Top 100 Movies of 2010 – 2019

 

I am going to be counting down my favorite  Movies of the 2010-2019 decade until December 31st, one entry at a time. I tried to be fair to each year, and only 100 was hard to narrow down to. There are English language and foreign movies, so its all fair game. Enjoy!

 

 

1.The Master (2012)

 

“Do you understand what is happening?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We record everything. Through all life times.

 

The Master is the story of two kindred spirits who are true to their nature. For a while, that nature brings them closer than most human beings ever get to each other regardless of ties like brotherhood or marriage. Eventually this fades and both men go back to their true nature, but for just a moment the great controlling personality tamed the ultimate rebel, and he was his best enforcer. Through religion and behavioral patterns, most people can find control in their lives. But is this a healthy habit? Is that the only way to live? Is it better to live on the edge and always remain unpredictable? These are questions The Master makes us think about, through engaging dialogue and moving at its own unique pace.

 

The movie opens with a soldier in the navy as he looks around at the water below his ship. Freddy (Joaquin Phoenix) definitely has a damaged mind and repressed sexual urges, like some men stuck out in combat. Normal life eludes him. The sound of crying babies during his photography job at a department store set him off and make him go crazy on a customers so he gets into a fight and loses that job. While he spends his free time perfecting his self-made alcoholic elixir (some kind of moonshine concoction), his next job at a lettuce farm leads to an accidental death and he is on the run once more. By chance he meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is a leader of men, who claims to be an expert in several fields such as nuclear physics and theoretical philosophy. His ego is enormous; even at his own daughter’s wedding he is the main attraction, raving and ranting about taming dragons and bellowing out meaningless jargon like a mad preacher. The two character’s go through a “processing” interview, in which Dodd asks Freddy questions about his life, and the ten minute scene is a match for any scene in any other great movie ever made. As the story progresses their relationship strengthens and then inevitably deteriorates.

 

The Master is a movie about characters, and Dodd and Freddy are two of the greatest film characters ever. Phoenix plays the lead role with the urgency of a young Marlon Brando, and it is a renaissance of sorts after his rumored retirement for 5 years from acting. One can feel the uneasiness of his character in every single scene, he is the epitome of a nervous wreck. Hoffman has played many roles where he is a powerful presence (Capote (2005), Doubt (2008), and Before the Devil Knows Your Dead (2007) spring to my mind), and this is his last great role before his death in 2014 of a drug overdose. He channels Charles Foster Kane to the extreme in this film, but also infuses it his own brand of aloof braggadocio (I miss this guy every day, seriously). There is a supporting cast of character actors including Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, and Ambyr Childers, that add a lot of depth to their roles in the cult of The Cause. Not to be overlooked is Amy Adams as Mrs. Dodd, the manipulative rock behind The Cause itself who acts as background enforcer and influencing voice to Lancaster in times of need. She gives a horrifying speech about “non-believers” that chills to the bone, showing off the once innocent actress as a true maverick who can play any kind of role.  “The only way we can defend ourselves is too attack…I know this city, with its rotten secrets and filthy lies.” Brrrrrrrrr.

 

The period detail depicting life after war in 1950 is immaculate – the price of an imported fur coat is only $49.95; cameras used huge flashing bulbs and were displayed in dept stores; the costume parties The Cause visits to recruits new members to their religion are beautiful to observe. For that we can thank director Paul T. Anderson, as well as for using 70 millimeter film to capture the essence of the era AND to teach an age of digital filmmakers what they are missing out on (this was the first film in almost 15 years to use this type of image capture). As the screenwriter as well, PTA shows a great balance of seriousness and levity that is hard to achieve. Any time the movie can seem too grim or brutally honest, Anderson can turn it around for a quick joke or a surreal moment. When looking for his ex-girlfriend, he finds out she has married. Freddy confronts the girl’s mother after 7 years of separation saying: “She married Jim Day, Jim Day, that Jim Day? Is he still ugly?” Another example is when Adams’ character tries to process Freddy and she says, “What color are my eyes?” “Green,” he replies. She responds, “Turn them blue, now turn them black.” The escape from the lettuce farm is shot like a scene out of Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981), with the running dash turning into an epic flight for survival. We can thank Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. for this, and also work his magic on other modern classics with Francis Ford Coppola: Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009), and Twixt (2011). The look and feel of those movies were all shaped by Malaimare Jr. and he will definitely be influential on future cinematographers for his unique style which is very gothic and ethereal in nature.

 

Paul Thomas Anderson is perhaps the greatest director working today in movies. He is at least among the most studied and stylistic. With his movies Punch Drunk Love (2002) and There Will Be Blood (2007), he edged toward the type of movie he perfected with The Master, where the lead character is sort of a brilliant lost soul with great anger inside. His early films were more like multi character studies a la Robert Altman (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), but once he mastered that type of movie he was smart enough to move on to another type. His most recent movie Inherit Vice (2014) was the first time he did not create the original source material himself since Boogie Nights and it is notably different in tone than The Master, so who knows where he will go from here. Anderson himself is a master of control, always some part excess and some part minimalist, but he manages to make each film an epic experience more than anyone else I can think of. His movies are always meaningful and always making important statements, with great re-watch ability factors. The singing of “Slow Boat to China” at the end of the film is a move that could be interpreted many different ways and is at once comical and emotionally draining. To the detractors that say the movie has no plot, I would say in return, “define: plot.”

 

The movie plays like a parody of religion, specifically Scientology. But I don’t want to focus too much on that, because it is an issue with the surface nature of the movie (the movie is about what it’s about not what one’s expectations of it are). The underlying theme of the movie is self-control, and the freedom of control that eludes most people. Dodd likes Freddy at first because he shows him how to lose “control” through his magical drink and of course through his actions as an unhinged soul. Another huge theme of the movie is the effects that brainwashing can have on you. It starts off with the US Navy that brain washes soldiers. There is a scene where men are told what they can expect job wise after the navy. “If the average civilian had been through the same experiences you have been through, they undoubtedly would show the same nervous conditions.” Rorschach personality tests are also administered. When Dodd shows Freddy the “processing” tests later, it is an obvious connection. Someone is always trying to control Freddy (control us?) and wants us to bow to a master. Like Dodd says, “If you find a way to live in this world without bowing to a master, any master, then let the rest of us know.” The Master is a masterclass in thinking for yourself.

 

 

 

 

2.Arrival (2016)

 

               Arrival is a very odd name for this movie, since so much of the movie does not focus on the “arrival” of the aliens but in communicating with them. Perhaps what it refers to is the arrival of truth at the film’s end. The aliens in the picture constantly try to communicate with the humans, and we live this process via Amy Adams’s language expert character. We don’t really try and talk to them on our own, as everything is a response to an action the aliens perform (almost as if they had this planned out?). This is how the director of the movie, Denis Villeneuve, communicates his language to the audience and this journey is an arrival of a movie that is aware of cinema’s past and its future.

 

               Everything in Arrival is fluid and expertly done, from the brilliant camera work by Bradford Young (who also shot Selma, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and A Most Violent Year to name a few) to the pulsating score (Johan Joahnsonn, genius composer who has since passed away) to the merging of several timelines which effortlessly tell a story. In a lot of ways, Arrival is the perfection and culmination of the extra-terrestrial sci fi movies of the 21st century so far: from District 9 to Prometheus to Interstellar, we have somehow gotten here and it makes us stop and reanalyze it all. Amy Adams gives her best performance to date which is saying a lot since she is one of the great movie actresses of all time by this point, and Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker to a great job backing her up.

 

               There is little action in the movie- an explosion is shoehorned in during a subplot in the middle – and there is media coverage footage showing how different countries react to what they assume is a threat. But it all connects to the current events of the times, as our inability to communicate with China or Russia or just any other language on Earth. The Language barrier is the problem. It may lead to disaster because people get scared when they do not understand something as simple as language and perceive anything or anyone different then themselves as a threat or an alien. The depth of allegories could fill a book, easily.

 

               Arrival presents us with many ideas, the most powerful being: what is the connection between time and language? The alien’s language in Arrival, revealed as a symbol of circular fluid, is a metaphor for the circle of the plot of the film itself. There are so many mediocre alien invasion movies over the last fifty years of movie making that Arrival is like a masterclass in how to do it right: accessible to the mainstream movie going public and as metaphysical and analytical as the mysteries of the universe. There are many unanswered questions that thrill the mind rather than frustrate it, and so many places where the movie could have faltered but it never does. This may be Amy Adams best cinematic performance yet but acting “itself” is almost made irrelevant throughout the course of the movie that it is easy to overlook; this movie immerses the viewer in an alien spaceship and makes one reexamine their entire existence.  Arrival simply does the best job of communicating and illustrating its point than any other movie of the decade.

 

 

3.Whiplash (2014)

 

            Whiplash is the most cathartic movie of the decade, easy. Nothing even comes close in my book. It jumps ahead of the pack by fusing the power of music and the power of thrills like no movie before it. The lead character (Miles Teller) is a student at a prestigious Julliard-type school; a young man who is full of himself for sure since he is very good at playing drums. Question is- is he wrong when he condemns others for not being the hard worker that he is? Is his new teacher/conductor Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons in a brilliant performance) wrong for going to extremes to bring out the best in his students? It makes you wonder about this, as the point of the movie seems to be: as good as you are at something, you can always be better. You can make a better performance, write a better song, do a better job. The point is NOT to give up, the point is to NEVER stop trying.

The movie would have us think that only through hard work and rigorous training can talent really be brought out in somebody. Whiplash makes a pretty good argument for this, but the way it presents all these events through family relations, sudden deaths, car wrecks, and brutal criticisms is what makes it a joy to watch. The camera at times zooms and zips around the screen from person to person or object to object. Every time we think we are safe, something more dangerous happens and the threat of constant competition is high in the band room where Fletcher rules supreme! The director Damien Chazelle knows something about this kind of feverish competition, and honestly I do too- my high school environment turned out to be so competitive that it made me turn away in horror at times. Chazelle was only 28 years old when he made this movie but his message that resonates with us to this day is if you don’t absolutely love something, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Even though it got nominated for plenty of awards and even won several, I still feel like Whiplash is an underrated movie. No other movie this decade made me feel so crazy and pumped up at the ending, and it truly has one of the best finales ever made (pictured below – spoilers if you have never seen it!) Whiplash happens to be about music, but a this movie could have been about anything on Earth and still have been as good. That is the real amazing feeling of the experience- it is named after a song for sure but the FEELING of Whiplash takes us along for a ride, and this film simply told its story in a more invigorating way than anything else in the history of movies.

 

 

 

 

4.White God (2015)

 

               This is a movie that stars a dog as the main character. That is not a joke, the dog itself becomes the center of attention, we follow him as he leads his rebel armies and rises up against his oppressors. He barks a lot and we understand what each bark entails. The rest of the film is in the Hungarian language, so everything is still foreign to our English ears, but foreign is a concept that seems irrelevant when a dog is barking at us the entire final half of the movie. It seems so natural, so accessible, and so magical that I love every moment leading up to the dog’s rise to prominence in White God. It is easily my favorite foreign movie of the decade I love what it accomplishes so much.

               In essence, the title is a play on an old Samuel Fuller movie called White Dog (1952) but has little else in common with it, and it is the story not only about dog’s place in the world but also the innocence of child who truly loves the dog. It hints that perhaps adults, through all of their doubts and worries about everyday things, have lost sight of the decency that makes them the highest creatures on the food chain. Perhaps it is time for the dogs to rise up and become the masters of earth, like a version of Planet of the Apes. Or perhaps other people will interpret the movie differently then I did, and that is the point: White God is open to interpretation in the best possible way. It……didn’t seem foreign to me at all. I didn’t really tell you what happens in the film because its too good to be spoiled. Just watch it, you will love it, the end. Also Merry xmas 😊

              

 

5.Fruitvale Station (2013)

 

Fruitvale Station is a dramatization of everything that is wrong with the world but also amazing at the power of turning tragedy into triumph. Because it is the TRUE story of what happened to a black man who was killed by the police in cold blood for absolutely no reason, it pains us to watch it. But it also presents the story so well that we feel that pain so much more; more than any other non-fiction movie this decade. I feel like Fruitvale Station brought me to tears and reminded me of the fragility of life. It reminded me to cherish every moment of life, and its resonant in the way it sneaks up and absolutely floors you.

Michael B. Jordan, who should have won an Oscar for his portrayal, IS the title character Oscar Grant. The movie shows a day in the life in the San Francisco Bay area but also flashbacks of his time in prison that build a tapestry of his life. A loving father who tries his best, but also a conflicted and sometimes brutal temper that he unleashes on his loving mother (played by Octavia Spencer in a small but beautiful acting performance). He is just a normal man, made into a victim of circumstance and unfairness that overwhelms us in this world. His girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) tries to help raise his son and understands what kind of man he is and accepts him flaws and all.

The most painful part of this film is how shockingly senseless the act of violence at the end is. How this could happen to anyone, but especially seems to happen to minorities that are persecuted in America, is a message that is forever imprinted upon our brains. Movies like this are important because they actually have the guts and power to stand for something. It was easily my favorite movie of 2013, but really grew on me even more over the years. I have only cried in the movie theater a couple of times in my life, but leaving the showing of Fruitvale Station was one of them. I cried not only because of the tragedy of Oscar’s person, but also because of how director Ryan Coogler managed to make a perfect movie that resonated so well for every audience member that watched it. I cannot believe anyone who has seen Fruitvale Station has not been changed , forever.

 

 

 

6.The Shape of Water (2017)

               This is a movie that resonated with me as most of Guillermo Del Toro’s work does, and it is formally his most perfect film to date. It takes aspects of horror, fantasy, romance, thriller, espionage, slavery, racism, period detail, and sci-fi and shakes them up to produce some kind of odd masterwork that will never be duplicated. Somehow for a magical stars-aligned kind of moment, it actually dominated the Oscars and won best picture. Though its structure is pure Hollywood fantasy, the graphic violence and hard hitting moments of horror (cat decapitation, multiple gunshot wounds, rotting flesh, and other grotesque features) are anything BUT normal for a best Oscar winner. So every so often it seems even the Oscars can get it right.

 

               The movie’s cast works off each other perfectly, as everyone stands out equally in perhaps the best ensamble cast of the decade. Sally Hawkins plays the main character who is deaf but more alive then everyone around her. Michael Shannon plays his usual angry and domineering villain, but he has never been better at it and makes us even feel for his awful character’s struggle at times. Octavia Spencer is a friend to Hawkins and understands her when no one else does, Richard Jenkins is the neighbor who has something to prove and feels valuable when helping others, Michael Stuhlbarg turns out to be much more than just the mere scientist he portrays in the beginning. Most important of all, trapped under layers of prosthetics and the star of so many beautiful creations in cinema over the years, Doug Jones plays the merman character and lets us understand his alien like nature. The culmination so far of the classic “creature form the Black Lagoon” type stories of the 1930’s jump started into our current social climate and in all wed to a romantic love story for the ages.

 

               The musical score and cinematography are just about perfect as well and take the best influences from the past and turn them into something new. The structure of the story is interesting, as most movies would stay with what happens in the first part of the movie for the majority of the film, but what normally be the climax (the big escape) scene actually happens in the middle of the film and the aftermath (the hunt for the creature) takes over and the movie becomes a mediation on the meaning of life. Shape of Water dares to explore every subject possible to explore in a movie in 2 hours, and the fact that the dense nature of the movie does not implode under its own weight is…..a miracle. It’s movie magic that in the right context, a woman falling in love with an Amazon fish-god makes perfect sense.

 

 

7.Never Look Away (2018)

 

               The best War movie of the decade and also one of the most hard to classify, Never Look Away is an apt title for this movie that plays for more than 3 hours but mesmerizes you the whole time. It is hard to put into words, but it just gets everything right: the story loosely based on the life of Gerhard Richter with lead artist named Kurt who invents a new style of “blurred imagery” painting (played by Tom Schilling) and his journey through life, his aunt Elizabeth who influenced him to paint but was viewed as “mentally unfit” by the Nazi party ( a brilliant turn by Sasika Rosendahl) and his loving wife (Paula Beer) who stuck with him through his trials and tribulations as an artist, but was also th son of his worst enemy (a menacing Sebastian Koch)

               The Director Florian von Donnersmarck definitely made his masterwork with this movie, even surpassing the amazing Lives of Others (2006). The camera work by Caleb Deschanel is key in displaying how he invents a new type of painting style that is cinematic in a way, but also the way the movie displays lights and shadows through out is equally important. The score by Max Richter is amazing, worthy of many Oscars and awards, and just about every scene is entrancing and in a way a “painting” of its own. It spans three decades of German history but does so in a way that could fill out an entire eight hour mini series with ease.

               Watching this movie I felt I was transported back to another time, its what so many films that are period pieces try to do but few accomplish it. If you have the chance to seek out this movie, I cannot recommend it highly enough. There is some typical WW2 stuff, there are some emotional and soap opera style melodrama present….but its just done so well that you get sucked into it. It received a 14-minute standing ovation when it was first premiere in Europe, and I would say it earns every accolade thrown its way and will keep growing in stature. A truly perfect example of what I want a cinematic experience to be, and better than I could have hoped it would be.

 

 

 

 

8.Animal Kingdom (2010)

 

                        If nothing else, Animal Kingdom announced the greatness that is Ben Mendelsohn at the beginning of the decade and established him as our best current male Actor. It sparked his international rise to fame eventually dominating the world of television (Netflix’s Bloodlines among others) and the rise to mainstream Cinema ( Star Wars: Rogue One and Marvel’s Captain Marvel) while still remaining the great character actor that he always was in indie films (Mississippi Grind, Pace Beyond the Pines, Land of Steady Habits). Technically he is not the main character in this multi-faceted Australian gangster picture, but he is the main person we remember. His presence starts off innocently enough but becomes so dominant that even when I didn’t know who he was back then,  I was absolutely terrified of his anger and in love with his acting. With his help, as well as the rest of the cast, Animal Kingdom became the most brilliant movie of 2010 and inspired a TV show of its own.

                        Ever since the Godfather popularized the gangster picture, different forms of it have been present in our culture, and this is yet another variation. Joel Edgerton starts off the movie as a Don Corleone type character leading his family through the walks of the Australian underworld. But when his leadership is …. threatened…the family looks to other members to rise in the ranks and control the criminal underworld they thrive in. Guy Pearce jumps in as the police chief who is trying to expose the crime family for what they are, and we follow the plot as it slowly exposes how dangerous these people actually are. The movie is led by a protagonist that seems as lost in this world as we are (young actor James Frechville) and so we see the world through his eyes. Mendelsohn is an uncle named Pope that tries to look out for everyone in his own way but the real terrifying patriarch of the family is Janine played by Jacki Weaver in an awe inspiring Oscar nominated performance. The way she calls everyone “Sweetie” completely changed the meaning of that word to me in my everyday life.

                        Human beings have capacity for great goodness or great evil. Jay, the protagonist in the middle of this Melbourne crime family, is caught between what he knows his family wants and what is the right thing to do. It is a relatable dilemma, though portrayed though the actions of some of the most ruthless people ever put on celluloid. That’s the true horror of Animal Kingdom: the way that things slowly spiral out of control, the human aspects that we can relate to and how these people view others around them as fresh meat to be eaten. It is a fascinating movie, and director David Michod creates quite the picture of a bunch of seemingly harmless people as jackals. No other movie this decade shook me to my core quite as deeply and it needs to be heralded as the rare work of genius that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9.Ad Astra (2019)

 

Ad Astra is a wonder to watch and it’s a movie that tells you it’s intensions right from the start, then fulfills them in a genius way. For me personally, it was the first new movie I saw after a long hiatus from being able to go to a theater and watch a movie, and I’ll admit it was still a relativily physically painful experience to sit in a chair and watch it, so it meant everything to me that was worth my time and THEN some! It is the kind of movie the theaters were made for, a beautiful mix of what came before from the fantastical journeys of Apocalypse Now and Intersteller to the personal relationtionship family dramas of director James Grey himself. Its like Grey had been leading up to this movie his entire career.

Brad Pitt has had quite a year, for an actor of 55 years of age. He also had an amazing Quentin Tarantino movie several months prior to this one. His muted but focused performance here is a culmination of his whole career, something quite different for him but also very natural. His quest to find his father (played by Tommy Lee Jones) leads him to make decisions that endanger lives and the fate of planet Earth itself. It begs the question, are we destined to become what we fear the most? How much of our life is pre-determined and how much is purely genetics? Are we driven mainly by fear or by the design to do what is right?

I’m not sure why some people have had an adverse reaction to Ad Astra, but Ifound it the perfect mix of contemplative and mesmerizing. It enthralled me the entire time and I was never bored. I was experiencing the aftermath of a painful surgery when I saw it in theaters, so maybe that made me appreciate Pitt’s character’s yearning to cross the galaxy to find his father even more? For whatever reason, the journey to Neptune and beyond made me think about my entire life and existence, and there are so many layers and surprises in this movie I will not discuss the plot more. But , I cannot wait to watch this movie a second time because I know for a fact (I watch wayyyy to many movies for sure) that few movies get things this perfect. Ad Astra is a poem to the universe made by human beings who are not afraid too wander the stars.

 

 

 

10.Shame (2011)

 

Shame is a visceral film to say the least, cutting into what it means to be alone in a world that has left you cold and emotionless. Every feeling Michael Fassbinder has is like a pin prick of emotions, every thought is like a scary vision of what could go wrong. To escape from himself, he uses pornogropghy and meaningless sex and some people would say he is addicted; I would argue that he just tries to hide from the world the only way he knows how- by forging what society says is a meaningful connection but nothing approaching actual feelings.

His sister comes back into his life (Carey Mulligan) as a painful remainder that there is someone out there as broken as he is. She is alos a lost soul, but the difference she is at least connected to him, she at least wants to feel something real from their childhood. His boss (David Bale) is a selfish prick but perhaps his only friend, his co worker (Nicole Beharie) he tries to have a meaningful relationship with but when she asks him “what is the longest relationship he ever had?” he simply replies “3 months”. Not …..great…..for a man of about 40 years of age. But perhaps he had never even thought about it.

SteveMcQueen is one of the best directors to emerge in the 21st century and he has made 4 films: Hunger (2009) about a suffering Irishman that goes on a fast to support his beliefs; 12 Years a Slave (2013) which is a period piece with unlimited brutality about what it was like to be pulled from a life into an unfair situation; Widows (2018) about a bank heist yes, but full of well rounded and emotionally scared characters. Shame is his best movie, and one of my favorite movies of all time, because it continues McQueen’s obsession with battered and bruised souls that just cannot function in normal reality.

The subject matter is intensely displayed and very hard to watch at times- it is rated NC-17 for a good reason. It dares to go deep, deeeeep into the human soul to try and find an answer for the loneliness of life. I had only seen the film once back in 2011 when it came out and upon watching it again I remembered why- it is a movie full of pain yes but also just sort of a remainder that there are no easy answers in life, that you might find your way though it and become a happy person…..or you might not. It’s realness will scare you, but it’s necessary viewing if you want to experience life in its fullest.

 

 

 

 

 

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11.The Big Short (2015)

 

               The Big Short is one of the great farces of all time. A dream cast at the helm that balances four groups of people effortlessly struggling to not let the USA housing market disaster of the late 00’s destroys their lives and the economy, though there is little they can do to stop the coming onslaught of stock market dips and housing market bubbles. Ryan Gosling is an opportunist banker who slyly winks at the audience, Steve Carell is a man caught in the middle of his own financial nightmare, Christian Bale is the man no one believed saw the crash coming. Many other character actors weave in and out, including a comical scene of Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining how predatory housing market loans work, to make it all entertaining and accessible.

 

 

 

           The brilliance of the move lies in its approach, which balances comedy with a documentary style seriousness and visionary cut-n-paste editing. The are scenes of blurred out images on the screen playing with the very notion of what it means to make a movie. The are facts upon facts upon facts, educating us about the dangers of bank loans and the way the government bail outs will only create a future where the value of a dollar get more and more meaningless. Mckay and screenwriter Charles Randolph (who also wrote the screenplay for Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter (2005)) get to the core of these matters in an ingenious and captivating way. Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (Captain Phillips, The Hurt Locker, United 93) helps make the world more realistic and at the same time vulnerable.

 

 

 

By doing these things in a way that everyone can understand, director Adam McKay reinvents the landscape of how these types of movies are made. His other masterworks are Will Farrells’ hilarious Anchorman (2004), Talladega Nights (2006), and presidential satire Vice (2018). What these films and  The Big Short do best is show off a style of invention that combines many old cinematic troupes to make something completely new, making it a milestone in movie history akin to Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, etc. The movie could have been about anything, the reason it succeeds is because every single aspect of it is top notch – acting, screenplay, cinematography, accessibility. It is simply one of the most profound movies of the new century in story and execution and I doubt we will get something else like it- that balances a serious subject with a satirical tone-  for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12.Winter Sleep (2014)

 

 

               Movies like Winter Sleep come along once in a lifetime, made to be timeless and instantly entertaining. The story seems simple: two neighboring families get into a quarrel over some money, back and forth. One has more than the other and appears to be superior in attitude and lifestyle, while the wife works hard to make amends. But within the film’s long runtime there is a deeper story within, shots last longer than they normally would, some scenes seem like dreams. The build up of the ending is perfect, but the lives in between and the daily arguments among siblings and spouses are anything but.

               Director Nuri Binge Ceylan hails from Turkey but is universal in portraying his themes in everything he does. His other film on my list, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), is a slow, ponderous police procedural and all of his movies share a mythological quality. If you were to ask me exactly why this movie is so much better than others made this decade I couldn’t tell you… it just sort of is. At nearly three hours, there is not one moment I would cut out; it might actually be too short! Each conversation, and there are many of them, builds and builds in intensity and changes in perception of what tis really about. The inner turmoil in a spoiled and educated man spills into hate by people that seem to be “lesser than him”, sort of like the struggle of the class system that exists in every country. Winter Sleep is a tale of the worthlessness of money and the importance of people over having possessions, and it’s easily one of the best movies of the decade. Seek it out. 

 

 

 

 

 

13.Skyfall (2012)

 

        So I was a James Bond fan all my life but i never thought I would ever have a Bond movie I liked more than Goldfinger from 1963. To me, Goldfinger mixed the seriousness of espionage with the lighthearted comedy genre and came up with a mixture unlike anything ever seen before, and that has always been my favorite Bond. When I heard Sam Mendes, one of my favorite directors, was doing a Bond film I had mixed reservations. Really I didn’t know how it could work, because you’re talking about American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition….al great movies but what did this have to do with Bond?

        But Skyfall mixes Mendes best themes – revenge and family turmoil – within a Bond flick, taking it all to a whole new level. M (played by Judy Dench in her final and best take on the character) is the mother of both villain (Javier Bardem’s loathsome take and spurned child) and hero (Daniel Craig’s amazing portrayal of a cracked and broken James Bond) in this film, and revenge is the motive. Two sons, both with reasons to love and hate her, fight for their mother’s love. And the fantastical images of Mendes’ and cinematographer Roger Deakin’s Jarhead (with its flaming towers of oil) and American Beauty (1999) come to life in Bond’s fight scenes and set pieces.

            There are scenes that are so memorable they have yet to be matched by any movie of its kind: the black and blue lighting style fight in a skyscraper, the finale in Bond’s childhood home full of booby traps and ready for battle, the brutal murder of Bond’s love interest half way through the movie, the subway crash that proves daring escape for Bardem’s tortured soul. These new stakes of what is real for a secret agent like James Bond brings so much needed depth to the character and shows how to expand Bond as a franchise for the new millennium. Casino Royale (from 2006) remade Bond, but Skyfall proves that was not a fluke.

             Another way to look at Skyfall is that Bond is dead for the entire duration of the movie (how did he survive that shot and fall exactly?) and that this is just all a lucid dream. Some other theories exist as to why this Bond outing is so personal and fragile, and it is very open to interpretation. Skyfall is the best Bond film ever made because it shows us a unique perspective on the story of James Bond after alllll these years. Even more so than that, it takes its rightful place among the greatest action movies like Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), John Woo’s The Killer (1989), and Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) for movies with carefree adventure but a deeper meaning. Sam Mendes remains one of the most underrated directors of our time, and his new collaboration with Roger Deakins comes out soon (the war film 1917, all filmed in one take) and I cannot wait to watch it.

 

 

 

 

14.The Florida Project (2017)

 

               Something about human nature makes us sympathize with each other, even if we are from different walks of life. It is hard to put sympathy into words, or even better hard to portray it accurately on the silver screen. Above all, The Florida Project is a movie that captures a specific era with uncanny precision. It is a story that takes place over a couple weeks but defines an entire way of life for certain poor people in the country, in this case in the hotels surrounding Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida.

 

      The fact that the movie is told from the perspective of a child for the majority of the runtime is special as well (Brooklyn Prince is the leading child actress performance of the decade in my opinion) but this is no adorable story: it is a child doing what children do like spitting on cars, starting fires, and questioning everything. It is a good idea that other characters are followed as well to give the movie more depth, especially the landlord Willem Dafoe and the despicable mother plated by Bria Vinatie. Other characters weave in and out of the picture and a sort of cast of miscreants is created that leaves an impression on our minds.

 

     Not all characters are likeable, and everything is portrayed with the realism of a documentary. Florida Project feels like a time capsule of life in desperate times of the 2010’s. It projects on us a feeling of overall charity and goodness that is hard to find in other movies. Surprisingly, it is also very accessible and in my opinion the best movie yet from writer /director Sean Baker. Baker makes movies that feel gritty and urgent, but also kind of homey and relatable. The children that exist in the hotel are very good natured but also, you know, children- so they get into plenty of mischief and also don’t quite understand why adults act like they do. Certain adults remain children, and never grow up. Other adults, like Dafoe’s hotel manager, responsible for everything and protector in the way of the land. Of all Willam Dafoe’s character’s this decade, this was my favorite- from The Lighthouse (2019) to Aquaman (2018) to At Eternity’s Gate (2018), the actor has had quite the renaissance toward the end of the decade. The ending of this movie has been much debated, but it is the best crescendo of the decade in my opinion and the film carries you every step of the way.

 

 

 

 

 

15.Tree of Life (2011)

 

               Terence Malick’s return to movie making early in the decade was a huge deal: perhaps the most ambitious movie ever made, trying to encapsulate the beginning, present and future ending of existence all in the span of one movie. There are no easy words to describe it, but it does succeed at being a meaningful thought poem. Ii is a movie that builds in your memory the more times you watch it, creating a series of images in your mind both real and imagined. At least half of the movie is wordless, just images put up there on the screen leaving things open to interpretation. I would not say its not for everybody, because everybody is exactly who it is for.

               There is a somewhat conventional narrative tale of a working class family in the 1950’s at the center of the story, with Brad Pitt playing the middle class working father and Jessica Chastain the honorable mother. It is a simple story of growing up as a young child- who’s played later in his life by Sean Penn and given flashbacks as to try to figure out what it all meant to grow up in his household. The abstraction of images, the beauty of birth both small and humane and planetary and cosmic, are placed side by side for us to wonder about. The acting is exactly as strong as it needs to be, though as opposed to most movies there is hardly a structure at all.

               Or maybe I’m wrong and the movie is structured beyond rational thought. I mean, it is above all else a movie open to interpretation. For be it from me to sum it up in three paragraphs- I am not genius director Terrance Mallick and I don’t pretend to be. All I can say is I love this movie, it makes me think about things. More exactly, like its obvious predecessor Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), it makes me think about “everything”. Where did we come from? who made us? when will existence end, how did it start? Mallick shows us that no one can know these answers for sure. No mere movie can hope to contain the wonders of all creation least of all explain it. The fact that Mallick made a film that TRIED to give us his version of “what it all means” makes it an important feat on its own, but the fact that it works and is not a total disaster is what makes it a masterpiece that again, everyone should watch at least one time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16.Prisoners (2013)

 

               Prisoners starts off innocently enough, but quickly evolves into one of the greatest mystery movies ever told. It keeps you guessing throughout and the pay off makes perfect sense. But if it was a simple who-dunnit movie, it would have little rewatch value. What makes Prisoners a great movie are the character’s drives and ambitions as well as the behind the scenes details that give the story multiple layers and endless depth. The truth is there in the title of the movie, though it is nearly impossible to spell out with mere words.

            On the surface we have a story of child abduction, we don’t know why the child was taken but we see how it effects the two couples involved played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, and Terrance Howard and Viola Davis. Jackman is the more forceful of the two fathers, willing to do almost anything to get his daughter back and making life hard on local police officer Jake Gyllenhaal who is trying his best to do his job. What the detective finds along the way is no simple case of child abduction but an entire history in the town full of lies and deceit, while Jackman takes matters into his own hands by abducting the most likely suspect, played in a haunting performance by Paul Dano. This immense cast is worthy of a Shakespeare ensemble, and the performances given are among the greatest crafted by each actor in their entire careers (though it received zero Oscar acting nominations).

            Prisoners is a compelling movie though it tackles an at times grim subject matter. Director of the decade, Denis Villeneuve, proves with worth yet again by showing us how a crime can drive people to the brink of madness, and that torture in the name of righteousness is still wrong. There are layers and layers to crack open. The dense tapestry of a couple’s marriage dynamic, looked at with the two married couples power structures, is fascinating. The movement of Roger Deakins camera creates claustrophobic atmosphere that makes you feel; like a prisoner as an audience member….yet you dare not look away. The context of what makes a person good or evil is also on display, and the hero of the story is not a hero after all (Jackman) but the man who simply does his job and asks for nothing in return is the bravest one of all (Gyllenhaal). It also has a perfect ending- for cinephiles to freak out over.

            Prisoners is easily one of the best movies of the decade and I could see people putting it higher on their personal lists. Character acting, ensemble improvisation, world building in a simple 2 ½ hour runtime, it’s all immaculate and pretty much perfect. Movies like this don’t tend to win awards unfortunately, as they fall somewhere between action/suspense and unclassifiable genres that don’t fit wrapped in tiny bows for celebratory trophies. But it should not be overlooked- it is pure filmmaking and an endlessly intriguing mystery. I’m glad it was made with such care and constantly hope any other movie I see succeeds as well as this one does, but unfortunately few movies are this well made. Future directors should learn from this example, and keep raising the bar higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17.Destroyer (2018)

 

Everyone I know who has actually watched Destroyer has loved it, and when people ask me why I think it is so good I always respond- “We have seen it before but never like this.” The wrath and anger of an undercover cop who gets revenge on a job gone wrong, fractured and frozen on screen in an innovative fashion and style. Destroyer blows away any action movie of the decade in my book, by being simultaneously thrilling and also deeply personal. It’s about a mother who loves her daughter but has lost her affection due to her duty; about a woman who will go to any length to do what is right, but also about the thin line between cops n/ robbers and how easy it is to cross it. She didn’t start off bad but look at what life did to her. Karyn Kusama directs the movie with chronological jumps and innovative style to match the substance of the story.

 

               It sounds cliched, but this is probably Nicole Kidman’s best role. It’s hard to say “performance” because like any acting great she has given us so many, but the way her character is drawn compared to the way she acts it all out is so much fun to watch, and she is so GOOD at it. She played some other roles she could probably do in her sleep by now last year alone as a Sea Queen in Aquaman and a grieving mother in Boy Erased, but this is something so rarely tapped into: an unhinged performance that has a great story arc built behind it. Her supporting cast ain’t half bad, with Bradley Whitford as a streetwise lawyer proving he is the best character actor in the biz, Sebastian Stan as her star crossed love, and an assorted cast of criminals and police she has met in her life, some we see after the crimes are done and then later connect the dots to who they really are.

 

               Destroyer is a no holds barred action movie with a rich story behind it that leaves as much off the screen as on. It makes you want to learn more about these characters, as devious as they are. At the end everything is explained but we still want more or to just watch it all unfold again knowing what we know. Very similar to her previous great movie, The Invitation (2016), It is an exercise in building and sustaining tension. It’s cathartic like the best character based action movies of recent years, Drive (2011) and Sicario (2015), but also disjointed to the viewer upon first watching, like the classic caper confusion of Lee Marvin’s star role in the film Point Blank (1967). A new rising talent in director Kusama meets one of the best actresses around Kidman and creates a genuine masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

18.Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

 

               The best standalone Marvel Comics movie made so far, this Captain America sequel plays more like a 1970’s paranoid thriller. A person doesn’t have to be as involved to enjoy this tale, and it also benefits from the having to be yet another origin story. We know enough about who this character is and here we get to explore him more as he finds out that his version of freedom often clashes with our governments. Captain America at his best is a symbol for liberty, and does not look kindly on a government that would take away individual freedom or try to monitor or control the lives of its citizens. It’s an interesting thing to focus on, which again ties it to the great thrillers of the past and combines this with great storytelling of a lost friend- The Winter Soldier- who is stuck being brainwashed and used against his will.

 

       The action set pieces are some of the best ever created, superhero movie or not- from the car chase and ambush of Nick Furry in his nearly invincible SUV, to the multiple chases of The Winter Soldier on the streets of Washington DC, to the climax of multiple Helicarriers fighting in the air while the heroes use less “super powers” and more know-how and fighting skills and savvy to save the day. With the addition of Hydra as hidden villains that have infiltrated the espionage world protection agency of SHEILD, the movie is a combination of comic books, James Bond, and realistic Jack Ryan style heroics.

 

 

      Chris Evans kills it as Captain America, torn between his past and the present once again, but with a new ally in Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and as always Scarlett Johansson is luminous as Black Widow. They even pulled Robert Redford into a mainstream movie for the first time in about fifteen years to play a role for the ages (he says he agreed to do it because his grandkids, aww.) In all, Winter Soldier fits into the Marvel universe order-cannon-whatever but also uses great ideas for a story executed brilliantly. Directors the Russo brothers proved they could handle complex story telling pioneered by Joss Whedon in the first Avengers film from 2012, and then took that skill to make Captain America: Civil War (2016) and the final 2 Avengers movies. But it all started here, and as good as Marvel was prior to this and as multi character faceted as it got later on, Winter Soldier is the best for my money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19.Inception (2010)

 

 

               Mainstream Sci-Fi is such a mixed bag, any movie that dares to attract an audience with “out there” concepts has as many detractors as fans. From Matrix to Star Wars to Lord Of The Rings to Avatar, it’s a sure fire bet that these kinds of movies, even when they are good, are going to be killed with hype and criticism. But there is something marvelous about Inception, even if it can’t achieve all of the goals it sets out to. A movie about creating inspiration through dreams is almost the perfect idea for a sci fi movie, and mixing it Christopher Nolan’s direction and writing makes for a one of a kind experience. Given full financial freedom after The Dark Knight’s success, this movie is Nolan at his most open and honest, shoving his crazy ideas down our collective throats.

               A person’s mind can always trace the genesis of an idea. This is the whole point of “inception”, a process in this movie that is possible is the not too distant future. There are scenes that tell the viewer the rules of the dream game, in actuality you could symmetrically divide the movie in half between SETUP and FUFILLMENT throughout its two and a half hour length. The first half is playful and intriguing, like any Chris Nolan movie is, setting up characters and ideas that will soon grow into full effect, while the second half is the action packed fulfillment of these ideas. It’s not a movie that, thinks its ideas are its own though. Throughout Inception, there are obvious references to other films such as Quiz Show (Michael Caine’s first scene mirrors Paul Scofield’s), The Matrix (building the dream in a computeristic world), the TV show Lost (the flight from Sydney to Los Angeles), James Bond action (snow skiing down the mountain), Paprika (the breaking mirrors and hallways). The film explains itself a lot but it also includes the audience in in that way, kind of like how Hitchcock let the audience know who the villain was when the people in the movie didn’t. It’s no different than most Sci-Fi movies, take Blade Runner or Terminator for instance, constantly explaining as they go along what is happening.

               The ensemble cast in Inception is top tier, and easy to forget how important it is to have people who can actually act play these roles. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb as a lost soul, a man who has not a lot of hope about the future. The level of danger throughout the dream world is constantly enhanced by Cobb’s haunted past, and his emotional arc anchors the film; it’s DiCaprio’s truest performance to date. With Ellen Paige as Ariadne and a voice of reason, Joseph Gordon Levitt as his reliable partner Arthur, Ken Wantanabe as the financial backer, Marion Cotillard as a horrifying specter of a wife, the main cast is eloquently played out. It doesn’t hurt that Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Caine and many others also play their supporting roles with aplomb. On top of one of the greatest ensembles ever assembled for an action movie, this movie is laced with brilliant visuals and intelligent dialogue. The part where Arthur says “give me a kiss” is a highlight, and just one example of the movie’s great with humor. Of course the characters also say lines like “when we wound up on the shore of our subconscious,” which could be construed as pretentious.

               The art of storytelling is what holds us in Inception, a screenplay 10 years in the making and its meticulous craft shows. The “revolving hallway” scene is one of the great action set pieces sets in movies, along with the never ending staircase paradox and the crumbling city of Limbo. An action/thriller with four levels of dreams (dream within a dream within a dream within a dream) is an insane concept for a movie. It hurts your brain to grasp at times but it’s hardly mere entertainment. It’s not just that there are four dreams; they are layered and jumped between with the skill of a master story teller/director. Inception is also a movie obsessed with symmetry, hence the mathematical aspects that make rewatching such a joy. Upon inspection, one notices things like each dream layer has its own theme music, it all somehow makes sense, and two hours has zipped by. Dreams start in the middle, they say, well so does the plot of Inception. Kind of weird that it doesn’t go into how Cobb got started in this line of work?

               In the past, mainstream movies couldn’t be as original as independent ones but lately that has changed in the 21st century. With the advent of the internet, ideas are exchanged more freely and people are more open to new ideas. Inception is only the beginning of the 21st century action genre getting more “cerebral”, look at Prometheus, Cloud Atlas, etc. and you will see that bigger budgets are getting put into more universal ideas. Nolan has made this possible. He started off small in the late 1990’s with Following and Memento, two clever and intriguing mysteries and slowly worked his way into comic book lore and bigger and bigger ideas. Inception is a great example of dreaming big in cinema. It’s funny how far Nolan has come in his first ten years but also impressive that he hasn’t lost his audience he formed with his early work. The Dark Knight series and The Prestige and Following….these are obviously the work of a creative synthesizer no matter what his budget is. What Nolan has, like Spielberg, Scott or Hitchcock before him, is the ability to bring people along for the ride with him. Inception is a marvel of populist entertainment and I cherish movies this daring when they come along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20.Fences (2016)

 

               Films that are made from theatre source material can be a chore to sit through, but the best ones play so well that the dialogue alone moves the story. Plays are mainly dialogue, because all the actors have behind them are static sets so some imagination is involved in moving along the story. The best plays that are made into movies keep this flavor alive, and only add little cinematic effects to enhance rather than detract, and that’s exactly what Fences does. This stands as the best play made into a movie of the decade, with the source material by the genius August Wilson’s original from 1985. The story takes place in the 1950’s, with the lead character being a former baseball great and the story of how almost become a legend can be even worse in the long run as never even coming close to glory. The only other characters in the film/play are his dutiful wife, one older musician son and one younger impressionable one.

 

               This is Denzel Washington’s third movie as a director and while previous outings Antwone Fisher (2002) and The Great Debaters (2007) were both very great, this is probably his most universally appealing and a well-acted one. Washington and Viola Davis give the best performances of a male and female lead perhaps this decade (Viola won an Oscar but Denzel did not win one-which would have been his third), leading to scenes so intense and true to life that it is easy to overlook how powerful they are or how other actors would have played them wrong. The story hammers in its main subject matter vividly: Lack of success can make people bitter and act out in ways that have awful consequences for their loved ones but as flawed as these characters are, it is impossible not to hope they can all find some measure of peace with each other. In Fences, we are them and they are us, as we all want love and understanding at a basic level, especially when we act out at our worst.

 

 

21 – 30

 

 

21.Shadow (2019)

 

Shadow is a spectacle of a movie, the kind of feudal Chinese war epic that is rarely made this well with this kind of craft. Thankfully, it was created by world class director Yimou Zhang, who crafts fantastical worlds as noone else can. Yimou is a master of human drama, with movies such as Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and To Live (1994). He also can use images in amazing action movie ways in magical epics like Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). All of this combines in Shadow, which is equal parts Chinese history lesson and soap opera hysterics– whose wife did what to which twin and kings and sons and you know all that Game of Thrones type stuff.

If this doesn’t sound like your kind of movie…you might be surprised at how good thismovie actually is. If you like historical action epics, they don’t get any better than Zhang’s works. The use of slow motion battle scenes are to die for, plenty of blood and guts mixed with amazing sound and set designs. There is an exellerating sequence where warriors slide into a village on a road down a hill and shoot out multiple throwing stars in every possible direction. The weapons used are very unique to the film, all spiked umbrellas and hook ridden hand-held blades. And above all the decadent dynasty drama does draw you in— once the movie’s basic premise is set up it never let’s you go; it’s just one magical scene after another.

Though not everything Yimou Zhang has done this decade has been a success (the Matt Damon helmed spectacle of The Great Wall (2016) or the odd Coen Brothers remake of Blood Simple titled A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2010)), this film is one for the ages. To watch Shadow is to behold movie magic in its purest form.

 

 

 

22.The Hateful Eight (2015)

 

The Hateful Eight definitely transports you to another place for a good 3 hour run time, as the care that goes into crafting this story is beyond articulate. Partly this is because of the use of Ennio Morricone, perhaps the greatest film scorer who ever lived, at least for the western genre (he came out of retirement for this). But as always, Quentin Tarantino has a way of crafting a fun universe with his irreplaceable dialogue and plethora of story threads. It is a story that builds well established characters to one hell of a blood soaked climax (as per Taranino usual).

The cast is pretty impeccable, we have Samuel L. Jackson as the lead character as a Major in the Union Army; now that the war is over, hunting down former confederates for bounty money. Kurt Russell is “The Hangman” riding in a horse bound carridge to bring in Jennifer J. Leigh’s murderous harpy gang leader. A long the way are some great supporting turns from Walton Googins as a newly elected sheriff, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Demian Bichir as other guests of the scenic B&B in the middle of a blizzard everybody lands at. What starts off in a stagecoach soon turns into a sort or classic murder mystery at Minnie’s Habbadashery, with constant surprises I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t seen it. The Hateful Eight is an apt description of these characters though, as it’s pretty much every person for themselves and modern decency is only in the eye of the beholder.

But why this is one of Tarantino’s best movies is his use of “chrono shifting” the events to make the story worth many viewings. Much like in his first two movies, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the events happen (in this movie they are chapters) in a specific order to explain and enhance the story along the way. In fact, the way Tantino employs his story telling strategy here is more fluid and successful then he ever has done before. A wise critic once said its not what a story is about but “how” it is about it, and that’s kind of how I view The Hateful Eight- crazy western revenge drama full of foul language- or not. Its detractors may just be blind to the fact that this is the most timeless story Tarantino ever made, and the way he crafts it all makes it a true classic.

 

 

 

23.Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Like Father, Like Son is an intriguing look at a very possible scenario: 6 years into raising their only child Keita, whose birth left the young mother barren, young couple Ryota and Midori are told that the child is not theirs but that a hospital error switched two baby boys at birth. Soon the couple are meeting their biological child for the first time, along with the family that raised him. So the question becomes, how easy is it for you to give up your child you have been raising for the first six years of their life to then get your “correct child” that was switched at birth? Is it still the right thing to do? It’s an intriguing scenario, and at one point mid-decade this movie was due for an American/English language remake but it has not happened yet, which is a shame, because it would have pointed more people to this subtle masterwork.

Sometimes it really does not matter if a movie is in another language as emotions and the scenario described here are obviously universal. As you can guess, it is a movie to make you cry, but also to make you think and become sympathetic to new outlooks on life. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda is great at displaying life from a distance, from taking what most people would perceive as a movie and making it so very real and true to life. He might be the true heir of great Japanese Director Yasujirō Ozu. His previous works: Maborosi (1995), After the Storm (2016), and Shoplifters (2018), are also intriguing looks at family life and it’s a subject that obviously is fascinating to the entire human race. What makes us who we are, is it mainly our upbringing or mainly our genetics? If you were raised rich and found out your real parents were poorer, would you desire to switch places? Is that even fair, or even right? One simple mistake can drastically affect our lives, and that is one of the scariest things about being human. However the trick, as this movie shows us, is not to let outside forces define who we are, no matter what.

 

 

 

 

 

24.Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

 

            This is a realistic romantic-comedy and the best movie from writer/director David O. Russell yet. There is drama about mental disorder when Pat (Bradley Cooper) has a breakdown (though really, an understandable breakdown over his wife’s infidelity) and has to recover by living with his parents when his marriage falls apart. New neighbor Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is an equally bruised soul, and the two wade thorough all sorts of family drama and dance routines to try and realize what life is all about. It’s a touching movie, but also a very funny and TRUE movie, from subjects as small as coming home from a job and cutting loose with Metallica records to as big as seeing life through your father’s eyes.

 

            The casting was a critical breakthrough for the three leads: Bradley Cooper, who had never been better before and got to show off his dramatic and comedic chops in an amazing lead performance. Jennifer Lawrence exudes a kind of calm sexiness but proves she is nobody’s doormat; if there is an example of a Movie Star this decade she was surely it and this is her best (and oscar winning) performance. A rebirth for veteran Robert De Niro, showing how he can be difficult and sympathetic at the same time and is perfectly cast as the world-worn father. Not to mention an excellent supporting cast in Jacki Weaver (always great at being understated) and the subtle return of Chris Tucker as a family friend, among others- seriously the casting director for this movie deserves an award of his/her own.

 

Director David O Russell graces us with his movies in spurts. Right now, he hasn’t made a movie for 5 years (since 2015’s Joy) and who knows when he will come back. His first set of amazing films came in the mid to late 1990’s with Flirting with Disaster (1996, one of the funniest movies ever made) and Three Kings (1999), then after a troubling production of I Heart Huckbees (2004) he disappeared again for 6 years….until his return with The Fighter (2010), this film, American Hustle (2013) and Joy all in a span of 5 years?!? The only guarantee of O. Russell’s, is that when he returns to directing again it will be for films worth seeing. He knowns how to harness spectacles on a small scale, the wonderment of life for the people who still have dreams.

 

Silver Linings Playbook is that weird mix of crowd pleasing, difficult drama, and old-fashioned movie making. It reminds me of classic movies like The Apartment (1960) or even Spencer Tracy and Kathrine Hepburn match up’s like the great Adam’s Rib (1949), movies that were not afraid to reach outside the confines of their own genres to achieve perfection . Tension, once resolved, creates the best couples sometimes. Realizing you have found the right person is often a revelation, and this movie has one of the best romantic comedy “reveals” of any movie I have ever watched. So kudos, it deserves all the attention and praise it gets as there are few movies as purely good as this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25.How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

 

 

       How to Train Your Dragon is my favorite animated movie of the decade, for a couple reasons. I like the way it ties a tradition to the make-believe, creating dragons that can be both scary and friendly. I like its message of harmony, that uniting together with another species makes us all stronger, because we are all on the planet together. Lastly, I enjoy how its obsessed with a message of non-perfection, how even though you may not get along with others it doesn’t mean that fences cant be repaired, or if you are born with a lost limb or part of a (dragon) tail, you can still find ways to survive. Lastly, I like how it has an ending that is less a happy one then a realistic one. Unlike the Disney movies, not everything is tied up in a nice little bow at the end- but still we press on.

 

               Toothless the dragon is easily my favorite make-believe cartoon character of the decade. He is small but fiercely vigilant and can be adorable but also you would want him on your side in a fight. Hiccup the protagonist of the tale is viewed at first as a small, wimpy failure who dares to think outside the box and makes friends with a dragon, showing there is a side to the creatures previously unseen and a hidden strength with Hiccup himself. Not judging based on appearance and reputation alone works as a lesson for kids and adults, and as the story unfolds it works on multiple levels on the relationship between father and expectations, overcoming adversity, and never giving up.

 

       The cinematography is over seen by Roger Deakins, which is one reason it holds up so well. As a production company, Dreamworks animation stands at the end of the decade as one of the few animation companies outside of the Disney monopoly, and its important to root for the underdog sometimes. This movie’s sequels are also really good (How to Train Your Dragon 2 and 3 from 2014 and 2019), and I cant think of a better movie trilogy this decade that works on so many levels, animated or not.

 

 

 

26.Selma (2014)

 

The first feature length Martin Luther King Jr. movie ever (somehow!), focusing on his march in Selma, Alabama. The lead performance by David Oyelowo deserves accolades for its many layers and not always flattering depiction of the man heralded as a saint (deserved an Oscar but was not even nominated). Of course King was a great man that goes without saying, but director Ava DuVernay dares to show cracks in the veneer of King as a flawed human being who often needed other people’s help and guidance, and was not always a faithful husband. This human portrayal among the backdrop of one of many Civil Rights protests in the 1960’s is what a makes Selma stand out from the more traditional bio-pics of the decade (for example, Steven Spielberg’s stoic portrayal of Lincoln that is one of the most boring biopics I have ever seen).

 

Regardless, it’s a movie full of great performances and real life issues, and one that will be remembered.  And hopefully taught in schools for years to come. Carmen Ejogo plays King’s wife Coretta with a sort of patience and wisdom usually accredited to the lead character, as she had a lot to do with King’s success. Historical figures of the era pop up in President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkenson), reviled Alabama governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), and J Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), all who try to manipulate King to their own political agendas. John Lewis (Stephan James) and James Forman (Trai Byers) also portray fellow leaders and people when often conflict with King about how to go about making the Civil Rights movement work. Selma is a movie that, while King is at the center, does not forget about everyone else involved in the Civil Rights movement itself. King was an important leader, but in fact many others did just as much if not more. It was a diligent team effort for change and one that still inspires today, perhaps when we need it most of all.

 

 

Selma is not an easy watch. It is an important movie, but more IMPORTANTLY it is a great movie. The act of watching can stir the soul, just like the best movies of any genre, and I believe without being also an entertaining movie no matter its importance it would fade into obscurity. Director Ava Duvernay has the potential to be one of the great directors of our time and she has had an amazing decade with Middle of Nowhere (2012), the 13th (2016), and recently the mini series When They See Us, an even more unflinching look at the atrocities committed again African Americans not-so-long ago. Like Dr. King, she brings truth to power. She is helped here by one of the great cinematographers of the decade, Bradford Young, who also created the alien but very human atmosphere of Arrival (2016). The scene at the courthouse of non-violent protest is one that stays forever in our collective memory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27.Wind River (2017)

 

 

There are some movies that are too real and powerful for the award shows, containing subjects that are taboo and truths that are too real. Movies that portray an “ultra form” of reality, if you will. The decade is full of them- Fruitvale Station (2013), Nocturnal Animals (2016), Shame (2011), etc.- and for 2017 the honor goes to Wind River, which is a drama that never lets up. It is about the persecution of Native American people, in particular the abuse and rape of the women in their culture. Sure the men can’t escape either and often get imprisoned, but the women mainly end up dead.  It is a movie that will rip out your heart but also a story that is told with a passion for its subject.

 

Writer/Director Taylor Sheridan quickly became a powerful voice in screen writing in the later part of the decade, crafting the world of Sicario, Hell or High Water, the tv series Yellowstone,  and Wind River with an accessible kind of dramatic tension. He makes the movies a lot of fun, but there is always an underlying message to each work portrayed trough a rustic setting. As Jeremy Renner and Elisabeth Olsen’s character’s try to navigate the landscape, they are constantly reminded that they will always be outsiders in the Wyoming landscape, no matter how much they try to help (or in Renner’s case, no matter how much he tries to acclimate himself to the culture by having a son that is half Native American). Evening the scales by riding out the bad and helping drive out the oppressors is a nice idea, but it is far too late as the Native American people are all but extinct. While a movie like Get Out finds a humor in the situation in being a minority, Wind River presents it as unflinching truth. Both work brilliantly, but just because Wind River and movies like it are “harder to watch” does not mean they should be so overlooked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

28.The Sisters Brothers (2018)

 

Every time we think the Western genre is dead or dying, a movie like this pops up and reminds us why we love it so much. The Sisters Brothers is old fashioned as hell but an instant classic (based on a novel), with vivid characters and amazing acting. John C. Riley turns in his best performance ever (which is saying something) as Eli who was raised on hate but never let it get in the way of his good nature, while his brother Charlie played by Joaquin Phoenix is a bit more of a lost soul, but fiercely loyal. The story is about working for a man who is hunting down a potentially prosperous “gold finding” serum, with another duo on the run from the Sisters Brothers played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. The way everything plays out is a riff on classic western tale John Huston’s 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for sure, but with equal comedic and western tricks and surprises along the way.

 

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I liked the movie so much, perhaps because it was directed by the great French Director Jacques Audiard and a French Western is an odd beast indeed. Where most westerns are filled with action scenes and shocking shootouts or climaxes, this one is surprisingly laid back. And I loved it all, despite there being one of the most horrifying scenes with a tarantula I have ever seen!!!! It focuses on character and motivation and doesn’t lead where you would expect it to. Upon finishing the movie in the theater I knew I liked it, but really had to meditate on it for weeks to discover how much it affected me. Where we come from and what we want out of life are hard to define, and there is so set path we are supposed to be on. The movie reaches a metaphysical sort of clarity at the end that needs to be experienced, and subverting these expectations is something this film does better than any other western I saw this decade.

 

 

 

29.Manchester by the Sea (2016)

 

A movie that tells a story in such a friendly way that you feel you know the people inside and out by the movies end. The twist is, it’s also one of the most realistic and depressing stories you have ever seen on screen. Some detractors say the film is slow, but in all honestly it runs at the pace of real life. Casey Affleck and his surrounding cast play characters that feel real that they are one of the family. The garage band we want to be  part of as teenagers even if the music is not great, the relationships that seem small but years later turn into something big, the family member that dies we might have fought with but still love. It’s easy to forget that in real life things don’t always work out for the best and there are no easy solutions. Sounds like a great time at the movies, right?

 

 

I won’t go over any of the plot details since it is best experienced knowing nothing about what happens (don’t let anyone spoil it for you!) Writer director Kenneth Lonergan takes you on an emotional journey for sure, but the best part is that the plot reveals keep surprising along the way. For a movie that is basically about a man who comes back to this hometown after being away for a while, the film really strikes home as what it means to try and make amends. Even sometimes, old wounds are too much and too painful, you have to at least try because friends and family need you too. Its hard to say how and why Manchester By the Sea strikes such a resonant chord, but it was an instant classic upon release and will remain so for years to come.

 

 

30.Luce (2019)

 

 

Luce is one of the most interesting and timely movies made this decade, which is why even though it just came out I am putting it high on my list. Is it about about a white couple adopting a war-torn African child and the way that child is raised via the impact of his younger upbringings effect? Yes. Is it about the expectations and levels people go to to seek glory and praise in a high school setting? Yes. But these are just minor plot details to get at what Luce is really about: expectations. Shining a light for the world to see while also fitting in is what the lead character struggles with. If that makes him a monster for doing what he thinks is right and how will that effect his “bright future”- these are the issues at the center of this stage play turned movie.

So many great plays are turned into movies and not much is changed at all, but Luce is one of the more cinematic transformations I have seen. There are multiple settings and places involved, phone texting and internet connections play a huge role, and the cinematic qualities matter so much I would believe those that say they didn’t even know it was a play I would not be surprised. As soon as I watched Luce, which just came out on streaming last week after a limited theatrical release, I wanted to watch it again, because it boasts a mystery that’s constantly changes course AND because it is about so much more than it initially lets on. What does it means to have a family, but also the lack the connection that exists within?

Octavia Spencer exhudes a certain domineering presence like she never has before, Tim Roth and Naomi Watts brings a great chemistry as Luce’s parents and as one of cinemas best male/female teams, and newcomer Kelvin Harrison shines as Luce, a lead actor so complex that you can like him and dislike him simultaneously but always see where he is coming from. The screenwriters know these characters inside and out, and the questions this film asks are not comfortable in our current society but should always, always be asked, lest we forget where we are headed if we aren’t careful.

Its easy to think and ponder about the direction Luce goes in. Each conversation is a battle, a moral argument, and much food for thought. It is an endlessly rewatchable movie that would also work as an audio only book. The dialogue, in both senses of the word, is riveting.

 

 

31.Take Shelter (2011)

 

There are very few movies I would call beautiful, but on yet another viewing of Take Shelter, it’s the only word that really comes to mind. A small scale movie with great character actors doing work that would propel them in the future, the movie is the epitome of independent filmmaking in the 2010s. A grand idea behind the plot, but so much meaning underneath. An ending that can be interpreted in many ways but does not come off as laughable, which is very hard to pull off while tackling a complex mental disorder.

Schizophrenia is usually portrayed in movies with crazy villains that are psychopaths or it often gets confused with have split personalities or hearing “voices”. In reality it can be a combination of these symptoms, but many otherwise normal people are diagnosed and quite often it destroys lives without much notice. The man played by Michael Shannon (in a performance that catapulted him to larger roles) had quite the average life working a good construction job with his best friend, but lived in a cloud of fear since he was a child because his mother suffered from the disorder. He starts getting prophetic dreams about tornadoes and disasters so he has two possible outcomes: he is going crazy, or has psychic powers predicting a dangerous storm that could effect his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter who is also deaf.

Shannon and Chastain are the only real characters of note in the movie, though other family and co workers check in from time to time. The locale is southern, just like every movie ever made by director Jeff Nichols, perfecting his character driven pieces in films like Mud (2012) and the sci-fi fantasy Midnight Special (2016). His moves bring the homeliness often acquainted with Southern people and project it into very human ideals, but underneath everything he directs or writes there is a poignancy of truth rarely found in larger, more big budget Hollywood films. I’m a little surprised the Marvel people haven’t grabbed him to helm a suoerohero pic yet,sense all of his figures project their heroic ideas so well albeit in smaller settings.

In all, Take Shelter is a film very grounded in what it means to be human. We gave to trust in our friends and our famiky because if we keep secrets and push them away, it leads to anger and hurt. Shannon’s character is not a bad man at all, he tries to protect his family by constructing a shelter from theon comming storm that is coming, but get forgets that they want to protect him too. In a key scene, Chastain tells him “I could open that door for you, but then it wouldn’t change a thing.” Its not the amazing and bizarre special effects and daydream fantasies that make Take Shelter one of the best films ever made, but the humanity and resilience of spirit that is crafted underneath it.

 

 

 

32.The Hunt (2012)

 

            The Hunt is a fascinating movie for anytime, but coming from 2012 and watching in 2019 it is maybe even more timely. Here we have a kind, good hearted school teacher who gets wrongly accused of abuse by a young student who also happens to be the daughter of his best friend. There is no mystery of guilt or innocence, we in fact know he didn’t do anything, all we can do is watch as a man who is falsely accused be ostracized as he protests his innocence. The motivation behind the accusations are nonsensical and the entire film can be viewed as an example of mob mentality, or at least how people should be innocent until or proven guilty but some people are quick to judge. Classic movies like Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936) and The Ox Bow Incident (1943) come to mind, and echoes f recent movies like Doubt (2007) as the accusing school principle in this movie resembles Meryl Streep. The Hunt holds up as a new classic from Denmark’s director Thomas Vinterberg, along with Lars Von Trier one of the founders of the Dogme95 film movement which strips films down to natural lighting as basic necessities. His other great movies, The Celebration (1998) and Far from the Madding Crowd (2015), all feature his theme of human frailty and weakness even among members of their own family.


            But the film is about so much more than a good man done wrong. The film show’s Mads Mikkelsen’s character partying with friends and in a loving relationship, as he is always a caring compassionate person and good man- which was probably his downfall. The world is unfair, in that it often will tear down the more caring and nice souls; unfortunately they are just bigger targets for people that lack the capacity to be decent. The Hunt is less interested in truth telling but more eager to explore why people always assume the worst and let their imaginations run away from them. Mikkelsen’s entire life is uprooted by a child’s lie, and there was no reason real reason any of it. Its Hitchcock’s “wrong man” theory updated to the decade remembered for the #MeToo movement, and it’s a fascinating (and triggering) movie. Gossip and lies…mere words that bring so much ruin to our humanity.

 

            The acting in this film is something special, especially Mikkelsen as the falsely accused man and Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen)  as his best friend yet conflicted father. Klara is the child played by Annika Wedderkopp in a performance that should bring disgust form the viewers but instead brings a sort of pity- we feel badly for this child that told a lie out of anger / misunderstanding by something her older brother did, as she then tries to correct her wrong but sees it spiral out of control and destroy lives. The child is only six years old, and children do sometimes lie for no reason: it’s like they haven’t been taught what a “consequence” is yet so why not just make things up? The harsh lesson learned in The Hunt is how fragile trust is, how even those closest to us can turn on a dime once rumors flare up, and how life long friendship’s can be forever stained even if we try and get past the lies to find the truth. The ending of the movie is open to interpretation, but I just view it as a symbol that Lucas’s life will never be the same again for this community where most people (except his son (Lasse Fogelstrom) and his son’s Godfather) completely turned on him. He will forever live as a persecuted man, just because he was a decent person.

 

Mads Mikkelsen used his performance in this movie to launch a huge acting career, now one of hollywood’s most bankable stars later appearing in the tv series Hannibal, Star Wars: Rogue One, and Dr Strange.

 

 

 

33.Sicario (2015)

 

No director around makes movies as good as Dennis Villeneuve, perhaps the most hopeful voice of major cinema this decade. This is his 5th major movie and one of this best, combining the harsh reality of 2013’s Prisoners with an even more devastating world of drug trafficking through Juarez, Mexico. The war on drugs that rages on in that USA/Mexico border city alone is never ending, and any attempts to stop it or contain it may prove futile. That doesn’t keep the US government from trying in this not-so-fictional tale of the sacrifices people in the name of keeping the peace, with agents played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro leading the charge.

 

There is brilliant scene after brilliant scene, especially a highway stop that leads to a shootout that is one for the history books for sure. This, combined with a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan that makes you care about even the smallest characters, makes the smallest details the most tragic of all. Emily Blunt plays the FBI agent caught in a crossfire of custom changes and double speak, with everyone doing what they have to do in the name of justice; Blunt maybe the greatest female action hero of the 2010’s with this movie, sci fi action film Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and horror thriller A Quiet Place (2018) under her belt. Del Toro’s character shines the brightest, with a backstory that encapsulates a separate search for vengeance- a man who used to be a lawyer until this drug war made him something else, a character modeled after Wolverine or Dirty Harry. The cinematography of Roger Deakins is just the icing on the cake, literally showing off a melting pot on the verge of collapse and a world that is so violent there is little hope for peace.

 

Sicario comes off smarter, fiercer, and more effective than any other movie made so far about the drug trade in modern times. The combination of Sheridan, Deakins, and Villeneuve is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The sequel Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) is another part of a planned trilogy that proves some movies actually DESERVE sequels when they follow the originals true spirit. Movies like Sicario don’t win many awards, but they remain timeless better than those that are tailor-made for awards season glamour.

 

 

 

 

 

34.Black Swan (2010)

 

               Watching Black Swan almost ten years later confirms what I always thought: the movie is one giant crescendo. Even knowing what happens doesn’t deter form the fun of the experience, not a just the lead character (Natalie Portman in a soul wrenching performance) gradually going insane but also realizing that her hopes and dreams can never truly be attained. I think that has a lot to do with the movie, as her character is doomed form the start. What would normally be a success is not real for Nina Shares as she succumbs to the isolation she has felt her whole life an explodes upon impact at the end. Whether she was schizophrenic or just hopeless based on a life of suffocating parent (Barbara Hershey) is open for interpretation. Mila Kunis is brilliantly cast as her polar opposite, a free spirit to counter Nina’s repression.



Darren Aronofsky is great at showing us the dirt underneath our lives, and boy did he have some fun films to pick form this decade. Noah (2014) or Mother! (2017) could each be on my list depending on what day of the week it is, all three movies destroy conventions in different ways. An Aronofsky movie is always a visceral experience prompting many viewers to turn off the movie because it is “too much”. I mean to me, they are always just very true to life and he seems to be at his best when examining female characters, from Portman in Black Swan S to Jennifer Lawrence in Mother! To Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream to Rachel Weitz in The Fountain. Perhaps to him the female mind is unfathomable and his insecurity shows in how he tries to display it on screen. The weakness in human beings just might underline our greatest strengths.

 

 

 

 

 

35.Allied (2016)

Allied has more to do with newer, more visceral movie attitudes than one would except by the trailer alone. The setting is vintage Hollywood style films of the 1940’s but there is more violence and action than any other Robert Zemeckis movie I can remember. This new phase of Zemeckis’s career, along with his previous Flight (2012) and The Walk (2015), combines the animated qualities of his gorgeous looking Polar Express (2004) and Beowulf (2007) with a newer feeling of betrayal, trauma, and misdirection. The director seems to be toying the perception of what it means to be a heroic figure, quite grown up from the guy who gave us Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1998). Also, is there anyone as good as Zemeckis at capturing the look and feel of a specific period of time? The set and costume design are immaculate and we are transported back to WW2 era London /Morrocco .

 

Another place the movie succeeds is emotion, the audience feels the connection that Pitt’s character feels for his wife whether or not she turns out to be a German spy, and the beautiful thing about it is it works either way. Unfortunately, this movie is destined to be written off as old fashioned or generic but looking beyond the simple surface of a film like Allied is to really see the greatness in all movies, as the complex themes on display are much more rewarding that most would have you believe. Allied towers above any other WW2 costume drama made this decade (with one possible exception, higher up my list).

 

It’s also one of Brad Pitt’s best performances in a decade where has given plenty, perhaps more than any other major movie star of his time (Inglorious Bastards, Moneyball, Tree of Live, The Big Short, The Counselor, Ad Astra, and many more). Pitt’s character wants more than anything to believe the life he created is not a complete lie and is faced with a tough choice when trying to keep it all together. Marion Cotillard also shines as an actress that pretends to be many things, constantly discussing her true intentions through shrewd looks and secret phone call codes. It’ s a conundrum when living as a spy, that you become paranoid everyone around you is trying to kill you, but perhaps it is possible to still trust just one or person…..or perhaps not.

 

 

 

 

36.A Separation (2011)

 

 

Once this movie gets past the 30 minute mark, you really forget it’s a movie set in Iran or any other country it just becomes a gripping human drama. The 2nd time around it plays even better, as we see the two or three main plot threads coming together and adding complexity: a husband and wife are contemplating divorce to try and improve their status if life, the husband needs help to take care of his father who has Alzheimer’s, the person who is temporary nurse does a so-so job of caring…..and insanity ensues. All of these plot contrivances just keep piling on top of each other and we realize two hours have gone by and the movie is over. Was that a movie? It seemed so real…..what exactly happened on that staircase???

 

Asghar Farhadi is one of the best Iranian director/writers, competing with Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami among others. His other movies Abbot Elly (made in 2009 but not released in USA until 2015), The Past (2013), and the Salesmen (2016) are all about as good as this one if not better. Farhadi is a master of cutting to the core of human emotion though, as there are no heroes and villains, and no easy solutions for life. The actor Payman Maadi plays the husband and went on too many great roles this decade, but here he plays his character so convincingly it’s easy to both root for him and kind of despise him. He tries to care for his family, so he thinks he is justified in his actions? Can accusing someone of stealing lead to more and more accusations that end up ruining your life? A country like Iran can feel so foreign if all you do is watch the news in the USA, but underneath any oppressive government people are still people- we all have parents and children and family we care for.

 

A Seperation is that rare foreign film that most people love- critics and audiences alike. It sits in the IMDB top 100 movies of all time along side Citizen Kane, The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz as well as popular fare like The Dark knight and the Avengers movies. Roger Ebert reviewed it before he passed away, saying it was also among his favorite movies of all time. I don’t know if I love it as much as the rest of the world but I really do admire its stark realness and ability to GRIP my attention. Amid all of the shouting (and there sure is a lot of arguing and shouting in this movie) lies a story that feels very close to home and could easily happen to anyone I know, on either side. There is no wrong or right- no heroes or villains.

 

 

 

 

 

37.Boyhood (2014)

 

Its an odd sensation when you watch a movie and it feels like it’s your own life on the screen. I have seen some movies with similarities before or stuff I could relate too, but this film about a boy who grows up in Texas with one sister and a single mother who goes back to college….I mean the similarities got to real sometimes. Of course, there were some difference along the way, but I wonder how much of director Richard Linklater’s life is reflected in this and how much he changed to try and make this the story of all young people growing up in a certain time in America. As writer, producer and director of his own movies, he has a unique way of tapping into our inner life experiences, to take human beings at our most innocent and naïve and puts all that pathos on screen for us to reimagine. There is always such a sense of real community in his films.

 

Boyhood is a movie that feels like a documentary of a boy’s life from age 6 to 18, filmed over a period of  over twelve years and edited to perfection so that it seems as one fluid movie. The patience and craft that goes into a project like this has to be commended. The real lifestyle acting can be jarring, but once you are sucked into its world it is a unique experience. Linklater has always preferred this kind of movie acting, a sort of naturalistic feel, and he popularized the independent film movement of the 1990’s with his profound ideas made on low budgets. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as parents grow literally though out the years of the movie but remain themselves until the end. I’m not sure how much acting is involved, as even the main character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and Linklater’s own daughter (Lorelei) play versions of themselves for the screen.

 

 

As Boyhood traces the years in real time, we see many events of the time we all experienced as a culture: Harry Potter Book signings, pop music and tv culture to fit the times, how cell phones became the new devices we played video games on, etc. it captures a period of life so utterly and completely it feels surreal at times. If Boyhood is not Richard Linklater’s best movie, it is his most accessible and that may win him some new fans. Linklater, like Sidney Lumet and Billy Wilder before him, can write and direct any kind of movie and he is one of the best who has ever picked up a camera this decade alone: from the college coming of age story Everybody Wants Some (2016) to the father’s mourning their sons war melodrama Last Flag Flying (2017) to the marriage reality of Before Midnight (2013). A constant innovator, Linklater will let the accolades fall where they may and keep experimenting. Which he deserves just because he has been awesome for over 30 years.

 

 

 

 

 

38.Her (2013)

 

What a gorgeous movie Her is, and it could have gone off the rails in so many ways. A movie about a man that falls in love with an A.I. voiced by Scarlett Johansson, the mixing of real-life relationships with robotic fake ones, and the direction we are going into as a society. The smartest thing director Spike Jonze did was not put a specific year on the movie, it just takes place in “the near future”, and this way it will always be a little out of touch and out of reach like a pure fantasy should be. It also turns into a great romantic film with touches of drama and comedy along the way.

 

Amy Adams and Rooney Mara excel in their supporting roles, the real-life girl friends that seem at first too much of a hassle for Joaquin Phoenix’s character. But the reality pretty soon hits home that with any relationship, its hard work and not just a thing you can control. Even the robotic persona developed by Scarlett Johansson becomes as real as an A.I. can be (or O.A. as they are coined in this film), and OA’s start forming real lives and having actual emotions. To witness these creatures who have no physical bodies and no real “souls” acting like humans, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions: are they real? What is a soul, and can sentient creatures form one just because they are aware of it? And most of all, do our creations (AI’s designed to serve us) merely copy us humans in every way? What would happen and how would something evolve if it had nothing to learn from? I’m not sure even Spike Jonze has the answers to any of these questions, which makes Her all the more fascinating as a film. Much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), it pushes the boundaries in futuristic relationship dramas.

 

 

 

 

39.Get Out (2017)

        Get Out is, to coin a critically popular term, a zeitgeist film that came along inconspicuously and changed everything. The tightrope the movie walks between racism and liberal guilt is impressive, and it makes the more supernatural aspects more believable. Personally, I love the attack on smug attitude of the rich and powerful, as well as I jump for joy as more original stories like this one come to light. Jordan Peele seems bound to conquer the next decade of cinema / culture with his unique take on horror, and coming from his comedy background its sort of surprising. But in analysis, looking at how humorous Get Out is along with accurate social comedy, perhaps its not that different from a new sort of Key & Peele Show after all.

 

        The special effects used in the “sunken place” are like nothing I have ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood movie. It may not be a perfect movie, but it is perfectly rabid and full of ideas that it is unafraid to throw at the audience, and in a way that is more respectable than being formally perfect. The amazing acting by all of the cast, the vast amount of references to films of the 1970’s (from The Stepford Wives to Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and the frank racism present in the movie that doesn’t sugarcoat anything leaves us with an endlessly rewatchable movie even if we know where it is headed. That so many people of all races find something to love about this movie reveal such about America in the 2010’s…..i’m sure there are many essays that could/ will be written about it.

 

 

 

 

 

40.Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

 

    The Avengers Movies are the greatest pop culture phenomenon of the 2010’s, and of all four movies each person how their own favorites. The first Avengers (2012) worked so well it surprised everyone and created the fury, Avengers: Infinity War managed to successfully create a great villain in Thanos and balance dozens of characters without showing any cracks, Avengers: Endgame ended the Iron Man saga that began it all and though it was rather long winded it gave a fulfilling closure. But the truest comic book adaptation was Avengers :Ultron, which actually felt to me like my childhood comics had come to life. It introduced the fictional Wakanda, the original A.I. robot threat of Ultron, and was written and made by Joss Whedon who is one of, the best a comic book writers of all time as well as one of the best movie/television screen writers. It’s not as accessible as the first Avengers film was, but it does work as a sort of stand alone unlike the last two, which if you hadn’t seen every marvel movie in order by that point you might feel completely lost.

 

     It’s also one of the cleverest movies of the decade, blending action scenes and superhero melodrama with genius dialogue and endless Whedon esque quips. Whedon is often underrated as a director, crafting a great movie like Serenity (2005) but also just blending multiple characters together and making them feel like family; the entire “friendly atmosphere” of the MCU was built upon the work he created. Ultron (played by James Spader) becomes a very relatable villain for a robot with emotions updated for the 21st century, though he had obviously influenced every other robotic villain since his appearance in the 1960’s, from the Terminator movie franchise to the evolution of X Men’s Sentinels evolution into more A.I. like threats. Though it is many peoples least Favorite avengers on screen adventure, Age of Ultron proved to me that the big budget team hero movie can work well, better than anything that became before and after, Marvel or DC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

41 – 50

 

  1. Blindspotting (2018)

Of the three movies based in Oakland, California in the 2010’s, Blindspotting is the most powerful and the most universal. At its core, it’s a story about two friends that couldn’t be more different, but grew up around each other so they stayed close. You have Collin (Daveed Digs), calm and rational and trying to keep his head above rising water with his girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar) and few job opportunities. On the other end is Miles (Rafael Casal), out of control and always looking for a reason to fight. He hates the way his neighborhood is becoming gentrified and lashes out against everyone and everything. Despite the film’s serious nature, there are plenty of moments of outright comedy too (the rap tirade towards the end by the Hamilton actor is a bit out of left field). The film is only an hour and a half but feels about three hours (in a good way), there is so much content and fast spoken dialogue that it rewards several viewings.

This duo dynamic has been seen many times before, but never through the lens of the 2010’s cultural motifs and rarely as powerful as this movie gets….. as it goes. It’s scary how so many movies become trite and unbelievable with stories like this, but Blindspotting pulls everything off very well. While probably not for everyone, the film had a profound effect on me for many reasons. It starts off a bit clichéd perhaps, but really ends up sucking you into its story and bowling you over. You will feel like you have truly experienced something special after you see Blindspotting, there is no way around it. It is an emotional powerhouse of a movie, like few I have ever seen. Don’t let this one fly under your radar!

 

 

 

 

  1. A Most Violent Year (2014)

 

The perfectly cast Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain lead this movie in what has to be heralded as an airtight screenplay. JC Chandlor’s movie is set in the early 1970’s as a man tries to start his own business without resorting to thievery or his wife’s way of doing things (she comes from a mob family, Jessica Chastain as a force of nature in her most evil role yet). But it’s really about how the whole world is crooked in some way; is it impossible to get ahead without having the will to go farther than other people? The journey Oscar Issak’s character takes throughout the movie is a slow realization, fitting in tone with the flow of the film itself. The always underrated Albert Brooks playes his right hand man and lawyer in such a way he almost feels invisible.

 

               Though some people go about it in forceful ways and some are more manipulative in their attitudes to others, business whether it be in oil or just in life is a constantly humiliating prospect. To get ahead, you basically have to sell your soul or betray everything you stand for. It retells the theme of The Godfather in a lot of ways, but for the 21st century. There are beautiful chases scenes, one along the highway as a truck driver fights for his life and one though a train tunnel in complete darkness, I remember seeing these in the theater and it not only recalls 70’s films like French Connection and Bullett but maybe even one ups them. Chandlor is an interesting director, every film he has made is an exercise in patience as his All is Lost (2013) with Robert Redford is just him on a sinking boat remaining silent for an entire film. So far this is his crowning achievement as a director, but he has a bright future ahead of him for sure.

 

 

 

 

43.Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

 

            Vince Vaughn keeps growing as a dramatic actor and excels in the role as a man who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. In this film, he does everything right but is surrounded by incompetence and takes out his rage on people’s FACES. Seriously, there is more smashing of people’s faces in this movie than any other film I have ever seen. Vaughn doesn’t just punch people in the face, he gouges eyes, brakes off noses, and flattens countenances. He literally destroys a car with his bare hands in one of the most memorable scenes of the decade, if not ever!

            That being said, if an old grindhouse prison action drama doesn’t sound like your thing, your correct and you won’t like this movie. But if you are up for a challenge to your expectations, this movie is perfectly made and may just surprise you as a great example of its genre. The cinematography is excellent, including Jennifer Carpenter taking aim at some thieves on top of her driveway. The dialogue fits the characters perfectly as these tough as nails gangsters don’t over act their parts and show off how weak they are compared to Vaughn: a true man with a cause. Movies like Brawl in Cell Block 99 cannot be overlooked among the more serious, arthouse dramas. Too often they do but hopefully enough people will seek out this impeccable piece of film-making and enjoy it for the genre exercise that it pulls off so well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

44.Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals is a beautiful movie in many ways, but it is also somewhat of an acquired taste. If someone were to come up to me and say “I hated this movie” I would completely understand. The subject matter is vile and harsh, the images contained are violent, ugly, offensive and shocking. Still, sometimes ugliness can be beautiful and the contrast of fashion designer/director Tom Ford’s images are totally effective. Some of the most well dressed, beautiful people and locations are on display in this desert mystery about a book reading that imitates the former marriage of Amy Adams character. Adams is dressed and looks like a classic movie star the entire time, making her character a mix of mystery and awe. Which part of the movie is real and which part is imagined, or is it all just a horrible nightmare?

It’s tough to say for sure, though the movie really keeps you guessing all the way through its pretty amazing. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jake Gyllenhaal are pitted against each other and each do amazing jobs, with Michael Shannon playing another great supporting role as a terminally ill sheriff. Sometimes losing a loved one is like dying, the metaphors made through the film are super imposed to reality so its hard to tell what is real and what is imagined. Haven’t even mentioned the opening scene where the credits play….which is surely put in front of the movie to ward off any people who are not serious about the power films can have on our senses. Watch at your own peril, I suppose. Nominated for zero Oscars because im sure it freaked out the people who actually vote for those things, Nocturnal Animals remains one of the most cutthroat slabs of cinema ever created.

 

 

 

 

#45 movie AND album: The Social Network (2010)

 

When I think of The Social Network, it brings me joy because watching the movie is such an exhilarating experience. In reality though, there is an air of bleakness through the whole thing, an aura created partially by director David Fincher and also by Trent Reznor’s amazing soundtrack. The fast-paced dialogue is copied and pasted form the classic screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s but applied to the digital world we live in; updated and transformed by an era where we are all connected online, mainly via Facebook. As I write this to you guys- on facebook….

 

As forward thinking as the movie is, it still works because of its great acting and screenplay. Jesse Eisenburg is perfectly cast as founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerburg- his personal ticks and heavy scowl are just right for the role. Andrew Garfield stands as his best friend and voice of reason in the preppy Harvard world, and so of course he comes though at the end of the film as the most changed by the experience. Justin Timerberlake probably has his best acting role ever too as Sean Parker, founder of Napster, a true opportunist and slimebag. The use of digital technology cannot be understated either, letting Armie Hammer be cast as twins seamlessly like there really are two of him. The way the movie is edited together, the use of flashbacks via deposition, has all aged extremely well and is still pretty revolutionary. Though it was a timely movie, it failed to win the Best Picture Oscar to an old fashioned movie The King’s Speech. You tell me- which movie has aged better?

 

Reznor’s soundtrack, created with electronic musician Atticus Ross, carries over form his Nine Inch Nails work a kind of hopeless atmosphere that forebodes that the travails of the movie will not go so smoothly. “Familiar Taste” basically is a killer NIN song just without any vocals. “Hand Covers Bruise” and its reprise are the theme of the movie, a mixture of contempt and the obsession with entertainment that fuels our 21st century digital atmosphere. As Zuckerburg’s character uses and abuses all of his friendships throughout the film, he keeps gaining more momentum as eventually is allowed to create an empire. It is because he is smart but also because he is ruthless and takes no prisoners, and the songs like “Intriguing Possibilities” and “Pieces From the Whole” keep this obvious throughout. “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety” is an apt title for a song that is all about tension, a kind of tension sustained across the entire soundtrack in a subtle and unique way. The Social Network Soundtrack stands up as on of the best of the decade as an album in its own right, alongside Haxan Cloak’s Midsommar sndtrk (2019) and  which are my other favorites of the 2010s decade. Depending on what day you ask me, it might even be higher on the list.

 

 

 

 

 

46.John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019)

 

Freaking German Shepherds in bullet proof vests ripping into f@$#%!

 

               Oh sorry, that was my first attempt at a review. Anyways, its very rare for a movie to have all the comedy, action, and thrills your heart desires but the third John Wick movie might just be the best of its series. It puts other action movies to shame being directed by a former stuntman (Chad Stahelski) who knows how to direct stunt scenes. There are so many memorable chases with guns on horseback, in libraries, swords on motorcycles, and elementary school visits to Grand Central Station that interrupt the violence. The villain Zero, a sushi chef who proves an adversary to the man of few words, is played by Mark Dacascos with just the right amount of satire. Keanu Reeves buddy what can I even say….at this point in your career you have found so many roles that suit you perfectly, all the critics that dogged you when you did the Shakepere movie in 1993 but be eating their words now. Good for you man.

 

               There is just something that all 3 John Wick movies get right about action movies that even though we know what to expect, it still gives us more and more and it does it so well. It’s action, but with class. The first JW in 2014 was a shock to the sense as it was perfect action movie with an element of Mel Brooks comedy to it, and this one ups the ante everything so that you can’t even take your eyes off the screen. Just like the Marvel Comic avengers movies expect us to watch the ones before to understand what is going on, John Wick as a franchise serves as a sort of James Bond meets Jason Bourne movie saga (meets The Raid?) that works within its universe. Its operatic in scope, from the choice of classical music to the way the scenes are edited together- it also works as a silent movie, a series of beautifully choreographed images.

 

And of course, there is Hallie Berry and her howling German Shepards. That is not a euphemism for anything.

 

 

 

 

 

47.Carnage (2011)

 

               I must have a thing for stage plays made into movies, as there are plenty on this list. Carnage is one of the best of the decade for sure, keeping the same screenwriter as the stage play but made by one of the best directors ever (Roman Polanski) and featuring four of our strongest actors/actresses in Jodie Foster, Christolph Waltz, John C Riley, and Kate Winslet. The two couples have children who got into a fight at school, and regress to children themselves upon trying to figure out a proper punishment. Each of the four actors gets a great speech to shine on, where it’s pleading for mercy or ripping another person apart.

               The subject matter film attracted Polanski no doubt due to his interest in showing us the worst in human nature. From Knife in the Water (1962) to Chinatown (1974) to his recent The Ghost Writer (2010), he knows what triggers people more then almost any other director I can think of; he also is great at developing tension between romantic couples. We grow into adults because we have no choice, but do we ever grow up and mature on the inside? On a playground there are rules for conduct but just like in life we often succumb to our lazy and brutish actions. Arrogance is present in the rich but also in the poor, and in trying to be fair we often can’t ever agree with other people because we all think we are right. It takes two people to fight, it is usually not just one person’s fault whether you are an adult or a child, and the sad truth of life is even as adults so many of us never grow up.

 

 

 

48.The Gift (2015)

 

               The Gift is a great portrait of a disturbed mind by director/writer and co-star Joel Edgerton, one of the best debuts by an actor/director emulating Alfred Hitchcock since Bill Paxton’s Frailty (2001).  The biggest surprise to me in this simple yet effective movie is the acting by the three leads, including the couple played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall. Hall matches her other great acting performance of the decade in Christine (2016) with the subtle portrayal of a woman who slowly realizes she is married to a monster. This monster is slowly revealed by Jason Bateman in one of the great reveals in modern movies, in a parking lot where he berates Gordo (Edgerton) to the point where he cannot fight back. In an era defined by the need to show the harsh reality of bullying in grade school and the effects it has on later lives, this subtlety of The Gift is welcome. I don’t want to say to much about the plot of course.

 

 

               Edgerton may end up being the thinking man’s Tom Hardy, whom he co-starred with in Warrior (2011) at the beginning of the decade.  Often portraying a character actor type roles starting with Animal Kingdom (2010) he has had an amazing decade of great acting and directing ( ones I haven’t mentioned are Black Mass, Boy Erased, Red Sparrow, It Comes at Night, among many others). By showing the world a side of people’s lives often left of the screen we have a story that is so creepy and perverse it will leave you squeamish for days after viewing. Jason Bateman deserved an Oscar nomination at least for what is perhaps the most surprising actor performance of the year, probably watched by the producers of Netflix which got him his first serious lead drama show in Ozark (2017-current). He started off as a child actor and transformed into a comedian in Arrested Development, and now look at him shine with Edgerton in small gems like this one. The Gift is very rewatchable and shares with classic films a deft plot that even if you know where its going, its fun to relive again and again….if you are wired like Alfred Hitchcock.

 

 

 

 

 

49.A Quiet Place (2018)

 

A twisty take on a traditional family survival story, A Quiet Place mainly stands out from the pack because of the directing. John Krasinski has always shown moments of greatness, as an actor on The Office and in movies like Leatherheads and Away We Go, but here his hand is very steady. He walks the line between making a horror movie, a silent movie, and a family drama very well. Adding to the family drama part, his own wife Emily Blunt gives perhaps her best performance to date in the movie (she won the Golden Globe for best actress but wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar). Watching the movie in the theater was almost a religious experience, as it was one of the quietest viewings I have ever been to; people were afraid to even eat popcorn. The score of the film, like all good silent movie scores, makes each minute meaningful.

               Some amazing moments standout: the scene in which Blunt’s character gives birth while on the run from a creature is super tense, and another scene will always have me checking for nails when I enter a basement with wooden stairs. The movie’s energy is palpable too, as the runtime is only about an hour and a half but there is never a dull moment. Instead of coming off as a bleak, apocalyptic slog the movie is a touching portrayal of a father who will do anything to protect his children. I hear a sequel is in the works and I am interested to see where that goes, perhaps it will explain more of the lore behind how these creatures came to take over the planet and how many people are still alive- the possibilities are promising. A Quiet Place is a movie that makes you feel vibrant and alive after you watch it, a rare feat for a horror film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

50.Coco (2017)

            When viewing the Pixar canon it is easy to fall in love with all of it. Like candy for the masses, there is always something enjoyable to gulp down. But every once in a while, twice this decade in my opinion, a truly great movie comes along out of the Pixar world. Inside Out (2015) was one, and Coco is my favorite. I walked into the movie Coco not knowing much about it, but the popular opinion that it is a “good film” more than a “fun cartoon” is the correct one. It is a movie made for musicians which is probably why it appeals to me, but its story can appeal to all as it is about overcoming death of a loved one and accepting death as a part of life, using the physical canvas of Mexico’s The Day of the Dead celebration. It is also very truly about family, and paints lovely pictures using a bunch of psychedelic colors.

This is not a movie made for 5 year-olds despite the lead character being a young boy, as Coco is one of the most brutal attacks on the audiences’ emotions Pixar has ever perpetrated. In fact, I think this movie is too devastating for younger viewers, who don’t wish their hopes and dreams destroyed! The harsh reality, murders, and terror of children that this movie is obsessed with is great for those of us with a macabre sense of humor and style, but I am surprised that this bizarre movie found an audience at all. It balances the innocence of childhood with the betrayal of how the world will steal your best ideas and then throw you out to the wolves, unless you are careful. Bring it on, I say! It’s easily the best Pixar movie since 2006’s Ratatouille.

 

 

 

 

 

51 – 60

 

51.Barbara (2012)

The police state before the fall of the Berlin Wall that existed in East Germany in the 1980’s provides the setting an interesting love story in Barbara, a movie about escaping oppression no matter what the cost. Cues are taken from Hitchcock films like Notorious (1946) but in a much more rural setting. It’s a claustrophobic story and aura the entire time, as to live in this police state it is hard to have independent hopes and desires. Are your friends really your friends or are they spies working for the government? She swore an oath as a doctor but can you really help a person who may be trying to kill you? Nina Hoss plays the lead role with a kind of ease reserved for the great film legends.

Christian Petzold makes movies that like to add supernatural elements to normal life. His other movies this decade, Phoenix (2016) and Transit (2019) would be ww2 costume dramas with out his unique touch of making ghosts exist and questioning our very reality. Barbara is his most grounded movie yet but is a very haunted film, instead haunted by Barbra’s own memories. Its like watching a movie of a story being told with narrator that has partial amnesia. This all makes more sense on a second viewing for certain but Barbara ‘s story of love in times of oppression is one for the ages.

 

 

52.Trance (2013)

“To be yourself you have to constantly remember yourself. It’s a full time job.” This is the key line quoted by the therapist in Trance played by Rosario Dawson that the entire movie revolves around. It’s a heist movie about a stolen painting, but so much more. Vince Cassell is the master of thieves and James McAvoy gives a brilliant performance as the man caught in the middle, who is going through a sort of amnesia (or is he?). McAvoy has given a lot of great performances this decade alone, as Xavier in the newest X-Men franchise and in M. Night Shamalyn’s Split (2017) and Glass (2019), but Trance is his key acting job so far- as well as Dawson’s- as both are fearless in the lengths they will go to exploring their characters.

It’s a movie about being hypnotized by the movies themselves, and Danny Boyle has proven himself to be a master of images in his 20 plus years career in moviemaking. It’s his best film of the decade though it didn’t win many awards, as it’s too violent and volatile for that. The way Rosario can manipulate through hypnosis these criminals and thieves that are under her spell is a metaphor for how the movies control us through images, first and foremost. If you haven’t seen it do not read any spoilers as the twists and turns are part of the fun. Think of it as a junior version of Inception (2010) or a whacked-out psycho version of The Thomas Crown Affair (1998), either way Trance is a movie that should not be overlooked.

 

 

 

53.The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

               Even though a lot of it is personal opinion, I really do feel like The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Wes Anderson’s best movie to date, though it has a darker tone than usual for the director so it may turn off some of his fan base entirely. Anderson keep growing as a filmmaker which is great and there is something about this and his other great movie of the decade Moonrise Kingdom (2011) that really appeal to me, probably his artistic peaks though almost everyone I know has a different favorite movie of his (which is a good sign of a true auteur). Few directors are so distinctive these days, known immediately by the style and quality found in the movie associated with the director. It’s an important and welcome aspect to a movie going public that is sometimes alllllllllll about the blockbusters.

 

               As always there a beautiful decoration to every aspect of the movie perfectly planned out, and it has to be appreciated how gorgeous everything looks despite of the movie’s content. Luckily the plot is one of the most interesting to date, as well as blending the humor with the intrigue of the quirky characters. It’s a perfect mix of comedy and style that only Anderson could pull of and make coherent, with a beautiful lead performance by Ralph Fiennes (and actor that can do just about anything). The usual players/character actors are present that Anderson always uses to great effect, and the story of a bellhop in tutelage learning a business while trying to stay alive in a zany world makes The Grand Budapest Hotel an immediate movie classic even though just a few years have passed since its release.

54.Killer Joe (2011)

 

            Before he won his Oscar and stared in True Detective’s first season, Matt McConaughey’s true acting renaissance began with his role in Killer Joe. Originally a stage play written by character actor Tracey Letts, the cast is fully formed and ready to tackle a story that could be made by the Coen Brothers where no one is spared from being desperately stupid or stupidly desperate. In a plot to gain a minuscule amount of money , something like $100k, these characters are willing to betray and maim members of their own family, and its fun to watch McConaughey’s corrupt detective take advantage of these losers. Destined to be forever underrated, movies like this never win awards but are important to the fabric of cinema.

               Director William Friedkin is great at directing the horror of human nature, from the overblown evil of The Exorcist (1973) to the psychological fever dream of Bug (2006). He lets his actors shine here, each person diving deep into their role including a starring turn by Juno Temple as the not so innocent Dottie; Thomas Church as the clueless Ansel (“I am never Aware”); Emile Hirsch as Chris the only character with a lick of common sense; Gina Gershon as trailer park step-mom Sharla who can’t be trusted. This movie is rated NC 17 and for good reason, it pulls no punches in its depravity of how dark people will go just because they never learned any better. Stage plays can really make for some powerful cinema, and this is one of the best and bleakest modern noirs ever crafted.

 

 

 

 

55. Long Shot (2019)

 

               Long Shot is a gem of a movie, a nice throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930’s. It reminds me of the mismatched couple films of the black and white era and is a fun change of pace from such dire political climate of today. Of course, some things have been updated as it’s definitely a hard “R” rating with some raunchy comedy and an odd opening scene that has little to do with the main focus of the movie. But I don’t mind some randomness thrown into any movie plot as unpredictable twists are what make movie more fun upon rewatching. Charlize Theron deserves a medal or something, the woman is a chameleon who can play just about any role. She is beyond hilarious and stunning in this film, especially in the scene where she talks to a foreign leader while high in the war room- it is one for the comedy history books, for sure.

               Seth Rogen is great too, as he plays his usual slacker/clown role to perfection; some actors are known for their diversity and others for their dependency of playing themselves – Rogen falls into the latter category and there is nothing wrong with that. Jon Levine directs the movie, and the more films he makes the better he seems to get at pinpointing comedy movies that also can shake the heart up a bit. His films 50/50 (2011) and The Night Before (2015) tackled cancer and Christmas in ways that I had never seen before and worked really well by adding new ways to laugh at traditions. Long Shot got some good reviews for its day but I’m pretty sure as time goes on it will gain the comedy classic status it deserves. Just as we wish there was an honest decent candidate for political office these days like Theron plays here, we also hope for honest good movies that play to humanity’s strength of character.

 

 

 

56.Trust (2010)

            Trust is a movie that shows how the art of seduction can be used in the most horrible way. About gathering a person’s trust even though you are lying to them the whole time. And its about the unfairness of life, how there is no real justice in the world, and how evil exists in the heart of men often hiding in plain sight. Its rated R probably for disturbing content but i’d like to imagine a world where a well made movie like this could very taught in schools or seen with parent’s having to raise children in a world filled with predators on the internet.

               It is directed by David Schwimmer, and stars a bunch of awesome actors (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Viola Davis, Jason Clarke) and of course a fifteen year old Liana Liberato in a very brave lead performance. The movie flies along at a breakneck pace and deals with traumatic subjects in a very real way. The world has a way of saying some subjects are taboo for society and want to brush them under the rug, but the way Trust deals with real life issues in a family setting makes it more than just another Hallmark type movie. The movie survives as a testament to the real threat of evil in the world and stands the test of time better than most. “We can’t control what happens to us or our loved ones.” A character says towards the end, but they also say “but we can be there for each other to pick ourselves back up.” Trust turns tragedy into inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

57.The Bad Batch (2016)

               The plot of The Bad Batch is one of the classic cinema: saving the damsel in distress from the kingdom of evil. The way the movie goes about it involves all sorts of plot twists and role reversals, with the male and female roles switched and said kingdom of evil ruled by a psycho who believes because he lets people take shits in toilets, they have to belong to him. I mean, I don’t know another way to try and describe the plot of a movie where plot matters so little; this movie is all about psychedelic colors. It hardly needs words at all to tell its twisted tale, like any good movie it could be silent and still work. IT also contains some of the greatest slo mo action set pieces in any movie I have ever seen. It’s a grim violent affair but also a hilarious one if you are wired the right way.

               It is interesting to watch this little indie production now and see how many stars act in it: main characters are Jason Momoa who went on to become Aquaman and Suki Waterhouse who is a rising star that will be huge this coming decade, not to mention key roles by Giovanni Ribisi as “The Screamer”, Jim Carry as a wordless drifter in the desert and Keanu Reeves as a bizarre cult leader who gives speeches like:  “ Cows stand in their shit…. because they are cows. We don’t do that because I would never let that happen. Isn’t that nice of me?” But the interesting casting is a big part of the movie’s success, as these mega stars give their passion to a project that otherwise not many people would see. In a sort of Road Warrior Mad max type dystopia, people who have been kicked out of modern society are quarantined to the Bad Batch an area filled with cannibals and other horrors in a desert. Suki’s character states at one point, “Here we are in the darkest corner of the world, and we’re afraid of our own kind.” Stands as some kind of interesting testament on the human race for sure. Odd, that a movie about a bunch of cannibals makes astute lessons of what it means to be alive.

 

 

 

 

  1. Taxi Tehran (2015)

 

               Taxi, renamed Taxi Tehran later on for legal reasons, is Jafar Panahi’s most perfect film of the decade. He is a risk taker, for those that know him his This is Not a Film from 2011 got him BANNED FROM MAKING MOVIES in his home country of Iran. He is not as controversial of the Iranian govt in this movie (directly), but he does dissect what a movie is in the way he makes it. The movie is literally him driving around with a mounted phone camera in a taxi and documenting “real people doing real things”. So technically it’s not a movie…..or a completely new kind of movie? Much like other films simply about talking, My Dinner with Andre (1981) comes to mind, the movie takes on a life of its own as people complain about their lives and discuss their hopes, dreams, and the oppression of their government.

               Panahi makes it look easy to edit and make a low budget movie that is a joy to watch but im sure it was anything but. Least of which was getting people’s consent for filming them after he had already done the fact. It makes you wonder if his brand of filming is legal or ethical, but that is precisely the point. Keep in mind the people that did not consent for their taxi rides to be in the movie…..are not in the movie…or can we even trust that? So a bunch of unrelated conversations in a cab in Iranian you may ask yourself: why watch this at all? All i can advise is open your mind and your heart and prepare for a journey through a deep realness of human nature. By the end of the movie you won’t care that it seems so alien at first and you will be rooting for the director to finish yet another experiment in film. People like Panahi open the medium of cinema up to an unlimited potential, and he was literally putting his life on the line to make this movie possible.

 

59.Before Midnight (2013)

 

               Some movies move beyond mere romance and pick apart what it’s like to be in a relationship from both male and female perspectives. This does not always make for a fun watch, but it makes for a true one. As one character says to another in the film: “This is true love, real is not perfect but this is it.” Make no mistake, Before Midnight is an emotional brutal movie that dives into a marriage between characters played by Ethan Hawke and July Delpy that goes to places we might not always enjoy. It’s also full of so much passion that it impossible not to care about. Linklater writes the movie in a way that the dialogue feels improvised but it is actually meticulously constructed.

               The third movie so far in Richard Linklaters “before” series, predated by Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). If its not the best movie trilogy ever made, it’s for certain among the most interesting, as all 3 movies dive into what it is like to find your soul mate. It sounds corny, but it is anything but. This movie will no doubt spark a conversation between couples that view it together and nothing is black and white, its about the grey areas that define relationships. The pain and the joy we can cause another person without even trying. The film examines more than it preaches and that is why it works so well.

 

 

 

60.You Were Never Really Here (2018)

            This is a film that focuses on the aftermath of violence, and the whole thing feels like a dream. The title of the movie has multiple meanings, as a hitman played by Joaquin Phoenix is focused on being invisible to those around him and not detected in his work being the most obvious. He is the sort of super hero that exists in our reality, protecting the innocent from the evil of man. When he goes to Home Depot, its to shop for weapons. The haunting, pulsating score to the movie by Johnny Greenwood might be his greatest one yet, acting like the inner workings of the lead character Joe’s brain synapses.

I like to think of the whole movie as a dream of sorts though, perhaps he is a man that still lives with his parents that just dreams of an exciting life? Perhaps he committed suicide and wished his life was more meaningful? It sounds grim, and while it can be shockingly violent like the best films of master director Lynne Ramsey, it is also beautifully shot and completely original. It’s the rare movie I could watch three times in one day and get three different interpretations of what happened

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

61 – 70

 

 

 

 

61.Top Five (2014)

       Chris Rock writes and directs his best movie yet that plays like a hip-hop loving version of a Woody Allen film. That’s a compliment in Rock’s eyes as he is obviously obsessed with Allen the way he combines humor with pathos so openly. It is as unique and good as it sounds, and it is a joy to watch Rock turn into a great filmmaker before your eyes. He had always been an interesting actor, turning in significant roles in Dogma (1999) and Nurse Betty (2000) most effectively, and as a director his movies were always solid but hardly mind-blowing (2008’s I Think I Love My Wife). But in this film which is easily his best ever, you can almost feel his appeal becoming universal in the best laugh-out-loud movie of the year. He attracts the best comedic actors of the mid 2010’s and uses all of them in perfect albeit small roles.

        It is irritating that comedies don’t get the same amount of credit often that dramatic films do, even the Oscars don’t have a category for them, though they often use comedians as hosts luckily the Golden Globes to their credit awards comedies right along side dramas. Even still, the TYPE of comedy often rewarded is never along the outrageous or gross out type and there is plenty of that to go around in Rock’s movie. For all of his solid plotting throughout the movie about trying to be taken seriously while being hounded by a reporter (an amazing Rosario Dawson), there are interludes of debauchery and raunchiness to turn off most critics. Not that Rock cares about awards or critics in reality, he just wants to be the best he can be while remaining uniquely himself and Top Five does that. Also, it’s the only movie you will ever see DMX singing a Charlie Chaplin tune or Jerry Seinfeld making it rain at a strip club. In its own universe it’s a perfect little film.

 

 

 

 

 

62.Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

 

               This is a movie about resilience. I know most people view it as a negative portrayal of what it took to capture Osama Bin Laden or even a kind of glorified war movie, but at its core its about being certain about something and having faith in yourself. Jessica Chastain’s owns her role, even though she is surrounded by great character actors, she dominates every part of the film as the person behind the scenes in the government that made this raid on the Obama complex possible. Whether you believe these events actually happened like they did is besides the point; a great movie is fascinating sometimes just because of the motions it goes through.

               It is directed by Katherine Bigelow, the only female director to ever win a Best Director Oscar. That is an interesting fact for many reasons, mainly because her movies tend to be action oriented and not the typical Oscar drama fare: Strange Days (1995), Blue Steel (1990), Point Break (1991), and The Hurt Locker (2009) which is the ones that won. She gives Zero Dark Thirty a constant pulse of eeriness that is watchable again and again, and it’s a great movie with many rousing speeches and scenes that take us to the depths of human nature. The world was put into a shadow state after 911 and there have been many films about what happened to our world afterwards (some overly sentimental), but this is by far the best and most meaningful of them. It is long, hard hitting, and intense, but some movies earn their right to be.

 

 

 

 

63.Moonlight (2016)

 

               Moonlight tells a powerful dramatic story in a poor, hopeless setting but it has never been done quite like this. The structure of the movie makes it unique not just because it tells the story throughout twenty or so years of the main characters life but how it makes everything matter in the setting it focuses on. It is set in three acts: one when lead character Chiron is a child in the projects of Miami, one where he goes through awkward teenage years, and one as a confused adult trying to find himself. Chiron is a young, homosexual black male whose mother (played by an amazing Naomie Harris) is a crack addict, so you could say the deck is stacked against him to have anything close to a normal existence.

                It is a snapshot of life filtered through an arthouse lens, brilliantly edited and directed by Barry Jenkins. Moonlight has scenes that are supremely honest, like when innocent questions asked by a child at a dinner table to surrogate parents Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae have heart wrenching answers. The story is one that hardly ever gets told but opens the floodgates for many more movies of its kind. It won the Oscar for 2016 in a rather bizarre fashion (with La La Land accidently being announced before it as the winner then changing movies on stage awkwardly) but hopefully that factoid will not overshadow how subtle and amazing this movie is. You don’t have to be Chiron to empathize with his struggle, you only have to have a heart.

 

 

 

64.In the Fade (2017)

 

               In the Fade is a film about the injustice of the world, starring Diane Kruger in perhaps her best cinematic role. Faith Akin directs with own unique point of view like he always does and provides us with a humble beginning of a woman with a lovely family whose life is destroyed in a senseless act of Neo Nazi violence. What happens next I wont reveal, but its more of a realistic and tragic take on what real life person might do instead of a Hollywood steroided out Death Wish type movie. Which is a nice change of pace.          

               So much time is devoted to the judicial process and how it does not always work, its easy to see how Kruger’s character comes to the conclusion that she does. What she does for “revenge” will not please everyone who watches the movie, but its very true to her character and that is what matters. Akin is a director that has made some of the most puzzling character portrayal of the last decade, including Head-On (2004) and Soul Kitchen (2010) and his movies are always touching / tragic. He puts forth the harsh reality of life in a very fun, accessible way. We don’t see a lot of violence in this film, but we feel the aftermaths deeply. No doubt this story will someday get an American remake, and no doubt it will miss the point entirely (in a way they already did it with Jennifer Garner’s Peppermint in 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

65.Enemy (2013)

Enemy is a movie filled with bizarre moments, from the duplicate main characters to the substitution of huge spiders for our fears (ahhh!), that just crescendos and doubles over on itself all the way to the end. It’s a dense film, one that demands rewatches almost immediately after viewing it. There are conclusions we can draw and an ending that makes the most sense, but that is hardly the point. It’s a movie about what it means to be in a relationship viewed from first a man, then a woman’s point if view.

Denis Villeneuve is probably the best filmmaker to emerge this decade on a grand scale, though he differs strikingly from Steven Spielberg and even Christopher Nolan in that I’m not sure he is a crowd pleaser at all. He is a great storyteller, but the audience meets him on his own terms for sure. His movies drill into your mind, mess up your heartbeat, and stain your soul. In some way a Villeneuve movie will always effect you once you leave the theater. I had to limit myself to only 4 movies per director for this list, so though Incendies (2010) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) didn’t quite make it, and they are great movies in their own rights, it only goes to show how much I love Enemy and the 3 films way higher coming up. I have seen Enemy about 5 times at this point, and I’m pretty sure Jake Gyllenhaal is my MVP of the decade acting wise….just look at how he plays these two characters as yin and yang versions. It keeps you guessing what all means long after the shocking ending is over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

66.Vice (2018)

 

        Vice has brilliant acting and portrayals of real life people….but I struggle to view it as a typical bio-pic. If anything, it is making fun of bio pics in the way it is directed by Adam Mckay. He has a great habit of making everything insanely funny, from Nascar racing in Talladega Nights (2006) to the housing crisis in The Big Short (2015) to news casting in Anchorman (2004). The movie never forgets to let the audience know they are watching a movie, and that is a hard trick to pull off well. The twists and turns are too good to spoil, but it is riveting to watch Christian Bale and Amy Adams lead the way through some interesting characters the public found hard to get personal with. How annoying it is to live in a time where are world leaders are colossal idiots not colossal role models like the Abraham Lincolns and George Washington’s of the past.

Oddly, it’s not a very political movie, as many people I think “wanted” it to be a diss on Dick Cheney and his reign of terror. It shows some interesting insights into how people who are power crazy work in their manipulations. A key scene involving Dick Cheney watching Don Rumsfeld speak to which he asks someone, “Which one is he Republican or Democrat? Republican? Ok, that’s what I am too.” People can decide to be different politically unless they are FORCED to be one or the other, whether by the job they have or the company they keep. If Vice has any kind of relative point at all, it’s that politics are complete bullshit- the liberal/democrat and the conservative/republican are just traps to keep us all compliant and uninterested while the rich get richer and struggle for control behind the scenes. Apathy as the “vice” of humanity- I couldn’t agree with this more, and it’s a brilliant movie.

 

 

 

67.Room (2015)

Room is a great albeit depressing film, that shows how to adapt a novel into a successful movie. It showcases a great child actor, Jacob Tremblay, as the main character trying to make sense of his five year old universe. It’s a coming of age story, in the way it shows a child can survive some insane hardships in order to live a normal life. His illusions are shattered when he discovers the world he knew in side “Room” is not the real world at all but a prison in which he must escape. Brie Larson is always a great actress and in her role as Mom she finally gets a movie that matches her talents.

The main reason this story works is because it focuses where moist stories are afraid to- The beginning of a brand new universe and the aftermath of a tragedy. Most stories would be about the chase and thrill of escaping from the prison, but Room is different. In fact so much time is given to psychoanalysis of the victims that it becomes a different kind if movie: a story about how we must press firward even when it seems like life cant get any Worse. As rough as my own life can be at times, I think of Room and get inspired by the strength of a 5 year old child. Quite an accomplishment, when the grandparents played by William h Macy and Joan Allen are mere afterthoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

68.Contagion (2011)

Contagion is a disturbing movie about what would happen in the modern world if an uncontrollable virus started infecting us. It takes into consideration which people would be immune to the virus, how to find a cure, and how to cease widespread panic. Details about how many times we touch our face a day (thousands) and how many people the average person comes in contact with which could spread the disease world wide…..and even better at the end we find out the random chance event which CREATED this virus. We come out with the information that this kind of mutant virus is inevitable every couple hundred years, like the Spanish Flu in the 1910’s that wiped out 1% of the known world’s then population (70 million people!). Society as we know it starts to spiral out of control and break down in a matter of months.

It’s a kind of horrifying movie because it is a harsh reality we as humans must face. There is nothing we can do to stop random chance in our lives, no way to control certain things from happening. All we can do is hope the people in charge at the disease control centers can find a cure. The cast is all-star Hollywood filled with familiar faces to make it seem more poignant and it’s a constantly engaging story with a pulsating soundtrack. Director Steven Soderbergh is a pioneer in how movies are made, constantly using new cameras and technology to innovate but he is also just a very human storyteller, and in movies like this one, Logan Lucky (2017), Unsane (2018), High Flying Bird (2019), and his tv series The Knick this past decade he shows us his amazing ability to entertain no matter what the subject. Few people can be so mass appealing while bolstering weird, prophetic ideas.

 

 

#69. Diane (2019)

Diane is a very moving portrayal of a 70 year old woman who takes care of everyone, from her older parents and cousins to her 30 something son (Jake Lacy) strung out on drugs. It is interesting and all too rare to see such a giving portrayal of a human being who is far from perfect, but tries so hard to be. As the film jumps through time we see the results of her efforts but are also confronted with things she cannot change, as people in the end are always going to fall back to what their true nature is.

The movie is directed by Kent Jones, a film critic and long time supporter of character actors like Mary Kay Place, who plays Diane almost too knowingly. The movie is full of only character actors, and so becomes a study of what it means to be a person who is often forgotten and over looked in our lives. Some actors start off in small roles and grow to become movie stars, recent examples might be Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Taraji Henson to name a few….but so many actors become people that we look at and say: “hey I know that persons face, but what’s their name again?” Diane is an example of what it’s like to be a caregiver in life, and a caregiver in acting. It is a film that I wouldnt call “happy” but I would call life affirming, with a really nice ending. Movies that truly mean something and portray ordinary people well are all too rare.

 

 

 

 

 

70.Doctor Strange (2016)

               Years in the making and troubled production from the outset made this movie seem like an impossible task. Finally it got made, with a generous budget and with a director with the right kind of sensibilities for the project, Scott Derrickson. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast in the lead role, a joy for fans old the comics since the 1960’s. The special effects took from movies such as Inception (2010) and dialed it up even more crazy. Doctor Strange has a different tone than many of the Marvel movies because technically he doesn’t operate in the same realms- he deals with mystical beings from multiple dimensions on a level most people would not understand, more akin to an adult version of Harry Potter than a superhero from The Avengers. For the first 1/3 of the movie, this is a hospital drama.

               So forget Doctor Strange as a superhero movie and just watch it as a series of images. The movie undoubtedly still works, and that is probably it’s biggest strength. All of the training montages, the hero facing off against the big villain planning on world domination, and the mentor that is doomed to a tragic fate so that the hero can avenge them – we have seen a hundred times before. Throwing in time reversal, mystic dimensional shifts, magic vs. hard science – even all that has been done to death. But these visuals, not to mention the great acting by the entire cast, are what make Doctor Strange a story worth telling and it is less a superhero movie than a psychedelic experience.

 

 

 

 

71 – 80

 

 

71.Burning (2018)

               Director Chang-dong Lee’s Burning is an amazing film that sneaks up on you. It’s lengthy and starts off with a simple boy meets girl kind of tale, but soon the intricacies of the plot come to light and the mystery builds to an epic showdown of wills. The most interesting thing about the movie is that much is left to our imagination, nothing is spelled out plainly. Everything is a metaphor and “Barn Burning”, the title of the short story the movie is based on, is given a very dark meaning. These types of films hark back to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960’s classics L’Avventura and Blow Up, where clue upon clue of crimes that might of happened but we have no proof.

               Burning is a movie that stays with us for weeks or even years later, but never really leaves you once you have viewed it. The reason to rewatch it is to try and unlock the clues within, to find out what really has happened within our own lives, to try and recall what we may have overlooked. Chang-dong Lee is one of many Korean new Wave directors of the 21st century that are revolutionizing cinema with the way they make movies, including Joon-Ho Bong, Chan-Wook Park, among many others. His Peppermint Candy from 1999 was basically Memento only made a year before. This wave of directors all have complex styles and deep, resonant characters. Though some of their movies require more concentration they are definitely worth more in the end and take us to places in our hearts and minds that we never knew existed before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

72.Middle of Nowhere (2012)

            this is an independent movie that tells a universal story, about a woman who tries to stop being a pushover in life. With a husband in jail, she tries to live her life for both of them on the outside while finding out who she is along the way. The journey of her life is accompanied by the music of the movie, which is incorporated in a way I had never felt before. After watching this movie at Belcourt theater in my Native Nashville tn, the director held a one on one questionnaire via skype. A lot of people asked important questions, but mind kind of took Ava by surprise when I spoke of the way the music fit into this movie like no other movie I had ever seen. Ava was humble in her response, but gave me a knowing look of someone who had paid attention to a detail that not many notice. I patted myself on the back for making an impact, of course this impact seems silly years later as the director became one of the greatest ever.

            Director Ava DuVernay is the first African American woman to win best director at Rob Redford’s Sundance Film Festival; an important landmark. Her movies through this decade have propelled her to stardom and she is easily the most important director to emerge from this decade- the trailblazing Selma, the no holds barred Oscar winning documentary The 13th, recent netflix Mini Series When They See Us, the magical A Wrinkle in Time. Also important is Emayatzy Corinealdi in one of the best female performances of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

73.The Conjuring (2013) 

 

 

               With Films like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring director James Wan has established himself as the new master of horror for the 21st century for mainstream cinema. The fact that he can also direct Fast and Furious 7 and Aquaman should not be overlooked, and he is the kind of guy who is subtle with his versatility. His name is synonymous with Wes Craven or William Friedkin as directors who really understand what makes people scared and make us love to go to these types of movies to get our fix.               The Conjuring is his best work and the one franchise he “controls” the most, as many other have spiraled into sequels and projects out of his reach. It makes sense because this movie tells a personal story we have all seen and heard before, one of ghost hunters (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and one of a family possessed and troubled by a spirit, with mother played by a fragile Lili Taylor. It is a movie steeped in the tradition of the haunted house genre, but it is executed very well and the actors are GOOD enough to sell the story as a disturbing one. For those who get their fun from tales of jump scares, haunting nightmares, and ghastly possession, The Conjuring was an instant classic.

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

74.Ex Machina (2014)

 

               A haunting look at the not so distant future and the fear of creating artificial life, the small-scale beauty of this film outshines many more of its action movie blockbuster cousins by being true to humanity’s flaws and curiosities. The a.i. played by Alicia Vikander is kept in a chamber to be studied by a series of tests by creator (Oscar Isaac) and a new protégé (Domhnall Gleeson). What follows is a series of experiments and intelligence tests, and it plays out exactly as you think it would, but is still fun to watch. Glesson feel actual loving emotions for the machine which was given a female face of beauty, but can it actually feel love? Does it actually have a gender for that matter?? The story starts as familiar but quickly presents itself as something far more disturbing akin to a horror movie or the best hard sci-fi.

               This movie actually beat Star Wars the Force Awakens for best Visual Effects Oscar (the equivalent of best Sci Fi movie) since it didn’t premiere in the USA until April 2015, and that was a wise decision: Ex Machina holds up years later as a premiere example of a terrifying sci-fi concept superbly executed. The fact that we enjoy the trickery is a credit to Director/writer Andrew Garland, who also crafted the dense Tarkovsky-ian world of Annihilation (2018) and the screen plays for Sunshine (2007), zombie romp 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let Me Go (2010) all great stories with supernatural elements included. Garland is one the better sci fi directors around today, and his movies are always intellectually curious and emotionally devastation. The point Ex Machina makes absolutely clear is we as a species are truly doomed if artificial intelligence is not controlled properly.

 

 

 

 

75.Logan (2017)

               Logan is a superhero movie on the surface, but a Western movie at heart. It brings the kinds of stories that are already present in comic books of the last 60 years to the screen in ways that are accessible to people who don’t already know them, but even BETTER for those of us who have this kind of character memorized. A lot is made about how this movie is rated R and finally a violent claw-ripping Wolvie, but im not sure that matters so much. Sure, some important truths can get conveyed on screen, and it allows for a more adult story, but with the inclusion of the New Mutant children characters it seems to be aimed at teenagers so what does it all even mean in the end? In the actual comic-book version of Logan’s fight with The Reavers, he gets crucified and left for dead- too much?

               Most importantly, this is the closest to the actual character of Wolverine the movies are ever likely to give us, so it deserves to be listed among the top movies of the decade. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal was already iconic for sure, but this movie makes it the permanent one in our generation. Jackman seems to know the character inside and out and even more than Superman was for those 20th century minds, Wolverine is the greatest comic hero of my life. IF its hard to see “the guy with claws being the most popular” to  paraphrase Roger Ebert, one viewing of this movie should make it clear. Logan struggles with his past, which makes him sympathetic to people who do the same. He doesn’t really fight for good at the beginning as much as react to evil deeds by assholes, but by the end he is surely fighting for other people. It’s a lesson taught not only once but many times in our lives, how there is injustice to the world and whether it was done to us or not, it must be fought and it is a dream worth fighting for. The underlying of this point in Logan, makes it my favorite X Men movie ever made.

 

 

 

76.Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

 

               Nuri Bilge Ceylan is perhaps the best World Cinema director of the 21st Century. His movies take their time for sure, but whatever the plot is we all finish the movie questioning our own existence. Perfect mixture of Akira Kurosawa and Krzysztof Kieslowski in the way he views human nature and choices. This story is a simple one, a who-done it of sorts about detectives and thieves, but its existential nature punctures us right down to our souls. Though there is great dialogue also written by the director by the director, what we remember are the images. The awesome cinematography paints a dark and dreary world, where the landscape comes to life and everyone plays a sort of truth-or-dare game with each other.

               I have a theory about movie length, and that theory goes: no movie is too long if it leaves you wanting more. The length of a movie is arbitrary, and usually when people complain about length it is because they are either not invested in it OR because it actually is too long. By the end of this film, I can safely say I am satisfied with the length but I could definitely watch more. It is more about the characters, and the lead detective played by Muhammet Uzuner makes a startling choice at the end of the picture. This decision effects his police case, and effects his life, but we would not understand this choice if the film didn’t take time to explain it. Great directors can show us a window into anyone’s life, make us feel sympathy for any kind of person, and that is what Ceylan does for this tale of a city in Turkey. IT earns its comparison to the original once upon a time movie (Sergio Leone’s Once upon a time in the west from 1968) and one ups it in its own unique way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

77.Inside Out  (2015)

 

               Inside Out tried something new in the land of children’s movies: to make a movie about the emotions inside your brain, give them personalities and have them learn and grow with you into an adult. It’s a movie that sinks into different types of feelings with characters we lose (BING BOOONGGGG!) and some that have to learn to live together in peace- you can’t have joy without a little sadness. The bizarre scenes of wondering into abstract dimensions is one for the history books, and the reality of moving to a new state or city and leaving everything behind rivals any Toy Story movie in my book.

                I admire this movie because it can appeal to children and adults in different ways, but doesn’t fall prey to dirty jokes or adolescent humor at all. Amy Pohler is the perfect choice to play the title character Joy, as her jovial personality shines through the screen but also her sort of obliviousness in the beginning. Think of how rare that is for a big budget mainstream animated movie? My favorite scene may be the one where it shows the two people that pick and choose which memories are important to keep and which ones should be erased, because the mind can only hold so many!

 

 

 

78.The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

 

            The Wolf of Wall Street could never be made today, and it was only made 6 years ago. I am not saying I forgive or agree with any of the profane, awful, hilarious, crazy things this real-life movie portrays, its just that we as a society used to laugh at it all and now it is frowned upon in a Politically Correct world. I feel bad more anyone uptight enough to not allow themselves to enjoy this kind of human depravity because wow, what a movie, especially the tight first 2 hours telling of the rise of Jordan Belfort before the fall. The film suggests he once had scruples and some sort of semblance of a conscience before drugs and decadence lead to his downfall. It’s a story Martin Scorsese loves to tell, but I think this might be the most humorous movie he has ever made, mostly thanks to Terrance Winters (The Sopranos) clever screenplay.

            Everything is on point though, crazy camera angles, tracking shots, bravura acting from everyone, hilarious situations going waayy over the top, and a somewhat preachy ending. The fact that it may all go on too long (its over 3 hours) is fitting of a story like this. The fact that it all moves along so fast is a credit to the actors and the director and let’s face it: the editor Thelma Schoonmaker.  Scorsese and his crew feel at home making these kind of movies and we feel at home watching them. His other movies so far this decade, the PG Rated Hugo (2011) and the bizarre religious Silence (2016) are good movies in their own ways too, but something is just so freeing about Martin Scorsese at his most over the top and freewheeling, and this movie has it in spades. No one does decadent excess better than Scorsese and I don’t know if anyone ever will, he is the master.

 

 

79.The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

               Ah, the Coen Brothers, always making the most unique movies. They are always so entertaining and always so consistent. This “movie” is a series of short stories/films that do not tie together in any way except the are all sort of Westerns. I mean….it’s also sort of a musical. Each chapter is interesting for sure, though some stand out more than others at least on first viewing. The Coens cast the best character actors and defy easy categorization, and on Netflix they seem to have found the perfect medium for their daring natures (believe it or not they have always had issues with getting their films into major theaters, when they don’t cast a huge Hollywood actor at least).

Each of the 6 stories asks an important question in a different way: What is the meaning of life? Where does life begin and end? If someone is born different and it is too hard, should they go on living? And it asks these questions in such subtle controlled ways as this is definitely a movie to treasure. In all the movies the Coen Brothers made this decade, they certainly surpassed the last decade of 2000-2009, the exception being No Country for Old Men (2007) which is still the best they have done this century. True Grit (2010), Inside Llewyn Davis (20103) and Hail Caesar (2016) are all respectable movies on their own, but if I had to pick a favorite among them this one is closet to why I like the Coen Brothers. Take the moment of the chapter where the wagon rancher is defending the lady from the Native American attack (spoilers), it’s a sad but inevitable end. Like any Flannery O’ Connor story, the characters are always true to themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 80.Morning Glory (2010)

 

               Taking in the specter of the greatest movie about the newsroom, Broadcast News (1987), this movie adds kind of a twist on top in that it focuses less on a romantic relationship and more on the relationship between a stubborn old pro and a upbeat new personality as his boss. There is a line early on how one should give up on their dreams by late twenties if they hadn’t achieved them, and its one that resonates through the whole movie, to prove the nay-sayers wrong. Rachel McAdams is the embodiment of “happy”; she will do what it takes to make things happen in her career and she deals with everyone’s problems in a way that makes things work. Movies about workaholics are always interesting to me because I have that noting-can-get in my way personality, for better or for worse. The personal life often falls by the wayside when there is a career path in mind.

            The performance by Harrison Ford is telling, marking his return to serious acting after he went away for a good ten years or so, then went on to do Star Wars and Blade Runner sequels. Ford is the rare actor that always does a credible job often even going above and beyond expectations, his role in this movie as an all too serious Newscaster that only reports “hard” news rings true to the way he approaches acting. I haven’t seen many roles he takes on for the all mighty dollar as opposed to say…Nicholas Cage 😊 The film is full of great actors / actresses in minor roles and the movie is a throwback to a late 80’s style romance comedy. But even there, Morning Glory has more on its mind as it manages to be funny and charming and heart warming, while also being conventional, meaningful, and great too look at. It only has one flaw: who ever picked the songs for the soundtrack should be shot! It is very distracting…..

 

 

 

81 – 90

 

(7) 81.Dragged Across Concrete (2019)

 

               This is a perfectly cast movie, with every actor playing a sort of version of their real-life selves. Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson redeem any recent questionable press they have had with these lead roles, rebranding themselves as serious dramatic actors. It’s a shame movies like this aren’t more successful in movie theatres these days, that they have gone out of fashion somewhat and go more straight to home video. I kind of feel like 20 years ago, this would be a mainstream Mel Gibson thriller like Payback or Conspiracy Theory, but times have changed. Even more so, it’s a well constructed story, with fully developed characters so when events happen to them later on, they MATTER. Craig T.  Zahler is a rare director that makes every moment of the movie entertaining, as every facet of what these characters do make sense.

            That said it’s a harsh story about cops n robbers, the blurry line between right and wrong, blah blah. We’ve all seen that kind movie before, but I assure you it’s never been quite like this. The dialogue is deep and well thought out, unique but very memorable. It reminded me of a current gritty TV show like Bosch, another old fashioned detective story with well rounded characters. Each twist and turn is well earned and well deserved, but be warned some of the deaths that happen are violent! For those who have seen it, that bank robbery…..ouch……might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a long journey through the lives of two well meaning cops who have taken too many wrong turns life, and its brutal in its depiction of violence and its honesty in what how characters would act in their situations. If you make it to the end, you will surely be impressed.

 

 

 

82.The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

 

It is interesting to compare Christian Bale’s Batman to Robert Downey’s Iron Man. Both heroes match their characters personalities. Iron Man portrayal was universal, loved and people could relate, kind of like Downey. The Dark Knight movies, while admired and mysterious are not particularly relatable, kind of like Bale. A man who is known for taking risks, having a volatile temper, and will often appear as a villain….i mean Bale is perfect casting for Batman. This third movie in the best superhero trilogy ever made is usually viewed as the weakest….kind like eating three of the same amazing sandwich. The first time its an amazing surprise, the second time confirms it, and the third its still a good sandwich we are just used to it by now and kind of spoiled. Yes, this is the Batman / Sandwich analogy.

But The Dark Knight Rises remains an amazing movie, compared to anything else of its time. I wouldn’t even have called myself a fan of the character of Batman before Batman Begins (2005) hit the screen, but these movies moved me as good movies have the power to do. The stories are universal, the characters are well developed, the acting is the best in the business, the situations are true to life, the battle sequences are mind blowing. And Nolan makes it look so easy its almost annoying! More importantly, its one of the greatest thrillers to involve superheroes ever made and villain twists and turns throughout. Comparing Tom Hardy’s Bane character to his other film incarnation in Batman and Robin…..yeah, no comparison. In this movie Bane is a well developed necessary evil (his own words), a fearsome opponent. Tom Hardy’s voice is of much debate as to whether it works or not with its odd, hard-to-understand the words coming out of his mouth effect but honestly i like it, it adds to the characters mystique. there is also Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway as down to-earth and very believable as well, well cast and well acted. Joseph Gordon Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Gary Oldman, Marion Coltiard and many other round out a great cast of character actors.

After the more recent, depressingly awful DC attempts at Batman movies, it even more obvious that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy’s quality will never be repeated again. Watching it again today was eye opening, it really holds up well! We will be lucky if anyone comes close, but luckily this final part of the trilogy remains as great of an ending as we need. I find all 3 movies of similar quality (though Dark Knight is probably the best) and look at them all as kind of an 8 hour mini series, it’s about the same length. It a world now over saturated by farrrrrr to many superhero type, this movie stands as the shining example of how to end a trilogy in the right way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

83.Victoria (2015)

            Holding the current record for longest single scene shot in movie history at two hours and fifteen minutes, the whole movie is one giant take filmed in REAL TIME and one unstoppable thrill ride. With a running time that honestly zips by, Victoria demonstrates the vitality of modern movies like nothing else around. Even without the element of filming everything at once, the story behind Victoria is an entertaining once, of a girl who starts out innocent and then has to overcome unspeakable things, being sucked into a robbery by her new boyfriend.

            In the history of cinema, from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), to the great Russian film Russian Ark (2002), to the Oscar winning Birdman (2014), movie’s filmed in (seemingly) one take have become more and more daring. Victoria takes a about 30 minutes to get going I will admit, it starts a tad slow….but once the story picks up it rushes into a great ending I wont spoil. You feel worn out by the end, but its like you are part of the movie, and Victoria is the direction I hope more cinema goes in the future.

 

 

 

  1. Visitors (2013)

               Time has not been very kind to Visitors and I am not sure why. It had a quite famous director Godfrey Reggio (of Koyaanisqatsi (1982) fame) and great reviews of its time, but I try to bring up this movie in conversation a lot and its lost on people. I don’t know why, perhaps because it is hard to explain why it is so fun to watch. Some people say its just a bunch of pictures in black and white of people faces, but that’s not true either: there are faces are not blank but staring at the screen, there are buildings, landmarks, planets, hands making motions, and many other things and an awesome Phillip Glass soundtrack to move things along. Soundtracks are so important to silent movies, it gives them a lot of their character, and I would argue that Visitors is the best silent movie of the 2010’s contrary to the more populist choice The Artist (2011). 

 

               There is no mistaking this is an art movie meant to be seen on the big screen. Luckily that is how I saw it, but it still works as a silent, wordless film of images on a smaller screen (Visitors now on your cell phone! Oh boy!). People thinking a movie like this is too cerebral or intellectual are wrong about that, there’s nothing cerebral about it; it is all gut reactions, images, and open to interpretation. It could be shown to middle schooler’s in school as a discussion on what it means to be alive. Described by the director as humanity’s relationship with technology, I would say that’s kind of misleading and its more about language. How people communicate using non-verbal communication, and not just people but animals and possibly aliens too. The people in the movie have definitely been “directed” to convey something, and the camera movements are intentional; people that write this movie off as random or incoherent are missing the point. What could the title Visitors imply, that extraterrestrial life has appeared and we are all looking at it? That it is looking back at us and we can’t see it? Or maybe the visitors are us, and we are just watching whatever movie is on the screen at the time. The point of any great art is not to answer any questions, but to ask them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

85.Another Year (2010)

 

               A movie about a happy aging couple named Tom and Gerri, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen that basically severs as a year in their life. Geri is a counselor that tries to help depressed people, and her best friend that works with her fits that category as well, played by Lesley Manville as some kind of force of nature of awkwardness. Her performance is one or the ages for sure, and many movies have tried something similar (Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) comes to mind) but none of them quite nailed it like Manville. A lot of the movie is improvised, as in a lot of Mike Leigh directed movies, meaning there is a basic script and the actors are allowed to dance around the dialogue a bit. Any scene at a dinner or picnic table with Leigh’s charters is always a treat.

               Mike Leigh directs movies that feature great happiness and/or bleak sadness. His first movie from the early 70’s was even called Bleak Moments, which is an apt title of his subject matter. Movies he has made throughout the years such as Naked, Happy go Lucky, Topsy Turvy, and the amazing Secrets and Lies really pinpoint the amazing qualities of the human heart, how it can love regardless of reason or how when it breaks it can affect the human psyche. Tom and Geri are a well-balanced, almost perfect couple in love and all of their friends and family are flawed people, but very REAL people. Some people will come out of Another Year thinking “wow that was depressing!”, however everytime I see it I say “Yep. That sounds about right. This is my life too, this is how life really is.” I think 99.9% of films made today are afraid to show the harsh reality of…..reality.

 

 

86.The Big Sick (2017)

               This is a movie that presents itself as one kind of story but quickly becomes something else entirely. Kumail Nanjiani wrote the movie with his wife Emily and they use the personal story of how they met as fuel for an insightful comedy, one full of painful truths but also an inspiring tale. The odd balance of cringe humor and uncomfortable truths is one the movie does really well, sucking you into a story with a great cast as well, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter doing amazing work as the parent’s of the sick Zoe Kazan, and how every one deals with an awkward situation.

               The film spends more time with the parents’ bonding and acceptance of the main character than with the main couple’s turmoil, which is the secret to the movies success; it is not a typical romantic comedy in any sense. It’s also about working at a comedy club, a past time I am somewhat familiar with. The struggle to survive in the face of adversity, whether it be on stage or in the face of potential in-laws, is what the movie is actually about. And to face the biggest sick of all, intolerance, it takes a defense mechanism triggered by humor. Holly Hunter should have been nominated for a best supporting actress oscar, no question.

 

 

 

 

 

87.Widows (2018)

               As certain as I was when I was watching this movie that it would polarize most viewers, it didn’t seem to have that effect on the audience. I guess its partly because it features like 10 huge movie stars, but also because it’s a heist movie that plays like a thinking person’s version of Fast & the Furious. In addition to the brilliant acting turns by Daniel Kaluuya as an insane hit man, Robert Duvall as a racist old politician, Brian T Henry as a kingpin on the rise, Colin Farrell as his campaigning son, and Liam Neeson as….well I can’t say without spoilers….you also have the most fierce cast of women on the year, hence the name of the movie.

               Viola Davis leads the heist gang as a woman who is fighting for her very way of life, after her husband who has let her down in many ways; I can’t think of a better actress who could have portrayed  this role. Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo play the backbone of the group, the epitome of women tired of being pushed around by society’s constrictions. Elizabeth Debicki blows everyone else out of the water with her character who is just FED UP AND NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!!! Yes, it took me two paragraphs to just describe the cast, and I didn’t even mention John Bernthal, Jacki Weaver, and many others.

               As you can guess if you have not seen Widows, it packs a lot into its 2 hour run time. It is based on a British miniseries, but Director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn cuts out allll the fat and gave us a lean, awe inspiring cops ‘n robbers flick about the validity of finding your place in the world! The Cinematography is catchy and flashy too, as on scene flows effortlessly into another. Every scene matters, which makes me think perhaps the key to keeping movies interesting these days is to pack in as much plot and character as possible. It works for Superhero movies, why not old fashioned ones?

 

88.Beats, Rhymes and Life: Tribe Called Quest (2011)

 

               One of the really great music documentaries, regardless of subject matter. Directed by Michael Rapaport with a passion that is rarely seen with these things, the story of Tribe Called Quest is as interesting as the music. Starting out as passionate teenagers who went to high school with a lot of the right people with connections for sure, but the music they made was really special and pushed all of hip hop, jazz, and rock music forward. An interesting point Q Tip makes during the documentary is the difference between melodic pop and hip hop – that even though pure rap music has no sung melodies it still develops unique patterns. That is a good point, even the best melodies I think are about patterns – how things are said rather than what they are saying. I’ve always thought that’s why even music in other languages works so well.

               Not to take away from any of the group’s lyrics because obviously that’s where the main focus is, and the main thing that makes it great. A lot of music docs are about the crazy personalities that often conflict, like between leaders Q-TIp and Phife dog here. And there is a some background about their families, just enough not to get sick of it really, the main focus are the albums they made, as it should be. There have been a lot great music docs this decade (Slint’s Breadcrumb Trail, Nas’s Life is Illmatic, Residents’s Theory of Obscurity, etc.) but this one is my favorite. Especially with their reunion album in 2016 and Phife Dog’s passing right before it. Director Michael Rapaport found the perfect mix of documentary, live concert footage, and lasting influence and it’s a great catch for fans of the group or new converts.

 

 

 

89.Hell or High Water (2016)

 

            This is a great, modern 2010’s western and just the fact that its story works makes it worth a mention. The western is more confined than most genres to a time period and placement, and the world has largely forgotten the old-fashioned stagecoaches, horseback riders and cattle wranglers of one hundred years prior. A philosophical western is even more rare, but it is always a genre that has lent itself to telling great stories about the law of the land and the lengths one goes to for their family.

That’s one thing the movie tells us (sometimes at point blank range) is that the times have changed: it is no longer foreign invaders and land expansion we have to worry about but the loan companies, casinos and hidden interest payments that threaten to bankrupt our culture and way of life. The bank robbing brothers that Chris Pine and Ben Foster eloquently portray are not good guys by any means, but they are definitely sympathetic and desperate characters that are rebelling against a corrupt system. Which is a tale at the heart of any good western. Jeff Bridges doing his usual amazing western sheriff is just icing on the cake, especially when the story is this good, written by Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone TV show, Wind River, Sicario) truly one of the best writers working today.

 

 

 

90.99 Homes (2014)

               Ramin Bahrani’s take on the housing crisis of the late 00’s plays along with The Big Short as a wakeup call for America. Michael Shannon’s brilliant performance as a manipulator of people and their misfortunes definitely dominates the movie but the ensemble cast does a great job overall of portraying the American middle class in a hopeless situation of endless debt and loss. Repossessing houses is an awful business, but people can thrive at any business, and what do you of you are offered the job of repossessing said homes even if you just got kicked out of one yourself?

               For Andrew Garfield’s character, it brings up a lot of moral ambiguity. He is able to provide for his family at last, but at what cost? It’s a mesmerizing story and even though it is hard to watch people suffer, we can’t take our eyes off of it. We can imagine this happening to ourselves because in a world of debt, we as Americans are always afraid the debt collectors (or the government) will come and take our homes away. The line between having something and being out on the street is a very thin line in today’s society.  There is not a lot of hope in 99 Homes, just brutal honesty, which we need a reminder of sometimes.

 

 

 

 

91 – 100

 

 

 

 

91.Upstream Color (2013)

 

I would like to begin my review by quoting super smart user Blaze BOY from Google reviews:

 

Is these writers or directors think we r their slaves to interpret whatever senseless de do?ok every movie shd nt necessarily give answers but what is this? I think one need no BRAIN  to make such pictures;means make anything senseless u want and call it as something new n breaking n make  people to interpret your fool acts, its like spitting on wall n asking others to appreciate ur artwork;so does it require brain or thoughts to do so?,And whats d relations of WALDEN with this junk,why only walden? include war n peace, hamlet or bible or Geeta or guide on pig farming or any other book in this story n it will make no difference as there is no justification or relations or meaning of waldens inclusion,seriously l think d director or writer saw walden first or got hands on walden in dark and included..thats it…simple.

I always like thoughtful n thought provoking n complex movies but this is one of the d most fool n trash l seen.”

To be fair, this articulate user did just watch a movie about a farmer who plays god by implanting worms in people, pigs, and rivers that turns people into mind-controlled zombies. So….for everyone?

     All that can really be said about Upstream Color, only the second movie directed by Shane Carruth in his 20 years career, is that it is a trip. His other movie Primer (2004) is much more my speed but I admire his desire not repeat himself. Much like Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) or Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002), the director did not want to repeat himself. I admire its huge ambition but it goes in so many directions there is no way it could be perfect; I guess traditional movie plot sometimes needs to be thrown out the window. The relationship between the two characters is comparable to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) but with the coherency of a Goddard movie, each scene cut up specifically to lead/mislead the viewer. It is a beautiful series of film images though and would totally work as a silent movie just as well. Even on subsequent viewings I have no idea what the guy with “the sun for a head” is all about. I know Walden is a great book though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(8) 92. Us (2019)

               Jordan Peele could have rested on the fame and good credit he got from his breakout hit Get Out in 2017, but he decided to go deeper into more risky territory. Of course this is going to be met with mixed results, and Us is a beautiful mess: too ambitious for it own good trying to flesh out an idea that probably would have been better as a 6 part mini series. But you have to admire the results, which is a mash up of so many things at once its kind of awesome to watch. I can’t remember the last time I was watching a movie and I had no idea where it would go next.

               The acting helps, and like all successful movies having good child actors is key. The trick here is all 4 main actors in the family have to play two roles at the same time. They all succeed: the masculine husband, the caring mother, the ingenious daughter, and the volatile little boy. The mirror images projected by each personality in the horror movie has many different interpretations and none of them lead to a typical happy ending. Great horror movies work because they mess with out minds and not merely our eyes, and in the weeks after I saw Us I have not stopped pondering its implications. Can’t wait for Peele’s next movie!

 

 

 

93.Mississippi Grind (2015)

 

 

               A film about two lost souls trying to find their way using the world of gambling, Mississippi Grind is a very moving character study. Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds play the loser versions of themselves as these two men are meant for each other despite a gap in age. One man asks the other “what does he need the money for?” the truth is he doesn’t need the money, they are addicted to gambling as a lifestyle. It gives them thrill like no other, more than the women around them, more than their families they have abandoned. Of course, this is all presented as humorous and mainly lighthearted despite the bleak subject matter. The two characters are fascinating to watch and both actors do some of their best work in their roles, both Reynolds and Mendelsohn are underrated character actors.

               The male and female team of directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden are filmmakers of quiet but powerful Independent films Half Nelson and Sugar, and after Mississippi Grind (though it was a little below the radar to be a critical success) impressed the right people they were drafted for the blockbuster superhero movie Captain Marvel in 2019. Whether they were the write choice for that is debatable, but Mississippi Grind stand as their best film to date. It doesn’t play out in a way you would think and remains entertaining on repeat viewings. In most Hollywood movies, everyone is redeemed in the end and wrapped in a tidy little bow, but here Mendelsohn’s character has not necessarily shown signs of improvement, the only thing consistent about him is that he tends to lose all of his money and be irresponsible. Can people with addictive personalities really change for the better? Not an easy thing to answer, and in this movie it is left for us decide.

 

 

94.Moneyball (2011)

               I don’t think anyone that knows me would describe me as a fan of sports of any kind, but I’ll be the first to admit that sports make great topics for cinema, mainly for their habit of rooting for the underdog or using said sport as a metaphor for real life. It’s also not true that all sports moves are crowd pleasers, as with Director Bennett Miller on staff Moneyball has many signs of being rather depressing at times. But its a beautiful movie, with a revolutionary idea at its core. Trusting statistics and math over old fashion Baseball scouts, Moneyball is a movie about a Baseball manager and his aide (brad Pitt and Jonah Hill) as revolutionaries.

               The movie is as good as it is mainly because of its two screenwriters, Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorki, quite possibly the two best screenwriters working today. Based on their track record, im guessing Zaillian provided the depth of the subject matter and Sorkin the humorous approach. The result is pretty magical to listen to, creating a very rewatchable movie about overcoming the odds. There is a moving speech Pitt gives about how all that matters is that they try to change the game and that they DO SOMETHING with their life, and I’m not sure if the reason is life is not fair (and he has no budget to work with) or just to take things up because the old ways must be changed. Out with the old in with the new. Seems to be a good enough reason to do anything I guess, to add a little creativity to a stale system. This lesson is present in Moneyball for those who are willing to listen.

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Cloud Atlas (2012)

            2012 was a year where big budget, 2 hour plus movies were the norm, and this was the longest and most spectacular of them all. Weaving 6 stories together over the entirety of human history (and the future of it), Cloud Atlas paves the way for storytelling, special effects, and bravura acting in movies. It was truly a wonder to behold, and one of the most complicated and ambitious movies ever made. It had routes in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) and possibly Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), and was able to balance great drama with great humor.

            Tom Hanks, Hallie Berry and Hugh Grant and others in the cast take on multiple roles and also make harsh language and “made up” languages work, when both could come off as offensive or humorous. After Cloud Atlas debuted, like many book to film projects that were deemed “un-filmable” (Watchmen, Dune, Life of Pi, ) the reviews were mixed but I remember watching it in the theater and being amazed. Just like their other big budget success with The Matirx, sometimes The Wachowskis’ ambition does pay off.

 

 

 

96.Twentieth Century Women (2016)

               A coming of age tale of a teenage boy that is a substitute for the film’s director, Mike Mills, this kind of story has been done to death quite frankly. The difference here is the tale of an art school kid who discovers what life is all about through his kooky yet determined mother (beautifully played by Annette Bening) who tries to understand his bizarre music choices (a soundtrack full of the best of 1970’s punk and new wave music), totally works as an authentic trip. All of the characters are very well fleshed out, the unique trick the way the movie is split into different segments for each character, and it’s just great screen writing.

               At the end of the day, wanting to spend more time with this dysfunctional family is a very good sign and a journey I want to take again very soon. It helps that the soundtrack is one of the best ever created as well. The movie exists in a genre that often produces forgettable movies about a “slice of life from fill-in-the-blank decade” but through care and a well-developed script, this film rises above the competition. Others great movies this decade almost made my list with similar subject matter (The Spectacular Now, Eighth Grade, Ladybird, Frances Ha) but this one was by far my favorite. This film comes from Director Mike Mill’s true life experiences about growing up with his mother, and it rings true where most other’s fall apart.

97.Red State (2011)

               Anyone coming into a Kevin Smith movie expecting it to be one exact thing is fooling themselves. Smith has so much to say, his films tend to be all-the-things at all times. So sure, the set up for this is a horror movie, then it runs into a gruesome tortuous religious satire, then it becomes an action thriller ultra serious movie about the magic of faith. So most people are forgotten, as Smith only makes movies for himself and his fanbase…..which is exactly as it should be.

               In a world where the studio’s biggest chance of getting money is to make sure they film an action scene in Hong Kong so they can tap into an international market, movies like Red State are getting more rare. Characters that take a stance on something, in this case making fun of the holier-than-thou Westboro Baptist church cultists, are not going to always be as successful as the all-time great performance by Michael Parks in this movie. People will consistently underrate Kevin Smith as a great film maker, but that won’t effect me: I’m already in the fanbase and I have seen the light.

 

  1. The Forbidden Room (2015)

               Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room takes short films lost during the silent era of movies and webs between them a common thread: a hint of amnesia. That’s as coherent a synopsis as you are going to get for a film that is, politely called, a fever dream. People that like their movies to be risk taking adventures of visuals and insanity should flock to directors like Maddin who has been at this kind of mad movie making for close to 30 years now.

               Most movies made are lost to time, whether it is because they are awful and not meant to last, or because people in the early days of cinema didn’t preserve them properly. How long should a movie last? Why are some considered classics and therefore more preserved then others? What I like about all of Guy Maddin’s movies is he keeps it entertaining all the way through, and you can tell the man is not only dedicated to his craft but knows exactly the movies he satirizes. Bizarre, heartfelt movies like this are seen by too few people, only the most dedicated people can say “I love this”, but again its not art for arts sake. The Forbidden Room will last longer than the latest summer blockbuster, because it actually has something to say.

 

 

 

99.X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

               When this movie debuted in 2014, my initial response was “Finally! A movie that does justice to one of the better X-Men comic stories. It is a joy to live in an age were good comic book movies can actually be made, and sometimes even be great!” I was very excited, and this was a time before knowing how saturated the next 5 years would be with super-hero movies.  What this movie gave us was a fairly grounded story at its core about hope and redemption, very much in the spirit of the original 1980 storyline in the X-men comics. The scene where Professor Xavier communicates thought the timestream with his younger self is the best scene in any of the X-men movies and demonstrates why they work so well.

               But it’s funny what only 5 years can do. At the end of the 2010’s, the X-men movie franchise has fallen out of favor to Avengers overriding everything and also the public’s general fatigue with this kind of movie (some of them…. not the super comic book nerd crowd). Time has a way of letting the good prevail though, and I have no doubt when looking back in the decades to come, this movie will be the one to stand out from the crowd. It combines both casts of each X-Men timeline (and it’s an impressive cast) and a story that holds up to multiple viewings; magical feat in any genre. This could have been an abysmal failure but to all people involved’s credit, it holds up. If big budget superhero movies are made with this kind of creativity and care then there is hope for the genre to be taken seriously.

 

 

100.The Wind Rises (2013)

               Hayao Miyazaki is most likely going to be remembered as the greatest director of animated movies, even more so than Walt Disney. He is a person who animates in a very human way, and The Wind Rises is his final statement before he retired. About a man who dreams of making airplanes during the second world war Japan, only to see them used as vehicles of war. The scene showing the perversion of his creations is a metaphor for how animated movies themselves have been turned into commodities, at some point only viewed as vehicles to entertain children. Animation can be made for people of all ages, and Miyazaki’s movies have the power to move us as adults or children, as they move beyond time and language to grab us by the hearts.

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention

 

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

The Decedents (2011)

Frank (2014)

The Kids are All Right (2010)

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Sully (2016)

Spring Breakers (2012)

Hereditary (2018)