Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (150-141)

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:

150. Freaks

An incredible hidden gem that even I might not have known about except for pure chance. I happened upon the ability to see it, saw generally what it seemed to be about and thought, “Okay, sure, I’ll give it a shot.” And so I put it on one day in such a way that if it didn’t grab me, I’d just stop and pretend it never happened. But I put it on, and within ten minutes I was very intrigued as to what was going on, and within 20 I was all in. It turned out to be the exact kind of movie I needed in my life at that moment. The film starts with Emile Hirsch and a 7-year-old girl living in a house that seems a bit ratty and kind of falling apart. He’s her father and she’s never been outside once. He tells her outside is very scary and she must never go there. She never questioned this before, but now she’s at an age where outside seems like fun. There are other kids out there, and ice cream from the ice cream man. And so you’re watching this going, “Is her her father? Is it a kidnapping situation? Is it a custody thing? Is he hiding her from a mother? Is there really something bad outside or is it just one of those psychological things where he’s just forcing this reality on her?” You’re trying to figure out where it’s gonna go and what it’s gonna do. And then at one point pretty early on she goes outside. And then the movie shifts gears. And you slowly start to see it open up and some things start to become clearer. And at that point you’re just along for the ride with the film. And it’s a great ride. I really loved it. It’s an incredibly well-written film and what I thought was smart about it is how tightly written it is. There isn’t a detail given on the screen that doesn’t pay off later. You see certain things and then they come back and you realize, “Oh, that’s why they showed us that.” I know other movies do that and do that well, but I found myself remarking while watching about how well this one did it because it’s not usually something I find myself appreciating about a film. It’s just a really strong film that remains one of my favorites of its year. I spent about eight months telling people how good it was before it even came out, and now that other people have a chance to see it, and trying to say it even louder. It’s one of my favorite movies of the decade and is just a movie that I think people should see because you might end up really liking it as I have.

149. Guardians of the Galaxy

This is one of the films that helped turn me around on Marvel. I was very down on them for a lot of years. I maintained a certain amount of respect because of Downey/Stark, but otherwise I just looked down on the movies because people were treating them as one thing and I kept seeing them and going, “They’re fine, but they’re not that.” And you’ve all gotten to this point at some time in your life — it’s infuriating when people are all united around one opinion that you don’t think is the right one. Now I’ve reached an age where I don’t really care past feeling the need to openly state my opinion on something without really caring how others feel. But I was very vocal about my feelings on Marvel for a long time. And this one came out, and this was the first one I saw in a theater. Because I knew I liked James Gunn — Super is an amazing film — and the trailer looked fun. And I figured, “Well okay, this is halfway across the universe, just how much can they force a shared universe on this one?” And I was right. This is its own weird little sidebar and they don’t really try to fit it into anything else until they get to Infinity War, which is not for another four years after this came out (and even then, that’s like, what, ten movies for them?). It’s just this rag tag group of space misfits coming together. And it’s fun, it’s got a nice sense of humor, the soundtrack is fun and it’s just a really charming movie. I consider it one of the top five movies Marvel’s put out — or rather, one of my five favorite Marvel movies, since everyone’s got their own opinions (I said this at some point in the list, but probably my personal top five is Iron Man, Guardians, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ragnarok and probably Endgame. And then I put the first two Captain Americas right after that, First Avenger and then Winter Soldier in that order. And after that everything is just in a tier of solid to fine to whatever.)

148. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This movie is so good. I was leery about a Jumanji movie being made. Because the first one is awesome, and how are you gonna pull that off? Well, they found a way, and the genius is not by having the game come to life but rather having the characters go into the game. And the real joy of the movie is these kids ending up in the game and having their personalities come through their character avatars. So the nerdy hero gets The Rock as his avatar. The shy girl gets Karen Gillan, ‘killer of men’. The big, charismatic football player gets Kevin Hart, and the hot girl gets Jack Black. The casting is absolutely perfect and the writing really makes the whole movie soar. It’s so much damn fun. It’s mainly the character stuff that makes it work, aided by them knowing how to properly use video game reality and logic to their benefit. Because the plot of the game and them going through it is actually kinda basic. Bobby Cannavale as a villain is just kinda there. There’s not a whole lot for him to do. Really what you’re there for is how they pull off the character stuff, and it’s incredible. It really is. One of the best studio films I saw this decade. Especially action comedies. Because this is essentially just a comedy with some action thrown in. But it’s so good. One of the biggest and best surprises I saw all decade.

147. Ocean’s 8

I love the Ocean’s series. Eleven is a nearly perfect movie. Twelve, while not as perfect, is still really fun because by that point it was just an excuse for all these people to hang out together. And Thirteen is somewhere in between and still really entertaining. So an all female reboot is really welcome (and clearly sets the stage for 9 and 10, leading to some sort of combination of casts after that, fingers crossed). Gary Ross is a great director choice, given his great and eclectic resume (writing Big and Dave and directing Pleasantville and Seabiscuit and Hunger Games). The cast is really fun and the plot, while largely mirroring Eleven in some ways, has its own unique bend and takes its own interesting turns, largely in that third act. I appreciate this movie, and while I think some people were instinctively against this movie (because let’s face it… people are instinctively against anything when women are put forward in life. They give you all sorts of reasons why they don’t like stuff, but when you boil it down, it’s really just because it’s women), but it’s not like the original series changed cinema forever. Sure, Soderbergh had a lot of fun with it, visually, but it’s not like there’s really something that could never be recreated from it. I liked this a lot the first time I saw it and each successive time I’ve seen it (which is oddly more than most movies, given how recently it’s come out), I’ve continued to enjoy it. It’s very rewatchable, continues the fun of the franchise and most importantly, achieves what I felt that Ghostbusters remake did not — actually managing to be a good movie on top of being an all-female reboot. I really like this one a lot and think it holds up right alongside the other three in terms of its enjoyability.

 

146. Dark Waters

I love Todd Haynes. I love his choices as a filmmaker, and even in the rare instance when one of his films doesn’t fully come together, there’s always so many interesting elements to them that they still come out better than most other films do. This one, though… no one knows it exists. After Carol, he made Wonderstruck, which I know nobody saw (and is an example of one of those that doesn’t fully work, yet there’s so much interesting stuff in it). This one, though… it doesn’t even feel like a Todd Haynes movie. Far from Heaven, I’m Not There, Carol… that’s the stuff you’re used to from him. This is a straight trial movie. All legal drama. Very straightforward. It’s a left-field kind of choice for him but also a really great movie that deserves much more of a profile, which I can only hope it gets because he’s the one who directed it. It’s about the lawyer who worked for a firm that normally defended large corporations but instead finds himself in the middle of a lawsuit against one of them. He meets with a local farmer who lives in the town where his grandmother lives and slowly discovers that Du Pont, in their creation of Teflon (this is all real, by the way. This all happened, this is based entirely on the truth), discovered a chemical that kills people. And rather than stop making it or change their process, they felt it was cheaper to just keep going so they kept making it and knowingly poisoned both their own employees, local water supplies and the American public. And the film is the lawyer (wonderfully played by Mark Ruffalo) slowly uncovering this and working up a case against them. It’s — it’s two things, this film: 1) it’s a legal drama, which is never not interesting. I’ve said this many times. Trial movies are always interesting, even if the movie is bad. Once a trial happens, you’re never not intrigued. And 2) this is a movie designed to get you mad. You will watch it and you will be outraged by what this piece of shit company did. And that’s the point. That’s what it wants you to feel. You are being educated about something you didn’t know that is hugely important. It’s gonna entertain you, but ultimately it’s going to enlighten you about something that is very much a big deal and something worth being told. It’s a really strong film, and I’m happy it got made and I’m happy that Todd Haynes is the one who directed it because at least now people can discover it as part of his filmography on top of having Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway in it. And I hope they do, because it’s a really strong film.

145. Remember

Oh yeah. I’ve talked about this one a bunch already but I am always down to bring it up again. This is a tiny movie that almost no one knows about that I think is one of the best thrillers of the entire decade. Perhaps the closest any movie has come to truly being something I could have seen Alfred Hitchcock make in his lifetime. It’s directed by Atom Egoyan (director of The Sweet Hereafter) and stars Christopher Plummer as an old man with dementia in a nursing home who is also an Auschwitz survivor. His wife has just died and he is told by fellow resident Martin Landau, “Hey, remember what we talked about.” Which is — they discovered that they were both in the same camp together when they were young and their families were both victim to the same sadistic prison guard, who they’ve learned snuck into the U.S. under an assumed name and has been living repercussion-free all these years. So Plummer, being the more able-bodied of the two (Landau is in a wheelchair) agreed that he would go track this guy down and kill him, but only after his wife died. So now the film is Plummer going around the country to find out which of the people living with this particular name is the right guy and then, when he finds him, having to murder him because of what he did in a concentration camp 70 years earlier. But, he’s got dementia, so all the thrills come from not knowing whether this guy is gonna be able to keep everything together to be able to extract his revenge. It’s really fucking good. I love everything about this movie and can’t believe it slipped through the cracks so much that even I somehow almost didn’t see it. I cannot recommend this highly enough and think it is more than worth your time.

144. Another Earth

2011 was the year of micro-indies with incredible premises and near-improvisational plots becoming some of my favorite films of the year. Like Crazy and this film were essentially either in the running or at one point or another top ten films of mine for that year. This one actually did make my year-end top ten at the time because I was so in love with it (now, after almost a decade it’s probably just below it, but I still really do love it a lot). The premise is: they’ve discovered a second Earth-like planet that suddenly appears in the outer atmosphere. And on the day they discover it, a girl has just learned she’s earned a scholarship to study astronomy at a prestigious college. And during her celebration, she ends up driving home drunk and accidentally hitting another car, which kills a wife and child. She does some prison time for this, loses her scholarship, and we cut to some years later once she’s out and working as a janitor at her old school, just trying to piece her life back together and get over all the pain she’s caused. She seeks out the man whose family she killed and, in order to try to atone (but without mentioning who she is) starts working as his maid and gets to know him. And this all happens over the backdrop of there being a contest to send someone to this new planet. It’s really terrific. It’s very indie, but there’s something about the innate human drama of the film that really drew me in, and it’s a film that I’ve continued to think a lot about after all this time.

143. Carol

Here’s Todd Haynes again. And what might be considered his best film. There’s a simple elegance to this one that really elevates it into something special. Haynes, despite a lot of great movies, is perhaps best known for his Douglas Sirk pastiche Far from Heaven, and this, in some way, feels like it stems a lot from those instincts of his. It takes place in the 50s and takes the form of a melodrama with a narrative that would not have been able to be told in an actual 50s melodrama, given the same-sex relationship at the forefront. It’s the simple story of a shopgirl who meets an older divorcée and falls in love with her. That’s the film. It’s beautiful. Haynes shoots it in 16mm to give it the perfect look, Carter Burwell gives it one of the best scores of the decade and both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are absolutely terrific in it. It’s just pound for pound one of the best films of the decade and one of those essential movies you almost need to have everyone who loves movies see.

142. The Edge of Seventeen

Probably the best teen rom com of the decade. High schools movies for me have gotten really stale, and there are only a handful this decade-plus that really mean anything to me. And this one just feels so fresh and so new that it’s continued to resonate with me and continues to be something I try to get everyone to see. It stars Hailee Steinfeld and, six years after True Grit, fully announces her as a fully-fledged movie star (I’m not quite sure that’s taken hold yet, but you can see it here. It’s gonna happen one day). She plays a high school girl who is, as most are, struggling to fit in and find her identity. She doesn’t have many friends and lives in the shadow of her star-athlete, popular-kid older brother. But she has her best friend, who makes everything okay. And then everything starts crumbling down when she discovers her best friend has started dating her brother. And it’s just this beautiful portrait of what it’s like to be a sixteen-year-old when it feels like you have no one to turn to and are in the middle of all these monumental changes in your life. The dialogue is incredible, anchored by Steinfeld’s performance, and you have an amazing supporting turn by Woody Harrelson as her teacher and de facto guidance counselor/therapist. This is a movie so well-written and acted that I cannot imagine someone seeing this and not liking it. It’s just that charming and well-made. So please, do yourself a favor if you haven’t seen this and do so. It’s a wonderful film.

141. The Wind Rises

It’s Miayazaki, it’s Ghibli. There’s really not much else to add, because when those two words are involved in a film, you should automatically be running out to see it. This was billed as Miyazaki’s final film, but fortunately for us he’s come back to make another one, which hopefully gets released in the next couple of years. But this one is a biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, Japanese aviator who designed a lot of aircraft that ended up being flown in World War II. It’s a beautiful movie about a man’s love for planes and a love story between him and his wife. It’s, like all Miyazaki films are, stunning, and absolutely essential for anyone who cares about animated film.

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