Mike’s Favorite Directorial Efforts of the Decade (80-71)

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:

80. Randy Moore, Escape from Tomorrow

This is here on sheer audacity alone. The dude shot an entire film in Disneyland, taking advantage of a loophole in the law that allows people to film there as long as they don’t use anything trademarked. So they went in with actors disguised as tourists and shot a whole film about a dude slowly losing his mind at the park with his family completely under the nose of everyone who worked there (even the secret park security). It’s nuts. The film is weird and kinda good, but mostly it’s the fact that they somehow managed to pull it off that I love. There are some really fucked up things in this movie, and it’s clear the entire way that it’s Disney, which makes it so much better. It’s hard to mention the most memorable or unique pieces of direction from this decade without at least mentioning this one.

79. Jennifer Kent, The Nightingale

The Babadook was a great debut, but this — this was something else. My god. This is a hell of a movie. Old-fashioned revenge film that just settles you into the location (19th century Tasmania) and lets you go. It’s just a beautiful, brutal film that doesn’t glorify violence but rather just lets everything play out. Jennifer Kent is fast becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.

78. Coralie Fargeat, Revenge

Speaking of revenge films — this is a real hoot. This honestly makes a perfect B movie version of a double feature with The Revenant. It’s truly that. Bad thing happens to a woman and she’s left for dead. She survives in the harsh landscape, then comes back for revenge. Though it’s very stylized and just so much fun. You want to cheer at the screen when she comes back to kill the dudes responsible. And that third act — there’s a movie that uses blood in a way I haven’t quite seen before.

77. Denis Villeneuve, Sicario

It’s crazy how Denis Villeneuve’s output seemed to get better every time out. Prisoners, then this, then Arrival, then Blade Runner. They’re all amazing, and all of them are infinitely better because he directed it. This one in particular is helped greatly by both his presence and Roger Deakins’. It’s the visual style that elevates this from drug drama/action movie to incredible film. The tunnel sequence, the border crossing, the opening in the house, the Benicio sequence — you can just rattle off great sequences in the film that everyone remembers just from their name. That’s great filmmaking.

76. S. Craig Zahler, Brawl in Cell Block 99

This is a director treating a grindhouse movie like an A picture. And I love it. If I had to list my five or ten best in-theater experiences this decade, this would probably be in the top five, and might even be #2. It’s so goddamn entertaining, and constantly doesn’t go the way you expect. And then when it does, you find yourself so much more engaged than you thought you were gonna be. It’s crazy. Zahler had my respect from Bone Tomahawk (that last half hour, though), but he earned my love with this. From the way he shoots Vaughn full frame to take advantage of his height to the sudden, brutal use of violence, to that insane third act that finally makes good on the premise of the title — I love this movie. It’s a real good time. And it’s a movie that, if you’re the kind of person who would enjoy something like this, you’re going to really enjoy the shit out of it. He might have gotten a bit indulgent after this one, but this is a great piece of work.

75. Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine

It felt really fresh at the time, because no one was really making these kinds of movies. Mumblecore had happened, but those were largely improvised and plotless films, they felt like. They just felt like masturbatory film student stuff. This felt like John Cassavetes. And we hadn’t really seen anything like that in a long time. He just took Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling and gave them a general story (half the film is you guys falling in love, and the other half is you married and falling out of love) and let them make up the rest. And it’s just them in character making scenes up. And some people might not like that, but I love the film he got from that. It just felt so wonderfully intimate. It feels kinda dated now, since I think more people have done things like this since then, but this was just a real eye-opener to me at the time and reminded me of how great true indie movies can be if done right.

74. J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost

It’s a movie about one dude alone on a boat at sea with like, a total of about 40 lines of dialogue if you added them up, most or all of which is inconsequential. So obviously the direction is taking center stage in this one. It’s all visuals, and the iconic presence of Robert Redford to keep everything centered. But this was a bold jump for Chandor, coming off Margin Call. He really took a giant leap forward with this one. You have to be a really great filmmaker to not only handle the challenges of shooting on water but also shoot a movie with only one man on screen for its entirety with basically no dialogue and make it not only interesting but really interesting.

73. Steve McQueen, Widows

12 Years a Slave is great, as is Shame, but this was a hell of an effort from Steve McQueen, and the one no one’s gonna talk about. He adapted this from a BBC miniseries, which gave him material, but it’s the way in which he put it all together that really made it work so well. I could have watched a 4 hour cut of this movie. Every single plotline of this movie was interesting and I wanted more of it all. Plus, there are just such incredible visual touches — that scene in the car with Colin Farrell riding from the poor part of the neighborhood to the rich one, all in a matter of blocks, in one unbroken exterior shot of the car is one of the most concise pieces of visual storytelling I’ve ever seen. And the film is full of great stuff like that. Unfortunately, no one bothered to see this movie. But truly, this is one of the best films to have come out this decade.

72. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

It’s Wes Anderson. I said it last time — he’s just perfecting a visual style, and there’s not much to say about it, because we all know what it is. So to put him on this list is just to say, “I really liked the effort here.” So — I really liked the effort here. It felt tighter and more controlled than his other stuff. And, in some ways, might be the perfect (live-action, since the stop-motion stuff is perhaps even more of a pure embodiment of his style) example of everything he is as a filmmaker in one place.

71. The Safdies, Good Time

I know everyone’s gonna have Uncut Gems on their list, but this is basically that same movie, just two years earlier. It’s two hours of a guy in a bad spot running around, trying to make it better. It’s just two hours of emotional tension. Panic Attack: The Movie. The only difference is that Uncut Gems is loaded with more dialogue because that’s what Sandler’s character was. This is more Robert Pattinson running around and trying to figure out what the fuck to do. Both are great, but if I’m gonna pull out which one I preferred, it’s the one I saw first, which is this one. You can’t surprise me twice with the same thing. So while both are great versions of that directorial style, this is the one that really stood out to me more.

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