Thursday, January 2, 2020

My Top 30 Films of the 2010's

So, the decade has come to a close. Here's a subjective list of my favorites from the pat ten years. 

30. Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen)

In a decade running on nostalgia jet fuel, Midnight in Paris offers insight on the perils of falling in love with the past. Owen Wilson plays a writer vacationing in Paris with his wife when he discovers a time portal that transports him back to the 1920s, his favorite period in Parisian history. He meets the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. 

29. Captive State (2019, Rupert Wyatt)

Mostly ignored upon release in early 2019, I'll predict Captive State will be recognized as a classic in the coming years. Alien invasion films serve as allegories going back to H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds - and Captive State is well within that tradition. The film presents an Orwellian scenario with alien overlords using earth for slave labor with the collaboration of many humans. The resistance is a group of people from diverse backgrounds working as a fifth column, recalling The Sorrow and the Pity. Sci-fi with a progressive and punk edge.

28. Drive (2011, Nicholas Winding Rehn)

Drive combines 70s/80s neo-noir sensibility in a pulpy tale of love and revenge in modern L.A. Gosling is a stunt driver who gets involved in criminal activity. Living a solitary life, he befriends a young woman (Carey Mulligan) across the hall who is awaiting her husband (Oscar Isaac) release from prison. After a botched robbery, he gets into serious trouble with the mob. Albert Brooks takes a villainous turn as a local kingpin. Bloody, violent, and soulful. 

27. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018, Morgan Neville) & A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019, Marielle Heller)

At least 20 years removed from when the Mr. Rogers show went off the air, Won't You Be My Neighbor provided a sense of what's been lost. The compassionate persona of Fred Rogers used television to reassure children about everyday issues they will face. He also dealt with weightier issues in simple way accessible to people of all ages. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood features Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers as a supporting player, an excellent addendum to the documentary. 

26. Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuaron)

Alfonso Cuaron's visceral space adventure pushed film technology to the limits. Sandra Bullock is the lone survivor after an accident in space and must use all her mental and physical strength to survive. By turns meditative and existential, Gravity assaults the senses with unforgettable visuals and a compelling central performance from Bullock.

25. Fruitvale Station (2013, Ryan Coogler)

Fruitvale Station recreates the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a young African American man played by Michael Jordan. Fruitvale Station humanizes Oscar and the people around him, a young man who had much to offer.

24. Manchester by the Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)

Casey Affleck gave one of the decade's best performances as a man trying to pick up the pieces after a family trauma of his own doing. Steeped in its wintry New England setting, Manchester is a family drama on the level of Ozu.

23. Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

A smart science fiction film about communication and linguistics that recalls the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Both films imagine a tense international situation and the need for clear communication. Amy Adams is emphatic and brilliant as a linguist drafted to decipher messages from the visitors who have landed on earth. 

22. A Most Violent Year (2014, J.C. Chandor)

It's New York City in 1981, the year the crime rate peaked. Oscar Isaac plays Abel an upwardly mobile immigrant with high ambitions. Abel's wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) has connections to the underworld and pushes him to bend the law to achieve their aims. There's also a subplot that follows one of Abel's employees, an immigrant also trying to make his way in America with less success. An updated take on The Godfather with Isaac channeling Pacino, but by no means an imitation. 

21. Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow)

An epic about the decade long search for Osama Bin Laden from a CIA officer's perspective was praised for Bigelow's bravura film making but tarnished due to the pro-torture accusations. I never left the film with that impression; those scenes are brutal and unnerving and seem the furthest thing from base patriotism. The images speak for themselves. It's about America's descent into moral darkness after 9/11 and at the same time a procedural that recalls the 1970s. Jessica Chastain as the lead intelligence officer is the ultimate cipher, symbolic and disconcerting. 

20. The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

The concluding film of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy concluded the most influential cycle of modern comic book cinema. Nolan's realist aesthetic and the perceived reactionary politics of the film alienated many more (I'm a dissenter on the politics of these movies). Politics aside, these films are gritty tales about the meaning heroism in a broken world. The Dark Knight Rises comes through on the emotional and thematic level. 

19. Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)

I attended a screening of Black Panther on opening and there was a palpable energy in the theater. Better on repeated viewings, Black Panther transcended what the run of the mill Marvel movie could do, weaving together a tapestry of history, culture, and redemption.

18. Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland)

A character study about male hubris and artificial intelligence. Garland's sly take on Frankenstein also plays like Jules Verne novel with a dark twist. Oscar Isaac is the AI visionary and Dohmnall Gleeson plays the protege. Alicia Vikander makes a vivid impression as the AI creation. 

17. Star Wars Sequel trilogy (The Force Awakens 2015, JJ Abrams, The Last Jedi 2017, Rian Johnson and The Rise of Skywalker 2019, JJ Abrams)

George Lucas's decision to sell Star Wars to Disney unleashed a chain of events that would dominate pop culture discourse the decade. Is the trilogy of films uneven and contradictory at times? Yes. Will they be beloved by millions and stimulate the imagination of millions? Yes. The Force Awakens hit the nostalgia sweet spot, while The Last Jedi pointed the way forward. I'm still processing Rise of Skywalker, while its the weakest entry, it does wind up some incredible character arcs. 

16. Snowpiercer (2013, Bong Joon Ho)

The antithesis to the Marvel Movies, it even stars Captain America Chirs Evans as the charismatic leader of a violent class revolt. Earth is no longer livable, and the survivors live on a train with upstairs/downstairs dynamic boiled to bare essence. Blunt, brutal, and stylized Snowpiercer film grabs you by the throat and never lets up. 

15. Jodorowosky's Dune (2014, Frank Pavich)

Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky acquired the rights to the 1965 Frank Herbert novel Dune, a groundbreaking Sci-Fi novel. He gathered a wealth of talent for what was going to be the most ambitious movie ever made. Although funding eventually fell through, in the pre-production designs were the future history of movies. 

14. The Death of Stalin (2017, Armando Iannucci)

In a decade of creeping authoritarianism, The Death of Stalin reminds us what happens when a bunch of power-hungry goons are given responsibilities way beyond their depth. A fictional account of the Soviet politburo trying to decide the future of their country. With Dr. Strangelove level absurdity and a Shakespearean sense of history - don't ever say movies never warned us.

13. Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

At some point Tom Cruise decided to become the greatest action star of all time and the sixth Mission Impossible film may be remembered as his crowning achievement. Mind blowing stunts and organic action sequences populate the film. 

12. The Florida Project (2017, Sean Baker)

A fly on the wall story that follows a child who lives with her Mom at a motel across from Disney World. The dichotomy between the place where people's dreams come true and the motel where dreams are broken. Socially relevant in a decade with widening class divisions. William Dafoe stands out as the motel's caretaker who brings wisdom and stability.

11. Searching for Sugar Man (2012, Malik Bendjelloul)

During the height of apartheid in South Africa, a mysterious musician named Rodriguez went viral in South Africa, inspiring those fighting to end the oppressive system. Sugar Man is also about art and commerce and how institutional obstacles can in some cases be overcome. 

10. Avengers: Infinity War - Avengers: Endgame (2018-2019 - Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

I was initially jaded on the popularity of the Marvel films, but something happened: They got better. The tipping point for me was Guardians of the Galaxy, the films loosened up and the characters started to grow on me. By the time of Infinity War and Endgame, I realized how endearing these characters had become. Almost six hours when played side by side, they are a feat of cinematic story telling.

9. Vox Lux (2018, Brady Corbet)

Natalie Portman plays a jaded pop star Celeste who rose to fame after she survived a school shooting. Vox Lux is a movie that tries to make sense of our time, a raw study of trauma, fame, and a sense of doom. Raffey Cassidy was also excellent as the younger version of Celeste and later as her daughter.

8. The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)

Tree of Life imagines the creation of life on Earth and connects it to the struggles of a family in 1950s Texas. Malick's floating camera and uncanny sense of existence are mesmerizing. His follow up films To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song would employ the same style, but never connect on the emotional level like Tree of Life

7. The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Phillip Seymour leads a new religious cause in the 1950s and takes on a misfit played by Joaquin Phoenix. First and foremost a movie about men who have undergone trauma, I think John Huston's Let There Be Light would provide the right historical context before viewing. Seymour and Hoffman are both electric, while Amy Adams as Dodd's wife Peggy is a cryptic presence. 

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese)

A lat 20th Century tale, The Wolf of Wall Street now makes the election of Trump appear a natural consequence of a culture drunk on capitalism. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a corrupt stockbroker who makes millions off investment scams. A study in excess and malfeasance, a logical follow up to Goodfellas and Casino

5. The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

More relevant and instructive now almost a decade later, the story of Facebook's origins is given the proper Citizen Kane treatment by David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. A perceptive study of the privileged in America, but also about human life moving online.

4. Attack the Block (2011, Joe Cornish)

Attack the Block offers a new vision for pop culture, drenched in Spielberg's 80's style, but updating all those films by transporting them from suburbia to the inner city. The premise is simple: aliens land in a London neighborhood and wreak havoc on the residents. A racially mixed gang led by John Boyega who take it upon themselves to stop the threat. With smart dialogue and kinetic action sequences, at 88 minutes the film flies by in a flash. 

3. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino)

Quentin Tarantino recreates 1969 Los Angeles in a loving ode to the end of an era. Leonardo DiCaprio is an aging actor and Brad Pitt his reliable stunt man. Margot portrays real life actress Sharon Tate. Full of grand sequences and long dialogue scenes that all builds to a crescendo in a stunning climax. 

2. Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele)

Jordan Peele's innovative take on the paranoid thriller captured the mood of the country after the 2016 election. The racial component of the story serves as a metaphor of white ignorance of what it's like to be a person of color, but also establishes irony with smooth satiric edge. 

1. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel and Ethan Coen)

Set in the middle of the folk revival in the early 1960s (February 1961 to be exact), fledgling folk singer Llewyn Davis is barely making it. As he watches his peers find more success, Llewyn finds himself in one desperate situation after another. A film about failure but told with such ease and irony is the Coens at their best. 

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