80. Mr. Holmes
There is no better performance of the decade than Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes. Full stop. Conveniently, this overlooked gem is custom-made to let someone who can really pull it off have every opportunity to unload their entire bag of tricks.
It’s an utterly compelling story, based on the book by Mitch Cullin, that finds an aging Sherlock Holmes out of the game. He’s starting to lose his memory, but there’s also a strange shadow lurking in his past, and there’s some serious doubt if he has one last case in him. That complexity is enough to give most actors too much to do already, but the composition is even more layered than it seems.
At one point he literally does nothing but look at things and think for several minutes, and it’s one of the best scenes ever filmed.
You have to wonder how many purely brilliant films a director can release in one decade and Michael Haneke‘s Best Foreign Language Academy Award winner stands out as a film that is not only brilliant, but is untouchable.
No one will ever make a movie that delivers this level of uncompromising, wicked truth in the midst of such a powerful, subtle telling of a story of pure emotion.
An octogenarian couple is tested, sort of, when the wife has a stroke, and the aftermath becomes its own examination of just what any of it meant anyway.
While virtually every movie tries to relay some aspect of humanity, or the capability of the human spirit to deal with the raw, brutal monster that is simply existing, none of them have taken a shot at confronting it as a whole.
78. How to Train Your Dragon
A lot of people liked Toy Story 3, and so it won the Academy Award over two films that deserved it more, but I don’t get it. At any rate, How to Train Your Dragon not only kicked off our exposure to a world that would ultimately dominate the decade, it deserved to.
It’s a movie that probably needs little introduction at this point, but it’s an achievement just in its ability to translate the soul of the book franchise.
77. Pitch Perfect
Sometimes a movie is just a perfect storm of elements coming together in just the right way. No one is going to become the next hot director or writer. No one is putting it at the top of their CV as the thing that proves they are the world’s greatest actor. But, in that moment, things just click. Which is also the subject of Pitch Perfect, more or less.
Also, when you’re in the genre of fairly screwy comedy, sometimes movies just hit at the right time. Pitch Perfect’s band of misfits may have gone off the rails in the sequels, but the first offering is feel-good escapism at its finest.
76. Silver Linings Playbook
2012 is one of the decade’s most curious years in film, not least because it would now be hard to find anyone who didn’t consider every Best Picture nominee more worthy than the winner, Argo. Silver Linings Playbook managed a slew of nominations, but as far as the Academy Awards are concerned, only pulled off a win for Jennifer Lawrence.
The cast manages to play off of each other in a way that is extraordinarily rare in films, largely because you ought to have to spend more time with people to work this well together. It’s a strange film, which makes it slightly off-putting, but it’s a different kind of strange, which makes it its own creature. It’s a normal/abnormal balancing act that refuses to offer up what you expect at any point, which adds to its ability to keep you uncomfortable. When it’s about mental illness, which is by definition abnormal, it’s tempered, almost casual, in its approach to connecting to that story. When it’s about divorce, or other trappings of what is actually “normal”, it’s chaotic and fueled by struggle.
While David O. Russell has a variety of positives in the first part of the decade, this one is probably his best example of being able to dissect people.
75. The Secret of Kells
Technically a 2009 release, and 2010 Academy Award nominee, there was actually no way to see it until roughly March 2010 in the U.S. Secret of Kells is pure magic and better than even the wonderful fairy tale of overcoming trials through courage is the fact it is not just animated as an evolution of cultural art, but it is told as an extension of cultural storytelling norms and themes.
It’s a beautiful film and it puts together a haunting scenescape that brings nature to life in ways that nothing else has managed, or imagined. It also fits, with its somewhat unnerving plot focused on potential destruction, as a segway into the world of YA dystopic efforts for the target audience, which is slightly older than many animated efforts.
Brendan and Aisling’s relationship is itself one of the treats of the decade.
Richard Ayoade, famously of The I.T. Crowd (watch immediately), has been busy during the last half of the decade, but what he should have been doing with all of his time is directing movies. Of course, some people direct a couple of movies and decide they hate it… and then, I guess, it’s hard to force. I’m not saying he did that… just that he better have a damn good excuse.
Submarine, based on the Joe Dunthorne novel, is one of those rare coming-of-age stories that finds its hero has already come-of-age, but definitely hasn’t quite come-of-something. It reminds of Burr Steers entry to the previous decade, Igby Goes Down, which wanders a similar path.
More than simply an interesting story or quirky characters, the film offers a unique perspective by actually delivering the viewpoint of youth, wherein potential and possibility is something that happens now, but fades away, and adulthood is its own sort of situational prison.
73. Midnight in Paris
In the early part of the decade, Woody Allen brought together a truly amazing cast and spun a science-fiction yarn that brings together the best of cinema’s abilities. It manages to be a love letter to many things at once, but nothing so much as the simple idea that, look, we’re all just people.
It’s a film that, in the wrong hands (and even just in the attempt to describe it), is pretentious babble, but Allen brilliantly leaves it to his cast to ferret out their own view of the subtleties, realities, and possibilities of the characters and their situation.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is in Paris, and he’s none too comfortable being there, or perhaps anywhere, but at midnight he is transported to the ’20s and gets chummy with the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and many more, including a certain woman played by Marion Cotillard. The cast includes Michael Sheen, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, and Adrien Brody.
It’s hilarious, and has some of the best conversations of the decade, many of which feel as though they might be take 14 of “just make it up as you go,” and true or not, delivering that kind of honesty and commitment to a situation and characters is rare.
72. The Beguiled
I’ll admit right now that being a fan of Sofia Coppola and/or the 1971 film might be a requirement. It is both surprisingly and unsurprisingly a perfect choice for Coppola and becomes the perfect vehicle for her abilities with mood and character.
Also, perhaps oddly given the overall story, it’s a fantastic ensemble piece that showcases the entire cast along with a variety of production efforts that rarely get a chance to take center stage. It’s a film that sucks you into the mood and mystique of a time and place more than most efforts of the decade. Kidman, Dunst, and Fanning are brilliant, and I’m not generally a fan of any of them.
71. The Souvenir
Some films require a lot from their audience, even when all that means is that they aren’t going to tell a story according to convention. The Souvenir is something like a study in discomfort by way of a constant re-examining of a subject’s life, when that life is consumed by a destructive relationship. But, at the same time, it’s a slow-burn look at the evolution that leads to the unique perspective of an artist, and how everything that happens constructs our viewpoint, and us.
It is itself a bizarrely haunting construction that often wanders in and out of a meta-conversation, and is never more tragic and beautiful than when it seems to wonder bewildered about itself.
Though it tells the story of a young woman who falls for a man she shouldn’t, it is far more the story of simply reflecting on choices, and perhaps feeling adrift. But, it doesn’t care much about moving from anything like one plot step to another, because, like life, just because certain things happen after other things, it doesn’t mean you’re in a plot.