We’re now halfway done with my list of the best films of the decade. Here are entries #300 through #251.
Shazam! brings back superhero movies to their core; these are movies about people with incredible abilities that help people, and seeing this realization through the eyes of a young boy looking for an escape from his hardships makes for great comedy and drama; Shazam! celebrates these ideals and doesn’t satire them, and the point of view of a kid who wants to fly away from his problems is about as relatable as a story like this can get.
An incredible true story that would be too unbelievable otherwise, Lion shows the sharp contrast between the hopeful yearning of childhood and the regretful hardship of adulthood by two distinct segments, one with a young boy, Sunny Pawar, and the other with Dev Patel; completing the story of an Indian child lost from his home who lives his whole life searching for answers, Lion chronicles the obsession of loss that can haunt someone’s entire life.
While it excels in its thrilling final act, in which Czech soldiers carry out their doomed plan to assassinate one of Hitler’s top lieutenants, Anthropoid uses the espionage story to show what life is like under tyrannical rule, and thus why this mission was of top importance.
- The Edge of Seventeen
If John Hughes was around to make a film for the social media era, it would look something like this, as The Edge of Seventeen is realistic and compassionate to the point where there are scenes so uncomfortably familiar that you want to look away. Everybody should have a teacher like Woody Harrelson in this film.
- The Shape of Water
A monster movie by way of an Old Hollywood romance, The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale tribute to the outsiders and mistreated, with each actor bringing a sense of freedom and individuality to these roles that feel lifted from folklore. Alexandre Desplat’s score brings a beautiful sense of yearning and majesty to the story.
- The Post
While the parallels to today’s modern political climate are overtly obvious, this is still a Steven Spielberg movie and as such is expertly crafted in every conceivable way; from gaining sources to affirming data to the make or break moment of publishing, The Post has a potent grasp of the journalistic process.
- J. Edgar
Maligned upon its initial release, I think there’s actually a lot more thoughtfulness in Clint Eastwood’s depiction of J. Edgar Hoover; the film shows a rise and fall story through the eyes of someone who’s constantly at odds with himself and his identity, and the contrast of someone who lies to themselves with the world of espionage makes for a pointed critical study.
- Outlaw King
We don’t see a lot of epics like this anymore, and Outlaw King doesn’t skimp on the big, massive action sequences with thousands of English and Scottish soldiers running to kill each other. It’s easy to get lost in the facts or the dates or the who’s who of many historical movies, but Outlaw King centers these big setpieces around a race against time, putting the pressure on Chris Pine’s Robert the Bruce to save his people.
Using idiosyncratic characters and a meandering plot to communicate the response to profound grief, Demolition allows Jake Gyllenhaal to really shine as a grieving husband who both literally and figuratively takes an axe to his life; not only does he face his grief, but his own insecurities about his purpose, and the film explores these ideas in playful misadventures.
There’s a very “Old Hollywood” feel to Trumbo, and not just because it’s actually set in Old Hollywood. A very simple message about the importance of standing up for one’s ideals as told by a communist screenwriter blacklisted from the industry, Trumbo is made to entertain and inform more than it is to challenge, and the scene chewing gravitas of Bryan Cranston evokes some of the great actors of the Old Hollywood era he is representing.
- A Most Violent Year
Slow doesn’t have to mean boring, and J.C. Chandor’s meticulous epic about the corruption and decay of a city finds an impressive scope by showing the city’s impact on one family; the restrained ambition of Oscar Isaac’s dutiful businessman and the righteous anger of Jessica Chastain as his long standing wife makes for palpable cinematic energy.
Jon Faverau writes, directs, and stars in this wholesome personal tale about a bigtime chef who quits his day job and goes to run a small time food truck with his son and best friend (a great Jon Leguizamo performance); the analogy to Faverau’s own life, and how he stepped away from doing massive blockbusters to do this smaller independent film, are obvious, but Chef is more than self indulgence; and the clear passion Faverau has for foodie culture (and the heartwarming father and son bonding over a shared interest) make this one of his best films.
- The Wind Rises
A great artist reflects on art as a whole; while perhaps this will no longer remain Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, there is a sense of finality to it, and the loose and creative structure of this animated biopic says more about the nature of creation than most artists can say in their lifetime.
- Dallas Buyers Club
Here you have McConaughey at the apex of what he can bring to the screen, bringing empathy and growth to a character whose life altering diagnosis inspires him to make real changes, and Jared Leto receiving a role that actually fits his self indulgence and weirdness.
- The King
An engaging take on the militarism and imperialism that spanned the Henriad Shakespeare epics, The King gives Timothee Chalamet the chance to break out of his sad boy personna and deliver impassioned monologues and engage in dirty sword fights. He’s captivating, and sells all the strain of moral duty that haunt Henry V.
I’ve watched Annihilation a few times, talked to numerous people about it, and read many articles, but I still haven’t found a definitive answer to what its about; the search for answers within the text is compelling in of itself, and it helps that the grizzly, surrealist horror is so creative and genuinely unsettling.
- Triple Frontier
The type of action packed star vehicle that we just don’t see anymore, Triple Frontier may seem like its going down a familiar action movie path, but quickly turns into a morally ambiguous thriller about fractured characters whose loss of meaning and ulterior motives turn into grim consequences; The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty scribe Mark Boal nails the coarse, yet thoughtful dialogue of the military guys.
- The Lobster
A pitch black comedy that is as equally disturbing as it is funny, The Lobster offers searing satire on all forms of family and relationships, and at the end of the day doesn’t give an answer to loneliness or attempt to romanticize the notion of searching for a soul mate.
- 99 Homes
Examining the greed of the American housing crisis from the point of view of an everyman who rises through the ranks, 99 Homes turns the sick consequences of economic inequality into a thriller of understandable anger, with Michael Shannon’s slick realtor as the epitome of belligerent materialism.
- Super 8
This was Stranger Things before Stranger Things; J.J. Abrams really knows how to make emotional, action packed Spielberg tributes, and Super 8 combines elements of The Goonies, E.T., and War of the Worlds into an 80s movie tribute, that like Stranger Things would later perfect, understands that the creative spirit of the 80s movie kids live within us all.
- War Dogs
While it certainly owes its dues to the work of Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma, War Dogs also manages to leave its own mark as pitch black historical dark comedy, a very funny movie about the very not funny world of arms dealing. Miles Teller does great work as a supposed “average joe” warped into the situation, and Jonah Hill is uproarious as his delusional, wilder sidekick.
- Complete Unknown
This is a mystery that takes its time, because at first we’re not even entirely sure what we are watching is a mystery; exploring the life of a femme fatale whose knack for creating new identities has spurned her from every social group, Complete Unknown gives Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon the chance to act out of their comfort zones, with Weisz in the introspective character role and Shannon as the straight man.
Self awareness is the key to most superhero movies; Ant-Man fully recognizes how lame and weird its own premise is and uses it to its advantage, and makes a film that is purposefully low scale and in the wake of larger, bigger, and more important things. The stakes that are as simple as a father trying to help his daughter are perfect, and Paul Rudd brings a charm and self deprecation that is welcome for the role.
- The Kings of Summer
A film that understands the dream of every teenager to run away and live in the woods, The Kings of Summer shows this by following a group of teenagers that, well, run away and live in the woods. Nick Robinson in particular is great as the lead boy whose fed up with his father’s attempts to control his life.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
Once again, Tom Holland has proven to be the best version of Peter Parker we’ve ever seen on screen; using the new responsibilities placed on Spider-Man by Tony Stark to amplify Peter’s own anxieties, Far From Home centers on Peter’s attempts to talk to MJ as he’s constantly derailed by the world of superheroes. The idea of a kid trying to balance being a superhero and a normal teenagers is the truest adaptation of Stan Lee’s original vision, and the film also features a whimsically weird performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio.
- Fruitvale Station
We know how this movie will end, and as the tragic fate of Oscar Grant comes closer to fruition, the film brings the injustice of this tragedy alive as Grant’s last few days alive give him the chance to rectify his mistake and mend the broken family life he’s endured.
- Ingrid Goes West
Of all the films to come out in the “social media age,” this one actually speaks to the destructive nature of relationships built on lies and perception; you can never trust someone’s supposed best version of themselves, and Ingrid Goes West, for all its crazy plot developments, feels rooted in a genuine problem of what happens when a troubled person, in this case played tragically by Aubrey Plaza, tries to turn Instagram into real life.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It’s truly incredible that a sequel like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 even exists; instead of retreading the heroic get together of the first film, Vol. 2 feels more like a hangout movie where each character has a chance to reflect on their own loneliness in ways that are often funny, but also deeply human and sad. It’s a melancholy movie that comes together to celebrate the idea that these characters are together, using a rough layer of humor and dazzling visuals (that stand out as distinct among the Marvel films) to build towards an emotionally devastating conclusion of “Father and Son.”
- Black Mass
Although this decade saw Johnny Depp hiding behind makeup for many roles, this is a performance where the makeup is incidental; Depp returns to his dramatic roots as the infamous mobster turned FBI informant Whitey Bulger, and the conviction in which Depp delivers his monologues about the rules in which he operates are perfectly contrasted with how he betrays and belittles everyone around him.
- Mistress America
Director/writer Noah Baumbach and writer/actress Greta Gerwig are among the best collaborators working today (it helps that they’re married in real life); Baumbach’s astute, chaotic depiction of family dysfunction are the perfect match for Gerwig’s mischievous wit and fluid behavior, and Mistress America is a great example of how these two chaotic creatives have combined to create something truly unique.
- It Comes at Night
It Comes at Night isn’t scary because it’s about how bad people will take advantage of a situation; it’s scary because it shows that good people wound up in their own anxieties can mistake selfishness for bravery, and the post apocalyptic backdrop provides a stark and simple setup for how the interaction between two families would change both of themselves forever.
- Avengers: Infinity War
Seriously, how the hell did they fit so many damn characters into one movie? It may have been easy to format Infinity War into a simple “characters are all divided and then all meet to stop a bad guy” storyline, but the Russo Brothers show restraint by perfectly dividing each character’s screen time and sending everyone off on their own adventures, never letting one storyline get too dull and giving each character a moment to shine.
- Robot & Frank
This one is simply delightful: Frank Langella is a veteran bank robber who is granted a domestic robot by his children to take care of him, but uses his new friend to aid him in a new heist. It’s playful but also profound, as Langella’s character yearns for the days where he was on the top of his game, and uses this robot to help him live out the fantasies of being young again.
Yes, it’s a gimmicky movie that makes jabs at other comic book franchises and cliches, but Kick-Ass also has all the elements that make a great comic book movie: a reluctant hero whose in over his head, inventive action scenes that mix graphic novel stylizations with grim brutality, and a window into a world in which superheroes and superhero comics exist and impact each other.
- Beasts of No Nation
A situation this horrific is hard to imagine as anything more than a talking point, but Cari Fukunagua goes deep in this story of child soldiers to show the systematic effects of war in West Africa have forever conditioned generations into war, and Idris Elba is terrifying as the vicious warlord who brings these children into the bloodbath.
- Star Trek Beyond
After the first two action heavy installments of the rebooted Star Trek franchise, Beyond brought the series back to the roots of the original series with an exploratory mission that allowed each character to shine as they are divided following the crash of the enterprise; key character beats include Chris Pine’s Kirk maturing into the character William Shatner perfected, and Spock wrestling with his own mortality, which serves as a touching tribute to the recent passing of the great Leonard Nimoy.
As history becomes legend, it’s easy to forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a complex guy, a family man who had an unparalleled ability to speak to people and raise them up, and Selma explores the nitty-gritty of how a movement takes root within a people and changes the landscape forever.
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Style over substance isn’t always a bad thing, and Guy Ritchie tells a story you’ve seen before (involving overcomplicated plots to start nuclear war and a budding spy duo), but everything is brought together by big personalities. There are scenes dedicated to a single joke as Henry Cavill’s character goes out of his way to be the coolest, suavest, and slickest spy in the world, and the film’s ability to diverge so often makes its world come alive.
- T2: Trainspotting
No, it’s nowhere near as good as the original Trainspotting, but then again, few movies are. THat being said, T2: Trainspotting is a different type of sequel, one that remixes our nostalgia as frequently as it remixes the original soundtrack, and as we grow out of our old habits we find new and more destructive ones (some of which are normalized to the point that we wonder how much has actually changed).
Arriving right at the beginning of “The McConaissance,” this was the film that showed that McConaughey was capable of more than his rom-com roots, and in this film serves as a deserted loner who provides sagely advice to a pair of young boys.
This could have easily been just a collection of inside baseball gags aimed at ripping apart the notion of the modern superhero movie, but the central love story at the heart of Deadpool between Ryan Reynolds and Morean Baccarin is actually quite compelling; these two morally flexible weirdos deserve each other, and the intentionally over the top action all feels like its in service of getting them back together.
- Life of Pi
Was it real, or was it all just a story? I don’t think it actually matters; like the film itself concludes, the details themselves won’t change the fate of the characters or the things they never achieved, but an exaggerated version of history is surely more exciting and speaks to the imagination of its storyteller.
Yes, its nearly a beat for beat retread of the original Rocky, but Creed infuses a new mythology to the story by having Sylvestor Stallone’s iconic boxer serve as a mentor to his rival’s son; Stallone brings an unexpected honesty to what is assumedly a self reflexive role as a mentor wrestling with his legacy in a world that’s left him by.
- The LEGO Movie
Well, no one expected this one to be THIS good. What seemed like nothing more than corporate branding extended into a 90 minute commercial ended up being anything but; this is an argument against falling into a preordained path and falling in line with what is cool and popular, and I certainly didn’t expect a film with this many known brands and properties to be such an argument for individualism and weirdness.
- Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s quirkiness and idiosyncratic style are well known at this point, and while his colorful, detailed visuals would general be enough to satisfy, Isle of Dogs uses a premise as age old as “a boy and his dog” as the kickstarter of an argument against fascism and traditionalism.
- Seven Psychopaths
Put Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrel, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson in a movie together and your guaranteed gold; these are character actors that always bring big personalities, and this violent, sharply funny comedy plays out like a collection of the worst people who break out of the format of what a hangout movie should look like. You’ve never seen anything quite like this.
- The Discovery
Time travel is an incredibly hard thing to depict on screen because of all the complications that can arise from established rules, but The Discovery focuses in on how loss can cause someone to want to redo their past, and how the endless loop of trauma and tragedy will forever leave us unsatisfied.
- Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
There’s a grim honesty in which Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot depicts the effects of alcoholism and trauma; as Jonah Hill’s character remarks towards the end, this is something that will stay with you throughout your life, and despite moments of clarity and insight, the pain never leaves.
- All the Money in the World
Kidnapping. Ransom. Time limit. These are simple elements, and Ridley Scott knows how to do scope like no other, and this breathless thriller is made all the more intense by Christopher Plummer’s stoic, immovable depiction of the wealthy grandfather unwilling to pay his own grandson’s ransom.
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy has been in a lot of truly awful movies, but every now and then she gives a performance like this, where her cynicism and anger feels built around a character who has trouble communicating and relating, and even her most egregious qualities become oddly charming.