Little Women 2019 ~ Greta Gerwig 86 points from 7 ballots Highest Placement: #4 on 1 ballot
Sometimes, it takes a devoted fan to strip down a revered classic in order to understand what it’s really about and make the subtext its text. This is what makes Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women a modern reinvention. The epic-lenghted novel, usually described as an American distant cousin to Jane Austen’s marriage plots, is dissected by Gerwig’s time-dividing screenplay, that’s less concerned with wedding dresses than with the intimate lives of the four March sisters. The director-writer gives space in her adaptation to the foundations of what made the struggle of the heroine Jo to balance her rebellious self with a more polished adult version of herself into a tale we always return to: the social-economic barriers and expectations that keeps us from being our truest selves and limits our experience of the world. By doing this, Gerwig pays homage to the real-life challenges May Alcott had to face so she could share the March sisters with generations of readers.
Django Unchained 2012 ~ Quentin Tarantino 89 points from 7 ballots Highest Placement: #3 on 1 ballot
The 7th film by Quentin Tarantino begins with the camera focusing on the bare back of a shackled slave, the horrifying whip marks signifying a lifetime of injustice and brutality. But of course, this being QT, we are not about to witness a sobering and unsentimental account of the evils of slavery. Instead, cinema’s own enfant terrible has gifted us with a revisionist western fairy tale that filters the atrocities of reality through the prism of cartoonish black-and-white morality bloodlust and the catharsis of pure wish-fulfillment fantasy. In 2012, audiences of all races and backgrounds had the pleasure of congregating in a dark auditorium and reveling in the Looney Tunes-level insanity of Django Freeman turning the tables on his captors and giving them the holy hell they deserve, unleashing an operatic orgy of bloody retribution upon the racist bastards that enslaved him, his wife, and countless other Black Americans. Thrilling, disturbing, hilarious, arguably problematic as all hell, and viciously alive with the energy of his love for all things cinema, America’s most provocative auteur indulges in all of his best and worst impulses to once again prove that no one but no one can give audiences a true night out at the movies quite like Quentin Tarantino. “They’re whipping Little Jodi? Point me in that direction…” This is DJANGO UNCHAINED.
Shoplifters 2018 ~ Hirokazu Kore-eda 90 points from 9 ballots Highest Placement: #8 on 1 ballot
Hirokazu Kore-eda has got to be one of the best filmmakers in the world who doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. A spiritual successor of sorts to prior Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, each of Kore-eda’s films is compassionately realized with the utmost humanity -- and the Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters could very well be his masterpiece. Kore-eda is always interested in stories of family, examining it as a concept and drawing into question what exactly constitutes a family. Shoplifters, following a lovable band of outcasts who are one of the most well-realized casts of characters this decade had to offer, develops these themes beautifully, powerfully stating that the connections we make for ourselves are much more important than those we are born into. It’s a film of great warmth and heartbreak alike, achieving a masterful tonal balance, and featuring a knockout ensemble highlighted by the revelatory Sakuro Ando. Whether being a funny and wholesome account of familial bond or a devastating examination of trauma and abuse, Shoplifters is so remarkable because it’s always so honest, so compassionate, and so human.
Mysteries of Lisbon 2010 ~ Raúl Ruiz 91 points from 4 ballots Highest Placement: #1 on 2 ballots
Few films are as sprawling as Raul Ruiz's exploration of the nature of possibility, a boy's past and future unfolding in waves all around him. He's a spectator - self-actualization escapes him, and even in a duel he finds he does not know himself; he is instead continuously greeted by the ghosts of the past that led to his being. Everyone around him knows - or are they just as lost in the sea of pathways? Does he long for a mother or an understanding of himself? Ruiz spins around these histories, real and imagined, with grace.
Tower 2016 ~ Keith Maitland 92 points from 7 ballots Highest Placement: #3 on 1 ballot
"Under the base of the tower, there were a lot of people there. And they were yelling. They were saying 'We've gotta help that pregnant woman!' And then somebody else yelled out 'No, we've got to help the ones there's still hope for.' So I thought... well... I probably wasn't going to get help."
There's been a philosophy in recent years of putting the viewer of a movie "in the action" with visceral sound design or 3D pictures or simulated one-take photography, meant to make you FEEL like you're there. Keith Maitland's approach to a harrowing event is different: he just asks us to listen. This is not a panoramic examination of the shootings in 1966. It's just a handful of people telling us what they experienced in those ninety-six minutes. It is this understanding of the power of words that makes Tower such an extraordinary achievement. You can desensitize yourself to the sound of gunfire. It is much harder to become desensitized to words.
Little Women made it in a much higher place than I expected! And I love how Django Unchained and Shoplifters are described here Also, this Tower movie seems very interesting, I didn't even know it existed.
Hereditary 2018 ~ Ari Aster 93 points from 8 ballots Highest Placement: #2 on 1 ballot
Few films have terrified me as much as Hereditary. I mean, truly terrified me. To my core. And it’s not simply the supernatural aspects of the film, in particular the climactic finale, as disturbing as they are. It’s the events that spiral the characters into a seemingly never-ending downfall and just how ugly they get on their way down – that’s what terrifies me. Boasting a career-best performance from Toni Collette as the head of the household, the film tells the story of a family struggling to stay strong in the face of a tragedy and the unraveling of long hidden secrets within the bloodline. What begins as a domestic drama in the vein of Ordinary People soon becomes much darker as a sinister force begins to rip the family apart from the inside – a force that may not be too unfamiliar after all. Inspired by the likes of Polanski and Roeg, Ari Aster in his debut feature film retains a strong, unique sense of style in crafting a methodical and deliberate approach to familial grief that takes as much time unraveling its household as it does its audience. It’s not an easy film to watch, one I’ve had the unnerving pleasure of watching only once (so far), but one that may be a crowning achievement in horror and certainly one of the crowning achievements of the last decade.
For those who have seen the film, sorry for all the puns.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer 2017 ~ Yorgos Lanthimos 94 points from 8 ballots Highest Placement: #8 on 1 ballot
“He's got issues. Serious psychological issues.”
The Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn’t play by the rules. Simultaneously terrifying in its emotional starkness and absurdly funny for precisely the same reason, Yorgos Lanthimos uses Kubrickian language (discordant ambient score, Shining-esque steadicam shots down antiseptic hospital corridors) alongside his customary deadpan to weave a mythic portrait of hubris and vengeance while straddling the line between comedy and dread. Perhaps the film’s greatest asset is Barry Keoghan, whose antagonist Martin is unrivaled for his blend of queasily feigned innocence and ingratiation, total absence of emotion, and a chilling sense of poetic justice. Even in a world as menacing and oft-kilter as the one Lanthimos presents, everyone knows there’s something off about Martin.
The Lighthouse 2019 ~ Robert Eggers 94 points from 9 ballots Highest Placement: #2 on 1 ballot
A whirling dervish of black comedy, nerve-fraying dread, bellowing soliloquies and more farts than a Jeff Portnoy flick, Robert Eggers’s sophomore film is one of the most inventive movies of the decade. With two roaring titans at its center in Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, this tale of mistrust and paranoia bred in isolation is sure to mesmerize, enchant, and make everyone side-eye the next seagull they spot.
Lady Bird 2017 ~ Greta Gerwig 97 points from 9 ballots Highest Placement: #8 on 1 ballot
In many ways, Lady Bird is a very simple, straightforward film that touches on themes we’ve seen done many times in many movies. However, as growing up and dealing with the highs and lows of teenage-hood is a universal experience, this is to be expected, and when the filmmaking perspective is as fresh and nuanced as Gerwig’s, we become more than happy to delve back into those turbulent years. Gerwig’s style of quickly transitioning from one scene to the next perfectly reflects the way moments and people seem to come and go as we mature and move on. Saoirse Ronan provides the film with a full-blooded heart, unafraid to delve into Lady Bird’s unpleasant qualities while also passionately showcasing what makes her wonderful. The concluding few minutes are amongst the most poignant and affecting of the last decade for film.
The Witch 2016 ~ Robert Eggers 101 points from 12 ballots Highest Placement: #3 on 1 ballot
A horror debut that evoked Ingmar Bergman no less, this movie arrived with an astonishing amount of fully formed craft. First at the screenplay level which immediately casts the family as overtly pious - the father is banished for pride after all and immediately thereafter the film establishes the threat as literally real (which a lot of people think is a mistake, but it is rather the entire point).
Not merely that, but the film uses all the mechanics of movies to create an atmosphere of dread - cinematography, score and specific sound design - all wind rustling, animal noises and little pops and cracks of branches breaking build gradually and frighteningly. It was seemingly made to make you look over your shoulder, late at night, when returning to your car in a dark, abandoned parking lot - it sticks with you on a very deep primordial level.