Friday, December 27, 2019

The 100 Best Movies of the Decade: PART THREE OF FOUR!

I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic as I’ve continued this countdown and its been fun remembering where I was in life when I first saw lots of these movies. Let’s go ahead and keep going. We are heading into the Top Fifty now!

50. Gravity (2013, dr. Alfonso Cuaron, scr. Alfonso & Jonas Cuaron)

I like to believe that we go to the movies to be equally provoked and equally entertained. Its amazing to sit on the edge of your seat in awe of something you see. Something you’d never thought you’d see. An image that you could only envision in the depths of your imagination. That is always amazing. When you add arguably two of the hottest actors of their generation and a timely story of survival against impossible odds, “Gravity” adds much more to the viewing experience. No, this is not “Castaway” in space. At least, I never thought of it that way. It’s a cascade of visual art and engrossing storytelling that has stuck with me all decade long.

49. Midsommar (2019, dr./scr. Ari Aster)

This was the movie I was most engaged in during 2019. It could have easily ended up an embarrassment because I would have hyped it up too much in my head, driving up expectation. Thankfully that didn’t happen. I’ve watched it a few times since the summer, and I can honestly say that it has stuck with me in a big way. I think the problem some people had with this movie was that they were expecting “Hereditary 2,” but “Midsommar” is a different film entirely. I wouldn’t call it a horror film. Ari Aster himself doesn’t call it a horror. This is a fairy tale, and if you know anything about the old-world fairy tales the Grimm brothers wrote, those original texts could be pretty dark at times. As Dani and her friends enter this Swedish Pagan community, we almost feel like we are being transported to a far away land. You may laugh, you may cry, you may be taken aback by the beautiful horror of the end, and you just might enjoy this more than you think.

48. BlackKklansman (2018, dr. Spike Lee, scr. Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, & Kevin Willmott)

47. Chi-Raq (2015, dr. Spike Lee, scr. Lee & Kevin Willmott)

I have grouped these two movies together because they were both made by Spike Lee. Lee is a very interesting director simply because he is constantly putting America under a microscope, which is probably why he is so controversial all the time. These two movies really speak to the times we are living now without ever once acting as if they are pandering. “BlackKklansman” is one of those true stories that is so crazy that nobody could have possibly made it up. A black police officer uses a white voice over the phone to gain access to the local Klan and uses his Jewish partner as a stand-in to stop a terrorist plot. The movie mostly plays and works like a quirky comedy, and some have criticized the use of Charlottesville footage at movie’s end. To me, the ending works though. Lee is showing us that for every foot forward we’ve made in race relations over the years, we’ve seemingly taken several steps backwards too. And that’s a hard fact to admit. In “Chi-raq,” several girlfriends of local Chicago gangs get together and vow to stop having sex with their boyfriends until all the city’s gangs call for a cease-fire and peace. Again, it looks like a quirky social satire at surface level, but what Lee is really saying that people on all sides of the political fence are going to have to come together and compromise if we are ever going to solve gun violence in our country. No, that doesn’t mean take the guns away, because that isn’t a realistic solution. But we need to see that mere “hopes and prayers” are stopping mass shootings. These are highly-provocative films, important films and they easily helped shape this decade and make sense of where we are as a nation right now.

46. A Ghost Story (2017, dr./scr. Robert Lowery)

This may look like a fairly typical “art film” if you just look at trailers. But what’s hidden underneath is an overwhelmingly emotional tale of love and loss. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play a couple living in a house, and they seem to have a happy life. Sadly, Affleck’s character dies but his spirit stays in the house for many years to come. Instead of using wild CGI, director Robert Lowery simply puts a white sheet over Affleck’s head and its visually impressive how much emotion Affleck can emote under a simple bed sheet. How time passes and what we do with time in general is going to be a big, overall theme to this list and the movie has some ideas that will make your brain grind. It’s a small film but its also a masterpiece.

45. The Revenant (2015, dr. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, scr. Inarritu & Mark L. Smith)

Henry Glass is one of those figures in history that you rarely (if you ever really) hear about, but is so interesting that you can’t believe that we don’t get five movies a year about. On one level, “The Revenant” may look like a simple revenge movie with several good actors in it, featuring some very pretty pictures. Yes, its true Emmanuel Lubezki is probably the most gifted cinematographer working today. But the movie is a powerful reminder of a part of ourselves that strives to be one with nature. It is beautiful and daring in way many revenge movies simply can’t. This also awarded Leonardo DiCaprio his first and much deserved Oscar. It is a performance that should rank very high on his greatest performances of his career list.

44. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019, dr./scr. Quentin Tarantino)

In speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, I guess when you’ve given one of the performances of your career, its only fitting that you go off and have some fun. Which is exactly what he did. But this isn’t simply Tarantino goofing off, just like many of his films aren’t. Tarantino made a movie that really defines the decade. This is a movie about how a certain era of Hollywood died, just like it seemed like an era died recently and we didn’t see it happening around us. Tarantino uses his usual flair (and his squiring of history) to tell something entertaining but also asking if we really understand what’s going on in pop culture right now.

43. Hereditary (2018, dr./scr. Ari Aster)

Elevated horror. That’s a phrase that comes up quite a bit when discussing Ari Aster’s big debut film. What was the secret of Aster’s film that put so many people under its spell? I am not sure, and I’ll bet Aster doesn’t know either. All I can guess is that he’s a natural for the genre and everyone noticed. Aster is interested to making art that hurts, which was painfully missing from horror for a very long time. He made a movie that taps into something specific. The idea of our families failing us is an incredibly scary thing. I don’t get into this much on my personal blog but, I am adopted and I am happy to report that I was adopted into a wonderful home as a baby. I have a loving family. I know that isn’t always the case. I could have been abused and neglected and I am happy I wasn’t. I know I am not the only adopted child to get good parents and I know some kids’ biological parents can be abusive and neglectful. That’s the horror Aster is getting to, in a heightened way you can only find in horror. The final twenty minutes of the movie have yet to be rivaled in modern horror. It plays out as joyous and victorious, but what is being celebrated is equally awful. It’s a wonderful horror film and the scares are still fresh.

42. Uncut Gems (2019, dr. Josh & Benny Safdie, scr. Josh & Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein)

Yep. I know I’ve only watched this a mere couple days ago, but its such an unflinching experience that I couldn’t help but include it on this list. It’s so much more than “Hey, Adam Sandler is doing something serious for a change!” Its an amazing portrait of how addiction can trap us in a very dangerous life, and for some people, too late is something you can’t see. There are many unexpected great performances in the movie and it only adds to the gritty flavor the Safdie brothers create here. Who knows? Maybe I’ll look back in the next ten years and wonder what the hell I was thinking ranking this movie so high after only seeing it once. But I feel its one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments, an instant recognition of something great, something I’ll revisit many times in the future.

41. Inside Out (2015, dr. Pete Docter, scr. Docter, Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley)

Overall, Pixar Studios acted like they wanted to take a backseat in the creativity field during much of the 2010’s. Their decade is, quite literally, littered with sequels and prequels that, quite frankly, nobody was truly asking for. Even stuff like “Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur,” both great movies, didn’t quite hit like the punch to the heart typical Pixar movies hit in the late 90’s and throughout the 2000’s. So, by the time “Inside Out” made it to theaters, I wasn’t expecting much. So, color me surprised when I walked out of the theater completely knocked flat. Yes, the movie is cute and clever in equal measure. But story is key in the best of Pixar, and when they really let loose, its unrelenting.

40. The Hateful Eight (2015, dr./scr. Quentin Tarantino)

Imagine if Quentin Tarantino didn’t make “Reservoir Dogs” first in 1992. Imagine if he waited and got his big break with something else. Imagine if he decided to make “Reservoir Dogs” in 2015 with over ten years of filmmaking experience under his belt. That’s “The Hateful Eight.” (Not trying to badmouth “Reservoir Dogs” at all, great movie. Just imagine how awesome it’d be if it were made by Tarantino right now, though)

39. First Reformed (2017/2018 dr./scr. Paul Shrader)

There are many conversations regarding science versus faith and I can’t think of another movie that was so at odds with that ongoing debate than “First Reformed.” Ethan Hawke plays the leader of a dwindling church, he’s also a pastor suffering from his own demons. When a wife worried about his husband asks the pastor to council him, he learns that the husband wants his wife to abort the baby, because he can’t imagine raising a child that will meet such a cruel end as climate change. This isn’t an agenda movie; this is a movie about a crisis of conscience. Should the religious refuse the views of backing science simply because it doesn’t fit their narrative. What does God truly think of his creations destroying his creation? Should we feel guilt that we are using the free will God gave us to destroy the planet He gave us to live on? But don’t worry folks, this isn’t a preachy movie. It’s a character study about how a person who has lived in faith as far as he can remember sees that faith slowly begin to crack. It’s a brilliant performance by Ethan Hawke and a tremendous motion picture.

38. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dr. Wes Anderson, scr. Anderson, Stefan Zweig & Hugo Guinness)

It seems every time Wes Anderson sits down to make a movie, he’s going to continually push his visual eye, is ear for deadpan humor and his creation of these wacky, whimsical worlds so many memorable characters call home. After playing so many serious roles and villains, to see Ralph Fiennes let loose in a world created by Anderson is truly one for the ages, easily one of the greatest delights in his brilliant filmography. Yes, Anderson has a knack for getting great performances out his usual all-star casts, but Fiennes zigs every time you think he’s going to zag and it makes all the difference. When the right actor makes the right choices and clashes with a director’s vision in just the right way, it can elevate a movie to greater heights.

37. Thunder Road (2018, dr./scr. Jim Cummings)

I don’t want this to sound bad so I want to carefully word what I am going to say about this movie and why it works. Sometimes, its tough being a guy. I am NOT trying to say its tougher being a guy than it is being anything else, but being a guy can be tough sometimes. It seems toxic masculinity has slowly flowed into our culture like a stream, and what defines a “real man” is also being rewritten. Growing up, I can tell you I bought into the notion that boys don’t show emotion, boys don’t cry, boys have to be the brave ones with no fear. Jim Cummings, who stars as the lead, wrote the script, directed the movie and got the funding using fringe channels, expertly paints a portrait of a man whose life is falling apart, and he doesn’t have the skills to know what to do about it. It’s a movie that Cummings really should have got all the awards attention earlier this year. Yes, boys should be brave, bold and protective but they also need to be able to navigate their own emotions. It’s a powerful statement from a movie, and when you can shake out a laugh, even better.

36. Cloud Atlas (2012, dr./scr. Tom Tykwer, Lilly Wachowski & Lana Wachowski)

As I’ve read through other “Best of the Decade” lists throughout the last few weeks, I am always a little surprised by some of the movies getting snubbed. I can’t believe that I’ve barely seen this beautiful fever dream of a movie on many of the other lists I’ve read. “Cloud Atlas” is big, and bold and aggressively told. A movie that doesn’t feel like anything else you’ve ever seen. A beautiful, bracing odyssey through time and how the smallest of acts can lead to major shifts in the world. Watching Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Bill Whilshaw, and especially Halle Berry playing multiple characters throughout several generations was something of a marvel.

35. Bodied (2017/2018, dr. Joseph Kahn, scr. Alex Larsen)

We at war with responsibility, not with language. What looks like a quirky movie about a white, progressive college student looking at underground rap battling as a thesis subject, slowly turns into a thesis on how freedom of speech really works in this country and how all media can twist any subject and form its own “truth.” This was produced by Eminem, and even with all the people working around this movie, I can’t believe that a big studio never picked it up. It’s a damn shame that this movie found on home on YouTube, so I hope it ranking this high will equally shame all studios for not taking a chance on this difficult yet entertaining film.

34. Zero Dark Thirty (2012, dr. Kathryn Bigelow, scr. Mark Boal)

What could have easily been a quick and easy cash-in on what is arguably the biggest story of the 21st Century thus far ends up becoming a methodical and unblinking look at a ten-year, exhausting manhunt. Jessica Chastain does the best work of her career so far as Maya, a CIA analyst who became responsible for catching Osama bin Laden. The film works like a piece of journalism, which makes it a step up on the karaoke version of the story that a lesser director would attempt. Any time a movie matters much more than you could possibly imagine, that’s a special movie.

33. Room (2015, dr. Lenny Abrahamson, scr. Emma Donoghue)

A mother named Joy (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Trembley) live in a small room where they share the basic pleasantries. The room is the only world Jack really knows and as the movie begins, it’s a little confusing what is wrong and why they are living in a room. When the horrible truth is discovered by the audience, it fairly shocking. Larson and Trembley play it straight, up through when Joy decides to evade her captors and make her way to her family’s house. It’s a movie about coping, small victories and the willpower to never give up. Larson has never been as great as she is here.

32. The Irishman (2019, dr. Martin Scorsese, scr. Steve Zaillan)

Every single decade, Martin Scorsese is rewriting the definition of the gangster movie. Every single decade, we are richer for it.

31. Enemy (2013, dr. Denis Villeneuve, scr. Javier Gullon)

Easily the greatest mind-fuck of the entire decade and I thought we weren’t getting as we did last decade. Jake Gyllenhaal does double duty playing a college professor who rents a movie on a whim, only to see an actor in the movie who looks exactly like him. The mystery of his doppleganger is the mystery of the movie and this was the funniest movie conversation nobody had this decade. This was a movie everybody should see. Its mysterious and daring and dangerous. Yes, Gyllenhaal has solidified himself as Hollywood’s greatest weirdo.

30. Drive (2011, dr. Nicolas Winding Refn, scr. Hossein Amini)

If Michael Mann had the ability to travel back in time, he would have made “Drive” back in the 1980’s. Although, I am not sure he would have hyper-fetishized the violence on the level Refn does. But, despite what the naysayers would tell you, “Drive” is much more than empty style. It’s a gritty crime thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. But its also a study on whether or not monsters ever really find salvation. Ryan Gosling can project several different emotions by simply giving an expression or making a face. Great performances all around by some of the best actors in the business, and a wicked case of crazy violence and style, “Drive” is one for the ages. It also has my vote for the very best movie soundtrack of the decade. Such great music.

29. Blade Runner 2047 (2017, dr. Denis Villeneuve, scr. Hampton Fancher & Michael Green)

It was a decade full of sequels nobody asked for, but within all of that one of the best unexpected sequels of the decade also became one of the most brilliant. “Blade Runner 2047” is a marvelous expansion of the world Ridley Scott created in 1982, delicately honoring the material. I’m sure the temptation to answer one of popular culture’s biggest question made the filmmakers’ skin crawl. But honestly, they were smart enough to not even go there. There’s a wildly original storyline being told here, with some awesome, state-of-the-art special effects on display. It’s a remarkable meditation of a movie and will hopefully go down as one of the best sequels of all time.

28. Inception (2010, dr./scr. Christopher Nolan)

The biggest mind-bending, action-packed thrill ride of the decade and still holds up. Even today. Yes, Nolan showed some things we’ve never seen before. Things no other director really could. But what makes “Inception” stick isn’t its dreamy gimmick. The hook is the story around Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard, and how the guilt of a failed relationship sticks with you. Also how we will do anything to get back to the people we love, no matter what. Yes, the original score is still in my head all this time, but the characters and their journey is always what’s most important to me.

27. Us (2019, dr./scr. Jordan Peele)

Yep, it’s a greater accomplishment then Peele’s much lauded first venture, “Get Out.” And I don’t want that to be knack on “Get Out” because that movie is amazing. Jordan Peele is clearly a pop culture nerd and I love that “Us” is equal parts creepy and silly. But its even more than that. Our culture is at a particular boiling point, so much so that I genuinely worry about the future. The only way we overcome this overwhelming problem is if we get together and tackle the problem ourselves. We put ourselves in this mess, and it will be up to us to get ourselves out of it. Lupita N’yongo deserves all the attention this awards season, a truly savage and unforgettable performance. If she doesn’t get the Lead Actress Oscar this winter, the Academy is just plain wrong. I know art is subjective, but the Academy will be wrong.

26. Manchester By The Sea (2016, dr./scr. Kenneth Lonergan)

Up until I saw this movie, I couldn’t think of a better film that really captures how random and powerful memory truly is. Anything, no matter how subtle, can provoke a memory. Sometimes those memories are good and sometimes they are terrible. Casey Affleck gives life to Lee Chandler, and he finds himself giving a caretaker position for his nephew when his brother passes. The thing is, he can barely take care of himself. His soul lost the will to live after a horrific tragedy and just decided not to tell the rest of his body. The movie’s big hook is, can Lee get over his grief to be a solid caretaker for his nephew? It’s also a bold study on how nothing prepares us for grief and just how powerful a feeling it is. As a recent parent, this movie hits harder than it did on my initial screening. Because if I was responsible for what Lee does in this movie, I don’t know how I’d even get up the next morning. How do you move on? It’s brilliant acting on Affleck’s part, and there’s a moment in particular that gets me everytime, breaking me into a cold sweat. “Manchester By The Sea” may not be the most sunshiney movie to come out this decade, but its importance is sewn on its sleeve.

You know what that means. Only 25 more left. I can't believe we've finally got here. I hope you've enjoyed the list up to this point and I hope you just as excited to see the final 25 as I am to write it!

Just in case you missed it...Part One is here! Part Two is here!

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