Mike’s Top 100 Films of the Decade (90-81)

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:

90. Bridge of Spies

I love this. I find that with Spielberg, I tend to go back to his films and like them more each time I see them (which we’ll get into again shortly). This one is so utterly rewatchable, even though I do agree that it probably doesn’t hit the pantheon of ‘all time’ Spielberg films. Which is the case you can make for most of his output this decade. Still, though, I love this one. Hanks and Rylance are fantastic, and this is the film that really drove home to me just how amazing and nuanced Hanks is on screen and how we take him for granted because of who he is. Go back and watch this (and Private Ryan) for his performance and you’ll see that he’s doing so much more on screen than you might be giving him credit for. The film is also just really engaging and never lets you down (except maybe in not ending when it clearly should, which is something I’ve said multiple times about Spielberg’s films in recent years). It’s just a great filmmaker making a great film.

89. Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik’s followup to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I remember watching this and thinking, “Oh, this is amazing. And absolutely no one’s gonna agree with me on that.” Because you just saw a movie that doesn’t fit into any specific boxes, and it was something that was sold a particular way, and it’s not that film. So people were gonna come out expecting one thing, getting something different, not knowing how to process that and just saying, “It was weird/I didn’t like it.” And so now the movie just exists in this weird space where no one seems to consider it as much of anything. Which is ridiculous because it’s incredible. It’s a movie that exists between the moments you’d see in other movies. It begins with a crime, and an explanation of all the players and what happened. Basically, someone steals money from the mob. And so, the mob brings in a hitman to take care of the people who did the robbing. And that’s Brad Pitt. But rather than just showing you all the murder and stuff, it’s really about the politics of it all, and it’s a metaphor for the economy and capitalism, and the film does everything it can to not show you murder. Which means that a lot of people are/were gonna come out disappointed with it. But I love it. I love everything about it. I think Dominik directs the hell out of it, I think Pitt is great, I love James Gandolfini in this, and I feel like this is a movie that badly needs people to go back and rewatch it to really see what it’s about, rather than making that snap judgment about it because it’s not some big action thriller with shootouts and car chases.

88. I, Tonya

It’s the rewatchability factor that I love about this. It’s clearly doing Goodfellas, but then again, so is American Hustle. The crime isn’t that it’s trying to do Goodfellas, the crime is when films do that and don’t pull it off. This one pulls it off. Because the story is great, it draws amazing characters (don’t even tell me that Allison Janney isn’t one of the best characters you saw on screen this decade) and the story is so bizarre that you can’t look away. Plus the film leans into it, with unreliable narratives and contradicting points of view… it’s just great. Margot Robbie is fantastic, holding it all together. Sebastian Stan is great. Paul Walter Hauser is so good in this and I’m glad he’s got a career because of it. It’s just a wonderful movie  that you can put on and enjoy no matter what part it’s on. That, to me, is so much more valuable than just being a simple ‘good’ movie.

87. Boyhood

You almost have to. Richard Linklater shot a movie over 12 years. He filmed a little chunk every year and edited it together to essentially show you what it’s like to grow up. No one had ever done it before and, while it is a gimmick, is an incredible gimmick. The film is really great because of how he chose to shoot it, and the film wouldn’t nearly have the narrative weight it does if you weren’t watching these people age over the course of the film. It’s an essential film, and a lovely film. I feel like this is one — everyone should respect it. Not everyone has to love it, and not everyone has to constantly go back to it. But I think it does need to be seen and you have to realize… to simply pull off a film like this is one of the most impressive feats we’ve seen this decade, and only a filmmaker like Linklater can take that conceit and actually make a worthwhile movie out of it.

86. Lincoln

It’s not the sexiest Spielberg film ever, but it’s a great one. This was really the film that, to be, fully brought him back from those odd years where it didn’t feel like he was quite himself. He did Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and then didn’t make a movie for 3 years, coming back with Tintin (which is animated and doesn’t fully feel like him, even though it’s entirely his film) and War Horse, which is so on the nose it’s almost too obviously a Spielberg film. This one feels more properly him and is a film that I think everyone was on board with. The key, of course, is the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis, who so embodies Lincoln on screen that — and I’ve said this a lot because it’s truly what happens when I watch it — I take him for granted when I watch it. I watch all these other actors and shout them all out by name, “Oh, Tommy Lee Jones is good, Sally Field is good, James Spader is good,” and on down the line. But he’s just President Lincoln, because he so embodies the character, as he always does, that he just is the guy. And the film is utterly engrossing, even though it’s all just political behind the scenes dealings. Yet, absolutely wonderful, and this ranks, to me, as one of Spielberg’s best films.

85. Blade Runner 2046

I had such reservations about this one when they announced it. Because the original Blade Runner, while very good on a lot of levels, isn’t my favorite movie. I think people overrate it. You can’t overstate its influence, but I think it’s really good, but people seem to be about four clicks above me on the scale of how good they think it is. So I was never particularly enamored by the fact that they were making a sequel. And then they brought in Denis Villeneuve, who had this amazing run with Prisoners and Sicario and Arrival, and I got so mad because, “Why are you taking this man from these interesting films and assimilating him into the studio game?” And I just prayed that this was gonna be a worthwhile film. And now… I can’t imagine not putting this on my ‘best films of the decade’ list. It’s just incredible. And, I’ll be honest… kinda like it better than the original film. But that’s a separate discussion. I love the feel of it, I love the look of it (Roger Deakins, man), I love the entire Gosling storyline, I love how they find a way to bring Harrison Ford into it and that whole storyline. I just love all the things this film introduces, even if it doesn’t get into them. There’s such wealth here that you can think about and chew on long after the movie’s done. It’s truly wonderful. And it’s actually made me appreciate the original even more because of it.

84. Arrival

Speaking of Denis Villeneuve. This one… I had no idea what to make of this when it was coming out, but knowing that it was Denis Villeneuve, you had to think it would be good. I saw this randomly as part of a double feature with a film that’s yet to appear on this list. And I went into it for the other film, and this just happened to be a semi-surprise screening right afterward, so I figured, “Okay, why not.” I had no real expectations for this or real desire to see it that badly. But I knew it would be good either way. And man… the highest compliment I can pay this movie is that Denis Villeneuve can take a movie that would be utterly generic or at best sort of interesting and turn it into a movie that gets 8 Oscar nominations. Does anyone even remember that part? This movie was nominated for that many Oscars (and not even for Amy Adams!). It’s crazy. But that speaks to how good it is. And yet… not much happens. It’s a linguistics professor being brought in by the military to try to communicate with aliens who have arrived. And much of the film is just that. Not much happens, and arguably, when it does (the ‘bomb’ scene)… it’s less interesting than everything else. Which is fascinating to me, and again speaks to Villeneuve as a filmmaker, and how he can make things so much better and more interesting than what’s on the page (not to take away from what’s on the page in this case) and take what would otherwise be a solid movie and turn it into one of the absolute best of the decade.

83. Hanna

Oh, we’re really in my favorite part of the list, because now it’s just filled with all sorts of things that I love, a lot of which are not necessarily ones that everyone else agrees with me on. But this is one… it’s got a TV show now that I think people think is pretty good. So hopefully that leads to people going back and reevaluating this one. Because I loved it from the moment I saw it. Joe Wright is a filmmaker who likes to try things, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This one I think has been placed in the ‘doesn’t quite work’ category, even though I don’t agree with that. I think he crafts a really interesting story and a great action-thriller with a lot of elements to think about, which he doesn’t get to fully explore within the film. Which is why it’s now a TV show. It’s Saoirse Ronan (who has naturally become the greatest actress of her generation, which you saw coming with performances like Atonement and this) as a girl raised entirely deep in the woods by her father. All she knows is how to hunt, fight, survive. She’s being trained to one day go out into the world to find a woman who is gonna come after her to try to kill her. And the film is this beautiful ‘girl coming of age and seeing the world for the first time’ story while also being this complex spy thriller with all this stuff you slowly find out about as the film goes on. It’s really great. Saoirse is amazing and Wright really adds a flair to the direction (that subway fight with the revolving camera, for one). It’s a wonderful piece of work. And while it’s not totally perfect, to me all the stuff it wants to get into that it allows me to think about makes up for that 15% that maybe wasn’t fully able to be achieved in it. Go back and watch this one. It’s better than you think.

82. The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson. Joaquin Phoenix. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Amy Adams. Perfection. (Also, Rami Malek is in this. Do people remember that?) It’s one of my lesser favorites of Anderson’s, but that’s just because of how much I love Phantom Thread and Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love and… you get the point. This one’s a bit more difficult a watch for me, which just means I don’t go back and rewatch it as much as I watch the others. Obviously its placement on this list shows you how much I love it as a film. It’s a masterpiece. Everyone of Anderson’s films is a masterpiece. This movie singlehandedly turned Joaquin Phoenix from the weird guy who gave good performances but then went off and did that weird rap thing for a while and just made him one of our greatest actors. That was it. You saw this performance and you knew — that’s where he’s at, and this is how we look at him from now on. It was that instantaneous. And it’s funny, because Hoffman is every bit as good as Phoenix is in this movie, and this is a movie that made you realize how much we took him for granted as an actor because of how good he was every time out. I really adore this movie, and really you can never go wrong with anything Anderson makes, because it’s all perfect.

81. Manchester by the Sea

Ah yes, the most uplifting movie of the decade. The movie that will make you so hopeful about life and just let you leave with a huge smile on your face. Man… Ken Lonergan really knows how to put you through the ringer, huh? I wonder how this one would have landed if people were able to truly see Margaret in any real capacity. I suspect the same way, but still. It’s… I mean, what do you say about this one? It’s a study in grief. And the movie presents you broken people and the aftermath of horrible shit, and then shows you some of the most heartbreaking moments you’ll ever see. The police station scene, the scene pictured above, the scene at the end (‘I can’t beat it’)… it’s fucking heavy stuff. And yet, everyone in the movie is absolutely stunning and it’s just one of the best movies of the decade. It’s hard to watch, but you should do it. It’s cleansing for the soul to see this movie, as badly as it may hurt to actually watch all of it happen. It’s a really beautiful film and no list of essential or greatest films of this decade can be complete without this one.

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One response

  1. Agreed completely with everything you said about Lincoln. Spielberg hadn’t felt like Spielberg in quite some time. I would say before Lincoln the last Spielberg movie that felt like him was, gosh, probably War of the Worlds six years earlier? And Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible. It’s ridiculous how effortlessly he does what he does, or at least, it comes across that way.

    Arrival is probably among my favorite films of the 21st century. Bradford Young’s cinematography is exquisite, and Amy Adams is lovely. I’m a sucker for a “thinker” film.

    August 5, 2020 at 5:31 pm

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