Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Best Movies Of The 21st Century You Haven't Seen Yet

Streaming services have upended the Hollywood landscape over the last decade, offering film fans a rapidly expanding palette of convenient options for watching—and making it harder than ever to keep up with all the great cinema that's produced every year. Let's take a look at some of the best films of this century you really should see—but probably haven't.

Yi Yi (2000)

In this visionary piece of storytelling, Taiwanese director Edward Yang chronicles the middle-class life of a family living in Taipei, paying special attention to an aging father who's timidly falling in love all over again and his son who seeks to capture the world through the lens of his camera. The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000, and Yang won Best Director at the New York Film Festival that same year. The BBC ranked Yi Yi as the eighth best film of the century in August 2016; for our money, it could have been No. 1.

Gosford Park (2001)

This quirky satire has been hailed as perhaps director Robert Altman's finest film. It features an all-star cast including Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillipe, Stephen Fry and Emily Watson, and the film's success inspired Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes to start working on his hit television series Downton Abbey. If you love the show and haven't seen this movie, you're in for a treat—but even if you haven't seen Abbey, make time for this movie. It's worth it.

Spirited Away (2001)

Trapped in a strange alternative reality, a young girl named Chihiro must call upon a resolve she didn't know she had to return to her parents and the world she left behind. In July 2001, Spirited Away became the most successful movie in Japanese history ahead of Titanic and Frozen—and drector Hayao Miyazaki managed to achieve that level of critical and popular acclaim without a script. "I don't have the story finished and ready when we start work on a film," Miyazaki told Midnight Eye. I usually don't have the time." That's just ridiculously impressive, and underscores the brilliance of this film.

Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Roger Ebert promised this animated treat "will have you walking out of the theater with a goofy damn grin on your face, wondering what just happened to you." Nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, The Triplets of Belleville is the first PG-13 animated film to earn a Best Animated Feature nomination. Since it's essentially an allegory about the perils of entertainment as a profit-driven machine rather than art to reflect and instruct society, it's difficult to say you shouldn't take this movie seriously, but its absurd whimsy will leave you laughing—and days later, thinking critically about what you watched.

Moolaadé (2004)

Set in a small African village where female genital mutilation is still practiced, Moolaadé takes on the subject of ritual female circumcision with a grace befitting the courage of the movie's protagonists. During its opening weekend, the film took in a modest $11,982, but critics from the Chicago Sun-Times to The New York Times to the Washington Post hailed it as one of the best releases of the year. The NYT's Dana Stevens wrote, "to skip Moolaade would be to miss an opportunity to experience the embracing, affirming, world-changing potential of humanist cinema at its finest."

The Best of Youth (2005)

Spanning 1966-2003, The Best of Youth follows four brothers through four decades of Italian history. First released as a four-part miniseries at Cannes—where it was cited with an Un Certain Regard award—it rides the tides of European politics and culture and allows the audience to experience the voyage as well as the characters' personal triumphs and tragedies. Don't worry about its imposing length—you won't even check your watch.

The Queen (2006)

Predating Netflix's series The Crown, The Queen takes a hard look at the royal family's response to the death of Princess Diana. With a cast headlined by Helen Mirren, it earned seven Academy Award nominations with one win for Mirren, who took home Best Actress. The film endures as one of the best depictions of the royals at their most relatable human. Seeing what it was likely like for the family at a time of tragedy that impacted people around the world gives Princess Di's death an added dimension.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Based on journalist Jean Dominique-Bauby's memoir, this drama chronicles Dominique-Bauby's life as the editor-in-chief of French Elle before and after he suffered a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome—a near-complete paralysis. Cited as one of the 100 best films of the 21st century by the BBC, this film's genius is its commitment to exploring Dominique-Bauby's life after the stroke: it's difficult territory, yet it achieves its aim. Viewers are left thankful for what they have, humbled by the thought that it can be taken away in a moment, and inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2008)

Set in the final days of communist Romania, this film tells the story of two college roommates who seek an illegal abortion. The BBC ranked it 15th among their list of the 21st century's best films, and it was cited by more than a dozen publications as one of the top 10 best movies of 2008. The heightened real-life political drama makes an effective backdrop, but the underling theme of the story—and the heart of the movie—is its depiction of friendship. Viewers are left floored by one woman's sacrifice for and commitment to another.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Both an animated movie and a documentary about the life of an Israeli soldier, Waltz with Bashir follows its protagonist and the film's director, Ari Folman, as he sifts through his memories as a soldier during the Lebanon War.

Empire magazine ranked it 34th among its "100 Best Films Of World Cinema," and Current TV ranked it fourth among its "50 Documentaries to See Before You Die." Underscoring how effectively Bashir fuses its disparate genres into a brilliant whole, it's the first animated movie to earn Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Language Film.

35 Shots of Rum (2009)

A deeply personal and subtle film about a single father and his only daughter, 35 Shots of Rum tells the story of a man who, after raising his daughter alone, must come to grips with knowing his adult daughter is planning to leave him to marry a young man and move on with her life.

Over the course of the film, Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday observed, "35 Shots of Rum becomes a delicate study not just in intimacy but in the supremely difficult act of separating with love."

Carlos (2010)

Carlos is based on a true story that chronicles the 20-year career of a terrorist, known as Carlos the Jackal, who evaded capture and thwarted governments around the world with a complex mix of fake identities, pseudonyms and money—lots of money. Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the real-life Jackal, tried to stop the five-plus-hour movie being shown at Cannes through the courts, claiming "historical inaccuracies."

"The closest cousin to Carlos, cinematically speaking, might be There Will Be Blood," USA Today critic Anthony Breznican wrote, calling this "another epic view inside a mind of twisted humanity."

A Separation (2011)

A Separation offers a brilliantly vivid portrait of a marriage coming apart in present-day Iran. Sparking a discussion of marriage as a state institution as well as one of religion and, hopefully, love, it grossed $22 million worldwide against a production budget of just $500,000. "Apparently simple on a narrative level yet morally, psychologically and socially complex," critic Deborah Young wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, "it succeeds in bringing Iranian society into focus for in a way few other films have done." Director Asghar Farhadi later went on to win the 2017 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film with his movie The Salesman.

Amour (2012)

In most movies, love means beautiful young people meeting cute and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles before striding off into their happily ever after. Amour looks at the other end of the story—specifically, what happens when age and infirmity forces two people who've built a life together to say goodbye. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Michael Haneke, the story centers on Anne and Georges, retired music teachers with a daughter who lives out of the country. When a stroke leaves Anne without the use of the right side of her body, the couple's relationship begins to strain.

Following a showing at Cannes, Amour was nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Picture, Best Actress, Best International Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film categories. Named the third-best film of 2012 by the Guardian, the film—which offers an altogether kinder yet still utterly clear-eyed type of story from the famously challenging Haneke—grossed nearly $26 million against a $9 million budget.

Before Midnight (2013)

The third and final film in director Richard Linklater's Before trilogy following the relationship of characters Jesse and Celine, Before Midnight was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The sheer patience it took to make this film should be applauded—it's built on two previous movies that needed its actors to physically grow, the world to change and a script that could reflect those two things without making overt references to either. Its commitment to capturing real life—putting it in a capsule for us to discover later—is what makes Before Midnight a keeper.

Mr. Turner (2014)

A biopic about painter J.M.W. Turner that follows him through the last quarter century of his life following the death of his father while being both praised and vilified for his work, Mr. Turner earned Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design. The Atlantic called it a "gorgeous and important film," and it is: Mr. Turner shines a light on the life of an artist at a time when it was almost impossible to earn a living—and harder still to pursue personal creative fulfillment.

Carol (2015)

Set in 1952 New York, Carol is a story of romance between two women—one a bright young photographer and the other in the midst of a divorce.Based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the film received a 10-minute standing ovation following its Cannes premiere. It ultimately earned more than 250 nominations and won more than 70 awards—although some still felt it was snubbed by the Academy for the Best Picture nomination many believed it deserved. Controversy aside, Carol is a unique love story that's as absorbing as it is affecting.

Sherpa (2015)

This documentary focuses on Phurba Tashi, a Sherpa who's climbed Mount Everest 21 times. As he leads a New Zealand expedition up the mountain, they descend into controversy. Nominated for a British Academy Film Award for Best Documentary, Empire critic Patrick Peters described Sherpa as "a spectacular, intimate and politically provocative exposé of the dangers, racial tensions and harsh economic realities on the world's highest mountain." Sherpa captures the prejudices of men who must come to depend on each other in a place where one wrong step can kill you. The physical dangers are the setting; the mental and emotional danger makes the documentary worth watching.

Toni Erdmann (2016)

This surprisingly hilarious German comedy follows the relationship of a daughter and her eccentric father—but it's also, as Rachel Donadio wrote in The New York Times, "about neoliberal economic reforms in Romania and the clash between the generation of 1968 and its capitalist children." Toni Erdmann resonates because it's essentially a father's plea from a man who desperately wants to get to know and understand his daughter—and for her to understand him. Erdmann's imposing length may make it an acquired taste for more restless filmgoers, but stick with it; the layered story more than earns its runtime.

Moonlight (2016)

In three provocative chapters, Moonlight depicts a young man's struggle to discover himself while grappling with his own sexuality. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it won Best Picture in one of the more surprising Oscar telecast twists in recent memory. Critics like Collider's Brian Formo have praised the "astounding and important work" performed by the cast and crew, but the moving story and powerful acting (including a memorable turn from Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) are only part of the picture—Moonlight is also thrillingly distinctive on a visual level. This movie artfully, deftly, and courageously plots the plight of a young black man in modern America.