Prisoners 2013 ~ Denis Villeneuve 68 points from 8 ballots Highest Placement: #13 on 2 ballots
In the last decade, Denis Villenueve has emerged as one of Hollywood's most exciting directors and his parky, unflinching style has left a lasting impression on audiences. The fantastic 2010 effort Incendies saw him catapult as a filmmaker that was one to watch for, and three years later he one upped that as he delivered yet another stunning outing in Prisoners. It's a tightly constructed, hauntingly stoic descent into an annihilated and compromised morality, abounding with complex characters and hidden plot levels. As well as being a very profound compass to one's decision in a time of unfathomable trauma, it's also just a great malevolent mystery full of top performances from a brilliant ensemble in the same vein as David Fincher's immaculate Zodiac. The late Johann Johannsson's dreary hum of suffering rings loud and true throughout as we delve deeper into this harrowing and emotional journey. Roger Deakins' morbid cinematography screams pure nightmare and the good and evil of the protagonists and antagonists swap places, adding layer upon layer of these mosaic individuals. The result is an unforgettable, twisted and beautiful ordeal.
Nightcrawler 2014 ~ Dan Gilroy 70 points from 6 ballots Highest Placement: #7 on 2 ballots
As soon as Nightcrawler opened, it was clear that Louis Bloom, with Jake Gyllenhaal's career best performance, would become one of the most iconic characters of the decade. With a facade of pleasantry, Lou is an amoral, manipulative sociopath who will do anything to get ahead. His gaunt frame and sunken eyes give the appearance of a coyote, scavenging for footage of death and carnage.
But that's not to ignore the qualities of the rest of the film. A searing neo-noir and and satire of the media, Nightcrawler shows a world where Lou's underhanded tactics not only work, but may even be necessary to survive. While Dan Gilroy conceived the idea for the film in the late 80s, it's ever more relevant now.
Zero Dark Thirty 2012 ~ Kathryn Bigelow 71 points from 7 ballots Highest Placement: #5 on 1 ballot
Chronicling the decade long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, through Kathryn Bigelow's leadership and Mark Boal's methodical script, Zero Dark Thirty is steeped in a pervasive sense of dread, forcing us through harrowing scenes of torture to confront our warped sense of morality and justice, best embodied by main character Maya, played by a career best Jessica Chastain. In placing so much stake into the manhunt and craving closure for past failures and atrocities, culminating in the execution of the Seal Team 6 raid on Bin Laden's safe house (a terrific and nail biting sequence in every regard), the film ultimately leaves us to question... did it really provide closure? And what of our humanity did we have to sacrifice to get it? It's yet another terrific showcase of it's director's knack for skilled technical craft and suspense, and a darkly engaging meditation on the cost of retribution.
The Wind Rises 2013 ~ Hayao Miyazaki 71 points from 7 ballots Highest Placement: #5 on 1 ballot
Mankind has always dreamed of flight. To see the world as the bird does, to be above our own landbound viewpoint and see this globe as one enlightened, is a joy that man has strived for as long as he has had consciousness. But war has twisted and brutalized what was once beautiful. When we once dared to dream of the time when man could see the Earth as God does, we quickly turned it into a bloody battlefield all its own. Our imaginations of a new frontier were deformed into a new delivery system for the most sickening weapons. The Wind Rises is about that corruption, and few if any films have ever cried out so tragically for what we have lost. Our innocence is gone. Pearl Harbor was destroyed, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and countless smaller bombs murdered hundreds of thousands. Drone strikes continue killing to this day. The wind that we thought would elevate us has only highlighted our own depravity.
Frances Ha 2013 ~ Noah Baumbach 73 points from 5 ballots Highest Placement: #6 on 1 ballot
Even before the world had the chance to watch Lady Bird and Little Women – actress and filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s directorial efforts – there was something that, even if hard to point out, made Frances Ha stand out among Noah Baumbach’s filmography. The black-and-white New York comedy, that follows the misadventures of the titular heroine as she tries to employ her way into adulthood and hold on to her distancing best friend, shares the most common traits of Baumbach’s features. However, Gerwig’s voice – the actress not only starred the picture, but penned it – is heard in its breezy, laid-back tone, the sense of joy and fun that makes Frances Ha such a young movie – the kind of intimate yet broad, relatable portrayal that dialogues with a whole generation of supposedly grown-up Millennials. As Frances dances and stumbles across town, audiences everywhere were introduced to one of today’s brightest creators.
The Place Beyond the Pines 2013 ~ Derek Cianfrance 73 points from 6 ballots Highest Placement: #6 on 1 ballot
This might be the most ambitious film of the past decade. Cianfrance was one the premiere American auteurs of the previous ten years and this hails as his masterpiece. Ryan Gosling portrays a motorcycle stunt driver, Luke, who returns to the fairgrounds in Schenectady, NY he visited the previous year and discovers he is a father from a summertime fling with Romina played by the luminous Eva Mendes. Luke quits the carnival to try and provide for his family. With very little experience and working skill, he turns to Robin Van Der Hook played by the ever greasy Ben Mendelsohn. Robin explains his previous profession of robbing banks and offers Luke an opportunity to stay close to his newfound family in upstate New York. A wonderfully shot and staged film with beautifully serene music coupled with some shocking events lead this narrative into a story filled with corrupt police work and multi-generational undoings & redemption.
Jackie 2016 ~ Pablo Larraín 74 points from 4 ballots Highest Placement: #5 on 1 ballot
Pablo Larrain’s 7th feature is for sure no run of the mill biopic. It's a movie that takes a figure from a particular time and place, and uses her to explore all kinds of feelings and ideas. It’s a film that critics of biopics could look at and dismiss on account of supposed factual inaccuracy, but the films focus on the unknowability of figures in the spotlight for me pretty much protects it from such criticisms. Pondering what is truth, and what is otherwise is basically its point. It’s less about a person, and more about ideas. The movie is constructed in almost abstract, dream (or is it a nightmare?) like fashion, it can take some getting used to, but it adds to the psychological web that the movie is weaving, it drops you right in the lap of a traumatized storyteller trying to twist and turn and trick you every step of the way. Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay is the glory of the whole thing, doing without (much) telling, its points woven into the fabric of the story, the structure. The movie chooses to communicate so much of what it wants to say visually, and the dialogue only hints at its overall direction.
The Illusionist 2010 ~ Sylvain Chomet 75 points from 4 ballots Highest Placement: #6 on 2 ballots
Conceived as a love letter to the legendary French director Jacques Tati, Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist is one of those rare movies that will stay in your heart forever. Silent in its execution but immensely eloquent in its storytelling, this late 1950s story about a struggling French magician who travels to Scotland for new opportunities gives a tender, endearing look into an past age, an age of illusionists and ventriloquists practicing their crafts in theaters, now hosting rock and roll concerts. The Illusionist, with its profoundly melancholy tone, helped by the combination of old-style drawn animation and one of the best music scores of the decade, is not only one of the best animated features seen in recent times, but simply one of the best pictures of the 2010s.
Moonrise Kingdom 2012 ~ Wes Anderson 75 points from 6 ballots Highest Placement: #5 on 1 ballot
This was the first Wes Anderson film I saw in theaters, and it was quite a different experience to watch his work with a large crowd. One moment stood out… when Bill Murray’s character depressedly stares at the ceiling and says “I hope the roof flies off, and I get sucked up into space. You'll be better off without me.” I thought to myself, ‘damn, that was some heavy shit’ while over half the crowd laughed hysterically. Was this a bad crowd, or had Anderson’s quirky mixture of happy and sad become indistinguishable from each other? That may sound like a bad thing, but I think it’s part of the genius of the movie. Laughter and heartstrings being pulled in perfect harmony. Almost eight years have passed since its release... and Moonrise Kingdom still feels pretty magical.