Mike’s Favorite Directorial Efforts of the Decade (50-41)

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:

50. Andrea Arnold, American Honey

I couldn’t imagine I was gonna love this movie as much as I did. It’s a three hour movie about millennials selling magazines and traveling across the country in a van. It’s not remotely something I thought could interest me. But there’s something about the way that Andrea Arnold directs the film that makes it completely riveting from beginning to end. It’s just pulsing with life, and somehow you just want to go on the journey with these people (mainly with Sasha Lane) without thinking about where it’s gonna end. It’s just a wonderful film, that also feels like the right kind of indie, where they’re just letting it come alive as they make it.

49. Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice

I feel like Paul Thomas Anderson is like the Coen brothers in that his dramas always seem to get better notices than his comedies, even though the comedies are so goddamn fun and watchable and you keep going back to them. This and Punch Drunk Love are two hugely underrated movies, and both are the most overt comedies he’s made (even though most of his films are pretty funny). This in particular is the perfect example of 70s atmosphere, Joaquin doing pure comedy (which he doesn’t ever do) and Anderson leaning into the weird of Pynchon. While I won’t opine on what a ‘better’ film (since that’s all subjective anyway), I will say… I do go back and watch this more than I watch The Master. It’s so fucking amusing, and I think more people should recognize the greatness that’s here.

48. Pablo Larrain, Jackie

I love how he shot this. It looks like it’s entirely on 16mm, which gives it an almost Zapruder like feel (which… I’m pretty sure that’s 8mm). And I like how intimate the whole thing is, pseudo-documentary style, with the camera just loosely following Jackie around (which is kinda the point of the film). He separates the different eras pretty well — the White House years, the funeral stuff and then the interview — each has a defined style and color palette — and I just feel like this movie is hugely elevated by the way in which he makes it. I can’t imagine any other director making this the way he did, and in a way I think he got the best possible version out of this story that anyone could have.

47. Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This is just about everything I want out of a movie. I was so thrilled for this at the time, being a huge John le Carré fan, a huge Gary Oldman fan and I was thrilled about Alfredson, coming off Let the Right One In (which is a masterpiece). It’s a great spy thriller, gorgeously shot (I love anything that makes grain a part of the film. It reminds me of the 70s), and one of those films I can put on and watch any time. It’s just a great, all-around piece of work.

46. Joe Wright, Anna Karenina

It takes a special piece of effort to liven up material that’s well-worn, and I love what Wright did with this. He takes out of the bounds of reality, which mirrors the relationship between the two characters. But I also love how a lot of it is done entirely on a stage, and he moves the camera about, sometimes changing space and time just through camera movement. It’s an incredible piece of work that I’m aware I like more than others do. But I just love any time Wright makes a film where he’s in complete control of the visuals and gets to play with the style.

45. Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite

A lot of it is in the writing and performances, but Yorgos certainly adds his touches to it. I love those fish-eye lenses and wide angles he shoots it in. He definitely lets the milieu have its space while also focusing on the absurdity of all of this happening within these pristine walls. That dance scene alone is worth a spot on this list.

44. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs

I think he came onto this one late, too. I forget now who was gonna do it (maybe Fincher?), but Boyle came on and completely made the film his own. He knew he had a Sorkin script to work from, which freed him up to make interesting choices with how to tell the story. And I love what he did — the film being shot in three sections, each with its own style. The first section is shot on 16mm, the second on 35mm and the third on digital, mirroring the progress of technology over that time. And he also really lets his cast do the work, allowing for long takes of dialogue without too much cutting. He’s been known in recent years for a lot of edits in his films, and he really lets the film speak for itself, while adding the kind of visual flair that he can, when he can. It’s one of his better efforts, even if it might seem like he’s just a ‘for hire’ kinda guy.

43. Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse

You just feel like Eggers is in complete command of the frame and what he wants to show you. He clearly meant for this to look and feel like a silent film. You honestly could make a cut of this movie, as-is, with no dialogue, speed up the frame rate and add intertitles and it would be a silent movie. That’s how strong the visuals are here. It’s really an incredible piece of work. Some people are strong visually, but few can pull off a movie so tight that you can show it silent and still understand everything that’s happening. Of course, you wouldn’t really want that, because the dialogue is so great (everything Dafoe says is just perfect), but you could, and that speaks to how great a job Eggers did.

42. Trey Edward Shults, Waves

I just was blown away from this movie. It’s not a 1:1 ratio, but watching the first section of this film made me feel a bit like when I saw Moonlight for the first time. They’re different experiences entirely, but I felt shades of it. You just felt like a director fully coming in with command of a look and a style and bringing the audience along for this ride. It’s almost a feeling I can’t quite put into words, but while it’s not the same (and we’ll talk about it when we get to Moonlight), I did have that feeling with this. The changing aspect ratios and the shot in the car with the revolving camera first made me go, “Oh, okay. This isn’t gonna be another indie.” Because I truly didn’t quite know what I was in for with it. And Shults told me pretty quickly, “Don’t worry, I got this.” And he builds this beautiful palette and sequence of events that get you fully invested in this story — and then the film becomes something else. Which is such a bold choice that he makes completely work. This is a film that is relatively new in relation to where we are now, but really deserves so much more eyeballs and love for it, because it’s one of the absolute best of the decade.

41. Edgar Wright, Baby Driver

This is just complete style over substance, and nobody minds it one bit. Edgar Wright went all out with this one, starting with that opening ‘musical’ number with the lyrics and things placed throughout the set as Ansel Elgort walked by. Which just shows you he’s got this under control even before we get to all the car chase stuff. And then he’s got the car chases, and the music, and the editing (which he’s pretty much known for) — just a real fun time at the movies from a master director.

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