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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Top 25 Films of 2019

Top 25 Films of 2019

I know lots of critics bemoan the yearly requirement of making year end lists, but I love it. I keep my movies in lists constantly, and I use year end as an excuse to assess what my current feelings about films are after I’ve had some time to sit with them.

And yet, with my love of keeping things in lists, you’d think I’d have a better idea on what my lists mean. Is it my 25 favorite films of the year or the 25 films that I consider the objective best? Yes? It’s definitely some combination of the 2, but mostly it’s just a gut feeling. I place movies in their place on the list because that’s just what I feel.

One more thing before I get to the list, there are a handful of films that I didn’t get to see yet that very well may end up on this list.  I’m going to be revisiting the list up through the Oscars and will be editing it as necessary.  Anything that drops off the list will be added as an honorable mention instead of removing it.

And now, my Top 25 Films of 2019:

  1. 1917 (Sam Mendes)

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The Oscar front-runner sneaks onto my year-end list based entirely on it’s beauty and craft. After finally breaking his 12-time cinematography Oscar losing streak with 2018’s Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve) Roger Deakins is almost guaranteed to win his second consecutive award. The entire sequence in Écoust-Saint-Mein is beyond beautiful with Deakins’s night photography taking center stage.

  1. Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio)

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Full disclosure, I’ve not seen 2013’s Gloria also by Sebastián Lelio which this film is just an American remake of, but I don’t care; Gloria Bell deserves a slot in my year end list even if it is a remake.  It’s so seldom that anyone creates a love story staring someone in their 50s. Watching Julianne Moore spend her evenings in L.A. dance clubs still searching for love when the rest of her life is solidly figured out puts a different emphasis on the story than a similar story about 20 somethings would have.

  1. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)

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This film was weirdly the hardest for me to place on the list. Part of me though it should clearly be in the top 10 while another part thought it didn’t belong on the list at all. I think that uncertainty reflects the film a lot. Like the character he portrays, the moments with Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers are frustratingly perfect.  Similarly, the moments with just Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) are uneven and messy much like the character.  I found myself wishing the film were more even, but I think the discrepancies are deliberate meta filmmaking. Only when Fred and Lloyd are together to their peculiarities balance each other.

  1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

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I have more problems with The Irishman than not, but it makes it onto my year end list regardless by its prowess in craft alone.  De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel all put in great performances throughout the 3.5-hour decade spanning film. The digital de-aging is done very well (the main exception being that a de-aged De Niro still fights like a much older De Niro).  All in all, Scorsese is just exceptional at executing the story that he sets out to tell.

  1. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)

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In 2015 Robert Eggers proved that he could create one of the scariest films of the decade despite everyone talking in old English with his debut feature The Witch.  In 2019 he one-upped that by proving he could make a film completely bat-shit insane a critical success.  I’m beating around the bush because I don’t really know how to talk about The Lighthouse. One thing I do want to call out is the 1.19:1 aspect ratio. By using such a tight aspect ratio, Eggers enhances the claustrophobia in the film significantly. Just one detail of a film from a director well versed in how to use his craft.

  1. Dolemite Is My Name (Craig Brewer)

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Dolemite is My Name was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski who’s previous writing credits includes Ed Wood (1994) and it shows. Both films are able to depict passion in their artistic protagonists, even when that passion is not accompanied by a similar level of skill.  Eddie Murphy is dynamic in his return to big screen as Rudy Ray “Dolemite” Moore. The character gives Murphy plenty to play with in his signature verbose persona, but also allows him a chance to explore more emotional depth than many of his previous charters.

  1. The Edge of Democracy (Petra Costa)

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The first of three of the Oscar nominees for best documentary, Petra Costa’s The Edge of Democracy follows the rise of fascism in Brazil and it’s overthrowing of a socialist driven party. The film provides context of how former president Lula founded the Worker’s Party and rose to power, but then focuses on the fallout of Operation Car Wash and Bolsonaro’s eventual election. A documentary without much in the way of long term hope, it brings important context to the rise of fascism that is plaguing the entire country.

  1. High Life (Claire Denis)

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While everyone else’s favorite high-concept science fiction franchise came to an end this year (spoilers, Rise of Skywalker didn’t end up anywhere near this list) Claire Denis’s low-concept High Life was the only science fiction film to crack my year end list.  High Life uses its science fiction setting to explore deeply personal human traits. Robert Pattinson’s struggle with isolation in deep space is emotional and resonates on a visceral level. Bonus points also award to High Life for shooting a scene with Juliette Binoche in a “fuckbox”.

  1. 3 Faces (Jafar Panahi)

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The other film on my list that was a film festival exclusive, I at least have faith that 3 Faces will find distribution on Panahi’s name alone.  Panahi’s most recent illegally made film once again casts itself as non-fiction with Panahi playing himself in hopes of subverting his film making ban. While Panahi is ever prevalent in the film, he instead focuses on 3 women Behnaz Jafari, Marziyeh Rezaei, and Maedeh Erteghaei all also playing themselves.  The film questions the Iranian traditions that traps the two younger women, preventing them from living the life they would prefer, that Jafari exemplifies.

  1. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)

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Yes, I put the film affectionately dubbed “Scorsese in Stilettos” above the actual Scorsese film. What of it?  What heightens Hustlers above the likes of The Irishman and Scorsese films in general is Lorene Scafaria’s attention to character.  Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez aren’t only depicted as bad ass criminals, but as humans.  The scenes around Christmas where the women involved in the scheme celebrate together and act as family reflects a warmth in character that crime movies seldom possess.

  1. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov)

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Honeyland is a devastating documentary following Hatidze Muratova, a Macedonian bee keeper 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 it’s 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.

  1. I Lost My Body (Jérémy Clapin)

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The only animated film to make my list, I Lost My Body stands far above its animated competition.  A heartfelt story about Naoufel, a young man trying to find his way in the world with no family to speak of. The film is emotional and personal, but uses it animation to add a level of surrealism that couldn’t be mimicked in live-action. Be beauty of the film is paired with what might be one of the best scores of the year (all done by Dan Levy) to create a beautiful whole of a film.

  1. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)

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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 really 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.

  1. Climax (Gaspar Noé)

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I’m so glad I saw this movie in theaters. If you’re going to see it, make sure you see it somewhere very dark and with the volume very loud. Gaspar Noé is known for his provocative film making and Climax is no exception. With a basic storyline that members of a dance troop have their punch spiked with LSD at an after party, Noé does everything he can to recreate the sensation in his audience.  Unsettling sounds, extreme camera movements, and ever escalating graphic imagery creates a crescendo of unease without reprieve for the 100-minute runtime.

  1. The Farewell (Lulu Wang)

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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.

  1. Uncut Gems (Benny and Josh Safdie)

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This movie is a lot. The Safdie Brothers continue their habit of filling their films to the brim with stimuli in Uncut Gems. This stimuli-heavy direction works wonders with Adam Sandler’s manic acting. Sandler once again proves that when in the hands of a capable director is an excellent actor, and it’s arguable that in Uncut Gems, Sandler surpasses even his performance in Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson).  Everything about this film just clicks under the speed and intensity of the Safdie Brothers’ direction.

  1. Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)

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The most displeasing film title of the year is one of the best films of the year. The entire purpose of the film is to allow Elisabeth Moss the chance to act her ass off and she succeeds. Moss stars as punk singer Becky Something who struggles to maintain her fame because of her own self-destructive behavior. The film centers exclusively on her through 5 scenes in her flailing career while she first loses control and then struggles to regain it. Alex Ross Perry has bemoaned his inability to put any money behind an Oscar campaign for Moss and her inevitable snub will be egregious as the success of this film is exclusively because of her.

  1. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

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As much as Tarantino has been a pillar of independent film over the past 25 years, in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, he has never been better. Tarantino has always been defined by his love for film (often depicted in homage) and his understanding of spectacle. In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Tarantino creates a spectacle laden love letter to classic Hollywood that also manages to tap into an understanding of character unseen in his films since Jackie Brown (1997). It’s because of this emphasis on Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s character that this film rises to the top of his oeuvre.

  1. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)

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While lower on my list than most you’ll probably see, that doesn’t mean I have any faults with Parasite. Bong Joon-ho uses his understanding of genre and its ability to depict reality to blur the lines between drama and genre.  Bong Joon-Ho continues to explore how classism affects society, but instead of doing so with a giant CGI beast (Okja 2017) or on a class segregated train (Snowpiercer 2013) Parasite eschews that use of dystopian symbolism and grounds the classist discontent in reality. The Parks have everything while the Kims have nothing.

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma)

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Arguable whether this should be a 2019 or 2020 film, I’m putting it here. The obvious comparison for Portrait of a Lady on Fire is 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche), and while an easy comparison that doesn’t make it any less valid. Both French films are stories of lesbian love featuring brilliant performances from their leads.  What separates Portrait of a Lady on Fire is that it avoids falling into the male gaze trap of its counterpoint. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) still have sex, but instead of focusing on those moments, Sciamma instead lets the emotion and love between the women be enough in telling her beautiful story of forbidden love.

  1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

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Greta Gerwig follows up her feature debut Lady Bird (2017) by proving that her directorial prowess wasn’t a fluke.  Reuniting with stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, Gerwig delivers another perfect film depicting the lives of young women.  By abandoning the chronological framing of the books, she manages to merge the two volumes into one thematic whole rather than two differing stories.  The two halves intertwine showing parallels between the eras and highlight traits inherent in the individual characters. Gerwig also manages to address my one major problem with Jo’s character brilliantly, but I won’t give away that spoiler.

  1. Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)

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Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory is an emotional experience to behold. Perennial Almodóvar figure, Antonio Banderas portrays the director in a tumultuous stage of his career. Riddled with physical pain he is reunited with old friends and loved ones to remind him of his passion, and re-instill his will to live. The frequent flashbacks to his young childhood, featuring Penélope Cruz as the young version of his mother, provide context to the character’s demons and enhance the scenes in the present rather than distract.

  1. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

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Yes, the Gerwig-Baumbach household own a significant portion of my top 5. They deserve it. The film is Noah Baumbach’s love letter to Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1974), and he understands the purpose of the Swedish classic. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both fully formed characters with individual passions and needs who I can genuinely believe once loved each other but have since fallen out of love.  Their divorce is brutal but necessary. It takes its toll on both of them, yet both end up the better for it.  Driver’s character beginning to understand this while impromptu singing “Being Alive” at a restaurant is the scene of the year and is just one of the many emotionally poignant moments the movie has to offer.

  1. For Sama (Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts)

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Not only is For Sama the best documentary of the year, it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. The Oscars have nominated a documentary about the ongoing war in Syrian each year since the conflict began (they actually nominated two this year), but For Sama elevates itself almost entirely by it’s framing device. The titular Sama is the infant child of director Waad Al-Kateab. Waad and her husband Hamza are the heads of the last standing hospital in Aleppo, and the film follows their struggle balancing their personal need to help the people of the city they love and to protect their infant. Sama’s presence brings a sense of reality to the ongoing conflict, and the film left me visibly shaken.

  1. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

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This movie! I don’t know how to explain the artistic beauty that is this film. Incredibly personal, I felt intrusive just watching this semiautobiographical video memoir.  The film is quiet and understated and I can’t possibly do it any justice. Honor Swinton Byrne is perfect in her first ever feature. Her depiction of uncertainty in a world that assumes she knows what she’s doing resonates intensely. Tilda Swinton (Honor’s real life mother) is perfect as always, and understands that it’s her job to support her daughter both as a character in the film and as a supporting actor. This film is just perfect in every way.

Honorable Mentions

Alice (Josephine Mackerras)

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Now for my one film that no one has seen because it’s not even officially been released. If Alice had a 2020 release date, I’d have punted it to next year’s list, but unfortunately the film currently has no release date at all.  I was lucky enough to see this film at the Seattle International Film Festival and instantly fell in love. What could have been a story as old as time, Alice (Emilie Piponnier) finds herself in need of money and becomes an escort, is reclaimed with a decidedly feminist twist. Alice refutes the sexism that tells women they should be ashamed of ways they choose to use their body.

The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine)

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I’m definitely more predisposed to be on the side of a Harmony Korine film than most (Spring Breakers was in my top 5 of 2013, and I think Gummo is an underappreciated masterpiece).  If anything, The Beach Bum lost some points in my eyes as being Korine’s most approachable film to date.  But even if the film lacks some of Korine’s more artistic flare, he and McConaughey combined to create a brilliant character study that fits well in Korine’s body of work.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot)

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This film left me with so many questions. I had no idea how many of the surrealist moments were intentional, or if the entire film was one big surrealist fantasy. I do know that this film spoke to me on multiple levels. The anti-gentrification message spoke to me as a socialist, Jonathan Majors’s character resonated with me as someone constantly uneasy in public, and Joe Talbot’s direction moved me artistically.

Teen Spirit (Max Minghella)

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I may be the only person with this film on her year end list, but I don’t care. This film was infinitely better than it had any right to be. In the year 2019 we have zero need for an American Idol commentary film, yet Teen Spirit just works.  Much of why it works is because of Elle Fanning.  Entrusting a 20 year old (at time of release) with an extremely personal character study is a recipe for disaster, but Fanning proves more than able. Her rendition of the best pop song of the decade (Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”) doesn’t hurt my recommendation any either.

Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas)

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If you’re looking for proof that melodrama isn’t a bad thing, look no further than Queen & Slim. Every moment of this film is heightened beyond reason. Every action is one of life or death for the titular characters either figuratively or literally.  Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya lean into the altered reality of the film and accept their transformation for Bonnie and Clyde proxies to resistance figureheads.  The result is a film that is exaggerated beyond belief in the best possible way.