Friday, February 7, 2020

Top 100 Films of the 2010s - Top 10

10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)
Paul Schrader has, of course, been an accomplished screenwriter and director dating back to the 1970s – and still, he waited until he was over 70 to make his masterpiece. First Reformed contains a brilliant performance by Ethan Hawke as a Priest – he came to it later in life, after his son died in Iraq, and his wife left him – who is basically going through the motions in a tourist church. Then he meets a beautiful, pregnant young woman (Amanda Seyfried) who convinces him to meet with her husband – who doesn’t think they should bring a child into a dying world. This sets Hawke off in a different direction. In many ways, this is a classic Schrader protagonist – a lonely man driven to action. You’ve seen this in everything from Taxi Driver to Light Sleeper to Affliction, etc. And yet, rarely has Schrader ever dug so deep into this type of character – nor has he driven into his influences – Dreyer, Bergman, Rossellini – so deeply. And yet, for all the hallmarks of earlier work, this film is still its own thing – right up until the haunting final shot of the film. This is a beautiful, subtle brilliant drama – and something that it feels like Schrader had to make – had to get out of himself. And in doing so, he created his masterwork.
9. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, 2016)
I don’t particularly care whether you think this five part, eight-hour documentary is a TV series or a movie – because in the end it doesn’t really matter. It is a complete and total masterpiece – easily the best documentary of the decade, and a film that deserves to ranked near the top of any list of the best docs ever made. Ezra Edleman’s film is long and complex – diving into who O.J. was in the 1960s through the 1980s as a football star and celebrity, before it dives into the crime, the trial and everything happened since. It also functions as a documentary about race in America during this time – from the Watts Riots to the Rodney King riots and everything in between. It concludes that clearly there is racism in America (obviously) and in particular in L.A. and the LAPD – but also finds it ironic that the beneficiary of the backlash against that racism was O.J. who said things like “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”. Films like this – this far reaching, this in depth – are a rare thing indeed. Who knows if we’ll ever seen on like again – people are certainly trying, but no one has come close to this.
8. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
There are many ways you can take Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. It is, in some ways, a continuation of his previous film – There Will Be Blood (2007) – which was a history lesson about capitalism and religion in America. Here, Anderson has moved into the post-WWII period, but he finds something similar in the new religious movement inspired by Scientology. And yet, oddly, his main character isn’t the head of that religion (played, in one of the all-time great performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman) – but on his most imperfect disciple – played in arguably an even better performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is one of the most mysterious, ambiguous characters in cinema history – someone who seems to be searching for answers to life’s big question, but in the end may be exactly the same person he was at the beginning at the end. There are other ways to take it though – perhaps it is nothing more than Anderson pitting these two amazing performances against each other, as they are equals, but opposites – Phoenix channeling something out of Brando, Hoffman channeling something out of Welles. And don’t forget Amy Adams, who so many people dismissed in this film, despite the Oscar nomination she got for it, but who is really subtly astounding here – and in complete control. Whatever it is, it is an absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous film to look at, with some of the best cinematography of the decade, and perfect period detail. It’s a film that, like Anderson’s Boogie Nights, is endlessly rewatchable, but for very different reasons. This isn’t a brilliant entertainment – but a dreamlike mystery you want to sink into again and again.
7. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
The Social Network really did feel like a feel about the here and now when it came out in 2010 – about how we live life online, and how you can be wildly successful at it, and lonely and miserable in real life. Yet, with all the revelations about Facebook in recent years, it seems even more relevant now. Is it surprising that Facebook, whose founding story we see here, is really not the good actor that it so desperately wants to be seen as. And the film is also just amazingly entertaining – with the best ever screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, and a director in David Fincher who knows how to use it so that the film doesn’t just become a series of monologues and walk-and-talks. Jessie Eisenberg gives one of the decade’s best performances as Mark Zuckerberg – it’s the type of performance that will define his entire career, but if you’re going to be defined by one performance it should be this. Fincher was essentially a director-for-hire here, but he finds the perfect way to tell this story – aided considerably by the decade’s best score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. A brilliant, dizzying story that may well become the film that defines this decade.
6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)
In retrospect, it has become clear that Tarantino turned some sort of corner with Inglorious Basterds, the film he ended last decade with, and has been moving towards something like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ever since. It is another revisionist history film – one that ends with a more satisfying orgy of violence than reality gave us, one that corrects things going forward. But here, Tarantino lingers after that violence – and gives us the most genuinely moving scenes of his career. And it comes at the end of a film that really does feel like it addresses all of Tarantino’s obsession – with old school Hollywood, with the joy and purpose of making entertainment, even if it’s destined to be forgotten, about friendship – and about allowing people to see Sharon Tate as a human being, and not a murder victim. It’s also just deliriously entertaining – with some of the best work of DiCaprio and Pitt’s careers – and the Spahn ranch sequence, the best single sequence of Tarantino’s career. The more times I see this, the more I think about it, I think it’s Tarantino’s masterpiece – a decade, and perhaps career capper, for him.
5. The Tree of Life (Terence Malick, 2011)
There probably wasn’t a more ambitious film this decade that Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which dared to tell the entire history of world in one film in a beautiful, epic length, and then also drill right down to the intimate family portrait based on Malick’s own childhood – and then going into the future to show the emptiness of modern life. This feels like the film that Malick was working towards his entire career – and brilliant melding of the intimate and the epic showing you human existence in one mesmerizing package. I understand some people hate it – that they want a more concrete narrative, and that is something Malick simply does not want to show you, he does not care about. This is the type of film only someone like Malick would or could make – a brilliant, one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
At his worst, sometimes Wes Anderson makes little more than beautiful, but empty bobbles – films that look good and are entertaining, but aren’t really about anything. At his best, he makes a masterpiece like The Grand Budapest Hotel. With a Russian Nesting Doll like screenplay, going through different time periods, with different looks, and different aspect ratios, Anderson has made a film who surface pleasures are more than anything he has ever made before – a masterpiece of production design, costume design, cinematography and music. And yet, it also had a hard center – a film about the civility in the face of violence and fascism, and its ultimate futility. It’s a tragedy on a larger scale that Anderson has ever attempted before. Ralph Fiennes gives one of the best performances of the decade – a performance, that like the movie itself, it fun on the surface, but has a core that it sad and tragic. This is Anderson’s masterpiece.
3. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
Scorsese had a great decade – especially for someone in his 70s – but he saved his best film for the last one of this stretch. In many ways, The Irishman feels like a summation from Scorsese – like he has made it in a way to bury the gangster film genre altogether, as well as perhaps the 20th Century as a whole. It is a familiar story in some ways – full of familiar faces for a Scorsese film – and yet this gangster epic – which runs three-and-a-half hours, is obsessed with death – the slow march towards it we all go on, and the choices we make along the way, that seem so important, that end with us isolated and alone – having given up everything you care about because your boss told you told. The performances by DeNiro, by Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and especially by Joe Pesci are all brilliant. The screenplay brilliantly structured across decades. And as the film moves towards its conclusion, the weight of everything we’ve seen accumulates, in a way I found crushing. It is what it is – and what it is a masterpiece, one of the best films of Scorsese’s unparalleled career.
2. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
I don’t think you can argue that Phantom Thread is Anderson’s most ambitious film this decade – hell, it may even be his least ambitious of his three films in this 10-year period. What it also is though is his most entertaining film since Boogie Nights – a portrait of a strange, kinky relationship that you don’t quite see for what it is until the final moments in the film. It features a great performance by Daniel-Day Lewis, if this is actually his swansong, it’s a great one – and an even better one by Vicky Krieps, who is perhaps the most interesting, most mysterious character of the decade – someone who doesn’t give away her secrets, but you can completely see her total character. It’s a beautiful film – no film had better costumes this decade than this, also with great production design, and cinematography by Anderson himself. The film is the decades most demented comedy because it isn’t played as one at all. It’s also perhaps the best portrait of a longtime relationship I have seen in a long, long time. Sure, The Master and Inherent Vice had more ambition – but Phantom Thread is an absolute masterpiece on a different level.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen a film like Inside Llewyn Davis before. It’s about an artist who is very good – just perhaps not quite good enough. The title character is not s genius – we get a glimpse of one near the end of the film, but he also isn’t like the Coens Barton Fink – a hack. Inside Llewyn Davis is essentially a heartbreaking film of just not being good enough – and the point in which you need to give up and quite. Oscar Isaac became a star because of this performance – really the best of the decade – as a folk singer in early 1960s New York. His life is a mess, he is broke, and he is slowly falling apart. He is talented at singing – the soundtrack has become a staple for me – but it’s just not new enough, different enough. In the decades finest one scene performance F. Murray Abraham delivers the most heartbreaking line I have ever heard “I just don’t see money here”. The film looks gorgeous, full of smoky clubs, and freezing roads. And it can be downright hilarious – Adam Driver shows up for one scene of amazingly singing – and John Goodman is larger than life. Carey Mulligan gives a performance that really just cuts Llewyn to the bone. This is perhaps the Coen’s masterpiece – I know I may be alone on that, but I have toggled back and forth between this and Fargo for what is their best film. But this sad, understated film about quitting was the best of the decade for me – and to be honest, I never really even considered anything else. Since 2013, everyone else was playing for second place.

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