Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (420-411)

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:

420. Monsters

Great microbudget thriller I’ve talked about a few times on the various lists. It was so good the director Gareth Edwards got Godzilla from this and then got Rogue One. And the film cost $500,000. So clearly it shows you something. It’s monster movie without the monsters. An asteroid crash lands between the U.S./Mexico border and various creatures emerge out of it. So the border is sealed and the entire area is turned into a quarantine zone. An American photojournalist in Mexico is told by his boss that the boss’s daughter is in Mexico and he wants her to come back. So the photojournalist is forced to enter the quarantine zone with the boss’s daughter, not knowing what’s in there and how it’s gonna go. And since there was no money for CGI, it’s not one of those King Kong style creature fests with all sorts of monsters coming out and big action sequences. A lot of it is them coming upon bodies and tracks and hearing sounds and seeing things move in the trees without really seeing stuff most of the time. And it works so much better that way, because you can feel the presence of everything without having to see everything. And the movie works really well despite having no money behind it. And it has something to say by the time it ends, which is really nice as well.

419. Wheelman

It’s Locke meets Drive. For Netflix. Down and dirty. Entire film (except maybe a few minutes at the end) takes place entirely inside a car. Frank Grillo is a professional getaway driver who is meant to pick up guys involved in a robbery. But the job goes wrong, so now he has to drive around town, trying to figure out what happened. So it’s him in the car, making calls, trying to figure out what’s going on, trying not to get killed… that sort of thing. It’s awesome. Perfect for Netflix. No frills, just pure action. Which, I know sounds weird since most of the film takes place entirely inside a car. But trust me, it’s more thrilling than most action movies that come out nowadays.

418. Long Shot

One of those real out-of-left-field great rom coms. Which is perfect, because the entire plot is a bit of an underdog type situation, so it’s almost perfect that’s what the movie is too. It’s an unlikely romance between Seth Rogen, a journalist stuck in the world of clickbait, and Charlize Theron, the current Secretary of State. She’s his former babysitter and he’s always had a crush on her. So now they meet again and hit it off, and she brings him on as her speechwriter, which makes them get even closer. It’s really charming, and very funny. There are some dumb comedy moments (two in particular with Rogen being flung out of windows and down stairs almost needlessly and the other involving a third act moment involving masturbation that feels way too puerile for a film that is otherwise really mature), but largely the film really works. It’s nice to see a real rom com come out, especially one with smart writing, great acting and a story that feels like it has something to say.

417. A Most Wanted Man

It’s rare for there to be a film (or mini-series. See: The Night Manager, The Little Drummer Girl) based on John le Carré that isn’t at worst very solid. There’ve only been three films based on le Carré this decade, and two of them are on this list. This one features Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performance (unless you count those Hunger Games performances they released later, but he’s barely in those movies. So I guess it’s his last lead performance), and is worth it for that alone. It’s about a Chechen man entering Germany and setting off a bunch of bureaucratic alarm bells. Hoffman plays a government agent stuck in an endless loop of red tape and hinderances to him doing his job. His bosses want the man to be taken, but he wants to play the slow game and see how things develop. And so this whole spy game ensues, where he wants to use the smaller fish to catch the big fish, while his superiors just want to capture everyone and try to get up the ladder through torture and interrogation. It’s le Carré. So you know you’re getting great spy stuff. It’s a really strong film and Hoffman is incredible in it, and there’s a lot of other cool people in it as well.

416. Get Him to the Greek

As much as I enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall (that and Superbad are my favorite of the Apatow-era comedies, mostly because they were clearly written by other people and meant something to them), the Russell Brand sections of that movie were my least favorite. So I was leery when I found out he was getting his own spinoff movie. But fortunately for them they found a way to somehow still keep him generally at bay. He’s the lead, but sort of a strong supporting lead, as the film mainly focuses on Jonah Hill’s character, as a music exec trying to get Brand to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in one piece, which means babysitting him, My Favorite Year style. And the comparisons to My Favorite Year are probably a lot of the reason I like this movie. I understand that story and this one largely remains very funny while doing that. Brand doesn’t come off as too much for me (as he tends to), and the film has a lot of laughs along the way while never fully succumbing to the stuff I don’t like in studio comedies.

415. American Animals

Terrific film that I must have talked about at least twice or three times by now. But it’s really fantastic and one of those movies that’s really worth seeing. One of those real gems that I can’t imagine someone coming out of without thinking it was good. It’s based on a true story — and is told docudrama style, where the real guys tell their story like all those true crime documentary while intercutting it with the film itself, with actors playing the guys. They also find a way to directly blend the two in a really smart way that really lands when you see it — about four guys who plan the heist of rare books at their local college library. You might not think that it’s up your alley, but trust me, it’s really good. It’s incredibly directed by Bart Layton (his feature debut) and maintains a great tone of heist movie/some humor/tension throughout. This is one of the best films of the decade you probably know nothing about.

414. Faults

Another one I’ve talked about quite a few times on these lists. It’s Riley Stearns’ debut, starring his then-wife Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser, who you’ve 100% seen in something over the years. Orser plays a cult deprogrammer who has written books about how to help people after they leave cults. He’s approached by two parents of a missing girl who has joined a cult and is asked to help get her out. So one day, he basically kidnaps her while she’s out getting groceries and holds her in a hotel room and attempts to deprogram her. And it becomes this really fascinating drama where, as you can imagine, things start to get weird and she proves to be way harder to deprogram than he once thought. It’s a really strong film with great central performances and one of those nice little gems that almost no one saw.

413. The Art of Self-Defense

I always feel the need to talk about this one back-to-back with Faults, mainly because it’s also Riley Stearns, even though it’s a wildly different film from Faults. This one’s a very weird comedy. One of those very offbeat kinda humor movies. It’s hard to explain, but it’s definitely one of those movies where you’re either gonna be all in on the humor or it’s just not gonna be for you at all. Jesse Eisenberg plays a meek man living a boring existence who randomly gets attacked one day by a mysterious biker gang dressed in all black. After he recovers, he seeks to become more assertive (and be able to defend himself), so he joins a local karate school. And then he really starts to get into karate. That’s about all you need to know. At a certain point the plot will cease to matter and the humor will take over. Some people will be able to get to that point, others won’t. I thought it was hilarious. I enjoyed the absolute hell out of it. This is so much funnier to me than a lot of the studio stuff people seem to enjoy.

412. Dave Made a Maze

One of my favorite movies of the decade. I get so excited when I talk about this one, purely because it elicits the pure joy and excitement you can only have when you’re truly in touch with your inner child. Ten year old me would have loved this movie, and 30 year old me still loves it. Because, as you can see from the image above, the set design for the film is made out of cardboard and all sorts of arts and crafts material. It’s so amazing. It’s about a guy (Dave) whose girlfriend goes away for the weekend, only to discover that he’s built an entire box maze inside their living room. She tells him to come out, but he claims he can’t, because he got lost inside. She, of course, thinks he’s playing around, but soon realizes… oh no, he’s serious. She gathers a group of other people to first try to get him out, but then decides… ‘oh we’re going in’. So they go in, and of course, through movie magic, the maze is so much bigger on the inside. What looks like this thing no bigger than a medium sized bed becomes this giant labyrinth once they go inside. So now they’re navigating all these different rooms with traps and things (all of which are incredible, because it’s all stuff made by hand), looking for Dave and then trying to get out alive. It’s so awesome. Very indie, but it’s also great because you can see it as a metaphor for relationships and mental health and depression and all sorts of things. You can read so many different interpretations into the maze, and that’s what’s so wonderful about it. Plus you get the pure joy of knowing they didn’t spend crazy money on all these elaborate sets and things, and so much of this was just people sitting there doing arts and crafts together. Which is just so much more exciting. I cannot say enough great things about this movie and really think everyone should see it. Do it for your inner child.

411. Mud

Jeff Nichols is one of those filmmakers destined to never get his proper due, because he doesn’t go in for showy films, and tries to deliberately not do the things other films do. And because of that, none of his films have ever popped huge. It’s always solid notices and a performance or two that get the notices, never the full films. He’s directed five films to this point, four of which came out this decade and all four of which appear on this list. They’re all really good. This happens to be the lowest of the four, but trust me when I say all four are really good. This one’s a coming of age story in the vein of stuff like Stand by Me (that’s the beauty of Nichols, you can see frameworks of other stories being told through his particular lens as a filmmaker), about two boys in Arkansas who run into a fugitive hiding out by the river and decide to help him out in his quest to get back to an old girlfriend. It’s really great. All the actors are terrific in it, McConaughey is really great (this is prime McConaissance, this movie, coming out the same year as Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective). It’s just a really good, watchable movie, and that seems like all Jeff Nichols is capable of making.

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