Mike’s Top 100 Films of the Decade (20-11)
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:
It’s an abject masterpiece. This is Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece. He’s made two films this decade and both are in this top 20. The man makes incredible films. This is loosely the story of his childhood, of a middle-class family in Mexico in the 70s, told through the eyes of the family housekeeper. It’s just a stunning film. I’m not gonna try to sell people on this one. It’s not gonna tickle everyone’s fancy. But truly the filmmaking here is some of the best you will ever see, and regardless of whether you love this film or not, it’s something that anyone who loves film as an art form needs to have seen.
19. Inside Llewyn Davis
I’m not quite there yet, but I’m pretty sure that if you give me a few more years, this might become my #1 film for its year. Right now it’s #2, and #1 for its year is coming right up after it. Like I said… not there yet, but real damn close. I love this movie. This might be in my top five Coen brothers movies (it’s a tough call, since they’ve made so many great ones. But Barton Fink, True Grit, Fargo, Lebowski, O Brother and this. That’s six, and depending on the day, this makes the top five). This made a star of Oscar Isaac, even though I’m pretty sure almost no one saw it. It’s so very Coen brothers in that it takes such glee in putting its protagonist through hell, yet has a very distinct humor about the whole thing. The film is essentially a week in the life of this guy, yet in watching it you get the sense that every one of his weeks is like this. It’s stunningly shot (one of the few Coen brothers films since Barton Fink not shot by Roger Deakins), has incredible performances, incredible music and is just one of those movies I can keep watching over and over and over again. But I kinda said all that when I said it was really close to being my #1 for its year and when I put it at #19 for the entire decade. Mostly I just want to tell people that this is one of the Coens’ best films, and I’m not sure how widely watched this is as compared to all their other stuff.
It’s interesting seeing how this film’s been aging. Because I feel like people are either ignoring or have forgotten just what it was like to see this film in a theater when it came out (or they didn’t, which has influenced how they feel about it). Because this is one of those movies… it blows you away when you first see it. It’s a real experience. The visual and sound landscape is something I’d never seen before on the screen. It’s really incredible. The story is also very simple and that’s kind of its strength. Astronaut gets detached and begins floating away into space and has to survive. It doesn’t get more immediate than that. There aren’t any bell and whistles on it. It’s just that. And it’s amazing. And I get that it’s not as socially important as other films of its year, and I get that it’s not the sexiest choice ever, but it is one of the best films of the decade. And I’ll admit, even I’m not immune to losing steam on this one. I have it above Llewyn Davis now, but I’m sure over time it’ll probably recede behind it. But even so, as a pure achievement, you can’t not call this one of the best of the decade. And it’s funny because for a minute there, this was Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece. And then he made Roma. But nevertheless, it is a masterpiece of filmmaking.
17. Inside Out
I might go out on a limb and say this has a chance at being the best film Pixar’s ever made. I’m not going out on that limb currently, but it’s feasible that I could go out on that limb and feel well-supported. I still really adore Wall-E, and my discussion of their best film would largely center around either that or this, but I do think this is among the best they’ve ever done. It’s such a beautiful film. I remember seeing this in 3D for some reason for the first time (I think I didn’t realize it was gonna be 3D and they gave me the glasses when I showed up) and just straight up crying while wearing the glasses. I love this one. Because they always find a way with these original stories to get at the heart of real emotion. This is a film about growing up and how life throws complicated emotions at us and sometimes it’s hard to process them. And we see that with the main character moving to a new city and having to adjust to a new life, as well as inside, when we see her own feelings go through this period of change. It’s a beautiful metaphor for existence, and the complexity of the narrative on top of Pixar’s usual incredible visuals and storytelling (and the score!). You always know you’ve got a great Pixar movie when, no matter who you are, they find a way to make you cry. And here, you only have to say two words: Bing Bong. This movie is perfect.
16. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I fucking love this movie so much. There was almost no way this wasn’t gonna make the top 20 for me. I think about this movie so often. I love John le Carré, I love all the stuff they make from his novels. I’m also a big, big fan of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which is technically a sequel to this and also features the George Smiley character. But I also love Gary Oldman, so him being Smiley in this was a match made in heaven for me. I remember excitedly running to a theater to see this because I knew it was gonna be one of my favorite films of the year. The cast is also tremendous, and Tomas Alfredson directs the hell out of it. It’s got this beautiful grainy 70s look and really operates on its own pace. And I love it. I love everything about it. It’s a perfect movie to me. I almost don’t want them to make a sequel because this is such a prefect entity, but I also want more of Oldman as Smiley. Plus, each book is its own thing, so I don’t even think they can tarnish this.
One of the most overlooked great Martin Scorsese movies. I know people tend to focus on the crime films, and then he’s got his ones with Leo like Gangs and Aviator and Wolf of Wall Street, but the other stuff generally never gets properly appreciated. Especially when he does something different, genre-wise. Like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore or The Age of Innocence. He has the religious trilogy, so while Kundun doesn’t get talked about or Last Temptation really isn’t the first thing you bring up, this one being a kids movie really never gets talked about. Because I think people dismiss kids movies, for one, and I think that while we did appreciate this in the moment, no one ever goes back to this. Or… and I’m finding this as being quite a big thing: no one actually saw this in 3D in the theaters. Because you forget… he shot this in 3D. And at the time, 2011, all we really had for 3D was Avatar, Transformers 3 and maybe like, a Resident Evil movie. Everything else was post-converted or was shitty ‘throw stuff at your face 3D’ and didn’t really take the artistry into account. And in this movie, Scorsese accomplishes more with 3D filmmaking within sixty seconds than anyone else ever had. Maybe I’ll give Avatar a bit more time. But my point stands. It’s incredible what he does here. And if you didn’t see it that way to begin with (kinda like with Gravity in the theater), you really don’t understand just what a masterpiece of filmmaking this is.
Plus, what I also love about this — apart from being a very kid-friendly adventure about an orphan living in a train station and fixing all the clocks and searching for clues by a mystery left by his dead father — it’s really a love letter to cinema. Particularly early silent cinema. It’s incredible the lessons he puts in this film. Because it’s aimed at children. And you rarely get exposed to stuff like Méliès when you’re young. Hell, most people don’t get exposed to it even if they get into movies. Most movie fans will understand A Trip to the Moon, but they won’t really know anything past that, or what a huge pioneer Méliès was and the impact he’s had on cinema. So to see the movie straight up stop and not only give you a full on history lesson but also do this gorgeous recreation of how movie magic is made… that, to me, is priceless. That has stuck with me all these years so much more than the actual story of the film, which is also quite wonderful. I think people aren’t giving this one a fair shake, just because it’s not Goodfellas or all the other stuff that people really love out of Marty. I think this is truly one of his best pieces of work and really ought to be discussed among the others people put in that upper echelon of his films.
14. The Revenant
I know this isn’t for everyone. But fortunately almost everyone saw it, which is enough. But this — this is exactly my kinda movie. Another one I couldn’t fathom my top 20 without. I remember knowing this was happening and being excited for it, and then I read the script about six months beforehand, which made me really excited for it. The more time goes by, the more I love this movie. I love how Iñarritu directed it, I love how Chivo shot it. I love every second of it. It’s one of those perfect movies for me. Because the setting, the imagery, it’s all entirely suited to what I love most. So yeah, I love this and there was no chance I was leaving it out of my top 20.
13. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I’m so glad this did as well as it did. In Bruges took a few years but now everyone acknowledges how amazing that movie is. This one got that almost immediately. (Still waiting on Seven Psychopaths to come around, but I also understand why that one hasn’t as compared to the other two.) Martin McDonagh… I have my little pantheon of current writers, whose stuff is just far and above everyone else’s for me. It’s Sorkin, Quentin, Kaufman, McDonagh. We can figure out five later. But those four are the ones for me. So this one… this is pure McDonagh in such a primal way. He unleashes Frances McDormand on the world in a way few films ever get to unleash her. He gives Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson these amazing characters to work with. Every scene he writes here is just perfect. It’s so funny and so brutal. There are some devastating moments in this movie, to go along with some of the funniest moments. No list of my favorite films of the decade would be complete without this in the top 20.
It’s Moonlight. Who doesn’t have this movie in the top 20 for the decade? It’s a masterpiece. I knew it the minute I sat down to watch it in the theater. I saw all the love for it start to boil up and I know how I react when I see that public ‘narrative’ (to use a shitty, overused phrase) start to build (because it’s all publicity and movie sites trying to get clicks that perpetuate these things, and people take it in and perpetuate it because that’s what they’re supposed to do), so I went to the theater earlier than I might normally to see it before I started developing an inclination to not like it (because I can’t stand whenever anyone tells me what to think about a movie, good or bad). And I’ll be honest, within about ten minutes I knew I was watching something special. It just felt different. And you knew something magical was going on. At this point, there’s nothing I can say about this movie that hasn’t already be said. This is such an obvious choice for this spot, all I’m doing is reiterating what we all know — that this is, at the very least, one of the best movies of the decade.
Damien Chazelle, man. Hard to make a more auspicious debut than this one. (Okay, granted, like with Barry Jenkins, his debut wasn’t really his debut, since they both had festival movies in 2008/2009, but still.) I think we all knew immediately upon watching this that it was something incredible. Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons — is there someone who doesn’t love this movie? I feel like this is one of the most consensus films we’ve had this decade. I was gonna end on a ‘my tempo’ joke, but honestly — done that already. I just love this movie, and while it’s a shame it falls just outside my top ten, I’m also aware at how little my rankings matter. So who’s to say that in a few years this doesn’t jump up into that top ten? The fact that I just listed 500 favorite films and this is #11 says all it really needs to say.
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