The Top 101 Movies of the Past Decade
Foreword: Eligible films premiered 2008 — Present (Nov. 2017), which prevented tough discussions about There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, the Darjeeling Limited and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This is a highly subjective list, drawn from the parochial consumption of an avid but amateur movie fan. What follows is one sentence each about (in the opinion of this author) the Top 101 Movies of the Past Decade.
101. Macbeth (2015)
Slow-churning, faithful to the bard’s brutal original text, each frame like a neoclassical painting; with twin smoldering performances by Fassbender and Cotillard, a natural duo.
100. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
The single most thrilling action sequence in modern cinematic history- vertiginous, nausea-inducing, hyper-slick and geographically topical.
99. The Danish Girl (2015)
Eddie Redmayne waltzes, blushes, glitters and blinks through so many scenes like oil on canvas, buttressed by an ironclad Alicia Vikander.
98. Frances Ha (2012)
The true heir apparent to the Woody Allen film style, an endlessly charming and consistently funny Bildungsroman that functions perfectly in black and white.
97. The Lost City of Z (2016)
This generation’s Aguirre; a river movie a little sweeter on the idea of (hu)man’s ambition, and what one must wage while pursuing one’s destiny.
96. Watchmen (2009)
Comic books’ / graphic novels’ most complex “villain,” a standout title sequence, a visionary cinematographic style and a downright haunted performance by Jackie Earle Haley, as Rorschach.
95. Cemetery of Splendour (2015)
Hypnotic, tender, careful and historic; another Apichatpong Weerasethakul film featuring brief encounters with the otherworldly, to effect.
94. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Sound in its internal logic, a glee machine of a movie that gratifies and engages its viewers while achieving a grim, brutalist aesthetic; a whole that far outweighs the sum of its parts and the subject of its premise.
93. The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Bludgeoning, visceral and relentless action, an experience not-unlike trying to fight your way out of a bad dream, introducing one of modern movies’ true root-for-able heroes.
92. The VVitch (2015)
A compelling mystery in a deeply thematic and real-feeling void in society; dark, Biblical, paranoiac, just obtuse enough plot-wise to keep viewers on-edge.
91. Skyfall (2012)
Instantly locked-in as a Top Bond Film®️- Daniel Craig’s best turn in the role, a classic Bond villain born in Javier Bardem; every button and every note struck perfectly, melding the worlds of the modern, hardscrabble Bond with the slick, urbane gentlemen of Bonds past.
90. Mississippi Grind (2015)
Two perfect decisions in allowing Ryan Reynolds to hit max charisma and Ben Mendelsohn achieve peak sleaze; sort of accurately captures the gravitational / vortical power of addiction.
89. Whatever Works (2009)
Larry David is the only worthwhile Woody Allen avatar and ‘Whatever Works’ is the only post-Y2K Allen film that even remotely qualifies as funny; the dialog makes one nostalgic for early-era Woody and Evan Rachel Wood glides in a movie unfairly derided.
88. Tangerine (2015)
Purely original, 100% post-modern, and dizzyingly, electrifyingly real; sad but exuberant, hilarious but heartfelt- the lo-fi methodology actually makes you feel way closer to the action.
87. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
With a Burtonesque take on suburban architecture and a novel postmodernism, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl injects a little life into a tried-and-true genre, with a likable core cast.
86. Inception (2010)
In an age of sequels, reboots and IP rehash, Inception stood out as a refreshingly stark exception- something completely new, a work of pure imagination, with visuals that were clearly groundbreaking, a cipher of a story line that kept viewers rapt right up until the instantly famous cut to black– and the introduction of Tom Hardy to mainstream America.
85. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Dank genre fare from journeyman tinkerer Jim Jarmusch, with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as louche, hedonistic vampires slumming it in postlapsarian Detroit, perfectly bored with their immortality; this movie is a red eye flight through the dark night of the soul.
84. The Avengers (2012)
Harmonic to the point of near-resonance, satisfying admixture of comedy and drama, with thumping, haptic fight scenes, rat-a-tat dialog and an appropriately ultrachromatic palette.
83. La La Land (2016)
Everything, positive and negative, that needs to be said about this movie has been said (and then some) but suffice it to say that it’s polarizing; if you’re charmed, you’re in, but if you’re immune, you’ll likely hate it.
82. Take This Waltz (2011)
Sleeper comedy utilizes Seth Rogen’s undeniable humanness to emotional ends, as the witless but softhearted husband who takes his wife (Michelle Williams, always sublime) for granted; A+ soundtrack to boot.
81. Hard to Be a God (2013)
Intestinal, palpable and literally earthy, Hard to Be a God is a vulgar Byzantine mudder marathon that seethes down into hell-circles like a worm.
80. Baby Driver (2017)
Smitten from Scene One, everything that shouldn’t’ve worked worked: the neo-noir dialog, the over-the-top music cues, the acting performance that should’ve added an extra “m” to John Hamm’s last name, etc; but it was all so alluring, and so rooting for Baby was easy as A-B-C and Baby Driver was a film-length highlight reel.
79. It Comes at Night (2017)
Gritty apocalyptic hyper-realism that places family first, and never loses sight of the leverage the heart holds over reason.
78. Chi-Raq (2015)
Each grandiose set piece is an operatic mission statement, building blocks stacking down like bricks in a wall; the Montague versus Capulet thread spirits the whole thing into motion, but, it’s about so much more- gun violence in Chicago, black lives mattering before BLM entered the common lexicon; an important but also enjoyable pageantry.
77. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
A suite of high-calibre acting talent, all locking horns as they try to navigate Cold War détente, each cog in the machine balancing on the pin of another, the whole thing built to blow; Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr is a rowdy outsider, Gary Oldman is an O.G. but all loyalties are suspect- this movie is overstuffed with things to love.
76. Lady Bird (2017)
The mother / daughter relationship at its most brutally honest, in a movie that refuses to peacock or preen, stocked with characters who exhibit angst but are fundamentally good and wholesome; it’s nice at times for a movie to force serve without resorting to characters that are jaded assholes, dealing only in cynicism and “enjoying” only with wry irony- Lady Bird is a love song to Sacramento and to its characters.
75. Easy A (2010)
Part feminist anthem, part anti slut-shaming campaign, and all blisteringly funny; early Emma Stone proves capable of complete film takeover — a one-woman show “easily” worth the price of admission.
74. Holy Motors (2012)
An absurdist tour de force that, well, the more you say about it the less sense it seems to make; a densely-layered musical enigma that unravels in your fingertips the deeper you try to pry into its mysteries.
73. Funny People (2009)
A movie whose philosophy is as bleak as its central prognosis, but Sandler, as Rogen, uses comedy to strike at humanity, and the majority of this movie explores this mechanism and maybe better lowlights the isolation and inuring effects of fame than any “serious” movie ever has; plus Rza.
72. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
As taut as a (spoiler alert!) bowstring pulled all the way back, (list favorite) Tilda Swinton tiptoes icily through this mousetrap of a psychological thriller while John C. Reilly yields, as he does, absorbing some of the tension; Ezra Miller is darkness personified as the unrepentant eponym.
71. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows -Part 2 (2011)
The culmination of a decade’s worth of build-up, and the crescendo of a series that evolved throughout, this end product was a beautifully crafted send-off to a rich world and dozens (less at the end of the movie) of beloved characters.
70. Spotlight (2015)
Pitch-perfect investigative journalism procedural with an eccentric yet believable cast tackling a heavy topic; Spotlight is neat masterpiece, not a wasted motion nor a misplaced step to be found in a film that bristles with the righteous energy of its characters.
69. Under the Skin (2013)
Vantablack sci-fi, darker than dark, delivers fully on the promise of its title, delivering subdermal goosebumps as Scarlett Johansson travels backwards across the uncanny valley to unnerve in bleak landscapes; the final reveal is worth the wait.
68. Incendies (2010)
Villenueve’s nascent handle on visuals were evident here, and the cross-continental mystery would’ve been captivating on its own, even if there weren’t so many ripped-from-the-headlines implications rearing their ugly heads throughout; Incendies needs to be seen to be fully felt- its coarse and pyrotechnic beauty defies easy description.
67. Green Room (2015)
A brutalizing, meatgrinder bottle episode escape the room, with too-graphic violence and Patrick Stewart as a neo-Nazi paterfamilias trying to keep his thumb on the neck of a group of hard-to-kill punks; an eviscerating affair.
66. Killing Them Softly (2012)
Another in the category of criminally underrated, Killing Them Softly was too unambitious in its political messaging but plenty stylish, starlit (Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta) and greasy with scuzzoid background performances by Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy, as downbeat junkies.
65. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
If you go in expecting James Bond for Kids, you’ll come out feeling icky- the violence is ratcheted up to 11, the set-pieces are all inventive twists on the expected tropes, and Taron Egerton burns a streak across the stage in his breakout performance.
64. Waltz with Bashir (2008)
A seemingly strange medium with which to capture the atrocities of war, Waltz with Bashir‘s pop art sensibilities somehow still showcase, in-depth, the magnitude of the survivors’ emotions.
63. A Most Violent Year (2014)
Really, a vision, where the seedy plot services the picturesque world through which Oscar Isaac gently thumbs and Jessica Chastain ravenously pores; an urban snow-simmer whose aesthetics score in the highest percentile.
62. Swiss Army Man (2016)
More heartfelt emotion educed from the titular dead man than most of his red-blooded onscreen colleagues- an impossible conceit brought to improbable, effervescent, symphonic life.
61. Leviathan (2014)
The trials of a man, underscored by faint traces of the surreal, set in an austere Russian coastal town; to be beset but proceed- it’s an Old Testament lesson re-taught in a new, alien setting.
60. In Bruges (2008)
Maybe the first film to recognize that Colin Farrell, despite his overt handsomeness, works best playing neurotics, oddballs and sociopaths- not outright leading men; Ralph Fiennes as arch villain (two words) and Brendan Gleeson as simpatico hangdog round out this quirky, captivating three-hander.
59. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)
Michael Keaton excels as blue-collar villain the Vulture, who actually grounds the character with believable backstory, but it’s Tom Holland who really shines, infusing every square-inch of the movie with levity and buoyant energy and a tackling of the superhero curve that you can feel vicariously; role players (the various guys in chairs) also slug above their weight- particularly Zendaya, who feigns ennui with perfect teenage disenchantment.
58. A Bigger Splash (2016)
Ralph Fiennes unleashed, Tilda Swinton slotting naturally into the role of world-famous rock star, and subtle, impactful ancillary performances abound, including the one played by the geography, which makes for an immersive, globetrotting experience.
57. Everybody Wants Some!!! (2016)
Linklater is well-versed in the filmic analysis of authenticity, and this summer song is a study in bro dynamics that really “gets” character interplay, squad mentality and hormones.
56. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
The deconstructionist elements work and despite its being decried for being twee, this seemingly skin-deep romcom hews closer to the real trajectory of a doomed relationship than more self-serious, heavy-handed dramas.
55. 20th Century Women (2016)
Simultaneously enlightened and illuminating, a movie that feels comprehensive in which aspirations it attained; lens-flared, sun-soaked, palm-shadowed, and loving of its old buildings, and cars, this is a film that anchors on Annette Bening’s superpowers.
54. Listen Up, Philip (2014)
Rare example of a film that succeeds either despite or because of its reviling, purely unlikable protagonist; shot in barrel-aged sepia tone, drenched in cynicism, and vaguely analogical of real-world writer Philip Roth, this movie is, like most of Roth’s work, challenging but effecting.
53. Fish Tank (2009)
Whether it’s the unique aspect ratio, the bone deep human performances (Fassbender like a snake having just shed off skin, Katie Jarvis as the pineapplesque [tough exterior, sweet on the inside] step-daughter) or the on-sight locale shots which ingrain in your memory the lay of the land, Fish Tank is a movie that is impossible, impossible to shake; years later it’s possible to still find yourself wedged between that Satan’s triangle of lust and love and youthful confusion, where all souls came away unclean.
52. Knight of Cups (2015)
Malick has some preternatural ability to open lenses wider, absorb more color, more light, into every shot, making every glance and every angle of all his films seem like a colossal statement; his characters jump and skip and sidle through his worlds and Knight of Cups is no exception, Los Angeles and its surrounds feels like the whole solar system; the plot is of low importance on the totem poles in Malick’s mind-alteringly gargantuan worlds.
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51. The Grey (2011)
Set up to be another in the line of Taken-esque Neeson action thrillers, The Grey is actually a solemn, meditative paean on mortality and man v. nature, with patient camera work and a Hemingway cadence.
50. It Follows (2014)
A Gregory Crewdson photograph come to haunted life, It Follows is an extended STD metaphor but so much more, filled with oblique and terrifying flairs, out-and-out jump scares, and penetrating cinematography; it hammers your nerve ends by recognizing something fundamental, almost prehistoric, about fear.
49. Locke (2013)
They sent Tom Hardy on a suicide mission: captivate an audience, alone, from behind the wheel of a car; it sounds impossible even in retrospect, but Hardy delivers in spades.
48. Creative Control (2015)
Shot in laser-cut black & white, this film says maybe what we’re already thinking about the impending Device-pocalypse; that the technology we love will also one day spell our doom- this movie behaves badly, but looks gorgeous, a view of the future through frosted glass.
47. Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Sexually explicit at the outset in a way that seems almost confrontational, Stranger by the Lake becomes blissful once you sink into its rhythms, succumb to the sensual pleasures of sight and sound: the sun glittering off the nominal lake, the wind rustling through the trees, etc.
46. Drive (2011)
How to compliment a film that’s already been over-gassed- is it the tropical neon palette, the synth pop score, the aloof, sparing dialog? These special parts overcome the non-special plot; time slows down, violence ensues, plus cool jackets and Albert Brooks going hard off-character.
45. A Single Man (2009)
Tom Ford’s funereal examination of a man living in a protracted state of grieving; just as fashionable as you’d imagine considering the director, from the sharp suits, to the thick-framed glasses, to the swank house Colin Firth’s character transforms into a glass mausoleum; what could have looked like an extended watch commercial became, something else, a lament on the rhetorical nature of that one question: “will I ever love again?”
44. Life of Pi (2012)
Mandalas of natural beauty overlay a tale of survival and heartbreak, a film suffused with magic realism; the plot hinges elegiac on the conceit of storytelling as a coping mechanism and shows, at once, the grandness of the universe and the tiny fragility of the human heart.
43. A Prophet (2009)
Multicultural, but fluent in the language of violence, this photorealistic film explores prison and beyond, following a main character who is one part saint and two parts scorpion, as he ingratiates himself with multiple bad crowds; see inside: the decade’s best car crash scene by a country mile.
42. Dunkirk (2017)
As is his nature, Nolan experiments in both form and function, splicing timelines, dilating space, and overclocking every bit of stimulus in a self-contained war epic whose SFX shred, visuals scintillate, and acting performances saturate the conscious.
41. The Master (2012)
In his follow-up to There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson once again trains his camera on troubled, male sociopaths, charismatic leaders with messianic aspirations, and the innocent who incinerate in the respective blast radii; it would be horrible, if it weren’t all so beautiful to look at.
40. Iron Man (2008)
The most excellent matching of character and casting, Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, Iron Man, some idealization of his actual life, vice versa, or some variation thereof, but however it happened, it was the spark that started a forest fire; the banter crepitates, the action fused fantasy with photojournalism, and a comic book hero lifted off the page and was born into the real world.
39. Chevalier (2015)
A group of bored, affluent men conceptualize a complexly-ruled game of sport, and high jinks on the high seas ensues as they flex their machismo and try to intellectually, physically, and psychologically dominate one another against a backdrop of Mediterranean beauty; guaranteed to scratch an itch for the competitively minded.
38. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Achieved the impossible: hit enough of the original trilogy’s beats to please the purists, while reinventing and modernizing itself enough to break new ground; the Force Awakens almost did enough to erase the bad memories of the prequels out of fans’ heads, while introducing Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver into the canon with aplomb; also- the heart-wrenching “twist” is executed with the precision timing of a nuclear clock.
37. Body of Lies (2008)
First movie to really showcase Oscar Isaac’s chameleonic, pan-ethnic capabilities, Body of Lies is a pragmatic tale of bureaucracy, whose beauty stems from just how realistic its unromantic depiction of geopolitcal optics, vested interest and red tape interfering with ground-level operations feels.
36. The Revenant (2015)
James Fenimore Cooper shot through a f*%$ing howitzer, the Revenant is a rock-’em, sock-’em riptide through the alpine tundra, as multiple antagonists, including natives, bears, Tom Hardy and the freezing cold itself, savage Leonardo DiCaprio; pure spectacle, and a spectral, hard-fought performance from Leo.
35. The Lobster (2015)
More relatable than Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, and more visually compelling than The Killing of a Sacred Deer, this film centers on a pudgy, one-note Colin Farrell, and the plot sounds like someone trying to explain a Salvador Dali painting, a dream-logic scherzo with slo-mo hunting sequences, a hotel as demented as the Overlook, and Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw in supporting roles.
34. Jauja (2014)
An ayahuasca trip through Tierra del Fuego, shot on 35mm film in 4×3 aspect ratio, which lends a Venusian feel to the landscape, or maybe, suggests natural history museum dioramas, given the still, subtly exploratory nature of the action; an obscenely pretty movie yoked to a superlative Viggo Mortensen performance.
33. Personal Shopper (2016)
It could probably be said that director Olivier Assayas’ directing style draws obvious parallels to his subject matter, in the way that Kristen Stewart carefully extricates expensive new things from their delicate boxes; Stewart, haunted and possibly also hunted, is a game-changer, as a personal shopper living the gliteratti life vicariously.
32. Moonlight (2016)
The sands of time abrade a tender youngster in a human exploration so intimate it feels voyeuristic; the New Yorker sums it up: [Barry] “Jenkins creates a film with a sense of what James Gray calls ‘architecture,’ with which the director keeps the many elements of the story — and, even more, of his complex and manifold responses to it — in a balance that highlights its many strands individually even as he interweaves them contrapuntally.”
31. La Grande Bellezza (2013)
In this darkling, strange, magnificent beast of a movie Toni Servillo plays, effortlessly, Jep Gambardella, who has either uncorked the great mysteries of the universe or is a man in ruin, is either permanently inured to the sieges of love, or is hopelessly vulnerable to them; in either case, Paolo Sorrentino cements himself as a generational talent, a visualist of unparalleled ability and a storyteller with no equivalent within arm’s reach.
30. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Expanded the Star Wars universe across new locales, inserting a puzzle-piece of narrative into the larger mythos that, even though you know how it all ends, has you begging the film to say it ain’t so; and a Mephistophelian Ben Mendolsohn as the serpentine big bad in all-white inverts, with a devious lisp, the very nature of Darth Vader’s gravel-toned evil.
29. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The great trick that Inside Llewyn Davis plays on its audience is that it takes its curmudgeonly title character, and slowly makes you fall in love with him, despite his flaws, because it simultaneously makes you believe his flaws are a direct result of the world having unfairly spited him, only to reveal at film’s end, that maybe Llewyn isn’t as great as he insists he is, and that you’ve maybe been rooting for an asshole all along.
28. Whiplash (2014)
One of the most eminently re-watchable films on the list, Whiplash moves at its own tempo, and does something that all great art should do: take the niche (in this case, jazz) and make its trials and tribulations feel universal; its ideology is that all greatness requires sacrifice and dedication, and in this film, J.K. Simmons is a forge.
27. Enemy (2013)
Paranoiac dread distilled, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s finest hour, as he pulls double-duty in another of Denis Villenueve’s second worlds; Villenueve has a talent of making the banal feel extraterrestrial, and this xanthous film bears more a resemblance to Rear Window than its chronologically-closer Double; the most disturbing, indelible final shot since Sexy Beast.
26. Her (2013)
Big ideas on A.I. with a Big Sur vibe, this film’s ambiance garnered a lot of hype, and rightfully so, including this lovely send-up here: Lonely Palette: The Economy of Colour in Spike Jonze’s Her; however, what’s also lovely is the progressive idealism that rode shotgun to Joaquin Phoenix’s (irreplaceable here) heartache.
25. The Act of Killing (2012)
Maybe this one is best explained by its succinct Wikipedia first line: “The Act of Killing is a 2012 documentary film about individuals who participated in the Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66;” the penetrating aspect of this film is the mirthful way the perpetrators, still unpunished all these years later, proudly describe their actions; the effect is a worldview-altering, surrealist painting of Indonesia.
24. The Tree of Life
Malick’s wheelhouse has always been the grandiose, and in this massive film his target is no less than the universe itself, marrying the subatomic with the macrocosmic, connecting the web-ends of the nuclear family with the primordial soup, in startling, sun-kissed vignettes shot wondrously in his characteristically anarchic style.
23. Somewhere (2010)
A quiet, confident follow-up to well-heralded Lost in Translation (and Marie Antoinette) that is just as quality on surprising, emotionally intense performances; a distinctly tinctured daydream that’s a perfect feat of self-contained film-making.
22. Birdman (2014)
A surrealistic steeplechase, moving always seamlessly downhill, this ragtime behind-the-scenes metaplay of Keaton’s career is a living pinball machine, replete with sound and fury, including but not limited to: Times Square’s multitudinous lights, Emma Stone’s luminous facade, and Ed Norton’s blast furnace heat.
21. Django Unchained (2012)
A revenge fantasy, dressed to kill; a Tarantino genre-purée that is openly antagonistic but generously, overwhelmingly beautiful; Quentin Tarantino might be the unrivaled master of the tense dining scene; before the ordnance is unholstered, everyone sits on sharpened tenterhooks; the current-day soundtrack fused with the fury of the past is particularly striking.
20. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
At times, about as funny as digging a grave in frozen earth, at others, only as serious as the Playboy aspirations of a 16-year old kid, this film flawlessly pulls off the high-wire act it attempts; Casey Affleck plays what he plays best, fallible, extracting impossible fragments of humor from his jet black situation.
19. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director Steve McQueen translates his arthouse sensibilities to the big screen, and the result is a sprawling re-telling of Solomon Northup’s saga, which examines as if through a loupe the multifaceted world of a antebellum American South; a prestigious arsenal of supporting talent but none so strong as Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey.
18. The Dark Knight (2008)
The world’s best villain, full stop, but this film is embargoed from the Top 10 due to a cumbersome third act that asks too many unanswered philosophical questions, including the question that asks whether or not the third act’s inclusion was really necessary at all; hand-worked special effects and the PATRIOT ACT undertone made for a grim realism; never before did the real world seem so vulnerable to besieging– by creeping, colorful maniacs, or whatever other chaos is out there…
17. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Peak Wes Anderson; an extended snoop inside the rectilinear machine of his mind, wherein Ralph Fiennes is a vamping hotelier and Tony Revolori is his greenhorn apprentice and Willem Dafoe wears brass knuckles; as always, the Anderson universe teems with colorful characters and carefully-upholstered visuals.
16. Before Midnight (2013)
For devotees, this was long-anticipated, and for the fairy tale to be ostensibly over was bittersweet; bitter because of how far along we’ve come rooting for Jesse and Celine, but sweet because of how verisimilitude trumps all else in the Linklater universe.
15. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
You can hate it for glamorizing immoral behavior, but you can’t deny that Scorsese is uniquely capable of bottling lightning: Leo’s electric salesmanship, the methamphetamine pace of the dark finance world; and the myriad auxiliary performances (Jon Bernthal, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill) that propel this movie into the mesophere.
14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Frenetic, steampunk Scheherazade through the Namibian desert, this film championed the resolve, reason and power of women, relied on practical over digitally-created effects, and moved with the exponential intensity of a snowball in an avalanche; there’s a lot to love, as straight stimulus it’s a joy to slug down, as political messaging it’s refreshing as an oasis, and it speaks volumes that Tom Hardy, normally the heliocentric element of the films he does is a remote satellite, and nearly mute throughout.
13. Submarine (2010)
A.O. Scott, whose movie reviews are works of art in and of themselves, writes: “Submarine’ is an important film. Watch it with respect,” an introductory note from this peculiar, engaging young man [main character Oliver Tate] suggests. After obeying the second part of that message, I can’t quite agree with the first, which I doubt was meant entirely in earnest. Significance can be overrated, and “Submarine” makes the most of its whimsical triviality. Not that what happens — first love, family trouble, stray encounters with the weirdness of the world — feels trivial to Oliver. The key to any coming-of-age story, whether the author is James Joyce or John Hughes, lies in calibrating the distance between how momentous and unprecedented certain experiences can feel and how normal, how usual they really are. Learning to live with that discrepancy is part of growing up, which Oliver realizes at the end of the film.” Important or not, director Richard Ayoade does something here that has been done before, but rarely better; drizzly, liquiform Wales is alive in Oliver’s imagination, and his inner stream-of-consciousness is staccato literary and comedic genius.
12. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
It’s hardly ever possible to top Roger Ebert, and won’t even attempt here; deferring to the greatest, on one of his favorite movies.
11. Starred Up (2013)
Jack O’Connell is bloodthirsty and Starred Up, a designation most would consider a pejorative but he wears proudly on his sleeve, in this father-and-son tale that takes place within the British prison system; Mendelsohn, the aforementioned father, is a jackal and O’Connell is a dynamo, licking his lips and brutalizing every scene in which he appears.
10. The Wrestler (2008)
Mickey Rourke is a one man heat-seeking missile aimed at the human heart; Aronofsky ditches the bleak psychodrama of Requiem for a Dream and the time-hopping metaphysics of the Fountain in favor of shining a lonely spotlight on an aging wrestler, embodied fully by an absolutely transmogrified Rourke.
9. The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
All said here.
8. Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 & 2 (2013)
Unsettling, obsessively structured, sexually barbarous– A.O. Scott called it all “overworked” but, its lurid subject matter notwithstanding, this (two-part) film is nothing if not ambitious, steaming full-bore into taboo NFZs, with schizoid discursions and tangents that supplement the transgressive major thread.
7. Blue Valentine (2010)
Chronicles every stage of a romantic relationship in heartbreaking clarity, sliced and intercut to maximize the contrast in emotions; scored majestically and played in a tone of midnight blue, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams a synergistic tandem that work heartstrings with violinists’ precision.
6. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Denis Villenueve’s masterstroke visuals and Hans Zimmer’s audio are a symbiosis of matchless power and feeling, a towering, thundering feat; Ryan Gosling, whose character is low and robotic and affectless by necessity, carries in the right amount of vestigial charm and geniality to carry the role, something maybe no other living actor could’ve done.
5. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
A vivisection of a life, and just as explicit as life is, warranting its NC-17 rating; a thing of rare truth and beauty, with flayed-open performances by the two actresses who garnered well-earned praise for their work; near perfect.
4. The Big Short (2015)
There is a word, “electuary,” that essentially describes what Mary Poppins was singing about when she said a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down- The Big Short is the cinematic equivalent of an electuary, sneaking huge quantities of knowledge inside a package that pops with wit and style; effectively, it’s a sugar-coated data dump, an enjoyable start-to-finish romp and one of this century’s most underrated films.
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Introducing: the greatest new American hero; a curious, brave, nails-tough, warmhearted, streetwise wunderkind- Hush Puppy, gritting it out in an effervescent, kaleidoscopic, triumphal Catherine Wheel of a film that doubles as an analog of real-world events.
2. Boyhood (2014)
A journey unalike any other; what may have seemed like a gimmick was actually a revelation, and at film’s end, parting ways with characters that you’ve legitimately witnessed grow up was so emotionally moving that the whole enterprise proved worthwhile.
1. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Tarantino’s masterpiece -his stylistic juxtapositions, pinpoint dialog, oddball cameos, choreographed ultraviolence- blend and create a brave new world; a rococo work of madcap revisionist history that fires on every one of its 16 cylinders.
Honorable Mentions: Top Five, Pacific Rim, Interstellar, Youth, Carol, the Hateful Eight, Creed, Infinitely Polar Bear, Arrival, Hell or High Water, Paterson, It, Okja, Atomic Blonde, Inherent Vice, Force Majeure, the Skeleton Twins, Nightcrawler, Gravity, Nebraska, the Kings of Summer, Enough Said, the World’s End, Prisoners, Cabin in the Woods, Bridesmaids, Young Adult, Biutiful, Restrepo, the American, Up in the Air, the Hurt Locker, Tropic Thunder, the Fighter, True Grit.