Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (130-121)

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:

130. Hail, Caesar!

The beautiful thing about the Coen brothers is how amazing their films are and how much better they get after repeat viewings. It feels like most if not all of their comedies are never properly received right as they come out. Usually because they follow up a big dramatic triumph with a comedy and people maybe weren’t expecting that, I guess. Big Lebowski was not that well-received after Fargo and took a few years. Intolerable Cruelty I think still isn’t properly received. Burn After Reading took a little while too, coming right after No Country. And this, I think, while people saw it and appreciated the stuff you would appreciate, I feel it also took a year or two for people to fully appreciate this one or see it in any legitimate kinda way. I remember leaving the theater after seeing this and thinking, “It was great, but I’m not sure how I feel about it.” But I’ve realized that a lot of my opinion was because I’m familiar with most of the stuff they’re parodying. So names like Eddie Mannix, or the obvious Esther Williams pastiche with Scarlett Johansson or the Gene Kelly musical number with Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes basically being a George Cukor type — part of me was like, “These seem like pretty surface-level comparisons.” And then of course, you see the movie again… and again… and again… and pretty soon that doesn’t matter and you’re just going back to the brilliance of the Coen brothers and their writing, from the ‘Would that it were so simple’ scene to the entire scene with the religious leaders debating the depiction of Jesus on screen in the film to even something as simple as Hobie sitting there doing rope tricks as he waits for the Carmen Miranda character to come out to go to the screening. It’s incredible. It’s so damn funny and perfectly captures the right tone of respecting old Hollywood while also lampooning it. It’s wonderful.

129. Where’d You Go, Bernadette

This is one of those movies that I absolutely adore that I’m pretty sure not everyone is gonna agree with me on. But, as we’ve established many times over… I don’t care. Still gonna love it. There are two people I’ve learned to trust automatically with their stuff, no matter how questionable the film may seem to me going in (that aren’t the obvious people you should trust): Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater. I’ve talked about Soderbergh a bunch on this list already, and Linklater is the same thing. He always makes a worthwhile movie and while I always have a certain amount of trust for him, his films almost always exceed that level of trust. They’re both filmmakers who, outside of the bigger hits that get audiences, generally fly under the radar with most of their stuff. Linklater’s had a hell of a decade. First he had Bernie, which is terrific. Then he had Before Midnight, which I think we all know and I talked about fairly recently on this list. Then he had Boyhood, which — ’nuff said there. Then it was Everybody Wants Some!!, which we’ll talk about later on down the list. Then it was Last Flag Flying, which is hugely underrated and somehow, despite being a pseudo-sequel to The Last fucking Detail, works. And then he finished out the decade with this. All the movies are great. Every one deserves to be seen and even though some of them going in I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about them, at a certain point the greatness of Linklater as a filmmaker takes over.

This one is based on a book, and it stars Cate Blanchett as a famous architect who has disappeared for almost 15 years as she settled down to raise a daughter. And now, she’s married to Billy Crudup (who is basically Steve Jobs), has a teenage daughter, lives in the suburbs and is fucking miserable. She’s got all sorts of neuroses and is causing all sorts of mayhem with her neighbors and is on all sorts of medications — it’s not going great. And we watch as she slowly builds to a giant breakdown (or more specifically breakthrough) of sorts which leads to her (as the title suggests) running off to go to Antarctica. And the film, I think, never got the audience it deserves because it’s hard to sell to people. The daughter is sort of the through-line to the story, but it’s not really a YA kind of book. And it’s not this quirky comedy either, because there’s some real shit going on even though it is kinda light and humorous in its way. Really it’s a movie about creativity, and the need to create, and what happens when someone shuts off that faucet and doesn’t give the creativity an outlet for a period of time. It’s pretty great. I’m not gonna say it’s a perfect movie, and people can and probably will find fault with it. But I think Cate Blanchett gives one of the best performances of the decade and I just adore this movie. I think there’s a real truth to it and I get such enjoyment out of watching it. There’s always gonna be that handful of movies that I love that not everyone else will, and from the jump this always felt like it was gonna be one of those. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all it needs is for people to see it. After all… you’ve got Linklater’s resume. He’s not really someone to steer you wrong.

128. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s magnum opus. I’m still in awe of his career. He comes out with Badlands and Days of Heaven, which are just straight masterpieces, and then disappears for 20 years. He goes to Austin, starts teaching and just doesn’t make a single movie. Then he comes back with Thin Red Line, which is amazing, then waits another eight years and does The New World, which is also amazing. Then another six years and we get this. You can tell he tapped into something special with this one because he tried to recreate it with his next three films. To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and Song to Song are all diminishing returns versions of the sort of tone poem narrative he perfected here. The film is half a story of a young boy growing up in Texas in the 50s (clearly based on his own childhood), mixed with scenes of that boy as an adult wandering through life and considering his past and where he is now, mixed with shots of the origins of the universe. It’s a stunning film. It’s an amazing piece of work and while not my favorite Malick film, it might be his signature piece of work. It might be the apex of his style and everything he’s attempted to do up through this point in film. It’s one of those essential movies and was immediately upon coming out. Anyone who loves film needs to have seen this one.

127. Love & Mercy

It’s disgusting how underseen this movie is. I don’t know why that is, but every time I go back to this one I’m struck by how it’s one of the best musical biopics I’ve ever seen. It’s the story of Brian Wilson, and is told in two distinct timelines: one of him during Pet Sounds as he’s stopped touring and is on the verge of his mental breakdown, all while creating one of the seminal albums in the history of music, and the other of him in the 80s, under the care of a psychiatrist who is basically running his life and not at all helping him get better. The film takes an interesting track with these, having two different actors play Wilson, neither of whom look particularly alike. Paul Dano plays young Brian and John Cusack plays older Brian. And both are terrific here. And the film works entirely because you get a portrait of who this man is, mixed with the incredible songs he wrote along the way. I think this movie really should be considered one of the best films of the decade, and at this point I find that I find that so few people even know this exists. Which is a real shame.

126. Brawl in Cell Block 99

This is S. Craig Zahler and the film that really made me a dedicated fan of his. I loved Bone Tomahawk, but that’s a film that could easily be a one-off. There are some people who make that one really good film and then just make crap the rest of the way through. But then I saw this, and it remains one of the single best in-theater experiences I had during the entire decade. This is pure grindhouse cinema. But also more than that. Because it’s a grindhouse movie that’s deliberately avoiding giving you what you want, to the point where when it does give it to you, it’s all the better for it. The title suggests this down and dirty prison movie. And it is… but you gotta wait for it. The opening scene no one can see coming. Because you’re expecting one type of scene and getting a completely different one. Then the film builds to him ending up in prison. And you think, “Okay, bring on the brawl.” But then it’s not that type of prison. And yet it’s still really interesting. And it just builds from there, giving you flashes of violence and all the stuff you came for, leading to the absolute insanity of the third act, which is just wonderful. This movie is meant for an audience. I watched this in a packed theater with people screaming and laughing and shouting at all the fucked up shit that happens. I’ve shown this to friends, almost all of whom came out going, “That was amazing. How did I not know about this before?” It’s just that kind of a movie, and while I know it’s not for everyone, is one of the best experiences I had with a film all decade.

125. Ad Astra

An incredible film, and yet somehow not the hit it should have been. Which I suspect is because this came out post-Gravity, and people were expecting big epic space movie with a lot of action. When instead this is a character-based meditative drama that’s more realistic in its depiction of space (as much as it can be). It’s essentially Heart of Darkness in space. Astronaut whose father disappeared into space thirty years earlier finds out that his father may yet be alive in the outer reaches of Neptune. So the film is this long journey to get him there to find out what happened to his father. And you watch that that does to him and his psyche along the way. It’s incredible. James Gray is not a filmmaker of flash. He was known for these really small character-based dramas before making Lost City of Z, which is big in scope but still very focused on character. This is the same — he’s in space and doing all this stuff, but it’s all very focused on Brad Pitt’s character and doesn’t try to have these Interstellar-level set pieces. It’s really terrific, and I think if people gave it a shot and weren’t so hung up on the fact that it’s not Apollo 13 or whatever film you’re trying to compare it to, it’s a really great movie with one of Brad Pitt’s finest screen performances.

124. Hidden Figures

Huge crowd pleaser. And with good reason. It’s amazing. Ted Melfi came on strong with St. Vincent, but it wasn’t a film everyone saw. I wasn’t expecting him to take the kind of leap he did with this as a sophomore feature. Pretty much everyone’s seen it by this point, which speaks to how universally likable this is. People keep discovering it and watching it because it’s just so damn good. This is one of those movies that feels destined to be in that space of — everyone likes it but no one really considers it one of the ‘best’ movies because it’s more mainstream and crowd-pleasing than ‘artistic’. But honestly, it ranks right up there among everything else. It’s just a great piece of work. Plus you get Taraji P. Henson getting a really great lead role that she so rarely has gotten in her career. You get Janelle Monáe piggybacking her Moonlight performance to show us that she’s an acting force to be reckoned with and you get Octavia Spencer doing her thing, which is always great. Plus you get Kevin Costner, who is welcome in everything and you have Kirsten Dunst, also welcome any time she wants to be in stuff. It’s just a great movie. I’ve seen parts of this movie so many times in the years since it’s come out, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay a movie, because some movies you go back and rewatch, others you just put on because they’re on TV and you catch it at whatever point and just watch it through til the end. This has become one of those movies for me.

123. The Nightingale

Oh my god do I love this movie. I don’t even care that almost no one will go out of their way to see this because of how much I love it. It’s incredible and it’ll be incredible whether you see it or not. This is Jennifer Kent’s followup to The Babadook and is a completely different movie. It’s set in 19th century Tasmania and is about an Irish woman working as a servant to the British army because of some indeterminate crime she’s committed. She’s due for her letters of parole and wants to be able to leave with her husband and infant child and go start her own life, but the commanding officer has a crush on her (and enjoys having power over her) and keeps delaying doing so. This of course eventually leads to the rising of tensions and after one absolutely horrific event, the rest of the film becomes her following the soldiers through the Tasmanian terrain in order to murder them for what they did to her. And that’s the film. She and an indigenous man are following the trail of these soldiers, and she’s gonna murder them when she finds them. It’s great. Full stop great. Aisling Franciosi gives the performance of the year and is a real movie star. I cannot wait to see her start to get the roles she deserves and become someone everyone realizes is one of our best actors working. She’s so good in this, and this is, in my mind, a far superior movie to The Babadook and an incredible piece of work. I know this is nearly impossible to get people to see, but man, are you in for a treat if you go for it.

122. War Horse

I feel like this movie has negative connotations to it and I’m not sure why. It’s kind of an obvious choice for Spielberg. It’s entirely something you’d expect out of him, but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s based on a play and follows the story of a horse through World War I. We follow the horse from it being purchased by a family to be used on a farm, to it being sold to the military for the war, to bouncing around different owners in search of getting back to the boy on the farm who loves it. It’s great. It’s so Spielberg, and I get that some people might roll their eyes at a film that is deliberately sentimental. But screw that. E.T. is sentimental. Just because it’s not cool to have feelings anymore doesn’t make this any less of a movie. It’s terrific, and I love it. And the cast on this one. People forget the kind of casts Spielberg gets in his movies. Both Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch are in this and that’s before they were household names.

121. Fury

Aww shit. This movie. This is David Ayer’s finest hour as a director. He wrote Training Day and stuff like that, then made films like Street Kings and Harsh Times, which are solid but not really anything people went out to see. Then he came out with this, a World War II tank movie that’s just that — bunch of dudes in a tank, in war. Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Logan Lerman. In a tank. Fucking shit up. It’s awesome. It doesn’t try to be anything more than it is and is just a great all around movie. Maybe not for those who don’t love straight war movies, because it’s pretty much just that. But still, it’s just badass war stuff and I love it.

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