60. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
A masterclass in discomfort, there’s nothing enjoyable about David Fincher’s adaptation of the Stieg Larsson page turner. At times it’s almost too dark and grim, and the runtime turns into a burden with such a devastating atmosphere. The score from Trent Aznor and Atticus Ross adds another layer to the chilling nature of the film. I read the book when I was far too young, but still mature enough to understand all the themes. It was a book I could not put down. Naturally, the movie doesn’t quite hold up in all the areas, but it’s still a very solid effort. Some scenes (dare I say) verge on becoming gratuitous in their portrayal of violence and abuse. Rooney Mara shines as Lisbeth Salandar, and it’s a shame they decided not to adapt the other two novels in the trilogy.
59. 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The politics of “3 Billboards” are frustratingly on-the-nose, but they are outweighed by the wit, emotion, and intelligence of this black-comedy drama. Frances McDormand turns in her best performance since “Fargo,” and Sam Rockwell turns in an outstanding performance as a loathsome, bratty police officer. The characters are handled with care, each of them undergoing substantial growth from beginning to end. It’s refreshing when a writer is so attuned to their characters, and in my opinion, McDonagh should have won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
“Lincoln” is Spielberg’s most literary and performance-led movie, which is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a “talkie” if I’ve ever seen one. Many scenes involve Lincoln sharing long-winded stories, and the rest of the film is a parliamentary procedural. The core focus of the film is the passing of the 13th Amendment. Daniel Day-Lewis puts on a monumental performance as the 16th president of the United States, and Tommy Lee Jones evokes great bravado and ferocity as Congressman Stevens from Pennsylvania. The genius in the performance from Day-Lewis is his enigmatic take on the character of Lincoln. Despite its procedural nature, it still has the classic tear-jerking Spielberg moments and swelling John Williams score. It’s a historically important film that should be seen by people of all ages.
“Roma” is probably Cuaron’s masterpiece – this is personal filmmaking on a new level. Cuaron pays tribute to the women who helped raise him, taking story beats straight out of his own life and injecting them into a story that transcends language, culture, and class. It’s a beautiful film to look at – a crisp contrast in every frame and intimate feeling that can only be achieved in black and white. The film meanders in its first half and might lose a good chunk of its audience in that time, but a narrative comes into focus in the second half and propels the story to its emotional ending. “Roma” plays as almost more of a dream than a drama. It’s a hypnotic experience and a cultural milestone.
56. Dunkirk & Darkest Hour (tie)
Christopher Nolan broke new ground when he decided to make a war film that centered more around the event than the people fighting in it. Nolan’s signature trademark is playing with time, and even in “Dunkirk” he can’t help but play around with the order in which he presents events. The practical effects and cinematography are immaculate and completely immerse you in to the battle. While it avoids all of the cliches of other films in its genre, it never gets you emotionally invested in any of its characters. There’s barely any dialogue, and at times that can strain your attention span. It’s hard to think of a film that showcases visual storytelling and the brutality of war better than “Dunkirk” though.
“Darkest Hour” came out roughly four months after “Dunkirk,” and the two films compliment each other beautifully. They have two very contrasting styles – one has very little dialogue, minimal music, and focuses on those on the front lines of battle, while the other is politically charged and dialogue-heavy with a sweeping score. Gary Oldman undergoes a complete physical transformation and completely loses himself into the role of Winston Churchill. There are great moments of levity as we get to know the man so revered by many of today’s WWII historians. Though a bit flashy at times, “Darkest Hour” is a rousing political drama that will be a welcomed breathe of fresh air after suffering through the brutal 105 minutes of “Dunkirk.”
In today’s hookup culture, “Shame” is more relevant now than it was when it was originally released in 2011. It’s an unflinching look at a man struggling with addiction – an addiction you might laugh at upon hearing about, but will surely come to realize as dangerous by the end of the film. “Shame” should serve as a reminder that we are not above the choices we make or acts we commit – we can easily fall prey to their consequences. There’s some truly deep commentary on intimacy, sexual imagery, pornography, and self-worth. It’s not an easy watch, but in my opinion, it’s a must-see.
“Arrival” is an intellectual sci-fi film directed by Denis Villeneuve. The film centers around a linguistic played by Amy Adams who is enlisted by the Army to communicate with aliens who have arrived on Earth. There’s a good amount of tension, some gorgeous cinematography, and the performances are all top-notch. The aliens are uncharacteristically non-threatening, while the humans are naturally responding to any subtle move as an act of aggression. Villeneuve is extremely patient and deliberate with the pace of his storytelling, and even though “Arrival” clocks in at just a hair under two hours, it feels more like a two-and-a-half hour film. It favors science and ideas over action and violence, which is refreshing for a film in its genre. However, I fail to get emotionally invested in the story, and in my opinion Villeneuve doesn’t quite stick the landing.
53. The King’s Speech
It’s about as cliche of a Best Picture winner as you can get, but there’s no denying that “The King’s Speech” is lighthearted, fun, and historically very interesting. When I first saw the film nine years ago, I had no idea who King George VI was or how difficult it was for him to communicate with his people due to a stammer. Tom Hooper gets us invested in George’s plight and showcases a beautiful symbiotic relationship between King George and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are both outstanding and the script is well constructed with some delightful humor. This is really a film that can be enjoyed by anyone.
I’ll probably get a lot of flack for having “Interstellar” so low, but such is life. Nolan continues to do what he does so well, which is take bold ideas and make great statements on a grand scale. He doesn’t reuse, and he doesn’t recycle. He even explores the physics of space travel and has his characters attempt to explain to the average moviegoer how time dilation works. Much of “Interstellar’s” intelligence comes from its ability to tell a heart-wrenching story while also examining the theory of relativity. However, there are certain elements that feel as though they are stolen straight out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and the film could have easily had at least 15 minutes shaved off of it for a tighter narrative. The plot throws logic out the window for emotional sentimentality. The twist in the climax is almost too ambitious and risks the story collapsing in on itself. Still, it’s one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade.
51. Margin Call
A bit dense and filled with financial jargon, “Margin Call” might be over the heads of average audience members. For those who have a basic understanding of the industry and are interested in the history of the 2008 Financial Crisis, this is an impeccable film. It’s fairly procedural, but the script is air tight and the acting is superb. Beyond the technical jargon, the film explores how people working in the industry (The Firm is based on Lehman Brothers) reacted to learning overnight that their assets had turned toxic. The gut reactions around the table were pretty much all the same: save our own asses. This is a must-see for anyone interested in or studying in the financial industry.