Tag Archives: Roma

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.

Final 2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

a star is born

Although I usually don’t do too badly predicting the Oscar winners, my track record prognosticating the nominees is… a bit shaky. Beyond some solid bets, it’s anyone’s best guess as to who will round out most of the categories. And there are always at least a couple shockers on nomination morning. That’s what makes it fun!

Below, I’ve outlined my final predictions for this year’s nominees in the major categories, plus the screenplay, animation, foreign language, and documentary categories. Nominations are announced January 22.

Lists are ranked by how likely I think each person/film is to get nominated (not necessarily win).

Best Picture
A Star is Born
Roma
Green Book
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
The Favourite
Vice
Bohemian Rhapsody
If Beale Street Could Talk

I will be shocked if any of the first seven films on this list don’t get a nomination. The last two are more vulnerable, but if the Academy sticks with its pattern of having nine Best Picture nominees, I don’t think there are many other really solid bets.

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Peter Farrelly – Green Book
Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay – Vice

This is a weird category? Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) is also a strong possibility, but did get snubbed by the DGA. Barry Jenkins, who on paper should be a shoe-in has been pretty absent from nominations all awards season. There’s no one else I can really see sneaking in.

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book
Christian Bale – Vice
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

My greatest (possibly futile) hope for this awards season is that Hawke lands himself a nomination. And he’s remained a steady dark horse presence throughout the season, so it might actually happen. Right now his biggest competition for the fifth slot is BlacKkKlansman’s  John David Washington, and I could really see it going either way.

Best Actress
Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
Olivia Colman – The Favourite
Glenn Close – The Wife
Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Nicole Kidman – Destroyer

Again, it seems like there are two people fighting for one spot: Emily Blunt for Mary Poppins Returns, and Kidman. (Yalitza Aparicio from Roma – my personal favourite in this category – also has an outside chance.) Oscar loves recognizing A-list actresses in semi-obscure films, which is why I think Kidman has the slight edge.

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
Timothee Chalamet – Beautiful Boy

Ali and Grant are pretty much locks at this point, and Driver, Elliott, Chalamet, and Sam Rockwell are the four contenders for the last three spots. Elliott’s nomination should be a given, but his surprising snub at the Golden Globes makes me think it’s possible he could go the way of Albert Brooks in Drive (i.e. veteran actor considered nearly a lock to WIN the Oscar, gets snubbed by a major precursor, and then doesn’t even get nominated). Maybe it’s foolish to bet against last year’s winner (Rockwell), but I also can’t really see anyone else from this line-up missing.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – Vice
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
Claire Foy – First Man 

Regina King’s snub by SAG makes me fear for her chances of winning, but I think the Academy will diverge from SAG here and still nominate her. I’m going with the Globes line-up.

Best Original Screenplay
Green Book
Roma
The Favourite
Vice
Eighth Grade

Is my Eighth Grade prediction just wishful thinking? Quite possibly. However, there is an open spot with no clear fifth shoe-in. Fingers crossed.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
First Man
A Star is Born

This is a sort of low-profile category this year, so there’s room for a wildcard to sneak in (Leave No Trace, The Death of Stalin, Wildlife, etc.) This one is hard to predict.

Best Animated Feature
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Isle of Dogs
Incredibles 2
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Fireworks

There’s no way Spider-Verse isn’t winning, right?

Best Foreign Language Film
Roma
Cold War
Shoplifters
Capernaum
Never Look Away

I always find this category tricky, even when there are only nine shortlist options to choose from. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the shortlist get nominated and the only ones I’d be shocked to see snubbed are Roma and Cold War.

Best Documentary
Won’t You Be My Neighbour
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
Three Identical Strangers

This category is always a weird balance of very crowd-pleasing fare (think previous winners 20 Feet From Stardom and Searching for Sugar Man) and more “serious” entries and this year’s 15-film shortlist is divided almost right down the middle between the two options. There were quite a few more “accessible” docs that got a lot of attention this year (Won’t You Be My Neighbour, Three Identical Strangers, Free Solo, Minding the Gap, RBG, Shirkers, and Hale County This Morning This Evening) and while I don’t think they’ll all make the final cut, I can’t see the Academy turning down most of its more high-profile options for this category.

My Top 10 Films of 2018

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10. Andy Irons: Kissed By God

Don’t let the “sports doc” packaging fool you – this is much more than a collection of cool surfing shots (though there are plenty of those to be found, too). Instead, Andy Irons: Kissed By God tells the wrenching personal story of Andy Irons, a world champion surfer who died in 2010 at the age of 32. No prior surfing interest is necessary (I’d never heard of Irons before), as the film’s main focus is on Irons’ battle with mental illness, addiction, and family tensions. It’s extremely difficult content told in a way that feels digestible, but it also deftly avoids over-simplifying or exploiting. Powerful, straightforward documentary storytelling at its finest.

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9. Blindspotting

As 2018 unfolded, it became clear that one of the major themes of the year in film was a socially-minded focus on racial and class inequality. And perhaps no film contended with those vast themes in a more freewheeling, vibrant way than Blindspotting. Considering the gravity of some of its subject matter, this tale of two Oakland, California friends (played by co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal) is an extremely funny and enjoyable film. (Though it’s certainly not without its intense moments.) It’s a faithful ode to Oakland, and an important film that I truly believe almost anyone could enjoy.

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8. Annihilation

Alex Garland followed up his promising directorial debut (2014’s Ex Machina) with this year’s philosophically intriguing and visually dazzling Annihilation. Fleshing out Jeff VanderMeer just-okay sci-fi novel of the same name, Annihilation follows an all-female expedition heading into an unusually vegetated and almost certainly dangerous quarantined zone. Things don’t go well. But as a viewer, this strange, heavy film was totally engrossing. Garland expertly blends beauty with horror in his storytelling, subtly expounding on some of the more difficult sides of human nature along the way.

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7. Eighth Grade

If there was one film this year that warmed my heart, it was Eighth Grade. Which is not to say that it’s treacly or entirely feel-good by any means. But writer/director Bo Burnham has crafted his debut film which such warmth that I found it virtually impossible not to fall for it. And were there three more likeable performances this year than Elsie Fisher (Kayla), Josh Hamilton (Kayla’s dad), and Jake Ryan (the nuggets kid)? I think not.

BlackKklansman

6. BlacKkKlansman

Truthfully, my #6-2 rankings are pretty interchangeable, since I adored all of them. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman took a rightfully impassioned and forthright perspective on racism in America, drawing very clear parallels to the bigotry and hate that still thrive today. It’s full of style (as you would expect from Lee), but also a propulsive story and genuine tension that made the 2.25 hour runtime breeze by. BlacKkKlansman is masterfully constructed and far more entertaining than anything about this subject matter has a right to be.

The Rider

5. The Rider

Chloe Zhao’s semi-biographical sophomore feature tells the story of Brady (played, appropriately, by Brady Jandreau), a seriously injured rodeo cowboy who must now find new meaning in his once hyper-focused life. It is a quiet and quietly sad film, but Zhao’s strong sense of humanity comes through her highly observant camera, lending The Rider some qualified uplift. Jandreau, for his part, makes a highly compelling and charismatic lead, no doubt drawing from his parallel life experience. The sum of these unusual parts is a subtle but impactful film that has definitely stuck with me during the many months since I first saw it.

Transit

4. Transit

What if Waiting for Godot was a thriller? That’s the question that came to mind for me while watching Christian Petzold’s German thriller about a non-specific invasion of Europe. Franz Rogowski plays Georg, a man stuck in France and desperate to find safe passage to North America, but without the means or paperwork to do so. Watching the characters in Transit make mostly fruitless attempts to flee definitely brings on the existential dread and could have become tedious, yet Petzold’s assured direction instead ensures that the film never stops feeling tense.

Recovery Boys 2

3. Recovery Boys

One of the best Netflix-released movies of the year was one that unfortunately got almost no attention. Following her excellent Oscar-nominated short, 2017’s Heroin(e), documentarian Elaine McMillion Sheldon made the leap to the feature-length format but stuck with similar subject matter with Recovery Boys. The film spans roughly a year in the life of four young opioid addicts in West Virginia who find themselves at Jacob’s Ladder, a long-term farming-based rehab. Sheldon doesn’t use “talking head” interviews in her filmmaking, instead capturing moments and reactions as they happen, which makes for a very human and personal approach to subject matter that can often be sensationalized. In both Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys, I loved McMillion’s empathetic filmmaking perspective — I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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2. First Reformed

First Reformed may be the film I thought about the most this year. Because while Paul Schraeder’s latest, about pastor beginning to heavily question his faith, may be cynical (he did write Taxi Driver, after all), it’s definitely not short on ideas. Combine that with artistry, atmosphere, and fantastic performances and you definitely have one of the most memorable entries of the year. It’s a movie that is difficult to describe in words, but once you see it for yourself, you can’t get it out of your mind.

Roma

1. Roma

There has been so much praise for Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma that it may start to sound like hyperbole, but in this case it’s safe to believe the hype. Primarily focused on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young maid working for a family in Mexico in the 1970s, Roma tells its deeply personal story in ways that are both intimate and grand. With stunning black and white cinematography, Cuaron creates a whole film’s worth of frame-worthy images. Yet, he also never forgets about the human element of the story. And thanks also to Aparicio’s wonderful first-time performance, the emotional stakes of this small story are sky high. Captivating from the opening long take to its final moments, Roma is not only the biggest cinematic achievement of 2018, but a film I suspect we’ll be talking about for many years to come. 

Honourable Mentions: Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Widows, Green Book, Kodachrome, A Star is Born, Burning, First Man, Support the Girls