Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Decade So Far: The Top 25 Films + Honorable Mentions

Criteria needed to make the list:
just be good. Please. Be good.

Criteria not needed:
Critical Acclaim


25. I Saw the Devil

A relentless story of revenge that put Wu Jin Kim in the pantheon of such great Korean directors like Bong Jon Ho and Park Chan Wok.

24. Birdman
Keaton's best performance since his Ray Nicolette. It addresses a multitude of problems in the industry and does it in an exhilarating style.

23. The Sunset Limited

Two men. One room. It's as simple as a movie can get. When it's based on the words of Cormac McCarthy, it can also be the most soul searing. This is a little gem that has more power in dialogue and ideas than most of the scripts Hollywood churns out. There's times in my life where I identify with the Professor and times when I smell the lingering scent of divinity as Sam Jackson's character would say. Point being, this is a conversation starter.

22. Nebraska
The road movie that Alexander Payne was born to make. As a genre, it allows characters to reflect on their conditions, what lies ahead and what they are leaving behind. Payne's world is one where just about everyone is over 60. Buildings are boarded up. Houses are left vacant so that they can be filled with memories of yesterday. This is the setting we find Bruce Dern (who earns his character in one of his strongest roles) in as his character wanders through these vestages of his past.

21. The Wolf of Wall Street

Greed, misogyny and unchecked ego are things that still exist today. It still exists in the workplace. So when Scorsese's 3 hour film about Jordan Belfort faced claims of misogyny, I really had to wonder where these claims were coming from. For 3 hours we watch him consume enough drugs to knock out a horse, abuse his wife, his friends and butt heads with the FBI. It is exhausting. I'm sure people in the audience were waiting for the big "Shame on you" moment where Jordan Belfort, a truly vile human being, looks into the camera and says how addictive the lifestyle was. There's no Henry Hill slamming a door in your face. No old, weary Sam Rothstein telling us "that's that". There's simply a new generation of people waiting in line to hear what someone like Belfort has to teach them. Grim.

20. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Durkin's script allows the movie to weave in and out of past and present creating a crippling state of paranoia that runs through the veins of the main character.

19. The Interrupters
I live in Chicago and luckily in the suburbs. It is well known just how bad crime has gotten in the city. The Interrupters shows an organization from the city called Cease Fire. This organization brings together people who stepped away from violence and hope to stop violence in their community. Gang violence, angry kids, and scared kids are a part of the range of situations the group tackles. There's no conventional structure here. No talking heads. We are given raw and intimate portraits of heart wrenching stories. As powerful as anything as Steve James made. And he made Hoop Dreams.

18. Incendies

After Prisoners, Villeneuve's name was branded into my brain. I sought out this picture to find that he is not a one hit wonder, he is the real deal. Incendies opens with a elegant use of Radiohead's You and Whose Army and doesn't let up until it final haunting revelation.

17. The Babadook
How do you accurately portray grief? How can your main character cope? What if you were tasked to create a picture that stands as a metaphor for that grief? Jennifer Kent's debut feature answers all of these questions with an assured confidence that many debut filmmakers don't exhibit. It also stretches back all the way to the silent period to underlie how horror can be depicted in a visually striking way. Murnau, Christensen and Dreyer knew it back then. Kent knows it now.

16. The Hunt

The Salem Witch Trials are a subject that absolutely fascinate me. You can even see the mindset at work in modern day society with the West Memphis Three documentaries. It's that brand of psychological horror that scares me more than any monster. It's on full display in Thomas Vinterberg's picture. Only this time you see the source of the lie and track its destructive trail that attaches to the protagonist like a cancerous tumor.  Mads Mikkelsen turns in his best performance here.

15. Upstream Color
Carruth directed, produced, edited and scored this film. Proof that if your vision is unique and as singular as your passion and drive are, nothing can stop you.

14. Killer Joe
Friedkin's most assured film since Sorcerer also contains a terrifying performance from Matthew McCoughnahey.

13. Amour

The best film Haneke has done involves an aging couple. Emmanuelle Riva gives my second favorite female performance so far this decade and Jean Louis Trintignant reminds me why he is one of the most gifted actors out there. We see their struggles, warts and all as the camera asks us to simply observe these two in what is, for the most part, a single location. The deterioration of memory and the physical body is captured in raw and naked honesty.

12. It's Such A Beautiful Day
The shortest film on the list but also the one that has the most ideas.

11. Take Shelter

Witnessing a person's mind slowly breaking apart is a truly terrifying scenario. Michael Shannon gives a startling performance in the film that announced both him and Jeff Nichols as serious talents that should be looked at.

10. We Need to Talk About Kevin
A deeply unsettling film about motherhood and how a tragic event pervades one's psyche. Swinton gives my favorite female performance of the last five years. The connection to images of both past and present through editing, as well as the repetition of details, is something we really haven't seen done to this extent since the films of Nic Roeg.

9. Enemy

Enemy fulfills the promise of Prisoners from a year before that Villeneuve is a force to be reckoned with. Gyllenhaal also peaks here after giving us great performances in Prisoners and Nightcrawler.

8. A Separation

The dissolution of a marriage kicks this movie off. Along the ways, we are given haunting revelations about class divide, Iran's laws and religion, relationships and all the gray areas in between. No single character could be labeled as bad nor good as everyone here is morally flawed. Few films have the patience and compassion as this one.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis
For a film set in the winter, ILD proves to be the Coens' warmest film since Fargo. It also distills the essence of folk music in its gorgeous cinematography and brilliant screenplay.

6. Whiplash
Drumming, out of all the other professions in music, always seemed to most fascinating to me. The endurance and timing it all requires. Whiplash, only the 2nd film from Damien Chazelle, manages to go beyond just drumming and showcase how far the limits of ambition can be pushed. 

5. Blue Is the Warmest Color
For three hours we can't help but be pulled into this film's orbit. It's exploration of maturation, eroticism, and manipulations of the heart is raw and uninhibited.

4. The Act of Killing

I would like to think that this is "the horror" that Kurtz spoke about in Apocalypse Now. It hasn't really been since that film that a piece of art cut to the marrow of the notions of good and evil. Chilling doesn't even begin to do it justice.

3. The Master

Twenty years from now, people are going to look at this film as a masterpiece.

2. Interstellar

I've yammered enough about this masterwork from Nolan.

1. Boyhood

I remember seeing the near unanimous praise from critics when this film hit theaters. The 12 year project seemed to pay off in spades for Linklater. Then came the dissent.

Films about time and aging are ones I especially connect with. Synecdoche New York, The Up Series, Linklater's Before Trilogy. They are universal in their theme. The astonishing thing about Boyhood beyond its challenging of traditional narrative, is the collective power of it.


Incendies (Denis Villeneuve)
I Saw the Devil (Kim Ji-Woon)
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
The Social Network (David Fincher)
Mother (Bong Jon-Ho)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Submarino (Thomas Viterberg)
True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe)

Note: In all my years of moviegoing, this was probably the worst year I experienced. If the rest of the decade was like this, I would have given up. Thankfully, 2011 was far better.

Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynn Ramsay)
The Interrupters (Steve James)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
The Sunset Limited (Tommy Lee Jones)
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
Shame (Steve McQueen)
Warrior (Gavin O'Connor)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Honorable Mention: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Tyrannosaur, Snow On Tha Bluff, Red State, Oslo August 31st, Into the Abyss, Kill List, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer)
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
It's Such A Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt)
Amour (Michael Haneke)
The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
West of Memphis (Amy Berg)
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
Flight (Robert Zemeckis)

Honorable Mention: Cabin In the Woods,  Pain and Gain, Rust and Bone, The House I Live In, The Dark Knight Rises, The Imposter, Central Park Five, The Grey, oom 237, Looper, Prometheus

Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdetallif Kechiche)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
The Counselor (Ridley Scott)
Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve)
12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)
Like Father Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)

Honorable Mention: Gravity, Le Passe, Before Midnight, The Great Beauty, Lords of Salem, Short Term 12, Her

Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu)
Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

Honorable Mention: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Citizenfour, Tusk, Gone Girl, Snowpiercer, Blue Ruin, Life Itself, Force Majeure, The Guest