Top 10 Films
Now, you may glance down the following and blanche at its apparent Yankophile and populist tendencies. I wouldn’t seek to claim, however, that my tastes are particularly prone to treading on the coat tails of the highbrow. And there’s always the cahiers du cinema list if you want an appreciation of that ilk. As such, near misses for the decade, a decade that didn’t feature all that many features I’d rank as unqualified classics, included Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Tron: Legacy, The Tree of Life, The Guard and Edge of Tomorrow.
10. The Social Network
Okay, The Social Network admittedly fails to document how Facebook was actually created by the CIA and that Mark Zuckerberg was nothing more than a stooge, and David Rockefeller’s grandson at that. Or alternatively, how Zuckerberg was “just sitting around with his friends in front of his computer ordering pizza”. But apaaaart from that. David Fincher’s filmmaking chops are unlikely ever to desert him so much as become shopworn by repeatedly returning to the well of serial killers and B-thrillers. It takes something like this, an Aaron Sorkin think piece about the seductiveness of success and status to evidence why he’s really in a class of one as a director. The specific Facebook conversation here may have been left in the dust by subsequent events, but there’s always room for a sequel…
9. Cloud Atlas
Flawed but frequently stunning sixth feature from the Wachowski sisters, a meditation on the “continuity of souls” across hundreds of years via juxtaposed stories, timeframes and actors in multiple and contrasting roles. All the plotlines aren’t created equal (although, that goes back to the David Mitchell source material), and some of the prosthetic decisions are, shall we say, not entirely convincing, but as a visionary whole, aided by a gorgeous score from Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil and (co-director) Tom Twyker, it has conceptual scope to spare.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
The sole Coen Brothers picture of the decade to stand with the very best of their work. Not that they aren’t head and shoulders above most filmmakers even on an off day. Inside Llewyn Davis tells the unpropitious story of the musician title character (Oscar Isaac in an increasingly necessary reminder of how good he can be), more often than not the artist as his own worst enemy. But as per the Coens’ work generally, we’re still willing to stick with him (see also Barton Fink). A melancholy affair, one that appreciates the fickleness of the swing doors of success and failure.
7. Only Lovers Left Alive
Another melancholy picture, Jim Jarmusch’s goth chic vampires may be impossibly cool (I mean, they go to Tangiers on their hols) but they embody cup of blood half-full/empty attitudes. Tom Hiddleston’s dashing, despairing grump may reflect Jarmusch himself, aghast at the state of the modern world, ultimately unable to avoid the edicts of his own “humanity”, while Tilda Swinton contrastingly sees the positives in embracing their existence. The director uses the eternal knowledge aspect to touch magpie-like on a number of his pet subjects, but the couple’s prevailing need for each other overrides such side bars.
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The McDonagh brothers have run a relay of at very least interestingly pithy (Seven Psychopaths, War on Everyone, Calvary) and at best caustic, sharp and clever (The Guard, this) over the past decade. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the most fully formed, balancing a tendency to revel in the luxury of form (quick, cutting, biting characters trading barbs to often hilarious effect) with unearthing substance that sometimes doesn’t quite yield gold (Calvary’s main problem). Martin McDonagh hits the bullseye in a manner not seen since his outstanding debut In Bruges. Perhaps too accurately. Possibly the picture received too much in the way of awards attention, as it meant his irreverence was suddenly held up to the lens of how he “should” be addressing the themes therein, particularly of race, in an approved and certified manner.
5. Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard’s delirious neo-noir multi-plotted thriller is a delight that keeps you surprised and guessing, showing off the kind of narrative sleights and dexterity that might fool you into thinking this kind of thing comes easy. It’s superbly directed and cleverly cast too. There’s a touch of Tarantino about Bad Times at the El Royale, if Tarantino had honed his story skills rather than given in to his addiction to genre referencing. Goddard may not garner an ounce of the adulation, but his creations are much more satisfying.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 isn’t as good as the first film – it pushes itself into areas of too traditional plotting, with the foregrounded Deckard genealogy and replicant uprising, that were largely bypassed in the anti-detection detective story of Scott’s original – but it is still a remarkable achievement. The only serious mistake (one also made with Tron: Legacy) was somehow thinking there was an enormous waiting audience for it that justified the budget. Sir Ridders may have complained that Denis Villeneuve’s sequel was slow and overlong, but his days of making films of this quality are far in the past.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will this be seen as peak Wes Anderson? It would be ironic if it does, as The Grand Budapest Hotel finds the director flourishing a broader, slapstick approach compared to his previously established, wryly distanced tableau observations. As such, the film motors along infectiously and often hilariously, Anderson making vivid use of a selection of faces both new and familiar to his repertory in a variety of cartoonish guises, and accompanied by a masterpiece score from Alexandre Desplat that perfectly reflects the piece’s exuberant energy.
Did the top keep spinning? Is there a spoon? Another that may eventually be seen as its director’s peak picture – although we can hope for the best from Tenet – as his subsequent trio have been decidedly lesser affairs. An outstanding, immersive, Russian doll envisaging of dream reality by way of a heist format. Nolan’s deftest move is not to treat his dream logic as dream logic but rather as a state of consciousness with clearly defined rules and relationships. If there’s a yardstick for the intelligent blockbuster, this is it.
1. Mad Max Fury Road
And if there’s a yardstick for the blockbuster as pure, cinematic experience, this is surely it. Mad Max: Fury Road is an astounding piece of work, a kinetic kaleidoscope of sound and fury, of colour and chaos. And edited to within an inch of its life, such that it shows off George Miller as the aging master of action cinema. All else should kneel before the master. The shame of it is that we’ll have to wait so long for a follow up, while he goes off to make his next Lorenzo’s Oil.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.