Opinion | Spend summer watching these 21st-century classics

By Andrew Prozorovsky, Senior Columnist

Movies, aside from being entertainment, represent a vital medium that refines one’s sense of empathy and showcases different perspectives that create compelling stories. Through skillful screenplay and direction, they can illustrate the horrors of war, the pleasurable idiosyncrasies of life or the complexities of love. It is a tool to reflect historical Zeitgeists, cultural staples and the human condition.

The 21st century has made important contributions to the cinematic world. Some of these deserve recognition for their cultural significance, broad appeal and impressive production.

The following is a list of 21st-century classics — not a list of the best movies ever made, but a variety of original, meaningful and well-made films from the first 21 years of the new millennium. These films succeed holistically with strong writing accompanied by innovative production and impressive direction. Some of these contain intense adult themes. The list excludes film series, like the Harry Potter saga, and animated feature films, like those made by Disney or Pixar.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

In “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” perhaps Wes Anderson’s best film, the director uses his signature design and storytelling to craft a charming and turbulent story about a bond between a lobby boy and his particular boss. The story is linear and straightforward, but it remains entertaining and captivating throughout. It is a wonderful homage to the trials of Eastern Europe. There is murder, intrigue and plenty of Mendl’s pastries.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Silver Linings Playbook

This film stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as two individuals joining forces to dance their way through their similar and persistent struggles with mental health. The movie is important for the destigmatization of mental disorders, but it also teaches its audience that it is never too late to have a fresh start and embrace a kindred spirit. It is a more serious rom-com that is filled with hilarious and fallible personalities, and it never relies too heavily on generic tropes.

Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson plays a meandering novelist in a bad engagement who accidentally stumbles into the 1920s and encounters famous 20th-century artists. Though the characters can at times be exaggerated, including a thoroughly unlikeable Rachel McAdams, “Midnight in Paris” is a sentimental and nostalgic eulogy to the past. Its overt takeaway will linger and teach one to embrace the present. Filmed in Paris, the movie also fashions a beautiful and wistful atmosphere.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand portrays Mildred Hayes, a jaded mother whose murdered daughter has left the public spotlight. She pays for three billboards in an attempt to provoke law enforcement. This unique black comedy demonstrates the complexities of relationships, particularly in rural America, and also explores the nature of forgiveness. It also centers on the lack of attention given to violent crimes perpetrated against women. 

Jojo Rabbit

As a satire on Nazi Germany that demonstrates the harmful effects of propaganda on children and the outlandishness of prejudice, “Jojo Rabbit” was a bold film from the start. But Jewish director Taika Waititi sticks the landing. It manages to be funny and light at the right moments, while solemnly chilling the tone when trying to make a serious point.

La La Land

“La La Land” is a love letter to Los Angeles and a bittersweet, colorful musical that illustrates the tradeoffs made by young, ambitious individuals with their heads in the clouds. The movie follows Mia, an aspiring actress, and Seb, a struggling jazz pianist, as they fall in love while navigating the youthful beginnings of their careers.

The Dark Knight

Choosing which of Christopher Nolan’s films is the best is difficult, though “The Dark Knight” is designated as a ubiquitously-loved middle to a fantastic film trilogy. The stunning production and character writing make it far more than an ordinary action-packed Batman film. Heath Ledger’s legacy will be his legendary performance as the Joker.

Sorry to Bother You

This is a bizarre, fantastical indie film that regards the importance of organized labor and the impact of race on social and professional settings. It is worth a watch. Cassius Green, a Black telemarketer, begins to advance in his career by conforming to certain, whiter standards. Along the way, he rubs shoulders with execs and “power callers” who carelessly exploit those below them and begins to understand what success costs.

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” will be beloved by those who enjoy twists and unreliable characters. It’s a mysterious noir thriller where Leonardo DiCaprio plays a detective who is visiting Shutter Island, a psychiatric institution, to investigate a missing patient and begins to suspect a sinister conspiracy.


“Joker” isn’t a typical supervillain film, it’s a character study. And it got a whole lot more criticism than it deserved. It is a dark film, but for those who can stomach it, the clear messages are both valuable and relevant in today’s America. To me, “Joker” isn’t a condemnation of society — it’s a warning about what would happen if everyone stopped empathizing with those who need help. Joaquin Phoenix somehow managed to again impress Hollywood with an amazing Joker performance only a decade after Ledger.

Deserving of honorable mentions are the films “Inglourious Basterds,” “Whiplash,” “Ex Machina,” “The Big Short,” “1917” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”

These movies mark some of the highest accomplishments in the 21st-century cinema industry. Hopefully, you’ll give them a try.


Andrew is a senior in LAS.

[email protected]