Best of the decade so far (30-1) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Best of the decade so far (30-1)

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AndrewCommentaryBannerThis is part II of our look at the best movies of the last five years (click here for part I).  Continuing the disclaimer from yesterday, the further down the list the film is, the better it is relative to the other films around it.  Sometimes I'll be in the mood for the strong more core and special effects wizardry of Man of Steel, and other times I'll want to watch the whip-smart editing and emotional torture of Whiplash.

Not all the reviews written for this section are mine and we weren't able to review everything on this list.  For those films I'll include thoughts about why it's on the list instead of a quoted excerpt from the review itself.  If you want to read the full review on each film you can either click on the title or the accompanying photo.

I hope you've enjoyed my look at the best films of the last five years, and we'll be back to our normal routine starting tomorrow with a review of Big Hero 6.

The Immigrant (2014) - no on-site review

The Immigrant best

While it would not help the Academy's diversity issues at all this year, I'm surprised that The Immingrant didn't make much of a dent in anyone's "best of" considerations.  It's a mournful meditation on the way the American Dream is still an unreachable goal for those not born and bred in its shores.  Still photos don't do this film justice in how it isolates each of the unfortunate foreigners in their pain even though they have the "right look".  The Immigrant is still playing on Netflix Instant and needs your attention.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

How he should be remembered

Fruitvale Station signals the beginning of greatness for Ryan Coogler, only younger than me by two years.  Cinema is the best art form for empathy and he's working with an abundance of it already, navigating tricky scenarios with great love and skill.  It's an honor to have seen this film and be reminded that cinema is still a source of great social importance, even if it's through a road we'd rather not have to take.

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Fault best

The Fault in Our Stars no more downplays her pain than it does her joy and strikes a bare nerve by celebrating the ability to feel both.  Boone tells the story told entirely on her terms, accepting of the way she wants to live and the dignity she wants to be treated with going into death.  She picks the songs, writes the words, and doodles the sky - so what if they are drawn from a well of pop culture we all share?  By being so specific, she and the crew behind The Fault in Our Stars speak to that universal pain, and give lessons on how our art eases it along the way.

Django Unchained (2012)


Django Unchained harkens back to the Tarantino I saw with Jackie Brown.  This film shows a director who is willing to still have fun with some very serious material while paying full homage to the movies he loves.  He still has time to twist some of those scenes though, most notably when he takes the most iconic shot from John Ford's The Searchers and then gives us the catharsis that John Wayne was denied in that film.  Even the zanier elements, like Django and the doctor's unnaturally trained horses, make sense in light of the lapse of time and image-conscious nature of the two of them.

Captain Phillips (2013)

Rest now

The pairing of Greengrass and Hanks was not one I would have ever thought of but it was a match that worked out perfectly.  Captain Phillips isn’t a rah-rah type action film and isn’t as preachy as the director’s last film the DOA Green Zone but a movie that shows what a typical man can do in a horrendous situation.  Captain Phillips is a must see for fans of Greengrass, Hanks, thrillers or adults who are just looking for a good movie.

Blue Ruin (2014)

Wounded capability

There's little else out like Blue Ruin, and doesn't pretend that any of the images of solid family life or heroes hold any sway in a world where anyone can take the domestic illusion away for transgressions of any stripe.  Dwight and his war with the family that killed his have no mediating presence, no law that they can utilize which might give nuance to their retributions.  Saulnier's outright refusal to place any other system of ethics on Dwight's war is terrifying as a viewer, as it forces us to mediate Dwight's actions within our personal moral system.

Bernie (2012)

Family photo

Linklater has long been one of my favorite directors and he takes great joy in presenting such a wonderfully convoluted moral conundrum.  But then there's Jack Black, dialing back ever so perfectly and presenting a man so nice and simple it's difficult to believe, even knowing what's coming, that he could be capable of such a thing.  Still he's tormented and genuine, utilizing those singing skills we've come to expect but playing them in such a way he's unaware of having a voice, and admiring the beauty of life in all it's entirety, even when he brings about death.

Argo (2012)

As it closed, I felt elated.  On top of all the craft and near-perfection on display it still chose to leave a poignant message about the communicative power of art and acknowledgement that these stories may never be told.  Argo is adventurous, terrifying, funny, powerful and, at long last, quietly reflective.  It is easily one of the best films of 2012.

Young Adult (2011)

While I think some may come away from the movie as seeing it as a nasty deconstruction of the 'popular girl' in high school or as some sort of revenge piece, its sympathies are never as simple as that. No character comes away totally unscathed, as anyone who entices themselves to ascribe to beholding their past is crippled in one way or another, visibly or not.

This is a movie that charmed me in ways few have. When the man behind me muttered his "Oh dear God", I assure you, I was thinking the exact same thing; I've been here, I've seen this all of this, and honestly, I still see this behavior from people I know.

Young Adult isn't just relevant, it's revelatory. To be even more blatant: see this movie.

The Social Network (2010)

Social Network Formula

So here we have a "hero" who is a actually a remorseless bastard, villains who try to do the honorable only to have all doors slammed in their face and a secondary character who becomes the focal point of the audiences sympathy and interest by the end of the film. I love the film for many reasons, but the way it subverted the stereotypes of its main characters has to be near the top.

Man of Steel (2013)

Not just an empty suit

After Snyder's five earlier films it has become clear that he has no need for heroes.  Even his kids film centered around the idea that lies are more comforting than the truth because you stand little chance of changing the world.  So, in a moment that could have been supreme lunacy or absolute brilliance, the executives at Warner Bros. put the cape of the most invincible and pure of heroes in the hands of a man who seems to want to tear them down.  The result of that conflict is not only Zack Snyder's best film, but one of the most gorgeous and difficult films of the year.

Life Itself (2014)

Chaz and Rog

If my approach to Life Itself feels more analytical than emotional, it is because the film, in structuring Ebert's life as lessons for how to handle death, constantly reminded me of how I'm not done saying goodbye.  What's comforting is seeing just how many titans of cinema, from Martin Scorsese to Werner Herzog, struggle with their own ways of saying farewell.  Ebert's legacy can bring even Scorsese nearly to tears with a bad review from two decades ago.  We'll one day say our final goodbyes, but this film is a beautiful acceptance of the death that waits us all, and Ebert's life as an instruction on how to leave with dignity.

The Illusionist (2010) - no on-site review

Illusionist best

Sylvain Chomet works at a pace that recalls Terence Malick, releasing films when he is good and ready to call them complete. But this, his follow up to the alternately grotesque and hilarious Triplets of Belleville, was a heartbreaking surprise.  Animation the few methods of filmmaking that make magic entirely possible.  The Illusionist is ostensibly about a magician, but one who has allowed the real magic of living to escape his life.  The tricks grow more pedestrian, the emotions between the magician and his adopted daughter more strained, and then finally we get the heartbreaking coda, "Magicians do not exist."  The Illusionist is a heartbreaking reminder to do what you love, for who you love, in a way that requires grasp of no spoken language.  It is transcendent.

Before Midnight (2013)

We don't have forever

When Before Midnight ended, I left with a sense of completion.  Celine and Jesse are going to end, but they are going to fight like hell to keep each other happy in the meantime.  It's another perfect expression of how hard the most important relationship is to keep, but there's nothing better in this world.

Whiplash (2014)


Whiplash is not a movie about good men, but it is about men with the potential to be great.  There is no room for women in Whiplash, no place to feel sentimental, and certainly no room for self-pity.  It takes place in an unabashedly masculine realm where Terence's muscles and screaming face are the only forces that peek out from the darkness.  If Andrew wants to escape his world of shadows and into the pantheon of greatness it is through this evil man.  Their struggle results in one of the most confident and thrilling films of the decade.

Stories We Tell (2013) - no on-site review

Stories best

As the year's pass it's becoming more difficult to craft a personal narrative that can withstand much scrutiny.  The internet, with instant access to untold numbers of libraries and all the media contained therein, make the importance of creating a strong initial narrative that much more important.  Sarah Polley's film is about destroying the carefully laid narratives of others in a way that lessens the impact of their destruction.  She crafts stories of her own through video footage, interviews, and in a magnificent set-piece an audio log where she lets revelations fall slowly.  Stories We Tell is a magnificent reminder that the fables we craft to live life are not just lies to fool children, but a weary truth through a filter that helps us go on living.

A Separation (2011)

This movie is achingly human.  There are no extravagant moments of grandstanding and as much as I love melodrama it has no place here.  The separations grow between daughter, father, mother, friend, trusted official - there is no one rift because they're all the kinds of people destined to grow apart.

It's not inevitable, it's just how things are sometimes.

Pariah (2011)

Comfort me

But Pariah is confident, and allows the messy family dynamic to evolve into something that may not leave everyone happy, but with the most room to grow.  Pariah is an exquisite film which rejects easy climaxes and straightforward emotional development as there is no simple solution to Alike's problems but to find out what works best for her.  She's strong and intelligent, and leaves the film with a firm sense of who she wants to be.

Fury (2014)

Brad Pitt plays a leader who has no passion behind his speeches, and only comes alive when talking about the thrill of the kill.

Fury does not settle for simple definitions. There is no one that could be considered a hero, even in the context of the Great War. As Studs Terkel’s book introduced and Fury reminded me, it was not only saints that went marching into that war. Some of them went out of a need that they didn’t understand, found a desire they could not satiate, and stayed until they were dead or forced back to America. Fury is a disturbing and stirring moment to the monstrous beauty of their violence, and will leave me shaken for many years to come.

Drive (2011)

When the kiss comes accompanied by violence, flashes of which are so brutal and over so fast we see how much of a joke most action scenes are in movies.  There is no room for the driver to make a mistake, and while he may have the psychological edge with his hammer and demeanor, the blood and tears on his jacket show he's still human and the slightest mistake will end his obsessions forever.

I nearly bled gripping my seat and biting into my mouth, contemplating these people and their actions.  Films this good are so rare they are to be treasured.

The Central Park Five (2012) - no on-site review

As relevant as Spike Lee's films continue to be, The Central Park Five is a blistering reminder of how little media bias based on racist ideology has changed in the last few decades.  Impeccably researched and with an angry focus, The Central Park Five goes about deconstructing the top-down power structure that allows innocent men to rot in jail, and how the media concocts stories which breed fresh fear into the populace.

Beyond the Lights (2014)

Beyond the Lights is the rare film concerned almost entirely with Noni's professional wants and personal desires.

Everything weaves together under Prince-Bythewood's careful hands.  She took a premise that could have been a shallow and flashy spectacle and decided to examine the wounded people inside.  It's a beautiful, often times haunting, and constantly intelligent romance that takes professional lives as seriously as the romance.  Sometimes people find each other for the wrong reasons, but because of the right and difficult choices can grow together instead of apart.  Beyond the Lights is a wonderful and mature look at how.

Calvary (2014)

Calvary best

Calvary turns to Christianity.  The last moments, as they arrive, are as an important declaration of love and faith as any sermon in church and is that much more powerful because there is no grandstanding, no reward for each moral choice.  The dark clouds, always circling over the town, won't part to reveal Heaven above.  But what his choices might do is inspire those who come after him to seek a new way.  Calvary shows that there is some painful hilarity in pursuing the noble path, but that does not make it any easier.

This is Not a Film (2011) - no on-site review

The ebb and flow of our personal lives constitute a political choice.  Either we spend our time on couches consuming media, or we try to go an make a conscious effort to bring light to different facets of the world via art, volunteer work, or political activism.  This Is Not a Film is a devastatingly brave work of art from Jafar Panahi, showing his capable eye of a director as he blocks scenes for a movie he may never get to film, all the while we see the toil censorship is taking on his mind and ability to be productive.  Iranian films have taken great strides in becoming some of the most complex, warm, and human stories in the world (see A Separation for another painful example) but some pay the price for the bit of freedom Iran doles out.

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

The abundance of beauty in the cinematography by Sofian El Fani is varied and stunning.

Blue Is the Warmest Color ends with that shade of eternity echoing into the dark with Adèle.  Her story will continue on even as these chapters of her life come to a close.  So the credits roll on, and the echos of the love that came to clothe and surround Adèle move on into the dark.  It's a haunting and essential moment for cinema, and for the warmth that slowly fades away.

The Babadook (2014)

Babadook best

The lingering threat of the Babadook remains even as the monster disappears from view.  Kent's last scenes are of bravery and comfort but keenly aware that the darkness within and around Amelia may drive her mad once more.  I finished The Babadook certain that I had witnessed a rare work of frightening brilliance.   Now, days later, I still have chills in my spine as I remember the creature with the tight smile and hear the steady creep of his voice.

Nightcrawler (2014)

Compositions are

Lou does not need to flex charm outside of zeroing in on what potential customers want and what Lou can sell them, nor does he need to have the same considerations for the survival of his customers that peddlers of the past did.  In fact, the more fresh the corpse is the better chance Lou has of getting paid.  He's a product of a new market, one whose audience has no interest in learning about the person who produces the product they consume, leaving Lou free to produce by any means necessary.

Amour (2012)

It's not easy

Love is never expressed in the obvious ways with kisses and bold declarations but with work, carrying your partner into the shower, forgoing all previous sense of  dignity by redefining it in terms of your love.

The way the final moments seal this will not leave me and I can hear Georges sobs and Anne's too clearly despite the distance I've put between myself and this film.  For them, it means that I will follow you into the dark with all the beauty and inevitability it entails.  Amour is essential, and should not be missed.

Upstream Color (2013)

Huddling together

To capture a sense of absolute wonder at not only the complexity of the world we are part of, but also of the significance of our own relationships and interactions in giving that context meaning is probably one of the broadest definitions one could offer for art's purpose. To do it in a way that can be felt so clearly and yet never quite touched is amazing.

Take Shelter (2011)

There is a lot which can be said about this film; Cold War masculinity and it's final necessary death here, the impossibility of true success, and (of course) the war on the working class.  But that scene encompasses the empathy I respond to on an almost instinctual level.  It is sad, yes, because we are so helpless sometimes.  It's even worse when we realize it never ends.

Posted by Andrew

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