by InRO Staff Feature Articles Film Year in Review

Top 100 Films of the Decade: 50-26

January 28, 2020

The Last Word from Your Editor, Sam C. Mac: With the 2010s officially over, the time seems right for another departure: after 12 years (with a small break in the middle), I’m stepping down as this site’s Editor-in-Chief, to be succeeded by co-founder (and unapologetic Iron & Wine-lover) Luke Gorham. I don’t plan on getting too personal here, but I do want to say that, as long as I’ve been an adult, InRO has been my baby. And so it does seem kind of fitting that, only now — as my wife and I prepare to welcome our first child, in just a few short weeks — do I finally feel ready to let that responsibility go. Of course, I couldn’t leave without first rallying the troops, past and present InRO writers alike (and there are plenty of names here that haven’t graced these pages in years), for one last round of painstakingly assembled lists. Over the next week, InRO will finally unveil its picks for the Top 100 Films and the Top 50 Albums of the Decade — showing up late for that party, obviously, but in these abominable times, it never seems like a bad idea to celebrate art that deserves it. The ideal decade would have probably brought both an abundance of great works and an agreeable environment in which to enjoy them. The 2010s got exactly half of that equation right.


 

| Top 100 Films of the Decade : 100-76 |

| Top 100 Films of the Decade : 75-51 |

| Top 100 Films of the Decade : 25-1 |

 

50. One of the great cage-rattling documentaries, Ezra Edelman’s eight-hour monument isn’t just the story of one of the most famous athletes in the history of sports; OJ: Made in America is a sprawling journey through a notorious crime, decades of institutionalized racism and misogyny, pop culture, and media hysteria. Put it in the fuckin’ Smithsonian next to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11. That candid footage of then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti watching the legendary white Bronco chase in astonishment, while waiting to be interviewed about successfully arresting the man who was fleeing his authority — on live television — is a cinematic moment for the ages. Matt Lynch


49. At a time when computer technology has all but taken over the American animation industry, leaving the hand-drawn stuff often thought of as being an antiquated relic, it’s interesting that the most profound and altogether beautiful animated film of the decade is made of of mostly Don Hertzfeldt’s…stick figures. In fact, the crude simplicity of It’s Such a Beautiful Day is at the root of the film’s singular brilliance: Chronicling the mundane, day-to-day existence of a man trying to overcome his crippling anxiety, Hertzfeldt fills his film to the brim with hallucinatory passages and droll observations about the world and, in the process, sketches out something that’s both readily identifiable and deeply human. Even at its most surreal, It’s Such a Beautiful Day vividly delves into its protagonist’s broken psyche with insight and empathy. Hertzfeldt pairs a Malick-ian narration with a soundtrack of classical music cues, a tact that elevates his deceptively simple animation to the level of a kind of cosmic poetry, as if the filmmaker had uncovered the secrets of the universe in his primitive sketches. Matthew Lucas


48. Random things happen for no reason as we muddle through the monotonous patterns of life. South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has been studying these indiscriminate moments for years. In 2012’s The Day He Arrives, former film director Seongjun (Yu Junsang) comes to Seoul for a couple of days to visit a friend. After a tumultuous evening of drinking with a trio of strangers and showing up drunk on his ex-girlfriend’s doorstep, Seonjun finds himself trapped in a cinematic portal where he cycles through three finely drawn visions of fate, each highlighted by the delicate shifts of mood that he and his companions experience.  Shot in black and white, The Day He Arrives stuffs Hong’s familiar tropes — soju-soaked remorse and piercing, yet tender, satire — into a playful narrative of keenly observed possibilities. In nearly all Hong films, the fragile hero is a film director of varying degrees of failure, and it is never too much of a stretch to consider them all some shade of autobiographical. But this early-2010s portrait’s self-deprecating, confessional tone now seems particularly candid. Kathie Smith


47. Little about Terence Davies’s adaptations of Edith Wharton and John Kennedy Toole — which opted for guarded emotion and calculated stateliness — suggested the vision that the filmmaker would conjure up in tackling Terence Rattigan’s a post-WWII play. The Deep Blue Sea mounts an awakening of passion through a wonderful marriage of narrative and aesthetic — a testament to Davies’s artistry and a bold affront to the complacency of so many literary and/or theatrical adaptations. Not that the director wholly abandons his auteurist signatures: his preoccupation with memory is organically and affectingly melded with the source material, thanks to some intuitive tinkering with Rattigan’s narrative, and Davies’s fondness for communal singalongs makes for one of the most moving sequences of the director’s career. All the credit shouldn’t go to Davies, though; actress Rachel Weisz also surprises in a role as a woman who is as possessed by her newfound conviction as she is by her unshakable vulnerability. Luke Gorham


46. Ad Astra capped a decade of apparent commitment to exploring genre filmmaking, and to expanding James Gray’s work beyond the relatively small-scale character drama of his mid 90s-to-2000s period. It’s undoubtedly the most expansive Gray film of the 2010s, its central character hurtling into the very depths of the solar system. But 2016’s The Lost City of Z may be the out-and-out masterwork of Gray’s career. With an attentiveness to class disparities and involved personal and social relationships, the film recounts the life and travails of British military officer and explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who’s charged with surveying the borders of Bolivia and soon becomes obsessed with the notion that its Amazonian jungles contain a hidden civilization. This nascent need to discover quickly imbalances Fawcett’s life; his desire encounters the realities of the shifting values of his ménage, aristocratic hierarchies, and world war. Cinephile that he is, Gray successfully shifts between multiple filmic registers, organising wartime set-pieces that evoke greats of the century-old genre like All Quiet Along the Westerm Front, while the sequences of Fawcett and his expedition’s descent into the Amazon channels marvelously the likes of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, or any work that hearkens to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A meticulously paced, back-and-forth narrative displays Gray’s acute awareness of history (consider the suggestions of theosophy in Fawcett’s visit to a tarot card reader in the trenches), which the filmmaker uses to ground his film’s sense of adventure in a palpable reality and in an imminent sense of danger. And while The Lost City of Z is rarely showy, it still features some of the finest production design of the decade, as well as a highly controlled compositional sense. This is best demonstrated by the film’s two-part finale: first, during a sequence where Fawcett achieves his goal of discovering Z, and in the process escapes the burdens of the British caste system; and then, when Nina Fawcett (Sienna Miller), the wife who was rebuffed by Percy from joining his quest, receives word that her husband and son may still be alive, as this film’s most magisterial shot shows her disappear into the foliage of a jungle that suddenly materializes in her own home. Gray navigates the minefields of both exoticism and sexism endemic to his film’s source material, balancing these realities with better impulses, all the while properly recognizing that, even as the male protagonist found his materialist transcendence, there is little reason for unambiguous celebration. Which isn’t to say that The Lost City of Z is defined by its critical eye or its contemporary perspective: that would do a degree of an injustice to a film which has much more on its mind. Matt McCracken


45. Pedro Costa demonstrates an abiding, almost ethical commitment to the victims of Portugal’s colonial empire, and specifically the community of Fountainhas, a district of Lisbon that was home to impoverished immigrants of primarily African descent prior to its demolition in 2010. From 1997 to 2006, Costa shot several, towering works — Ossos, In Vanda’s Room, and Colossal Youth — in and around Fontainhas, and the neighborhood’s eventual destruction by no means deterred the director: 2015’s Horse Money explores a demolished Fontainhas’s afterlife, and in the process grapples with Portugal’s history of violence, all through the slowly degrading body and soul of an aging resident. Reprising his role from 2007’s Colossal Youth, Ventura serves as the poetic center of Horse Money, a film that follows the docu-fictive paradigm that Costa has worked within since the turn of the millennium, but with one major difference: the director’s previous films used their digital cinematography to capture the stark realities of poverty, while Horse Money signals a move into the realm of the expressionistic, an aesthetic radicalization of the digital vernacular and what it can come to represent through the filter of an individual’s mind. The manner in which Costa and longtime cinematographer Leonardo Simões light and shoot the dimensions of a street, or the textures of a torn down building, achieves a kind of tactile and oppressive darkness that few filmmakers have dared to really explore. In this way, Costa and his team display some of the greatest working knowledge of art and its adaptation; auteurs as disparate as Mizoguchi and Lewton find their work processed through Vermeerian images and scenes that belong in Shakespeare. That such terrifying beauty can be found in the inhabitation of abandonment and madness in the austere and decaying settings of a hospital, and its surrounding hills and derelict community spaces, speaks to this film’s potency. And the weight of all this comes from the mind of Ventura, right through Horse Money’s zenith: a final act that sees the apparition of a soldier of the Carnation Revolution trapping Ventura in an elevator. The scene — perhaps the single best of this decade — is a direct and also confounding confrontation between the violence that supported false promises of freedom and the internal turmoil that one’s desperation and abjection propagates in one’s actions towards friends and family. It can be all too easy to theorize on matters of colonialism and social injustice, and Costa knows this. With Horse Money, he asks viewers not simply know what is wrong, but to feel the effects of those wrongs. McCracken


44. Moonlight is a kind of memory play, one in which every formal decision made by director Barry Jenkins contributes to the creation of a liminal subjective space closely linked (but not exclusively bound) to one man’s consciousness. The film’s storytelling is linear but elliptical, ruptured by dreams and interludes where time seems to slow down, where image and sound fall out of sync before finding one another again, and where years disappear in the space of a cut. It is a chronicle of the shaping of a man’s identity that somehow seems to explore its own, searching beauty in desperate circumstances, tenderness in cruelty, and assurance in the unspoken. It’s one of the most radical American films of the decade; not only formally — with its heightened color palette (those blues!) and expressive lighting (those burnished skin tones!) — but also in its sense of boundless, bone-deep empathy, its searching narrative structure that’s guided by gestures and glances as much as major conflicts and events. This approach allows Jenkins and his playwright collaborator, Tarell Alvin McCraney, to tell a black youth’s story as a history of touches: a troubled mother’s gentle caress, a father figure’s strong arms buoying him above the surface of the ocean, an unexpected sexual release offered on a quiet night at the beach, and finally, a head resting once again on a shoulder it’s been missing for years. Each of these moments are rendered as impossibly vivid as a memory — and each is deeply and immediately felt. Alex Engquist


43. Happy Hour is an anomaly even within the adventurous and idiosyncratic landscape of the international festival circuit. Its central cast is made-up of nonprofessional participants of acting workshops held by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi in Kobe, Japan, though you’d swear they’d been at it for decades. And then there’s the runtime — 5 hours and 17 minutes. These features alone make Happy Hour remarkable, but what makes the film miraculous is how absorbing, and indeed spellbinding, it is. The length is neither a directorial indulgence nor an endurance test; instead, it proves an ideal way to allow the themes and exquisite emotional resonances to stretch out and breathe, making for one of the most deeply soul-enriching cinematic experiences of recent memory. Tracking the ebbs and flows of the friendship between a quartet of women in their late 30s, Happy Hour brings to mind Japanese and French masters — Ozu and Kore-eda, Rivette and Rohmer — but the magic it creates from its intimate and deeply empathetic attention to complex characters belongs to it alone. Christopher Bourne


42. A Separation tells a morality tale for the ages, that of an Iranian married couple whose separation sets in motion a series of events that will forever change those swept up in its wake. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi offers no easy answers, instead presenting his characters as flesh-and-blood human beings prone to rash decisions, self-preservation being of the utmost importance, family and mere acquaintances alike be damned. It is possible to place yourself in the shoes of each participant, understand their reasoning, their motivation, yet at the same time, objectively view their actions and see how the mistakes could have been easily avoided; it’s like Michel Haneke, but with heart. That extends to the direction as well, which at first seems deceptively simple. Farhadi favors a handheld camera, giving the proceedings a sense of immediacy. But there is also a formal precision to his compositions, which often partition and compartmentalize his characters behind doors, widows, and panes of glass. The production design of the couple’s apartment, where most of the film’s action takes place, is especially ingenious: a sprawling series of rooms composed almost entirely of glass makes the actions of one character visible to another no matter the location. And while all of this may seem quite obvious considering the film’s title, Farhadi takes great pains to ensure that when his characters actually share a single space together, unobstructed, there will be some sort of emotional payoff, whether it be a son sharing a tender moment with his dementia-addled father; a debt-ridden man coming to terms with the loss of his child through physical violence; or a daughter trying to understand the deceptive actions of her father. If for no other reason, A Separation deserves praise simply for being so humane, presenting life as a series of compromises where no one is entirely at fault, but where each person must be held responsible for their actions. Steve Warner


41. In The House That Jack Built, Matt Dillon’s titular serial killer likens himself to a litany of more obvious historical figures — Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini among them — but there’s one choice that seems odd: classical pianist Glenn Gould. Jack claims both he and Gould make art with the tools that they’ve been gifted, creating “beauty” in a needlessly cruel world. If director Lars Von Trier were to take this same approach and compare himself to a contemporary tortured musical artist, one strong candidate might be Kanye West. Both men have faced near-universal animosity in the past decade for their irrationally selfish public outbursts (one compared himself to a Nazi; the other openly supported one), yet neither has shied away from these criticisms in their own work. They’ve actually embraced them. It’s within this mode of introspection that The House That Jack Built serves its most integral purpose: as a damning self-critique in which the Danish provocateur depicts himself as a narcissistic abuser who’s willing to destroy anyone and anything to achieve the greatest potential his craft affords him. Part essay on society’s indulgence of violence, part black comedy of pathetic, egotistically-fueled pride, Jack is at times an overwhelming experience due to just how demandingly it intellectualizes this material, never once wavering from its commitment to scrutinize the most grotesque hegemonic masculinity. Yet Lars, much like Kanye, ultimately believes that “the most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest”; he even offers some faint optimism, suggesting that the only way to purge these demons is to confront them head-on. Paul Attard


40. Building on the tripartite structure of his 2015 melodrama Mountains May Depart, Jia Zhangke borrows from deep within his own filmography for Ash Is Purest White, another story of the rapid transformation of the Chinese economy and 21st century cultural norms. Zhao Tao plays one half of a gangster couple, her allegiance to wuxia values signalled by the Wong Fei-hung theme that introduces and follows her throughout the film. Her boyfriend, played by Liao Fan, is less reliable though. While he appears to be the epitome of Triad cool, he has a hollow core that will shift with the nation’s changing fortunes. His musical theme is Sally Yeh’s “Drunk for Life,” the theme from John Woo’s The Killer — a theme Jia previously associated with petty criminality in his feature debut, 1997’s Xiao Wu. Tellingly, Liao hears this pop song not when he’s watching The Killer, but when he and his cohorts enjoy a viewing of Taylor Wong’s John Woo knock-off, Tragic Hero. Liao is a counterfeit wuxia hero — which becomes apparent in Ash Is Purest White’s second and third sections. In the second, Zhao is lost in the set of Jia’s 2008 film Still Life, scrounging her way to survival while Liao avoids her. She gathers herself (with the help of a stirring pop music performance, filmed in 2005 and intercut with Zhao in the present) and heads West, but there are UFOs there. The third act finds Zhao back at home. Liao’s body has begun to rot along with his soul, and he has to depend on his former paramour. Zhao helps Liao, because that’s what wuxia heroes do: Like a hero out of John Ford or Chang Cheh, she sticks to her code and does her duty, even while knowing she’ll be betrayed in the end. Sean Gilman


39. At the ripe old age of 71, Martin Scorsese somehow imbued his The Wolf of Wall Street with a youthful vitality, his camera kinetically soaring over yachts and tracking through the chaotic maze of the Wall Street trading floor. Though much ink has been spilled over the bacchanalian excess and resplendent wealth that Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his loutish gaggle of miscreant brokers worship, and bask in, what is truly shocking is how hysterical this film is. Moments that would be blown up to tragic set-pieces in lesser works — such as the recollection of a fellow broker’s suicide and his wife’s penchant for blowjobs — are turned into terse sight gags, as Belfort sighs and quickly proceeds with his self-mythologizing narration. The film’s comic centerpiece sees Belfort consuming enough Quaaludes to kill a horse and attempting to navigate his now-unresponsive limbs into a white Ferrari. And it stuns because it presents Belfort in microcosm, and feels a bit like watching a white dwarf implode at ludicrously close proximity. The only thing funnier than watching Belfort caught in a drug-induced spin cycle is realizing that this buffoon defrauded would-be investors out of one billion dollars. We laugh to keep from crying. Nick Usen


38. The story of Jake Hannaford’s (played by a macho, gravelly-voiced John Huston) last day of live, The Other Side of the Wind is an antagonistic, kinetic work of great bravura filmmaking. Black-and-white with color, choppy mockumentary style, and elusive modernity coalesce and contrast in ways that are as fresh now as they would’ve been in Orson Welles’s lifetime. This cast — mostly composed of old collaborators, directors, and other people in Welles’ inner circle — bring life to a set of juicy parts that are often reduced to one or two scenes. One could argue that there’s too much here — in fact, many did when trying to piece it all together — but the result is as transifixing as it is bewildering. Unearthing a curio is always a nerve-wracking experience: some mythic things should stay that way. Yet, after 40 years in-the-making, Welles’s final film is everything that the legends always made it out to be. At times nonsensical, paranoid, prophetic, and (surprisingly) homoerotic, this scathing satire — released decades after the artists it satirizes have died, Frankesnsteined together by a list of collaborators, plus Netflix — is a truly defining work of the 2010s. Welles will never have to answer for this sensational, seemingly personal film, but maybe that’s for the best. Some of The Other Side of the Wind’s mysteries should be left unsolved. Tanner Stechnij


37. Controversial in every one of its different release cuts, The Act of Killing remains one of the most powerful and gut-wrenching documents of institutionalized horror and violence; its approach is the definition of “not for everyone.” The documentary methodology that Joshua Oppenheimer used to approach the raw truth might not be the most well-regarded among those that study the medium, but it’s still undeniably effective, stirring not only the emotions of whoever watches the film, but also visibly unsettling the people onscreen, who are made to relive part of their filmed deeds or just reflect on them and start to become sick to their stomach. Seeing this film made me sick, made me gag, made me vomit. And for this subject, that’s how it should be. Jaime Gomez Grijalba


36. The best encapsulation of the experience of living through this decade arrived at its very beginning — an irony typical of the era, when nightmares were routinely prescient. It’s also an accomplishment typical of filmmaker David Fincher, who coursed through the 2010s locked-in to the zeitgeist. Before fake news, data mining scandals, congressional hearings, Cambridge Analytica, compromised elections, flame wars, and reality TV presidents, there was simply Facebook, the modest social network dreamed up in a Harvard dorm room by a dweeb hung up on his ex. “We don’t even know what it is yet,” enthuses soon-to-be billionaire Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), still only dimly aware of how dangerously powerful his invention might become. “We don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be.” He’s pleased that Facebook is cool. He has no clue yet that it’ll be ubiquitous. With propulsive, world-humming momentum, Fincher, working from a crackling script by Aaron Sorkin, charts the early days of the budding social network’s rise, attuned not only to the dark brilliance of the enterprise, but to its collateral damage, its unfortunate casualties, and its serious implications. The Social Network might have been merely the story of a surprising success: the odd loner strikes it rich with a popular website. (“Good luck with your video game,” as Zuckeberg’s ex-girlfriend coldly dismisses him.) Instead, as Facebook continues to exert a terrifying influence over the world, this film illuminates a moment of radical global change. Calum Marsh


35. House of Pleasures is a baroque free-for-all of sensuality and violence stoked by anachronism. Bertrand Bonello depicts the corporeal reality of a late 19th-century Parisian brothel without schematic moralizing and swooning emotion, but with a cinematic verve that ignites the senses. The graceful narrative rhythms and organic camerawork compliment the natural performances of the ladies-for-hire within the film’s closed, rococo world. Tenderness and strength, sorrow and joy are amplified — and with a soundtrack seamlessly embellished with English language pop and soul all drawn from the 1960s. But just as soon as Bonello embraces the fruition of an illusory dream, he pulls the rug out from underneath the romance, crafting a startlingly disjunctive ending. House of Pleasures lends a feminine ring to the emblematic cries of the Aeneid: “These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart.” Smith


34. Christian Petzold is one of our great contemporary dramatists, taking the building blocks of melodrama and draining them of artificiality; he’s a kind of quotidian, brutalist Douglas Sirk. What could be simple narrative convenience or lazy coincidence instead becomes, in Petzold’s hands, a kind of tragic, cosmic inevitability. Beginning in media res, Petzold’s Transit opens on two men discussing their plans for escape, what to do about comrades in hiding, and the passing of illicit letters. It’s just another day — at least until police cars go screaming by and soldiers come marching up the street. Then the voiceover begins, an omniscient third-person narration that is (at first) strikingly incongruous with what we see on-screen. In a bold formal gambit, Petzold integrates certain WW2-era elements from Anna Seghers’s 1944 source novel into his film adaptation’s narration, but sets his film in a (mostly fictional) modern era. Narration and images exist in a sometimes confounding, contrapuntal relationship in Transit, and other times begin to dovetail and mirror each other. This creates a profoundly disorienting effect, even after one discerns what, exactly, is going on. As critic Neil Bahadur points out, this conceit not only suggests the liminal space occupied by characters — trapped between countries, desperate for escape — but also a new liminal space between past and present. Ultimately, the narrative becomes a distaff, crypto-remake of Casablanca (much like Petzold’s previous feature, Phoenix, nodded to and took elements from Vertigo), as Georg (Franz Rogowski) takes on an assumed identity and becomes entangled with the wife of the man he is impersonating. Georg also strikes up a friendship of sorts with the wife and son of a fallen comrade, his connection with the boy ultimately complicating Georg’s desire to flee France for Mexico. It what is certainly one of the year’s best films, Petzold chronicles the Kafka-esque travails of displaced peoples, and how their struggles remain the same in the past and the present. Daniel Gorman


33. A mirror box of American hopes and disillusionments, James Gray’s The Immigrant may be set in 1920s New York, but its scope makes it timeless. Ewa (Marion Cotillard), an unmarried Polish refugee of the Great War, is pulled out of line at Ellis Island after her sister shows symptoms of a possible lung disease. Another immigrant, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), uses his influence to save Ewa from a fate of deportation, but the price is a series of compromises in pursuit of that ever-elusive American dream: to be happy. Gray positions the stuff of standard love-triangle melodrama as something more momentous, a rich tapestry of American iconography stripped of its majesty (Ewa plays Lady Liberty in Bruno’s burlesque show). Characters begin to resemble less the weight of their own moral convictions and failings than those of an entire nation. Crucially, Gray is as much concerned with the intimate implications of this parable as he is the broad ones, and more than anything his middle-weight masterpiece, and the superlative actors at its center, make The Immigrant about gestures of forgiveness, understanding, and individual self-worth — as stirring a rebuke to America’s time-honored tradition of human commodity as the cinema has offered. Mac


32. With hazed-out Joaquin Phoenix stumbling his way through a vast conspiracy of corrupt cops, FBI stooges, undercover informants, shady real-estate deals and neo-Nazis, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice would seem to concern itself with the end of a certain kind of idyllic, 1970s-era American Dream. But then Joanna Newsom’s mysterious narrator informs us that the film’s title is an insurance term meaning “anything that you can’t avoid” (“eggs break, chocolate melts, glass shatters”), which signals to us that Anderson is exploring the fundamental instability of that defunct dream rather than its demise. Characters like Doc Sportello or Bigfoot Bjornsen aren’t vulnerable because they believe in peace and love or law and order, but because they believe in anything at all. Both of their systems were already co-opted to begin with, because eventually people will compromise themselves for what they care about. In this upside-down world, it makes sense that the nefarious drug cartel at the heart of Inherent Vice — The Golden Fang — uses an organization of dentists as a front. We all hate going to the dentist, but everyone has to go at some point. Lynch


31. Watching Everyone Else seems like an invasion of someone’s privacy — as if you were watching people struggle with a language barrier despite speaking the same language. Before Maren Ade mastered the awkwardness between father and daughter in Toni Erdmann, she took on the struggles of young couple Chris and Gitti, played by Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger, both of whom brilliantly to walk the line between charming and annoying. Over the course of a Meditteranean vacation, the couple’s desires come out and they never match, leading to increasingly tense encounters with each other that then spill into awkward meetings with neighbors. Ade’s patient writing comes alive as the characters change and swap places, passing neediness and nonreciprocal feelings between them. It’s not hard to see oneself in either half of the couple, or both at the same time. Ade’s gift is in putting a mirror up to her audience, creating characters that are equally impossible to hate or love because they contain flashes recognizable to everyone. But the director really digs deep in this one, reveling in each wrong-minded argument and false assumption. Everyone Else is a 124-minute long full-body cringe, replete with ellipses, irony, and contradictions; i.e., the stuff of most failed couplings. Stechnij


30. Hill of Freedom, might be the purest distillation of Hong Sang-soo’s filmic style and his narrative interests: a story of encounters, love, and infidelity with a fractured plot that unfolds in just under 70 minutes. Above all, this film might be one of the most fascinating experiments in editing for Hong, its jumbled linearity suggesting a malleability that makes the mind entertain the idea that the film could change with every new viewing. A Korean woman reads a letter left by a Japanese man that she met years ago, and with whom she had a love affair, but she reads the pages out of order, after they’re scattered on a stairwell. We see the actions narrated in the letter (ostensibly) and the film constantly cuts back to her reading the letter, page by page, seemingly trying (with us) to piece together a narrative. There is a mundane but at the same time tantalizing secret here: a missing page. In its simple but rigorous formal conception, Hill of Freedom may be Hong’s greatest achievement of a decade that cemented him among the great working filmmakers. Jaime Gomez Grijalba


29. Johnnie To’s collaborations with writer-producer Wai Ka-fai frequently tend toward the absurd (Fulltime Killer, Mad Detective, and Vengeance are rife with weird little bits of comedic business, and both Fat Choi Spirit and Running on Karma… well, they almost have to be seen to be even comprehended). But Drug War is a different animal altogether: a spare, blunt film, with a driving plot that moves inexorably towards an inevitable, apocalyptic showdown of a finale. Film scholar and Hong-Kong-cinema specialist David Bordwell has suggested that, as a Chinese co-production that was shot entirely in mainland China, To and Wai simply elided any bits of characterization that might have led to battles with the censors. Which is to say that Drug War is all business, all the time — with characters’ personalities emerging organically from the narrative proper. On paper, the film sounds like boilerplate cops-and-robbers stuff: Caught producing meth, a crime that carries the death penalty in China, a criminal is forced to work with police to bring down a large syndicate. But To infuses the proceedings with a mournful, solemn melancholia, reinforced by Cheng Siu-keung’s overcast, gun-metal-gray cinematography — and a shockingly blasé attitude about killing-off characters, good or bad. It’s a brave new world, and To seems horrified by it. Gorman


28. In contrast to the wide-open physical and psychological landscapes traversed in his previous film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor more or less restricts itself to a makeshift hospital along the Mekong River. But within this setting, the great Thai filmmaker finds an abundance of fantasy, cosmic import, sly political commentary and unexpected humor. In Apichatpong’s magical-realist world, a mysterious sleeping sickness is less a literal disease than a kind of spiritual purgatory for a bunch of soldiers; psychics act as tour guides to a nation’s troubled history; ancient Laotian princesses suddenly materialize wearing modern-day clothing; and past and present collide in elusive and intangible ways. Apichatpong handles all of this with his usual patience and delicacy — but the long takes, medium shots, and meditative pace don’t preclude a playfulness that makes the film as warmly entertaining as it is quietly profound. Stepping into Cemetery of Splendor is like stepping into a warm bath of contemplation — which is, blissfully, as cleansing and purifying an experience as that sounds. Kenji Fujishima


27. Miguel Gomes had a fruitful 2010s: his Our Beloved Month of August, shot in 2008, gradually rolled out from the festival circuit and garnered a reputation as a promising debut. It was followed, in 2012, by the magisterial Tabu, which in turn was followed by Gomes’s magnum opus, a three-film, sort-of adaptation of Arabian Nights. Tabu is the most readily accessible film of the bunch, a carefully bifurcated, two-part narrative that introduces us to characters in contemporary Lisbon before flashing back to fill in the life story of one of those characters, a young woman in the ‘60s who frolics through a romanticized (and very white) version of Africa. The whole film is shot in luxuriously soft, almost velvety black and white, and the second half is presented as a silent film, with only voiceover narration and carefully constructed sound effects on the soundtrack. Named after the classic F.W. Murnau film from 1931, Tabu collapses different modes of historicism. One is frequently reminded of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s assertion that Manoel de Oliveira was a 19th-century modernist, and how to factor that into relation to any particular period, past or present. In part one of Tabu, Gomes alternates between the monotone acting and static camera setups common to contemporary festival circuit fare, then transitions to broad, even wild romantic gestures in part two, all wrapped up in the ghosts of the colonialist past and contemporary social unrest. There’s a symbolic approach to nature, where water and animals become kinds of free-floating metaphors. But there’s also an emphasis on physical texture and simple, carnal pleasures. (Tabu would make a great double feature with Tropical Malady.) Whether one is interested in explicating the film’s subtext or not, Gomes has created a hypnotic, sensual film, an experience you want to sink into and be enveloped by. Gorman


26. The Turin Horse stands, to date, as Bela Tarr’s swan song. And while the state of cinema is poorer for the Hungarian auteur’s continued absence, the somber black-and-white funeral dirge of a film, about abject hopelessness above all else, is a fitting note for the filmmaker to go out on. Derived from an anecdote by Nietzsche — of the philosopher’s encounter with a man viciously beating a horse that refused to move — Tarr imagines the fate of the abused animal, its cruel existence mirroring that of its owner, an enfeebled old man living with his grown daughter in destitution. Tarr films both man and horse unflinchingly, alternating fluid tracking shots that seem to go on forever and static compositions that emphasize a kind of existential stasis. Truly, no one has experienced the peeling of potatoes quite like this before. Repetitions abound in Tarr’s portrait of a life unfulfilled; daily routine is a crushing banality and even sustenance brings no joy, only life for another day. But there’s gallows humor here as well, encapsulated in a scene where father and daughter finally muster the good sense to abandon their home, temporarily vanishing beyond the horizon only to reappear, moment later, dejectedly returning to their home. There’s a sense that the entire world is contained in this film, through two entities in the throes of an uncaring universe. Tarr seems to be laying all the messy contradictions of life on the table here: He can’t go on, he goes on, forever; we can’t go on, and yet we do. Ultimately, the act of making art in and of itself constitutes a kind of heroic struggle. Gorman

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