Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Top 100 Films of the 2010s - 30-21

30. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
It’s not an easy feat to make a three-hour comedy that keeps the comic momentum for the entire runtime, but Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann manages to pull off that trick. One of the reasons why it works is because the film is so layered, and takes on so many different topics, and there is a thread of melancholy throughout. I’ve heard the film described the film as Homer Simpson visiting a grown up Lisa – and that’s a great description of the film. In one of the great performances of the decade, Sandra Huller stars as a successful German businesswoman, on a trip to Bucharest – when her strange father Peter Simonischek shows up, posing as a businessman, to try and get close to his daughter. The film crams so much into its run time – misogyny, feminism, globalization and depression among many other things. And yet, miraculously, the film never feels overstuffed – never feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew. The film is great throughout – but truly becomes a masterwork in the last hour, with one standout sequence after another (the karaoke is probably the best – but who can choose). One of the truly great comedies of the decade – please Hollywood, don’t mess this one up.
29. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
There was no better pure action film this decade than George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road – hell, you can argue that as far as straight ahead action movies, almost nothing in cinema history can match this film. It is basically one huge action sequence from beginning to end – featuring Mad Max (Tom Hardy) fighting on the side of right once again – but giving even more weight to the female characters – particularly Charlize Theron’s Furiousa – an action heroine with no equal. The film is one mind boggling action sequence after another – full of stunts and action choreography that is unequaled in modern cinema. The film is a technical achievement on a level that even other master filmmakers have no idea how Miller pulled it off (listen to Steven Soderbergh talk about this film to see just what the difficulty level of this film was). And yet, it’s more than that – it is a feminist action masterpiece – and not matter how I describe it, I cannot do it justice. Just watch it – and then watch again and again.
28. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, 2015)
One of my top wishes of modern American movies is that Charlie Kaufman would make more films. He seemed to on a role as a writer in the early 2000s – from Being John Malkovich to Adaptation to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (among others) before making his directorial debut – Synecdoche, New York (2008) – which was better than all of them. And yet, since then, all we’ve gotten in Anomalisa – this bizarre, brilliant stop motion animated film about a lonely man (brilliantly voiced by David Thewlis) who is sleepwalking through life while on a business trip to Cincinnati. Everyone looks and sounds the same (the great Tom Noonan does the voice of everyone else in the cast) – with the exception of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). For a brief, shining moment Lisa brings joy to his life – the two connect, talk, flirt – and yes, have sex. But lasts only such a short period of time, before it’s all back to grey. Kaufman teamed up with Duke Johnson to better find the brilliant animated style of this film – basically, its puppets again. This is slow, sad nightmare of a film. Yes, you can question the gender politics of the film – but are those the films, or the lead characters, a sad, lonely pathetic little man who will never find joy. This is certainly the most original animated feature of the decade.
27. Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
We need David Fincher to make more movies – he is taking too long between his projects, and that is really a horrible thing. His most recent film is Gone Girl – which was misunderstood by too many people, who saw the film – like they (mistakenly) thought the bestselling book – as high end trash. It is actually a pitch black comedy and satire, posing as a thriller – and features the best performance ever by Ben Affleck as a dolt, and an even better one by Rosamund Pike as his wife who becomes a dark feminist anti-hero. This film may have been a little too early – imagine this film coming out in the #MeToo era, and the response would have been deafening. Still, this film works as a pitch black comedy, a moody thriller, and a brilliantly directed, written and acted film that gets to the heart of the difference between men and in women, in one brilliant, stylistic package.
26. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
You have to admire Richard Linklater, who spent 12 years making Boyhood – filming a few scenes every year with the same cast and crew, to come up with a wonderful, intimate portrait of growing up. There has never quite been anything like this in film history -  - films like Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel’s series, or the Michael Apted Up series, which also followed the same people over the course of years – but they did that in a series, not in one package. What’s even better about this film is that Linklater mainly focuses on the smaller moments in their lives – not the big, dramatic moments, but those quiet ones that we remember for reasons we cannot always explain. He perfectly cast Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the parents, who go through their own development over time – he from an irresponsible mess, into a real family man, her picking up the pieces of her life, but wondering where it’s all gone. Young Ellar Coltrane is great throughout – he hasn’t done as much since, but he is terrific here, and perfect as kind of the quiet presence at its core. This is the type of film that will be remembered, and studied, forever.
25. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
Carol is one of the great cinematic love stories of all time – a beautiful film set in 1950s New York when a young artist working in a department store (Rooney Mara) locks eyes with a rich, beautiful, bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) across the store, and nothing is the same for them ever again. Haynes has always been an expert stylist – bringing the style of the past to the present, and this may be his best example of that yet. Blanchett is brilliant here – it is a bold performance, one that deliberately calls back to a style of acting that has fallen out of favor in the decades since the 1950s, but is perfect for this film. Mara is even better – it is a quieter, more sensitive and realist performance. The screenplay is by Phyllis Nagy – the first not written by Haynes himself in a film he directed (although the film seems custom made for Haynes) – based on a great Patricia Highsmith story – a rarity of lesbian literature, is it doesn’t all end in tragedy. The film is one of the most erotic I have ever seen – with lust running through every scene, every glance. As with all of Haynes films, the film looks beautiful – the costume design and production design are excellent, Edward Lachman’s cinematography is perhaps the best of his long career, and the great Carter Burwell score adds immeasurably to this film. And then it all ends with the perfect final shot. A true masterpiece – perhaps Haynes’ best films, but it says something that there are probably three other films in the running for that title.
24. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)
One could argue that one of the reasons why I love Inside Out as much as I do – that I named it the best film of 2015, and it ranks second (behind Wall-E) as my favorite Pixar film of all time is because I am the father of two daughters, who at the time were 5 and 2, and watching the film with them next to me made me think of them growing older – and how everything we’ve done up to that point in their lives is destined for the dustbin of their memories. Which is why the film moved me so much – which is why Bing Bong’s final moments had me weeping like no other film I can think of. But I also think that Inside Out is a unique film – a bold film – that centers on the emotions of a pre-teen girl, when everything feels like life and death, and how all we (as parents, or her emotions) wants to do is hold onto the happiness. But happiness and sadness are both needed to lead a full life – and that’s something this film knows all too well. It is also deliriously entertaining and visually stunning from beginning to end. So yes, I cannot divorce my feelings for this film from my feelings for my daughters – but I don’t have to (or want to) to know this film is a masterpiece.
23. World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, 2015)
The only short film on this list – Don Herztfeldt’s wonderful 17-minute animated film is as densely packed as any feature film, and has more to say than almost all of them. Visually, it’s a strange mixture of simple stick figure a child could draw – a staple in Hertzfeldt’s films – and a mesmerizing computer animated background. The story is about a clone coming back from the future to talk to Emily Prime about the hellscape they currently live in – the problem being that Emily Prime is a toddler, and has no idea what the hell is going on. As she innocently plays, the dystopia is described to us. The film is hilarious, but it’s also a brainy sci-fi film. It’s an unbearably sad film – or would be if it weren’t so funny. Hertzfeldt made a follow-up a few years later – and its great as well – but not up to the level of this film, which really is one of the greatest short films of all time, and certainly the best of the decade.
22. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
Was there a stranger film this decade that Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster – a dystopian satire about a future in which every person is required to partner up – you can be gay or straight, but you cannot be alone. If you reach a certain point and have yet to find a partner, then you are turned into an animal, and set free in the wild – but hey, you get to pick whatever animal you want. The film stars Colin Farrell, who is going to a hotel for a month for his last chance to find a partner – it’s a hotel that is designed to help you find just that. And if he cannot find love, then he has chosen to become a lobster. The film is a wicked and dark satire – the first half takes dead aim at society’s obsession with love and marriage, forcing those partner up. The second half – outside the hotel, mainly in the forest, takes aim at the exact opposite, as the rebels are just as dogmatic in their extremism as society at large. Farrell has never been better than he is here – it is a masterclass of deadpan hilarity. It also has one of the best final shots of the decade – one that answers everything, and nothing at the same time. Lanthimos has become one of the best directors in the world – and so far, The Lobster is his masterpiece.
21. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
For me, Paterson was the perfect film at the perfect time – and I cannot separate it from the first time I saw it. My wife and I were in New York – we got tickets to Hamilton, and planned a weekend around it – and while she wanted to do some shopping, I wanted to see Paterson – which hadn’t opened in Canada yet. The weekend we happened to be in New York was on the same weekend Trump was being inaugurated – and I happened to watch Paterson at the exact same time Trump was giving his speech. So while the world listened to Trump talk about American Carnage, I was watching this incredibly quiet, gentle film about a bus driver named Paterson in Paterson New Jersey, and his love of poetry – both the stuff he writes himself, for himself, and the work of others. Adam Driver delivers his best performance – one of the very best performances of the decade. He plays Paterson as a man of routine – he likes his routine – but this isn’t a film about a man in a rut – it’s about a man who is truly content in his modest life. The pictures of him as a Marine give you some sense as to why he may like a quieter life – but the film never expresses that literally. This is a quietly profound film – one that I loved, but underrated at the time (I published my top 10 list for the year right after coming home from New York, and had Paterson at # 8). It is the best film Jim Jarmusch has ever made – and like all of his best films, it needed to time to percolate for its true specialness to come through.

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