Over the last 10 years, Hollywood has released some of its finest work in recent history. As 2016 draws to a close, I felt inclined to take a look back over this past decade, and recall the finest moments on the silver screen between 2006 and 2016. That, and I really wanted to make another list. I love lists.
10. American Gangster (Ridley Scott, 2007)
(photo courtesy of gaiahealthblog.com)
Ridley Scott starts off our list with 2007’s American Gangster; the fact-based biopic of crime boss Frank Lucas. One thing American Gangster gets so very right is its flawless production. Very few films can nail a time period the way Gangster does, and it’s refreshing to see it done so well in tandem with what I would argue to be Ridley Scott’s best directing. It probably goes without saying that Denzel Washington is absolutely spectacular in the lead role, but it’s by no means his show alone. Russell Crowe carries himself well opposite Washington, and the supporting cast is sprinkled with all kinds of talent, from Josh Brolin to Chiwetel Ejiofor. Everything about this movie clicks, and the result is both stylish and effective.
9. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
(photo courtesy of theodysseyonline.com)
I wish I could put this film higher on this list. Children of Men from director Alfonso Cuaron gets so many things right, and is a marvel to behold on a technical level. The world the film manages to build is incredible, which goes a long way in helping the story feel grounded. It feels authentic and believable, and is clearly the result of a meticulously devoted effort from Cuaron. The whole thing feels like a labor of love, and it really does come through in the finished product. The set-pieces in Children of Men are some of the best I’ve ever seen, accompanied with creative and innovative camerawork in order to create a spectacle that’s nothing short of stunning. Yes, a crucial “character” introduced near the end of the film being completely CGI is distracting, and Clare-Hope Ashitey’s performance as Kee comes up lacking at times, but the grand scope of what Children of Men is able to accomplish more than outshines its shortcomings. Unfortunately, those shortcomings are what lands Alfonso Cuaron’s epic at the lower end of our list.
8. The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)
(photo courtesy of netflixlife.com)
The Big Short is an interesting little dichotomy. On one hand, this film is a lot of fun. On the other hand, the subject it’s looking into is shockingly infuriating and more than a little depressing. The Big Short approaches the recent housing crisis with prominent contempt for those responsible wrapped in a wicked sense of humor. The writing is clever, the directing is fast paced and electric, and the film has a way of presenting downright boring Wall Street jargon in a way that is interesting, easy to comprehend, and often quite funny. The cast is stacked with loads of talent, and their chemistry together is infectious. Also, I feel bad for just barely leaving Drive off this list, so this will serve as my surrogate love note to Ryan Gosling in its stead.
7. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
(photo courtesy of hellogiggles.com)
I think we all knew I wasn’t going to make it through this list without Marty. If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes talking movies with me, I’ve probably mentioned 2006’s The Departed. This film is everything you could want out of a Martin Scorsese crime drama. The whole cast is superb, the directing is what you’d expect from Scorsese, the story is intricate, the whole thing is riddled with scathingly effective dark humor… Really, this being on my list should come as a surprise to no one. Marty deserved his Oscar long before The Departed, but it was more than earned with this film.
6. No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007)
(photo courtesy of goodreads.com)
If I had to describe The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men in one word, it would be “understated.” No grand theatrics, no major set-pieces, no bombastic monologues. This film’s greatest strength is its subtlety. Joel & Ethan Coen have shown that they are undeniable masters of their craft, and No Country for Old Men is the evidence of that thesis. To say that Javier Bardem’s performance is anything shy of chilling would be underselling it; I’ve had my share of nightmares featuring Bardem and that psycho-brand page boy haircut. What makes the affair all the more unsettling is the Coens’ decision to exclude any sort of soundtrack; every scene is comprised solely of ambiance. That kind of low-key direction from the Coens as well as Tommy Lee’s quietly profound lead performance make for a genuinely unnerving masterpiece.
5. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)
(photo courtesy of hindustantimes.com)
What came first: the chicken or the egg? Am I in love with Brie Larson because of Room? Or am I in love with Room because of Brie Larson? Either way, Room is one hell of an emotional punch in the gut. I went into Room completely blind, having not seen any trailers or plot synopses (interestingly enough, the picture above is the only media I had seen on the film before watching it), which is very uncommon for me. I was blindsided by just how emotionally dark the film turned out to be at the start. The first act is outright harrowing, and the following two acts aren’t necessarily sunshine and candy, either. Brie Larson was a shoe-in for the Oscar off this performance, but it would be a disservice to not give immense credit to her co-star, Jacob Tremblay. Room is unique in that it showcases easily the best child performance in recent memory, which only goes to further bolster the emotional impact of the whole experience (especially one particular scene near the end of the second act). Room also holds a special place alongside Castaway and The Road as the only films that have literally brought me to tears.
4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
(photo courtesy of tasteofcinema.com)
If you were alive and knew what movies were in 2007, you heard how fantastic Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is. There’s really nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about this film. Daniel Day-Lewis is perfect as Daniel Plainview, and believe me when I say that I am in no way being hyperbolic. There Will Be Blood deserves its accolades as a modern masterpiece, and is an outstanding showcase for the generally underappreciated talent of Paul Thomas Anderson as both a superb writer and director. I wish I had more to add, but the film really speaks for itself. Expertly crafted, essential viewing.
3. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
(photo courtesy of foxsearchlight.com)
If I’m being perfectly honest, 12 Years a Slave is probably the best film on this list. First off, if you haven’t heard the name Chiwetel Ejiofor, you’re missing out. Those of you familiar with the films on this list may have noticed that this marks his third appearance in our little countdown, following American Gangster and Children of Men. He has proven himself a profound talent, and 12 Years a Slave is a wonderful culmination of that talent. 12 Years a Slave is also the third film from director Steve McQueen. Both his previous films (Hunger and Shame) show a clear grasp of fundamentally powerful film-making that remains just as present in 12 Years a Slave. Credit is also due to Lupita Nyong’o for an outstanding film debut, and to Michael Fassbender for playing one hell of an antagonist (but we’ll talk more about him in just a minute). This is one of those films in the company of Saving Private Ryan, often referred to as “The best movie I never want to see again.” It’s the kind of film that leaves you exhausted and emotionally broken once the credits roll. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” 12 Years a Slave. It’s more something that’s experienced, and I’m thankful that I did.
2. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, 2015)
(photo courtesy of engadget.com)
Steve Jobs is one of those movies that took me by complete surprise. I knew it was most likely going to be good with Danny Boyle at the helm, but it wasn’t until after its initial release that I discovered Aaron Sorkin’s involvement with the project. Sorkin is one of those names that draws me to a project regardless of what pieces are assembled around him, and this project had the added benefit of great pieces. While Michael Fassbender boasts the most outstanding performance of the bunch, everyone assembled in this film is spectacular. Sorkin’s writing against Danny Boyle’s innovative direction makes for a film driven solely by dialogue that’s as exhilarating as a chase scene out of Mad Max. The writing is sharp and quick-witted, everything typical of what puts Sorkin in a league of his own. I once heard this film described as “an action movie of words”, and I can’t think of a more fitting description. I also have to admire the film’s bravery in depicting its title character as the deeply flawed and often unbecoming individual he seemed to be. This so easily could have fallen into the realm of bland, recycled mythologizing of a prominent historical figure. Steve Jobs is like nothing I’ve ever seen, which helps elevate it to such a high standing on this list, but it’s not alone in that merit.
1. Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2012)
(photo courtesy of newyorker.com)
If you’re looking for innovation, look no further than Alejando Inarritu’s Birdman. It’s difficult to describe this film, honestly. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. Birdman is the perfect melding of creativity and artful storytelling; an innovative triumph that stands apart from… Anything. From everything. Is Birdman perfect? I have no idea. It transcends genre, it follows the beat of its own drum. I can tell you that, on a technical level, Birdman is beyond exceptional. The whole film is shot and edited to look like one continuous shot throughout its entirety, and while it is apparent where a couple cuts were made, the effect works beautifully and gives the movie a distinct flow that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. All the performances in Birdman are wonderfully nuanced; every character has something to contribute towards whatever it is this film is trying to accomplish. This is one of those films that offers new interpretations and new discoveries with every repeat viewing. I can’t recommend Birdman enough, if only as a testament to its wild ambition and unmatched creativity.