Every ten years, Sight and Sound, the British Film Institute’s magazine, asks critics and directors from around the world to submit a list of the ten greatest films of all time. It publishes a ranked list of the top 250 films in a highly-regarded ranking of world cinema. While this isn’t, by any means, a definitive list, the BFI list gives a decent idea of the reputation of films, particularly in the Anglophone world. For example, one can chart the rising importance of a master filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock, who didn’t break the top 10 most voted for directors in 1972 and rose the ranks to become the most voted for director by 2012. Many of the films on the list, like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, took decades to make their way up the list.

And yet there’s another class of films that explodes onto this venerable ranking. From the 2012 list, there are fifteen films made since 2000 including critical darlings like There Will Be Blood and The Tree of Life. Of these upstarts, the highest ranked, at 24, is Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. Just to give you some context, that’s one rank below Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, and one above Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. High praise indeed. It’s not just Sight and Sound that heaps praise on this movie. A quick search reveals that In the Mood for Love has collected a string of such accolades. They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? has the film as the most critically acclaimed film of the 21st century. Entertainment Weekly in a 2010 survey ranked it as the 95th best movie of the quarter century from 1983 to 2008. Several critics reveal it to be their favorite film of all time.

It was with full knowledge of this weighty reputation that I sat down to watch In the Mood for Love. Is this really the best movie since 2000? Will this film retain its high standing in years to come, or is it just the expression of a fad, destined to go the way of…some movie that I can’t name? The questions bounced through my mind followed by a series of thoughts that reveal my own insecurities. If I don’t enjoy the film, am I just not cineliterate enough? If I love it, am I expressing my own opinion or just parroting the ideas of the critical elite? With this hurricane of thoughts rushing through my mind, it’s a wonder that I ever hit the play button. I needn’t have gone through all this worrying though.

The moment the film started, it’s exuberance drained me of all anxiety. I was spellbound, at first, by its visual splendor. In the Mood for Love masterfully transmutes the dingy corridors and alleys of 1960s Hong Kong into a feast for the senses. Practically every scene of this film draws attention to details which transform the mundane moments of everyday life into a sumptuous tableau. How did I never recognize the beauty of wisps of cigarette smoke curling towards the ceiling? How have I missed the beauty of a desolate alleyway, slicked with fresh rain?

I was awestruck by the sultry elegance of the image on the screen. How did Wong Kar-wai make walking to a grimy noodle stall so impossibly seductive? How did the he make a couple sitting together in a room more sensual than the steamiest romance? Scene after scene I saw Wong Kar-wai make the ordinary extraordinary. It’s safe to say that I’ve never seen a film that surpasses In the Mood for Love in terms of the lavish elegance presented in each frame. For that achievement alone this film deserves to be on every cinephile’s radar, but we’re discussing film, not painting. The greatest of films offer something more than sheer beauty. They plumb the depths of the human experience to reveal something about our shared existence.

In this respect, too, Wong Kar-wai succeeds, although perhaps not as singularly. In the Mood for Love pairs a simple fairytale-like story with a pair of infinitely deep performances from its leads in a way that creates a film both immediately enjoyable and eminently rewatchable. Maggie Cheung as Mrs. Chan and Tony Leung as Mr. Chow smolder as the film’s central couple. One gets a sense that there’s a roiling maelstrom of emotion behind their quiet performances. Every interaction they have, from passing each other on the street to sitting across from each other at a restaurant, embodies the frisson of attraction and the melancholy of loneliness. These performances, subtle and complex, complement Wong Kar-wai’s directorial decisions. Throughout the film, he gives his actors room to fully express themselves by having the camera rest on their faces. At times, he holds the camera on one party of a conversation, catching their reactions as well as their speech. At other times, he maintains a shot through a silent moment, letting it play out naturally. Wong Kar-wai is certainly not afraid of silence or still moments. In fact, he revels in them. And somehow it all holds together. The subtle performances, the simple story, and the sensuous production design all converge to tell a universal story in an unforgettable way.

I needn’t have second guessed my judgment before watching this film. I can, without reservation, say that I adore In the Mood for Love. It isn’t some obtuse relic that forces positive appraisals through force of reputation. Instead from both an aesthetic and dramatic standpoint, it’s sheer joy. It will set the soul of a budding cinephile on fire. It will keeps my love for cinema burning. Is In the Mood for Love the best movie since 2000? I could quibble with the ranking, but really, who cares? When one sees a film this gorgeous, it serves as a reminder that lists and rankings are simply tools to introduce people to great movies, and not appraisals of movies themselves. What’s the point of comparing the relative merits of In the Mood for Love ranked 24 with Mulholland Drive ranked 28? They’re both great films and if more people see them thanks to the rankings, that’s all that really matters.