I realize that I’m a few months late in posting this list, but I put it off trying to catch up on some films and then I felt it was too late. Three weeks into quarantine, and I’ve finally found the time and motivation to put together my list.
Part 1. Honorable Mentions 101-150 (in alphabetical order)
Part 2. 100 – 91 (below)
Part 3. 90 – 81
Part 4. 80 – 71
Part 5. 70 – 61
Part 6. 60 – 51
Part 7. 50 – 41
Part 8. 40 – 31 (coming soon)
Part 9. 30 – 21 (coming soon)
Part 10. 20 – 11 (coming soon)
Part 11. 10 – 1 (coming soon)
100. Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley, 2018)
Boots Riley shocked the chain theater going public with his 2018 satire Sorry to Bother You. The film begins in an only slightly enhanced version of our world. Cassius and Detroit (LaKeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson) living in a garage is quirky but is not outside the realm of a standard class struggle satire. Around a third of the way through the film, Cassius introduces his white voice (voiced by David Cross) which begins the films decent into the surreal. From there, the film spirals far from standard fair, and results in one of the most unique films of the decade.
- Girlhood (dir. Céline Sciamma, 2014)
“Shine bright like a diamond.” Rihanna’s song “Diamonds” is played in full for the most memorable moment of Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, and its lyrics resonate throughout the film’s runtime. Marieme’s (Karidja Touré) abusive background leads her to search for support in a group of girls who christen her Vic. The sisterhood they create is powerful as they attempt to navigate the unfortunate circumstances that life dealt them. The last act of the film leads Vic down a depressing path, but even in such an unsavory situation, she finds a way to shine.
- Cameraperson (dir. Kirsten Johnson, 2017)
When a documentary is created, hundreds to thousands of hours of footage are left on the cutting room floor. The directors choose only the perfect frames that fit the narrative of their piece. Some of what’s cut are nothing but test shots, but others are extremely personal moments, many that reveal more about the director and cinematographer than the subjects. As the cinematographer of dozens of documentaries, Kirsten Johnson pieces together the scraps from the ones she’s worked on to create this unique and personal film.
- Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin, 2011)
As I left the theater in 2011, I was ready to proclaim Elizabeth Olsen the breakout actress of the decade. While it’s hard to say she wasn’t successful, being an Avenger clearly qualifies as a success, she never lived up to her breakthrough performance. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, she plays a young woman who attempts to recoup at her sister’s (Sarah Paulson) home after escaping a cult. Olsen’s portrayal of the emotionally damaged woman who is incapable of expressing what’s wrong is what inspired me to make such a bold claim about her. The film builds on her performance by having it’s intensity crescendo throughout the film as the uncertainty of whether cult members are following her and if she’s safe remains through the last moment.
- The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller, 2016)
Neon colors, bloody murders, and women wearing gartered lingerie may sound like the makings of a 70’s sexploitation film, but Anna Biller had some decidedly different inspirations in her 2016 film The Love Witch. A direct homage to Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin (1970) hints at the deeper motives of the film. In creating The Love Witch, Biller set out to create a movie about being a woman and a woman’s needs in love. Samantha Robinson as Elaine seduces via witchcraft and ultimately kills many men in her search for romantic fulfillment, but unlike sexploitation films, the focus is on her and her needs. Not the body parts nor body count.
- A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery, 2017)
When we die, what do we leave behind? David Lowery’s A Ghost Story reunites his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (more on that below) stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck to grapple with that question. Early in the film, Affleck’s character (neither his nor Mara’s characters are named) dies, but as the title hints comes back as a ghost. The film eschews gaudy special effects and represents this in the simplest way possible, a sheet with two eye holes. As a ghost, Affleck is sentenced to witness what he left behind, and, as the main audience connection, forces a voyeuristic viewpoint on the remainder of the film. First, he watches Mara’s grieving process (including a ten-minute, two shot scene of her eating a pie while crying). Then he watches as she moves on with her life. What happens after speaks to the triviality of the initial question.
- Columbus (dir. Kogonada, 2017)
The premise has been dozens of times over. Two unconnected people in search of meaning or guidance cross each other’s path and create an intimate (though not necessarily romantic) relationship. They wander and discuss and help one another find meaning in their lives. Columbus is another of that ilk, and yet somehow much more. By subverting the dialogue heavy standard for the genre with silence and character contemplation, Kogonada creates a cinematic experience outside of the expected.
- Le Havre (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 2011)
A story about n man living in poverty with his dying wife who finds a refugee child and uses his remaining means to reunite the child with his family… but make it funny. My experience with Kaurismäki is limited, the only other of his films that I’ve seen is The Other Side of Hope (2017), but between the two it seems that he is very adapt at inserting a bit of humor and joy into unpleasant situations. His characters exist somewhat in an uncanny valley, but their stories speak to the community we poses as humans that the depressing situations become heartwarming.
- Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery, 2013)
The second David Lowery film staring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in this section of my best of list may be the more conventional of the two, but Lowery’s heavily stylized tone and technique are still ever present in this crime romance. The intense jailbreak story is heavily sedated by Daniel Hart’s intoxicating score and a playful use of light and color. Through these artistic techniques, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints possess a dream-like quality. Ruth’s (Mara) love for Bob (Affleck) supersedes the conventional story and results in a beautiful film.
- Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold, 2015)
Quite honestly, the first 95 minutes of Phoenix are good but would not be worthy of a place on this list. The last three minutes on the other hand constitute the greatest ending scene of the decade and would be in contention for the greatest ending of all time. Nina Hoss as Nelly Lenz singing the classic song “Speak Low” is stunning and emotional and runs a chill down my spine every time I re-watch those last few minutes.
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