Mike’s Top 100 Films of the Decade (30-21)

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:

30. Prisoners

The arrival (pun ridiculously intended) of Denis Villeneuve. Primarily a filmmaker of foreign films like Incendies and Polytechnique, he makes his move over to America with one of the most intense films I saw this decade. A simple, yet incredibly complex tale of violence and trauma. As I say with seemingly all of Villeneuve’s films, it’s a story that, in the hands of another director, would not be nearly as powerful as it is here. Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard’s daughters get kidnapped. All signs seemingly point to Paul Dano, a local disabled man who drives a distinctive van. But when an alibi is found and Dano is released, Jackman refuses to accept it and takes matters into his own hands. It’s a stunning film. Roger Deakins shoots the hell out of it, Villeneuve focuses on the more philosophical and human drama elements than the action and violence. The climactic action scene of the film is a car racing through traffic in the rain, and it’s more thrilling than 95% of every Marvel sequence I’ve ever seen. Jackman gives one of the best performances of his career as does Jake Gyllenhaal, who really changed the trajectory of his career with this. It’s one of those films I thankfully see on the lists of best films of the decade, but I’m not sure how widely it’s really seen by people. I feel like the right people have seen this, but I’m still not sure how much widely it is by the general populace. So hopefully it continues getting out there, because this movie is incredible and, among Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner, is Villeneuve’s best fil.

29. Les Misérables

When considering the greatest stage musicals of all time, this has to be somewhere in the top ten, if not top five. The songs, from top to bottom, are incredible. I’m not remotely qualified when it comes to stage musicals, but I feel like most people would agree on that. Tom Hooper, coming off The King’s Speech, obviously turned this into an event film. And it being a sung-through musical and being incredibly suited for cinema as it is to the stage (the book being adapted many times before), Hooper took some interesting roads in telling it. Not everyone loved those choices, particularly having the actors sing live on camera and using single takes in certain moments to capture the acting as well as the singing. Which, to me, is what really makes this one of those musicals that best translates the material to the screen. I’m not as familiar with the show to know just what was cut out from it, but I do know that, as someone who loves musicals on film, this was an incredible experience. I love watching the actors perform these incredible songs — Jackman with “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” Hathaway with “I Dreamed a Dream,” Samantha Barks with “On My Own” and Eddie Redmayne with “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” being the real highlights. I love the scale of the film, I love everything about it. I know it’s not a consensus top film of the decade, but I gotta be honest about what I love, and this is one of those films I really love.

28. Ford v Ferrari

Now this is a movie. Capital M. I love movies like this. They’re so rewatchable. There’s something about them that makes you want to watch them whenever they’re on TV, no matter what point they’re at, all the way to the end. This is one of the most recent films on this list, and of the ones from 2019, I’ve probably watched this one the most already. Because it’s so easy to watch. It’s well-directed, thoroughly entertaining, the actors are great, the story is engrossing. It’s the total package. And what I love most about this above everything else is that, apart from the main story of Le Mans ’66, and seeing Shelby and Miles make this car and get Ford in a position to best Ferrari, who had dominated the race, the film is also a metaphor for creative people dealing with corporate overlords. It’s basically a metaphor for making movies. The creatives who want to make something for the purest form, because they love the art of it, dealing with the studio bosses and the bureaucracy involved, constantly butting in and making changes and forcing impositions and compromises and rules onto them, trying to make the product something they can take credit for, designed to make the most amount of money for them. And it’s a constant battle between the two. That’s the real film. Shelby and Miles vs. Ford more than it is Ford v Ferrari. And I love that I can read the film that way while also enjoying it for what it is. Because James Mangold is one of our most underrated directors. He makes incredible films every time out and really doesn’t get the credit that some of his contemporaries do. Pound for pound, truly this is one of my favorite films of the decade.

27. Interstellar

I said it since this came out — I think this is a better film than Inception. Dunkirk is a better directorial effort than this is, but I like this one better. Just because of all the great stuff it gives you thematically. What makes this a better film than Inception to me is the emotion it brings. You actually care about the characters. You see why the story matters, rather than being given a bunch of cool stuff and then being told, “And this is why you should care.” You see that Matthew McConaughey is leaving his family for the betterment of the planet. You see the struggle he makes in leaving them behind. And so whenever anything happens — like on the water planet when he realizes he’s lost far more time than he anticipated losing — it matters, and you care about it. Plus the visuals are absolutely insane. It’s a stunning film. Hoyte van Hoytema is a masterful cinematographer. And Nolan brings his usual terrific cast to bear in this one. I will admit that I kinda like the idea of him leaving it vaguer at the end, ending it with McConaughey floating into space instead of the epilogue, but I get why he had to end it where he did. It doesn’t diminish the film for me. I think, as a complete experience, it’s so much more satisfying than most of Nolan’s other films and remains one of his absolute best.

26. The Big Short

I really wasn’t expecting this one when they announced it. Adam McKay was the Anchorman guy. Who made goofy comedies with Will Ferrell. What was he doing making a movie like this? It’s kinda like when I heard that the Dumb and Dumber guy was making a movie with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. How could that possibly be a serious awards contender? And yet, here we are. On both counts. But specifically here, McKay takes aim at the 2008 financial crisis and what brought us there. He dumps a lot of information and concepts at us, stuff most people wouldn’t and didn’t understand or care to try to understand if it was told to them in a documentary or news piece. So in trying to make it both palatable and entertaining for audiences, McKay creates a whole new narrative style here, one I’ve really never seen before that somehow fits perfectly. He shoots it docudrama style but also includes a lot of comedy and snappy editing, along with a Goodfellas-style narrative that somehow romanticizes the narrative in the way that keeps you entertained, but also maintains the seriousness of what happened there and even manages to bring you down to the appropriate level by the time the film ends. And he does these great fourth wall-breaking little sequences where famous people explain the concepts to you (Margot Robbie in the bubble bath, Selena Gomez playing blackjack, Anthony Bourdain making fish stew). It’s brilliant. And the film just completely works on every conceivable level. It’s so damn rewatchable. I’m stunned at how nearly perfect this movie is and remain in awe of it every time I watch it. Good for him for making something that’s both entertaining, informative and (hopefully) makes you appropriately mad at how badly the big banks and corporate America have fucked us over (and continue to).

25. If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins has released two films this decade, and both of them are masterpieces. He made two films this decade and both are in my top 25. Which is insane. And shows you just how brilliant a director Jenkins is. Everyone knows and saw Moonlight, but not as many (and not nearly enough) people saw this. It’s a stunning achievement about love and about race in America. Kiki Layne and Stephan James are both movie stars, Regina King is divine and Colman Domingo is one of this film’s many secret weapons. It’s stunningly shot, both evoking Moonlight but also becoming its own thing, both visually and thematically. There’s a scene in the middle of the film with Brian Tyree Henry that is absolutely stunning. Honestly I could go on talking about this film for hours. Just see it if you haven’t. There is no excuse for anyone who purports to love film to not have seen this movie.

24. Room

Somehow I knew this was gonna be a special film for me when I first saw its trailer. I looked back and saw that I’d previewed it and seemed really excited for it, and yet I don’t recall ever really considering this until I saw that trailer, which was really close to when I saw it for the first time. I ended up at an opening night screening with a Q+A with Lenny Abrahamson afterward. And I remember watching the film and just being stunned by how beautiful it was. Because Abrahamson creates this really captivating film that exists within this 10×10 space for the first 30-40 minutes. And you just settle into the space really quickly and really easily. And you’re just invested in that. Largely due to the amazing performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. And then the film becomes something else for about 15 minutes, and then it becomes something else for the rest of it (and even then, there’s two separate parts to that, hers and his). I absolutely love everything about this movie. From everything in Room, to the escape sequence, to all the home stuff. There’s a simple beauty to the film, where even the smallest of moments means something. I cry every time at, “I love you, Grandma.” It’s so beautiful. My top 25 would not be complete without this film.

23. Kubo and the Two Strings

This movie is a masterpiece. What a huge step forward for Laika. Their other films (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, even Missing Link) are ones I’ve always liked and respected for their artistry, but this one achieves something so far beyond that. I can’t even explain what it is about this one that I love so much, but I really go for this one in a big way. The animation is stunning, the story is wonderful, the voice acting is great, and overall, I just love the characters and the journey. Apparently not everyone feels this way, but truly, this is really close to being my favorite animated film of the decade, and came damn close to being the #1 film of its year for me. That’s how much I love this movie.

22. The Florida Project

Sean Baker. What a voice. What a filmmaker. I liked Tangerine as something new and different, and how energetic and vital it felt the way he shot it and the way he told the story of a community that never gets shown in films. And so going into this one, I assumed it would be more of the same. But I really wasn’t expecting it to be this great. I imagine most people have at least heard of this and a fair amount have seen it, but just in case you need the extra nudge into going to see this — it’s about a motel just outside of Disney World, where a young girl lives with her single mother. A lot of low income families live in the motel for its low rates. And so we follow the girl over the course of a summer as she gets into various mischief, makes friends… you know, kid stuff. And we also follow the building’s super (Willem Dafoe) as he deals with all of this stuff going on. It’s… a weird slice of life movie that I promise you is ten times more captivating than you ever think it’s going to be and really elevates itself to something so far above the story it’s telling. The cast is full of non-actors and non-professional actors and somehow Dafoe fits right in with them like a glove. And Baker shoots the film largely like any other film, eschewing his Tangerine/iPhone style, until one very particular and pointed moment, which I’ve said before led to someone in the theater when I saw this to audibly say, “Oh wow.” And I say that because that person was not the type of person who would normally go for this movie. So I feel like, if that person can feel that way about this movie, anyone can. Because it really is a masterpiece.

21. Lady Bird

God, do I love this movie. Greta Gerwig really hit a home run her first time out as director. She tells a story that is incredibly personal to her, and yet feels like it’s entirely universal, even if you weren’t a girl born in Sacramento and grew up in the 90s. I related to so much of this story in such a deep way. Saoirse Ronan is perfect, as is Laurie Metcalf. And the rest of the cast is equally wonderful alongside them, but largely it’s the two of them who carry the day here. I really can’t tell you just how much I love this movie. I think we’ve all seen it and know how great it is, but trust me when I tell you this — to not see this movie is to be missing out on one of the greatest films of the decade.

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