Friday, January 31, 2020

Oscar Nominated Shorts Reviews

I quite enjoy going through the Oscar nominated shorts every year – when I can at least, it’s not always possible. This year, I haven’t been able to see all of them, but a combination of Vimeo, Youtube, Netflix and other sites meant I could see most of them. Below are reviews, by category, of the twelve out of fifteen shorts I have been able to see so far. For each category, I start with my least favorite, and work my way up.
Sister *** / *****
Directed by: Siqi Song.
Written by: Siqi Song.
Sister, by Chinese director Siqi Song, is an interesting looking short. It’s a stop motion animated film, using figures that are essentially like sock puppets. In narration, we hear a man talk about his little sister – how she annoyed him as a baby, and how she continued to annoy him as he grew up. There are little vignettes – places in times – where the two characters’ poke and prod at each other the way siblings do. The short is only about 8 minutes long, but honestly, for about 6 of those minutes – even as the film looks quite good – you do wonder where the story is going, or why Song felt the need to tell it. The reason does come out – and its kind of gut punch – but I’m not sure it really works as it feels like a cheat. Still, the film looks very good, and the message is good – but there were other, better ways to tell this story.
Kitbull *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Rosana Sullivan.
Written by: Rosana Sullivan.
Kitbull is an amusing little short about the unlikely friendship between an adorable kitten with huge eyes, who lives in an alley, and a pit bull, whose owner chains him out back, and (it is implied anyway) uses him for dog fighting. The kitten is fearful of anything – including the pit bull – but the pit bull is a big softy at heart, and soon the two of them are playing with a bottle cap together – and slowly bond. The film is nothing more than that – it’s a very amusing 8 minutes, with a heartfelt ending designed to elicit tears, and a cartoon-y animation style that brings to mind classic short cartoons. It lacks ambition, surely, but it’s so good at what it does – looks so good – and is so much fun, you won’t care.
Memorable **** / *****
Directed by: Bruno Collet.
Written by: Bruno Collet.
I have seen a few animated shorts that get nominated over the years about an older person slowly losing their memories – it’s a surefire way to build emotional stakes, while at the same time the short runtime doesn’t lend itself to repeating itself. But Bruno Collet’s Memorable is one of the best of the sort I have seen. The best thing about it is the animation itself – the man whose memory is fading is a painter, who uses his hands when painting, and Memorable takes that as its cue for the visual look – the characters and backgrounds look like thick coats of painted, sloppily, yet beautifully constructed. There are only two characters – the man and his wife, and it’s a beautiful and heartfelt film – as his mind goes, and doesn’t remember who she is, he is still stunned by her beauty. In terms of its story, Memorable isn’t all that new – but in terms of how it looks, it is one of the best in its field.
Hair Love **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Matthew A. Cherry & Everett Downing Jr. & Bruce W. Smith.
Written by: Matthew A. Cherry.
The most widely seen of any of the nominated shorts this year (it played in front of The Angry Birds 2 movie, and quite frankly was the only reason to see that awful film) is Hair Love. Directed by Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. and Bruce W. Smith, Hair Love is the heartwarming story a little African American girl, with an unruly head of hair, who wants it styled just like mom used to – but with mom away, dad struggles to do things right. The film is an absolute charmer from start to finish – fun and funny, wonderfully animated, and ending on a note of pure heartwarming goodness. This is an example of what great animated shorts can do – in 7-minutes, the filmmakers deliver a very specific cultural story, in an extremely entertaining, funny, heartfelt and brilliantly animated package. The highlight of the shorts this year to be sure.
Live Action
Nefta Football Club ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Yves Piat.
Written by: Yves Piat.
Featuring: Eltayef Dhaoui, Mohamed Ali Ayari, Lyes Salem, Hichem Mesbah.
Nefta Football Club is a very slight short – running just 17-minutes – set in the middle of nowhere in Tunisia. Two young brothers find a donkey wandering around out there in the desert, with headphones playing music on, and bags of white powder strapped to its back, and decide to take it to their village – the older one knowing what going on, but lying to his brother about it. Meanwhile, two bumbling men are looking for that same donkey, and cannot figure out where it is. This is all supposed to be comic, with misunderstandings with both pairs at its core, but I don’t really think director Yves Piat’s film really goes anywhere. You see the ending – and the final shot – coming from the beginning, and when you get that far ahead of a short right from the start, you’re in trouble. Mildly amusing, but not something I suspect you’ll remember.
The Neighbor’s Window **** / *****
Directed by: Marshall Curry.
Written by:  Marshall Curry.
Featuring: Maria Dizzia, Greg Keller, Juliana Canfield.
Marshall Curry, who directed the wonderful documentary short A Night at the Garden, nominated last year, moves into fiction territory with The Neighbor’s Window – a 20-minute film about how we should be grateful for what we have, and never really know what is going on with others. The film stars the wonderful Maria Dizzia as a New York mother – with two kids, and a third on the way (who we will see nursing as the film progresses). Along with her husband, Greg Keller, they are struggling with what many couples with kids struggle with – the pains of raising kids, of growing older, of settling into a routine, etc. Then a younger couple move into the building across the way – and leave their blinds open all the time, so the older couple see them having sex, throwing parties, and generally being young and having no responsibilities – until, of course, something happens. The film doesn’t go in any of the sordid directions you may think – it’s actually quietly profound in the way it makes you re-evaluate everything in the end. Everyone always wants something else – and we often don’t see it, because we are trapped in our own perspectives.
Brotherhood **** / *****
Directed by: Meryam Joobeur.
Written by: Meryam Joobeur.
Featuring: Kais Ayari, Mohamed Grayaa, Mouldi Kriden, Jasmin Lazid, Walid Loued, Alaeddine Mandhouj.
A lot of acclaimed shorts end up as features at some point – and often, the features don’t work as well, as they feel like what they are – a story that should be told in 30 minutes, ballooned up to take 90. Brotherhood is different – this 25 minute short would be well-served with a feature length treatment, as there is so much here worthy of explored, that the very talented writer/director Meryam Joobeur, a Tunisian-Canadian film director, only touches upon. Brotherhood is a film about Mohamed, a father raising his sons with his wife, who is shaken when his oldest son returns from Syria – where he went to fight – with a new wife, a young teenager who stays quiet and completely covered. It makes him question everything – and he grows angry at the son he feels he no longer knows. But, of course, it isn’t that simple. A longer version could add more complexity to the story, and the characters who aren’t Mohamed – and make that strong ending, even stronger. Still, this is a great short film – and one that makes me curious for what Joobeur will do next.
A Sister
Directed by: Delphine Girard
Written by: Delphine Girard
Featuring: Selma Alaoui, Veerle Baetens, Guillaume Duhesme.
In many ways, the simplest of the nominees – and one that will likely remind some people of the 2018 feature The Guilty – all about one long 911 phone call, where we never leave the operator. This one though does flash back and forth between a woman calling 911 after she has been taken by an acquaintance, but is not free to talk as he can hear what she is saying (she pretends she is talking to her sister, about her son) – and the 911 operator who has to figure out what to do. The film is tense, building the tension up throughout its 16-minute runtime. It’s no more complex than that – but it’s just expertly handled throughout its runtime – and I’d be curious to see what Girard does next if she moves into feature thrillers. Unlike some of the other films here, that are shorts that seem to want to be features, this one is perfect as is.
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Laura Nix.
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha is a lovely, calm little doc – it runs just 20 minutes, and tells a small, intimate story. It is the story of Paul and Millie Cao – both originally from Vietnam. They met back in their home country, and dated for six months – before Paul and his parents had to flee for America to get away from the communists. He and Millie never lost touch – but they didn’t see each other for 6 years – and were nervous that they wouldn’t still be right for each other after that time apart. But now, they’ve been together ever since. Now, in their twilight years, their daughter is grown, living her own life, they have successful careers – and they spend practically every night dancing the cha-cha. They take lessons, they go to the club. They just love it – and each other. In many ways, this is a gentle film – a small, not very ambitious film. Which makes it perfect for a 20-minute doc (longer would not work). But it’s also quietly profound – and quite lovely, building to a great final sequence that may just bring a tear to your eye. Yes, it’s minor – but it’s so lovely, who can complain?
Life Overtakes Me**** / *****
Directed by: John Haptas & Kristine Samuelson.
Life Overtakes is a timely and powerful documentary about refugee children, living in Sweden, who suffer from something called “Regression Syndrome” - where essentially they fall into a coma like state for months or years at a time. There is nothing medically wrong with them – but they have suffered so much in the past, and the stress of their new existence in Sweden – mainly the stress of not knowing if they’ll be able to stay there, or be sent back to a place where they may be killed, makes them fall into this state. Life Overtakes Me is a documentary that in many ways uses the syndrome as its guiding force – this is a calm documentary, at times a very beautiful one, that takes it time in telling its story. No doubt about it, some of the stories of the families who came are heartbreaking and horrific and the film doesn’t shy away from that – but it is a very quiet film just the same. The film tells these stories, and speculates on why it seems to happen in Sweden – and not elsewhere (although an end title card says that similar cases are now happening in Australia). Whatever the reason, this is a serious issue – and a further reminder of the harm we are doing to children, who just want a better life when they flee with their families.
In the Absence **** / *****
Directed by: Seung-jun Yi.
Seung-jun Yi’s In the Absence is in many ways a very simple film – and yet it is in its simplicity that it finds it powers. The film is about the Sewol ferry disaster back in 2013 in Korea – where a ferry tiled, and eventually sank, killing hundreds of people, most of them students on a field trip. The first third of the film – which is the best part of the movie – documents what happened as the ship slowly sank – where the government seemed more concerned about getting a camera on the ship than rescuing everyone. People did get out – including the Captain – but the response was shockingly slow and inept. From there, the film documents what happened next – the divers who spent months going back in to pull out the bodies, the protests against the President, whose action didn’t help anything that day, and may have hurt (she has other problems to) – to the point where they finally salvage the ship, years later. It is in many ways, simple – but it is a powerful overview of a massive tragedy, that perhaps didn’t get the attention outside of Korea it deserved.
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) **** / *****
Directed by: Carol Dysinger.
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) is the perfect subject for a short documentary. It is about a group of female teachers in Afghanistan who recruit young girls to come to school – they teach them to read and write and do math – skills that their mothers never learned, because under the Taliban they weren’t allowed, and many families still don’t want them educated. They also teach them to skateboard. Director Carol Dysinger gets great footage of these young Afghan girls – wearing their safety equipment, skateboarding – inside, of course – and slowly getting better and better. It is an inspiration film – watching these girls learn and come out of their shell. It’s also a film tinged with sadness – one girl talking about how her older sisters are not allowed to come here – the Skatistan as it’s called – because when they get older women cannot go outside, and then realizing that one of her older sisters is just 13 – one year older than the girl talking. The film is a reminder about this country – that has been a war for decades, and the struggle that is still going on there – wrapped in a feel good package that offers hope, but not blind optimism.

Classic Movie Review: The Forest for the Trees (2003)

The Forest for the Trees (2003) 
Directed by: Maren Ade.
Written by: Maren Ade.
Starring: Eva Löbau (Melanie Pröschle), Daniela Holtz (Tina Schaffner), Jan Neumann (Thorsten Rehm), Ilona Schulz (Frau Sussmann), Robert Schupp (Tobias), Heinz Röser-Dümmig (Lutger Reinhardt), Martina Eckrich (Renate Pföhler), Nina Fiedler (Bine), Hans-Rüdiger Kucich (Gerd Postweiler), Ruth Köppler (Elvira Fischer-Walter), Achim Enchelmaier (Bernd), Monika Hirschle (Melanies Mutter), Volker Jeck (Melanies Vater).
It’s fairly remarkable that The Forest for the Trees is not only Maren Ade’s debut film – but also a student film. The evidence at the time was clear that she would go onto become a master – as she has with her two subsequent films, Everybody Else and Toni Erdman (and it’s a shame that there’s only been two, with such huge gaps between all of her films). And people immediately recognized that talent – the film went to be featured at TIFF and Sundance, and thankfully, with the success of Ade’s two other films, is now available for us all to see – and marvel about how she seemed to emerge right from the start a fully formed artist.
The protagonist of The Forest for the Trees is the painfully awkward and idealist Melanie (a great Eva Löbau) – a new teacher, who moves to a new city, breaks up with her boyfriend, and takes a job teaching a troubled class. She is convinced that she’ll be able to reach them with her “new teaching methods”. At the same time, she tries to make new friends – all of the teachers, except for one, pretty much ignore her – and are mean behind her back. She does make friends – kind of – with her neighbor across the street, whose apartment she can see into. This is Tina (Daniela Holtz) – who seems happy enough to spend time with Melanie if there is nothing better to do – but frequently forgets to call when she says she will, or invite her places, etc. Melanie keeps trying – and its painful to watch her try and integrate herself in the life of someone who clearly just doesn’t care about her that much. Painful to see her try and interact with her friends, or her on again/off again boyfriend. And its equally painful to watch her in class, try and reach these kids who sense blood in the water, and go for her immediately. The Forest for the Trees is a movie designed to make you squirm and be uncomfortable from beginning to (almost) the end.
The key for The Forest for the Trees working as well as it does is that Melanie is both sympathetic and annoying. If she was just annoying, then the film may flip into obnoxious territory – punching down at the character. But Melanie, for the most part, seems like a nice person – that she really does care for those kids, that the talk behind her back really does hurt her, that she really is looking out for Tina’s best interests – and wants to be her friend. She is just utterly, completely clueless at reading the social clues she is being given. You can both understand why the others view her the way they do – it is annoying to be a veteran teacher, and have someone come in and imply you are bad at your job. It is annoying when an acquaintance – which is really what she is to Tina – oversteps their bounds, and think you are closer than you want. And yet, she is so guileless, and these slights hurt so much that you cringe because it’s so awkward, but also because a character you like is being repeatedly hit.
And then, there is the ending of the film. As you watch the film – and its short, at just over 80 minutes – you wonder how Ade is going to end it. And Ade finds the most unexpected, and yet perfect way to end the film – an ending that is freeing for Melanie – and for us in its strange, surreal way. Ade has become one of the best filmmakers in the world – I really wish she would work more often – but as this film shows, she is brilliant right from the start.

Top 100 Films of the 2010s - 60-51

60. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)
Olivier Assayas three-part, five-and-a-half-hour film that chronicles 30 years in the life of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez – a Venezuelan terrorist and mercenary, who grabbed headlines, and become a wanted man the world over. The movie opens with him in his early 20s – where he pretends to be an idealist, in the Che Guevara – but it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t really ideologically motivated. He will fight on behalf of the Palestinians, and other groups. While his “bosses” admire what he can do – they also know he cannot fully be trusted – he is a narcissist, and doesn’t like to follow orders. The final third of the film – with Sanchez drifting into irrelevance and excess isn’t nearly as exciting as the first two parts – which have some of the best set pieces of the decade – but are necessary to show just what becomes of a man like this. Yes, the film is very long – but it moves like gangbusters – like a Scorsese film (GoodFellas) that has been given even more time to breath. Call it a TV miniseries if you want – I saw it on the big screen, in one sitting, and loved every second.
59. A Separation (Asghar Farahadi, 2011)
Iranian auteur Asghar Farahadi peaked (so far anyway) with A Separation – a complex portrait of a couple who have to decide whether to leave Iran for a better life for their child, or stay and look after an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s – made even more complicated, when a seemingly innocent interaction, spirals into violence and tragedy. Farhadi’s film is a masterclass in screenwriting, showing all the complexities of this situation. It is an intimate portrait of Iran and its culture – grounded in this personal story, which becomes universal. Farhadi hasn’t come close to matching this since (The Salesman comes closest – but I wasn’t much of a fan of The Past, and Everybody Knows was pretty mediocre) – but in this film, he constructed a masterpiece.
58. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is a deceptively sweet, deep film about young love. The two young teenagers at its center run away from their hometown – and parents, for varying reasons – and head out to an island – causing a search party to fan out and try and find them. The film, inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (one of his very best films) – but entirely Anderson’s own. The two kids romance is sweet – the girl loves storybooks, and their romance is very much like those out of her books, which Anderson contrasts very nicely with the weird, twisted complicated world of their parents. As with everything Anderson does, the film is meticulously crafted and designed – but rarely has one of his films so emotionally attuned. After two live action films in a row (Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited) where I don’t think he quite got the balance right, Moonrise Kingdom was a great return to form.
57. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the great performances of the decade as a shifty eyed psycho which harkens back to the films of the 1970s – specifically kind of combining Taxi Driver and Network, but updated for today’s dark media landscape. He plays a freelance cameraman, who makes his money filming accidents and crime scenes, and selling them to the highest bidder – and then he starts crossing one line after another. As great as Gyllenhaal is – and he has never been better – he is matched by Riz Ahmed, as his assistant, who seemingly has some scruples, and Rene Russo, who has none. The cinematography by Robert Elswit is great – no one quite shoots dark L.A. like him – and it is a great directorial debut for Dan Gilroy (his two films since cannot match this – but he’s always pushing something). One of the defining films of the decade in terms of just how screwed up the media landscape is.
56. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
One of the great films about parenting ever made, The Babadook is a horror film about a monster in the basement that threatens a mother and her son – but is really about the mother’s fear that she hates her own son, who may be a violent psychopath. This was Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut – and it seems like the American distributer didn’t know what they had (the film didn’t make my top 10 list back in 2014 for instance – because in Canada, it didn’t get released until March 2015) – but has gone on to be one of the most loved horror films of the decade. There is a reason for that – Kent is a natural at horror movie ascetics, making this old (but not quite dilapidated) house into a truly scary space – but making sure you know its what’s inside the house that is truly terrifying. Parental horror films had a great decade – and The Babadook is one of the very best.
55. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)

I understand why many want to leave slave narratives behind – and concentrate on other aspects of African American life and history. Still, I’m not sure we will see a better film that directly confronts American audiences with slavery in a dramatic movie – one that makes it clear that even the “good” slave owners were horrible people, and just how traumatic, violent, painful the slave trade was. By concentrating on the case of a man (played brilliantly by Chiwetel Ejifor) who was born free, became and slave, and then got out – the film is telling a more “uplifting” film than most slave narratives – where people were born, lived and died in chains, but Steve McQueen’s film doesn’t skirt that issue – doesn’t put a happy face on this, and shows the pain of those who were left behind. It’s a brilliantly directed film – like his other films, it concentrates on the physical body, and what is goes through. The camera doesn’t look away, and it is unflinching. The performances by Ejiofor, by Fassbender, by Nyong’o – and the entire cast is brilliant. It is a powerful and important film – and not just because of its subject matter.
54. The Act of Killing/The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012/2014)
The two documentaries by Joshua Oppenheimer, looking at the genocide in the 1960s in Indonesia make a great one-two punch. The Act of Killing was the first, and more innovative, of the two documentaries which follows those who perpetrated the killings, and have been national heroes ever since, even going to so far as to give them cameras so they can do stylized re-enactments in the form of different movie genres. Some felt that movie ignored the victims – and Oppenheimer told them to just wait, and the result was the powerful The Look of Silence two years later, a less innovative, but more emotional documentary that is from the victim’s side. Between the two films, Oppenheimer produced some of the best documentary filmmaking of the decade – and ones that will remembered and remain relevant as time goes by.
53. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
My favorite film of the Before trilogy was this one – because it is the first film that felt that is built on something real, something substantial, not based on romantic idealism like the first two films. Now, the couple (played wonderfully by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy) have been together for nine years, and their conversation as they walk and talk through Spain means something, it’s built on their shared life, and how complex that can be. The film can be painful and awkward in its realism, but it is also still romantic and beautiful. For me, this is among Linklater’s very best films – and made the whole series better in retrospect. I would gladly take another chapter in 2022 – but for the first time in this series, I don’t think we need one.
52. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
Under the Skin is strange, complex, brilliantly well-made, disturbing film that shows just how much talented Jonathan Glazer. He’s made three films now – the other two being Sexy Beast and Birth – and they could be more different stylistically, but are all great. Scarlett Johansson (back when she could still take risks, and not just be in Marvel movies) stars as alien, driving around Scotland, seducing men for her own dark purposes. The film has images that will never leave you – some of them of the creepy, horror variety – like when she shows her true form, some that seem like they are out of a David Lynch film – the strange red places she goes with her men – and some just very real, like a crying baby near the water. I underrated this at the time I saw it at TIFF (it was released theatrically the next year, and didn’t make my top 10 list – a massive mistake) – but it’s been one of the most haunting films of the decade so far.
51. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonze works slowly – this was his only feature film this decade – and it’s one of his best. It is a film about the modern world, and how obsessed we all are with our phones – how personal that relationship feels. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of his gentlest, saddest performances as a man who grows through a breakup – and then basically falls in love with a more advanced version Siri – voice by Scarlett Johansson, who is also brilliant in her role. The film is a meticulously designed and shot film, and one that is both touching in its sincerity and sad in its depiction of this dystopia we are putting ourselves in. Jonze is a great filmmaker – his entire feature career is just Being John Malkovich Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are and this one – and they are all great. Here’s hoping the next decade has more than one film from Jonze.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Top 100 Films of the 2010s - 70-61

70. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)
Longtime screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut is this perfect, contained, claustrophobic little sci-fi film. Set pretty much entirely in the isolated mansion of a mad genius billionaire inventor (Oscar Isaac – brilliant), the film really only four characters. The main character is an employee (Domhnall Gleason) who thinks the billionaire wants him around because he’s such a good coder, but is really just being used to test Ava (Alicia Vikander) – his latest A.I. experiment to try and see if he can be fooled. What follows is intelligent science fiction, with brilliant special effects, done on a budget, in what is really just a four-person chamber peace. In an era where science fiction has mainly been taken over by horror and action and special effects, something like Ex Machina is a welcome corrective – showing what sci-fi can be.
69. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
Garland’s first film as a director – Ex Machina, was an intimate sci-fi film, done on a budget. His follow-up, Annihilation, has a much larger scope, and paints on a much larger canvas. Following a group of women who walk into the “shimmer” – a place in the jungle where something has crashed, and everyone who has entered has gone insane and died – except for one person, who isn’t quite himself (Oscar Isaac). Natalie Portman yet again shows her willingness to take chances in her projects – she plays Isaac’s wife, and one of the women on the journey inside, who find – well, themselves. This has a larger scope than Ex Machina to be sure – but it really is a journey inward, an epic sci-fi film about depression more than anything else. Ex Machina showed Garland was a huge talent behind the camera – Annihilation confirmed it.
68. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019)
Noah Baumbach’s best film to date is this painful, deeply empathetic movie about a couple going through a painful divorce. The film doesn’t choose side between Scarlett Johansson’s actress – wanting to get out from under her director husband, and move back to L.A., and that director, played by Adam Driver, who was probably too self-involved to see things breaking apart. They are both sympathetic characters – Baumbach gives both scenes where they pour their souls out for us to see – and they both do horrible things as well as they completely come apart. The film is perhaps a companion piece to Baumbach’s previous best film – The Squid and the Whale, a film about his parents’ divorce, from the point of view of their son. This time, Baumbach is inside that marriage as it crumbles into pain and misery – and then, perhaps, put back together in a different form.
67. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
Kathryn Bigelow’s best film is this complex look at the American response to 9/11 – and the long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, all through the eyes of a CIA analyst who wouldn’t give up – brilliantly played by Jessica Chastain, in her best lead performance to date. The controversy around the films depiction of torture really did miss the point here a little – this is a film about obsession, and the lengths people go to get what has been haunting them. The ending of the film is hardly triumphant – it’s yet another thing that has happened, but doesn’t feel particularly good. This is a more complex film than The Hurt Locker – less immediately satisfying, but’s that because there are no easy answers to be found.
66. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Steve McQueen’s second film – about a sex addict (Michael Fassbender) spiraling out of control is certainly a hard film to watch. It is a brilliant performance by Fassbender – a man who has been able to somehow live his life with his addiction, and keep all the balls in the air, that gradually falls apart when his sister (an equally brilliant Carey Mulligan) shows up to stay – their complex, perhaps incestuous relationship (at least in terms of desire) – makes them both spiral out of control. As with all of McQueen’s films, it is about the human body – the abuses we put it through, and the consequences of that. It is also just a dizzying portrait of the dark, seedy New York – the type we haven’t really seen since the 1970s. A devastating film that is difficult to watch, but is rewarding when you get through it.
65. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015)
Andrew Haigh has become an interesting director – who you never quite tell what he is going to do next, except that it will be an intimate character study. This is my favorite of his work – a film about an elderly married couple – Tom Courtenay (brilliant) and Charlotte Rampling (even more brilliant) – in the days leading up to their 45th Anniversary Party they have been planning. This is when they get word that Courtney’s former girlfriend has been found dead – she disappeared on a mountain climbing trip all those decades ago – which make the two of them go back and re-examine their lives together. The film builds to a devastating climax. The film was kind of overlooked in many ways in 2015 – but deserves to be seen and discussed – it’s one of the best films about marriage this decade.
64. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
Barry Jenkins’s film about three points in time in a young, gay man in Florida I a beautiful, Wong Kar Wai inspired masterpiece. As a kid, he has to deal with his junkie mother (Naomie Harris) and whose only mentor is a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali). As a teenager, he is shy and awkward, and has a fleeting romantic moment with another young man on the beach. As someone in his 20s, he has gone done a different rabbit hole – trying to overcompensate for being gay, by donning all the outward appearances of a masculine man. Jenkins films of fleeting moments, and furtive glances, which gives each segment its own distinct look, while still being a part of the whole, is touching – and because it is so grounded in its specifics, it becomes universal. This wasn’t Jenkins’ first film – but it’s the film that showed just what a special filmmaker he was going to become.
63. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018)
If Beale Street Could Talk didn’t get the attention that Moonlight did two years earlier – but to me, it is an ever better film. Here, adapting James Baldwin, Jenkins achieves a few things I wouldn’t have thought possible – he is able to adapt Baldwin faithfully, while still maintaining his own vision. He is also able to portray how systematic racism filters down and has personal consequences for everyone it touches – spreading out like cracks in a window. The movie is almost impossibly romantic in the scenes between the two young lovers, who seem to exist in their own world when they are free and together, and then almost impossibly harsh and depressing when that racism rips them apart. The film is beautifully directed – the cinematography, art direction, costumes, score – are all top notch. The performances are great – Regina King justly won an Oscar as a mother doing everything she can for her children – but I think Brian Tyree Henry may just be the best in the film – and he basically only has one sequence, where he shows the crushing consequences of mass incarceration on a personal scale. With these two films, Jenkins showed he is one of the best in the world.
62. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
David Lowery became one of the most interesting directors working this decade with films like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and The Old Man and the Gun. None was better though that his haunting A Ghost Story – a very strange film, about a man (Casey Affleck) who continues to haunt his suburban home to be near his wife (Rooney Mara) – and then continues to hang around even after she moves on. It is a beautiful film, that takes us into the future, and back to the past, and is really a slow rumination on love, loss, grief and death. It’s an odd film – impossible to sum up in a few sentences, but it’s a film that builds slowly, and then will stick with you for days, weeks, months, years after seeing it. Lowery continues to make interesting films – this is one that hopefully points the way towards something even greater from him.
61. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
Brooklyn is a delicate, beautiful film and features the best ever performance by Saorise Ronan, who has become one of the best actresses currently working. Playing a young, Irish immigrant in New York – who falls in love with an Italian-American man, and then has to go home and deal with a family tragedy – and the pressure to do what her family wants. It is a tender romance – really two romances, where Ronan has to choose between two guys, both of whom may be right for her, but in very different ways, and would lead to very different lives. It is a subtle film – with so much left unsaid, because they don’t need to be said. The period detail is great, the performances rich and subtle, and it is just such a lovely film – but whose core is harder than you first suspect.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Top 100 Films of the 2010s - 80-71

80. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
What’s amazing about Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria is that it is at once a very modern film – attuned to the cultural landscape of superhero movies, iPads, smartphones, etc. – and still feels like a throwback to classic art house films of the 1960s – like an Alain Resnais film for the modern age. His story of an actress (Juliette Binoche) preparing for her new role with her assistant (a brilliant Kristen Stewart). The film begins with a train ride, contains a retrospective at a film festival, and then settles into an isolated house for most of the rest of the film. Assayas has delivered quite a number of great films this decade – this is his most singular, and an example of what he does better than anyone else right now.
79. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2015)
Green Room accidentally became one of the most horrifying films of the decade in part because of timing. When it was released in the spring of 2016 (after a festival run in 2015) it was a brilliant, claustrophobic horror film, about a punk band trapped by a murderous group of Neo-Nazis after a show. It was intense, scary, violent an unforgettable – a huge step forward for director Jeremy Saulnier after his already wonderful Blue Ruin. By the end of the year, when Trump won, bringing along all his racial animosity, it almost felt like Green Room was a portrait of America – a hopeless one, when all you can hope for is to survive – you’re not going to be unscathed, but perhaps you can make it through.
78. Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)
Julia Ducournau’s remarkable horror debut is a truly unsettling and disturbing film about a young vegetarian who goes off to vet school, and develops an unquenchable desire to eat raw meat. Young Garance Marillier delivers a remarkable performance as Justine, the student in question, who feels like an outsider from the moment she arrives – especially as she is poked and prodded by her older sister already at the school. Ducournau doesn’t hold back from beginning to end – and goes from absolute broke, provoking some vomiting and walkouts even among Midnight Madness festival audiences. And yet, despite the extremity is not just there for shock value, it’s part of the whole thing. I cannot wait to see what she does not.
77. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows was one of the very best horror films of the decade – a portrait of the end of innocence for the teenage protagonists who are forced to confront their own morality for the first time. The concept is simple and brilliant – an unstoppable presence comes after you, very slowly, but unrelentingly, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on – through sex – to someone else. Even if you do that, it’s still going to end up coming after you eventually. The whole movie is terrifying, and brilliantly handled, coming right down to the final, unforgettable, and incredibly sad final shot. Even the one sequence – the swimming pool climax – that didn’t work for me that well on first viewing, worked wonderfully the second time around. A truly great new horror classic.
76. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)
Korean director Park Chan-wook slowed down a little this decade – he only made two films, and a miniseries. His best was The Handmaiden – a period epic about a Korean woman hired to be a Handmaiden to a rich Japanese woman – and then the twists keep coming. The film is long – two hours twenty-five minutes – and has twists galore, changing what we think the movie is about multiple times. The great Min-hee Kim delivers perhaps her best performance (I still cannot see her most acclaimed film with frequent collaborator Hong Sang-soo – On a Beach Alone at Night) as the Japanese heiress, and Tae-ri Kim matches her step by step as the Handmaiden. The film is extreme – as you would expect from the director of Oldboy – but features great art direction, costumes, cinematography and score. This is Park Chan-wook’s best film – hands down – it rewards multiple viewings in a way Oldboy doesn’t. The cult for this has been quietly building.
75. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron, 2018)
After 17 years of making movies in Hollywood, Cuaron returned to his native Mexico to make his most personal film – a film loosely based on his own childhood, except not seen through the eyes of the child. Instead of a nostalgic lookback, Cuaron focuses on the two women who raised him – the maid/nanny (a magnificent Yalitza Aparicio) – who has her own personal struggles over the year the movie takes place, and his upper-middle class mother (a wonderful Marina de Tavira) – who is left by her doctor husband, and struggles to raise her kids. The film is a technical marvel – the black and white cinematography by Cuaron is brilliant, mostly done in long, master shots, and the sound design is absolutely stunning (I think that was lost more by people seeing it on Netflix than even the cinematography). This is a beautiful, stunning masterwork – the kind of thing we don’t see much anymore.
74. Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)
The best horror films always have more on their mind than simply scaring you. Ari Aster’s Hereditary is one of the very best of the decade precisely because it’s a portrait of a deeply troubled, dysfunctional family that is psychologically real and true, as well as a deeply troubling horror film. The film is built around a few shock moments – that car ride will be forever imprinted on my brain – but the care that Aster puts into building up this family into what they are is truly great. Toni Collette does the best work of her career here as the mother – who had a deeply troubled relationship with her own, now dead, mother – and in ways she doesn’t fully understand, she is now taking it out on her kids. The film builds and builds to its memorable climax – which is perhaps a little bit of a mess, but an effective one. A brilliant debut film – and a truly great horror film.
73. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)
Stand-up comedian Bo Burnham’s unlikely debut film follows the last week of Eighth Grade for the shy, awkward Kayla - -played wonderfully by Elsie Fisher. Kayla doesn’t really have any friends, but she goes about trying to be cool, trying to put herself out there online, on social media and in real life – although she’s more likely to hide in the corner than really participate. The film is painfully hilarious for those of us who can relate to being that shy and awkward. Burnham’s direction here is excellent – a pool party that he gives the whole horror movie treatment, a terrifying car ride that just slowly builds the mounting tension to almost unbearable degrees. Fisher is wonderful – it’s a debut performance for the ages, and Josh Hamilton will become a favorite for awkward dads trying too hard everywhere. A low-key film to be sure – but a great one, that sneaks up on you, and then stays in your mind forever.
72. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
Pixar had a more up and down decade this time than the last decade (when they were really the most consistently great force in mainstream American movies). But their first film of this decade ranks among their very best – and is the best of the Toy Story series (and as much as I like the others, it’s not close for me). This film is really about growing up, and moving on – and how painful that can be, but how necessary. On a pure plot level, it’s excellent – it’s got a great bad guy (Ned Beatty’s adorable looking Lotso), as the toys have to fight their way home from a daycare center. As they all look doomed, as they head into the fire, it’s impossible not to get emotional. To me, this film brought the series full circle – and would have been an ideal place to leave this great series – the only one that Pixar has made that kept up the quality throughout.
71. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)
Harmony Korine made perhaps the defining film of the Trump era – he just did it 4 years before Trump ever became President. His Spring Breakers was ahead of its time in many ways, and is basically a go-for-broke, over the top depiction of violence, sexuality and stupidity in the social media age. James Franco – who I run hot and very cold on – delivers one of the best performances of the decade as a pimp/rapper/criminal who loves to tell people to look at his shit. The four young women who end up on Spring Break, in their fluorescent bikinis (Selena Gomez, Ashely Bensen, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine) who just get sucked further and further down into the hedonism in Florida. Korine is a director who I’ve never quite warmed to – I admire his independence and his ability to make precisely what he wants, but don’t quite like the results. Here, everything works perfectly – and Korine made one of the defining films of the decade.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Movie Review: The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen *** / *****
Directed by: Guy Ritchie.
Written by: Guy Ritchie and Ivan Atkinson & Marn Davies.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Mickey Pearson), Charlie Hunnam (Raymond), Michelle Dockery (Rosalind), Jeremy Strong (Cannabis Kingpin Mathew), Colin Farrell (Coach), Henry Golding (Dry Eye), Hugh Grant (Fletcher), Jason Wong (Phuc), Christopher Evangelou (Primetime), Eliot Sumner (Laura Pressfield).
Guy Ritchie’s two best films remain his first two – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch – which were (rightly) considered at the time as among the better of the main Quentin Tarantino clones that came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Neither film was great – but they captured they had energy, were entertaining, and had some great performances in them. In the many years since, Ritchie has often maintained that kind of hyper-stylization, but he has applied them studio tent poles like Sherlock Holmes or would-be tent poles like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (a film I like more in retrospect than I did at the time) – although in films like last year’s Aladdin, he pretty much had to mute all of that to appease Disney. His latest film, The Gentlemen, is being marketed as a return to that kind of filmmaking – and so it is – yet I could help but think as I watched the film that it felt more like a clone of those earlier films, which were as mentioned, a clone of Tarantino films – so what we have here is a clone of a clone, and while the result is entertaining for the most part, I’m not quite sure I see the point of it.
The Gentlemen has an interesting structure – with P.I. Fletcher (Hugh Grant, clearly having almost as much as he did in Paddington 2) telling a story to Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) in the hopes that Raymond can convince his boss, Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) to pay him a lot of money to stop him from taking the story to the papers. It’s the story of how Mickey became the biggest pot dealer in England, and how he’s trying to cash out now by selling his business to Matthew (Jeremy Strong), while fending off a takeover bid by Dry Eye (Henry Goldin). Twists and turns abound – involving all sorts of unsavory characters – including Coach (a scene stealing Colin Farrell), and the young men he trains at boxing. Lots of death, lots of drug, lots of swearing follow.
I found it hard to care too much about anything that happens in the movie – these are all objectively awful people, and perhaps even worse, there’s no one here – aside from Farrell – who you really root for in spite of that. Any outcome then – no matters how lives, who dies, who wins, who loses, doesn’t really matter. Still, it’s all wrapped up in an entertaining package. Ritchie’s writing still plays like someone trying to imitate Tarantino from 25 years ago, with some British slang thrown in – but he’s got such a talented cast, that they’re able to deliver it all in a way that works. Farrell and Grant are the best at this – although McConaughey is having fun here as well. Hunnam is his usual stereotypical dull character – but Ritchie leans into that a little, by making Raymond so calm throughout that the fact that he’s a little boring doesn’t really hurt him. It’s clear for someone like Michelle Dockery, of Downton Abbey fame, her role here is an attempt to complicate the image people have of her – with mixed results, and for Henry Golding, it’s perhaps to play someone who isn’t so damn perfect. I’m not quite sure what the hell Jeremy Strong, so great on Succession, is doing here but I almost suspect it’s something like Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects, who found the character so dull as written, that he did something to amuse himself, and it worked.
There’s not much more to The Gentlemen than that. It’s pretty much a Guy Ritchie reboot of those old films, so if you’re nostalgic for them, then boy is this the movie you. It’s got the same style, the same writing, the same energy as those earlier films – and if no one quite reaches the heights of Brad Pitt in Snatch, well, at least it’s not for a lack of trying. The film does have perhaps a little too much of a studio sheen to it – something Lock, Stock and Snatch didn’t really have – but I suppose you cannot spend as long as Ritchie has churning out intellectual property content without some of it rubbing off on you. The Gentlemen is a fun diversion then at best – a reminder of why Ritchie was seen as a very promising director 20 years ago when burst onto the scene, but also further proof that he hasn’t really advanced since then.

Movie Review: The Turning

The Turning * ½ / *****
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi.
Written by: Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes based on the novel by Henry James.
Starring: Mackenzie Davis (Kate), Finn Wolfhard (Miles), Brooklynn Prince (Flora), Barbara Marten (Mrs. Grose), Karen Egan (Nancy), Mark Huberman (Bert), Niall Greig Fulton (Peter Quint), Denna Thomsen (Miss Jessel), Kim Adis (Rose).
It isn’t fair to compare The Turning, the latest adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, to Jack Clayton’s The Innocents – a previous adaptation, and one of the great gothic horror movies of all time – and yet, it’s also inevitable for those of us who have seen it (the studio is banking on the fact that audiences in 2020 haven’t seen that nearly 60-year-old film – and or the most part they would be right). Still, I didn’t expect a horror movie released in January after being pushed back nearly a year to be as good as one of the greatest horror films of all time – but I did expect it to be better than this. Directed by Floria Sigismondi – the talented music video director, making only her second feature – 10 years after her first (the underrated The Runaways), and written by Carey and Chad Hayes – whose previous credits include The Conjuring, the best of this kind of film in recent years – The Turning ends up being a murky mess – a film that someone both takes away the ambiguity at the heart of James’ novella, and previous screen versions, and yet ends in a head scratching, abrupt way.
The story is well-known – a newly hired governess, Kate (Mackenzie Davis) is hired to teach little Flora (Brooklynn Prince, from The Florida Project) at her spacious, gothic estate. Her parents have died, and her previous governess ran off without so much of a goodbye. She is watched over by the mysterious housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten). Eventually Flora’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) shows up as well – and he’s creepy in a way that makes you wonder if he’s evil, or just a teenage boy. Soon secrets spill out about the previous governess – and the previous groundskeeper, who died shortly after the governess disappeared.
This version takes place in 1994 – for no discernable reasons, except perhaps because the filmmakers didn’t want to set in when the novella was written 1898 – but also didn’t want there to be cellphones all over the place (other than a passing mention of the recent death of Kurt Cobain, there’s nothing really that screams 1990s about the film). In the novella, and previous versions, there is always some doubt about what the governess sees – when the ghosts appear, are they real, or do they spring from sexually repressed subconscious- which she then turns on the children. Here, the screenplay makes no bones about what she sees being real or not, even as the others act the same way – that Kate is just going crazy. It spells out a lot of things that was subtext in the past – further proof that filmmakers think (perhaps not incorrectly) that modern audiences don’t want subtext – they want everything spelled out for them in full. Or perhaps they just didn’t want a full movie to come out in 2020 when everyone has to debate whether or not to believe a woman who is describing sexual violence. I will say adding in a mentally ill mother for Kate – and playing with genetic links to mental illness doesn’t seem like a good substitute though.
The cast is mostly game though – Davis is fine as she spirals out of control. There is something incredibly creepy about Prince in this movie, even though she doesn’t do anything outwardly creepy. Wolfhard is trying too hard I think – but the screenplay does as well. Marten is fine as Mrs. Grouse – even if she won’t ever join the ranks of the best overly involved housekeepers in movie history.
The movie though is mainly a murky mess. Considering horror movies are often about atmosphere, you would think having one set in a massive gothic mansion, or a creepy sprawling estate, would do half the work for you – it doesn’t really though. There’s too much muddy blackness everywhere, and it all just ups the confusion, rather than the atmosphere – you’re straining to see, when there’s nothing much there.
And then there is the ending, which is one of the most abrupt endings I can remember. I suppose it’s better than having scenes after, where everyone talks about what just happened, but the ending is also one big nothing. It doesn’t really answer anything, or even shock you. It’s there, and then the credits role. If you haven’t seen The Innocents – do so. That film is a masterpiece. The Turning is not.

Top 100 Films of the 2010s - 90-81

90. The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
One of the best horror films of the decade, and one of the best directorial debuts of the decade, was Robert Eggers wonderfully strange, slow burn terror The Witch. Starring the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy, this is a film about the horrors of growing isolated, with your religious nut job parents in 1630s New England. Even without the witchcraft that may be surrounding them, everything here would be horrifying to live through. The film takes its time – it has genuinely shocking moments to be sure, but they are doled out wonderfully well at well-plotted intervals. And it ends up making the case for why she just may choose to be a witch rather than suffer with this family. A genuine genre classic that (hopefully) sparks a long career for Eggers.
89. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
When you make a film that grosses as much as The Dark Knight, the studio will let you make something as daring as Inception – which really isn’t as complicated as it seems (if you pay attention, you shouldn’t be confused). It is a massive achievement for Nolan though – weaving together a complex narrative, with fine performances, and eye-popping visuals. I don’t think it’s quite the popcorn masterwork of The Dark Knight, nor is it quite the heady trip of Interstellar (which is more ambitious – but far more flawed – than Inception). That Nolan was able to pull off such massive project on such a large scale, with so much money is something to be celebrated.
88. Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell, 2019)
Under the Silver Lake is the stoner noir for the age of Trump and conspiracy theories – as well as a portrait of white male privilege. The lead character, brilliantly played by Andrew Garfield, starts to dig when the beautiful neighbor he thought he was going to bang (Riley Keough) disappears – and so he looks for her, falling down so many rabbit holes, and side trips and conspiracies along the way. He is an asshole and a misogynist, but one who outwardly is likable – and his quest is kind of relatable. The film is ridiculously detailed, with Mitchell putting clues all over the place. The film belongs on a list with Altman’s The Long Goodbye, the Coens Big Lebowski, Kelly’s Southland Tales and Anderson’s Inherent Vice – and full embraces the messiness of it structure and story. Another winner for Mitchell – who has become one of the most interesting new directors of the decade.
87. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)
It says something about the strength of Tarantino’s filmography that while The Hateful Eight may be his weakest feature film, I still brilliant. In this film, the title eight (with a couple of guests, eventually) all gather at an isolated, snowbound cabin – unaware of their various connections. This is an almost a classically structured Agatha Christie mystery, with all of these characters poking and prodding each other. Tarantino brings back some old favorites – it is saying something that this is probably Samuel L. Jackson’s fourth best performance for Tarantino, and he’s still great, Tim Roth having a lot of fun for the first time in a while, Kurt Russell going all John Wayne (I wish they had modelled him, visually, more on Wayne so the comparison would have been clearer) – and brought in some great newbies – Jennifer Jason Leigh is great as the only woman (and finally earned her an Oscar nomination) and Walton Goggins proves why he is one of the great actors, if only directors would give him roles like this. A brilliantly shot on 70 mm, and scored by Ennio Morricone, this maybe Tarantino playing around in genre he loves, more so than reinvented it, as he can do at his best, but this is still wonderful.
86. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011)
Jeff Nichols has become a filmmaker who’s each and every project I look forward to quite a bit – but while all of his three films since Take Shelter (Mud, Midnight Special, Loving) are excellent, he has yet to top his 2011 breakthrough film – featuring a brilliant performance by Michael Shannon as a father who thinks the end of the world is coming, and starts preparing his house, and terrified family, for the end times. Shannon has become a kind of muse for Nichols – he was great in his debut film Shotgun Stories – and has done small roles even in Nichols films he doesn’t have a large role in. Here, he is at his paranoid best and delivers a stunning performance. This was also part of Jessica Chastain’s breakout year – she is wonderful as Shannon’s scared wife (this year also included The Tree of Life and Coriolanus – so of course she was nominated for The Help). Nichols is one of the best at making films set in the “flyover” states that doesn’t condescend to them and shows them in a real light. And this is his best portrait of that.
85. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
The Thinking Man’s alien invasion movie, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is more about how the human race would communicate with an invading alien life force, than how we would attack it. Yes, there are a ton of special effects – but here, they are really do visualize what a different life force may look like, and how they would take – a long way removed from the typical aliens we often see in movies. Amy Adams gives one of her great performances as a linguistic expert, who entire life unexpectedly becomes a part of everything. Villeneuve has slowly, but surely, built up a stunning filmography – you cannot go wrong with anything he made this decade (Incendies, Enemy, Prisoners, Sicario or Blade Runner 2049) – but this is his best work, his brainiest – and proof that you can make a special effects laden blockbuster, and a great film at the same time.
84. A Hidden Life (Terence Malick, 2019)
Terence Malick spent most of the decade – following his masterpiece The Tree of Life – following that style further and further down a non-narrative rabbit hole, which annoyed many – and even if it didn’t annoy me, I admit I was relieved to see him get back to something more concrete with A Hidden Life. This film, about a humble Austrian farmer, who has to give up his idyllic life and perfect family when WWII breaks out, and he realizes he cannot support Hitler no matter the personal cost – really does feel like a descent into hell by Malick. That farm is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in a film, and he has to give all of that up for his principals. The film asks the tough moral questions that Malick has asked throughout his career – through a Christian lens, although Christian filmgoers often seem to prefer the simple narratives of the God’s Not Dead series, to something this searching and beautiful. It’s a shame, because A Hidden Life is a stunning film – and one that keeps growing as you look back upon it.
83. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
Greta Gerwig’s wonderful solo directorial debut is a charming, lovable very funny, very touching comedy. Saorise Ronan shows off her amazing range (think about the performances she has given this decade – it’s quite remarkable) about a high school senior struggling to figure out just who she is in relationship to boys, to her best friend, to her parents, etc. It is a funny moving, but also a quietly touching and wise one – one that doesn’t necessarily set everything up for going to be okay. It embraces the stupidity and arrogance of youth a little bit, and still finds a lot of sympathy for all involved. It’s also a movie in which every character – even the ones in the small roles – seems like a full person. It is one of the best debuts of the decade – which hopefully marks a great career for Gerwig going forward.
82. Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes, 2015)
We get at least a few Holocaust films every year – and yet very few of them really do anything new with the horrific events. But Laszlo Nemes’ debut film is different – it contains an amazing lead performance by Geza Rohrig performance, as a Jewish man who works in the extermination camps, who does everything he can to secure a proper burial for a young boy he is convinced is his son. By this point though, Saul is suffering for massive PTSD, and cannot see anything clearly. The direction of the movie is great – it pretty much follows Saul everywhere in a series of tracking shots focused on his face – the horrors all around him are all out of frame, and blurry – the film depending on its sound design to tell its horrors. One of the most striking debut films of the decade.
81. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
Abbas Kiaostami’s Certified Copy is a movie that has grown in my mind in the decade since it has come out. It’s one of those rare modern films that reminds me of the classic days of European Art House cinema – it’s a film that Alain Resnais would have been proud of – and yet, it’s very much a Kiarostami film in that it plays with the ideas of cinema and reality – and how one changes the other. The film stars Juliette Binoche and William Shammell playing a couple who has just met, going through a long first date – and then, in the second half, they are a long married couple teetering on the brink of divorce. Clearly in one half of the film, these two are play acting. Or maybe both halves. Or neither? It is a complex meditation on the nature of cinema – and the final masterpiece of the late Iranian masterpiece. I underrated it at the time, and I fear, I still may be underrating it now.