My top films of the decade: 2010 – 2019

It seems to be the thing to do – as we enter a new decade, a list of favourite films from the one which is just ending appears to be de rigueur.

So here we are.

I’ve seen other lists where the writers have selected one film from each year of the decade to provide a neat list of 10. But me, I’m making my own rules. My list is 15 (ish) films long, and taken from all across the ten years. And in fact, apart from the number 1 and number 15 films, on any given day any of these films could easily be at any rank in the list.

As far as I’m concerned it’s just a good list of films that have moved, intrigued, amazed or excited me since 2010. Some of them are films I’m not sure I’ll ever watch again because they were so brutal, yet at the same time necessary.

Agree, disagree, it’s all fine. But I got the chance to choose and so I did!

15    Get Out (USA, 2017) / Train to Busan (South Korea, 2016)

And straight away I start with a ‘cheat’ – but as I said before, my rules. Many may consider Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan good films, yet perhaps not films of the decade. But I wanted to acknowledge just how much I enjoyed them both. If you’ve been following Marie vs Horror here on The Movie Isle, you’ll know that I have avoided ‘horror’ films over the years. I would never have seen either of these two films if it weren’t for the Marie vs Horror incentive, and I really think they are brilliantly conceived films. They’ve changed my view of what I will consider watching, and that’s why they’re on this list.

14        Under the Skin (UK/Switzerland/USA, 2013)

Scarlett Johansson is an alien prowling the streets of Glasgow in a white transit van, and is totally mesmerising. Beautiful, strange and seductive, it made me look at people through the eyes of an alien as I left the cinema. Amazing soundtrack, too.

13        Nightcrawler (USA, 2014)

Creepy, insincere and manipulative Jake Gyllenhaal goes to extraordinary lengths to record crime on LA’s streets and sell it to 24-hour news channels. Dark, tense and twisted, this is great viewing.

12        Shoplifters (Japan, 2018)

A sublime portrayal of how a family can become a loving and supportive unit when both society and blood ties let it down. The family members are exactly what they need to be for each other and, despite the hardships of their situation on the edges of conventional society, there is so much genuine care and depth of feeling between them that you’re never in any doubt that they will look out for each other. The first two acts of the film have some moments of unbridled joy showing the togetherness of the bunch, and then one simple thing happens which begins the unravelling of everything.

11        Call Me by Your Name (USA/Brazil/France/Italy, 2017)

Call Me by Your Name presents something incredibly 80s and yet also something timeless. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonists are straight or gay, this is a universal story about growing up, growing wise, feeling love and feeling pain.

10        The Act of Killing (Denmark/Norway/UK, 2012)

The only documentary on my list, The Act of Killing is a jaw-dropping film in which former Indonesian hit men are invited to re-enact their misdemeanours in whatever form they choose. The truth of what happened over 40 years ago slowly begins to dawn on some of them, with remarkable consequences.

9          Capernaum (Lebanon, 2018)

Challenging and remarkable, with an amazing acting performance from 12-year-old Zain Al Rafeea -and of course credit for extracting the performance must also go to director Nadine Labaki. Following undocumented people in almost unbearable circumstances, scenes with Zain and a baby are both a delight and chilling at the same time. It’s not an easy film to watch at all, but the final shot will steal your heart.

8          12 Years A Slave (USA/UK, 2013)

Director Steve McQueen has taken this difficult story and made it work on-screen. The beauty of the photography contrasts with the ugliness of the behaviour, and we are compelled to watch brutal scenes because they matter. It’s not easy to watch, and that’s the point.

7          Parasite (South Korea, 2019)

Side-swipes at Korean society abound, and just when you think you’ve worked everyone out, all hell breaks loose. Song Kang-ho handles his character’s arc to perfection. The less you know about Parasite before watching the better, so for those in the UK where is hasn’t been released yet, then I’m stopping here.

6          The Lobster (France/Greece/Ireland/Netherlands/UK, 2015)

The things we do for love. Or at least, the things some people will do to avoid being alone. The world of Yorgos Lanthimos is just a step beyond what feels normal, yet not so far away that it doesn’t feel strangely relevant. As with much of the work of Lanthimos, it’s possible to feel both amused, repulsed and saddened all in the same moment. Colin Farrell is a revelation.

5          Even the Rain  (France/Mexico/Spain, 2010)

Fascinatingly weaves in the real life story of the exploitation of locals in Cochabamba with a film shoot also using locals. Parallels are drawn yet not over-stated, and when the modern police encroach on the film set and find themselves face to face with the red-painted indigenous people, the point is well and truly made. Brilliant.

4          Mommy (Canada, 2014)

Another tough watch, and my favourite Xavier Dolan film – just don’t put it on if you have a headache because it is VERY SHOUTY. Notable for its creative use of aspect ratio, three excellent performances from Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément and Antoine Olivier Pilon, and the official pronouncement of Céline Dion as National Treasure of Canada.

3          Waru (New Zealand, 2017)

A very powerful film. 8 different female directors have each created a 10-minute short film – shot in one long take – featuring female characters, each of which has a connection to the funeral of a young boy. The shorts weave together to allow us to view the death and its impact through the eyes of the immediate family, the community and the media.

An excoriating view of New Zealand’s failure to address issues of child abuse, and also highlights racism and inequality, ending with a call to action directly to the camera.

2          Enemy (Canada/Spain, 2013)

I love a film that has me wondering what the hell is happening from the very start, and this just does that. Jake Gyllenhaal creates two identical-looking but very different characters, and we’re never in any doubt as to which ‘Jake’ we’re with at any one time: even when one is impersonating the other. For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I actually went and read the book which inspired the film.

1          Moonlight (USA, 2016)

The phrase ‘coming of age’ usually has me running in the opposite direction, but this is simply beautiful beyond words. Although each of the three sections featuring Chiron at different points in his life are fabulous, the final third pulls everything together beautifully. Strong performances all round make this this case, particularly Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes. The story is accompanied by a beautiful score and gorgeous cinematography, with occasional shades of Wong-Kar Wai in tone – a sense of longing, searching and unrequited feelings permeates.

(This article first appeared on The Movie Isle)

Neruda

Director Pablo Larraín gives Chilean poet Pablo Neruda a taste of his own magical reality by mixing elements of Neruda’s real life with a fictional police officer who is on his trail.

As can be expected, Gael García Bernal beautifully inhabits the self-aware, self-aggrandising fictional sleuth, hot on the trail of Neruda, a fugitive in his own country as a member of the Communist Party.

It’s a clever mix which worked really well for so many LFF audiences and which I appreciated a lot. I generally find it difficult to go along with this kind of magical realism though, and I struggled to actively enjoy the film, despite good central performances. There were some glaringly obvious and ropey false backgrounds in the vehicle scenes too – perhaps this was to enhance the strange reality of the film, but I’m not so sure I can give them the benefit of the doubt.

Saved from total disappointment by Bernal’s performance.

London Film Festival – First Visit!

Occasionally I find myself in London for work, and I was quite excited to realise that one of these visits for the first time coincides with the London Film Festival. So I’ve been able to squeeze enough time to see a tiny handful of films – I’d love to see more, but adding in accommodation costs to extend the stay just makes it silly.

Obviously my dates restrict my choices, and the fact that some of the films I would have chosen had already sold out (Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After The Storm for one) but all things considered, I’m happy with the mini-programme I’ve been able to put together.

I’ve chosen to see Réparer les vivants (Heal the Living) – a film by a female director, Katell Quillévéré, and with an impressive cast (Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Dorval) because I really wanted to leave the festival having seen a film by a female filmmaker.

I’ve also booked for Neruda, directed by Pablo Larraín and featuring Gael García Bernal – a previously winning combination, and with no reason to doubt that this will be any different.

Finally, and top of the fan-girl squee list, I’m seeing Xavier Dolan’s Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World). No more words necessary.

I suppose there is an argument for saying I should have chosen to see films which may be harder to find when (or if) they receive a full UK release. But I am relatively fortunate living in Manchester in that most films released in the UK generally get a showing in my city, so I’m going for the ones I like the look of that I can see early. So there. 🙂

 

The Year of the Alternative Western?

Note: These musings contain mild spoilers for El Ardor (The Burning).

It’s the darndest thing.

I’ve just watched Gael García Bernal’s latest film El Ardor. It’s set in the Argentinian rainforest but towards the end I found myself thinking of two other films I’d seen recently – Slow West, starring Michael Fassbender, and The Salvation, with beautiful Mads Mikkelsen.

It took a second or two to figure out why, but then the penny dropped.

In the past two months, I’ve seen three films that are westerns. But westerns with a twist.

The Salvation‘s plot is fairly standard revenge western fare, but it focuses heavily on Scandinavian immigrant families, with the bad guys being the longer-standing settlers with the accents we would now recognise as American, but nary a glimpse of a Native American.

Slow West is the bounty-hunter western, and this too is very much the view of the outsider. It’s the combined work of Scottish director John Maclean, Irish/German Fassbender, Australians Ben Mendelsohn and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and was shot in New Zealand. During the trek we also come across immigrants from other places, which all highlight the fact that at this period in time, no-one is actually American, everyone is a settler. This film does briefly feature a Native American character, and there is mention of how the colonisation of their lands affected their situation.

And then there’s El Ardor – not strictly a western, but with a very definite shoot-out denouement and Sergio Leone-style camera and sound. The bad guys are, yet again, incomers trying to take land from the natives or settlers who have worked the land for a long time, but it’s only in the last third that it begins to feel like a western.

I’ve never really understood the appeal of westerns, and even with these three films, the pull to see them was the actors not the plot.

So what is it about alternative westerns in 2015 – or am I imagining things? Is it a genre that’s making a comeback? Is there something about the western that suddenly has relevance? And if so, what am I missing? Don’t forget Quentin Tarantino’s next film The Hateful Eight is also a western …

Edit: see also Jauja (31/7/15)

Anyway, here’s an excuse to look at Mads Mikkelsen again.

El Ardor – The Burning

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that Gael García Bernal can generally be relied upon in my view to provide high quality, thought-provoking films on a regular basis.

For some reason though, this one fails to reach those usually high standards.

Don’t get me wrong – Bernal himself is good particularly in the first two-thirds where, with very little dialogue, he manages to create a complete, interesting character who is intriguing yet grounded.

But for some reason, the final act of this rainforest-set film is a western. Not ‘like a western’. A western. Bernal has gone from being an ethereal, mysterious being who emerged from the water to a gun-toting, scarf-wearing, duel-shooting law-keeper and it’s just darn peculiar. I have no idea why this was necessary, other than the director fancied showing he could do it. And it’s not even homage; it borders on parody.

Very odd.

Rosewater

Gael García Bernal manages to choose roles which have something to say about the world, often political, and frequently featuring real people or events (I’m thinking No, ¿Quién es Dayani Cristal? or También la Lluvia, for example).

Here again, he plays British-based Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, arrested for ‘espionage’ while covering Iranian presidential elections in 2009. We stay with Bahari during his 118 day incarceration and interrogation, as he finds ways to relieve boredom and maintain hope of release. The interrogations are not as brutal as you might expect, and there are times when it’s actually quite amusing.

Naturally it’s stifling as we are inside with Bahari, but those few moments of fresh air, sunlight and hope are really uplifting.

It’s a competent, fairly interesting directorial debut from Jon Stewart, but perhaps a little too careful with the material.

10 most anticipated films of Spring 2015

There’s usually a bit of a post-Oscar lull in March, and then things start to pick up again. A number of films have been on my radar for quite a while, and several of them are coming up soon. So here are my top 10 most anticipated films from now until the end of June (in order of release date).

  • Miss Julie (dir Liv Ullman) – a Strindberg play, directed by Liv Ullman, starring Jessica Chastain and Samantha Morton is must-see. But Colin Farrell.

Keep checking back to read my thoughts after I’ve viewed my choices.

My top 10 (or 12) films of 2014

Let me explain my title

Two of my top 10 films of 2014 were seen very early in the year, but had already been on wide release in just about every other country apart from the UK in 2013.  So by the time I saw them, they had already taken their plaudits, appeared on many published ‘Best of’ lists for 2013, and been Oscar nominated, so on that basis it feels like they don’t belong in my list.

However, technically, they do. Therefore I’m allowing myself a top 12 this year so that I can do justice to a couple of other films which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Click on the film title to see a longer opinion, and if you’re interested in all my 2014 films ranked in order, you’ll find the list here. The top 12 and bottom 5 are in order, but the stuff in between is more of a general reflection than anything precise.

Number 10 – ’71

Very impressive and tense story of a young soldier who gets left behind in a Catholic part of Belfast in 1971 when his battalion’s activity goes wrong. Jack O’Connell makes sure that we’re rooting for the young soldier with a convincing performance.

Number 9 – The Imitation Game

Suppressed and repressed Benedict Cumberbatch cracks the Enigma code and shortened the war. I know many feel this only scratches the surface of the complexities of Alan Turing (or maybe scratches the wrong surface), but this film finally made me realise what a talent Cumberbatch is.

Number 8 – Locke

A film about a man driving to London at night while discussing concrete shouldn’t be this good. But when that man is Tom Hardy, there is nothing to worry about.

Number 7 – Pride

Uplifting, sad, full of energy and nostalgia all at once, this really hit a spot – had me laughing and crying all at once.

Number 6 – Nightcrawler

Creepy, insincere and manipulative Jake Gyllenhaal goes to extraordinary lengths to record crime on LA’s streets and sell it to 24 hour news channels. Dark, tense and twisted, this is great viewing.

Number 5 – In Bloom

Two teenage girls find themselves growing up before their time in the civil-war affected Georgia of the 1990s – an absorbing watch.

= Number 4 – Who is Dayani Cristal?

Gael Garcia Bernal mixes the tireless work of a handful of Americans in identifying the hundreds of corpses of illegal migrants retrieved annually from the Arizona desert with Bernal himself, following the route of so many would-be migrants, starting from a village in Central America as they head north in search of meagre economic rewards.

= Number 4 – Her

One of my  ‘2013’ picks. Separated Man buys Operating System. Man and Operating System begin to form a deep relationship. No-one bats an eyelid. The near-future setting is close enough to reality to make it all seem eminently possible, and it’s not an oppressive future – it’s bright, friendly, and beautifully shot.

Number 3 – Frank

Even though Michael Fassbender spends most of this film with his own head stuck in a polystyrene one, this is a remarkable performance. A quite touching portrayal of mental illness, with a heartbreaking final scene which proves just how good Fassbender is.

Number 2 – Ida

You could freeze-frame at any point during this film and the result would be a beautiful photograph. Ida and Poland emerge from their past in stunning black & white.

= Number 1 – 12 Years a Slave

The second ‘2013’ film. Director Steve McQueen has taken this difficult story and made it work on-screen. The beauty of the photography contrasts with the ugliness of the behaviour, and we are compelled to watch brutal scenes because they matter.

= Number 1 – Under The Skin

Scarlett Johansson is an alien prowling the streets of Glasgow in a white transit van, and is totally mesmerising. Beautiful, strange and seductive, it made me look at people through the eyes of an alien as I left the cinema. Amazing soundtrack, too.

Agree or disagree? Let me know – would love to know your top films of the year! You can find the whole list of 2014 films I saw this year ranked here on Letterboxd.

¿Quién es Dayani Cristal? – Who is Dayani Cristal?

Gael Garcia Bernal can always be relied upon to be part of some thought-provoking films. He was in my favourite film of both 2012 (También la Lluvia) and 2013 (No), and with ¿Quién es Dayani Cristal?, he has not let me down this year either.

Bernal mixes two strands in this documentary – one presents the tireless work of a handful of Americans in identifying the hundreds of corpses of illegal migrants, retrieved annually from the Arizona desert. The other features Bernal himself, following the route of so many would-be migrants, starting from a village in Central America as they head north in search of meagre economic rewards.

The actor/producer hits a decent note of reportage mixed with the personal story, and of course a happy ending would be too much to hope for.

Am now hoping that this man’s excellent film making streak continues in 2015 – Rosewater (also starring Golshifteh Farahani) sounds like it has potential.

My top 10 films of 2013

Some really good films appeared this year, and yet again it’s been difficult to select the final 10. But without further ado, here they are, with links to longer opinions if you want to take a peek.

Number 10 – Behind the Candelabra

Blingingly touching story of Liberace and his relationship with a younger man, with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon giving remarkable performances.

Number 9 – Good Vibrations

Uplifting account of the making of the music which came out of the troubled Belfast and Derry of the 70s. A film with a huge heart.

Number 8 – The Broken Circle Breakdown

Desperately sad but with a brilliant soundtrack, the film shows a marriage collapsing under the pressure of dealing with a seriously ill child.

Number 7 – Like Father, Like Son

Hirokazu Kore-eda with the first of his two films in the list – two sets of very different parents discover that their sons were swapped in hospital just after they were born, and the decision must be made as to how the situation should best be resolved. Gentle exploration of parenthood and blood ties, and I just hope the rumours about Spielberg getting his hands on it aren’t true.

Number 6 – Kuma

Traditional meets modern, as a young woman from a small Turkish village is married as a second wife to an older Turkish man now living in Vienna. Startling and poignant at the same time.

Number 5 – Gravity

Best use of 3D ever! Won’t be the same on DVD, but on a huge cinema screen it’s visually like no other film you’ve seen before.

Number 4 – Wadjda

Interesting insights in to aspects of Arabic culture, as we follow a resourceful young girl who finds a way to circumvent the conventions of her society to fulfil her dream.

Number 3 – I Wish

Kore-eda’s second film in the list, so he wins 2013! Delightful look at a childhood belief in miracles and a longing for the world to be a nice place.

Number 2 – The Act of Killing

Jaw-dropping documentary in which former hit men are invited to re-enact their misdemeanours in whatever form they choose. The truth of what happened over 40 years ago slowly begins to dawn on some of them, with remarkable consequences.

Number 1 – No

Gael Garcia Bernal in my number one film of the year – yet again! Ad exec is tasked with preventing Pinochet from being re-elected in 1980s Chile, and succeeds against all the odds. Excellent historical insight, great performances and a catchy jingle! Perfect!

Agree or disagree? Let me know – would love to know your top films of the year! You can find the whole list of 2013 films I saw this year ranked here on Letterboxd.