Starting to feel like this list reflects something way the fuck up with me if so many movies I’ve listed thus far are potent examinations in human awfulness, but y’know what? Good drama is good drama and Zvyagintsev’s second picture is really great drama, shoveling characters that aren’t remotely likable into shots that visually represent the oppressive environment that sort of pushes them to be so for the sake of survival. At the center of it being Nadezhda Markina’s complex and performance transforming into just another one of her awful family, a performance I confess just missed my list of the decade’s best.
109. The Deep Blue Sea (2011, Terence Davies, UK)
And on we move to another film with a powerhouse performance at the center of it: Where this time Davies lays his long-time visual nostalgia for post-war England as a means for Terence Rattigan’s stageplay to interrogate just how patriarchal that time and place truly was. And Rachel Weisz’ command of the intense central role that is Hester moves us all through the acute and severe feelings of a woman in sexual awakening during a time that looks down on it.
108. Your Name. (2016, Shinkai Makoto, Japan)
It is frustratingly easy to recycle all the praise I had for Makoto’s Weathering with You lower on this list to Your Name. since it’s not like Shinkai did much differently than experiment with how light is represented in anime (and it will similarly be hard not to recycle praise for another Shinkai film higher up). But this is higher than Weathering with You for a reason: I find that the central comet initiating the premise is one of the masterworks of CGI entering the 2-dimensional world of film, a shimmering wonderful visual floating above in the bluest night sky and an unspoken representative of optimistic yearning that Shinkai seems to believe sunlight is best at illuminating the path for. On top of which, I find it fascinating how Shinkai treats light reflected off the skyscrapers of busy Tokyo and the giant lake of rural Japan in a way that still communicates the same emotions and ties our two protagonists closer together.
107. Atomic Blonde (2017, David Leitch, USA)
Pure punk rock Cold War attitude rendered in the cinematic language of color, style (especially the costumes), and action. Quietly tragic in a way that I think evaded even this movie’s few apologists, I still find myself feeling beaten and bruised alongside Charlize Theron’s cold-faced antihero as she runs around a mystery that will mean nothing in a few days, tries to survive potential deaths that will mean nothing automatically, and deliver hurt and pain in excellent dances of choreography, camera movement, and editing that is the only thing that means anything here in this music video fantasy version of Berlin.
106. The Human Surge (2016, Eduardo Williams, Argentina/Brazil/Portugal)
At once a movie that delivers a sense of how connected everything is via the means of technology and how distanced everyone is because of that same technology without feeling contradictory about itself. I’m tempted to call it something like if an internet bot remade Koyaanisqatsi but I feel that is selling short the manner the fascination that is has with the few humans it focuses on and how their depression and personality feels just like it’s extended by the accessibility of the modern age. A movie I look forward to rewatch again once I have finished musing on all the things it left me to muse about.
105. Private Life (2018, Tamara Jenkins, USA)
I know I said prior that Kenneth Lonergan has a habit of bringing out the career-best performances out of his actors, but that’s just the same to be said about Tamara Jenkins. Her third film (and I really hope she doesn’t keep taking as long as she has been between the three) takes its title as both literal in the way it frames and cuts around the spaces of Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn’s central couple, and as ironic in the manner that it has these two spilling out their desperate wish to have a child to affect practically every facet of their social lives. And yet Jenkins doesn’t necessarily judge the characters for the decisions they make despite using it as the basis for some really funny comedy and allows the things to be learned to be learned well even at their apparent age. The sort of generosity I think makes a director perfect for both atmosphere and for directing performances.
104. 12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen, USA & UK)
Not necessarily par for the course on Steve McQueen to utilize his characteristic handle on human misery to make at least one “Important Film” since it is quite a tougher and more direct movie on the matter than you’d expect to be an Oscar darling. John Ridley’s script flies between an expectedly hard 12 years experiencing horrors that was the lifetime for many without giving us relief even in the final scenes while McQueen relegates that history to a sweating and immediate present. And our guide to this cruelty is the reliable Chiwetel Ejiofor battling an apparent losing battle for his dignity in a life he’s been thrown into after relative privilege.
103. Blue Valentine (2010, Derek Cianfrance, USA)
A couple at conjuration and then disintegration, structured back in forth in a way that makes us truly recognize the intensity of falling in love and deciding where your life is going based on it and then having that love completely blow up and failing to know where you’re going to go from there. Maybe the most devastating movie on this entire on account of how true and crude the emotions feel thanks to Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams delivering the ideal form of method acting and playing off each other in a collaborative way that helps Cianfrance recognize the flow of the movie from the end results.
102. First They Killed My Father (2017, Angelina Jolie, Cambodia/USA)
Another Important Film but one that didn’t receive any awards of attention basically, despite being the moment where Angelina Jolie finally cracked the code on making something with memory-based subjectivity and the eyes of child in delivering a wholly impactful and personal account on the cruelties of the Khmer Rouge. The sort of movie in which sparing us the direct vision of the atrocities and allowing the mind of its protagonist to return to an easier time just feels so much harsher and tragic.
101. Suspiria (2018, Luca Guadagnino, Italy/USA)
You kind of have your work cut out for you when you decide to remake one of the best movies of all time which also happens to be possibly the best horror movie of all time. But Guadagnino gives his own vision of where the premise of “dance school run by witches in the 1970s” could go and it is an epic and fascinating piece about the repression of women and the psychic scars of WWII (also, holy shit, this is the second movie ON THIS POST that takes place in Cold War Berlin, I realized) relegated in uncharacteristically cold and hard greyscale concrete and restrained gloomy browns (uncharacteristic for both Guadagnino and what we associate the name of Suspiria with). All the better to give us a mood for the harsh associative presentation of it all with the sort of sound and editing and that makes our eyes dart in a manner that asks “what was that?”, the focus of dance as an expression of dark and primal elements, and the manner in which violence finally makes its appearance to the shock of the viewer including a climax that I am entirely in love with in its gonzo dive to gauche bloodiness.
Andrew Haigh’s already showcased his mastery of the simple and stripped-down when it comes to romantic dramas. Over the course of the titular weekend, we watch two men meet, fall in love, and then separate in a manner that they already knew were the terms at the very beginning of the romance. It sounds like Brief Encounter, but that’s just reductive in so many ways: the focus isn’t nearly as much on the tragic knowledge that they will not being seeing each other again in sometime if ever (though it IS heartbreaking when that happens), but in how much you can learn about a person over the course of two days. Haigh’s direction gives that sort of equity in power towards the actors with his restrained two-hander compositions and his languid hangout pacing where the drama ebbs and flows that by the end of the movie, it is just as bittersweet to watch these men go on their part as it is on ours.
119. Mudbound (2017, Dee Rees, USA)
If this movie had anywhere near the attention it deserved, it would be recognized as novelistic and epic in the same way as other great American films are. Except Dee Rees would earn it with the earthy way (alluded to by the title itself) that she directs the brilliant cast to push this far-spanning film as far as it goes. Also the way it picks up themes without dropping them like candy off the ground and let’s them all work together in some present examination of America as it was and how it still is. The grandiose ambition of this thing and the manner in which it succeeds is went practically unrecognized by the Academy and so on and yeah I’m still fucking mad about it.
118. Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014, Diao Yinan, China)
I could be wrong (we’ll see later on as this list goes), but I think this is the one legit non-reflexive neo-noir I have on this list. Which I feel is a personal shame, but if there has to be one, best believe I’m happy to admire this colorfully expressionistic presentation of a dark and chaotic cold case being examined by one jaded and washed-up drunk of a detective, reeling me into all my favorite tropes of the classic style while taking advantage of the modern advances that couldn’t be used in the film noir era to give us something curdled for our day and age.
117. Francofonia (2015, Aleksandr Sokurov, France/Germany/Netherlands)
I have never been to the Louvre and as an admirer of fine art and frequenter of any art museum I find near me, it’s on my bucket list. But I don’t imagine it will ever look anything like the way that Sokurov and Bruno Delbonnel have captured it in their exploration, both physical and historical regarding that most famous of art museums. The intimacy with the paintings, the fantasy of the re-enactments, the humorous frame narrative of Sokurov dealing with… a shipment of art? It’s all something that beggars to find a new way into some of the most popular and on display artworks of our time while also examining what art does for the culture, good or bad. And that is an approach that I’m always going to find admirable and engaging even with the faults that something as personal as Francofonia would have (it’s not Russian Ark but…).
(And isn’t it crazy that given how he’s one of my three favorite modern cinematographers and how often his work is showing up on this Best Movies list, nothing Delbonnel shot made my Best Cinematography list? Believe me, he was frequently in consideration there.)
116. Rango (2011, Gore Verbinski, USA)
You can always count on the most playful directors to do wonders with animation when they get the chance and Gore Verbinski took the chance with Rango to deliver a wacky cod-Western that feels jerry-rigged from every other thing it grabs its hands on instead. Which could possibly be an extension of the sort of searching of self that its titular character is trying to pull off when he wanders into town, a dignity granted by mixing all of these weird and gangly animal character designs, all visual archetypes as much as genre archetypes, with beautiful photorealism (partly courtesy of the consulting of Roger Deakins) to tie as a smaller world right underneath our noses.
115. Coda (2013, Alan Holly, Ireland)
Another movie that I absolutely did not hear of until Alternate Ending’s Top 100 of the 2010s came up and even if it’s just outside the reach of my 100, I still found it personally moving. Which may have come as a surprise since the opening took a minute, but eventually I was hit with a dense and expansive reflection of what the span of a life and the darkness of what comes after truly means in the moment. It is quite an experience-based short to be hit with all of a sudden in such a neutral presentation of tone – not tragic, not happy – and given that it’s 9 minutes and online, I recommend you all experience it too.
114. The Loneliest Planet (2011, Julia Loktev, USA/Germany)
Still waiting for Loktev to follow up on this anytime soon. The manner in which this movie puts its central relationship and the trapped feelings therein against an expansive and lovely Georgia outdoors setting and lets us muse on the juxtaposition of this travelogue breakup movie is something only a filmmaker out of the box regarding how character and visual storytelling could work together. We need more of those and we need more of her, please.
113. Neruda (2016, Pablo Larraín, Chile/Argentina/France/Spain/USA)
A film that definitely required that “non-reflexive” qualifier for Black Coal, Thin Ice‘s entry when I called it the only noir movie on this list. Neruda is a lot of things – a parody of fascist noir is only one of them. Utilizing the perspective of its titular leftist poet, it rejects the concept of trying to make a clean-cut biopic by using his eager self-mythologizing to romantify and make his stressful exile from Chile something more cinematically appealing – inventing events, characters, and images in the name of fluidity for a man who used that fluidity as the basis of both floral art, his messy personal life, and challenging an authoritarian government.
112. Tuesday, After Christmas (2010, Radu Muntean, Romania)
Well, if I go ahead and let out how it’s about the lead-up and aftermath of adultery, I expect I’m not surprising anyone when I state how chilly and distanced it is as a watch of these three people trying to navigate around and through that fact. But there is virtue in how it accomplishes that through three very talented actors and very long and exhausting takes of them trying to leaven their hurt by dishing out more hurt, overall delivering a raw (but sometimes amusing so that it’s not entirely a bad time) and matter-of-fact treatment of such a betrayal.
111. Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman, USA)
A question that had long plagued me in the 6 years between my first and second watches of this film: “Was Edge of Tomorrow really that good?” Well, I gave it a good ol’ try and turns out: it’s even better than I remembered. When I first watched Edge of Tomorrow, I was taken in by the editing and how it uses the video game logic and assumptions of the audience to build on the exhaustion of us trying over and over again to make it to the next step as well as maintain a sharp sense of humor about the situation. On second watch, I get to notice how the premise plays with the screen persona of Tom Cruise and develop him from the sycophantic weasel that Cr– uh, John Cage is to a confident and focused action star. It’s unexpectedly exciting storytelling, utilizing repetition and mood shifts to earn every single “Fuck Yeah!” we yell at the screen as we take the same frustrating journey with our characters.
In the long-awaited search for the Great Video Game Movie, I think Edge of Tomorrow puts up just as good a fight as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, if not better (spoiler alert: Pilgrim doesn’t make this list, though I do deeply love it). Still think the movie should have been named “Groundhog D-Day”.
For his first feature, Robert Eggers went and delivered a period film that actively transports us into the 17th century by a combination of scripting, performance, design, and sound. I daresay it succeeded magnificently with a central ensemble chamber drama that felt so dreadful in atmosphere that it didn’t even need the witches to become horrifying, but I’m glad it brought the strong genre goods once it was time to collect. The tyrannical puritan treatment of the matter is more than enough to chill any viewer.
129. The Duke of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland, UK)
And in we go from one of the purest soundscapes in the past decade to another, utilizing that tool to express unseen elements of a sensual BDSM lesbian picture. The result is something psychologically potent in examining what each side is expecting and what they receive in a context that’s already complex and often misrepresented in cinema. Strickland avoids that misrepresentation while still gladly taking hold of the pleasant luridness regarding the material and the examination of power dynamics within a deep, doomed central romance.
128. Ida (2013, Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland/Denmark/France/UK)
A dual character study that remains sobering no matter which side you decide to focus on. Naturally the title and premise favors the cold and confused examination of secrets and identity at the most important turn of your life that Agata Trezbuchowska’s Anna represents but then there’s still Agata Kulesza’s Wanda to flash-forward to the future with a curdled bitterness regarding certain paths taken. That Pawlikowski could decide to basically ape from the go-to styles of European Art Cinema would be considered lazy if it didn’t add so much stateliness and focus to the two performances at the center, defining the universe those characters are facing while we watch their decisions made.
127. Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Luc & Pierre Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy)
A movie about the hardships of capitalism pressing down against your mental well-being, your relationships with others, and your livelihood that is made as watchable as such a stressful scenario possibly can be. Part of that can be credited to the Dardennes’ treatment of the matter in such a movie-drama way with the titular timeframe playing as a ticking clock, but that also has to be credited to the outstanding cast they’ve put together supporting the familiar face of Marion Cotillard. That we recognize the movie star makes her immediately rootable even beyond her position but that we see an entire community of people that are torn and struggling and still mostly desiring to do the right thing is what makes this a rich and optimistically human story on top of its social observations.
126. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France/Luxembourg)
I personally find Cattet & Forzani to be relationship goals: a married couple who courted each other by making their own homegrown giallo and spaghetti western pictures to watch, particularly the way they show obsession with the cut’s meanings as literal and psychological in cinema. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is not the best feature they’ve made yet but it is the wildest and that kaleidoscopic and dizzying presentation of the titular colors while a man investigates a disappearance in circles maintains the sort of gleeful loss of control that I consider the best of giallo to have. The incomprehensibility, the nauseating showcase of violent close-ups, and the shallow psychosexual elements that are only there to combine the most ridiculous violence with visual pleasure – these are clearly things that maintain a marriage.
125. Weathering with You (2019, Shinkai Makoto, Japan)
Shinkai Makoto was essentially hedging his bets by writing a story that appeals to all his best strengths as an animator, but it works. Lovely work in the intersection between the beams of sunlight cutting through the sky, the precision of the surrounding rainscape, and the shimmering speeding trains for yet another fantastical tale of young kids on the cusp of the new adventure of life. If you’re in the bag for Shinkai as I was when I first saw it, he knows exactly what got you on-board and will gladly provide it.
124. The Homesman (2014, Tommy Lee Jones, USA/France)
A movie that I at first rejected on impulse based on the way its late direction blindsided me when I first saw it at Cannes. Took me a few months to recognize what a successful structural gambit that happened to be and especially how it reinforced the way that this film posits itself as a dry account on how cruel and harsh the Old West truly was. Jones and Hilary Swank as co-leads do a particularly excellent job as opposite types trying to face that cruelty in each other’s own ways, but it wouldn’t be quite as well without Jones’ weathered directing and the way that dryness seeps into the cinematography and Marco Beltrami’s incredible score.
123. Cheatin’ (2013, Bill Plympton, USA)
Bill Plympton’s famous overexaggerated style with pencilsketch and watercolor are now utilized for a fantastical story about the messiness of emotions and the worst possible scenarios for those emotions to come into place, bending and twisting for all the expressiveness that such a heightened emotional state demands. Given how spare that Plympton’s story is, it expresses a trust in the audience to pull all of their knowledge from the warped imagery in itself and it pays off magnificently with a weepy and raw tale of basic heartbreak.
122. Embrace of the Serpent (2016, Ciro Guerra, Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina)
The structure presents us with two very distant times, whether in orientation to us or to each other. But the form – the modern style of the cinematography, the modern style of the performances (particularly the two men who play Karamakate), the complete symmetry in the modernization thereof – are of the sort that make them blend together like a formless dream. The unspoken ways in which Guerra manipulates the presentation so that we sift in and out of this story about two different generations of colonialism from the perspective of one indigenous witness, leavened by that witness’ sense of humor and intelligence over the white man he’s guiding along and the calm and present visuals of the Amazon-that-was as a long-gone yet still haunting ghost.
121. The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, USA/Denmark/Australia)
Remains the crown jewel of Lord & Miller’s irreverent and creative style of filmmaking, pulling out as many possible visual gags as would be appropriate to the movie’s ethos and aesthetic, indulging in various camera movements and compositions that only the animated camera can allow, and building to the sort of story that encourages a limitlessness in imagination the same way that the titular toys this movie was nakedly meant to just be a commercial for brought out in us as a kid. It may be a corporate product, but Lord and Miller gave this a beating heart and a sprawling vision that no journeyman filmmaker could have.
140. In This Corner of the World (2016, Katabuchi Sunao, Japan)
There’s animated movies that want you to notice the style and there’s animated movies that moreso use its style as a pretext for more emotional work and Katabuchi Sunao’s falls absolutely into the latter. It’s not a coincidence to utilize watercolor backgrounds for a story about somebody learning to fall in love with painting and then having that potential life torn away from them in wartime is an excellent application of visually reminding us what’s left behind in this devastating tale.
139. Rhino Season (2012, Bahman Ghobadi, Iran/Turkey)
One of many films introduced to me by following Tim Brayton on Alternate Ending. I believe he states the film is unavailable in the US and it certainly never got a formal release, but it IS fortunately available to rent on YouTube as I saw it. In any case, what you’d be walking into is the most angrily charged movie to be made by an Iranian filmmaker forced in one manner or another into a sort of exile from his punishing government, not only a brand of movie that is outrageously common but one you will see other examples of later on this list. The fact that it’s based in truth could easily be what makes Rhino Season feels so charged in its righteousness, but Ghobadi is somebody who wants to communicate to you through poetics (verbal and visual) and symbolism rather than take the easy self-assured way out. He leaves no stone unturned in the indictment of a country that has wronged him using an art that they have semi-criminalized as a tool of defiance.
138. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel & Ethan Coen, France/USA)
Spoiler alert: I only had room for one Coen brothers movie on this list and it was truly a battle deciding between this, Hail Caesar!, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I’m not entirely convinced I’m satisfied with the selection (I was on another folk music kicker when I finalized this list), but I settled with Inside Llewyn Davis so I may as well take a moment to admire how unexpectedly low-key it is compared to their usual arch approach. It’s not invisible since it’s impossible to ignore the deep chilly blues of Bruno Delbonnel’s vision of Greenwich Village in wintertime and it’s not necessarily out-of-character work for them with the cynical attitudes of every character in it including Oscar Isaac’s titular prick himself. But it is something that doesn’t try so hard to because very sad and weary in itself and the way that weariness lands on me as a viewer feels so hard to shrug off after watching.
137. Point de Gaze (2012, Jodie Mack, USA)
A benefit of having delayed this list for so long: I was first introduced to Jodie Mack’s work within the past few months and found much of it fascinating. Including this short which observes the titular needle lace in a variety of colors and designs in the same keen awareness of texture and depth that she’s showcased since she started her avant-gardery. But it’s really the late turn to rapid succession of opposite tones that made my jaw drop and almost blinded me with its awareness of dynamics in color and shades to turn into something unexpectedly aggressive all the same.
136. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie, USA)
Maybe it’s just that my last rewatch was on a binge of the franchise and it was exciting to see how much better Rogue Nation was from where the movie series originally started, but I think what really pushes this movie so high on the list is how it feels at once the logical next step in both of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘s best elements: it structures its action setpieces so that it doesn’t lose steam and it adopts the television series’ wonderful teamwork oriented spy thrills to the best that it has ever been, with actual arcs for characters that are not Tom Cruise! Satisfying on both a spectacle and storytelling level for any long-time fans of the tv series, making good on Ghost Protocol‘s righting the ship.
135. Margaret (2011, Kenneth Lonergan, USA)
I will let you all speculate as to whether or not it’s right to disqualify The Other Side of the Wind and not this (I think the fact that this was not unfinished, that Lonergan was alive to give his approval of the cut released and then still make another cut qualifies this), but this is the kind of storytelling where the flaws are the benefits just the same. Lonergan’s allowance for his characters to have sloppy concepts of life and to make mistakes and to still remain wholly consistent in this messy adolescent opera proved to be – like all of Lonergan’s other works, but especially in this film – the best possible arena for actors to dive into their characters and give their best performances, particularly Anna Paquin’s teenage wreck of a human being.
134. The Bling Ring (2013, Sofia Coppola, USA/UK/France/Germany/Japan)
Sofia Coppola comes from this Los Angeles celebrity-obsessed culture – it’s right there in her name – so it only makes sense that she can infiltrate with the same sharp ruthlessness that any other outsider tries to satirize this without nearly as much depth and teeth. Her recruiting of the late great Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt to capture the superficiality in the lens and Stacey Battat to capture it in the fabric resulted in a one-of-a-kind super team to show us just how unattractive this culture of status and obsession could be through unexpected channels.
133. Heli (2013, Amat Escalante, Mexico)
A movie that it would be way too easy to call miserable and be done with it and indeed it is a hard movie to watch with all the wall-to-wall brutality that makes up the second half with uncomfortable patience in letting it all get worse and worse. But it doesn’t get most of its power without having real flesh-and-blood characters at the center of it all established with a relaxed version of that same patience in the first half, then trying to navigate a very hostile situation and coming out of the other side in some thankfully preserved state if not perfect. Angry precision at delivering exhausting thriller conceits and also depicting just how harsh the real world can be.
132. Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman, Ireland/France/Netherland/UK)
I said it before when I praised its screenplay on the Motors post but I’ll just say it again here: Whit Stillman & Jane Austen go together like peanut butter and jelly, even if you’re able to recognize how ably Stillman was able to fill in the blanks of an unfinished work to further fit his manner of verbal wit and style in some approximation of Austen’s dialogue and arc work on top of being a lavishly appealing movie to look at. What I may also add is how it feels like an opportunity to get Kate Beckinsale make in the same snippy and cutting mode that she was in her last Stillman collaboration, The Last Days of Disco, without breaking a sweat at the change of language giving us a character that is a jerk but totally fun to listen to nevertheless.
131. No (2012, Pablo Larraín, Chile/France/USA)
The type of movie that can recognize the fun and creativity in activism while also being willing to self-examine at what point do we lose sight of the endgoal and what is truly motivating one in certain capacities for this work. Even with that clear-eyedness, it’s not usual that political cinema gets so bright and cheerful in its delivery (I know I noted Sorry to Bother You earlier in this list, but it doesn’t anywhere near the smiling optimism that this has) and the way that Larraín makes us aware of No‘s status as such a piece of consumable agitprop in itself from the Betacam shooting to the usage of Gael García Bernal as a familiar face is a big part of No ability to deliver leftist ideals while also being self-reflexive as a work of art. A work of comedy art, mind you, celebrating the time that art actively took a dictator out of power.
150. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010, Panos Cosmatos, Canada)
Panos Cosmatos’ first swing into the same field as his father is the sort of debut feature that – despite how late I got to seeing it – made me intent on watching whatever came next. A hallucinatory cosmic nightmare all too put off by its extremely clean aesthetic – given how much of the film takes place in cold and alien feeling facility with an aesthetic somewhere between formlessness and period. Much of the movie is like that – opaque in its sense of narrative or theme and only able to pull a slight sense of time and place outside of ours without stability – and it plays me like an absolute fiddle to appeal to several things I love in 1970s psychedelic horror with a modern approach. And the centerpiece 1966 flashback where the colors and high-contrast black and whites are firing on all cylinders is the sort of scene that would definitely shape me further as a horror fanatic if I saw it as a kid (I’m very ashamed I didn’t even remember to consider it for the Best Scenes List). Speaking of formative experiences as a kid, I found out after the fact that Cosmatos based the movie on the sort of concepts he’d think up looking at the horror movie section covers of his local video store and I must say I feel a kinship with that approach.
149. Song of the Sea (2014, Tomm Moore, Ireland/Belgium/Denmark/France/Luxembourg)
It is definitely the case that the line drawing design approach of things here does not fit like a glove the way that it did with Tomm Moore and Cartoon Saloon’s first feature The Secret of Kells (and frankly it gets less suitable in Cartoon Saloon’s following feature, the otherwise lovely Breadwinner). But it’s still absolutely beautiful to look at, with a control over the dynamics of lighting and gradations of blue to make it all so visually magical and frequent cutesy figures put on screen amplified by their round and bright feature whether the sheepdog Cú, the central seals, or the tiny adorable human form of Saoirse. Besides which just as its stablemates at Cartoon Saloon function as musings on what storytelling – visual and verbal – bring to the soul, Song of the Sea is a brisk and direct little fairytale that filled me up very quickly when I saw it and it’s beauty never left my mind from there.
148. Blade of the Immortal (2017, Miike Takashi, Japan)
Building up from Miike Takashi’s last big jidaigeki picture 13 Assassins, his 100th feature Blade of the Immortal takes a source material that invites both of the following elements and lets them dance around each other in episodic scenes: Miike’s penchant for overt violence and stylization, the jidaigeki genre’s archetypes and heightened drama. And it all builds for a while since this is a very long movie and one of the reasons that I resisted putting this on the list was how much the structure of killing tragic foe after tragic foe seems to complicate that journey by still having big fights peppered in throughout. But I think the climax cracks the code somehow: delivering a mythic quality to the personal stakes of its characters and their satisfaction thereof. It’s a movie that I’m still stuck thinking about: as genre pastiche, as period film, as musing on violence and morality’s place in a period of the former’s reign, and just as showcase of the kind of unrestrained style we’ve expected from Miike as a filmmaker.
147. First Reformed (2017, Paul Schrader, USA)
Another film I tried to resist adding to this list: it is nakedly copying from Bresson and Bergman’s playbook and I’ve personally had trouble cottoning to Paul Schrader as a filmmaker. But I can’t lie and say that First Reformed didn’t break through my armor a little bit: for the way the cinematography makes the environment loom over us and the characters for an extra bit of mood, for the agitating power of Hawke’s shaken performance where he just can’t come out with the chaotic terms contradicting the idea of God’s mercy towards a world that he thinks isn’t earning it, and for the fact that even if it’s wearing other movies clothes, it is at the end of the day a product of a Calvinist who deeply feels some level of this emotional crisis and that manner of personal core Schrader lets bare in the film is done so in a visually and tonally powerful manner that hits me even though it involves a perspective I have virtually no alignment with.
146. Toy Story 3 (2010, Lee Unkrich, USA)
I would love to be able to just say it’s the obvious scenes that make this list and be done with it. And sure, the amount of emotional work the third act is doing is disproportionate to the rest of this movie (which feels a bit repetitive from previous Toy Story movies in a way that knocked it this low) but y’know what? It’s a really great third act: bringing an operatic climax to all the time spent with these characters and the sort of crisis they’ve embodied in that hot red incinerator scene before several scenes later planting us in a warm character-loving curtain call in the context of passing on to a new adventure. Everybody else has already said it, but I’ll say it again: I don’t know why Pixar thought they needed to untie the perfect bow they wrapped this series with (or abandoned the wonderful bold cartoon designs of this world with photorealism for the fourth one).
145. Transit (2018, Christian Petzold, Germany)
Sure, you COULD claim that presenting a Third Reich-era story in an undisguised present setting is tacky, but I’d reject that on the merit of what’s actively going on in the world right now and how Christian Petzold’s adaptation of a book he’s long wanted to put to film brings about a casual sense of urgency with that decision. An urgency which mixes incredibly well with the dizzying dead-end beaucratic path Franz Rogowski’s character runs around while waiting for the opportunity for safe haven while the fuses underneath him burn. That Petzold has found himself confidently able to apply his perfect sense of pacing and tension and cramped entrapment to a story that straddles that line between now and then with a sense of cynicism that keeps the heartpounding long after the movie ends just goes to show his masterful hand. And I know it’s cheap to love a movie specifically for its end credits song, but it is an all-timer choice.
144. Wolf Children (2012, Hosoda Mamoru, Japan)
I’ll go ahead and admit that it took me a long time to get on the boat with Hosoda Mamoru. I still find his storytelling to be pulling from one single bag with a delivery that doesn’t necessarily hit me. I don’t know what it is about the SECOND watch I had with his long-acclaimed Wolf Children that finally hit me (especially since I still find moments that fall flat for me emotionally) but it did. Since I do have to explain each placing on this list, I would suppose it is the way that it structures itself effectively to have the children’s struggles with identity and Hana’s struggles with single motherhood intertwine so well together to understand how this family drama could be so complex and still come to a conclusion of emotional clarity that I could not fight it any longer as an epic tale of motherhood’s hardships and successes. Plus, I don’t have to say it here but Hosoda’s visuals here are tearjerkingly beautiful.
143. Shoplifters (2018, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan)
Another filmmaker that I just was not in the bag for, but when a filmmaker does it right, they do it right. Kore-eda Hirokazu’s 2018 Palme d’Or winner earns that award with his quietly rich humanity and ability to deliver warmth even through a complex and hard premise… the kind of storytelling that makes you fully aware of the ramifications of it and how close they are to creeping up on our characters. And we don’t want them to happen to character so wonderfully embodied by a cast with the effortless chemistry that make a family reject the “found” qualifier. In any case, that same cast and Kore-eda’s assured directing make it so that dread is nowhere to be found in such a teetering drama and that’s the sort of relaxed and confident social observation drama without any dismissal that I like to see.
142. Sorry to Bother You (2018, Boots Riley, USA)
A more experienced filmmaker probably would not have had the inconsistent pacing that Sorry to Bother You has, but I’m so glad Boots wasn’t an experienced filmmaker. More than anything else, that stop and go and stop and go gives the wonky mindset of this roller coaster of fearless visual ambitions and thematic bluntness in the form of overlapping metaphors and literalism. It is a movie so full of stuff anyway, all of it exciting and hilarious and energizing to boot, that I wouldn’t know what I would want him to re-arrange to get this shit to a more orthodox structure and besides which Lakeith Stanfield is an excellent enough straight man to all the cartoonery that I think he can hold our hand to keep us from vomiting and besides besides which we need more leftist cinema willing to break the rules like this.
141. Li’l Quinquin (2014, Bruno Dumont, France)
Having it reported to me that Bruno Dumont is not known for making comedies is wild to me. I don’t think this European small-town tale inhabited with weirdos would work anywhere near as well for me if it didn’t a good-humored treatment of them all and understand that even at their worst, they’re all just people. Strange people but people nonetheless. It’s not even something applied to the characters, but to the setting itself as character… the ugly concrete is given the same visual softness as the skies above and the beaches surrounding and spending somewhere around 4 hours in this place with these folks begins to have a comforting languidness even while basically following a police investigator waiting for something to happen. I deeply wonder if Dumont has the same sense of generosity in his other films (this is my very first and so far only one). I would hope that Dumont got this far as an arthouse name by the sake of that same humanity.
Well, here we are… Ready to dig into the main event itself.
It may have something to do with more of the volume and quantity of the movies I watched, but even if the 2010s haven’t turned out to be pound-for-pound the greatest decade in filmmaking (a matter I consider up for debate), it happens to be the decade I’ve lived in where I’ve seen more movies re-examine facets of themselves and trying to break and reshape the medium. I think that more than anything is what energized me about the art over that time span and kept me an enthusiastic filmgoer (and someone who dreams one day of giving filmmaking another try with what these movies taught me). I think it’s that enthusiasm that made me so erratic in making this list that when I at first aimed for the much more reasonable Top 100, I found so many honorable mentions busting through my head that I eventually decided to expand my list range. Not to mention how much you’ll find me cheating and attaching sequels I love to their also lovely predecessors and fit in two entire trilogies in their own slots. AND STILL I found myself arranging and rearranging the order until this very moment.
No more. It’s set, it’s done, I also think the selections have a particularly nice shape to their order here, and since my tastes and responses to film as they always will be… I hope I encourage others to use whatever they like from this list as a launchpad for their own personal exploration of the medium.
Thank you all for going along with me on this retrospective journey for my most adventurous decade as a filmgoer yet.
Anyway, since any post in this series feels naked without a list attached, I’ll throw in below the movies that were disqualified from the list for a variety of reasons.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF EXTREME AVANT-GARDERY:
★ (2017, Johann Lurf, Austria) – How does one quantify a movie that is basically an archiving of starry footage? There IS at least one movie made entirely out of pre-existing footage, but it’s also more conventional than this movie and also isn’t as frequently amended.
HommageàÉric Rohmer (2010, Jean-Luc Godard, France & Switzerland) – A way too dense 3 1/2 minutes that I still don’t think I’ve entirely grappled with.
PROTOTYPE (2017, Blake Williams, Cananda) – Something about this movie makes it at once more and less accessible than Goodbye to Language, if that makes sense. It doesn’t, I know.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF BEING BEING 2009 FILMS THAT CAME STATESIDE IN 2010:
Amer (2009, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Belgium & France) – Fortunately watched soon enough to catch on to Cattet & Forzani’s brand of genre pastiche. I’m all ’bout it now.
Fish Tank (2009, Andrea Arnold, UK) – Got me on board with Arnold’s style of social observation.
I Am Love (2009, Luca Guadagnino, Italy) – Introduced me to Guadagnino’s wonderful sense of lavish style.
Last Train Home (2009, Lixin Fan, Canada) – Would have absolutely made the top 50.
Mother (2009, Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) – I’d be willing to say this was the best Bong movie released stateside in the 2010s.
A Prophet (2009, Jacques Audiard, France) – The single greatest movie in Audiard’s entire career and also personally one of the major instances I’ve encountered an Algerian protagonist in Western cinema.
The Secret of Kells (2009, Tomm Moore, France Belgium & Ireland) – Introduced me to Cartoon Saloon’s style of shapes and lines.
Sweetgrass (2009, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA) – Same as Last Train Home, would have been on the top 50 for sure.
White Material (2009, Claire Denis, France) – Just to remind folks that Isabelle Huppert was always the dopest and Denis as well.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF BEING LONG FUCKING DELAYED MOVIES RELEASED STATESIDE IN 2010:
About Elly (2009, Asghar Farhadi, Iran) – An absolute shame that this movie had to wait on the acclaim of A Separation for people to finally get to see it 6 years later.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018, Orson Welles, USA Iran & France) – Would probably be in my top five of the decade if it wasn’t the combined fact of its lack of time to it and the knowledge that we will never see a version of the film that Welles signed off on.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF BEING A MUSIC VIDEO:
“Alejandro” (2010, Steven Klein, USA) – Lady Gaga’s actual best movie of the past 10 years, eat it A Star Is Born.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF NOT BEING A MOVIE – TV EDITION:
Devilman Crybaby (2018, Yuasa Masaaki, Japan) – If Neon Genesis Evangelion doesn’t get considered a movie, neither does this.
Over the Garden Wall (2014, Patrick McHale, USA) – Maybe the toughest one to disqualify but I stand by it. A miniseries that did not premiere at the cinema is television, not film, and if you put a knife to my throat and told me to denounce Scenes from a Marriage and Dekalog as cinema, I’d do that too. Still wonderful animation that I rewatch every Halloween season.
Primal (2019, Genndy Tartakovsky, USA) – Nice try, Cartoon Network, submitting this to the Oscars. This was literally renewed for a second season before it was submit to the Academy. Anyway, it wipes the floor with Samurai Jack season 5 on a level of pure visceral violence and emotional storytelling from blocky visuals and Samurai Jack season 5 is still among my favorite things I’ve watched in the past 4 years.
Sense8 (2015-’18, The Wachowskis & J Michael Straczynski et al., USA) – ‘Cause obviously I need to recognize the brilliantly pure work of two of my favorite storytellers and the extended family with which they created this.
The Tatami Galaxy (2010, Yuasa Masaaki, Japan) – If a certain Yuasa movie is gonna show up on the list proper, it only makes sense to acknowledge
Twin Peaks: The Return (2017, David Lynch, USA) – It’s a tv show, y’all. Accept it. It’s one of the best pieces of media released in the last 10 years (it would make my top 10 if I were so wrong-headed), but it’s a tv show.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT NOT BEING A MOVIE – VIDEO GAME EDITION:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Mario Kart 8 (2018)
Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
In which I out myself as basic bitch for Nintendo, but y’know what they have shown some eye-watering bright animation and storytelling on a level that I just respond too purely for.
FILMS I WISH I HAD SEEN IN TIME FOR THIS:
Ace Attorney (2012, Miike Takashi, Japan) – Could this be the fabled first unconditionally good video game movie (if you’re a basic motherfucker who doesn’t like Resident Evil: Retribution)?
Aniara (2019, Pella Kagerman & Hugo Lilja, Sweden & Denmark) – Hoped that this way more High Life than Ad Astra, but unfortunately the closest theater near me to play it did so at times I couldn’t go.
The Arbor (2010, Clio Barnard, UK) – Seems dense in a very understated way. I’d like to be prepared for it.
Doggiewoggiez, Poochiewoochiez!! (2012, Everything Is Terrible, USA) – I sound like an absolute monster when I say that I just couldn’t find time to watch this version of The Holy Mountain made up of dog videos. Maybe I can watch it with my dog – assuming none are hurt because I don’t expose my baby to that.
High Flying Bird (2019, Steven Soderbergh, USA) – Soderbergh hurt me hard with Unsane and I need to prep myself for another shitty looking iPhone shot movie from a director I once trusted.
Like Someone in Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami, France & Japan) – The one Kiarostami feature of the decade I missed and given my affinity for tales of isolation in Japan, I don’t know how I missed this.
Love 3D (2015, Gaspar Noé, France & Belgium) – I stand by the fact that Noé makes movies unlike anybody else, but y’know watching a dick ejaculate in your face in 3D is something you gotta be in the mood for and I just wasn’t when it played near me.
Office 3D (2015, Johnnie To, Hong Kong & China) – My white whale 3D picture. I moved to Queens just after this movie played in the Metrograph and a 3D office-based Chinese musical by one of the 21st Century’s best names in action sounds like absolutely my jam. Hope I can encounter it in the wild someday.
Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raúl Ruiz, Portugal) – Told that this is something to admire and I do love me a good costume drama and especially by experimental filmmakers.
Le Quattro Volte (2010, Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy) – A weird ass spiritual movie that’s less than 90 minutes? How haven’t I seen this yet?!
Under the Silver Lake (2018, David Robert Mitchell, USA) – More like movie I wish I had finished as I had started it but life got in the way. I’m not convinced it would have made the Top 150 but I’m sure it would have stuck deep in my head.
Victoria (2015, Sebastian Schipper, Germany) – The trailer alone is one of the best visual things I’ve watched this past decade. I have deep hope the feature lives up to it, please.
DISQUALIFIED ON ACCOUNT OF MY LACK OF BIG BALLS:
Cats (2019, Tom Hooper, USA) – I’m nothing but a coward.
We all know that movies are great. What this list presupposed… maybe they aren’t? I’ve seen just as much shit as I have seen great works to the degree that I think they deserve their own collated list at this point with all that same TLC that the Great Movies do to recognize my pain and tragedy in watching this crap. And I think you can all take a quick guess as to how many of these movies are from a certain country, which dishes ’em out like no other.
Anyway, given the amount of stuff I’m going through, the low enthusiasm for it all, and the energy I’m trying to conserve for the big event starting tomorrow, I would be forgiven for just using this opportunity to talk shit and snark more than anything. Let’s get this wallow into the circles of Hell that are movies over with…
The 50 Worst Movies of the 2010s
50. Pixels (2015, Chris Columbus, USA & China)
Gets as high as it does on the basis of some magnificent Visual Effects – it was definitely not too far from making the Motors in that category – but the rest of it remains the same sort of obnoxious Sandler and Friends style comedy that I outgrew ’round age… 10.
49. Serenity (2019, Steven Knight, USA)
I’ve grown to feel it’s unfair to call this film bet-hedging against criticisms with how much it doesn’t resemble any human being. It absolutely believes in the core themes of itself and that’s what damns it even more.
48. 47 Ronin (2013, Carl Rinsch, USA)
Treats Japanese culture like some Epcot pavilion except Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth and Rinsch’s direction is absolutely not.
47. Alice in Wonderland (2010, Tim Burton, USA)
In a long line of movies that are almost exclusively not good (you’re safe, The Jungle Book ’16 and Pete’s Dragon), I’d say that Burton’s Alice in Wonderland edges out as the absolute nadir of Disney’s Live-Action Remakes of Animated Classics phase. Never indulge Tim Burton that much.
46. The Emoji Movie (2017, Tony Leondis, USA)
45. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2010, Mike Mitchell, USA)
If I was stuck on a boat with these characters for 15 minutes, I’d kill myself. Stuck on an island, I’d kill them all and then myself.
44. Tom & Jerry: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (2017, Spike Brandt, USA)
Algorithmic cinema at its most painful, particularly since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is at the bottom rung of my Roald Dahl rankings, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a movie which I’m not very warm on, I have next to no love for Tom & Jerry, and I have absolutely none for cheap animation.
43. Skin (2018, Guy Nattiv, USA)
Quite possibly the worst Oscar winner that I have ever seen, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves: this is the level of wrongheaded “what the fuck is going on?!”-ness that accomplishes me hating a movie on a level of principle. This movie’s treatment of race is grotesque.
42. Hop (2011, Tim Hill, USA)
Spent way too many summer nights as a water park lifeguard during undergrad suffering this replaying over and over and over on the giant screen. Y’know, for the kids. Don’t get why movie studios treat them like braindead zombies with releases like this.
40. Friend Request (2016, Simon Verhoeven, Germany)
Made by a guy who comes from a background knowing how to make movies but not knowing a single way that humans work, let alone social media and horror.
40. I Melt with You (2011, Mark Pellington, USA)
It’s like if The Virgin Suicides were performed by deadbeat toxic assholes. It’s like the version of Knight of Cups that could have been with a storyteller that understands no nuance and had cinematography that looks like the result of a concussion. The only thing that satisfied me for the entire two hours was occasionally thinking about that joke of bros trying to find a place to pee, one of them being like “just pee on the world”, and the other peeing on his friend’s mouth because “you’re my entire world, bro”.
39. Sabotage (2014, David Ayer, USA)
The Ayeriest of all of David Ayer’s movies: lionizing garbage people, having an absolute lack of commitment in its genre and tone, overlong as all hell, and visually ugly as shit.
38. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018, David Yates, UK & USA)
Don’t know how we got here from a reliable machine line of product that the exact same people involved shot out for a decade for 14 years but I guess it had to break down sometime and I guess JK Rowling’s inability to serve all the different masters of the screenplay had a domino effect on anybody being able to deliver a consistent and fun time. Every time I realize the past year of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have indicated an unprecedented dip in quality after having a reliable but uninteresting house style, I look at this movie and realize no… things could get worse for cinematic universes.
37. Remember Me (2010, Allen Coulter, USA)
Several movies on this list have twists that make me jaw drop in their awfulness but this one truly takes the cake. I don’t know how somebody thinks of doing that to spice up and give their shitty teen angst drama depth.
36. Yogi Bear (2010, Eric Brevig, USA)
Hey, I can hate 3D movies too. You think I want to share space with the worst fucking cartoon from when I was a kid?
35. Mile 22 (2018, Peter Berg, USA)
Wasting the martial arts talents of Iko Uwais should be considered a hate crime and also remember when this movie ended trying to be a fucking multimedia franchise? The worst summer movie of the decade, Michael Bay aspires to be this bad.
34. 2016: Obama’s America (2012, Dinesh D’Souza, USA)
Less a Republican political screed and more D’Souza’s deep and desperate attempt to paint himself and Obama as long-time nemesis just because they both happen to be non-white Americans who are the same age. It’s kind of laughably pathetic how badly D’Souza wants to matter in the same breath as the at-the-time president here.
33. Vampires Suck (2010, Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, USA)
The question is not how badly a Friedberg & Seltzer movie sucked. The question is why did it take me as long as the year of our Lord 2010 to realize I don’t have to keep doing this to myself.
32. Shaft (2019, Tim Story, USA)
I can’t dig it.
31. Polar (2019, Jonas Åkerlund, USA & Germany)
You give a European art director some Mountain Dew Code Red while telling them to watch John Wick and this is what you’ll get.
30. The Expendables 3 (2014, Patrick Hughes, USA)
In which Sylvester Stallone realizes he has run out of friends to drag into his hang-out comedy and so has brought in new blood that make the action icons’ acting look like Shakespeare.
29. The Last Airbender (2010, M. Night Shyamalan, USA)
I don’t particularly consider it the crime against the rich storytelling of the original tv series that most of this movie’s haters consider it to be. It’s a crime against the sacred art of moviemaking.
28. Gotti (2018, Kevin Connolly, USA)
I feel personally attacked when I see my stock of New Yawk Italian impressions weaponized for this. Why they break-a mah balls?
27. The Legend of Hercules (2014, Renny Harlin, USA)
Thinking my backyard make-believe when I was child had more physical presence than the CGI of this movie and us kids were probably more convincing and restrained performers too. But that’s quite ok because more than any other film on this list, The Legend of Hercules gives me legit giddy so-bad-it’s-good joy to the degree that I wondered if I needed to put it on here.
26. The Amityville Playhouse (2015, John R. Walker, USA)
One reliable discovery when I was following along the Alternate Ending Summer of Amityville marathon… realizing that thanks to the public domain of the name, there’s so many different ways that the Amityville brand has been run to the ground and so there’s always some new way regardless of how we get the same result: people fucking around in a house on camera to get an IMDb credit.
25. Paranormal Activity 4 (2012, Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost, USA)
Dear god, they stretched this so fucking thin. I like to imagine the producers realized how mileage had run out of this that they decided the next step was to add different gimmicks like 3D or Hispanic culture.
24. A Talking Cat!?! (2013, David DeCoteau, USA)
As bad as the visuals are – raw and unrendered with a fixation on one house’s wide shots to the degree that I wonder if this was a covert real estate ad – the worst thing is watching a superimposed abyss form on a kitten’s mouth to mimic visual speech. And as bad as the noisy air conditioning-level sound design is, the worst part of it is thinking a kitten would sound like Eric Roberts.
23. Amityville: Vanishing Point (2016, Dylan Greenberg, USA)
Now this is a movie that I’m not going to say much about because I have mutual friend between the director (though I think they have better things to do than read this list) and because it was directed by a 17-year-old and that’s just no fun to shit on. But… it IS on this list. For a reason.
22. Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013, James Wan, USA)
I guess before James Wan could finally complete his dramatic evolution to good popcorn filmmaker, he had to make one more piece of shit just to know that he could do it. Takes the terrible fiery crash of the first movie’s third act and dugs further under the ground.
21. The Bye Bye Man (2017, Stacy Title, USA)
It is a movie very deserving of its title – not only because it is unintimidating as hell, but because the misery and incompetence of its delivery gets to a point where saying “bye bye” out the door feels like the only sane solution.
20. Annabelle (2014, John R. Leonetti, USA)
Same as James Wan’s career, I guess the Conjuring universe had to bottom the fuck out before becoming the reliable source of spooks that I knew they could be. The tedious manner in which this movie doesn’t figure out how to construct scares is akin to a comedian who gives away the punchline fumbling and says “I fucked up, start over!” or a magician whose cards spill onto the dove cage and accidentally loosens them when he still hasn’t completed the trick. Glad this franchise and Wan got their shit together.
19. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015, Andy Fickman, USA)
When the deepest loathing towards your ostensible protagonist for the crime of just fucking existing goes way too far and somehow you find it possible to monetize into a Vegas hotel commercial.
18. FDR: American Badass! (2012, Garrett Brawith, USA)
I’m not sure but I think the last time I ever saw a certain group of friends I had in my college years was when we watched this movie after a brief pool party together. And they’re perfectly fine people so I’m not sure if it was just life that pulled me away from them or if it was unconsciously how much sitting through this thing felt like a waste of my soul.
17. The Roommate (2011, Christian E. Christensen, USA)
Nothing like sitting through the world’s most boring possible thriller, ain’t it?
16. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party (2016, Dinesh D’Souza, USA)
Now that Obama was no longer going to be in the White House, D’Souza instead spends time on writing his own prison diary about how much scarier black people are to him in there and then occasionally remembers he’s trying to stop Hillary Clinton’s election so he intersperses it with some good ol’ Drunk History level reenactments of history, except the asshole is being annoying while sober.
15. Amityville Exorcism (2017, Mark Polonia, USA)
That screencap was how I felt. I know that there was practically no money spent on this movie but it looks even cheaper than that.
14. God’s Not Dead & God’s Not Dead 2 (2014-’16, Harold Cronk, USA)
Congratulations to God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, which manages to have a different director and co-lead and therefore is not good but not bad enough to make this list. In the meantime, Cronk has given us plenty enough to muse over and laugh at, between the cod-Magnolia structure of the first movie giving a window to all the racism and sadism with a smile that the makers believe about non-believers or the fantasy treatment of the legal and educational system in the second movie as something out of the nightmares of an animated character with guilt over something done.
13. Leprechaun: Origins (2014, Zach Lipovsky, USA)
I’d rather take Warwick Davis’ annoying little prick over this indistinct grey blob of a monster, even if the inconsistent digital cinematography and underlighting will not change in any way.
12. Norm of the North (2016, Trevor Wall, USA India & Ireland)
The secret to solving global warming is obviously in the memeification of a badly animated polar bear dancing to “Shut Up and Dance”. That’s why most of this movie’s scene are made up of it, shoveling that exact movement pattern as often as possible.
11. Marmaduke (2010, Tom Dey, USA)
If any movie is destined to remain a time capsule of all of cinema’s worst habits for the 2000s AND the 2010s, it’s gonna be that talking animal movie based on a comic strip of which I don’t know a single person who finds enjoyment out of it. I like my baby dog to have actual good role models instead, so I’ll sooner show him Cujo and The Thing.
10. Point Break (2015, Ericson Core, USA)
Remember when I called Polar “Mountain Dew Code Red” up above. This is regular Mountain Dew but like way past its expiration date to the point where mold is forming onto the soda itself, but you drink it anyway because you’re so extreme and your shithead buddies in the form of this movie’s lead characters goad you into doing it and somehow all of the landscapes you’re looking at now seem mottled and green like through the eyes of Shrek’s digital tears. I swear this makes more sense if you watch it. We are a very far way from charm of Bigelow, Swayze, and even Reeves in the original.
9. Life Itself (2018, Dan Fogelman, USA)
Out of the four major “Does Not Know How Humans” work movies of this past decade – This, Serenity above, The Book of Henry, and Collateral Beauty – this one stands out specifically on how there practically no fun in watching it. It is a joyless thing of frequent and globe-trotting miserablism thinking it can pep it up with irony and meta-observations and what not. It’s not it.
8. The Devil Inside (2012, William Brent Bell, USA)
This is a movie that opts not to finish itself but give you a now-defunct url at the end to watch the rest. Shit was going so wrong on all levels that they just fucking gave up.
7. The Atlas Shrugged trilogy (2011-’14, Paul Johansson/John Putch/J. James Manera, USA)
It only figures that such an unwieldy book with little satisfying returns would make for such an unwieldy set of films with absolutely no satisfying return, besides watching actors try to navigate through inscrutable character names and even more inscrutable philosophies. I have a friend (J.D., if you read this) who is absolutely gung-ho about making me write about these movies at feature review length later on, but the experience of going through them with the thankful breathers between release dates was already body-numbing that I need to mentally prep myself for watching the three of them in immediate succession.
6. Proud Mary (2017, Babak Najafi, USA)
Honestly lucky it’s only this low and not lower. This is legitimately poor filmmaking on the level of competency: sound design is unrefined, shots are not process fully, and the editing doesn’t follow eyelines. This is as bad as my student film. And it’s a studio production. Why do they keep doing this to Taraji P. Henson?
5. Detainment (2018, Vincent Lambe, Ireland)
The worst Oscar nominee I have ever seen. It already comes from extremely shameful and exploitative origins, but on top of that, there is not a single thing redeeming about it as work of art from the confused editing to the child performances to the most miserable gradations of grey and blue I’ve ever seen.
4. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010, James Nguyen, USA)
Listen, I don’t want to be the one that points out that the midnight movie crowd latched on to the wrong fucking movie but… there is no active joy I get from watching something this blandly low-energy. I don’t know if it’s the repetitiveness of the effects that desensitize me from ironic enjoyment, if it’s the constant chest-thumping effort placed in preaching to us about environmentalism and global warming, or the feeling that I’m being blinded in various different ways by the cheapest DV visuals one could get from RadioShack. It most likely to be how every sequence lasts far beyond its welcome to us, even after we get the point of how bad it is. I just am not laughing with you guys, I want to change the channel instead.
3. Movie 43 (2013, Peter Farrelly et al., USA)
Somebody – probably Farrelly since he was producing this with long-timer Charles Wessler (both of whom we gave a Best Picture Oscar to so look’s like we’re the clowns) – had good blackmail material on so many fucking people. It’s one thing to deal with unfucking comedies, but an endless anthology of unfunny comedies is just unfucking bearable and watching esteemed A-listers go through with it feels like both sides are being punished as a result. Part of me not listing every single director here is just because the list is long, but I also want to extend mercy to those who deeply felt they had no other option.
2. Loqueesha (2019, Jeremy Saville, USA)
The product of a man who definitely likes the sound of his own voice like Saville, where 0 TLC is given to anything else than leaving open windows for him to elaborate on his personal thoughts and philosophies regarding how the world works or should work. Much of which is delivered as an attempt to justify him imitating a loud black woman stereotype for nearly 100 minutes because he thinks it’ll make his wisdom more digestible.
Foodfight! (2012, Lawrence Kasanoff, USA)
A movie where the only thing about that feels like the product of humans is the fact that it was allegedly the subject of a false-burglary embezzlement scam. In any case, its bottomless attempts at trying to make the plot of Casablanca fit grocery items product placement is an evergreen testament of how soulless movies can be if you put work into that son of a bitch. And that’s just what’s wrongheaded about the narrative: look at that fucking clip. Tell me it looks different from what what was shown to Miyazaki Hayao and he called “an insult to life itself”. The proportions of the characters, the textures of the hallway, the movements of even the characters who aren’t supposed to be broke in the membrane, all of that is just so goddamn wrong and the movie is full up of animation on that level (apparently as a result of two different approaches that are incompatible: the animators wanted cartoon squash and stretch, Kasanoff’s fucking foolish ass wanted motion-capture. Motion capture of fucking what?! Thin air?!). I’ve seen too many Italian animated Titanic movies to call this the worst animation I’ve ever seen, but it is absolutely close-up there and it is fucking painful how fascinating an incorrect object this movie ended up being.
Movies are like any other art: they are made by people and so susceptible to representing their personalities and ideals. That door swings several ways: much as I am happy to use the auteur theory as a baseline to discuss movies, cinema is a collaborative process in the end. Everybody who gets involved in whatever capacity has a fingerprint on the result… no matter how small it may be.
With that known, I wanted to take a moment to recognize ten of the people leaving those fingerprints in many of my favorite works of 2010s cinema – all of them from various angles and roles and backgrounds and providing a familiar sense of entertainment and challenge and revelation…
The MVPs of the 2010s
(Presented in alphabetical order)
Feels really awkward to open with the figure who I strongly object to on a personal and moral level, but the fact is that Tom Cruise’s late attempts to fully reinvent himself as an action star have proven a reliability in popcorn cinema that I can’t resist. I know it’s easy to attach that simply to the Mission: Impossible franchise, but that determination clearly extended far beyond that with Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, Oblivion, and American Made to various levels of success (or failure in the case of Knight and Day and The Mummy, but who’s talking about those?). And credit should be given to Christopher McQuarrie and Doug Liman and Joseph Kosinski for helming those projects (Kosinski gets pre-emptive credit for Top Gun: Maverick, which I am extremely excited for) but they’re not the ones jumping off of planes and breaking their ankles like Cruise is, overshadowing fellow actor-who-learned-he’s-best-at-screen-action Keanu Reeves in the complete willingness to put himself through heart-stopping experiences on camera for unnecessary verisimilitude and possibly to convince himself that evil is such great power armor for laughing in the face of certain death. It’s already surprising enough that he’s willing to play with his star persona in such glib ways – the insincerity behind his character’s posturing at the beginning of Edge of Tomorrow is a wild if inadvertent self-own and the energy behind the stunts and their presentation feels like an intense extension of his well-known psychoticness – but all of the impossible-to-dismiss active danger in his stunts within the Mission: Impossible films earn my repetition of this statement: Tom Cruise is the long lost member of Jackass and I await the moment where he violently chops off and cannibalizes his own arm on-camera at this point.
It is really not a good look opening up with two guys who are fucking assholes (how was I was supposed to realize the alphabetical arrangement would land this way?) and I promise that Godard is the last of them. But I really don’t regret having to say that Godard has been making movies unlike anybody else for the past 10 years (which also happens to be the case for another person on this list), using his old cynical worldview to try to indict the state of modern moviemaking technology with Film Socialisme, Hommage á Éric Rohmer, Goodbye to Language, and The Image Book. It just so happens to be that his attempts at criticism-via-mishandling result in some of the most exciting juxtapositions in imagery and experimentation of that tech, most playfully the case in Goodbye to Language‘s 3D with the help of photographer Fabrice Aragno – who feels just as responsible for Godard’s place here as anybody else – but still present in various different ways within all four named films and encouragingly playful because of how Godard tries to put together broken filmmaking. It is absolutely not the case that Godard stopped being interesting at the end of the ’60s… he has the same critical eye and attitude towards the medium as he’s ever had.
The SINGLE biggest reason that I imposed that 1 score per composer rule on my Best Scores list. I don’t know where exactly Levi came from but over the past ten years they’ve scored four features I loved and in all four instances the music was a huge part of those pictures’ impact without overshadowing the rest of the impressive craft (five if we count the short film The Fall, which is technically a 2019 movie though I got to see it this year). And that music collectively feels like they’re coming from the same creative processes – tonal experiments that are intent on transforming abstract sounds into emotional states – but the variety and complexity of those emotional states they’re communicated is jawdropping whether it be the emptiness of Monos, the grim nostalgia of Marjorie Prime, the unwieldy grief of Jackie, the alien dissociation of Under the Skin, or the pure terror of The Fall. I am sold on whatever movie they decides to score next just on the basis of their involvement as I am excited to see what moods they can conjure out of thin fucking air on the next try.
The other guy besides Godard on this list who has spent most of the past decade trying to find an entirely new way to approach his films, to the chagrin of many it appears but to my absolute wonder. You’d think that there’s nowhere to go after a magnum opus like The Tree of Life, which perfects the associative structure and blows it up to grandiosity. And yet Malick decided not to move on to conventional structure – ’cause that’s boring, y’all – but to give a try to something tarot-based like in Knight of Cups… or you know what? How about letting the actors try to guide the story for Malick’s construction in To the Wonder and Song to Song and structuring around the logical mapping of their characters’ emotions? How about revisiting The Tree of Life from the entirely new perspective and approaches you’ve developed for a brand new cut, landing on yet another masterpiece from the same material? And that’s still neglecting the way he encouraged Emmanuel Lubezki – the greatest cinematographer alive – to be at his most playful with Knight of Cups or recognized with Jörg Widmer just how much beauty of the world could be captured in the warping panoramic nature of the widest possible lenses. Like Godard, Malick was basically trying to figure out a way to communicate thoughts and ideas in film in a manner that doesn’t abide by the rules that we’ve become comfortable to regarding the formation of cinematic storytelling – just that while Godard’s is cold and intellectual, Malick’s is spiritual and emotional. I don’t know who I would favor (spoiler alert: they both have multiple films in the Top 150 of the 2010s and each director has one in the top 5), but I think it says something that Malick is trying to appeal to the human spirit more with this visual language and given how A Hidden Life finally brought Malick back to public acclaim despite not throwing away a single thing he’s developed in the prior films, the 2010s ended with him succeeding. What a triumphant note to walk out of the decade with.
To be quite honest, the two 2019 movies that Mathon has shot and I waxed rhapsodic about earlier on the cinematography list are in fact the only two pieces of work I’ve seen of hers from an evidently vast career spanning 2 decades. But when you provide a one-two punch of visuals that hit me so hard I consider you to have owned the entire year (2019), I think that’s fair enough call to put you up on this list. And while Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Atlantics both look distinct in mistakable ways, I find enough of a consistency in approaching color, in approaching lines, and in approaching qualities of light to recognize how her logic in shooting could be flexible for two very talented visual directors (Céline Sciamma and Mati Diop, give it up for them) to transform into their unique visual language. It’s the work of somebody who knows what she’s doing and plays well with fellow filmic minds who want a personal way to use her skills and those collaborations resulted in two of the best-looking movies I’ve ever seen.
I mean, it’s kind of a given at this point. After being literally sentenced to never make films again, Panahi went and did it anyway FOUR fucking times, exercising noncompliance towards his government and receiving thankfully no severe consequences. And what does he risk his life and safety for? To deliver humane treatises and explorations of the artist and their essential place in a society: first for the sake of the artist’s soul (This Is Not a Film), for the sake of the art (Closed Curtain, admittedly the only one I don’t care for), for the sake of his culture (Taxi), and for the sake of the next generation (3 Faces), nearly all of them full of inspiration and life despite the labored and confined manner of their productions. And what’s probably the most encouraging thing is watching each film daringly take a step more and more into the open air – probably the most defiant aspect of these films as he not only succeeds in making his art but slowly involving himself once more as part of a community after once being imprisoned in his own apartment. It is freeing to watch Panahi’s recent films, in every sense of that word “free”.
Does it feel weird that Sixel is being placed on this list for one work? Kind of. But it is astonishing work she’s done, frankly my favorite thing that anyone has done in any capacity for 2010’s movies whatsoever. The editing for Mad Max: Fury Road dictates the fundamentals of action cinema and post-apocalyptic cinema with a force matching everything else in that wild wild movie but also a clarity aware of how viewers associate the arrangement of images. I think Sixel is a major part of what makes Mad Max: Fury Road unforgettably physical genre spectacle. Without Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road would probably still be a great movie as it has enough ambitious stuff going right. But with Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like the cleanest collision you could slam us into in all the right ways.
Maybe I’m just way too late to the train since the man has been a documentary staple since the 1960s and I have no reason to assume that there has been some grand shift to his approach: shooting for an extended amount of time within an institution and from there taking his sweet ass time to arrange that material into a structure that could be presented as film, whether 84 minutes or 4 hours. But, I got hooked onto Wiseman when I did – which happens to be 2013 – and late or not, I am never letting go. The comprehensive look at every possible nook and cranie and facet of his institutional subjects feels like its own reward. What really gets me not only satisfied at the time I spent but leaving the theater upwards of 2 1/2 hours later feeling more nourished as a member of society is the way that Wiseman quietly presents these things as their own little entity where even with the structures and sub-structures within. It allows so that we can be fascinated by how susceptible they are to human involvement or see where the flaws reveal themselves and so on. Exposure and investment to Wiseman’s movies have added in equal parts to both my fascination and disillusion with the concept and exercise of institutions and their place in America, just as much as any of my personal and direct experiences with those institutions.
Over the past 9 years, Bradford Young skyrocketed from being an indie secret weapon to being such a trusted name that he was engaged by rising names like J.C. Chandor and Denis Villeneuve to being recruited to shoot a fucking Star Wars movie. All of that success is earned since Young is responsible for some of the most breathtakingly idiosyncratic imagery, tapping into unconventional lighting choices that delivers a raw dynamic to the visual textures but also being mindful of every possible color he can retain in an existent shot. It’s too chromatically charged to be realism but too restrained from plausible light sources to be overt and that contradictory approach is exactly what makes Young’s images delectable and unlike anything else. And I also think that approach is what makes him such a phenomenal photographer of black people in general, which only goes to illustrate how diversity behind the camera is a net positive when it brings an intelligence and knowledge of how light reacts to one’s skin in a way that white cinematographers aren’t as certain to be aware of.
Miyazaki Hayao is still hard at work for his FOURTH “final movie” (albeit one that seems like it’ll stick this time and I hope he survives to finish How Do You Live? as it is my most-anticipated movie of the 2020s) but in the meantime, the world of Japanese animation was looking out for “the next Miyazaki” for the better part of the decade and attached that title to various anime directors. I submit Yuasa Masaaki to that conversation, in spite of how wildly different their styles are. Yuasa has an inexhaustible joy towards the medium, apparent in how he experiments with the possibilities of lines and color in animation to shamelessly embrace the cartoonery and still deliver strong emotions. And the methods he employs display a particular warmth he has for the long history of animation and drawing in itself, whether the wobbly Tex Avery character movements of Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (and The Tatami Galaxy), the dedicated kid-friendly Disney watercolors of Lu Over the Wall, the turn around on the aqua template to bittersweet romantic themes in Ride Your Wave, the sketch-textured Plympton physicality of Kick Punch, the operatic beastliness and Go Nagai proto-Evangelion dramatic violence of Devilman: Crybaby or the fascination with the process of manga inspired by Miyazaki himself in Keep Your Hands, Eizouken!. Every work by Yuasa is plainly the work of someone who loves every possible facet of their job and it only makes sense that such a man can carry the dedication and care towards the craft that Miyazaki displayed. If Yuasa’s streak only really started in 2017 (including Mind Game finally getting a legal release in the US, though I admittedly watched it a year prior), he still had a great past 3 years and here’s to watching his newly ignited star shoot further.
And just because it helps to spread the joy, here are some other people whose work throughout the decade I’ve found myself falling in love with:
Lists are fun, y’all. And for the most part, movies are fun. And the past 10 years happen to be the collection of a ten-year span in which I have watched the largest amount of movies I’ve ever seen in my life with an overwhelming change in magnitude, probably due to the turn of the decade corresponding with my graduation from high school and leaving for Film School. But even once I decided to dedicate my time to the more aggressively time-consuming life of a Biochemistry and Computer Science Graduate, the medium that had long fascinated me since my earlier baby memories still had its hooks in me so that I filled as much time as I could with watching whatever I got my hands on – socialness or professionalism be damned (though I’ve fortunately found satisfaction in both areas) – and I actually did feel better rounded of a filmgoer and aficionado as a result. On top of which, I felt rewarded with a variety of stuff that tried to game-change and explore and push the envelope on the potentials of the medium and its storytelling applications, especially compared to how I also spent the past 10 years re-exploring the cinema of the 1990s and 2000s that I previously lived through. It’s not just that I feel transformed as a lover of film over the past decade, I legitimately feel the decade’s cinema has been transformative in a variety of surprising ways.
So this whole mass of stuff I’ve watched and what to do with it? A simple Best of list wouldn’t do. Thanks to the free time that certain events have provided me that I don’t feel like making light of, I decided to painstakingly dedicate the good part of my last two months to listing the minutia of my experience with 2010s cinema as it was happening around me. And I do stress the subjectivity of its content because it is a document of how I personally lived through the decade in movies and I also stress the arbitrariness of its content because it is a document of my perspective NOW which could and probably will change before the month even ends. But I am nevertheless satisfied with the comprehensiveness of it all and impressed with the scale of it all that I had to jump the gun in collecting all the lists posted thus far and provide anticipation in the last few pieces which will be coming shortly…
Every bit of what makes a movie great deserves recognition and if I had the time and energy to give each one of these a write-up the way I did for the rest of the lists, I would. But I just went through A LOT of lists – as you all can see – still have two massive lists (and one small one) to go so I’d like to let the work speak for itself if you all ever have a time to take a look or listen. I will be giving a brief write-up to only the winner of each awards-like category – eschewing short, documentary, foreign-language film, and animated film because those are absolutely obsolete compared to what makes up my top 150 films of the 2010s and eschewing song because it’s a banal fucking category. In the meantime, I will happily indulge in providing 2 categories I think needed entering in the Oscars pronto – choreography and cast – and a miscellaneous list I had on had that I figure may as well be put to use… 3D.
Without further ado because I’m really trying to wrap this bitch up…
The Remaining Awards Superlatives of the 2010s
BEST USES OF 3D
20. A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011) 19. Piranha 3D (2010) 18. Prometheus (2012) 17. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) 16. Life of Pi (2012) 15. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) 14. Dredd (2012) 13. The Jungle Book (2016) 12. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011) 11. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) 10. Long Day’s Journey into Night (2018) 9. Step Up 3D (2010) 8. Pina (2011) 7. The Lego Movie (2014) 6. Hugo (2011) 5. Gemini Man (2019) 4. TRON: Legacy (2010) 3. PROTOTYPE (2018) 2. Gravity (2013)
Goodbye to Language (2014)
Unfortunately 3D utilization isn’t really something you can get to showcase in any given context, especially not with a screenshot or a youtube clip. I just have to do my best to communicate just how wonderful it was that after 5 years of movies trying to perfect it in the wake of Avatar, Jean-Luc Godard decided to go the other way around in complete frustration of the tools’ apparent domination of where cinema was going (I don’t think it ever became big and frankly I hope it never does). And whether or not he intended for it to be, it was an unalloyed joy to watch things breakdown and reconstruct in unorthodox ways, all the more involving because of the 3D. I hate to say that there’s no point in watching it in 2D, but there really isn’t because you’re not experiencing it properly and you’re denying yourself all the compulsive surprises within the movie.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
20. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) & Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) 19. Interstellar (2014) 18. Hugo (2011) 17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) 16. Ex Machina (2015) & Annihilation (2018) 15. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) 14. Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) 13. Godzilla (2014) 12. Doctor Strange (2016) 11. Life of Pi (2012) 10. Deepwater Horizon (2016) 9. The Jungle Book (2016) 8. TRON: Legacy (2010) 7. Jupiter Ascending (2015) 6. First Man (2018) 5. Ad Astra (2019) 4. The Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy (2011-’17) 3. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) 2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Yet another movie that was outstanding in 3D, but fortunately has more to it than that. One of those things is the limitless amount of technological tools utilized to pronounce the empty space inherent in… well… uh… space. And particularly the principles applied to make this feel real but also feel like a Cuarón film, from the photorealism to the scope of it all. Even if there’s editing and filming applied to Gravity, it’s basically all constructed wholesale right here and the perfection in the creation as engulfing as it is stimulating.
BEST SOUND EDITING
20. Berberian Sound Studio (2012) 19. American Sniper (2014) 18. The Assassin (2015) 17. Ex Machina (2015) 16. Suspiria (2018) 15. First Man (2018) 14. The Guilty (2018) 13. All Is Lost (2013) 12. The Raid: Redemption (2011) 11. Aquaman (2018) 10. Godzilla (2014) 9. Sully (2016) 8. The Lighthouse (2019) 7. High Life (2018) 6. Fury (2014) 5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 4. Fast Five (2011) 3. The Lords of Salem (2012) 2. Dunkirk (2017)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Don’t know much I’m cheating based on how it’s playing into the recognizable sounds of video games and kung fu action cinema and cartoons and all that jazz, but it’s very obvious by the prickly sense of humor and amped up cuteness that they’re all homemade and that the creators of these sounds are trying to find a way to keep it from betraying the artifice while creating loving handcrafted sense to these sound effects makes it impossible to hold the influences against them.
BEST SOUND MIXING
20. Noah (2014) 19. True Grit (2010) 18. Fast Five (2011) 17. The Tree of Life (2011) 16. Zama (2017) 15. First Man (2018) 14. Baby Driver (2017) 13. Goodbye to Language (2014) 12. The Lighthouse (2019) 11. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) 10. Sicario (2015) 9. Wind River (2017) 8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) 7. Roma (2018) 6. Mandy (2018) 5. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) 4. The Turin Horse (2011) 3. Gravity (2013) 2. Monos (2019)
Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
Almost as much as I love the look of Westerns, I really really love the sound of Westerns and I honestly don’t think we’ve had a Western that sounds as lived-in and weary as Meek’s Cutoff since the 1960s. My conscience is clear in attaching a YouTube clip of the movie with such garbage visual quality (240p, baybee! That’s less than 241p!) because I really want you to pay attention to how those wheels define the hypnotic boredom of the journey and the way that the wind rushes by to keep the sequence from feeling sleepy, to the degree that we can almost claim it as score.
BEST HAIR & MAKEUP
15. True Grit (2010) 14. Border (2018) 13. The Favourite (2018) 12. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) 11. The Lighthouse (2019) 10. Behind the Candelabra (2013) 9. Foxcatcher (2014) 8. The Iron Lady (2011) 7. The Revenant (2015) 6. Pain & Glory (2019) 5. Suspiria (2018) 4. The Neon Demon (2016) 3. 12 Years a Slave (2012) 2. Logan (2017)
Holy Motors (2012)
Denis Lavant is one of our greatest actors on top of being among our most underpraised, but he can only transform his physicality so much and the makeup has to give him that extra push to believability while maintaining the archness of it all. This is obviously something that Holy Motors recognizes given how much time is spent documenting the care of he approaches that toolkit with, but it also does to admire on our own how the resultant look still happily allows a window in which to recognize that distinctive face beneath it all, no matter how wild. A co-star of Lavant’s here, neither a supporting player, nor a scene-stealer.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
20. Julian Day – Rocketman (2019) 19. Mitchell Travers – Hustlers (2019) 18. Jürgen Doering – Personal Shopper (2016) 17. Cindy Evans – Atomic Blonde (2017) 16. Kasia Walicka-Maimone – Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 15. Claire Dubien – Lost in Paris (2016) 14. Renee Ehrlich Kalfus – A Simple Favor (2018) 13. Giulia Piersanti – Suspiria (2018) 12. Dorothée Guiraud – Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) 11. Mobolaji Dawodu – Mother of George (2013) 10. Anna Biller – The Love Witch (2016) 9. Victoria Farrell – Meek’s Cutoff (2010) 8. Sandy Powell – Carol (2015) 7. Kate Hawley – Crimson Peak (2015) 6. Milena Canonero – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) 5. Sandy Powell – The Favourite (2018) 4. Stacey Battat – The Bling Ring (2013) 3. Eiko Ishioka – Mirror Mirror (2012) 2. Jo Sang-gyeon – The Handmaiden (2016)
Mark Bridges – Phantom Thread (2017)
Listen, this was a done deal determined from the very moment the film ended. Mark Bridges needed to supply dresses that met with the film’s concepts of visuals translating touch-based sensations. Dresses that met with the film’s concepts of how the process of creating a dress or witnessing a dress in action could become the most erotic activity possible. Dresses that illustrate the variety of functions for the medium of fabric, to the degree that we can understand wanting to spend our time with those obsessed with the material. And you know what? Mission accomplished and more.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
20. Neil Lamont – Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) 19. Dante Ferretti – Hugo (2011) 18. Jennifer Spence – The Lords of Salem (2012) 17. Hugh Bateup & Uli Hanisch – Cloud Atlas (2012) 16. Kayla Eddleblute & Steve Joyner – Alita: Battle Angel (2019) 13-15. Kevin Kavanaugh – The John Wick trilogy (2014-’19) 12. Jan Roelfs – Ghost in the Shell (2017) 11. K.K. Barrett – Her (2013) 10. Albrechy Konrad – The Ghost Writer (2010) 9. Sarah Greenwood – Hanna (2011) 8. Ondřej Nekvasil – Snowpiercer (2013) 5-7. Adam Stockhausen – Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), & (with Paul Herrod) Isle of Dogs (2018) 4. Lee Ha-Jun – Parasite (2019) 3. Thomas E. Sanders – Crimson Peak (2015) 2. Mark Tildesley – High-Rise (2015)
Hughes Tissandier – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
It is easy to claim that this was a “waste” of money if profit is what you value more. For the rest of us, we get to watch a unprecedented variety of space opera worlds ripped from the pages of Jean-Claude Mézières’ illustrations of Pierre Christin’s fevered designs with a texture that rewards our eyes’ dazzled exploration of every new set we’re suddenly tossed into (multiple per scene in many cases) but also the ability to make it all seem plausibly alien and inconceivably exotic in a way that only fantasy and science fiction novel cover could be until this existed.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
20. Dean DeBlois – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) 19. Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) 18. David Kajganich – Suspiria (2018) 17. Takahata Isao & Sakaguchi Riko – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) 16. Bong Joon-ho & Kelly Masterson – Snowpiercer (2013) 15. Joachim Trier & Eskil Vogt – Oslo, August 31 (2011) 14. Pedro Peirano – No (2012) 13. Taika Waititi – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) 12. John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave (2013) 11. Virgil Williams & Dee Rees – Mudbound (2017) 10. Lulu Wang – The Farewell (2019) 9. Katabuchi Sunao – In This Corner of the World (2016) 8. Andrew Haigh – 45 Years (2015) 7. Phyllis Nagy – Carol (2015) 6. Lucrecia Martel – Zama (2017) 5. Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, & Wesley A. Oliver – The Homesman (2014) 4. Tony Kushner – Lincoln (2012) 3. Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network (2010) 2. Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Whit Stillman – Love & Friendship (2016)
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Stillman’s articulate style fits period comedy of manners and particularly Jane Austen’s style perfectly. But I suppose part of this is because of how Stillman selected an incomplete source material which allows enough spaces to both clean the plot up into a more cinematic arc and to imbue a sort of chemistry between original author and updater that provide the best of both worlds here. And I mean that such a mixture also resulted in an outstanding amount of verbal jabs from one central character that be so distasteful a personality if she wasn’t so much fun to listen to is just the perfect bow on top of a perfect comedy.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
20. Boots Riley – Sorry to Bother You (2018) 19. Tamara Jenkins – Private Life (2018) 18. Paul Schrader – First Reformed (2017) 17. Alexander Baciu, Radu Muntean, & Răzvan Rădulescu – Tuesday, After Christmas (2010) 16. Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, & Sharon Tindle – Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) 15. Olivier Assayas – Personal Shopper (2016) 14. Abderrahmane Sissako & Kessen Tall – Timbuktu (2014) 13. David O. Russell & Eric Singer – American Hustle (2013) 12. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, & Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight (2013) 11. Joel & Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) 10. Mati Diop & Olivier Demangel – Atlantics (2019) 9. Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy – Ready or Not (2019) 8. Terence Davies – A Quiet Passion (2016) 7. Nuri Bilge and Ebru Ceylan & Ercan Kesal – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) 6. Asghar Farhadi – A Separation (2011) 5. Maren Ade – Toni Erdmann (2016) 4. Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou – The Lobster (2015) 3. Céline Sciamma – Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) 2. Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara – The Favourite (2018)
It is very evident at this point that I am sucker for the turns of dialogue and irony that period pictures often deliver and if I think in the end that The Favourite is not necessarily the most profound screenplay in this list – in fact, I think the same director’s The Lobster listed above cuts deeper as an observation of the destructive desperation of relationships – it’s still massively impressive how Davis & McNamara have been able to turn anti-romance into intrigue, how they have inhabited a tale with cruel and vicious beings (that still find ways to warrant our sympathies a product of being thrown in a cruel and vicious time and place), and yet in all of this makes it massively enjoyable until the very last scene by translating such pointed nastiness to thing to very accessible humor and never being afraid to just let such a passionately messy affair turn to angry vulgarities just for the sake of trying to hurt the other person. It’s pretty obvious why this is the “mainstream” Yorgos Lanthimos, but it does lose any deepness in its cuts nevertheless.
20. The Greatest Showman (2017) 19. Magic Mike & Magic Mike XXL (2012-’15) 18. The Step Up movies (2010-’14) 17. Train to Busan (2016) 16. Creed (2015) 15. La La Land (2016) 14. Ip Man 3 & 4: The Finale (2015-’19) 13. Hail, Caesar! (2016) 12. The Villainess (2017) 11. Baby Driver (2017) 10. Cunningham (2019) 9. Gemini Man (2019) 8. Pina (2011) 7. The Fits (2015) 6. Climax (2018) 5. The John Wick trilogy (2014-’19) 4. Headshot (2016) 3. Atomic Blonde (2017) 2. The Raid: Redemption & The Raid 2: Berandal (2011-’14)
The Mission: Impossible movies (2011-’18)
I mean, at the end of the day, you can be an amazing fist fighter and you can be an amazing dancer and you can totally design as many setpieces as you want around the established skill that everyone knows and expects from you, but there’s going to be a limit to your surprises. But the last three Mission: Impossible films have always pulled the rug on me in how to arrange people in these jawdropping stunts and capture them with a humbling sense of scope and weight to them whether climbing a building, chasing on motorcycles through the streets, or attaching oneself to the hood of a plane taking off. Plus, they do have fist fight scenes too… magnificent ones, I proclaim!
20. Killer Joe (2011) 19. What We Do in the Shadows (2014) 18. Two Days, One Night (2014) 17. Super 8 (2011) 16. Girlhood (2014) 15. The Kids Are Alright (2010) 14. The World’s End (2013) 13. American Honey (2016) 12. The Beguiled (2017) 11. Logan Lucky (2017) 10. Brooklyn (2015) 9. Bridesmaids (2011) 8. Dolemite Is My Name (2019) 7.Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 6. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) 5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) 4. Mudbound (2017) 3. Shoplifters (2018) 2. The Favourite (2018)
Y’know this was a category that I was going back and forth on between this, Mudbound, and The Favourite, and I still don’t know if I’m committed. But Moonlight won the game of musical chairs, so I went with that for the obvious reason that we have three magnificent lead actors portraying different coagulations of one identity depending on how the character is perceiving the ideas of what a man is supposed to be rather than being comfortable in their own skin. But then there’s also the obvious reason: a supporting cast of actors – including another brilliant trio of a more recognizable and assured identity – feeling like full live separate from Chiron while also carrying the weight of their respective influence on him in subtle but powerful ways.
20. Rob Zombie – The Lords of Salem (2012)
19. Olivier Assayas – Personal Shopper (2016) 18. Angelina Jolie – First They Killed My Father (2017) 17. Asghar Farhadi – A Separation (2011) 16. Alê Abreu – Boy and the World (2013) 15. Lynne Ramsay – You Were Never Really Here (2017) 14. Abbas Kiarostami – Certified Copy (2010) & 24 Frames (2017) 13. Michaël Dudok de Wit – The Red Turtle (2016)
12. Panos Cosmatos – Mandy (2018) 11. Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb – This Is Not a Film (2011) 10. Miguel Gomes – Tabu (2012) 9. Alejandro Landes – Monos (2019) 8. Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity (2013) 7. Jean-Luc Godard – Film Socialisme (2010) & Goodbye to Language (2014) 6. Jonathan Glazer – Under the Skin (2013) 5. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, & Anonymous – The Act of Killing (2012) 4. Mariano Llinás – La Flor (2018) 3. George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 2. Céline Sciamma – Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) 2. Leos Carax – Holy Motors (2012)
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life (2011)
I am most of all very glad that I opted to only write up the winners of each category, because as you can see on the list… there’s only so many times I can go “this is so personal” or “it’s very obvious that the amount of years developing and producing this project paid off”. Since I only need to say it the one time, I’m proud to let it apply to a movie so dedicated to drawing from the intimate out into the cosmic and asking the scariest possible questions in the quietest possible ways. In a decade full of directors triumphing to supply a vision wholly unique and diluted from themselves, The Tree of Life gets to making me feel the purity of that vision in such a overwhelming quantity with unimpeachable sensory quality.