Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (490-481)
And here we are. The big list. Theoretically the one we’ve been building toward. But really anticlimactic when you get down to it. You think the list of my ‘favorite’ films of an entire decade would be the thing you want. But really it’s just me going back over a lot of the stuff I covered on the other lists and a broad regurgitation of my top ten lists from the ten years. So, rather than treat this like some big holy set of rankings, I’m just gonna do what I did with all the other lists – try to get you to see some of these you haven’t seen before and maybe introduce you to some cool movies.
It’s important to note, as it’s important to note with all my lists – the rankings don’t really matter. The number is only a function of the day I put it together. The only way to truly get a real ranking of my favorite films of the decade is for me to take the pool of films I used and make up this list from scratch at least ten different times and then use some sort of formula to figure out the average position of each movie and then create a ranking. And that’s not the goal here. I don’t care about the numbers. I care about talking up the films I like and trying to get people to see some of them.
So, if you feel like you want to get upset about where something is ranked, know that it’s a broad ranking. For the most part, films are in the general range of the 25-50 where I’d generally rate them next to everything else. Things will change as I revisit stuff and as time goes on. Like I said, this is really just about telling you what I enjoyed most in the hopes that it gets you to check out some of the stuff you either didn’t know about before or never bothered to see (or maybe saw and didn’t fully appreciate at the time). That’s it. It’s really just about celebrating movies. Don’t get so hung up on the numbers.
So, here are my 500 favorite films of 2010-2019:
490. Straight Outta Compton
Everyone knows about this movie. Everyone’s probably seen this movie. It’s awesome. It’s about N.W.A. and their legacy, both in terms of music and culture. It’s hard to discredit what the band means and what the film has done to show people that. Between this film and the Defiant Ones doc, I think people have a good sense of just what N.W.A. means in all these senses. There’s really not much more to add. It’s just a great movie.
489. Charlie Countryman
I always will refer to this as The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, which is what the film was originally called, and then they shortened the title upon release. Which sucks. I like the longer title. This is also a film that I’m sure almost no one knows exists. But it does have Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood, so there’s that. It’s a weird film, I’ll admit. But one I quite liked. It came out during that weird period where Shia was post Transformers but pre people respecting him as an actor. There was that five year period where there were a lot of arrests and controversies and the whole plagiarism thing and people just not caring about his stuff. And he was in stuff you saw (or at least heard of) during that time — Lawless, Nymphomaniac, Fury — but I don’t think people finally came back around on him until Honey Boy, which was pretty recent. This is in that dead zone where no one gave a shit, and it’s a weird movie, so that also added to no one caring.
It’s about a guy who, after the death of his mother, sees her ghost and, based on that interaction, travels to Bucharest. On the plane, he meets a nice old man, but the old man dies while the plane is in the air. He then interacts with the old man’s ghost who says he should deliver something to his daughter. So now he’s going around Bucharest looking for this woman, and then when he meets her, he instantly falls in love with her. But turns out, she’s got a gangster ex and he doesn’t want to share. So now Shia’s entangled with all that. It’s almost like someone made an MTV music video version of a ‘star-crossed lovers’ kinda movie. It’s weird, but I liked it. Not something I’d ever recommend to people at large unless it felt like the right thing based on other stuff they liked, but it is a movie I sparked to more than most would.
I love Spike Lee. I love that he keeps working and cranking out movies. They don’t always work, but he always pops up every few years (hopefully more often) with something that makes you remember just what an amazing filmmaker and amazing voice he is. I’ll admit, it had been a little while for me before this. I always respected his stuff, but I hadn’t really loved anything in a while. Not since Inside Man. But then he made this, and this just brought it all back. That’s the beauty of it. You keep taking swings. Eventually you’re gonna hit home runs. It’s not about getting on base every time. It’s about putting in the work to get those at bats. And Spike is amazing at that.
It’s based on Lysistrata, which is a really progressive kinda play for 5th century B.C. Greece. The basis of the play is that all the women of Greece, tired of all the warring of the men, banding together to deny them sex until they stop fighting. So Spike takes that basis and updates it to modern day Chicago, with rival gangs and black-on-black violence. It’s a genius concept. And what he does is writes all the dialogue like rhyming rap lyrics rather than lyrical poetry. So there’s a cadence to everything that makes it feel kinda like when someone does modern day Shakespeare. But it’s much more fun than that. And Spike is clearly having fun with it all, and there’s a real energy and a joy to this movie that you can just feel as you watch it. And there’s a lot of amazing casting and fun cameos along the way as well. I know better than to try to force people to see this movie, but you really should watch it. It’s really great.
This is the kind of movie I’d want to show someone who is interested in film (especially in eventually creating film in some form) and is between the ages of, say, 15 and 21. I feel like that’s the age for this film. Because it’s the kind of movie that, if I saw it at that age, I’d have seen a different way to make a movie. He took a relatively unknown (in modern terms. Unless you’re into plays and history, I doubt most people would be familiar with the name Lysistrata) play and updated it to make a point about modern society and did it in a way that feels entirely fresh and consistent with his creative voice. And I think films like this are so important for aspiring writers and filmmakers because they show you ways you can use your own knowledge and creativity and interests to tell a story in a way that’s not like all the other crap that’s out there. It’s almost like a green light of, “Oh, you can do that?”; “You can just take a Greek play and make it about modern issues?” And I know on some level people kinda get that from certain Shakespeare stuff… but Shakespeare’s its own rabbit hole at this point. You need something like this to really show how big that sandbox really is. And I think that for that alone, this is one of the most important films of the decade. I really wish 17 year old me could have seen this movie. I might not have fully understood why he was seeing it at the time, but it would have been a good thing for my development as an aspiring writer. This is the kind of movie I’d put on a theoretical syllabus if I was ever teaching a class on this stuff (which — trust me — no one will ever let me do unless they’re trying to pull a Producers and tank a program and get fired). Because I think certain movies are great because, whether or not you like them, they really are a boost to learning about creativity and what you can do with a medium and an art form and opening up the doors in your mind into what is possible. And this is invaluable for that, and one of the many, many reasons I love Spike Lee.
487. The Souvenir
One of those critical darlings of the decade, one you’ll see on a lot of ‘best of’ lists, particularly those with a more artistic bend than a mainstream one. Put it this way — if IMDB is one extreme and Cahiers du Cinema is the other, this is closer to being on the latter than the former. You should know that going in, because I feel like knowing it’s that kind of film will dictate how you’re going to respond to it. Whether that means bracing yourself to deliberately hate it to rail against what you see as pretentious, high brow moviegoers, whether that means automatically loving it to seem cultured or, what I hope would happen, understanding the type of film it is so you don’t go in with the wrong set of expectations about what you’re getting. It’s from Joanna Hogg, who based the film on her experiences as a film student in the 80s. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne and co-stars her mother, Tilda, playing the character’s mother (because of course). It’s about a film student who starts a relationship with an older man. That’s really all you need. It’s one of those films that, to me, is deceptively simple. I can’t really point to anything specific about why it’s great except to say — you can see it. And because it’s more of an art-house style film (which is just to say, it’s gorgeously photographed, not much happens, and the pacing is not what you’d expect from a typical Hollywood film), not everyone will see it. I’ll admit, I heard all the praise for this and wasn’t sure why I’d care, but I found myself getting into the film and the story and loving how Hogg set up her compositions and let things play out. Look, if all you care about in film is watching the next DC or Marvel movie, chances are this isn’t for you. But, if you’re willing to go for a more artistic film once in a while (and this is like, baseline artistic, and not even one of the weirder stylistic ones that’s out there), it’s a really solid film. Is it gonna change your life? No. But it’s well above-average. Actually, now that I think about it — here’s the best way to describe it — A24 put it out. So generally how you feel about most of A24’s stuff is probably along the lines of how you’ll feel about this.
486. Girls Trip
I think I’m well on the record with how much I hate American studio comedies nowadays. It’s really rare for me to even tolerate one let alone like one. And so when this come out and started making waves, I just assumed, “Yeah, whatever, I’m sure it’s fine.” Because comedies just are consistently terrible and routinely feature the same tired old scenes, a lot of which are even in this very movie (like for example the extremely unnecessary scene where, for no reason at all, someone goes on a zip line and pisses everywhere. It’s raunch for the sake of raunch). But that’s part of the reason this movie works — even though that scene is awful (and a direct result of the Apatow-era comedies that introduced this stuff and have generally become the template for comedies this past decade), I don’t mind it so much coming from this movie. This movie is charming enough that, while I groaned at the construction of the scene from a narrative standpoint, was able to get through it without turning on the movie. And that’s because they found a way to make this feel charming and at least a little fresh, a lot of credit for which is owed to Tiffany Haddish, who accomplishes here what many felt Melissa McCarthy accomplished in Bridesmaids (and, for a lot of people, continues to do in all her other movies). I’ll just say this, rather than have this start to sound negative (like every one of my comedy reviews sounds like after a certain point, because of how bad things are within the genre): rarely do I think a comedy is even legitimately funny or actually laugh during them. I laughed during this one. I think it’s a very charming and funny film, and that’s really rare for me nowadays. Most people aren’t coming to me for advice on current-day comedies just because the level for humor in the mainstream is pretty lowest common denominator and I have proven to have a higher personal bar than that (which most people seem to not have). But I do think we generally agree on this one.
Richard Ayoade was, at the start of this decade, the Taika Waititi of British directors. He started off exactly as Taika did — making these small, weird films that were distinct brands of his own humor. But unlike Taika, he didn’t then get to make that film that popped large enough to give him a bigger platform and start the jump up into the mainstream. He just kinda made two films and disappeared as a director. Both of them are on this list, and this is the least talked about of the two (at least for me, anyway, but I imagine most people as well). It’s a coming of age story with a wonderful sense of humor to it. It’s a British comedy about a high school kid who is trying to lose his virginity while also stopping his mother from getting back with her ex, who he hates, who moves in next door. It’s a lot of fun and really charming. One of those films you almost instinctually overlook because you’ve never heard of it and aren’t sure what you’d possibly get out of it, but the exact kind of film that works as a hidden gem because I feel like there’s a good chance some people will really like it and have another one of those movies they can turn other people onto.
Everyone knows this movie. I don’t have to say much here. Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out, which I don’t think works as well as Get Out does but still works as a nice horror thriller with good performances from Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke. It’s fun. Doesn’t fully come together and is a little overambitious for its own good (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but it’s still a pretty satisfying film on a lot of levels.
483. The Big Year
For some reason I really enjoy this movie, and I’ll be honest, it’s one of those things I would never have expected. This is one of those people — and I know I shouldn’t make generalizations like this, but it does kinda fit. It’s a movie for white, middle-aged people. The Green Book demographic. On the surface, it doesn’t feel like a movie that would be for me. And yet, somehow really enjoy it. Can’t explain it, but I like what I like. And this is a film, starring Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black, about three bird watchers who try to attain a ‘big year’, which is where all the bird watchers go around and attempt to view the most different species of birds over the course of a calendar year. Honestly, I can’t really do anything to try to recommend this to other people, since I can’t really explain why I like it. But hey, it’s here, I like it, and here we are.
I’ve talked about this film a number of times on all these lists, so here we are again. This is Yann Demange’s directorial debut, which turned him into one of those new hot directors who got shortlisted for Bond movies and had all these offers and things, and was a really exciting name for a while. It’s a film that is a spiritual cousin of the film Odd Man Out with James Mason, that Carol Reed made in 1947. Which, I’m not even gonna pretend like most people casually know that movie offhand, but if you do, it’ll make this conversation go a lot quicker. That film stars Mason as an IRA member who is wounded and hiding in a town from British forces, who are on the hunt for him. So it’s a fugitive thriller in a contained location. He’s hiding in all the homes and shops and alleyways of this Irish town and the British forces are everywhere, looking for him. THIS movie is a flip of that — Jack O’Connell is a British soldier who gets separated from his unit in Belfast and has to avoid being killed by IRA members. It’s really down and dirty and really tense and well-made. It’s got that ’70s vibe to it with the grain and the feel of really being shot on the streets. I like it a lot.
481. Madeline’s Madeline
This is a movie that I like more for its lead performance than as a film. The film works for the most part and I do like it, but without Helena Howard’s performance (which I’ve stated is the best single performance of its year in film) at the center of it, this film probably doesn’t make this list. It’s a very indie comedy with a very distinct tone (that might not work for some) and some surreal moments (the ending is one of those — either you’re going with it or you’re hating it. I’m not sure there’s an in-between there). But it’s all rooted in Howard’s performance. She plays a young actress (who has some sort of implied but never stated mental illness) who is part of an experimental theater troupe who is taken under the wing of the troupe’s director and, for their next show, is going to play a part that is based a lot on herself. It’s this weird meta thing where her role starts to become more and more reflective of her own life and her relationship with her mother, which starts to make her (who, we see in the beginning, is really dedicated to acting and tries to go as deep as she can into her roles) mental health deteriorate, because she begins to lose sight of what’s real and what’s not. It’s not a thriller or anything like that, it’s much more of a character study and much more about the central performance, which, I’ll say again, is sublime. The film might not work for you, but the performance is one of the best you’ll see from this decade.
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