90. The Hunger Games
Again, if you’re allowing films to count among “The Best” of the decade by way of their cultural penetration, The Hunger Games would have to earn a spot, but even I have to admit that this one deserves the recognition. Frankly, prior to release, this was a film filled with doubt. Dystopian adaptations are safe bets when it comes to a certain ability to draw crowds, but writer/director Gary Ross seemed a bit out of his element. He’d written Big, Mr. Baseball, Dave, Lassie, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit (and directed the last two), which is a solid enough list, but not one that makes The Hunger Games an obvious next step.
The cast certainly elevates this one, but the credit probably really goes to Ross and for exactly the reason he didn’t feel like the perfect fit. Where several dystopian, young adult adaptations that followed were largely hindered by an apparent lack of respect for their own audience and/or subject matter, Ross translated his Big/Mr. Baseball/Seabiscuit experience into a film approach that said, “Sure, it’s just…, but what if it’s actually a great story?”
Before Bong Joon-Ho took over the world with Parasite, or won audiences with Okja, he showed off his storytelling with Snowpiercer, an adaptation of the graphic novel series Le Transperceneige. In a post-apocalyptic world that has wiped out humanity except for those onboard a massive train that never stops, a microcosm of all the world’s woes is created and the struggle against class systems asserts itself anew.
The beauty of the direction here is in the ability to wondrously translate the almost unimaginable reality of the situation. Truly putting audiences in a situation is something that has levels of difficulty, and a society existing (for years, decades, generations?) within the confines of a series of a boxcars is about the upper limit.
Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and the rest of the cast are perfect as both people who are as real as you could want, but also deliver a certain “graphic-novel brought to life” quality.
Don’t miss the upcoming TV series adaptation.
88. Support the Girls
I still imagine that Support the Girls is a film that will eventually get the attention it deserves, but I’m not sure how hopeful I am because it’s hard to get it to pass a “first glance” test. It’s a film about a day in the life of Lisa (Regina Hall), and by extension Double Whammies itself, which is a Hooters-esque bar. Now, the people who are at this point interested in seeing it are going to get a smart, evocative character study that peels women and society apart in a fresh, engaging way, and that’s not what they were after. The people who might want to watch such a character study rolled their eyes at the mention of Hooters and left the room.
Regina Hall is nothing short of absolutely amazing in a role that is deceptively challenging, not least because the film offers varying degrees of depth, at times requiring Hall to stand in for women, a woman, and this woman.
It’s a surprisingly “slow” watch, considering how much actually happens during Lisa’s very bad day, and it relies on a lot of conversation and reaction to deliver unique characters who are, to some degree, meant to relay a grander sense of “lack of uniqueness.” But, it’s the sort of slow that is necessary to get where a story is going, because the payoffs (not that there are elaborate surprises in store) need to be earned.
87. Isle of Dogs
More than anything, Isle of Dogs is a testament to the brilliance inherent in something that takes time to produce. It has wild humor and curious tangents, but they are delivered with the steady hand of an effort that can’t afford to move in directions it isn’t absolutely sure of, because that could be weeks or months lost.
It’s odd, in a way that only Wes Anderson attempts these days, and committed to deadpan in a way that is itself an homage to comedy stylings long gone. Brimming with imagination, it isn’t just a worthy film, but one that demands repeated viewings. The general, cultural statements are perhaps too straightforward, but they lead to garbage island with dogs, and that’s all part of the heart of the meandering effort at spinning a yarn.
86. Clouds of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche (Maria) is at her very best (which is an insanely high bar) as an aging actress who is convinced to take on a reprisal of the work that made her famous. The catch is that in a story about an older woman who becomes obsessed with a younger one, she will now be playing the opposite role from when she took the world by storm. Chloë Grace Moretz, a rising star, is given the younger role, and she’s much what you would expect from someone who has reacted to fame poorly, and thinks older actors should step aside so the young can take their place.
The Clouds of Sils Maria spins an art imitating life tale with Maria becoming rather obsessed with her personal assistant, Kristen Stewart. Besides which, the role seems to kick off Maria’s undoing and she soon wants out of it altogether.
Writer/Director Olivier Assayas gets the best from three incredible actresses and combines their talent with a painstaking construction of delivery – from the unnerving awkwardness built into the pace and focus of conversations, to the rhythm of tonal shifts, and even to simply the jarring reality of how these women speak to each other.
Yorgos Lanthimos spent the decade perfecting his craft to an extent that perhaps no one has ever managed before, and that might be because he kicked off the enterprise with Dogtooth, one of the most powerful allegories ever written.
The story is basically what happens when letting parents raise their children goes as wrong as it can, but it’s a story that builds everything into that in a way that is simply masterful storytelling. Like Lanthimos’ other great films, it’s an effort in talking about the most normal, mundane things, things that lose the ability to be talked about because they are so commonplace, by turning everything about life upside-down and making it all rather crazy. From budding sexuality, to the role of existing in a society as parental partner, to the development of self-identity, and even freedom itself.
Notably difficult to watch for some, the film is perhaps somewhat graphic, but it is far more unnerving just in what it is saying about all parents (by what it is saying about crazy parents) than it is because sexual exploration is approached a bit hyperbolically.
84. Kubo and the Two Strings
LAIKA studios outdid themselves with the visually-bewildering animation of Kubo and the Two Strings (and that’s saying something). The stylistic wonderland that is not only culturally-informed but also relevant lays the backdrop for an adventure fit for any collection of the world’s epic tales.
Best of all, it’s a story that meets younger audiences where they are and pulls them into its grand schemes and metaphors as though they are A) smart enough to know what’s going on, and B) have to go through a lot of things themselves whether they know talking monkeys or not.
One of the best movies of the year, animated or not, it’s most telling feature is that it could easily be watched a dozen times.
83. The Meyerowitz Stories
Would that there were a few more Noah Baumbach films to choose from in the decade. Alas. Curiously, The Meyerowitz Stories is far from my favorite Baumbach film, but for reasons that are probably mostly personal. While it screams Baumbach in every frame, it is a somewhat different Baumbach than the person responsible for his earlier efforts. The turn of dialog is similar, as characters sling arrows at each other, but it’s a broader aim at wit and interpersonal dueling at play here. It’s also a different worldview that is stifling its desire to shake its fist at the world. One that is not necessarily wiser, but more experienced.
It’s also a character study that wonders if perhaps the emotional complexity of virtually any situation isn’t all you really need. It’s a sort of awareness film, that plays on what various characters’ awareness (or lack thereof) translates into, and lets that play out however it may.
In a certain sense, it’s a pseudo-sequel to The Squid and the Whale, or at least a mirror-telling of the same non-story. It’s also filled with all the heart and soul that were referenced, but didn’t actually make an appearance, in Marriage Story.
82. Damsels in Distress
Easily one of the most overlooked films of the decade, Damsels in Distress earns its place among Whit Stilman‘s other classics several times over. Greta Gerwig is not only at her best here, she shines in a sort of “coordinating” acting role.
It’s a new brand of Stilman’s brilliant wit, one that focuses more on clashes than meandering ruminations, but it fits the often over-stylized sensibilities of a film that feels desperate to be a play (in a good way). It’s also less about anything than Stilman’s other efforts despite having a far more sensible synopsis available – the synopses of Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco are all “young people walk around and talk” – but, it’s a long con that eventually offers miles more depth.
81. American Hustle
It should have been a decade utterly dominated by David O. Russell, but when 2015’s Joy didn’t quite wow people, he didn’t put anything else out. Still, he was a force during the first part of the decade and with good reason. American Hustle is a character study like few others, especially since no one is likable really, and it’s driven by some of the best actors in the business.
It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, won some Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics Association awards, and more importantly, it holds up. Russell’s sure hand, working from a screenplay he co-wrote, shows true genius just in his ability to keep things moving so competently when there are dozens of angles playing against each other.