5 Modern Films Destined to Be Classics
Trying to predict which films one day might earn the moniker “classic” is no easy task. There are some films that are so instantly dynamic that it seems inevitable that they’ll endure, but others take a slow burn approach to reaching their iconic status. It’s A Wonderful Life, for instance, was a box office flop and now it’s regarded by many as Frank Capra’s best-and certainly most popular-work. While none of us possesses a cinematic Magic 8 ball, we can make educated guesses about which modern films will enter the pantheon of classics by thinking about the elements that define the term in the first place.
A classic film involves excellence in the craft of filmmaking obviously, but it goes deeper than that. Classic films are innovative; they redefine the limits of the medium or tell stories that will continue to resonate years after the film’s debut, they feature performances that truly earn the title of unforgettable, and most importantly, they possess the ability to leave the viewer captivated no matter how many times they see the film. In short, they are timeless.
The five movies I chose for this list were all released this century. That was a conscious choice on my part, as I wanted to limit the pool a bit. Not all of them were runaway hits, but they do all possess the qualities a film needs to be not only a great film, but a classic one.
Alfonso Cuaron’s dystopian masterpiece should have no trouble entering the pantheon of culturally significant films. His vision of a world without children is grim and challenging, displaying humanity at its most destructive, while still allowing for hope. As is the case with all good sci-fi, Children of Men uses its fantastical elements to critique very real social issues like the immigration debate which adds an eerie sense of resonance to the proceedings.
Beyond the darkly brilliant narrative, Children of Men creates an unforgettable visual landscape. The futuristic war zone is rendered in such a way that it doesn’t allow you to distance yourself from the world. The London of the future doesn’t look impossibly idealized; it looks like a place we could feasibly inhabit. Adding to the effect is the sheer audacity of the cinematography and direction. The degree of technical difficulty in the film’s numerous single-shot sequences and the unnervingly realistic battle scenes should fuel discussions in film schools for years to come.
Up in the Air is possibly the most prescient film on this list. Released in 2009 as America was just settling into the economic woes that still plague the country, the film tells the story of a man who is tasked with informing employees that they no longer have jobs. George Clooney is brilliant in the role of Ryan. Somehow his charismatic persona meshed well with the distant and lonely character he portrayed. As good as Clooney is though, his two co-stars, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, are equally indispensable. The transient nature of the life Ryan lives, and his keen ability to understand people without ever connecting with them in a meaningful way is haunting, but to the film’s credit it balances out its weightier elements with humor–and Kendrick deserves much of the credit on that front. She gives Ryan a partner in crime, and ultimately a way to reconnect with his humanity.
The themes of disconnection and isolation that define Up in the Air are deceptively current. In the digital age, the idea that the more connected we become the more disconnected we are is practically cliché, but in truth the emotions aren’t new which means Up in the Air‘s central message will never lose its poignancy.
Who would have thought the story of the creation of Facebook would make for such a compelling film? Maybe it wouldn’t have in lesser hands, but with director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin at the helm the birth of Facebook became an epic tale of friendship, ambition and loss. Whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is anything like the tragic, modern Charles Kane-style figure depicted in the film hardly matters, it’s who he needed to be for the film to be as fascinating and important as it is.
The Social Network is the perfect storm of flawless storytelling, direction, score, cinematography and acting. But what makes it such a triumph is the response the film received from critics and moviegoers alike. Many feel like the film was speaking directly to this generation and this generation wholeheartedly embraced it. It’s unlikely that they will allow it to be forgotten anytime soon.
The nonlinear love story of Joel and Clementine has already achieved cult classic status. It’s a film that is nearly impossible not to love thanks to the vibrant dreamscape created by Michel Gondry. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind looks and moves like no other film, it’s a wholly original story anchored by brilliant performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (not to mention Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Elijah Wood who all take on small, but vital supporting roles).
Above all though, it is the film’s fragmented, memory-fueled take on the subject of relationships that sets it apart.
I suspect many of the Coen brothers’ films will be considered classics one day, but I’m singling out No Country for Old Men for Javier Bardem’s unsettling performance as the killer for hire Anton Chigurh. The character became iconic almost the moment he appeared onscreen. He is at once a terrifying and enigmatic figure, a villain that makes a lasting impression while saying very few words.
Chigurh may be the first thing that springs to mind when No Country for Old Men is mentioned, but I would be remiss if I didn’t note the lonesome western motif that the Coens’ utilize so expertly. As with all of their films, the brothers’ auteur spirit is evident in every frame.
Now that I’ve shared my list of modern films that I believe are destined to be deemed classics, I would love to see yours. Head to the comment section to share your favorites.
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