Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (170-161)

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:

170. John Wick: Chapter Two

Aww yeah. John motherfuckin’ Wick. The first one was this huge sleeper hit that most people didn’t see coming, and then very quickly they made the sequel, because of course you make a sequel. The first one is great and hints at a much bigger world that this guy lives on. So of course you expand on that. And this does. Wonderfully. You get to see more about the inner workings of the assassin world, with the Continental and network of people that exist around the world. It’s incredible. The plot doesn’t even matter — it’s Wick murdering people and having people trying to murder him. Headshots galore. It’s basically a giant video game and we’re just here for the fun of it all. That’s the beauty of this franchise. That and Keanu getting the action franchise he deserves.

169. Lady Macbeth

The film that gave us Florence Pugh. She’s hit home runs in almost everything she’s done since this came out, but this is the one that made us all realize that she is a full-fledged movie star. It’s a film that I would have almost no business wanting to see on its own, and within 20 minutes, I could not take my eyes off it. You just knew immediately that the movie was very good and that she was gonna have a long career ahead of her. The film is about a woman sold into marriage to an older man. It’s a completely loveless marriage and she is given no freedom and no ability to do much of anything. And then suddenly one day the husband just up and leaves, without any real idea when or if he’s coming back. And then she begins an affair with a farmhand on the property, which starts to cause things to spiral a bit out of control. It feels like the plot of a film that would have become a Merchant Ivory movie in the 80s. But they handle it so differently here. I really like how the director William Oldroyd handles the tone of the film. I’m not even sure there’s a score in the movie. The first act feels so cold and sparse, and then everything just builds without flash or pretense. It’s really strong stuff.

168. Spring

Love, love, love this movie. I call it “Before Sunrise with Sea Monsters.” It’s somehow a mix of hardcore sci fi and Richard Linklater. And you’d think that wouldn’t work. But it does. Lou Taylor Pucci is an American who impulsively travels to Italy after the death of his mother. In his grief he just decides ‘fuck it’ and goes. And he goes around, working random jobs and traveling wherever he wants, and after meeting up with some other guys is about to leave for Amsterdam… but then he meets this beautiful woman who he’s immediately smitten with. He tries to talk to her, but she immediately shoots him down. And yet… he feels like he’s got a chance. So, he decides not to go with the guys and instead to stay in Italy to try to win over this girl. And she keeps rejecting his advances, even though it’s clear that he’s starting to win her over. But what he doesn’t know is that the reason she rejects his (and most other men’s) advances is because she has a secret — she just happens to transform into various creatures occasionally. And so there’s this unspoken threat hanging over the film as they start to get to know one another and you keep waiting for the shoe to drop and for the film to announce whether it’s going full horror or full romance…and somehow they handle that really well. I typically can’t stand horror, especially body horror, and yet they handle the two genres really well and create this wonderful film that is somehow the story of a guy falling in love with a woman who becomes monsters and what’s gonna happen when he finds out? It’s… so good. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

167. Patti Cake$

One of the feel-good films of the decade that I can’t believe no one bothered to see. It got bought for a lot of money out of Sundance and was being released around that time of summer that’s produced so many other sleeper hits, but for some reason it just never happened with this. It’s about a white girl from New Jersey who doesn’t look like your typical rapper but nevertheless has aspirations of becoming one. And so we follow her as she works catering jobs and goes to rap battles and does what she can to try to catch a break. Meanwhile, she’s living with her single mother, once a singer herself, who now owns a bar frequented by cops and is constantly bringing one home or getting drunk and singing karaoke in order to relive her ‘glory days’. And the main thrust of the plot is the mother-daughter relationship (as the mother doesn’t understand rap and is partly blinded by her own failures, so she doesn’t want to see her daughter even bother with this path) and the girl working on putting together some songs. She’s got her one friend and they discover another musician — all three of them outcasts/misfits in their own way — and it’s just that story of people on the fringes coming together to make something. That’s always something that leads to a charming movie — misfits create something. Think Bowfinger or even Dolemite Is My Name. It’s always fantastic. This one is so great because the director Geremy Jasper wrote all the songs himself. And they are fantastic. The music is the best part of the film, and I promise you it will have you smiling and cheering by the end. It’s that kind of movie. They weave the underdog plot and the emotional stuff really well and it is truly one of the best crowd-pleasers of the decade, if only you’ll give it your time to realize it.

166. Frank

A totally off-the-wall film that I fell in love with immediately. It introduced me to Lenny Abrahamson as a director, which would help the year after this when Room came out and I knew who he was. But this one — the selling point is the fact that it stars Michael Fassbender as a guy in a giant papier-mâché mask, but its’ about so much more. It’s about friendship and camaraderie and mental illness. It’s so great. Domhnall Gleeson plays a guy who joins this band, headed by Fassbender’s enigmatic Frank, and becomes fascinated by why he never takes the mask off and almost determined to see him without it. It’s one of those films where someone goes in not believing about something and then being won over in the end. Not dissimilar to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The journalist doesn’t believe the purity of Mr. Rogers until he spends time with him. That’s kind of what this is. Fassbender is incredible here and the film is so much more touching than you’d think. I absolutely adore this one.

165. Philomena

One of the most low key beautiful films of the decade. It quietly even got nominated for Best Picture and almost no one noticed. It’s a film from Stephen Frears (The Queen, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity… that Stephen Frears) co-written by Steve Coogan and based on a book about a real woman, Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who got pregnant at 18 and was sent to live at a convent, where her child was forcibly taken away from her and adopted without her knowledge or permission. And so she’s spent 50 years trying to figure out what happened to the child. And the film is about Coogan, a journalist, who sets out to write a story about her and helps with her search to find the child. And the film is about his interactions with her and the things she learns along the way. It’s so beautiful, it really is. I really, really love this film. I love Judi Dench in it, I love the way the character is drawn and the way the narrative unfolds. It’s a truly beautiful piece of work and one of the films I feel everyone should see. I don’t see how people could see this and not be taken by it, emotionally.

164. The Wrecking Crew

One of my absolute favorite documentaries of the decade. They’d finished it some years before this but it only came out during the decade. Either way, really. Because it’s wonderful and I’m just glad the world has it. The Wrecking Crew, if you aren’t familiar, is the name for the set of studio musicians who would be brought in to play on tracks when they wanted the absolute top-of-the-line musicians to be there. They were known as the best of the best, and are partly responsible for songs like: “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby,” “I Get Around,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” (from The Byrds), “California Dreamin’,” “I Got You Babe,” “Good Vibrations” (and the entire Pet Sounds album), “River Deep – Mountain High,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “Monday Monday,” “Never My Love,” “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And this documentary is a look into all the musicians in the group, their impact on the legacy of music and a bunch of cool stories they tell about their most famous songs. I tell you, when I saw this for the first time, and they got to the bassist, and he starts playing the lick from “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” and talking about how they were just working in the studio and he just came up with it… I got chills. This is my favorite part of watching music docs, is seeing how this stuff comes about. This is everything I want out of a documentary and for anyone who loves 1960s music and the Wall of Sound and the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, this is exactly the kind of doc you need in your life.

163. The Red Turtle

A stunningly animated film that is a co-product of Studio Ghibli and French animators. It’s a wordless (but not silent, as there are sound effects) metaphor for life that is about a man cast away on an island alone who, during his struggle to survive, comes across a mysterious red turtle. It’s a beautiful film. You don’t even have to watch it for the plot. Just look at the gorgeous imagery. But what I appreciate most on top of the film is how it’s trying to do more than just show you the standard ‘kids’ stuff that animation usually brings. There are real ideas here and it really does have something to say about human existence. It’s always a treat when an animated film can do that.

162. Blindspotting

This came out the same year as both Black Panther and Sorry to Bother You, and while there’s always more room for films with black voices behind them and it isn’t just a ‘pick one’ scenario, I was always very confused as to how the other two got all the notice and acclaim and eyeballs (Black Panther was a phenomenon and it was hard to avoid Sorry to Bother You during its height. That film was everywhere) while this one was totally forgotten, since I think it’s the best of the three. Which is just to say — why aren’t we talking about this one the way we’re talking about those others, because it’s just as good and deserves it just as much? Just give it a seat at the table, is all I’m asking. The film is co-written by its stars, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, and the best description of it was something I read when they premiered it at Sundance: “a buddy comedy in a world that doesn’t want it to be one.” It begins with Diggs getting out of prison and on his way to finishing up his probation. Casal plays his best friend, who has a wife and a kid. And you think, “I’ve seen this set up before. The black ex-con and the white guy with his shit together.” And that’s just one of the many things the film turns on its head, because as we find out, the white guy is actually the more dangerous and irresponsible of the two, and the black guy, while the one who is technically a felon… it might not actually be as clear cut as that. And the film goes along like a typical buddy comedy. There’s a lot of fun moments between the two. Only the heart of the movie shows up when Diggs, on his last night on probation, sees a cop gun down an unarmed black man in the street. And of course he can’t say anything, lest they decide to throw him back in prison, and it brings this whole air of injustice across the film, as it deals with all these really nuanced areas of modern society like race relations and inequality under the law. There are some incredible moments in this film and I would say that, for anyone who likes movies, likes watching movies, this is one of the essential films of the decade and is truly one of the best films I’ve seen. I don’t think you can properly feel like a film person without having this one on your resume.

161. Cloud Atlas

One of the most ambitious film of the decade. The novel it’s based on is about reincarnation and features six stories spread across time periods and continents, with the primary cast all playing at least three different characters (many six different), sometimes playing opposite their own race and gender, to create this beautiful mosaic of shared experience and how the consequences of actions ripple across time. It’s a really stunning piece of work. But it’s also not an easy watch. It asks a lot of the viewer and for that reason it’s become a very polarizing film, with most people not caring to take the time to try to fully understand it. Which, to each his own, but I think this is an absolutely incredible achievement and still love everything they attempted to do (and largely achieve) with this one.

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