Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (140-131)
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:
An incredible underseen indie revenge thriller that is one of my favorite crowdpleasers of the decade. It’s a real simple story — woman goes on vacation with her married boyfriend. He’s got two Russian dudes with him because it’s also gonna be a hunting trip. One day, while the boyfriend is out, one of the Russians rapes the woman and the other sees but does nothing. She freaks out and demands to be taken home. The boyfriend, telling her he’s gonna do that, pushes her off a cliff to die. And that’s basically where the movie begins. It’s half a B-movie version of The Revenant and half Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill. The second half of the movie is the woman coming back to murder these assholes, and it’s amazing. The film is very realistic in its portrayal of violence. People aren’t Terminators here. They bleed. A lot. The third act is so bloody the actors slip because of how covered the floors are. It’s such an awesome movie and I cannot recommend it highly enough for people looking for a movie where a woman murders some asshole dudes who have it coming.
139. Avengers: Endgame
I maintained my dislike of what Marvel did for a lot of years and, while the majority of their films are perfectly fine and even solid in many cases, I just didn’t really care and thought everyone was overrating it. Infinity War made a lot of waves, but I said at the time — “This only matters if they stick the landing.” And this is them sticking the landing. It’s an incredible film and really utilizes the studio’s assets well. They focus on the people we’ve spent a near decade with and really tie up the stories they’ve set in all these sub-franchises really well. Everyone’s seen this, so there’s really not much to say about it except — I’m the first person to shit on Marvel when they haven’t earned something. But this movie earns it. Took them a decade to earn it, but they do earn it here. So good for them.
138. American Honey
I was excited but leery about this one going in. It seemed very much something that could be really interesting but also something that is very much something I hate to see (hipster bait hyped up by the types of filmgoers I very much have deep-seeded disagreements with in terms of taste). I mean, it’s a three-hour indie movie with no plot. It could have gone very wrong. But I found myself riveted within 20 minutes. Sasha Lane (who hadn’t acted before this movie whatsoever) is absolutely captivating and you realize pretty quickly that you’ll watch her do anything. And you do — she’s traveling in a van across the country selling magazines for the majority of the movie. It’s just these little vignettes about her experience doing this, and her budding relationship with fellow magazine seller Shia LaBeouf. There’s really no easy way to sell this to people except to say that I loved it, I think Andrea Arnold does an incredible job directing it and it’s just one of those gems that I think people should take the time to watch.
137. Ex Machina
Well everyone knows about this one, fortunately. So there’s really not a whole lot to add there. It’s essentially a single-location thriller from Alex Garland with four actors on screen for basically the entire movie. Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno are all fantastic, the film is amazing, and the dancing scene is one of the single greatest moments on screen this entire decade. At this point if you haven’t seen it, you probably know that you should. So stop reading this nonsense and go see it if you haven’t.
The great thing (and I’m talking purely on a creative front, because obviously the other shit is horrendous) that Harvey Weinstein was able to do during his time as a producer is take material that most people either wouldn’t think to turn into a prestige film or be unable to properly turn into one. There are some that obviously didn’t work, but for the last 30 years the dude put out so much blatant Oscar bait stuff. And a lot of the time you think, “Yeah, I get what you’re trying to do with this, let’s see if it’s actually any good past the fact that you’re gonna shove it down our throats and try to get statues.” And scarily, a lot of the time some of the ones you’d never think would be good turn out to be great. This film — you hear the synopsis: “Indian boy gets separated from his mother and put into the adoption system, is eventually adopted by an Australian couple and spends the next 20 years searching for his family, eventually finding them through Google Earth.” At worst you think, “That sounds terrible,” and at best you think, “Well that’s gonna be sappy as hell.” And yet… they pull it off. Garth Davis creates this beautiful portrait of a man searching for his identity. Both halves of the film are wonderful, with Sunny Pawar really leading the charge on the initial childhood scenes and Dev Patel really coming in and doing an amazing job with him as an adult. Nicole Kidman is fantastic as the adopted mother and Rooney Mara does a terrific job with a difficult and largely thankless role as Patel’s girlfriend. It’s a film that draws you in by simply being really good and really engaging, and somehow it turns a scene of a guy looking at Google Maps into an incredibly emotional moment. That’s actually the power of filmmaking.
135. First Man
Why this isn’t known as one of the best films of the year is beyond me. It’s Damien Chazelle’s third film after Whiplash and La La Land. So clearly you know he can direct a great movie. This is a biopic of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Gosling. Again, why is it that I have to struggle to sell people on this movie? People may be aware of it, but not nearly enough people even bothered to see it. And it’s an incredible movie. It’s, in some ways, a straightforward biopic, but in so many more ways, it isn’t. Because it really does a lot of fantastic things I haven’t seen before in space movies. For one, because Armstrong was such an internal guy and wasn’t as charismatic as say, Buzz Aldrin, he doesn’t express himself verbally a lot. So Chazelle shoots Gosling close around the eyes, letting his eyes and his body language tell the story rather than the dialogue. And rarely do you get something that internal when there’s space involved. And also, this movie, more than anything else I’ve seen, really illustrates the balls it took for him and everyone else to actually go into space. The sound design is incredible in that regard. It’s really loud and you feel every rattle inside the shuttles. Because you realize… they’re thin hunks of metal shooting through the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour. There’s maybe an inch or two separating these people from death. And you can barely hear yourself think, it’s so loud, and everything’s about a half a step away from catching fire and blowing up at any moment. No other space movie truly has gotten into that like this has. It’s just an all around great movie and I can’t understand why this isn’t talked about as being one of the absolute best films of the decade, because it 100% is that.
I appreciate that the decade has shown this to be a terrific movie and one of Disney’s best. The only knock I have against it is the fact that it’s not hand-drawn. Other than that, it’s incredible. It’s the story of Rapunzel, and really was the stage-setter for this new-ish renaissance of Disney’s. They really bottomed out in the mid-2000s after Chicken Little, and they retooled their entire animation department after buying Pixar. And the result was Bolt, Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana. I don’t like one of those and think another is hugely overrated, but there are legitimately great movies in there that rank among the best Disney’s ever put out. It’s been a hell of a run. And this film arguably started it all, despite trying to be more about the prince than the princess (which is just a stupid idea, but I don’t think we see this as being that, as much as they tried that nonsense at the time). It’s really an incredible movie.
133. Midnight Special
This is the most commercial film Jeff Nichols has made, which is saying something, since it’s so low key for what it could be that it barely made any waves when it came out. He took inspiration from Close Encounters and Starman, and it shows. The film is about a father who essentially kidnaps his own child, who had been in the care of a religious cult, and is on the run from cult members and the government, because the child has special powers. It’s a beautiful film. It doesn’t try to have any kind of major set pieces and shoot outs and car chases — everything is very much character-based. And it’s just an incredible achievement. It’s like Close Encounters in that way. Close Encounters doesn’t do anything that crazy in terms of action. It’s all based on the story of Richard Dreyfuss’ character. This focuses on the father-son story and is mainly about Michael Shannon trying to do right by his son because he loves him. It’s a beautiful film. I can’t recommend this highly enough to people, if only because it shows you that there is a way to make a superhero style film without automatically requiring a superhero type budget.
132. Darkest Hour
I love Joe Wright. He’s such a visualist that he could take almost any story and make it look amazing and work better than it could in the hands of another director. He’s had this yo-yo of a career, where he’s made these great period costume dramas, then tried his hand at something different (to varying degrees of success), and then something flops and he gets written off, so he returns with something that makes you go, “Oh, but yeah, he is a really terrific director.” Atonement — amazing. The Soloist — doesn’t work. So he comes back with Hanna, which I think is amazing, but others may think doesn’t fully work. Anna Karenina — amazing, but didn’t translate to everyone. Then Pan, which was universally… panned. So what does he do? Comes back with this, the story of Winston Churchill ascending to Prime Minister and having to deal with the evacuation of Dunkirk. It’s one of three Dunkirk movies to come out that year, with Christopher Nolan’s film and Their Finest also coming out and giving you three distinct views on the same event from different angles. All are great, and all appear somewhere on this list. This one, though, is very much about Churchill and is very much about Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill. Oldman, as he so often does, disappears into the role. For a while at the very beginning you’re aware that it’s Oldman as Churchill, but after a while you just lose yourself in the performance and forget it’s Oldman. And Wright just loads the film with incredible production value and visuals. The film is so much more visually stunning than you might think, given the fact that it’s a period costume biopic. Go back and watch it. For every ‘you cannot reason with a tiger’ moment there are two absolutely stunning shot choices. It’s a really fantastic piece of work that holds up better than the solid place you already hold it in your esteem.
131. The Ghost Writer
Aww yeah. Roman Polanski’s had a weird career, but he’s made some great ones. Since The Pianist, his stuff was largely ignored and didn’t really make any waves, and really since then there hasn’t been a whole lot that’s been utterly noteworthy. This, though — this one’s really great. Compare this to Shutter Island, which also came out that year, to see someone taking the kind of paperback you’d buy on a rack at the airport and turning into a really crafty thriller that feels elevated by the person who directed it. Which isn’t to slam Shutter Island as much as it is to say — this movie is really made better by Roman Polanski being the one to direct it. It’s one of those films that is interesting because the central premise is interesting: writer is sent to become a ghost writer on a book by the former U.K. Prime Minister whose former ghost writer died under mysterious circumstances. And it’s just wonderful. Ewan McGregor is terrific, Pierce Brosnan is terrific, Kim Cattrall is terrific, Olivia Williams is terrific. It’s got the right amount of mystery and twists and turns to it and it’s just one of those movies that will stick with you once you’re done with it. It’s been ten years, so maybe some people have forgotten about this one, but it really is one of the best of the decade.
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