20. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) - I am a huge Star Wars buff, and cannot wait to see The Rise of Skywalker on opening night in a few weeks. I am also a disappointed Star Wars fan. Not in the movies themselves, but in the fandom. I get why people didn't like The Last Jedi (many fans felt the same way about The Empire Strikes Back thirty years ago, and how did that work out for them?), but the hatred that went from I don't like the movie to the exposition of the racist and sexist underbelly of the fandom was horrifying. It almost made me ashamed to say that I am a Star Wars fan, because I do not ever want to be associated with those people. Unlike some folks, I think that this trilogy has been a brilliant reboot of a beloved franchise, and the finale looks to be a stunner. The Force Awakens, in my opinion, will go down as one of the best of the series. The film not only rebooted a classic, and did so much better than the dreaded prequels, but it so brilliantly blended classic Star Wars with new elements and new characters. It is also a stunningly crafted, emotionally resonant, well-acted, funny, fun, and pulse-pounding film. It is everything that you want from a Star Wars film, and more, and it is one of the best film experiences I have had in a movie theater over the last decade.
19. Hell or High Water (2016) - There is something about Taylor Sheridan's screenplays that I immediately attach to, and I don't really know why. Sicario, Wind River, and Hell or High Water, were a trio of modern westerns, about outlaws and the men and women trying to stop them. They are about corruption, violence, pain, humanity, and grief. They are about honest, hardworking, and flawed people often caught up in the horrors of the world. Something about their stories, I am assuming its the sad honesty of them, kept me intrigued. Hell or High Water is the best of them, and its honesty, and the way it connected with film goers, kept its momentum up, as it went from early year surprise to Oscar Best Picture nominee. Sheridan deserves a lot of credit, but he is not the only piece in this successful puzzle. David McKenzie's underappreciated directing effort was fantastic. The technical elements, particularly the cinematography and the editing, kept the storytelling and the vision sharp. But probably the most important component, beyond the script, was the cast. Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and a cast of talented character actors built a wealth of interesting characters that populate this film, providing unexpected moments, ensemble depth, and often laughter in the face of horrific events. But Jeff Bridges stands above the rest of them. In this late career resurgence, which netted him three Oscar nominations in seven years, and a win, Bridge has proved that he is beloved veteran and an impeccable talent, and Hell or High Water, is but one of the many examples of just that.
18. Moneyball (2011) - I am not the biggest baseball fan in the world, but I absolutely adored Moneyball. It is the true story of Billy Beane's crazy experiment to build a winning baseball team. This was a hugely different tone for Bennett Miller, whose two other films, Capote and Foxcatcher, are much darker. Miller here takes a lighter tone. It's not a full-on comedy, but it definitely is a fast-paced drama with a lot of wit. Miller does great work here, albeit more subtle than his other two films (probably why it is the only film of the three for which he did not get an Oscar nod, even though it might be the best). Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin worked together to create a pitch-perfect screenplay. Sorkin provided the zippy one-liners and the quick witted dialogue between characters, and Zaillian comes through and smooths out spikes with narrative heft. It is a remarkable screenplay by two of the modern masters. The cast is fantastic as well, and perfectly captures the manic and the emotional. Supporting players like Philip Seymour Hoffman and particularly Jonah Hill do a great job, but this movie belongs to Brad Pitt. In the age where franchise names mean more that movie stars, folks like Pitt continue to surprise. He is a genuine movie star, he is infectious, lovable, and easily watchable on screen. But Pitt is not just a pretty face, and that's what makes him a even bigger rarity in today's time. He is also an incredible actor, and gives just a magnetic performance, making Moneyball soar.
17. Call Me By Your Name (2017) - Andre Aciman's quietly romantic and devastating novel became a breathtaking film experience. Luca Guadagnino's films are usually not so subtle (just watch his Suspiria remake), but with Call Me By Your Name, he finds a soft touch and creates a quiet film. There is not a lot of dialogue between the two main characters, it is mostly looks, movements, highlighted by the breathtaking Italian countryside. But, in this case, you don't need constant dialogue. The amazing script by the legendary James Ivory, who finally won an Oscar for it, and the tender direction by Luca Guadagnino allow the story to unfold at a perfect pace, and allow their actors room to make these characters their own. And boy, did they. Timothee Chalamet gets most of the credit, understandably, in a kind of breakout role that earned him his first, of what I assume will be many, Oscar nominations. Somehow, and I'm still not sure, by the time the final awards had rolled around, Armie Hammer had gotten lost in the awards shuffle. He was just as integral to the success of this story as Chalamet, and his emotionally wrought performance was definitely worthy. Luckily, the rest of the film managed to do relatively well with awards voters, because it was certainly worthy as well.
16. Up in the Air (2009) - Jason Reitman has been criticized for making films that are too cynical. Unfortunately, in many cases those films are also honest, which deserves respect whether we want to hear it or not. Not all of his cyncism has worked, the dreadful Men, Women, and Children, was like a right-wing horror show, and some of his other films have made too much light of too dark of subjects, and have come off as glib. But Up in the Air found a perfect mechanism for cynicism that almost everyone can get behind: corporate greed. It is the story of a shallow man who works for a company that literally is hired by other companies to fire people. He is so shallow that he cannot have meaningful relationships with his family, has no friends, and is more concerned about reaching his airline miles goal than having an actual life. Then two women come into his life that have the potential to change how he sees things. I'm not entirely sure why, but Up in the Air is just one of those films that has stuck with me, and has elicited many viewings over the last decade. Maybe its the dazzling performances of George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga. Maybe its the witty, yet dark script. Maybe its the subject matter that hits home. But whatever it is, this is a movie that I connected with, and continue to think its a masterclass film.
15. Inception (2010) - Christopher Nolan has tackled historical dramas, he has tackled psychological thrillers, and he was even brave enough to tackle Batman. But Inception might be his most ambitious, most unique, and most fascinating film project to date, which is saying something considering his marvelous career so far. Inception is a mind-bending genre epic, utilizing futuristic technology, impeccable visual treats, and a star studded cast to warn us, enthrall us, and entertain us. Only someone has masterful as Christopher Nolan could craft such a visual spectacular, and at the same time, keep the story grounded in humanity. As the last scene rolls around, we are left with a devastating cliffhanger that infuriated many of his fans. Those moviegoers that were expecting this action epic to end with a cut and dry ending, clearly have never truly paid attention to Nolan's work. The reason that it was so infuriating is because after all of the thrills and the chaos, we want to know if Cobb (a well-done character thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio), has actually found his way back to his family, or if the final scene is just another layer to the dream puzzle that is the center of the film's narrative arc. Nolan doesn't let you know, he lets you to think for yourself (a novel concept these days). In the end, I think Nolan's point is that as long as he is with the people he loves, the reality doesn't matter. Now that is something you don't see enough in big blockbuster movies, and something we definitely need to see more of in the future.
14. Roma (2018) - I will be the first to admit that I did not love Roma. I have seen it several times, and even though I really don't want to watch it again, I will probably revisit it once the Criterion Collection releases it, with all of the special features in tow. So why, you may ask, is it so high on my list? Because, I love film, and I respect those that are masters of film, and Alfonso Cuaron is one of those masters. Roma is not a film that is built to love. It is a film that is built to make us think, to push film and its narratives in a different direction, to celebrate the unappreciated, and it wholly achieves all of those goals. It is a deeply personal film that showcases Cuaron's memories of his home, his family, and in particular, this domestic worker whom he and his siblings become attached. The film has a few punctuations of climatic moments, but mostly is a slow and serene narrative weaving its path through the ins and outs of a normal family in Mexico City. As many of us know, it is the small moments that we most remember, not always the big ones, and Cuaron has managed to capture those small moments to take a snapshot of a transformative time in his life. A snapshot indeed. Not only did he recall his childhood, he rebuilt it. The other reason that Roma is so well respected is because it is such a technical wonder, with almost completely reconstructed sets to match his memory of these places, with poignant black and white cinematography, and with crisp and surprising effective sound work. No I don't think I love Roma, but I do watch it in amazement, and think just how lucky we are to having it in our growing film canon.
13. Dunkirk (2017) - Nolan appears again on this list, and almost everything I said in the entry above remains true. Once again, this time tackling the amazing true story of the Dunkirk rescue, Nolan managed to make a visual stunner of a film, with emotional resonance as well. Dunkirk is a surprisingly quiet film, especially for a war film. Of course, in general, Dunkirk was a quiet operation. There were not much action involved. Instead it was a tense waiting game, where the end result could have been life or death. Nolan handles this brilliantly, capturing that quiet intensity with precision. His character's don't speak much, and yet you know exactly how they are feeling, you can sense the dread and the heartache on their faces. He also lets his camera gaze wide, creating breathtaking shots of the scenery and the majesty of a beautiful beach side. Those two butting themes, the small characterizations and the epic impacts, simply put Dunkirk in another level of storytelling and visual mastery. Nolan continues to evolve and grow as a filmmaker, trying different genres and themes and stories. And each and every time, he gives us something wholly familiar yet wholly new. His next film Tenet sounds like a combination of James Bond, Inception, and The Tree of Life. If Dunkirk, Inception, and so many other films in his fantastic canon serve as models of what is to come, we are all in for a serious treat.
12. Before Midnight (2013) - Once a decade for the last two, we have gotten a chance to be introduced and then reintroduced to the characters of Jesse and Celine. Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy have created one of the most endearing couples in screen history. Twenty years after their first meeting, we see Jesse and Celine older, wiser, dealing with growing children, mistakes, regrets, two decades of built up hostility and frustrations. We see these ups and downs play out in quiet moments, soft glances, and a few punctuated moments of love, anger, rage, and heartbreak. Definitely the most emotional of the three films, Before Midnight is also the most complete of the series. Delpy and Hawke had grown comfortable with their characters, in full control of the magic that made their journeys so intriguing on screen. Linklater is in full command of the script and the story, and once again allows minimalism to take form so that his actors can compose their character's canvases. Before Midnight is the perfect conclusion (maybe?) to an amazing film journey, an incredibly crafted story, and a truly magical, haunting, and honest love story for the ages.
11. The Favourite (2018) - I respected The Lobster, but didn't love it, and I hated The Killing of the Sacred Deer. Dogtooth was, well interesting. So while I respect Yorgos Lanthimos, there had yet to be a film of his that I just loved. That was until I saw The Favourite. It just had everything going for it. It was a beautifully constructed film, with jaw-dropping sets, costumes, makeup work, and cinematography, a gorgeous period piece to say the least. But this is no ordinary period piece, this is a dark and wicked comedy about two women grappling to gain the favor of Queen Anne. Their antics are ridiculous, horrible, and hilarious. That is because of a witty script, quirky and well edited direction by Lanthimos, and one of the best ensembles assembled in the last couple of years. At the center are the three magnificent women whose onscreen dominance is fantastic. Emma Stone returned to her comedy roots and Rachel Weisz came out of her shell to create the dynamic duo vying for the top spot. Their spats, glares, and humorous exchanges drive the humor and the plot. But all compare the queen Olivia Colman. Colman has been fantastic for years, and finally gets the role of a lifetime playing the sickly, easily manipulated, and sad Queen Anne. She is wickedly funny, commanding, towering, and at times quietly emotional and heart broken. It was a once-in-a-lifetime type of performance, and it not only won Colman an Oscar, but it cemented her as one of our generation's best.