Mike’s Top Films of the Decade (110-101)

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:

110. The Shape of Water

I really wonder how history would have remembered this film if it didn’t win Best Picture. I’m still wondering how they’re gonna remember it now that it did. I remember seeing this at a screening and thinking, “That was really lovely.” But I wasn’t remotely considering the notion that it would end up being received as it was. Because it’s Guillermo. I’ve watched countless Guillermo films come and go to varying degrees of acclaim. The film right before this was also very Guillermo (Crimson Peak) and nobody saw it. Yet, this one connected. Very interesting. Still, though, this and Pan’s Labyrinth are the two strongest distillations of who Guillermo is as a filmmaker. It’s this dark fairy tale that has both horror and beauty in it. It’s like if you took Beauty and the Beast and mixed it with Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s a wonderful film. But like I said… really curious to see what time does to this one.

109. Motherless Brooklyn

Every year there’s a few films I see and love where I go, “No one’s gonna agree with me on this.” Which is fine. No one has to agree with me on everything or even anything. But the fact of the matter remains — I love this movie. It’s only Edward Norton’s second directorial effort, after Keeping the Faith from 20 years ago (another film I adore that I’m not sure a lot of people even know exists). This one was sort of doomed from the start because he stars as a detective with Tourette’s. And I think the twitching and the whole ‘acting’ thing immediately turned people off and they just dismissed the movie out of hand because of it. And reviews were mixed but positive, but not positive enough to really sway those people who either knew nothing about it or were on the fence. So you have this movie that just never went anywhere, destined to be forgotten. Which is a damn shame, because I love what he did with it. Sure, the main character has Tourette’s, but the film’s about so much more than that. It’s trying to be Chinatown in New York, which is not what the source material is. The book it’s based on takes place modern day, but Norton transports it into the 50s because he wanted to tell the story of the gentrification of New York City and how it was basically built as racist from the ground up. And all that’s being funneled through this central mystery of Norton trying to solve the murder of his mentor, which brings him into this giant web of corruption. The cast is stellar — Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Bobby Cannavale, Willem Dafoe, Michael K. Williams, Leslie Mann — and you really don’t pay much attention to the Tourette’s aspect past the first few minutes. Norton does a great job of making it an aspect of the character that modulates along with the narrative in really interesting ways. I think people dismissed this one too quickly and there’s some really terrific stuff here. It might not ever be as highly rated as I consider it worthy of, but it is worthy of your time and I think it has a chance to maybe gain a little bit of an audience as time goes by.

108. Bohemian Rhapsody

I love how this movie is a walking disaster if you modulate it just to the left or to the right. And I feel like somehow that tightrope the movie walks feels perfectly suited for its subject. I wonder what time is gonna do for this one as well, because in ten, twenty years, people won’t immediately know all the behind the scenes drama that we all seem to. And maybe they won’t notice just how much the editing of the film is put together with string and wire and barely keeps everything coherent. Because really, it’s all just about the feeling you get from watching the movie. And when you’ve got a movie based entirely around Queen songs… you’ve probably got a movie worth watching. And that’s what this is. It’s a sanitized story told by the band, but it’s good enough to get you from song to song, and get you to that Live Aid sequence, where somehow Rami Malek, after those early scenes where you go, “Oh man, those teeth and that wig… how’s he gonna pull off Freddie Mercury,” becomes Freddie Mercury. It’s kind of stunning how that managed to happen all the way across the film. I guess what I’ve been skirting around this entire entry is — I’m aware that this isn’t a very good film on a lot of levels, but I also love this film, and in the end… does it matter why you love something? They don’t all have to be Citizen Kane if they get an emotional reaction out of you.

107. All Is Lost

Oh, boy, do I love this. Robert Redford, alone at sea, for two hours. Maybe 40 lines of dialogue in the entire film. It’s just him on a boat having to survive. It’s awesome. It showed J.C. Chandor as a true filmmaker, fulfilling the promise of Margin Call, and gave Redford one of the great performances of his later years (and he’s blessed to have a few of those). It’s just a great movie all around.

106. Vice

I was all in on this one. After The Big Short, knowing Adam McKay was gonna bring that style to this, and then have Christian Bale, who can slip into almost any role, as Cheney? Oh man was I in 150%. And boy, did it deliver. It’s not as smooth as Big Short and there’s some choppy editing and storytelling in that first act, but when this hits the groove, boy does it coast along wonderfully. Bale is Dick Cheney, and it’s actually kinda scary at times. McKay also does that thing he did in Big Short where he’s giving you these fun, inventive scenes (breaking into Shakespeare out of nowhere, the false ending, etc) while also giving you all the facts that you might not have known in ways that are entertaining and palatable to an audience that might not be there to digest a lot of information. It’s a brilliant way to tell a story. I watched this about three times in very short succession when it came out, and by the third time I was fully on board with how amazing a film this is. It’s incredibly rewatchable, and while it’s not its predecessor, is still an incredible piece of work all around.

105. American Hustle

Ah yes, the apex of the David O. Russell years. He’s had this weird second act that’s been really incredible to witness. If you remember, his career seemed totally done after the cancellation of Nailed and all those videos surfacing of him screaming at Lily Tomlin on Huckabees. And then The Fighter happened and all of a sudden he’s back with this renewed sense of energy and a new style that he carried over into Silver Linings and then this. This, in way, is the culmination of that entire movement of films. He’d been creeping toward just doing Martin Scorsese, so here he just does Martin Scorsese. This is his Goodfellas. It’s wall to wall moving camera and energy and music. He just loads it with needle drops. And honestly, it works. I’m not sure you can tell this story in any other way than how he told it. I had some fluctuating opinions on this one as it came out, but as time’s gone by, I’m appreciating it more because it’s a situation where filmmaking style matches story. It’s about excess and ego, so he just oversizes the whole thing and makes it larger than life. And it works. Everyone is wonderful in it, and it’s just a really fun time at the movies, even if you’re not really sure what you got out of it beyond that entertainment value.

104. Sicario

This is the movie that cemented the fact that Denis Villeneuve can take almost anything and make it better than if it were being handled by another filmmaker. For me that was really cemented with Blade Runner, but for most people, this is the one. Because he came almost out of nowhere (he had Incendies, but I’m not gonna pretend like most people casually watch foreign films like that and actively knew who he was) with Prisoners, and then there was Enemy, which no one saw, and then this. And this is the one where people started connecting those dots and realized, “Oh, this guy’s great.” And then it became, “Oh, he’s doing Blade Runner,” and it mattered that it was him. This movie… Taylor Sheridan wasn’t anyone before this, either. This made him as well. Hell or High Water was his film that cemented his status, but this one really brought him to the stage in a big way. It’s this movie about drugs and the war on drugs. And going in, I’m not sure anyone could have expected we’d get everything we got out of it. Which again speaks to Villeneuve’s style, and how he elevates what could have been anywhere from a straight-to-DVD movie to a reasonable throwaway action movie to maybe something like a Training Day-lite and instead turns it into one of the most iconic action movies of the decade with moments we all remember and call back to. The entire border crossing sequence. The tunnel sequence. Every single thing Benicio Del Toro does in this movie. Everything Roger Deakins does in this movie. It’s all stunning. Hell, the opening sequence in the house. The score! It’s all wonderful. Every choice in this film works, and it’s just an all around amazing movie.

103. Anomalisa

Charlie Kaufman. And the case is rested. You know why it’s here, and his name is the justification. He’s a genius, and everything he’s made I love. I was really happy when I saw he was making this, because it had been 7 years since Synecdoche, which I knew no one fully embraced or understood, yet is something I love. So it was nice to see him get something off the ground. And here, in full Charlie Kaufman fashion, he turns to animation to tell his story, and he uses animation in such a profound way. He uses puppets to underscore his story about the mundanity of life and how most people are on auto-pilot, almost not even in control of their own actions. It’s the story of a man on a business trip. That’s it. That’s the movie. And every other character in the film, save one, is voiced by the same actor, to underscore just how drab this guy’s existence is, and how boring it all is for him. And then suddenly he meets a woman, and surprise… he actually starts to feel rejuvenated again. And it’s just this really low-key but beautiful film that has more to say about life and human existence than literally any other American studio animated film that’s come out this decade. And that is the true genius of Charlie Kaufman.

102. Roman J. Israel, Esq.

I remain steadfast in my belief that this is one of the most underrated movies of the decade. Everyone jumped all over Nightcrawler and here Dan Gilroy is doing the same thing and people don’t care. And sort of like how I felt about Motherless Brooklyn (which isn’t remotely the same thing but I think people reductively treat as such): I feel like the fact that the main character has some sort of mental illness and/or disability makes people dismiss it in that way that Tropic Thunder warned about. That’s the only explanation for why films like these in particular don’t get any sort of respect. Because this is a straight B movie noir, told like it’s an A movie. That’s what Nightcrawler was too. Denzel plays a man with Asperger’s who is a Civil Rights lawyer who has worked in the same law firm for 40-50 years. He’s a genius at the technical side of law, and has every single file and case memorized. But, because he’s not great around people, he can’t be put in a courtroom. And now, his mentor, who has taken care of him and, in a way, shielded him all these years, has had a heart attack. (It’s kind of like Being There, in a weird way. Though very different in where we end up.) So he ends up going to work for one of his mentor’s other mentees, Colin Farrell, who, rather than fighting the good fight, has taken a job at a high-priced firm that charges high fees and defends obviously guilty clients. And so we watch him trying to fit into this world he’s just not cut out for, all while slowly watching his own morals erode when he’s faced with a choice of ethics and sort of sacrifices what he’s spent his entire life believing in for a chance to actually have some wealth for a change. It’s a really strong piece of work. Denzel delivers his best performance since Flight, which was his best performance in years. (Oh, I guess Fences is in there too. I just feel like all he’s seemingly done of late are those action movies that don’t really require a whole lot of him.) I feel like if you took the ‘on the spectrum’ aspect of the character away and told it straight through, people would have had a lot more respect for this than they do. But I can see this both being made in the 70s as a character piece and in the 50s as a straight B movie noir. And maybe not everyone can see those versions of the movie playing out on the screen like I can. But I do think this movie really is a lot better than the public indifference/ridicule has led people to think it is (because let’s not pretend like the title isn’t a punchline in and of itself, which has and will keep a lot of people from actually ever seeing it).

101. Frozen

Yup, it’s Frozen. Yup, we’ve all seen it. Yup, we’ve all heard “Let It Go” about a thousand times. Not much to say here. I fell in love with this one immediately, I think it’s one of the best movies Disney’s ever made, and it was thrilling to me to actually be this excited about a Disney movie again in real time, something I hadn’t had for so long. Tangled I liked but it took me a few years to really realize how good that is. And Wreck-It Ralph… it’s not the same. It’s not a princess film, which is the heart of Disney animation. So seeing this one happen, with those glorious songs (it’s impossible not to get swept up in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”) and empowering narrative and everything about it. The decade has cooled my love of it slightly (and that sequel didn’t help), but I still think it’s a terrific piece of work and do still love this one dearly.

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