While reviewing Vulture‘s (supposedly) exhaustive list of “all” 5,279 films released between 2010 and 2019, there were some things that I realized about life, love, happiness, and trying to be a single girl in the city, living and loving and having it all. I had a lot of thoughts, like Holy shit, they really did remake Poltergeist, Running Man, and Point Break in the last ten years, didn’t they? and Was there a worse movie this decade than Savages? I found myself wondering if there were really two films entitled Thank You for Your Service (or two called The Trouble with Terkel) this decade, or if someone was asleep at the proofreading wheel (hey, I get it, my own stuff often is full of typos because I am in a rush). Amazingly, it looks like there really were two Terkels … kind of. From what I can tell, Terkel i knibe (literally translated as “Terkel in Trouble”) was a Danish computer animated film released in 2004, then re-released with a new english dub in 2010; Rotten Tomatoes has a page for a film of the same name released in 2017, which does appear to have images of higher quality than previous releases, although IMDb has no mention of it at all. So I guess we all learned something today.
That being said, it beats the hell out of me why George Takei’s Allegiance appears twice on this list (maybe one is a filmed version of the stage play and the other is the 2016 film?) while other movies are completely left off of the list. I’m not sure what the yardstick was for Vulture when it came to Netflix original films, given that The Babysitter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (and possibly others) are missing from their list, while they remembered to include To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. But, I mean, come on, I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore isn’t even on this list. Or London Road! So, yeah, the fact that they ranked Suspiria 5,234th out of 5.279 is only one of the problems here. Who’s running things over there?
As with my year end lists, I feel it’s my responsibility to note that there were several films that came out this decade that would probably have made this list if I had more free time, flicks I was interested in but procrastinated about watching. In no particular order, they are: Bone Tomahawk, Climax, Aniara, Beach Rats, Moonlight, Robot and Frank, Booksmart, Foxtrot, Holy Hell, I Love You Both, Little Pink House, Ready or Not, The Bad Batch, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Secret of Kells, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Vox Lux, What We Left Behind: Looking Back At Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and Under the Skin. I’ll get to them eventually, I’m sure, as soon as I finish with the entire Full Moon entertainment back catalog.
Also, there are no superhero movies on this list. They’ve got their own list, coming shortly.
Also also, the rankings for 41-100 are imperfect. I’ve been working on them for weeks and driving myself nuts. How does Killing of a Sacred Deer rank in relation to Catching Fire? What about Veronica Mars in relation to Scream 4, or Embrace of the Serpent, or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? I had to include them all, but boy oh boy did figuring out a way to rank them numerically nearly drive me around the bend, and it’s already a pretty short jaunt. Let’s get to it, shall we?
100. Mi mefakhed mehaze’ev hara (aka Big Bad Wolves, 2014).
99. El Bar (2017).
98. A Simple Favor (2018).
97. 1922 (2017).
96. Interstellar (2014).
95. Young Adult (2011).
94. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017). Mentioned on my 2017 list.
93. The King’s Speech (2010).
92. Pet (2016).
91. The Invitiation (2015).
90. I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (2016).
89. God Help the Girl (2014).
88. The One I Love (2014).
87. Sorry to Bother You (2018).
86. Black Swan (2010).
85. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).
84. Gravity (2013).
83. Girl Walk, All Day (2011). Read our Movie of the Month discussion here.
82. Her (2013).
81. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Mentioned as my favorite horror movie of that year here.
80. It Follows (2015). Mentioned on my 2015 list.
79. Game Night (2018). Mentioned on my 2018 list.
78. Love, Simon (2018). Mentioned on my 2018 list.
77. Clinical (2017). Mentioned on my 2017 list.
76. Veronica Mars (2014).
75. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018).
74. Snowpiercer (2013).
73. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Mentioned on my 2016 list.
72. Drive (2011).
71. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012).
70. Embrace of the Serpent (2015).
69. Midsommar (2019).
68. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).
67. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017).
66. La piel que habito (aka The Skin I Live In, 2011). Review
65. Jupiter Ascending (2015). Mentioned on my 2015 list.
64. It Comes at Night (2017).
63. Busanhaeng (Train to Busan, 2016).
62. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).
61. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).
60. The Babysitter (2017).
59. Scream 4 (2011).
58. Hail, Caesar! (2016).
57. Star Trek Beyond (2016).
56. The Guest (2014).
55. Hereditary (2018).
54. Green Room (2015).
53. IT (2017). Mentioned on my 2017 list.
52. Don’t Breathe (2016).
51. Phantom Thread (2017).
50. Fyre Fraud (2019).
49. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (2019).
48. Anomalisa (2015).
47. I, Tonya (2017).
46. Arrival (2016). Mentioned on my 2016 list.
45. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
44. Cop Car (2015).
43. Toy Story 3 (2010).
42. London Road (2016).
41. I Am Big Bird (2015). Mentioned on my 2015 list.
40. John Wick (2014), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), and John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). You’d think there would be a series of diminishing returns on this neon-drenched noir series about a retired hitman who gets pulled back into The Life because some punk kids killed his dog during an poorly planned B&E, but each film is wilder and more hypnotic than the last. The first film was a shock to the system in a world where good action films were largely a thing of the past, a non-stop theme park ride of carnage that created a world of assassins operating within and outside of society, with its own currency and customs. Successive films deepened that mythology with surprisingly positive results. In the third one, John Wick kills a man with a horse!
39. Three Identical Strangers (2018). This documentary is a wild, wild ride. Every time you think the narrative has hit the weirdest wall possible in the story of these three brothers separated at birth, another revelation was waiting around a blind corner to pull the rug out from under me again. A heartwarming story of siblings who find each other as adults becomes a bizarre conspiracy about testing the limits of nature and nurture. This is not one to skip. Read Brandon’s review here.
38. Gerald’s Game (2017). Gerald’s Game is a direct-to-Netflix film directed by Mike Flanagan, whose name you’ll be seeing again further down this list, from a novel by Stephen King that I was definitely far too young to be reading when I first experienced it (fun fact, that’s where I learned the term “degloving” over a decade before it happened to me internally as a result of my accident in 2018!). The film tells the story of Jessie (Carla Gugino), whose husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) dies of a heart attack while Jessie is bound to the bed by handcuffs. She hallucinates an apparition of Gerald, flashes back to horrible childhood memories, and sees other fearful things in the night, things she tries to dismiss of tricks of the light but which could be more; Jessie starts to deteriorate, and Gugino pulls off this transformation with gusto.
37. Shin Godzilla (2016). A true return to form: a Godzilla movie that mostly consists of disaster assessment specialists and government officials meeting in a series of different board rooms to talk about what to do about the unstoppable, stomach churning monster that has emerged from the sea and is making its way across Japan and destroying everything in its wake. The kaiju in this movie doesn’t even seem to be aware of humans or humanity as it cuts a swath of death before its mutating body. Thrill to the sight of his nuclear breath! This is a fun one, and way better than the other Godzilla that came out this decade. Read Brandon’s review here.
36. The Babadook (2014). An Australian horror gem that you’ve no doubt already heard about dozens of times, either because of its brief misattribution to the LGBTQ+ Netflix queue (resulting in the titular ghoul being memed as a queer icon) or because it’s just that great, The Babadook follows a mother who doesn’t like her son that much. At its simplest, that’s really all there is to it: the boy, who acts out and has a discipline problem, gets a book about a being called the Babadook, a kind of boogeyman who then goes on to menace the mother. Whether or not the Babadook is real or all in the main character’s mind, metaphorically it represents one woman’s apprehensions about what her inability to love her son means about herself as a person; and that does exist only in one’s head, all the time, here in the real world. Highly recommended.
35. Creed (2015). I did it. I liked a sports movie. A lovingly crafted film about legacy, defiance, and heroes, Creed (as you probably know) follows the story of Adonis Creed, illegitimate son of the late Apollo Creed, the opponent (and in the sequels, friend) of the titular character of Rocky. Unsatisfied in his work life, Adonis leaves the corporate world behind to become a truer version of himself, partially by grappling with the legacy of the father he didn’t know, and by both bonding with and being coached by the man who knew Creed best: Rocky Balboa. Michael B. Jordan delivers what would be a career best performance for virtually any other actor (it’s solid for him, too, but he never gives anything less than stellar), and Tessa Thompson injects what could easily be a lifeless love interest with verve and likability. Stallone’s return as Rocky is a shockingly powerful one, itself grappling with the actor’s questionable legacy over the decades since Rocky and reminding us that the star of The Expendables and Judge Dredd actually can act. Read Brandon’s review here.
34. Turbo Kid (2014). From my review: “This is an eccentric movie, and it’s definitely not for everyone. Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com refers to the film’s aesthetic as an “infantilizing vintage fetish,” which isn’t inaccurate but fails to account for how much joy a properly attuned viewer can derive from the film’s strange blend of innocence and gore, born from nostalgia for a time when films like this were more commonplace. The late eighties and early nineties were a strange time, when R-rated films like Robocop, Police Academy, and Rambo were made for adults but marketed to children in the form of action figures and cartoon adaptations, and the peculiarity of that idiosyncratic time acts as a kind of unstated thesis or leitmotif at the core of this film. So much of the movie plays like something that a group of kids would make in their backyard, with the prominence of playground equipment in the areas where Kid spends his time, his eighties kid dream bedroom in the underground station where he has made a home, and the fact that the only apparent mode of transportation is by bicycle (presumably due to a lack of fuel); with this in mind, it would be easy to assume that the movie would feel like it was made for children as well, until the ludicrous blood squibs start popping off.”
33. Housebound (2014). From my review: “Horror comedies are always a high wire act. Some titles like Dead Alive and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil find the right balance between laughs and chills, transcending their genre limitations, while others, (Kevin Smith’s latest, Tusk, for example), aim to be both scary and funny, but end up being neither. The 2014 New Zealand horror comedy Housebound, falls firmly in the former category. It’s a mishmash of genres that gracefully moves between horror, comedy, ghost story, and murder mystery.The setup is perfect in its simplicity. Kylie, a troubled hooligan, is sentenced to eight months of house arrest following an attempt to break into an ATM. Forced to move back into her well-meaning, but clueless parent’s home, she lounges around, drinks during the day, and is a general pain in the ass. Things almost immediately start to go bump in the night. While she is initially skeptical of her mother’s ghost stories, an encounter with a maniacal, talking teddy bear convinces Kylie that the house is indeed haunted. She partners with Amos, the security guard in charge of monitoring her ankle bracelet, to investigate and discovers that there are plenty of other, more horrifying secrets waiting behind the walls of her family home.”
32. The Queen of Versailles (2012). There’s never a bad time for a bunch of rich idiots to get their comeuppance, and there’s rarely been a better time than during the 2008 economic recession. Jackie Siegel, husband of real estate mogul and general cantanker David Siegel, was a simple upstate New York girl who went off to college, got a degree in computer science, and decided to give all that up to become a pageant competitor. Then along came David, who gave her everything her heart desired, up until the point where they initiated, but could not (at the time of filming) complete, the construction of an Orlando home roughly based on the French landmark referenced in the title. The documentary chronicles the apparent fall of the house of Siegel, a clan whose nouveau riche tackiness is apparent as priceless vases are stored on bathroom shelves overflowing with towels, nannies reside (of their own will) in children’s playrooms built to emulate the larger house’s facade and are also forced to dress as Rudolph for Christmas parties, and taxidermied dogs—which—in life were named things like “Chanel.” (The living dogs shit everywhere.) The true hero of this story, of whom we see far too little, is Jackie’s niece Jonquil, who spent the first half of her life sleeping in a basement before the Siegels adopted her and who now lives in opulence, which she treats with (well earned, as it turns out) suspicion.
31. The Shape of Water (2017). From my review: “I’m a big fan of del Toro’s, as is likely evident from the fact that two of his films, Cronos and Pan’s Labyrinth, were my favorite horror films of their respective release years. He knows how to take a tired concept like European vampires or fairy tales and suffuse them with a new energy and vitality, even if he does so by looking backward through time. As such, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this isn’t exactly the most original of premises. A more dismissive reviewer or critic might call this a greatest hits compilation of plot threads from movies and TV shows like E.T. (both in the bonding between human and not, and the The government will cut you up!” angle), Hidden Figures (given that the facility is explicitly aerospace and features the presence of Spencer), Mad Men (in that both works hold a mirror up to the culture of the fifties/sixties as a reminder that to romanticize this time is to ignore many of the prevailing toxic attitudes of the time), and most heist films that you can name. That doesn’t make this film any less ambitious, however, nor does it negate the validity of the emotional reaction that the film evokes.”
30. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). As I wrote in my The Rise of Skywalker review, “I loved The Force Awakens. From the moment that first trailer dropped, a chill went through my body; I’ve always been more of a Trek boy, but Star Wars has a special place in my heart, too. With that trailer way back in the innocent days of 2015, I felt like I was eight years old again, seeing something that resonated with me in a special way as if it were the first time. And the film itself didn’t disappoint!” Sure, it’s not wholly original, and sure, fondness for this film has cooled in the intervening years (as the Star Wars brand has had a series of diminishing returns, give or take a Mandalorian, which I’ve never seen). But it’s still a romp, introducing us to a new set of characters and feeling like a breath of fresh air after the rotten prequels (don’t @ me).
29. The Cabin in the Woods (2012). A dark horse horror film dumped out into theaters at the beginning of the summer, you know, when everybody wants to go see a horror comedy, The Cabin in the Woods is the horror connoisseur’s horror movie. Featuring the time-worn story of a group of college friends who take a trip to a creepy forest cabin and find themselves at the mercy of evil, the now well-known twist (which I won’t spoil here, in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid it) makes for a fresh take on what you’ve seen before, but not nearly so well done. Read Brandon’s review here.
28. Unsane (2018): From my best of 2018 list: “I can say without a moment’s hesitation or mental evasion that Unsane is hands-down the most unsettling and disturbing film that I have ever seen. I have never, in my entire life, been more uncomfortable than I was when watching this movie. I know that Unsane is trading on a lot of worn-out cliches and tired tropes of the Unspeakable Horrors of the American Mental Health System, or the general Scary Asylum genre. I don’t care: this movie knows exactly where every single one of my psychological pressure points are and just how much weight to apply to each one in sequence to make me physically ill. My reaction watching this film was like my friend’s reaction to seeing Raw for the first time and being unable to handle it at all: I almost had a panic attack. It’s not the most original movie in the world, or the most sympathetic or responsible, but it made me sick. Read Brandon’s review here.”
27. Kingsman (2015). From my best of 2015 list: “I first saw an “extended preview” for this movie during an airing of American Horror Story’s fourth season, and I wasn’t impressed or intrigued in the slightest. I think the problem was that the preview in question chose to focus on the action-oriented nature of the film, neglecting to highlight that this film wasn’t simply an action movie clone but a love letter to Roger Moore’s time as James Bond (meaning that this is the first, but far from last, film on this list that traded on nostalgia for my attention). From the disfigured henchman whose physique is enhanced with deadly weapons, to the world-takeover plans of the eccentric villain, to the huge Blofeld-esque base hidden deep within a mountain, this movie was a delightful revisitation of spy films of yesteryear. By deconstructing the idea of the gentleman assassin by having protagonist Eggs face classist discrimination within the ranks of the secret organization by which he has been recruited and gleefully combining the camp of Moore’s Bond with the brutality of a Bourne film, Kingsman stood out as an early contender for best action movie of the year, even if it did get dumped into theatres at a bad time.”
26. Us (2019). From my review: “It doesn’t give too much of the film’s message away to say that it is about class and the way that it creates dark mirrors for ourselves everywhere, the way that getting out of the darkness of poverty is often impossible, and that those who manage to somehow embody the mythological idea of social mobility must do so at the expense of others, ultimately becoming complicit in the suffering of those who might otherwise have been your peers. Of course, with a film like this one, there are going to be other interpretations, but it’s all there. Consider: Adelaide’s father, playing Whack-a-Mole, knocking down facsimiles of rodents as they try to rise up out of the darkness underground. Consider: that Gabe constantly finds himself trying to one-up Josh, only to find that Josh himself is imitating his own decisions, in an ouroboros of attempts to keep up with the Joneses. Consider: that ‘I Got 5 On It’ is about how one person covets an entire object despite said object being a dime bag that both parties going halves should share between the two of them (‘I got some bucks on it, but it ain’t enough on it’). Consider: the power of art as the impetus to empower the recognition of interclass economic struggle and the ability to transcend (or at least ascend within) it. Consider: the repeated refrain of the ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ that eternally attempts to climb and is forever pushed back down. Consider: when arriving at the beach house, the family eats fast food, except for Adelaide, who eats strawberries; why? Consider: what does a Black Flag t-shirt mean in 1986 when worn by a teenager working long hard hours versus being worn by the child of a comfortably wealthy family in 2019?”
25. Nightcrawler (2014). In 2014, my best friend and I were trying to decide between watching Birdman or Nightcrawler, and she said she didn’t want to watch either of those and that she was sick of superhero movies (what an innocent time). As much as I like to imagine a world where there was a film in 2014 that was all about everybody’s favorite fuzzy blue elf, Nightcrawler is undoubtedly a better movie than that would be. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a performance that is a career highlight (the high of which, arguably, he’s been chasing ever since, if Velvet Buzzsaw’s marketing campaign was anything to go by). At the time that this came out, I was two years out of grad school and working four jobs to make ends meet, after finally emerging from the cocoon of academia into an economically depressed Louisiana. As such, I was along for the ride with Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom in his quiet desperation … until I suddenly realized I wasn’t, and I wasn’t sure where exactly he had lost my sympathy. Riz Ahmed is also great in this one, and it’s a great showcase for Rene Russo as well.
24. The Square (2017). From my review: “The Square mocks not the artifice of haute culture and instead revels in needling the shallowness of artistic expression when self-important artists attempt to make broad social commentary while lacking any real depth of insight. In the introduction of the concept of “The Square” to the museum’s wealthy patrons, Christian’s assistant thanks two donors for their contribution of fifty million kroner (about 5. 85 million USD); following this, Christian launches into a practiced speech before a minor interruption offers him the opportunity to make an “impromptu” request to go off-script and begin again, a specific strategy to appear more personable and relatable, and which we have already seen him rehearse in the previous scene. This motif repeats itself throughout the film: Christian the curator embraces the importance of charitable humanity and the need to support the poor and the weak; Christian the person ignores the plight of people around him, writes a threatening letter to an entire apartment complex with reckless abandon, refuses to apologize to a child for the havoc in the boy’s personal life for which he is directly responsible, and when he does try to make things right, it’s both too little and too late.”
23. Bad Times at the El Royale (2018). I was a much bigger fan of this one than Brandon was. I loved just about every part of it: the location, the atmosphere, the casting, and the music. It was great to see Jon Hamm playing both into and against type as a much more openly racist version of Don Draper, vacuum salesman. Bad Times pulls off a serpentine, nonlinear narrative better than any of the Pulp Fiction clones that appeared in the wake of that film’s popularity, and the way that we follow one character to the end of one “chapter” and then restarting from another point of view. And, as someone who generally feels anxiety in public accommodations, I always get a kick out of thrillers set at hotels (Bug, Identity) and doubly so if there’s a voyeurism element to them, even if they’re overall not very good (Vacancy). Newcomer Cynthia Erivo is delightful in her role as Darlene Sweet, and she and Jeff Bridges have magnificent chemistry in their scenes together; Chris Hemsworth is great playing against type as a charismatic sociopath, managing to pull off both menacing and alluring at the same time, pulling off a Mansonesque character that one could actually see oneself being fooled by. A great (if long delayed) follow up to Cabin in the Woods.
22. Suspiria (2018). Holy shit, what a ride! Vulture may have ranked this one 5,234th out of the 5,279 films released this decade, but they are wrong, wrong, wrong. As a noteworthy fan of Dario Argento in general and the classic Suspiria in particular, I didn’t want this film to exist. En route to a screening of the Creepers cut of Phenomena in 2018, a friend asked me if I was excited for the then-upcoming remake, and I admitted that I preferred that it wasn’t happening, but since it was happening and—for better or worse—we would all have to live with it, I was cautiously optimistic. And I have to say: if you’re going to remake an inarguable classic, this is the way to do it. It even makes you wonder, retroactively, why the original didn’t include certain elements that were nominally part of the plot (i.e., dancing) as more integral aspects of the narrative. Despite being an altogether very different film, tonally and visually, the spirit was true. They even had characters discussing the importance of counting steps! 5 stars! Read Brandon’s review here.
21. Berberian Sound Studio (2012). In this film, Toby Jones plays timid British sound editor Gilderoy, whose CV consists largely of nature documentaries. After travelling to Italy to work on a giallo film titled The Equestrian Vortex under the assumption that it’s a movie about horses, Gilderoy’s world becomes increasingly unfocused and the line between reality and the world of the film blurs and the real world becomes more surreal. Belittled for his timidness by his Italian colleagues, who find the older man’s shock and horror at the content of the film amusing given that he is on the inside and sees how the proverbial sausage is being made, Gilderoy finds himself likewise trapped in a Gilliamesque world of red tape and madness, epitomized by being told repeatedly by the Italian studio that he cannot be reimbursed for the ticket for his flight from England because they can find no evidence that the flight ever happened. A fascinating tribute to giallo films of the past and a love letter not just to that period but to that genre, this one is definitely worth checking out.
20. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016). From my best of 2016 list: “Easily dismissed as a profoundly stupid film, the mockumentary Popstar is actually an incisive and withering dissection of the dreamy pop culture star-making machine as the industrial complex that it really is. Although some of my fondness for the film is no doubt informed by the loss of my beloved The Soup (I’m still in mourning) and the resultant general dearth of media that is aimed at mocking and disempowering the grotesque machinery of entertainment industry synergy, this is also a movie that rides high on hilarity, with jokes flying off the screen at a rapid pace. The narrative of a band member whose success and ensuing egotism destroys their relationships before realizing that interpersonal connection is more important than fame is a tired one, but at least Popstar is a parody, which makes it work at least as well as its spiritual predecessor Josie and the Pussycats. From mocking Macklemore and the way that his music is paradoxically homopositive and insecure about masculinity (“Equal Rights“), the meaninglessness of hip-hop that apotheosizes empty materialism (“Things in My Jeep”), and the creepy fetishization of military action and nationalism (“Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)“), the film delivers on a lot of levels.” Read Brandon’s review here.
19. I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore (2017). From my 2017 year-end list: “In his review of I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, Brandon referenced Falling Down, a film about an unhinged person who goes on a spree following a traumatic event and triggered by the kind of acts of aggression that most of us see but ignore in our everyday life (with a few exceptions). When I saw I Don’t Feel at Home, I felt it was more of a spiritual successor to Bobcat Goldthwaite’s 2011 opus God Bless America, in which an unassuming insurance salaryman learns he has a brain tumor and spends the rest of the film tracking down and doling out justice to those individuals he believes are responsible for the ills of society. His is a sporadic cross-country trek that involves the destruction of Super Sweet 16 brats, reality TV judges who destroy people on national television, and the occasional real monster. Our heroine in I Don’t Feel at Home isn’t on quite that level, and her pursuit–not of justice but of an apology–is much more reasonably presented and linear, and thus favorably compares to Goldthwaite’s picture. There’s the same vacillation between grave-dark humor and truly grotesque outbursts of violence that Bless has, but there’s also more heart and more subversiveness. I also love that Elijah Wood is essentially playing a gender flipped Manic Pixie Dream Girl in this movie, with his bizarre fashion sense, eccentric behavior, and lack of any apparent life outside of assisting the protagonist in reaching his, or in this case her, potential. It’s refreshing but also highlights how real people would consider such a person to be, as he says he has been accused of being, ‘obnoxious.’”
18. Little Women (2019). From my review: “This is a beautiful film, a timeless piece of literature made fresh once more with a cast overbrimming with talent and filmed with an eye for chromatic storytelling and such beautiful Northeast scenery that when I tell you I was there, I was there. This is also such a talented cast that they breathe a new life into characters that, in the original text and in previous film incarnations, were at times sullen, unlikable, or intolerable.”
17. Annihilation (2018). From my review: “Let’s get this out of the way as quickly as possible: if you’re looking for a close adaptation of the novel, you’re not going to find that here. This is A+ science fiction that also happens to be a D+ translation of the source material, if your qualifications for a good adaptation revolve solely around how closely the film version adheres to the novel. Garland has admitted that he thumbed through the novel and took only the most noteworthy elements and concepts—a government-backed all-woman expedition makes its way beyond an incomprehensible barrier into Area X, a place of strange mutations of both flora and fauna stemming back to an unknown catastrophic event—and made a standalone film without the intention of revisitation in future films. It’s for the viewer to decide if this is to the detriment of the film and its source material or not, but those of you hoping for an adaptation of the entire Southern Reach trilogy should manage your expectations now. And hey—that’s okay. The narrative conceit in the novel that all of the characters are nameless and identified only by their occupations, which works so well on the page both as a method for giving the reader the space to imagine each character in the way they see fit and as part of a larger theme about the absence not only of knowledge but perhaps even the possibility of comprehension, simply wouldn’t work on film. That’s not a fault of the film so much as a fact that must be accepted about the difference between different forms of media, and as such I can’t detract from the film because of it.”
16. The Congress (2014). The trailer for this movie alone was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Robin Wright plays a fictionalized version of herself who opts to allow a film studio to buy her image in perpetuity in exchange for a lump sum, giving her the opportunity to essentially retire from filmmaking and care for her ailing son. That’s about the only thing that we know really happens because the rest of the film becomes a series of examinations of the malleable nature of what we perceive and consider to be “reality” play out as Robin, or at least a being that “used to be” Robin, searches for her missing son across worlds mundane and fantastic, colorful and desaturated, wherein we can never know for certain what’s meaningful or meaningless until it’s already happened, just like in life. Read Brandon’s review here.
15. Knives Out (2019): From my review: “I’ve long been a fan of comedy pastiches and homages of genres that function perfectly as examples of those genres despite humorous overtones; my go-to example is Hot Fuzz, which I always tout as having a more sophisticated murder mystery plot than most films than most straightforward criminal investigation media (our lead comes to a logical conclusion that fits all of the clues, but still turns out to be wrong). Knives Out is another rare gem of this type, a whodunnit comedy in the mold of Clue that has a sophisticated and winding plot.”
14. A Ghost Story (2017): There was a moment in A Ghost Story in which my former roommate and I each tried to talk the other out of finishing the film. If you haven’t seen it and are only aware of the movie from its public profile, then you’ve likely already guessed that it’s the five minute sequence in which Rooney Mara gorges on a pie. This is a hard movie to sell to someone, because it has all the trappings of being a piece of hipster garbage (and I say this as a man who, as noted above, unambiguously loves God Help the Girl): an ostentatious image ratio choice; an alienating premise about the nature of loneliness, grief, and loss; the aforementioned pie-eating. But this is a movie that is achingly beautiful and psychologically fascinating, uniquely tuned to each individual viewer. Essentially, A Ghost Story is Kuleshov Effect the Movie: we see an image (perhaps of a piano), we see a blank face, an image (perhaps another bedsheet-clad ghost), we see a blank face, we see an image (perhaps of a building being dismantled), we see a blank face. The entire emotional arc of the film is just you, the viewer, asserting your own meaning on the text (guided by the film’s haunting score, of course). It’s a truly beautiful film.
13. Lady Bird (2017): From my 2017 year-end list: Every single trailer for Lady Bird made it look like exactly the kind of cloying, overly sentimental coming of age piece that I could live the rest of my life without ever seeing again. When we saw the preview as part of the coming attractions at our screening of Killing of a Sacred Deer, my roommate and I turned to each other in unison and made the “finger at the throat means puke” gesture, and made a rude noise or four. I wouldn’t have even given the movie a chance except that a friend I don’t get to see enough desperately wanted to go, so I joined him. Never let it be said that I cannot admit when I’m wrong: this movie was beautiful. I cried three times, big beautiful tears rolling down my face. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic, but the real MVP here is Laurie Metcalf, who’s been hiding out of sight for too long. Every performance is pitch perfect, and Greta Gerwig captures the honesty and earnestness of youthful dreams and the anxieties of class distinction (and how that distinction affects families at every level, and how class reverberates through a person’s whole life regardless of talent, brilliance, or desire). I want to wrap myself inside of this movie like a warm blanket for days on end. The cynic in me is sick to the point of near death when it comes to narratives about people who want to move to New York [….] But in this movie, as the shallow dream of a deeply real, flawed teenage girl who doesn’t understand just how good she has it, it works for me, against all odds. No one needs to be told that this is one of the best movies of 2017, as it’s been all over the place, but if you’re feeling contrary like I was, listen to a coal-hearted Grinch like me: it’s worth it. (You can also read Brandon’s review here.)”
12. The Favourite (2018). A stunningly baroque and sumptuous film from Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite features strong performances all around and a timeless story about the fickle nature of devotion, obsession, lust, longing, and the peculiarities of fidelity and accountability. There’s also a rad as hell dance sequence that’s shot like a hip hop video and a terribly unenthusiastic hand job. I personally loved seeing Rachel Weisz reunite with Nicholas Hoult ever so many years after About a Boy (I have a soft spot) and I’m delighted that the rest of the world is starting to get on board the Olivia Colman train. Read Brandon’s review here.
11. Marjorie Prime (2017): From my 2017 year-end list: “Lady Bird wasn’t the only major feature to star Lois Smith last year. Smith is also featured as the title character in Marjorie Prime, a deeply introspective and meditative film about the nature of grief, memory, loss, and family. I can’t recommend it more highly without going too deep into the film and revealing more than I should, so I suggest reading my review for a clearer picture of whether or not this film will touch you as it touched me. Perhaps it’s that my grandmother, who passed away last Christmas, was very much like Marjorie in her own last days, but there’s a verisimilitude to this story that transcends personal experience as much as it is informed by it. As Tess (Geena Davis) points out, when we remember an event, what we’re actually remembering is the last time we remembered the event, back and back and back, like a series of photographs slowly fading out of focus in a recursive loop. Or, as underlined in another of the film’s conversations that mirrors the plot, one of Tess recounts how one of her students had inherited their father’s parrot, which sometimes still spoke with the dead man’s voice, even twenty years after his death. Love and grief have a profound effect on the way that our memories evolve and devolve and undergo a metamorphosis as we age, and the ravages of time on the human body and mind also contribute to this imperfect personal narrative.”
10. Burning (2018): A sleeper hit, I expect this movie to be revisited more now than when it was first released, with the buzz about and positive reaction to Parasite causes more audiences to seek out Korean films. There are definitely similarities here; in fact, the first thing I thought of when we see the pitiful semi-basement in which the Kims reside in Parasite was the apartment Hae-mi kept in Burning, where she proudly showed Jong-su the one part of the home that receives sunlight (reflected from a skyscraper that dominates the view from her window) for an short, ephemeral time each day. An unblinking mirror to the realities of the stark contrast between rich and poor, the tethered and the free, Burning is a fascinating character study into the way that people are tethered with metaphorical chains that can theoretically be transcended but which in practice are often insurmountable: economic barriers, compulsion, moral weakness, obsession. Read my review here.
9. Doctor Sleep (2019): From my review: “I loved this movie. […] This film never feels its length, and the muted public reaction and mediocre box office returns are a personal disappointment; this film was never going to surpass The Shining, but it’s not far behind, and [director Mike] Flanagan was right to mix the original film’s solemn meditative qualities with occasional frenetic setpieces. In a lifetime of watching movies, I’ve never been so invested or felt so much tension in my spine when watching a scene of a man eight years sober struggle to not take a drink, even in Kubrick’s opus; it’s powerful movie-making at its best, and I can’t recommend it more highly. McGregor gives one of his best performances here, and Ferguson is likewise a delight. Sleep really and truly deserves all the attention that it’s failing to garner in the mainstream, and is the rare horror sequel to live up to (and feel like it truly belongs to) the legacy of its predecessor.”
8. Raw (2017): From my review: “2017 is turning out to be a banner year for horror. After the absolutely stunning Get Out, which was so richly steeped in both metaphor and lived experience, Julia Ducournau’s beautiful and haunting Raw has just hit American audiences like a ton of bricks, or buckets of grue dropped from a great height. […] To say more would give away too much of what makes this film such a delightful (if stomach-churning) experience, but I was beaten to the punch by Catherine Bray of Variety in the comparisons that were most evident to me, as she called the film “Suspiria meets Ginger Snaps,” which was my thought exactly while sitting in the theater.”
7. Queen of Earth (2015): From my review: This is a deeply emotional and cinematically beautiful movie that gets to the heart of interpersonal relationships and how affection can sour due to an individual’s blindness to his or her own faults. The musical cues, increasing tension, and sense of dread are all cribbed from thrillers of the seventies, but the violence on display never transcends from emotional to physical (or does it?), and the intentionally ambiguous ending is at once both a perfect ending and a somewhat unsatisfactory one, although that does not detract from the overall quality of the picture. What’s more, it’s impossible not to note what a funny movie this can be in its smaller moments, as it doesn’t shy away from the ways that a person’s breakdown can often lead to moments of unintentional hilarity. As rare as it is to see a film that so unabashedly stares into the face of mental illness, it’s even rarer to see a film that understands and appreciates that, from the outside, the behaviors of an irrational person can be objectively humorous even if they are subjectively heartbreaking, and the film manages to tread that line in an insightful and deft way. More than just adding more scenes to Moss’s career highlight reel, this movie is the most honest portrayal of unhealthy bonds I’ve seen in as long as I can remember.
6. Parasite (2019): From my review: “‘Money is an iron.’ This is the thesis statement of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, a beautiful film about the lengths that one family living in poverty will go to in order to climb the ladder of social success. As stated by a member of this quartet, money is an iron, as it irons out all the wrinkles in life, both metaphorical and literal, leaving behind flawless skin and a life virtually devoid of the anxieties of the common man. […] Money is an iron. For the Parks, it is the metaphorical iron that makes life smooth and effortless, and the iron strength of the walls that separate them from the riffraff below. For the Kims, it is the iron of prison bars that keep them in a metaphorical prison of society and, perhaps, a literal one; it is the weight that drags them down, a millstone to prevent them from ever escaping the trap of stratified social classes.”
5. The Farewell (2019): From my 2019 best list: “I loved The Farewell, so much so that it came pretty close to unseating my number one, which would have been the first time in my 4. 5 years writing for Swampflix that my number one wasn’t a horror picture. A heartbreaking story of the ties that bind, across great expanses of land and ocean and time, of the love that only grandmothers can give (and receive), of the consequences of secrecy and the secret wounds we bear and take on in order to make life just that much more bearable for the people in our lives. It’s a story of the purest kind of love, the kind that comes from a loss of self as part of a greater whole, the loss of identity following the wrenching of being taken from the places and people that we love, even if all we have are impressions of them. Sometimes, to love is to scream and strike back at the world; sometimes, to be is to shout and declare “I am here.” But sometimes, to love is to sacrifice in silence, and the simple act of being requires a quiet acceptance of the inevitable which cannot be fought, and which shouldn’t. I can’t even think about this movie without crying; it’s just that beautiful. You can read Brandon’s review here.”
4. Get Out (2017): From my 2017 best of list: “What else is there to say about Get Out that hasn’t already been said? What tiny pieces of information could I pick up, turn over, and inspect for a deeper meaning that haven’t already been inspected to the point of total knowledge by various other critics, people talking about their lived experience, the black twittersphere and blogospheres, and every other person under the sun? This is the best movie of 2017. There’s not much more to say about it that you haven’t read elsewhere and from a better writer than I am. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Let it flow through you and inform you about the daily experiences of people of color in our country. Let it teach you a lesson about the power of cell phone video as a liberator, and about the frequent hypocrisy of white liberalism. Let it be the light for you in dark (and sunken) places. Let its truth live in you and affect your daily life, teaching you to recognize the toxicity within yourself. Live it.”
3. Cloud Atlas (2014): This was my favorite movie of 2014. It’s equal parts ridiculous and beautiful, absurd and transcendent, flawed and moving. Based on the novel by David Mitchell, this is a humanist fable of the beauty and the hideousness of which humankind is capable written across the margins of past and future across six different time periods. Life is banal and life is an adventure, and sometimes it’s both things at once. It’s a flawed movie, to be sure, and there’s an argument to be made that it shouldn’t exist. The narrative concerns the reiterations of several souls as they part ways and reunite across lifetimes (perhaps reincarnations, perhaps something else entirely) in a timeless cycle; infamously, in the portions of the film set in 2144 Seoul, we see the reincarnated souls of earlier (and later) timelines in this setting… which means that it applies “yellow face” make-up to white actors. The intention here is good, and I’ve wracked my brain for years to think of a way that this concept could have been communicated without, uh, doing what they did. It’s a real black eye for this film that something so beautiful and moving and challenging and thoughtful was faced with an insurmountable dilemma: forego the story’s need to demonstrate the continuity of soul over time, get rid of the Seoul plot altogether (not really an option), or… what happened. I know that makes this film contentious, and rightfully so, but I love it nonetheless.
2. The VVitch (2016): As I wrote for my 2016 top ten: “How do I love this movie? Let me count the ways! It’s a cinematic masterpiece from the first frame to the last; I’m still anxiously awaiting a second-by-second breakdown by Every Frame a Painting, because each captured moment is elegant and haunting. The film acts as a kind of newly-discovered Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, what with its ruminations on faithfulness and faithlessness, acting as a kind of companion piece to both “Young Goodman Brown” in the way that both highlight the apparent Calvinistic truth that depravity is the true nature of man, and that the carnal world and its temptations must constantly be guarded against lest the smallest of sins (white lies, sexual curiosity, and even neglecting one’s prayers) snowball immediately into damnation. It’s a true New England American Gothic piece in this way, and that voice is clear and revelatory. The only real problem with the film is that it’s at once both a character driven drama, a horror flick, a mood piece, and an art film, and it’s that last one that I think is the biggest hangup for the film’s detractors. Unlike other movies that might fall under the generous “art film” banner, The Witch is not a hard film to follow or understand. If you recommend, for instance, Mulholland Drive to a friend, they may watch but not enjoy it, saying “I didn’t get it.” The danger with The Witch is that, despite its dense layers of subtext and meaning and its reliance on a basic understanding of Puritan morality, many may come away saying “I get it, I just don’t like it,” even though they fail to actually grasp the width and breadth of its mastery.” Read Brandon’s review here.
1. Knife + Heart (2019): As I said when writing up my review in my 2019 top ten: “Of course this is my number one. What else could it possibly be? This may be my new favorite movie of all time. Never in my life has there been a film that slotted into so many of my particular and particularly obscure interests. From my review: “Never before have I ever seen a movie that was made for me the way that Un couteau dans le cœur (Knife+Heart) was. Seventies [period piece] giallo featuring a masked killer in black leather gloves? Check. Queer story that focuses on a troubled woman who drinks herself into unconsciousness on a nightly basis and is unable to let go of a lost love? Check. Vertigo/Body Double-esque plot points about obsession with apparent doppelgangers? Check. M83-as-Goblin soundtrack? Check. A plethora of shots of old school film editing equipment being put to good use? Check. A peek behind the curtain of the seventies gay porn scene? Check! Women in white wandering around a forest as gales of wind blow all about them? You betcha. A strangely centric fable about grackles? Is it my birthday?” My year-end Spotify data even revealed that M83 was my most-listened artist this year, with the track “Detective Rachid” as my most-played song from the group. I think about this movie all the time, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond