10. Certified Copy
Before Sunrise is often mentioned when discussing Certified Copy, and while there is good reason for that, the two merely resemble each other. Juliette Binoche makes the film here, mostly because she can give you a ten-page report by lifting an eyebrow, but the screenplay is amazing as well.
In a certain sense this is a kind of anti-Her, because instead of trying to help explain or dissect love and relationships, Certified Copy tears it all apart and the fact that it leaves you utterly unsure what you just watched is a rather damning statement about everything you thought you knew. Which is quite an achievement for a film that is virtually nothing but two people talking.
9. The Imitation Game
It’s hard to fault those who say that The Imitation Game is a bit too heavy-handed in its talk of “codes” and how people apply them, but the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay is nevertheless well deserved.
Heavy handed or not, the film delivers people you never thought you’d be interested in and brings them to life so spectacularly that you can’t help but be engrossed in a plot… you probably still aren’t any more interested in.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
In a year with three other Best Picture nominees on this list, and two more that had a lot of people talking, Mad Max: Fury Road only managed to bring home a variety of technical wins, though being nominated for Best Picture was a kind of win in itself.
It’s ultimately a perfection of a genre, and moreover of a broader spectrum of entertainment. It’s pulse-pounding, popcorn fun that is just amazingly engrossing.
7. Little Women
Though it managed a lot of wins throughout the larger award community, Little Women only won the Oscar for Achievement in Costume Design, though it did get the Critics’ Choice for Adapted Screenplay.
A rare treat when looking at something that already has perhaps too many adaptations, Little Women took a fresh look at how to tell the story and then fought for all it was worth to make a new perspective meaningful.
6. Anna Karenina
Speaking of telling old stories in new ways, Joe Wright is on the list again, this time with Tom Stoppard’s spin on Anna Karenina. It was the Oscar for Best Costume Design, but in that crazy 2012 that I’ve already discussed, it wasn’t nominated for any of the bigger awards.
Keira Knightley is wonderful in a role that is probably deceptive in its complexity and difficulty, because naive is harder to pull of than I think people realize. But, the majority of the praise has to go to Wright and Stoppard for this whimsical, elegant, provocative ride through a story that has been told more often than we need. The somewhat wild delivery also allows the story to give us somewhat “truer” characters than previous adaptations as this Anna and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are trying to win you over as much.
5. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky was up against it come award season, though Natalie Portman had things pretty well sewn up. She not only won the Oscar, and most other awards, her performance is one for the ages. It’s an utterly eery masterpiece that delivers Aronofsky’s vision so perfectly that the ultimately odd, pulp supernatural events become both magical and irrelevant.
4. Lady Bird
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird is a completely bizarre perfection of craft aided by the much on this list, Saoirse Ronan. While it didn’t get any Oscar wins, it didn’t manage The Golden Globe for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy and Best Actress.
There aren’t many movies that define and destroy a genre in one move, but Lady Bird, and especially because of Ronan’s performance, does just that. It’s an astute and hilarious tale of adolescence-ish that leaves most other efforts at coming-of-age scrambling through cliche.
3. About Time
All but completely overlooked, Richard Curtis‘ About Time is the decades most conceptually clear perfection of spirit. With ten times the budget, five more years to film, and anyone he wanted, Curtis would have ended up with this exact same film.
Few movies have ever managed to tear into characters the way this episodic romp does and that is ultimately its magic, not the time travel.
2. La La Land
Damien Chazelle didn’t quite manage to win the fanfare you might have expected with First Man, though it’s a solid film as well, and that may be because there was no way to compare with the lightning strike of La La Land.
Gosling and Stone are masterful, and that one moment is worth the majority of other films put together.
1. The Favourite
It was a good decade for Emma Stone, and Yorgos Lanthimos. The Favourite delivered all of Lanthimos’ abilities, but translated out of his normal, bizarre worlds and into one that is far more bizarre than his imagination could create.
In what was the biggest robbery of the decade, two movies on this list, including this one, along with two other movies that also deserved a fair amount of praise, lost the Best Picture Oscar to Green Book.
And finally, The Almosts – in no particular order
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Secret World of Arietty
The Cafe Society
Ford vs Ferarri
3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Leave No Trace
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
What We Do in the Shadows
The End of the Tour
A Ghost Story
Ready Player One
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Edge of Seventeen
The Adjustment Bureau
Welcome to Me
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Wind Rises
Love Is Strange
The Florida Project
Only Lovers Left Alive