The Best English Movies of the 21st Century

This edition was originally titled “The best English movies of the 21st century to see before you die”.

Before I wade more into gallows humour, let us keep this simple. This is a list of 75 English movies from 2000 to the present which I recommend to everyone. The next edition will cover the best foreign language movies meeting the same criteria.

75. Nightcrawler (2014)

One line story: A hustler blurs the line between reporting and participating in a crime as he builds a career as a crime reporter.

Why I like it: A new and fresh screenplay. Riveting from start to finish.

The Highlight: Jake Gyllenhaal in his finest performance in a fine career.

74. Hell or High Water (2016)

One line story: Two brothers resort to robbing banks to pay mortgage for their oil rich land.

Why I like it: It is a Western with cars replacing horses.

The Highlight: The Robberies

73. Lady Bird (2017)

One line story: A coming of age movie of a girl in suburban America.

Why I like it: I like the way the movie ends. It does not try too hard.

The Highlight: Saoirse Ronan promising much more for the future and nowadays delivering on her promise.

72. Paddington 2 (2017)

One line story: Paddington from Peru wants to buy a gift for his aunt in the UK.

Why I like it: An animation movie with a soul and a rather playful one at that.

The Highlight: The animation

71. Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

One line story: The power play between a veteran and a rather naive understudy.

Why I like it: Like all good movies, it keeps you engaged till the end.

The Highlight: The acting performances

70. Before Sunset (2004)

One line story: They meet again in Paris and spend a day together.

Why I like it: A dismissively simple idea is turned into an elegant movie.

The Highlight: The ride on the Seine.

69. Lord of War (2005)

One line story: An arms dealer does what he does while the authorities try to corner him.

Why I like it: It is almost a celebration of the arms trade and goes to crazy places.

The Highlight: The dismantling of the airplane.

68. The Town (2010)

One line story: A bank robbery becomes complicated.

Why I like it: It gives a fresh twist to the bank robbery tales.

The Highlight: Nobody is shown as naive or stupid but film stays focused on their motives.

67. Munich (2005)

One line story: The nation of Israel wants to avenge the death of Israeli athletes at the Olympics.

Why I like it: It is a cold and calculated procedural.

The Highlight: Eric Bana cannot act and he gets a role that requires him to stay emotionless.

66. American Sniper (2014)

One line story: The story of the greatest sniper in the history of American army.

Why I like it: The movie tries to deal with the emotional trauma of a man who becomes a killing machine.

The Highlight: The greatest dangers are nearer home.

65. Capote (2005)

One line story: Truman Capote researches a killer for his next book.

Why I like it: Phillip Seymour Hoffman was peerless.

The Highlight: The acting, especially the jail scenes.

64. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

One line story: A rogue guy bending and breaking rules and laughing his way to the bank before karma catches up with him.

Why I like it: The last thing you would expect from Martin Scorsese.

The Highlight: The party in the office scene reminiscent of Citizen Kane.

63. Leave No Trace (2018)

One line story: A father and daughter try to live a life away from the masses.

Why I like it: It has an authenticity and rawness seldom seen on the big screen.

The Highlight: When the paths of the father and daughter start diverging.

62. Atonement (2007)

One line story: A budding romance is a victim of circumstances and lies.

Why I like it: One of the few movies which made me sad. So much beauty to admire in so much tragedy.

The Highlight: The final revelation.

61. Match Point ((2005)

One line story: A femme-fatale messes up the priorities of a dishonest social climber.

Why I like it: The closest Woody Allen has come to making a real erotic thriller.

The Highlight: The ravishing Scarlett Johansson

60. Syriana (2005)

One line story: Middle-eastern oil politics.

Why I like it: It burns slowly and then becomes an inferno.

The Highlight: The missile strike

59. The Ides of March (2011)

One line story: An aide to a politician learns on his job.

Why I like it: There are no heroes in this movie. Only survivors.

The Highlight: “No press beyond this point. She is press.”

58. Blue Jasmine (2013)

One line story: A rich man’s wife enters self destruction territory.

Why I like it: Cate Blanchett in a memorable performance.

The Highlight: How Woody Allen toys with his characters in his best screenplay in the last 15 years.

57. Phantom Thread (2017)

One line story: A dress designer’s life goes downhill as his partner starts wielding more power.

Why I like it: Daniel Day Lewis. The name is enough.

The Highlight: The background score.

56. 1917 (2019)

One line story: Two soldiers are tasked with delivering an order to prevent a catastrophe.

Why I like it: The camera is the star of the movie.

The Highlight: The last running scene.

55. The Big Short (2015)

One line story: A bunch of guys profiting from their knowledge when the 2008 finacial crisis hits.

Why I like it: The quasi documentary feel to an entertaining movie.

The Highlight: Margot Robbie explaining finance in a bathtub.

54. Moonlight (2016)

One line story: Growing up surrounded by guns and drugs.

Why I like it: The Oscar drama

The Highlight: The talent of Mahershala Ali

53. The Babadook (2014)

One line story: A mother and son battle the demons inside and outside their mind.

Why I like it: For reinventing a genre which was in dire need of a reinvention.

The Highlight: All the scary scenes.

52. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

One line story: A mother is willing to upset the applecart as she seeks answers to her daughter’s death.

Why I like it: The movie does not hold back on the anger.

The Highlight: The torching scene.

51. Green Book (2018)

One line story: A famous black musician is driven by a white driver for a series of concerts in the deep south.

Why I like it: The best road movie in years.

The Highlight: KFC

50. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

One line story: A 15 year old learns in the company of his seniors and confronts his personal tragedy.

Why I like it: It is a darn sweet movie.

The Highlight: The last scene.

49. Almost Famous (2000)

One line story: A young writer observes a band on their tour.

Why I like it: The most honest film about pop bands and their lives.

The Highlight: The scene when the plane gets into turbulence.

48. A History of Violence (2005)

One line story: A family man has a violent past to hide and a family to protect.

Why I like it: There are many films since and before the movie with the same story but this one stands out.

The Highlight: When the son picks up the gun.

47. Anomalisa (2015)

One line story: Mid-life crisis

Why I like it: The animation is suitable for the story it tells. The impact would have been less if real people played the roles.

The Highlight: When the lead character returns to his family.

46. The Tree of Life (2011)

One line story: A ponderous tale on faith, love and life

Why I like it: The camera work is sensational.

The Highlight: Nothing looks ordinary.

45. Road to Perdition (2002)

One line story: A father seeks to avenge the murder of his family. with his son in tow.

Why I like it: The second best gangster flick after the Godfather.

The Highlight: The cinematography is gorgeous, often lyrical.

44. Michael Clayton (2007)

One line story: A fixer has to deal with the biggest challenge thrown at him.

Why I like it: One of the best thrillers ever if you can read up on the coded messages in the movie.

The Highlight: Tilda Swinton creating the template for all future roles of a neurotic corporate honcho.

43. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

One line story: A spy comes out of retirement to find a double agent

Why I like it: Slow and steady suspense builds up to a good finale.

The Highlight: Gary Oldman carries the weight of the film on his very capable shoulders.

42. Inside Out (2015)

One line story: An eleven year old coping with her emotions.

Why I like it: Some breath of freshness from Pixar.

The Highlight: The animation.

41. Selma (2014)

One line story: Martin Luther King fights racism in Selma.

Why I like it: Some stories should be told.

The Highlight: The songs have been criminally overlooked.

40. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

One line story: Nobel laureate Nash tries to find equilibrium in his life.

Why I like it: Stories about scientists do not have to be boring.

The Highlight: The bar scene

39. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

One line story: Child soldiers and their adult leader try to trade power in a civil war.

Why I like it: It feels very real and immediate.

The Highlight: The first time I noticed Idris Elba

38. Rachel Getting Married (2008)

One line story: A sister turns up at a wedding and all hell breaks loose.

Why I like it: Nothing much happens but then so much happens.

The Highlight: The choreographed sequences looking all too real.

37. The Departed (2006)

One line story: A cat and mouse game between Police and gangsters.

Why I like it: I like the original better but it is in another language.

The Highlight: The explanation of the benefits of marriage at the shooting range.

36. The Last King of Scotland (2006)

One line story: A Scot is the doctor of choice to Idi Amin.

Why I like it: Idi Amin would have been proud of Forest Whitaker.

The Highlight: The limb rearrangement

35. Life of Pi (2012)

One line story: A boy on a lifeboat goes on an adventure with some unwelcome company.

Why I like it: A visuall feast.

The Highlight: That island.

34. The Irishman (2019)

One line story: Gangsters being gangsters.

Why I like it: For once, the invincible are shown as the tormented souls in their old age and almost invariably dying a painful death.

The Highlight: The daughter’s face when the family watches the TV news of the death.

33. Skyfall (2012)

One line story: Bond not being the classic bond.

Why I like it: They are trying hard to reinvent Bond when he is no more the guy with the coolest gadgets.

The Highlight: The train fight.

32. Adaptation (2002)

One line story: “The script I’m starting, it’s about flowers. Nobody’s ever done a movie about flowers before.”

Why I like it: “The book has no story. There’s no story.”

The Highlight: ” It’s like a brain factory in here.”

31. Lost in Translation (2002)

One line story: Two lonely people meet in one of the most crowded cities in the world.

Why I like it: There is so much unsaid.

The Highlight: When they part ways.

30. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

One line story: Brothers are divided in their position on Irish independence.

Why I like it: Ken Loach’s masterpiece.

The Highlight: A terribly underrated movie.

29. Dunkirk (2017)

One line story: Soldiers have the choice between the devil and the deep sea.

Why I like it: The background score is a thing of beauty.

The Highlight: When they read Churchill’s words from the newspaper.

28. Gladiator (2000)

One line story: A gladiator must stand up after being knocked down.

Why I like it: The pageantry and the scale. Impressive.

The Highlight: The songs, especially, “Now we are free”.

27. The Social Network (2010)

One line story: A flawed genius wants to make friends and enemies.

Why I like it: No movie captures Silicon valley better.

The Highlight: The visiting card. Tells more about the individual than anything else.

26. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

One line story: Drug-fueled disintegration of a young man and people around him.

Why I like it: A tragedy without crying.

The Highlight: When he comes home in a taxi.

25. Spotlight (2015)

One line story: Sometimes great journalism is not just having the story but the courage to publish it.

Why I like it: Telling truth to power.

The Highlight: The end credits.

24. Elephant (2003)

One line story: Shooting in a high school in America.

Why I like it:You would not guess the story if you saw the first twenty minutes of it.

The Highlight: The freezer scene.

23. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

One line story: What revolution would look like in a post apocalyptic world.

Why I like it: Energy. Action. Madness.

The Highlight: All the crazy people in the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your …….

22. Her (2013)

One line story: A man starts falling in love with a voice.

Why I like it: Then he discovers the real deal.

The Highlight: Scarlett Johansson’s voice

21. Gravity (2013)

One line story: Lost in space, need a ride back home.

Why I like it: It looked out of this world on the big screen.

The Highlight: The moments before the touchdown.

20. No Country for Old Men (2007)

One line story: A psychopath is after 2 million USD of stolen money

Why I like it: Javier Bardem looks menacing.

The Highlight: That long silent take.

19. Memento (2000)

One line story: A man with the memory of a goldfish hunts for his wife’s killer.

Why I like it: It is an original piece of work unlike anything I have seen before. At least as far as I can remember.

The Highlight: The coffee scene.

18. Enemy at the Gates (2001)

One line story: A Soviet sniper turning into a legend.

Why I like it: The Soviets won the second world war and there is at least one good movie to honour their efforts.

The Highlight: The shot while jumping between the tunnels.

17. The Artist (2011)

One line story: Sound is a problem for a silent era movie star.

Why I like it: A silent spectacle.

The Highlight: When life gives you lemons, …………

16. Manchester by the Sea (2016)

One line story: Grief of a man understood by none.

Why I like it: The grief is palpable.

The Highlight: Whenever he meets his pregnant ex-wife.

15. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

One line story: A true rags to riches story via the financial markets.

Why I like it: You feel for the protagonist.

The Highlight: The climax of the movie.

14. WALL-E (2008)

One line story: Two robots fall in love and set out to change the world.

Why I like it: A masterpiece.

The Highlight: When the human stands on his feet.

13. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

One line story: The curious events in a hotel.

Why I like it: Quirky to the extreme.

The Highlight: The acting.

12. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

One line story: Can he win a million dollars and unite with the love of his life?

Why I like it: You don’t have to know everything. It’s what you know that matters.

The Highlight: AR Rahman’s music

11. Boyhood (2014)

One line story: Life, shot over 12 years.

Why I like it: It does not get more original than this.

The Highlight: Nobody died during the film making.

10. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

One line story: The hunt for terrorists in Afghanistan.

Why I like it: An edge of the seat thriller.

The Highlight: Nobody knows the real heroine.

9. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

One line story: A coach watches in pain as his protege boxer gets what she does not deserve.

Why I like it: If you feel too arrogant about yourself, watch this.

The Highlight: Hilary Swank.

8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

One line story: A group of misfits go on a road trip.

Why I like it: “Everybody just pretend to be normal.”

The Highlight:

Olive: I’d like to dedicate this to my grandpa, who showed me these moves.

Pageant MC: Aww, that is so sweet.

[Audience applauds]

Pageant MC: Is he here? Where’s your grandpa right now?

Olive: In the trunk of our car.

7. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

One line story: What if your life was a script and you were living it?

Why I like it: Probably the most devastating movie I have ever seen.

The Highlight: The end.

6. Miss Sloane (2016)

One line story: Miss Sloane is a lobbyist who fears nothing.

Why I like it: If I could make movies, this is the type of movie I would like to make.

The Highlight: Jessica Chastain, take a bow.

5. There Will Be Blood (2007)

One line story: Oil is thicker than blood.

Why I like it: An acting masterclass from Daniel Day Lewis.

The Highlight: The pastor when he preaches.

4. Zodiac (2007)

One line story: The hunt for a real life serial killer with feedback from the serial killer.

Why I like it: If every thriller could be as nuanced and subtle as this one.

The Highlight: When he goes to the shop to look the suspect in the eye.

3. Mulholland Drive (2001)

One line story: Rita trying to understand what has happened.

Why I like it: Call ten people to write the story of this movie and you would get ten different stories.

The Highlight: Figuring out the relevant parts.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

One line story: In a world where memories can be erased for a fee, two people fall in love.

Why I like it: Love is an inexplicable emotion.

The Highlight: The screenplay of this movie is undoubtedly one of the best ever written.

  1. The Pianist (2002)

One line story: A Jewish pianist tries to survive through the horrors of the Second World War in Poland.

Why I like it: What is there not to like?

The Highlight: Classics age well. This one is a classic.

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