Ten years. One tenth of a century. The average life expectancy of a rabbit. Well, it’s all over. The decade is over. That rabbit is dead.
Yes, the 2010s are in the rear view mirror, and as such, every jackass who’s ever listened to music, watched TV, or paid way too much for movie theater popcorn must ponder one important question: Do I act like a healthy, balanced, otherwise dignified human being who spends his free time with friends and loved ones? Or do I hunker down in my house like a pit-stained hermit and create a “Best of” list that four, possibly five, people will partially read on the toilet?
Don’t answer that. It matters not. I’ve already done the work.
Yes, the time has come to recap the decade of film that was. The great, the even better, and even a tad of the truly awful. Before we dive in, however, some ground rules to preface this entire affair:
- Rule 1: Be flexible. Yes, some of the films in one category may actually fit in another category or two. If the choice I’ve made regarding genre categorization damages your delicate sensibilities, I don’t know what to tell you. I care more about the bowel movements of my neighbor’s pit bull rescue than I do about your hurt feelings in this regard.
- Rule 2: Make up your own mind. All film reviews are subjective. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. We live in a world of opinions. So, don’t take it too personally. I’m an wildly intelligent and modest film mind, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with every word I type. I promise you this: you won’t.
So, with that out of the way, I give you the Stink Whispers “Decade in Film.”
Best of Drama
A Star Is Born (2018): A remake of a remake of a remake, “A Star is Born” is an unfathomably well-told story of stardom, redemption, personal weakness, and love. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are otherworldly good in their lead roles, and Sam Elliott is just as good in his caretaker supporting role. Never before has addiction been seemed so real and insurmountable on the bigs screen. The music was hit or miss, but the feeling you leave the theater with is not. A brilliant film-making enterprise that sticks with you long after the final credits roll.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017): Francis McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson all deserved Oscars for their roles in the story of a gruff, heart-broken mother seeking justice for her violated and murdered daughter. It’s an uncomfortable stew of awkward humor, soured humanity, and moments of discovering whatever slices of peace wherever you can find it. It’s also the rare film where the characters are never quite as evil or angelic as you think. In a decade filled with films that have either great story OR great performances, this is the perfect blend of both.
Beginners (2010): Featuring a killer performance from Christopher Plummer, and near-perfect chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent, this film tells the story of a man reflecting on the life and death of his father, a newly open gay man coming to terms with happiness in his final years. If you don’t enjoy stories told in flashbacks, with a little voice over mixed in, you may want to look elsewhere. Both storytelling tools are put to good effect here, though, and the result is a touching, very real, and perfectly acted film that not nearly enough people know about.
Boy Erased (2018): Equally disturbing and empowering true story of a young man reluctantly enduring a gay conversion therapy program at the behest of his loving, but blinded, parents. It breaks your heart, then builds it back up. Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Joel Edgerton are all stellar, and the latter knocks it out of the park from the director’s chair. That Nicole Kidman didn’t receive more praise for her measured, loving role is one of the decade’s biggest disappointments. This is a difficult, but necessary, story to soak in.
Peanut Butter Falcon (2019): A touching Tom Sawyer-ish story of two mismatched on the run from complex, empty pasts towards wild dreams. Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen make great pairing, with Gottsagen being a revelation. The ending and a romantic subplot both felt a little rushed, but the lead-up was funny and heart-warming in big bunches. All this to say, if you don’t come out of this one feeling great, there is something wrong with you. That’s a real problem that may require some serious introspection and a little bit of therapy. It’s your call, though.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- La La Land (2016): I hate musicals, but this is a film from another time, with the tone and lead chemistry of films decades its junior. Memorable in so many ways.
- The Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin dialogue, stellar performance from Jesse Eisenberg, and perfect direction from David Fincher. Enough said.
- Spotlight (2015): You know the story (priests, pedophilia, cover ups). It’s not a feel-good film, but it is an incredibly gripping portrait of journalism done right.
- Steve Jobs (2015): More Sorkin writing, mixed with wonderful performances, tell the story of Steve Jobs in three unique and powerful chapters.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): A young adult drama (of which I am not) about a teenager dealing with emerging from his shell, while wrestling with a buried trauma. Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman are heart-breakingly good.
Best of Action
John Wick (2014): Without a doubt, the most entertaining movie-going experiences of the decade. It’s a revenge story at its core (man mourns late wife, gets puppy, loses puppy at the hands of gangsters, goes on a killing spree), but the action is implemented in ways not experienced before. Keanu Reeves shoots, stabs, and just plain murderizes like a ballerina on the biggest stage. The sequels that followed stepped the action up a bit (at least in terms of production value and creativity), but lacked the originality of the first. They can keep making ’em, and I’ll keep paying to see ’em, but this is the standard bearer.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): Max is back at his whiz-bang best as a post-apocalyptic hero/anti-hero fending off a world of dudes wearing weird masks and covering themselves in talcum powder. This time, he’s hitching a ride with “The Brides,” a group of enslaved beauties on the run from a warlord using them for their wombs. Men are the worst! The most visually stunning action film of the decade, it’s a heart-pounding journey from start to finish. Theron is the only true casting gem (although Hardy and Hoult carry their own weight just fine), but this one is about the eye-candy and frenetic pacing.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): Like its predecessors on this list, “Kingsman” was like nothing I’d ever seen prior. Only this time, it was action that was soaked in a heavy dose of humor and colorful fun. The story of a street-rat-turned-secret-agent, this one makes use of dazzling visuals, extreme violence that doesn’t seem all that extreme, and perfect casting in Firth, Egerton, and Strong. There’s a choreography to the action, and it is unrelentingly entertaining. Disappointing sequel aside, there is wonderful potential in this franchise from which 007 could take some cues.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018): I’ll argue to my death that the Marvel films are mostly lazily crafted excuses to sell Iron Man pajamas and giant spongy Hulk Hands, but damn if this penultimate Avengers flick wasn’t at least action-packed and edge-of-your-seat fun. The Russo Brothers packed in dozens of heroes and villains and endless CGI-filled battle sequences in its 2.5 hour run time. After sitting through every Marvel travesty before it, even the most jaded of moviegoers (ahem, guilty) will find themselves applauding this one. Just don’t do it in the theater like those psychos who clap at the screen.
The Equalizer (2014): Denzel is the coolest dude in the history of film. So, it stands to reason that casting him as the Equalizer would result in an action film with smarts, sophistication, and savvy. Okay, I only included “savvy” for alliteration’s sake, but cut me so me slack. Anyway, Denzel takes on the Russian sex traffickers that messed with his teenage prostitute friend (Chloë Grace Moretz), and to nobody’s surprise, dispatches of them with efficiency, smarts, and dare I say, savvy. Staging the final battle in a Home Depot knock-off was a little forced, but the lead up is worth every second.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- Dredd (2012): “Holy shit!” amounts of gratuitous violence in this dark, gritty comic tale. Nobody saw this one — and the plot isn’t exactly Shakespeare — but it is frenetic, bloody fun.
- Olympus Has Fallen (2013): The best of the countless “Hey, the President is in trouble!” films of the past decade, with nearly as many crazy shoot-em-up scenes as “John Wick” and “Dredd.”
- Knight and Day (2012): Listen, I get that it is a Rom Com in action film clothing, but you might be surprised just how many bullets fly and asses get kicked.
- Predators (2010): A futuristic rip-off of it’s perfect predecessor, yes, but also beautifully shot, action packed, and filled with fun characters.
- Skyfall (2012): While not as fun or creative as the Bonds of my childhood, Daniel Craig’s 007 packs in the action. This one may be the best of his bunch.
Best of Horror
Evil Dead (2013): A reboot of the already brilliant “Evil Dead” franchise, this one is far less playful than the Bruce Campbell predecessors, but refuses to take a back seat in terms of over-the-top gore and craziness. Jane Levy takes the lead here, and plays the demonically possessed Mia with equal parts fear and joyful insanity. Lou Taylor Pucci is also stellar, as the friend who idiotically welcomes the curse, then takes a beating for the rest of the film. There’s more blood and crazed violence than many will want to stomach, but if you’re not offended by such effects, this is killer fun.
A Quiet Place (2018): This unique horror flick tells the story of a family surviving in a post-apocalyptic world where making noise—any noise—can mean death and dismemberment at the hand (or claw thingies) of extra-terrestrial baddies. Emily Blunt and Jon Krasinski are wonderful as parents quietly attempting to safeguard their family from the monsters. The film blankets you with deafening quiet for the majority of the film, and the thrills and jump scares are all the better for it. I was disappointed to hear they’re making a sequel, as I can’t see this one staying fresh a second time around.
Don’t Breathe (2014): Fede Álvarez followed up his brilliant “Evil Dead” remake with this imaginative take on horror. Post-recession Detroit is the perfect backdrop for this tale of a home break-in gone horrifically wrong. Three troublesome teens are trapped by a maniacal blind veteran who has plans that involve a turkey baster, creative family planning, and more than a few ways to kill intruders. Stephen Lang is perfectly cast as the man dead set on protecting his property. The scares are mostly the jump-scare variety, but don’t be fooled. This film will make you feel as out-of-sorts as any horror flick you see.
Let Me In (2010): A remake of the Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In,” this story about a bullied boy who finds a friend in a young vampire is dark, violent, and unlike anything in the genre (aside from its above-mentioned predecessor). Richard Jenkins has a quiet, but creepily meaty, role as the vampire’s guardian, and the attack scenes are fast, unrelenting, and violent. The pool scene alone is worth the price of admission, but there is a good story here that makes a few slower moments feel well worth the wait. Bullies beware.
It (2017): We waited a long time for a quality remake of the lame “It” mini-series from back in the day. In 2017, we got it. There are scares and creepy moments, but this is as much a character-driven drama as anything. The entire pre-teen cast is absolutely brilliant and Bill Skarsgård makes the perfect Pennywise. Great special effects, well-delivered moments of humor, and a crazy-ass clown are what you get from start to finish, and you enter the end credits wanting more. Unfortunately, “It: Chapter 2” was a bit of a let-down, but even that can’t take away from the unwavering fun found here.
Best of the Rest
- Cabin in the Woods (2012): Innovative and funny approach to horror and storytelling, with humor playing off the scares cleverly.
- Us (2019): Jordan Peele’s wonderful sophomore release is slightly more unique and creepy than the very solid “Get Out,” but a hair more fun.
- It Follows (2014): Low-budget, but very creepy, tale of a supernatural killer that is constantly walking towards you, but can be passed off to another by doing the nasty.
- V/H/S (2012): Shaky-camera anthology series that may surprise skeptics with it’s fun and creative scares. “Amateur Night” is the best of the bunch.
- The Crazies (2010): Violent, fast-paced story of a small group of townspeople attempting to escape a quarantined rural town filled with their infected, rage-filled neighbors.
Best of Comedy
What We Do in the Shadows (2014): Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this wildly funny mockumentary tells the story of three centuries-old vampires living in modern-day New Zealand. Despite being masters of the night, these quirky bloodsuckers struggle to find suitable virgin prey, get bouncers to invite them into the hottest nightclubs, and do their assigned chores around the flat. Rhys Darby (of “Flight of the Concords” lore) and his werewolf crew provide unexpected bits of fun, but it’s the main cast that delivers dead-pan laughs throughout.
The Big Sick (2017): Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl but is kinda noncommittal. Girl find photos of the women boy’s family wants him to marry. Girl breaks up with boy. Girl falls into a mysterious coma. Typical romantic comedy, right? Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani—the real-life boy and girl on who this hilarious story is loosely based—deliver a story that draws big laughs, and director Michael Showalter does a fabulous job bringing it to the screen. Nanjiani is hilarious as the film’s lead, and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter turn in excellent supporting performances. Trust me, this one is worth two hours of your life.
Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen married his partner’s adopted daughter. Yeah, creepy as hell. Doesn’t mean the man still doesn’t make a sweet, interesting, and charming film once in a while. Set in Paris (in case you didn’t gather that from the title), the story follows screenwriter (played by Owen Wilson) as he travels back in time each night at midnight to cavort with famous characters from the city’s history and evaluate his writing and relationships. Allen knows how to write smart characters and witty dialogue that hit the mark more than they miss it.
The Other Guys (2010): Many of us went through a bit of Will Ferrell fatigue during this past decade, myself included. Don’t let that scare you away from this gem. Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play excellently off one another in the not-so-buddy cop flick. The laughs are insane and nonstop, and nearly every cast member gets in on the fun. From a hobo-abused Prius and wooden handgun to Ferrell’s “ugly” wife and a tuna vs. lion battle fantasy, I couldn’t stop laughing. Hell, Michael Keaton’s TLC references alone are the stuff of legend. Surrender to the stupidity.
Bridesmaids (2011): At the time, this seemed like it was destined to be a female rip-off of “The Hangover.” Turns out, it was better written, more authentic, and just plain funnier. Kristen Wiig carries the show, and Melissa McCarthy really launched her now-annoying career based on her award-nominated supporting role. There are diarrhea and vomit laughs, giant cookie destruction laughs, Chris O’Dowd laughs (my favorite kind), and even Wilson Phillips laughs. Like “The Hangover,” it has lost some of it’s bite with nonstop play on television, but it’s hard to knock such a brilliant comedy.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- This is the End (2013): Satirical end-of-the-world comedy with great comedic actors, set in the place you hope the Apocalypse starts — L.A.
- The World’s End (2012): Classic Pegg and Frost buddy comedy with a pub crawl, robot aliens, intermittent bits of heart, and plenty of beer mixed in.
- Grand Budapest Hotel (2013): Wes Anderson’s greatest achievement overflows with visual splendor, odd-duck humor, and Ralph Fiennes greatness.
- Get Him to the Greek (2012): Insane quantities of drugs, perfectly raunchy songs, and Jonah Hill at his comedic best.
- MacGruber (2010): This SNL spin-off is so fucking stupid and sophomoric that it makes it impossible not to laugh…and laugh…and laugh. Forte for President.
Best of Science Fiction
Rogue One (2016): When Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise, things changed. Sure, “The Force Awakens” was a shameless rip-off, but it was still a lot of fun. Its sequels were equally as derivative, yet fun, but the true diamond of Disney’s franchise takeover was “Rogue One.” Action packed, more mature, a bit dark, and most importantly, imaginatively crafted. To think that the story of how the Death Star’s plans were acquired (setting up “A New Hope”) would work as a stand-alone film seems preposterous, but it does. By far, the best franchise offering since the original trilogy. Stop arguing. I’m right.
Attack the Block (2011): The story of a teenage street gang who have to defend themselves from predatory alien invaders in the projects of South London. John Boyega—before he turned into a complete Hollywood turd in the new Star Wars flicks—and his young cast mates turn in fun, dangerous performances as the punks-turned-heroes raging a makeshift war against the aliens. There are bursts of color dripping throughout the dark stetting, and director Joe Cornish blends humor, action, and violence senselessly. I love this film so much it hurts my heart to be away from it.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014): Tom Cruise is welcome to worship at the altar of whatever alien-schtooping prophet he wants to if he keeps making fun movies. “Edge of Tomorrow” falls into that category. It’s fucking fun! It treats a story about world-saving do-overs with equal parts originality, humor, and kick-ass action visuals. Emily Blunt balancing on one quasi-muscly arm continues to renew my faith in love and sex appeal, and if I don’t get one of those half-robot fighting suits for my birthday, I’m calling it quits. Put simply, it’s impossible not to have fun soaking this one in.
Snowpiercer (2013): This action-packed underdog is set aboard the Snowpiercer, a train carrying the last remnants of humanity after a failed attempt to stop global warming created a inhabitable snow hell. Chris Evans and his lower-class passengers lead a revolution against the elite in a bloody battle from the back to the front of the train. Tilda Swinton is particularly good as an oddball talking head trying to tamp down the uprising. Hollywood dirtball Harvey Weinstein scuttled the film’s big screen release, proving he truly is/was the industry’s biggest tool.
Ex Machina (2014): From first-time director Alex Garland, this overlooked gem is sleek, smart, stylish, unpredictable, creepy, and sexy all at once. Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cast as a naive quasi-hero sent to observe and analyze a new science project sure to take second place behind the baking soda volcano my neighbor’s kid made. Alicia Vikander plays the cold, but uncomfortably sexy, humanoid perfectly. And even the horribly over-cast Oscar Isaac is wonderful as the brilliant, perma-drunk creator. This is the direction sci-fi needs to go, where story and writing outpace effects, merchandising, and star power.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- Looper (2012): Innovative time-travel story with great action and pacing, solid performances from Willis and Gordon-Levitt, and perfect ending. Anybody else root for the little kid to die?
- Oblivion (2013): Tom Cruise at his Tom Cruiseiest. Inventive story, great action sequences, nice twist ending, and the perfect tone/feel for this alien-invasion romp.
- Elysium (2013): Give me any film with Neill Blomkamp at the helm, and I’m in love. Throw in one of the zaniest villains ever (Sharlto Copley), a creative concept, and some wicked action, and you’ve got a solid sci-fi recipe.
- Ready Player One (2018): Beautiful, if imperfect, story filled with pop culture references, video game action, and characters to care about.
- Pacific Rim (2013): This Guillermo del Toro passion project is heavy on beautiful visuals and campy action sequences that transport adult males back to their childhoods.
Best of Comic Book
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): Brilliant is an over-used term in my reviews, but this film is truly brilliant. Michael Cera plays a slacker musician who must battle the seven evil exes of his newest girlfriend Ramona Flowers, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Edgar Wright proves he writes and directs only insanely fun films (see his IMDB resume for more). The battles are fun and colorful, the comedy is playful and creatively delivered, and the cast all deliver top-notch takes on their quirky characters. A top-10 film of the entire decade, if you ask me. I know you didn’t.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): This is a beautiful, artfully crafted film for Spidey fans of all ages. Sony Pictures Imageworks tasked 142 visual artists to paint the screen with art that practically dances off the screen, and it’s the look and feel of this one that really wows the viewer. There are laughs and a genuinely strong story to go along with the visual beauty, and even a somewhat ‘meh’ ending does little to bring you down. As I’ve said previously, and will probably say again, I’d trade 20 of Marvel’s live-action dumpster fires for this type of cinematic ingenuity any day.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): While subsequent Marvel movies have drained this well a bit over the years, it’s hard to argue that the original “Guardians” film is brilliant eye candy filled with unique laughs and a fun plot. Chris Pratt earns his pay, and the rest of the cast does yeoman’s work playing a band of misfits brought together to save the galaxy from a somewhat benign, yet cleverly played, villain. Not long after its release, I began my campaign to outlaw Marvel movies in the U.S. (fingers crossed), but it’s through no fault of this beautiful flick. To those who disagree with me, I say, “I am Groot.”
Thor (2011): It makes me happy to see “Thor” on the bottom of most critic’s Marvel movie lists. Considering they tend to rank “Captain America” and “Iron Man” flicks towards the top, I happily disagree. Kenneth Branagh adeptly directs a colorful, shiver-inducing fairy tale that is the rare Marvel film that can stand on its own two feet. Chris Hemsworth broke out after this role, and it’s not hard to see why. He IS Thor. Tom Hiddleston owns the screen as Thor’s adopted, mischievous (understatement alert) brother. The Marvel universe went downhill fast after this one, but we can agree to disagree on that point.
Kick-Ass (2010): Panned by many of the comic’s faithful for missing just about every mark, there is little doubt that a fun ride is waiting to be had here. Aaron Johnson plays the title character, a teenage boy who sets out to become a real-life superhero after he witnesses everyday crime going unpunished. Chloë Grace Moretz is a phenomenon as a pre-pubescent avenging angel, and even Nicholas Cage is on his A game as her screw-loose father/mentor. This one is incredibly violent, uncomfortably funny (at times), and over-the-top crude in ways that would make Deadpool blush. Fuck the comic faithful.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- Black Panther (2018): With stunning visuals, unique characters, and a mostly fun cast, this film couldn’t have felt more different from most Marvel dreck.
- Aquaman (2018): Bad story, bad performances, so much fun!
- Shazam (2019): See “Aquaman” above.
- Deadpool (2016): Not much plot to speak of, but it deftly stretches it’s legs with adult-friendly violence, humor, and obscenity in a comic book film.
- Joker (2019): It feels wrong calling this a comic book film, but who cares? Super dark, violent, and stunningly discomforting, this is a Joker origin story with one of the decade’s top performances by Phoenix.
Best in Thrillers
Green Room (2015): Nearly five years after it’s release, I still can’t say why this one stuck with me in the ways that it did. Punk rockers desperate for a paying gig rattle off a couple of sets for a group of violent backwoods skinheads and end up trapped in the shady club’s green room fighting for their lives. This film is grimy, thrilling, shadowy, violent and oddly fun. Patrick Stewart is genius as the head skinhead honcho. Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots are perfectly frantic as protagonists. You can feel the cold, fear, and hopeless claustrophobia throughout. A perfect swan song for Yelchin, my favorite actor of the decade.
Black Sea (2014): While this film only made about $20 in the box office, it is such a robust, claustrophobic, and character-rich thriller that I refuse to believe I was the only one who enjoyed it. Succeeding where so many submarine flicks have failed, this one starts dark and stays dark until the final credits. Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, and Ben Mendelsohn are all exceptional (as they most always are) as treasure hunters partnering with Russian peers to recover sunken gold in a decrepit World War II-era sub. Viewers will find themselves rooting for and against just about every character at least once.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): Here’s the gist. Mary Elizabeth Winstead wakes up in a doomsday bunker with two strange men, one of whom won’t allow here to leave because of what he believes to be an apocalyptic event outside. What follows is a guessing game, mystery, thriller and horror movie wrapped into one. John Goodman is SO good as the creepy bunker owner. This film lulls you into a strange sense of comfort, then drives turns on a dime. The tension, at times, jumps off the screen. I’ll never love the last 15 minutes, but every single preceding minute made up for the ending in spades.
The Ides of a March (2011): More often than not, political thrillers are stuffed with the propagandist leanings of the writer or director. That’s not the case here. Focusing on story, and not ideology, this back-and-forth political rat race sees a junior campaign manager flailing in the world of political assholes and big boys. In a setting where nobody is ever as clean as the like to think they are, Gosling, Clooney, Wood, Seymour Hoffman, and Giamatti all live up to their reputations in roles that have you constantly wondering who to root for and who to despise. In the end, it may be all of them.
Nocturnal Animals (2016): It can be difficult to not let great performances paint your overall view of a film. At first glance, “Nocturnal Animals” seems like a case study in this conundrum. There may be no better overall casting job in the decade, with stellar performances from Taylor-Johnson, Shannon, Adams, and Gyllenhaal. At the end of the day, though, I realized that the film is also a brilliantly crafted story within a story. Neither story is of the feel-good variety, but combined, they are delivered in such an innovative way that you start to lose track as to what is reality and what is fiction.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- Hell or High Water (2016): Perhaps not the typical pace of a thriller, but the story and performances are winners, and the showdown is a nail-biter.
- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): This one was mostly panned, but Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig are wonderful, the tone and look are perfect, and the story feels pretty faithful to the incredible book.
- Blue Ruin (2013): A slow burn tale of family vs. family vengeance with a near-perfect performance form Macon Blair. Check this one out.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Gary Oldman is brilliant in this 1970s-era thriller about the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.
- Wind River (2017): Much like “Hell or High Water,” this is a thriller that doesn’t always feel like one. Great feel and performances, and the meth-house shootout alone is worth the view.
Best in Military/War
Dunkirk (2017): For every annoyingly over-thought “Inception” or “Interstellar” in Christopher Nolan’s past, there is a beautifully crafted gem waiting to be set free. This is one of those films. Told with sparse dialogue and overcast imagery that speaks volumes, this gritty telling of the evacuation of over 300,000 Allied soldiers at Dunkirk in 1940 almost feels like a silent film in parts. The film doesn’t rely on specific performances to carry it through — though Mark Rylance is wonderful — but rather lets the scenery and impending danger carry the day.
Fury (2014): Everything about “Fury” is over-the-top. From the battle scenes to the characters to the final battle sequence. Still, there is a raw imperfection to the story and performance that seems to speak to the true nature of war (particularly the final months of WWII). The cast — including Pitt, LaBeouf, Pena, and Bernthal — plays characters that seem both lovable and disgusting, redeemable and lost, all at the same time. The action is heart-pounding and abrupt, the relationships feel real and imperfect, and the ending, while a little too Hollywood, is satisfyingly unsatisfying.
Anthropoid (2016): This small-budget thriller tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by exiled Czechoslovak soldiers during World War II. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan play the stoic leads in solid form, and the build up to the assassination attempt is strong. It’s the final 30 minutes, during which the Czech agents engage in a pitched battle with German troops in a church, that remains perhaps my favorite sequence of any film from the decade. No CGI or dramatic score needed. Just the raw, sense-rattling sounds and claustrophobia of the stand-off. Brilliant.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- The Imitation Game (2014): Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician, and closeted gay man, who decrypted German intelligence messages during the WWII.
- 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016): It’s Michael Bay, so that sucks. Still, this is a mile-a-minute action story that keeps you on edge until the end credits.
- Lone Survivor (2013): Based on an outstanding book of the same name, the story of ambushed Navy SEALs in Afghanistan is gripping until you realize marble-mouthed a 5’8″ Mark Wahlberg is playing a 6’5″ warrior.
- Hacksaw Ridge (2016): A heavy-handed, morally-infused first half surrenders to one long (and riveting) battle sequence in this based-on-a-true-story flick.
- Railway Man (2013): A British P.O.W. forced to work the Thai-Burma Railway, and tortured ruthlessly while doing so. Amazing story of perseverance and forgiveness.
Best in Sports
Moneyball (2011): Baseball and movies have always played nicely together. While this is no “Bull Durham” or “Eight Men Out,” this film finds that sweet spot quite successfully. Brad Pitt is perfect as Billy Beane. Jonah Hill is even better as his sidekick helping to turn the moribund Oakland A’s into perennial contenders in a world where dollars often silence brains. It’s Aaron Sorkin behind the screenplay, so I was already in. The fact that they were able to turn an otherwise benign sports story into a truly riveting drama, though, is worthy of note.
The Fighter (2010): I’ve spend good portions of my life lobbying against any film with Mark Wahlberg in it. Yet, here I am. Melissa Leo and Christian Bale (both winning Oscars for their roles) steal the show as dysfunctional family members to a suddenly up-and-coming fighter, played by Wahlberg. The fight scenes are incredibly well choreographed, and the “based on a true story” is difficult not to latch onto. However, it’s the interplay between Wahlberg and his toxic family that steals the show here. Fast forward through any scenes of Marky Mark seducing Amy Adams, and you’ve got a great film.
Best of the Rest (in no order):
- Win Win (2012): Admittedly, less of a wrestling movie as it is a family drama, but Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer are absolutely amazing.
- Warrior (2012): It’s hard to fathom a UFC fighter quite so unimpressive as Joel Edgerton is in this one, but there is some great in-ring action, and even better performances (Hardy and Nolte).
- McFarland, USA (2015): The story of Mexican-American “pickers” who take to running cross country as an out has a bit too much Disney in it, but you can’t argue the merits of telling the story.
- Real Steel (2011): If you don’t get the shivers and tear up during the end of the final fight scene in this robot boxing (yes, I know I just typed the words “robot boxing”) film, you’re dead inside.
Best in Documentary
Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018): If you grew up with Fred Rogers (figuratively, not literally), this film knocked your socks off. If you didn’t, it still may have knocked your socks off. That it wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary category is one of the most egregious snubs of the decade…in any genre. You see the gentle, if imperfect, man as his truest self from start to finish. I left the theater wishing the world was even a slightly better place. The same place Mr. Rogers believed it could be every single day of his life.
Inside Job (2010): Odds are you or someone you know were impacted by Great Recession of 2007-2009 (and the years to follow). Several great films (“Margin Call” and “The Big Short”) told versions of the why and how (i.e. – this was not just bad luck or random happenstance). The economic shit show was a byproduct of greed, negligence, and outright fraud. This documentary shows viewers the causes and impacts of the crisis in a way that makes sense and entertaining, even if it makes your blood boil.
The Movies Not Even a Mother Could Love
Then, there were the movies that were so insanely stupid, so over-rated, or so pointless, that I would be remiss in not calling attention to their pure awfulness.
- Red Tails (2012): The Tuskegee Airmen in combat during WWII. Great idea, right? Nope. The only film of the decade that caused me to exit the theater early. Might be the worst big-budget film I’ve ever seen.
- Inception (2010): Over-stuffed. Too long. About 4% as smart as it pretends to be. A dream within a dream within a dream within a pile of steaming shit. I want to charge Christopher Nolan with a hate crime for “Inception,” because I hate it.
- Glass (2019): Fool me once (“Lady in the Water”), M. Night Shyamalan, shame on you. Fool me five more times (“The Village,” “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender,” “The Visit,” “After Earth”), shame on me. Ah, fuck it. Shame on you.
- The Purge: Election Year (2016): Rich white people killing low-income people of color for a third straight movie. Original. Don’t worry, it’s also an election year!
- The Great Wall (2016): Matt Damon in a pony tail, speaking in an indiscernible accent, fighting alien dogs on the Great Wall of China? Yep, this was green lit.
- Baywatch (2017): The Rock is the rare entertainer that rarely misses. Until the script for “Baywatch” came along and he missed the common sense train.
- Captain America: Civil War (2016): No film of the 2010s felt like more of a pointless cash-grab than this one. It was basically an story-less excuse to have Avengers characters fight one another, then sell action figures. I hate it so much.
- 15:17 to Paris (2018): Hey, Clint Eastwood. Next time you have a really great story to tell on the big screen, hire actors to tell it. These men are heroes, but great deliverers of scripted dialogue they are not.
- The Lighthouse (2019): Make sense of this art house garbage, I dare you.
- Every Fast and Furious film of the decade: Just stop. Please. Stop.