Sunday, September 29, 2019

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

Now that Emmy season is over, and we have a pause in the fall film festival rush, it is time to continue my celebration of my favorite films from the first decade of The Awards Psychic.

50. Snowpiercer (2013) - With Bong Joon-ho's latest release already having the Palme D'Or in its pocket, it is safe to say that 2019 is going to be a good year for the talented Korean director. But for fans of his, this is not a surprise. In the last decade he has churned out amazing films like Okja, Mother, and his best, Snowpiercer. Snowpiercer is a brutal, post-apocalyptic film that is a thoughtful and timely slow burn. Led by Joon-ho's amazing direction, Snowpiercer never lets up, even though there are plenty of audience members who wished they could get a breather from the intensity. It is also led by an incredible cast of Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, the late, great John Hurt, and a particularly brilliant performance from Tilda Swinton, who continues to surprise and amaze with each new film. Snowpiercer is the science-fiction genre at its best, and is a rare piece in a market flooded by big budget studio franchises. I personally cannot wait to see Parasite to see what this director has next for us.

49. Enough Said (2013) - Nicole Holofcener is a master of human stories, particularly ones with flawed human beings. But with Enough Said, she sanded down some of the edges (luckily not all of them), and created a vibrant, modern day romance for two characters of a certain age. Bringing her edge, wit, and emotion, Julia-Louis Dreyfus took a rare break from her hot television streak to be a well-cast dynamic lead. The late James Gandolfini, known mostly for his tough-guy groundbreaking work as Tony Soprano, also took a interesting career turn in what would turn out to be one of his final roles. While his untimely death is still a sore spot for his many fans (including this one), at least he got to have one last amazing change to charm his cast members and his audience. Enough Said breaks through the trappings of most romantic comedies with elevated performances (also including Toni Collette and Catherine Keener), a sharp, funny, honest, and quietly romantic script, and the eye of one of our best directors who has a knack for making us laugh, and when appropriate, cry. Enough said.

48. Top Five (2014) - Chris Rock had tried his hand at directing several times before he struck gold with Top Five. The basic story is Rock's character is being forced to broadcast his wedding to a television star on her trashy reality show. As he is being interviewed about his career and wedding, he meets a reporter (Rosario Dawson) who takes him on a day filled with twists and turns to get the story. It has a loose narrative, but its effervescent charm and amazing cast keep it held together, and keep the audience laughing along the way. Names like Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Anders Holm, Cedric the Entertainer, Ben Vereen, Tichina Arnold, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharoah, Kevin Hart, and a ton of celebrity cameos pack the list of talent actors that carry this amazing ensemble piece. But the cast didn't do it alone. Rock deserves a lot of credit for his charming lead performance, his loose, yet effective direction, but mostly for his clever, funny, and relevant script. That leadership at the helm helped guide this instant comedy classic to incredible heights.

47. Mud (2012) - Professor Matthew McConaughey (you read that right, I also cannot believe it), will be teaching his first college class soon, and it is reported that one of the films that his students will study is Jeff Nichols' Mud. Some of his other films like Take Shelter and Loving got more awards attention, but my personal favorite has always been Mud. I think it is the perfect film to teach to a group of students who are interested in learning about film. It is the perfect combination of different genres. It is funny at parts, has an almost supernatural element to it, is action-packed, emotionally wrought, and has a wonderful coming of age story at its center. Plus it is an impeccably written, tautly and sympathetically directed film with an amazing ensemble that includes McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, the late great Sam Sheperd, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, and Michael Shannon. Each of these performances, even the smallest, contributes so well to the film. Honestly, Mud is just one of those films that I just instantly connected to, like most of Nichols films. I did mention in an earlier edition of this list that I was a Jeff Nichols junkie. I truly mean it, and I am thrilled to see that the next generation of film lovers is going to learn about just how fantastic this film really is.

46. 50/50 (2011) - Comedies in this last decade have leaned heavy on either the indie quirky or the raunchy. Will Reiser's autobiographical look at his own battle with cancer managed to balance both of those pillars of 21st Century comedy, in an emotionally evocative, incredibly hilarious, and slightly dirty comedy. Led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance, which was a true showcase for an actor that has shown so many different facets on screen, 50/50 is a great ensemble piece. The real surprise here was Seth Rogen. We all know that Rogen is funny, which he definitely was, but I did not realize just how good he could be when asked to show some emotion. He nailed the balance, as did the rest of the cast, which was rounded out by great supporting turns from Anna Kendrick and Angelica Huston. But it is Reiser's amazing script that gives the actors so much to do, and creates this funny and emotional story, and he truly pours his heart on screen and makes us feel as personally connected to his story as he is. I wish we had more comedies like this, and I wish Reiser would put another gem on screen soon.

45. Skyfall (2012) - James Bond films have been a part of our culture for almost half a century, and over the years, there have been so many incantations of this beloved character. In recent years, the franchise had a huge spark from the Sam Mendes directed Skyfall. It has so much more than your average Bond film. First and foremost was Roger Deakin's absolutely jaw-dropping cinematography. His shots gave us some of the best looks a Bond film has ever had. Second, was Javier Bardem. Bringing in that quality of actor gave some depth to a normally one-tone villain. I think that is the best way to describe why Skyfall stood out among so many films: depth. Depth in direction and production value, depth in the villain, depth in Bond himself. We got to see an emotional side to Bond with the death of a beloved character. We got to see his childhood home and learn about his past. It is that depth that elevated a character, a franchise, and a genre from entertaining, to fantastic.

44. Django Unchained (2012) - Quentin Tarantino has spend most of the last decade reinventing history so that the bad guys can get what was coming to them. Look no further than Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Inglourious Basterds. Django Unchained is considered by many to be the lesser of the three, and it is, but that does not mean it is still not a fantastic, classic Tarantino film. It was ultraviolent, funny, wordy, impeccably acted by an amazing cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, and Christoph Waltz. It also had one of the most satisfying endings in recent memory. There is a lot of discussion about the legacy of slavery, the continuing battle of racism, and unfortunately it feels like something that is not going away anytime soon. Tarantino has a lot to say about this, and doesn't do anything subtly. The slave owners get gunned down and blown up, and Django and his love get to ride away in the sunset. If that isn't poetic justice, I don't what is.

43. The Kids are All Right (2010) - A quirky comedy led by a fantastic script, an amazing cast including Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids are All Right took the Oscar season by storm about a decade ago, and was a delightful film to see onscreen. But it was also so much bigger than that. Nine years ago, there was no nationwide legal gay marriage. Most of the depictions of LGBTQ+ individuals were men, and there was definitely not a lot of lesbian sex in film. Lisa Cholodenko and her team didn't care. They crafted a beautiful family dramedy about the hardships of marriage and raising kids, the mistakes we make, the fluidity of sexuality, and about how, no matter who we are, that at the end of the day, we all face the same issues, and have to learn how to rise above them for the people we love. That is why inclusion should not be a vice, because it transcends the niche and can be universal. The Kids are All Right proved that in spectacular fashion.

42. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) - I was so thrilled on Oscar nomination morning when the craft guilds of the Academy came through with several nominations for Blade Runner 2049. I was even more thrilled when it took home two Oscars, including having the distinction of being the film that finally gave Roger Deakins his well overdue Academy Award. But Blade Runner 2049 is more than just a technical masterpiece. It is also an incredibly human story at its heart, with great performances from Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, and is a think-piece science fiction that is impeccably put together by Denis Villeneuve, who is rapidly becoming one of our finest genre directors. Blade Runner was a classic that was underappreciated in its time. It is no surprise that its sequel suffered a similar fate. I think we will look back thirty years from now, and see a cult classic worthy of that status.

41. Steve Jobs (2015) - Steve Jobs is one of those films that for some reason got lost in the rush of Oscar season, and it should not have. There are so many things that are impeccable about this film. The brilliant aesthetic change throughout the film, using cameras from different eras to visually move the story through its three set pieces, was an awesome move that really did make the production design of the film come alive. The brilliant performances from Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are on point, and luckily did earn both actors Oscar nominations. Aaron Sorkin's wicked fast, character driven script kept the film moving at a nice pace, as did Danny Boyle's energetic direction. I know that Steve Jobs is cold character to watch, a lot like last year's Vice in that way. It is hard to root for a protagonist that is, well, an ass. But with such quality performances and production value, it is impossible not to get absorbed in this film.

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