogue that everyone learning how to write should study, and brings me back to a quote by David Fincher. In order to avoid cliche, Fincher once said, "Write every character as if they are right.” 

 

Watching this film in IMAX was also incredible. Nolan shot all of the major action scenes and establishers in 70mm -- and the shots are amazing. The car chase scene is especially intense. Hans Zimmer's score also holds a special place in my heart. It's so good, that sometimes I watch scenes just for the dramatic strings that come from the heightened Zimmer arrangements. 

 

And then there is the acting. As I mentioned, these are all top notch, but Heath Ledger is really a cut above. Big shout out to John Caglione Jr. for Heath's fantastic make-up, and Nolan's vision for an actualized, realistic treatment of a sociopathic man who likes to wear clown makeup. Every scene Ledger is in, your eyes are glued to the screen. This man literally gave his life to this role, and incidentally developed an insomnia, that would soon kill him. Ledger really makes this film a classic, and his performance should not be taken for granted. This is especially true since some critics argued that any decent actor can play the "dream gig of the Joker." Yah right. Watch Jared Leto mug his way through the entire disaster that was Suicide Squad (2016) and then tell me that.

 

3. Spring Breakers (2012) - Harmony Korine

 

A lot of you may stop reading at this point. A collective “what the hell" may have come over all of you, but rest assured this is not a typo (and this is nothing compared to my number 2).

 

I honestly feel most people did not understand what director Harmony Korine was trying to accomplish in this film. I personally didn't like how the film was marketed as a “comedy," which I think in turn, pushed audiences into the wrong mindset. Given the fact Korine directed this, I walked in knowing this was going to be much deeper than just a shallow comedy about girls escaping their mundane school lives in Florida during spring break. This film is almost entirely meant to suggest something beyond what is seen on screen. The story in essence, is a dream that turns into a nightmare.

 

Watching this movie makes me very afraid of our future. Korine seems obsessed with the idea that today's youth are entirely corrupted by the idea of fame and popular culture. With the prevalence of selfies, and materialism glorified by social media, it's hard to argue with that. In one exchange, Ashley Benson’s character tells Selena Gomez to rob a restaurant and "just pretend it's a video game." This speaks volumes of the disconnect between reality and fantasy these characters live in. The college girls eventually make their way to Florida and meet Alien, a dreadlocked white boy, played by the mercurial James Franco. This is where many people I think fell in the habit of thinking this film was a comedy, given Franco's getup. But I have honestly met people and grew up with people just like Alien — and it's pin point accurate. 

 

Alien quite literally proclaims himself as the American Dream. In one scene, Franco brags about all the stuff he owns, including tanning oils, and his vast array of guns. When the two young bad girls turn on him, he deep throats the guns in an act of surrender, which is sure to represent his loving devotion to violence and materialism. The film’s allegory is best represented in all it's glory during the "Britney Spears crime spree" montage. In what is most definitely my favorite scene of the film, Franco plays a song on his piano dedicated to the "most beautiful angel on earth: Mrs. Britney Spears." Korine is being facetious, as the girls and Alien then appear in a series of scenes over Spears' soundtrack, as they cause mayhem and fear inside various places, including a hotel room and a wedding. Beautifully shot, the images act in irony to the soft background music. Korine is trying to tell us that American imperialism and popular culture is a fox in sheep's clothing. It is a cultural and spiritual domination happening everywhere, and unless you are awake, you are lulled by the false anesthetic of tabloids, fame, materialism, and just about everything that Hollywood and media spews out to a social media generation ready and willing to become part of the machine.

 

By movie's end, Alien is killed by way of the gun, and becomes his own living American cliche. The two remaining girls live to see another day and carry forth the madness that is a 21st century version of the American Dream.

 

2. 8 Mile (2002) - Curtis Hanson

 

If my choice for number 3 didn't confuse you, then my choice for number 2 definitely will. On the surface, 8 Mile is a semi-autobiographical account of rapper Marshall Mathers (Eminem)'s life that shows the trials and tribulations of his time in the inner city of Detroit. That's a cool enough premise on it’s own actually, and the film was a box office success, earning Eminem an Oscar for Best Original Song. I have watched this movie countless times, based on the sheer entertainment of it alone, and for my love for hip hop, but I have drawn an account much deeper, and something I'm excited to share: 8 Mile is actually a western.

 

The western genre in film theory circles, has distinct characteristics in terms of plot elements, themes, iconography and make-up of its central hero. 8 Mile cleverly disguises itself as an urban drama, but it borrows many western conventions.

 

The traditional hero in a western is often someone who mediates between civilization and lawless frontier; he is also a marginalized figure outside of the community; commonly motivated by revenge or justice; and adheres to a code. Eminem in 8 Mile, fits this mold almost perfectly. He is caught in between the order and chaos of the streets and his job; he lives in a trailer park outside the boundaries of the community; is marginalized because he is white in a predominately black rap culture; he seeks revenge on the gang who beat him up and threatened his life; and he adheres to a code (although loosely), as seen when Cheddar Bob pulls out a gun and Eminem tells him to “put it away!” This proves that his character still has boundaries for violence, and won't resort to something more.

 

Perhaps the most interesting parallel between 8 Mile and the western genre convention is the use of rap battles. Instead of a dramatic gun fight between two cowboys, 8 Mile swaps it for rappers. Each rap battle is in itself a gun fight; the loser forever to be cast aside in embarrassment, and the winner to be praised among his peers. The stakes for the rap battles are not life and death, as they are in a western, but the film builds pride as its central issue, creating high stakes when it comes to measuring success and failure of the characters. 

 

Use of setting and plot elements are also used in 8 Mile within western convention. Instead of a lawless frontier setting in the desert, 8 Mile swaps it for the urban decadence of Detroit. In a western plot, the cowboy hero must come to town to settle a score, and save the people from a lawless chaos. In 8 Mile, the chaos is represented by truth. The leader of the Free World gang Clarence is a fraud, and must be exposed. As seen famously in the final rap battle to the classic Mobb Deep track "Shook Ones Part 2, "Eminem is essentially the hero who must expose Clarence and destroy his pride, in order to set balance to the rap community. 

 

Finally, in a conventional western, the cowboy hero leaves by himself into the distance once he sets order to the town. It is an iconic symbol of American individualism and independence. In 8 Mile, instead of celebrating the rap battle win with his buddies, Eminem leaves by himself and says he's "Gotta just do my own thing." Instead of a cowboy riding off into the sunset, our hero walks by himself under the hard city lights, to his unknown destination. 8 Mile is truly a brilliant and cathartic take on western convention and of the modern day American hero.

 

1. Fight Club (1999) - David Fincher

 

Ok I cheated. This modern day masterpiece originally written by Chuck Palnanuik in paperback form, made its motion picture debut in 1999. But much like my fellow millennials, most of us missed its theatre run and settled for a Blockbuster Video DVD rental the following year. I classify Fight Club as a 21st century film not just because I couldn't sneak into this R rated movie the year before, but because this film touches upon the very essence of modernity in Western civilization; a zeitgeist of sorts, that predicates the secular, pessimistic counter culture that has found itself knee deep in an identity crisis. 

 

Foremost, Fincher's direction and cinematography are truly on point. The use of shadow and hard fluorescent light perfectly capture the decadence of the dark society portrayed in the film. Ed Norton and Brad Pitt are also at their finest (acting wise and stomach crunch wise). But what separates this film for me is really its themes, imagery, and subtext. Just like a good book will have you peeling away at it’s layers like an onion, so too does Fight Club. Most critics at the time, saw it as just another macho action flick, featuring half naked men beating the living crap out of each other. But this film is so much more than that. It is a manifesto and a crystal ball of the 21st century, and acts for me as hands down my favorite and most important film of the last 17 years.

 

The film opens with a question by our anti-hero played by Edward Norton: "People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden." This ultimately is the question that the film seeks to answer: Do we really know ourselves?  Tyler Durden represents the every-man; the ego and the Id; one part that acts with reason, and the other with basic instinct. Humanity has come to such a spiritual crisis that we are no longer the bi-product of millions of years of evolution. We are now worker monkeys, forced to slave away at a lifestyle counter to our evolutionary existence. Humanity, with all its gadgets and cool Ikea catalogues, has essentially lost its way, and the film explores the violent, and often humorous rejection of this force fed material capitalism. 

 

The film, only two years removed, essentially predicted 9/11 and the fall of the World Trade Center. The end of the film shows Edward Norton and Helena Bonham-Carter holding hands while watching skyscrapers fall; a casualty to Project Mayhem's latest ploy to destroy all the credit card companies by having world debt go back down to zero. Although nihilistic, Project Mayhem in essence was a ringer for Al Qaeda; a reject terrorist group who sought to eradicate the capitalist agenda in America with its goal to create a new world order. Tyler Durden and his gang have also come to represent the Occupy Protesters and the 99%, who most recently, sought to bring down big businesses by staging mass protests worldwide. Although less violent, the group's agenda was eerily similar.

 

Fight Club represents a very rational, very media savvy generation, that is pessimistic of its views of advertising, and who share an outright denouncement of anything that isn't "authentic." Brands over the past few decades have had to adapt to a smart phone generation, who won't buy something just because they are told too. It is almost as if Tyler Durden led these rebel cases into a media education class in Lou's Tavern, told them what was what, and soon forced media outlets and brands to adjust their way of thinking and reaching out the generation of tomorrow.

 

The disillusioned youth in Fight Club also represent the current fragmented, and post modern psyche of today's generation. Truth exists only as we see it, which is complicated in a globalized, multicultural world. I am also in this mix, and always come back to the film to ground myself from the false matrix of reality that I currently serve. I like to watch Ed Norton's "Let go" scene, as he finally cries into Meatloaf's bitch tits. The ability to "Let go" is a reminder to all of us that none of the egoistic needs, wants and actions, perpetrated by the pressures of media, popular culture and advertising, really matter in the end. They are all essentially made-up. And in this existential reality, we find the harsh truth that sets us free. I get emotional every time I watch that scene with Meatloaf's tits. It's sad but true. 

 

Another great scene is the car crash scene, where Tyler has a conversation with himself in the front seat. (This scene by the way was the only one written for just the screen, and not borrowed in anyway from the book). Jim Uhls pens this ingenuously, and forces us to understand that in the end, we are all responsible for our actions. "Should I email you? Should I put this on your to do list? You decide your own level of involvement!" Although we might be brainwashed, we all still have a choice to make in the end. Brad Pitt tells Norton, "Hitting bottom is not a weekend retreat, it's not a Goddamn seminar...Just let go!" Of course Pitt's character takes things to the extreme, and is a case study on how strong figureheads (ironically the same type of alphas Project Mayhem is looking to expose), can turn the masses into sheep. But Pitt's line is a spiritual call to action, a proposition to snap out of the haze of every-day capitalist life, and do what you actually want to do. The scene where Pitt holds the Convenience Store guy by gun point, steals his ID, and threatens to search for him and execute him, if he's won't follow his dreams of being a veterinarian, might be one of the most powerful and memorable scenes I have ever seen. 

 

This is the type of movie that Bertolt Brecht would have made. This movie has changed the way I live, and I come back to it all the time to regroup my thoughts and ambitions in life. I can get into further detail of the other fantastic themes and subtexts, such as the Freudian and Oedipus undertones, the role of gender in the film, and some of the other many powerful messages that Fincher has cleverly embedded in this piece, but I won't here today. Quite simply, Fight Club is more than the sum of its parts, and I ask you if you haven't already, to take the time and dust off that DVD or VHS tape, and watch this film for all that it really is.

Honorable Mentions: 

 

Arrival (2016) Denis Villeneuve

Inception (2010) Christopher Nolan

Straight Outta Compton (2015) F Gary Gray

Gladiator (2000) Ridley Scott

A Seperation (2011) Asghar Farhadi

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) David O. Russell

District 9 (2009) Neill Blomkamp

Sin City (2005) Robert Rodriguez

21 Grams (2002) Alejandro González Iñárritu

28 Weeks Later (2007) Danny Boyle

Precious (2009) Lee Daniels

Saw (2004) James Wan

Adaptation (2002) Spike Jonze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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