Sunday, November 17, 2019

Explained List: Movies of the Decade

There was a time I assumed this blog would be pretty much just top 10 lists of everything. Making a yearly top 10 movies always seemed kinda lame. What does my list have that every critic in the world doesn't have? After 2006, the answer couldn't just always be Crank 2. It occurred to me I've just been laying low, waiting for a big best movies of the decade list. To avoid comparing apples and oranges, I just said fuck it and made two separate lists. Don't let Uncle Marty tell you differently, I love both of these lists equally.

MOVIES
20) The Force Awakens
19) Captain America: Winter Soldier
18) Game Night
17) Guardians of the Galaxy
16) Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
15) Harry Potter / Deathly Hallows, 2
14) Wonder Woman
13) Mission: Impossible -- Fallout
12) Ant-Man
11) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
10) Edge of Tomorrow
9) X-Men: Days of Future Past
8) 21 Jump Street
7) The LEGO Movie
6) Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol
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FILMS
20) Tim’s Vermeer
19) The Big Sick
18) Dear White People
17) Whiplash
16) Nymphomaniac, Vol. I
15) Sorry to Bother You
14) Exit Through the Gift Shop
13) Room
12) The Lobster
11) Zero Dark Thirty
10) Eighth Grade
9) The Artist
8) Her
7) The Shape of Water
6) Get Out

MOVIE #5: Black Panther

Sadly, the highlight of 2018 for me was seeing Black Panther out-gross Avengers: Infinity War. I barely ever have time to see movies in the theatres, and I saw this twice. It's half a dozen movies rolled into one, and yet it all works as one giant piece. The cast is stellar, the story resonant, and every frame beautiful. At a time when Marvel especially is doing a terrible job trying to put women front and center, Ryan Coogler effortlessly gives us four of the most vibrant heroines in modern cinema. Michael B. Jordan is a national treasure, and while popcorn movie villains are becoming more one-dimensional, Killmonger is fascinatingly complex. The only reason it's not higher is the big confrontation at the end looks laughably fake, but that's a small nitpick in a grand masterpiece.

FILM #5: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It's hard to describe what I love about this movie because it's pretty much everything. It just so effortlessly moves from set piece to set piece, live action to miniatures to stop motion. It's my favorite fictional world to live in: whimsy in the darkest of times. I'm not even a big Wes Anderson fan, which is why this film caught me so off guard. A delight on every level.

MOVIE #4: Thor: Ragnarok

Ragnarok and Black Panther show what the future of popcorn cinema can be. Give a property to a filmmaker with passion and vision, and they can make any world entirely their own. The first two Thor movies are terrible, but Taika Waititi throws all that out and brings Thor into his universe. He milks every moment for maximum irreverent humor. He saw what we all should have seen, Chris Hemsworth isn't only the prettiest Chris, he's also the funniest. But of course, the moment seared into my memory forever is Bruce Banner face-planting into the Rainbow Bridge. And of course, now I know who Taika Waititi is, so that makes everything worth it.

FILM #4: The Social Network

I now believe you could throw the story of a man reading a phone book while watching paint dry at Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher and they would make a film so good, you can't take your eyes off it. I still don't care about Mark Zuckerberg or biopics, but for two hours and one minute, I was in. I didn't even know what a masthead is going in, but I found myself caring deeply who was on it. It would have been better if Joshua Malina had been in it somewhere, but we can't always get what we want from a Sorkin joint. Even if you disagree with me on this film's placement here, we can at least agree it deserved Best Picture over The King's Speech. Does anyone even remember what The King's Speech was about?

MOVIE #3: Gravity

It took me a while to figure out if this was a movie or a film. It's a virtuoso piece of filmmaking by an auteur director, but ultimately it's a star vehicle with lots of explosions and Clooney smiles. Ever since Avatar, I've been skeptical of 3-D, so I saw it standard first, then a friend convinced me to see it 3-D. No other film has ever used the cheap gimmick to really define the space of the film. No diorama-looking vistas or subtitles jumping out at you, just distance defined by actual depth. Bullock enters the frame in the deep distance and moves through the space at you. Every object in the distance is something she needs or somewhere she needs to be, and you always know how far she is from them. I reject the notion that movies need to be watched in the theatre to be appreciated, but a movie like this needs to be experienced in its true, theatrical form.

FILM #3: Moonlight

Dear God do I hate small art films. I get it. I get why they exist. I'm all for the furthering of our culture and artists expressing themselves. But I just don't want to sit through them. This film, though, is just so good, none of that matters. It's overwrought and arty, but it's dripping with style and emotion. The story is so different, so original, so personal. It's almost frustrating how little happens, but it has so much to say about parenting, class, race, fragile masculinity, and sexual identity. Not gonna lie, I really wanted a movie about Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae raising Chiron, so for a lot of the movie, I was fighting against my disappointment when they disappeared. It ended up better than I could have possibly imagined, and thankfully, it beat La La Land for Best Picture.

MOVIE #2: Logan

DC has spent the decade plus since The Dark Knight trying time figure out how to replicate its perfect balance of taking its absurd subject matter seriously without making it an overly serious movie. It’s hard enough when your hero isn’t an indestructible beast-man with metal claws, but Marvel did it and stuck the landing. Maybe it’s just the right script, right director, right actor. Maybe it’s eight movies of audience investment. Whatever the formula, this completely straight and emotional Western yarn somehow works for a character, who in his first outing sliced a spire off the State of Liberty. I hope it won’t be another decade before we get another movie like it.

FILM #2: Predestination

I have no idea how to discuss this film without spoiling it. It’s an intricately crafted time travel story, based on a Robert Heinlein short story, that surprises on every level. I found it one night on Amazon and watched it again the very next night. I haven’t liked Ethan Hawke before or after this film, but he is so good in it. But again, like any good time travel story, it’s all about the details, so I have to leave it at that.

MOVIE #1: Inception

This movie has been picked apart and parodied to death, but I think the biggest problem people have is they went in thinking it was a film, but what they got was a movie. It’s a heist film with a sci fi dream conceit, nothing deeper. But a whole lot more. The highlight for me is the editing as they go into each level of the dream. They go to great pains to say that each level offers up more time, and yet to build suspense, they keep cutting back to the van falling off the bridge. It’s a masterful stroke of tension building, even in the most complex of setups. Sure, there are plenty of criticisms, but I think there are two types of people. People who think Christopher Nolan doesn’t understand women, lacks emotion, and is overly technical. Then there’s people who think he’s all three but love his films anyway. (Psst, I’m the latter)

FILM #1: 12 Years a Slave

It feels a little a Holocaust movie winning Best Picture to put this at the top of the list, but it’s not just the brutal subject matter that makes this film so superlative. Steve McQueen makes films with a depth and craft and unafraid purpose that I have yet to see in any other. He’s unafraid to let a moment sit with you, and let you, the audience, feel it before daring to move past it. I’ll never forget the long, quiet wide shot of Chiwetel Ejiofor hanging from that tree. Even if wasn’t that good, I’d love this film for gifting to the world Lupita Nyong’o, clearly a star from the moment she comes on screen. It’s so good, I’ll even forgive producer Brad Pitt casting himself as the white savior.

EDIT: Movies I’ve seen since making the list that were great but I’m not sure they’re list-worthy yet:

Parasite
Knives Out

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