Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Top Ten Films Of The 2010s (Thus Far)
It is strange to think about, but we are now halfway through this decade. It felt like just yesterday, we were still just in the beginning of the 2000s, yet here we are in 2015.
This has been an eventful five years in cinema, with some good film years with several noteworthy movies, some terrible ones with next to nothing, and even a few great ones like this last year.
As such, let's take a look back at the last half decade and see the best the movies had to offer. These are the top ten films of the 2010s (thus far). For this list, any film released between 2010 and 2014 qualifies. This will include some films that I've done extensive reviews on, but others that I have hardly even touched.
Ten: "Midnight In Paris" (2011)
This one snuck up on me. I did not expect much out of Woody Allen, who has been more of a filmmaker who lurks in the shadows and waits for others to discover his work. But, there is something so charming to his fantastic tale of a man who wants nothing more than to live in the past.
"Midnight In Paris" reminds me of a comedic episode of "The Twilight Zone," where reality and fantasy meet and the desires to make the past present and fulfilled, only to have them come crashing down and shattered in front of their eyes. With each trip into the past, there comes the realization that we romantize the past and only see what we wish to see, taking away our ability to enjoy the present to the fullest.
Clever story, tight writing and an unexpected moral that has remained relevant since we began to record history. A pleasant surprise from Woody Allen.
Nine: "Django Unchained" (2012)
Quentin Tarantino is a hit-and-miss director for me. Sometimes, he'll make a film that hits all the right notes that is stylish, eloquent and suspenseful, like "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction." Other times, Tarantino will make a film that meanders and does not seem to have much of a point, aside from showing off his own ego, like "Jackie Brown" and "Inglorious Basterds."
"Django Unchained" falls into the first category, and just might be Tarantino's best film since "Pulp Fiction." I attribute this to not writing dialogue for the sake of the dialogue, but creating the characters and writing the dialogue around them. I remember very few lines from "Django Unchained" but I certainly characters like Dr. Schultz and Calvin Candy, for their charisma, their passions, their generous hearts (or in Candy's case, a lack of one) and the performances behind them.
There is excellent character writing in "Django Unchained." In a harsh world that cares very little for the individual, we get a German bounty hunter that loves what he does and appreciates a man's contributions, as well as a slaver that loves this strange and unforgiving world and will use it to his advantage.
Aside from a few out-of-place scenes, like the KKK sequence and the artificially extended ending, "Django Unchained" is wonderful Western with some characters that will not be forgotten any time soon.
Eight: "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012)
When I initially saw "Silver Linings Playbook," I admired the performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, but got very little out of the film. After watching the film a couple more times though, I have gained a new respect for the movie by talking about issues that are so rarely discussed in cinema.
Perhaps when I first watched "Silver Linings Playbook," I saw the film trying to say something about mental illnesses. In a way the film is talking about that, but it is more about trauma than anything else, as well as learning how to deal with it. The people who have mental breakdowns and blame tragic life events on themselves, like their spouse cheating on them or a loved one dying in a car accident. That these tortured souls have to take life one day at a time and learn to appreciate what they have now, and not what they had.
"Silver Linings Playbook" is smart, funny, and one of the more touching films of the last five years. Good performances all around, including Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.
Seven: "Gravity" (2013)
For the first time, this film feels like it is set in space. Not only that, but it feels like we are right along side Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in their journey through space.
The fear, the majestic view, and the unknown of space are all on display in "Gravity." I did not like "Gravity" as much in my first viewing, mostly due to the story not being that impressive. But after thinking more about it, I've realized that "Gravity" is about the experience and not the story, like "2001: A Space Odyssey." You don't need much out of your main character, because you are your own main character. The extended long shots of space stations flying apart and debris fields zipping past you is more effective than any bit of character development in this film.
It is one of those oddities in cinema that puts you in a state of mind and lets you see an all new perspective, rather than watching a story unfold. Though it gets a bit cliché and predictable near the end, the cinematography and atmosphere more than make up for it. Overall, I respect "Gravity" more than most other films I have seen in the last five years.
Six: "Birdman" (2014)
Actors can be fickle people, who pursue their cause for nothing more than fame. But some people will do just about anything to achieve fame, even putting their souls on display for everyone to laugh and ridicule.
This is what makes "Birdman" such a strong piece. The intent of Riggin Thomson is so basic and desirable, yet so personal as he looks for redemption and a purpose in life. The demons of his past continue to haunt him, calling out to reclaim what belongs to him alone, but he continues to wish to make his acting career one worth fighting for. It makes the film even stronger because of Michael Keaton playing the role, who has had something like that happen to him.
On top of that, there is top-notch cinematography, emotional performances from Edward Norton and Emma Stone and snappy dialogue that just rolls off the tongue. "Birdman" is a film that I would not mind watching many times in the future.
Five: "The Artist" (2011)
2011 was a sad year for cinema. For the majority of that year, my favorite film was "Rango," which came out in February, and saw an endless string of bad and disappointing movies, like "Hugo" and "Drive."
Then along came "The Artist" to prove that cinema is a visual medium and that dialogue is just an added benefit.
I realize that sounds hypocritical, since I just praised "Django Unchained" and "Birdman" for their dialogue, but there are many different types of movies out there and what works for some may not work for others. "The Artist" goes back to the root of cinema - silent movies. To see a feature-length silent film being made in the 2010s, and to have it be so exciting, emotional and atmospheric is unbelievable.
"The Artist" could have gone the route of "Singin' In The Rain," and be a musical set during the transitional period in film history when talkies were taking off, but instead we get a "Sunset Boulevard"-esque story, of a silent actor who is being left in a rapidly evolving world. The quote, "I am big, it's the pictures that got small," comes to mind when I think of "The Artist."
Overall, "The Artist" is a love letter to many different eras of cinema, including the quirky 1910s and 1920s, the darker and more personal 1950s and the many films of Billy Wilder. A timeless film made at a time when we needed a reminder of the power of cinema.
Four: "Black Swan" (2010)
Much like "Birdman," "Black Swan" is a film that shows the darker side of being a performer and relies almost exclusively on one performance. But the reason "Black Swan" gets higher on this list is because of the atmosphere and inner battle of the main character.
In "Black Swan," there is always a foreboding atmosphere, that Nina is always trying her hardest but is one slip-up away from being cut from the lead role. Nina wants to be the best, but being the best comes with a tough mentality. This goes together with Nina's struggle within herself, to the point that she must become the black swan to perform in the ballet.
"Black Swan" has many subtle parts to it, where you're not exactly sure what is real and what is in Nina's mind, to the point where Mila Kunis' character might be a figment of Nina's imagination, to make Nina fight harder for her role.
Throw in a one-of-a-kind performance by Natalie Portman and the dark filmmaking style from the same director as "Requiem For A Dream," and "Black Swan" continues to impress me to this day.
Three: "Nightcrawler" (2014)
From one creepy and disturbing film to another. This time though, we get a film that is set in reality and not the mind.
The tale of Louis Bloom has been compared to someone attempting to obtain the "American Dream," only to realize that America has changed so much that the dream is dead. Louis sets out to prove that wrong, at whatever the cost. Louis does not care for other people, and only sees them as tools to achieve is own goals and can be disposed off once his need for them is finished. Yet all the while, Louis works harder, quicker and more deadly than the competition to make a name for himself.
Perhaps that is why filming horrific accidents and tragedies comes so naturally for Louis. He is so far removed from reality and lives in his own world that he does not see these as people, but his next paycheck. Sadly though, his news outlet seems to agree with his line of thinking and will pay Louis handsomely for their ratings boost.
"Nightcrawler" is a film that is relevant as it is creepy. A standout performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, poignant writing and an unrelenting atmosphere. This is a film that quickly grabs a hold of you and never lets go.
Two: "her" (2013)
Now that we've got all the terrifying films out-of-the-way, let's talk about the most heartwarming and imaginative film on this list.
I could not see "her" being directed by anyone other than Spike Jonez. The man who went inside John Malkovich's head, who cast Nicholas Cage as the two lead roles in the same film about adapting a book at was unadaptable, and the guy who dared to bring "Where The Wild Things Are" to the screen, now makes a movie about a man falling in love with an artificial intelligence. But the great thing about "her" is that he pulls it off spectacularly.
Part of this is because the world of "her" is not so different from our own, yet advanced enough where software and everything digital can be interacted with. We still use email and social media, but everything is streamlined and quicker. It is not surprising that A.I. would develop a personality that others can identify with, care for and fall in love with.
"her" is one of the few films about romance that I not only tolerate, but adore. When we have so many predictable stories of love, nothing makes me happier than to see a film that strains the boundaries of personalities and what these two can do together.
And the Best Film Of the 2010s (thus far) is...
"Cloud Atlas" (2012)
Possibly the most unconventional pick on this list, "Cloud Atlas" gets number one for being unlike any other film I have ever seen. Six different stories, all different genres and types of stories, combined into a timeline where each story affects the outcome of the next and reincarnations and past lives are a reoccurring trend.
What really sold me on "Cloud Atlas" was how each story fell into a particular genre, making it easier to follow. The events in present day London is a comedy, while the one in 1970s San Francisco is a mystery, and the 2100s Neo Seoul is (of course) a science fiction piece. Each section of the film stands on its own, but when you put them together it tells a tale over the course of thousands of years, and our understanding of the past, present and future collide.
There have been network narratives in the past, where there is no true main character and many types of people are followed, but never has there been a film like "Cloud Atlas" where each piece can work individually, and still contribute to a greater whole.
"Cloud Atlas" is ambitious, clever, knows no genre-boundaries and never gets boring or predictable. For being over three hours long, it moves a brisk pace and does not feel longer than an hour and a half. The editing is tight and focused, the cinematography ranges from breath-taking to other-worldly and it never fails to keep me entertained.
Now I'd like to know what are your favorite films of the last five years. Do you think there was a film that I missed? Or do you disagree with some of the films that I put on this list. Let me know in the comments.