Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, January 03, 2020

Best Films of the Decade (10s)

It's maybe a strange accident all the films on this list are American (save one), but I doubt it. American flag tweet! Dear friends in Europe and abroad: in case it doesn't travel, I am being sarcastic.. In about one to five more years we should get our act back together, electoral-college-strangling-Americarily speaking. I guess all we can do until then is crank out adrenalin-packed escapism and say: 'Yo, world, why not disappear down the rabbit hole mit uns? Wir haben CBD!'

Argue about ART in cinema as art if thou wish but there's no reality anymore. There is no 'morality' to rail against, no church imposing enough to incite fascist riots at surrealist anti-papal movie screenings. All western institutions have long learned to incorporate their own critiques ("fight corporations with Coke!") as per Debord's concept of recuperation; even homesickness has become an escapist fantasy. Kansas mud-mired Dorothy misses Oz so much she keeps hitting herself on the head to simulate a tornado, but with every visit, the Technicolor of Oz fades just a bit more to muddy red. Back in Kansas she finds her vision permanently blurred from all the concussions. It's called addiction, Dorothy! And one look at your Kansas reality and we can't quite blame you. Next time, just drink!

Myth is the mirror shield with which we may behold Medusa. Straight-up, the gorgon offers only the wrong kind of stoning beheld directly. This factors into these choices: 2011's Melancholia  is way too apt for repeat viewings. I cried during Tree of Life (also 2011) but I watched it in the theater mere minutes after I had taken shrooms, and then learned my dad was dying, so the fact I had a spiritual experience disqualifies my judgement.  After six viewings, I still am only halfway to appreciating Inherent Vice. Maybe I'd resonate differently with it if I lived in LA? It took me 20 viewings to appreciate Big Lebowski. What a ride that's been.

These are the films from this decade that vibrated my kundalini fibers with their astonishing Perseus shield  mythic acumen.  You may disagree, but what does it matter? This kind of decade is beyond mere time and passing, it's become like a marijuana plant trimmed at the top to skunk it out, fertile but stunted, outward bound but trapped in the confines of its closet.

See also:

(2015) Dir. David Thomas Mitchell

Scary without being cruel or callous, sweet without being corny, David Thomas Mitchell has made  one of the most succinct and scariest cinematic coming-of-age myths ever, with the best scary cool analog synth score not made by John Carpenter. A dream-past reverie on that mortal moment when we realize we're now 'grown' and not 'growing' --so we begin running from death as it runs to meet us fast as a mental patient's relentless stalking countdown. Seeking immortality in the sexual drive, 'passing it on' through the generations (Life as the original STD), the horror of birth and fear of death commingled like atoms to form the core of what makes 80s slasher movie tropes our new Grimm's Fairy Tales archetypal lexicon. Beautiful pink and blue lights and 70s suburban shadows make every shot a luminous poem alive with vaguely 30s two-strip color used on films like the original Mystery at the Wax Museum. A masterpiece. (see: It's a Carpenter Hush)

(2015) Dir Denis Villeneuve

There is an eerie enigmatic near-Apocalypse of the Lambs artistry at work in this tale of an Arizona FBI rookie brought into the murky world of CIA drug dealer assassinations that marks Villeneuve as the premiere stylist of the decade. The refreshingly ominous and abstract use of sound, the way Jóhann Jóhannsson's droning ominous synthesizer casts an intoxicating pall over the proceedings, as if the bottom is slowly dropping out in an endless elevator to Hell that opens out onto the sky at the same time, the naturalistic low-key dialogue, the vast empty spaces, and one of the best scenes of slow building tension and violent explosion (at the Mexico-US border crossing traffic) ever. As the moral compass Emily Blunt whispers through the whole movie like a lover trying not to wake her kids. Brolin and del Toro have such chemistry they're reminiscent of Clu and Lee in the '64 KILLERS. The easy realism of the various military-CIA-Texas Ranger joint-op briefings recalls the best Hawks' men-in-group maturity, which is so rare it must be savored, like a last meal.

(2017) Directed by Darren Aronofsky

One of the trippiest, wildest, most insane biblical fables ever, it's also a perfect emblem of its #metoo / Greta and the Global Meltdown moment. Here we have Woman as Earth, as avenger and astro-turf for that grinding, rending, overpopulating violent plague, humanity. As someone who has spent his fair share of really bad acid trips at over-crowded house parties (in my own house!), with people I don't know rummaging through my room (and me tongue stop-tied toot out kick them), is how we never really notice the moment a single night's poetry book release party with a handful of fans on the front lawn devolves into a full scale riot, and then beyond, all in real time, as Jennifer Lawrence moves from room to room of her house, trying to prevent each new destructive urge in her uninvited guests. It's so familiar I began to feel that old tang on my tongue. I wanted to run to my room and lock the door before the seagulls could strip it dry in search of souvenirs to lick for possible holy lysergic residue. With Javier Bardem as the all-forgiving poet husband/god, always inviting in more and more of the great unwashed, rationalizing each new atrocity with his endless capacity for fogiveness. It's beyond horrible, back into blissful, and farther into the abyss of religious allegorical truth than any other film since Dogville. It's weird, but it's not as sadistic or pretentious as some of Aronofsky's earlier work, depending on your tolerances for atrocity. It's the allegory we deserve, and Jennifer Lawrence--so terrible in her last few 'big' pictures (ala X-Men)--redeems herself in spades as her generation's golden wild child. (more)

(2010) (dir. Gaspar Noe)

Death never had it so good: sex, drugs, techno, the Buddhist's wheel of fear and desire roulette afterlife, every drug dealer's worst nightmare is realized. A panic attack for all seasons, with some dynamo Fantasia 2001-meets-Tron lightshows, it simultaneously makes religion and pornography obsolete. It's the Sidpa bardo (look it up!) and the relentless quest for a new fertilized egg to incarnate in, and then the shattering realization that after all that soul I AM drifting, rebirth bring just another prison, this one of dirty diapers and the terror of motherless nighttime, rather than the loneliness of drifting through a completed level of a computer game, never finding that one key that unlocks the next. Noe's talent is without measure: savage, psychedelically-enhanced to the point of madness, but never incoherent, simplistic or pretentious. Maybe racist, and misogynist, and strangely pro-life, but so honest about it, so relentlessly scathing, and filled with so many intensely psychedelic day-glo tableaux, it can't help but leave you transformed, especially on a lot of cough syrup. (read more here)

(2012) Dir. Wes Anderson

Pair-bond romance has always been Wes Anderson's weak point: he tends to focus on the childhood friendship of two (or sometimes three) boys and/or immature men, often ne'er do wells or scoundrels which a girl--usually more mature--comes painfully betwixt, if at all. But in this, his so-far only true love story, and he nails it by making the pair too young to be out and about without disproving adult permission, and too cool to let that stop them. when pushed. They do not cower! With her dark eye shadowed fox eyes and focused fearless deadpan expression, 14 year-old Kara Hayward is to Wes Anderson as Lauren Bacall was to Hawks, or Lana Del Rey to Val Lewton, and the effect is the same; Jared Gilman as her opposite number, an intrepid woodsman orphan, is shorter and seemingly younger, with owlish glasses and a Daniel Boone cap, but possessed of an eerie confidence and curiosity that sets him leagues apart from the 'average' shy and smitten doofusness so many lesser directors mistake for 'real' kid behavior. He's a badass.

We all have felt this type of heady connection, this thrilling outlaw romance, at some point in our lives, I hope. I would regret anyone missing it, this lightning bolt that comes at any age, at any time. Whether we either rise to its challenge or drown it, like a wolf cub in the bathtub, is up to us. Moonrise Kingdom commands you help this pair of cool lovers escape parental and societal constraints; don't impede them, or you will get bit. And this is maybe the best and most undrowned wolf of a film Anderson film he's ever released into the wild. A true wolf whirlwind, it's full of great animal totems, woodcraft, folklore, park ranger-style factoids, and Francoise Hardy and two of the coolest kid/characters in movies since 1979's Over the Edge. 

(2015) Dir. George Miller

Miller's fourth Max film takes the big truck chase climax of the The Road Warrior and stretches it two hours into the void, filling it full of sunbleached women, Nordic mutants and crazy vehicles, a whole dense future warlord-led fiefdom in a sterile desert wasteland, where water, gasoline, and bullets are the currency that runs the small corner of the world, but everyone is decked out, and when the warlord and his mobile horde descend from their fertile mesa, they naturally have a kettle drummer and a mutant albino wailing on an electric guitar that's also a flame thrower to spur the gang to higher speeds. It left some critics too shellshocked to applaud but most of us had our socks blown off so far they drifted in astral winds, and we loved it. George Miller may have fumbled with the dreadfully PG Thunderdome, but this more than makes up for it. With its bright blazing graphic novel colors (those deep reds!) it's always a joy to look at, and edited so quick and with such a dense, character-infested, mythically coherent mise-en-scene, it can stand a trillion re-viewings and still have termite details left to unfurl.  

(2017) Written and directed by Greta Gerwig

Neither shying away from the romantic faux pas nor the cool little moments of triumph that come with growing up artsy but confident, here's a Catholic school girl movie that avoids all the tired (albeit necessary) sexual endangerment/obsession tropes we get with all the 'women's coming-of-age' stories (the ones written by dudes). Gerwig allows us clearly autobiographical triumphant sing-outs like the take-down of the visiting anti-abortion rally speaker, the inspiring albeit ridiculous aspects of an after-school drama club, and the disillusionment that comes with first-time sex. In a rapid series of stunning vignettes and perfectly-realized moments, we get the story, not of some 'average' girl buffeted by the winds of change in her rocky search for the right guy to surrender her freedom to, but of a specific strong-willed young woman who couldn't be conventional if she tried, and thank god.  Not quite as mature as she acts but totally free of anything resembling a cliche'd trait, lovingly embodied by star Saoirse Ronan. An amazing achievement that fulfills the halo of stoner grace I saw over Great Gerwig as far back as 2009's Baghead. But this is Gerwig's Live through This, her Exile in Guyville. It's the writing on the wall outside the gates of Eden, written in the blood of uncored apples.

Good ole Fashioned Florida Tie:

(2017) Dir. Sean Baker

For all her ratchet tats, foxy Bria Vinaite is hellfire and ice cream as a wildchild young jaguar mom, raising wild children who create, cause and relish in danger (the "project" is a cheap unofficially residential motel near Disneyland, inhabited by various transient families eking by week-to-week while their children run amok in the parking lot). I generally avoid 'social worker' movies (one has her eye on Bria due to her occasional trick turning to pay the bills), but I actually love these amok kids as they're not doe-eyed symbols of a failed welfare state but wild and free in that rare and vivid primal force state of Over her Edge and Wild Boys of the Road. Willem DaFoe's protective but vaguely annoyed presence as the hotel manager suggests another form of 'great 70s dad' as a kind of peripheral game warden, keeping the lion cubs away from poachers, but otherwise letting them do as they will provided they don't make more work for him. I even liked the CPS people - who try their best to do their job and aren't far wrong in their diagnosis. Meanwhile it's the summer and the gorgeous Florida skies have seldom looked more candy flip delightful, overrun with deep purples and greens that vibrate against the clear blue in some truly breathtaking panoramas, as when a rainbow surreptitiously arrives overhead. All beautifully and elegantly framed; every scene throbs with a vibrant resonant life, for better or worse. Scenes like when Bria brings her child to a hotel open brunch bar ("Just walk in like we're guests") glimmer with something of the profound mythic magic we used to get out of Tennessee Williams. In sum, a masterpiece.

 (2019) Dir. Harmony Korine

Harmony Korine has found a second home down in old Florida, apparently, and between Beach Bum and 2011's Spring Breakers must be having a high old time. It's palpable and this film has a great druggy mystical flow that only a wally would consider dull or self-indulgent (though who knows, the next time I see it I might feel that way --Korine's films are like that, then again so are Kubrick's). The great Matthew McConaughey does his thing better than ever as the titular Bum, flowing through life as a kind of Bukowski-Robert Hunter (no doubt similar to Harmony himself), welcomed and revered wherever he goes --a total fantasy only the MaMaCon could make so palpable and believable a contact high rolls right through the sceen. Here's a fantasy for every freshman poetry major on his first joint or shroom trip: fame in a world that looks the other way when he commits assault on a passers-by, or smashes his way out of rehab with an amped-up speed freaak Zac Effron -- whaaa?. Like Spring Breakers (a close runner-up), a great 4-AM movie for coming down of ecstasy, listening with your bedroom lights off and via good headphones while the rest of your threesome is asleep on the other end of the massive king-size hotel suite bed, sleeping off their intentionally taken half-a-Rohypnols.  Unafraid to put his mouth where the money is, HarKor keeps both films twisting in the mind like a slow burning big joint still drying after being moistened by a very sticky mouth. Very.... very sticky, to the point these films slither out of any conventional genre confines, link back up with Gummo and Julien Donkey-boy, and set up shop right in your cerebellum 4 life. (see Air Auda Beya Lah).

Gone-wrong Brothers' Tie

(2016) Dir David McKenzie

When lesser writers do these chamber piece rural Texas bank robber brother-bonding odysseys they get hung up on big messy Oscar-bait emotional dot-connecting rather than great dialogue and naturalistic moments (i.e. more drinking, less romance).  Here it's all written the way the bank robbing pair of brothers--specially the older, wilder jailbird one (Ben Foster), might talk, but with a kind of Cormac McCarthy/Elmore Leonard concisely mytho-poetic hipster brilliance. They constantly surprise us with their natural, easygoing back and forth. Both actors (Chris Pine is the 'clean record' one) are brilliantf. We also have the laconic, near-retired sheriff (a marvelously laconic Jeff Bridges), his Navajo (but half-Mexican and devout Christian!) deputy, and all the lawyers and bank tellers and waitresses in between. They don't need those artificial 'weathered' facial cracks big budget films give people in the Heartland to give off the feeling of being where they are. Here the flat endless horizon-line is a kind of TV, everyone trains their eyes on it and they stare at each other the same way, waiting for one or the other to make a move for their gun or proclaim it's "beer o-clock". Chris Pine more than lives up to the promise of those steely blue eyes -- moving so deep into character you'd swear he was found by a roaming casting director hitchhiking through Arlington. I had lines of his and his brothers' ringing in my head for weeks afterwards while writhing with the flu a few years back - and I Still love it. It's only drawback, some very ROTM country songs on the soundtrack.

(2017) Dir. The Safdie Brothers

This is a certain strata of outer borough living a lot of us 'aging hipster' New Yorkers don't really get to know anymore, not since the advent of cell phones made scoring so much simpler. And as rents rise, the lower world dregs are continually pushed farther and farther uptown, and marijuana more and more decriminalized, it becomes hard to find them. That's why scenes like the one with twitchy Jennifer Jason Leigh desperately trying to shout her way onto one of her mom's long-canceled credit cards from the bail bondsman's office will kind of blow your mind. The Safdies capture the mix of slumming thrills and the way some twitchy but charming hustler (Robert Pattinson) sweeps you up in their drama so fast that what started as you buying a dime bag and getting the hell back to your friends downtown winds up in you putting up your car up as bail collateral for someone you barely know after running from the police with a head full of angel dust you didn't know you'd smoked and taking another of your dealer's friends to a hospital ER, hoping to get him admitted before the cops show up and you have to run all over again, and you're too young and/or naive and/or nice and/or stoned to figure out how to make your goodbyes and extricate you from this hustler's Jenga hodge podge of quick fixes before it topples down into handcuffs or a bullet. Whew! Sorry that was all  one sentence but that's how this film moves, vibrant pulsing and rolling through the murk most of us just ride past in a Lyft or Arecibo on our way to JFK, and not without good reason. (more)

(2014) Dir. Robert Stromberg

Scripted with great sensitivity and Jungian Girls who Run with the Wolves-ish archetypal revisionist moxy by Linda Woolverton, this 'other side of the story' operates on the presumption there's more to Jolie's joyless laugh and a peerless sense of wry poise than we might think in our snide, sexist, dismissive tabloid cover disdain moments. There is. I know a girl or two just like her in AA and maybe they're cold for similar reasons, for here we have the origin story for why beautiful women become marble-cold and it's not just because they don't want to crack their make-up. Here, at last, never before in any Disney film, is a mythic contextualization of that unforgivably common social evil --date rape. One doesn't realize the extent of it as a problem of female maturity until its finally made mythic. Now it all makes sense. The resulting film, for all its beauty and fairy tale shimmer, is as alchemically healing as a caustic salve, brought up from deep murky chthonic of a growing girl's true poltergeist power, and slathered on all over the place while censorious moms and stern patriarchs can do nothing but moan in shame for letting it come to this through their centuries of their 'don't ask/don't listen' parenting and blind trust in authority figures. With art direction that can stand proudly next to the Pre-Raphaelite work of Edward Burne-Jones, J.W. Waterhouse, Michael Parkes, Maxfield Parrish, and William Blake, Maleficent's fairy kingdom pulses and writhes in ways that make every frame worthy of one. Trees grow and change at an accelerated rate; warriors of stone and tree root rise up from the ground on command; beings small and large fly and shimmer at night in ways Max Reinhardt would have been jealous of in his 1935 production of Midsummer Night's Dream. And this time there's not a single Mickey Rooney to grab the mic - it's a lady's show the whole way through - all the men can do is sulk about it, not even their best princely kisser need apply. (see also: CinemArchetype 11: The Wild, Wise Woman.)

Too bad about the sequel though. Pair with The Black Swan and/or Moonrise Kingdom for more women in black feathers clawing and cawing their way towards Dietrich in Shanghai Express-level coolness. 



These films came out in the 10s, but are they really from that decade? One is so rooted in the decor and vibe of the early-70s that it's almost a time capsule. It could also well be from some magical Arthurian pre-Christian chthonic paradise of matriarchal herbscraft -- figure it out for yourself, but irregardless, the colors, the unified art, music, costumes, colors and deliberately (I hope) stilted acting, all signify the arrival of a true wunderkind, Anna Biller. The other on this list is the result of Orson Welles acolyte Peter Bogdanovich finally finishing the master's great lost, long-in-legal-limbo, ever-in-progress, final masterpiece, shot mostly in the mid-60s-early 70s, and a towering titanic, if madly egotistical, achievement

(2016) Written and directed by Anna Biller

The drugs in this amber brew are potent, vibrant and rich, infused with an ingeniously stilted ceremonial acting style; thou cannot help but succumb to the film's cohesive look and sound. Its adept deconstruction and Pagan/Paglian rearrangement of the kind of pre-Quixote romantic Thoth Tarot mythologizing reality into delirious love overload that teen girls, smitten with Disney and afternoon soap operas, need to see, like a shattering mirror of freedom. Brilliant colors and staging (Biller did the costumes and decor as well, enhancing its brilliant mind candy unity), Brechtian dissolution of the 'western eye,' and a cohesive, eerily familiar beauty combine in a way that might terrify most of us men to behold. I came away from it feeling I knew just a bit more about what an unencumbered feminine artistic voice can sound like and a shred more of what a monstrous chthonic force female sexuality is, and it's fucking terrifying, but colorful, and Ennio is there. (See Bell, Book, and Hallucinogenic Tampon)

(2018) Dir. Orson Welles (w/ Peter Bogdanovich)

Thanks to the more decisive, less debilitatingly brilliant mind of long-time Welles' friend and biographer, director Peter Bogdanovich (and state-of-the-art digital remastering) the last unfinished Welles film about the last day in the life of a Wellesian director working on his last, unfinished film is finally.... well, finished. What makes it even more meta is that Peter Bogdanovich plays such a key character in the film, as more or less himself, and he finished it, with John Huston filling in for Orson. Together they seem to be working through the angles of male friendship, biographer/subject; father/son; remora/shark; fan/hero, and apostle/Christ, which suits the unique nature of the finished product so well it seems like fate. Like the ultimate metatextual Welles flourish--as if he knew the film couldn't be finished until long enough after he died that Bogdanovich could use digital means to clean-up the film stock and have the chutzpah to tackle such a mammoth project. It may be Bogdanovich's best film as well as one of Welles's, with film quality and sound are so good it's hard to imagine this wasn't all filmed a few months ago; it's actually better than new, even, since it's on 35mm film; and every frame is lovingly color-saturated or otherwise cleaned up to the point it all shines better than any new dime minted in the last 25 years. It's not perfect, the inscrutable Native American actress lead seems to have an allure understood only by Welles, as neither we nor that camera seem to figure it out (especially when her greasy make-up starts shining), though she does come alive briefly in the kinky Suspiria-lit sex car scene. The value of all this egotistic moveable feast self-indulgence phony 'Art' is debatable (Welles thinks he can indulge as long as he frames it all as a film-within-a-film).  Then again, who cares? We're in the 20s now (see longer entry, in best of 2018 here



  1. This is a well-expressed truth: "the more decisive, less debilitatingly brilliant, mind of long-time Welles' friend and biographer, director Peter Bogdanovich." Something that's been in my mind, unformed, for a long time. I appreciate seeing it in print.

  2. No 'The Master?'

  3. No, I never felt like THE MASTER really congealed into a film, i.e. the disparate elements (obvious tribute to PTA's father, Ghoulardi + loose early scientology narrative + tale of roaring post-modern drunk doing acting exercises with PSH) never became one - in my opinion, though I used to feel the same way about MAGNOLIA but loved it after four viewings. I've only seen MASTER twice. If any PTA movie it would be INHERENT VICE but that never really came together for me either, though I have seen it four times and it's finally coming into focus

  4. Sicario and mad max were amazing. I havent seen Enter the Void yet but it seems like something id love to watch.

  5. Uncut Gems > Good Time but it's coo. good list!


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