The times they are a changin’. The start of this decade began with a bang, Blockbuster had declared bankruptcy (yes, they’ve only been gone for ten years), people ran to their mailboxes to collect their Netflix rentals, and Marvel was still trying to convince non comic book fans to appreciate their work. Looking back on it now we should have seen it all coming. The mega studio blockbusters, the dying of DVD sales, and especially an American box office that relied more on international numbers than those at home. No matter what, movie making will always go through change. Sometimes it bobs back and forth between the old days and the need for something easy going. When looking back at the films this decade the only criteria I had for a movie to make the list was “is it more enjoyable than the rest?” Seems simple enough until you realize how many fantastic films there actually have been. Comparing one decade to another may hold its value but, in this case, the 2010’s should be examined as their own separate time and the growing change that occurred during it. There is plenty to discuss from how the earlier half of the decade saw more adult driven dramas, to how the end of the decade became a cluster of superhero and cinematic universe world building. Both have their values and even their faults, but in the end it is the filmmaker’s desire to have their work stand out and mean something that makes them both admirable and memorable. So without further adore I present (with the participation of my peers, and fellow collaborator Stephanie Young) the 100 Best Films of the Decade…2010’s edition.
100. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
Damien Chazelle has hit every right note if he wants to become one of the few household name directors working today. His second feature proved he could get all of Hollywood and audiences to remember a time where backlot studios and whimsical song and dance numbers ruled the big screen. His opening scene (or number) is a glorious and very bright tribute to “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and he continues to tip his hat to landmark studio musicals such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Top Hat.” Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone may not be the new Fred and Ginger, but Chazelle has great respect for bringing this into the modern world and never forces his actors to recreate copies of past performers. The modernization causes the film to take some routes that drastically change the tone of the film (looking at you John Legend scenes) but it is all worth the wait for the final scene that never leaves your head. Hollywood can be far from pretty, but Chazelle gives us a nice view from the top even if it’s only for a few hours.
99. You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2011)
Family gatherings can be a real nightmare. It is never easy dealing with sibling rivalries, coming home to mom and dad when you know you haven’t lived up to their expectations, or even just bringing home a new girlfriend and hoping your brother doesn’t hit on her. Take all this and add in a group of murderous psychopaths, well that is just cruel. The Davison family’s reunion is disrupted by masked murderers causing every family member to unleash any grudges they still have for one another. Instead of going into survival mode the Davison’s choose to let all their family drama take over. Absurdity comes into play even more when a revelation about our final girl Erin (Sharni Vinson) takes full force and rewrites the entire second act. The idea that there can be different concepts in horror without completely changing the game is an exciting premise and is one of the reasons the genre grew this past decade.
98. Fast Five (Justin Lin, 2011)
It’s tough to imagine a time where this franchise was starting to burn out, but that was the case for these movies prior to this release. “Fast Five” for better or worse is the reason these films have grown into a global phenomenon and spurred one of the few cinematic universes outside of Marvel. This is the one film in the franchise where everyone comes together and to a great surprise it all works exceedingly well. Allowing for returning faces from previous films to show up gives this series its own “Ocean’s Eleven” moment. Heist films are nothing new, but it was unfamiliar territory for this franchise. The entire cast, including a pre “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot, bounces off one another with enough chemistry to make you believe these misfits really are a family. Justin Lin directs not one, but two of the best car chases starting with a train heist and ending with a bank vault smashing through the streets of Rio. If all this isn’t enough you get to add in the introduction of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who would eventually go on to run a spin-off of his own. The film may be full of fast paced action and enough testosterone to last a lifetime, but it is the final montage somewhat wrapping up everyone’s story all to the tune of “Danza Kuduro (remember that song) that proved to us and itself that there was plenty of gas left in the tank.
97. Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton & Richard Starzak, 2015)
Shaun just wants a day off. The life of sheep living on a farm is not as exciting as he would hope it would be. When Shaun first made his debut in a 1995 “Wallace and Gromit” short, it seemed like he was just an adorable addition to the Aardman Animation family, but with this film he has proved he can easily hold his own franchise. This also might be the first animated franchise in years where every character, aside from the occasional grunts, is completely wordless. When Shaun’s day off doesn’t go as planned the film takes on the fun style of “fish out of water” for a delightful 80 minutes. The stop-motion animation is a refreshing break from the modern 3D animation and gives the film an old school vibe that feels more vaudeville than anything else. It is a smart reminder to other animators that when in doubt go back to the old ways, or even better if you find yourself in a rut a nice day off can cure everything.
96. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)
A nightmarish grindhouse tale centered around a story of true love. Panos Cosmatos knows that Nicolas Cage unleashed is all sorts of fun, but he does not want Cage’s character to become yet another internet meme. No, with Cage’s character Red there is real pain and vulnerability living inside him. When we come to a scene where Red does a line coke off a shard of broken glass it becomes clear that this isn’t a moment for comical laugh but a feeling of pure sadness for this man who just lost everything. Add to all of this Johann Johannsson’s score, which is also one of the best this decade, and you have the making of a perfect midnight film. The heart of the film must be given to its title character Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Riseborough makes it easy to understand why Red is so madly in love with her. When her character is kidnapped by cult leader Jermiah Sand (Linus Roache) she sees the pitiful male entitlement he possesses. Instead of fearing him she laughs in the face of evil and proves that cruel men with power are nothing but weak monsters.
95. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, 2016)
Eventually people push back. That is the essence that is carried throughout director William Oldroyd’s feature-length debut. Newcomer Florence Pugh plays Catherine a woman recently sold into a marriage to a man who for three short seconds seems warm and welcoming. This is all before he starts howling orders at her and restricting her in many ways including sexual pleasure due to his inability to perform. Catherine may be restricted, but the film does not take long to give her time to release all her anger, tension and passion. An erotic drama, Catherine finds her own ways to be satisfied and is finally allowed to be herself. Life before her marriage is unknown, but what is known is that Catherine loves the taste of power and the film becomes an exciting look at how far she is willing to go to make sure she never loses that power again. The script and especially Pugh’s performance does a fun and twisted job at making us cheer when Catherine is no longer a slave to her environment, but quickly changes pace and has us uncomfortable with rooting for her when so many (innocent) people fall beneath her. This is evident when you look back at the opening scene which features Catherine singing in a church, her voice clearly being drowned out by her new husband. The look of confusion on her face is something we never see again; she has decided then and there that she will never be silenced again and damn anyone who attempts it.
94. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene, 2016)
A documentary that abruptly begs the question, “why do people kill themselves?” Or more specifically “why did Christine Chubbuck kill herself?” Christine was a television reporter who in 1974 killed herself on live television during her telecast on a local news program in Sarasota Florida. Director Robert Greene is behind the camera, but it is actress Kate Lyn Sheil that seems to have all the control. Sheil is researching Chubbuck for an upcoming biopic that may or may not even exist, and the actress soon finds herself taking a unique and often confusing look into Chubbuck, finding a way to blend fact and fiction to the point of uncertainty.
Chubback, as Sheil learns, was a woman that kept to herself, but that does not stop the actress from discovering the world around her that may or may not have led to her suicide. These bigger cultural moments are often met with convoluted endings as Sheil starts to unravel herself. As the mystery moves toward trying to locate a missing tape, the only one rumored to have the suicide recorded, Sheil herself starts to wonder what this is all for. It all boils down to a final moment which forces Sheil to confront everything she has discovered as she tries to reenact Chubbuck’s suicide. It is here that Green’s motives become clear and his need to display performance art is front and center. Sheil on the other hand knows that we want answers to it all, but becomes disgusted at this notion and leaves us wondering if we were wrong for even asking.
93. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
It is lonely in Steve McQueen’s world. His sophomore outing finds Brandon (Michael Fassbender in a career defining performance) a thirty something New Yorker who also happens to be a sex addict living alone and not knowing how to meet all his needs. The film with its NC-17 rating earns every bit of it, but there is no time to fetishize Brandon’s behavior. This is clearly a lonely man, one who is so obsessed with self pleasure that the physical act of it becomes a daily chore. McQueen does a remarkable job at showing how Brandon’s glamorous and fortunate life is not nearly enough for him. Pitching a successful business plan to clients isn’t enough for Brandon unless he can end his day with a prostitute or self-pleasure even in his office’s restroom. This isn’t about a man with a disgusting addiction, but instead how we learn to live with ourselves in a world that doesn’t offer enough. It doesn’t help that the one person Brandon most likely wants he cannot have because of an even bigger taboo. Incest is never mentioned specifically, but the way Brandon and his visiting sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) act with their violent flirting doesn’t leave much to the imagination. These two need one another and not just because they are siblings, but because they are bonded by something much more forbidden.
92. The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)
It is a shame that as this decade came closer to an end so did the “R” rated adult dramas. Think about the last time you saw an adult film that just focused on adult lives. Alexander Payne’s best work has always featured offbeat characters wallowing in misery in the most comical sense, and Matt King (George Clooney) is no different. King is watching his wife die in front of him all while having a truth about her revealed that shakes his entire understanding of who his wife even was. To have to watch your loved one die in front of you is one thing, but to find out they might have no longer even loved you, well that just plain sucks. As a viewer it is easier to laugh off some of these “thank god it isn’t happening to me” scenario’s but where Payne and especially Clooney’s performance succeeds is the fact that they too see the humor in all of it. With every revelation Matt King unfolds there is a look of disgust followed by a smirk that simply says, “of course this happening to me.” Clooney hasn’t been this good since “Ocean’s Eleven” and in the years to follow he has yet to find a role that meets this level of commitment. If the adult drama is truly dead then The Descendants gave us a hard life’s lesson in how to say goodbye.
91. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014)
Tom Cruise needed this restart. This is the first time in years that Cruise has been this exhilarating and downright funny. Most of it can be credited to the idea that Cruise is finally playing someone that sucks at his job. The rest can be given to Liman’s clever take on the whole “Groundhog Day” shtick. Cage (Cruise) has to live each day over and over until he can find a way to eliminate an alien race hellbent on destroying mankind. That is the boring part, the human vs alien routine is overdone, but what is new and exciting is how far Cruise is willing to go in his performance. Here Liman and Cruise gives us a vulnerable and often weak hero who is just trying to literally make it through the day alive. Emily Blunt instead is our action hero who can do it all. Her and Cruise have great chemistry that never feels forced nor does it feel the need to romanticize the two of them. The script is based off the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel “All You Need is Kill” and it is clear there are many inspirations from both Anime, and Japanese video games throughout the film. You can even find some “Starship Troopers’ tribute in the full armor suits and weaponry the characters use. This film wants to have fun with itself and bring the audience along for a different kind of Tom Cruise adventure.
90. We Are Your Friends (Max Joseph, 2015)
There are underrated films and then there is We Are Your Friends, the criminally ignored passion project of Zac Efron. Shedding off his “High School Musical” days was not the easiest thing for the teen heartthrob. Starring in a film about a wannabe DJ in the electronic music world almost seemed like the actor was going back to his days of stealing the hearts of tweens everywhere. Underneath the coming of age façade was in fact one of the more honest depictions of being a millennial in the 2010’s. It showed how hard it can be to create your own name in the shadows of tech geniuses and internet viral sensations. It also has one of the best soundtracks in recent years, and for those that are not electronic music fans just try and not to dance alone to this one. Cole Carter (Efron charming as ever) and his friends live in a world where they know all it takes is one big song or moment to break away from their mundane lives. They are the youth of today, they know there is no longer the idea of building your own company or creation without the aid of others. Cole looks at his friends and never sees them as competition, but rather equals. The music that drives the film also creates a bond between the audience and Efron. Director Max Joseph never wants to leave the audience behind or make them feel less for not succeeding. If this film would have been made twenty years ago it would be about wanting to break away from everyone and be rid of your hometown. The opposite is what makes We Are Your Friends so enjoyable. The characters may not find a way fully out, but they learn to settle in where they fit best. The acceptance of doing what you love doesn’t come often, but the film wants you to know that when it happens you must learn to dance in the moment.
89. Zootopia (Bryon Howard, Richard Moore, Jared Bush, 2016)
It is still shocking that the animators at Disney finally gave us something as original and bold as Zootopia. The animated studio had many box office hits leading up to this film, but nothing that was this politically apparent. The “be kind to one another” message in a world was delivered right at a crucial moment in this country. It was almost as if the writers and directors knew exactly where the political climate was headed and decided to get a head start in the race for they could help everyone behind them. All of this good doing could have fell flat on its face without an intriguing story, and thankfully we got an animated mystery that was both “Chinatown” and “Inherent Vice.” Judy and Nick recreate the buddy cop dynamic that was once a staple for every crime film. Their banter (helped by the talented voices of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman) never feels the need to go beyond anything more than friendship giving Disney a much needed break from trying to throw in a love story at every corner. The film has the most fun with itself when it assigns animals to the job the filmmakers feel they would fit in best at if this city actually existed. This leads to some of the more memorable moments in Disney animation from a hippie commune where a burnout Yax (Tommy Chong) has the memory of an elephant to the now infamous scene of the slowest DMV ever run by the most hysterical sloths. The film goes in many different circles and not all leads are followed or even solved making it a perfect fit in the noir genre. It carries a message of inclusion, as well as learning to forgive those who pass judgement onto you. If foxes and bunnies can learn to live together without hurting one another then what’s our excuse?
88. Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2019)
The highest grossing film of all time (2.796 billion USD) will be remembered as being the movie event of a generation for better or worse. A starting point of 2008 with Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe grew to untouchable success, but one could argue that it took 22 films to finally get everything right. Endgame is that film that has every element in place. The entire three hours are broken apart so well all that you hardly notice the film follows the same boring three acts that make up every other Marvel film. Maybe you truly needed those 21 previous films because this one works off of self-awareness. It is almost like the filmmakers looked at every Marvel meme and felt they were in on the joke. The film is a look back on all that came before it, the good films and the poor ones. One of the best jokes is that a previous MCU film that is well known for being one of the weakest in the series becomes a pivotal key to saving the day. All of the actors have never been this good, after playing these characters for several films they really shouldn’t be anything but top of their game. It became clear long ago that Robert Downey Jr. lives and breathes Tony Stark, but here he gets his swan song and the filmmakers love every second allowing him to go from MCU poster child to MCU God. There will always be the argument on whether or not the MCU ruined modern filmmaking, and each side holds great value, but what should not be taken away is the sheer magnitude that this film in particular was able to hold. The superhero genre may now never die, but for three solid hours it certainly reached its peak.
87. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012)
A high school movie that actually works because the people making it all seemed to remember what it was like to be a teenager. It wears it’s heart on its sleeve heavily, but only because it cares about getting things right. Logan Lerman plays Charlie a highschooler in the early 90’s that has lost his best friend to suicide. A loner at first, Charlie discovers many things about himself with the help of his two best friends Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). Where this film separates itself from the plethora of teenage films is in its director Stephen Chbosky who also wrote the novel back in 1999. Chbosky understands that high school does not need to be full of major life changing events every day, but rather episodic moments that become memories we replay in our heads long after we graduate. The film never veers away from taking on the issues every teenager comes across but rarely sees depicted in movies. In a time where the world continues to pride itself in being more conscious about teenage mental health it is ironic that this film is one of the rare ones to talk about it openly with no judgment. There is always that thin line between heartfelt and cheesy, but Perks chooses to always be truthful and allows you to your own emotions. After all, this is a film that wants you to feel infinite not manipulated.
86. Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)
Even when it exhibits some of the most basic horror tropes Sinister manages to accomplish its main goal; to be scary as hell. What makes this film compelling even on multiple views is the mystery that puts it all together. Ethan Hawke’s attachment to the film gives it a sense of quality that goes beyond the usual haunted house genre. He is committed to the role of Ellison Oswald a struggling writer whose best days are way behind him. As he slowly starts to realize that maybe those days will never come back again Oswald becomes our very own Jack Torrance. Oswald moves his family into a house where the subject of his new book, a murdered family, used to live. Director Scott Derrickson waits no time in having Oswald stumble upon some vintage snuff films of family murders who have a strange connection to the house. The footage in these films are brutal and Derrickson mixes them with a disturbing soundtrack that quickly gets under your skin. At the center of this film is a crime mystery, even when elements dive into the supernatural there is still the need to want to find out who is at the center of all this. Amongst all the frights (and there are a lot) it never strays too far from wanting to keep you locked in and entertained all the way to its final shot.
85. Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell, 2018)
If a Reddit thread came to life it would look something like this film. A L.A crime noir that features the typical shaggy dog man, but much like a Reddit user our hero is nothing short of an obnoxious and conspiracy obsessed male. The biggest joke of the film is that it has inspired its own ongoing Reddit thread full of theories about what the film’s deeper message is. Do they hold validation? More than likely it is just further proof that there are those who will see themselves in the main character Sam (Andrew Garfield) which may not be the best of things. Sam is a lazy and out of work giving him plenty of time to spy on his local neighbors all who seem to be attractive women victim to his male gaze. Sarah (Riley Keough) is one of these women and after spending a quick evening with her Sam is instantly obsessed which makes it hurt all the more for him when she mysteriously disappears the next day. Thus, begins a hunt for her leading to Sam discover codes, symbols and hidden messages all across the hipster L.A scene. As the film develops it becomes clear (or at least it should be) that Sam is just another example of the dangers that can come from male entitlement. If these messages even exist, are they even for someone like Sam? For him the answer is yes, and his violent anger is released onto anyone who stands in his way. There are plenty of reasons to be annoyed by people like Sam, but there is an even better reason to fear them. Eventually we get a better glimpse at the events that may have made Sam the way he is, but it is not enough to excuse his behavior. The film noir genre has never been led by good men before and it will be fun to see how it grows over the years hopefully gaining more viewers after its unfortunate short lived and extremely limited theatrical release. All of its twists and turns might not click with you, but be prepared to have its hazy and hallucinogenic scents on you for days to come.
84. Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
There was no question that when Sam Mendes decided to take on the bond franchise that he was doing so in the shadows of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. The director himself has claimed to be heavily inspired by Nolan’s work. This is clear when this 007 outing becomes more about the man behind the gun, and to be specific the broken man whose hands now shake when he holds a gun. It may have felt familiar in a wide sense but for the character of James Bond it was a different angle. Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond was always sold as a darker and brooding Bond from his merciless kill in “Casino Royale” to his vengeful expedition in “Quantum of Solace,” but both of those films have always been about a man on a mission and not as much about the person who isn’t physically or mentally fit for one. Mendes does a fine job at setting up a defeated Bond as he escapes to live a quiet island life. But because this is a Bond film, he obviously has to come back. However, this doesn’t mean he gets to be front and center. Instead Mendes gives us several characters from Bond’s world who get to have more depth than any previous film. M (Judi Dench) is the heart of the film as she struggles to keep control of the old ways and Javier Bardem’s Silva who deserves to be in Bond villain hall of fame alongside Goldfinger and Blofeld. The rest is your usual Bond adventures, but it never hurts when your cinematographer is Roger Deakins giving us a most visually pleasing final shootout. Craig may walk away from the role forever come next year, but one thing is for sure the man deserves some rest.
83. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019)
The most iconic film characters all have one thing in common; an even more iconic moment. It could be a long speech they give or a grand gesture to save the day. Other times it’s appearing on a strip club dance floor and performing a pole dance for the ages, all to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” Jennifer Lopez is in full force as Ramona, a stripper who has more control than the needy Wall Street men that enter the club every night. Lopez was always consistently entertaining, but with Ramona she is given her iconic moment. It is a chance to dominate everything and everyone around her, and the film is remarkable at keeping up with her. Lopez’s performance is a reminder that we must keep everyone in check, but still have fun doing it. But where would an actor be without her director. Lorene Scafaria’s previous films are not ones that you can label with a specific genre and Hustlers is no different. Any comparison to other stripper or sex worker films is not justified because Scafaria breathes her own style and brings in a much-needed female gaze. If you look back at previous strip club-based movies, they all have one thing in common; the director is a man. From “Flashdance” to the cult favorite “Showgirls” all these films give depth to their female leads, but Scafaria is the first to give them a voice. The most erotic of scenes are treated with patience and dignity for every female performer. These are characters struggling to pay rent and keep afloat, but Scafaria rarely allows them to be shown as weak. As we go into the next decade it would be in the best interests of future filmmakers to use Hustlers as a template. Scafaria has made something not only immensely entertaining, but a place to give power back to the ones fighting to hold onto it.
82. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017)
There has been too much said about this film, and the fact that it has become one of the most polarizing films of the decade is just exhausting. So, let’s just get this out of the way now, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a great film and might in fact be the first great “Star Wars” film. Fandom is a difficult thing and it can be hard to separate being a fan of a franchise and looking at each film as its own individual work. Individuality is what makes The Last Jedi wonderful, it is clearly its own film stuck between a larger idea. Rian Johnson’s allows this to feel like the type of film that lives between sequels, in fact most of the events that occur feel like something you’d fill in yourself when you come back for the next installment. The simple plot is that the rebels are running away from the empire hot on their tails, but many different roads are taken throughout. There is the violent and chaotic character study of light side hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her connection with dark side Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who may still be able to be saved. Both Ridley and Driver have quickly grown into their roles respectively and their scenes together feel like a messy and steamy love story.
The film eventually leads to some lightsaber battles, but the road it takes to get there is focused more on these two leads that carry a chemistry that has not been seen in previous “Star Wars” films. Johnson knows other great ways to fill up the time. A great segment involving a rich Las Vegas type city gives a statement on those who benefit most from war as well as giving the film a stance that feels galaxies away from the usual Star Wars tropes. Johnson knows he must continue the story which means giving old characters something to do and even some conclusion, but what wasn’t expected was the intense arc of Luke Skywalker. It is obvious that Mark Hamill can act, but it is just as obvious that “Star Wars” never really was the place he could display that. This installment not only gives both the character and actor the perfect sendoff it also allowed for Hamill himself to be in Oscar discussion for a hot second. The fight amongst Star Wars fans may never end on this film, but one thing is clear if the franchise ever wants to continue to rule the galaxy it needs to make more films like this one.
81. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, 2019)
This decade saw the first batch of “Generation Z’s” graduate high school. Teenagers who were born in the very late nineties but closer to early 2000’s that have only known a post 9/11 world as well as a completely digital informational community. This digital community is one that has brought great change to the world from political uprisings to social awareness of extreme injustice. But before they can get there “Gen Z” loves to share memes, hashtag everything and make sure the proper filter is used. To some this may seem unfortunate, but it is rather exciting and extremely entertaining. Olivia Wilde’s first feature shows a director who has no time to mock the new generation, but instead shows appreciation and empathy.
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are best friends and academic overachievers who decide to have one crazy night before graduation. The high school party movie has been done countless times, but very few have ever given this much depth to almost all its characters. The beginning alone sets up a different stage when Molly (Feldstein) realizes her party going classmates may not be the clichés she’s fixated them to be. Where other high school movies either focused on the geeks or the jocks or even the burnouts Booksmart recognizes every face and every group. This allows for a slew of interesting and hysterical characters. Every time a side character speaks you listen and their words linger throughout the film especially since everyone will eventually come together for a party scene that is less aggressive than something you will find in “Superbad”, but Wilde still finds plenty of moments to make it a night full of laughs and tears. It is obviously too early to say if this film will remain the pivotal moment for “Gen z” cinema, but for those who come after Wilde they have a very difficult task ahead of them.
80. Everybody Wants Some! (Richard Linklater, 2016)
It is damn near impossible to watch this film without a grin on your face and a cold beer in your hand. A hang-out film that turns the viewing experience into a party. It is also full of the usual Richard Linklater staples from a non-stop soundtrack to long philosophical discussions that cover everything and go nowhere. Nobody uses the element of time like Linklater and this film is all about time, as a group of college baseball players only have three days before the college year starts. This means that obviously, they are going to use every second they have and ‘let the good times roll.” These “good times” consist of drinking, competition and some smooth grass to go with their even smoother tunes. The film is full of (very handsome) men all with their own unique and decade appropriate behavior. There is good guy Jake (Blake Jenner) the freshman pitcher, philosopher Finnegan (Glen Powell), loose cannon Jay (Juston Street) stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell stealing every scene) and team captains Roper and McReynolds (Ryan Guzman and Tyler Hoechlin respectively) who both have enough ego to fill up an entire outfield. These guys and the rest of their team find simple ways to enjoy life and in doing so give the film an easy ride that never goes above a certain level of craziness. Described as a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” this film takes even less time to worry about the future and unlike high schoolers these college students seem to understand their purpose; they are there to play baseball. This simple concept is enough to carry them and allow every character to brush aside any type of conflict since in the end none of it matters if it doesn’t happen out on the field. Linklater has found a way to make sure the fun never ends and even when you are forced to sit in a boring classroom this can be seen as the perfect time to get in a quick nap knowing the party will be there when you wake up.
79. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, 2013)
Live action family friendly films did not do all that great this decade. In fact they were quite the rarity. Most of family movies were either animated or a continuing a franchise. Towards the later half it almost seemed like the PG live action was non-existent. This may be why Ben Stiller who has made a career out of playing obscure men on the outskirts of reality decided to update the 1939 short story by James Thurber about a man who lives a better life in his daydreams. Stiller directed and starred in this part slapstick comedy other part genuine rediscovery of one’s self. While both parts equally enjoyable they often feel like two separate films, but that is also because Stiller like his title character Walter Mitty has yet to discover which world he best fits in. Stiller knows this is a family film, so he doesn’t try to make the metaphors all that difficult to figure out. He even goes as far as spelling it out for you having Walter work for “Life” magazine where he restores archive images all while a big time corporation is coming in to shut them down. In other words, “Life” is over, and Walter is the only one still trying to save it. When this journey takes him around the world from Iceland to the Himalayas it is here that Stiller and his cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh have the most fun. Capturing Walter skateboarding down an Icelandic highway or playing a high-altitude soccer game with some locals it’s the type of scenery you usually only get when scrolling through National Geographic documentaries. Stiller isn’t looking for a complicated think piece, he knows life can be tough but there is always more tom discover. It’s straightforward and even somewhat cheesy, but if it’s that obvious why can’t we all see the beauty around us.
78. The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017)
Making a movie about the making of “the worst movie ever made” could have just been one big mockery. Instead we are given a sweet and respectful tribute to one of the strangest stories ever to hit Hollywood. James Franco directed himself as he dove deep into the mind of a true enigma; Mr. Tommy Wiseau. A man who will forever be known for creating “The Room,” one of the worst and most famous cult films. Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero (played here by Dave Franco) took Hollywood by storm with their ludicrous film that to this day is still beloved by fans who flock to sold out midnight screenings across the country.
Credit must be given to Franco who has no intention of humiliating Wiseau, but rather showing the determination of one man to make his dream come true in a town where everyone loves to destroy one another. A heavily meta behind the scenes look at the Hollywood scene in the 90’s as well as constant self-aware laughs from Franco’s performance that only deepened Wiseau’s status as a complete mystery. A film that does not just love the movie it is giving tribute to, but also the entire filmmaking process and the feeling of finally getting to see yourself on the big screen. By the time the film is over, and we are given clips of the real life Wiseau and Sestero you become overjoyed with the realization that even with all the mockery and rejection they endured these men really did get to make their dreams come true. How many of us can say the same thing?
77. The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, 2013)
Sofia Coppola must have known what was to come because her film about a group of fame obsessed L.A kids speaks more to this generation than it did when it was released six years ago. There has always been a great interest and fixation on the Hollywood lifestyle, but it seems that today it has been taken to great extremes. Coppola’s film focuses on several kids (including Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga and scene stealing Emma Watson) who decide to rob the same A-list celebs they admire so greatly. It doesn’t hurt that they live right outside their neighborhood and a quick google search leads them to the right address. These kids seem familiar to audiences today, while we haven’t had a robbery scandal like the one in this film, one could argue that the slew of Instagram influences and YouTubers would fit right into this world. Coppola does a great job at never ridiculing these kids, but instead shows the desperation they feel even though they were born into a world where living with a lack of resources couldn’t be further from the truth. The real life crimes that inspired the film took place from 2008-2009 allowing the Coppola to have a ton of fun with making it a period piece with bedazzled sidekick phones on full display while Kanye West and M.IA blast through.
76. Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017)
This was Agnes Varda’s second to last film before her death this year. The queen of the French New Wave finds herself not just reflecting on everything that has come before, but simply enjoying one of life’s greatest gifts; meeting new faces. Varda teams up with the much younger artist JR who is known for his street art. When looking at these two together the idea seems more like something out of a sitcom than a documentary about some of France’s most forgotten faces. But that is the wonderful spark that Varda had. She was able to capture the uniqueness and curiosity in everyone she met. Hell, the woman even gets JR to take off his sunglasses something he swears he will never do. The two of them hop in his van which works as a photo booth and they travel through some of the quieter villages in France. They are able to interview the remarkable townspeople that have been overlooked and bring their memories to a form of media where they can be remembered forever. Varda lives and breathes cinema and gives the documentary a stronger feeling of creativity and pushes it beyond being just a film about an adorable pair. There are several moments when we get to dive deeper into Varda’s past, and one near encounter with another famous French New Wave director brings her to tears and sums up the memories we will have of Varda. A true artist with more than enough stories to last several lifetimes.
75. The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2011)
This decade, the survival film genre has presented a handful of memorable films from large studio films, like “The Revenant”, to the smaller independent “127 Hours.” Another entry to the group that fell under the radar was without a question Joe Carnahan’s tale of surviving both wolves and the disastrous Alaskan winter. It fulfills all of the nail biting elements that make the genre so appealing but contributes a layer of depth one wouldn’t normally expect. To top it off, the leader of the pack is Liam Neeson, as he yet again brings grit to his performance as Ottawa, the Alaskan oil driller who knows all too well about death.
As we are introduced to each new character (many who don’t last more than a few scenes) we are also hit with the themes of atheism, nihilism, and religion. In an environment where the only probable outlook is death, it becomes all the more painful that these men must refuse to accept that and try to choose life. But how does a group learn to fight for their lives when their own leader no longer wants to live. Carnahan uses voice overs and flashbacks into Neeson’s past to present the idea that this is a film about a man wanting to die and his nihilistic outlook on life is now the only thing he knows how to do. This is a film that is able to highlight the idea of finding a purpose in the present moment, rather than in one’s life, and all during a time where finding your purpose is expected early on. As the film progresses, audiences will find themselves bracing for the man vs. animal fights but Carnahan’s twist on the survival genre film is darker and grittier in the best way.
74. The Rider (Chloe Zhao, 2018)
One of the many films this decade that took on the concept of masculinity and the expectations that come with it. What makes this so appealing is that director Chloe Zhao gives the issue at hand a much-needed woman’s touch. The film is a wonderful mixture of truth and fiction with its main subject practically playing himself. After working with him as a consultant on a previous film Brady Jandreau inspired Zhao with his story of being a rodeo bronc rider who experienced a near fatal head injury that forbid him from riding. In the film Brady Jandreau plays Brady Blackburn who is dealing with the same exact circumstances. Zhao is able to use this real life event and give Brady the opportunity to tell his story with raw honesty and emotional certainty.
The accident that sets the film off is never fully shown, we see glimpses of it in some recorded cellphone videos, but one of the many gifts Zhao has is the ability to get her message across without guiding us through every incident. We do not need to see the full accident because the moment we see Brady it is more than clear the physical and emotional toll it has on him. His head is all bandaged up, but before Brady can give us a moment to open up about how he feels he is back on the range taking care of his horse or training someone else to ride. What is fascinating is that this accident is both not the end for Brady the character and Brady the real person. Living in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, we can see that there is not a whole lot of options when one cannot ride. As Brady sits by a campfire drinking with his friends swapping stories all of them are supportive of Brady, but they still wonder when he is going to get back on his horse. Brady wonders this too, and even when he spends his days visiting an old rider friend in the hospital who is now fully disabled from an accident, it still is not enough to keep him yearning to get back. Zhao is careful to never show Brady as someone with a deep obsession or someone who is insane, but instead a man who knows his other choices are limited and the ability to feel alive only comes from riding. Brady is never fearful of the things that hurt him in fact his heart is still with it which makes for a heartbreaking scene when he gives a younger rider his gear, and while the young rider is appreciative he too knows what Brady doesn’t want to admit. That the ride may in fact be over for him, but there is always admiration in helping your fellow cowboy.
73. How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010)
Pixar may be the juggernaut of the animation world, but this decade they did not get the privilege of creating the grandest animated film (and honestly trilogy) of the decade. That title belongs to the people at DreamWorks Animation and the creators behind this heartwarming story of a boy and his dragon. In a time where 3D was struggling to show off how inventive and beautiful it could be this film displays some of the most gorgeous scenery of any film in recent memory. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois who were coming off their other major hit “Lilo and Stitch” the two of them and their team of animators gave fresh life to a familiar story of befriending a creature that is feared by others. Hiccup’s (Jay Baruchel) first ride with his newly repaired dragon named Toothless should be remembered as the moment where 3D animation became a real deal, and while other movies have tried to recapture this same magic it isn’t surprising that the only ones that have been able to do so are the two sequels that followed.
72. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman, 2018)
This decade we were given five “Spider-Man” films and the webslinger was portrayed by three different people, but only one of them felt fresh and proved what a comic book movie should be. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse benefits greatly from the fact that it is an animated film where the imagination can be endless, but instead of making it a complete fantastical experience the film does everything it can to keep its characters grounded. The Spider-Man legacy continues not because he is fighting a slew of villains, but instead because the person under the mask is our true relatable hero. Four films gave us Peter Parker, and while he is an enjoyable person to follow it gets tedious and does not reflect the current culture. Enter Miles Morales who was practically destined for the big screen since his debut back in 2011. However, it took quite some time for the young Afro-Hispanic boy to grace movie theaters. Morales (voiced by Shameik Monroe) brings a new spark to the franchise and it helps that he gets to meet a handful of unique versions of the same character including Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and his new mentor an out of shape and unmotivated Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). It comes to no surprise that this took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but we can only hope that the hero continues to find different and exciting ways to keep us coming back for more.
71. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi became a powerhouse this decade. His film about the destruction of a marriage became the first Iranian film to win an Oscar and Farhadi was able to use this time to speak up about other Iranian filmmakers who were banned from making movies. The film itself speaks volumes of an unjust court system determined to make everyone fail. It focuses on the idea that when it comes to a marriage separation there will only be suffering for every member. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and take her daughter in hopes of giving her a better life. Nader is stuck because he takes care of his ailing father. When a new caretaker enters the scene, it is here that Farhadi gives us a tragic event that not only forces the two to come together it allows for the courts to do everything they can to turn them against one another. Anyone who is familiar with divorce knows that when there are children it is they that suffer the most. When the film and Farhadi must make a final decision on who the courts will choose it is their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) that must decide who she wants to be with. It is here that the story also becomes a universal one where no matter what she chooses there will never be satisfaction and will only leave everyone feeling more alone than ever.
70. Waves (Trey Edward Shults, 2019)
A film that wants you to feel something from the moment it begins. In fact, most of that initial feeling is anxiety. Starting with a memorable opening scene the camera is spinning at full speed as two teenagers who are clearly in love are enjoying good weather, and even better music. It’s a pleasant image, but there is no question of the underlying chaos that seems to exist. Director Trey Edward Shults has just three films under his belt, but he has quickly established the types of films he wants to make; heartbreaking ones. Waves came at the end of the decade, but as the years go by it is certain that this film will grow to become a moment for today’s youth.
Imagine if Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” was made by the “Euphoria” generation, and much like “Magnolia” the film just wants us to learn to love better. Told in two parts (both equally powerful) the first hour focusing on high school wrestler Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and the second on his quiet misunderstood sister (Taylor Russell), the film wants to first break your heart and then later try to find a way to put it back together. How this is possible is because everyone involved truly believes that love is the only answer, and while the film never chooses to be subtle it is an appropriate choice because to a teenager when life gets tough it’s a full-on tragedy. It is a film with many technical tricks up its sleeve, from its constant aspect ratio change to its very in your face soundtrack. Note the scene where Tyler loses control and none other than Kanye West’s “I Am a God” blasts through. When it all ends there is plenty to discuss. Should you talk to your kids more? Was Tyler destined for failure? Can love truly allow us to forgive? Not every question has an answer, but if it gets you talking then the film has found a way to bring you one step closer to love.
69. The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn, doesn’t intend to create films for the masses. He is the type of filmmaker who can be seen as greatly pretentious but regardless of the reception his work receives, he knows exactly where he wants his vision to go. He embodies his unique directorial style to make sure he has created a story that only he could tell even when others feel he isn’t entitled to it.
Here we are thrown into the competitive world of the Los Angeles modeling scene through the eyes of Jesse (Elle Fanning) the gorgeous new girl in town and her extremely envious competition. The Neon Demon is many things, but conventional is not one of them. Refn removes the surface of rundown L.A streets to reveal a beautiful and psychedelic, visual masterpiece where obsession becomes the key to survival. It is more than clear that in this world if you want to succeed you must be willing to do everything and anything. From beginning to end it is unnerving and disquieting, which makes it difficult to turn away especially because we know who is out there lurking after these women. If the film is a fantasy, then it must be asked who is the one dreaming? Every male character could practically be a representation of a certain disgraced film producer. Other films like to demonstrate a bond of sisterhood since in fact they have all found themselves in similar disturbing situations. However, here the women are as vicious as the men because in this fantasy it helps build the ego of those in charge. The audience doesn’t need to be told the modeling world is cut-throat we have seen the horror stories on the news more and more each day over the past several years, but maybe Refn is hoping that even his most violent and haunting film remains just a fairy tale lost in the Hollywood hills.
68. Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)
Rarely do you enjoy hanging out with an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, but if you must spend time with them, I suggest showing them this movie. A horror film that might just be the most feel good revenge story in recent memory. Ari Aster may become the new face of horror with only two features under his belt, but with his second film it is clear he does not need to be tied down by one particular genre. Midsommar is part horror film, other part revenge tale, with many doses of laugh out loud moments. It’s a mixed bag made for anyone with a past relationship they wish to forget. A trip to a Swedish compound gone wrong may feel like “The Wicker Man,” but where that one focused on religious intolerance, Midsommar is a tale of rebirth for those pushed away and it owes it success to its lead Florence Pugh. 2019 was a breakout year for Pugh and this film even gave her a spot in meme culture. If you have seen the film, then chances are you think back on the scene involving Dani (Pugh) walking away from a scene no girlfriend should ever witness as she sobs with both sadness and anger. Whether you were the ignored partner or the one being neglectful the film will resonate with you, and its chaotic and cathartic ending will give hope to anyone who wishes they could turn back the clock and erase someone.
67. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)
Everything in Benh Zeitlin’s film is so vibrant and, in your face, that you feel like it’s only a matter of time before things start reaching out to you from the screen. A storm is only half the story because once it washes away there are still those left to fend for themselves. This is where we find a six-year old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) living with her father and mother in a rundown bayou-community. Hushpuppy feels like a descendant of Huck Finn often curious and always mischievous. Her antics cause her aggressive and alcoholic father to spend half his time yelling at her and the other half teaching her the means to survive which to him means learning to fight and to drink.
Wallis is a rare find a child actor who can hold their own and carry the weight of an entire film. Not to mention she does all this as a first time actor. We have to believe Hushpuppy or none of this works. Thankfully Wallis is so convincing one wonders if she came from the bayou herself. As Hushpuppy’s adventures down the river continues Zeitlin creates a fanatical adventure for the audience which feels like a new American folk song. In fact, Zeitlin himself helped write the score with composer Dan Rohmer. It is not only one of the best score’s this decade each strum feels like you’ve been scooped up and brought along on an adventure that you could have only dreamed of as a child. The film deals with many serious themes, but at the root of it all it feels like it was made to allow children to understand that they must never stop dreaming big and to never wait to start telling their story.
66. Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)
The second Sofia Coppola film on this list, and with this one she gives her most intimate and delicate film. Coppola takes what she knows best, the Hollywood scene, and brings another story of a washed-up actor (Stephen Dorff) living in a hotel trying to connect with a much younger woman. This time around the woman is his young daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) who has been dropped off at his hotel room in the Chateau Marmont where he is currently staying. Johnny Marco (Dorff) is a movie star desperately in need of a career reboot, but for now he is perfectly fine spending his days drinking and having his nightly striptease performance from an array of women that all look the same to him. The Chateau may be the perfect place to get stuck in, but the arrival of Cleo means that Johnny may actually have to reach outside of the confines he has become so comfortable in.
While the ninety-minute film moves slowly it is often quite hysterical, especially when it comes to Johnny constantly using the hotels amenities as ways to spend time with his daughter but to also avoid ever heading outside. The two of them are able to connect with late night swim sessions and delicious room service. As Johnny’s job takes him to Paris to promote an upcoming action flick, Cleo gets to join, and it becomes more than obvious that all this loving child wants is to be a part of her dad’s world. Coppola seems to have a fascination with hotel living and father-daughter relationships, after all this is the daughter of one of the biggest Hollywood father’s ever so it becomes clear that while this is her most rewatchable and easy going film it all comes down to wanting to be a part of someone’s life and hoping they allow you in.
65. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynee Ramsay, 2011)
Lynee Ramsay more than deserves to be a household name. This decade she directed two of the most nerve-racking dramas. Her first one being an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book of the same name, about a mother dealing with the aftermath of an act of violence and trying to recollect her memories to see if she could have stopped it. Tilda Swinton is Eva, mother to her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) the character on whom the title so desperately wants us to talk about. Why that is, will eventually unfold as we see that Kevin is both dangerous and manipulative. Ramsey and her editor Joe Bini do a great job at jumping from past to present giving us enough details to make our own assumptions of Kevin and if there was ever any empathy. The answer is most likely a profound no which makes this psychological thriller actually a horror film. Swinton is wonderful as she has to carry the trauma and complete loss of everything she had in each scene. Ramsay is clearly a master behind the camera and will hopefully continue to terrify us into the new decade.
64. Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015)
There are many wonderful things about the “Rocky” franchise especially its endless lifespan. Whenever it seems to slow down it finds a way to keep going whether we like it or not. Thankfully the seventh installment of the franchise might just be the best one since Sylvester Stallone first ran up those infamous Philadelphia steps. There are several key elements that make this one work so well. To start off with there is Stallone’s ability to take a step back and let a fresh face shine. Apollo Creed has always been a fan favorite so much that people were more concerned with Creed’s death than watching Rocky continue fighting in the fourth film. So how better of a way to honor the fallen hero than to give his long forgotten son his own story and fight. Michael B. Jordan carries this film on his back and then runs miles with it. Much like his father Adonis, Creed carries that same determination but also the arrogance. Unlike his father it isn’t all flash and fame for him, and just like the film Adonis wants to carve his own path and not live in the spotlight of those that came before him.
Director Ryan Coogler, who would eventually break the Hollywood mold with “Black Panther” is a self-proclaimed “Rocky” fan and wanted to honor his father with this film. His version of Rocky is a broken down man who sees less of himself in the current boxing world and the young Italian men who look at him as a God, but instead finds a second life in Adonis. It is here that Coogler is able to use his two actors and give us both a master and apprentice film as well as a buddy comedy. Stallone and Jordan’s chemistry just flows naturally which speaks volumes as these two come from different parts of the world, especially in terms of race, note a great scene where Rocky brings Adonis to a gym in downtown Philly where Adonis can train with Black trainers. As Adonis trains Coogler pans the camera down focusing on two young Black boys looking up at him in awe. This is just one of the many moments the audience knows that we are seeing the start of something new and powerful.
63. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
If you ever wondered why The Nutcracker scared you so much as a kid then here is your answer. Ballet can be scary as hell, especially when it involves dancing mice or in the case a demonic black swan. Director Darren Aronofsky has no problem being straightforward with us by sharing that his film is inspired by Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” The Russian ballet is a key component in helping the film descend into madness. The film is also a testament to the rigorous lifestyle that accompanies professional ballet companies.
It doesn’t take long for someone unfamiliar with the profession to see the obsessive behavior that these dancers often have. On top of that there is the constant backstabbing and fight to be the one out in front of the stage. All of this falls onto Nina (Natalie Portman) determined dancer who lives and innocent life under the tutelage of her overbearing mother (Barbara Hersehy.) The story of a dancer going mad isn’t an entirely new concept, “The Red Shoes” does come to mind, but Aronofsky and especially Portman give the story a much needed modern take that turns into a pseudosexual thriller. Setting the film in New York City allows for Aronofsky to deal with familiar territory and it is remarkable how the film with all its horror elements could still play as your classic New York story. The parallels of the ballet and the events in the film may run high and everything does quickly become a metaphor, but it is still Portman’s show. It is highly entertaining to watch her portray such an innocent woman who you can tell from early moments is just waiting to snap back. Just as Roy Scheider as Bob Fosse faced off against his reflection every morning in “All That Jazz” Portman gets to play Nina fighting her own identity to a glorious and bloody finale.
62. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)
Quentin Tarantino continues to threaten us with his retirement. He has said he wants ten films and will call it quits. Well if you count “Kill Bill” as two movies (which you should) then he has reached his tenth outing with his biggest love letter to cinema yet. The director is an endless book full of pop culture references and trivia. All this is well known, but what is remarkable to see is how he finally puts all this knowledge on full display in a film that just talk movie making it walks the walk. Tarantino was only 6 years old when Sharon Tate was murdered, but the event and all its ramifications has clearly stuck with him. He sees her death (as did many) as a time of innocence lost, as well as the end of the old conservative Hollywood stars.
The old ways are shown through Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, a star made to fame by the old westerns that once owned movie theaters but have now gone the way of primetime television. DiCaprio hasn’t been this good in years, but it is Brad Pitt as his right hand man and stunt double Cliff Booth that gives the entire film one of the best comedies about male friendship in years. In reality these two men would have already been long forgotten, but Tarantino can’t let this period of time go. All the while he makes the other piece of his film devoted to giving a new life to Tate. Margot Robbie never one to play the victim (and rightfully so) brings a joy to Tate allowing her to live her days as the young star who had so much to look forward to. There is always the haunting feeling of what will come next, but Tarantino wants her to be remembered as more than just the victim of the Manson Murders. He wants us to remember her and this entire time period as a time of care free living that should have lasted longer. Thankfully in his world it did.
61. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011)
Depression is a beautiful thing in the eyes of Lars Von Trier. He does not want it to be seen as a literal monster killing its way through people, but instead a beautiful symphony that comes from the cosmos. Told in a sort of three-part ballet and featuring Kirsten Dunst at her best Melancholia is a display of the travesties that come with living with deep depression. Trier is honest with us from the very beginning with a prologue that describes life and the inevitable demise that is coming for all living things. This bleak segment haunts the rest of the film as Dunst dances and glides her way through a wedding where she is anything but the respected center of attention. The film’s final chapter is Trier at his finest and surprisingly least outrageous. There is no denying where Trier thinks life ends for someone carrying this disease, but by accepting the unavoidable he can create a stunning final moment that feels more at peace than anything the filmmaker has done before.
60. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)
Even though it is not revealed until about a quarter way into the film Manchester by the Sea Is a tale about the consequences that one night can have on many people. It is through these consequences that a person can become completely held up by their inability to forgive themselves. This can be hard to do though when you flee from an uncomfortable environment only to be forced back into it. Casey Affleck won an Oscar for his portrayal of Lee Chandler a janitor who must return to his hometown after his brother dies and Lee is expected to take care of his brother’s teenage son.
Kenneth Lonergan has two films on this list, with this being the first one and while it is a more commercial film than his other work, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Tragedy is where Lonergan seems to thrive so in Lee he creates a man that cannot seem to avoid it. This stems from the idea that instead of ever facing the reality of the situation Lee created he chooses to run leaving those close to him to deal with all the pieces. Lonergan is more than aware that good people do not always make it out easy. With all the good intentions Lee still manages to screw things up which forces him to encounter several key figures from his past including his ex-wife Randi (a heart-breaking Michelle Williams). There is still great passion between these two who are now more connected through loss than they are through love and their final interaction plays out as one of the most heartbreaking moments from any film this decade. Lonergan is never afraid to open up old wounds and our salt on them, and his screenplay (which won him an Oscar) is one hard hit after the other. It can be devastating to see it all play out, but it is also fascinating to watch Lonergan assemble every piece into the right spot.
59. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski, 2018)
A timely workplace comedy about a group of women trying to preserve their sisterhood. This is not always easy to do especially when you work at a local sports bar called “Curves” where aggressive and often intoxicated men gawk at your every move. Regina Hall is front and center as Lisa the general manager trying to keep her sanity while dealing with the usual day to day misogyny and workplace antics. Writer and director Andrew Bujalski has a keen talent for making his dialogue flow so effortlessly it practically feels like he just dropped his actors in a situation and told them to go with it. Lisa is his best character yet and Hall’s performance should be seen as one of the decade’s best. She is not alone though, each of the girls (including Shayna McHayle and Haley Lu Richardson) are able to blend with her and show us that even though we are seeing them for one day their friendship probably goes back years. As the day progresses and more obstacles are thrown in Lisa’s way it isn’t hard to see why it all culminates with three women lined up on the roof of a building screaming their pain out. It all feels very cathartic and for a short minute before they have to go back and do it all again.
58. The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
As a folktale set in the 1630s New England, beginning with a long shot of a deserted forest with an eerie score, and starring A24’s rising queen Anya Taylor-Joy, it was obvious from the first five minutes of The Witch that Robert Egger’s first feature film would make a lasting impression. Thomasin (Joy) and her family are forced to leave the village because of a religious dispute against her father. Once the family is living in isolation the father fears that they will become open targets to the devil. All the while Thomasin must put her faith in something else.
Egger’s portrait of religion is not one that resembles an uplifting spiritual journey, but instead an evocation of fear. It is terrifying to think that religion, a concept that individuals cling to for guidance and forgiveness, is used in the film as a terrifying glimpse into sin, temptation, and death. Egger’s utilizes this to his advantage. What could be scarier than believing in an all powerful God who is ready to condemn you to hell with even the slightest impure thoughts? More importantly how does a young girl already aware of the power a woman’s sexual freedom can have go about unharmed?
Being at odds with one’s faith is a timeless concept that even the most religious and spiritual people grapple with. Troubling events often cause us to reevaluate our beliefs, which is the scenario Thomasin and her family find themselves in. Whether it is a 1630s folktale or a modern film, Egger’s brings this idea to the forefront as one of the scariest crisis’s we all go through. The Witch is not an ordinary horror film, just as Eggers has established himself as a fresh face to the genre.
57. Her (Spike Jones, 2013)
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha’s (Scarlett Johansson) relationship in Her will without a doubt be remembered for being one of this decade’s most genuine and truthful depictions of falling in love. No, Samantha is not Theodore’s beautiful neighbor, played by Amy Adams. She is a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence. Spike Jones’s talent, skill, and brilliant scriptwriting are just a few factors that made it possible to write and direct a film about love between two people, with only one of them being human. What seems like an impossible task proves to be effortless for Jones.
It would be easy to write off Samantha as a piece of technology that cannot be replaced by real human contact. However, Jones does not necessarily make this assertion. Instead, he highlights the true feelings and emotions one often shares with another “person,” regardless of if it lasts forever or a short moment in time. Those feelings are real, and they eventually help us all appreciate the heartbreak and joy of truly being human. It is a beautiful story of a man searching for a connection. He finds it in the strangest of places but acknowledge his feelings anyway, regardless of what others may think of his relationship. In this, Jones highlights the amazing meaning behind Her, that in order to fully experience humanity to the fullest, we must put our feelings and emotions out there for others to see and never be ashamed of where we find love.
56. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rossi, 2016)
The dichotomy in Gianfranco Rossi’s refugee documentary is both a physical and metaphorical one. Rossi brings to attention the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe with a cinematic persuasion. He uses everything around him and helps form a story that feels like something you would see in a Hollywood narrative. While hundreds of people fight for their lives trying to reach the European shores a young boy named Samuele is living on one of the very islands that can offer the refugees safety. Samuele is only ten years old and while he is quite observant the circumstances that are out at sea are foreign to him. The refugees while only a few miles away from him might as well be worlds apart. Rossi does not bring Samuele into the story to illustrate the ignorance of a child, but rather the purity they hold. The piece that will closely connect Samuele and the refugees is in doctor Pietro Bartolo. He is the doctor on the island of Lampedusa who at one point checks Samuele’s eyes. He also takes care of all the migrants who reach the island and is well aware of the sacrifices both physically and mentally they have made.
Rossi never feels the need to make his film feel like a traditional documentary. Other than subtitles, which are a necessity, he doesn’t use any other usual documentary techniques. There is no narration and you won’t hear from a specific refugee giving a talking head. Instead Rossi chooses to keep the art of storytelling alive throughout. He even finds a way to make Samuele have a character arc. As a young boy who wants to grow up to be a sailor, we see several setbacks that could forbid Samuele from achieving this goal. Little does he know that on this island everyone is practically a sailor and has to live by the rules of the sea. Samuele’s final moments are spent still looking out to the waters as he pretends to shoot things down with his finger guns, it is an image of carefree child’s play, but it is also indicative of the violence that will always follow these refugees around especially the ones who never reach asylum.
55. The Wind Rises (Miyazaki Hayao, 2013)
There are very few swan songs as poetic as Hyao Miyazaki’s war time biopic. It was a detour from the usual studio Ghibli experience. A real life story about Horikoshi Jiro
the Japanese engineer (voiced by Anno Hideaki) who would go on to design the A6M Zero fighters, but audiences know them as the planes that were used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Miyazaki doesn’t shy away from the controversy that is at hand with choosing to almost empathize with the Japanese a nation that allied with the Nazi’s during World War II. However, Miyazaki wants to tell this story as a reminder that once you create something and put it out there for the world you are no longer the owner of it. Miyazaki making this his last film before his retirement stirs the pot even more that he is a filmmaker who has found peace, but it does not mean that he still has moments of fear on what his legacy will be and what will be done with his work long after he is gone. As we learn more about Horikoshi Jiro’s life we also get to see that this, with all its turmoil, is a love story. Horikoshi falls in love with Naoko (Miori Takimoto) who he meets over the years in several different exchanges, but each one as equally beautiful. Horikoshi can find purpose even outside of his creations with Naoko, and while it can never be easy to accept your beautiful creations being used for such violence he and Miyazaki (who recently announced his unretirement) can live with knowing the story is far from over.
54. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)
Running into the woods to escape the world of today doesn’t sound like all that crazy of a thing to do. It may be one of the last places that is not conducted by the absurdities and pressure of everyday living. For Will (Ben Foster) a war veteran with PTSD it becomes the perfect sanctuary for himself and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Mackenzie owning a breakout role) who he raises the only way he can; through survival techniques. It is clear from the start that Tom is hurting. Paranoia weighs on him, as his nighttime routines consist of waking up at every sound fearing he is back in the fight. Director Debra Granik is far from the first to take on what happens to our soldiers when they return home, but she gives a better (and much need) illustration of the community of veterans that must rely on the kindness of strangers that may or may not be veterans themselves. When a situation causes them to leave their home in the woods and live in the community Tom apprehensive at first is still a young girl and can see opportunity. She is not naïve to her father’s situation and tries to help, but the difficulties of PTSD and depression create a fear of asking for assistance. All this leads Tom and Will to have to make a decision that is devastating and a testament to Granik’s ability to be truthful about mental illness. She is not worried that you won’t feel empathy, it’s practically impossible not to, but what Graink seems to want us to understand more than anything is that it isn’t wrong for someone to put themselves first.
53. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
Let’s be honest and call this film exactly for what it is. A rape fantasy where a woman gets revenge on her rapist by having an affair with the man. Director Paul Verhoeven decided to hit back at everyone who thought he was nothing but genre trash, by delivering his most provocative film yet. Isabelle Huppert stars as Elle who decides to take her status of victim and take back control in the most abrupt way. She is one of the greatest working actors and this film which earned her an Oscar nomination (her first) also allowed for this film which isn’t an easy swallow to be brought to the forefront. Verhoeven enjoys getting a reaction out of you but with Elle he is never trying to be grotesque, but instead give power to a story that usually ends with someone being completely powerless. Every scene is a buildup on the next as Huppert rarely spends anytime trying to reconcile the things done to her. She instead welcomes it and is prepared and even excited for the next attack. It’s daring and rare to see this portrayed on screen and while the behaviors will always be up for debate there is no taking away that Verhoeven made a more realistic film than most are ready to admit.
52. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
Call it the high school reunion for the class of Scorsese. The master filmmaker not only got the old gang back together he made a collection of his greatest hits all while looking back and reflecting on how he and his crew got there. The Irishman almost feels like Scorsese’s swan song (don’t worry it’s not) but at the same time the film with all of its old male cast members it still has the youthfulness that he has been able to exhibit even this late in his career. This film will also be associated (unfortunately) with the ongoing debate on where cinema is headed these days. When this piece was written the film had not dropped on Netflix yet, but Scorsese’s comments on what “cinema” means was all the talk on Twitter. All that is noise though, because what is more than obvious is how this director can keep you entertained each and every minute.
A three and a half hour epic in a time when audience attention span barely makes it through the previews is a both a testament to his skill and also how his success has brought him to the point where he no longer needs to even care what the audience thinks. Much like the characters in this film they all do what they do because it’s the only thing they know. Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) only knew one life, the life of a follower and a killer. He succeeds at following orders and the mob is the perfect place for him. De Niro hasn’t been this good in years de-aged CGI and all. Joe Pesci and Al Pacino get more than enough time to shine (in fact every cast member gets their spotlight moment), and like their director every main character loves one thing which makes it all the harder when it is taken away. Age finds us all and there is no escape, but for Scorsese age may catch up to him but it doesn’t mean he has a desire to slow down anytime soon.
51. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
Filmed in 2005 and not released until 2011 Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece is a prime example of post-production hell. The version released in theaters ran 150-minutes, but it was Lonergan’s original cut running at 186-minutes that critics seemed to circulate around. In this cut they found a story of tragic loss and trying to make sense of a lost world. The world at hand is a post 9/11 New York and had it been released in 2005 it would have been one of the first great films that tackled the different ways New Yorker’s dealt with the tragedy. Lonergan puts his morals in the hands of 17-year old Lisa (Anna Paquin) a young girl who may or may not have caused a bus crash taking the life of an innocent passerby. Every decision Lisa makes from then on is constructed by the grief she feels and brings her across an array of New Yorkers. With each person Lisa encounters (which includes her sexual predator teacher, an inept bus driver and her estranged father) she finds herself having to quickly adapt her morals and understandings of the world. In 2011 most of the problems Lisa observes were already in full force, but before this decade there was still the uncertainty of what could happen next, and for a coming of age film this one decided to take a more cruel approach to figuring it all out.
50. Mission Impossible: Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018)
There may never be another movie star like Tom Cruise. This decade many studio executives discovered that big name stars were no longer the only thing you needed to sell a film especially if you wanted to carry a franchise. The early Marvel films even had to create their own stars (hard to imagine a time when Chris Evans wasn’t a household name). In spite of everything Tom Cruise has still been able to carry the weight of the Mission Impossible franchise on his back; quite literally sometimes. Cruise is one of the few actors working today who talks the talk and puts himself in harm’s way for our entertainment, and the Mission Impossible filmmakers love having fun with this. If it seems that with each Impossible film the stunts get bigger and wilder it’s because they do. In this one we have Ethan Hunt (Cruise) flying helicopters, motorcycling against traffic in the streets of Paris, and leaping across buildings only to break his foot in real life and keep on running. You won’t find another action movie like Fallout, on top of being a daring adventure the franchise is one of the few action movies that just knows how to have a good time. You won’t find too much gritty realism in these movies and even though the world is at stake (yet again) Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie want to give you a truly exciting theater going experience in a time where major movie theater chains don’t seem to care if you’re even paying attention to the screen. Thankfully we have these two to save the day.
49. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)
Sometimes you can just tell right away that a person is trouble. In the case of Anthony (Tom Burke) a pompous thirty year old who has won the affections of college girl Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne in a remarkable breakout performance) even their first outing in painful to watch. The two of them are having lunch at some stuffy but elegant restaurant where Tom is explaining how Julie doesn’t have a voice yet nor does she realize why people make movies. This is also the first thing we ever hear Anthony say to her. Director Joanna Hogg uses her real life experiences and heartbreak (which she has kept private for so long) and allows the world to see where she found herself during her twenties. It is 1980 and Julie attends a prestigious (and expensive) British film school. Her time before Anthony included having parties full of wannabe Hitchcock filmmakers as well as visiting her mother (Honor’s real life mother Tilda Swinton) who financially supports her. She is innocent for now, which makes Anthony and all his abrasiveness seem appealing. It isn’t until things become more serious where Julie sees the horror’s that Anthony comes with.
Joanna Hogg has clearly wanted to tell this story for a while, and it would seem that those closest to her even pushed her towards it. Tilda Swinton her real life childhood friend even says she was all too familiar with the relationship the film is heavily based on. It is a coming-of-age story, but one that has more maturity to depict the horrors Julie faces and never make us feel that her inability to leave is based around childish motives. Honor, a first time actor (she had a brief cameo in one of her mother’s other films) carries out the role as if she has heard these stories all her life. She plays Julie as a young woman with such talent that when Anthony constantly criticizes her work it breaks her because a big part of her knows he is wrong. Toxic relationships in film don’t often end on a happy note but luckily Hogg has decided to continue her story with “The Souvenir Part II” which is expected next year. Here’s hoping Julie has a happier time in 2020.
48. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)
Spike Lee is fed up, and rightfully so. His most commercially successful film has his frustration out for everyone to see. Lee is the type of filmmaker who is never coy about how he feels, especially when it has to do with the injustice towards Black people in America. His latest film which won him his first Oscar (something that was long overdue) for best adapted screenplay, is all about infiltrating hate while kicking some ass. It plays like a Blaxploitation film, but instead of having an outlaw take on the white law officers here we have Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) the first Black police officer in the Colorado Springs force use the law to stop hatred in other places. It just so happens that as the film progress many of the hateful people he encounters are also officers of the law.
Stallworth’s story has reemerged during a time where hatred from white supremacists has taken over the mindset of many of the people living in this country. Lee’s story may be set in the 1970’s, but its significance is so apparent that we wish we had a hero like Stallworth today. Lee knows however that he doesn’t want his film to go by without being highly entertaining, and the master filmmaker still knows how to pack a thrill ride of a punch. There are car chases, explosions, and even a musical number that should be remembered as one of the greatest movie scenes ever. But what makes BlacKkKlansman all the more memorable are the people Stallworth finds along the way. He works close with his new partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver being charismatic as ever) to the point where they must learn to basically be one another or have their safety exposed to the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth leads the crusade against hatred that still reigns high today everywhere you go, and while Lee doesn’t want us to fight back with more hatred we wants us to use the anger to take call out all forms of injustice and not allow even the most powerful people to normalize it.
47. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
Frances (Greta Gerwig) doesn’t know how to grow up. One could argue that she does not want to, but when everyone else around you has found their own way it is hard to not want to try for yourself. This typical “New York Hipster” story is elevated by the powerhouse that is Greta Gerwig. This film which was also co-written by Gerwig is the first to truly display all her abilities as one of the most exciting fresh faces of this decade. Noah Baumbach’s directing is all about making us fall in love with Frances while still wanting to yell in her face begging her to get her act together. It is this tough love that Frances finds everywhere she goes. Frances is likable, but Gerwig makes her lovable, which is what makes it so hard when we have to watch her unfocused attempts at becoming like her friends who have a decent handle on adulting. Even with all this heartache Frances Ha is a true love story. Frances and her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) have nothing but a pure and honest relationship. When life brings them apart it never becomes a question of “will they ever get back together” but instead “when will they get back together.” It is a friendship many of us dream of having even if it scares us at times. It shapes your life, but also forces you to do the impossible; to grow up.
46. Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, 2017)
What is a Cold War spy action thriller without an unbroken shot of Charlize Theron battling KGB officers down flights of stairs? A film not worth watching that’s for sure. Director David Leitch of “John Wick” status has his first solo outing with this adaption of the graphic novel “The Coldest City.” MI6 agent Lorraine (Theron in another outstanding action hero role) must retrieve a list that contains the names of all secret agents on both sides of the conflict, all during the final days of the Berlin wall. There is enough action, 80’s hits and one-liners to satisfy any spy genre fan. With setting it during one of the most dangerous times in modern day Berlin Leitch can brings constant chaos to the entire film. This chaos can easily be seen in all the tightly shot action sequences. It is no question that Charlize Theron can kick ass, but watching her take on several KGB muscle all to the tune of George Michael’s “Father Figure” brings her to iconic status. The plot is convoluted and at many times seems more like a mashup of “who turns on who” but this only adds to the excitement that even when all things wrap up you have to ask yourself if any of it mattered. Leitch leaves us in the dark for those answers, but being left in the dark is something the people of Berlin faced often during that time. All of this can be summed up by the perfectly casted James McAvoy. His batshit crazy character David Percival stares straight into the camera and wonders what this has all been about. In the end he only has this to say, “ I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. One thing and one thing only. I fucking love Berlin!”
45. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Remember leaving the theater arguing if that top fell or not? At the end of the day does it even matter? What actually matters is that Christopher Nolan knows how to make movie magic. His greatest attribute is his ability to expand on every small idea he has and make it into a giant spectacle. With every frame he gives us there is always the opportunity to examine every inch of detail since we know everything will eventually be called back to reference. This can often be seen as a weakness in that it makes us constantly question when the twist or element of surprise will come into play. With Inception these twists and turns show up, but by the time they do we find ourselves so immersed in whatever high paced storytelling we are given that they become secondary to the explosive nature of the story.
Even if we find ourselves wondering and asking questions there is still a genius to this in that Nolan finds his way to make his voice recognizable and continuous. Dream thieves are enough to spark curiosity, but Nolan knows how to make you crave action with his bond style directing, constant location hopping and of course the loud Hans Zimmer score. Nolan wants his entertainment to have depth, but he is also aware that sometimes it is just pure fun to create and display on film what you cannot (or should not) do in other media. Inception is a crash course in how to not only keep the action movie alive, but it is a reminder that if you want to create something that feels complete and tight you must be always be delicate, otherwise your idea will be nothing but a dream.
44. The Lost City of Z (James Grey, 2016)
If James Grey is going to make an adventure film, then you should prepare yourself for something with a little bit more patience than others. There are daring sequences of intense action, but for the most part Grey wants to focus on the men who are willing to risk their lives and sanity in hopes of discovering something that could change the world. Grey seems to be channeling old Hollywood adventure films and even some of Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” in his adaption of David Grann’s book. The book tells the story of Percy Fawcett’s attempt to find a lost and golden civilization buried deep in the Amazons. Charlie Hunnam portrays Fawcett and Robert Pattinson is his new right hand man Corporal Henry Costin. Fawcett is the type of man that disobeys orders to dig deeper into the Amazon because he is certain of the things he will find. So, when he hears a tale of a lost city and learns that Costin has knowledge of the Amazon river he sees no other option but to explore it himself. Thus, begins another one of Grey’s stories about man’s obsession with the unknown and denying the duties he has to his family. Fawcett continuously leaves at home his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and son Jack (the older version played by Tom Holland). Failing is never an option for Fawcett and when it does happen, he finds every excuse to go back out finding new ways to convince himself and his family that he will succeed. The film circles the theme of insanity especially when Fawcett refuses to stop even after those around him are nearly killed. But Grey a father himself wants to deal with the other side of adventure movies, the side less seen. These men may try to pave the way for the future but it’s at great cost and a reminder that nothing is more precious being around those you’re meant to love. Fawcett’s greatest discovery would only come in the form of realizing all that he has left behind.
43. The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017)
Steven Spielberg’s best work in years may be based in the 1970’s but it was made for the current political climate and rightfully so. This could explain why the film was rushed through production, in fact it was only nine months from when the script landed on Spielberg’s desk to when he had the final audio in post-production. This feeling of being rushed and under a very tights self-made deadline exists throughout the film, and yet in the hands of Spielberg it all feels so careful. It is 1971 and Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) has some major decisions to make about her small paper “The Washington Post.” These decisions only intensify when her executive editor (Tom Hanks) finds himself in the presence of some very powerful documents, you might have heard of them; “The Pentagon Papers.” Anyone who has seen “All the President’s Men” knows Spielberg’s film serves as spiritual prequel, but it doesn’t change how exhilarating this film ends up being thanks to a master filmmaker.
Spielberg knows how relevant and necessary his film is, but he never finds himself standing on a soapbox. Instead he creates one of his best thrillers full of edge of your seat moments that have made the director famous. The journalists are the heroes and those in the White House are clearly the villains, but this is not to cause political uproar but rather show that people only become bad guys once they have done something bad. There can always be a debate on the ethical reasons for lying, but when the two sides become truth for the public or living in the dark it is more than clear why these atrocities must be exposed. That is the genius behind most of Spielberg’s films, we want to root for his heroes because we see how hard they work. The question is will The Post age well? People often forget the mistakes of those in power which causes history to repeat itself, but maybe this film should stay around for a while. Just to be a nice reminder.
42. Good Time (Safdie Brothers, 2017)
Robert Pattinson may always be remembered as Edward Cullen (there are worse things to be remembered for) but he should also be remembered for being one, if not the best actor of his generation. To say he has done everything he could do to shed off the vampire image isn’t necessarily fair. However, his filmography does show a great list of obscure and even unlikable characters and boy does he act the hell out of them. Connie Nikas is another wonderful love to hate character for Pattinson. A man so obsessed with freeing his mentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) that he is willing to use and abuse anyone who comes in his way all the while completely unaware of the white male privilege bestowed upon him.
The Safdie Brothers are now experts in getting under your skin as they drag you through a full anxiety ridden night through some of the grimiest parts of Queens.. The two brothers have directed enough seedy New York films and shorts that they almost feel like they were created from the ribs of Martin Scorsese, and this is only proven more when Pattinson channels a role that would have been given to a younger De Niro. The nightmarish events that unfold are heighten by Connie’s complete lack of empathy for everyone he encounters. His behavior may seem loving, and an opening bank robbery scene where he Connie takes care of his brother even comes off as endearing. However when one sits back and reflects on where this could all end up it is hard to see how Connie is of good value for his brother. Connie is on the wrong side of the law, but we are never given the sense that this is due to some tragic past. Connie given his race and gender had all the opportunities in the world, but does not seemed to be bothered to do anything worth value. He also isn’t afraid of consequences because it does not seem like he has ever had to face one. In one scene, Connie disguises himself as a security officer and blames a break in on a young Black girl he just met, and another Black man he has just injured. The police believe him on his word and arrest the two allowing Connie to continue his night. It is timely for the Safdie’s to create a character like Connie, the two of them did not need to look far for inspiration. Good Time might seem like one brutal night, but it is reminding us that this is just one of many New York stories, and we would be horrified to hear the rest.
41. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
You have to give Richard Linklater and his two stars credit for the willingness to keep up with two of the most beloved characters in indie romance. It has been eighteen years (in both the film and real life) since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) asked Celine (Julie Deply) to hop off the train with him and spend the day exploring Vienna. Well they did all that and nine years later they met up again in Paris and although their second outing may have ended on an ambiguous note it doesn’t take long for the third film to tell us exactly where life has brought these two. It may start with Jesse saying goodbye to his son as he boards a flight back to his mother’s but the real story is not only that Jesse and Celine are still, together, but that life continues to force these two to constantly have to say goodbye to those they love. The first film was built around conversation and how these two actors played off one another’s intellect like no other, the second one did the same, so it should come as no surprise that the third continues the pattern.
This time around they are married with two children of their own, but that doesn’t slow conversation down it simply makes it shift gears every once in a while. Their European adventures has brought them to the beaches of Greece where they are staying with friends. There is no countdown to the end, unlike the previous films, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something creeping up on them. Jesse and Celine are both their own marriage’s limitations. This isn’t an unhappy marriage, but it is one that can blow up any moment with just a simple snarky comment. The old days of Jesse and Celine may seem gone so the film has to ask, what should you do when you know someone all too well? Can that fantasy still exist, or will you be wishing they were still a stranger?
40. A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor, 2014)
One of the least violent entries in the “gangster” genre, A Most Violent Year lives up to its name in other fashions. And while it does deal with elements of the mob it is not a mobster movie in the same realms of Scorsese or Coppola. Director J.C Chandor uses these filmmakers as inspiration and takes from them the lessons of how to build a character study piece as opposed to a film about shooting up a restaurant or placing a hit on someone. This is because Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac sporting wonderful grey hair) does not want to resort to violence to help better his company. Abel is worried about his business which consists of large oil trucks making their way in and out of the city every day. An immigrant Abel is already on unfamiliar turf and while he is well aware of the surrounding culture of violent criminals running business, he hopes to avoid using their methods. After all this is early 1980’s New York a time where the city was one of the most violent places in America, and to add to all this Abel has the future of his company riding on the success of a possible life changing deal. Chandor excels at turning business dramas into edge of your seat rides, with “Margin Call” he was able to make a pre-recession stock market story feel like a countdown to midnight mission movie. With this film he turns it into a story about a man running very low on choices before he must choose the one, he fears the most.
The production design set pieces and outfits are all accurate and makes it easy to get into the mindset of someone living during this time. Abel may be an immigrant, but it must not have taken him long to look like one of the hundreds of yuppies who crowded Wall Street every day. The only difference is when the outfit is on Oscar Isaac, he looks more sincere and less trust fun baby, and in the end the biggest reason is because he is not one of those people. He seems self-made which makes it all the more curious anytime his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain in her most powerful role to date) steps in and takes charge. Anna comes from the world Abel fear, but Chandor has to be making a joke in there somewhere the mere fact that the guy who fears becoming the mob practically married into it is cruel and hysterical irony. But there is a heart at the center of all this and that is the marriage between Abel and Anna. The two are powerhouses and together they make a force that is both unstoppable and extremely intimidating. Chandor also shows that when two strong forces collide there will be an eventual outcome, but it is best to stay far away from them until they come to it. This can be seen in a final scene where after staying cool with one another Abel and Anna finally have their patience tested and they lash out at one another in a way that feels like at any moment one of them could kill the other. The violence inside us is what runs high. The acknowledgment that any of us could snap at any given moment is more fearful than any gangster with a gun.
39. Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018)
The greatest thing Cold War accomplishes is telling a story that spans years and travels multiple countries all in 88 minutes. Pawel Pawlikowski directs a tribute to his parents with a story of two lovers in a Stalin ruled nation. First, we have pianist and conductor Viktor (Thomas Katz), and then there is headstrong singer Zula (a remarkable Joanna Kulig). The first time they see each other there is no question of immediate passion. The quick smiles they give one another followed by the sensual stares creates a fun moment for these two; one that they will not get to repeat often. There is no question why these two keep coming back together, they are equals not just in love but in times of fighting. Nobody has met their match quite like these two, and both Katz and Kulig play off each other in ways that remind you of a certain infamous Bogart and Bacall romance. There are plenty of political and cultural borders keeping them separate but it is Pawlikowski’s tightly kept 4:3 aspect ratio that doesn’t allow these two the chance to run away from one another let alone take a moment to breathe. Music is what carries the film along its bleak path, the characters constantly performing all different genres from village dancing for Stalin’s comrades to a Parisian night club where Kulig performs a haunting rendition of Polish folk song “Dwa serduszka” (Two Hearts) which might as well be the film’s anthem. Pawlikowski loves these two characters, but it does not mean he has to give them an ending off into the sunset. If the name tells you anything the film may not leave you with the warmest after taste, but even those that leave your heart cold can still be beautiful.
38. A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018)
When a trailer for a movie is just as powerful as the full movie you know you have a true winner on your hands. Cooper played it off, Gaga did the campaign rounds and in the end the Academy made the biggest mistake of their lives. All jokes aside after a fourth adaptation this is easily the most epic version of the infamous story. There are many moments that have become internet famous before the film even dropped, but even with all the memes there was nothing that could prepare you for the first time you hear Ally (Gaga) belt out “The Shallows” for the first time. Ally’s career skyrockets as washed out drunk Jackson Maine’s (Bradley Cooper) falters. The story isn’t original, but what is surprising is how accurate Cooper is able to direct a film that feels so behind the scenes it could have been a VH1 special in its heyday. The songs like the film grow and take several different routes and for the first time this decade we have a film that does not discriminate against pop music or give us the forced “evil music manager.” Every character that Ally comes across feels genuine and a real part of the music industry including a phenomenal Sam Elliot as Bobby Maine, Jackson’s brother who is dealt the job of handling Jackson’s drunken outbursts.
The love story will always be right at the center and its run time of 136 minutes (146 if you see the “Encore” version which I highly recommend) allows you to actually get to know both Ally and Jackson which makes each duet they have an earned moment. Yes, the ending is a heartbreak, but in the wrong hands it could have been an eyeroll. Credit to Bradley Cooper who is able to direct such an “in your face” film (seriously the man has never heard of a wide shot) that you start to feel both ecstatic and suffocated much like the music industry itself. Cooper takes his studies of Cassavettes films and knows that when you strip everything down the audience still needs to have love and anger for the characters because they are the sole carriers of the film; the music is just there as an extra treat. Maybe the next decade or so will give us a fifth adaption of this story, but it is unlucky to get another one that rises as high as this one.
37. Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016)
There is no question at hand, this film belongs to Natalie Portman. There have been many portrayals of Jackie Kennedy, but none as haunting as Portman’s. The actress never tries to impersonate, but rather recreate one of this nation’s most iconic figures, during one of our greatest tragedies. Telling the story of the days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jackie shows how the grieving widow wanted to take charge and do everything in her power to affirm her late husband’s legacy. There is never a sense of desperation, but instead anger and determination and much like the film, Jackie herself is angry and aware of everyone else trying to move forward. The film jumps between the days after JFK’s death and Jackie’s conversation with a reporter (Billy Crudup) who admits the world just wants to know what the bullet that killed her husband sounded like. Portman is able to break any expectations about playing this role who many already have formed an opinion about and give her new life and a great deal of pain which was not always thought of. The nation cried for Jackie, but there Larraín has us believe that Jackie would rather us forget her and instead remember the “Camelot” that her husband built. Fiction takes over during scenes between Jackie and a priest as she discusses her feelings of suicide, but even these moments have a real truth to them. Jackie Kennedy was remarkable at letting us see what she wanted us to see and Portman gives her the time to truly say what she believed even if she did not always want us to hear it.
36. American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)
An endurance test if there ever was one. Andrea Arnold’s almost three-hour American road trip odyssey can also be viewed as a goodbye to a part of America that was once welcoming. The film released in early of September 2016 seemed like it knew something we didn’t. Arnold’s visit through a pre-MAGA midwest illustrates the America that was, but also gives great insight into how we ended up with our current political climate. But for the time the kids of American Honey could care less about politics or cultural movements, these kids want money and a hell of a good time. The film’s weight is put on the strengths of newcomer and non-actor Sasha Lane, who as the story goes was approached by Arnold while on spring break. Lane wasn’t the only one without acting experience, most of her costars had never stepped foot on a female set before, and it is this “inexperience” that allows the teenagers to bring authenticity to characters with names like Katness, Pagan, Runt and QT. Lane’s character carries the unique name of Star, a young girl who joins the group of misfits to travel the country to sell magazine subscriptions. The goal of selling magazines is practically a mcguffin leading Star to ask the obvious question, “people still buy this stuff?” The answer is a profound no, and while each kid knows this they also know they can make a small amount of money to keep up their bohemian lifestyle full of day drinking and listening to the same 10 songs in the back of their beat up van that looks like it was stolen from a rehab facility.
Amongst its chaos is a wonderful display of how dark things can get for these kids, especially the girls. Enter Jake (a phenomenal Shia Labeouf) one of the leaders of the group who also works as a recruiter only picking up young stray girls. Star and Jake take an immediate and aggressive liking to one another, which doesn’t fair well with the group’s main leader Krystal (Riley Keough) who is also Jake’s girlfriend. Arnold does a great job at not making this film be about two women fighting over a man, but rather a clash of lifestyles as Star is still unfamiliar with the way things are with this crowd. The film is shot in a 4:3 ratio, a common feat for Arnold’s films, and with the use of only actual lighting we are in the heat of every moment. There are passionate and violent scenes and the camera stays focused lingering on people’s faces as they lie in the grass or stare deeply into a fire. When not one but two graphic sex scenes occur, the camera knows to pick a spot on the ground and keep us there watching the entire encounter. As the van continues to travel across the country it appears that much like the film there seems to be no point of stopping. Arnold chooses an ending, but it is one that feels unfinished and instead just a place for the film to take a quick breather before stumbling back into the van leaving one part of America behind while preparing for the next.
35. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
If you’re going to make a sequel to one of the most acclaimed Sci-fi- films thirty-five years later you better make sure it is damn good. If Star Wars is the pinnacle of science fiction films then the original “Blade Runner” is its cool best friend who never needs validation. Ridley Scott’s 1982 crime-noir allowed for a less fanfare version of a galaxy far far away specifically by setting its film right at home. Giving a new director the reigns and setting the story thirty years later it still appears that not much has changed; which is a good thing for us. The world of 2049 is just as grim as the original, new replicants are created to hunt down older models and eradicate them. A fun way of toying with the theme that fresh faces are here to replace the old ones. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is replicant who is literally a product of the heartless world he inhabits. Gosling is a joy to watch in this role, as an actor who has spent many years stealing hearts it is amusing to see him play someone who doesn’t even have one. Officer K spends most of the film uncovering a mystery that could disrupt everything, but one could argue that each scene is its own short film thanks to director Denis Villeneuve. This is a director who knows how to expand every moment of his film. This is still an action film, but for every gun that is shot there is a prolonged scene allowing his characters to take the time to have ethical and internal discussion about what it means to be alive. The script may be the thing that finally locks you in, but it is the astounding cinematography that grabs you from the first moment. Nobody but Roger Deakins could deliver images this mesmerizing. After so many years in the business Deakins is still able to surprise us as he can create a snow covered street in one frame followed by a bright as the sun orange desert the next. There is no question that this is the most beautiful looking sci-fi film of the decade. It is a testament to his skill, but also reminds the audience that a big budget studio film can look be both big and intelligent.
34. Thunder Road (Jim Cummings, 2018)
One thing is for sure; Jim Cummings is a wonderful talent. The writer and director took his 2016 award winning short and expanded it to a full length film taking on what happens when we lose someone we truly loved. It is a simple premise, but Cumming’s expands every bit of it to be a full character study involving grief, mental illness and the fight for parental control of your child. It is a credit to Cummings’ unconventional performance that keeps you engaged as well as his ability to tell a complete story in ninety minutes. Opening up with the same scene that made up his short film, Cummings gives us moments that make us laugh out loud one minute only to find us cringing watching between our fingers the next. It is a performance that is reminiscent of Danny McBride’s earlier films. But where McBride usually performs with anger, Cummings as Officer Jim Arnaud is trying to share his love with anyone who listen. Unfortunately, when you come off as irate it’s hard for others to give you the time of day.
We know Jim is grieving the loss of his mother and while most films would build up to a final explosion for their character Thunder Road has its protagonist go off on several hysterical yet heartbreaking tangents throughout. It is films like this that remind us why independent cinema is so important. One that is able to discuss the reality of going through a divorce as well as the ongoing opioid crisis that destroys good people just because of their environment. In the end it still works a crowd pleaser which explains its Grand Jury Award at the SXSW Film festival. With more films in production it will be interesting to see what Cumming’s has in store for us in the next decade.
33. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
Adam Driver is the type of person where everything around him just feels smaller. His grandiose appearance and deep voice allow him to be the center of the room regardless of what he is doing. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jim Jarmusch sought him out to play a quiet and endearing bus driver named Paterson. Paterson lives in Paterson New Jersey (a joke that follows him everywhere he goes), and while the famous New Jersey town has had better days Jarmusch isn’t bothered by that. He knows there is a robust history here and everyone that comes from Paterson carries that with them. There is a reason that the local bar Paterson attends every night is decorated with famous faces from the town. The owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) wears his town with pride even if some of its famous faces makes no sense to him including rapper Fetty Wap. So, what does a bus driver do with all this history and appreciation? He writes poetry every in his head while he drives his daily route. The film and Jarmusch want to respect the process of creativity along with the daily chores and jobs that must come first. Paterson is a good driver and an even better partner to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) who dreams of being a country star. Paterson knows well when his patience is pushed so when that happens, he instead moves on to the next task. The film has such a calming presence that it might take the entire time for you to realize this is a story without external conflict. There may be ongoing things in Paterson’s mind, but it’s his extraordinary patience that allows this to be a film more about observing than the usual socio-economic struggles one would face in his career. To say we should be more like Paterson is to make him some kind of guru that has figured out the way to inner peace. This would be a mistake though because there is no attempt from Paterson to prove his ways are best. To him he would rather keep on discovering his own talent and let everything else come and go as they please much like the passengers he sees each day.
32. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Keeping up with this film may be the hardest task that Paul Thomas Anderson has given us. Thankfully even if you get lost in all the smoke you will still have a giddy time. Adding to the traditions of great L.A noir films, the plot is convoluted and most of the strings are never quite untangled. That doesn’t mean that things don’t get uncovered in fact our hero, the loveable hippie P.I Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) discovers many hidden truths buried deep below the San Fernando Valley. First there is the disappearance of real-estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann, which could only lead to the Golden Fang a ship that may or may not be used by a drug cartel. If that wasn’t enough for Doc his old girlfriend and only love Shasta (Katherine Waterson) has also vanished after being the one to ask Doc for help with finding Wolfmann in the first place. Anderson wants you to feel the smoky haze that washes over the entire thing. With each joint Doc lights up we are brought deeper into a wonderful hallucination that appears exciting, but paranoia lurks at every corner. The hippie scene was a dying breed even in the early seventies and while Doc is a good man knowing to do the right thing it doesn’t stop the powers that be from seeing him as nothing but a dirty hippie. It should be noted that this is Anderson’s most underrated film, because unlike “Boogie Nights” or “There Will Be Blood” it never gives off the vibe that we should be impressed by it all. Instead Inherent Vice is there to be your friend, someone that allows you to sit back and relax, and if you’re groovy enough will even share some of its stash with you.
31. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
Olivier Assayas knows what scares us, and it isn’t monsters or ghosts but instead the anxiousness that comes with texting. Kristen Stewart may play the lead in this fresh take on ghost stories, but it is her costar an iPhone that gives the film it’s most suspenseful moments. Stewart plays Maureen an assistant to a major celebrity in Paris, but spends her nights trying to reconnect with her recently deceased twin brother. Maureen, like her brother, considers herself a medium and as someone who is aware of spiritual presences, she herself has never felt more absent from her brother. The grieving process can be a long one and often times never finished which unfortunately can leave you vulnerable to almost anything. The film knows this and leads Maureen through a psychological journey which includes receiving disturbing texts from an unknown number and disobeying the rules she has set for herself. The fear that comes from technology is prominent in this as most of the film has Maureen staring at her phone waiting for a text to come in as those three obnoxious dots float on her phone’s screen. But even with all the elements that make a great thriller, it is Assayas’ ability to show an accurate display of what it means to truly feel alone when we lose someone dear to us. Assayas tells us even if the dead have been able to move on to a better place it is the ones they leave behind that never find peace.
30. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
This will always be Jessica Chastain’s moment. She made herself memorable in films before this, but this was her breakout moment. The big moment where she became “the motherfucker” who found Bin Laden. The military raid of the most wanted terrorist’s compound led to his killing, but it was also the final moments of a decade long search all led by a powerhouse of a woman that takes the center of this film. Kathryn Bigelow’s film was full of controversial mostly because very little details about the ‘greatest manhunt ever” were released to the public. Her directing and Mark Boal’s script shed light on many of the dark moments in the government’s search. Bigelow’s retelling is always entertainment first and never strays away from being a true thriller. There are never moments that are over patriotic, the film is broken into several chapters, and the first chapter is used to display some of the more controversial methods the CIA used to get out information from their detainees. If its middle chapters seem more like a Wikipedia “here’s how it happened” this is only because the audience at the time truly had no idea. All this information is still carried by Chastain’s performance of someone who much like the American people never stopped looking for answers. It may all come to an end with a brilliant shot for shot recreation of the Bin Laden raid, but it is Chastain who remains in our mind as her character must identify the body of what could be Bin Laden. She stares down at it with an expressionless look, but the questions in her head are apparent; “what now” and “where do I go from here.”
29. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Inarritu, 2014)
There is no denying that Birdman, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s award winning film and the 2015 Best Picture winner is an acquired taste, and yes when people say something is an acquired taste, it’s usually a nice way of hiding the fact that it sucks. But like it or not the film gave us something we rarely see in movies these days; originality. The unpredictability can leave both sour and sweet tastes in your mouth which makes it all the more desirable when you get it from a stellar cast of performers working on a whole new level. Call it a movie about actors for actors, because every pretentious yet hysterical line delivered never feels far fetched and you can almost hear these actors actually saying this in a New York Times quote. You can’t talk about this film without at least a single mention of the use of making it appear as one single shot with a Steadicam, but this only works because the actors are committed in every way.
Most of the cast seems to be playing a sort of parody of themselves from Michael Keaton reprising his days under the Batman mask, as Riggan Thomas who once had his own great fame playing a superhero known as “Birdman.” Riggan is reviving an outdated Raymond Carver play which speaks volumes of how Riggan sees the world around him. If this film was released today every line Keaton delivers could easily be responded with “okay boomer.” But maybe Riggan is in the right place because the Broadway world has never been seen as “up to date” in fact even when Mike Shiner, (Edward Norton) a hot younger actor comes on board he spends his time wishing he still had his youth. Norton has his own stories of being difficult on set follow him and it is as if he welcomes these remarks. Mike Shiner is someone that the recent #MeToo movement would have thrown out by now, and rightfully so. His behavior from being intoxicated during a performance to refusing to simulate a sex scene but instead try to actually force himself onto his costar in front of a live audience. It is a character so maniacal that even when he shows some sense of humanity there is little time for forgiveness. A film that wants to recognize actors, credit should be given for its ability to acknowledge every kind you would encounter. Only time will tell how this film continues to be received, if at all. It has become so divisive on film twitter that the mere mention of it can start an endless thread of bickering. No matter the disagreement there still has yet to be another film since that actually feels like it understands the world its exposing.
28. Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015)
A groundbreaking achievement for both filmmaking and the entire Hollywood industry. A film about a day in the life of a two trans women who must work the streets of seedy L.A ended up being the kick the film industry needed if they ever wanted to rebrand themselves as both progressive and accepting. Sean Baker wanted his film to feel as raw as possible and fulfilled this by shooting the entire film on an iPhone. When the film premiered at Sundance it was the talk of the town which continued even more when one of its stars Mya Taylor won both an Independent Spirit Award and Gotham Award, the first time an openly transgender woman received such honors. Taylor and her costar Kitana Kiki Rodriguez have wonderful chemistry, (it helps that they were roommates prior to filming), and allow the film to not only be truthful, but hysterical from start to finish. Both actresses were non-professionals which only makes their major debut all the more stunning proving that even the most veteran actors have a lot to learn from newcomers with different perspectives. As we go into the next decade this is the film Hollywood should lean towards if they actually want to prove to be heading in the right direction.
27. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
Paul Thomas Anderson wants things to be precise. His films as different as they first appear all have the same meticulous behavior. It should come as no surprise that his latest film (one that entered very late in the 2017 award season) is all about control and finding those to submit to it. Phantom Thread is as seductive as it is humorous. Just the thought alone of a period piece being about a sexual dominant relationship had audiences snickering and wondering if they were about to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” meets AARP commercial. Nonetheless once Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis in his final role) steps onto screen we know this is less about sexual desire as it is mastering a craft and forbidding anyone else to control it. Woodcock is a dressmaker that takes a liking to the young and quiet Alma (Vicki Krieps). To Woodcock he sees her as a potential new muse which he so arrogantly expresses when he chooses to take Alma on a first date that quickly turns into a dress fitting. Here he has all the control, and ability to comment on her physique even going as far as saying she could afford to lose some weight. Don’t write off Woodcock just yet though because Anderson knows even those in control can lose it if they are not paying attention. If Woodcock is Anderson’s reflection than Alma is the audience who has followed Anderson all these years film after film. He may think he controls us, and even on the days where he would be right, we still can take it away from him with a simple critique. It is this fear that allows the film to take on its more comically sinister moments that lead to an ending that is both romantic and deviant. It seems that the only one who enjoys pain for pleasure is Anderson, and even with its beautiful score and glamorous costumes, Thread is still just about a man who thinks he can always have it his way, but doesn’t know what to do when his subject threatens to leave him.
26. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
How do you get white audience members to see a film where they are the villains exhibiting pure evil. You make them believe they too are innocent and if it was up to them, “they would have voted for Obama a third time.” Jordan Peele’s new title of “master of horror” doesn’t come lightly as his feature length debut took the world by storm. It was not only current, but it practically stalked the presidential election of 2016 and the mindset that now controlled half the country. It also ended being one of the most entertaining films for Black audiences and brought in a new generation of filmmakers and actors of color. It never sought out to be a reminder of the mistakes that were made, instead it wanted to show how little of change has occurred. A film like this is meant to be seen with a large audience which makes it all the more special when actor Daniel Kaluyya spends the last twenty minutes of the film killing an entire white family who more than deserved it. It shouldn’t be seen as controversial, but it is and thankfully nobody who worked on it ever felt the need to apologize or defend themselves. Lack of representation continues to be an ongoing problem and discussion in Hollywood and it seems that it will only be solved once films like this come out weekly, but until then here’s hoping Peele never holds back.
25. Your Name (Makoto Shinaki, 2016)
The success of Makoto Shinaki’s body swapping love story is unparalleled in the anime world. It is the highest grossing anime film in Japan beating out “Spirited Away” and the second highest grossing anime film in the world, “Spirited Away” still got to hold that record. It took over the world during the 2016 year and is easily one of the most optimistic crowd pleasers that never overstays its welcome or feels too cheesy. There is no denying that the love story between Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is exactly the type of movie magic we all seek at some point. These two teens fall in love across time and space as well as save everyone they love from impending doom. The stakes are high, but so is their feelings for each other. Keep up with this plot if you can. Mitsuha a young girl from a small country town in Japan dreams of living in Tokyo. One day she gets her wish, but by somehow being transported into the body of Taki a highschooler living in Tokyo, who when Mitsuha becomes him, gets knocked out of his body and into Mitsuha and all this happens long before they discover that the two of them might not even be living in the same year. It’s a lot to take in especially when we get all this information just twenty minutes in. It is not a bad thing though because it gives the film plenty of time to watch these two try to hold onto one another never fully knowing when this gift will be taken away. The animation is spectacular and breathtaking from its opening moments to its insanely positive final shot. Shinaki recruited the Japanese rock band the Radwimps to score the film as well as write several original songs all which skyrocketed up the charts after the film’s success. The beautiful melodies they conducted give a warm feeling that only comes from being reunited with a loved one after years of separation. Well for Mitsuha and Taki their entire story is based upon the idea of feeling worlds away from each other. Their only hope is believing in the sole idea of never letting go even if your love for someone starts to fade into lost memories.
24. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korrine, 2013)
A bunch of Disney tweens grew up and made a comedy about Spring Break, this has to yet another dumb commercial teen movie, right? What appeared first as the year’s biggest SNL parody come to life actually ended up being a dark and youthful film with a whole lot on its mind. Harmony Korrine is known to provoke in fact the man thrives off it. After all this is the filmmaker who gave us “Trash Humpers” which as its title says is all about people humping trash cans. So, it should not come as a surprise that Spring Breakers continues the same type of debauchery only with a bigger budget and very well known stars. Vanessa Hudgens trades in her Disney innocence for thin laced neon bikinis and automatic guns. The actress excelled in this dangerous role and based on her recent film choices it doesn’t seem like she is diving back anytime soon. Thankfully she was not the only one breaking off their young girl status, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson join in with the latter stealing the show and never looking back at her ABC Family days. The whole thing is meant to liven up the room and bring the party to you and never asks for your approval. Then again why should a move that has Skrillex blasting throughout and James Franco wearing beaded braids give a shit about what’s allowed. Like most party movies things eventually take a wrong turn, but as opposed to the keg running out or the cops being called for a noise complaint here, we have people’s lives at stake and the violence is very real. A scene featuring Brittany Spears’ “Everytime” is both comedic and very dark giving these girls the hedonistic lifestyle they’ve been looking for. For many it would seem that these girls will eventually come to terms with their decisions and seek happiness somewhere else much safer. Not only would you be wrong, but greatly missing the point that this isn’t about pointing fingers at their wrongdoings, but instead cheering them on and accepting that the youth of today may indeed have it all figured out.
23. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)
Paul Schrader’s best script in years. The story of a priest who has a crisis of faith that sends him through a down whirl spiral. Ethan Hawke is captivating as Reverend Toller an upstate New York priest who has chosen to dedicate a year writing in a daily journey in hopes of figuring out his new God sent purpose. Toller much like Schrader is trying to preserve the process of storytelling, making each page a new moment that can eventually attach onto the following one. Schrader himself one of Hollywood’s most gifted storytellers has spent years not being able to get his work financed and through Toller he is able to express his anger at the community of producers who not only go against their word, but contribute to an ideology that is far removed from the world Schrader once knew. The film plays out like a horror film as Toller discovers things about his church that involve an environmental disaster coverup that cause life changing events for Mary (Amanda Seyfried) a young pregnant woman whom Toller becomes invested infatuated with. As Toller grows closer to Mary his past creeps back in and haunts him leading him deeper into his alcoholism.
Priests can often be detached from the modern world, causing them to not see all the things that threaten our daily lives. So when Toller becomes aware of the surrounding dangers it is too much to bare and like another famous Schrader vigilante, he seeks to solve the problem all on his own. It basically becomes his purpose. Most people can figure out this crusade will only give Toller unsatisfied results causing him to become just another member of society who feels they should have done more to save this planet. It’s almost malicious for Schrader to put Toller in this predicament, but for us looking in we are given the gift of knowing that one of the greatest scriptwriters is back in his element.
22. Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018)
The ultimate “you vs the guy she tells you not to worry about” movie. It is also Korean director Lee-Chang dong’s best and most ambiguous film to date. There is plenty left unanswered which is never a bad thing, all it means is there is plenty of opportunities for a rewatch. Loosely adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami, it tells the story of a discouraged writer Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) reconnects with a childhood friend Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun) who has recently undergone plastic surgery and as she describes herself, is no longer ugly. Things finally seem to be taking a turn for Jong-su, and the story feels like a second chance at love story. That is until Jong-su returns home from a trip to Africa with a new beau on her side. Enter Ben (Steven Yeun shedding off his days on “The Walking Dead”), who is any guys worst nightmare. He is better looking, more composed and definitely more successful than Jong-su although he does not quite explain what he does for a living, all he says is that, “he plays,” thus beginning one of the film’s many mysteries. There are plenty of other strange occurrences, the major one being the disappearance of Hae-mi which in Jong-su’s mind may have been caused by Ben.
Each actor more than holds their own, but it is Steven Yeun who helps give life to a character that is as charismatic as he is dangerous, at least that’s what he wants you to believe. Lee love his characters, but he is also determined to create a story about the difference in class in South Korea. Jong-su lives right on the border of South and North Korea and as he sits outside his father’s farm, he can hear the radio playing the North Korean propaganda. His frustration towards that world is strengthened by not only the constant reminders on the television (a certain United States president shows up on his screen many times). But it is also Ben who represents those that never understand the frustration of the working class. It is a film that carries a whole lot of weight, but none more during its climatic final moments that may give Jong-su the answers he is seeking or it could just leave him stuck in the dark forever.
21. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
The biggest joke of David Lowery’s metaphorical and often endearing film is that we just assume Casey Affleck is under a white sheet the entire film. Sure, maybe an expert on Affleck’s eyes would be able to tell, but who is to say he is even under there. The reason we accept this besides the obvious is that Lowery does a great job at giving us just enough time with Affleck’s character (who is only credited as C) before he dies that we feel like we already know the man and the way he would act if he was a travelling ghost. It is also telling of the way people perceive death and the fear of not losing a loved one to death but being the one that has to depart. This isn’t a question of an afterlife or heaven’s possible existence; this instead is proof that we want to be around for those we love after we are gone no matter what. After C dies one of the things he gets to watch is his wife M (Rooney Mara) eat an entire pie (in one take). Why does Lowery feel the need to spend so much time on this? It becomes clear quite quickly that the departed will take anything they can get to spend more time with the living. As C’s journey continues through time, he encounters all other forms of death and even in the sincerest moments there is still some absurdity with watching a single bed sheet over someone. Lowery is more than aware of the joke he has created and chooses to keep up with the idea of “why should the living have all the fun?”
20. Moneyball (Bennet Miller, 2011)
Outside of the baseball world Billy Beane has little reason being a household name. He has never played a World Series game nor has he coached one. Instead he is the general manager of the Oakland A’s who has been immortalized thanks to Aaron Sorkin and an up and coming actor named Brad Pitt. Beane will now be known as the man who took a giant and calculative risk in hopes of saving his dying franchise against the mega teams such as the New York Yankees. Beane’s proposal is to use a computer-generated analysis that allows him to pick the most financially effective players. No more buying name brands he wants the generic that still gets the job done. If you’re not a sports fan or hell a math fan, all of this seems likes a film you would watch with your grandfather while you get some shut eye, but one must never doubt the charisma of Brad Pitt. The actor knows how to make desperation look attractive. He doesn’t swagger into every room, but instead sits down looking defeated trying to hold in every bit of anger until he finally unleashes it, taking it out on helpless desk chairs and phones.
Sorkin’s scripts have always been able to take those in the background and bring them front and center where they will forever remain. Here he makes a true hero out of Beane but does a wonderful job at showing the cost of it all. Beane is divorced and does his best to always see his daughter even when their visits end with him sending her off on a plane alone back to her mother’s house. It is an unfortunate result of his dedication to reaching that final win. Beane’s obsession is his own doing and Pitt demonstrates this by playing a man who is all too good at beating himself down. Outside factors contribute to his stress but the film never strays away from the fact that Beane has created this burden which even brings the film to an almost too cheesy “you had a win all along” moment, but instead it all works because you can’t help but root for someone giving it their all. Unfortunately in the world of sports (or life) that may not be enough for a win, but Sorkin finds a better way to give Beane his victory, a place in celluloid heaven.
19. Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2018)
What do you get when you create a movie about a marmalade loving British bear who is framed for the theft of a rare pop-up book by Hugh Grant? Without a doubt, the most fun loving, outrageously charming, and wildly entertaining film of the decade. Paddington 2 attempts to fulfill the hardest task that a sequel is expected to; be just as good as the original. It is unable to fulfill this task because it actually EXCEEDS the heart and charm of the original, leaving it in its dust but still thanking it along the way, because after all Paddington knows his manners.
This time Paddington’s adventure takes a detour when he was convicted of theft and is forced to live with some of the seemingly least warm individuals one can think of: prisoners. However, the prisoners are no match for Paddington’s charisma and good bear nature as they eventually attempt to help him clear his name, catch the real culprit, with hopefully just enough time to find the pop-up book to give to Aunt Lucy for her birthday. Can he do it? Is Paul King the king of uplifting family films? Both questions have the same answer.
What separates Paddington 2 from other children’s films is that it is not just a film for families, it is about family. Paddington proves that whoever you are there are always interesting people to meet, new things to learn, and enough sweet marmalade to go around. Between the message, kindhearted nature, and warmth the film brings to all audiences, Paddington 2 is basically too good for us and our behaviors these past years and we are not worthy of the bear’s time. But Paddington doesn’t see us that way, he knows “if you are kind and polite, the world will be right.” So, we all owe a huge thanks to Paddington for believing in us. Now let’s use this next decade to prove him right.
18. Columbus (Kogonada, 2017)
Columbus, Indiana is not always the place people think of when they want to see one of the most beautiful cities in America. Thankfully acclaimed video essayist Kogonada decided to give this wonderful place of architectural genius his full attention. The city is known for being home to some of the greatest modernist structures. It is practically the mecca for modern architecture. Because these artists find inspiration to create in this city, they have created a sense of calmness that lies over the entire place. Not everyone who lives there always feels this and like most hometowns there are those that would get out, but it’s easier to come up with an excuse not to leave. One person forced into this city is Jin (John Cho) who must come home when his father, a respected professor, falls into a coma. Jin is unfamiliar with the city as well as the entire country he once called home since he now works in Korea. Jin can appreciate his father’s work, but it doesn’t mean he wants to take the time to reconnect with him. He is there to face the possibility that his father will never wake and that’s it. Which makes his run in with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who spends her days taking care of her mother and volunteering at the local library. Richardson is one of the best up and coming actors and she fits the role of someone whose ideas are bigger than her hometown but taking the first leap never seems like a reality. Cho and Richardson have chemistry that feel like something Richard Linklater would come up with. Kogonada however knows there is a strong intimacy between the two, but instead of having them go forth with a sexual relationship he would much rather see his two leads help guide the other one to safe destination. Kogonada wants to find a balance in everything he shows us which emphasizes the buildings and works of art that are on full display. As the two of them walk around and discuss all the beautiful landmarks they too merge into the background and create something worth capturing forever.
17. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011)
Jeff Nicholas may have made the best film this decade about mental illness. Take Shelter is a family drama with a heavy dose of apocalyptic horror. However, unlike the many end of the world films from this decade that involved either desert wastelands or teens having to fight for resources, Jeff Nichols’ film focuses on a small town Texas family living a normal small town life. Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) has a good life, so much so that his friend Dewart (Shea Whigham) always reminds him so and believes this is the highest compliment you can give a man. His friend wouldn’t be wrong either, Curtis has a loving wife (Jessica Chastain) and a deaf daughter who still gets to enjoy a happy childhood. Curtis himself is a happy man which makes it even harder for him when he starts to have nightmares of a storm that will come for him and his family and quite possibly destroy the entire world. What makes Curtis so compelling (besides Shannon’s career high performance) is the notion that Curtis’s fears feel familiar. If you have ever dealt with anxiety or experienced panic attacks, then it’s not hard to see how these nightmares begin to consume Curtis’s life. Visually the nightmares he has are more terrifying than anything you’ll see in your horror films involving monsters or murders. Nicholas sets them up to be nightmares where the ones you love the most are those doing you harm, a real trait of someone who suffers from anxiety. Nicholas even has some twisted fun with what happens when someone with mental illness seeks help from doctors, whose awful bedside manner is to “get some rest and try not to stress.” It is that age old joke irony that telling someone not to stress only makes them more stressful. What makes Curtis’s illness worse is that those around him in his town begin to fear him. It is a scary feeling to be all alone, but when Nichols delivers his jaw dropping end of a finale it is then where both his wife and daughter finally stand beside him and realize if they are ever going to get Curtis and possibly themselves through the storm it has to be done together.
16. Uncut Gems (Josh Sadie and Benny Sadie, 2019)
Josh and Benny Safdie somehow found a way to make their previous films feel like an easy night out. Here we have a film so high strung that you practically need to pop a Xanax before watching it. All the chaotic energy is suggestive of how the two filmmakers may have felt working on a production with a much larger budget (the two come from no permit DIY filmmaking) and the success of the film lying on the shoulders of an actor who many will see as way out of his comfort zone. Adam Sandler the man-child who practically invented the genre allowing a slew of comedic males to never learn to grow up. But it should be noted that although one could spend hours ridiculing some of his lesser “pristine” work, is it even worth it? The schtick of Adam Sandler works, and it has for many years and while he has had his hands in some great dramatic film before, nothing can prepare you for his powerhouse performances of Howard Ratner.
Taking their experiences following their father across the diamond district in Manhattan, the Safdie brothers are able to create one of the most accurate depictions of a part of the city that many know exist but can never fully understand the magnitude of the hustle and bustle. It also takes a street associated with Semitic history and heritage and allows their main character to take the stereotype and wear it with a badge of honor. One of the many great aspects about the Safdie’s is their ability to never ridicule, but rather explore the unrelentless behaviors of those crawling to the next day. Howard Ratner (Sandler) is just that type of person times a thousand. A jeweler who can’t help but place a bet on everything that comes his way as well as screw up every single aspect of his life. His wife (Idina Menzel) despises him for sleeping with one of his employees named Julia (a mind-blowing Julia Fox in one of the greatest breakout performances of the decade), and little does she know about the large growing debt he owes to a bookie (Eric Bogosian) who also happens to be married into Howard’s family.
All of this may seem like too much to handle even as an audience member, but what makes it so captivating is Sandler’s performance that not only keeps up with everything moving he continuously presses down on the gas pedal wanting to keep going. It also doesn’t help your nerves that good things actually come Howard’s way only for him to never see it as enough. When he is bestowed with a giant Ethiopian Opal valued at a million dollars it doesn’t take long for him to loan it to his high-profile client NBA star Kevin Garnett (Kevin Garnett playing a 2012 version of himself when the film takes place). From there the film not only speeds through every moment of Howard’s daily life, it brings the cosmos crashing down as Oneothrix Point Never’s (aka Daniel Lopatin) score absorbs every minute and shoots it back at you with his synthesizer beats. With a film produced by Martin Scorsese it is not only easy to see the influence of “Mean Streets” and “Goodfellas” it is a welcome addition to the New York City underground. Josh and Benny Safdie may know have six feature films under their belt, but their careers have taken that giant leap forward this decade that often comes with conforming to the Hollywood mold. Thankfully Howard Ratner and all his unlikability is a sign that the Safdie brothers have no intentions of doing anything near that. Instead they will probably stick to taking big risks and thankfully the payoff has been huge.
15. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagino, 2017)
No other film this decade has been able to recapture how beautiful summer can get while also taking a very sexy approach to it. The year is 1983, a time for very short shorts and in Northern Italy, it also means a bright sun shining down on men’s perfectly sculpted bodies. It is a summer for first love and Luca Guadagino allows you to see and hear it in almost every scene. Every time the film decides to focus on an object or tune in to a sound there is the reminder of how seductive it can all be. The wind seeks under the skin of every scene dragging you towards your desires and the banging of piano keys playing keeps up the furious rush of wanting to be a part of someone standing right in front of you. Hell even the fruit are sexy. In the wrong hands all this built up sexual energy could have been unnecessarily chaotic but Guadagino is able to reel it all in through his two wonderful actors. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet (before he became Twitter’s internet crush) don’t just have great chemistry they have the ability to create something that actually sticks with you once the credits roll. They are a reminder of first summer love and the desires that come along with it. The two of them study and discuss music and history, but they themselves become a piece of that art. The shots of them sitting outside a fountain or splashing each other in the sea could have been taken straight out of a renaissance painting, and just like Elio’s wonderful (and understanding) father we too would study these lovers and appreciate all their intimacy.
14. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Miracles must exist because that is the only way to explain how a director who has already made some of the greatest films ever found a way to go and top himself. Scorsese was 71 years old when this film was released and honestly that should stick with you when you watch it. This is bolder, funnier, and all around more insane than anything the director has given to us, and the fact that even the he can keep up is a treat in itself. In hopes of bringing the audience into the mindset of every character the film plays like a coke-induced adrenaline rush whose final destination is to destroy everything in its path with a “who gives a fuck” attitude. There can always be consequences when displaying the corruption of good morals especially when it involves rich white-collar criminals. The film was a major success not because it allowed us to look inside the machine that was destroying America, but because like many of Scorsese’s films there were those that became attracted to the vile behaviors thrown in front of them. It can be fun to mock it from an outside point of view, but all this was a reality and still finds its way up to the very top of the most important seats in this country. If that is the true case then Scorsese made his first real horror film, and Jordan Belfort is the greatest monster of the twenty-first century
Leonardo DiCaprio is a powerhouse as Belfort who becomes our guide down the river of depravity. At three hours the actor is practically never not on screen, and every time his face appears it isn’t just thrown at you it’s shoved down your throat. The biggest joke of the film comes early on when Belfort (who we have already seen fly a helicopter high) takes us back to a time where he appeared innocent. The audience know this won’t last and regardless of how he plays it off even the younger Jordan was just waiting to get his hands dirty. Once he dives deep in there is no turning back and the film is left with little to no heroes and instead says “hey this is some wild shit so just enjoy it.” And therein lies our choice, we can sit back and just have fun with it all or we can try to find a way to not let greed win. In the end Scorsese doesn’t bother with this dilemma. He knows this will all keep happening and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
13. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt” is the rare queer-drama that brings a happy conclusion to its characters who have had to live during such a time of repression. As with any art there is also a chance for debate, and one could still look at the final actions that take place as a start of something that appears everlasting, but in reality, may only be short lived. But for the few glorious minutes before the film wraps up there is joy shared between two women who shared a several month love affair. The film is shot on glorious 16mm film by its cinematographer Ed Lachmann giving it that old school Hollywood feel and is set against the backdrop of Christmastime and the ongoing department store fascination of the 1950’s. The production design alone entrances you from the very first frame but it is when Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) locks eyes onto the exquisite Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett seducing you with every smile) that gives the film its most pure moment. Carol, confident and elegant, speaks only with flirtation to Therese only to leave her wanting more as she walks away complimenting her assigned Santa hat (it should be noted that Carol on top of many things is the greatest Christmas film of the decade).
Haynes as well as the audience wishes that it could all be this easy for these two women, but a woman only having eyes for another woman means fear and anger from the men in their lives. It is because of these men that Carol and Therese must go far and beyond in order to feel like they can actually safely fall in love with one another. Haynes is never slow to remind us of the limitations that were set upon women during this time, but it also feels all too modern. The notion of a man finding out that the girl of his eyes might not be attracted to him is far too much for them to bare and is reminiscent of the entitlement that is still shared among many today. Thankfully Carol and Therese can see beyond this as they come from worlds where they are truly alone, so finding one another gives them a chance to feel wanted. The word masterpiece gets thrown around a lot (even on this list) but when you have hundreds of films to fill up a decade, it should be noted when one stands out so loud without ever having to shout its way through. It is a film that seeks to belong by expressing itself through light touches on the shoulder and soft smiles that actually feel genuine.
12. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, 2016)
It is unfortunate that whenever this film is mentioned in discussion with the best films of the decade it is the one that needs the most defense. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though because after all this was the most underrated film of the decade and the one that everyone initially missed out during its initial release. Is it too smart for everyone? Perhaps, but the real issue may come from the fact that this film was ignored because there are those that try not to admit it, but The Lonely Island are some of the smartest poets of this century. Andy Samberg and his crew take on Justin Bieber and all his “Beliebers” with this brilliant satire that is also a love letter to a friendship that has survived many years. Samberg plays Conner4Real (for real) a popstar who has had worldwide success, but don’t worry it never goes to his head, just take his articulate lyrics that describe his ability to stay grounded, “bar none I am the most humble-est number one, at the top of the humble list.” How could you not far in love with a guy like that. Connor is kind enough to let us into his world for the duration of the film (made in docustyle) and in its 90 minutes we are able to watch Connor rise and fall, get married, almost murder treasured singer Seal and even speak the much-needed truth about the Mona Lisa painting. Samberg has never been better, but much like Connor the film needs friendship to succeed. Credit goes to both Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, the other two members of The Lonely Island who like their characters let Samberg be the face of their success.
As the film progresses you realize the brutal honesty The Lonely Island is displaying. If they are this generations The Beatles then this is their “Abbey Road,” a masterpiece that also shows how everyone gets sick of one another eventually. The only difference here is unlike “Abbey” Popstar may have been the thing to save this group who continues to tour and make new music today. The film is cathartic and every hysterical moment (which is pretty much every second) shows us that it is easier to let these fun times continue then to fall victim to selfish behavior that reigns so high in their industry. After all it is not until these three learn to be better friends that they are able to write their epic finale “Incredible Thoughts” were Michael Bolton sings “Incredible thoughts, incredible minds, too many great ideas inside, it’s a miracle my head can contain them.” Well this decade we were not always the kindest to one another so perhaps this film should stick with us longer than any other this decade, because if we find a way to be better friends who knows what incredible thoughts we can have.
11. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
Even the greatest of visionaries would have a difficult time creating something this remarkable. The film is a dream turned into a beautiful reality, all by someone who doesn’t imagine on the same level of normalcy. When George Miller finally got to revisit his post apocalyptic wasteland it had been over thirty years since he and Mel Gibson first touched ground with the original “Mad Max.” In between those years Miller worked tirelessly trying to perfect his vision and bring to screen something larger than any of us had seen before. He didn’t want to make a bigger action movie, he wanted to make THE ACTION MOVIE. What was put in front of us will be looked at for years to come and most likely will never be topped by anyone this lifetime. It is the pivotal example of what a big budget studio film should look, sound and feel like. A film not only with a large pulse, but one that actually has something to say.
Max is back this time in the form of Tom Hardy, and once again he is a man of few words. An outlaw who acts first speaks later, or never. That leaves room for someone even bigger to take over. Enter Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in her most physically demanding role) a one-armed warrior who decides to hurt her leader Immortan Joe by stealing his most prized possessions; his prisoner brides. Furiosa doesn’t set out to be a feminist war hero, but she is a woman who is fed up with taking shit from evil men in charge. The brides have had more than enough and get ready to take the long ride to freedom and are willing to kill to get there. It is this journey that requires Miller to assemble one of the largest film crews ever to design (using both practical effects and carefully place CGI) an explosive non-stop car chase featuring some of the greatest acrobatic performances as well as vehicle collisions. It could have all looked so sloppy, especially since things are happening at an aggressively fast pace. Thankfully Miller knows how to choreograph like his life depended on it. Each bit of action feels like a puzzle piece that slides perfectly into its slot. When parts both human and mechanical start flying it plays like they are part of an orchestra conducted by a true maestro. It’s no wonder that the film took home six technical Oscars (three of them won by women). Eventually the dust settles on this western epic, but long after there is still this feeling that we witnessed something never to be repeated again.
10. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018)
When making a documentary turning the camera on the filmmaker can often be used for a shock value, but what happens when the filmmakers own experience is prominent in carrying the story of the film’s subjects? Bing Liu’s directorial debut is an astounding and heartbreaking look at a trio of skateboarders in blue-collar Rockford Illinois. A quick fact (given in the film) about Rockford, out of all the cities in Illinois it is has the highest count of people moving out since 2010. For those that remain their dreams of getting out are only just that; dreams. There are those that have made peace with knowing they will never leave Rockford, and it is here we meet 23-year-old Zack, who is raising his son with his 21 year old girlfriend Nina, and Kiere who at 17 is the only African-American in his friend group, who often finds himself circled around a fire pit while his friends make racial jokes. Liu himself ties the group together as someone who has found his escape not just in skateboarding, but also in filmmaking. Liu has been documenting his friends since they were just 11 years old. The film may only be 90 minutes, but in a short span we have watched these boys grow up, and quite quickly to add.
Liu has his own reasons for putting this trio in front of the camera and they are revealed early on. The reveal that all three of these boys experienced abuse by their fathers or father figures is unfortunately not a giant surprise (nor is it trying to be one). What it is though is heart wrenching, and when Liu discovers that his own friend Zack is now abusive towards his girlfriend the film and Liu don’t know how to exactly approach the subject. For a film that starts off showing reckless and exciting behavior of these boys it sure knows how to handle its maturity. Liu does not ignore any of the harsh realities especially when it comes to the behavior of his childhood friend. He is able to pull back the curtain on everyone’s behavior and their past regardless of how much they try to hide. Liu is not about exposing them, but rather try to get them to speak their mind and let us decide when they are telling the truth. Minding the Gap takes its harshest turn when the camera turns to Liu’s own mother and himself. It is a moment the audience expected would happen but is still taken back once it does. Liu’s own past is carrying the entire weight and when he finally explains to his friends that he too was a victim of childhood assault there are few words spoken, and with good reason. Liu asks us to wonder the same thing, how would we react if we found out this happened to one of our own friends or hell what do we do when we found our friends have become abusers themselves? Liu doesn’t want to leave us on a final note that is too pessimistic, and although he is uncomfortable in front of the camera, he excels behind it as in his final moments of skating through the streets with Kiere and Zack. At some point they all fall off and take a hard hit, and when they find their way back up there is nothing but a wide goofy smile fighting back all the pain.
9. Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, 2015)
The first “Magic Mike” played an amusing trick on audiences by seducing them with rock hard abs and actually getting them to see a film about Florida coastal living during the recession. The sequel however wanted to reward us for sticking through it all by taking us on a road trip accompanied by the strippers from Tampa all with hearts of gold. The men may party like frat boys, but it is all done with a boyish charm that makes you feel safe with them no matter what. We can scream it from the mountaintops that men did not come out looking all that great this decade so it’s refreshing to know that even the ones who could have it all simply based on their looks still feel the need to earn your respect. Magic Mike himself is back and Channing Tatum has never been this kindhearted. Even when he is tricked into joining his male stripper (sorry male entertainer) family on one last road trip, he accepts that this is his family and you can only run so far before you must come back home.
Where are they headed? Why the stripper convention at Myrtle Beach of course! The excitement these men have to attend such an event speaks volumes at how much they adore their job, and even though their lives took a turn for the worse after Mike left there isn’t nothing like getting back on that horse, or in this case “Pony.” Steven Soderbergh chose to edit this film and let Gregory Jacobs work behind the camera, and Jacobs must be the life of the party because he clearly knows how to show his characters and audience a fun time. Each scene plays like a new episode in the stripper universe. Every new face they encounter greets our boys warmly but expects them to truly show up giving the film one dance sequence after the other. Tatum’s skills are on full display, but the other boys get to show off different talents from baby face Ken (Matt Bomer) belting out a rendition of “Heaven” for some thirsty cougars, to Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) giving one lucky gas station attendant her own private show to the tune of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” A scene that is choreographed so well it deserves its own spot in the Smithsonian. Even if you are lucky enough be joining these guys you will still be second place to the friendship, they hold for one another. Thankfully these are men who are perfectly comfortable with themselves and never have a hard time explaining how they feel emotionally to one another. They are also people who know when to shut up and just start dancing as the finale is so major it never actually has an official ending. To them the party is still going on and you are more than welcome to come back and join in anytime you want.
8. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
Just try and explain to someone who hasn’t seen this film what it is about. The closest basic explanation you can give them is that it is about a man named Oscar (Denis Lavant) who rides around in a limo as he dresses up in costumes and performs a multitude of tasks. But even this explanation would not begin to define the sheer magnitude Leos Carax’s strange but wonderful tribute to the magic of movie making. Carax wants to give you something that responds to the lack of excitement in our everyday lives. The type of answer you can only find when you come home after a long day and transport yourself into another world through film. As mentioned before yes, the film revolves around Oscar a businessman whose job is the unusual preforming of a variety of different characters among the streets of Paris. He and his limo driver Celine (Edith Scob) are meticulous about arriving on time for each appointment. What exactly these appointments entail or the purpose behind them plays at a larger scale that does not always need a satisfying answer. Is there a secret organization that hires Oscar to act out these roles? Or why do these people (sometimes creatures) that Oscar inhabits even exist? The more you dig in the less you will the cinematic pleasures of each episodic appointment that Oscar takes on from playing street urchin who kidnaps a world famous fashion model, to an assassin who may or may not also be a twin. The identity of Oscar himself is never quite examined, one of the few moments of certainty we get is when he encounters a woman (Kylie Minogue) who appears to be doing the same work he does and he follows her into an abandoned building as she sings a song that appears to be about the mourning of a child they shared together. Carax squeezes as much as he can into Oscar’s nighttime journey and even as the night wraps up Carax lets us know that tomorrow will bring more of the same cinematic joys and he implores you to find your own way to keep these moments alive. Holy Motors is strange, often perverted, but a lover of film in every way imaginable. Carax doesn’t want to shock or upset you he just has found such a resounding joy for the art of cinema and he can’t help but share it with everyone he can.
7. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
The measure of a great film is one that feels personally connected to the filmmaker and gives off the idea that only they could have made it. For her first solo directorial feature Greta Gerwig proves that the coming of age genre can still thrive today when the story is told from a fresh perspective. It is strengthened further because she knows how to handle the subject matter with grace and the brilliance of a woman’s touch.
Lady Bird (Saorise Ronan) lives in her own world run by Lady Bird. Born Christine McPherson, but we quickly learn that she goes by Lady Bird, because as she puts it “It is a name given to me, by me.” Her world involves being caught somewhere in between the comfort of her Catholic School upbringing and the seemingly more “cultured” world of the East Coast that she wishes to escape to. Until then, Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), navigate their senior year of high school hitting all the familiar checkpoints. Together they join their school’s theater program, and attended dances while Lady Bird in her own world gets a first job, develops multiple crushes in the form of Lucas Hedges and Timothy Chalamet, applies for colleges, and experiences heartbreak. However, what distinguishes Lady Bird, and what should be the standard for this genre, is Gerwig’s seemingly effortless script that is able to highlight a realistic mother-daughter relationship and take on a girl’s future ambitions in a world where the generation before does not recognize or understand it.
Lady Bird’s mother (Laurie Metcalf) comes from a generation where accepting and being appreciative for what you have and making sacrifices to provide for those you love is expected. The two of them clash because of Lady Bird’s determination to seek out more for herself by separating herself from the confines of San Francisco. Lady Bird and her mother embody these opposing generations, which makes their relationship so intriguing and heartbreaking to watch. Gerwig creates dialogue that displays the subtle nuances of how family expresses love for one another in a way that seems not only realistic but timeless. In a decade where millennials and boomers are constantly at odds, Gerwig empathizes with both parties spending an equal amount of time on Lady Bird’s rebellion as well as her mother’s hard work and commitment behind the scenes. Only Gerwig could create a film that is crafted and nurtured this brilliantly, and one that will continue to be an inspiration for future filmmakers exploring the genre.
6. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
This is the third Paul Thomas Anderson film to make this list so clearly the guy knows what he is doing. This time Anderson flexes every ingenious muscle he has as he tells the story of a man who teaches a religion that feels and sounds a lot like Scientology. It is also the tale of two men who find one another, through strange and possibly spiritual circumstances, and create a friendship that is both wonderful and ferocious. Above all else The Master is a hysterical dark comedy about how nothing in life will succeed if it is done with the notion of organizing people’s thoughts and feelings to meet your own desires.
Joaquin Phoenix who continues to thrive on a resume built of alienated socially inept men, gives his finest performance as Freddie Quill, a WWII Naval man who returns home not knowing what to do and feeling like the world around him will never compete with the life at sea. A drunk, Freddie stumbles into every job he encounters figuring out a way to seduce the women near him, while making men want to kill him. It’s not enough that Freddie is drinking himself to death he even concocts his own special brew that is one step down from rat poison. His erratic behavior causes him to go on the run and eventually wind up in the presence of Lancaster Dodd (the late and great Philip Seymour Hoffman) the leader of cultish group. Dodd teaches them the ways of “The Cause,” a religion he founded that works on rearranging the person’s body mind and soul. The two of them converse and often argue in a way that makes them feel like childhood friends as there is always a mutual respect and attachment to each other. It’s with this that Anderson creates his most profound characters both of whom can see right through the others’ lies. This may cause anger, but they need each other in ways that could disrupt to everything Dodd has created. Dodd himself may not see it that way, but his wife (A devilishly good Amy Adams) certainly does. She wants Freddie gone from Dodd as she even warns him to “stop with that idea. Put it back in its pants.” But Dodd sees Freddie as a new toy he can break apart and put back together this time stronger and more loyal. Dodd may be in control, but he needs Freddie every step of the way cheering him on. The film does a wonderful job at making both of these men carry more weight than any other characters from Anderson’s films. Their bond becomes constricted to the point of no return. No matter where these two go they will be forced to reflect on one another. A cult is never the answer but for these two it is their saving grace, and there lies Anderson’s most disturbing revelation. The idea that we can find a better version of ourselves, but only if we are willing to succumb to people who want full control of us. It’s a bitter taste to swallow, but for The Master it’s the only thing to believe in.
5. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
There may never be another film so rich in beautiful tragedy. A poetic journey that that soars past the coming of age traditions found in so many other films this decade. Barry Jenkin’s second feature showed us what it means to be someone of limited words, but a keen observation of the world’s most intimate moments, and how even the slightest gesture of love can remain in someone’s memories forever. Jenkin’s decide to tell his story, the life of a gay Black boy living in Liberty City, Miami, in three parts and played by three actors. Each part is there to show how our protagonist Chiron experiences so few moments of real intimacy that it not only shapes his future self, it becomes the only thing he knows. Those few minutes of love become his only reason to keep moving forward. Unfortunately for Chiron holding onto a moment you shared with someone only works if they remember too.
Before he became Chiron, he was “Little” played by Alex R. Hibbert. Little may be the quietest kid you’ll meet, but he also handles everything with care. It isn’t fair the life Little must endure, but Jenkins does not want him screaming, but instead he chooses to let Nicolas Britell’s haunting score ring loud acting as Little’s pain, something he does not quite know how to express. Even when Juan (Mahershala Ali) a drug dealer takes it upon himself to nurture Little there is not enough time for the two to share to help formulate a safe life of Little. The most powerful scene of the decade involving Juan teaching Little to swim ends all too quickly as Jenkins takes us to the next part of Little’s life. Even as we watch Little grow into teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and eventually “Black,” (Trevante Rhodes) Jenkins never shies away from showing his artistic value. Everything feels emotionally connected to one another and jumping from stages in a little boy’s life flows all too well. The most frightening aspect of it all is how little of growth the protagonist makes. This isn’t a fault but rather a truthful examination of someone who is never allowed to become unafraid of his sexuality. Even when “Black” knows what (and more importantly who) he wants in his life he seeks it out because of the fear he has to continue to live in if it does not work out.
Jenkins should be remembered as the filmmaker who broke down the barrier that allowed for the ever needing change in Hollywood allowing for more films to discuss the current reality of African-American life. Hard to imagine now, but there would be no “Get Out” or even “Black Panther” without Moonlight. As we head into the next decade it is certain that this film will only grow more as an importance in the history of cinema.
4. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
Entering the mind of Terrence Malick is always interesting if at times bewildering. No matter what though every frame he gives us is a marvelous display of a director who may seem confident but is always trying to fully understand his place in the world. The Tree of Life is his must personal film to date as it focuses on not only his childhood, but his parents and how they dealt with the death of Terrence’s younger brother. The result is an intimate exploration of memory and one’s complicated relationship with faith. The only way Malick believed he was able to tell us this story was by going all the way back. Not just back to his childhood, but all the way back to the beginning of the whole universe. It is ambitious and captivating, but nothing less should be expected by one of the decade’s most productive filmmakers.
Malick recreates his childhood by bringing us to 1950’s Texas where Jack (Hunter McCracken standing in for a young Malick) grows up under the tutelage of his mother and father (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain respectively). The two of them bring very different lessons to Jack and his two younger brothers in hopes of their boys learning to be good men in this world. Malick doesn’t hide the immediate differences in his parents’ way of teaching. His father is distant, aggressive and sees the world as a place for his sons to have opportunities he could never achieve. But with this grudge of a failed past life Jack’s father would much rather have full control over his boys and assume they will be stern and tough from this stiff unforgiving manner. It is the fear of their father that allows their mother to bring them up in the world through grace as she feels it is this connection with faith and the surrounding world that will give them a peaceful upbringing. Chastain is always enjoyable and here she is nothing short of outstanding as a devoted mother who knows how to be both a friend and leader to her kids. Malick (who must have great love for his mother) shoots Chastain as an angelic presence, and furthermore shows how young boys often see their mothers when they take the time to not only listen but also allowing them to be creative.
Malick may be the other filmmaker today delivering truly religious and spiritual films that never feel like they are operating on a larger organized level. This is far from the faith-based films you see released every time Easter comes around, but rather one that feels like it came right off a church’s stained-glass window. This is evident in the 20-minute segment early on in the film that shows us the creation of the entire universe, the dinosaurs roaming, the cosmos and eventually begins our initial story in Texas. It is this spiritual existence that hovers over every part of the film including a final few moments that feels more optimistic than any of segment this decade The film believes that all of this, time and space, eventually collides and finds one another allowing us to make reconciliation with those we have wronged, but also seek forgiveness by those we have carried such anger towards. In the end Malick wants us to feel connected to those that shaped us and in doing so has created a place where our bad memories can be freed, and our most precious ones can be secured for all of time.
3. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)
A film that literally goes from life to death. Johnathan Glazer’s cruel and grim look at what happens when we take a long look at ourselves and become disgusted by what we see. The premise at first glance almost seems comical, have Scarlet Johansson drive around Scotland in a van and pick up men off the streets. Excited at first these men soon learn that they are part of a bigger plan involving Johannsson’s character shedding her skin to reveal an alien creature that consumes. Glazer spent a decade on this with a script written by himself and Walter Campbell (adapted from Michael Faber’s novel), and while ten years on one project is an awful long time every bit pays off in the end. Very few films this decade have been able to pull off the trick of appearing like one genre, but actually being made up of several. In all it can be viewed as a straight horror film, a sexual thriller, an even drama about humanistic discover.
The key element was the casting of Scarlet Johansson, and even though she was cast in 2010 the film would not be released until after she starred in several MCU films. Johansson and Glazer were able to use both her a-list status and her bombshell features and rearrange them to their advantage. Filming took place in Scotland, where they apparently haven’t heard of Johansson because she is able to throw on a short black wig and actually invite real strangers into her van while hidden cameras captured it all. The men she picks up are unsurprisingly excited, and while their behaviors do not always reflect a positive image of their gender, it allows for Johansson to give her best performance yet. She is able to demonstrate what appears as empathy towards these men, even though she is well aware of she must lead these passengers to their death. Johansson has never been this good and more than likely has given her career best performance. As her character explores more about the human species the film becomes clear that it will do everything in its power to not allow her to not allow her to find happiness. The rest of the film carries its weight in many ways. The opening moments and closing moments allow the film to feel like a completely tightly kept package and Mica Levi’s score and its dark synths feel like they rose out of Johansson’s character as she tries to make sense of her existence and the demons that lure all around her.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2013)
It’s got to suck to be Llewyn Davis. I mean it’s the dead of winter and the man doesn’t even have a coat. A part time musician and full time sad sack, Llewyn (Oscar Isaac who has never been this gloomy and glorious) may be the Coen Brothers’ greatest creation. He is without certain their most skilled one, a folk singer (based loosely on Dave Van Ronk) who we follow for one gloriously miserable week. The film is a mix of down on your luck drama, “thank god this isn’t my life” humor, a love letter to a very grey and dreary New York City, all to the tune of wonderful folk music. In other words, it is the best thing the Coen Brothers have ever done. What makes Llewyn so compelling is his ability to be so unlikable to other’s while still capturing our attention. It is human to feel empathy towards Llewyn, after all we see from the very beginning how talented he actually is. Opening up with a performance of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” Llewyn has an entire audience captivated. It may be a small Greenwich Village cafe in the 60’s, a time where folk music is neither here nor there, but when Llewyn sings the room is glued to him. This may be the only time people are actually happy to see him though, because wherever Llewyn goes (hand knitted sweater and all) so does his ability to push people to their last nerve.
Eventually Llewyn finds himself on an Odyssey like journey that includes a skittish cat, a heroin addicted jazz musician, and even recording a novelty space song with two other musicians (played by none other than Justin Timberlake and a pre Star Wars Adam Driver). The thing that makes Inside Llewyn Davis work so well (and will continue for years to come) is how Llewyn is just a small piece in all of this. Around him the Coen Brothers give us a world where offbeat characters are all looking for the same way to get their story across; through music. The music at hand couldn’t be any better as setting up not only a period piece, but allowing a time that is often forgotten to have a rebirth. Artist T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford (yes of Mumford and Sons) brings the music to life, and looking at the time this film was released it makes sense that bands such as Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers were doing so well commercially. Inside Llewyn Davis was the type of film we needed whether we knew it or not. Today it’s easy to find people you hate, but here the Coen Brothers are asking us to take a chance on such a loser that its actually easier and way more fun to just love him.
1. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
It should first be noted as a testament to its genius that a film which came out in the beginning of the decade only grew stronger and surpassed the thousands of films that proceeded it for ten years. Yes, the top spot is locked and secured for David Fincher’s youthful and more relevant than ever look at the how Facebook came to be, and the men who felt they were entitled to the world. It can also be seen as a warning sign, especially when we see Zuckerberg in the news today, but at the base of it all The Social Network is quite simply the most fun you can have with a movie. Fincher was not only able to bring us into into the tech world, he made it downright addicting.
Kicking it off with a most unforgettable scene Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is having a conversation at a bar with his soon to be ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). It is a simple premise, but the five-minute scene tells us everything we need to know about Zuckerberg thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar winning script which moves fast and feels as impatient as Zuckerberg acts. Zuckerberg is in his own world as he refuses to talk about anyone but himself and assumes everyone is on his level. It is this arrogance and disrespect to those trying to be close to him that confirms Erica’s final words before walking away: he’s an asshole. The whole film is made up of these so-called “assholes” from the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer pulling double duty and launching a stellar career) to the inventor of Napster Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, quite great as a sleazeball). The only good morals lie within Zuckerberg’s best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, yet again another actor breaking into stardom) who becomes the film’s tragic hero. These men are more than just representations of what happens to those with too much power, they are real life examples who continue to shape the world we live in. It is remarkable how over the years we still can’t seem to get away from the real life people portrayed in this film. During its initial release there was even discussion on if Fincher and Sorkin went too hard on Mark Zuckerberg. Especially when Zuckerberg claims the only thing accurate about the film was getting the correct beer he drank. But when we take a look at Zuckerberg now and see how both he and his website have belittled our democracy there is hardly a willingness to defend him, and instead the need for a sequel to continue his whirlwind of a story.
Thankfully the whole thing is far from doom and gloom. Even the smallest aspects of the film appear to be having more fun than any other film this decade. Each character gets plenty of moments to make you laugh even if it’s out of disgust. It’s close to impossible to not only be won over by Sorkin’s script, but also the way Fincher jumps us through time across several depositions that avoid drawn out legal syntax. Instead they are full of quick and snarky remarks keeping us on our toes at all times. Then there is the music-oh the music! Gifted to us by Nine Inch Nails creators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross whose haunting score is a beautiful blend of outer space techno and soft piano. Their unique style would lead them to an Oscar for Best Score and allow them to have a very successful career in the movie business which included scoring two other Fincher films (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gone Girl”) and sparking countless copycats that have never been able to capture the beauty of the score that follows a dumped Zuckerberg as he runs home from the bar to his dorm room.
One of the final contributions that this film gave us was bringing a much-needed rebirth to the Oscars. One could argue that some recent winners have shown that this may have slowed down, but for a glorious year a new generation took the ceremony by storm. The film was nominated eight times and would go on to win three of them, even though the “older” film won that year proving that the Academy still had a long way to go. It probably didn’t help that most of its older members at the time didn’t even have a Facebook profile (the irony now being that Facebook is becoming outdated itself) but nonetheless it proved that this vibrant and scrappy story had a real fight in it and will be remembered by this critic as the film that defined a decade.