Tuesday, January 21, 2020

TV/Films of 2019



Best TV of 2019

1. Lodge 49
2. Russian doll  
3. Watchmen  
4. Euphoria 
5. What We Do in The Shadows  
6. Pen15
7. The Righteous Gemstones   
8. Fleabag
9. When They See Us
10. Mr Robot    
11. The Act
12. Barry 
13. Undone   
14. Superstore
15. High Maintenance
16. True Detective     
17. The Boys
18. Veronica Mars
19. Chernobyl    
20. Good Omens


Best Film of 2019

1. Parasite
2. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollyood
4. High Life
5. Under the Silver Lake
6. Her Smell
7. Booksmart
8. Midsommar
9. Fyre Fraud
10. The Beach Bum
11. Velvet Buzzsaw
12. Us
13. Climax
14. Frozen II
15. The Irishman

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Best films In Every Year Since I've Been Alive

This originally started as a series of Facebook posts that grew increasingly more wordy as I went along.

appropos of absolutely nothing, think I'll start posting the top 10 films of every year I've been alive (obvs only ones I've seen). Tell me what I've missed and/or need to watch again or shout at me for being wrong or ignore me completely. Here's 1981:
Scanners
History of the World Part I
Escape from New York
Wolfen
The Evil Dead
Stripes
Raiders of the Lost Ark
DOA: A Rite of Passage
Time Bandits
An American Werewolf in London

continuing from yesterday's unprompted rundown of best films every year since i was born, here's the second: 1982
The Atomic Cafe
Blade Runner
The Thing
E.T.
Tron
Pink Floyd's The Wall
Poltergeist
First Blood
The Dark Crystal
The Secret of NIMH

Ten Films from 1983 Top to Bottom. Misses, blunders, suggestions that I "go die in a fire for having bad opinions", all welcome
Videodrome
Sans Soleil
The Hunger
Trading Places
Return of the Jedi
Born in Flames
The Dead Zone
National Lampoon's Vacation
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (filmed '73, released '83)
Scarface

Before the savage jaw of (the films of) 1984! (cont'd from previous posts)
Threads
Ghostbusters
Decoder
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Gremlins
Blood Simple
Repo Man
The Terminator
This is Spinal Tap
Stop Making Sense

Back to '85, which seems like it was a good time for astute and unpretentious horror and BTTF, possibly the most fundamentally conservative thing I still love
Back To The Future
Day of the Dead
Brazil
Fletch
Pee Wee's Big Adventure
Re-Animator
Fright Night
Return of the Living Dead
The Stuff
Nightmare on Elm Street 2

Don't let the door kick you in the ass/There's no return for '86, don't even try. Anywho here's some films from that year that rank, which aren't really that far from a list I might have put together when I was taping all of these off of WPIX in the early 90s
River's Edge
Aliens
Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer
Blue Velvet
Platoon
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The Fly
Little Shop of Horrors
Big Trouble in Little China
Sid and Nancy

Onward onward to my selections for the best films of 1987. As usual, suggestions always welcome
Robocop
Full Metal Jacket
The Untouchables
Prince of Darkness
Wings of Desire
Raising Arizona
Near Dark
The Running Man
The Princess Bride
Spaceballs

Started seeing a ton more films around the time the films of 88 started coming out on VHS. This is about when I started collecting the mini-magazine of the upcoming video releases, then eventual a Leonard Maltin book of reviews, and eventually Premiere magazine, which I had a subscription to up until college. This may also be why my selections from this year are less junk Hollywood, but it also seems like there was a kind of unspoken pivot in the industry too.
Die Hard and They Live were just genre action and horror respectively, but were pivotal moments in each genre that transcended their respective places as raw entertainment. Die Hard was not only the smartest and best-made action film of its time (or all time), but it became a very stupid genre unto itself (the hostage &rescue "Die Hard on a...") that would define action movies for years to come. They Live, as Jonathan Lethem explained in his excellent book about it, a film explicitly about ideology, a rich infinitely malleable text that also features a ten minute fight sequence over a pair of glasses.
Animation too had never seen anything as grim and desolate as Grave of the Fireflies or as visually explosive as Akira or as whimsically joyous as Totoro. Documentary too was entering into bold new territory with Errol Morris' re-enactments in The Thin Blue Line, an innovation whose long-term effects are dubious, as is the misappropriation of the title of the film about corrupt policing by a movement dedicated to defending corrupt policing.
Even teen movies reached their transgressive breaking point, with Heathers finding that complete social disaffection would inevitably result in mass murder, a horror we now find ourselves regularly embroiled in, though in this case it was a comedy. The stakes in 88 seemed so raised that Scorcese aimed his sights at God himself, attempting to bring Christ down to earth, while David Cronenberg and Wes Craven took on misogyny and colonialism respectively as both their subjects and their objects
Die Hard
They Live
Akira
Grave of the Fireflies
The Thin Blue Line
Dead Ringers
My Neighbor Totoro
Heathers
The Last Temptation of Christ
The Serpent and the Rainbow

'89 Somewhat proves my thesis that '88 was a standout year. I saw as many if not more films from this year, but there was really only one ground-shaking film, Do The Right Thing (well, if you don't count that Batman basically launched the needs-to-now-be-muffled genre of Superhero film). Do The Right Thing is exactly as radical as it seems to propose. It does not silence or candycoat the concerns of the late 80s black community nor the daily institutional and interpersonal racism they faced in Reagan-era crime and punishment NYC.
Society however is a rare example of a fairly bad film with an ending so spectacular its justifies all of its missteps on the way there.
Do the Right Thing
Kiki's Delivery Service
Drugstore Cowboy
Society
Back to the Future Part II
Batman
Roger & Me
The Killer
The Burbs
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation


Continuing on into picks for films from 1990, which is frequently dominated by Scorcese's most revered film. Chalk it up to perhaps experiencing the film first as a series of tropes in Animaniacs shorts amongst other places, but I'd far rather have the listlessness and people-hopping stream of consciousness in Linklater's Slacker or the bottomlessly generative canvas of Gremlins 2 (a film with its own academic institute). Linklater would much later reverently adapt PKD's "A Scanner Darkly" in somber rotoscoped psychedelia, but just as crucial to the PKD story is the postmodern pulp of Verhoeven's "Total Recall". The competition between prestige cinema and hollywood churn couldn't last forever, thanks in no small part to the movement of 90s independent cinema, but these were banner years for perception-altering works masquerading as junk culture.
Slacker
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Paris is Burning
Goodfellas
Total Recall
Heaven and Earth
Edward Scissorhands
Wild at Heart
It
Jacob's Ladder

1991 offered a broad landscape of dystopias, from the unhinged paranoia and secrecy behind JFK to the manifest world of queer repression and junkie delusion in Naked Lunch to the predictive benevolent tech apocalypse of Terminator 2's Google, er, Cyberdyne systems' making. Perhaps most meticulously and expertly rendered is the allegorical hell hotel that Barton Fink finds himself in. Barton Fink is not only the consummate Coen Brothers film, but also the signature tortured artist film, in that it captures the fraudulence lingering at the heart of every tortured artist narrative. Its protagonist is a hack, living in a violent, sham world, reflective of nothing he might ever put to paper.
If Barton Fink traffics in social realism, while understanding nothing about the life of the mind of the working man he writes about, Boyz n the Hood postulates defeat in the face of capitalist realism, finding poverty, gang violence, a broken education and housing system, to be naturalized elements of a Bush I era America. The People Under the Stairs carries this deeper into explicit exploitation, but also offers a way out, by gathering the community to fight back against serial killing racist landlords.
Of all these nightmarish worlds, nothing freaked me out more than the juxtaposition of the music video of Sam Kinison's "Wild Thing" and the rape scene from The Accused in the educational documentary Dreamworlds, a clumsy if notorious documentary from my alma mater exploring the misogyny and patriarchy at the heart of MTV, then at their absolute summit.
Barton Fink
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Naked Lunch
The People Under the Stairs
Boyz n the Hood
JFK
My Own Private Idaho
Point Break
Dreamworlds
The Addams Family

In 1992, or possibly early '93, I was bullied on the school bus by two older girls for wearing a Wayne's World hat. Wayne's World was clearly awesome, so why would I ever be upset about liking it? Besides, I consumed movies like candy so I felt confident my expertise was on solid ground. One movie I was never able to finish though was Candyman, because my mom came in about 20-30 minutes into it and turned it off because it was, as she put it, "pornographically violent", which resulted in me having no resolution to the film and being slightly terrified to look into the mirror for the next year or so. When I finally went back to finish the film years later in college, it's the desolate abject poverty of the film that mortifies the most, and it's in those shadows, ignored by broader society, that Candyman is able to prey.
Much like Bob, as the mystic evil presence was called in Twin Peaks the original series. On film Bob is more clearly defined as Leland Palmer, a mortal man with agency and accountability for his awful actions. Fire Walk With Me is David Lynch's first foray into tampering with his known brand to deliver what might be the opposite of fan service. When I first saw it after first binging on around 40 hours of the show, Season 2 only being available on VHS in niche rental stores, I was pretty furious that there was no resolution to the lingering tensions left by the show. But FWWM is a standalone feature- an almost unbearably intense one- about abuse and redemption that only uses elements from the show as raw material.
Manufacturing Consent is one of the most important books of the 20th century, but let me tell you the film is probably almost just as good and for all that Chomsky targets concision as the enemy of the good in it, you'd probably be forgiven for just watching this insanely innovative and entertaining documentary that captures most of Chomsky and Herman's main concepts with an acute visual flair.
Batman Returns set the precedent for the superhero sequel that's far superior to its original, and perhaps should have ended it too, depending on where you stand on all these goddamned Marvel films. And without doing any research on it all, there must be an episode of How Did This Get Made on Toys- it's utterly insane and must be a treat if its anything like what I remember it to be.
Here's them ten films
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Candyman
Manufacturing Consent
Reservoir Dogs
Wayne's World
Bob Roberts
The Living End
Batman Returns
Hard Boiled
Toys

Culture changes rapidly and in '93, this would have been top of mind with the culture of Gen X slowly transforming music, TV, politics, and film. Dazed and Confused, with one of the greatest young ensemble casts ever assembled, showcased a generation on the cusp of rapid change, but seemingly nestled into a comfortable nook within their place in history, stupid and naive yet almost self-actualized in their confidence that they they were the receipients of history. These post-hippies grew into the frightened onlookers of 90s middle America, who remained enamored of a momentary uptick in violent crime throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Hollywood responded to this with endless post-Die Hard vengeful action flicks which continued to dominate at the box office. This reached its nexus in the biting but ultimately sloppy proto-alt right fantasy of Michael Douglass in Falling Down, about an exile for the state violence of defense contracting who sees society altering around him and can only respond with terroristic threats of violence, a prelude to the age of mass shootings on down to his (spoilers) suicide-by-cop.
At the opposite end of this spectrum laid New Queer Cinema, which frequently latched onto the more transgressive notions of "Queer" (as opposed to "gay") to present a world in which being non-cis/non-hetero was the new outlaw culture, a world in which your very existence was criminalized so criminality was the rational choice (as manifest in picks from previous years like My Own Private Idaho and The Living End). Gregg Araki sharply escalated this dynamic with Totally Fucked Up, which launched his "Teen Apocalypse Trilogy". Ironically playing against the title, the Godard-aping Totally Fucked Up is the most grounded of those 3 films, exploring the seesawing tumult between hope and nihilism when existing at the fringe of society from a culture that, at that point, was not changing at all.
Cultural relativism would not be so kind to Oskar Schindler, who despite his occasional moments of compassion, was still very much a Nazi, nor to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, who manipulates his way through alternate realities to prey on unsuspecting women and townsfolk. And there's still something potentially problematic in Wednesday Addams's donning of native garb, though this perhaps finds some forgiveness in her brutal retaliation against white supremacy and normie culture. But if M. Butterfly applies a light touch as it sets its sights on Western orientalism, it's tackles a story that baffled clueless patrons at time- how could Jeremy Irons's military officer fall for and carry out an affair with a Chinese opera singer for decades without knowing she was "actually a man"? The story does not waste time on this dull sense of confusion, solving the riddle by offering the tacit acknowledgement that trans women are women.
10 from 1993:
Dazed and Confused
Totally Fucked Up
M. Butterfly
True Romance
Schindler's List
Three Colors: Blue
Addams Family Values
CB4
Groundhog Day
Falling Down


Both Oliver Stone and Tarantino are both total creeps, but their different types of creepiness coalesced in a unique way in 1994. Stone is, arguably, the director who Tarantino was parodying in the previous year's True Romance script, and not kindly either. I recall reading an interview with Tarantino where he described Stone giving him some pretentious schpiel, which Tarantino agreed with, that Stone makes "films" and Tarantino makes "movies" and this is why Stone was making the superior version of Natural Born Killers. In the early days of the internet, the Tarantino script leaked and it was indeed totally different in feel, but it's sometimes beyond scope how such, nor how well Natural Born Killers would work given how divergent the two auteurs were.
It worked way too well in that it ironically ignited a legacy of "TV Babies", to paraphrase Marilyn Manson vis a vis Drugstore Cowboy, to gaze into the spectacle it was lambasting and come out a product of its worldview- death eaters like the rest. This caused many to think that, just us in Sutter Cane's novels in In the Mouth of Mandess, Natural Born Killers was activiting spree killers and school shooters to violence. While this is probably far too simple an explanation, it's also not the case that NBK is a "responsible" depiction of the brutality it so lovingly and horrifically renders.
In diagnosing but not prescribing, here was industrial art the likes of which Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire had once made, one which acknowledges the true darkness and deprivation of Western Culture from the genocide of the natives on down to OJ's bloody glove. Like those antecedents, it doesn't bother to condemn, for if you are unable to condemn it on your own terms surely you've proved its thesis. One in which policing and cheap editorial and mass media help to reinforce the pattern of killing in order to satiate their own innate bloodthirst.
In comparison, Tarantino's still fantastic Pulp Fiction reads like, well, a piece of pulp fiction. It's unable to escape the borders of dimestore novel conventions, even if its experience is entirely at the fringe of those borders. If the violence of NBK is chilling in its excess and it seemingly endless arrays of representation, violence in Pulp Fiction is shocking because it is inevitable but still unexpected, lurking at every turn and to which no one is immune during the course of quotidian, if violent, worklife. This experience is not really mediated for its characters, but its characters do seem to experience violence only occupationally- boxing, being a gangster, selling maces in an army-navy store, or serving in the military and shoving a watch up your ass to eventually give to your son. The principle concerns of the main characters though are not rank survivalism, but instead television, music, and Big Macs, not unlike the stiffly acted convenient and video store clerks in Kevin Smith's film, who exist more in the intersection of other people's lives than in their own.
The clumsy but compelling S.F.W. tackles violence from the opposite angle, from the perspective of trauma survivors who come to find their experience whitewashed through the lens of the media, which is more interested in seeing their story as an act of rebellion and nihilistic angst than one of vulnerability and alienation. The Twentysomething transplants from Douglas Coupland's Generation X in Reality Bites too find their story becoming not their own in the gaze of the media, edited as it is into dramatized snippets with irrelevant b-roll and "Road to Nowhere" blaring underneath. In the Mouth of Madness meanwhile abandons its narrator within a memento mori like prison of self-reflection and surrendered agency. It's about a man who tries to stop a book that will unlock the ancient evils that govern the world from being unleashed. He attempts to prevent the book from being published until he realizes the book has already been published and has even been made into a film, which he subsequently views and realizes he is the main character in. Violence here is predestiny, part of some larger evil order that the better angels of nature rejects but which nonetheless reigns over us.
Natural Born Killers
Pulp Fiction
In the Mouth of Madness
Fresh
S.F.W
Three Colors: Red/White
The Hudsucker Proxy
Reality Bites
The Crow
Clerks


1995's Strange Days boldly looks at the near future rather than set its sights on some obscurely distant date, and at first glance its use of clunky VR tech seems to date it. Even when VR was more finely tuned a couple decades later, it didn't catch on in the ways the film suggests it would. However, it's less a film specifically about tech than it is about being a junkie for virtuality/shared experience and living in a world of constant s(t)imulation, bringing you both closer to and further from reality at every stop.
At one point, Tom Sizemore's skeezy P.I. in Strange Days opines that the world must be ending because everything's already been done and there's a sense that the recycling, rebranding, and regurgitation of lived content represents the ultimate end of history scenario. This sense of finality looms large in the queer criminality of The Doom Generation and particularly in 12 Monkeys, which hurls back and forth between a post-apocalyptic future and a present day which seems oppressive and immutable to everyone except Bruce Willis's time traveler. Despite the grisly fates in those films, the protagonists cling to hope for a way out. You're not going to find a cuddlier world in the corrupted suburban teensploitation of To Die For or Welcome to the Dollhouse either.Perhaps bleakest of all though is the nihilistic Se7en, a film made perhaps even more grim in the wake of the real life allegations against its cinematic villain.
Se7en toys with the notion of Abrahamic sin to present a world absolutely devoid of hope, a moral core written in rotted violent determinism, concluding ultimately with Morgan Freeman's frazzled detective declaring cum Hemingway that "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part."
Ten films in '95
Strange Days
Se7en
The Doom Generation
The Celluloid Closet
Heat
To Die For
12 Monkeys
Clueless
The Ghost in the Shell
Welcome to the Dollhouse

As independent cinema and the major studios formed an unholy merger in the late 90s, you began to see a crisscross of talent between the two seemingly disparate worlds and this reached a nexus in 1996. Snobs may have wagged their nose at the pummeling and manic modern day remake of Romeo and Juliet at the time, but it was exactly the adaptation its puerile subject matter deserved, almost an autocritique in itself of high and low culture, worthy even if its eventual byproduct was a million awful gritty public domain jawns and, yes, the rest of Baz Luhrmann's career. Schlock horror nerd Peter Jackson was finally ready for the mainstream in the delightfully good The Frighteners, which proved far more tolerable than the seemingly neverending LOTR saga he soon clung himself to.
The Coens had made a vie for mainstream audiences with the relatively trad crime pic Miller's Crossing a few years previous, but it was Fargo that won them universal acclaim. It perhaps did so via an epic troll within its opening credits, declaring its fiction-fake story to be a "true story". Fargo upended all tropes of the heist pic; so well that it'd become a trope in and of itself, not just its iconic scenes but a television adaptation that recreated its worldview rather than just carrying on its script. Likewise, Tim Burton had always been above-ground, but rendered himself into pure kitsch for the bitingly acerbic Mars Attacks!, an adaptation of a throwaway trading card series featuring many of Hollywood's top stars being eviscerated by chintzy aliens whose overthrow is inevitable but whose obliteration of American capitalism's excesses seemed appropriate and fun.
Basquiat, made one of its' headliner's contemporaries, painter Julian Schnabel, remains one of the only tolerable biopics not just for David Bowie's over-the-top portrayal of Andy Warhol, but because it barely attempts to articulate a comprehension over its subject matter. If anything, you leave the film more as an acquaintance of Basquiat's, like Schnabel probably was, understanding him less than you did upon starting. Warhol turned up again in former punk Mary Harron's narrative of militant feminist Valerie Solanas, who exists precisely in the the convergence of counterculture and mainstream culture as it was happening in the late 60s. Trainspotting manages to make heroin seem both sleek and revolting, a horror of dead ends but a rush of unbeatable moments. Then there's Crash, Cronenberg attacking another "unfilmable" novel and making it precisely as weird as possible. Scope old footage of J.G. Ballard and turns out he looks and sounds quite a bit like James Spader, so much so that I often thought he was doing the "James Ballard" character as Robert California during his brief stint on The Office.
1996 films
Fargo
The Last Angel of History
Trainspotting
Crash
Mars Attacks!
I Shot Andy Warhol
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills
Romeo and Juliet
Basquiat
The Frighteners


1997 Superlatives
Princess Mononoke is the best Miyazaki film and maybe the best animated film of all time and since Studio Ghibli's international distribution rights were once owned by Disney it's certainly the wildest Disney product ever (yes, including The Black Hole and the Three Cabelleros).
Though seemingly the film that made Paul Thomas Anderson an auteur, Boogie Nights is actually just the best Martin Scorcese film that Scorcese didn't make. Jackie Brown is the most character-driven and probably most well-written of Tarantino's films and it's that rare film that's about a middle aged black woman who both kicks ass but is also still a middle aged black woman. Nowhere is the only non-student film of Gregg Araki's that has never even been released on DVD let alone Blu-Ray but man is it so good. It may even be his best film that's not a really uncomfortable sad film about pedophilia, which is to say it's his best film you can actually watch more than once. I still have the VHS come over and we can watch it
subUrbia definitively skewers directionless suburban angst as much as the moral rot of late capitalist sprawl itself, but it's also maybe Timothy Olyphant's best performance yes I saw Justified no I didn't watch Deadwood okay well either way it's good and does a good job juxtaposing his xenophobic proto-Trump rage with angry white leftist anarcho-leaning rage omg is this film just horseshoe theory i dunno it's still good.
Lost Highway is Lynch's first film since Eraserhead that operates fully on its own logic and so does Gummo, though I'd probably prefer Robert Blake in my nightmares every night than spend a day within the sheer exploitative desolation of Gummo's cat-killing rural dystopia.
Event Horizon is easily the stupidest adaptation of Tarkovsky's Solaris, but this only works to its advantage because there's not many ponderous shots of long desolate hallways but there's lots of gratuitous space gore. Starship Troopers on the other hand is the smartest critique of military fascism that seems to function as a dumb shoot-em-up monster movie and it's also maybe the best movie with nothing but contempt for its source material. Contact is the best film about belief and faith that seems targeted towards nonbelievers without trying to convert them and guess what it worked I'm not converted but hey, good flick.
Princess Mononoke
Boogie Nights
Jackie Brown
Nowhere
subUrbia
Lost Highway
Gummo
Event Horizon
Starship Troopers
Contact

1998: It's said that you can never make a true anti-war film because the thrill of war will always be too compelling to be negated by its more sanguinary aspects, but Malick's The Thin Red Line is, if not an anti-war film, a non-war war film, focusing its attention as much on the periphery of warfare than the aggressive acts themselves. Maybe if it doesn't make people want to lay down their arms, it might make them sit down and write a poem about the flowers on the mountain adjacent the killing fields. And it's so much better than the drek that is the second half of Saving Private Ryan. Music documentaries are generally pretty garbage so to have two good ones in one year is pretty astounding. The Radiohead documentary is actually kind of boring, but it's also about how boring and soul-sucking being on tour is, so kudos to Grant Gee on making a tedious documentary that's still worth watching a few times through and not just because the music is good.
Bulworth is so painfully awkward and simultaneously progressive and righteously condemnatory at the ways the democratic party has sold out and failed marginalized communities that it's practically a Twitter movie but please god don't remake it for the modern era it will not work. Speaking of social media, it's kind of a cliche to say we're all living in The Truman Show right now but hold on I need to check Facebook and observe 7 people from high school I haven't talked to since I was a teenager.
Rushmore, Pi, and The Big Lebowski are all fully-encompassed worlds that feel like destinations to escape into or get lost in yet all the characters are neurotic, lazy, entitled, delusional, et al. so it's like bringing a piece of yourself into it. Dark City is also a consummate, realized alternate plane of reality, but it's not one I want to visit as much as observe dispassionately, as is the style of the film. Luckily, American History X has remained just that, history, and probably has no relevance to the modern day haha isn't it funny because the president's a Nazi sympathizer and all the cops seem to have one somewhere in their ranks and did you see Los Angeles Magazine just the other day profiled one yes they're still doing that shit.
Creme de la 1998
The Thin Red Line
The Big Lebowski
Bulworth
Rushmore
Pi
American History X
The Truman Show
Meeting People is Easy
Dark City
Modulations

History has not been kind to 1999's American Beauty, nor should it. It encompasses a good chunk of what's wrong with Hollywood's predatory male gaze, cartel of coolness, class cluelessness, and celebratory rape culture, all in the package of prestige cinema. It won numerous awards, including Best Picture, and quickly became pop culture canon. Also, a teenaged me fell for it pretty hard, raving about it to almost anyone I could find. Perhaps no film has more diametrically shifted in my mind than that one. After a slow education in the medium of film, the arena of feminist politics, and a rote erosion of the "Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" tropes, it now strikes me as fairly bottom-feeder, intended to appeal the perennial somewhat indestructible adolescence of the adult-ass male.
I've also changed from the person I was when I saw The Matrix and Fight Club six times each in the movie theaters, though I can still appreciate those films on their own merits, if not by all of the same qualities that drove me back to the theaters at the time. These films, written by two trans women and a gay man respectively, seemed to offer an undertone of liberation from capitalism and end of history ideology, as well as severe critiques of toxic masculinity, yet wound up introducing redpilling and "snowflake" into the culture vis a vis a vitriolic white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchal right wing who latched onto prognosis without reading the full diagnosis. These films would also be implicated the atom-splitting dystopia of Columbine later in the year; The Matrix, for glorifying violent trench coat assassinations and Fight Club whose release was delayed and limited because of fears that it would touch a nerve with an increasingly incensed base of young angry men. That these films elicited such strong reaction was proof positive that these were powerfully made films that touched a nerve in their young, mostly male audiences.
To me the messaging of these films is not particularly morally ambiguous, but the splintering of sentiment in their audiences represents a true "helter skelter" moment, a breaking spot where men, traditionally the benefactors of history, found themselves taking a backseat either to the needs of women or the robotic machinations of capital. The Matrix dehumanizes violence by oversimulating it and paints its central conspiracy in such a broad brush that it allows existing conspiracies to be canvassed over it by insecure men feeling emasculated by women, Jews, Black Lives Matter protesters, Sandy Hook parents, what have you. Fight Club meanwhile overidentifies with alienation without offering a proper exit channel. And though it took pains to show that cultish asceticism was merely a lizard brain appeal, Fight Club also reflexively showed that there was a positive side to this- namely anonymous but no less meaningful camaraderie from brothers in arms helping to fight the culture wars (war being the only force in Western culture, post-religion, to provide a sense of meaning). In unrelated news, Office Space is now your boss's favorite film. Mmmm, yeah...
The malaise was widespread in '99, and despair proved something that was both a shared phenomena (as in the interconnected narratives of Magnolia) and infinitely personal and unknowable (as in the teen girls of the Virgin Suicides). It'd be a couple more years before life became a disaster film and fiction began bleeding into reality until a reality star President would narrowly defeat Tracey Flick and executive produce our daily existence. The simulation was beginning to show signs of wear.
Existenz takes place in that liminal space, between a gamified reality where free will and determinism intersperse depending on where the game needs to take you. Its characters voluntarily plug in, but they're at the mercy of circumstance, external influence, and, like all of Cronenberg's body horror films, a rapidly entropying vessel subject to disease and dependence. Thematically, this poses the film as something of a spiritual sequel to Videodrome, the last film prior to Existenz that Cronenberg wrote as an original script. But rather than a film about resistance to ideological signalling a la Videodrome, Existenz becomes an odd metaphor about the limits of control and how external boundaries trap us into pre-scripted scenarios. There's a sense beyond the intentionally dismal brown hues of the film and deep within the infected bioports that the body naturally rejects these conditions, even if we are only able to do so by reproducing the elements that control us. If culture habitually offers up American Beauty, we repress all our urges to MeToo it from our view until the game allows us, waiting like Existenz's NPCs to be summoned back to the plot. If we are offered Fight Club, many will only be able to cheer the brutality of exercised willpower and rigid male identity politics and coordinated punches downward since there's no other available programming to divest from a permanent late capitalist disaffection that operates with patriarchal norms. From here, the 21st century was inevitable. It was Jack's complete lack of surprise.
10 Films from 1999
Existenz
The Matrix
Fight Club
Being John Malkovich
The Virgin Suicides
Election
Eyes Wide Shut
Magnolia
Mr Death
Office Space


After a year's worth of pre-millennium tension,Y2K wound up being a long denouement far from the futuristic cyberpunk visions 90s cinema suggested. Most of the year's best cinema looked backwards- to a great depression odyssey, a minstrelsy revival, the Qing Dynasty, an early 90s sociopathic serial killer novel, a Selby book turned modern et al. Post-postmodern film started to become like the protagonist in Memento, always remembering what it had just forgot and forgetting what it just remembered, until the entire flattened industry just became a web of auctioned-off intellectual property.
Now that David Gordon Greene mostly does stoner comedies and HBO comedy shows starring Danny McBride, it's hard to forget that he began his career with regular comparisons to Malick, and Shyamalan to Spielberg. Yet the early works of the respective directors like the lyrical George Washington and the unexpectedly measured Unbreakable shine light on why the buzz was so rapturous, if premature.
For all of the frustration and righteous indignation of Do The Right Thing, Bamboozled is Spike Lee at his angriest, skewering the media with pitchforks over their cooption of black culture to serve the needs of white supremacy. Critics and audiences at the time saw it as all a bit hyperbolic, but by the decade's end Bush would let a majority black city drown and Flavor Flav, perhaps most closely associated with Do The Right Thing's anthemic "Fight the Power", would become a kind of walking minstrel show on his own reality show. Mary Harron, meanwhile turned Bret Easton Ellis's sputtering misogynist tirade into a scathing critique of the predatory nature of finance bros looking to dominate both industry and women. Both had more punk in their blood than Julien Temple's Filth and the Fury, a look back at the history and lurid exploitation of the young Sex Pistols, of which Temple himself had participated in at the time by indulging Malcolm McLaren in the Great Rock n' Roll Swindle
Speaking of predators, Lars von Trier's best film also found him straight up torturing Bjork from ever acting again, though she acts the hell out of the absolutely brutal, social realist space of Dancer in the Dark. It's an almost impossible film to watch as is, depicting a young mother accepting death in order to build a better life for her daughter, but far moreso now knowing the daily harassment Bjork was receiving on set. And predators also abound wherever the vulnerable lay, as in Requiem for a Dream, once described as a film where the protagonist is heroin, who reigns triumphant in the end. Both Requiem and Memento also vividly reimagined the editing process, transfiguring the structure of film, realizing that it film could no longer move forward, it could at least move sideways.

2000 film
O Brother Where Art Thou
George Washington
Bamboozled
Requiem For a Dream
Memento
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Dancer in the Dark
American Psycho
The Filth and the Fury
Unbreakable


My 2001 list of films hasn't changed too much in the 18 years since I first saw many of these films. Mullholland Drive is David Lynch's masterpiece. Seeing it in a dusty old theater in Northhampton, MA when it first came out was such an immersive experience that I barely knew where I was when I walked out, fitting given the film perfects the dream-induced fugue states hinted at previously in Lost Highway. It's also perhaps, for all the self-referentiality of 90s cinema, the most cynical picture about the Hollywood industrial complex ever. Maybe this is why Lynch would soon abandon it, shooting only one more (4 hour) film on handheld digital cameras and then make moonlighting guest appearances and electronic albums before creating an 18 hour tone poem on aging in the form a Twin Peaks sequel.
Likewise, The Royal Tenenbaums is as good as Wes Anderson has ever been, a charming eminently watchable film about a depsicable old shit and his insufferable, occasionally incestual fuckup children. As much as I consider myself a staunch Richard Kelly defender, Donnie Darko is strong proof that the dude strongly benefits from a decent editor. Please avoid the director's cut unless you simply must know how to ruin this film.
At first glance, there's tons of daylight between the two directors behind A.I. and plenty have argued over its merits since it's release, but I fall into the camp that it's a film only Kubrick could start and only Spielberg could finish. It's also one of Spielberg's most underrated films specifically because he removes himself from the narrative. The same can't be said for Ghost World, a very good film, but also one in which Terry Zwigoff essentially inserts himself into the narrative (as Steve Buscemi's character) and makes him interact with the Clowes Ghost World girls.
The surprising afterlife of Wet Hot American Summer remains a pleasant shock, even if two Netflix seasons is a bit of overkill. When I first found the film as someone who'd purchased bootleg VHS copies of all episodes of The State on eBay, it felt like it was made especially for me and my high school friends, who relentlessly watched it during our own bacchanalian summer trips. But whereas its absurd humor once seemed niche or even arch, it's almost quaint by today's anti-comedy standards. So it goes.
2001 films
Mullholand Drive
The Royal Tenenbaums
Spirited Away
Donnie Darko
Wet Hot American Summer
AI
Waking Life
Ghost World
The Man Who Wasn't There
Amelie


I was 20 for the vast majority of 2002 and fittingly that year saw a number of products of 20s. On the small screen, 24 became emblematic of the war on terror's most deeply psychotic impulses. 9/11 had been like a movie scene come alive and the country only seemed able to process it through a cinematic lens, though films largely stayed avoided tackling it directly, choosing instead to let it linger like the unspoken corpse in the room a la Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar or creating their own narrative resolution to a complex issue like "Donald" Kaufman does in Adaptation.
One film that did acknowledge it was Spike Lee's harrowing drug sentencing drama 25th Hour, though here it played more like backdrop, important character development for the role NYC plays in the film. Other (later) great films of the decade from Children of Men to Shaun of the Dead would use this running motif, history occurring in peripheral vision, an endlessly brewing shitstorm we were condemned to witness fester in real time, blowback for who even knows what (though The Trials of Henry Kissinger, made shortly before Christopher Hitchens became completely contemptible, may offer some clues). 28 Days Later skips all the malady and the chaos to focus on the aftermath, establishing precedent for what would become even longer-running trend- post-apocalyptic dystopia as a clearly viable vision of the world the 21st century had to offer. Surely, we should have seen this coming.
Outside of societal ills lies a bevy of mental ailments in these films; the aforementioned disassociation of Morvern, the aggressive obsessiveness of Punch Drunk Love, the alternating depression and hedonism of 24 Hour Party People, schizophrenia of Spider, the sex addiction of Auto Focus, and the pure sociopathy of much of the college kids in The Rules of Attraction. 2002 was quite unwell and unfortunately, the decade was just beginning.

Top 2002 Films
Morvern Callar
Adaptation
28 Days Later
24 Hour Party People
Punch Drunk Love
Spider
Auto Focus
25th Hour
The Trials of Henry Kissinger
The Rules of Attraction


2003's Lost in Translation is probably mocked more than seen these days. This is fair. Boiled to its essence, it's a film about some privileged white cultural tourists having a lighthearted vacation and exploring a very age inappropriate relationship. But fleshed out to its textures, where the whole of the film lies, it's a film about being in a place you don't understand and being more at home than you are in your everyday existence. Every frame of the film is some interpretation of the title as communication fails at nearly every step until its final, pivotal and iconic moment of connection, which fittingly enough is muted to the audience. But rather than having this inability to properly communicate create constant crisis and tension, it broadens possibilites and opens new avenues for exploration.
Little opens up in the closed worlds of City of God and Angels in America, set in places where hope goes to die, be that gang-torn Rio De Jainero or 80s HIV hospital beds. If the titular Angels in America offer a vague hint of redemption though, City of God shows an even more unexpected one; a narrative of violence without a revenge arc, where fate's bend towards retribution and destruction is rejected in favor of transcendence.
Documentaries on the twin perils of war and corporate personhood capture the two dominant strains of GWB America. In the Fog of War, Errol Morris demonstrated how someone could simultaneously become self-reflexive and willfully blind, a message that should resonate even stronger now as Bush-Cheney era monsters transform themselves into #resistance heroes. The Corporation takes the conceit of Citizens United and finds that a corporate person would be deeply pathological, a danger to themself and others.
Meanwhile, Elephant attempts to do the impossible by making a film about Columbine that substitutes the horror of the day with the transactional an reactionary banality of the actions, draining it of action and emotion, using film to effectively de-cinematize the trauma.
Elf is a silly and stupid movie about a Christmas elf.
2003's Best films
Lost in Translation
City of God
Angels in America
The Corporation
Cowards Bend the Knee
The Fog of War
Elf
Elephant
The Saddest Music in the World
Cabin Fever

In 2004, I went on my first date with my wife to see Napoleon Dynamite (fittingly today is our 11 year wedding anniversary). We were both a bit off-put by the fact that the film was rated PG and had no idea what to expect. It is still spectacularly weird, like if David Lynch made a kids film, moving at a glacial pace and really zeroing in on the boredom, low ambition, and quirkiness of rural teenagedom. It spawned a dozen or so catchphrases and has many memorable scenes, but the film's power comes in its awkward spaces between.
Save a thought for films like Saved!, Shrek 2, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban, which slid just off the top ten on my list, though banner comedies and kids films respectively. It was a banner year for comedy, with Napoleon Dynamite spearheading the decade's long focus on awkwardness as a dominant mode of the artform. Slight edge though goes to Shaun of the Dead and Anchorman, two films which at their core are as good at social commentary as they are at lulz. In Shaun's case, this would kickstart a decade plus long obsession with zombies as stand-in for whatever blanket assessment you wanted to drape over a changing world. In Anchorman, it'd launch the 00s brand of over-the-top comedy shouty meannness, never explicit that you were supposed to laught at rather than with its horrible characters and thus creating a jocular audience of deliberately cruel idiots along the way. Both of these films played in these respective arenas more elegantly and cautiously than their eventual offspring would though and so can't entirely be blamed for the bastard children they wrought.
It continued to be a golden age for political documentaries, a blessing since the mainstream press and television networks offered only jingoistic propaganda and mass erasure of any resistance to hegemony and control. Adam Curtis's video essay The Power of Nightmares and films like the Al-Jazeera doc Control Room provided sufficient counterprogramming to the disturbingly confident neoliberal/neoconservative consensus. And though not explictly political, Tarnation laid bare, through a devastatingly personal lens, how abuse and harassment had scarred a generation of queer youth. Made for close to zero dollars on iMovie mostly from old home movies, it also foreshadowed the age of (not yet born) YouTube and (nascent) Facebook's overdocumentation and oversharing.
Then there's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film that takes place inside of memories as they're being scrubbed from a man's mind. The same year found Garden State's Natalie Portman being transformed into a "manic pixie dream girl" and Kate Winslet here seems to fit the bill as well, until you realize that we only really meet her at the very end of the film. The character we meet is only the perception of Kate Winslet, and her trope is actively deconstructed as she herself quite literally is. Yet, this remains perhaps the best romantic comedy of all time because of how it ends, knowing one's limitations and the odds stacked against love, and choosing to proceed nonetheless.
BEST FILMS OF 2004
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Shaun of the Dead
Primer
Anchorman
The Power of Nightmares
Howl's Moving Castle
Tarnation
Napoleon Dynamite
Control Room
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou



Good thing we all learned a lesson after 2005's Enron doc and there were no more financial instruments operating on exactly zero substance that could then crash the economy. Took me a while to get used to the conventional narrative but I have ultimately come around to the critical craze for Cronenberg's A History of Violence, though I still don't rank it as one of his top films. Spielberg was similarly off-brand with Munich, proving that he's often at his best when people aren't expecting him to be so very... Spielbergian. Also, way out of his comfort zone and soaring is Gregg Araki, who pieced together in Mysterious Skin what was probably his last serious work. It's a daring, dark, and uncomfortable film about abuse from the persective of two men who survived it in very different, but equally fractured ways that feels like a Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale, the forlorn yet ebullient score of Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie adding an emotional gravity to each scene.
Meanwhile Romero appears to deliver the gory goods in the Land of the Dead, only to find his zombies at their most sympathetic, as they find a way to make their way past distraction and spectacle (fireworks) and wake up to where their real enemies reside (fittingly enough, in a vertically stacked metaphor for the power structures of the 1%). Likewise, no stylistic shocks from Malick's take on colonial America in New World or Gus Van Sant's Cobain biopic Last Days, each of which work in the timbre of previous films, but each bring new riches to those existing frameworks.
In retrospect, Apatow's transition into his slacker comedy style in the 40-Year Old Virgin is not 100% complete for his directorial debut. It still relies heavily on some (still pretty funny) grossout humor, and points get taken off from some dated gay panic and transphobic humor. Not sure I can even justify its inclusion given the latter, but I laughed hard enough for enough viewings to allow it to slip into the top ten- feel free to spit on me if I'm wrong.
Best 2005 films
Mysterious Skin
Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room
Brick
Land of the Dead
A History of Violence
Munich
The Squid and the Whale
The New World
Last Days
The 40-Year Old Virgin

By 2006, Bush's popularity had begun to seriously wane, thanks in no small part to the devastating response to Hurricane Katrina, as expertly documented in Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke. The Bush voter had delved enough into self-parody by this point to have a silver screen counterpart in the NASCAR cast of Talladega Nights- again no idea how people didn't see Adam McKay as a political filmmaker prior to The Big Short. W's monstrous religious views were being exposed in their naked hostility through his bloodthirst and callous dismissal of the suffering of others. This saw its parellel in Jesus Camp, which shows children being militarized for the coming culture wars. GWB had declared himself a war president, and the public had limited exposure to the many overseas endeavors of our military industrial complex since Vietnam, explicitly and expertly tackled in the documentary Why We Fight. So when 9/11 had happened, it seemed to emerge from a political void, rather than being seen as what it was- blowback from previous war crimes. Thus, the best document about 9/11 is United 93, which takes place from the perspective of the passengers and victims on the ill-fated flight. History unwittingly happens to them and even though you know how it all ends, it's absolutely devastating nonetheless.
In Half Nelson, Ryan Gosling's middle school teacher attempts to educate young learners through the lens of dialectical materialism, but winds up being ground up by material circumstances himself. This kind of defeated materialism was also the central thesis of the most critically lauded project of the decade, The Wire. Though not one made for the big screen, The Wire (in its 4th season by 2006) could be considered a 60 hour exercise in the concept of what Mark Fisher would dub capitalist realism. It's also this, and particularly the concept per Jameson and Zizek that "It's easier to imagine an end to history than an end to capitalism" that informed Alfonso Cuaron's artful masterpiece Children of Men, set in a world where no new ideas..er, children, can be born.
Fittingly though, Children of Men ends with a new child and the possibility of the new being held up symbolically as a ray of hope in a dystopian world. The writing was on the wall for Bushism, but with nothing specifically lined up to replace it, the Obama presidency could emerge on the vague promise of hope and change and offer only dialed-back versions of the same ol', even when presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restructure the economy.
FILMS of 2006
Children of Men
Inland Empire
United 93
Why We Fight
A Scanner Darkly
Half Nelson
Talladega Nights
When the Levees Broke
Little Miss Sunshine
Jesus Camp


The critical consensus around 2007 is that it wasg the peak year for movies in the decade. If I were take my 11-20 films, they'd make a nice top ten of their own: Lake of Fire, Black Book, Southland Tales, Persepolis, The Host, No End in Sight, Taxi To the Darr Side, Paprika, Grindhouse, Paranoid Park. Some of the arguments of 2007's superiority has to do with the tenor of the auteurs, who largely tried to tackle difficult, brooding, or otherwise capital S-serious work with their releases this year:
No Country for Old Men, the bleakest of the Coen Brothers films, which is saying something considering the recurrent theme of all their films is how to respond to a world in which God may exist but it is likely cold and indifferent to human suffering. There Will Be Blood, defanging much of its source material's political critiques, still manages to equate the oil tycoon with absolute nearly impenetrable brutality. Zodiac, David Fincher's sprawling piece about mass confusion in the wake of new media, and its inability to solve plain sight riddles with life/death stakes. THe Assasination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which has to be important just by the number of words in the title, a beautifully shot, magnificently rendered slow burn about betrayal. And then there's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, shot first person from the perspective of a patient on their death bed.
So, why then is Superbad the best film of this standout year? Simply because it's the funniest goddamned thing. It's super basic, its plot is nothing much to behold, and its female leads are pretty underdeveloped, but as a script it's tight as hell and it just lands nearly all of its jokes the entire way through. It perhaps deserves a special place in hell for spawning the unfortunate genre of the bromance, but contra that genre's tendency towards gay panic there's also an alternate reading, not disavowed by basically anything in the text, where Jonah Hill and Michael Cera's characters are lovers.
The gloriously weird My Winnipeg, my favorite film of the Canadian surrealist Guy Maddin, is not so much a mockumentary as an autobiographical documentary from an alternate, far more interesting reality. Hot Fuzz's mashup of 80s action flicks with 70s occult horror/weird fiction seems at first like a genre exercise, but winds up making a compelling case about the banality of evil, and how sometimes fascism doesn't always come in angry chants but in civil pleasantries and arguments over blight.
TOP FILMS OF 2007
Superbad
No Country For Old Men
My Winnipeg
There Will Be Blood
Hot Fuzz
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Zodiac
Control
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Manufactured Landscapes


It's proof-positive of the short-sightedness of critics that they didn't predict a long shelf-life for 2008's Step Brothers. On paper, it's easy to see why; an overly shouty movie full of gratuitous F bombs in which the world's worst people act like absolute toddlers and get whatever they want. But this was actually a stark warning about the coming age of the failsons. The brothers' central idea- velvet rope karaoke only for people who sing well- was the most popular reality show of the decade. I have a special level of respect for something that can operate on caveman levels of dumb and also be sly about telling us things about ourselves that we might not want to hear, which is why Adam McKay remains one of the decade's most undersold auteurs.
"What did we learn?"/"Fucked if I know" so goes the ending of perhaps the most prophetic of the Coen Brothters' films, Burn After Reading, about a group of morons who discover some real deep intel and decide to sell it to the Russians or somehting for personal gain. It's a succinct, shocking, and deeply unsatisfying story, and it rules. Action comedy was having a sort of undersold moment with Burn, the savagely funny In Bruges, and the much-despised but actually quite awesome Pineapple Express. None of this will be written in the history books when so much self-important drivel was lying in wait, but it should be.
Things were looking so bleak in late Bush America that even Disney crafted its own dystopian fiction, albeit a weird one, half of which has no dialogue and is in debt to Jacques Tati (Wall-E, for those living under a pile of debris). The Signal, basically a split story update on Videodrome that I, no joke, once wrote about 7000 words on, posits that we're consensually plugging ourselves into a reciprocal cycle of violence that will eventually bury us all. Even the search inward,as Charlie Kaufmann finds deep within his own a-hole in Synedoche, NY- Philip Seymour Hoffman's finest performance- must at some point end with us staring into the void, confronting our own mortality, and trying to reconcile the variations of the self we've reproduced along the way.
But something would come along to usher in the next decade and save us, again and again, over and over, from ourselves and anonymous evildoers, relentlessly for the next decade. It was Disney and Warner Brothers! Er, Marvel and DC, Iron Man and Batman, Elon Musk and Bezos, snarky and broody, twin adventurers either complicit in the military industrial complex or building up the surveillance state. Super hero films so came to define the media complex that they became its primary resource, though they perhaps achieved higher results than their inceptional documents in Iron Man and The Dark Knight. All of the defining characteristics are there, including plots that are on the verge of saying something but fall slightly short so as not to insult international distributors. Still, the spectacle was something to behold.
Actual rescue though looked a lot more like the community-building in Be Kind Rewind, about a poverty struck neighborhood that rallies to save a VHS rental shop, becoming the marquee themselves in the process. That their efforts are ultimately frustrated and unsuccessful is far more indicative of the long struggle for justice than some climactic tumble ith the Joker on the rooftop. Because in real life, you don't die a lonely hero or live long enough to see yourself become a lonely villain, you live amongst others and make choices together, for better or worse.
ENCORE FILMS OF 2008
Step Brothers
Synedoche, NY
Wall-E
In Bruges
Pineapple Express
Burn After Reading
Iron Man
The Dark Knight
The Signal
Be Kind Rewind

Rounding out the decade with the best films of 2009:
Film's magical quality is that it is supposed to be able to show you something you couldn't see anywhere else. This certainly became the case in the late stage of CGI, where all films were essentially 80% animated. But few would take this to its psychological conclusion like Tarantino, who showed up something we actually wanted to see- (spoilers) a wronged Jewish woman burning down a theater full of Nazis and Hitler getting torn to shreds with a machine gun.
2009's top film though was We Live in Public, based around an early internet experiment where- can you even imagine- everything he did was put on the internet and hey here are my top ten films of every year I've been alive and pictures of my kids and let me geotag where I've been today. But more than a "haha that there was like Facebook before Facebook", We Live in Public actually asks probing questions about the social and cultural toll this all takes, which is good to think about because it's been 10 years and I don't know about you but I think about deleting this site every 10 minutes which is precisely the amount of time it takes before I'm tempted to check it again.
In District 9, literal aliens live in shantytowns and become the scapegoat of xenophobic humans, but the real surprising part of the movie is how the main human character, who also functions as a protagonist of sorts, is just an unreliable and selfish shit who betrays the aliens every time it benefits him. It makes what's an on-the-nose allegory even more prescient since this guy's just absolute garbage but he's also literally the only person who can help and hey all these representational models just fall apart when they're fundamentally built up by the power structures that need to be dismantled.
Where the Wild Things Are is almost too honest an exploration of the sadness and primitivism of childhood and navigating the challenging terrain of other people's feelings. It's really not a kid's movie, is it? My son really liked it for about a weekend, but I'm glad he didn't become obsessive over it and decide to bite us and blow things up and stuff like the little monsters in this film. They're antisocial and solipsistic and destructive and man I just want to give them all hugs.
In Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg's nervous awkward frontman talks about how Dickens wrote travelogues where he visited prisons and mental institutions to get a real sense of the areas he visited. The main characters are likewise the backdrop of the vacation plans of others, working and being miserable while everybody enjoys their vacation and the labor that makes it possible is invisible. Maybe the film was overly nostalgic, but looking at it from this lens they should have just called it "1980s: The Movie".
And yes, Gamer is on this list too you judgmental bastard. Have you seen it? It's basically a modern-day Robocop in that it's hyper-stupid and ultraviolent, edited in a way that make Natural Born Killers look drowsy and lethargic, but with far more to say than it has ability to articulate it. It's cranked to 11 constantly and, like I Spit on Your Grave, A Clockwork Orange, and the aforementioned films, it indulges in exactly what it sets to critique,. It's as subtle at times as a hammer to the face, but has more to say about the prison-industrial complex, labor commodification, the spectacle society, and other things than any other above-ground film around from the time. If you don't believe me, Steven Shapiro wrote 10,000 scholarly words on it and they're pretty much dead-on, but also so was the How Did This Get Made episode. This is exactly the sweet spot for a terrific movie in my opinion.
2009 TOP SHELF FILMS:
We Live In Public
Inglorious Basterds
A Serious Man
In The Loop
District 9
Where the Wild Things Are
Adventureland
The Box
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Gamer



y 2010, TV had not quite subsumed film as the dominant visual storytelling medium, but it had presented some major challenges to it. TV was always far more popular, but by decade's end it was also now the critical apotheosis, major source of consistent chatter, and, to a certain extent, vanguard of newer ideas. Mainstream film began to be tied almost exclusively to existing intellectual property and struggled to break free of fan service.
I'd also blame much of this shift on independent cinema's early decade obsession with "slow cinema", a trend towards long, contemplative shots and a glacially paced development, almost as a reactionary refusal of Hollywood's increasingly kinetic and dizzying editing schema. Neither of these polarities were necessarily prima facie inferior modes to operate in, but they were rarely deployed strategically.
Enter the Void is a slow heady churn into the purgatory of the afterlife, adopting a bird's eye view to witness the aftermath of one's actions and choices and using the Tibetan Book of the dead as guidance. Meanwhile, Scott Pilgrim is frenetically-paced, using hundreds of hidden gags and different cinematic techniques to tell a dumb simple video-game style story of a garbage manchild learning the most basic life school through fighting. They're starkly contrasted visions, but well-suited for the methods they've chosen to convey them through.
I also became a father in 2010, so maybe I'm showing my biases a little when I start finding things like Tangled a bit more worthy of merit, but it's still delightful and a nice role reversal in that it's would be savior Flynn Rider who winds up being damseled. Good kids films are still hard to find, but I think they sort of peaked throughout the decade, almost as a substitute for what else was on the market. Meanwhile Harry Potter,for all its flaws, put in its strongest and darkest entry, essentially a kids film on life under totalitarianism.
Black Swan is definitely one of the decade's top horror films and its main villain, its unseen monster, is patriarchy and its tendency to limit the spaces available to women (white or black swan), pit them against one another, mangle their bodies, blame them for their anxieties, and the like. It's thought of perhaps more for its aesthetics than its critique, which is also telling of the times it came about. By decade's end, cultural criticism would become a hobby horse of every armchair dilettante on Twitter and it would never be out of sight that films of this ilke were centered around decisions of cishetero white men.
TOP FILMS OF 2010
Black Swan
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Enter the Void
Inception
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Never Let Me Go
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows I
Tangled
Shutter Island
The Social Network


My wife will get mad at me for including We Need to Talk About Kevin in my list of best films of 2011, but it's incredibly well done and Lynne Ramsay is a consummate artist, though I can assuredly say the movie is depressing as hell. It's really a nightmare story about parenting based around a mother whose son turns into a school shooter and she realizes there's something within him that's a part of her and she's always felt there as something within him beyond reach that she resented but she's perhaps the only one who can understand him and isn't that really the deepest, darkest horror of all horrors- that, as Major Briggs says in Twin Peaks, love is not enough.
Well if you need something more life affirming which links life to not only a vivid panorama of emotional and aesthetic splendor but all of history itself, there's Tree of Life, a film so good Terrence Malick tried in vein to recreate it for the rest of the decade. Or you can't go wrong with the breezy and beautiful Rio, a kids movie about getting two blue macaws to hump during Mardi Gras. Nah, it's not salacious. The music is great and it's gorgeous to watch and only mildly appropriative. I never complain when the kids want to put it on.
If you'd like a good character study, Elizabeth Olsen's breakout performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene is top notch. Though it was not a newsworthy item or even a major cultural concern, there seemed to be a huge amount of fascination around cults in the first half of the decade, but Martha Marcy was maybe the best thing to come out of that. Cults also make an unexpected appearance in Ben Wheatley's Kill List, which remarkably makes about 5 smooth genre pivots through the course of its narrative, but you'll only ever remember the last, most disturbing one.
2011 FILMIC TRIUMPHZ
Tree of Life
Martha Marcy May Marlene
We Need to Talk about Kevin
Rio
Kill List
Attack the Block
A Dangerous Method
The Muppets
Margin Call
Bridesmaids


The frivolity of Robert Pattinson's billionaire investment manager in David Cronenberg's 2012 masterpiece Cosmopolis is such that he risks all sorts of chaos and carnage in order to get a haircut. The finance world he comes from and cocoons into is incredibly insular- in fact it's almost entirely limited to the back of his luxury limo, where the majority of the film takes place. Protesters rail against him and slam rats against his vehicle, but they can't see inside of it and how it only mildly irritates his absolute comfort. Meanwhile, he receives visits from a doctor, who delivers daily checkups, and his Chief of Theory, a woman who offers an intellectual justification for his continued power and dominance.
Likewise, Philip Seymour Hoffman's L.Ron Hubbard-esque figure in The Master remains befuddled at how Joaquin Phoenix's anarchic vet seems to elude the baked-in power dynamics that easily shuffle the rest of us between our stations: "If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world"
It's not esoteric at all to the desolate residents of District 12 in The Hunger Games, who are overwhelmed by the totalizing force of capitalist realism that dictates their continued oppression, and where equity comes in the farcical shade of a brutal reality TV show that nobody asked for and nobody wants and which is completely rigged but which everyone accepts. Katniss Everdeen soon realizes that winning the games (whose ultimate prize is an escape from poverty) is as much about social image management as it is physical survival.
In The Cabin in the Woods, the world (spoilers) is controlled by an ancient eldritch evil that's propped up entirely by banally evil white collar machination for performative human sacrifice. Chronicle is one of the best superhero films of the decade, a found footage film that starts as a buddy film and ends as an exploration of what would happen if one of these lonely nerd boys who harass people over MCU stuff obtained super powers, or rather, what generally happens when they do get power hungry.
If this is all properly meta but highly bleak, there's a few other options in my top ten. 21 Jump Street is a top pick- the premier entry of the 2010's Lord and Miller style of being so dumb and so self-aware but having the wares and jokes to back it up and negate any of the dross attached to that puerile attitude. But don't sleep on Everything is Terrible's DoggieWoggiez Poochiewoochiez, self-described as a remake of Jordowsky's Holy Mountain made entirely out of dog clips (it's not really that, but it is masterful if nauseating).
2012 BEST FILMS
The Master
Cosmopolis
The Hunger Games
The Cabin in the Woods
21 Jump Street
Chronicle
Moonrise Kingdom
DoggieWoggiez Poochiewoochiez
Looper
Sightseers


2013: Let's get weird
The best movie I saw in 2013 appears to be about a dude falling in love with his phone, which sounds like a perfectly submissive relationship and the heart of solipsism, reflecting more on me than the state of film in this era, particularly since I still haven't seen more weighty fare like 12 Years a Slave or Fruitvale Station. But Her is actually about a female-presenting A.I. learning about the world through an awkward male conduit, discovering shared experience, and then moving well beyond that person into a realm of knowledge and understanding far beyond what our tiny brains and fragile flimsy material vessels can comprehend.
The Bling Ring exposes aspirational wealth for what it is performative image enhancement and theft. Inside Llewyn Davis pokes and prods at the foolhardy task of authenticity in art and, like all good Coen Brothers films, treats attempts at dignity as a fool's errand. Over yonder at Spring Breakers, hedonism is pathologically linked to the death drive, excess subsuming any surface-level exoskeletal narrative until it becomes entirely the point. It's easy to mistake this as rank exploitation because that's a key element of how it works so well, albeit in a drugged and deranged form. Without the spectacle of Spring Break as a degraded ideal, it would just be finger wagging and puritanical scolding.
And Hauntology, which started out as a niche fascination on the music blogs I used to frequent, came into its own in a big way with Berberian Sound Studio and a Field in England, where time is out of joint and sound is detached from source. Horror and ghosts are frequently lingering, but it's unclear whether they exist in our plane of reality, a different one, or somewhere between.
2013 BEST FILMS
Her
The Bling Ring
Inside Llewyn Davis
Spring Breakers
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Berberian Sound Studio
A Field in England
Frozen
The World's End
Upstream Color

In the way, the fate of the entire decade was sealed in 2014 with the release of the film The Interview, an ultimately forgettable Seth Rogen film that almost ignited an international conflict with North Korea. Reality could only get stupider and weirder after that.
Horror, which had been all but neglected and abandonned as a genre after its descent into torture-porn and sanguinary Centipede-style a-hole gazing, began to pick up steam in the margins and start a mini-renaissance. Three films from 2014 assisted at re-elevating the genre. It Follows, with its ambiguous blank canvas approach, masterful soundtrack, and creeping ambience. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, equally atmospheric but with its monster- an Iranian feminist vampire- dabbling in a world that is both celestially unreal and also socially closer to home than most teen slasher flicks. And of course unexpected queer icon The Babadook, a pants-shittingly terrifying film about moving on, or rather not doing so, in the face of loss. But maybe the most frightening of the bunch is Citizenfour, who final scene resembles the Einstein adage "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones", as Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden are forced off of all modern technology to scribble commmunication between one another on notepads.
BEST FILMS OF 2014
Citizenfour
It Follows
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The Babadook
The Lego Movie
Grand Budapest hotel
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Double
Birdman

Like 2014's Season 1 of True Detective, 2015's Ex Machina is a film about toxic masculinity centered largely around the dynamic of two male leads. Unlike that lauded series though, feminism remains the backdrop of the film, lingering just out of the frame set by the male gaze, and escaping the programming of the male "geniuses" who set the parameters of reality.
In Duke of Burgundy, on the other hand, men are simply nonexistent, women are in charge of all aspects of life, and sadomasochism is prevalent a predilection that there's a bedding industry based around it. Inside Out, the only film that can consistently make me weep like a blubbering idiot, takes place entirely in the mind of a young girl dealing with feelings. The last of the Hunger Games films goes perhaps the furthest though, positing that you can't just substitute an autocrat for a female autocrat with slightly better politics. I was sure that when this series ended, and it ends hard, it would have been served an honorary Oscar like the third Lord of the Rings installment, but instead everyone stopped paying attention en masse. But Mockingjay Part 2 is devastating and does not relent or hold back from the story's grisly ending. In Mad Max Fury Road, the titular Max actually just steps back to let a bunch of wronged women lead a coup of a society permitting ecological devastation and massive class and sexual oppression.
TOP FILMS of 2015
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Duke of Burgundy
Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2
The Big Short
Map to the Stars
Love and Mercy
Sicario
Mad Max Fury Road
Anomalisa

2016 began a three year streak of competetively great films, actually seeking to regain some of the ground lost to TV (it may even continue into 2019- I don't often see movies in the year that they come out). It was also a massive year for kid's films- just a ton of them released overall, which lined up perfectly with the ages of my kids at the time. At the top of the marquee were two straight-up classics in the gloriously strange Kubo and the Two Strings and the gorgeous Moana, with special hat tip to Zootopia, a film with some major issues but which is ultimately an eminently watchable children's film about living in a fundamentally unjust and racist society.
Ultimately Adam Curtis's lengthy essay Hypernormalization remains the best diagnostic of our age. Made before the age of Trump but mostly discussed after it, it takes it title from a phrase used to describe late Soviet Russia, an era when everyone could tell that business as usual was not working and that the state was failing but people continued acting as if everything was normal. Despite some persistent cries at the onset of "This is not normal", it's very much the world we're living in now, where feckless leaders and institutions feign cocern and/or opposition but the tragic normal continues unperturbed week-after-week. Hell or High Water was the other part of that diagnostic, presenting a nightmarish landscape of inequality, an America barren and gutted between the coastlines, one where resentment is far more fulfilling that hoping for incremental change. And it's a pretty dope heist film too.
The decade's horror vanguard continues on with The Witch and Green Room. Both are legitimately terrifying, but while The Witch does have some occult underpining, Green Room is monstrous only in the high stakes scenario it presents; escaping a group of murderous drug dealing Nazis lead by a colder-than-ice Patrick Stewart. It consistently zags at moments where a traditional action film would zig and thus every scene is a pressure cooker of tension wherein any possible scenario could play out.
Arrival is the kind of nerdy Star Trek style film that none of the modern iterations of that franchise have been able to deliver, a space opera that's more about the limits of communication and the need to bridge the divides this causes than impending doom in an intergalactic setting. It's also about the necessity of hope even when tragedy is inevitable, which certainly proved valuable after 2016 turned out the way it did.
The Best films of 2016:
Hypernormalization
Hell or High Water
The Witch
Arrival
Green Room
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Hail Caesar
Moonlight
The Lobster

2017 proved an explosion of creative talent on the big screen, with perhaps nothing more on point or well-targeted than Get Out, a film famously made under Obama and released under Trump. Its target is seemingly well-meaning white liberals, but it's central question lies around assimilation, coming down pretty firmly on the Malcolm X/Black Panthers end of that paradigm. As long as white supremacist culture has a need for black bodies to serve its purposes, the power regime that sold those same bodies at auction can never be trusted. The central protagonist Chris only survives the film by retaining his historically-indebted trepidation, by "staying woke" as Childish Gambino puts it in "Redbone" over the title credits, trusting his intuition more than the false consciousness that permeates just above the sunken place.
If white supremacy is ominpresent, the inequality of The Florida Project is always just out of frame, even if the focus is deeply impoverished temporary-cum-permanent housing just outside of Disney World. Poverty in The Florida Project is abject and inescapable. Minor errors can be as devastating as major ones and the film offers a rare humanistic look of a young mom and her little shit kid that nevertheless makes their dangerous and tragic situation look like the least inhumane one around.
Blade Runnner 2049 offers a sequel that, like the same year's Twin Peaks the Return, seems like it is being offered far too late to offer anything new, and then far surpasses even the most overblown expectations. At it's core it's about (spoiler) a male hero who seems to have been trained to think he's a special, chosen messianic figure, but then must confront the fact that he's at best a secondary figure in someone else's story.
Personal Shopper posit through a medium in contact with the afterlife that perhaps there is no god or maybe god is a projection of ourselves or perhaps, most frightening of all, what comes next is something wholly unknowable.
The rest of the films on my list are lighter fare, like the one about the self-destructive teenager, or the kids movie about mortality and being erased from history, or the surrealist romp about misogyny where a baby gets torn apart in a war zone, or the cherished franchise about how fetishizing the past is a death's knell.
2017 Top Films
Get Out
The Florida Project
Blade Runner 2049
Personal Shopper
Ladybird
Thor Ragnarok
I, Tonya
Mother!
Coco
Star War Last Jedi

Appropos of nothing other than going through some files, I thought I'd just breeze through the top ten films of every year I've been alive with relative ease, slipping in a few sentences here and there about how something owned or something else represents some great failing within me or hey haven't times changed but this thing sure is fun to watch. It wound up being more of an assignment, albeit a kind of fun one, trying to find links and trends or historical markings within visual texts I've enjoyed throughout the years.
It takes me a while to see a good gaggle of films from a given year so I won't be posting a 2019 film list yet. Thus I'm ending this endeavor in 2018, which fortunately was a great year for film. In what other year would very good later films by the Coen Brothers film, Lynne Ramsay, Spike Lee, and Wes Anderson not to mention eclectic fare like The Favourite, Won't You be My Neighbor, Black Panther, and Mary and the Witch's Flower fail to pivot onto the top ten but still be worth anyone's 1.5 to 3 hours?
First Reformed feels like the type of desolate end-of-days film about climate change and complicity that should be coming out once a week at this point and when they discover us all under the rubble they may wonder why that didn't happen. Sorry to Bother You may offer some insight- we're basically either chained to our jobs or making a decent wage but helping to participate in some mass atrocity that no one would care about or believe if they even heard about it. It's designed not to bother us, to be just out of the frame, behind the secret elevator, or on the other end of a distant phone.
Hereditary is a film that is horrifying but not horrible and unpleasant, delivering itself from genre tropes to revel in story that leaves you vulnerable for the many narrative jolts it offers and oh fuck yeah that one scene. Game Night is way funnier than I think anyone expected it to be, while Roma is perhaps exactly as heartbreaking as it should be and to call one a work of art and the other not would be a miscarriage though they for sure operate on different wavelengths. Eighth Grade perfectly captures the difficulty and awkwardness of adolescence in a way that brought me back to a place I had actively blocked and yeah I guess is still deeply embedded right in there. Annhilation and Suspiria both stemmed from insanely difficult source material and brought them to transcendent and unique places and were pretty underrated despite this feat. Spider Man Into the Spiderverse was perhaps the best superhero film of the decade and, if not the best animated film, at least the film with the best animation in it- it's massaging the eyes with every frame. Blindspotting is a film so good that it made my top ten list even though it weaves slam poetry into various parts of its narrative, so don't let that turn you off this film with a star-making performance from the guy from Clipping. and Hamilton and Unbrekable Kimmy Schmidt.
See you in another 37 years y'all
Top films of 2018
First Reformed
Sorry to Bother You
Hereditary
Game Night
Roma
Eighth Grade
Annhilation
Suspiria
Spider Man Into the Spiderverse
Blindspotting