Tuesday, January 28, 2020

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.

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