At last, my fifty favorite films of the past decade. As usual, I’ll be counting them down ten at a time, but don’t expect five straight days of posts as I’ve done in the past; look for them over the next month.
50. SHORT TERM 12
Two years before Room, Brie Larson first proved her acting mettle playing a young woman managing a group home for at-risk teens. Also featuring such future stars as Rami Malek and Lakeith (here just “Keith”) Stanfield, Short Term 12 eschews melodrama for something closer to how people simply make the best of unsolvable problems.
49. THE LOBSTER
This frankly won me over the moment a rather nebbishy Colin Farrell brayed the film’s title when explaining what animal he’d like to be and why; what a peculiar but completely realized fantasy that satirizes the very idea of being able to find one’s supposed “soulmate” while also secretly buying into the notion despite itself.
48. THE ARBOR
Late British playwright Andrea Dunbar explicitly drew from her surroundings to the point where her art and life became indistinguishable; by interviewing Dunbar’s neighbors, children and other relatives, but casting actors to lip-synch their words, Clio Bernard’s unconventional documentary is both revealing and cathartic.
47. FREE IN DEED
Free in Deed provides an unusually nuanced depiction of faith healing, allowing the actions of parishioners of a storefront Pentecostal church in Memphis (and their consequences) to speak for themselves. Featuring a trio of excellent performances (David Harewood, Edwina Findley and RaJay Chandler), this intense micro-indie shook me to the core.
46. TONI ERDMANN
Maren Ade’s father/daughter absurdist epic remains one of decade’s most unique confections, an audacious melange of cringe humor and bizarre set-pieces that play out like a series of particularly cerebral episodes of The Office, complete with ridiculous false teeth and an impromptu rendition of a schlocky power ballad.
45. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
At its best, this Fincher/Sorkin spectacular recalls 1970s New Hollywood auteur cinema by placing faith in an audience’s ability to keep up with its moral ambiguities and briskly paced dialogue. Not sure how well it holds up in the face of subsequent Zuckerberg revelations, but Jesse Eisenberg here remains a bravura of casting.
44. LITTLE WOMEN
With the aid of an ensemble for the ages, Greta Gerwig lends invention and life to a familiar tale. Her openness-bordering-on-irreverence to the well-wrought source material captivates—any complaint of having to work to comprehend the fractured timeline dissipates as that structure pays off beautifully in the final third.
43. AMERICAN HONEY
A two-and-a-half-hour-plus road movie about teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door (in 2016?), with first-time actress Sasha Lane carrying almost every scene and a rat-tailed Shia LaBeouf as a credible romantic lead? Only Andrea Arnold, the great British director behind Red Road and Fish Tank could have pulled this off.
In Weekend, two guys hook up at a bar and spend the next 48 hours fucking, chatting, ingesting copious substances and walking all over town, trying to make sense of their newfound connection and how messy, startling and beautiful it is when two people seek and find a certain intimacy with each other.
41. THE OVERNIGHTERS
A pastor opens up his church to shelter transplanted male workers in rural North Dakota in exchange for assistance with chores and adhering to a moral code as he sees it. As details accumulate and hidden intentions come to light, even the simple notion of wanting to do “the right thing” proves ever more complex and loaded in this intriguing doc.