by InRO Staff Feature Articles Film Year in Review

Top 100 Films of the Decade: 75-51

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 : 50-26 |

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

 

75. The threat of the rising tide is never far in Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s eminently effervescent follow-up to 2015’s Happy Hour. In telling of Asako’s (Erika Karata) amorous vacillations between the doubles played by Masahiro Higashide — flighty, feckless Baku and stable, self-effacing Ryôhei — Asako I & II flows along the seductive synth-backed streams of a pop romance. (The film’s swooning overture contains both an explosive, slo-mo kiss and a post-accident embrace on hot roadside pavement.) And yet, as exemplified by Karata’s marvelously opaque performance, the film also conceals undercurrents of unstable feeling. Although the film was adapted from Tomoka Shibasaki’s 2010 novel Netemo sametemo (whose title translates to “When Asleep or Awake”), its timeline crucially encompasses the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake — a seismic event to match this film’s strange spectral force. There’s no allegorical implication to be found in either Baku’s initial abandonment of Asako, or the habitual volunteer work she later undertakes with Ryôhei in an outlying seaside town. But what the film conveys so magnificently is a sense of what it’s like to not just survive, but truly live in the wake of disaster, even when faced with uncertain waters. Like Eric Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter, Asako delineates a world of urban movement through which its female heroine must travel. The spiritual illumination of that film, though, is long gone, in place of which Hamaguchi presents the mysterious matters of Self and Others — the meaningfully titled Shigeo Gocho photo exhibition that recurs twice across the runtime. Indeed, although this modern romance, alternately set in Osaka and Tokyo, might from afar resemble a remarriage comedy, there is, in the end, only a tenuous rapprochement between Asako and her chosen lover. As they look out at a deceptively placid river in a becalmed closing two-shot, we are reminded that here, as in the rest of this preternaturally composed film of ever-shifting surfaces, still waters run deep. Lawrence Garcia


74. The recent release of The Irishman has attracted a lot of attention and re-centered the conversation around Martin Scorsese’s late-period. However, though frequently overlooked to the point of being a box office failure upon its initial release, Silence might have made for an even more ambitious coda to the filmmaker’s long, storied career. Almost all of Scorsese’s films have been about investigating faith, in one form or another; presumably, this is the product of being raised a Catholic and the crippling guilt (famously, Scorsese studied to become a priest before turning to filmmaking) that accompanies that faith. The sacred vs. the profane, the transcendent vs. the earthly, the spiritual vs. the physical — these are well worn themes that reach their apotheosis with Silence, arguably Scorsese’s greatest film, and certainly one of his most challenging. This is the work of an old man, one looking at his impending, inevitable end and thinking long and hard about what God and religion and faith mean to him. What he finds is confusing and excruciatingly painful — and ultimately open-ended. Adapting Shusaku Endo’s novel of the same name, Silence follows two Jesuit priests on a mission to 17th Century Japan in search of another priest, who is rumored to have apostatized. The duo discover a feudal Japanese government that is mercilessly seeking out and destroying Christians, a policy based on a complicated series of events involving fears of European colonization and peasant uprisings, spurred further by poor farmers practicing Christianity underground. While the political and cultural context is important, Scorsese is most focused on the interiorized struggles of Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), who sees suffering all around him and can’t seem to understand what, exactly, God would have him do about it. Does Rodrigues renounce his faith to save others? Or is suffering for one’s beliefs even more important? Faced with an impossible decision, Rodrigues looks for a sign from God, and finds nothing; or, as the film’s final shot seems to suggest, perhaps he did. In an act of supreme bravery, Scorsese stares into the abyss and refuses to blink. Daniel Gorman


73. Stranger by the Lake is, first and foremost, an aesthetic marvel of an erotic thriller, one set in an unfamiliar environment and populated with unsavory characters. But the real profundity of Alain Guiraudie’s film resides in its director’s non-judgmental, visually detached approach to telling this story. Of Stranger by the Lake’s many virtues — its disciplined compositions, its appreciably dense sound design, its note-perfect performances — perhaps its most haunting is the masterfully oblique final sequence that Guiraudie and cinematographer Claire Mathon orchestrate, which casts the eventual fate of the main character into supreme doubt. It’s easy to wittingly put yourself in danger after succumbing to the throes of lust, Guiraudie seems to be saying, but much more difficult to deal with the long-term consequences of that same relationship after it’s begun to fester. Not a wholly original observation, sure, but in dealing with this type of degradation with the formal sure-handedness of a classic Hitchcockian spine-chiller, Guiraudie manages to craft not only a singularly artful film about the pitfalls of infatuation, but an extraordinarily scary one as well. Dan Girmus


72. The children in Wes Anderson’s movies are often more mature than the adults; the same is true in Moonrise Kingdom. Sam and Suzy may be young, but their sense of alienation has given them insights to which the adults around them are oblivious. That gap in maturity, and the two characters’ love for each other, are the engines that drive this film’s conflicts. On one level, the obstacles are as small as anything a child faces — and yet the stakes feel enormous. Like Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which functions as Moonrise Kingdom’s theme music (moreso even than Alexandre Desplat’s original score), Anderson’s film is alternately playful and grandiose — and it rises to a dramatic crescendo that brings together all of its various players. Community, even more than love or the transition from youth to maturity, is the essence of this film. Granted, this could also be seen as the key to Anderson’s entire oeuvre — but Moonrise Kingdom, in particular, exercises this filmmaker’s talents with greater confidence than ever before, crafting a cinematic experience that’s as rich in humor as it is melancholic and beautiful. Andrew Welch


71. Wes Anderson‘s greatest films reveal a beating heart beneath the labored affectations and whimsical production designs. And in that regard, The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily Anderson’s best film since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums: it’s an emotionally affecting tale of love and friendship that is also a gut-bustingly funny, rip-roaring adventure yarn. In a move that seems even more timely today than Anderson himself probably envisioned, the film follows an immigrant and orphaned refugee named Zero (Tony Revolori) as he begins working as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest. Zero is taken under the wing of concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and before long, the two find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery. All of Anderson’s usual tics and trademarks are on full display in this film: the symmetrical framing and composition; the droll and deadpan line delivery; the candy-colored pastel sets that look like dioramas from the 1940s-era World’s Fair come to life; the whip pans; the miniatures. But all serve not to distract from, but rather highlight, the bond at this film’s center. A boy desperately searches for his place in a world that violently took his own home away from him. And a middle-aged man puts forth an ostentatious facade that belies a soul desperate for true human connection. That both find each other in a time of such turmoil and upheaval as (a version of) 1930s Europe is a small miracle; that Anderson makes a pointed critique on the absurdity of war by staging a shootout in the hotel itself and then having the participants stop, mid-battle, to ask, “Who are we shooting at?” is something to treasure. But Anderson saves his greatest trick for the end, when cutting — in a matter of seconds — between four divergent eras, each with their own sets of characters, locations, and aspect ratios. In these final moments, Anderson reveals how a great story — and, by extension, a great work of any medium — has the ability to not only stand the test of time, but transcend its moment, touching audiences of any era. There could be no more apt way of describing The Grand Budapest Hotel itself. Steve Warner


70. In between posting problematic, unfiltered-uncle updates to Facebook and appearing at any repertory screening of his work that will have him, Paul Schrader found some time to follow up two Nicolas Cage-starring thrillers with an uncompromising, personal auteurist statement. If the title wasn’t enough of a clue, the opening shot here — which dollies through a churchyard to the entryway of a 250-year-old Dutch Reformed Church in Snowbridge, New York — announces First Reformed as being Schrader’s most direct reckoning with his severe Protestant (in his case Calvinist) upbringing, and its place in a modern world of environmental decay and religious commodification. The focus on a solitary man, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller, marks the film as another Schrader work indebted to Robert Bresson (particularly Diary of a Country Priest) and both the culmination of, and afterword to, the writer-director’s God’s Lonely Man, “monocular films” project, which began in earnest with Taxi Driver. DP Alexander Dynan’s grey-white-brown Academy ratio frames, and the ambient churn of scorer Lustmord, help to sustain the bleak air established early by despondent climate collapse prognostications from Michael (Philip Ettinger), suicidal husband of Mary (Amanda Seyfried). And though a hearty Cedric “The Entertainer” Kyles — and a risky, touchingly lo-fi interlude of Toller and Mary’s imagined flight over virgin natural landscapes — do somewhat cut the woe, the film’s clammy carryover effects will linger long after most of its contemporaries are forgotten. Justin Stewart


69. Brothers Josh and Benny Safdie‘s Heaven Knows What dramatizes the experience of New Yorkers living with poverty and addiction, while keeping a respectful distance: the actors often perform in long shots composed from the opposite side of a block, and the score (electronic pieces by Isao Tomita) grants something like grace or harmony to the chaotic lives that are being led on screen. Despite taking place in a comparable milieu, and featuring contributions by some of the same collaborators, Good Time exhibits no such niceties: an unrelenting sprint of a crime picture, this film utilizes aesthetics diametrically opposed to the very concepts of harmony or grace — close-ups that are composed from invasive proximities and a synth score (by electronic artist Daniel Lopatin A.K.A. Oneohtrix Point Never) which throbs and pulsates over every foot-chase and violent conflict, imbuing each desperate action with a high dose of sensory pleasure (the filmmakers themselves, perhaps aspirationally, cite the influence of “termite art” quite often). Good Time, then, finds a frenzied rhythm through unscrupulous form, and in a manner that feels inextricable from this exact historical moment. It’s one of the few films that reflect the surrealism evident in American life today. Jake Mulligan


68. Osama Bin Laden, eat your heart out: Carlos the Jackal is the rock star of international terrorism. You don’t see fully fictionalized works starring, like, Bruce Willis in a role dramatizing the exploits of the most famous international killer in world history. The Carlos we meet in Olivier Assayas’s sprawling, five-plus hour docudrama wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the story of a man compelled to commit horrible crimes because he had a very specific political cause: himself. The grenade-tossing small-time Marxist became a legend by commodifying armed struggle as the epitome of counterculture cool, a media event instead of a clandestine communique. Assayas’s Carlos makes an analogue of its titular figure’s story to that of a world in which everything eventually becomes permissible and nothing is ever truly believed — illustrating that rampant, unchecked individualism eventually reduces anything truly meaningful to a footnote in history. Matt Lynch


67. Somehow, through adapting three short stories by Maile Meloy, Kelly Reichardt came up with a kind of ‘greatest hits’ film when she made 2016’s Certain Women. In rural Montana, three women internally struggle with their surroundings: Laura (Laura Dern) serves as the attorney for an injured, disgruntled employee who resorts to an act of violence at his workplace, Gina (Michelle William) prepares materials to build her house while struggling against microaggressions and coded misogyny from her husband and his friend, and ranch-hand Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is romantically rejected by Beth (Kristen Stewart), a lawyer/night school teacher. Reichardt’s mosaic includes everything from a hostage situation to a scene of bartering on the price of stones, as she turns Americana miniatures into concise snapshots of the repression, loneliness, and quietude beneath pastoral surfaces. Equipped with neutral-colored sweaters and coats, superstars Dern, Williams, and Stewart unshowily take on the certainties of everyday women unified by the varieties of patriarchal oppressiveness that they face. But it’s debutant Gladstone who actually proves the most perfect fit of all for Reichardt’s natural filmmaking register. Creating characters and images that have the capacity to change their meaning as one turns them over in their mind is one of Reichardt’s many talents. In Certain Women, scenes related to each vignette move quickly enough as to not allow for deep thought about the implication of what may have preceded. It’s that rare American film that invites quietude and thoughtfulness. Tanner Stechnij


66. There’s actually a lot to criticize about Richard Linklater‘s 2014 magnum opus, Boyhood: the performances, outside of the core group of actors, are wildly inconsistent, some even bordering on bad; the drunken stepdad subplot is presented with all the subtlety of an after-school special; and the film blatantly plays on nostalgia, paying lip service to everything from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises to the Wii game console. But then there’s what Linklater accomplishes here — namely, that thing that no other filmmaker had ever even really attempted. (Michael Apted’s Up series, one could argue, is an exception, though obviously a non-fiction one.) Boyhood tells one story over the course of a production that went on for over a decade, as the cast and crew would reconvene for two weeks each year to develop the narrative of a young boy (Ellar Coltrane) aging from kindergarten to high school graduation. Over the course of Boyhood’s three-hour runtime, then, we’re able to watch as characters — and by extension, actors — change physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Linklater took a big gamble on an idea that could have gone wrong in so many different ways: What if something happened to a cast member? What if something happened to the footage over the years? Just the idea of reshoots could have spelled catastrophe. And yet, Linklater trudged on, year after year; and his Boyhood, flaws and all, is exactly the kind of art that inspires other filmmakers to push themselves and to test the capacities of this medium. Warner


65. It takes a frigid, contemptuous soul like Lars Von Trier’s to make a film like Melancholia — a work that transmits a bleak sense of finality through the displacement of its central character and her restless dissatisfaction with living. Even as it offers a shamelessly grandiose exploration of existence — one that subjects us to a slow-motion apocalyptic sequence, right at the very beginning — Melancholia focuses on two sisters who each have very different outlooks on the idea of earth biting it before their very eyes. To one sister, life is a precious commodity, while to the other, it’s a complete and utter burden. Those who have struggled through anxiety or depression of some kind will likely recognize the bald truth behind the way that both sisters dwell on worst-case scenarios. They may also recognize that these feared, extreme disasters don’t often take place. But in realizing the actual apocalypse, Melancholia rather maliciously plays up the view that depressive people are harbingers of doom — thereby rendering the nihilistic heroine thoroughly victorious, while everyone else flounders around her. As said heroine, Kirsten Dunst is terrific: coldly capturing her character’s unbearable self-pity and selfishness, along with a slovenly physicality that aligns perfectly with her degenerative self-destructive streak. Von Trier sincerely relates: indeed, his film questions whether we ought to be grateful for being put on this Earth in the first place, and if so, why, and to whom? The many existential ruminations make Melancholia vital viewing as a rebel cry of sorts for tortured souls, discussing one’s purpose and our struggle to conform to our nearests’ and dearests’ expectations. While it may seem rather scabrous in its embrace of imminent doom, Von Trier’s film is a beautifully-orchestrated treatise on mental illness, and one of the most daring films of the decade. Calum Reed


64. If there is any one theme that’s defined the latter half of the 2010s, it’s the acknowledgement of, and confrontation waged against, toxic masculinity. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is a prime example of this; its dark heart percolates with a rage that clouds not only characters’ judgments but our perceptions of them. Everything is obscured by the heightened emotions on display, from an individual’s motivations to the veracity of the narrative as its being presented. We can only feel our way through the fog. And that willful disorientation is bracing, even exhilarating; it engulfs Burning in an unnerving and often ambiguously eerie sense of impending doom. Lee purposefully leaves the audience questioning his film, positioning its moral compass squarely in a gray area that forces us to interrogate our own perspectives. Through the course of Burning’s haunted trajectory, we know that a breaking point is coming — but when it finally arrives, we’re left with a sense of disquiet. Is this a righteous dispensation of justice, or is it cold-blooded cruelty? Burning seems to suggest, most disturbingly of all, that the difference isn’t as great as we may think. Matthew Lucas


63. Resident Evil: Retribution can be seen as a continuation of the core themes and interests of the series meticulously crafted by the man originally at its helm, Paul W.S. Anderson, whose persistent vision of a new kind of filmic spectacle gives life to a unique form of recursive cinema. The film begins with Alice (Milla Jovovich), the genetically altered protagonist of the series, being captured by the forces of the Umbrella Corporation and taken to a bioweapon testing facility. She, along with several returning characters, must make their way through simulations of modern cities and environments previously seen in the series in order to defeat familiar villains and escape from this image of a dystopian megacorporation. Umbrella’s unremitting control over a production line of clones (who are shown to be real people, regardless of their artificial creation) means for these people a curse placed upon them from their inception, forced to engage in a deterministic game from which there is no escape — if only because they have no experience outside of what was synthesised to revolt with. Alice is no exception to this rule; her agency belies the fact of her purpose as a tool for the antagonist’s machinations, and it isn’t until she’s able to subsume her given role into that of her clone that she’s able to deny that which was commanded of her. She gives importance and extrinsic purpose to the humans only regarded as disposable by their owners before she sets about destroying the iconic spaces of the old world, manufactured for nothing besides bioweapon efficacy tests. But, in a world of corporate surveillance, even Alice — just an individual — struggles to determine her own path (backwards or forwards, repeating actions from previous films, it’s already been coordinated). Alienation and the fragmentation of social bonds are the key things here, though it may be easy to miss them through the veneer of a high-concept Hollywood production. Sam Thomas-Redfern


62. In 2012 — the year of “Big Data” and Nate Silver — the best film to speak to the state of the world was a completely artificial one. David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is a work as radical as anything the director has made since Videodrome, a rip-roaring comedy about the psychology of data and capitalism. Cronenberg takes us on a journey with a billionaire whose belief in digital patterns is questioned when he can’t comprehend a disastrous fall in the Chinese yuan. In Cronenberg’s world, digital life is a cracking façade: ostensibly monotonous dialogue on the page pops with the energy of a screwball comedy on screen; the limousine that Robert Pattinson’s billionaire rides in slowly deteriorates into a piece of junk — an absurd analogue for the protagonist himself. Edited and shot with razor-sharp precision, Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel might seem like the film that the Occupy Wall Street movement has been waiting on. But Cosmopolis is more of an attack on our constant investment in the signs, symbols, and patterns of digital life. Two characters realize they both have asymmetrical prostates, and one demands to know why. The response? “Nothing…a harmless variation.” The most unsettling thing in Cronenberg’s vision of the future is realizing that not everything fits into neat models. Peter Labuza


61. The late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami often collapsed boundaries in his work: between fiction and documentary (Close-Up, a recreation of a director-imposter case with the roles played by the real people involved, incorporating actual courtroom footage) or between cinema and art installation (Five Dedicated to Ozu, Shirin). Kiarostami’s swan song, 24 Frames, audaciously combines cinema and photography to create a haunting and death-suffused, yet puckishly playful and romantic, artwork. Kiarostami was inspired by a nagging thought: What occurs before and after the still images that are created by painters and photographers? 24 Frames consists of 24 digitally animated vignettes, each four-and-a-half minutes long. Kiarostami kicks it off with Bruegel’s famous painting, The Hunters in the Snow, to which he adds falling snow, chimney smoke, flying crows, walking cows, and in a show of irreverence from the old master, a dog pissing on a tree. This establishes the template for the frames to follow, each of which are based on images from Kiarostami’s own photography, and dominated by animals — birds, cows, sheep, cats, deer, lions, and other creatures cavorting within serene pastoral landscapes. Oddly, for such a famously humanist filmmaker, humans are largely absent — except in two of the frames. In the final image of Kiarostami’s singular filmography, a sleeping woman is seen at a computer playing a clip of a man and a woman embracing, accompanied by a soaring rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies.” Here, the romanticism that’s been suppressed comes roaring back in a beautiful capper to Kiarostami’s final gift to his fellow cinema travelers. Christopher Bourne


60. While the Hollywood machine funneled many of its most promising filmmakers toward franchises, the best and the brightest of China’s new class of directors have quietly gone about testing, in various ways, the very limits of genre filmmaking, of narrative structure, and even the range of potential in today’s moviemaking technologies. Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night does all three of these things. The film follows an unusual, two-act structure which leads toward the much-discussed latter half: an hour-long, 3D-rendered, single-take passage through the dream of the protagonist as he processes the events of the film’s first section. It’s a remarkable sequence, one that makes apparent Bi’s ambition, and that marks this film as a theatrical must-watch, for the mere experience of it. But Long Day’s Journey Into Night is not just a gimmick, nor is it an empty exercise in intuitive blocking and technological wizardry. The film follows a gangster, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), as he returns to his hometown to find his former lover, Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), after a number of years in hiding — a noir boilerplate premise that’s deepened by Bi’s reverential craft and his preoccupation with Buddhism. The dual structure suggests a rewiring of Edgar J. Ulmer’s Detour, and make no mistake, Bi is a cinephile: Long Days Journey Into Night draws on the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky and Wong Kar-wai, but also Nagisa Oshima and, of course, American film noir. In fact, this film well represents a new generation of Chinese filmmakers, ones whose range of influences is surprisingly, and unprecedentedly, international (consider Hu Bo taking inspiration from Hungarian master Bela Tarr, or Diao Yi’nan from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook). That said, Bi is also a bit different, in that he doesn’t commit to a particular forebear’s formal approach, but rather he explores the liminal space between levels of reality and the recesses of the mind. The transition to 3D actually allows the director to break his noirish first act’s circularity; to explore the linearity, and futurity, of dreams. Matt McCracken


59. Recombinant of the Eurocore exploitation films of Jess Franco (She Killed in Ecstacy, or the female-gaze mindscapes of Vampyros Lesbos), the psychic sparring and elegant, nuanced cruelty of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Petra Von Kant or Martha), and of Baby Jane-style arthouse psychothrillers like Juraj Herz’s Morgiana, Peter Strickland‘s ravishing The Duke of Burgundy also manages to be a gret romance film, a feat accomplished without any men in the mix, nor outsider morality to antagonize, nor nudity, and almost no on-screen sex. As the relationship between young sub Evelyn (Chiara D’anna) and her older dominant lover Cynthia (Sidse Babbett Knudsen) deteriorates from a combination of unfulfilled sexual appetites, a lack of communication, and sheer fatigue, cracks begin to appear in the couple’s carefully manicured and impeccably styled world until they retreat into their respective obsessions (lepidoptery and watersports, naturally). Few other films this decade have so perfectly deployed a pristine facsimile of bygone cinematic esoterica, and maybe none ever has transcended that to tell a simple story about the simultaneous perils and rewards of giving yourself, emotionally and physically, to another person out of love. Lynch


58. Without a doubt, 2010s cinema stands out as notable for the unprecedented productivity of one Terrence Malick, who directed no less than six feature films (extended editions and IMAX versions of certain works notwithstanding). Released in 2016, Knight of Cups was filmed back-to-back with the next year’s Song to Song, and both films employ largely identical visual grammars and approaches to editing, as well as swooping, at times ethereal handheld camerawork that traverses cityscapes, great plains, nightclubs, music festivals, and domestic spaces. Each film also abounds in visual reference points to the early history of cinema, from Man With a Movie Camera and the Vertov school of montage, to the narratology of Murnau (Faust, Sunrise, and City Girl especially) to and the decadences of DeMille (Madam Satan) and von Sternberg (The Devil Is a Woman). Which is to say that Malick has adopted the stylistics of silent cinema; his voiceover, a staple in his films, is, in a sense, acting as intertitles that telegraph the pure emotionalism on display in the image. Knight of Cups even opens with an almost Griffithian parable, an appeal to an ancient tale of a young Eastern prince who travels abroad, drinks an elixir, and soon forgets who he is and where he comes from. Malick then follows his surrogate in this semi-autobiographical film, Hollywood-based screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale), who wrestles with familial trauma and existential emptiness as he hurdles through a series of encounters and trysts with various people (largely, though not exclusively women). Rick’s journey toward wholeness is represented by the methodical introduction and presence of desolate, serene landscapes in the visual schema — landscapes that Rick’s metaphysical travel to, and inhabitation of, communicate an aspirational mastery over his own lacking. The film’s expressionistic flair also extends to the various interpersonal encounters, which are often rendered as intense as they are ambiguous, sometimes even employing an air of horror (such as when one character seems to wash his hands in blood). A crucial sequence depicts an act of violence flashing amidst a cascade of rapid imagery, a navigation through and around this film’s central problematic, and one that finally arrives at a point of catharsis. By this measure, it’s less the manner in which Malick reaches his conclusions than it is his profound understanding of what it means to journey to a place of healing, and to keep yourself in that place, that makes this one of his best. McCracken


57. It always comes back to circles. Joel and Ethan Coen have long been fascinated by the spherical structure of things, from the hula-hoops of The Hudsucker Proxy to the bowling balls of The Big Lebowski. And in 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, the filmmakers finally applied their circular love to the structure of a narrative, as fictional singer Llewyn Davis (a never-better Oscar Issac) makes his way through the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. The opening of the film finds Llewyn taking a brutal beating, and yet waking up the next day without a bruise. No matter — the Coens continue their chronicle of a week in the life of the self-destructive performer, and we shift our attention to all the various ways that Llewyn keeps screwing up his life, even as the universe gifts him, time and again, with the opportunity to turn things around. Only when we reach the end of Inside Llewyn Davis do we realize that the Coens’ have actually pulled a fast one on us: the end is the beginning, and so, too, is the beginning the end. This is where the film’s brilliance lies; it doesn’t matter at what point we enter this story, Llewyn is still stuck in a purgatory of his own making, and will seemingly never be able to move forward. The soundtrack of the film, by T. Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, lends all this surrealism a sense of cultural veracity, through a pitch perfect re-creation of ’60s-era folk tunes. Of these songs, the space-race ditty “Please Mr. Kennedy” is the absolute standout: The recording scene for said track, with Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, and Issac all in character, represents one of many examples of levity in a potentially depressing film, and also serves as a reminder that no other filmmakers working today can deftly juggle seemingly contradictory tones quite like the Coens do. Praise to any film that can sensitively juxtapose drug overdoses and some jokes about cat testicles. Warner


56. No one makes an aesthetic statement quite like Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai. The filmmaker’s 2013 effort, a kung-fu epic about wing chun master Ip Man, exalts a glorious pairing of Wong’s rich cinematic style and the martial arts genre’s adrenaline-inducing kinetics. A potent study of thematic antipodes — languor and zeal, romance and chivalry, special effects and authenticity, lyricism and mano-a-mano The Grandmaster endeavors to examine the geographic divide between China’s northern and southern regions, both as a generalization and as defined by the nation’s early 20th-century history. Ip Man (Tony Leung) and ba gua heiress Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) define the separation via kung-fu traditions, southern style, and northern style, respectively — but more importantly, they define it through an emotional chasm of their own making. Leung carries the film, modulating between his character’s confidence and his wells of sadness. But it’s Zhang who constitutes The Grandmaster’s core, with a performance that exudes heartbreaking intensity. Of all the memorable sequences here, none is as evocative as the one in which Gong Er, surrounded by the floral tableau of a brothel, prepares to redeem her father’s honor by fighting Ip Man, her stern eyes juxtaposed with the curious, soft ones of the onlooking prostitutes. Kathie Smith


55. Leave it to French filmmaker Olivier Assayas to make one of the most confounding movies of his career while also succeeding in making said movie quite a lot of fun. Personal Shopper is part ghost story, part murder mystery, part treatise on consumerism and modern alienation via smart phone. There’s something about the way Assayas uses his camera here, constantly moving and prowling, fluid yet also able to lock down on a moment’s notice and suggest all kinds of potent creepiness using the negative space in the frame. And Kristen Stewart gives arguably her best performance (save perhaps for a certain other Assayas picture) as Maureen a — yes — personal shopper by day, and amateur paranormal medium by night. One of the greatest scenes in the film is a prolonged texting back-and-forth between Maureen and an unknown, unseen entity (man, stalker, ghost?) that very gradually builds into a stunningly frightening punchline, one involving the iPhone’s “airplane mode.” Assayas is on to something profoundly modern here, contrasting the quotidian nature of texting and shopping and elaborate consumerism with the ethereal nature of death and the supernatural. Stewart has often been accused of aloofness and detachment, coldness even, but Assayas understands that she’s actually the perfect encapsulation of this very modern moment: mysteriously and tantalizingly unknowable. Daniel Gorman


54. Distilled down to a one-sentence summary, the calmly melancholic Right Now, Wrong Then is the very essence of a Hong Sang-soo film: A bibulous director pursues an alluring young woman, and things go awry. And sure enough, sad, voluble characters drown their problems in soju; a laconic narrative unspools; camera zooms are exacting and precise; conversations between despondent men and women take place over coffee; triumphant music swells ironically; and chit-chat abounds — in a showcase of all of Hong’s affinities. However, in its rigidly bifurcated structure, Right Now, Wrong Then is also something of an anomaly. The two halves of the film exhibit only slight variations: There are some differences in dialogue and some scenes run longer, or shorter, depending on the badinage. There’s a dreamy, oneiric quality to the repetitions, and the minute discrepancies unsettle in their disruption of what should be familiar. Hong treats the relationship(s) as a story to be told, each written by two authors with distinctive styles and desires; the caustic power, and corrosiveness, of honesty, is inherent to all stories, all relationships, and here, honesty helps as much as it hurts. Hong may favor the desperate and lonely, but he has the heart of a hopeless romantic, and Right Now, Wrong Then ultimately leaves an emotionally earnest impression, suggesting that love does sometimes exist — in movies, in real life, in its own time. Greg Cwik


53. The word “Jauja” refers to an impossible place, a utopia, paradise itself, but also a non-place. Or maybe it’s an exscinded place. Raúl Ruiz said that every shot of a film is a film in itself; in every shot of Jauja there seems to be a new dimension to be found with a new definition of the place “Jauja,” and what awaits for those who find it. Lisandro Alonso‘s film is much more than its surface ‘search for a father’ narrative — that ‘story’ unfolds without much passion, as if an afterthought, some action to be performed in these empty landscapes that seem rarely filled with anything living. The search for a Jauja is the search for a place with no society, no norms; a paradise because it’s not for humans to be part of. Jaime Gomez Grijalba


52. Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone centers on an actress, Young-hee (Kim Minhee), who’s coping with the aftermath of an affair she had with a married director — an affair which caused a scandal back in South Korea. The first half of the film finds Young-hee on a trip to Germany, wandering through the cold with friends; the second takes place back in South Korea, where a chance meeting with a film crew offers an opportunity for Young-hee to see her former fling again. Or maybe not — the line between dream and reality is never entirely clear in Hong’s films, and the line between fiction and autobiography, while always blurry, has never been more so than it is here. It’s impossible to say how much of Hong and Kim’s real-life affair made its way into this movie, but the portrayal of the director seems equal parts boast and self-critique — as if Kanye West were a Korean art film director. Kim, on the other hand, evokes the world-embracing soul of the Walt Whitman poem the film takes its title from. The actress comes across as a woman haunted by phantom men, dreaming of her escape. Sean Gilman


51. One of the decade’s most eye-opening uses of technology in cinema had nothing to with iMAX 3D cameras, nor did it involve a single frame of CGI graphics. Besieged by the roaring sea that surrounded their commercial fishing boat, Leviathan co-directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel — of Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab — were forced to abandon their professional-grade cameras and original shooting plan for their feature and, instead, strap a dozen GoPro cameras on themselves and on various fishermen, while tossing others into the sea and to various other places that few movie cameras have traveled. The resulting images not only vividly capture the ferocity of these fishermen’s working conditions — they open up a realm among the fish and birds that, as well, was previously unknown to the human eye. Leviathan embraces the crude capacity of the digital image, creating an aesthetic that — combined with blistering sound design, otherworldly framing (if the word “framing” still applies), and seamless editing — is truly in a league of its own. In the throes of the unforgiving wrath of Mother Nature, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel offer up an indelible artistic demonstration of “survival of the fittest,” adapting and innovating in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Francisco Lo

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