When trying to pick the 10 best movies of the decade, I hemmed and hawed over a lot of things.
I’ve seen 95 percent of these movies more than once.
There were four sets of one-two punches from talented directors: Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and Annihilation; Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here; Robert Eggers’ The Witch and The Lighthouse; and Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy and Beyond The Black Rainbow.
There was Jordan Peele’s first directorial foray, Get Out.
Then there are practically all of Denis Villeneuve’s films. He’s the guy behind Blade Runner 2049, Sicario, Arrival, Prisoners, and Enemy.
I’d be remiss not to mention Julia Ducournau’s gag-inducing, cannibal drama Raw or three of Martin Scorsese’s films, including Silence, The Wolf of Wall Street, and his Fran Lebowitz documentary Public Speaking.
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films kept my superhero movie snobbery in check.
Olivia Wilde’s lovable friend-com Booksmart and Paul Feig’s take on buddy cop movies, The Heat, made me laugh like a maniac. Jonathan Straiton’s Night of Something Strange was a gleefully vile indie that made me a happy chappy.
I could keep going.
Here are the top 10 films of the decade that I chose, in no particular order, that I’ll likely want to amend in a few days.
I really liked this movie. I may have even seen it four times in the theater. From the surprise twist (teased by the wonderfully deceptive trailer) to the anxiety-inducing family drama that rivals any political discourse you’ve witnessed during holiday gatherings, this movie was a breath of horrifically fresh air.
Speaking of fresh air, when it comes to movies, Alexander Payne’s family dramedy was definitely that. Maybe it was the lure of the black-and-white cinematography. Maybe it was the excellent performances by Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, and Bob Odenkirk. Or maybe it was the simple tale of a man and his parents traveling to Nebraska to claim a sweepstakes prize. Whatever it was, Payne’s movie was funny, poignant, and heartwarming.
Craig Zobel’s tense bottleneck movie is based on a sinister strip search and phone call scam that occurred throughout the ’90s and early 2000s. It’s just one of those films that takes you down a road of disbelief as you watch good people make bad decisions. Harrowing stuff.
Donald Cried (2016)
Kristopher Avedisian’s squirm-inducing comedy is about a man (Jesse Wakeman) running into an old childhood friend, Donald (played by Avedisian). At first things are cordial then they slowly become bleak and disturbing. Maybe it’s a cry for help on my part but, I laughed a good bit during this movie. It deserves more recognition than it’s gotten.
Black Dynamite (2009)
Speaking of long lost curios, I saw Scott Sanders’ loving send-up of ’70s blaxploitation films way back in January of 2010. If it weren’t for the blatant comedy bits throughout, this one could almost pass for the real thing thanks to Adrian Younge’s committal to the era’s funky soundtrack, the wonky camerawork, and Michael Jai White’s turn as the mythic title character.
The Sleeper (2012)
Justin Russell’s indie-slasher-throwback film about a killer on an Ohio college campus perfectly captured the sleazy vibe of early ’80s horror. It was done so well that it almost made me ponder if the movie was actually a long lost curio that was recently unearthed.
Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
Jason Eisener is the director of this lovely film about a hobo (played by the late Rutger Hauer) going on a slimy Troma-esque warpath. I adore how this unabashedly colorful film embraced the grindhouse roots from which it sprung. If you like geysers of blood or the sight of a crazy armed Hauer talking cryptically to newborns makes you grin, might I suggest Eisener’s ode to a bygone era.
Life Itself (2014)
This documentary following film critic Roger Ebert his career ascension to his final days on Earth wrecked me. It doesn’t flinch as it shows us the gruesome details of the beloved critic succumbing to cancer. I cried a lot when I saw this movie. This is a great documentary. I don’t know if I could ever watch it again though.
Spring Breakers (2012)
I’ve long been a fan of Harmony Korine since he wrote Larry Clark’s Kids. I always wondered what would happen if you gave the director of Trash Humpers and Gummo a budget. This neon-drenched lurid trek following four college girls holding up a restaurant to fund their spring break trip is hypnotic in its moments of random scuzziness and transcendentalism. James Franco playing a RiFF RAFF clone named Alien never hurts either.
The Neon Demon (2016)
As I write these words of praise, I’m looking at the movie poster that hangs in my living room. Much like Korine’s film, Nicholas Winding Refn’s film about an aspiring model (Elle Fanning) getting lost in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles’ fashion industry is not for everyone. I know very few people that like it, much less love it. The fact that the film’s cinematographer, Natasha Braier, was ignored during awards season almost makes my nerd blood boil every time I think about it. It’s been four years since I made multiple treks to cineplexes to watch this slice of craziness. The folks at City Paper let me fawn over this movie back then. Anything I say would be a regurgitation of what I’ve already said. It’s at turns a beautiful and disgusting sight to behold. It’s a wholly pretentious, simple, deep, vapid, classy, and sleazy flick that mines inspiration from disparate influences. To paraphrase others, Neon Demon‘s style is the substance. I’ve always been a fan of Refn but Neon Demon cemented my fandom.
I knew this would happen.
I forgot to mention Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, and the Safdie brothers’ Good Time. Oh and then you have Quentin Tarantino’s wistful…
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.