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)

My favourite films of 2017

Compiling this list of 2017 films has been an interesting task. There are usually a couple of films which miss the previous year’s deadline due to UK release dates, but it’s not often that so many of them make my ‘best of’ list. This year, some of my favourite films on this list may seem like old hat because they came and went with the Academy Awards earlier this year, having qualified with their 2016 US release dates. But they didn’t get UK release until 2017, so that’s why you’ll see them here.

The other observation is the number of films on my favourites list featuring LGBT characters – 2017 seems to have provided a lot of great storylines, and a lot of high-profile films.

Sadly, there are a handful of films I would have liked to have seen but which passed me by: The Florida Project, Good Time, The Beguiled, Get Out (this one mostly because I struggle with horror films and so chickened out) are among these.

A complete list of my 2017 viewing can be found here on Letterboxd or click on the titles to see my thoughts on the top ten.

Let’s start with a quick list of numbers 20 – 11:

20 – The Red Turtle

19 – Logan Lucky

18 – Logan

17 – Blade Runner 2049

16  – Stronger

15 – Aquarius

14 – Beach Rats

13 – Thor: Ragnarok

12 – After the Storm

11 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

10 – Columbus

A very calm and beautifully shot film about guilt, grief, anger, despair, with two great performances from John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson.

9 – A Ghost Story

Starts out being about very personal grief and connection, and becomes about the nature of death, time and memory, and deals in vast themes, all featuring a man in a sheet.

8 – The Salesman

A peak at feelings of emasculation in the Iranian middle-classes as a husband fails to cope with an attack on his wife. Asghar Farhadi wins again.

7 – The Handmaiden

A beautiful, sometimes over-the-top creation – would we expect anything less from Chan-wook Park?

6 – Juste la fin du monde

The awkward family dinner as only Xavier Dolan can.

5 – La La Land

Perhaps when we were all younger and full of future dreams the world appeared to us in Technicolor, much like the musicals of the 50s which director Damien Chazelle captures here. But he also asks us deep questions about those youthful dreams too.

4 – God’s Own Country

Beautiful film with an impressive performance from Josh O’Connor – John’s evolution from angry, lonely young man to where he ends up is beautifully nuanced, and heart-breaking.

3 – Manchester by the Sea

I know, Affleck is persona non grata, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I found this a heart-breaking study of guilt and grief.

Joint 1 – Call Me By Your Name / Moonlight

First time since doing these lists that I genuinely can’t choose one of these over the other, so I’m having a joint first place this year.

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.

Moonlight offers similar ideas, but in a very different setting. It’s 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.

And as I couldn’t separate my top two, this means that Luca Guadagnino has topped my list for the second year in a row!

Don’t hold your breath for 2018 though Luca, as my discomfort with watching horror films might bar me from seeing the Suspiria remake due next year.

Stronger (2017)

Cards on the table – I was anticipating this was going to be a ‘trauma victim overcomes the odds to become a hero’ story, and the only reason I chose to see it was because Jake Gyllenhaal, whose films I don’t avoid.

The fact that this is a very different survivor story is not only refreshing, but it makes for really interesting viewing. Having sustained life-changing injuries in the crowd when bombs were detonated at the finish line of the Boston marathon, Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) struggles with physical recovery, not dealing with PTSD symptoms, pressures from family, friends and the city to be a role model – and he simply isn’t ready. Apart from the trauma that he suffered, Jeff is one of those men who still has a lot of emotional growing up to do. He’s not obvious hero material, and this is what makes his situation, and his coming to terms with it, all the more interesting.

The performances are also crucial in truly elevating Stronger to something different. Tatiana Maslany as Jeff’s girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as his mother are completely believable as two very different characters clashing over how Jeff should be recovering.

But it is Jake Gyllenhaal himself who deserves huge rewards for his portrayal of Bauman. He should have not only been nominated but should have won for his role as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, and this would be some consolation for that.

But Jake with brown eyes is very odd.

 

Podcast episode: Who am I, I am me?

If someone invites you to talk with them about film on their podcast, and says you can choose the movies which are discussed, then why pick just one Jake Gyllenhaal when you can have two?!

In part one of a two-part series on identity crises, The B-Movie Podcast‘s Adam and I chat insecurity, infidelity and spiders (yuk) as we reflect on Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy – you’ll find a link to the podcast here.

Okja

Why is Bong Joon Ho so obsessed with Tilda’s teeth?

This first came to my attention in the director’s previous film, Snowpiercer, which never received a cinema release in the UK but which I purchased on DVD when travelling in New Zealand in 2015. And as a commentary on how western capitalism is eating itself, I think Bong Joon Ho’s earlier film works better than Okja.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy about Okja. The performances from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija, and Hee-Bong Byun as her grandfather are delightful, Paul Dano is … well, sweet, actually, and without the usual creepiness, and Jake Gyllenhaal is ludicrously note-perfect as the TV animal expert trying desperately to save his career. His is a performance that I guess is likely to divide, and I can understand that. But I loved the campy, over-the-topness of his characterisation, and the fact that he appeared to revel in it.

I wish I had the same affection for Tilda’s character(s) however. They were too much of a caricature to be taken seriously, with Tilda delivering her lines in a manner more reminiscent of a poorly written soap opera, and nowhere near her best work. And what a waste of the talents of Giancarlo Esposito. His character feels like he had a much broader part to play but which has been trimmed down to that of personal assistant.

The mix of Korean rural culture and New York business is an interesting one, and Bong Joon Ho uses his idiosyncratic style to fuse the two in a way which conveys his message. For a global platform such as Netflix, maybe this is the start of a genuinely universal method of film making, which doesn’t involve shooting a random scene in Shanghai to please Chinese investors.

However I would have been happier to have had it even darker, to make less of a comedy out of Tilda’s character(s), and less of the vaguely hopeful ending, which would have had a stronger, more lasting effect. True, the dark scenes are truly awful, and I have heard from others how it has genuinely challenged their view on the food they eat. But I’ve not eaten meat for almost 30 years, and already appreciate the theme, so I don’t need convincing of the message.

Life

Before I sat down to watch this, I shared a message on social media.

Now, I realise ‘scary’ is all relative. As the aforementioned ‘wuss’, I’m put off watching lots of things because I don’t need to be frightened. Michael Jackson’s eyes at the end of that Thriller video gave me nightmares. (True, other things about MJ are more scary with hindsight, but we didn’t know that at the time …).

If it hadn’t been for my boy Jake, I probably would have waited for this to come out on DVD when I could watch it in daylight. But I couldn’t let him down.

I say all this because I probably had a different experience than someone more used to jumpy films. All I can do is let you know the above, then tell you what I thought having seen the film.

And so I was expecting jumpy bits, and they were mostly predictable, so I didn’t really jump. I did watch some of the bone-squishing bits through my fingers, however, and looked away when the creature decided to ‘enter’ certain characters (no more as no spoilers).

The characters were a text book selection of stock characters for the most part, there were a couple of plot holes that bugged me, and I didn’t quite get the geography of the vessel during the action scenes (which I’ve heard said elsewhere too, so not just me).

I wanted to know why Jake’s character was so convinced that a floating box above the earth was where he belonged. Why none of the other crew had been informed of and had signed up to the protocols that Rebecca Ferguson’s character had implemented prior to the mission. Why certain crew members disobeyed direct orders … well, I suppose I should have expected that from Deadpool, but then there wouldn’t have been a story.

However, I still found this to be an enjoyable slice of sci-fi horror which rattled along nicely in its neat run-time. It offers some very interesting thoughts on interactions with alien life-forms which are different from the benign encounters we recently saw in Arrival; about how it’s OK for us to visit other places and raid the land but a reciprocal visit? – nah, not so much (which put me in mind of so many conflict situations in both the past and present among the nations of our own planet); how everyone seemed surprised that a creature doesn’t like being jabbed by an electrified probe.

It’s a science fiction as a metaphor for ‘civilisation’ on Planet Earth as usual, and I was intrigued enough not to be scared – and stupid enough to be focussing on what I thought would be a different plot twist at the end. Consider me duped!

A version of this post first appeared at www.filmdispenser.com

Nocturnal Animals

I’m still thinking about this film. Partly about the images, partly about the story, and partly about how much I liked it. I did like it, that’s for sure, but I’m not quite sure how much.

It looks beautiful. Every shot is framed to perfection, most obviously in the present day life of Amy Adams and her sterile home and work settings. Here the colour palette is cool, natural, with just the occasional splash of purposeful red. As she begins to read the proof copy of her ex-husband’s novel, the visualisation of this imaginary story is first at night, then filled with the warm yellow tones of the West Texas sun. The difference is so striking that it’s almost as if director Tom Ford has shot two separate films, they’re so far apart in tone. All the emotion and intensity seems to have seeped out of reality and into the fantasy as seen by Adams’ Susan as she reads.

And the story which she is reading is brutal – a word which Susan uses herself to describe the way she ended her first marriage to the story’s author. The opening road rage incident and its aftermath are incredibly tense and actually uncomfortable to watch (thanks largely to a really sleazy Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – and from this point on, images, colours, words cross-over and appear in both strands of the storyline. Occasionally this is a little clunky (a slogan on a painting, for example) but in general it’s clear that these links are signs of Susan being emotionally pulled back into an earlier stage of her life, shared with the story’s author Edward, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal also plays the victimised then vengeful husband in Susan’s imagining of the book’s narrative and is on top form, matched by a highly intimidating Michael Shannon in full-on craggy law-enforcement mode. I’m also going to take time here to mention Armie Hammer. The guy needs to be given something proper to do. Yes he’s been charming and funny in the past, but here, with very limited screen time, we get to see just how good he can be.

While I’m still figuring out exactly how I feel about the film, there were a couple of things which jarred. One was the opening sequence. I’ve read about the reasons Ford felt the need to include these images, but I think he was mistaken in his decision, or perhaps even slightly deluding himself. Regardless of how the people on screen felt during the opening credits, several people around me (mostly men) were laughing very unkindly and unsympathetically. Whatever Ford thought he was doing, it certainly wasn’t happening where I was. I’m also not totally convinced by the flashback sequences. We’re supposed to be looking back 20 years, yet our protagonists only look different because Amy Adams has her hair parted in the middle. I found myself having to work too hard to make these scenes slot in to place.

My final gripe is trivial, but very real. Amy Adams makes great play of putting on a huge pair of glasses as she settles down to real a large proof version of the book in question. Yet later on she’s woken by a text message in the middle of the night and can read it without groping for her glasses? As a spectacles-wearer this just wouldn’t happen. Trust me.

In this his second feature, Ford is attempting to explore a pervasive ‘wanting-it-all’ mentality where greed and desire result in unhappiness and dissatisfaction; even when we have everything we could possibly imagine, it’s not enough.

I’ve heard the criticism that this film is style over substance. I disagree. There is definite substance there, but perhaps it’s just that the style gets in the way once too often. I definitely think this film warrants multiple viewings, and I’ll be doing just that.

A version of this review first appeared on http://www.filmdispenser.com

Demolition

Ho hum.

I had assumed I was going to see a film about dealing with grief, with some hard edges and maybe (given recent Gyllenhaal turns in Enemy and Nightcrawler) something even darker.

But the script didn’t go in this direction at all. In fact, it didn’t really go in any direction. Once I’d realised this wasn’t going to be a hard look at grief, I started to wonder if it was supposed to be a comedy. Or a Nicholas Sparks romance. Or actually about the kid who comes into Davis’ (Jake’s) life. It was all, and none, of the above, and wandered around with little purpose for its run time. The main difficulty I had was accepting the contrivance of Naomi Watts’ character. If there is such a thing as a middle-aged manic pixie dream girl, then here she is. With no believable reason for appearing in Jake’s life in the first place, she then disappears for chunks of time once her work is done, yet her son sticks around. And as for the metaphor – well I think the audience gets that Davis is trying to understand his version of grief and his relationship with his deceased wife. It didn’t need pointing out in quite so heavy-handed a manner.

What did I like? Well, Judah Lewis as Naomi Watts’ son certainly turned in a good performance, and Jake, yet again, managed to wrangle some kind of vulnerability and inner conflict from the material with which he was presented. But the script did nobody any favours unfortunately.

Still, it looks like they all had great fun with the sledgehammers.

My top films of 2015

I did try to do what everyone else does – list top 10 films of the year. Honest. But every time I tried to narrow it down to 10, I felt guilty for leaving others out. Then I realised it’s my list, and I can do what I want. So I’m listing my top 15. Below that, it gets a bit arbitrary, but I wanted to make sure that these at least got a mention.

Click on the film title to see a longer opinion, and if you’re interested in all my 2015 films ranked in order, you’ll find the list here. The top 15 and bottom 5 are in order, but the stuff in between is more of a general reflection than anything precise.

Number 15 – The Martian

An intelligent space film that isn’t full of navel gazing introspection, fun without being silly, and helped by Matt Damon’s natural charm as a screen presence.

Number 14 – Foxcatcher

There’s something really eerie and unsettling about the tone of this film, from start to finish. It’s clear from the outset that the relationships are not right, without being able to pin things down, which leaves an edgy feeling throughout.

Number 13 – Force Majeure

A film which challenges our own view of ourselves. We probably have an idea of how we think we would react in extreme circumstances, but until we are actually put in that position, most of us will probably never know.

Number 12 – Magic Mike XXL

Warm, funny, and totally non-judgemental. I left the cinema feeling a whole lot better about myself!

Number 11 – Love and Mercy

Paul Dano’s awkward brilliance is perfect as the younger Brian Wilson. The soundtrack is sublime, and the additional score by Atticus Ross is mesmerising.

Number 10 – Phoenix

Nina Hoss is so vulnerable and delicate you can almost imagine she would snap in two if you touched her. And a literal mic drop of a finale.

Number 9 – Ex Machina

Stylish-looking film which asks some really interesting and deep questions about artificial intelligence.

Number 8 – The Look of Silence

While not quite as punch-you-in-the-face as The Act of Killing, the room left for lengthy silences together with the courage of the protagonist Adi are quite remarkable.

Number 7 – Whiplash

It’s quite a while since I was left speechless at the end of a film.

Number 6 – Taxi Tehran

Very clever, and at times very funny film made by a man who is banned from making films in the country in which he lives.

Number 5 – Clouds of Sils Maria

A powerful representation of how (some) women see themselves and how they perceive others see them at different points in their careers and lives, admirably portrayed by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

Number 4 – 45 Years

Slow-paced, beautifully moving, heartbreakingly sad. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are outstanding.

Number 3 – The Lobster

I adored this. And I also felt incredibly sad having watched it. I felt emotionally empty and also ridiculous in myself. Colin Farrell is a revelation.

Number 2 – Mommy

I originally wrote “I certainly think this is a powerful piece of filmmaking, but I’m not sure I ever want to watch this movie again.” But this film has been in my mind on and off since I saw it in March, and I am convinced that Xavier Dolan is a genius.

Number 1 – Enemy

This was the second film I saw in a cinema in 2015, and it has remained at the top of my list since 4th January.

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.

Agree or disagree? Let me know – would love to know your top films of the year! You can find the whole list of 2015 films I saw this year ranked here on Letterboxd.

Everest

I followed recommendations and made a special journey to see this on the biggest screen I could – which meant IMAX 3D.Technically amazing; I can’t even begin to imagine how most of this was filmed. As a feat of film-making, it is beyond anything I’ve seen this year.

And yet I failed to be drawn in to any of the stories being told. Perhaps because there were so many individuals involved that I couldn’t get to know any of them well enough. Perhaps because, once they were all suited up, I couldn’t tell who was who.

True, it was heartbreaking to see how people lost their fight with the mountain and the elements, and I was not un-moved watching this. But this was because of the knowledge that it was actual people who died (and continue to do so), not specifically those characters whose story this was, as I didn’t feel invested in their particular story any more than anyone else’s.