Sorry that the frequency of these lists has slowed substantially, the quarantine is definitely having an affect on my ability to be productive. I still promise to get this list out, I may just need to mix some other creative ventures in between to keep me fresh.
Part 1. Honorable Mentions 101-150 (in alphabetical order)
Part 2. 100 – 91
Part 3. 90 – 81
Part 4. 80 – 71
Part 5. 70 – 61
Part 6. 60 – 51 (below)
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)
- Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh, 2011)
Andrew Haigh’s exploration of the interconnectivity of sex, intimacy, and love is the driving force behind one of the best queer films of the decade. The film begins with Russell (Tom Cullen) heading to a gay club in search of meaningless sex and he finds Glen (Chris New). While the two of them end up meaning much more to each other than they could have imagined, Weekend doesn’t rely on the romance movie cliché of love at first sight. Instead the meaning of sex slowly evolves in a more organic manner.
- Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley, 2012)
An entirely unique documentary, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell starts with a conventional premise, exploring the power of family storytelling, but while interviewing her own family, Polley stumbles onto a long-held secret. This revelation elevates what would have already been a personal exploration into a mesmerizing identity crisis. The talking head documentary type may have largely fallen out of vogue in most critic stories, but Stories We Tell proves that with a strong enough premise even old ways of telling a story can feel new.
- Sunset Song (dir. Terence Davies, 2016)
A favorite discovery of mine this decade was English director Terence Davies. All three films he directed in the decade, The Deep Blue Sea in 2012 and A Quiet Passion in 2017 being his other two, were strong contenders for the list. Sunset Song was my personal favorite of the three because I think it captures what he does best. Davies is able to capture womanhood in a way very few male writers and directors can. The film is a gorgeously shot period piece about the strength of a young woman from time where she was not allowed to possess any. Agyness Deyn’s portrayal of Chris is heartbreaking as he suffers the cruel men in her life. With no real power, all she can do is soldier on and live the best life that she is able.
- The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Mallick, 2011)
Ever since his 1973 classic Badlands, Mallick’s films became increasingly ethereal, more concerned with mood than plot. After The Tree of Life won the Palme d’Or this mood forward style became a dominant trend in the US art house scene resulting in many subpar copycats (including a few by Mallick himself). And while the impact The Tree of Life had on cinema may not be exclusively positive, there is no denying that it is a masterfully crafted film. Mallick’s shoot everything and find the film in the cutting room approach mixed perfectly with the decades best cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki capturing beautiful imagery for Mallick’s poetry and Alexandre Desplat’s score to mesh with.
- Certain Women (dir. Wim Wenders, 2011)
Kelly Reichardt very well may be my favorite active director, and the quarantine causing me to miss her new film First Cow was personally frustrating. While some may consider her films to be slow, the time that she gives her characters to breathe create the depth that makes them endearing. Even in the vignette styled Certain Women, each character feels fully formed. All four actresses Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone capture women in completely different places but who still share a universality in being women.
- Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham, 2018)
Bo Burnham’s initial entry into the cinematic realm succeeds because of his experience in the different medium of YouTube, not despite it. Having been with YouTube since its beginning, Burnham has an innate connection to the youngest generation. This connection allows him to portray the kids in Eighth Grade as unique individuals not just a collection of stereotypes allotted to “kids these days”. This understanding is best exemplified in the relationship between the father and daughter pair (played by Josh Hamilton and Elsie Fisher respectively). Elsie’s character acts irrational as most eighth graders do, but her father doesn’t bemoan her for that; instead he accepts that puberty does weird things to people and does his best to understand.
- The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang, 2019)
Casting Awkwafina as lead in a dramatic film where a young woman struggles to say goodbye to her dying grandmother was certainly a gamble, but it proved to be one that paid off. Awkwafina proves she is more than just a comedian in Lulu Wang’s touching film, but still uses her comedic flare to impart some much-needed levity into the otherwise depressing premise. Lulu Wang grounds the emotion inherent in the premise just enough to keep it’s meaning while preventing the film from moving into the realm of melodrama.
- Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper, 2015)
Victoria is a two-hour 18-minute crime thriller shot in real time with zero cuts. And by zero cuts, I mean actually zero cuts. No hidden cuts like in 2019’s 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes), but legitimately a single uncut take. The story of the film is interesting if unremarkable, but this is an instance in which the gimmick elevates the film. Shooting in real time accomplishes two things enhances the effectiveness of the range of emotions the characters feel. The time gap between exhilaration, exuberance, and terror being so minimal compounds the rollercoaster feel of the film.
- Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)
Despite the Hollywood adage that there are no acting parts for women over 30, Isabelle Huppert has been able to get consistent work in the decade excelling in the scarce few roles for middle-aged women. In Things to Come, she delivers her best performance with the help of French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve. In the film she depicts Nathalie, a woman who sees her life fall apart in front of her eyes. Taxed with consecutive tragedies, she subsists through them. A mid-life crisis that’s circumstance driven instead of born of ennui, she is still able to derive new fulfillment in the freedoms thrust upon her.
- Uncut Gems (dir. Benny and Josh Safdie, 2019)
This movie is a lot. The Safdie Brothers have a habit of filling their films to with constant stimuli. Uncut Gems builds upon this style by enlisting the manic acting of Adam Sandler manic acting who once again proves that when in the hands of a capable director he can be an excellent actor. The other trademark of a Safdie film is showing a seedy aspect of New York. Uncut Gems accomplishes this despite its main characters coming from wealth by making Sandler a compulsive gambler and owner of a shady diamond shop. Everything about this film just clicks in the speed and intensity of the Safdie Brothers’ direction.