30. Personal Shopper
Olivier Assayas returns to the list with the most haunting film of the decade, one that turns a character inside-out and has Kristen Stewart in one of the best performances of the decade. Though they are world’s apart in many respects, Personal Shopper reminds of Robert Altman films in its ability to capture conversations and explore the possibilities of cinematic engagement. It’s also a little screwy, which doesn’t hurt, but seems to help Stewart dive into the role.
The story isn’t especially at center stage, which doesn’t matter, because the pull and appeal is really just bein enthralled by a character despite not really knowing why you’re watching her.
29. Eighth Grade
It’s a little suspicious that Bo Burnham‘s somewhat goofy coming-of-age-in-a-digital-world feature would make its way so high on a list of the decade’s best, but Eighth Grade is a magical film that screams of its own simplicity, which puts a new and unique filter on the genre. Elsie Fisher delivers perfectly, and to an extent that at times transcends acting altogether. She was nominated for a Golden Globe, one of their rare, solid, against-the-grain choices, and won the Best Young Actor/Actress Critics’ Choice Award along with her nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy.
The movie’s true offering, apart from bringing the laughs one might expect from Burnham, is its delivery of the unusual take on coming-of-age, one of hoping against hope. Fisher’s character is in an updated version of “me vs. the populars,” and she maneuvers a harsh world with a certain awareness that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, which is appropriately scary.
28. First Reformed
Paul Schrader has never managed the widespread attention he deserves, and while there are likely a lot of reasons for that, it seems that when he directs, he doesn’t choose films with the same “wow factor” as some of the things he’s written – Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, American Gigolo. He isn’t exactly in new territory with First Reformed, because though it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and won the Critics Choice Award, it isn’t a movie that a lot of people paid attention to.
Ethan Hawke will simply destroy you as a minister slowly being crushed by despair. It’s a surprisingly odd tale, when you think about it, focusing on a man who just can’t figure himself out, despite (you know, as a minister) rarely having much to do beyond attempting just that. The film makes obvious overtures in the realm of “religion vs X” and it has a lot to say about trying to wrangle flawed humans into certain confines, but it is as much about the curious dangers of unending examination.
Most importantly, it’s a film by someone who has learned to master the craft with the best in the industry.
27. Knives Out
Knives Out is the rarest of treats, an homage that actually works while meandering into new territory. Fans of mystery are going to fall in love, but even those who aren’t blown away with nostalgia will appreciate the feints within feints and the fabulous cast. Despite occasionally leaving the house, this feels like a play in the best sense imaginable, and the cast makes the most of that.
26. The Lobster
When you make a couple of microbudget films that reinvent filmmaking and storytelling, sometimes you suddenly find yourself with Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, and more in a film about a dystopic world in which single people are forced to live in a hotel for 45 days and either find a mate or be turned into the animal of their choice. Now, you might think that anyone could throw out any films and get a bunch of big names to be in their movie… about a dystopic world in which single people are forced to live in a hotel for 45 days and either find a mate or be turned into the animal of their choice… but, you would be wrong.
As with Dogtooth, Lanthimos takes an opportunity to dissect humanity’s norms, and societal ideals, by examining a truly bonkers construction of circumstances. One of the keys to such an endeavor is the flavor of the world, and the extent to which the characters seem to truly live and breathe within them. Here, things are constructed so well, and delivered by the cast in such an all-encompassing way that you really might catch yourself having to be reminded of the fiction.
25. High Life
Claire Denis follows Let the Sunshine In with a staggering, bizarre tale of bleak existence and the near absurdity of the human condition both in and out of isolation. Denis joins Juliette Binoche and Robert Pattinson in entering this list again.
High Life takes the entire genre of space treks and turns it inside out and uses it to ask the kind of bizarre questions no one knew they wanted to ask, but for all that everything is surreal in the extreme, the film is presented with such a methodical, subdued dissonance that it pulls you into its dance.
The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay seems (in my experience of surveying lists) to have been largely forgotten, and I think that may be because Birdman is a hard movie to rewatch. You know what’s coming now, and you aren’t always in that mood. In fact, just thinking about watching it is a little stressful, and if that doesn’t speak volumes about the movie’s abilities, I don’t know what could.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu took over the year, and rightfully so, but it certainly isn’t a film that you’re going to pop into the Blu-Ray player every other month.
Frozen, as mentioned, truly needs no introduction. Even among animated efforts that take over the culture and sell billions of toys, Frozen is a special case.
22. Phantom Thread
Phantom Thread found itself in a very difficult position when it came to awards season, by running up against not only Best Picture Oscar winner The Shape of Water, but also several nominees that deserved to win.
Paul Thomas Anderson‘s very special set of sensibilities (those that manage to produce both Punch-Drunk Love and The Master) are exactly what this production needs, even if it doesn’t seem immediately apparent on paper. His ability to capture the essence of a character, and perhaps a “circumstance” instead of strictly a “scene,” allows Daniel Day-Lewis to move outside any obvious sense of structure and become a character in something that is more fable than story. It’s rich, and gorgeous, and destructive.
Brooklyn was also up against it when it came to award season, but it’s a movie that took me utterly by surprise and that’s despite it having a lot going for it in terms of my personal expectations. I’m clearly a fan of Saoirse Ronan. I generally love Nick Hornby. I like slow, weird period stories, especially if immigrants are involved. I love Ireland. But, it seemed like a film that wasn’t going to be able to deliver enough to move to the highest tiers. Don’t ask me why.
I think without Ronan, that might be where we ended up. It would have been a little “too”, one way or the other, but she manages to balance the heartache and longing and let the story ooze out of her, giving us the humanity involved in the search and struggle and… self-discovery.