Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 50 Films of the Decade.

This is the first decade in which I was an adult the whole time, and I'm not sure if that makes me more or less qualified to arbitrarily rank films. I do know that I watched over eight hundred movies this decade and liked at least three of them, so I at minimum have a thorough library to pull from. I also put out a top ten list every year this decade so I've had an easier time keeping track of the films I watched. I wish I'd had that frame of reference when haphazardly throwing together my top 50 of the 2000's ten years ago. It's fun to look back on those lists and wonder: What was I thinking when I ranked Chi-Raq my favorite film of 2015? Why did I initially have so much hatred towards 2010? In what year did I finally stop putting two spaces after a sentence?

So here are my top fifty films of the decade. These are the movies that have floated around in my head since their release. Some of them I didn't even initially like. Of course, there are plenty of terrible movies that have floated around in my head too, but I've spared you those. You'll notice a general lack of 2019 films, and I promise I've seen most of them. The only one that needs to be on this list is present, although maybe given some time a few more may have snuck on. There are also no documentaries or animated movies, because you don't need me to tell you those are good. Finally, there aren't any superhero movies (although Logan or Guardians of the Galaxy may have been close) because I tend to side with Scorsese—they're fun but forgettable. To be fair, I also feel that way about most of Scorsese's movies too.

50. Crazy, Stupid, Love
I'm going to sneak this one in at fifty. If I were a bit more objective, there are a few more deserving films for this spot, but this is my list and Crazy, Stupid, Love is permanently etched into my brain. Despite a few nauseatingly bad speeches about love, this movie about how Steve Carrell got his groove back is a very rewatchable romantic comedy that features Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone before they started singing, and perhaps the greatest villain of the decade: David Lindhagen.

49. Four Lions
There are a few comedies sprinkled throughout this list, but none of the others are about idiots trying to become suicide bombers. They aren't particularly religious, it just seems like the trendy thing to do. They spend their time strapping bombs to birds, listening to EDM music, and deciding whether or not they should blow up a mosque as a false flag operation. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other terrorism comedies—likely for good reason—yet, somehow jihad has never seemed so light-hearted.

48. Damsels In Distress
I will admit that this is here in part because Greta Gerwig deserves to be on this list somewhere. Frances Ha and 20th Century Women are also delightful. Damsels In Distress is less acclaimed than Gerwig's other works, but the entire point of the movie is deadpan humor, and that's what works for me. Gerwig and friends run the campus Suicide Prevention Center, attempt to start a dance craze, and try to provide soap to the dormitory residents in order to improve hygiene and prevent suicide. There's a vague plot, but it's mostly just one liners and silly, well-written rambling that makes me smile.

47. The Big Sick
It might seem daunting to make a romantic comedy in which the female lead is in a coma for half the film, but The Big Sick pulls it off by sneaking in some cultural and familial themes. Kumail, an aspiring stand up comedian, meets Emily, and they engage in romantic bliss for a while until Emily discovers that her and Kumail can never be together because his parents require him to marry a woman from Pakistan. Then she gets mysteriously ill, Ray Romano shows up, and Kumail—to falsely summarize—falls in love with her family which changes his mind. There's plenty of fun to be had in learning about other cultures this decade; see The Farewell or Crazy, Rich, Asians if you're seeking more.

46. Silver Linings Playbook
I absolutely hate the title of this film, and at times (during the film), I want to punch Bradley Cooper in the face, but I also can't get Jennifer Lawrence yelling sports statistics at Robert DeNiro out of my head, so that's why this movie is here. This movie is about how being depressed and bipolar is a lot easier to deal with if you look like Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper. It's also about how having a gambling addiction is a fun, light-hearted hobby that always works out. Ten years from now, I'm going to look at this list and wonder why this is here, but then I'll watch the movie and I'll understand again.

45. Burning
It's never really quite clear what is going on in Burning, and if you're a loser like me, you probably need to watch it twice to truly appreciate it. It's been creeping around my brain since I didn't include it in my 2018 top ten, and now it's landed in my top 50 of the decade. Hindsight, people. There's a romantic love triangle, some artistic burning of greenhouses, and a genre change or two. At this point, we should probably just all accept that if a South Korean film is easily accessible to us in America, it's probably great.

44. Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas takes place in six different time periods, with six different actors each playing six different roles of varying races and genders, and took three directors and 100 million dollars to make. You might as well see it, just because nothing like it is ever going to be made again. It's a delightfully ambitious mess; containing both a narrative in which clones attempt to overthrow the government and another where a group of old people try to escape from a retirement home. You'll probably hate it, but I don't care.

43. The Lure
How many times can you accidentally watch a movie before you have to include it in your top fifty? The answer appears to be about six, because I can't stop watching this Polish musical about pop star mermaids. This film is all style and has almost no plot, but every frame is pretty, moody and ludicrous. It's everything I wish Gaspar Noe movies were but never are. It's literally just about two mermaids who can temporarily grow feet in order to sing creepy songs, fall in love with human boys, and occasionally eat people.

42. Midnight In Paris
I still love this movie, but it's worn out over time. The ridiculous portrayals of 1920's auteurs like Hemingway and Dali will forever hold a place in my heart, but I need Woody Allen to stop having actors do a Woody Allen impression in his movies. Timothee Chalamet almost killed me in A Rainy Day in New York. Owen Wilson does mix in just enough Owen Wilson here, and Midnight in Paris is an original and well-written fairy tale about the dangers of nostalgic thinking. I hope I'm wrong, but after almost a decade of dull rehashes I'm going to guess that this is the last great film we'll see from Woody Allen.

41. Manchester By The Sea
Casey Affleck's primary job is to be sad. In A Ghost Story, he wandered around with a sheet on his head the entire time and still looked sad. Still, he's at his saddest in Manchester By The Sea; in which he plays a broken man who can barely take care of himself, burdened with the responsibility of taking care of his nephew. He can't do it. If you like movies about grief, anguish, and crippling self-loathing, then this is the movie for you! These are the movies I like. I'm sorry.

40. The Witch
The Witch is about a girl who pretends to be a witch to tease her siblings, and then gets accused of being a witch because people keep disappearing and her siblings are brats. It takes place in the 1600's, when people still believed in God, and thus everyone gets a little riled up. The period realism and bleak story of paranoia is probably outside your standard expectations of a horror movie, but stick around until the end and you'll spend at least three years thinking about it. In fact, it's probably better to think fondly of later than it is to watch again.

39. The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodovar's films are always worthwhile, and the excellent Pain and Glory will widely be considered his greatest work of this decade. However, I'm a bit unhinged and The Skin I Live In is my pick. What starts out as a story of a grieving scientist obsessed with creating the perfect skin graft, quickly tailspins into an Oldboy-level tale of revenge. This could have been a hack job of a film in the hands of another director, but Almodovar makes it beautifully bizarre and disgusting.

38. Ex Machina
If there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that robots, Google, or the uber rich will destroy us all. In the case of Ex Machina, all are a factor. The uber rich founder of the world's leading search engine invites Domhnall Gleeson to his massive compound to test out the AI he is working on. Gleeson, being a nerdy programmer, flirts with the robot and mind games ensue. Despite the high tech robot effects, the film remains rooted in its characters and the power struggle between them. Even mechanical women are evil.

37. Enemy
Denis Villeneuve has had quite the decade. He made Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049. In one decade. If you decided any of those films were one of your favorites of the decade, I wouldn't be mad. And while we will find another of his films (much) later in this list, let me take a moment to tell you that I finished watching Enemy, and then immediately watched the entire thing again. It's about Jake Gyllenhaul discovering that there is another Jake Gyllenhaul, and the rest of the movie he's trying to figure out why and how. There are also spiders. Enjoy.

36. Why Don't You Play In Hell?
Have you ever organized a sword battle between opposing Yakuza groups and hired an amateur filmmaker to film a movie about it starring your daughter in order to impress your recently paroled wife who went to jail for killing gang members in your defense? No? Well, director Sion Sono has more fun than you. I would like to point out, that despite the synopsis I've given, this is one of the least weird Sono films in existence. I need to stop thinking about Sono now, or The Forest of Love will end up on this list too.

35. Hell or High Water
Looking back on the last few entries, this is an abnormally normal film to include next. It's a simple story of two brothers robbing banks and trying to get away with it. By their logic, their just "robbing the bank that's been robbing them for thirty years," and most of their peers in the dying rural towns they pass through seem to agree. The action elements of the film are present but downplayed. The strength here is in character building and a good script. This is one of the few movies on this list I would recommend to just about anyone with no need for a disclaimer of any sort.

34. Take This Waltz
It's weird for me to call Take This Waltz a tiny drama, since the leads are Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, but about three people saw it in US theatres, so I will. Maybe everyone was sick of Seth Rogen in 2012—Michelle Williams sure is. Rogen plays a delightful chicken chef whose wife (Williams) spends her days flirting with the neighbor. It's a simple movie driven by strong performances and smart direction. Some day we'll find a man for Michelle Williams to stay with, but this wasn't her decade. She's already left two relationships throughout this list and there's one more to go.

33. Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaul is terrifying as Lou Bloom, a man looking for work who discovers he can film accidents and crime scenes and sell the footage to news networks. He quickly starts his own business, hires an intern he can amusingly take advantage of, and starts profiting off of other people's tragedy. He becomes increasingly unhinged and overaggressive, willing to do anything to get the right shot. This would have worked if it were just Gyllenhaul being terrifying, but it's also a very well-written thriller.

32. EMO: The Musical
First of all, I'm serious. Second of all, I watch a lot of random trash movies on Netflix and occasionally find brilliance. If people can sit through garbage like To All The Boys I've Loved Before, I need more people to see this ridiculous movie that I love way too much. All the characters are mostly just caricatures, so don't expect to be moved, but there are enough witty pokes at religion and high school stereotypes for everyone. It's like Glee before it got bad.

31. What We Do In The Shadows
I wish I could say that this was the best mockumentary of the decade, but the first season of American Vandal exists, so I can't. However, this tale of socially awkward vampires living together is the best one on film (or I guess it's all digital now, whatever). It spawned a TV spinoff that I didn't watch as well, so if you don't believe me, trust commerce. Rhys Darby makes a delightful appearance as the leader of a band of werewolves determined to cut back on their cursing (Werewolves not Swearwolves), but our friendly vamps remain the heart of the movie as they avoid vampire hunters and "The Beast."

30. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
I know. I hate Michael Cera too. But I love Kieran Culkin and Edgar Wright, so I have to overrule myself. The characters here are all shallow, but that seems to be consistent with the world they've created, and that's the only universe that Michael Cera really fits into. This is a ridiculous blend of videogame culture, vegan jokes, and CGI effects, but it all somehow works—even though the plot is that Michael Cera has to defeat all of his girlfriend's exes in battle if he is allowed to continue dating her.

29. Cabin In The Woods
There were plenty of self-aware horror comedies this decade—honorable mentions to Tucker and Dale Versus Evil and The Babysitter, but none quite hit home like Cabin in the Woods, which turned the rules of horror movies into a government ritual designed to save the planet from evil gods. If you think that's a spoiler, the movie came out in 2012, so it's your own fault. It's apparent from the start that strings are being pulled, but how much and what for slowly escalate as a basic horror flick becomes a self-aware comedy.

28. Mud
Jeff Nichols went a little off track for me with Loving and Midnight Special, but Take Shelter and Mud are two of the decade's best dramas.  Here we follow two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, as they meet a drifter named Mud, who is trying to reunite with the love of his life. Ellis is a sucker who believes in true love, and we watch as the adults around him slowly deflate his faith and ruin his childhood optimism. We also slowly wait for the inevitable and rewarding payoff of McConaughey removing his shirt.

27. Margin Call
You may not remember, but the economy crashed in 2008 and ruined a bunch of people's lives. Margin Call is about the board meeting that happened the night before everything came crumbling down, as an investment bank realizes that the economy is screwed, and does everything in their power to save themselves. You might not understand the intricacies, but you don't need to. If you want to, do a double feature with The Big Short and that will help.

26. The Guest
If Drive were a comedy, you'd get The Guest. Or Baby Driver, but let's not talk about that. A stranger visits the family of a fallen soldier that he served with and is invited to stay for a few days. While there, he beats up some high school bullies, terrifies a school principle, and encourages the youngest in the family to burn down people's houses. Also, a lot of synth pop music plays, and laughter ensues. The thriller element is a bit trite and plays out disappointingly, but for sheer ridiculous fun, The Guest is a solid pick.

25. Swiss Army Man
I think we've established that I prefer weird to average, so let's talk about the movie in which a talking, farting corpse is a main character. Paul Dano is alone on an island when he happens upon the corpse of Harry Potter, the titular corpse. The two engage on a series of conversations and adventures. The dialogue is both grossly hilarious and weirdly profound, and is best when Dano is attempting to explain the rules of society to his unaware corpse friend, or using his dead body as a useful tool. Corpses are surprisingly versatile.

24. Dogtooth
Dogtooth is about a family who have indoctrinated their children to believe all sorts of ridiculous things about the world and have closed them off from the rest of society. They are adults who play games of skill in order to win stickers. They think that airplanes fall out of the sky and into their backyard. They think that their brother ran away and was killed by cats. It's a twisted game of abuse that the parents appear to be orchestrating in order to make their children strong. But, as someone who will definitely perform psychological experiments on his children, this all seems a little much.

23. 21 Jump Street
I thought about moving this to #21 so it would look less awkward, but I'm sticking with my original and highly mathematical rankings. Let's all admit it. After a barrage of terrible reboots, this film had no business being good; but apparently the screenwriter knew this, flipped all the formulas and made one of the best comedies of the decade. Have Jonah Hill and C-Tates be best friends. Smart move. Put the jock in the nerd classes. Great job. Have all the kids at school be anti-bullying and obsessed with the environment. Not so original in film and TV now, but it was in 2012. "Science, bitches!"

22. About Time
Don't confuse this with a romantic comedy. It's a family drama. I know that it's about time travel, but it's not really about that either, okay? Sure, Tim can go back in time. But the whole point of the movie is that you don't really need to go back in time unless you need to have a quick chat with your dad. Richard Curtis has spent a lifetime riding the edge between genuine and sentimental, and while he always occasionally dips into sentiment, he's written a library of feel-good comedies, and this is his best one. Hell, I'll even admit I liked War Horse a little.

21. The Big Short
Probably more accessible than Margin Call even though it's more informational, The Big Short explains what exactly happened during the mortgage crisis, while dramatizing the stories of the people who saw it coming and capitalized on it. By the end of the film, you'll be cursing mortgage bankers and rating agencies, and you'll understand why you're so mad because Selena Gomez explained it to you with a blackjack metaphor. Also, there are a lot more likable characters than there are in Vice...

20. Mad Max: Fury Road
Believe it or not, I do like action movies. Edge of Tomorrow, The Raid: Redemption, and John Wick all did wonders this decade. Mad Max is another beast entirely. Practical effects always win out over CGI, so props to George Miller for not getting lazy. Couple the practical effects with the amount of character squeezed into what is essentially a two-hour car chase? We've got another reboot that blew all expectations out of the water.

19. La La Land
The first half of La La Land is a lot of fun and  perfectly adequate. And whenever I second guess myself on why I like this movie so much, I watch the last thirty minutes and I immediately remember. More magical than any musical number is Ryan Gosling rolling up to your house, honking his horn, and calling you a baby. I didn't expect a big budget musical to get bittersweet at the end, but it did—and tastefully. Chazelle also impressed with Whiplash this decade, but that's mostly just two grown men yelling at each other, so La La Land has more staying power.

18. It Follows
We all know sex is scary, but when you contract a sexually transmitted ghost it becomes terrifying. Sub-textually, it's also terrifying that even though all your male friends know you have a sexually transmitted ghost, they're still crawling all over each other to take it off your hands. The true genius of It Follows is the camerawork, which from the opening scene pans outward, never letting the viewer feel comfortable that they know which way the danger is coming from. See, I like real horror movies sometimes.

17. Weekend
It's a simple story of boy meets boy, boy sleeps with boy, boy interviews boy about his sexual exploits. Romance ensues. Weekend is simply two dudes getting to know each other over the course of a weekend, intimately capturing the beginning of a new relationship with the knowledge that one of them is leaving the country on Sunday. It's honest and smartly written. There's also less graphic scissoring then there was in Blue Is The Warmest Color which was also very good.

16. You Were Never Really Here
I'm not really sure why we needed Joker when Joaquin Phoenix had already portrayed a superior rendition of the character only a year prior. Phoenix is deeply troubled, obsessed with his mother, recovering from childhood trauma and loves beating the hell out of scumbags. Sound familiar? Instead of starting a disillusioned stand-up career, here Phoenix tracks down abducted children and beats the hell out their abductors. He also shoots a guy and then holds his hand while he dies. It's a lot more intimate than you'd think.

15. Hesher
The world suffers from a lack of appreciation towards Hesher. Joseph Gordon-Levitt blasts heavy metal, smokes a bunch of weed, and Deus ex Machina's the hell out of a grieving family. He just shows up to their house and starts living with them. They don't ask a lot of questions. He speaks in ridiculously graphic metaphors to teach them life lessons, he yells at them for not going on walks with Grandma, and he sets the school bully's car on fire. He sets a few things on fire, actually. It's not perfect. The other characters are a bit too mopey and sentimental, but Hesher himself makes up for it.

14. Parasite
Let's all just accept that the Koreans are taking over cinema and enjoy the benefits. Bong Joon-Ho also did Okja and Snowpiercer this decade, which could easily be on this list, but he outdid himself with 2019's Parasite; in which a poor family slowly works their way into the employ of a wealthy one. What starts out as a comedy, doesn't take long to shoot off in a different direction either. America really needs to work on its dramatic narrative shifts. Parasite may be the only 2019 movie on this list, but let me assure you that it demanded a spot.

13. Before Midnight
A trilogy in which all three films are great doesn't happen too often, but Linklater added another to the list once he wrapped Before Midnight. Unlike Boyhood, which is a below average movie that you should feel guilty for liking, the Before Trilogy is an intimate look at the lives of two individuals over the course of eighteen years—each film shot nine years apart. Before Midnight finishes out the series with a powerful look the effort required to maintain a long-term commitment. It's basically the best marital dispute ever filmed.

12. Drive
Drive is a weird movie to arbitrarily rate against others, as it's more of a mood piece than a narrative. Not to say that the narrative doesn't work, it's just about a dude who likes to drive cars and be neighborly—often to grungy electro-pop music. Ryan Gosling doesn't even have a real name in this movie, he's that cool. Thinking about Drive makes me want to watch The Neon Demon again, but nothing will make me watch Only God Forgives again. Even God doesn't forgive that mess.

11. Gone Girl
Gone Girl made a narrative choice that actually shocked me, and maybe I've never quite recovered from that, but every time I revisit it gets better. All you library nerds are probably laughing at me because I hadn't read the book. It's about terrible people trying to portray themselves as elegant, with a subtext of media frenzy that got terrifyingly more and more accurate as the decade progressed. Let's permanently lock Fincher into thrillers, no more of this Facebook nonsense.

10. The Great Beauty
A beautifully shot movie about a bored old man pondering the worth of the world, while wandering around Rome, going to parties, and attending more than one strange artistic performances. Jeb is too rich to worry about anything except the existential, and worry he does. For a 65 year old, he attends some pretty lit parties, and occasionally spits fire at his obnoxious friends, but the crux of the film is having an argument with yourself while the camera focuses on pretty pictures.

9. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi dominated this decade so much that if I made a list of the best comedies, What We Do In The Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople would all be on it. Hunt is about a fat boy named Ricky and a gruff old Dr. Alan Grant wandering around the wilderness avoiding the New Zealand equivalent of CPS. Ricky is a self-professed "gangsta" and Dr. Alan Grant is still traumatized from Jurassic Park and hates children. It's a light tale of an odd couple in an odd place, and it's absolutely hilarious.

8. Brigsby Bear
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more uplifting film about trauma than Brigsby Bear. It's like Room, but funny and more effective. After spending his whole life being raised on and being obsessed with the public access show Brigsby Bear, Kyle Mooney heads out into the real world only to discover that no one else has ever heard of it. In a quest to inform the world, he sets out to make a Brigsby Bear movie, with the help of a group of bored teens, family members, and whoever else is willing to help. Kyle Mooney is weird and awkward, and that's half the fun.

7. Sing Street
Clearly, I have a thing for movies about music. Hell, Begin Again is top 100. Sing Street is a movie about deciding you like a girl and starting a band to impress her. We've all been there. It's also about creating pop songs and making dramatic stylistic changes as you listen to new influences. Add in a layer of cinematically accelerated skill development, and you've got a lot of great songs, a new lease on life, and probably a girlfriend. There's also a cool, older brother and lots of laughs.

6. The Lobster
If you do not have a romantic partner, you have 45 days to find one or you are turned into an animal of your choosing. Colin Farrel's choice is a lobster, which is a very smart choice. Yorgos Lanthimos has won my heart this decade through Dogtooth, Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Favourite, but this is the winner in my book. It's delightfully deadpan, filled with black humor, and it's important to know your identifying trait if you're ever going to meet someone. Colin Farrel's identifying trait is his short-sightedness. Mine is my cynicism.

5. Shoplifters
At the risk of over ranking it because it came out last year, I'll go ahead and place Shoplifters at number five. It's about a group of misfit Japanese characters living together, stealing food, and occasionally abducting children to join their family. I really don't have anything funny to say about it. It's adorable and I love it. The narrative is mostly aimless, which isn't a bad thing in this case; it's just a bunch of characters living their lives and building relationships.

4. Brooklyn
A period drama in which no one joins the mafia or gets tricked into becoming a prostitute, Brooklyn is simply about moving to America, missing your mom, falling in love with a boy, and then having to visit your mom, and missing your boyfriend. It's delightfully chaste, but not in an embarrassing way. It's about familial obligation and conflicting loyalties. I also found out two seconds ago it was adapted by Nick Hornby, which explains a lot. Also, how did Domhnall Gleeson manage to sneak into three films on this list?

3. Arrival
I've thought about it for a few years, and I've decided to forgive the last three minutes and twenty-five seconds of Arrival for beating me over the head in order to make sure I understood the film. Instead, I like to focus on the fact that humanity is doomed and will never be able to get along. Arrival is about two competent scientists trying to communicate with aliens, while everyone else around them panics, rushes to conclusions and makes bad decisions. It's basically everyone's workplace experience.

2. Blue Valentine
I'm not sure if they just make good film choices, or if I have giant crushes on Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. It's probably a little bit of both. Blue Valentine is simultaneously adorably romantic and horribly devastating. It overlays scenes of a relationship forming with its evaporation, taking the time to probe deeply into both the beginning and the end. We all want a pretty suitor to woo us with a ukulele, but we also don't want them to try and fix our relationship by taking us to a seedy love hotel when we have to work the next morning. It makes me sad. And it has the best end credits of the decade.

1. The Handmaiden
I told you. South Korea has won. Chan-wook Park is always visually impressive, and The Handmaiden is no exception, but it also boasts a twisted narrative that starts out as a simple con job. Poor Lady Hideko has a large inheritance just waiting to be claimed, and in the meantime she spends her days reading erotic fiction to creepy men so her uncle can sell books. Count Fujiwara means to claim her inheritance and hang her out to dry with the help of Hideko's new handmaiden. Thirst and Stoker were fine entries into Park's filmography this decade, but The Handmaiden reminds me that it's about time to rewatch Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, which is always a good thing. Please note that I hope my placement of this film causes at least one person to watch it and get upset at the graphic parts that I no longer register as potentially disturbing because I'm beyond desensitized at this point.

Also, let's all congratulate 2016, as it was clearly the best year of the decade.

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