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
Part 5. 70 – 61 (below)
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)
- Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade, 2016)
In her Cannes Palm snub Toni Erdmann, director Maren Ade explores the complexities of a father daughter relationship long after the child has grown. Sandra Hüller plays Ines the daughter who has her life seemingly together. However, when her prankster father Winfried, Peter Simonischek, shows up, her polished exterior begins to crack. A story about the lengths a father will go to reconnect with his daughter, and the wall she built for emotional security.
- First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle, 2018)
The subdued audience reactions to Chazelle’s latest film was entirely due to audience expectations not a reflection on quality. While many patrons purchased a ticket for what they assumed would be an Apollo 13 (dir. Ron Howard, 1995), but instead they were confronted with a painfully personal story about a man who uses the moon as just another place to run to. I wrote a longer piece on the film when it came out and re-post it here.
- The Other Side of the Wind (dir. Orson Welles, 2018)
Despite not being alive in this decade (nor the prior two), 35 years after his death, Orson Welles manages to find his way into my best films of the decade list. Beginning production in the 1970s, it had every reason to feel extremely dated as it attempted to satirize the state of film at the time. And yet, Welles’s commentary while not necessarily applicable to cinema today, feels like what a 2018 commentary on 1970s film would be. His condemnation of the machismo mentality of many of the major studio directors especially feels modern. Conversely, the film within a film that mimics the French New Wave lends itself well to the Art House scene in cinema today. Through all the layered coding, the film also works as an allegory for the end of Orson Welles’s career with John Huston serving as stand in for Welles himself. This multi-layered filmmaking results in The Other Side of the Wind being exceedingly intricate yet rewatchable.
- Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker, 2015)
In this trans woman’s opinion, Tangerine is the greatest film about trans women ever created. Sean Baker accomplishes this first and foremost by casting trans women Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor to play the lead roles of Sin-Dee and Alexandra. Secondly while Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s transness is ever-present in the film, the film is not about them being trans. Instead Tangerine is primarily a heartfelt buddy comedy between the two leads. From a visual standpoint the vibrant colors of Hollywood strip malls pop beautifully despite being shot on an iphone. The artificial, neon glaze is a perfect complement to a wonderful film.
- Pina (dir. Wim Wenders, 2011)
German auteur Wim Wenders spent much of the decade exploring how the medium of film could be combined with other artistic mediums. His 2015 documentary The Salt of the Earth (codirected with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) exploring the work of photographer Sebastião Salgado nearly made this list, but it was his first film of the decade, Pina, that resonates as a perfect blend of mediums. A tribute to the late German dance choreographer Pina Busch, the film named for her highlights her work by presenting many of her most famous pieces cutting between performances by different skill levels of dancers.
- A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
From the opening scene of Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece, a western audience is predisposed to be against Payman Maadi’s character Nader. Iranian’s patriarchal system denies his with Simin (Leila Hatami) any say in their future or the future of the child. Because of this, when Nader gets physical with his housekeeper Razieh (Sareh Bayat), it’s easy to wish the worst of him. Yet that’s not what Simin, the audience surrogate, wants. The film explores the complexities of emotions and the difficulties that a strict patriarchal set of laws adds to them.
- Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
Speaking of films about the difficulties of relationships with unsympathetic male protagonists, it’s hard to imagine watching Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine and not come away loving Cindy (Michelle Williams) and being frustrated with Dean (Ryan Gosling). And yet, Cindy’s love for Dean doesn’t seem at all unrealistic. By mixing time periods, Cianfrance makes sure the film never goes too long without a sweet moment from Dean. These are the moments that Cindy must retreat to when her husband is inconsiderate or abusive. While the performances by both leads are stellar, this is one of many films appearing on this list that make the argument for Michelle Williams being the best actor of the decade.
- The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
The Great Beauty is director Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to my favorite film of all time, Federico Fellini’s all time classic La Dolce Vita (1960). Like Fellini’s film, The Great Beauty centers around a man, Jep (Toni Servillo), entrenched in the garish Italian night life who finds that living the life that many men dream about, brings him no contentment. He floats between parties, each one more lavish than the last, and despite being a lauded guest feels perpetually alone. By capturing that complex emotional state, Sorrentino brushes with greatness.
- Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols, 2011)
Michael Shannon made most of his mark this decade as a great character actor and supporting man, but his leading performance in 2011’s Take Shelter proves that he could just as easily have been an A-list leading man. In the film, he plays Curtis, a young man who upon having a vision of the apocalypse begins doing everything to prepare for it and keep his family safe. This intense preparedness begins costing him as the world labels him insane. As Curtis, Shannon captures the emotion of a man willing to sacrifice everything to save his family, even if his family doesn’t believe him.
- No Home Movie (dir. Chantal Akerman, 2016)
The first film on the list that causes me to tear up just by thinking about it, No Home Movie is the final film that visionary director Chantal Akerman made. Despite its name, the film is comprised of footage primarily shot in Akerman’s mother’s Brussels apartment near the end of her life. They spend the runtime chatting about their past together. Even when Chantal is away from her mother on work, she films the Skype sessions between them, capturing the loving and important relationship the two of them have. Unfortunately, this love and importance is made even more apparent by what happened after the film. After shooting completed, Natalia Akerman passed away. After completing the film, but 2 days before it was set to premier, Chantal Akerman succumbed to the grief of losing her mother and took her own life.