Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (210-201)

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:

210. Wind River

The third film in Taylor Sheridan’s ‘frontier’ trilogy, which begins with Sicario, moves along to Hell or High Water and ends with this. He directs this one himself and sadly, not many people bothered to go see this, which furthers the proof that this country really could care less about the plight of Native Americans and what was done to them and continues to be done to them. But that’s all beside the point. The film is a procedural that follows a young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) as she investigates a murder on a reservation with the help of a local tracker (Jeremy Renner) with ties to the people there. So the film is very slow, follows the investigation step by step, and really digs into what life is like for the people who live there. It’s a really strong film and honestly the only difference between this and the two films that came before it is who directed it. I suspect if a higher profile director were behind it, the film would have been received as the other two were, or at the very least seen as widely as those were. But it’s a really terrific film and very much a part of the themes Sheridan visits in those films. So be sure to see this if you’re gonna watch the other two, because to not is to do a disservice to the work.

209. Murder on the Orient Express

A film that’s been made before, in 1974 with Sidney Lumet directing and an insane cast of characters that includes Albert Finney as Poirot, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and the list goes on. I had to stop myself from listing them all because we’re not here to talk about that version. They bring in Kenneth Branagh to helm this one and play Poirot, and he’s a good choice. He also smartly realizes the thing that’s gonna make this movie work is to lean into the spectacle of all these actors in one place. Of course, this isn’t the cast of the original, so it’s not like you’ve got this murderer’s row of stars, but you do have a really fantastic lineup of people, and the film decides to shoot the whole thing in 70mm. Which, I saw it in a theater in 70… it looked awesome. That, to me, is what made me respond to this as positively as I did. Plus, I know the material, and it feels like one of those movies, like Shakespeare, which is why Branagh was such a canny choice for director, where it’s not about every single twist and turn in the story but rather how it’s presented and how the actors handle the performances and how they approach the material. You’re there for the performance of the material and not the material. So Branagh takes his great cast and makes this really fun ride that does some nice things and tries to open it up as much as he can. Sometimes there are a few unnecessary ‘action’ beats (like the Wailing Wall at the beginning, which I’m fine with because it gives a sense of scale of how they’re gonna shoot the entire film, and that moment where there’s a foot chase on a bridge, which felt a bit forced and purely for a modern audience) and sometimes it’s very clear he’s staging a scene outside the train just to have an exterior, but overall it’s a enjoyable movie. You get to see actors having fun with the material and getting to play off one another. It’s good stuff. I’m not sure why people were so mixed on this. What were you expecting? A new take on old material? It’s just a solid movie with great production values, a great score and good actors doing their thing. I’m not really sure what more you’d want out of something like this.

208. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

This is thought of widely as a huge disaster, but that’s because people allow money and budgets and box office to rule the narrative about a film. Once time gets its hands on stuff, none of that matters. Some of the most beloved movies were thought of as huge failures when they first came out. And that’s not a defense of the film in any way. It’s just a fact. So never let the aura around a film that was made by the public and perpetuated by people forced into groupthink ever prevent you from seeing a movie. That said… you might not like this. I don’t know how people will respond to it. It’s very ambitious. It’s very CGI heavy. It’s basically a straight redoing of the Fifth Element plot in almost every broad stroke (including Rihanna doing a striptease in place of the diva’s aria in the original). But I’m fine with that. It’s just a fun adventure movie that tries to build out a world and give you a good time at the movies. It’s not the most amazing thing ever, but I enjoyed it. And I think others will enjoy it too. What expectations could you possibly have for this movie? It’s just a piece of entertainment. Sure, I might enjoy it more than most, but to me, something like this I get much more out of than 80% of anything Marvel’s ever put out.

207. Spectre

The main problem with this film when it came out was that Skyfall was so good. So this film was always going to be compared to that as opposed to taken simply as a Bond film. It’s the same problem Quantum of Solace had after Casino Royale. But when you take that step back and look at the Craig Bond films as a whole, you realize… they’re all really solid Bond films and gives him the best series of films since Connery. I’m not gonna make the argument that he’s had a better run than Connery, because Connery originated the role and it’s different eras and Craig is allowed to have an actual character arc across the films, but he has achieved the status of being right there with Connery in terms of film quality. When you get into how he’s played the character, that’s just personal preference. Moore was great, Brosnan was great. You can have your preference there. But in terms of the movies, Craig hasn’t made a bad one. Quantum of Solace is solid but probably the victim of coming out too quick after the first one and during a writer’s strike. This one feels like they rushed it a bit as well and didn’t really have the core story like they did with Skyfall. You can tell they were super invested in Skyfall. Whereas this one, when they said, “What’ve you got next?” they kind of shrugged and went, “…Blofeld?” And it’s cool. Christoph Waltz is a great casting choice as Blofeld. And they try to tie the whole narrative together (not sure it fully works, but I can see what they’re doing). It looks almost as good as Skyfall does, to their credit (though anytime it’s not Roger Deakins, there’s always gonna be some drop off there), and largely the film is really entertaining. I feel like the third act is one of those, “We don’t have anything so let’s quickly throw something together during filming” situations, but other than that, it’s a really solid Bond movie that fits firmly in the middle of the pack with all the other ones that are entertaining but aren’t of that super top tier (like, you know, License to Kill and The World Is Not Enough. They’re very good, but it’s not Goldfinger, you know?). If you wanna call this the weakest of the Craig Bond movies, realize that this is better than all but like, one or two of the Roger Moore Bond movies. It’s all about context. But really, I just love this franchise, so honestly I’m probably gonna love almost anything they put out. And really, if they stick the landing with No Time to Die, it’s not gonna matter how much of a ‘disappointment’ this might have been after Spectre. Because it’s gonna be of a single piece. It’s what I said about Endgame. If they stick the landing, all the bumps along the way aren’t gonna matter.

206. Thor: Ragnarok

Oh hey, speaking of Marvel. Remember when Thor was a joke within the universe? Turns out, the way to make him one of the best characters again was to literally make him a joke. The first Thor movie works, but isn’t anything overly special. It was one of the first four or five movies and they didn’t have the budgets or the resources they do now and you can see what they tried to do with it. Tried to make it Shakespearean while also being ‘fish out of water’. And it largely works, but mostly that one’s about the casting of Hemsworth and Hiddleston, which remains some of the finest casting Marvel’s done. Then The Dark World is the worst movie the Marvel Universe has put out. I know people will argue Incredible Hulk, but that was the second movie and they didn’t have a universe by that point. They did by Dark World. And it’s still not great. And plus Thor had almost nothing to do in Avengers. He’s off doing other things in Age of Ultron. He wasn’t really that much of a great character. But then this movie completely turned that around. Taika Waititi showed up with his sense of humor and made the character one of the most beloved, alongside Iron Man and Captain America. To the point where they continued that with the Infinity War/Endgame story, pairing him with the Guardians and really making him someone you look forward to seeing. The beauty of this movie is that it’s a road trip movie. Honestly, this is the closest Marvel has come to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. And it’s not only just Thor and Hulk, but it’s also Thor and Loki. And you get Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett and Karl Urban to boot. Not to mention the fun cameos along the way. It’s one of the most all around entertaining pieces of Marvel movies they’ve done. It’s one I would show people, along with Guardians and Spider-Man, to show that these movies actually are entertaining and worth seeing to a point (it’s the people overdoing it and overhyping them that’s the problem).

205. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

This is a film I wasn’t expecting. This was presented as a six-part Netflix miniseries of episodes that suddenly turned into a feature out of nowhere. And it’s interesting, because as a Coen brothers movie, it’s one of their weaker ones. But that’s only because their filmography is so goddamn strong, there’s not a single bad movie in the bunch. Check this run: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail Caesar, this movie. That’s their filmography. The most you can say is that Ladykillers is their weakest film, and even that’s a good movie. This goes down to bottom three for me by sheer fact that everything else is just so goddamn good. Watching this — I get why it was originally a miniseries, because it felt like an album of B-sides and unreleased material rather than a full-fledged feature. Granted, the Coen brothers B-sides are better than most people’s A-sides, but even so. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of stories, most of which work, all of which are interesting in their own way, but don’t really feel like anything more than a series of episodes thrown together with the common thread being the directors. I still love it, of course, and it’s one of the better films of the decade, but when you’re dealing with a Coen brothers film, you have to take it as part of the whole filmography as you would with almost any major director.

204. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi. This is the movie that really showed us all what he could do. Because he’d made little comedies in New Zealand that not many people saw, and then he made What We Do in the Shadows, which, by the time this came out, was starting to get that cult status of people actually coming round to seeing it and going, “Oh, this is really funny.” But this — this is the one where the heart came out. You see the heart and the humor and everything he is as a filmmaker start to coalesce (he’d of course take a further jump with Jojo Rabbit, but we’re only talking about this point in his career). It’s an incredible film and so, so funny. I suspect people have seen this, but in case not — it’s about a boy in the New Zealand foster system who’s been in and out of families but finally finds one he starts to like. Only the doting mother soon dies and he’s left with the gruff, untalkative father, Sam Neill. So, not wanting to go back to foster care, he runs away. And Neill runs after him, and pretty soon it becomes this giant manhunt around New Zealand with the two of them running through the woods as fugitives. And it’s amazing. It’s so good. At this point, everyone likes Taika’s stuff, and this was, up until Jojo, his best film, so you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t seen it.

203. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

So now we begin our run of Star Wars films. I made the conscious decision to put the new trilogy in chronological order and in a very specific place. Because I have a very weird relationship with them. I can’t really properly rank them just yet because I’ve not had the proper time to really consider my feelings on them. But I feel like this is about the proper place for me to rank them, since I still have affinity for the prequels as pure movies. I just don’t care enough about Star Wars to have that strong an opinion on these things. So, this is where all these films are going. I enjoy them. Are they great? Not really. Does it matter? Also not really. I’ll try to say a few words about each as we go, but consider this paragraph the main entry for this and the following two films.

Rise of Skywalker is, in many ways, a mess. But at least it still kinda feels like Star Wars. So I can be entertained in a galaxy far, far away for two (and a half, I think?) hours. Like I said, I don’t hold these films to any high standard, so I was really entertained in that ‘brain off’ sort of way, and while I had major issues with how they handled the trilogy from a filmmaking standpoint and probably would have issues from a universe standpoint if I truly gave a shit — it’s fun. It’s fine. I still really enjoy the Hobbit movies even though they’re bad. To me, the only real indictment of these films is gonna be — if given the choice, what would I put on first? This trilogy or another one? And I would put on another one. The original one, most likely. Jury’s still out on this versus the prequels, but that’s for completely different and much more existential reasons that only exist for me personally. But still, it’s a totally entertaining movie, even if it is kind of an abomination in how not to purely cater to fans.

202. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Time is gonna be kindest to this film of any of the three Star Wars movies. It will quite literally become the diamond in the rough (the ‘rough’ being the two films around it). It’s the only one with real ideas. The first one achieved its goal of being pure nostalgia and instantly taking you back to where you were the first time you watched the original trilogy. Problem is, it didn’t have enough real ideas of its own. This one at least tried some stuff and worked with the very little it was given and, while I’m not thrilled with all the ideas it had (Leia floating through space maybe conceptually is okay, but looks laughable to me in practice), and while some sequences felt poorly designed and like total filler (casino sequence and freeing the… whatever those space horses were)… it’s the only one of this trilogy that actually cared about trying to make something that mattered.

201. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This one’s all about the nostalgia. I remember the hype surrounding this one. It was so strong that even I was swept up in it a little bit. It’s hard to get that level of excitement for a movie. At least universally. And it was a big deal sitting down to watch this, hearing John Williams’ score play again, seeing that title crawl. And then you’re treated with all these iconic images and feelings of being in this place that you haven’t had in years. It was awesome. And then you spend some time away from the movie and realize, “They just did New Hope again but slightly differently.” The exercise was purely to get people back on board with Star Wars and not actually break ground on a new trilogy. Or maybe it was to do both, but they didn’t spend a lot of time breaking ground in any real way. So the film is flawed and affects the rest of the films that follow it, but even so, it is a really entertaining film and does fill you with the promise of, to use a loaded phrase, hope for what things could have been.

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