40. Madeline’s madeline (2018)
Madeline is a teenager with untapped acting abilities but burdened by her controlling mother Regina and unspecified mental issues. Evangeline, the director of her theatre group and the only person Madeline truly trusts in the beginning of the film comes with the bright idea to incorporate the teenager’s baggage into the play the group is developing. Now feeling pressured from all sides, Madeline must decide what her identity is, and if it should be used in the service of the play.
Josephine Decker changed the game with this one. Madeline’s Madeline is a work of art which seemingly eclipses anything that came before. It is a film which feels like it is simply so much more meaningful than any other film, so much more adult, so much more aware of the pitfalls of representational cinema. In a decade of Harvey Weinstein, the control our creators should have on set was called into question. There is no more space for the antics of Kubrick and Hitchcock, who bullied their actors to the point of mental breakdowns. But Josephine Decker went much further than this. The fact that great art does not justify abuse is taken as a given. She questions if representation and inspiration is not inherently a form of appropriation and exploitation; how much of another person’s story can you borrow and use, even if you intentions are empathetic and well-meaning.
But Madeline’s Madeline is not merely a profound examination of authorship and representation. It’s also a beautifully formed drama about coming of age, shot with a subjective lens which blurs the lines between reality, performance and dream, and editing which makes the viewer drift in and out of Madeline’s consciousness. Helena Howard gives one of the single most layered performances as Madeline, her very first major acting gig. While Josephine Decker may have reached her magnum opus here, Howard still has a long and incredible career ahead of her. – Jons Klaessens
39. Shirkers (2018)
If only for a fleeting moment, Shirkers is real. I’m in love with the unfinished film. Then I realize that I’m just watching snippets cut up with either no sound or sound that had to be added after the fact. It hurts. But if it hurts for me I can only imagine what it must feel like for the people involved (Sandi Tan most of all). I don’t know why, but it’s almost like this phantom pain that I can’t really describe to well and that no other movie has quite made me feel. It’s a longing for something that isn’t real, or actually is real but just isn’t for anybody else. I’ve felt a version of this longing before from some other favorite works of art, but this is a little different and it’s so visceral. I wasn’t going into this film with very high expectations, but even thinking of the movie, I’m becoming overwhelmed with emotion.
Creating art is something so deeply personal and what Georges Cardona did is unimaginable and vile. I feel this movie exists as an example of how and why an event like this should never happen again. I don’t know what else to say but at the same time i feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of what this movie has done for me, or to me. If you haven’t seen Shirkers, I can’t recommend it enough! – Caden B
38. The Farewell (2019)
These are the questions I often ask myself as I reflect on my journey to adulthood. I moved to the US with my family on February 17, 2010. I was 12 years old. At the time, my parents wanted me to assimilate with the American culture as quickly as possible. “You will have more opportunities here,” my parents assured my brother and I, who was 8 years old at the time. And at a young age, assimilation was easy enough. We consume American media, listen to American music, eat American food; everything is Americanized.
Then at the age of 13, I found a new appreciation for cinema. It was the coming of age stories that resonate with me; not because they were personal but rather because I was hoping to see myself in them. I wished my life was a coming of age movie like the ones on the big screen. But I never find myself in them due to cultural differences. Then The Farewell comes along…
I have never seen a film that so accurately depicts the internal conflict over the question of identity and culture like this film, and largely it was due to Lulu Wang’s personal experience. Director Lulu Wang, much like me, is a first-generation Chinese American immigrant. She understands the struggle of deciding who you are and who you want to be; and for her to put such a personal story onto the silver screen that allows me to reflect my personal connection with both my family and myself, I am forever grateful for her work.
Wang is a very talented writer and her talent shines the brightest through her script. As every dialogue brings out different human emotions, Wang beautifully intertwines drama and comedy together in the most genuine and humane way possible. I laugh, and then cry, and then laugh again. But these transitions are so seamless and not once feel out of place or abrupt. Wang proves to the audience that she understands our emotions and what makes us humans.
To praise this film without praising Awkwafina would be unjust. Her comedic talent is still there, yet it is rightfully more subdued in this film. She brings a rawness to screen that emotionally grounds the film together. For a comedian to tackle such role, few would succeed, yet Awkwafina outshines and outperforms any expectations I had for her, making it one of my favorite performance in 2019. There is a scene where she’s on the floor talking to her mother that simply just breaks my heart as if I understand her pains all too well. – Khoi N
37. Wild TALES (2014)
Wild Tales was my first ever real deep-dive into international cinema. The film was also my first ever subtitled experience in a cinema, and I have to say that it changed the way I look at the cinematic medium for the better. Wild Tales is everything. It’s humorous, dark, tragic, inventive, somber, and contemplative. Divided into six different short tales focusing on a theme of revenge, Damián Szifron’s morbidly delightful sadistic anthology is an amazing exploration on micro-aggressions, privilege, and Argentinian politics. – David Cuevas
36. Upstream Color (2013)
Shane Carruth’s wholly and confounding unique experiment reveals the wonder’s of the edges of the known cinematic universe. Through Amy Seimetz ‘s mesmerizing performance as a woman trying to rebuild her broken life, we observe a whole world being reborn as well becoming more in tune with the biological and unexplained forces that dictate our very lives. Carruth’s dedicated vision shines and guides us through with his multi-role work on production from the photography, music, performance and writing. Upstream Color is an experiment which opens endless possibilities that other filmmaker’s will possibly take in the near future. After all, everything eventually flows downstream. – Jeff Stewart
35. Toy Story 3 (2010)
I didn’t know it at the time, but June 18, 2010 would prove to be momentous. When Toy Story 3 opened in theaters, I couldn’t wait to see it. Huddled between my parents and older brother, Jared, I gazed at the motley crew of computer-animated toys that had essentially become my friends. Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang, determined to safeguard each other and support their owner, Andy, were characters whose overall message of hope resonated with me. Their struggles, accomplishments, and concern for each other were not only identifiable, but relevant to my life. As I passed the popcorn to my brother, it occurred to me that soon after the final credits rolled, we’d be preparing to say goodbye.
The movie’s plot focuses on Woody, Buzz, and their friends accidentally being donated to a daycare center. As Andy prepares to leave for college, they race to get home before he moves out. It was jarring how strongly I connected with the story-line. Andy was leaving for college and my brother was leaving for college. While the characters weren’t real, Woody’s experience mirrored mine. Jared had been an important role model in my life. While he was nine years older than I, his departure signaled a big change in the way I responded to life.
Throughout the past nine years, I have obviously moved on, but when faced with indecision, I find myself considering the instincts of my fictional friends. Sheriff Woody’s main goal in life was to ensure his “child” (Andy) was happy, and he was unable to imagine life without him. In many ways, this defined my relationship with Jared. With a large gap in our ages, I looked up to him. When he left for college, the focus was no longer on both of us, the focus was on me. I was convinced my elementary school self didn’t have a whole lot to offer; afraid the family dynamic would be altered in a way that I wasn’t mature enough to handle. Soon I began making stronger connections with friends, spending quality time with extended family, and getting more involved in hobbies and school activities. I sought camaraderie with other people.
Buzz Lightyear, Woody’s right hand man, made sure the other toys didn’t get lost. His bravery and resilience motivated me to trust my intuition and take risks, even when it felt uncomfortable. In friendships, I am often the leader; taking initiative and coordinating plans. When my interest in film became more than just a hobby, I worked with school faculty and administration to revive a failing film club. With an instinct for promotion and community building, I brought the club back. It’s been a huge success. Like Buzz, it took guts to do something that years prior I may not have even considered. I’ve always appreciated Woody’s willingness to accept any toy into their group, even the ones in poor condition. When I sense kids are feeling lonely, I make a conscious effort to include them in my circle of friends. Perhaps this comes from growing up in a family that respects and embraces people of all religions, abilities, and identities.
Buzz’s motto, “To Infinity and Beyond,” has served as a motto for me in all facets of my life. My enthusiasm for what lies ahead is infused with reminders of the heartwarming antics experienced by my friends in Toy Story 3. Who would have thought back in elementary school, when I could not imagine life without my brother, that I’d have grown into the person I am today? I am more independent and confident. When challenged in school, sports or a personal relationship, I don’t give up. I’m not afraid to ask for help or admit when I’m wrong. Though Toy Story 3 is a fictional story, the parallel themes of friendship, trust, bravery, and determination have helped me to see the changes in myself. – Justin Landsman
34. mAD mAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
I am not exaggerating when I say this: This is the absolute best action movie I’ve ever seen in my life. The sheer amount of care, effort, and thought that clearly went into this film is unlike that of ANY other action movie I’ve ever seen. Never does it bog you down with clunky exposition; it tells you (or better yet, SHOWS you) whatever you need to know so far, and then moves on. Never does it fall victim to the tired character tropes of other modern action films. Never does it feel overstuffed with action for action’s sake; everything that happens onscreen has a purpose. Never does it feel boring or dreary; almost the entire film is a frantic, exciting chase through the desert and back again, and the few calm moments happen at just the right times. Everything feels extraordinary, yet real. Brutal, yet satisfying. Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just one of the best action films ever made, but one of the best FILMS ever made, period! –Jeffrey Patrick
33. Call me by your name (2017)
Monumental, intimate, simple and complex at the same time, gorgeous, magic, life-changing and extremely Italian. – Luca Avigo
32. The master (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master presents a story of mentally unstable WW2 veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who through an unfortunate series of events stumbles into and finds solace Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his strange Scientology-like religious following. The film’s two leads give some of the greatest performances in any piece of media ever and there is a supporting cast of yet-to-be stars like Rami Malek and Jesse Plemons who support them delightfully. Shot by Mihai Malaimare Jr, the film’s beautiful color-palette is complemented by a mix of extreme close and wide shots that give the audience the scale of a scene. – Matias C
31. tHE dUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)
Love knows no bounds. Forget Fassbinder or Franco; The Duke of Burgundy is a singular vision with its own voice, with something to say. Throughout the film, we learn so much through the fine details. A polished boot. The delicate pins of the moths that line Cynthia and Evelyn’s home. While they might first appear as inconsequential, they provide so much in laying out the dynamic they share. The butterflies are not what they seem. And nothing is, really.
Watching this film is like being hypnotized. The phrase get’s thrown around a lot but there isn’t any other way to describe it. The love is not only strong but radiating, cosmic even. Wings flutter in pitch-blackness. Even a measuring tape can be titillating. We’re watching our characters through a prism. The distortion created is so entrancing that it feels inescapable. Every beat is deliberate. We learn new information exactly when we’re supposed to. The film is always reinventing itself and subverting your expectations. Just when you think you have it figured out the rug is pulled out from under you. Sounds of a moth can be hallucinatory one moment and irritating the next. Implication means everything. – Robert Rodriguez
30. the one i love (2014)
Two attractive middle-aged married people, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, go to a weekend resort to fix their crumbling marriage and then things go poorly. The One I Love is not only the rare micro-budget film that contains major reveals, but is one of the few films with major twists that improve on repeat viewings. A cynical and twisted portrait of marriage counseling, The One I Love is one of the best mumble-core film ever made and uses its limitations to its advantage, like only the smartest and most confident of films can. – Davey Peppers
29. Vox Lux (2018)
Following his ominous feature debut The Childhood of a Leader (2015), Director Brady Corbet returns with his controversial post-9/11 companion-piece, Vox Lux; a contemporary parable dissecting the inner mechanics of the entertainment industry and how the impacts of sudden trauma catapult one’s life into a chaotic destiny. Both films observe the loss of innocence, the growth of cruelty over vast periods of time, and the inevitable destruction of a human being through social expectations and objectification. Corbet establishes a clear fascination with the making-of-a-monster in both stories. However, Vox Lux is stridently more ambitious through theme and insight, proving that Corbet is quickly becoming one of the most provocative auteurs working today.
His observation of Celeste is a pivotal illustration of extreme commercialism transforming a person into a product through environmental influences; a slave to society’s hunger for a universal connection through the creation her art, thus the path for her destiny is formed. Celeste’s abrasiveness as an adult is off-putting yet logical; having her childhood robbed within a blink of an eye, being forced into a lifestyle that was never chosen but selected for her, and being involuntarily crowned with the responsibility to act as a beacon of hope for the world crumbling around her. Consequently, there is a great sadness that oozes from her internalized fury and resentment which justifies her actions.
Raffey Cassidy plays young Celeste with controlled innocence; a survivor who is naive enough to be influenced, but not enough to be fooled. Natalie Portman as adult Celeste is electric; the jarring change in character from the girl she was, to the woman she becomes, is both terrifyingly accurate and disheartening. By integrating Lol Crawley’s strong visual style, composer Scott Walker’s tongue-in-cheek score, and pop-star Sia’s original songs written for the film, Corbet orchestrates an artful examination of fame germinating from tragedy, the manifestation of one’s art created through physical and psychological damage, and the demands of pop-culture obtaining the power to create or destroy an individual. – Marc Ricov
28. Her (2013)
There’s no question about it. Spike Jonze’s 2013 jump into a cyber-embraced word delivers the most delicate definition of infatuation ever displayed in the cinematic medium. Everything from a slanted book on a shelf to each handcrafted keystroke of Arcade Fire’s score makes even the most frigid hearts float. The unavoidable wariness of the ensemble, Hoyte van Hoytema’s stunning visuals, and the Jonze’s stranger than fiction screenplay all make way for Her’s communication of the triumphs and consequences of love. The same way that gives Her the ability to canoodle with staggering honesty with a view of the isolated emotions we question even around those closest to us. It’s that mutual understanding of self wrangling that offers no less than a stress-less sense of relief. Call it sci-fi if you will, but little fiction occurs here. No matter where your love comes from, it can always be felt. – Chris Coltrane
27. The Favourite (2018)
The Favourite is a brilliant, nasty, full-throated cackle of a movie. Colman, Stone, and Weisz all turn in career-best work, and Nicholas Hoult has never been better. The production design, costumes, and camera work are superb. Even the use of the fish-lens is wonderful, and the script is on a level of perfection that I can only dream of writing. In balancing a trio of extremely talented actresses and seventeen adorable rabbits, Lanthimos has made his best film yet. – Cole Duffy
26. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)
When talking about the best films of the decade I could easily bring up some of the more obvious choices. However, I want to recommend a great film from the decade that I don’t think everyone knows of, or at least not everyone has seen. The film I want to talk about is Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. While yes, I know Ceylan is one of the more talked about directors in the foreign films discussion, I don’t often see a lot of people hyping up his films. Right now I’ve only seen Ceylan’s 2010’s work and enjoyed all of his films from this period, but Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is the only one that completely entranced me and it’s probably my favorite of his so far.
In a way this film tells a simple story; it’s a search for the body of the victim of a murder in which the suspect is dragged along to tell the local prosecutor, police commissar and doctor necessary information about where the body is located. However it’s done in such a slow and true-to-life pace that completely sucked me in right from the start. This film keeps all these little moments in that many other filmmakers would consider unnecessary, yet they add so much to the experience. You get to pick up on many character details because of the slow pacing, while also getting to feel like you are an actual part of the investigation. You can sense how empathetic of a character the doctor actually is throughout the entire run-time, and how he slowly starts to become the main character of the story.
Something about his character is so moving; near the beginning of the film there’s a scene in which the suspect asks for the doctor to light his cigarette, which he would gladly do whereas the others tell him the suspect doesn’t deserve such a thing. Despite his good reputation, the doctor feels completely helpless in a world that doesn’t care about empathy and in which everyone has their own stories and perspectives about the same events. Slowly he gets through the night and day accomplishing his “goals”, but through this he still can’t help anyone else or even himself.
It’s a world in which every deeply affecting crime is swept away like dust from the streets, in which every broken person goes on with their lives while we can only observe them walking away from us through our window. I wouldn’t necessarily call this film pessimistic as it is just truthful; it’s a film that represents the current state of the world exceptionally well in every single aspect of its presentation. If you’re ready to get lost in this slow 150 minute ride then do so right away, as it one of the most special films of the decade made by one of the very best directors working right now. – Thomas Eremia
25. The WORK (2017)
The Work is a wholly unique documentary. It traverses into a place not often gone by filmmakers and often shunned by society; the subject being prison, in which it is often humanized in the film. There are many films about “toxic masculinity” that I could have chosen, but I believe that this is the best because for the most part, the men in this film speak for themselves and they speak honestly. Their stories and experiences are relatable to just about anyone on some level. The Work is a loud cry for restorative justice and empathy. – Luke M
24. The illusionist (2010)
Sylvain Chomet is a genius. Resurrecting a long forgotten script by Jacques Tati from the grave, The Illusionist is a delicate love letter to a long forgotten era of cinema. Both a sudden cautionary tale about losing one’s creative spark and a magical experience, this hand drawn near-silent masterpiece is a dedicated piece of visual storytelling. The relationship on screen is enchanting, and the supporting cast of vibrant characters is equally refreshing. The Illusionist is a miraculous achievement, and a great followup to The Triplets of Belleville. – David Cuevas
23. Before midnight (2013)
Out of the films that came out in this past decade, my personal favorite of the decade comes from the third installment in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, Before Midnight. This is by far the hardest yet most realistic film in a trilogy that has already established every aspect of love and time in the most flawless and human ways possible. Everything that made the first two installments so wonderful are still intact here, with the fantastic screenplay that carries out compelling themes and terrific dialogue, beautiful direction, and the absolutely wonderful chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
But it also takes these things we’re familiar with and put them into the test in a more realistic approach that makes both Jessie and Celine (even the audience) to see if love is really worth it. Which makes it very hard to watch at times, considering the strong emotional attachment we had with them in Sunrise and Sunset. But at the same time it’s very engaging because we see them argue and picker upon their current status of their relationship and personal struggles, while still trying their individual best to maintain their relationship as stabilized as possible. The way it’s handled throughout the course of the film is engaging, hilarious, emotionally heartbreaking, and honest with no step backs or sugarcoating. Before Midnight teaches us that love isn’t a fantasy or perfect. It’s going to be tough and it sucks at times, but it’s important for us to get back up in those tough times and try to love in the best possible way you can. It’s hard to handle it, and I’m glad it talks about it, as well as breaking my little heart into a million pieces afterwards. Love is a complex idea to process with, and the Before Trilogy understands it flawlessly. – Haydn Elmore
22. Birdman (2014)
A dark comedy, a tale of love not to be, an exploration of cinema and theater, a deconstruction of superheroes and their films, and a modern masterpiece of technological film-making; Birdman has been my favorite film ever since I first watched it in 2014, and it hasn’t faltered in any way since then. This is a film that so elegantly dissects themes and intent from the superhero genre, theater productions, modern art and the reason why we struggle and how we strive past our flaws. This is a film that breaks the confines of the screen and shows you what you’ve been thinking about for a long time.
This is a film that confronts the nature of us and reflects something unsettling and ugly, but still believes in hope, love and color in life. There is a potency to the thematics at play in the film, a true journey of exploration across so much more than criticizing superheroes. The film uses this lens to draw you in, a promise of deconstruction, a promise of catharsis, and what is then given to you is something else, something much more profound and meaningful. In terms of ecological storytelling, the film utilizes its run-time down to a mathematic precision, sifting through ever scene to get the most out of the characters, actors, metaphors and aesthetic.
A blindingly triumphant function is at the heart of the film, where so many other films miss their target with connection and intent through poor overall function, Birdman soars above, revealing a collection of images and sounds that stick with you for years, and of which have stayed culturally, sub-textually, and politically relevant. This is a film that understands that it needs to exist, it needs to be talked about, it needs to be addressed. There is a simple joy to decoding the subtext and metaphor of the film; finding what it means to you and then finding what it means for others. Although surface level, that simple joy is encouraged by the film, by essentially packing every frame with as much relevant meaning and philosophy as it can. This might seem heavy handed to some, but to me, and I think to art, it is working at a level far beyond what you could refer to as ‘pretentious,’ or ‘basic.’ To me, this film transcends this kind of bad faith idealism, instead opting to help you experience the rawness of film, the elevated nature of theme and how it can be applied to any time.
Birdman is a film that haunts me, I see it everywhere, it manifests in people, places, art and nature. There is something so very finite about the film, something so very true and real to us. I see it as an absolute achievement of art and the work of human nature, and the best thing about that is that the film already comments on that and suggests how and where we should evolve with next. -James Barton
21. La La Land (2016)
Honestly, La La Land made me look at films from a different point of view. I’ll never forget the day I went to see the film in theaters: January 2nd, 2017. It was like my eyes had been open to actually looking at films from a critical perspective. When I was watching it in the theater, I had the dorkiest, stupidest grin on my face almost throughout the entire run time. On the ride home, I thought, “Man, I would LOVE to do something like that.” It was like my eyes had been opened. From then on, I took a more critical approach to watching films. If it wasn’t for La La Land, I wouldn’t love films the way I do now .I’ll always have a special place in my heart for this film because if it wasn’t for it, I wouldn’t want to get into film-making. – Adam Tatti
20. GRAVITY (2013)
There are movies… and then there is Gravity. Quite frankly one of the most recognizable blockbuster Sci-fi adventure movies of all time, and one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the last decade, Gravity is more than just a masterpiece. It’s Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece. Simple in it’s storytelling, yet enthralling and an edge-of-your-seat-roller coaster-ride, this film is what cinema and the movie going experience was made for. With spectacular visual effects, immersive sound design, beautiful cinematography, and a hell of a screen performance by one of Hollywood’s greats, Sandra Bullock, Gravity is wholly original and proved female actresses can carry original films to box office success. It broke records, grossed over $700 million worldwide, and won a deserved 7 Oscars. It should’ve won Best Picture as well, for films like Gravity come but once in a lifetime. -Avi Christiaans
19. Beasts of the southern wild (2012)
Both a heart-wrenching cross-examination of poverty, and environmental disaster from a child’s perspective; and a naive free-spirited coming of age fantasy, Beasts of the Southern Wild weaponizes its endearingly subjective lens to explore a walk of life in the most enthused way possible. Its grand in scale, its emotions are big, and the admiration to the craft is impeccable. The opening fireworks scene and accompanying musical sting are unforgettable, and Hushpuppy’s various monologues will have the audience questioning their own existence as well. -Evelyn Williams
18. Interstellar (2014)
A grandiose ode to the human emotion of love and the exploration of the endless frontier that is space, Interstellar is a true cinematic gem. Christopher Nolan’s 2014 magnum opus is a truly awe-strucking film that pays tribute to its legendary inspirations, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and makes itself an original and inventive film at the same time, with lengthy dialogues that boast some truly beautiful and deep-meaning lines that make for some incredibly visceral, heartbreaking scenes that are carried out wonderfully by its talented stellar cast.
Presenting the vulnerability and singularity of a father’s love for his children in the gargantuan scale of the film’s main investigative voyage into the far reaches of our capability, Interstellar is truly a wonder of the sci-fi genre in how it presents the notions of how love is capable of transcending not just time and space, but also our own lifespans. A space epic in every sense of the word. – Ashvin Sivakumar
17. Hugo (2011)
Back in 2012, I was bedridden. After a rather painful surgery, I was forced to say home due to doctor’s orders. My parents rented a few DVD’s from a local video rental shop to spend the time, which is now unfortunately replaced with a cellphone shop. One of those films rented that week was Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Just in those five days alone, I watched the film at least six times. I fell in love with Hugo; and it also made me fall in love with cinema. Without Scorsese’s delicate love-letter to cinema, I don’t know where I would be right now. His passionate vision has affected many, including the eyes of a young child, sick and lonely in the lonesome hours of a dreaded weekday. Thank you Scorsese for changing my life! – David Cuevas
16. Roma (2018)
Films like Roma come so rarely. The film almost feels like a miracle that it even exist. I always have a soft spot for films about people just living their daily lives. Sometimes, it can be fun. Sometimes, it can be scary. But the sound design and mixing is what draws you in. Immersive would be a giant understatement. Alfonso Cuarón is a master behind the camera, but this is his most personal film to date. It’s a shame I was never able to see it in theaters. – Adam Tatti
15. Good Time (2017)
Good Time is an acid-trip of a night that I find to be an extraordinary landmark of a film that has put the Safdie Brothers into high acclaim. I hold the film very close to my heart as it has immensely inspired my personal film-making and even my own individual style. It has a kind of energy that feels like a Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet love child, with the lens of something out a Gasped Noé film with its colorful and trippy cinematography and color palette. Robert Pattinson gives a career best performance as Connie Nikas, whose trying to hustle through life like everyone else, creating a character that feels like the guy you know from around the corner. I could spill my love for this film for days, weeks and quite possibly months, and I’ll never get over how it completely transcended me with its synth madness in first viewing, and still gives me the same feelings on my 48th re-watch. – Aaron Bahamondes
Good Time is one of the few films from this decade to which I can confidently apply the word “unhinged.” It is immediately gripping, and never lets go for a single second. The Safdie Brothers have an eye and an ear for insanity, and accomplish it through vibrant colors, claustrophobic close-ups, and a wonderful 80’s-synth-inspired score from Oneohtrix Point Never. This, combined with Robert Pattinson’s best performance to date, creates a film which always has something—and more often than not, everything— to throw at you at once. – Mel Turnage
14. Son of Saul (2015)
Unlike other World War II, which rely strictly on intense battle sequences and depraved imagery, director László Nemes takes the approach of a different kind of war; a psychological war. Son of Saul is a twisty, unpredictable film about grief and the suffering of humanity. The film never let’s you go, as we witness the tragic environment of the fatal Auschwitz concentration camp through the eyes of Géza Röhrig’s excellent performance as Saul, who is our only window into this mundane toxic world. Audiences who are brave enough to sit through Son of Saul will be ultimately rewarded with a sense of renewal and a frightening cautionary warning about the current state of fascism. – David Cuevas
13. Portrait of a lady on fire (2019)
A painting is never just a collection of brushstrokes put together to achieve some aesthetic effect. Yet works of art often seem to be seen as just that, an artist’s training put to physical form, rather than the stories; not only the ones they depict, but the ones that formed them. A work of art is not the training of an artist made visible, but the actual artist taken from the abstract to the concrete and then transformed back into the abstract.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a story of love, of loss, of backwards traditions, of an artist, of art, of birth, of death, and everything that happens in between. The film is, above all, the story of a painting; and the story of every painting, yet the art itself is hardly the important part of the film. As beautiful and methodical as the painting that punctuates many of the film’s scenes, it is a slow burning experience that leads to an emotionally devastating conclusion. Though set in a different time and place, it never feels like a relic and is instead a vibrant and engaging work that demands to be embraced. From the moment I sat down to watch it, Portrait of a Lady on Fire captivated me in a way few other films have done so, and every subsequent viewing of it has only solidified its place in my mind. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is not only my pick for the best film of 2019, but it is also one of the greatest films of the entire 2010s. – Henry B
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu is a love story that is special in the way that it is not just about one romance, but three instead. The first is the one onscreen. The second is the parable of Orpheus and Eurydice. Lastly, there’s the real life story of artist and muse, from former lovers Céline Sciamma and lead actress Adèle Haenel. This is important in the context of the film, which acts as a sendoff, a letter to love that has changed instead of kept in a memory. The film dates to ask what if? What if we left this at its peak?
The film is all set on an island overlooking roaring waves. Roaring with tension perhaps, or maybe it’s simply white noise. Noémie Merlant plays a young painter named Marianne commissioned for a wedding portrait where her subject mustn’t know her. The bride-to-be is Adèle Haenel’s Héloïse. Bitter, closely-guarded, yet later open and longing, Héloïse feels like a confession. Much of the film has a rare reality, each emotion is calculated, yet in a way that does not feel robotic. Instead her face matches the viewer. When Haenel smiles, we smile with her infectiousness, and at her rare tears, we cry. She holds it in for most of the film, a barely kept restraint, as she is so often about to burst. A lot of the beginning is restrained, meant to build tension, and lulls us into thinking we are in for a calm experience.
Keeping with the three love stories, the film has three endings. One is sudden, one’s power isn’t realized until later, and one is meant to mirror ourselves. It’s like ghosts of past, present, and future, in a film where time is ever of the element with how compact the relationship is, during a love scene, Héloïse remarks that “they say it makes you fly” in reference to a substance the two are using so that they can feel as if time has slowed down. Time is important. The physical relationship is only a matter of days, yet the memory lasts for all of time, as the grand finale reminds us.
Maybe Portrait of a Lady on Fire is so important because of what it stands for. Sciamma has referred to it as a lesbian imaginaire, its story is specific to the lesbian experience. Letting underrepresented voices tell their own stories is powerful. When we see ourselves onscreen, in the film, we do not have to view ourselves through a lens as some male gaze-y fantasy, torture porn, or bare minimum quota visibility. We see ourselves, the quirks of our stories and relationships, our feelings, our history, and our own art onscreen in a rare occasion, and it is a powerful feeling to be seen. – Sarah W
12. Nocturama (2016)
Nocturama is about a group of French teenagers who plan and execute terrorists attacks across Paris. Bertrand Bonello splits the film into two parts: the first half shows them meticulously organizing the attacks in a disorienting non-linear fashion; the second half follows the aftermath as they seek refuge from the police in an empty mall overnight. It’s a deeply cryptic film, most notably for Bonello’s refusal to give motivation to their actions. The film ends up more complex because of it, avoiding needless exposition attempting to justify or condemn their actions, which allows Nocturama to exist in a strange ambivalent moral grey area. We sympathize with the characters, but we can never really understand them. Bonello juxtaposes this haunting unease with the comfortable surroundings of consumerism, to brilliant effect. The film’s chilling score (composed by Bonello himself) is contrasted with diegetic bangers from Chief Keef and Willow Smith on the film’s soundtrack only underlines the film’s bifurcated atmosphere. Divisive but audacious, Nocturama is a film that shouldn’t be ignored. – Kern Wheeling
11. Shame (2011)
Steve McQueen’s shame is a masterful portrayal of self-destruction and is one of the greatest portrayals of a self-destructive character in the 21st century. A man named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) in his 30s who seems absolutely perfect to the outside world, someone who has a great job, has friends and has his own apartment in New York; but in reality he is someone who fills out the emotional drought in his soul by pleasuring himself with meaningless sex and masturbating to porn. His never changing lifestyle gets affected when his sister (Carey Mulligan) shows up and what functioning he had over himself slowly slips away. Michael Fassbender is stunning in this film in what is still his best performance. He completely disappears in this role and displays the pain and misery of this character with just his facial expressions, in what might be the most shameful Oscar snub, acting wise this decade.
Carey Mulligan is equally brilliant in this film. Her role is more reliant on acting as a counter to Brandon, but she is mesmerizing especially in her New York, New York performance. Steve McQueen directs this film beautifully with letting some scenes flow for as long as they should and using editing to showcase cross cutting excellence, especially during the train scenes. The film opens with a shot of Brandon lying naked on his bed thinking about what he is doing to himself, but he is already so damaged that he doesn’t even care what he is doing to himself. With Shame, Steve McQueen also comments on the sexual desires and loneliness in a metropolitan city. A city as big and densely populated as New York where there are people everywhere, people that are still lonely and often that loneliness accelerates their hunger for sexual desires.
Films are great enough when they manage to have a great arc for their characters, but a film is even more special when it manages to have an arc for just one sequence and book ends them flawlessly. In the beginning Brandon is on the subway to work, he sees a woman sitting across from him and stares at her the way an animal stares at its prey. During which you get glimpses of what Brandon has done the previous night, having sex with a hooker, then masturbates and the film cuts back to him staring at the woman. You can see conflict in her eyes, but Brandon at this point is just interested in one thing.
The train arrives at the station she leaves and Brandon follows her in a glorious one shot backed by Harry Escott’s incredible score, she disappears into the crowd as Brandon continues to look for her. The same woman shows up in the final scene as Brandon notices her once again sitting across from him in the train. But his look is different, he may have intended something with her earlier but has now come to the realization that he was destroying himself in the process. Brandon is a tragic character who may or may not find his soul ever again as the film leaves that up to interpretation. Shame is a masterpiece of storytelling and acting and is easily one of the best films of the decade. – Manan Laliwala