70. Lola versus
Even among Greta Gerwig fans, Lola Versus isn’t a film that is going to make it on a lot of lists, and that’s a shame. Even if there were nothing else to recommend about it, it holds up better than 90% of everything, both in pure rewatchability and in its timelessness. Co-written by Zoe Lister-Jones (Life in Pieces), the story is one of a sort of angst-filled uncertainty that is perhaps in the realm of coming-of-age post-coming-of-age.
Dumped a few weeks before her wedding, Lola attempts to enlist a group of friend’s in something like a soul journey as she hopes to figure out what the hell she’s supposed to do now. Oddly enough, they aren’t necessarily interested and, much as they understand her post-break-up woes, don’t exactly know what she’s on about in any case.
It’s a vehicle built for Gerwig to show off her particular brand of charm, and it nails the effort. It doesn’t have the depth or breadth to live in the same cinematic world as better efforts, but this is much like saying The Avengers is no Citizen Kane. This is lighter fare, the kind that can take advantage of Hamish Linklater’s ability at sappy reactions, but that isn’t to say it isn’t… fare. The film also includes good efforts by Joel Kinnaman and Bill Pullman.
Most people probably aren’t familiar with Tom McCarthy and that stems, at least partially, from one of the reasons I really love him, which is that you can’t pigeonhole him. People are probably vaguely aware of The Station Agent, in the sense that they’ve heard people mention it, but there’s little connection between that film and The Cobbler, Win/Win, or the recent Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Certainly, few of those films clue you into what’s coming in Spotlight.
It’s best feature is that it is truly such an ensemble effort, not just because the cast is amazing, but because the shocking story never moves toward an arena hoping to elevate the characters beyond what they are. A hundred other directors might have made this movie and they all would have tried to work in a cheer for the journalists. McCarthy just lets them be people suddenly in bizarre circumstances instead.
68. Mood Indigo
Michel Gondry is easily among the strangest directors to work over the last couple of decades, mainly because you just never know what you’re going to get with him, which is probably something he doesn’t mind at all. Between tons of music videos, he’ll come out with a film, and it might be Be Kind Rewind or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You might get the Charlie Kaufman-penned Human Nature, or The Green Hornet.
That hit or miss resume means that some things don’t get the attention they deserve, and sometimes means even critics don’t approach some films in the way they might otherwise. Even including Audrey Tautou, who starred in many of the best films of the ’00s, couldn’t win over enough people to make sure people caught this one, and she’s as good here as she’s ever been.
This is also a film that may well be due for a reevaluation, because there seems to have been a cultural shift in the last couple of years that allows for a broader sense of suspension of disbelief when a whimsical, imaginative adventure is in store. In fact, very recent series, like Dispatches from Elsewhere and Tales from the Loop may be evidence that there are audiences looking for just such flights of fancy.
It’s ultimately on the treacly side of things, which Tautou relays perfectly, but it is also far deeper than it appears.
67. The Square
After breaking through to worldwide attention with Force Majeure, director Ruben Östlund returned with The Square, a daring, and somewhat bonkers examination of the elite art world. While it is a movie that takes jabs at said world, and those rich enough to have too much time on their hands, it is the same no-holds-barred look at people, all people, that made Force Majeure so powerful, that’s at work here.
Elisabeth Moss is bewildering, and delivers the same amazing ability to react that has been a feature of her most impressive roles.
What elevates The Square most is a similar, equally jarring, juxtaposition to that of Force Majeure. There, a simple act seems to reveal an entirety of character which must be addressed by a family unit and its members. Here, a certain theory of art, and perhaps its possibilities, seems to reveal something about… well, some group, but no one seems to address it at all. Or, they do, but can’t figure out what that means.
Perhaps as its own statement about art, the devil is in the details here and this is such a nuanced film that it could earn its spot here for that alone.
Also, keep your eye out for his next effort, Triangle of Sadness, with Woody Harrelson.
James Mangold narrowly missed this list with Ford v Ferarri, and only because it was so new in my mind when I started putting this together that it seemed unfair. F v. F was the kind of film that, while I really appreciated it, I felt that it needed to grow on me, and any film needs more than a few days to be on the list.
Logan, meanwhile, has only gotten better, which I suppose bodes well. On the other hand, I still don’t like the end. At any rate, in a decade of superhero films, Logan stands out as one of the best efforts at truly capturing the genre. It may surprise those who are only familiar with comics by way of their film adaptations, but the industry is not wholly comprised of stories detailing the next, even more powerful, threat to the entire universe.
Where the thing shines is in its adherence to the character and exploration of what it really might mean to have to walk in that skin. Moving that idea into a plot where it isn’t as fun as it seems in the movies is just icing.
65. Let the Sunshine In
There are those who put forward some spin on a theory about human experience that, more or less, suggests there are different “levels” of “being a person.” As you actually experience certain things, broadening your range as it were, you become more human. Thus, suppose you fell in love in High School, got married and stayed in that happy relationship for your entire life, you would actually not be all that “complete” as a person, because living through soul-crushing despair as you come to terms with having been dumped is part of the human experience. Perhaps madness. Perhaps just plain silly. Who knows?
Let the Sunshine In is, or at least might as well be, an attempt to give certain people the requisite experience without having to go through it themselves.
Director Claire Denis takes us on a strange, and yet somewhat mundane, ride with Juliette Binoche’s character, Isabelle, that offers an attempt to not simply deliver emotional upheaval and turmoil, but also an exposition on how emotional connections happen at all. Or, perhaps it would be more honest to say that it tries to explain what we make of them, or what we should make of them.
Writer/Director Christian Petzold very nearly made this list for 2012’s Barbara, and it’s a deserving film to be sure, but his adaptation of Hubert Monteilhet’s novel is very near to perfection in many ways.
Phoenix isn’t satisfied to merely tell its story, one of betrayal and, in some sense, regeneration, but also captures a setting as a character in itself. Moreover, Nina Hoss is pitch-perfect as a woman seemingly at odds with everything, struggling against twists, circumstance, and even struggling.
63. It Follows
I’m no fan of horror really, mostly because, generally, the more films try to be scary, the less they are, but It Follows moves through a slightly different realm by being comprised mostly of the moments other horror films cut past to get to “the good stuff.” There are “scares” here, but the film seems mostly disinterested in them, as it should be, because the tension and almost surreal dread of everything else is where it is focused.
It’s hard to imagine David Robert Mitchell going from The Myth of the American Sleepover, an overlooked gem, to this, and that might be why it’s so good. Obviously a solid film in its own right, it’s also something of a study of the genre and as the film progresses you can almost sense the moments when the “experiment” kicks in and the effort asks, “what about this?” It doesn’t get them all right, but it pushes boundaries and sucks the audience in.
62. The Double
Richard Ayoade enters the list again with a film that might be on top on a different day. It’s that kind of film. It’s a hilarious approach to Dostoevsky’s work, if you have the right sense of humor, but is a quirky, brilliant trip through the human condition either way. It also has Jesse Eisenberg in one of the decade’s best acting efforts. It isn’t just playing two roles, but two opposing entities that have to respond properly to each other and their circumstances.
Best of all, Ayoade actually brings things home. Nine out of ten efforts would ultimately fall a bit flat, but you’d forgive it because there are only so many places to go with what is an old yarn. Ayoade makes it work and moves it to another level.
61. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
“Adventurous” and “Slow-burn” are hard to configure into one film, and it’s hard to imagine the general idea behind wanting to, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire manages to bring an even more daring effort of filmcraft, which elevated this one almost instantly to this list.
It’s gorgeous and bizarrely evocative, but most importantly it is more in tune with its characters than nearly any film in at least ten years. It has its themes, and it relates them in subtle and surprising ways, offering up a “legitimate plot,” but it’s so rich that it transcends the need, pulling you into simply “what happens” as more important than any dissection of events.
It’s also magnificently feminine, both in its approach and subject, but actually in such a casually concrete sense that it forces me to admit that I could be wrong about that, because how would I know?
Buy at Amazon, Streaming on Hulu soon