30. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
While “Ghost Protocol” was a highly enjoyable spectacle with a lackluster villain, “Rogue Nation” had a plot much more grounded in espionage, featured a much more threatening and intellectual villain, and introduced us to the greatest female spy character in modern cinema – the long-legged, dark haired beauty that is MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson). What a welcome addition she was to the franchise, catching Hunt and then freeing him, beating him down and then saving his life. Whose side could she be on? The film is all about allegiances. Smart, capable, sexy, and sharing Cruise’s action deadpan, Ferguson is a force to be reckoned with. “Rogue Nation” lives up to the “Mission: Impossible” name with some mind-blowing stunts, but also features more complexity in its script than the other entries. The film goes from spectacle in one minute to tense thriller the next and at times becomes a love story of sorts. The action scenes are impressively well-edited (especially a sequence taking place in the Vienna State Opera). The chemistry and banter between Ferguson and Cruise is really the highlight for me, and the film features some fantastic dialogue – at one point Hunt is referred to as the “living manifestation of destiny.” “Rogue Nation” knew exactly what it wanted to be and set up the franchise for many more exceptional installments.
29. Knives Out
“Knives Out” was the most purely entertaining film of 2019. A whodunnit film directed by Rian Johnson, everyone in front of and behind the camera was clearly having a blast making this film. A murder has been committed at a mansion. The victim is Harlan Thrombey, a highly-successful author of – what else? – whodunit murder mysteries. The manner of death appears to be suicide, but not everyone is so convinced. There is a long list of suspects. Harlan’s children hardly show any grief – they seem more concerned about the will reading than anything else. Who will inherit the big fortune? Entitlement is a key theme here. Rian Johnson’s style of filmmaking and storytelling obviously fits the whodunit genre. There are plenty of opportunities for twists, and Johnson makes all of them feel almost natural. He turns the genre on its head in a way by giving the audience more information than usual early on in the film. Halfway through, the tension is cut due to Johnson’s reveal, and the film falls more into the suspense category. It very much stays an intellectual exercise, as we know the solution can’t be as simple as what we’ve been told. The amount of humor is surprising, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
28. Ford v Ferrari
“Ford v Ferrari” and “Knives Out” were the most crowd-pleasing films of 2019, but that’s far from a bad thing. On the contrary, both are highly enjoyable, well-acted, expertly crafted films that can be enjoyed by the whole family. I’ve heard “Ford v Ferrari” referred to as “my dad’s favorite film.” It’s about two middle aged men trying to win a car race, and diving deeper it’s about the creative vs. the executive and individualism vs. group mentality. I suppose those are topics and themes that middle-aged men would especially be entertained by, but I believe James Mangold gave us a gem that has something for everyone. The car races are the best I’ve seen on a big screen. The film won Best Editing and Best Sound Editing at the Oscars. There’s also a surprising amount of levity in the script. I laughed harder at moments in this film than I had at many of the year’s alleged comedies. I also found it incredibly easy to root for the protagonists – both against their adversary, Ferrari, and their corporate “partner,” Ford. Mangold publicly stated that he wasn’t as interested in the actual racing as he was in the drama behind it. “Ford v Ferrari” not only inspired me to drive a bit faster on the way home, but also to read about the historical events it was based on.
27. Get Out
What genre is “Get Out” in? I suppose I would classify it as a socio-political satirical thriller. Jordan Peele blew us all away with his directorial debut back in 2017, earning Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture; Peele won for screenplay. “Get Out” proved that films could cover socio-political themes without being overtly political or offensive. They can be intelligent, funny, and use those themes to create awkward tension. “Get Out” has an almost “Twilight Zone”-esque quality to it with the way the script is constructed and the way the film was cut in the editing room. To some, it might feel like there are tonal inconsistencies, but I personally think the jarring changes between horror, comedy, and suspense are effective. The twist in the third act is completely insane, but the fact that you buy into it is a testament to just how much work the film has done to get you invested in the story up to that point. “Get Out” is very much a film of its time and is a fantastic feature debut from Jordan Peele.
26. Steve Jobs
Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin working together to make a bio film about Steve Jobs? How could things go wrong? Everything about the film works in exactly the right away, though Steve Jobs would probably disagree. If you’re not a Sorkin fan, you obviously won’t care for “Steve Jobs,” but if you are, you’ll find some of Sorkin’s snappiest, wittiest dialogue featured here. Boyle’s kinetic direction is well-suited to accompany Sorkin’s dynamic script, which takes a unique structure in focusing on moments before Job’s biggest product launches. Faced with constant technical issues, family conflict, and corporate drama, Steve’s road to the stage is faced with adversity, and this structure – mixed with some seamless crosscutting to flashbacks – brilliantly gives us insight into the life of one of the most seemingly distant men in our culture. The editing, along with the production, the lighting, and sound design make us feel as though we are there alongside the characters. Even Jobs would be impressed with just how smoothly everything moves along. And I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic performances. Fassbender neither looks quite like Steve Jobs nor like himself, but he perfectly embodies the drive, focus, and perfectionism of the Apple CEO. Rogen, Winslet, and Daniels are all at their best. If you want to watch just one movie about Steve Jobs or Apple, this is the one to pick.
25. The Dark Knight Rises
The plot of “The Dark Knight Rises” is a little messy, and the motivations of the villain(s) are a bit muddled, but there’s no denying that Nolan finished off his trilogy in epic fashion. Though it drags a bit in its first half, the film builds up to a sensational climax, then finishes on a slightly confusing and less-than-satisfying note that seems to leave the potential for further world-building open. Nolan always saw Batman as more of a symbol than a hero, and his ending is in-line with his own feelings of the character. “Rises” tests the extremes to which a superhero film can go. It is long, gloomy, and apocalyptic – not exactly the first adjectives you would pick to describe a film in the genre. At the start of the story, Wayne has been in seclusion for years, but is forced to resurface as his alter ego when a soulless villain emerges that is more powerful than he is. The best part of the film is Anne Hathaway as the enigmatic and seductive Catwoman. Tom Hardy is fantastic as the brawny and menacing Bane. Ultimately, I found the experience immensely satisfying.
Most people find “Argo” to be an enjoyable yet forgettable Best Picture winner, but I find it to be an excellent study on how cover is used in clandestine operations. Historical inaccuracies aside, the cover story as shown in the film is what the CIA really used in carrying out a rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. A sense of urgency is felt throughout the film – despite already knowing how the story is going to end, I still find myself swept up in the tension of the story. The diplomats had a limited time to learn their alter egos, and the amount of props and detail that go into assembling a cover story are expertly showcased in the film. Affleck gives a subdued and frankly brilliant performance as Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA operative. Somehow, Affleck was snubbed of a Best Director nomination at the Oscars, despite having won at the Golden Globes and the DGA. He certainly deserved it, having directed one of the most purely enjoyable “based on a true story” films of the last decade.
23. Blade Runner: 2049
The first time I saw “2049,” I felt more or less the same about it as I did about the original. I thought it was too long, that it dragged a lot of the time, and that it wasn’t nearly as complex as it thought it was. “Blade Runner” was always more about visual grandeur and world building than it was about telling an intellectual story. The theme is very basic and is explored in countless other science fiction stories. What does it mean to be human? “2049” continues this exploration, and after a couple of re-watches, I’ve grown to really appreciate the pacing and confident storytelling. I have also found more to analyze over time. The most impressive thing about “2049” is how faithful of a sequel it is, while still remaining very much its own animal. It ranks up there with “The Dark Knight” and “The Empire Strikes Back” as one of the greatest sequels ever made. The ambiguity of a certain character in the original “Blade Runner” is left ambiguous in “2049.” Villeneuve clearly had such a profound sense of respect for what Ridley Scott achieved in the original, and it brings out a sigh of relief from me every time. Ryan Gosling gives the performance of his career, and Harrison Ford surprisingly doesn’t just phone in a cameo appearance. Roger Deakins deservedly won his first Oscar for his work on the cinematography. I personally think “2049” is the most beautiful movie ever made, and I actually enjoy it more than the original. Also, who else wanted that bomber jacket?
22. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Rogue One” exceeded all of my expectations when it was released. I find it to be the best of the Disney Star Wars films to date. “Rogue One” is the title of the ship used by the Rebels in their pursuit of stealing the Death Star plans from an Imperial Base on the planet Scarif. The name is decided on as the Rebels onboard are going against orders set by the leaders of the Rebellion to not engage the Empire. Funny, how I always just assumed there was a war going on. Everything that made the original Star Wars films great is here. The imagination and creativity is so enthralling we feel as though we are part of the story. The artistry of each scene and each setting is gorgeous. From a conceptual standpoint, the creative team behind all the planets, the bases, and the aliens were brilliant. The film is wholeheartedly original. Unlike “The Force Awakens,” it is more than reverent fan service. While “The Force Awakens” may have filled the void, “Rogue One” truly delivered. What really brings it all together is the story’s characters. Their friendships and valiant efforts tug at the heart. The story begins and ends with them.
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson has a delightful style that you can identify within five seconds into one of his films. Every physical move, every facial gesture is so precise, and the physicality of the actors have an almost animated-type quality to them. He has storytellers telling stories about stories, he has models and doll houses filling the frame, and he has chapter headings that make it feel as though it is all some sort of fairy tale. Watching a Wes Anderson film is like opening up the back of a Rolex and observing the precise little gears turning and clicking into exact positions at the exact times they are supposed to. Sometimes his style can be a hindrance to my viewing experience and prevents me from getting emotionally invested into the stories. The script of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is sharp, witty, and tightly wound. The cast list includes practically everyone working in Hollywood. Fiennes gives one of the best performances of his career – his comedic timing is impeccable and he delivers a lot of dialogue very quickly. I was able to empathize with his character, and even more-so with his lobby boy, played by Tony Revolori. The film is delightful and touching at times. It’s like eating a perfectly constructed meal and wanting to have a second round of the dessert. You just can’t get enough of it.