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.