20 of the most influential movies of the past 20 years

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It’s no easy task to choose only twenty movies that have left their mark on this generation. Actually, it’s impossible! So I had to knuckle down and select only one movie per year, even though some years produced so many masterpieces that I could have chosen several. What is certain is that in twenty years, the film industry has had a technical revolution: we’ve gone from film to digital, from 2D to 3D and even to 4D in some movie theaters.

In twenty years, image and sound quality have made a huge leap forward. And even though some directors are still nostalgic for traditional film, it must be said that the level of detail of recent productions is impressive. Some of the movies in this selection are good examples of this. It is also in the last twenty years that Méliès’ dream of cinematographic illusion has become a reality. So much so that one can no longer distinguish between special effects and reality.

But cinema isn’t only a matter of technique. The director’s creative drive can allow some stories to transcend technology. An example is the recent movie Parasite which combines, without us noticing, a lot of computer-generated elements that serve the remarkable story. During the past twenty years, directors such as Tarantino, Iñarritu, Scorsese and James Manigold have helped make the movie industry more creative, exciting, and complex and, above all, have helped keep it alive!

The human element involved in making movies takes precedence over technology, but the latter has helped open many doors that could’ve bridled the imagination of creators. Consequently, many different genres now exist, with a wide range of influences… a visual melting pot that we hope will endure despite the push for standardization from some major film studios. Because twenty years of cinema is, above all, twenty years of creativity.

David Oghia (Misteur D)

1 – Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott)

It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the public rediscovered Ridley Scott’s epic evocative power. With the muscular peplum Gladiator, the director proved that he was still relevant and that he knew how to make innovative choices in terms of picture, casting and music. Hans Zimmer, the famous Hollywood composer, reached the peak of his career thanks to Gladiator. The movie’s music, which is punctuated by Lisa Gerrard’s songs, still evokes scenes of impressive beauty. Gladiator remains an important movie whose box-office success is irrefutable. Much like with Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), Scott created a standard for the peplum genre and, by extension, historical movies; a feat that he has not replicated since…

2 – Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

It is impossible not to mention this movie, which has influenced a whole generation. The director Jean-Pierre Jeunet came back strong after having struggled on the set of Alien IV, even though he did manage to successfully tame the xenomorph. We expected to find him at the helm of another American blockbuster after that. But Jeunet took his audience by surprise with this lighthearted and surprising romantic comedy that allowed actress Audrey Tautou to rise to international fame. At the beginning of the millennium, French cinema delivered a beautiful message with this poetic and positive story. A picturesque universe that is a true work of art thanks to the excellent storytelling and supporting actors. Amélie is without a doubt a brilliant movie that deserves its spot in this non-exhaustive list.

3 – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson)

We could have chosen each movie from The Lord of the Rings franchise for the years they were released (2000 to 2003) because they were such a major revolution for the fantasy genre in more than one way. Not only did Peter Jackson’s trilogy allow a wide audience to discover this wonderful story written by J.R.R. Tolkien, it also paved the way for other successful fantasy works like Game of Thrones. Of the three movies, The Two Towers is probably the most impressive with the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Visually stunning sets, costumes and special effects placed the fledgling company Weta Workshop amongst the most prestigious SFX firms in the world. Academy awards rained down on The Lord of the Rings and its actors were propelled into stardom. We look back on this Christmas movie theater event with nostalgia, and we often return to Middle Earth (I do, anyway) because these movies have become timeless and somewhat addictive.

4 – Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-Wook)

In 20 years, Korean cinema has gained a worldwide reputation and Oldboy most likely paved the way for Parasite’s success. The story of this unknown man, who is held captive for fifteen years and released just as abruptly, who sets out in search of an explanation and revenge, is truly captivating. Director Park Chan-Wook’s technical skill, as well as the channeling of Dae-su’s delirium into what seems to be wandering, is the result of a carefully orchestrated trajectory, the symbolic expression of anger against his own country which had just emerged from dictatorship. A fascinating movie in terms of visual impact and emotional power, and a chance to discover a great filmmaker awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes. A must-see!

5 – Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright)

In a completely different vein, it’s hard to leave out the group of crazy Brits behind the excellent series Spaced, who also enjoyed a huge success with the first opus of the Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead. A British-style zombie movie packed with absurd and offbeat humor. Not only do we discover main actors Simon Pegg (the new Scotty in Star Trek) and Nick Frost, but also the excellent director Edgar Wright whom we have to thank for the movie adaptation of Scott Pilgrim. The hero of Shaun of the Dead goes from the daily grind (pretty much a zombie life) to zombie hunting! A hilarious, fast-paced parable that marked the revival of mainstream horror movies; a marginally scary movie that has since inspired many variations.

6 – Paprika (2005, Satoshi Kon)

Very few Japanese anime directors make a lasting impression on international cinema. There was Otomo with Akira in the early 90s, then Miyazaki and Oshii, and, more recently, Hosoda and Shinkai. But there is a very special director whose name is synonymous with powerful emotional experiences: Satoshi Kon. He is the director of only four animated feature films including Paprika, his last movie before his death in 2010. Evoking the dream world, Paprika is a breathtaking visual delirium that has influenced filmmakers like Christopher Nolan. With just a few works, Satoshi Kon established himself as an anime legend. His movies, from Perfect Blue to Millennium Actress, are dreamlike cinematographic experiences to be watched again and again.

7 – Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuarón)

Perhaps one of the most significant thrillers in the history of cinema. Influenced by a particular genre of 60s and 70s science fiction (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green…) that depicts a bleak future, Children of Men masterfully revisits the idea of a slow apocalypse with humanity doomed to become extinct over several generations… Director Alfonso Cuarón thrusts Clive Owen and Julian Moore into a dystopian United Kingdom. Based on P.D. James’ novel, this story is the ideal backdrop to reveal Cuarón’s directing talent, which includes two very impressive single-shot sequences. This movie provides a realistic yet inspired vision of a decaying world that is both fascinating and disturbing. Another must-have for your movie collection.

8 – No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel and Ethan Coen)

The Coen brothers have been around since the 80s with their surprising projects, and No Country for Old Men further reinforced (if it was necessary) their notoriety. Joel and Ethan are so prolific that I had to choose one of their movies for this list. I chose this one because not only is it an excellent thriller that was widely acclaimed in many international festivals, it also brings together a trio of exceptional actors: a young Josh Brolin who reveals his talent in this movie, Tommy Lee Jones who has successfully portrayed several Texan cops, and Javier Bardem (with his questionable haircut) who is more terrifying than ever. A striking film that impresses with its mature production, intense pace and humor-tinged dialogues, all enveloped in an exceptionally violent atmosphere. As critics often say: an instant classic!

9 – Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)

Like the Coen brothers, Danny Boyle is a very versatile director who has tackled multiple genres. Since, The Mancunian has come a long way since 1994’s Shallow Grave and Slumdog Millionaire with its Indian influences and cast, could be regarded as Boyle’s consecration. Awarded 8 Oscars and many other awards, this tale, which could have been produced in Bollywood, is quite possibly the first globalization movie. An outside look at the tensions between Indian castes through this young man, who starts off at the bottom of the social ladder and defies fate by winning the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and who is accused of cheating. The film goes back over each question asked during the game show and offers an explanation for his answers in the form of a flashback. A story that is rich in emotion and captivating visuals.

10 – Avatar (2009, James Cameron)

James Cameron takes his time when making movies… We had to wait twelve years after Titanic for the release of Avatar in December 2009. In concluding the first decade of the 21st century, Cameron also opened the door to the future of cinema. He imposed 3D technology on cinemas across the globe and made a movie with unparalleled technical achievements. By combining the talents of Peter Jackson’s magicians at Weta and George Lucas’ ILM masters, they succeeded in transporting us to Avatar’s distant universe on planet Pandora. It was an unforgettable trip for the many viewers who enjoyed it. Up until the latest Avengers movie, Avatar was the highest grossing movie ever at 2.7 billion dollars. A phenomenal success that established James Cameron as one of Hollywood’s greatest visionary directors. The digital techniques used to create Avatar have served as references for all productions to date. A journey into the alien tribes of Pandora, which offered the viewer an unprecedented immersive experience. Avatar was a real turning point in cinematographic worldbuilding.

11 – The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

Once again, this movie was chosen because of its director, David Fincher, who has made a whole series of hard-hitting films since Se7en and Fight Club. The Social Network is a different type of movie: a biopic about Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, which allowed Fincher to apply the suspense he masters in his thrillers to an exciting story involving betrayal and massive risks. The Social Network is by no means a eulogy of Zuckerberg, but rather depicts history in the making as if it were a Greek tragedy. This computer story, which definitely isn’t just for geeks and nerds and stars a handful of excellent actors, is thoroughly exciting and gives you the chills. Fincher and his screenwriter Aaron Sorkin manage to create something fascinating despite the somewhat serious and technical subject matter. A must-see!

12 – The Intouchables (2011, Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache)

2011 was a successful year for French cinema thanks to this dramatic comedy directed by Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. Based on true events, this very moving story is about a quadriplegic man (played by François Cluzet) from a well-to-do family who rediscovers the pleasure of living thanks to his caregiver, a Senegalese man from the Parisian suburbs portrayed by Omar Sy. Everything that opposes the two protagonists and the hardships they experience together, which inevitably brings them closer together, really tug at the viewer’s heartstrings. A clever balance between comedy and social commentary and, above all, a duo that makes the story come alive yet never becomes caricatural. When this chemistry works, it produces an inspiring and profoundly human movie that is an important piece of French cinema.

13 – Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)

It’s impossible to talk about influential movies of the past 20 years without mentioning Quentin Tarantino. A film-loving director who likes to pay tribute to the classics, like in Django Unchained. Tarantino had wanted to make a Spaghetti Western for a long time to honor Sergio Leone, one of his favorite sources of inspiration since he began directing. Django, taken from an eponymous movie of the 60s, is primarily a pivotal moment in the career of its director, resulting in this internationally acclaimed work. It was also the biggest box-office success for Quentin, who assembles a trio of exceptional actors: Jamie Foxx as Django and Christopher Waltz versus Leonardo DiCaprio. Django Unchained was shot the traditional way, in anamorphic format on 35 mm film. Even the music, which plays an important part in the movie, used vinyl records as the source and all the crackles were preserved until the soundtrack was made. Tarantino is nostalgic (in a positive way) and knows how to turn a timeless piece into an unforgettable masterpiece.

14 – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese)

Leonardo DiCaprio again, but this time with Martin Scorsese for a movie that marked the director’s return to form. Based on true events, the story plunges us into the world of the Stock Exchange and brokers, notably their embezzlement schemes in the 80s. The audience didn’t expect to find the mafia-like atmosphere of Casino, but Scorsese manages to immerse us in an even more crime-ridden universe with these traders. It is the extravagance and excess of this movie that is astounding, along with the 71-year old filmmaker’s ability to show us the boundless overindulgence of the main character. Goodbye morality! The Wolves of Wall Street are unleashed and Scorsese follows them to their limits with a series of now-cult scenes seldom seen in this kind of financial thriller.

15 – Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle)

The last segment of this selection often features extreme and sometimes violent characters. A sign of the time, perhaps? Whiplash is an unexpected movie from Damien Chazelle, who confirmed his talent two years later with La La Land. The shooting that allowed Whiplash to see the light of day was extreme: it lasted only 19 days and Chazelle was involved in a serious car accident, but returned to set the next day despite the doctors’ warning. Whiplash tells the ordeal of a young musician confronted with the borderline insanity of his teacher, portrayed by J.K. Simmons (who received an Oscar for this role). Spectators and critics alike applauded the actors’ performance, which made this movie one of the best works of the decade. The confrontation between the protagonists and the musical feats are spectacular, and Whiplash represents the best in “strong characters”. A must-see if you missed out in 2014.

16 – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

At the risk of repeating myself, here is another 70-year old director who shows the younger generation how it’s done by successfully bringing back a mythical character to the big screen: Mad Max: Fury Road is not far from being a perfect movie. We weren’t expecting to see 80s hero Max again, especially not in a sequel… Miller succeeded in replacing the iconic Mel Gibson with Tom Hardy, who is less charismatic but is accompanied by Charlize Theron, who steals the show with her masterful portrayal of Imperator Furiosa. Fury Road is an impressive visual ballet that completely renews the genre, a feast for the eyes with a well-delivered dose of feminism. A huge box-office success, this fourth installment in Max’s adventures also received rave reviews. This movie reigned supreme in 2015 with an impressive list of awards from around the world. We’re waiting for the sequel now George!

17 – The Revenant (2016, Alejandro Iñarritu)

Decidedly, DiCaprio is the actor who’s the most present in this selection… in part thanks to the director Alejandro Iñarritu who offers a fascinating movie with The Revenant. Not only is it a feat of acting but also an exceptional achievement that confirms that Iñarritu is a master filmmaker. This journey into the far north of a wild America during the golden age of trappers is a magnificent visual and emotional adventure. The hero’s voyage, a 300km journey alone in the wild, is a complete change of scenery for the viewer. An archetypal “revenge movie”, The Revenant is an intimate yet grandiose masterpiece. Exemplary adventure cinema.

18 – Logan (2017, James Mangold)

If we could pick only one movie from the entire galaxy of superhero movies released since 2008’s Iron Man, which ushered in the Marvel era, it would have to be James Manigold’s Logan. The latter is an excellent director, who had already released several hits such as Cop Land with Sylvester Stallone and 3:10 to Yuma, a stunning western starring Russel Crowe and Christian Bale. Logan is his second (and last) installment in the adventures of Wolverine, who is portrayed by the excellent Hugh Jackman. Taking place in the near future, the story depicts an ageing superhero at the bedside of Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart, who can no longer control his powers. The whole thing smacks of disaster. Everything changes when Wolverine meets a young girl who is on the run and who has powers similar to his. An emotional and tenebrous movie that brings credibility to the genre. As soon as it was released, critics unanimously hailed Logan as a new reference of the genre and lauded its authentic and moving story. Besides the graphic violence, the characters finally received a depth and humanity we didn’t expect for a Marvel movie.

19 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman)

The end of the 2010s was really dominated by superhero movies. Completely different from Logan, this Spider-man is first and foremost a beautiful animated movie. If you thought that all the reboots had exhausted the Spider-Man character, think again. Into the Spider-Verse makes the character interesting again. Achieving the feat of combining the best of the genre with a Spider-Man tribute movie, it has excellent visuals as well as a great plot. Resuming the adventures of Miles Morales, an alternative incarnation of Spider-Man, the story is based on several parallel dimensions and places fresh blood behind Spider-Man’s mask. Watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is almost like visiting a moving contemporary art exhibition. It also reminds us of the important role of animated features within action and adventure movies. Productions that are often of very high quality and compensate for the lack of “live” cinema in this domain.

20 – Parasite (2019, Bong Joon-Ho)

To wrap up our selection, we’re returning to Korean cinema with the completion and confirmation of 20 years of development of Asian productions. Parasite is an excellent movie, with great characters, atmosphere and direction. Bong Joon-Ho, strengthened by his experience with Memories of Murder, The Host and Snowpiercer, created an unpredictable thriller. One of the great strengths of Korean movies is their unguessable endings. Even though the characters and situations are complex, the flow of the story still seems good. The dramatic process transports the viewer exactly where the director intends. And we ask to see more with almost culpable enthusiasm. This movie, in which the house is at the center of a poisonous plot, pits two parts of the Korean population against each other and is a social satire that doesn’t forget to immerse us in the rhythm and tension of a thriller. A highly accomplished movie deserving of the shower of international awards it received, from the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Picture in Hollywood, a first for a Korean production.

About: David Oghia
David Oghia is a man of many talents (he is a video editor, a director, and he participated in the creation of Lucasfilm Magazine, Starfix Nouvelle Génération and Science-Fiction Magazine…) and for the past 8 years he has organized Nuits au Max, movie nights with classic movies and other themed events for Paramount Channel at the Grand Rex cinema. In what little spare time he has, he works on podcasts about movie scores (Total Trax) or geek culture (Agence Tous Geeks).


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