Following 2009’s The Soloist, I wouldn’t have predicted Joe Wright would make it on a list in the next decade, despite really appreciating his approach to film. He’s here three times.
Not only is Hanna not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s hard to decide exactly who’s cup of tea it is. It isn’t similar to enough things, despite taking cues from a wide variety of sub-genres both old and new. It isn’t quite “actiony” enough to easily recommend it, despite its similarity to Bourne films and other “rogue government” vehicles. It also doesn’t really land a depth of purpose that would make up the difference for other potential audiences, despite a sense of freshness and unique character examination.
Cate Blanchett is too “black hat,” which is in line with the film’s lack of subtlety, which itself helps to hint at certain efforts like Escape from Fort Bravo.
In the end, it isn’t quite a lot of things, but as a plus, “almost being a lot of things” is a pretty good one.
59. Love & Friendship
If released today, the film would likely have a much different life, as streaming-release movies are already in a different space than they were three years ago. At the very least, this one would have managed a lot more attention as an adapted screenplay, though it did get nominations via Critics Society’s, etc.
Based on Jane Austen’s novella, Lady Susan, the film is the perfect blend of Austen’s effort at sensibility and humor, and Stilman’s sure hand when it comes to putting an audience into a conversation. Beckinsale delivers an energy of spirit that is almost unmatched during the decade, and that, along with an amazing cast, delivers a purity of Stilman’s ability at wit and subtlety that is almost unbelievable. It’s hard to imagine “edge of your seat” filmmaking that involves almost nothing but people talking to each other, but this it.
58. The Illusionist
Given my love for a wide variety of animated films, and the fact that several are on this list (and some are higher on it), it may be surprising that there is no animated film I recommend more frequently than The Illusionist. There is a very real sense in which I believe that to not have seen this film is to not have legitimately “done” the decade’s cinematic effort. In much the same way that to not have seen Sylvain Chomet‘s other masterpiece, The Triplets of Belleville would preclude one from having “done” the ’00s.
It isn’t simply that it is visually brilliant, or that it is hard to describe without using the word “magical,” but it is a certain perfection of storytelling. It’s sad and layered, and somehow quintessentially human, but more than anything it is difficult to talk, or think, about without wandering into worlds of metaphor and imagining that you are talking about a story everyone has known for ages.
57. Good Time
Before last year’s Uncut Gems (which probably should be on this list… but the ending is stupid), the Safdie brothers made a splash with Robert Pattinson in Good Time. It’s a film with the same frenetic display of its main character and a bit more soul. While Adam Sandler is brilliant in Uncut Gems, the overall effort is a little more repetitive than necessary. Here, there is more storytelling to the exercise, though they still don’t entirely stick the landing.
Still, both movies are game-changers, expanding cinema into new territories, new theories of effort, and better world-building.
It’s interesting to watch movies evolve, as, for example, “edge of your seat” thirty years ago becomes mostly boring with today’s eyes. The tricky bit is that a new jump scare is still a jump scare, and a new “brooding tension,” loses its ability with an inherent familiarity. The Safdie brothers are exploring new ideas instead of reworking old ones, and the results are films everyone should watch, like them or not.
56. Toni Erdmann
There are only so many foreign films in any decade that cause a serious stir globally, and especially in the U.S., though we have seen that trend shifting. When one does, it is rarely because it is simply a good, or even great, film. It is usually because a film has found a new way to speak to audiences. Toni Erdmann enters an arena that many films have attempted over the years, but few have had even moderate success with, the awkwardness of family. Not a specific family, but the thing itself.
With two amazing actors weaving through the subtleties and emotional marathon that is “normal” life, though in a rather atypical set of circumstances, the film is a high-wire act of the banal and the hilariously self-contradictory micro-culture that exists within any family unit.
On one level, a father tries to reconnect with his daughter… it’s kind of a screwball effort, and hilarity ensues, perhaps much to the chagrin of said daughter. On another, when your own effort doesn’t work out how you want, you find yourself wondering about what the effort actually is and how you know if it “works.”
55. Crazy, Rich Asians
Sometimes a film comes along that forces you to ask how much you have to actually like a film in order to love it, or can you love a film without liking it all that much at all? Crazy, Rich Asians is such a film for me. The title gives it away because “crazy” and/or “rich” people aren’t interesting. The examination of whether they are crazy because they are rich, or perhaps vice versa is less so.
What is interesting is a fresh take on romantic comedy, characters that are allowed to actually reflect other cultures without sanitizing them, and an almost rabid commitment to letting a group of people be their own story.
By doing so, this becomes a film that can put more depth into “rom-com” because the audience is given the chance to run with true characters as much as gimmick and laughs.
The book is miles better though.
54. Mary Poppins Returns
Rob Marshall enters the list again, and again there is an element of “degree of difficulty” at play. A sequel to Mary Poppins is just impossible, and even that is compounded by the film’s inclusion of elements found in the original that might have been avoided, like the strange animation.
Marry Poppins Returns meets the challenge in much the way Into the Woods did, by running full speed at the worst difficulties. Most notably, it decides to follow the style, structure, and sensibilities of a 50-year-old film. Making that into something that feels alive and new is immeasurably more difficult than an effort to “update from without” would have been, and Marshall makes it work by pivoting on the idea that it really needs any update at all.
53. Before Midnight
If Richard Linklater shows up on a list of this decade, it’s probably going to be for Boyhood, but that’s a film that is not only rightfully losing its status as people forget about it, but a film that doesn’t come close to the depth of soul of Before Midnight.
Another film that gets marks for difficulty, the entire premise of Before Midnight is silly, pretentious, and not entirely worthy of even being attempted. The same is true of Before Sunset. Before Sunrise was good because it was a goofy lark. It worked by existing with characters meant to be abandoned, and because we abandon them. It was the story of fleeting moments, of lifetimes lived in afternoons (or equal spans of time), and of the connections that inconceivably effect change within us… or seem to.
Before Midnight pulls the whole thing apart and starts over, just with characters we’ve already abandoned, then returned to, and has us explore depths these people had to grow into.
Elle isn’t a film that gets points for difficulty so much as the idea that it shouldn’t work at all. There are a variety of senses in which Elle runs counter to norms, but chief among them is simply that Isabelle Huppert‘s character (for which she was nominated for the Academy Award, and should have won) should be all but unwatchable. Somehow, she is instead utterly gripping and both quasi-likable and terrifying.
You have to expect that a film about a woman who seeks revenge against her rapist is going to cover some odd ground, especially when Paul Verhoeven is involved, but this is a film that moves the bar for “odd.” It’s tense, laced with an irony that is hard to explain, and it’s downright unnerving. It’s also hard to categorize in the best sense.
The film won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award (now CCAs) for Best Foreign Film while not even receiving an Oscar nomination. Toni Erdmann was nominated for the Academy Award the same year, but lost to the Iranian film The Salesman.
Some thirteen years after his last truly impressive effort, Todd Haynes returns with what is possibly the best thing he will ever do. Carol manages to pull every ounce of rich texture and gritty reality out of Patricia Highsmith‘s work, in much the way that has made classics like Strangers on a Train and the Ripley novels worth revisiting so frequently.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are in top form, delivering, above all, a truth of purpose that becomes increasingly haunting as the film moves more and more toward a story told when no one is saying anything.
It delivers what many films attempt, but few can manage, a story that sells the point of its period setting along with its story while building characters that are more than their plot-centered components.