Saturday, March 14, 2015

Top 100 Films of the 2010's...So Far: Part IX

20. Bridesmaids (2011) - The whole point, many thought, of Bridesmaids, was to prove that the women could be as funny and raunchy as the men, say in things like The Hangover. Well, if that is what people were expecting from Bridesmaids, then they did in fact make that point. Bridesmaids was a laugh-out-loud comedy that in many ways outdid the guys in the raunchy department. But Bridesmaids is not the female Hangover, and it is incredibly condescending to compare it based on gender alone. First because Bridesmaids in an entirely different entity, and second, and most importantly, it far exceeds any of the male counterparts in terms of humor, and definitely in terms of quality. Led by the always great Kristen Wiig, in the role that proved she was not just a great SNL cast member, but a genuine movie star, Bridesmaids was a
brilliantly funny ensemble piece. Standouts including Maya Rudolph, Wendi McLendon-Covey, the late great Jill Clayburgh, Ellie Kemper, Rebel Wilson, and Chris O'Dowd created a wealth of fantastic characters that added a great amount of humor and heart to the proceedings. But among the plethora of great supporting roles, two rose to the top. First of course is Melissa McCarthy. Many have argued that her performance was one-note, although even if you think that, pulling off that kind of humor is not as easy as people think it is. But there is one scene I always point to to prove those folks wrong. It is the scene where she goes to visit Annie after the disastrous bridal shower, and she gives her the tough love that she so desperately needs. In that moment McCarthy remained incredibly funny, but also showed us Megan's fierce loyalty, and surprising heart. She earned her rewards. The other standout was Rose Byrne, who with this role, and her role in this past year's Neighbors is quickly earning her place as a go-to comedic actress. She is a lot more restrained than her counterparts, but she pulls off her role as the pseudo-villain with grace. Bridesmaids' cast was not the only element that separated it from most of the other comedy films in the last several years. It also does so by being able to not only be raunchy and ridiculously hilarious, but also to have a lot of heart. At its deepest point Bridesmaids is about friendship and the struggles of relationships, and at just the right moments, Annie Mumulo and Kristen Wiig's Oscar-nominated script, has the power to knock you out with not only laughs but a huge dose of love. It is a winning combination.

19. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - Kathryn Bigelow is a veteran director who finally got her due in 2009 when she became the first female to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. She also proved in 2009, with The Hurt Locker, that she could bring an intensity and a unique vision to the well-worn war film genre. But for me, and for a lot of folks, she went even a step further with 2012's Zero Dark Thirty. She deftly combined a war drama with an intelligence thriller in the age of terrorism, that brilliantly documented the journey to find and kill Osama Bin Laden, and most importantly, gave us all of this from the perspective of a female agent, something you don't see a lot in these well-worn genres .There was nothing familiar though about Zero Dark Thirty, and not just because it had a female lead. It was shot in an almost documentary style, had little dialogue, and purposefully left out a zillion details, allowing for the moviegoer to be as
frustrated and as intrigued as the central protagonist and her team. It was not a bluntly obvious film and it didn't take political sides (although rival Oscar campaigns were able to kill its chances with politics, an ironic and unfortunate ending to this film's awards potential). It showed the events as they were known by the filmmakers. It has an almost detached approach to a subject and a mission that was anything but unemotional. It takes a lot of skill to make something that feels like a documentary have the kind of propelling narrative, emotional impact, and visual style that excites moviegoers the way narrative films do. Screenwriter Mark Boal deftly weaves the facts of the mission with small, yet walloping emotional moments for his characters. He purposely leaves out a tremendous amount of detail, partly because there wasn't a tremendous amount to had, and also because its minimalist approach allowed for the team of talented actors to interpret and work the material. Jennifer Ehle, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Jessica Collins, Edgar Ramirez, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Taylor Kinney, and the late James Gandolfini all make the most of their supporting roles. But it is Chastain that makes the most of her screen time as a dynamic lead. Despite few details, she manages to find the vulnerability, the strength, the frustration, and the passion of her character that quietly explodes on the screen. But it is Bigelow, and her top-notch technical team including her sound folks, and her editors Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, that deserve the most credit for Zero Dark Thirty's success. They weave a powerful tale, give the heroes that finally brought down Bin Laden the respect they deserve, and tell an intense and mesmerizing story.

18. Enough Said (2013) - Nicole Holofcener gave me two of my favorite films in the few short years of this decade. The first was Please Give (see the last post for my thoughts on it). The second was her 2013 follow-up Enough Said. Starring the dynamic duo of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, Enough Said is a wonderfully touching comedy about love in the latter part of life. It is about two seemingly opposite folks with kids, ex-spouses, and a lot of baggage who somehow find charm, love, and a fun in a second-chance relationship. Holofcener has ditched some of the cynicism of Please Give, leaving enough to give Enough Said an edge, but allowing for a lot more heart this time around. I loved Please Give's darkness, but I think the main reason that Enough Said is higher on the list is because of that much needed does of heart. It gives the film more accessibility and lasting impact. But her insight into human emotion, into human mistrust,
and human relationships is as sharp as ever, and the dialogue and characterizations she gives to our two leads builds an honest and authentic relationship on screen. But a lot of the credit also has to go to its cast. Catherine Keener is great in her supporting role, but it is the combination of Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolifini that make this film worth watching. A five-time Emmy winner, with a stunning total of 18 nominations across three successful sitcoms, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a television superstar who has rarely stepped into film. James Gandolfini was a television legend with Tony Soprano but towards the end of his unfortunately short life, he had begun to make a name for himself as a supporting player in several well-received films. This was his final lead role. All of this is to say that this was an unusual combination to lead a relatively major film release. But their quirky sensibilities, there impeccable chemistry, and I believe there lack of film experience actually helped them find an authenticity on screen that is sorely lacking in most movie romantic comedies.I hope that this role will encourage Louis-Dreyfus to seek out more indie comedies. I love her on television, but it was nice to see her expand her repertoire. As for Gandolfini, I hope that people look back at this role and remember that is was one of his finest, that he was an actor who was not afraid to show both his dark side and his soft side, and that he was one of our finest actors who is simply irreplaceable.

17. Take Shelter (2011) - Take a look at my post before on Mud and you will quickly find that I am a big fan of Jeff Nichols short but substantial career. My favorite film of his, and the one that I am saddened did not get any attention from the Academy was his 2011 work Take Shelter. The film stars Michael Shannon (who was robbed of that Indie Spirit Best Actor Award), and the wonderful Jessica Chastain in one of her banner years (of course the last four years have been banner years for her, but 2011 included Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, and her Oscar-nominated work in The Help). Like most of Nichols work so far, and his upcoming Midnight Special looks to continue the tradition, Take Shelter is a dizzying combination of drama,
suspense, and a bit of supernatural. At its core, Take Shelter is the story of a family coping with the onset of a mental disease. But this core idea is brilliantly wrapped in paranormal thriller, a tightly wound suspense that keeps you guessing whether Shannon's character is truly experiencing an other-wordly, religious, or paranormal experience, or whether it is all in his mind. The film builds and builds, a slow burn of expert precision leaving the audience guessing all the way up till the end. In terms of taut direction, of precision, and tightness on screen, Take Shelter is easily Nichol's best work, and a spectacular example of his talent as a director, and even more so as a screenwriter. And his two leads embrace the material with gusto. As the suffering wife who has trouble deciding whether to support her husband in his building of a shelter, and his vision, or to seek help to aid him break his mental state, Chastain is a brilliant mixture of restraint, control, and vulnerability, and it is her work here that for many, including me, made it clear that she was one to watch for. I am proud to say that we were right. But it is Michael Shannon that commands the screen. He is one of those guys that had been working hard for years, and was simply looking for the right project to truly show off his talents. We got a taste of his work with Revolutionary Road, which made him an Academy Award nominee. But I still believe it is Take Shelter where Shannon proves that he is one of the most talented character actors working today, but also has the ability to be a compelling and commanding lead. His visions, his journey is the center of this brilliant psychological thriller, and his performance grabs you and never lets you go, even long after the screen has gone dark.

16. Inception (2010) - Christopher Nolan has been in a bit of a funk the last five years. The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar were both excellent films that were far and above better than most genre pieces, and we're, in general, well-received by critics, fans, and the industry. But for Nolan they seemed to be a bit of a step backwards compared to likes of The Dark Knight, and 2010's Best Picture nominee, still his only film to manage that feat, the trippy and bold Inception. Like all of Nolan's work, Inception is a visual feast, with stunning effects, jaw-dropping cinematography work from Wally Pfister (who won an Oscar for his work), as well as incredible sound work (once again both the mixers and the editors won Oscars, both of which were incredibly deserving). But like all of Nolan's films, the technical aspects of the film are only half the equation. Nolan has always taken great care to expand his characters, carefully construct a taut and fluid
story, and combine visual genre with ensemble work. Inception is no exception, and in terms of the ensemble, it is only rivaled by his Batman franchise. Leonardo DiCaprio continued to prove he was one of the best actors working, and still is, as the lead (combined with his lead role in Shutter Island with Scorsese, 2010 proved to be a great year for him). Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Joseph Gordon-:Levitt round out an incredible cast of Oscar winners, veteran actors, great newcomers, and many Nolan alums. Their work as a whole is fantastic, and helps elevate Inception beyond just a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, to a truly prestigious film. The final piece of the puzzle is the fantastic script, and bold direction by Nolan. He is truly a visionary, which is evident by the fact that even his so-called misses are miles above most of the films released each year. The layers of his story and characters, the way they all connect is miraculous in its construction. Most importantly, Nolan always tries to engage both heart and mind. Inception does both, it keeps to guessing for days afterwards, and knocks you on your butt when you least expect it. An extraordinary effort.

15. The King's Speech (2010) - This is another one that will inspire hate among many in the film blogging community. It is the latest film to be used as proof that the Academy is a group of old and out of touch voters that don't understand the future of film. It is called one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time. This is just simply not true. To quote a piece I wrote a while back: "I'd also like to point out that for a film that has received so much hate from critics by the time it won Best Picture, it had 94% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and 88 on Metacritic, a 97 from the BFCA, and was nominated for 7 Golden Globes (1 Win), 11 Critics Choice Awards (2 Wins), and received nominations/wins from the Chicago Film Critics
Association, Central Ohio Film Critics Association, Dallas-Ft. Worth Critics Association, Denver Film
Critics Society, Houston Film Critics Society, Iowa Film Critics, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, London Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, New York Films Critics Online, Online Film Critics Society, Phoenix Film Critics Society, San Diego Film Critics Society, Southeastern Film Critics Association, St. Louis Film Critics Association, and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association. If critics and bloggers hated that film so much, they had a funny way of showing it." The King's Speech was a more traditional pick for the Academy, and it did fit in line with older, mostly white, mostly male voters that make up the majority of Academy voters. But The King's Speech is not some half-baked historical misfire. In fact it is, for most of the film, a quaint drama about the lives of three people who are trying to solve the emotional and physical problems of man who is supposed to be a leader in a time of great peril. It is about ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances that must tackle his own challenges to rise up and lead his people. It is a well-made, entertaining, and emotional resonant drama led by three extraordinary performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. For the record, no The King's Speech would not have been my pick for Best Picture in 2010, as you shall see soon enough. But the backlash against does not diminish the fact that The King's Speech is a great film. Period.

14. The Kids are All Right (2010) - I read a lot of reviews about how Lisa Cholodenko brought such beautiful characterizations and emotional control to HBO's adaptation of Olive Kitteridge, a wonderful miniseries that is sure to be a huge Emmy player this year, and is something that all of you should take the time to see. It was absolutely no surprise to be that Cholodenko was that talented. Her Laurel Canyon was an underrated gem of the last decade, but it was 2010's The Kids Are All Right that proved that Lisa Cholodenko was a writer/director to watch out for. Olive Kitteridge is proof that my prediction was right. The Kids Are All Right was a unequivocal success. It was made for $3.5 Million and made over $34 million dollars worldwide at the specialty box office. It also went on became a Golden Globe winning film that earned four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. It was one of the first films featuring a lesbian couple
to achieve such success, making it a groundbreaking film in that sense. But this film's goal was not to make a bunch of money, or win a bunch of awards, although I'm sure its cast and crew appreciated the outpouring from critics, the industry, and moviegoers. Cholodenko, her co-writer Stuart Blumberg, and their stunning cast just wanted to show the world the normalcy, the humor, the drama, and the humanity (the good parts and the bad parts) of a marriage and of a family. It is a film that shows us that gay couples are just like straight couples with their marital problems, their family struggles, and their ultimate commitment to each other and to their families. It is a pertinent film with an important message for the times we live in, especially as the issue of gay marriage continues to capture the zeitgeist in American culture. The Kids Are All Right though is never preachy and it is chocked full of top-notch performances from the likes of Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. It is a wonderfully funny and emotional tale of real humans and real problems. It is touching, entertaining, and quietly makes its message clear. A wonderful treat, and an outstanding film.

13. Django Unchained (2012) - Between 1994 and 2009, Quentin Tarantino was mostly off of the Oscar circuit. Jackie Brown got a nod for Robert Forster, and the awesome and completely overlooked Kill Bill series was ignored (seriously Academy, both films were better than most of the choices in both those respective years). Now, all of the sudden with Inglourious Basterds in 2009, and then Django Unchained in 2012, neither of which were Academy-esque films,  suddenly received new found love from the Academy, and I honestly could not be happier. Somehow Tarantino has managed to turn ultra-violent, revisionist history films with tons of crude humor into Academy Awards favorites. I think that it is quite possible that Tarantino
is the only director who can combine those two poles of cinema and make it work. It shows that he is one of the most talented directors and screenwriters working today. Now onto Django Unchained. First, Tarantino turned an overly long, over-the-top dark comedy revenge tale into one of the biggest and best films of 2012. He does this by doing something that he actually does a lot, although its not obvious. He actually made the story about love. This is about Jamie Foxx's character Django taking revenge on the slave owner who has his wife in custody. It is about freeing, restoring his family, and finally getting the love of his life back. Even with the gimmicky, sometimes ridiculous lines and acting, there is this underlying humanity to the story that keeps you intrigued, and let's face it no matter how ridiculous it gets, it is always entertaining as hell. Second, Tarantino assembled an incredible cast of actors including Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, and the dynamic villainous duo of Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a shame that Weinstein kind of fumbled the initial release because this would have made a great SAG Ensemble nomination. Finally, Tarantino recaptured his revisionist history flair (that he had developed with Inglourious Basterds, and looks like will continue with The Hateful Eight this year), and we finally get to see the bad guys get what they deserve. That is was is best about Tarantino's version of history. The bad guys get their butt whooped, and the audience cheers them along.

12. 12 Years a Slave (2013) - As most of you know, my favorite film of 2013 was easily Gravity. It was a brilliantly constructed film that pushed the technology of film forward. But when 12 Years a Slave was announced as the Best Picture winner, I was thrilled. It's the same way I felt when Birdman was announced even though Selma was my favorite film of 2014. Just because it wasn't my favorite, doesn't mean it was not a worthy winner, and 12 Years a Slave will go down as one of the best Best Picture winners of the last several decades. Spurred by invigorated direction from the brilliantly bold Steve McQueen, and an emotional and passionate script from Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave is a brilliant adaptation of Solomon Northup's remarkable narrative of capture and freedom. Chitwetel Ejiofor, despite not being a household name, commands the screen with his passion, his ferocity, and his remarkable talent. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o, in her first screen role, knocks it out of the park, and hopefully her performance in this film has launched a new career for a fascinating young talent. Michael Fassbender, and the criminally
under-rewarded Sarah Paulson (seriously, if she can't win an Emmy this year playing both sides of conjoined twins, I don't know if she ever will), are vicious villains without ever having to be over-the-top. Throw in great work from the likes of Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Alfre Woodard, and not only is 12 Years a Slave one of the best films of the last twenty five years, but has one of the best casts. 12 Years a Slave was not just a well-acted, well-directed, and well-written film (with some impeccable craft work as well, especially the Oscar-snubbed cinematography work of Sean Bobbitt), but it is also a unique film in so many ways. First, and the most obvious, is that it is the first truly black film to win Best Picture. It has a black director, an African-American screenwriter, and features a predominantly black cast. It made important history when it was announced as Best Picture, and hopefully has blazed the trail for more well-made black-centric films to make an impact on the Academy, aka the industry. But Solomon's tale it was makes this the most unique. I read a lot of slave narratives in college, but none compared to the remarkable tale of Solomon Northup. His struggle, his fight to get back to his family and his freedom is so passionate, so heartbreaking, and yet ultimately so incredibly uplifting and inspiring. McQueen, Ridley, and this wonderful cast have honored Solomon Northup by creating a breathtaking film that is as passionate and brave as he was.

11. Nebraska (2013) - Alexander Payne delighted me, when he quickly followed up his smash The Descendants with Nebraska just two years later. He did the same thing with About Schmidt and Sideways, and then it took seven years for another film. In that sense, I hope history doesn't repeat itself, because I don't know if I can wait another seven years for another Payne dramedy masterpiece.That is because Nebraska, like all of his films before, was a brilliant mix of humor and sadness, is chocked full of wacky, quirky, and simultaneously lovable and unlovable characters, and despite having no special effects or loud noises, showcases the talent and skill of its director. It is the story of a delusional man who seeks to travel
across the American Midwest to claim a prize that almost everyone else recognizes is probably a scheme. He is joined by his son, and later his nagging wife along his journey, as we quickly learn that really it is not about a prize at all. Bruce Dern, the veteran character actor who usually plays the bad guy, was absolutely brilliant, and finally got the lead role he has been working decades for. He plays a grumpy and seemingly delusional man, who is also extremely proud, wants the best for himself and his family. His wise-cracking wife is played by the incredibly funny June Squibb, who provides most of comedic relief that balances out the films quirk and drama. She is sharp, and is yet another awesome veteran that found the role that finally gave her some overdue recognition. Will Forte, quiet and dramatically understated as their son finds enough humor, and enough emotion in his role, and is the ensemble's unsung hero. But it is Bob Nelson's script, and Payne's quiet direction that pull Nebraska together. Their emotional and humorous tale of adventure, father and son, Midwestern values, and family quietly and effectively became one of the biggest Oscar successes of 2013, and easily became one of the best films of last decade, heck of the last 25 years.

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