Mike’s Favorite Directorial Efforts of the Decade (10-1)

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:

10. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

This film is just stunning on every level. We already know how incredible Jenkins’ previous film is, but this is every bit the film that is. It’s a spiritual cousin to it, but has its own themes and issues it’s dealing with. And it’s just beautiful. It really is. Sometimes you watch a film and just know how special it is in the moment. This is one of those films. I was so privileged to see this movie before it came out and could not stop talking to people about it. It’s a shame this didn’t get the acclaim that Moonlight did, but trust me when I say it’s every bit the film that is.

9. Martin Scorsese, Hugo

The main reason this is here is because after Avatar, there was a run for about four or five years of films either shot or converted to 3D. And almost all of them were terrible. But here, Martin Scorsese provides the single best use of 3D that’s ever been put to film. Including Avatar. It’s stunning. I remember openly gasping within three minutes of this film starting, and it only got better from there. I feel so sorry for anyone who didn’t get to experience this film in the true 3D. Because it just increases the experience exponentially. Not to mention, on top of even that, the film is a love letter to early cinema and the magic that filmmakers can put into their work that can cross all sorts of boundaries and touch so many lives. That’s the real beauty of this film. And I know Scorsese made a gangster picture this decade and made Wolf of Wall Street — but this is the best film that he made this decade, and it’s the only time he’s made a movie for families. This is a movie he clearly made for his kids, and the only time he’s really made something a child could sit through (in terms of content). But it’s more than that. It’s a love letter to movies. And I could think of few better choices for this top ten than something like that.

8. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

I mean — would anybody argue with this? Most people would put this higher. I think everyone was blown away by this. George Miller had made three Mad Max films, which were fun, but didn’t really do anything other than be fun little action movies, came back, went into the desert for two years, away from the studio who had no idea what he was even making, and he returned with this film, which was perhaps the most acclaimed film of what might be the strongest single year of this entire decade. It’s just a masterpiece. The entire film is one long chase sequence. It’s colorful, it’s entertaining, it’s thrilling, it has everything you’d want in a film. But I didn’t need to say any of this. I could have just said the word ‘yup’ and you’d have all understood why this is here.

7. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Jenkins is the first of three filmmakers with two films in the top ten. I had starting hearing the hype for this film, so I went out to see it in its first weekend. And I figured it would be just a strong indie that people were overinflating for various reasons other than its quality. But within 20 minutes, you just felt something different about this film. There’s this special quality to it that I can’t explain. I can’t tell you why I was so drawn to this film and invested in it, but I was. You just know you’re dealing with something truly extraordinary with this one. You can’t tell the story of this decade without this film, and arguably if you’re picking the five most important films of the decade, this has to be on it.

6. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

This is still one of the best achievements of the decade. I know it might seem quaint to some now, but going to see this on a big screen, hearing that sound design just blow you away — it was something else. I think the people who didn’t experience what this was in the proper setting might not have seen what made this film so special. But holy shit. You’re there. The story is simple, but it needed to be simple. Because the entire film is ‘woman stuck in space alone’. There’s not much out there. So it had to be what it was. It’s truly just an incredible piece of work.

5. Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Hate away, but the boldness of creating an original musical and having it be as memorable and iconic as this one demands a spot this high. The opening number in traffic alone is already one of the most memorable moments in film history. It belongs here on that alone. But it’s just a beautiful, beautiful film, and Chazelle directs the hell out of it. The visuals here are just so stunning and so enduring. And the musical numbers have such brio. Dude was 30 when he made this! And he comes across like an old pro! I love this film, and you can feel how you want to about it, but there’s no denying the strength of the effort.

4. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Clubhouse leader for most visually stunning film of the decade. Chivo’s got three films in this top ten. It’s hard to argue against this one too. Inarritu takes what is otherwise a simple survival/revenge story and turns it into this epic journey. It’s stunning, it’s brutal, and it’s one of the most beautiful films I saw this decade.

3. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

I saw this film four times in theaters, all in 70mm. I couldn’t get enough of it. It gets better every time I see it, and just may be the best effort of Anderson’s career. I’m still partial to There Will Be Blood and probably will always be partial to There Will Be Blood (which I also saw a bunch of times in theaters, which I say because it’s rare for me to go see something more than once in a theater anymore, maybe twice), but this movie is just stunning on every level. There’s no need for me to argue for Anderson as a filmmaker, and I’m sure some people would put The Master here. But this is the one for me. Our first of two films that were shot by the director themselves, as their usual DP wasn’t available to work on it, and it’s a film that also looks the most gorgeous of anything that’s come out this decade. I truly can’t tell you just how much I love this film, so hopefully it being third on this list does the work for me.

2. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

I mean — this was, in its way, a bit of a game changer. No one had seen this before, a film shot to look like it was done entirely in a single take. It had been done, but not the way this one had been done. And sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but it also works in the context of the story itself, watching this guy slowly unravel as he’s at the end of his (career) rope and trying to pull off one more success. Talk to me on another day (and honestly, like three months) and Phantom Thread will end up in this spot. But the specific rankings don’t matter. It’s just about shouting out great efforts, and it’s hard not to call this one of the top ten (or five) best efforts of the decade.

1. Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

I couldn’t not. This is the masterpiece of this decade. This is the definitive film of Cuaron’s career, and is his best effort by far. Which is funny, since he’s got another film in this top ten. But I was so stunned by Roma that it took me almost a month to even process my feelings for it. I didn’t even know how I felt about it at the time, but knew it was something special, and then slowly as I started to be able to form my thoughts about it and digest everything I’d seen (through various rewatches), I realized that I was watching nothing short of a masterpiece and something that feels like it’ll go down as one of the best directed films ever made. There was really no choice for me for #1 other than this.

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