Every decade brings its own flavor when it comes to cinema. The 20’s and 30’s were about Hollywood trying to figure out how to make movies with both the invention of talkies and introducing color pictures. The 40’s and 50’s were about musicals, westerns and censorship with a few heavy movies slipping through. The 60’s and 70’s were about counter culture and eventually movies questioning of authority and showcasing reality. The 80’s were a bit more fun with teen comedies and adventure pics like “Back to the Future” becoming classics. The 90’s were a bit of nostalgia filmmaking with the last hoorah for epics mixed in with chaotic films like “Pulp Fiction” changing cinema or “The Matrix” revolutionizing Sci-Fi. The 2000’s were the beginning of the internet era and studios became less willing to take risks and choosing to make sequels all day. Now we come to the 2000-teens. This is the social media era. Major actors do superhero movies and if your indie film is not able to get a bunch of retweets then it gets buried. There were however many great films. I refuse to consider a film for my top 100 movies of all-time list until it is at least 10 years old. These movies could possibly be in that realm down the road for me. Here is my Top 10 Movies of the Decade. I know most people will argue 2020 is a new decade. I disagree. We count numbers from 1 to 10, not 0 to 9. I treat movie decades the same way.
10. “Boyhood” (2014):
My argument with people that do not see how amazing “Boyhood” was is simple. All of us take pictures and have memories that are special to us. But are they any more or less interesting to anyone other than you? “Boyhood” captures what it is to live life and those important moments in youth. By shooting a few weeks a year for 12 years we see these character age for real. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is just a boy growing up with his sister and single mother while still learning what the world is. His mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is trying hard to balance things with his father played by Ethan Hawke often absent in the kids lives. Throughout the course of 12 years you see all of these characters grow. Dad learns not to be such a deadbeat and mom keeps on finding the wrong men. Director Richard Linklater shows the good and the bad we all eventually experience.
9. “Get Out” (2017):
Who would have thought the most poignant story about systemic racism in 20 years would be a horror movie? “Get Out” is a brilliant concept written and directed by Jordan Peele. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is an attractive black man in college dating a beautiful white girl named Rose (Allison Williams). He’s nervous as the couple are taking a trip to the burbs so that Chris can meet Rose’s family for the first time. Her parents Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) are very rich. Initially they are welcoming to Chris, but within a few minutes things seem off. A black gardener is awkward. A black housemaid is staring blankly out the window. But the parents seem legit and set the couple up in a nice room. In the middle of the night Chris sneaks out to have a cigarette. Missy is in a chair waiting for Chris when he comes back into the house. She has him sit down for a strangely calm interrogation until she has him ‘sleep’. With a tap on her tea cup he enters into the ‘Sunken Place’. The next day Chris wakes up in his bed not knowing if it was real or a dream. That afternoon there is a big party of rich old people at the house. After cocktails, a silent auction happens for something not fully clear. “Get Out” shows how rich white men use athletic black men for their benefit. The film is scary, funny, and a big wake up call.
8. “The Look of Silence” (2015):
Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer made a hugely controversial and successful documentary about the 1960’s genocide of supposed communists in Indonesia with “The Act of Killing” (2012). For me, his follow up “The Look of Silence” is the pinnacle of how best to portray this tragedy on screen. The story follows a 44-year-old optometrist named Adi. His older brother was killed during the extermination of more than a million people. He is currently working on the eyes of some of the men in charge of the massacre more than 40 years ago. The most disturbing part is the lack of remorse from many of these men, with one even saying “If you keep prying it’s going to happen again”. Adi’s mother is even hesitant to speak up even though she lived through those atrocities. “The Look of Silence” is not horror movie scary, it is real life scary which is far worse. The pride and restraint Adi shows is amazing and the lack of remorse from these killers is haunting.
7. “Inside Out” (2015):
Pixar is always great at creating stories that deliver a positive message for children. “Inside Out” is another excellent addition to their cannon. A young girl named Riley is a typical confused growing teen. Her parents are having a hard time figuring out their daughter. What “Inside Out” centers around is the emotions within her head. There’s Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. The group lives in the headquarters of her mind. They are struggling to figure out how to maneuver her psyche after being uprooted and moved to a new city. Joy was at one time Riley’s favorite emotion. Now sadness is growing in her mind. Starting with a precious memory being unintentionally tainted by sadness due to her mood, it is up to the two opposite ended emotions to find a way to keep on going. If negativity continues to grow then Riley is doomed to a life of sadness. Joy is determined to make sure everything is happy thoughts. But the brilliant message of “Inside Out” is that being happy all the time is not healthy. It shows kids that anger, sadness, fear, and disgust are natural and is what makes us complete human beings.
6. “Dunkirk” (2017):
When director Christopher Nolan decided to make his first war movie he decided to create order out of chaos. “Dunkirk” showcases the intense feeling it must have been to be in the middle of one of the most iconic battles during WWII. The conflict is told in three parts, on land, the sea, and in the air. Each part of the action is shown and intercut during different points and lengths of time. The first portion shown is British soldiers being ambushed on the way to the French beach. Those that survived sit and wait for the rescue ships to arrive. On the Naval side, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) is informed the ships arriving can’t efficiently reach the beach and take home all of the soldiers. A solution seems impossible. In the air the Royal Air Force led by Farrier (Tom Hardy) are heading towards the battlefield for an aerial dogfight. The bloodbath begins as the Brits are outgunned. Off the coast of Great Britain, word gets out that their boys are in trouble so everyday boaters led by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) bring civilian ships willing to take the risk as they head out to save as many of their countrymen as possible. “Dunkirk” was a disaster, but also showed a great deal of bravery in fighting for your fellow man.
5. “Roma” (2019):
Looking back on this picture and reading others views, many critics see this as a personal and intimate piece about director Alfonso Curan’s home country. I see something very different. I see a true epic comparable to any swords and spears picture you want to throw at it. “Roma” is an epic of the soul. An epic of humanity, something far more challenging to overcome than what takes place on the battle field. There is chaos with a political upheaval lingering in the wings. A culture is collapsing. Yet Curan focuses on the epic life of someone who would not appear to be epic, a house maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). She has to balance working for a rich family, dealing with men that care little for her, trying to raise kids not her own, and coming to acceptance of an accidental pregnancy. All the while a collection of cast offs as well as privileged are given their own little places in this sprawling world. “Roma” is one of the most honest looks into a culture that only somebody who lived it could bring to the screen.
4. “Marriage Story” (2019):
“Marriage Story” is such a personal film for me. Director Noah Baumbach creates a tragic love story that many of us can relate to. Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) are getting a divorce, and it isn’t pretty. They try at first to keep it as civil as possible, but bitterness on both sides begins to fester. Charlie is a great playwright who thinks Nicole got in his way of enjoying his twenties as he was a celebrity and she hates how Charlie completely took over and blocked her possible success as an actress, especially when he wanted a baby. The two both end up hiring scumbag lawyers which causes even more hatred. Driver and Johansson are absolutely phenomenal and that scene, oh that amazing scene. It is personal for me because I saw my parents go through an ugly divorce as a kid and as an adult, while I was not married but kind of was, our split was full of pain when we were so in love at one point. Beautiful movie.
3. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015):
This movie is the craziest experience I have seen in a long time. Maybe ever. Director George Miller had literally every frame of this movie in his mind, which is insane to think of while watching “Mad Max: Fury Road”. This vision of a post-apocalyptic hell scape is unlike anything before or since. Crazy costumes, insane cars, and a masked guitarist with flames shooting out of it to name a few. As soon as Charlize Theron’s character Furiosa helps to free the precious wives of Immortan Joe, the evil dictator of one of the last colonies, the chase is on. And it never lets up. The jacked-up followers of Joe get in their monster vehicles, complete with guys on swinging poles that can get onto the rig and will stop at nothing to take down the vehicle. What is also amazing is Miller did almost all of this movie in real time. Those vehicles are real and those stunt guys are actually flying in the air. “Fury Road” is a blast that never gets old.
2. “The Tree of Life” (2011):
“There are two ways through life. The way of nature and the way of grace.” If you could name one filmmaker that is the true embodiment of poetry in cinema that would undoubtedly be Terrence Malick. He can be hit and miss as he sometimes goes way off the deep end with his hodge-podge collection of beautiful images that mean nothing together. But when he hits, Malick makes some of the most beautiful films in history. His most sumptuous and moving piece has got to be “The Tree of Life”. This was the first picture I can think of since Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” to successfully question who we are in the world and where humanity could possibly be going. But instead of going into space, other than one beautiful space opera sequence, the bulk of the film asks that unanswerable question through the viewpoint of a family growing together in Texas. The film and story is not linear as it is about moments. Moments of beauty, pain, and fascination. Nature also plays a big part in this piece. My take is that Malick is trying to show how your mind sees and remembers things. My favorite image is the boy seeing his mother floating like an angel in the front lawn. But there are so many images that Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create that it is a plethora of riches for the eyes. Yes some people find the dinosaur sequence strange, but that is Malick’s way of showing how much of a blip in the grand scheme of things we are. From the creation of the universe to whatever is in store after we die, we are all a part in the vastness that is “The Tree of Life”.
1. “Drive” (2011):
One of the most exciting and highly stylized movies ever, “Drive” is a twisting tale of action and suspense. The opening car chase is my favorite of its kind in history. The soundtrack is a unique version of techno intensity. The visuals are a combination of slick neon 80’s style with a classic gangster twist. But what makes it all work is the stoic performance of Ryan Gosling. His intense eyes require no words to make people know not to f-with him. The Driver gets involved with a pretty young woman in his apartment building. They strike up a spark but her gangster husband comes home from prison. To protect her he does a job that goes way wrong and The Driver has to weave his way through the bad guys going after him and the girl. Add in excellent performances by Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks and you have got one hell of an iconic movie. The Driver always tells his clients they’ve got five minutes. That’s all it will take for you to get hooked on this one.