by Elijah de Castro
25. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010)
The excellence of “The Ghost Writer” is not found in dazzling cinematography, transformative performances, or a self-aggrandizing screenplay. Rather, “The Ghost Writer’s” cold, dark atmosphere is built through Polanski’s smooth execution of each quality of a traditional political thriller. As a statement on the corruption of 21st-century regime change wars, the film intelligently follows a man with no past as he works with a prime minister with too much of one.
24. Rango (Gore Verbinksi, 2011)
“Rango” is the animated film equivalent of Pig Pen from The Peanuts; dirty, unfiltered, and at heart brazenly loveable. Verbinski’s beautifully detailed, nasty animation is a slap in the face to the sanitized, welcoming worlds found in Pixar and Disney animated films. “Rango” is the rare animated film in love with classic westerns, performance of excess, and intelligent humor for all ages.
23. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
Steve McQueen never shies away from showing the audience what it does not want to see. In “12 Years a Slave” he does not allow censorship, dishonesty, or deceitful storytelling to be found in any corner, nook, or cranny of the film. The truth of the story is consciously delivered by a master filmmaker who firmly grasps the audience and leaves no time to breathe for the entirety of the runtime.
22. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
Mica Levi’s musical composition for Under the Skin is unquestionably the best of the decade. However, attached to his score is a great science fiction film about what humanity means beyond a physical body. Unconventionally, the film’s horror is found in the presence of disguised alien life, rather than the danger it possesses. Under the Skin could even be labeled a feminist film, as Glazer’s story depicts male desire as a defect of the human race.
21. Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011)
The remarkable quality of Elena is how the confidence in Zvyagintsev’s calm, fluid camerawork works so well with the story he tells. He follows the life of a working woman and her selfish husband in such a polished and orderly way, that when disaster strikes, the decisions every character makes is painfully crucial. The way the film engages with death’s ripple effect on a family of greed creates unrivaled, somber horror.
20. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018)
Mission: Impossible-Fallout is unprecedented. Helicopters chase each other through mountains. Tom Cruise escapes police on a motorcycle through oncoming traffic at the Arc de Triumph in Paris. In a one-take, Tom Cruise performs an in-air rescue after a skydiving jump gone wrong. All collectively in service for an unpredictable, intriguing spy thriller story filled to the brim with perfectly timed bait and switch moments. This is the action film of the decade.
19. Poetry (Lee Chang-Dong, 2010)
Lee Chang-Dong is a silent pioneer of not just New Korean Cinema, but contemporary cinema as a whole. Poetry is a demonstration of Chang-Dong’s effortless ability to crack open the human mind and explore the soul by putting his characters in situations that require them to search for their meaning. Poetry manifests this quality in the struggles of a grandmother looking after more people than she is capable of in a world that has devalued her labor.
18. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
Many have said that the beauty of the Before Trilogy is in it’s capturing of a connection between two romantics. While this is true, this is not the unique quality that makes the films great. The Before Trilogy and in particular “Before Midnight” understands the unchained spontaneity of conversations between intellectuals. In “Before Midnight”, Linklater, actress Julie Delpy, and actor Ethan Hawke tie together the time and conflicts that have made this series of films so gracefully bittersweet.
17. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
“Blade Runner 2049” is an empty cathedral. The size of a human is insignificant. Sounds echo infinitely. Colored light saturates surfaces. The senses become overwhelmed by its insane scale. “Blade Runner 2049” is a cerebral experience, one created by a science fiction director and a cinematographer who continue to prove their mastery in the stories they tell. There are seldom films of this ilk; ones that grasp the senses so viscerally and leave the viewer in awe of its craft.
16. Museo (Alonso Ruizpalacios, 2018)
There is a breathtaking amount of personality and energy in “Museo’s” presentation, so much so that the film feels as if it has its own beating heart. Ruizpalacios uses every trick in the book to present each scene in a new way. What he has created is a melting pot of different genres and styles. The film begins as a family drama but later reveals itself as a buddy heist film, an experimental art film, a period piece, and a road trip film with the same spirit as Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá También.
15. Mommy (Xavier Dolan, 2014)
Every review of Xavier Dolans “Mommy” mentions two things-the square aspect ratio and director Xavier Dolan’s young age. And for good reason. “Mommy” is the masterpiece passion project of a young person who does not abide by the rules of filmmaking. “Mommy” is a splatter of white trash melodrama, tastefully capturing the power relationships between compulsive, institutionalized teenage boys and single mothers struggling for economic mobility.
14. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
Let Jarmusch’s sedated portrayal of a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry not be confused as boring, philosophical soapboxing. “Paterson” is a love letter to blue-collar workers and old souls who are at the foundation of society-those happy with their mundane work schedule. Jarmusch’s films have historically been laid back and minimalist. With “Paterson”, his idiosyncratic style matches wholly with the story he tells.
13. Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
David Fincher has never written a screenplay for one of his films. If there were anyone to understand someone else’s screenplay so thoroughly it would be him. With “Gone Girl”, Fincher projects his perfectionist style onto Gillian Flynn’s screenplay as a fight for sanity rather than the typical murder mystery story. As usual for Fincher, he glues sequences together with such rhythm that the lengthy runtime feels nonexistent.
12. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013)
Beyond the incredible technical achievement, Carruth has created a beautifully depressing experience that focuses on the severe paranoia between its two characters. Carruth is an ingenious auteur-directing, composing, writing, editing, producing, and starring in his egoless film. An audience can project their own experiences onto the bleak science fiction of “Upstream Color”, because of it’s vague and obscure ambiance.
11. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
To praise a film by saying “it makes you feel like you’re really there” is problematic because film as a medium is intended for telling a story relating to the human experience. “Call Me By Your Name”, however, is worthy of this praise. Luca Guadagnino is a master of the senses. The audience is a mere fly on the wall, witnessing Elio experience the erotic delicacy of discovering love for the first time. The film is too good to be true, like a memory, or an experience one could never have.
10. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonze has created yet another film that transcends the genre it inhabits. Jonze uses a homogeneous mixture of conventions of romance films as a subversive tool to create a magically uncanny story. “Her” is a subtle warning of the rising influence of artificial intelligence that retains the charming nature of great romance films. Watch “Her” as a science fiction film, and there is limitless commentary to digest on the repercussions of internet addiction. Watch “Her “as a romance film, and the cheeky appeal of soulmates finding each other will delight.
9. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
With only three feature films, Barry Jenkins has established himself as a vanguard of new modern American works that showcase the untold and underrepresented stories in society. Following a young man named Chiron over three periods in his life, “Moonlight” is his magnum opus. Every performance is delivered with detail and artistry. Nicholas Britell creates a fragile and moving score, changing with each layer added to Chiron’s life. The haunting character work in “Moonlight” has laid the groundwork for a new wave of shameless, progressive storytelling.
8. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
Often dismissed as an award-baiting costume display, Paul Thomas Anderson’s disturbing romance tale is patient and tender. The film is all about delay, waiting so long to reveal itself the anxiety almost becomes painful. “Phantom Thread” is oblique and twisted, almost horrifically so, changing a viewer’s alliance between the leads as their wills begin to appear. After “The Master” (2012), Paul Thomas Anderson reached a part of his career where he has nailed down filmmaking to a science. “Phantom Thread” is one of his most mature and introspective works.
7. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
There is a scene in “Shame” where Carrey Mulligan’s character sings Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York at a party. However, her version removes the joy and charisma of Sinatra’s original version and replaces it with sorrow and sadness. Steve McQueen similarly replaces the pleasure and desire associated with sex with self-hatred and grief. “Shame” is a film that shows the horrors someone with a sex addiction experiences with astonishing emotional empathy.
6. Burning (Lee Chang-Dong, 2018)
Lee Chang-Dong in addition to being an award-winning director is a writer and a painter. “Burning” is a complete reflection of his work as a writer and an artist. The spirit of “Burning” is alive in the air the characters breathe and the world they inhabit. Chang-Dong turns the world of “Burning” into a fusion of lust, hate, hunger, and suspense. The main character is on the path to discovering the meaning of life until an elusive, twisted character enters his life, seeming to already understand its meaning.
5. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
Director Terrence Malick had to get in contact with NASA to get some of the shots in “The Tree of Life”. Every frame in the film is drenched with visual beauty. If there were one film that would explain to alien life what the experience of being a human is, this is it. Every point in life is covered. The film explores the universe through the infinitesimal lives of a middle-class family. Birth, youth, death, meaning. It is all here.
4. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
“The Social Network” is what happens when two geniuses collaborate and make a film together. At breakneck speed, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin chronicle the beginning of Facebook, and the rise of 21st-century elitism. The relevance of the film will hold up well into the future, as social media forms new ways for us to think about ourselves and the people around us. By the end of the film, the humanity between the friends is gone, replaced by hollow shells of the people they once were.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is painful to watch not just because of the suffering that Llewyn Davis puts up with, but because the solution to his problems is relatively obvious. However, his dissatisfaction with everything makes him delusional to these solutions. Empathy is built by the disconnect with the character, simply observing him wallow in his own self-pitying misery rather than experiencing it with him.
2. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015)
“Anomalisa” is a nightmare. In particular, Charlie Kaufman’s nightmare. It is a midlife crisis story with the innocence and disturbing essence of puppets pulling out every last drop of surreal, mordant apprehension that one could possibly have. The film hits every beat of self-analysis and scrutiny that Charlie Kaufman puts into himself when he tells his stories. There is no solution for the main character Anomalisa, nor is there a world outside his self-important sphere of influence. The film is a philosophical therapy session, attempting to understand not what the characters can do for themselves but the hell that have created in their own minds.
1. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)
There is no bad guy in “The Hunt”, only confused, disarrayed people. The idea of an entire community turning on someone under false accusations of pedophilia is a terrifying thought. This thought occupies the runtime of “The Hunt”. Mads Mikkelsen steps into his role, fully embracing the anguish and desperation that any human being would feel when mass hysteria occurs about who they really are. The worst performance in the film is phenomenal. The worst shot in the film is breathtaking. The worst scene in the film is bitterly heartbreaking. This is the best film of the decade.