Tag Archives: Columbus

My Top 10 Films of the ‘10s

The chance to write a “best of the decade” list is pretty rare, and I tend to put an inordinate amount of weight on the task. (If you happen to be curious about the full 100-film list I put together for the 2010s while preparing, you can find it on my Letterboxd here.) It was actually helpful looking back at the “best of the 2000s” list I published a full 10 years ago and realizing that half of the films on that list wouldn’t make the cut if I re-made it today. Tastes change, but these sorts of lists, to me, are an interesting way to at least capture a moment in time.

So, without further ado, here are the 10 films that I (for now) consider my favourites of the decade that was the 2010s.

Fish Tank

10. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2010)

We’re starting with a slightly “controversial” choice, considering Fish Tank came out in the UK (and played quite a few film festivals) in late 2009. However, it didn’t get its North American theatrical release until January 2010, so I count it as a ‘10s film. And indeed, Fish Tank seemed to usher in a spate of films about economic disparity in the UK throughout the decade that followed. But it was Arnold’s naturalism in telling the story of young Mia (Katie Jarvis), a young woman fighting (often literally) to break out of the suppressive social class she’s been raised in, that had the biggest emotional impact on me. It is a quiet film full of extremely flawed characters who are given the empathy to simply exist as they are. It’s the film on this list that I’ve had the longest to sit with, and it’s haunted me since I first saw it.

Columbus

9. Columbus (Kogonoda, 2017)

Speaking of empathy, there was perhaps not a kinder film I saw all decade than Kogonoda’s stunning debut, Columbus. Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho play extremely warm, realistic characters and the pure bliss in watching them share ideas, learn from each other, and explore the unique architecture in the titular Columbus, Indiana is far stronger than it has any right to be in such a simple film. It’s a film that some absolutely adore and others shrug at. I just sat there in the theatre absorbing every beautiful frame.

Lore

8. Lore (Cate Shortland, 2013)

Cate Shortland is a director who doesn’t make nearly as many films as I’d like, having released just three in total since her debut in 2004. (Although she’s about to get a major bump in notoriety, given that her next project is 2020’s Black Widow.) Her second film, Lore, tells the harrowing tale of a group of young German siblings who must flee their home unaccompanied after the end of World War II. It is a quietly stressful adventure tale, a coming-of-age story, and an artfully told period piece all at once. It also boasts captivating performances from its young German leads, Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina, and pitch-perfect cinematography. This is the least well-known film on the list, but one that I think a lot of people would appreciate if they sought it out.

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7. The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt, 2015)

After this year’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, I’m going to put forward a motion that we retire the narrative structure of having a journalist interviewing a celebrity as the premise of a film. However, that structure was less overused when The End of the Tour was made, and Ponsoldt chooses it not out of convenience, but as the entire emotional crux of his story. It also helps that the two men being depicted (David Foster Wallace and journalist David Lipsky) are much more evenly-matched in their respective career accomplishments at the time the film takes place, acting as a mirror, an echo, and a sounding board for each other. (They also have a rich real-life text to draw from, as Lipsky published an entire book containing his conversations with Wallace during his book tour for Infinite Jest.) Ponsoldt depicts their relationship so cleanly, yet realistically, creating an incredibly emotionally rich film from conversations may on the surface sometimes seem offhanded or even banal. Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg also turn in wonderful performances, seeming impressively unburdened by the “real life-ness” of the characters they’re playing. It’s a fun hangout film, as also one that sneaks up on you with an understated emotional wallop.

Oslo August 31

6. Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier, 2012)

I do tend to love depressing Scandinavian films, and Oslo, August 31 is a prime example. Set over the course of one day in the life of a man who’s been temporarily let out of rehab to attend a job interview, it’s a meditative, artful take on addiction. Trier levels up from his already impressive debut, 2007’s Reprise, and creates something even more beautiful and deeply felt. I only caught up with the film this past year, but I’m actually glad that I watched it now (rather than in my early 20’s when it first came out) because I found a relatable aspect (aside from the topic of drug addiction) that wouldn’t have hit me in the same way eight years ago; through the people that Anders interacts with in vignettes throughout the film, Trier perfectly illustrates that sense of feeling alienated from those around you by not having followed the path that you’re “supposed” to by the time you hit 30-ish. It’s not quite the main theme of the film, but it’s sprinkled as an undercurrent throughout, and it really hit me in a relatable, raw (though not necessarily sad) way. Oslo, August 31 is a stunner and, for me, was a great example of watching the right film at the right time.

Roma Cuaron

5. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)

I would struggle to think, on a frame-by-frame basis, of a more beautiful film that came out this decade. There was something about Roma that I found so captivating, despite its seeming straightforwardness. I know some found it a bit emotionally disconnected, but I was right there with Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) from frame one through to the end of her quietly seismic journey. This is perhaps partly because Cuarón crafted it with so much love, and the autobiographical elements came through beautifully. I could have watched another of hour of his vibrant, wistful, clear-eyed point of view.

Lost City of Z Gray

4. The Lost City of Z (James Gray, 2017)

James Gray was another director who succeeded at transporting viewers to a perfectly realized world, here with The Lost City of Z. Having caught up with it earlier this year (on gorgeous 35mm projection, no less) I immediately fell in love with how it evoked a sweeping historical epic, but depicted with a modern sensibility. Gray perfectly (yet deliberately) paced this tale of a single-minded adventurer, and I was along for the journey every step of the way.

The Social Network

3. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

I could write thousands of words on The Social Network (and maybe have, over the course of my various viewings throughout the decade). There was no film that I watched more in the ‘10s (five times, in case you were wondering), and The Social Network holds up perfectly every time I watch it. From the performances to the score to the cinematography to the Sorkin script, it’s one of the extremely few films that I would classify as close to perfect. There is a rhythm to it that is unlike any other film that came out in the past 10 years, and it seems to somehow only gain relevance as time goes on. When I think of why I love movies, this is a film that almost always pops into my mind.

OJ Made in America

2. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, 2016)

The ’10s was definitely the first decade where I paid attention to documentaries. (Prior to this, my knowledge of docs pretty much started and ended with Supersize Me and March of the Penguins.) And I saw a lot of really great ones. But the one that eclipsed all the others (both in terms of my appreciation for it, and just it’s sheer length) was Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. It’s a film that feels daunting to write about, because it does so much over the course of its nearly 8 hours. (And yes, I do consider it a movie, rather than a miniseries.) It is an incisive examination of American culture, a compelling “true crime”-style story, and an extremely thorough dive into the psyche of one of the most inscrutable figures in pop culture. And it’s all constructed with such an elegance that it’s impossible not to admire its craft, even as you’re engrossed in the story. This is an accessible, definitive, and unique take on a story that many of us thought we already knew. And, on top of that, it’s a film that’ll probably make you question why you had been so quick to form your previously-held opinions on its central figure.

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1. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2013)

Lists like these are always extremely subjective (hence why I’ve called this post “MY Top 10 Films of the ‘10s”) but there’s no other way I can really explain putting The Place Beyond the Pines in my number one spot beyond to say that it was just my personal favourite film of the past 10 years. I think it’s incredibly well-constructed, expertly acted, and tells a gripping story. I do think it’s a quantifiably great film. But the simpler, non-critical way to describe it is that it just “clicked” with me. Cianfrance, coming off 2010’s emotionally thorny, almost uncomfortably intimate Blue Valentine, crafted a big, generation-sweeping family epic with The Place Beyond the Pines. He balances the film’s unique structure perfectly, dividing it into three distinct parts that are satisfying on their own, but that also resonate with each other in fascinating ways. And though it’s a film that has a “twist” that seems like it might lose its impact after seeing it once, I found the film has only gained complexity and impact on multiple subsequent viewings. I’ve been on a quest ever since to find other films that balance the same level of bold structure and craft with deeply humanistic storytelling.

The Place Beyond the Pines is not a film you’re likely to see on a lot of other “best of the decade” lists (let alone at the top), but for me, it’s the film that defined my movie-watching in the 2010s.

My 10 Favourite Films of 2017

Happy 2018! The title of this post is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s dive in!

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10. Stronger

Portraying real-life tragedy in film is always touchy. Let alone recent, heavily-reported real-life tragedy. But David Gordon Green’s Stronger presents a sensitive yet gritty take on the story of Jeff Bauman (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal), a young man who lost both of his legs during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Most films about a dramatic national news story focus on the ins and outs of the event itself (see: Peter Berg’s also quite-good movie about the same event, Patriots Day), but Stronger shines a spotlight on what happens AFTER the news cameras stop rolling, when the real work begins for the innocent people directly affected. Stronger does not sugar-coat the mental and physical struggles that Bauman faced, nor does it shy away from presenting Bauman’s less likeable personality traits. The result is an intimate and highly compelling character portrait that avoids exploiting the inherent drama of its inciting event.

The Last Jedi

9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Breaking Bad fans may recall an episode called “Fly” (season three, episode 10) a strange entry in the series where protagonists Walt and Jesse spend almost the entire episode alone together inside of a laboratory chasing down a pesky housefly. This “bottle episode” was one of three Breaking Bad episodes that Rian Johnson directed, and it’s among the most memorable and most divisive in the entire series run, mostly because it was so different than everything that came before or since. Now, Rian Johnson has entered the Star Wars franchise and shaken things up similarly with The Last Jedi, essentially creating the “Fly” of Star Wars. Some people love it, some people hate it. “Fly” was among my very favourite Breaking Bad episodes. And as much as I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens and Rogue One? The Last Jedi is among my very favourite Star Wars installments.

Loveless

8. Loveless

The latest grim tale from notorious grim Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev, Loveless tells the story of a couple going through a bitter divorce whose 12-year-old son suddenly vanishes without a trace. Oh, and it’s also all a metaphor for Russia’s crumbling political landscape. So no, Loveless is not an uplifting time at the movies. But for all of the chilly gloom, I was actually surprised by how accessible and narratively compelling Loveless manages to be. Not having seen any of Zvyagintsev’s previous films, I was expecting it to be much more esoteric than was, but the camerawork is inviting and the plot – while not high-action – is quite engaging. Zvyagintsev and co-screenwriter Oleg Negin create complex characters who portray some of humankind’s worst instincts while still managing to be interesting and oddly sympathetic. It’s not an easy watch in terms of content, but as for craft and storytelling, there’s absolutely no doubt that Zvyagintsev is one of the masters.

Personal Shopper

7. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart seem like an unlikely director/actor pairing, but between Clouds of Sils Maria and now Personal Shopper, they may actually be among the most perfectly matched cinematic collaborators of recent years. Assayas’ films and Stewart’s performances both have a chilly reserve that gives way to an emotionalism that is surprising simply because there seems to be no trace of it in any conventional sense. This especially applies to Personal Shopper, which left some viewers cold precisely because it is so opaque. Having seen the film, it’s still unclear to me whether the mood and the half-formed ideas about mortality and loss that Assayas sets up ever really amount to anything. Yet I found myself sucked into the liminal state that the film seems more than content to exist in. Don’t come to Personal Shopper looking for easy answers. Just settle in for the experience.

 Dunkirk

6. Dunkirk

Speaking of films that kept some viewers at a distance, Dunkirk has received criticism for its lack of focus on character development. And I’ll admit that I too did struggle a bit with the film’s shunning of conventional emotional arcs. However, I don’t think that’s a weakness of the film. In terms of craft, it’s immersive, daring, and sometimes downright confrontational in the way it’s constructed. And though we may not get to know any of the characters thoroughly, many of them are still very interesting thanks to the film’s storytelling techniques and the performances the impeccably-chosen cast give in limited screentime. (Yes, that includes Harry Styles.) I found Dunkirk to be compelling and emotionally charged – just perhaps not in the way I expected.

 The Square

5. The Square

A Palme d’Or winner that skewers the very type of audience that is often associated with the Cannes Film Festival. That perhaps speaks to just how smart and funny Ruben Ostlund’s latest film is. And while the satire is aimed at the modern art world and self-obsessed “intellectuals”, you don’t need much insider knowledge to appreciate the greater application of its statements about greed and narcissism. The Square is a strange, long film but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, thanks to Ostlund’s commitment to the sheer weirdness of it all. He’s not afraid to ~go there, as evidenced by the film’s much-discussed “monkey man” scene set at a banquet dinner. It’s not exactly “cringe comedy”, but The Square combines its satire with impeccable craft, making it one of the most memorable, uncomfortable, and fun viewing experiences I had all year.

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4. Beach Rats

If you hear that a film is about a closeted gay teen, you might have a notion of what that it’ll be like. If you hear that a film is about a bunch of agro dudes hanging out at the Jersey shore, that probably conjures something very different in your mind. Beach Rats manages to be both of those things and neither of those things all at once. Frankie (Harris Dickinson) lives separate lives, trawling through gay hook-up sites during his downtime from hanging out with his bros on the boardwalk. It’s a film about what happens when two distinct sides of yourself will never fit together. Director Eliza Hittman explores this dilemma and its emotional toll on Frankie with the perfect balance of confrontation and delicacy. This film is gritty less in its content than its emotional heft. Hypnotic and grimy, Beach Rats lets us marinate in Frankie’s self-loathing in an alarmingly gorgeous way.

Call Me By Your Name

3. Call Me By Your Name

If Beach Rats is about the toxicity of the closet, Call Me By Your Name is about someone learning about the freedom in breaking out of it. Luca Guadagnino has crafted a stunning, opulent ode to autonomy (and also to the inherent risks associated with living one’s life fully). The love story between Ellio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) aches and pulses with emotional intensity through every stage of the story. Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory hit every narrative punch with such subtly that by the time the film reaches its fittingly understated conclusion, the true weight of it all has snuck up on you. And it should not be overlooked that the film is also truly is a feast for the eyes. I was totally swept up in Call Me By Your Name’s gorgeous atmosphere and emotional delicacy.

Good Time

2. Good Time

If you look at the other films near the top spot of this list, you’ll see that I had a strong emotional response (of some kind) to all of them. The same can be said about Josh and Ben Safdie’s Good Time, though it may be more that my heart just realigned itself to match Good Time’s peculiar, breakneck rhythm. As we follow anti-hero Connie (Robert Pattinson) through an increasingly crazy night (brought on solely by his own fuckery) the stakes get higher and the tension ratchets up. This thing moves. And that’s thanks largely to the Safdies’ direction, which is truly stunning. They somehow create a film that feels highly stylized (in all the right ways) and also gritty, authentic, and intimate. It’s neo-verite on a Sprite bottle full of acid. I also have to recognize Pattinson’s performance, which is captivating and intense in a way that, frankly, I don’t think many people thought he was capable of. I can’t wait to see what the Safdies do next, and I can’t wait to watch this movie again.

columbus

1. Columbus

Somehow, the film from 2017 that left the biggest impact on me was also one of its most unassuming. Kogonada’s debut feature, Columbus, is measured, kind, and profound in a way I simply did not expect. It’s about many things while outwardly appearing to be about very little. Set in the unlikely architectural mecca of Columbus, Indiana, the film tracks the burgeoning friendship between local Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and involuntary visitor Jin (John Cho), who finds himself stranded there after his father has a heart attack while visiting and can’t be flown home. While Jin awaits his father’s fate, this deliberately paced film allows the pair to get to know each other organically, and it’s a true treat to watch play out. This likely has something to do with Richardson’s amazing openness as an actor. For my money, it’s the best performance of the year, which is fitting, since Columbus is the best film of the year. I suspect that this is a film that will quietly build a following, its emotional relevance to live on for years to come.