Wednesday, February 26, 2020

My Top 50 Part 1: 50-26

     Hi, sorry, this should have been done ages ago. It has been relatively difficult couple of months, having moved to a new house whilst starting a new semester in my LIS master’s program. On certain days it feels like my free time should be spent on sleeping than literally anything else, let alone watch or write about movies. So, this was essentially canned for a while; until it hit me, just release it in parts! Anyway, parameters: 1) this list is not about finding the objective greatest film of the decade but about looking back on films that left a strong and/or lasting impression on my life; so fair warning, this is indulgent and aggressively subjective. 2) I'm limiting this to films that were released in the U.S and were within viewing distance of myself between 2010-2019, with no exceptions. This sadly, leaves out films like White Material and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which were released in the gray zone of those respective years. 3) No television or mini-series productions; nothing against the likes of WormwoodBojack Horseman, or Twin Peaks: The Return but that is a complexity that only someone like Alan Sepinwall has a better grasp of than I ever will. 4) While I am not a fan of honorable mentions, creating this list was particularly painful so here is a link to my letterboxd list of such films.
     Now for list:

50. The Assassin
     This is slow cinema at is its most hypnotic and wuxia action at its most ravishing. Hou Hsiao-Hsien simmers these styles of filmmaking until their bones slip away, elevating what makes these forms of cinema so breathtaking into a rich ballet of visual poetry.

49. Phoenix
     What begins as a classically macabre noir thriller that riffs on George Franju and Alfred Hitchcock evolves into a haunting character study of Holocaust survivors returning to the tarnished homeland that disowned them. Nina Hoss brings a definitive lead performance, locking the viewer in as she wrestles with a character that wonders whether it is better to rebuild or shatter the remains. This is political noir that is as compelling as it is sultry.

48. Happy as Lazzaro
     A vivid Italian Neo-surrealist painting of capitalist decay that is as whimsical as it is tragic. It makes one yearn for the meadows, knowing full well that they might no longer exist.

47. Attack the Block
     In a decade where pop cinema was defined by stealing ideas from Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, the best of them all was one of the earliest. Learning all the right lessons, Attack the Block is riotously clever yarn of pulp sci-fi horror that never fails to entertain or shock.

46. Inside Out
     To see Disney expand like a tumor is one of the most… ominous things to witness this decade. Taking over companies like 20th Century Fox, throttling repertory theaters and to regurgitating nostalgia vehicles under the lame pretense of pop revisionism, this is late capitalism at its most crass. Not even Pixar is safe with its spontaneous spike in redundant sequels. Nevertheless, something beautifully original seeps through the cracks. Inside Out is blockbuster animation at its most sublime. A harmoniously crafted tale on the pains of finding emotional intelligence that is both hilarious and crushing.

45.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
     While we are on the subject of diamonds in the rough. Just as superhero films find themselves suffering the creative homogeny that killed the westerns of yore, along comes a film that swan dives into the identity of genre to truly redefine it as something that is both freeing and magnificent. The film daisy chains the bright pop art aesthetics of Andy Warhol; the propulsive energy of Jack Kirby; the anarchic sensibilities of Saturday morning cartoons, and the effortless charms of modern hip-hop to create a new and more egalitarian verse in the lore of superheroes.

44. Bad Black
     First of all, only one person in the world is allowed to talk in a movie theater, ever, and that person is V.J. Emmie. Filmmaking is often graded upon by terms of superlatives, where every element must be perfectly composed like an algebraic formula. This is, if not a mistake, but a boring way to view film. As the filmmakers of Bad Black can easily attest, sometimes all one needs is $200, a Rambo and Sejin Suzuki fueled dream, and a wicked funny narrator to create unforgettable entertainment. Hold on to your eggplants and watch this.

43. Selma
     Less a grandiose reverence of Dr. Martin Luther King (though it is wonderfully reverent) but more a beautifully unpretentious tribute to social justice and the hard work of the protestor. Ava DuVernay brilliantly connects the Selma marches and  modern politics with subtle and concise storytelling that cut straight into the heart. One only has to ask, “who murdered Jimmy Lee Jackson?” The answer is right there.

42. First Reformed
     A crisis of faith in the midst of climate change, capitalism and evangelicals. Few films were as prescient as this; even fewer, conveyed such crushing themes with a sense of transcendence as First Reformed. 

41. The Farewell
     Jean-Luc Godard once said, “cinema is truth at 24 times a second” but followed it up with “Every edit is a lie.” It is difficult to verify when or where he said these lines, but it does not matter when something like The Farewell so aptly and playfully straddles the line between truth and lies. Within its subtle manipulations and absurdities, The Farewell paints a sweet and personal portrait of grief that is hard to forget.

40. The Master
     Philip Seymour Hoffman. That is all.

39. The Fits
     Is this a nightmare, or is it a dream? Either way, what a film. Every single shot moves with vivid purpose. No moment is wasted. In seventy minutes, The Fits captures the anxieties, and epiphanies, of womanhood in a concise magic trick of a film.

38. The Arbor
     It would be one thing to tell the tragically short life of the playwright Andrea Dunbar through simple talking heads, but to take the voices of said interviews and synchronize them with actors who explore the environment of the Dunbar family and reenact scenes of her plays, is simply audacious. This uncanny meta-fictional leap does not bring the viewer closer but keeps them just far enough from romanticizing Andrea Dunbar and shows her faults at their absolute cruelest extent. It is a devastating warning of how celebrity and mythmaking can make one overlook the failings of people.

37. Get Out
     "Should sci-fi and horror be political?” A boring question asked by boring people who plague college campuses around the world. Something that people who never glanced at a Twilight Zone rerun would say just to sound important, but I digress. With his debut film Jordan Peele tackles systemic racism with clever satire and classically provocative genre fiction that Rod Serling would nod in approval while lighting a cigarette.

36. The Social Network
     Perhaps we give boy geniuses too much credit, too bad we learned this the hard way.

35. The Love Witch
     A cutting feminine critique of archaic cinema clichés in guise of a delightfully bloody slice of red velvet cake. If there is a film that should be considered the definitive cult classic of the decade, this is the one.

34. Boyhood
     Talking to my sister about films of the past ten years, she mentioned films like Up, Inglourious Basterds and The Dark Knight, films I almost forgot came out around 2008, which is terrifying! Where did all the time go?! Did I use it wisely? Can I compensate for time lost? Thinking about my time on earth gives me anxiety, slightly. On paper, Boyhood—this pulsing epic poem that explored time at its most literal—should not help. Yet, witnessing Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette age gracefully and the children becoming young adults, it revealed magic in the present and embraced that fear of running out of time. Many films after Boyhood conveyed themes of aging and time more elegantly or concisely but this film provides… equilibrium to my soul. I thank it for that.

33. Embrace of the Serpent
     An epic, decades-spanning, cinematic journey through the Amazon that confronts colonialism through the eyes of the indigenous people who witnessed and suffered its tragic consequences. Shot in glorious black-and-white, it immerses the viewer into the rainforest, revealing its danger, pain, and mystique with vivid poetic-realism.

32. Paterson
     Life is all routine. Two spouses embrace routine, with nurturing art.

31. You Were Never Really Here
     Depending on whomever is asked, the decade either had a stellar wave of brilliant Neo-noir or it suffered a plague of faux-auteur genre trash. It was a time for grisly violence, greasy hair, and tight jackets drenched in blue-red neon. Regardless, Lynne Ramsey’s gutting take on the genre made the whole boom worth it. A hybrid of Le Samouraï and a night terror, You Were Never Really Here entangles the viewer in a web of systemic violence; making them face trauma that afflicts such victims, the pain of those who fight it, and the cruelty of normalizing it all.

30. The Florida Project­­
     Children hanging out at the Twistee Treat? Whooping cranes sauntering around parking lots like they own the place? Yup, this is Central Florida through and through. This film is in many ways a real barnburner as it follows these care-free children making a mess around Kissimmee with anarchic glee. However, it all quietly snowballs into tragedy as danger and poverty haunt these children. Though, how can they worry? They live by the happiest place on Earth. Like it or not, The Florida Project is a tough love letter to the region made with vivid specificity.

29. Lady Bird
     A hilarious spat between titular Lady Bird and her friend Julie about the former losing “the titular role!” of The Tempest climaxes when Julie calls out Lady Bird’s need to be the center of attention. Lady Bird’s only response is to lash out about some regretful implants Julie’s mom got at a young age. This moment speaks to the wonderfully bittersweet remedy Lady Bird provides to the static genre of high school comedy. This is no amusement park filled with actors playing teenage stereotypes; rather, it shows high school as a world of kids and adults trying to figure their role in life, titular or not. Lady Bird is high-school comedy it is most human and humane.

28. Roma
     An epic memory play of director Alfonso Caurón’s childhood in Mexico but from the perspective of a maid tolerating the indignities of a bourgeoise family barely maintaining their façade of contentment. No longer his sentimental memories, but personal truths reconstructed through two sets of unblinking eyes. It is poetic realism at its most maximal.

27. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
     It is one thing to create a sense of eeriness and dread with ghosts and monsters. It is a whole other thing to make such imagery look so mundane as to seem logical and then push that imagery into creating an unbearably tranquil tale about embracing the end of life. That level of craft takes a sense of patience, precision, and deftness that is insurmountable for most filmmakers. Thankfully Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the great slow cinema surrealist, is not most filmmakers.

26. Paddington/Paddington 2
     When creating this list, it seemed cowardly to create ties; yet sometimes, there are two films that are so much of a piece that it feels incomprehensible to separate them or to single just one out. I cannot fathom, not even a bit, that there are people who appraise Paddington 2 whilst ignoring the original Paddington. Sure Paddington 2 is an ambitious, charming, brilliantly choreographed slapstick comedy that strikes a beautifully sentimental chord that only Charlie Chaplin could match. However, that chord needs the kindhearted foundation of the first to work, which while modest in structure, has a natural warmth that can only be in the very best family films. In a decade when truly great family entertainment is few and far between, why should people limit themselves to just one Paddington?

     So that's the first half, come back in about a week for the next part, and a discussion about the future.

1 comment:

  1. I have seen 9 of them, all good, will have to work on the rest of the list. That should keep me busy until your next release.