A 2021 Film Journey: Day 115

Much of my movie viewing this year had been building up to tonight’s Academy Awards. I posted my personal predications and picks earlier this afternoon and then prepared myself for the film industry’s biggest night. The three-and-a-half-hour ceremony took the place of my movie watching for the evening.

The 93rd Academy Awards

How to watch 2021 Oscars: live stream Academy Awards free and from anywhere  | TechRadar

Where to begin? I guess first and foremost, I will address the winners. They were fine to good. My Octopus Teacher winning for documentary is my biggest gripe, but all in all the Oscars went to good choices if not what I would consider the best choice. Seeing Chloé Zhao become only the second woman to win best director and be the second woman helmed film to win best picture (both were previously done by Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker) was heartwarming. My personal favorite actress Carey Mulligan once again failed to win, but I cannot begrudge the academy for choosing Frances McDormand. If all I did was read the winners the next morning, I would have little to say.

The ceremony itself was a mess. The Academy’s continued decision to go without a host after the Kevin Hart controversy reached its pinnacle this year as the ceremony was completely without guidance. While the bad jokes can get tiresome after some time, surely there must be a middle ground between too many bad jokes and a ceremony that is nothing but presentations. When there was finally a reprieve with a name the tune segment three quarters of the way through the film, it was a welcome reprieve, but one that came much too late.

And then there was the giant unforced error of the final three awards. The producers not knowing the results took a huge gamble and put the acting awards after best picture. They likely did so in the assumption that Chadwick Boseman would win posthumously, and they could end the ceremony on an uplifting moment for him. When that did not happen, the result was the most anticlimactic ending in Oscar history as Anthony Hopkins was neither present nor had a proxy to accept the award for him and the ceremony went unceremoniously to closing credits. Chloé Zhao’s accomplishments winning best picture were overshadowed by the mess that followed, and Hopkins who gave arguably the greatest performance of his life will forever be unjustifiably remembered as the man who stole Chadwick Boseman’s Oscar.

Oscar Predictions and Picks 2021

I love the Oscars. For the past few years, I have made it my goal to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar, and this year I finished with weeks to spare. In time for tonight’s ceremony, here are my predictions and my personal picks for this year’s event

Visual Effects

My Prediction: Tenet
My Pick: Tenet; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

8 Incredible Filming Locations in Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet'

Visual effects is likely the category most impacted by the COVID epidemic. With many summer blockbusters being delayed until they can open in theaters, it left Tenet as the presumptive winner.

Costume

My Prediction: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
My Pick: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom movie review (2020) | Roger Ebert

I love the costumes in Emma, but while those are all pristine, what elevates Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s costuming is the slight layer of grime that covers them. They help build the world of the session musicians through their purposeful imperfections.

Makeup and Hairstyling

My Prediction: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
My Pick: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Photos: 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' - Los Angeles Times

Makeup and Hairstyling should go to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for similar reasons as to why costuming should. The craft works in storytelling rather than simply looking great.

Production Design

My Prediction: Mank
My Pick: Mank; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

David Fincher's 'Mank' Trailer Debuts

The recreation of classic Hollywood in David Fincher’s Mank is as beautiful as it is meticulous.

Sound

My Prediction: Sound of Metal
My Pick: Sound of Metal; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Sound Of Metal': the film that will change the way you listen to music

New this year is the combining of sound editing and sound mixing, and there is potentially no more obvious a choice in this year’s ceremony than the Sound of Metal for the new category. The way the film intercuts the noise from the camera’s perspective with that of the quickly deafening protagonist is the most interesting sound design of the year.

Original Song

My Prediction: Speak Now (One Night in Miami…)
My Pick: Speak Now (One Night in Miami…); Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – The 11-minute rendition of Silly Games from Small Axe: Lovers Rock

And now the one category that I always feel the most uncomfortable picking. My passion is in film, not music. Regardless, predicting Leslie Odom Jr. to become an Emmy away from an EGOT seems the obvious choice. My non-nominated choice was not eligible for multiple reasons, but I needed to call out how perfect this rendition of the reggae classic is in context of the film.

Original Score

My Prediction: Soul
My Pick: Soul; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Wendy (Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin)

Soul is going to win this without much competion, so in lieu of talking about that I want to shout out the amazing score to the not as amazing Wendy. Benh Zeitlin again teamed up with Dan Romer to create the score to his follow up to Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) and the music to Wendy has just as much magic and mystery as the prior score.

Editing

My Prediction: The Trial of the Chicago 7
My Pick: The Father; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

The Trial of the Chicago 7 will likely walk away with this as its lone Oscar, but all of the editing the film does to intercut different times is done even more masterfully by The Father where the editing is used to blur time and characters to express the impact of dementia.

Cinematography

My Prediction: Nomadland
My Pick: Nomadland; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Gunda

Joshua James Richards sweeping photography of the various landscapes Fern calls her temporary home are breathtaking and should guarantee an Oscar for Nomadland. However, if the academy had looked beyond the traditional fare to Gunda, the experimental documentary about a mother pig, they would have found some of the best black and white cinematography in years.

Short Film, Live Action

My Prediction: The Letter Room
My Pick: The Letter Room; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Film Review: The Letter Room — Musée Magazine

It almost seems a little unfair of this category to be won by a short with big name actors (Oscar Isaac and Alia Shawkat), but The Letter Room is the obvious best of the bunch.

Short Film, Animated

My Prediction: If Anything Happens I Love You
My Pick: If Anything Happens I Love You; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Short Films in Focus: If Anything Happens I Love You | Features | Roger  Ebert

If Anything Happens I Love you is the best short film which is animated, which is what this category is really a measure of. I would still like to call out Opera for being the best-animated short film, even if it lacks the emotional connection to win.

Short Film, Documentary

My Prediction: Do Not Split
My Pick: Do Not Split; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Hysterical Girl

Do Not Split is an amazing piece of cinema verité about the Hong Kong protests which should win of the nominated films, but the shortlisted but not Nominated Hysterical Girl was easily my favorite of the year.

Documentary Feature

My Prediction: My Octopus Teacher
My Pick: Time; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Dick Johnson is Dead or Gunda

It turns out that I have a lot to say about this category. My Octopus Teacher is emotionally exploitative in the way that should win over much of the Academy warranted or not. Of the other nominated films, Time was in my opinion the best and the most important for our time. The Academy failed to nominate the two best documentaries of the year though. Dick Johnson is Dead was as entertaining in the increasingly outrageous death sequences as it was moving as Kirsten Johnson prepped for the inevitable. Gunda was on the opposite end of the spectrum but equally impressive. The experimental documentary consisting of nothing but gorgeous close up photography of a litter of pigs created untold emotion through its simplicity.

Animated Feature

My Prediction: Soul
My Pick: Wolfwalkers; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

This category becomes increasingly aggravating. Disney and Pixar create many great films, but when they release middling work for them (still very good, just not what they can do) the Academy needs to watch the other nominated films and recognize the superior film even if it is not from one of the brand name studios.

International Film

My Prediction: Another Round
My Pick: Another Round; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

How do you act drunk on screen? - BBC Culture

I have watched the last scene from Another Round dozens of times at this point as it is one of the greatest scenes of the year. While I have shown this scene preferential treatment, the entire film is a must watch and should win this with ease.

Adapted Screenplay

My Prediction: The Father
My Pick: The Father; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

The way that The Father blends time and realities to replicate the confusion of Anthony as dementia sets in is an achievement in writing more than worthy of this Oscar

Original Screenplay

My Prediction: Promising Young Woman
My Pick: Promising Young Woman; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Promising Young Woman: Carey Mulligan film 'deeply troubling' - BBC News

Emerald Fennell’s sobering take on the rape revenge thriller imparts a sense of reality to the genre while also welcoming those who would be otherwise turned off from it.

Supporting Actor

My Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
My Pick: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Judas and the Black Messiah' New 2021 Release Date - Variety

While he is for some reason competing against LaKeith Stanfield the lead in the same movie, Kaluuya as the charismatic Black Panther leader Fred Hampton should be an easy choice for the Supporting Actor award.

Supporting Actress

My Prediction: Yuh-jung Youn (Minari)
My Pick: Yuh-jung Youn (Minari); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Minari' Star Yuh-Jung Youn Calls Brits 'Snobbish' in BAFTA Speech - Variety

The long time Korean actress’s first foray into American film put in an exquisite performance as the grandmother moving in to help watch the children in Minari.

Lead Actor

My Prediction: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
My Pick: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom); Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – John Magaro (First Cow)

While this may have been a closer race in different circumstances, Chadwick Boseman should be a shoo in to win the award posthumously. From the completely snubbed First Cow, John Magaro as the sensitive Cookie living his baking dream in the untamed west would get my vote if nominated.

Lead Actress

My Prediction: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
My Pick: Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman); Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Sidney Flanigan (Never Rarely Sometimes Always)

Most of the season, it has seemed like Carey Mulligan was going to win her first Oscar over Frances McDormand getting her third, but while I would not vote for her, Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom seems to have the momentum going into tonight’s ceremony. Of the non-nominated performances, Sidney Flanigan was so perfect in Never Rarely Sometimes Always that the film’s complete Oscar sub is frustrating.

Director

My Prediction: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)
My Pick: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Chloé Zhao has an incredible auteurist voice which is front and center in Nomadland. She works at a deliberate pace and allows Frances McDormand to express every feeling that Fern experience. Without Zhao’s incredible control, Nomadland would not be the masterpiece that it is.

Picture

My Prediction: Nomadland
My Pick: Nomadland; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Everything that I said for Director holds for best picture. Nomadland is a masterpiece, and I will be happy to see best picture go to a woman director for only the second time (Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker). And while I had Nomadland as my favorite film of the year when I put together my list in January, Never Rarely Sometimes Always has supplanted it in my mind. It is the most emotionally moving film of the year and what I would have wanted to see win had it been nominated.

2021 Oscar Nominations

It’s Oscar nomination day! As my interest in sports have waned over the years, the Oscars have quickly supplanted that niche for me. Forget the Superbowl; my annual Sunday TV binge will be on April 25 this year. If the Oscars are my Superbowl, then today’s nomination announcement are the start of the playoffs. This post is going to be my thoughts on the nominations. My personal picks and predictions will go up after I’ve watched everything closer to the ceremony.

I promise that I won’t exclusively focus on the negative, but there were two huge snubs that I want to call out before getting too far. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman) and First Cow (Kelly Reichardt) were two of the best films of the year, and both being shut out of the nomination process is a travesty. In addition to being more than deserving of best picture and director nods, I genuinely believe that Sidney Flanigan from Never Rarely Sometimes Always and John Magaro from First Cow should have received best actress and actor nominations respectively. For as much as the Academy have gotten better about recognizing more diverse pictures, the understated personal story that are my favorites are still ignored for more commercially viable pictures.

While those too snubs in lieu of more conventional Oscar fare may have frustrated me, Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell) walking away with five nominations including picture, director, and actress gives me hope. Fennell’s take on the revenge genre is aggressively anti-commercial. Yet despite that it’s become incredibly popular and will have a huge presence at the Academy Awards this year. I’m especially happy for my namesake Carey Mulligan getting her second Oscar nomination. I just want everyone to appreciate how perfect an actor she is.

With those big items taken care of, I’m going to rapid-fire some more thoughts:

  • Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg) won’t be winning any major awards, but I’m glad to see international films continue to get recognition outside of their specific category. I wish Mads Mikkelsen would have received an acting nomination as well.
  • I finally no longer need to lookup the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, and the Academy combines them. In all seriousness, this change makes sense. It’s a rare film that would win on and not at least be deserving of the other.
  • I’m surprised by how little One Night in Miami… (Regina King) received. For a film completely built on amazing performances, it receiving no nominations in those categories was shocking.
  • Granted I’ve not seen all of the Documentary features, but Dick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson) not even receiving a nomination makes very little sense to me. It was one of the best films of the year documentary or not.
  • The Assistant (Kitty Green) was another shut out film that I would have loved to see with at minimum a best actress nod. That said this is the one I’m the least surprised by as The Assistant was from very early in the year and was not the most welcoming film.
  • Finally, I find it frustrating that Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films were ineligible for any Oscars. Lovers Rock was one of the best films of the year, and the Oscars’ strict rules invalidated what should have been some strong competitors.

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 7

I really hit a wall, and I am sorry that this series stalled out. The state of the world compounded with my depression to strip of my ability to focus on film for a few months, but it is still my passion am going to do my best to continue writing.

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
Part 7. 50 – 41 (below)
Part 8. 40 – 31 (coming soon)
Part 9. 30 – 21 (coming soon)
Part 10. 20 – 11 (coming soon)
Part 11. 10 – 1 (coming soon)

  1. The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer, 2016)

To this day, The Fits is the only narrative from director Anna Rose Holmer, and that is a complete shame. Her debut film uses magical realism to exemplify the uncertainty inherent in graduating from childhood to adolescence. The film takes the viewpoint of its lead character Toni (Royalty Hightower), a young tomboy who spends her time at brother’s side in training in a boxing gym. Intrigued by the group of girls in a dance troupe practicing in the same gym, she begins to discover herself. A wonderful hypnotic film highlighted by a strong debut performance; The Fits leaves me wanting more from the two women at its center.

The Fits — Review | The Reviews

  1. Shame (dir. Steve McQueen, 2011)

Shame is a movie that I can only talk about in the first person. When I first saw the film by myself, I was in a packed theater during the St. Louis International Film Festival. In those circumstances, McQueen’s precision in building tension was overwhelming and resulted in a panic attack. Months later the film hit wide release and I watched it again in a mostly empty theater and a few friends, and the melodrama and oppressive mood again weighed on me, but this time left me flabbergasted in awe. Michael Fassbender acclimates well to McQueen’s intensity demands, but as good as Fassbender is in the film, it was Carey Mulligan’s devastating performance as Sissy that left such an impression on me that I literally named myself after her. Shame is not the best film on the list, but it is the one the undoubtedly had the largest impact on my life.

SHAME Featurette: The Story - YouTube

  1. Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach, 2013)

The best of the Baumbach writer/director Gerwig writer/star films, Frances Ha is the perfect quarter-life crisis film. The film’s black and white aesthetic hearkens back to the classic films of the French New Wave which Baumbach sought to emulate. But while the style and story beats may reflect the carefree whimsy of France in the 1960s, it is Gerwig’s performance that transforms the film into a purely American film, and I say that in the best of ways. She manages to combine the young and carefree nature of the French New Wave with the purposeless meandering of the millennial generation who graduated college to find the world was not what was promised.

Frances Ha – review | Film | The Guardian

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)

A journey of a man and his cat, except the cat is not his and the journey is nothing but a string of a series of desperate attempts to find meaning in life. Oscar Isaac gives the performance of his career so far as the titular Llewyn, a folk singer trying to continue as a solo act after his partner’s suicide. Because of the lack of sales of the new album, Llewyn couch surfs and jumps at any opportunity to continue in the craft that he loves. The film touches on the loss of passion, and the loss of purpose when it disappears. Isaac spends much of the film displaying different levels of discontent, but said discontent is all because Llewyn knows the passion he once had.

Inside Llewyn Davis - Official Trailer [HD] - YouTube

  1. Her Smell (dir. Alex Ross Perry, 2019)

Elisabeth Moss does not get the credit as a film actress she deserves. Between Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Top of the Lake, it is easy to dismiss her a TV actress, but in between those shows she has taken incredibly complex roles in multiple critically acclaimed films. Alex Ross Perry correctly identified Moss as an actress capable of headlining his two plus hour film Her Smell. Moss stars as punk singer Becky Something who is struggling to maintain her fame because of her own self-destructive behavior. The film centers exclusively on her through five scenes in her flailing career while she first loses control and then struggles to regain it. Perry bemoaned his inability to put any money behind an Oscar campaign for Moss and her inevitable snub was egregious as the success of this film is exclusively because of her.

Her Smell - Tyneside Cinema

  1. Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas, 2015)

Fun fact, did you know that Juliette Binoche took her role in Godzilla (dir. Gareth Edwards, 2014) to prepare Clouds of Sils Maria. She did it to better understand the character of Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) a young actress know for a young adult science fiction series who after years in camp films sets out to perform in a meaty dramatic role in the play that Binoche’s character became famous for. The film plays on themes of identity and the connection between character and actor. This theme is further enhanced by the meta casting of Kristen Stewart (the standout of the film and best actress of her generation don’t @ me) who’s career essentially mirrors Moretz’s character. Stewart and Binoche are a perfect acting pair and push each other wonderfully as co-leads.

iClouds of Sils Maria | The Current | The Criterion Collection

  1. The Wind Rises (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)

Whether or not Hayao Miyazaki ever returns to the big screen, The Wind Rises was clearly crafted as a swan song for the acclaimed director. Miyazaki’s love of flying machines its forefront in this film, even more so than his 1992 film Porco Rosso, as it tells the story of real life engineer Jirô Horikoshi who was most famous for reluctantly designing the planes that Japanese fighters used in World War II. While the story is more grounded in reality than any other Miyazaki film, his flair for the fantastical is still distinctly felt through a memorable earthquake scene and plentiful gravity defying dream sequences. What makes the film a perfect swan song is how much Horikoshi’s passion mirrors that of the acclaimed Japanese auteur; with this reading it is difficult to Miyazaki as not treating The Wind Rises as his retirement announcement.

The Wind Rises - Official Trailer - YouTube

  1. Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2016)

Fresh off his starring role in the highest grossing film of all time (domestic), Adam Driver left the world of lightsabers to return to his independent roots in this quiet poetic slice of life.  Jim Jarmusch channeled his inner Charlie Kaufman in directing by adding moments of absurd surrealism to the otherwise aggressively grounded character study. Driver plays the titular Paterson a bus driver and poet in the living in a city that shares his name.  Paterson’s poetry underscores the entire film, frequently stopping to allow driver to recite pomes in full.  Jarmusch uses this medium of art to reflect on his own craft both bring the creators personal fulfillment while being impermanent and fragile.

The Last Thing I See: 'Paterson' (2016) Movie Review

  1. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)

A dressmaker is an odd final role decision for an actor oft included in the lists of the greatest of all time, whose acclaim comes from playing larger than life oil tycoons and presidents, but that’s what Daniel Day Lewis declared when he announced Phantom Thread as his final film. While Reynolds Woodcocks profession may not be one that frequently results in epic stories, Day-Lewis’s precision was once again complimented by his There Will Be Blood (2007) director Paul Thomas Anderson’s grandiose vision. Yet, despite the cinema powerhouses of the two men at the center of the film, it is Vicky Krieps performance of Alma that lays at the center of what makes the beautiful period piece work. Her ability to counter Lewis’s manipulative character with her own charisma speaks volumes towards her future.

Made to measure: Daniel Day-Lewis bows out in Phantom Thread - The Irish  News

  1. Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018)

2018’s Palme d’Or winner, Shoplifters is a masterful drama about family.  Reminiscent of Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers (2003), a collection of mostly unrelated vagabonds adopts a young girl they find outside, and after finding that she is being abused by her genetic family adopt her into their makeshift family. Their tragic story draws attention to the tribulations thrust upon the impoverished and contrasts the legality of their actions with their necessity.  Despite being hustlers and crooks, the love and adoration shared between the members is heartwarming, and you long for them to stay together despite the struggles.

Is blood enough?” Koreeda Hirokazu on makeshift families and Shoplifters |  Sight & Sound | BFI

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 6

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)

  1. 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.

060 Weekend

  1. 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.

059 Stories We Tell

  1. 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.

058 Sunset Song

  1. 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.

057 The Tree of Life

  1. 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.

056 Certain Women

  1. 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.

055 Eighth Grade

  1. 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.

054 The Farewell

  1. 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.

053 Victoria

  1. 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.

052 Things to Come

  1. 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.

051 Uncut Gems

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 5

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)

  1. 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.

070 Toni Erdmann

  1. 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.

069 First Man

  1. 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.

068 The Other Side of the Wind

  1. 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.

067 Tangerine

  1. 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.

066 Pina

  1. 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.

065 A Separation

  1. 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.

064 Blue Valentine

  1. 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.

063 The Great Beauty

  1. 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.

062 Take Shelter

  1. 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.

061 No Home Movie

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 4

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)

  1. 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.

080 Two Days One Night

  1. 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.

079 Booksmart

  1. 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.

078 Whiplash

  1. 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.

077 If Beale Street Could Talk

  1. 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.

076 Climax

  1. 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.

075 OJ Made in America

  1. 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.

074 Anomalisa

  1. 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.

073 Before Midnight

  1. 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.

072 12 Years a Slave

  1. 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.

071 The Shape of Water

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 3

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 (below)
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)

  1. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik, 2018)

A movie that I really enjoyed this decade but didn’t quite make the list was Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic (2016). That film was a comedic take on father who raised his children completely off the grid. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace cuts the comedic scenarios to tell something more realistic and heart wrenching. Will (Ben Foster) is incapable of living in anything resembling a society, and has raised his daughter Tom (Tomasin McKenzie) similarly. After getting caught, Tom and Will are temporarily forced into a community. From that point, the film focuses on Tom as she struggles with choosing the life she’s always known, and the only life her father can life, or belonging to a community.

090 Leave No Trace

  1. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay, 2018)

The first of Lynne Ramsay’s two films of the decade to make the list, what her production lacks in frequency she makes up by packing each film with an emotional depth that almost require her films be spaced so far apart. In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix continues to prove that he is one of the best actors working today as he disappears into the role traumatized veteran Joe. Though Phoenix rarely speaks throughout the film, the terror of his life is palpable thanks to his visual acting and Ramsay’s immaculate direction. Essentially what Joker (2019) would be if it was any good.

089 You Were Never Really Here

  1. Burning (dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2018)

2018’s Burning is aptly named as it’s an extremely slow burn.  What appears to be a simple slice of life film slowly evolves into a thriller.  Steven Yeun plays the would-be antagonist perfectly ambiguously leaving much of the thriller components in the lead’s (Ah-in Yoo) head.  Director Le Chang-dong uses atmosphere to further enhance the uncertainty in the film.  Ah-in Yoo is frequently shot enshrouded by fog further emphasizing his confusion.  The entire film is shrouded in mystery visually, narratively, and emotionally.

088 Burning

  1. Honeyland (dir. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019)

Honeyland is a devastating documentary following Hatidze Muratova, a Macedonian beekeeper whose livelihood is threatened by greedy practices. The tragedy of the tale is that it’s not her greed that threatens her life, but that of her neighbor whom she befriended and taught her business. Honeyland is immersive in its portrayal of Muratova’s pastoral life. Her seemingly banal existence lends beauty to her circumstance but proves all the more heartbreaking when capitalism’s evil takes it all away from her.

087 Honeyland

  1. Krisha (dir. Trey Edward Shults, 2016)

The opening long shot perfectly sets the tone for Trey Edward Shults’s debut feature Krisha. Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) is disheveled as she walks back and forth struggling to navigate the suburban streets of near identical mini mansions. This is not her world, and she is not ready for what’s to come. Meeting with family, many for the first time, after a long absence for a Thanksgiving feast is a shock that she is not ready for, and the memories that are dredged up only make things worse. Through long cuts an eerie score, and perfect sound mixing, Krisha recontextualizes a family drama and terns it into the horror movie that it can be.

086 Krisha

  1. The Kid with a Bike (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011)

The Dardenne brother’s are masters at making stories of the working class. The Kid with a Bike continues that trend, but expands upon the brother’s motifs by introducing a 12-year-old boy who is a victim of a working class life. Cyril (Thomas Doret) was abandoned by his working class, drunk father and lives in a children’s home. The abandonment has resulted in him acting out and becoming all together difficult. Only through a chance meeting with Samantha (Cécile de France) is he able to find someone to emotionally support him. Strong acting from both leads mixed with the Dardenne’s sentiment resulted in an excellent film.

085 The Kid with a Bike

  1. Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson, 2012)

Wes Anderson is at his best when he’s working with children. His precision and whimsy can sometimes verge into the uncanny, but when the audience surrogate is a child, the style is more reminiscent of a storybook. Both child leads, Kara Hayward as Suzy and Jared Gilman as Sam, adapt to Anderson’s heightened dialogue and create an amazing love story. Their story fits perfectly into the storybook that is a Wes Anderson film world.

084 Moonrise Kingdom

  1. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)

Queer icon and grief monster Mr. Babadook got his start from the Jennifer Kent film titled for him. Horror wearing it’s allegory on it’s sleeve can be a good thing when done well, and Kent is able to effectively create a terrifying experience while still being heavy handed with said allegory. Essie Davis as Amelia perfectly captures the mindset of a woman tortured with unprocessed grief. Noah Wiseman plays her son Samuel and is the perfect creepy child in a horror film. These performances combined with a terrifying monster and immaculate horror direction create one of the best horror films of the decade.

083 The Babadook

  1. Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King, 2018)

In these trying times, I think it’s important to remember what the philosopher bear Aunt Lucy said, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Paddington 2 is the quintessential nicecore film. The CGI bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, is pure hearted to a fault, and even when that gets him in trouble, he reflects on his aunt’s words and solves his problems by continuing to be nice. The supporting human casts of Sally Hawkings and Hugh Bonneville as Paddington’s adoptive parents, and Hugh Grant as the high camp antagonist, further enhance the charm that oozes out of Paul King’s film. While the first Paddington (2015) is also a delight, Paddington 2 builds on the strong foundation and creates a perfect family film.

082 Paddington 2

  1. We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

For much of the decade, Tilda Swinton played idiosyncratic characters in heightened films. She became a staple of well-regarded indie comedies becoming a staple of both Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. A decided outlier from the very beginning of the decade is her leading role in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. In it she plays the mother of the titular Kevin (Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, and Ezra Miller depending on the time period) who is all alone and is trying to recover from an unknown event. As she goes about her day receiving endless abuse, she reminisces on her experiences raising Kevin whom she saw as evil when no one else did. A dreary film that shows off Swinton’s dramatic prowess.

081 We Need to Talk About Kevin

 

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 2

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.

100 Sorry to Bother You

  1. 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.

099 Girlhood

  1. 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.

098 Cameraperson

  1. 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.

097 Martha Marcy May Marlene

  1. 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.

096 The Love Witch

  1. 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.

095 A Ghost Story

  1. 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.

094 Columbus

  1. 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.

093 Le Havre

  1. 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.

092 Aint Them Bodies Saints

  1. 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.

091 Phoenix

The Best Films of the Decade: Part 1

The Best Films of the Decade

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) (below)
Part 2. 100 – 91
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)

20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills, 2016) – A sweet coming of age movie driven by the three amazing women leads (Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig) as they together raise Bening’s character’s son (Billy Crudup).

3 Faces (dir. Jafar Panahi, 2019) – One of Panahi’s illegally made films, this one focusing on the restraints put on Iranian women, and how the alure of fame can act as a respite from the overbearing system.

The Assassin (dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2015) – If you’re looking for non-stop kung-fu action, then The Assassin is not what you’re looking for. If you’re interested in an incredibly slow ponderous tale with some light action, then Hou Hsiao-Hsien made a film for you.

Assassin

Beach Rats (dir. Eliza Hittman, 2017) – Eliza Hittman’s coming of age story of a young queer boy (Harris Dickinson) in Brooklyn who spends his summer experimenting with substances and older men.

Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2010) – The film that won Natalie Portman her lone Oscar (stay tuned to the upcoming lists for the film that should have won her a second). Her performance mixed well with Aronofsky’s thriller direction.

BlacKkKlansman (dir. Spike Lee, 2018) – Potentially the best film Lee has put together since Do the Right Thing (1989). It’s a shame that it will be remembered most for losing to Green Book (2018) much like Do the Right Thing did to Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – It is not as good as the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, but Villeneuve manages to capture enough of the classic’s ponderous atmosphere and intrigue to make it a welcome addition to the original’s legacy.

Blade Runner

Blue is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013) – While the arguments against the film that the sex scenes are shot from a distinctly male gaze, the lead performances by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos are among the best of the decade and earn Blue is the Warmest Colour a spot on this list.

Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley, 2015) – Saoirse Ronan and writer Nick Hornby are a perfect mix. She embodies his romantic sensibilities in perfect harmony.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller, 2018) – The film that would be #101 on the list if I was ranking these, Marielle Heller reminds the world that Melissa McCarthy is an accomplished dramatic performer in this biopic.

Cloud Atlas (dir. Lilly and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, 2012) – Yes it’s a bit of a mess, but that’s only because it’s ambitions were so high. What remains is a great eon-spanning drama with one of the decades best scores.

The Day He Arrives (dir. Hong Sang-Soo, 2012) – A depressed, no longer working director returns to his hometown, and attempts to find meaning in a series of Groundhog Dayesque scenes, as if he is directing and re-directing real life.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller, 2015) – The US version of 2009’s Fish Tank, Bel Powley stands out in the mature coming of age story.

Diary of a Teenage Girl

Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland, 2015) – Minimalist science fiction that meditates on what it is to be human is my kink, and this won’t be Garlands last of those films on this list.

A Fantastic Woman (dir. Sebastián Lelio, 2017) – As a trans woman myself, I feel confident in saying that most films about us are exploitative bullshit. A Fantastic Woman on the other hand, is honest and moving.

The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker, 2017) – Child actor Brooklynn Prince is a standout in the depressing depiction of poverty in the shadow of the Disney World artifice.

The Forbidden Room (dir. Guy Maddin, 2015) – A collection of stories made from fake lost footage accented by a song about Udo Kier’s unrelenting obsession with butts and a tutorial on how to take a bath. Maddin isn’t for everyone but if you’re up for something bizarre I highly recommend The Forbidden Room.

Forbidden Room

Girl Walk // All Day (dir Jacob Krupnick) – Obsessively just a 75 minute music video to Girl Talks All Day album, I don’t think any movie has given me more joy this decade than this film.

Girl Walk

Good Time (dir. Benny and Josh Safdie, 2017) – A neon tinted hellish thriller throughout New York where no one is a good person, but you can’t help but feel for their motivations anyway.

Goodbye First Love (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, 2012) – Young love is never what it seems, but its an important part of growing up, and Mia Hansen-Løve understands those emotions and how they impact the life of a young woman.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, 2014) – Wes Anderson playing with aspect ratio to differentiate time periods adds to his already iconic meticulously crafted mise-en-scène.

Grand Budapest

The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook, 2016) – Constantly shifting perspectives and lack of an omniscient camera lend an air of mystery to the lesbian thriller.

High Life (dir. Clare Denis, 2019) – Claire Denis’s low-concept science fiction film relies on strong performances from Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche to create an eerie isolating experience.

Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria, 2019) – Through what could be a straightforward Scorsese crime film homage, Lorene Scafaria tells a story about the power of female friendship set atop the glitz and glam and a New York strip club.

Inside Out (dir. Pete Doctor and Ronnie Del Carmen, 2015) – The best Pixar film of the decade does what most Pixar films do best: present a mature emotional core behind a film that can be consumed by all ages.

Kate Plays Christine (dir. Robert Greene, 2016) – A film that stretches the definition of what a documentary is and can be, the story of an actress preparing for a role that doesn’t exist in order to personalize a near forgotten story is innovative and memorable.

Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight, 2016) – Animation studio Laika Entertainment’s masterpiece, Kubo and the Two Strings mixes great voice acting, a strong story, and breathtaking stop motion.

Kubo

The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015) – A very dark comedy that introduced Yorgos Lanthimos to a wider audience than his prior Greek films is fascinating in its straight-faced absurdness.

Love & Friendship (dir Whit Stillman, 2016) – Whit Stillman’s heightened style mixes perfectly with Jane Austen’s writing, and reuniting with his Last Days of Disco leads Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny is a joy.

The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2017) – A Polish, cannibal, mermaid, musical and if that’s not enough to pique your interest, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Lure

Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan, 2016) – A trio of great performances (Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges) highlight this emotional tale of loss and isolation.

Margaret (dir. Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) – The studio’s lack of faith in Lonergan’s two and a half plus magnum opus is the only reason it qualifies for this decades list, but the meandering search for meaning is amazing if not commercially viable.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan, 2018) – Essentially a dramatic retelling of But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), The Miseducation of Cameron Post tells the story of a girl at a conversion therapy camp in a way that’s more complex than just stating that it’s wrong.

Miss Stevens (dir. Julia Hart, 2016) – Criminally looked over, this early performance from Timothée Chalamet mixes comedy with emotional depth in a way that it’s one sentence blurb undermines.

Miss Stevens

Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach) – This movie is just fun. Greta Gerwig as a 30-something who doesn’t have her life together is a welcome character for this 30-something who doesn’t have her life together.

Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller, 2011) – Sports movies are not the type that are likely to end up on my best of list, but a solid screenplay coupled with great acting performances makes this one to watch.

Mr. Turner (dir. Mike Leigh, 2014) – Timothy Spall embodies the eccentricity of painter J.M.W. Turner and portrays a deeply unpleasant painter who is still fascinating in the lengths he goes to for his passion.

Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre, 2014) – Jenny Slate stars in this answer to the standard rom-com. The matter-of fact discussion of Slate’s character’s decision to have an abortion is a welcome stance on a common occurrence that is still relegated to taboo.

Paint it Black (dir. Amber Tamblyn, 2016) – Amber Tamblyn’s directorial debut is an intense character drama exploring the emotional struggles of grief.

Samsara (dir. Ron Fricke – 2011) – The cinematographer of the Qatsi trilogy, makes his own entry into the emotionally stirring, beautifully shot, non-narrative documentary.

Samsara

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (dir. Edgar Wright, 2010) – The only comic book movie to make my list (save your hate mail, I don’t care) Edgar Wright’s frenetic style mixes so well with the source material that I do feel bad we missed out the potential of an Edgar Wright Ant-Man.

Sing Street (dir. John Carney, 2016) – A blast of a musical. The story is lovely and heartwarming, the young actors well performed, and the soundtrack absolutely slaps.

The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund, 2017) – A film that examines the meanings behind modern and performance are and the rich members of society who consume it without understanding.

Suspiria (dir. Luc Guadagnino, 2018) – As a remake of a classic, Guadagnino differentiates his version of Suspiria by foregoing the original’s trademark color scheme and classic score allowing it to stand on its own.

Suspiria

The Tale (dir. Jennifer Fox, 2018) – Jennifer Fox’s visual memoir is an emotionally difficult watch. One which becomes all the more devastating when you remember that it’s a true story.

Tiny Furniture (dir. Lena Dunham, 2010) – Before she made the TV show Girls Lena Dunham made on of the most important films of the mumblecore movement staring her real-life family and Girls costar Jemima Kirke.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) – The utterly bizarre Palme d’Or winner examines mortality, not through a melancholic tone, but one accepting of the final stage of life.

Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth, 2013) – Shane Carruth follows up Primer (2005), one of the driest and science heavy science fiction films of all time, with the exact opposite in the contemplative and fantastical Upstream Color.

Winter’s Bone (dir. Debra Granik, 2010) – What if Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen was transported to present day Missouri, and her story was not written for children? Then you’d have Winter’s Bone.

The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers, 2016) – The films that arguably set off the A24 horror movement, The Witch exemplifies the A24 horror trademark, a slow burn that cressendos throughout the film without release.

Witch