Best Films of The Decade
Being the phony I am, about a month ago I set out working on the best of the decade list. The list itself came quite easily, I simply wrote a list of movies that I think about all the time. What I can’t shake is this strange feeling of guilt I have writing all of this down. For the hundreds of movies, I’ve seen and reacted to there are thousands I’m missing out on. It makes me nervous to think that maybe there’s a movie out there that could be on this list that I haven’t seen. Excuse my rambling, I didn’t really order the list from worst to best. Instead, it’s chronological by year. In the rare occurrence of my recommendation causing you to watch a movie from the list please let me know and tell me what you think. In the words of William Faulkner, “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire.” Which is the only healthy way to view movies.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) Dir. by David Fincher — Certainly my most middle of the road pick. It’s hard to dislike any single piece of this movie with one of my favorite film scores ever, strong performances all around, and a great writer/director combo. As time goes on it only gets more interesting to watch with the public having the information it does now with recent Facebook dealings. Upon rewatching it within the last year I remembered just how cold and angry this film really is. Which of course is ironic since characters in the film take great pains to tell Zuckerberg how cold and mean he is. I would be remiss to not talk about the opening of the film, which in a movie full of people talking to each other quickly and spitefully stands out as particularly quick and spiteful. Rooney Mara consistently gets undervalued in this movie by the discourse surrounding the film, but every action from here on out in the film is based on her actions in this opening. It’s a really subtle performance that will only garner more attention as time goes on.
SOMEWHERE (2010) Dir. by Sofia Coppola — If you’ve ever talked to me in real life, I’m sure I’ve talked about Sofia Coppola. Sorry, I’m so annoying. I understand how people might find her theme of sadness in great privilege vexing but something about it just clicks for me. Stephen Dorff is genuinely incredible and in a movie that isn’t overly emotional, except for two scenes, gives injections of sadness and regret that permeates the whole film. His scenes with Elle Fanning are so gentle and the scene where he watches her ice skate makes me emotional just thinking about it. It makes me happy to think about the fact that Francis would’ve probably played Wii Sports with his daughter had it been out when he was taking her places around the world.
LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (2012) Dir. by Abbas Kiarostami — There’s not a screenplay I think about more than “Like Someone in Love.” The opening scene almost only consisting of shot-reverse-shot with three different conversations happening all around our main character in a restaurant. This probably the most trepidatious recommendation I can give in this list. It’s meandering and melodic, and while Kiarostami has never been someone who’s been interested in a classic sense of narrative this seems especially far out of the mainstream sense of narrative.
BLUE JASMINE (2013) Dir. by Woody Allen — My favorite Cate Blanchett performance ever! I think a lot of people think Allen is the kinda guy who loves going to the opera or looking at pieces of Catalonian architecture, but in reality, he just wants to play clarinet and watch baseball. That point is really hammered home in “Blue Jasmine.” I’m not going to talk about this one long because I don’t want to be the “talks incessantly about Woody Allen” guy, but Blanchett is really great here and that makes it worthy of a watch.
INSIDE LlEWYN DAVIS (2013) Dir. by Joel & Ethan Coen — “I used to play guitar and I used to really love playing guitar but sometimes I just hated the fucking guitar.” Ethan Coen said that in a great interview on the criterion version of “Inside Llewyn Davis” and I think that’s a perfect summary of the movie. All of your contemporaries are phonies, but still somehow better and more successful than you in your chosen passion. Brutal stuff, but still rings true in almost every creative person’s life. I watch this movie exactly once a year. I watch it on the first night I can see my breath in the air because of the chill. Perfect winter movie.
THE BLING RING (2013) Dir. by Sofia Coppola — I was really trying to not have repeat directors on here but like I said earlier I’m really annoying when it comes to Sofia Coppola. “Bling Ring” is the perfect culmination of everything that makes Coppola tick. It manages to be a significant change in style (her first film shot digitally) but still has that trademark sympathy towards the protagonists even if they may not deserve it. The first time I watched this, I thought it would age really poorly, but to my surprise, it’s aged maybe the best of all her films. It’s about parasocial relationships! Something that is only more increasingly present in this Instagram hellscape.
THE WIND RISES (2014) Dir by Hayao Miyazaki — “The Wind Rises” is the only film on this list I’ve only seen once. Which is no means it’s the worst one on the list, but instead, it’s TOO effective in getting its message across to me. Miyazaki questioning if he should’ve been more present in his early life and if his art has been a net good in the world just really destroy me.
INHERENT VICE (2014) Dir by Paul Thomas-Anderson — People will cite “The Master” as Joaquin Phoneix’s best role but I secretly think it’s Inherent Vice. He’s just is the most versatile actor we have working right now and it’s front and center here. In the book, his character is referred to as human tofu, in which he is constantly adjusting his behavior to fit in with whatever group he is present at the time. That’s much less textual in the film, but you do find that subtext inside of Joaquin’s performance.
MISTRESS AMERICA (2015) Dir. by Noah Baumbach — I know I said “Like Someone in Love” was my favorite screenplay of the decade, but I think I lied. My go-to fall/Thanksgiving movie “Mistress America” is all about not quite getting “it”, and “it” could be any number of things. Maybe it isn’t getting into a club you were hoping could cement you as the writer you’ve always wanted to be. Maybe it’s finally finishing a project you had set out to do for the first time ever. It’s strange, whenever someone asks me my favorite movie ever it is either this or Nashville. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out why.
FIRST REFORMED (2018) Dir by Paul Schrader — A uniquely depressing movie. “First Reformed” is one of the first movies I’ve ever seen that captures that feeling of despair of living in our current information age. Waking up and realizing that we’ve already seen more mass extinction events than ever before weighs on you after years lived. This feels like again like a culmination of all of Schrader’s past works. It has the transcendental style he’s written about for years now and still has that grotesque violence he refuses to leave behind. Ethan Hawke plays his character's depression not as lethargy but as bright white anger. Something that sticks with me almost every day since watching it.
A STAR IS BORN (2018) Dir. by Bradley Cooper — The fact that some people so vehemently dislike this movie is so bizarre to me. “A Star Is Born” is such a good time across the board. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique is throwing so many ideas around through the course of the movie. When Gaga’s face is big on the screen behind the band! Cooper is harkening back to a style of filmmaking that doesn’t really happen anymore. We have a handful of inserts where someone touches a body part in a non-sexual manner but it still feels sexual. Coded cinema in an uncoded world.
AD ASTRA (2019) Dir by James Gray — For a while I was trying to decide which movie of James Gray would go on this list. It was down to “Lost City of Z” or “Two Lovers” as both are gentle masterpieces, and then I saw “Ad Astra. A career-best performance for Brad Pitt playing the always even-keeled perfect man. Except, Gray characterizes it as a weakness instead of the strength that other filmmakers would portray it as. He is ever focused on the mission at hand no matter what and that’s bad! When he finally sees his dad face to face again, after he has accepted that the man he thought he knew as his father has died, is exactly why we go to the movies. Specific and unique feelings that are hard to put into words but easy to put on celluloid.