40. The Shape of Water (2017) - The Shape of Water was an unusual choice for Academy voters a few years ago. It was essentially science fiction/fantasy. It has an inter-species romance, and its main character was a mute. It was an unusual choice on paper, but once voters and audiences saw the film, those doubts were erased. That is because Guillermo Del Toro and his team elevate the premise (as he does with all of his films), and made it a film deemed worthy of the Best Picture of the Year. That is because at its center it is a human story. Don't worry, like all of Del Toro's films, this is a technical masterpiece. By combining historical setting with fantasy elements, we got to see an amazing array of costumes, masterwork camera shots, sets, and visual effects. But at its center are its characters, and their stories and their struggles make The Shape of Water an emotional powerhouse, as well as a visual stunner. Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, and Octavia Spencer all are fantastic in their supporting roles. But it is Sally Hawkins amazing performance that really is the heart and soul of the film. It is a difficult role, and it takes an actor with incredible skill to pull it off. Sally Hawkins didn't just pull it off, she took it and ran away with it, and was simply mesmerizing.
39. The King's Speech (2010) - Boy has The King's Speech taken a beating over the years. I agree that the best film of 2010 was The Social Network (as you will soon see), but I have never understood why film buffs always take their ire out on the other film that won just because their favorite lost. You know the Academy, and you know what they like. Is it really still so shocking that The King's Speech won? The answer should be no. It is right up the Academy's alley. It is a period drama about the Royal Family, and it makes you feel good. It also was a great film, and in all of the crap, it is important to remember that fact. It is well-made by Tom Hooper and his production team. It has an emotional, funny, and well-paced script by David Seidler. What really sets it apart though is its amazing cast. Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush both play their roles with gusto. But it is Colin Firth at its center that is why The King's Speech is such an endearing film. His vulnerability as a king with a disability, and then his ultimate strength because of his friend and wife, is a great journey to watch, and Firth earn a well-earned Academy Award for this triumph of a role.
38. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) - I said in an earlier post that my favorite Wes Anderson movie of the last ten years was Moonrise Kingdom. I think it is his sweetest film to date. Sure it has all of the Wes Anderson trademarks: quirky characters, outlandishly creative production design, a unique and fantastic script, an amazing cast. It it is the cast in particular that really shine, including a nice mix of Andeson favorites, and newcomers as well including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, and Lucas Hedges. But unlike some of the darker humor of films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom is a quietly effective film about first love. It is endearing, heartwarming, hilarious, and incredibly accessible. Anderson sometimes gets a bit too esoteric for me, and I can sometimes have trouble connecting with his films, even if I respect what he is doing. Moonrise Kingdom was a notable exception, and a film I still love to this day.
37. Spotlight (2015) - I really like Tom McCarthy as a director, especially some of his feel good dramedies like The Station Agent and Win Win. This was a big change for the director, tackling a straight historical drama and it paid off. Not only did he become an Oscar winner, but he led the film to a Best Picture Oscar. Spotlight is not a splashy film. It does have a few mesmerizing climatic moments, thanks to the efforts of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, both of whom received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their roles. But other than that, this is an even tempo type film. It doesn't sensationalize. It lets the story unfold, it focuses on the victims and the reports, the stories that deserved to be told. It is led by an amazing ensemble, solid direction, and a pitch-perfect script. It is still odd that this film won Best Picture. Normally, quiet films like this get ignored for flashier efforts. But it is also a great choice for the Academy. It is an excellent film, and it is an important, albeit hard to watch, story that deserved this quality of film and deserved the recognition it got.
36. The Big Sick (2017) - Kumail Nanjiani had been a hardworking, up and coming comedian for a long time before he hit it big in 2017 with The Big Sick. He decided to take his own story, and the story of his wife's illness, and put it up on the screen. It was a magnificent move. First and foremost, Nanjiani is a talented writer, and is funny as hell. The Big Sick is a comedy first, and it shows in both his witty script, and his breakthrough lead performance. But The Big Sick manages to balance the humor, with the heart. Nanjiani manages to take a two-hour comedy movie, and add in a medical emergency with a family struggle, cultural relevance that honors his own heritage and his decision to break from it, and a fabulous ensemble piece with the likes of Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan, and Ray Romano. But at its heart and soul, The Big Sick is so well done because it is so personal. He and his wife Emily Gordon penned their own story, and it is that connection and that personal touch that make The Big Sick the best romantic comedy in ages.
35. Logan (2017) - Unlike Martin Scorsese (who I adore and respect), I am not a superhero movie hater. I do get tired of the same recycled stories, but I have been pleasantly surprised in recent years as studios have started to take risks when it comes to telling these stories. One of the biggest risks, with one of the best rewards, was James Mangold's Logan. It was so impressive that it became the first and only superhero movie in history to receive an Oscar nomination for screenplay. Logan is the antithesis of a superhero movie. Its a violent fugitive thriller, an almost post-apocalyptic western-esque nightmare, and an emotional swan song for two beloved characters. Led by terrific performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, we finally get to see these talented actors fully flesh out these characters that they had been playing for almost two decades. Mangold has incredible command of this film, and it is sharp and pulse pounding. It all leads up to a sad, yet satisfying conclusion that truly gives one of our favorite heroes the proper send off. Note to Marvel and DC: make more films like this.
34. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) - This is a film that over the last year has just continued to grow and grow on me. I loved it the first time I saw it, and have watched it over and over again and it just gets richer with every viewing. Lee Israel is not a lovable character. She is an ornery criminal with the personality of a fire ant. She lied and forged, and never really showed much remorse. So how the hell did a movie about her become such a charming, energetic, funny, and memorable outing? It is because of four incredibly talented individuals. The young, up and coming filmmaker Marianne Heller has an incredible eye, and now apparently is 3/3, with her latest already receiving rave reviews. Nicole Holfcener's script is so sharp, so witty, so perfectly balanced, you can tell why she is one of the best in the game. Finally, the dynamic duo at the film's center are so damn good, you can't take their eyes of them. Richard E. Grant has been fantastic for years, and to see him get such a nice role this late in his career was welcomed. But at the center of this is Melissa McCarthy. She was just jaw-dropping in this role. Unlikable, yet endearing. Funny, yet sad. McCarthy proved that she is one of the finest actresses working today, and has incredible range beyond her comedy roots.
33. Inglourious Basterds (2009) - I don't think, at the time, that the world was really ready for the insane brilliance of Quentin Taratino's Inglourious Basterds. Since then, we have seen two new incantations of his revisionist history films. But in 2009, this was new territory. From that brilliant opening sequence where we are introduced to Christoph Waltz's absolutely jaw-dropping performance as Hans, to the finale where we get to see Hitler get obliterated by a machine gun. Everything about this film is ridiculous. It is loud, brash, historically inaccurate, and way too long. But of course, all of this is what makes it such a miraculous gamble as well, and the gamble paid off. The ensemble, also including Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger and Brad Pitt, are fantastic. The direction is bold and visionary, and the script is the perfect representation of Tarantino's gift as a screenwriter, particularly the dense, yet fascinating dialogue. Inglourious Basterds should not have worked. But because of talent both behind, and in front of the camera, it went from being a ridiculous idea to a brilliant film.
32. Nebraska (2013) - I really am an Alexander Payne junkie. I just love the guys films. They are emotional, funny, and most of all, they are innately human. Nebraska is a quirky, funny, dry comedy with a great black and white aesthetic. It combines all of the best of Alexander Payne's instincts as a director, and a screenwriter, and has an amazing cast to boot, particularly Bruce Dern and June Squibb, who both are just mesmerizing and hilarious on screen. But at its core, Nebraska is so much more than a funny dark comedy. It is a story about fathers and sons, about family, about forgotten dreams, about the struggle that we all face as we watch our parents and grandparents age. Nebraska is funny, but at its heart there is a lot of pain. It is a pain that comes from understanding the truth of the task it takes to simply be human. No director working today understands this better than Alexander Payne, and Nebraska is a perfect example of that humanity and talent.
31. First Man (2018) - First Man won two awards in my end year Awards Psychic Awards. I feel its best to simply reiterate my sentiments from a few months ago. First, my comments on Ryan Gosling, who won Best Actor: "Ryan Gosling got no credit this year for First Man, and I really cannot understand why. Gosling learned so much about Neil Armstrong from his readings and meeting those who knew him. He learned that he was a no-nonsense, technically driven man, whose personal losses caused him to shut down emotionally. It is a lot harder than it looks to maintain that kind of control of a character, and Gosling nailed it. The children of Neil Armstrong praised Gosling and the film saying it was a perfect representation of who their father was. But Gosling's performance was not just accurate, it was a quietly stunning triumph." Finally, my thoughts on the film's Best Visual Effects win: "First Man, the underrated film of 2018, had a lot of practical production design, combined with its brilliant cinematography, that its visual effects might not seem as spectacular or obvious as say Avengers, Mary Poppins, or Ready Player One, all fine work. What I love about the visual effects in First Man is that you don't really know they are there, but their impact is immeasurable. The brilliant space walking scene showcased not only Chazelle's talent as a director, but the talent of these visual effects artists to make us feel the realism as if we were there. The Academy always loves to reward the most, which I understand, but sometimes its the subtlest of contenders that show the true master of the craft."