27 November 2019

NMW's Top Movies of The Two-Thousand Tweens!

It's that time of the decade again. This blog was in its infancy in 2009 when we first wrapped up the 2000s as a decade, and now, in its old decrepit age we take a look back at the years 2010-2019. It has been a very odd decade, mostly terrible, but there were at least ten good movies. Maybe stretching seven or eight, but we'll list ten here for you. We took some time and looked back at every single Top Ten List we had, as well as the Top Ten re-do list we had, and then the Top Ten Movies We've Seen that Didn't Come out in This Year lists. It's a lot. Here's what we got:

The first thing I wanted to do was break this down by year. Just on instinct looking through all the movies I've watched in the past ten years, it looks something like this:

2010:

Black Swan
The Social Network
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Hot Tub Time Machine

2011:

Moneyball
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Take Shelter
Melancholia

2012:

Django Unchained
The Master
The Cabin in the Woods
Lincoln
The Campaign

2013:

The Wolf of Wall Street
Inside Llewyn Davis
Pain & Gain
The World's End
The Lone Ranger
Pacific Rim
Stoker

2014:

What We Do in the Shadows
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
The Interview
Inherent Vice
Gone Girl

2015:

Bone Tomahawk
The Duke of Burgundy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Under the Skin

2016:

The Witch
American Honey
The Lobster
Silence

2017:

Good Time
mother!
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 

2018:

The Death of Stalin
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sorry to Bother You

2019:

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
The Beach Bum
Jojo Rabbit
Uncut Gems
Booksmart
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Us

It's actually pretty liberating to not worry about what's Top Ten or Top 11 or whatever. This is the cream of the crop of what I am into. I certainly have a taste. Okay, I'll stop trolling you with that Lone Ranger nod, but I do actually love that movie.

2019 is tricky. I'm not really sure which of these films will resonate down the line, or even next month. It's all a little too recent for my judgment. Is Us better than Black Swan? Standing here right now it certainly feels like it, but who knows. Still, I think we can match these up and probably reevaluate years on down the line. Actually, we should definitely do a 2000-2009 reevaluation. You know we're doing this, now. Yes, I also love Godzilla: King of the Monsters and should probably name that #1 of the deacde.

From here I think we can sift through this mess and form a Decade Top Ten by just going through our no-brainers. Let's list them here and throw in a blurb about why this stuff resonated with me:

#10: American Honey (2016)

Dir: Andrea Arnold

I discovered this from some other "Best of 2016" list and started exploring it based on its premise. It's a mystifying three hours long and somehow holds your attention the entire way, despite being kind of about nothing. It centers on a young mother who runs away from home (abandoning her child on the way) and joining a troupe of young magazine salespeople led by Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough. It's a raw movie, filmed with mostly real people and only a handful of actors. On a larger scale it's also about the state of youth in America - lost, soulless, aching for connection and chasing dreams fueled by con artists and snake oil. I watched it on Netflix DVD on a weekday morning in December and remember it exactly. It's that kind of movie - it's always stuck with me in part because of how terrifyingly close to reality it could be for me and many people around me.

#09: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Dir: George Miller

This is a movie where ever single element is perfect. Everything works. It was breathtaking to witness. It's as if George Miller looked at every modern action movie and thought, "I can do this better." His resume is as varied as Babe: Pig in the City (1998), Happy Feet (2006), and uh...all three original Mad Max films, but somehow had in him still the perfect action movie. You can break this down endlessly in film class. I actually literally taught a film class in 2017 and whenever I wanted to demonstrate a point I just kept coming back to this movie. The establishment of premise, world-building, irony, every action as a reaction to a previous action, iconic characters, motifs, music, and costuming. All in service of an actually entertaining, memorable, enjoyable film. The casting is perfect. Each extended action scene is gripping in more importantly, in service to a story that could be told completely visually. It's such a simple idea executed to absolute perfection. Every action movie ever needs to strive to be Mad Max: Fury Road. It ends up not even being fair. This movie is the Patriots and George Miller is the Bill Belichick of action movies. I should note here that this movie IS actually just a straight re-make of The Road Warrior (1981). I also remember seeing this - in theaters, with friends and a big crowd, including someone's dad. The best way to watch this film.

#08: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Dir: David Fincher

The story of this movie is long and laboured, from forgotten lost manuscript by deceased author Stieg Larsson to a competent Swedish adaptation (only the first one is good), to this landing and flopping in Fincher's hands. Rooney Mara is fearless here and it's a damn shame she hasn't really had the chance to flex her acting like this again. As with many Fincher movies, the true star is the cinematography, staging, and unflinching treatment of the unsavory context. There are side roads and layers here that build towards the two characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist coming together to solve a long dead cold case. It's not much more than a classic mystery story, but it actually has a memorable payoff, and I'll never listen to Enya the same way again. Supporting cast Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Robin Wright are all superstars here. I watched this in theaters, I remember my seat - I was near the aisle. Sometime around Christmas. More than that, though, I remember watching this during a snow day, wrapped in a blanket in my apartment on a stark TV sitting on a chair in the middle of the room. I think my room didn't have heat and I was trying to watch it on a big TV from the living room. More than anything, that's how this movie should be watched.

#07: Melancholia (2011)

Dir. Lars von Trier

This is an extremely long disposition on the nature of depression, and pretty much the best that we're ever going to get. The premise on its face is that an alternate Earth, named Melancholia is headed for us and we're all doomed. The movie doesn't entirely concern itself with this small matter, though, and mostly acts as a means for Kirsten Dunst to prove that she's a legit actress (she does). I watched this years after it came out because it drew a lot of chatter on the Internet and I wanted to up my Lars von Trier knowledge. This is somehow one of his more accessible flicks? It's also totally a movie that's just two movies, the first half being Kirsten Dunst's wedding and the second half being mostly her moping around and unable to get out of the tub. It's got one of the best ending shots ever and is really a landmark bit of filmmaking.

#06: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Dir: Boots Riley

I saw this in a small arthouse theater in Cleveland and remember sitting there thinking, "How did someone reach into my brain and put a movie exactly made for me on the screen?" This film is incredibly engaging and has layers extremely beyond its premise of "black guy using David Cross' voice to become a good telemarketer." Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer and of course, LaKeith Stanfield are all at the top of their game. This film has a lot to say about unions, capitalism, modern-day slavery, the extent that people will sell out, the hypocrisy of doing so (and not doing so), and also, magic horses. I simply cannot give away more if you haven't seen it, but you really need to see it. I have never encountered a movie that goes so absurdly off the rails but manages to hold on to itself. I could watch it over and over - it's currently on Hulu, I might just do that.

05: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Dir: Martin Scorsese

As I was compiling this I found it amazing that Scorsese put out Silence three years after this. Maybe that long meditative thought about faith and Christianity was in response to the sheer depravity of this movie? I watched this on Christmas Day sitting next to my 14-year old cousin. It was awesome. I think those were his first boobs. Every award Leo has gotten after this has been in response to his performance here, which is the most unhinged and ridiculous in movie history. I said it. It may glamorize the stock-trader lifestyle (this is debatable. I'm not sure how many reasonable people are jealous of losing all feeling in their arms and legs, losing their families, and being arrested by the FBI), but it's also a loving tribute to the 90s and the terrible atrocities of greed and hubris. The cast is top notch. This movie gave us Margot Robbie, the beginning of the McConaughissance, Jon Bernthal on the cinematic stage, and serious Jonah Hill. Okay, "serious" should be taken with a grain of salt, but when I think of modern classics, this always comes to mind. Like Fury Road, it's as if an old master saw what all these young kids were doing and vowed he could do it better. I always go back to this movie. It never ages for me.

#04: The Master (2012)

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

PTA's MASTERpiece, this is his thinly veiled opus to Scientology that's more of a mental duel between two of our greatest actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. I watch this about every two years or so, and it never gets old. There is always some other layer I uncover as I myself meditate on who is the "master" and who is the "student" in the relationship. It's also notable as one of the few movies where the lead character doesn't change at all from start to finish. But it's actually good and that's sort of the point. By this point you can see what tends to attract me most - sleezy con artists masquerading as legitimate sources of hope and salvation. It's a dangerous game, toying with others' feelings, money, and souls. I abhor it. This is all the surface-level stuff in The Master. The core relationship between these two dudes battling for control over their surroundings, each other, and themselves is what makes this film interesting and stays with me. That, and "PIG FUCK!"

#03: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour

I watched this I think on DVD, maybe streaming, in my apartment in Fall of 2015. I immediately fell in love with it and eagerly devoured anything else Amirpour could churn out. I think that's largely why I still loved The Bad Batch (2016). This self-described Iranian Vampire Western sucks you in like the vampires it depicts, with equal parts danger and seduction that's befitting its genre, but escapes most imitators. It's fiercely its own genre and emblematic of a voice that is not often heard. My mind wanders to the cinematography, including the car scene which gets me every time. I think this is on Kanopy. It's time for another visit. Every frame a painting holds very true here, where literally very single shot could be printed and put on a wall. Regarding the actual context, the table-turning nature of typical gender roles and how lost our purported protagonist becomes is why this resonates. That's actually similar to another film coming up. I like these films.

#02: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Dir: Denis Villeneuve

I also watched this in Cleveland - alone in a major movie theater on a Sunday afternoon in October. I was one of two people in the theater. I instantly came home and wrote 4200 words on it. So, just go read that. This was a huge bomb, but really, what were the thinking? I can't believe this film was allowed to be made. Seriously, why give Villeneuve $185 million to do whatever he wanted? He chose to make a 3-hour meditation on reality, the nature of being human, our right to control our creations, and a 30-year mystery follow-up to a movie notoriously opaque, so much so that Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford don't even agree on what happened. Also, no one outside of cinephiles have seen Blade Runner (1982). Hey - it could still happen! This is the rare 30+ year follow-up sequel that actually advances, even improves on its original. Remember that sweet 80s Vangelis soundtrack? Hans Zimmer is here to make it better! Remember Harrison Ford? Well, he's still here, although he totally should not be, but Ryan Gosling is even better. It's such a good, natural advancement of that world, that acknowledges its predecessor while making its own coherent world-building that STILL resonates with modern life. Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and especially Sylvia Hoeks are all fantastic here. Jared Leto sucks, but...does he kind of always suck now? Hey - second Robin Wright appearance on this list!

#01: Under the Skin (2014)

Dir. Jonathan Glazer

As I thought about this list, these three were the first I thought of when putting together an actual legit number of truly great movies. This one of the only movies I've ever seen that completes its story almost in totality through the visual medium it exists in. It's truly brilliant. You're forced to engage and tune in with a high attention to detail to decipher what the hell is going on. In the end we don't really have answers, but maybe understand a little bit more about what it means to be human. In the end, isn't that what we're all looking for? Scarlett Johansson plays a hot alien who eats dudes in a big black empty space, but damn this movie makes literally looking at grass growing contemplative and satisfying. That bus scene was a little long, I will admit. But this movie is endlessly fascinating as it forces you to try to figure out what the hell is going on, then you take a step back and learn to actual absorb all the visual information it's conveying and take it at face value. It's a cycle that works back in on itself and I have never found a movie that is better suited to the constraints and advantages of its medium.

As you may tell, I am really into super-long, contemplative movies that play with gender roles, feature deep soul-crushing cons, and are generally weird as hell. That all tracks. In 2029, if we are still alive and not all replaced by replicants I'll be curious how this list shifts around. I'm especially curious how 2019 fits in. 2010 didn't make it, either. I wonder if I have recency bias as well as just not remembering how good The Social Network was. You know, Hot Tub Time Machine should really be at the top of this list. We will definitely put out a "Best of 2000s" List soon. Stay tuned for more hot action, folks!!

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