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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Three Decades of Best Films

A funny thing happened on the way to this post.  I was going to blog on some politically correct themes in this morning's New York Times, but I looked on my favorite facebook page, where acolytes of Strauss and Howe meet, and was challenged to name my 10 best films of the decade now coming to an end.  After checking some lists, I did so.  Then I stared at my own list for a while, and decided to a quick comparable list for the previous decade, the 2000s.  Here are the results, with some comments.

My 10 best films of the current decade, in no particular order:

The Social Network
The Big Short
Blue Jasimine
The Artist
Inside Job
The Death of Stalin
Green Book
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I believe I have already seen six of these more than once and there isn't any of them that I wouldn't enjoy watching once again.

This list, I suppose, tells you as much about me as it does about the movies on it.  Eight of them are, in one way or another, historical, either because they deal with actual events (The Social Network, The Big Short, the documentary Inside Job,The Death of Stalin) or because they were excellent portrayals of earlier eras (The Artist, Roma, Green Book, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.)  Three of them--The Social Network, Green Book, and Inside Job--won academy awards, showing to me that the academy can get it right.  Other films that I initially flagged while making the list were Manchester By the Sea, Twelve Years a Slave, Spotlight, Argo, Midnight in Paris, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, Birdman, Lincoln, The Florida Project, What Maisie Saw, Love and Other Drugs, The Ghost Writer, Can You Ever Forgive Me, and The Company you Keep.  Seven of those are also historical in one way or another.  Of the non-historic ones on my lists, most tend to be rather emotional adult dramas, though children are also very much involved.  They don't include any superhero movies, obviously, or cartoons, even though I've enjoyed some of the latter.  Like Martin Scorsese, I have an idea of what a serious movie is.

Meanwhile, on the small screen, this has also been the decade of Breaking Bad (in part), Homeland, The Americans, Billions, and (here in the US) A French Village, five long-running tv series that each probably meant to me than any of those movies. 

As I looked at my list, however, I didn't think it stood up that well to earlier decades, and I decided to test that proposition out with a little more tweaking of my memory and additional research. It took only a few minutes to come up with this list for the 2000s (also in no particular order):

Good Night and Good Luck
13 Days
After the Wedding
The Lives of Others
Lost in Translation
In the Bedroom
Match Point
The Pianist
Man on Wire

A lot of film fans have never seen After the Wedding, a Danish drama that lost the best foreign film Oscar to The Lives of Others in 2007.  It's amazing.  A recent American remake was apparently disastrous and sank like a stone at the box office. This time I have picked six films with an historical theme including one documentary (Man on Wire, about the Frenchman who walked a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers in the early 1970s.)  What disturbs me is that I think this is a much stronger list, whose films consistently engage the viewer more intensely from start to finish.  Other films that I decided not to include were Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, Up in the Air, Before Sunset, and De-Lovely.

Now let me see what I can do, off the top of my head, for the 1990s.

Schindler's List
A League of Their Own
Quiz Show
Good Will Hunting
Sleepless in Seattle
Pulp Fiction
Deconstructing Harry
Leaving Las Vegas
Apollo 13

That list seems to be better than either of the others.  This was also the decade in which The Sopranos debuted.

Hollywood writers have become extraordinarily adept at writing 10-episode season plots, that is, stories that would make a good long novel.  The first seasons of The Sopranos and Homeland were as brilliantly plotted as any comparable works of literature, and the cumulative impact of the first three seasons of Breaking Bad was even greater.  Billions has also been extraordinary.  "Adult drama," however, has become unfashionable in Hollywood, and it shows.  I think we are seeing the impact on film of the decline of serious literature.  I hope there will be a good many comments on this relatively unusual post.


Bozon said...

Very interesting post.
I have stayed away from late American cinema, late cinema in general really. It just doesn't appeal, for a variety of reasons.

I watched, I think, a total of two films in your lists: Schindlere's List, Pulp Fiction.

The level of violence in film is a sad commentary, exceeding by many magnitudes actual violence in some cases.

I have seen that there is a film about Jean Seberg. Maybe that is good. Who knows? Maybe you have already seen it.

All the best

Energyflow said...

I am not into high quality films in that sense but more mainstream. But I certainly don't appreciate watchng endless marvel comics adaptations(deadpool parodiies are rotflol though) What interests me is more zeitgeist definers like The Matrix, Truman Show following on the TV series X-Files in conspiracy and technology paranoia or Terminator of early 80s. The Harry Potter Series was written by one from my birth year and its antiestablishment revolutionary themes are clear, cloaked in youth novel format like Hunger Games and similar recent fare(youth novel films of all sorts are being made in exception to comic book filmfare) This shows popular themes similar to paranoid 90s but taken beyond individual boomer rebelliousness against the system 90s style towards a more general attitude of revolution by my generation. Lord of The Rings films a classic literature written beween the wars, countering the trend. Sauron is of course he who must not be named with charlie chaplin moustache. I had eagerly anticipated a small unexpected classic like matrix, terminator to appear, somehow defining the era. I think Joker fits that. I went home with burning streets in my mind and saw the stories about Santiago de Chile exploding in riots. These things are spreading. We are hitting the boiling point. For cultural points of the 70s I would retreat to music. Let it Be ending energetic creative 60s and Comfortably Numb doubling down on that in 79. The 80s new wave in britpop, aussie pop, michaelmania and MTV revived music culture. It seems political revolution will revive culture more generally in the 20s if Joker is a pointer to the future.

Wes Volkenant said...

Of course film rankings are a very personal thing, as is what we are willing to pony-up $10, $12 a piece to see a movie these days ($40-$45 by the time outrageously over-priced pop and popcorn are added). It limits my wife and I to seeing what will entertain us. She eschews most dramas, and we never do documentaries. I'm biased against including films that come from Netflix first - I suppose this will change in the 2020s for me, too. And, I don't usually go back and hunt down what we missed years before, whether on Prime or on Netflix, or on premium cable channels. So my list only slightly resembles yours, or film critics' lists.

- Lincoln
- Zero Dark Thirty
- King's Speech
- Dunkirk
- Wonder Woman
- La La Land
- Spiderman in the Spider Verse
- The Shape of Water
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- Toy Story 3

Others I considered: Dark Knight Rises, Moneyball, Django Unchained, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Hugo, The Big Short, The Big Sick, Bridge of Spies, Churchill, A Quiet Place, Inside Out, Grand Budapest Hotel

noribori said...

A funny thing happened on the way to this post. I was going to blog on some politically correct themes in this morning's New York Times, but...

A Woody Allen movie in every decade. Not sure there will be one for the next decade.

"A funny thing happened on the way to the forum" is a Richard Lester movie from 1966 which includes Buster Keaton's last appearance on film.

I'd say you do have a sense for the unserious just as the serious, because most of the serious dramas in your list are serious movies with a comical air -- which makes an entertaining mixture.

Larry said...

The 1990's list was the only one where I saw each of them. The other lists had films I hadn't even heard of but am now encouraged to go and see. Wanted to see "Bombshell" yesterday for my birthday but the theater location was an issue so went to one closer that didn't have "Bombshell" so saw "Knives Out" instead, and excellent film in the Agatha Christie style but with a laugh out loud scene at the end. It also addressed the issue of immigrants and deportation as a side issue giving it relevance to current events.

emvan said...

One difference between us I've noticed: I do a lot more re-watching. Here's my 2010 list with the number of times I've seen each film in its original theatrical run, in re-release or repertory, and at home:

1. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013). 2, 0, 7.2, and overdue for another look.
2. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011). 2, 1, 4.
3. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013). 1, 1, 1, and scheduled for January 15.
4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014). 2, 0, 1, and tomorrow.
5. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019). 1, 0, and in January, I hope.
6. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). 3, 2, 0.
7. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron, 2018). 2, 0, and in February, I hope.
8. Cloud Atlas (Lana and Lilly Wachowski / Tom Tykwer, 2012). 2, 0, 2 and overdue.
9. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik, 2010). 0, 2, 1.
10. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villaneuve, 2017). 4, 0, 1.

Jude Hammerle said...

The Guard (2011)

--Jude Hammerle