Sometimes I will take a break from talking about the films I make to talk about the films I love. This year we passed the halfway mark of the 2010's and I'd like to reflect on the films that affected me the most so far this decade.
10. Dogtooth (2010)
Gorges Lanthimos delivers an unnerving depiction of a family where the parents brainwash their children to keep them from ever leaving the safe confines of their house. The children flail as they grow against the myths their parents are feeding them and the parents struggle to keep up with their own bullshit. It's daring filmmaking and Lanthimos sells it with his barely-moving camera that remains as steadfast on its subjects as the characters are committed to the world they have built for themselves. Their world falls apart, as you'd expect, but this sharp satirical look at a generation of helicopter parents has only grown in my estimation since first seeing it.
9. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Coen Brothers and leading man Oscar Isaac bring their existential A-games to this one. Set in the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis follows a broke folk singer through an odyssey of a week as he couch surfs, fights with the people he’s close to, and looks for a lost cat. The death-drenched humor is classic Coen, but the brothers sneak a heartfelt sense of longing to the picture that emerges whenever Llewyn brings out his guitar. This subtle human touch is a welcome and radical departure from their previous work, elevating Inside Llewyn Davis to the upper echelons of the Coens’ filmography. Great Coen is about as good as it gets for me.
8. Under the Skin (2014)
Jonathan Glazer very cleverly uses the story of an alien observing humans to deconstruct body image and gender. That's all well and good, but in the process of doing so, he shows us the world through an outsider's eyes. I felt alien to myself after watching this film, undoubtedly due to the methodical pacing, startling shifts between plain reality and intense imagery/situations, and hypnotic images that strip away the viewer's concept of self. This is great science fiction for the 21st century.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
This movie is great for all of the same reasons that most of Wes Anderson's movies are great. It ranks third on my all-time Anderson list (behind "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums") because here he brings a thoughtfulness to each and every character that, in my opinion, separates his good from his great works. The children are spot-on depictions of adolescent angst and ingenuity while the adults are each in hilarious shades of personal crisis. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton give some of the best performances of their careers and the film ends as satisfyingly as it begins. It's funny, heartwarming, and about as Wes Andersonian as his movies get.
6. Upstream Color (2013)
In Upstream Color, there are telepathic pigs, biochemical conspiracies, kidnappings, and a fated love story. The film isn’t easy viewing, but allowing the details to settle and unkink reveals something marvelous. At its core, Upstream Color is a symphony on our longing for identity in a hyper-constructed world. The hypnotic effect of Carruth’s idiosyncratic vision is a testament to the power of montage, and hopefully its narrative boundary-pushing will inspire some of the great filmmakers of the decade's latter half.
5. Her (2014)
Spike Jonze could have really dropped the ball with this one. There are about twelve moments in "Her" where a lesser auteur would have lingered too long on something, taken the plot into the wrong place, or missed the right tone of a particular moment. The fact that Jonze managed to stick all of these difficult landings is enough to earn my respect, but it’s every glorious moment in between that makes this movie something special. "Her" is heartbreaking, but it’s also hilarious, thought provoking, and gorgeous to look at. It sports a performance by Joaquin Phoenix that shouldn’t even be possible. How does someone pull off playing a character that is guarded, vulnerable, likable, sad, funny, and believable in a way that makes you think he could fall in love with an operating system? This isn’t really a film about falling in love with technology though. Why would it be? All of that stuff only exists to enhance a thesis on the vulnerability of human relationships. Somehow Jonze and Phoenix pull it all together and the result is transcendent as hell.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
I refuse to write a top ten films list that doesn't include the movie that made me laugh the most. Luckily, that movie also happens to contain what might be my favorite use of CGI in a film ever. This joke-a-second visual extravaganza is unlike anything that came before it and better than most things that have come after it. Thank writer/director Edgar Wright, whose comedic voice is singular, potent, and only matched by his eye for visuals. I might just watch it again after writing this list.
3. A Separation (2011)
Nobody today can make a domestic drama as immersive and powerful as Asghar Farhadi. His camera finds characters at their most vulnerable, but never intrudes on the moment. "A Separation" is a film where one dispute, a divorce, connects to a myriad of other disputes; a harmony of intricate dysfunctions. All of the characters have their reasons and none of them are entirely right. This is a film about the difficulties of making decisions when other decision-making people are involved. Farhadi's storytelling does not encourage judgement or offer room for melodrama. Instead, it delivers a heartbreaking eulogy for the perfect outcome. It's "Tokyo Story" for the 2010's.
2. The Master (2012)
"The Master" is a dense, inscrutable, pain in the ass of a movie. It features a main character whose actions rarely make sense and scenes that, although engaging, don't seem to all fit into the same movie on the first viewing. Those scenes, however, are as electric as anything I've ever seen on screen. Featuring career-best performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams with Paul Thomas Anderson's par-none visual eye, "The Master" is a puzzle that I'm eager to continue putting together.
1. The Tree of Life (2011)
"The Tree of Life" is a pure artistic expression that culminates a lifetime of Terrence Malick's obsessions into one epic, poetic, and astonishingly beautiful film. This is Malick's most abstract film to date, but housed in all of its ethereal qualities is a fairly simple story of boyhood and loss. The more straightforward scenes that follow the dynamic of a suburban family in Texas are so effective that they render the film's higher wonderings into a single powerful, palpable, experience. This was a game-changer for me and I continually look to it when I need a dose of inspiration. It hasn't let me down yet.