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The 20 Best Movie Endings of the 21st Century

Shocking plot twists, grand gestures of love, and one enormous spider — these are the movie endings that stay with you forever.

15. “Certified Copy” (2010)

Are they or aren’t they? It’s impossible not to wonder, as the credits roll on Abbas Kiarostami’s penultimate film, whether Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are playing complete strangers or an estranged couple. As is often the case with the dearly departed auteur, definitive answers are less important than coming to your own conclusion. That couldn’t be more apropos of a film so concerned with art and our interpretation(s) of it, one that abounds in self-reflexive play-acting. We might not be able to reconcile this maybe-couple’s competing personas, but if they themselves can reconcile, there may be hope for us yet. — MN

14. “45 Years” (2015)

Charlotte Rampling’s performance in “45 Years” is an astonishing study in understatement. She plays an older woman whose seemingly cozy marriage to her husband (Tom Courtenay) gets complicated when the body of his old lover is discovered frozen in the Swiss Alps. As Rampling’s character gradually becomes more aware of how this news affects her longtime lover, she also realizes just how much of his grief he has internalized over the years, and that it may be inaccessible to her. The story builds up to their titular anniversary, and the woman’s attempt to remain a supportive partner even as she resents her husband’s repressed memories is a crucial aspect of the absorbing drama. But writer-director Andrew Haigh brings that mounting tension to another level of cinematic inspiration in the final moments, as a jubilant dance scene strikes a remarkable contrast with the image of Rampling’s uneasy face in the frame. It’s a brilliant illustration of the way external events are always at odds with the psychological struggles that words can never express. —EK

 13. “The Fits” (2016)

There’s something funny about “The Fits” from the start. The convulsive episodes that are sweeping through the older girls on Toni’s dance team don’t seem to fit any sort of medical diagnosis. These seizures are choreographed with a certain strangeness; it’s as if the kids are being taken hold and transformed them into something new. A tomboy who’s torn between boxing and more traditionally feminine pursuits, Toni (Royalty Hightower) waits the entire film for the fits to happen to her, for her body to take the lead and help her figure out what she’s supposed to do with it. When the moment finally arrives, writer-director Anna Rose Holmer delivers it with extraordinary grace, her young heroine shaking free from her gravity as she finds the grace required to become her own woman. — DE

12. “Kill List” (2012)

There’s disturbing, and then there’s “Kill List.” Ben Wheatley’s massively upsetting film begins as a hitman drama before turning into something infinitely darker and more savage, and does so gradually enough that you never see the inevitable conclusion coming. Not for the faint of heart — or even the strong of heart, for that matter — its third-act twist results in a forced fight to the death between our wayward protagonist and a hooded figure known as the Hunchback whose identity provides the most fucked-up reveal this side of “What’s in the box!?” You can fill your list with as many names as you like, but it matters little if you’re on someone else’s. — MN

11. “Inception” (2010)

It’s not what happens at the end of “Inception,” but how. In all of Christopher Nolan’s ever-expanding and increasingly contested body of work, no other moment so perfectly crystallizes his symphonic approach to narrative storytelling, or why the momentum that he’s capable of achieving with it has the power to overwhelm our senses and our suspension of disbelief. We know that Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb is going to make his way back home, and we’re told (over and over and over again) what it would mean for him to be reunited with his kids. But watching it happen — watching Leo pass through customs and meet up with Michael Caine as Hans Zimmer’s “Time” blares at top volume — is such an overpowering experience because it makes good on the promise of a movie that has been held together by nothing but centrifugal force. After almost 90 minutes of expanding across various dream levels and feverishly cross-cutting between them, Nolan’s film crescendoes by going supernova, shrinking all of its energy down to one super dense moment of catharsis. It doesn’t matter if the top falls over or not, you’re left in awe of the sheer velocity with which it was spinning. — DE

The list continues on the next page.

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