(Alfonso Cuarón, 2018, Mexico / USA)
Thank you, Netflix, for financing this cool, austere art film. And damn you for ensuring that I’ll never see the loveliest black-and-white cinematography of the 2010s on the big screen. The aesthetic isn’t just about beauty, either: it’s about distancing us from the film in time, locking us out of its world as a necessarily artificial re-enactment. And it’s also about using the unbearably sharp precision of black-and-white to make that artificial world seem as detailed and tangible as if young Cuarón had just left it yesterday. If it’s a little chilly and impersonal, I persist in thinking it’s respectfully so: the filmmaker can recreate his memories, but he cannot live inside of them; he can only observe solemnly, and share that feeling with us.
59. Inside Out
(Peter Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, 2015, USA)
The one unassailable masterpiece of Pixar’s decade in the wilderness. The boundlessly inventive world-building is everything I want from this studio, in this case wisely and effectively bounded by serving as a metaphor for cognitive models – it’s not brain science, but it’ll do a good job of teaching children how their mind works. And speaking of teaching children, how incredible is it to have a colorful, dazzling adventure-comedy whose message to its young audience is that being very sad is sometimes healthy and okay, and you don’t owe it to anybody to pretend to feel good when you don’t. Riley’s catharsis is vintage Pixar tearjerking (especially, for me, since I was about to move to a brand new city the first time I saw it).
58. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
(Chad Stahelski, 2019, USA)
Whereas Chapter 2 (#75 on this list) reinvents, Chapter 3 merely refines and perfects. And I think I mean “perfect” literally. The trashy operatics that have become this franchise’s signature are intensified to the point of delirium: the film starts at full speed and only gets faster as it invents new and ever more ludicrous cartoon scenarios in which to place Keanu Reeves. Some of the most lavish sets I have ever seen in an action movie are laid out with a connoisseur’s eye towards making sure there’s plenty that reflects, plenty that smashes, and plenty that will contrast beautifully with blood splatters. And all of it played so straight that even the dopiest fight scenes (dogs taking crotch shots!) can be enjoyed without a whisper of irony.
57. The Loneliest Planet
(Julia Loktev, 2011, USA / Germany)
If a film gains much of its power from the grandeur of the untamed outdoors and the smallness of people against it, is it still possible to call it a chamber drama? Because that’s pretty much what we have here, an outsider’s look at the two parts of a romantic couple behaving on either side of a single devastating moment. We never get to know these characters, but then the whole point is that “knowing” somebody else is a very hard thing to do, maybe even impossible, and all we can really tell about even our closest loved ones is what they do in the world. Excitingly difficult, and Loktev’s subsequent disappearance from filmmaking is one of my biggest disappointments of the decade’s cinema
56. 24 Frames
AKA ۲۴ فریم
(Abbas Kiarostami, 2017, Iran / France)
The posthumous final feature of one of cinema’s incontestable masters, concerned to its deepest core with one of his great preoccupations: what does it mean for a filmmaker to create an image, and what does it mean for an audience to watch that image? Kiarostami, at the last, doesn’t offer even the hint of an answer, but merely the most forceful possible restatement of the question. In this mathematically exact experimental film, we are exposed to 24 beautiful long takes, some of them photographic and some obviously faked in a computer, and encouraged to do something with them. It is a profoundly generous offer to reflect on our own vision and meaning-making processes from a profoundly generous artist. It’s always gorgeous, often very funny, and limitless.
55. Cloud Atlas
(Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer, 2012, Germany / USA)
More of a “favorite” than a “best”: I cherish this movie. I don’t know what that says about me, nor do I care. What I do care about is that this movie is the pinnacle of the “glorious mess” mode of filmmaking that has become especially beloved to me over the last ten years, as so much filmmaking has been buffed and sandblasted and stripped of any personality other than the efficient hollowness of a corporate product. Well, Cloud Atlas has personality by the bucketful: it is never less than wholly committed to its kaliedoscopic vision of what humanity and cinema can both be, creating a collage of some of the most truly original images I saw all decade. An uncompromising work of ecstatic inspiration.
(Kirsten Johnson, 2016, USA)
A beautiful act of recycling, in which the cinematographer of several activist documentaries digs through her piles of unused footage to create one of the most idiosyncratic cinematic memoirs ever made. Simply by existing, Cameraperson poses insoluble but compelling questions about how we know what film images “mean”: if Johnson removes shots from their intended context, does their documentary function come with them? Or have they now acquired a new meaning, in which Johnson’s emotional subjectivity overrides the journalistic value of the recordings? Has she created some new third meaning combining the others? Chewing on all of that is one of Cameraperson‘s foremost pleasures, but so is experiencing the vicarious joy of a professional doing what she does and doing it well. Criminally underseen.
53. The Favourite
(Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018, Ireland / UK / USA)
A gloriously caustic story of the filthiness of politics and royal intrigue, wrapped around an unexpectedly moving look at the way we abuse and manipulate the ones we love most, all to make ourselves feel just a little bit better about our own nasty lives. Shot with a controversial abundance of fish-eye lenses that makes the whole thing look off-kilter; for myself, I love the way that it makes the world that much more inhumane, as well as adding to the tart modernism that makes this the most biting and sarcastic of costume dramas. Less overtly grotesque than Lanthimos’s other films, but the fact that it ends up being more watchable than anything else he’s made is part of what makes it so delightfully perverse.
(Bong Joon-ho, 2019, South Korea)
Perhaps Bong’s most mature film, this sacrifices none of his loves – weird comedy, genre creeping in where genre doesn’t belong, class-conscious politics – but does reign them in a bit to make something respectable enough to win Palmes d’Ors and Oscars, but still frantic enough to remind us of the wild caricature that has made him one of the 21st Century’s most bracing directors. It brilliantly contrasts two phenomenal sets and their respective blocking to subtle tease out the differences between the resentful poor and idiot rich, before literally plunging us into the depths of human meanness to tell a tale of how everybody, given the chance, will fuck over everyone else, and does it with considerable good humor to help the cynicism go down smoothly.
51. Personal Shopper
(Olivier Assayas, 2016, France / Germany)
An art film, a ghost story, a celebration of high fashion, and the movie that should have finally silenced any and all doubts that Kristen Stewart is more than capable of being a great actor when she’s got the right part and the right director. The way the film rifles through genres is part of the puckish joy of being an Assayas film (his best in quite a long time), but it’s also tied the film’s secret theme, teased out slowly across the running time before it quietly erupts in the final scene, about feeling lost and lonely and looking to find some way to distract oneself from the inevitability of death. Plus, that text message bit is the best thriller sequence of the decade.