90. Holy Motors
Some days, one murder is not enough. Joyously anarchic and ever-changing, Holy Motors spends 24 hours with the enigmatic, multitude-containing, Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is ferried through Paris in a limo/costume room. This is a new kind of acting, for a new kind of audience: Mr. Oscar emerges periodically to perform roles, “appointments” that see him adopting personas whose only through-line is their diversity: lunatics, beggars, men, women, and monsters. Holy Motors is zaniness with a melancholic undertone, a bananas and surprisingly touching unraveling of performance and the way we consume it. Unlike other odes to cinema, Holy Motors is unsure, or at least suspicious, of its own project: if the beauty of the act will be enough when the cameras become so small they vanish altogether. (Meg Shields)
89. Shin Godzilla
Godzilla, king of the monsters and lord of the thicc boys, came back in a big way this decade. He made his way to American theaters with 2014’s Godzilla and 2019’s Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. But perhaps the best rendition of Godzilla of this decade, and perhaps since the original 1954 film, is Hideaki Anno’s 2016 Shin Godzilla. Anno, known for his disturbing teen mech anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, took a break from existential teenage crises to create both a horrifying version of the legendary kaiju and a scathing critique of Japanese bureaucracy.
Godzilla emerges from Tokyo Bay, as he often does, to a terrified Japan and a government frozen with indecision and too many committees that can’t agree on a battle plan. This is not the Godzilla we know and love. This is a Godzilla born from the depths of hell that begins in a strange, flopping larval state, and becomes a tiny-eyed, sharp-toothed monster with a brutal rendition of atomic breath and the ability to reproduce tiny versions of itself. This Godzilla is not the funny kaiju seen throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This Godzilla is a towering behemoth of terror who is never truly defeated; he is just held at bay for the time being. Anno captures a harrowing nihilism with his version of the iconic creature, one that looms over us all as the days progress. As he usually does, Anno portrays Japanese cultural anxieties and shapes them in a darkly comic and deeply upsetting sci-fi package. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
88. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I believe that The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily the apex of all of Wes Anderson’s work. While The Royal Tenenbaums might be his masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel ends up selling itself as the perfect blend of Anderson’s filmmaking sensibilities that he’s honed since Bottle Rocket back in 1996. Following a lobby boy under concierge apprenticeship at the titular hotel, during a bleak, war-torn early 20th century eastern Europe, it’s a beautiful, melancholic look at love and loss; finding the warmth in death, misery, and heartbreak underneath shades of pastel pink and baby blues. While daunting to some, Anderson’s incredibly unique style – in dialogue, shot composition, coloring, and general amounts of whimsy – feels like it’s not only heightened to the absolute nines but totally perfected. The Grand Budapest ends up reading like Anderson’s magnum opus, the consummate result of years of mastering the art of sheltering human darkness underneath near-fantastical realism. The worlds of Wes Anderson are whimsical, but they are always, without fault, utterly human. A sweet pill to shelter our ugly truths, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is positively the sweetest. (Brianna Zigler)
87. Goodnight Mommy
Between Goodnight Mommy and their upcoming film, The Lodge (which would likely be on this list if not for the untimely February 2020 release date), Austrian aunt and nephew writing-directing combo, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have mastered realist, psychological horror. They’re like magicians, creating mirages through several layers of smoke screens that lure us into misinterpretation and keep our baffled minds at work, only to eventually reveal the most shocking truths—none of which is ever outside the realm of reality, despite how we might be fooled into thinking so at times—through tastefully egregious violence and horror. In the case of Goodnight Mommy, the fear is such: What if your mother returned home from facial reconstruction surgery and you and your twin brother were convinced she wasn’t your mom? Moreover, what if that potential stranger was moody as hell and always wearing a terrifying mask (per hospital orders) that sent as many chills down your spine as the mask in Eyes Without a Face?
Goodnight Mommy is also a shining exemplar of how the brand of gorgeous 35mm photography often associated with auteurs and high art film can add a layer of brooding undertones to the horror that isn’t as common these days. There’s something about the sizzling grain of the film print that adds a coat of tension to the looming horrors that might unfurl in the isolated home in the woods. It gets under your skin and stays there, much like the pet cockroaches. (Luke Hicks)
Filmed in 2005, Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret was a masterpiece held hostage for six years by its own studio, released in 2011 to little acclaim and only after a brutal post-production that included guest edits by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker. And while his follow-up Manchester by the Sea saw a much gentler arrival marked by awards and universal acclaim, Lonergan all but peaked with this novel-like character study of a teenage girl in New York City (Anna Paquin) dealing with high school and her mother, before witnessing a life-altering traffic accident that sets her off on an odyssey of self-discovery. As she deals with court cases and harrowing encounters with people on both sides of the accident, she must also deal with restless adolescence marked by bad decisions and confusion.
It is a movie of incredible empathy and understanding that challenges what an independent American melodrama can be and the riches of universal truths that can be found in one young person’s emotional journey set against the largeness of the world. And hell, that juxtaposition is even made literal here, when the conversation of a lead character and her friend in a cafe is swallowed up by a sound design in which all of the neighboring conversations take center stage. (Fernando Andrés)
Rape-revenge movies have a pretty nasty reputation of exploitation and violence for the sake of violence. But, director Coralie Fargeat wanted to change that with her feature film debut, Revenge. Drenched in highly-saturated hues of orange, Fargeat flips off the male gaze and previous exploitative techniques of the controversial subgenre and repurposes them to create an empowering narrative about survival.
At Revenge’s beginning, Jen (Miranda Lutz) is clothed in short skirts and bright pink crop tops with a lollipop poised against her lips. She is the stereotypical image of someone who would wrongfully be described as “asking for it.” However, as the film progresses, the pink is caked in dirt and blood, her blond hair loses its shine, and her perfect tanned body is ruined. This body that the male gaze so often worships and ogles at it destroyed; but the audience is not allowed to look away. Fargeat utilizes the male gaze to luxuriate in open wounds and torn skin; techniques of exploitation are now used to disgust and confront the audience about how they typically view a film.
Revenge is a blood-soaked neon fantasy where a woman can get justice and kill her rapists. Is it realistic? Absolutely not, but it doesn’t want to be. It functions as a piece of necessary escapism for those of us who have suffered like Jen and wish to be able to enact our own revenge. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
84. Magic Mike XXL
Radical positivity as retaliation against cynicism, captured through movement. Magic Mike XXL is a feel-good movie that cares about everyone feeling good. Picking up a few years after the events of the first film, a movie that ends up berating audiences in service of a too-serious unfolding of the narrative, XXL takes the reverse position and jubilantly celebrates the good that comes from the most basic idea: just fucking care about other people and make them feel good. As Mike (Channing Tatum) embarks on an Americana odyssey to a 4th of July stripping convention (automatic five stars on this plot point alone) he rekindles friendships with his old crew. Through adventures on molly, good old fashioned Southern hospitality, and a gas station dance sequence that should play on repeat in the Louvre, the boys find moments of clarity and hope in lives otherwise commandeered by fears and doubts.
Magic Mike XXL is as beautiful as the men are ripped. The dance sequences that populate this film through a series of vignettes are gorgeously choreographed and stunningly captured by director Gregory Jacobs and Steven Soderbergh working as the cinematographer. One that comes to mind takes place in a house of performance run by Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome. Aside from Mike and a couple of his compatriots, everyone there, dancer or patron, is black. And everyone looks beautiful. Harsh yellow light is stripped away and sumptuous red and blue lights dial the eroticism up to 11 while allowing all the characters to be bathed in the same gorgeous and universally flattering wash of color. Everyone, for a brief sequence that fades from on-screen depiction but not from memory, is beautiful. And good. And happy. Surely this all can’t last, but maybe enjoying the moment is enough. (Anna Swanson)
Years of formalistic genius and ambitious, character-driven storytelling on Christopher Nolan’s part culminate in Interstellar, the ultimate love story to humankind. This isn’t just a space movie but *the* space movie. Interstellar is a full-bodied cinematic exercise that engulfs the senses as it takes audiences on a wondrous adventure to save Earth’s residents from surefire extinction. Furthermore, it tells a remarkably vital allegory about our place among the stars and each other.
Nolan’s ability to create immersive and exhilarating experiences for theater-goers never undermines his ability to tug at our heartstrings and encourage rumination through communal narratives. Through his Batman trilogy, he defines a specific niche of superhero films that have been tough to replicate ever since. Nolan’s less pop culture-y examinations of dreams and memory – and their emotion-driven fickleness – bring us closer to understanding our inner selves, while maintaining a distinct entertainment factor. (Inception is really damn fun to watch!)
What more then, when Nolan expressly asks us to look out for each other in times of seemingly indomitable strife? To be confident in our own ideas but also be ready to, as Leonardo DiCaprio would say, take a leap of faith? Interstellar is the single embodiment of each of Nolan’s cinematic exploits, taking his gamut of ideas and stretching them further. Without being overly preachy or saccharine, Interstellar adds additional layers to Nolan’s signature filmmaking style by being his kindest and most inspirational movie to date. (Sheryl Oh)
82. I Saw The Devil
Revenge movies about law enforcement officers tracking down serial killers are common, but I Saw the Devil is a different beast. While the central story is a similar concept to the others on paper, what makes Kim Je-woon’s thriller stand out from the pack is the way in which the killer is hunted. You see, the agent in this movie is a sociopath in his own right, and his pursuit of the murderer revolves around playing mind games with the unfortunate bastard in order to make his revenge taste a little bit sweeter. He tortures his target, lets him go, and the process repeats itself. As violent and grim as the movie is at times, it’s also punctuated with moments of gallows humor, while some moments are surprisingly touching and moving. The performances are impressive across the board, but Choi Min-sik deserves extra credit for his turn as the film’s deranged serial murderer. Few actors play pieces of human excrement this convincingly, but he’s so good at being bad that it’s hard not to fall in love with him here. (Kieran Fisher)
81. John Wick
In the world of sports discourse, one of the easiest framing devices for “How to determine who is the Most Valuable Player” in any given league is to imagine what the league (or their team) would be like without them. What are the Los Angeles Lakers with Lebron James or Anthony Davis? (These are good basketball players, for those who are losing the sports thread but would still like to continue participating in this section of the article.)
In a similar fashion, I’d ask you to try and imagine this decade without Keanu Reeves in our popular culture. Imagine keeping all of the bad stuff — the politics, the endless war, the inequality, the surreal darkest timeline existence to which we’ve all become accustomed — and not getting any of what Keanu has done. That means no Man of Tai Chi, a film Keanu directed with his whole heart. That also means no Keanu popping up in fascinating places on the landscape of independent cinema, from Knock Knock to The Neon Demon to The Bad Batch to Destination Wedding. No Keanu in Toy Story 4. No Keanu memes from Always Be My Maybe. And worst of all, we’d go from three John Wick movies to zero John Wick movies. And friends, zero John Wick movies is unacceptable. Which means that Keanu is in the conversation for MVP of the Decade (an award that doesn’t exist). And John Wick — the electric gun-fu fever dream about a man whose dog is killed by one Russian gangster, so he murders all the Russian gangsters, and all the other criminals for that matter over the course of three movies — is the most important of them all. (Neil Miller)