Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (220-211)
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:
220. At Eternity’s Gate
It’s Julian Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh movie starring Willem Dafoe. If that’s not enough to make you want to see this/know this movie is great, then I don’t know what is. Schnabel’s made five films thus far — Basquiat, Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Miral and this. Most people know at least three of those. Miral, I kinda get that no one knows. But the others are all generally known as great. Schnabel is a painter himself, so it makes sense that he’d gravitate toward a film like this. The film is more of a series of vignettes than an actual film, taking you into episodes of Van Gogh’s life that paint a complete picture of who he was. It’s a stunning film, anchored beautifully by Dafoe’s performance. It’s one of those films that you just need to see if you love movies. Schnabel’s direction is so perfect and so moving. This is one of those movies I know I’m not gonna watch often, but when I do it’s gonna fill my soul exponentially more because of that.
219. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I feel like there was a thing that happened with this movie where, it came out, people went, “Oh, this is on-the-nose Oscar bait”, which is a function of when things come out and what the studio’s intended goal for it is, and then the movie out of nowhere got nominated for Best Picture and people automatically got mad/dismissed it out of hand. And I feel like that reputation has stuck with this for the rest of the decade unfairly. (In reality, this is kind of a better movie than The Help, which was also nominated that year. I know people will argue that, but it’s true. At the very worst they’re at the same level of quality.) I feel like the two things that made people so unable or unwilling to embrace this are the fact that 1) it deals with 9/11 and 2) the main character has Asperger’s. I feel like it’s more the second one. People just have trouble with characters on the spectrum, I’ve noticed (but not on TV, apparently). And the fact that it had that aura of ‘Oscar movie’ always makes certain films get turned on. You see it every single year. So on that alone, before we even talk about the film — get rid of all the bullshit against this movie. Chances are you haven’t even seen it. It’s a good movie. It’s based on a novel, and is very much in the vein of Hugo (also that same year). And by in the vein, I mean — kid goes on a journey to try to come to terms with his father’s death. Here, the film is about the boy, whose father died in one of the towers and used to go on these scavenger hunts his father would create, turning everything into a mystery and a puzzle he could solve (which was how he was able to relate to the world), finding a key that was left after his father’s death and believing it holds the key to some great mystery he was meant to solve. So he starts going around the city trying to figure out what it all means. Sandra Bullock plays the boy’s mother and Max von Sydow (great here, as always) plays a mute boarder living in his grandmother’s house who accompanies him as well. Tom Hanks cameos as the father in a really pointed few scenes. It’s very emotional, very sentimental in some ways (which I know is a taboo word nowadays, since we’re all supposed to be ironic and hate earnestness on the screen), but it’s a really solid film. And I truly think that if people went into this without any bias unrelated to the film itself, more people would come out liking it than not.
218. A Monster Calls
I’ll admit, this is a movie I was huge on for a few years before it came out. I knew the general premise and had read the script years before. I was so excited for this, and was even more excited when J.A. Bayona, coming off The Impossible (which I love), thinking he was finally gonna get this movie made. (It’s like how I felt with Yann Demange and White Boy Rick, another film that has been underappreciated.) The premise is — a ten year old boy is shy, doesn’t have many friends and his only real friend is his mother, who is in the late stages of cancer. And dealing with this awful situation, a tree monster comes to him to help him get through it all. It’s kinda like Pan’s Labyrinth in that way. The monster comes, tells him three stories, and through the stories he begins to be able to process his mother’s death and come into his own as a person like she wants him to. It’s about him finding the strength to be able to deal with all this stuff. It’s a beautiful story. I’ll admit that the film itself is flawed. I don’t necessarily think it’s as good as my ranking. They completely and inexplicably cut the first act of the movie out. When I saw it, it just started with the monster showing up and then got into everything with the mother. Which is odd, since you want to set up everything first and then get into the monster. And that undercut a lot of the emotion of the story/script to me, even though I, having read it and lived with the version of it that was in my head, was able to fill in those gaps. So I’m not sure how everyone else will respond to this and won’t force this on anyone who doesn’t think it’s good/will not argue those who don’t love it, but I also have to be honest about how much I like it, even if my liking of it involves extra stuff between the margins that most people don’t have the benefit of. It’s kinda like people and their Star Wars extended universe. “Oh, you don’t like the prequels because you didn’t read the fifteen books they wrote around them.” Maybe, but you can’t expect me to. Which is why I’m always gonna be okay if people don’t like this movie. But I do think it’s really beautiful in a lot of ways, even if the final product doesn’t achieve what I think the actual written version does.
217. Toy Story 4
I was so not ready for them to make this movie. It felt completely unnecessary in every way. The third Toy Story movie was such a beautiful ending to the trilogy and such a perfect capstone that I felt continuing it was only going to mess it up. And I remember so well sitting in a theater and watching that first trailer for the third one start to play. With Randy Newman’s “Losing You” over it, going over an old fictitious scene of all the times we had together with these toys. I burst into tears in the theater. And it was a trailer! And then you had everything that was that third movie. There was no reason to go back to it in feature form. And plus, after a decade of Pixar throwing all these unnecessary sequels at us — Cars 2, Monsters University, Finding Dory, Cars 3, Incredibles 2 — seeing them go back to this filled me with such dread. The first trailers weren’t that promising and despite my inherent trust of Pixar to have a certain floor on the quality of their films, I still wasn’t all the way there. And then I saw the film. And the best compliment I can pay to this movie, after everything I’ve been through in this franchise emotionally (because you have to realize, at the age I’m at, I literally grew up with these toys), is that it was actually a worthwhile sequel. There’s an emotional release here. I’m not gonna pretend like it’s as good as 3, because it’s not, but there is a nice tying up of the Woody story, whereas 3 ties up the toys and Andy, which is a different story. Here, it’s a movie about aging and not having a use anymore. 3 sort of touches on that, but not in the way this one does. This one’s really a crisis of retirement of sorts. You’ve been at this job forever, it’s all you know, and now your usefulness is at an end and you’re facing forced retirement and now suddenly you don’t have a purpose anymore. So what do you do? That’s what this movie is about at its core. I think the story could maybe have found a way to work a little stronger, but overall, that through line is really all that matters and in the end, it’s a wholly worthwhile story that details the kinds of things you expect out of Pixar. It’s not so much about mortality the way 3 is but rather about more about an existential crisis that everyone faces at some point. It’s a beautiful theme for the film, and as such I think the movie really does feel worthwhile and helps Toy Story remain the Pixar series to have worthwhile sequels.
This movie was extremely my shit when it came out. A cast of cool people built around a graphic novel about retired assassins having to get back in the game. The movie is just fun as hell and doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is the kind of movie I want to be watching. I’ve always been a fan of movies that act as excuses to get older actors together to just be in a movie together, unfortunately most of the time it’s women and it’s movies about them all drinking wine and reconnecting with their sex lives at 60+. More movies should be like this. That’s why westerns were always great back in the day. They were the haven for older actors to get together in stuff (like The Wild Bunch most famously, but also stuff like The Over-the-Hill Gang TV movies). I’m a big proponent of this setup and wish it would be used more. And again, this movie is awesome.
215. Like Crazy
A movie I really, really adore. It’s in the vein of Blue Valentine, which is a movie that is largely improvised based around a single relationship. However, while Blue Valentine is its own thing, this one is much more of a personal film, as it’s based on Drake Doremus’ own experiences with a long term relationship. What’s amazing about it is how alive everything feels, despite there being literally no budget on the movie whatsoever. The basic premise is that Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones meet and start dating while students together at a college. And everything is wonderful and they’re in love… until her visa runs out and she gets deported. So now they have to be together apart. And the film is them trying to make it work despite him being in America and her in London. But the bulk of the film is just the two of them together on screen just letting their chemistry turn into scenes. It’s incredible. This type of movie feels kinda trite now, but at the time, it was a very ‘new’ kinda thing. I know generally it’s not a new thing, John Cassavetes was making these in the 70s, but this kind of ‘semi-improvised indie’ was a thing that really kicked off around 2010/2011 and now has been turned into something a lot more polished and something you see everyday, so the novelty has worn off. But this is still a movie I hold very dear and really is something I wish everyone gave some time to.
214. Never Goin’ Back
One of my favorite film debuts of the decade and one of my favorite gems to recommend to people. I was in on this from the trailer. It felt exactly like my kind of movie. It’s very much in the vein of those laid-back high school movies like Dazed and Confused, but also conveys the sort of angst of wanting more than the rut of your life, like Clerks and movies of that ilk. It’s about two high school dropouts living in the middle of Texas who work as waitresses and basically just hang out, smoke pot, get into trouble and desperately want to get out. The film is about them trying to save up enough money to go to the beach for a few days (since, living where they do, they’ve never even seen the beach). And so the film is just this glimpse into a few days in their lives, and, like Inside Llewyn Davis, you get the sense that this is what every week in their life is like. And that’s what I love about it. There’s something about that narrative that I love, where it feels complete, but it also feels like you’d get basically the same story if you checked in at almost any other time in these people’s lives. It’s a wonderful film. There’s so much great humor here and it’s just a really strong debut from Augustine Frizzell. I cannot recommend this one highly enough to people to check out.
A movie that I love, warts and all. Like a lot of movies he’s made in the past decade (since he stopped with that uncanny valley animated jag he went on), Robert Zemeckis feels like the wrong filmmaker to have made this movie. There’s this subset of filmmakers who are obsessed with pushing the boundaries of technology, often to the detriment of the films themselves at times (Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Zemeckis). They throw this CGI on there that, sure, you can do it, but you can tell it’s fake and, for me at least, takes me out of the film. BUT, I will say… this story is really awesome and I’m able to look past all the stuff I don’t like about it. This is a movie that I will reference a lot and look to as a reference because it represents all that I like about cinema and really reminds me of movies that would have been made between 1945 and 1955. Honestly, take this movie in black-and-white and change it a little bit, and this movie could have been made 65-70 years ago. And also… could have been made by Hitchcock. Not this version per say, but you can easily see how this movie could be Hitchcock when you watch it. Here’s the plot — Brad Pitt is a Canadian officer parachuted into Casablanca for a mission to assassinate a German officer. He is to meet a French operative (Marion Cotillard), and they are to pose as husband and wife to pull off the mission. And of course, they fall in love in the process, etc etc. Cut to a few years later, they’re married, in London and starting a family. And then his superiors come to him and say, “Hey, we think your wife is a German spy.” And of course he thinks that’s ridiculous. So he sets out to try to clear her name. But he also can’t say anything to her about it as he does this. So a lot of the film is him desperately trying to prove (for her sake and his own) that it’s not true. And Zemeckis is very much a romantic filmmaker, so he leans into the romance of it all, rather than the ‘is she a double agent or isn’t she?’. There are so many moments you know Hitchcock would’ve leaned into, with her having a facial expression or reaction to something that you can read multiple ways, building tension about, “Why did he just show her going in and dropping that piece of paper into the fireplace?” and things like that. This movie doesn’t go that full nine, which is why I feel like it’s not fully perfect. But the parts about it that are great I really like. Which is why I’ll always defend this movie a lot more than others will. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but it is a Robert Zemeckis movie, and when they’re not those creepy animated movies (which are still good films apart from how weird they look), he’s never really made an awful movie. You know they’re all gonna be of a certain quality. So that alone should give you enough ammunition to check this out. But if it’s any consolation, I really like this movie a lot and think you should see it if you haven’t.
212. Dolemite Is My Name
Aww yeah. This movie is so much fun. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, People vs. Larry Flynt — the guys who write all the left-of-center biopics about people you wouldn’t expect biopics about. This is about Rudy Ray Moore, comedian and singer who had a sort of middling career until he invented the character of Dolemite, a pimp who’d tell these outrageous stories. His records weren’t sold in stores, which gave them this underground popularity and eventually turned into him making the movie Dolemite. And the film is about him putting all his resources into this movie despite no one wanting to make it, and the film is one of those ‘misfits coming together to make a movie’, and so you get all the funny moments of that along the way. It’s a really entertaining movie that will make anyone who watches it laugh. It’s so wonderful. Eddie Murphy reminds us of what a great actor he is (since he’s been on the screen so rarely in the past 20 years, and largely when he has, it’s been in family comedies without that edge he’s always had on screen) and the cast is full of great character actors. Most of all, it’s just good. This is a good, entertaining movie you can watch over and over again. There really hasn’t been a biopic written by these guys that hasn’t been very good and extremely rewatchable. That’s what they do.
211. The Founder
Another movie that you can just classify as ‘very good’. It’s in that zone where it’s acknowledged as good but will never be anyone’s favorite movie. So it exists in that tier of, “Yeah, that’s good.” But there’s never gonna be that excitement for it that there would be for other films. Still, though, it’s very good. It’s a biopic of Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s from a single mom and pop store into the global franchise it is today. It’s straightforward as far as a film goes, but there are some really terrific moments sprinkled in along the way. I’m a fan of any movie that gives Michael Keaton a starring role and as I said — it’s just good. You don’t always realize how much respect a movie that’s just really good deserves until you see the full breadth of crap that’s out there.
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