Mike’s Favorite Directorial Efforts of the Decade (100-91)

I make ‘favorite performance’ lists every year, and I get that these lists, more than the rest, are the most subjective one can make. Because it’s really about what you see in each performance and what you respond to; There’s no objective way to truly rate a performance as better than another. With whole films, it feels easier to make that distinction. So with these lists, I’m just gonna focus on some performances from the decade that I really, really enjoyed, and the goal here is just to shout them out and maybe get some people to watch the films if they hadn’t or reevaluate each of the performances the next time they watch the films.

These are my favorite directorial efforts of the decade:

100. Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s cinema is a cinema of excess. And no one does indulgence like Baz Luhrmann. It takes a lot to liven up Romeo and Juliet, and Moulin Rouge is just an orgy of music and visuals. So, really… Gatsby was a natural extension of his visual style. And man, did he not disappoint. I always appreciate when someone can take a classic piece of literature that everyone knows well or has been made multiple times for the screen (both of which this is) and make it feel new and fresh. And that’s what this is. It’s colorful, it’s vibrant, and it gets the story across. Lit people can argue about themes and stuff, but it gets it all across. They’re different mediums. This just feels like a real cinematic experience, the likes of which we don’t get much of anymore when they’re not wearing capes.

99. Robert Eggers, The Witch

It’s all about the atmosphere. Sometimes you can watch something and just know the director has a complete command of tone and style. Within ten minutes, you just knew that Eggers knew exactly what he was doing. That sound design was incredible. The whole thing felt unbearably creepy and foreboding and a lot of time it was just shots of trees. Eggers takes a setting that could have any number of different tones and gives it one we haven’t really seen before. Not much happens in this movie, but it’s this slow burn to just awful things, and it’s done so well. I could not stop thinking about this movie long after I saw it, and I saw it like a year before it came out in theaters. And I just could not stop talking about it all during that time.

98. Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly

So if I made this list a decade ago, Assassination of Jesse James might have been #1 on it. Top three for sure. I haven’t remotely considered it, but I suspect it would be at or near the top. So I love Andrew Dominik. And I was all over this one. But apparently no one else was. I think people didn’t understand it. They were expecting some gangster movie with all sorts of action. But this is not that. This is about what happens between the killing, and it’s really about the financial crisis. So I think that explains the reaction to it. But I think it’s amazing. I love the film. And I love how Dominik focuses on all this minutiae while also showing a completely lively visual style that is there even if most people might not notice it fully the first time watching the movie. But there’s some really cool stuff that he does here. I think it’s a great piece of work. Dude’s made three movies so far and they’re all great.

97. Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

It’s Wes Anderson. I don’t have to say anything at this point. His style is all his own. And basically he’s slowly perfected it over the years. So in a way, putting him on this list is just saying you love this style, but… I love his style. What can I say?

96. Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Every time I go back to this movie, the more I’m impressed with its direction. Which is not to make a statement about anything else (i.e. awards and such from that year), but it is definitely something I think is overlooked here. Hooper does a great job livening up a movie about two people in a room, talking. There’s some really cool stuff here, and Hooper is a visual director, even if people don’t always pay attention to that element of his films. Also, while it is very classical, that’s not to say a beautiful, classically shot film can’t be great.

95. Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

This has to be somewhere on everyone’s lists. Doesn’t have to be high (though the higher it is probably tells me a lot about a person and their tastes), but it has to be on it. This is a straight B movie, and with another director goes straight to VOD or is just another Jason Statham movie. Refn makes it into something else entirely. It’s taut, it’s cool, and it’s just fun. Which is a weird thing to say. Fun is usually a word reserved for a completely different kind of movie. But it is fun. It’s a really great piece of work. And unfortunately he seems to have descended down the rabbit hole this film took him down. But that doesn’t change the achievement he had with this.

94. Alex Garland, Ex Machina

Felt like going with one of the outdoor photos for this one, since the entire thing takes place indoors. Most of the film is people in a confined space talking, but I like how Garland doesn’t make it feel stuffy. And I was even gonna qualify that with ‘past what’s necessary’, but even then… it doesn’t feel stuffy. It doesn’t feel like the walls are closing in. You don’t really notice that they’re in this house in the middle of nowhere. He does some cool things with lighting and staging, and, if I’m being honest, he put a random dancing scene in the middle of his movie. And it’s worth a spot on his list for that alone.

93. The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas

This is one of the most epic undertakings I’ve seen. They took this insanely ambitious novel and cast the same actors as all these different characters, which are sometimes different races or genders than the ones in the other stories. It’s just epic, but also intimate in a weird way. And while it’s not as visually resplendent and influential as The Matrix, it really is an amazing piece of work, that goes down to me as one of the most underrated efforts of this decade.

92. Sebastian Schipper, Victoria

I’m always gonna shout out a oner. This entire film was shot entirely in one single, unbroken take (unlike Birdman or 1917, which have hidden edits). And unlike Russian Ark, which is shot inside a museum at night where they could move people in and out of the frame — this is shot in clubs and on streets around Berlin. I’m sure it’s all within a small radius they were able to control, but it feels like there’s more elements of chance here. And honestly, anyone who can pull off a movie in a single shot and still manage to be interesting, while a gimmick, is impressive.

91. Steven Soderbergh, Unsane

I love how Soderbergh never shies away from trying things. Often the most interesting films he makes are the little indies no one sees. This one he shot entirely on an iPhone (which I’m guessing was from him seeing Tangerine and what Sean Baker did with phones). And it’s interesting. It feels like it was shot on a phone, but he does some interesting things, visually, able to get some unique angles (and he does this thing with fades to highlight her mental state at one point that’s really strong), and it just helps underscore the uncertainty of the narrative and her state of sanity. It’s a great piece of work from a master filmmaker.

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