The 150 Best Movies of the 2010s – #100-91

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100. The Wailing (2016, Na Hong-jin, South Korea)

Especially in a decade of horror movies with ghastly runtimes (2019 was outright overflowing with them), it is hard not to appreciate the sort of accomplishment Na Hong-jin and company perform in this epic tragedy of terror. The extended duration doesn’t waste a single frame as it patiently drowns us in helplessness, watching one man dealing with his daughter’s violent possession and running into walls trying to investigate and fight it. It’s not just a crypto-remake of The Exorcist, but one that I think surpasses it. Not to mention the phenomenal small-town photography capturing the way the mountain lines in the blue skies entrap the town to its ghostly doom (one of the things that endears me personally to the film, it reminds me of the looming Tell Atlas in my childhood in Blida) and the manner in which the editing (which I’ve formally recognized twice now in this list series) constantly confuses and puts the viewer under subterfuge for the whole movie. Ambitious pure horror.

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99. La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle, USA)

Yeah yeah yeah, fuck you, I love it. Even without the sentimentality I have regarding how it represents an adjacent period in my life, the world of color and music that Damien Chazelle and his crew conjured together is helplessly appealing in all its swoony romanticism towards the moment in your life you get to share with somebody (delivered by one of the decade’s easiest-to-love screen couples at their ooziest), the sacrifices that artistry demands, the way that makes you grow as a person, and the loose and energizing sensation of film and music. That its representation of LA is as fake as a film set and that its major themes are lifted wholesale from Jacques Demy are complete non-issues to me as symptoms of a state of mind and that state of mind is “Isn’t movies fucking great?!”

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98. Pina (2011, Wim Wenders, Germany)

What started out as a hopeful collaboration with the famous dance choreographer Pina Bausch ended up having to be a tribute to a late friend’s genius (as well as one of the dancers featured in the film who also passed away prior to its completion). Wim Wenders and the dance company of Tanztheater Wuppertal present several stage performances of Bausch’s works with all the patience that a movie translating theater to cinema (Hamilton, take notes!) should have to retain that intimacy, save for one scene that actively uses the cut and with an added bonus for all of them: the 3-D cinematography. And if any choreographer’s work was going to be well suited for the depth of 3-D, it would have to be Bausch as the presentation allows us to feel more physically involved with the observation of the dancers’ bodies and how they are positioned and formed. If there was any better tribute to such an artist than to preserve and enhance her work in such a present way, I can’t think of it.

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97. Hard to Be a God (2013, Aleksei German, Russia/Czech Republic)

Aleksei German’s final picture is exactly the kind of movie that makes me need to go take a shower, aesthetically speaking with how muddy and gross the cinematography feels to complement the incredibly filthy fantasy world he throws the characters of Strugatsky’s book into. The fact that it accomplishes that physical hideousness while maintaining a fascinating sense of immediate place for something that’s otherwise explicitly science fiction is a major part of what kept this movie so stuck in my mind that I had to shove it into the Top 100 at the last second. It’s very tempting to compare this to the work of Tarr Béla and Hranitzky Ágnes and I refrain from doing so lest I run out of things to say when I get to THEIR movie on this list (y’all had to know it was coming, honestly) but suffice it to say it accomplishes that same sort of thematic density, textual challenge, and textural rawness.

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96. The Raid: RedemptionThe Raid 2: Berandal (2011-’14, Gareth Evans, Indonesia)

And we finally reach what will be the first of several “franchise” cheats in this list (as I stated would occur in my intro), but you’ll forgive for wanting to wax rhapsodic on how Gareth Evans’ duology is essentially two different movies both delivering exciting and eye-popping bodily movement in screen combat. I’ve been open about preferring the slim straightforward upward game of death that is the first Raid, but I also have to admit growing onto the expanded storyline of The Raid 2 as a musing on non-stop generational violence and the way that Iko Uwais’ supercop is thrown in the middle of it. In any case, that Evans and his cast and crew find room are versatile enough for either a slender blunt-force ballet of the first movie or the gangster epic of the second movie on the bones of some really amazing action sequences with perfect synchronization between performer (or vehicle), camera, and editing is nothing to scoff about.

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95. Cloud Atlas (2012, Tom Tykwer & Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Germany/USA)

Resist as I might, even with its misconceived elements, I can’t bring myself to lose an ounce of love that have for this unwieldy and flawed work of Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski sisters. For one thing, it translated the already incredible narrative structure of David Mitchell’s book to something much more propulsive and momentum-based, it trusts its actors to maintain a spiritual consistency of character through a varieties of periods and tones, it has a grab bag of ambition in both genre and physical production in and of itself, and brings together all of that in the name of something deeply human and insistent that there is a connection and causality to everything, no matter how vast the timeframe is. It feels like not only the thematic predecessor to the similarly ambitious television series Sense8 (albeit I prefer this film based on how much more gonzo the visuals are), but also a culmination of all the sort of things that the Wachowskis and Tykwer truly love about telling stories and connecting deeply to the viewer. And frankly, it’s one of the movies I’d credit with saving my life, but that’s a different story…

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94. Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Patricio Guzmán, France/Chile/Germany/Spain/USA)

Tell me, what do you think astronomy, geology, and the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet all have in common? I’m not sure I could still tell you after having seen Patricio Guzmán’s first documentary in what I understand to be a trilogy (The Pearl Button was not as fascinating and I have not yet had the chance to see The Cordillera of Dreams) but that’s the pure magic of it: his persuasive ability to conjure a thread between his childhood fascination with the stars and the emotional scars of survivors of Pinochet’s awful violence, landing somewhere between sober and hopeful in bringing together science and memory as a pair of weapons with which painful trauma can be put to rest for fellow Chileans. Moving and transportive, Nostalgia for the Light is frankly associative cinema at its finest.

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93. Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

Much as I hate to admit, Paul Thomas Anderson’s style can occasionally click just right with me. But given that the two times where this has been strongest have been his two collaborations with Daniel Day-Lewis, now apparently retired for good, I would say I don’t plan on us clicking any longer. That said, Daniel Day-Lewis’ wonderfully petulant control freak performance is not the only thing that makes me adore this picture – especially given that he doesn’t manage to steal the show from either of his co-stars, Vicky Krieps or Lesley Manville – but in fact the way that Anderson and his crew take the art of clothing design into something wholly erotic and exciting to experience via cinematic language of sound where we hear the fabric, the intimacy with which we watch it touched, the poise of its adoption by the wearer and such and such before allowing the premise to spiral into something unexpectedly twisted and fucking hilarious. I MEAN FUCKING HILARIOUS, like I’m full-on dying in the movie theater while everybody looks at me weird. Having the late opportunity to see it in 70mm (after that presentation missed my city in initial release for some reason) was a miracle of the decade for me.

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92. The Garden of Words (2013, Shinkai Makoto, Japan)

One of many movies on this list I had to grow out of my initial hostility for, probably because I still think the script’s third act is garbage if I can be generous (and if I cannot be generous, it is very misguided in a way I find morally questionable – I DID recognize the climax as one of the 2010s’ worst movie scenes.). But in case it’s not clear, I don’t entirely engage with movies on the level of their narrative and after coming to recognize that The Garden of Words is probably the pinnacle of Shinkai Makoto’s famous working with the dance between rain and light in animation, I also found that it delivers something emotionally on rewatch that I didn’t expect: a serene state of mind, a mood and atmosphere that I find immensely relaxing and appealing for most of its runtime (especially a major comfort in 2020). That it’s satisfying to me beyond the qualities of its form doesn’t prevent me from trying to dissect how it gets there and I think I’ve landed on it being how it mostly plays in greens and light grays as a visually pensive color palette paired with the fine quality of the trees and greenery that give Shinjuku Gyo-en a real sense of place to sink into. In any case, it is the last movie I expected to enter this list when I first watched it and yet here I am, changing like the wind.

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91. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater, USA)

I love Red Letter Media deeply and wholly, but I also feel that the “IT TOOK TWELVE YEARS TO MAKE!!!!” mockery is one of the worst things to happen to modern film discourse. Like, yeah, it took 12 years to make. I don’t see how such patience and stamina is not an ambitious accomplishment in itself, but even beyond that: it’s what those 12 years of collecting material bring us. A sense of living in a time capsule as we recognize background events and moods and music waving by from the years we pass through. The observation of not only our central child character developing in ways expected and unexpected, but watching his parents have fragmentarily change into persons certain or uncertain at the margins of scenes. Most of all, the thesis that life is basically just a collection of formative parts, some small and some big as arranged by Richard Linklater and his crew (especially editor Sandra Adair), which I expect is why it’s the sort of movie where different things are going to resonate with different people (or nothing will resonate, which is a possibility). It’s not a simulation of that titular experience of boyhood, but just the experience of watching the world turn and change around you and finding out at the end how you changed with it. Probably a major part of why I feel Mason’s blankness as a protagonist works (though Ellar Coltrane – especially as a child – is an talented dramatic actor), but also the fact that at some point in his teenage years, I started seeing myself and my younger brother in the character.

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