Sunday, July 21, 2019

Celebrating a Decade of The Awards Psychic: Top 100 Films of 2009-2019, Part II

90. Booksmart (2019) - Once again, I will turn to my comments from this year's Halfway Awards about Booksmart: I have always believed in the old adage that dying is easy, comedy is hard. Comedy is hard, and when it is done right it is magnificent. Booksmart was done right, and Booksmart is magnificent. Yes, it is wildly funny, inventive, raunchy, and a stunning directorial debut for Olivia Wilde. But at its core, it is about two best friends learning how to grow up. There is a beating heart at its center that is so endearing, you can't help but smile. Also, when speaking of the film's dynamic duo leads, who won best actress, I wrote: At the center of Booksmart is an incredible friendship between two smart, vulnerable teens. Dever and Feldstein brilliantly captured the angst of growing up, breaking free, and fitting in with the crowd. They were both hilarious, heartfelt, and are two young talents with incredible futures ahead of them.

89. Never Let Me Go (2010) - To this day, I cannot fathom how Never Let Me Go got so lost in the shuffle. It had good, but not great critical reviews, it got some awards attention, but it was muted, and it's indie box office was low. I really don't understand why. Yes, it is a depressing film, where you know the outcome early on, and spend the rest of the film hoping and wishing that it will somehow end up differently. It doesn't, but the journey is nonetheless worth it. It is haunting, almost like a  horror film without the scares. You get to know these characters, love them, only to have your heartbroken. An amazing trio of talented young actors, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, and Carey Mulligan perfectly capture the hope, heartbreak, and human connection that is needed to pull off this inhuman story. The moment the film sells itself is that dagger of a line from the great Charlotte Rampling,"We didn't have The Gallery in order to look into your souls. We had The Gallery to see if you had souls at all." It is the emotional collapse, the peak of the horror, the moment that the wind taken out of your sails. It is done with such subtly, and quietness, and it is a brilliant film moment, in a great, underappreciated film.

88. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (2011) - I was about Harry's age when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The summer before my senior year of high school, I was stuck in a hospital room looking after my grandfather after his heart surgery, and I read the seventh and final book of the series. My senior year of college, the final Harry Potter film premiered. I was literally bawling. A huge part of those tears were because the final film was so well-made. David Yates and his team brought the big, bold action pieces, tied up the characters journey's so perfectly, helped of course by the one of the most impressive cast lists in film history, and hit every emotional note of what made Harry Potter, the books, the films, the pop culture phenomenon, so meaningful to millions of adoring fans. The other reason I was crying my eyes out was personal. I was about to leave my ivory tower, with its idealism and safety, and go into the real world. My youth, the innocence and imagination that encompassed it, felt like it was coming to an end. Harry Potter represented so much of my life, and as a librarian, it continues to inspire me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II was a beautifully made film and a perfect ending to a marvelous film series.

87. Eighth Grade (2018) - Bo Burnham has discussed many times about how he wanted to created a film that reflected his own anxiety. He knew that a film about a twenty-something comedian with anxiety would never quite connect with audiences. So instead, he said he thought about the most anxious people in the world, middle school girls. His gamble paid off. Eighth Grade is a brilliantly funny, incredibly stressful, anxious film that finds the humor, heartbreak, and ultimately the love of friends and family that help all of us get through anxiety whether we are 13 or 90. With a star-making turn from Elsie Fisher, and a perfect role as her father from Josh Hamilton, the cast embraced Burnham's experiment with passion and talent. Burnham won the WGA and Indie Spirit award, and should have been nominated for an Oscar for his brilliant script. I cannot wait to see what comes next from this fresh screenwriting talent.

86. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) - Yes, this is on my list. Before you all get ready to attack, you should know that I don't care. I admit that Last Jedi could have used some trimming in the editing room, and the whole Canto sequence was too long, with little payoff. But other than those flaws, I think Rian Johnson deserves a lot more credit than he is getting from the online bullies, for not only continuing the Star Wars saga, but looking for creative ways to expand its premise. Of course, that is the exact thing that pissed Star Wars fans off. It showed people using the Force in ways we had never seen. In their minds, it was pissing on the heritage of the films, and wasn't sticking to the formula. Of course, if he had stuck too close to the formula, fans would have complained he was just redoing a film they liked better. I am a Star Wars fan, so I can say that unfortunately, Star Wars fandom has become a catch-22 for its film makers, and literally nothing at this point can please them (same can be said of Game of Thrones fans). I personally am happy with Johnson's final product. It was emotional, well-made, visually stunning, and gave us a hell of a setup for what is sure to be a fantastic final chapter from J.J. Abrams. It's still a winner in my book.

85. Shutter Island (2010) - While not the best Scorsese film in his canon, Shutter Island was also a critically underappreciated entry, and a nice change of form for the legend. Tackling the mystery genre, almost horror genre, Shutter Island was pushed to a January release in 2010, and despite decent box office, never made the impact of other Scorsese projects. But fans have kept it alive, and have recognized it, currently ranking at 172 on IMDB. The reason was that it was a hell of a thriller to watch. With another great turn from Scorsese's muse DiCaprio, an excellent supporting cast, and deep, dark mystery that is perfectly paced by Scorsese's taut direction and a great script from Laeta Kalogridis, Shutter Island was an old-school, bone-chilling thriller from a master, and well worth a second viewing.

84. Short Term 12 (2013) - Before Brie Larson was Captain Marvel, aka one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, she was a bonafide indie favorite, for her star-making turn in the indie breakout Short Term 12. Larson is the real winner in this film, and she carries it with maturity and grace. At its core, Short Term 12 is about messy people. Messy adults helping wayward messy teens, who maybe in turn, also help the adults. The film plays out like life itself. It has heartbreak, humor, triumph, tragedy, and it does it all so effortlessly, you easily get swept up in its subtlety and its characters. Despite its premise, the film never lets its characters slip so far into darkness, and its that constant buoyancy which keeps it riveting. It's a tiny film about a small group of people, but it has a heart and a message that reaches a much wider audience.

83. Looper (2012) - So my favorite Rian Johnson film is actually Looper. Five years before he tackled the Star Wars franchise, Johnson was already working hard at think-piece science fiction. More importantly, it was a look into the future of Johnson trying to push the barriers of film making. Looper has everything that a great science fiction movie has: pulse-pounding action, great technical work, and thrilling sequences. What sets Looper apart is the quality of acting, the incredibly original and meaningful premise, an impeccably written script, and its elevated directing. This is Rian Johnson's baby, and you can tell in every frame that he was confident, probably when many of his backers weren't, that this film and its story would be a success. That kind of focus, confidence, and stylish execution put Looper over the top.

82. Trainwreck (2015) - So many raunchy comedies have come along in the last decade, it is often easy to get them all mixed up. Along the way though, a few have emerged as true gems, elevated versions of their peers. Trainwreck is one of those gems. It is led by two pairs of dynamic duos. First is on the onscreen pairing of Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Neither actor would be a traditional casting choice for a big-budget romantic comedy. Of course, that is exactly why it worked so well. They both have impeccable comedic timing, and their chemistry was off the charts. The other dynamic duo was Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer as director and writer. They both are masters at comedy, and managed to bring both the raunchy, and a huge does of heart. These duos helped created a great, and endearing comedy classic.

81. Win Win (2011) - Before Thomas McCarthy was an Academy Award winning screenwriter, he was churning out several great indie comedies. The Station Agent was wonderful, and this little gem in 2011 was one of my favorite indie comedies of the last decade. The film is led by another fantastically funny and fierce performance from Paul Giamatti. Giamatti has an uncanny ability to played flawed, ordinary people, and make them so believable and likeable. Of course its easy to be great when you have a great cast of talented character actors like Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey, and Amy Ryan surrounding you. It also doesn't hurt that McCarthy has crafted a wonderfully funny, heartwarming story, chocked full of fully-fleshed out characters. With Spotlight, the world got to see how a master balances out a perfect ensemble piece. If they wanted less depressing story lines and more humor, they should check out Win Win, and see that McCarthy was churning out great films long before he hit it big.


  1. Glad to finally see someone actually say positive things about The Last Jedi!

  2. It deserved a much better reaction from fans. It's an extremely well-made film.