I wasn’t sure if I was going to attempt doing a decade-end list. I watch a lot of movies, and I enjoy a lot of them. But, when it came time to make this list… it was easy to pick the ones that I watched the most, or that left the biggest impression on me. The ones that have moments I can’t forget, or that meant something to me in particular.
The Dance of Reality (2013)
Paul introduced me to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work through movies like The Holy Mountain. I’ve enjoyed them all, but this strange and poetic autobiography (that’s continued in his movie Endless Poetry) is my favorite so far. Pure art. I feel like Jodorowsky’s Dune is actually a kind of perfect book end to this movie, though that documentary is not directed by the man himself. In my mind they are fused together, as both make me want to go off and create, create, create.
The Tree of Life (2014)
I see plenty of people give this one bad or mixed reviews. We saw it a couple times in the theater. It’s funny, because while I found Malick’s To The Wonder (which has a similar style) annoying, I think The Tree of Life is a remarkable movie. It’s the sort of thing you have to let just wash over you. A movie you feel more than you understand, I think. If there’s anything approaching poetry as cinema, it’s this. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I think Melancholia might be the most accurate feeling depiction of depressing I’ve ever seen, wrapped in a story that’s both achingly intimate and cosmic. To say this appeals to my own personal sensibilities is an understatement. Lars Von Trier films can leave you depressed and disliking humanity. With Melancholia, I actually found the ending strangely uplifting. Your mileage may vary though.
First Reformed (2017)
This is a sorely underrated movie. It was my favorite film of 2017, and it still holds up incredibly well, although I’ve only watched it twice. Ethan Hawk is unbelievable here. The script, by Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull fame—who also directs—captures what it’s like to live in the latter half of the 2010s so well its astonishing. All the messy ways in which humans try to grapple with their world are on display here. It has a stunning ending that it earns with every frame.
Mad Max Fury Road (2015)
This is a move that has been praised up and down and left to right and I think it deserves it all. I don’t know if I could be more tired of post-apocalyptic worlds. Like zombies, they’re an idea that’s become so common they’ve lost their luster. But Mad Max is one of the original mainstream post-apoc concepts, and the movie itself is such a thrill from beginning to end. There is no moment wasted here. It looks gorgeous, and when you realize that they did ALL that stuff… that the movie is so practical… it makes most action movies look like fake video games in comparison. Also, it looks awesome, and I think its the role I’ve enjoyed Tom Hardy in the most.
I love thinky sci-fi. Which is why you’ll see a good amount of it on here. I really struggled because I wanted to get Arrival on here too. Arrival is a little more clever in its structure, and more emotional. It’s a beautiful movie, but I went with Annihilation instead because it’s a little more ambitious. It’s not as outwardly emotional. It’s more restrained, and there’s something about that which appeals to me. It’s also kind of bat-shit crazy in parts, with beautiful imagery that is utterly unique. It’s like experiencing a dream (or, in the case of that awful “bear” a nightmare) you somehow forgot. Also, it has one of the weirdest (and my most favorite) endings.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
This is one of those rare sequels to a beloved masterpiece that actually works. There’s no reason to make a sequel to Blade Runner. While that highly influential film is not beloved by all, it’s one of my favorite films of all time and is very much complete in and of itself. There was always the problem, too, that it would definitively answer the compelling open-ended question of “Is Deckard a replicant?“ So I was equally nervous and excited for this sequel. What we got was, I thought, not only a worthy sequel to the classic, but a movie that had something of its own to say and said it beautifully. It’s a sci-fi masterpiece. I am so excited that Denis Villeneuve is tackling Dune next.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
It’s impossible for me to separate my love for the book from the movie. I’ll admit that up front. Perhaps because I regard the book so highly, I’m willing to overlook some of the movies flaws. But, I’m also inclined to actually like some of the things other think are “flawed” in this movie. Like most everyone else, I fell head over heels for the Matrix when it came out. The Wachowskis have been wildly uneven with the work they’ve done since then, but I’m rarely ever bored. Add to that Tom Tykwer, who I’ve been a huge fan of since Run, Lola, Run and I think you have an extremely odd big-budget movie that has an ambition that is breathtaking. And you know what? I think it mostly succeeds. The “race-bending” of some characters as we re-encounter them through the years is weird. I think the place it came from actually made sense, but it plays strangely and I think the movie would have been better without it. But the more comedic tone of some parts I actually love. Screw everyone who gets mad at movies that aren’t “tonally” consistent. I wished the storyline with Sonmi 451 had been kept even more accurate to the book, but it retains most of its power. There is just so much beauty and humanity packed into this movie.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Guillermo del Toro has made some of my all-time favorite movies. But it’s this masterpiece that so often gets overlooked. Audiences seemed to be disappointed that it wasn’t scary, and GDT spent so much time trying to tell people that Gothic Horror isn’t actually all about the scares. That’s not to say it doesn’t have effective moments of terror. But mostly it’s about eerie feelings, gorgeous colors, a big crumbling house, a beautiful score, and the passions and terror of the human soul.
This was director Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to another movie I loved—Tron Legacy. In some ways, it shares some of that movies feel. A gorgeous soundtrack (this time by Anthony Gonzales of M83) and a world that is immaculately designed and presented often at a distance. I kind of get why this might not work for everyone. I have come to realize over time that I think my favorite movies are the ones where emotions are restrained and there’s an iciness to it all. It’s not that they aren’t emotional, but whispers are screams here. I guess I prefer implied depth through performance versus noisy histrionics, although I can admire the latter too. Tom Cruise continues his record of being the leading man in a fantastic sci-fi movie. Outside of Magnolia, I think all my favorite performances of his (Edge of Tomorrow, Minority Report, this) occur in sci-fi movies.