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
Part 3. 90 – 81
Part 4. 80 – 71 (below)
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)
- Two Days, One Night (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014)
Marion Cotillard scored a rare acting Oscar nomination from a non-English film for her devastating performance in the Dardenne brother’s anti-capitalist film Two Days, One Night. Her character, Sandra, is threatened with losing her job unless her coworkers willingly give up their bonus. She spends the titular time period showing up to her coworkers’ home and pleading to their humanity to keep her family from the brink of poverty by asking them to give up their money. A lovely film from pair of magnificent auteurs.
- Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde, 2019)
So much more than just Superbad (2007) but with young women, Booksmart is a brilliant depiction of regret at wasted opportunities and fear of change coming to a head at a major junction in one’s life. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) balance their comedy and tragedy well as leads, but Booksmart’s real strength lies in it’s supporting cast. Initially portraying all supporting roles as traditional teenage comedy tropes, the film spends time lingering on each one allowing them their own moments of humanity. This is exemplified no better than with Billie Lourd as the standout Gigi.
- Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle, 2014)
The movie that helped Damien Chazelle burst onto the public consciousness and won J.K. Simmons his Oscar, Whiplash is an important film in understanding America’s independent film scene in the 2010s. Chazelle’s films whether musicals or not, are heavily influenced by their music. Whiplash is not only about a jazz musician, but through the editing and direction the film itself takes on Jazz like quality. It crescendos in volume and pacing as the film’s plot intensifies. A perfect start to one of the decade’s breakout directors’ career.
- If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2018)
Barry Jenkins’s follow up to the Oscar winning Moonlight is another love story that specifically addresses social concerns of being black in America. Beginning the film in media res and using Kiki Layne’s voice over narration when switching between the past and present creates cohesion between the two halves of the film. This non-linear storytelling allows for the climaxes of each half of the film to take place at the same time amplifying the power behind the story. Jenkins proves his directing chops by turning this novel into a tightly paced drama, a skill that time and time again proves to be very rare.
- Climax (dir. Gaspar Noé, 2019)
Argentinian provocateur Gaspar Noé’s 2019 film Climax needs to be viewed somewhere very dark and with the volume very loud. Noé’s films are known for having unconventional cinematic techniques implemented for the sake of making the viewer uncomfortable. With a basic storyline that members of a dance troop have their punch spiked with LSD at an after party, Climax implements a droning score and untethered camera to instill a dosed feeling in the audience as well as the characters. These techniques as well as the graphic imagery crescendo constantly throughout the film without a moments reprieve for the 100-minute runtime.
- O.J.: Made in America (dir. Ezra Edelman, 2016)
I’ll be honest, I’m may be falling for the most equals best fallacy with this one, but the seven-and-a-half-hour documentary miniseries about O.J. Simpson was a great watch for me one Saturday in 2016. The film uses its length to add necessary context for understanding the social implications of the O.J. case. A full episode of the documentary focuses on the Rodney King riots, which while not directly related to O.J. was essentially for understanding why the black community took the O.J. acquittal as a win. The film uses the flexibility afforded to it by being a miniseries to tell a complete and engrossing picture.
- Anomalisa (dir. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015)
Charlie Kaufman’s name attached to a film is always a must view experience for me, and his previous directing excursion, 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, is one of my all-time favorites. his foray into stop motion cinema for 2015’s Anomalisa further grabbed my interest as a medium which should be well poised to mix with Kaufman’s signature surrealism. Sure enough, the stylized medium was perfect for delivering his blend humor and melancholy in the surreal. Highlighted by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s memorable unaccompanied rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, Anomalisa is a one of a kind viewing experience.
- Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater, 2013)
The third in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, brings a touch of reality to the decade long love story between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Before Sunrise (1995) was a love at first sight fairy tale. Before Sunset (2004) was a statement to the power of love, that love would always find a way. Another 9 years later, and the couple finds that a relationship isn’t as simple as falling in love was. Delpy and Hawke are incredible as the characters they’ve been living with for much of their careers, and the realistic tone is a perfect next chapter in the trilogy.
- 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen, 2013)
British Auteur Steve McQueen does not make fun films. He works with dark topics and themes, and Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, being kidnapped and sold into slavery fits well into McQueen’s oeuvre. McQueen’s style of closeups and long takes both heighten the discomfort in viewing. His techniques rely on strong performances as they allow for less postproduction wizardry, and Ejiofor is a strong fit for the personal style. His face expresses the depths of his character’s emotions without needing to speak.
- The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2017)
Guillermo del Toro delivered the most unconventional best picture winner in over a decade with his monster movie romance The Shape of Water. The two leads, Sally Hawkins as custodian Elisa and del Toro costumed regular Doug Jones as the Amphibian Man, both are speechless throughout the film, and yet their interspecies love story lacks nothing. Del Toro’s fantastical set design and the whimsical acting driven by the silent protagonists create a vision so perfect that the Academy couldn’t deny the new genre classic.