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The Criticwire Survey: The Best Film of the Last 25 Years

The Criticwire Survey: The Best Film of the Last 25 Years

Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week’s question:

Q: What is the best movie of the last 25 years?

The critics’ answers:

Michael J. AndersonTativille:

“Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Through the Olive Trees.’ In this, the concluding chapter of the Iranian filmmaker’s masterful ‘Koker Trilogy,’ Kiarostami combines many of his signature preoccupations into a single, endlessly self-reflexive test: the relationship between fiction and non-fiction, the nature of space in the medium (with special attention paid to the advantage that can be gained by highlighting the medium’s formal limitations), the director’s strategy of leaving his films partially unfinished, etc. That is, Kiarostami pushes his ontological queries as far in ‘Through the Olive Trees’ as he does in any other film, while maintaining a less immediately quantifiable though no less extraordinary warmth, sense of humor and emotional depth. ‘Through the Olive Trees’ is Godard + Rossellini, great formalist and great humanist filmmaking both.”

Edwin ArnaudinAshvegas:

“‘The Royal Tenenbaums.’ It’s the most fully realized directorial vision from those years and also the most enjoyable.”

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

“I’ve tried really hard not to be predictable, but I can’t help but find myself coming back to Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There Will Be Blood.’ Other contenders include Anderson’s own ‘The Master,’ Godard’s ‘In Praise Of Love,’ James Gray’s ‘Two Lovers,’ Claire Denis’ ’35 Shots of Rum’ and Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree Of Life.'”

William BibbianiCrave Online:

“I knew the answer to this question. It was obviously Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘My Neighbor Totoro,’ probably the most enchanting fantasy ever filmed, a movie that filled the world with all-new images of wonderment, a film that reaffirms my faith in the human race; but then I checked and discovered that ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ came out 25 years ago… plus one week. If this question had been asked JUST LAST WEEK I would have had my answer, so instead I’m a little stymied. I’m torn between ‘Die Hard,’ one of the best ‘pure Hollywood’ movies ever made, ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ a fascinating study of gender dynamics disguised as a ‘merely’ perfect serial killer thriller, and ‘In the Mood for Love,’ a tragic but sensitive (and beautifully filmed) romance that captures the absolute essence of human aching. But ultimately it all came down to Steven Zaillian’s underdiscussed ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer,’ a film about chess, fatherhood, expectation, genius and the corruption that stems from competition. From a technical perspective, it’s a wonder. It features some of the best performances of the last 25 years. But in the end it all boils down to the fact that it’s a film without a single, solitary flaw. ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer,’ more than perhaps any other movie of the past twenty-five years, is the film I’d include on the very short list of ‘perfect’ movies. Watch it for the first time, or watch it again: I dare you to tell me where it goes wrong.”

Danny BowesMovie Mezzanine/Movies By Bowes:

“‘Space Jail.'”

Patrick BromleyF This Movie:


Sean M. BurnsPhiladelphia Weekly/The Improper Bostonian:

The 2004 ALCS.”

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

“You would have had a problem finding it in America, but it did play here and it can be found on Netflix. ‘Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring‘ is the best film of the last 25 years. If it is not the most entertaining, then it is the most spiritual. Kim Ki-duk’s euphoric achievement can be carried in your heart and mind, day to day, from now and until eternity. The visual purity of it all will never leave you. When my patience has been tested, this has always been the film that has brought me back to focus. In a word — it’s about Buddhism. But it’s pretty non-bullshit about life. There are notes on sex and the explicitness of the first-time, shame and self-desecration, the practice and meaning of daily ritual, spiritual rebirth and destiny. Yes, it really is entertaining — just not in a ‘Die Hard’ way. The first 15 minutes stunningly locks you in with a passage that works as a parable, one that is larger than words. ‘Go and find all the animals and release them from the stones. Then I will release you too. But if any of the animals, the fish, the frog or the snake is dead… you will carry the stone in your heart for the rest of your life,’ the Master says to his Protege. I am rhapsodic in my description with people I am sharing it with for the first time. And yes, enough happens in this film in case you were doubting. There are never less than a hundred thoughts circulating in your mind while you watch it the first time. Start now, and watch it hereon once a year. By the way, did you really want to hear about films you’ve already seen while combing through this survey? Discover something new for yourself.”

Marc CiafardiniGoSeeTalk.com:

“Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception‘ for its ability to be smart, sleek and accessible sci-fi and a game changer as far as storytelling goes. Further it showed us that someone in the entertainment industry believes that we as an audience are capable of taking in a story without having to be spoon fed the material and that ambiguity and open-ended storytelling is (well, can be) far more satisfying than a concrete and definitive ending. So to some ‘Inception’ may not be the undisputed ‘best film of the last 25 years’ but I believe it certainty got us to look at films in a new way and expect a different caliber of storytelling.”

Michael DaltonMovie Parliament:

“Incredibly tough question, one that I’ll have a different answer to depending on when you ask me. However, I’m going to go with David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club.’ One of the greatest films of all time and one that has stuck with me since my first viewing and I know will continue to do so.”

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

“‘Mulholland Drive.’ The mysteries never end and neither do the layers of new meaning and visceral power I encounter every time I watch it.”

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

“Oh man, I hate getting pinned down with questions like this. How about we say the best movie of the last 25 years is ‘Goodfellas,’ but the best *film* of the last 25 years is ‘Synecdoche, New York?'”

David EhrlichFilm.com:

“‘Close-Up.’ Also the best film  of the past *125* years.”

Scott Foundas, Variety:

“‘There Will Be Blood!'”

Kenji Fujishima, In Review Online:

“As always, I find myself a bit uncomfortable with proclaiming any movie as definitive ‘best’ of anything; I mean, by what standard do we consider something ‘best,’ especially if we’re talking about best movie of the last 25 years? That’s a lot of movies to consider, after all. Do we take a film’s importance to the cinematic landscape into account in addition to one’s own personal feelings toward it? That is perhaps my roundabout way of saying that my pick is, um, provisional at best; it’s not even a film I would consider one of my all-time favorites, necessarily. But Jia Zhang-ke’s 2006 feature ‘Still Life‘ is not only, to my mind, one of the great films of the ’00s and my favorite film from arguably the most important filmmaker working today, but one which, through its mournful meditation on the destructive effects of the Three Gorges Dam project in a Chinese city, manages to say a lot about modernization, the loss of history, and a whole host of other globally relevant subjects in ways that blessedly avoid preachiness. In fact, instead of being an unrelievedly depressing experience, ‘Still Life,’ in its moments of surreal whimsy and bleak visual beauty, pulses with life, animated by a true artist’s imagination.”

Tim Grierson, Screen International/Deadspin:

“I’d go with ‘Hoop Dreams,’ which tells its story rivetingly and with incredible compassion. And like all great movies, it stays fresh with each viewing, its meaning changing as I get older. When I first saw it back in 1994, Steve James’ documentary struck me as a portrait of race and class in America. Almost 20 years later, ‘Hoop Dreams’ still feels that way, but now it also seems like a rather poignant study of being young, when all your dreams are boundless and your whole life is in front of you. That sensation changes as the years start to add up and you begin making compromises, and the film’s concluding passages illustrate that as well as any movie that I can think of. At the end of the documentary, Gates mentions that he hopes people won’t forget about him if he doesn’t make the NBA. I know I sure haven’t.”

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

“While there is no way to really answer this question without four-hundred and thirty-two movies being tied for ‘best movie’ honors, I will say what film warmed my genre-centric heart the most in the last 25 years: ‘The Blair Witch Project.’ It’s easy to scoff at found footage and the film blamed (or credited) with its induction into the multiplex consciousness, but within the context of the late ’90s horror ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was a big part of the departure from the teen scream, PG-13 films that were well on their way towards the complete dilution of what really makes horror films good. Within that scope, and the fact it’s a surprisingly well-crafted movie, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ should really be given its proper dues.”

Peter HowellToronto Star:

“This seemed like a tall order at first, because there are so many candidates. Then an obvious choice came to mind: ‘In the Mood For Love,’ by Wong Kar-wai. Because it approaches perfection in form and content,  and because it makes romantic longing so incredibly sexy.”

Drew HuntChicago Reader/The Talking Pictures:

“I initially wasn’t going to answer this question, because the prospect of narrowing down a single film seemed daunting and, frankly, imprudent. But then I realized this question presented the ideal opportunity to implement Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s patented ‘salad bowl’ approach. Following his model, I took 50 slips of paper, wrote down 50 films I think could aptly be called the ‘best movie of the last 25 years,’ and shook ’em up. I then proceeded to pull five slips from the bowl, and the titles that emerged were ‘J’entends plus la guitare,’ ‘Boogie Nights,’ ‘La Libertad,’ ‘Ashes of Time,’ and ‘Inside Man.’ So I guess any one of those five is my answer.”

Sean HutchinsonLatino Review:

“So many films are swirling around my head with titles like ‘Munich’ or ‘There Will Be Blood’ immediately coming to mind, but if I had to zero in on a film that has come up again and again when talking about ‘the best’ I’d have to go with David Fincher’s 2007 procedural ‘Zodiac.’ It starts with that terrifying opening — you’ll never listen to ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ the same way again — and patiently plays out the meticulous but ultimately unsolved hunt for the Zodiac Killer in such a cleverly understated way. It’s an obsessive movie made by an obsessive director about obsession, and I’m equally obsessed every time I watch it unfold and masterfully subvert the genre. It’s the best.”

John Keefer51Deep.com:

“I’m terrible at these kinds of things because as soon as the question is asked my mind immediately goes to all the films I haven’t had the chance to see yet that could take the top spot. So to be safe I’ll say ‘Climates.’ I don’t know how that is being safe but I really loved that film.”

Dan KoisSlate:

“‘Yi Yi.'”

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

“Two films (I cheat) branching off to two new paths of cinema that have become so essential to the last 25 years of cinema. From Iran, Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Close-Up:’ a drama about filmmaking, but more aptly about suffering. A film that uses the documentary form to both re-stage and capture, all while investigating its own form and its subject’s relation to the cinema. In the end, the form becomes irrelevant: it all captures the truth of one man with pure honesty. On the other side of the world, Wong Kar-wai’s ‘Chungking Express,’ a maximalist work that sensualizes every frame while forming questions about our relationships to each other when space itself no longer make sense. Disjointed, building both a history and a future of the city, always longing for an eternal now, the split second in which people are only 0.01cm from having a connection, but it’s always lost. A hopeful view of love that fights through the chaos of the ever more fragmented society.”

Shawn LevyThe Oregonian:

“This is a totally unfair question, of course, and impossible to answer except to tell your mind ‘Freeze!’ and choose something. I plead schizophrenia: The overwhelming achievement seems to me to be ‘The Lord of the Rings;’ my heart tells me ‘Far From Heaven;’ my brain nags me to keep considering ‘Amour;’ the imp of the perverse keeps buzzing ‘Waking Life;’ and then I remember that ‘Goodfellas’ is 24 years old. Go to hell, Matt Singer. Go straight to hell.”

Germain Lussier/Film:

“It would be hard to argue with ‘Pulp Fiction.’ Quentin Tarantino literally changed how a generation thought about cinema with his genre mashup that played with narrative, heroic motivations, language and so much more. It works on every single level, is infinitely rewatchable and influenced the rest of the movies that came out for decades ahead. Not to mention, Tarantino’s influence on film, which is much more rooted in ‘Pulp Fiction’ than ‘Reservoir Dogs.'”

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

“I think I have to go with the film that happens to be my all time favorite (and a frequently cited film for me in these surveys), which of course is ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ There are plenty of worthy other films that could be cited, and perhaps even a few that I’d consider ‘better’ if I really thought about it, but I’m sticking with what I feel is the all time cream of the crop.”

Calum MarshSlant Magazine/Film.com:

“Thom Andersen’s ‘Los Angeles Plays Itself.'”

James McCormickCriterion Cast:

“Wow, the best movie of the last 25 years is a serious questions. Where does one pick apart the criteria for such a claim? I started thinking about this one and thought to myself, right away, a film that I’ve watched possibly more times than any film in the last 10 years, which is ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ a film I adore and Edgar Wright’s first feature length film (if we’re not counting his earlier magnum opus, ‘A Fistful of Fingers’). A film that my ex and I would watch at least once every few months from when we started dating until we broke up in December when I let her have the DVD we had enjoyed together for so very long (I had recently gotten the Blu-ray for cheap, so no worries). But the more I thought about what film I think is the best movie of the last 25 years, it was a toss up between two childhood favorites that ultimately stood the test of time and are still tops for me. One is ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ a film that is so off-beat and an amazing accomplishment in animation and live-action synergy, that I watch it a few times a year to just appreciate the time and effort that went into it. But the film that in my opinion is the best film of the last 25 years, even with a few huge plot holes in it, would have to be Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park,’ a film recently in theaters again in much better than I had expected 3D. I love this film. When I was 13, it was the perfect time for me to see this film when it came out because I was a huge dinosaur freak and wanted to travel the world to search for dinosaur bones. Alas, I never went through school for anthropology but I did watch this film a few times in theaters, bought the video cassette the moment it came out, bought the first DVD that came out, read the book countless times, and recently bought the Blu-ray set, even with the subpar/awful sequels. But the first will always be the best and considering I still feel 13 every time I’ve seen it since, it’s why I think it’s the best film of the last 25 years.”

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

“My pick, far and away, is 1993’s ‘Schindler’s List.’ I’ve never been hit harder by a film than I was by Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Holocaust drama. Everything about it feels so real and so authentic that it’s almost as though Spielberg went back in a time machine and made a documentary. Every time I see this movie, I’m stunned by its raw power. Also possessing a deeply moving story and career-best performances from Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley, ‘Schindler’s List,’ to me, represents everything that’s great about cinema. It works as art, as history, as psychology, as a reflection on the human condition, and — because it’s so exquisitely made — even as entertainment. When I walked out of the theater in December 1993, I knew ‘Schindler’s List’ would be one of the greatest films I would ever see. I was right. Nothing since that time has even come close.”

Ryan McNeil, The Matinee:

“There are two films that were released in 1998 that will forever be linked for me, including being linked as best of the last 25 years. While they both deal with a similar subject matter, ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ and ‘The Thin Red Line‘ couldn’t be more different. One tells a story of the sacrifices we have made, the other shifts the focus to the battlefields we made those sacrifices on. One is focused on the worth of one life over another, the other wonders what any of our lives mean in the grand scheme of things. They are so different in narrative and approach, that it feels strange to link them — and yet, because I saw them so close together between the summer of 1998 and the winter that followed, they will forever go hand in hand for me. The films seem to finally express what war films have been trying to express for decades, and expressed it so well that no war film in the fifteen years that followed ever seemed to move audiences in the same way.”

V.A. MusettoNew York Post:

“Could it be anything other than Wong Kar-wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love?'”

Zac OldenburgHaving Said That:

“‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’ Emotional, hilarious and smart, Kaufman’s script is operating on another level and Gondry’s filmmaking couldn’t have been a more perfect pairing. Winslet has rarely been better and Carrey turns in, arguably, his best work of his career. Plus, the supporting players are also in top form and so is composer Jon Brion. Plus, that Beck song is a perfect cue for a perfect ending. Might the only movie I have ever watched back to back, full attention.”

Matt PriggeMetro US:

“That’s sort of a tall order. But I’m tempted to just say Guy Maddin’s ‘The Heart of the World.’ KINO!”

Rania RichardsonCommunity Media:

“‘La Promesse.'”

Jason ShawhanNashville Scene/Interface 2037:

“Cronenberg’s ‘Crash.'”

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

“Though there are a vast number of contender nipping at its heels, I’m going with Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 epic ‘There Will Be Blood,’ an immense filmmaking achievement that is as tightly focused as ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ and as expansive as ‘Magnolia.’ Back in September, I mentioned in a Criticwire Survey about Anderson’s best work that I consider ‘There Will Be Blood’ to be the best American film of this century, and I admit that this is the first film that popped in my head at today’s question. ‘There Will Be Blood’ is an intense, disturbing commentary on greed and capitalism, a darkly beautiful vision of the desperation packed into the quest to achieve the American dream. The way Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Dano create a fractious relationship of polar opposites united by a primitive, grasping greed is stunning. Anderson has been, for nearly two decades, one of the most vital, important directors of his generation. With ‘There Will Be Blood,’ he expanded upon his cinematic influences while creating something truly, wondrously singular.”

R. Emmet SweeneyMovie Morlocks:

“‘The Naked Gun.'”

Luke Y. ThompsonTopless Robot:

“I’m tempted to say ‘The Room’ just to be contrarian — truth be told, it has probably given me more total minutes of joy than any other. There really isn’t any great way to answer this, because you’re not just comparing metaphorical apples and oranges in some cases; more like apples and Band-Aids. I’m going to go instead with the best movie of the last 25 years that most people reading this will almost certainly have not seen, and many will want to after I mention it: Louis C.K.’s ‘Tomorrow Night.’ Long before he was universally hailed as the best stand-up comic, Louis was an aspiring filmmaker, and this black-and-white comedy — about an uptight photo-store clerk who marries an old woman after her husband is torn apart by wild dogs — is cinematically brilliant as well as being hilarious, echoing David Lynch at times while providing standout early roles for JB Smoove, Wanda Sykes, Steve Carell and Rick Shapiro. It played L.A. exactly twice and was never picked up for wider distribution; Louis keeps promising to self-release it at some point but has been too busy to do so. Now that FX has proven him to be an acclaim-worthy auteur, it’s long overdue for this masterpiece to be appreciated.”

Anne-Katrin TitzeEye For Film:

“For critics, who — presumably — have watched a lot of films between 1988 and 2013 and loved a lot of films to be able to continue to watch them, the Criticwire Survey for April 22, by its very nature, is moot. In this case, you may get a more valuable response from non-critics.”

Scott WeinbergTwitch/Movies.com:

“I must abstain on this question as it is way too difficult. But just for the hell of it I’ll say ‘Quiz Show.'”

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

“This is a difficult question for me, because the blockbuster era has created this environment where every great movie that isn’t a computer-generated theme park attraction seems to be equally good. I’m not sure if I can look at, say, ‘The Master’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ and definitively declare that one is better than the other. But if there’s one film in the last 25 years that I keep returning to again and again and finding it more impressive every time, it’s Martin Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas.’ ‘Goodfellas’ was declared the best film of the 1990s by the A.V. Club, and rightfully so: not only does that film have no wrong moments, but so many of its moments seem more and more right the older I get.”

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on April 22nd, 2013:
The Most Popular Response: “To the Wonder,” “Upstream Color” (tie)
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Spring Breakers,” “Evil Dead,” “In the House,” “Jurassic Park 3D.”

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