Friday, January 17, 2020

Best Films of the 2010s

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
The 2010s are well and truly over, so it's only right to take stock and try to figure our what cinema meant to me over the past ten years. During a decade that saw a lot of personal and professional disruption for me as I switched careers and continents, movies were a constant, even if my tastes shifted more than at any other time in my life. It's hard to imagine the me of 2010 being more excited about watching An Elephant Sitting Still, a four-hour Chinese drama, than the latest Star Wars movie, or earnestly insisting that one of most exhilarating things I saw all decade was a black-and-white Hungarian film about a horse, but here we are. We change, we grow, we become strangers to ourselves.

Which is not to say that the list below, which encompasses the 100 films from the past decade that I think are real neat, is all bleakness. There's some incredibly silly comedies buried in there, and I dearly love the blockbusters that made a real impression on me. But as Hollywood spectable became more homogenous and I got most of my comedy from television and podcasts, those two genres, which defined my taste in movies through my teens and early twenties, fell off precipitiously.

This is the final version of my list, not because it's in anyway definitive, but because I finally forced myself to stop tinkering with it. Having whittled it down from a longlist of about five hundred films, I've spent much of the last week going over it and moving things around, looking at other peoples' lists to see what I might have missed, or suddenly being reminded of a film I'd forgotten to include. (Case in point, mere minutes before writing this section, I suddenly realised that I had left off The Skin I Live In.) If I don't post this now, I might never get around to it, since there's always another great film to catch up on, or some unheralded masterpiece waiting to be discovered. As such, this is as good a list as any, though probably not as good as the list I would come up with if I revisited it ten years from now, when I've got an even better sense of what this whole decade looked like.

Not to fill this whole preamble with caveats, but this is a personal list shaped by my own taste, but also by my own myopia. Even though I watched a lot of films this decade and feel like this is a pretty good sample of What Was Good In Cinema over the past ten years, I have by no means seen everything, let alone everything good. I set some time aside in the past few months to try and catch up on films and filmmakers that I had heard being discussed in the Best of the Decade discussion, and seeing films by directors like Hong Sang-soo and Zhangke Jia, both of whom were pretty prolific over the past decade but whose work I only just started to dig into, was a nice reminder that there is always so much out there waiting to be discovered.

Before we get to the list itself, I feel the need to explain one notable omission: Twin Peaks: The Return. In the nearly three years since the continuation/conclusion(?) of David Lynch and Mark Frost's seminal funny/upsetting drama/nightmare aired on Showtime, the question of whether it can be considered a film, seeing as it's a pretty singular work from a visionary director and hews closer to the grammar and structure of avant-garde cinema than traditional television, has been litigated and re-litigated (and re-re-litigated) into absurdity. Ultimately, I come down on the side saying that it is a film in all the ways that count, and that future cinephiles and scholars should consider it as such within Lynch's oeuvre, but I also cannot divorce myself from the original context in which I and so many others watched it for the first time; broken up into eighteen episodes that aired week to week over the course of four months in the summer of 2017.

This is not merely a formal distinction, but one tied into the broader experience of watching television versus watching a film. You generally don't watch a couple of scenes from a film, stop, read a review of the scene that you just watched, talk to friends about how they feel the film is going, then wait a week to see what the next couple of scenes will be like. It's a fundamentally different way of experiencing art and relating to other people experiencing that art, and while I believe that Twin Peaks: The Return fits certain, nebulous criteria that make it a film, I fell in love with it as a TV show, so ultimately I don't feel like I can include it on this list. Though, for the record, if I were to include it, it would probably be my number one.

With that out of the way, here is my list of the 100 best films of the 2010s. I'm mostly happy with it.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2019

Every year, I spend the first nine months or so thinking that the year is, at best, a mediocre one for cinema and at worst (as was the case this year) a medium-threatening calamity, and I start wondering if maybe all the great movies have been made. Maybe we're all just marching towards a content-slurry of Disney-owned IPs that all have the same depressingly predictable rhythm.

Then October/November comes around, and the good movies that barely got any sort of release in the spring and dummer come out on home media, the weird auteurist oddities that Weird Auteurist Twitter got all hot under the collar about bubble to the surface, the awards contenders start to roll out, and very occasionally you'll get a Parasite or an Uncut Gems that sets your mind alight.

But those nine months can be rough, especially in a year like this where there was, in my opinion, not one blockbuster worth thinking about, and it's where older movies can really fill the void. This year I didn't watch as many older movies as I would have liked, but I made a conscious effort to seek out movies by directors whose work I was familiar with but hadn't seen much of, an endeavour which bore fruit many times over, as the list below demonstrates. Whether it was the Rohmer-esque intimacy of Hong Sang-soo or the playful pop freneticism of Richard Lester, taking a first look at directors whose names I had heard bandied around for years but never investigated, or directors who I had seen one or two films by but whose work I had never explored more fully, proved incredibly rewarding, and was a reminder that there is always so much more to the world than our limited perception allows.

Less successful was my attempt to broaden my horizons by watching 52 Indian films. I don't mind telling you, I failed pretty spectacularly at it. I didn't really have much of a plan in terms of where to watch Indian films, or in terms of which films would be worth prioritising so that I had a bit of mooring to work from. In short, the whole endeavour did not go well.

However, the films I did watch were pretty terrific, with a strong showing for the films of Satyajit Ray, an artist whose work I have dabbled in before, but never really took the time to go much deeper into than the Apu trilogy and a handful of the other really famous ones. Even the least of his films that I watched this year was very, very good. I'm already dreading the day when I'll have no more of his films to discover for the first time.

Anyway, here's to another year of discovery, and here are the best older films I watched for the first time in 2019.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ed's Top 30 Films of 2018

Ready Player One, a film which will definitely not be appearing on this list
A tiny bit late with this one, largely so that I could catch up on some of the big awards contenders which didn't hit any theatres near me before the end of 2018, but started to roll out in January and February. And partly because I tend to put things off when I can, especially when it's going to involve a whole lot of writing.

So please enjoy this whole lot of writing, which started out as a Top 25, but expanded a bit as I saw more movies that I loved and wanted to include. 2018 was a good year for movies, all told. Maybe not the deepest bench, though, in the sense that while I found it hard to narrow this list to a mere thirty motion pictures, I couldn't expand it to a top 40 and feel strongly about everything that would be included on that list.

Speaking of, here are some honorable mentions of movies I loved or liked, but didn't feel strongly enough about to include on this list: Let the Sunshine In, Incredibles 2, John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, A Star is Born, A Simple Favor, The Little Stranger, Blockers, You Were Never Really Here, Zama, Black Panther, Cold War, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Now, to the list!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2018

The Devils (1971)
In the words of Aaron Lewis and/or Scott Aukerman, it's been a while.

Owing to the demands of my actual real-life job, 2018 was the year in which I wrote the least, even as I didn't stop watching movies old and new. While I do miss writing (though it's probably more accurate to say that I miss having the time to write), I don't really miss the - entirely self-created - pressure to get reviews up as quickly as possible, rather than, you know, enjoying having seen a movie and letting my thoughts and feelings on it percolate for a bit.

To that end, I'll be keeping with tradition and posting lists of the best movies I watched this year over the next few days. This list is a summary of the best older movies I watched for the first time this year (with the cutoff being pre-2010, for cleanliness), and my Best of 2018 list will probably go up in a few days, giving me time for some frantic last-minute movies like Aquaman and The Mule. (Sadly two different movies, but both Warner Bros. releases, and who's to say where the DCEU will go next?)

Before we get into the list itself, I just wanted to mention how much I'll miss FilmStruck. Compiling this list, I realised that almost half of the films on it were ones I saw via that service, and while some were movies that I've been longing to see for years and finally had an easy way of watching, others were ones that I happened to take a chance on because they were included in one of their curated collections. Not since the pre-original content era of Netflix, when they bought huge libraries dirt cheap and you could while away an afternoon watching all four and a half hours of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, has a streaming service offered the same dizzying rush of discovery. It was like a great local video store that happened to be in your home, and I'll miss it.

Note: The films are presented chronologically by year of release since they're all really good and trying to rank them would probably cause me to unravel like a shoddy jumper.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ed's Top 25 Films of 2017

mother!, a film which will definitely not be appearing on this list
Now that 2017 is over and done with, it's time to take stock, and figure out what kind of year it has been. As is often the case, I thought it was a pretty great year for cinema, and I found something to love in lots of films I saw this year, from huge blockbusters that found time to ruminate on the nature of mythmaking, to heartfelt coming of age stories that also managed to be utterly horrifying. It was a good year, and while there are still some blindspots here and there - for example: I have yet to see Call Me By Your Name, which definitely seems like a movie I would like - I'm very happy with this list of the 25 films that stuck with me over the last year.

The Best (Older) Films I Watched in 2017

I'll be putting together my top films of 2017 list over the next day, so it's as good a time as any to look back at the older (i.e. pre-2010) movies I watched for the first time this year. I didn't watch as many movies this year as I would have liked, but I saw plenty of great ones, and here are the twenty that really stuck with me, presented alphabetically.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Movie Journal: November

Awards season is in full swing, so I've spent most of this month frantically trying to catch up on films I missed earlier in the year, or ones that are only now starting to make the rounds. It's one of my favourite times of the year, as well as one of the most exhausting, since the conversation about what are the best movies of the year hasn't been winnowed down to four or five names yet. There has been a little winnowing, admittedly, but besides from Get Out, Lady Bird and Call Be By Your Name, there aren't that many movies that are completely dominating the conversation or feel like locks for Oscar nominations.

Before we get to the best movies I saw in November, let's dispense with Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya, easily the worst movie I watched this month and one of the worst movies I've seen all year. I went in hoping for it to be good, since the story of Tonya Harding could make for a great character study, and its mix of ambition and class is so quintessentially American. Plus, Margot Robbie is a bona fide movie star and it felt like a great vehicle for her (her performance is admittedly very good). At its best, the film recalls the blistering faux-hagiographies of Goodfellas or Chopper, but for the most part it displays the kind of purposeless kineticism that has characterized some of David O. Russell's more recent work; a lot of fidgety energy, constant voiceover and beyond blunt musical choices that add up to nothing of any real value. Good Allison Janney performance, though.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Film Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Even though she made her first appearance in 1941, thereby being part of the comics canon almost as long as fellow Justice League members Superman and Batman (who debuted in 1938 and 1939, respectively), Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, a.k.a. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, had never graced the silver screen until last year, when Gal Gadot briefly enlivened the slurry shipped to theatres as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, the character had appeared in various iterations of the D.C. animated universe, and she was brought to life on television by Lynda Carter in the iconic series from the 1970s, but film eluded her, even as Hollywood burned through six big-screen Batmen (including the late Adam West), three Supermen, two generations of X-Men (and three Kitty Prydes) and an ever-lengthening roll call of minor or cult characters who now find themselves household names.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

One of the riskier unforced errors a film can make lies in referencing a better movie, since it runs the risk of making the audience think about what they could be watching instead. Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 2 makes it twice in its first ten minutes.

First, it features a brief glimpse of Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (specifically the thrilling scene of Keaton nearly being hit by a train while riding a motorcycle) projected against the side of a building during a car chase through the streets of New York in which Wick (Keanu Reeves) pursues a henchmen working for Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare), the brother of the antagonist from the first movie. Stahelski certainly gets points for boldness, since not only does the scene serve as an introduction to the action, but he also has the sound of the chase sync up with Keaton's film. It's a clever distillation of the remixing and recontextualising of cinematic references that marks both John Wick movies, an ethos which extended to the film's brilliant poster, and it's hard not to admire the chutzpah.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Movie Journal: December

Hidden Figures
Unsurprisingly, since December coincides with the end of year list-making and awards-voting seasons, I spent most of the month frantically trying to catch up on films that I had missed, or which I finally had a chance to see thanks to expanded theatrical releases or screeners. I watched 28 films in December, the overwhelming majority of which were 2016 releases, with very few older films getting a look in. As a result, there's a lot of overlap between thes list and my Top 25 Films of the Year, which was radically reshaped throughout the month as I tried to see as much as possible.

The worst film I watched in December was Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. I was a big fan of Ford's A Single Man, which I found to be an aesthetically gorgeous and emotionally rich study of grief and loneliness, and while Nocturnal Animals was, if anything, an improvement in terms of achieving a better balance between story and style, the story it's telling is utter horseshit. A multi-stranded, multi-fictional narrative about an art dealer (Amy Adams) who receives a book written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), the violent plot of which she suspects is a form of revenge for past wrongdoings, it's a film whose overwrought cynicism winds up being completely laughable thanks to Ford's unceasing ponderousness. There are some good performances - Michael Shannon, unsurprisingly, is fantastic as a character in Gyllenhaal's book - but it's all in aid of a pointlessly mean movie which doesn't even find fun in its meanness.

Among the crush of new releases, work and Christmas, I found time to rewatch two Coen Brothers movies which I had underestimated on first viewing. First, Burn After Reading, which I didn't like when I saw it in the theatre back in 2008 because it felt aimless and incomplete, two of the main reasons why I liked it this time. It's not their funniest movie or their best comedy in terms of structure and intent, but it's a charming bit of nonsense filled with great actors having a lot of fun. Taken out of the original context - i.e. coming mere months after they won Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for No Country For Old Men - it's much easier to enjoy as a lark, a way for the Coens to unwind after making such a heavy drama. It also felt weirdly appropriate to watch a movie in which two of the most repeated refrains were "The Russians?" and "What the fuck?!"

I also watched Hail, Caesar! which I started an hour or so before midnight on New Year's Eve, so it was the last film I watched in 2016 and the first I watched in 2017. Unlike Burn After Reading, I enjoyed Hail, Caesar! on first viewing, but came away from my second with an even greater appreciation for it. Like the earlier film, its story is pretty superfluous to the jokes, but what becomes more apparent with each viewing is how lovingly the film views its motley crew of film industry types, and the appreciation it has for their skill and craft. From Eddie Mannix's (Josh Brolin) ability to somehow keep a studio running (even if it requires threats and manipulation) to Hobie Doyle's (Alden Ehrenreich) knack for lasso tricks, it's an oddly touching tribute to people who find comfort and fulfillment in their work, even if the work itself doesn't amount to much more than gossamer.

Let's dig in to the good stuff. Here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in December of 2016.