Sunday, August 4, 2019

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

70. Mary Poppins Returns (2018) - I am not a film critic, I am an amateur blogger. But I respect film critics, love their writing, and love their passion for something that I too feel so strongly about. But sometimes, film critics can be a cynical bunch. Sometimes they forget that one of the most important aspects of film is joy. While we all love the darker films, the ones that tell stories of our world, tackle challenging subjects, etc., we also like to go to the movies to escape. Mary Poppins Returns is one of those movies that lets you escape. It is pure joy start to finish. No, it will never be fondly remembered by most film critics, and even some cynical audiences immediately dismissed it as Disney fluff. They are wrong. Rob Marshall and his team knew that they were tackling a film classic, and they worked overtime to ensure that the spirit, feel, and joy of the original were felt throughout. It felt like a beautiful homage to a bygone period. Emily Blunt, absolutely perfect in her role as Mary Poppins, never tried to be Julie Andrews. She was always Emily Blunt's version, but we still felt the same way about Mary now as we did back then. Also Julie Andrews gave her her blessing. Let's just say this. There have been very few times that I have left a theater filled with so much joy that it lingered for days. Mary Poppins Returns was one of those films, and while the rest of the world may not appreciate it, I believe that should be recognized.

69. The Descendants (2011) - Alexander Payne is one of the modern masters of comedy, by truly finding humor in dark situations. I love his other films, but for me The Descendants was somewhat of a departure for Payne. Of course there were plenty of his hallmarks. There was a brilliant script, adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings wonderful novel. It was filled with humor and beautifully constructed characters. There was a pitch-perfect cast, led by a fantastically emotional role from George Clooney, and a breakthrough performance from Shailene Woodley. But The Descendants was not as cynical as some of Payne's other work. It was the first of his films that really had a heart at its center.  For all the humor, and the smart comments, The Descendants is about loss, grief, family, heritage. It is a story about a father trying to pick up the pieces of his wife's death, trying to help his daughters with the loss of their mother, and trying to help his family decide the best for their history and their ancestors. That warmth, love, and emotion, brought a new level to Payne's filmmaking, and proved that he is one of the best at connecting audiences to truly incredible human stories.

68. Nightcrawler (2014) - There's a statistic that they state in Nightcrawler about the amount of crime reporting in local news. I cannot at this moment remember the exact number, but it is exorbitantly high. Local news stations have figured out that reporting on crimes brings in big numbers, and money to their stations. That is the premise of Dan Gilroy's stunning directorial debut Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllehaal gives an impeccably screwed up performance as a cameraman who decides upon himself to help create crime news. It is a brilliantly disturbing performance, and it is bolstered by two great supporting turns from Riz Ahmed and Rene Russo. It is Gilroy's darkly honest script, which earned him an Oscar nod, that really buoys this film. It seems ridiculous, but in our world of cutthroat journalism and ratings obsessed television, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to think that an underpaid, eager employee would go above and beyond to do his part for the ratings. That is what made Nightcrawler so resonant, and so haunting. It could happen. With pulse pounding suspense and solid direction, that fear is realized beautifully onscreen.

67. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - At three hours long, and with a whopping 569 f-words said on screen during that time, The Wolf of Wall Street is something that tests an audience ability to finish a story. Luckily, Martin Scorsese's always incredible direction, a wicked-smart script from Terence Winter, and an amazing cast, take this three hours and make it a hilarious, drug-fueled trip through white collar crime. Whatever people think of The Wolf of Wall Street, it is entertaining as hell. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill embrace the zany, and honestly, with most of his films being so dark, it was nice to see DiCaprio let loose a little. But Scorsese was never going to make just a regular raunchy comedy. There is a lot of darkness at the core of this film. It is brutal look at a world that with one comment, one deal, one handshake, can wreck so many people. It is an honest film in a way that is almost too honest. It shows us this incredible world that Jordan Belfort lived and worked in, its warts and all. Even the most unbelievable parts of the film ring true, because you know that the unbelievable will eventually turn into the disappointing believable. It was Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in top form, and the final product was one hell of a ride.

66. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - I actually preferred Moonrise Kingdom better (which you will find out), but I completely understand why The Grand Budapest Hotel was such a favorite among Academy voters. It is trademark Wes Anderson. It is quirky to a fault, chocked full of incredibly fun characters played by his rotating favorite cast members, and it has a wild, zany adventurous story that takes it characters to incredibly fun conclusions. But what sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart was the incredible production value, and its Oscar wins for Costume Design, Makeup, Score, and Production Design are proof. It takes Wes Anderson's quirky sensibility and it puts it on a grand scale. That scale makes Grand Budapest Hotel not only experience for the funny bone, but for the eyes and ears too. It was a quirky comedy hidden in a great cinematic achievement, and it worked.

65. A Most Violent Year (2014) - With Margin Call, All is Lost, and this film, J.C. Chandor has built an eclectic and incredibly deep filmography, with such a bright future ahead. I think his best film yet is A Most Violent Year. Most folks going into this film thought they were going to see constant violence, like a classic gangster film. Instead, Chandor slowly builds with pointed pops of violence that contribute to the story line. Amazing performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, particularly Chastain, elevate, give heart, and provide amazing tension throughout. At its heart, it is a story of family, of a man trying to make it in a world that was not designed for that, and it is that struggle, which yes, sometimes involves violence, that makes this crime thriller a unique and impeccable film experience.

64. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) - This is a film that has grown on me the last six months. I think the first time I saw it, I respected what Barry Jenkins and his team were able to accomplish. But it took two more viewings for me to really love and become encompassed by this beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing film. If Beale Street Could Talk is a small story about a family trying to prove the innocence of one of their own. But, while set many years ago, the intensity, the haunting nature, the vivacity of the story make it feel like, unfortunately, this is a story that could still happen today. Jenkins deserves a lot of credit for his script and his direction, as does the amazing cast, particularly the impeccable Regina King, who rightfully earned an Oscar for her jaw-dropping performance. But at its core, this film is a success because of James Baldwin. His beautiful work translated to the screen with ease, and still resonates four decades later.

63. The Tree of Life (2011) - I'll admit, I am huge fan of early Malick. Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line were all incredible. I have struggled with his work since 2000, mostly because the majority of them have been outright bad (talking to you Knight of Cups and To the Wonder). There is one major exception (actually apparently there is now a second as A Hidden Life did well at Cannes) and that is The Tree of Life. I am not as high on this film as most film buffs, critics, and bloggers are, most of whom would rank this somewhere in their top ten. I actually put this higher after the Criterion release of the film, because I think that the longer cut actually added in some much needed connection, and made the Sean Penn part of the film (the one part I really didn't like) a lot better. So after all of that, you have to wonder, do I actually like this film? The answer is a resounding yes. It is a visionary tale beautifully wrought by Malick and Lubezki, and it has soaring cinematography shots that are breathtaking. I also love the little story at the heart of the film, about the family life of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain's characters. It is an honest and well-acted story of love, loss, and the pains of growing up. It is that human connection in the story that keeps it afloat, and makes it worth the watch.

62. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) - Benh Zeitlin is about to release his follow-up film Wendy, and it is high on my list of must-sees. That is because his micro-budget indie Beasts of the Southern Wild came out of nowhere in 2012, and took the Oscar race and the film world by storm. With no professional actors (Quvenzhane Wallis has done well in her young career since, but at the time was an unknown), an unknown director, and an incredibly small budget, Zeitlin created a slightly post-apocalyptic world where a young girl must deal with family, crisis, and find her inner strength. The unknown, non-actor cast did a fantastic job, and Wallis became the youngest nominee ever for Best Actress. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a soaring tale of a young girl finding her way, and finding her purpose in the world. It is beautifully created, impeccable executed, and is a film with a gigantic heart. Seriously, fingers crossed for Wendy.

61. District 9 (2009) - Released the same year as the mammoth Avatar, this science-fiction film will never be quite remembered as well, but it did manage to breakthrough its genre trappings, and find room next to the juggernaut in a crowded Best Picture race. Backed by Peter Jackson, with director Neil Blomkamp, who made his feature length debut, District 9 is a brilliant executed, documentary style science-fiction film, that serves as a greater metaphor for the treatment of those different than us, particularly pulling imagery from South African apartheid (which is not surprising considering that Blomkamp is South African). Combining a story of the bad guy who ends up turning on the government to helped the oppressed, with a unique vision, pulse-pounding action, and impeccably thrilling tension, District 9 is an incredibly entry into the science fiction canon, and rightfully deserves a spot on this list.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see I am not the only one who preferred Moonrise Kingdom over Grand Budapest Hotel. Both movies are amazing though.