As any true -holic knows, a little grace goes a long way. As I read through and listened to dozens of Best of the Decade lists, I tried to apply a truth I’d always kept close about list-making: it’s about what’s not on the list as much as it is what’s there. To some extent, especially on any list of twenty-five movies or fewer, the actual order of the movies doesn’t really matter all that much. That’s something that a lot of the major film critics know, and it goes into the style of list they make. Kam Collins, Stephanie Zacharek, and Richard Brody, just to choose three at random, simply plopped down their top whatever and didn’t try to order it. But let’s take someone who did order their top 10 list, like Richard Lawson. He puts Princess Cyd tenth and Mad Max: Fury Road first, but when you’re choosing from so many movies and limiting yourself to so few spots, it’s far more interesting that like, Moonlight and The Social Network miss out entirely than it is that he put Force Majeure eighth. To some extent that’s true about my own longer (forthcoming!) list as well: is it more interesting where, exactly, Certain Women will wind up, or is it more interesting that Lady Bird won’t place at all?
I’ll do a proper introductory post for my top 100 movies of last decade in the relatively near future. I freely admit that I am still very much in the research stage for that project, but even now I know there are some movies that just won’t be able to crack that top 100; they are not on my preliminary draft that I’m keeping, and thus they are not likely to be able to fight the influx of a few dozen movies that I’ll have to watch before I can finalize it.
There are definitely more than twenty-five movies that I regret being unable to find space for on this list, but these twenty-five stand out to me because of how difficult it was to cut them, even if (as is the case for a number of these) I don’t honestly think they could ever have made this list fair and square. They’ll stand out because they’re overwhelmingly in English and a lot of them were at least mildly successful at the box office. Some of them are difficult to have removed because of a deep, abiding, and pure affection I have for them. Some of them are difficult to have removed because they were movies in which so much worked, and then something just splattered it with stupid; sometimes it’s not even the stupid, really, but the simply ineffective. Some of them are conceptually fascinating to me, but in practice it’s not entirely successful. In any even, let’s start at the top, with the movie which above all others demands that this list be made at all.
1) Cloud Atlas (2012), directed by Lana Wachowski, Lily Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer
Is there another movie with as many words devoted to it on this blog as Cloud Atlas? Between my review and that conversation I had with Matt, I sort of doubt that anything else has quite this much coverage, and that probably is as it should be. Cloud Atlas is endlessly stimulating, by its nature invested in drawing connections out for us across space and time, and by its existence open to us drawing connections for ourselves. Part of keeping it out is just a practical consideration: can one put a movie from 2012 that integrates yellowface so totally on a list? (Believe me when I say that I get what they’re trying to do, and there is a lot about that particular thorny problem in the conversation linked above.) I have a hard time making the calculation in its favor above something even of similar quality which manages not to take on that kind of baggage. It’s possible that I may even have been able to overlook some of that if they’d handled the Neo-Seoul plot a little more gracefully than they did, or if the San Francisco plot had not been such an outlier in terms of quality. All the same, the epistolary romance of Frobisher and Sixsmith is one of the most moving love stories in the pictures from this past decade, belonging with Amour and Brooklyn and Beale Street. I also cannot get over how moving it is despite the fact that we so rarely see the two of them together, and that it takes up only a percentage of the movie. I think the Pacific Voyage and the Sloosha’s Crossing sequences, the bookends of the movie, are both so well made, with striking dialogue and images alike: the dialogue is either old-fashioned or an entirely new leap in English, and I love the way that the directors give David Gyasi and Hugo Weaving opportunities to pop out of nowhere and turn those into entirely different effects. My special adoration I save for the contemporary subplot set in a nursing home/jail in England, a story which is just a paragon of delight. The more I watch Cloud Atlas and the more I think about it, the more I feel like the initial criticisms of it were overblown, and the more I appreciate the filmmaking itself. I already regret leaving it off the top 100…mostly I’m worried that in a few years I’ll regret it for an entirely different reason.
2) Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), directed by Rian Johnson
I was a little afraid to rewatch this one, but when I did, I was just blown away by how successful it was. I think it gives Benicio del Toro one double cross too many, and given how badly The Rise of Skywalker handles Finn, it would have been so much kinder to let him die on Crait. Everything else (yes, even the “Holdo Maneuver,” the “illegal immigrant” of Star Wars fan discourse) works. I said it then and I say it emphatically now: this is the best Star Wars movie of my lifetime, and it is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. In Johnson’s hands, the characters make sense in a way they didn’t quite make sense before and definitely didn’t make sense since. Rey, the nobody, wrestles with Kylo Ren, the chosen one, back and forth through their minds. Leia’s steely resolve is never mixed more tightly with her personhood. Luke, the self-exiled hero, comes out of retirement to buy time for that which will grow beyond what he was. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been amped about Star Wars material, but the last time I watched The Last Jedi, something entirely new happened: I was touched by it. I doubt that’ll ever happen again with one of these movies.
3) Black Swan (2010), directed by Darren Aronofsky
A little simplistic, as any black-and-white metaphor is going to be, but still one of the most aggressive movies of the decade, equally comfortable on the outskirts of horror, exploitation, and that classiest, most highbrow of all the performing arts. Clint Mansell’s touches to Tchaikovsky’s iconic work on Swan Lake amplify the interplay between the real and unreal, the way that we all know how the finale of Swan Lake ought to sound and how different it actually is as Nina, bloody and weeping, is perfect. In the next ten years, I think the movie has already started to migrate, in our discussions, as a genre movie: a backstage drama, a body horror extravaganza, an LGBT story. Perhaps Black Swan is a little too unusual not to belong to some subgroup, but I dread the day that people say, “It’s pretty good for [insert genre here].” This is a flat out good movie no matter how you categorize it.
4) Edge of Tomorrow (2014), directed by Doug Liman
The second half of this movie isn’t all that involving for me, and it sort of dabbles in the “no new ideas” zone of the action blockbuster that frustrates me enough that I don’t typically enjoy action movies. (It’s part of the reason I was so disappointed by Mission Impossible – Fallout after all the hype…what, exactly, was so new and interesting about it?) The first half, on the other, is a minuet of comedy, war movie, and yes, pure action, that makes everything before “I don’t know. We’ve never gotten this far,” a totally engaging picture. Time travel movies typically have such a low ceiling, but because of the specificity and strict limits of what that time travel can do and where it can take him—in other words, it copies the Groundhog Day formula—it makes Edge of Tomorrow work more like a video game than any other movie I’ve seen. You didn’t succeed? Fine, try the level again from the save point until you do. Happily, this is never tiresome, because the (first half of the) screenplay works like a charm. At first it’s kind of funny that Tom Cruise must live, die, and
live again repeat, but then it becomes serious as it becomes clear that he may have the ability to win the war against these aliens almost singlehandedly. Eventually we get to a point where we have to actually beat the video game, which is sort of a shame. This movie is a lot of fun before it decides that it has to wind down.
5) The Big Sick (2017), directed by Michael Showalter
A movie I like more than I admire, though I like it a lot. It’s one of the rare movies that can still surprise you after you hear the synopsis—”Based on the true story of how Kumail Nanjiani’s now-wife went into a coma”—because there’s so little emphasis put on Emily’s parents. The movie is quite different, as there’s a good argument to be made that Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are the best parts of the movie. It’s not really the story of how Kumail wins over Emily, but how Kumail wins over Emily’s parents, becoming intimate in the way that this sort of anxiety over personal tragedy can make people close. That story is the story of The Big Sick, and although I don’t know that the movie could have held much more of that subplot without becoming unruly, the high points are there.
6) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), directed by Quentin Tarantino
I saw this again in the theaters, and I was amazed at how good the movie was. Just flabbergasted at how good Leonardo DiCaprio in particular was in this movie, and how beautifully it unfolds from event to event, making a culmination of such suspense between Rick’s brilliant take for Lancer and Cliff’s creepy howdy-do at the Spahn Ranch, and how wonderfully that’s interspersed with scenes of Sharon Tate, behind enormous glasses, seeing herself onscreen, hearing the laughter from could-be fans and appreciating it all. Up to the point where the lights come on through Los Angeles, it’s one of the most enjoyable movies I can remember watching in some time. I rolled my eyes during the Bruce Lee-Cliff Booth fight as much as I did the first time, but I was prepared to let that go as a stupid but more or less harmless hiccup in a movie that was always going to have some dumb asides. I thought to myself that it might just make this top 100 of the decade list after all. And then the movie gets to the Mansons showing up at Rick’s house, and excepting a fabulous little moment where Cliff turns the lights on post-acid cigarette and instantly regrets it, the rest of the movie is just bad. It’s just flat bad. The violence is stark, and it’s gross, but it’s not shocking. It’s not even boring. It’s just…expected. It’s what always had to happen. Look, when you watch the cross-country skiing during the Olympics, it’s about who has the endurance to keep going, to keep a pace. Tarantino doesn’t have that endurance. I would argue he hasn’t had that endurance since Jackie Brown, and watching the stupidest denouement is like watching a cross-country skier collapse on the final straight. There’s a difference between having a signature style and being middle-aged, and wouldn’t you know it, Tarantino is in his mid-fifties.
7) Inception (2010), directed by Christopher Nolan
A remarkable technical achievement: I still can’t believe they made that hallway fight, the scene which I think is destined to show up in all the retrospectives. A blurry screenplay: a movie that’s famous for being confusing, but is less confusing than it is just sort of dizzily constructed, hoping we’ll assume we’re supposed to be a little dimmed. A starmaking performance by Tom Hardy: in a cast that’s doing good work all the way through (yes, even Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page are good in it), he’s the only standout performer, and it kicked off a hugely impressive decade for one of our most rewarding, and unpredictable, performers. It’s still my favorite Nolan and one of my comfort movies, but it lacks the intellectual rigor to place here.
8) X-Men: First Class (2011), directed by Matthew Vaughn
Once it was possible to make a comic book movie that wasn’t Sunday School or the self-important philosophizing of the preteens in Sunday School, and in that short window of time they made First Class, a movie which walks well outside of the comic books it’s adapted from, drops everything in a glossy ’60s setting, and allows a totally competent group of actors (McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Byrne, Bacon) room to cook. I have always loved the alternate history angle that the movie takes, assuming that it doesn’t matter a whit how history unfolded as long as it does so entertainingly in this setting. I think it walks the line between fanservice and charting new ground effectively, giving us one visit to Wolverine which doesn’t interfere with the rest of the story, and it doesn’t spend so much time looking forward that it forgets to handle the now. Life’s too short to keep up with comic book movies, but give me this one any day above the whole of what the MCU and the DCEU (extended universe, extended acronym) have put together in the past decade.
9) Spotlight (2015), directed by Tom McCarthy
That increasingly rare thing, a highly effective movie about journalism, and increasingly a sort of cause célèbre in the war against the tyranny of the moving camera. A year after Birdman won Best Picture because storyboarding is competency or something, Spotlight, a movie which could not look more different or be shot more straightforwardly, won that same prize. It’s much the better one. It has a reason to exist beyond its conceit. Movies like Spotlight are the reason that those of us who have not been corrupted by someone in thrall to ’50s Cahiers jawn believe that actors drive our understanding or enjoyment of the text, and there are certainly a gazillion of them here. Of the name-brand cast members, it’s possible to view almost any of them as the center of the movie. If you love your boss, maybe Liev Schreiber or Michael Keaton is at the heart of this story, taking risks and pushing up against the boundaries of Boston niceties. If you’re angry, then Mark Ruffalo’s moral crusade has to be where your allegiance lies, unless you’ve got a soft spot for Stanley Tucci’s disheveled and devoted lawyer. The movie’s normal people, played by Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James, are the ones who have always caught my attention most. The real center of this movie isn’t really about which actor gets the best scene or the most memorable lines, but about what it’s like when normal people begin to understand the abnormality—the wickedness—of what’s going on around them in the seemingly normal neighborhoods they live and work in. Those two, so amiable and mild, both react fiercely when how terrible the scandal strikes home for them; we all hope we’d act the same.
10) Vice (2018), directed by Adam McKay
11) Inside Job (2010), directed by Charles Ferguson
12) The Big Short (2015), directed by Adam McKay
They keep making movies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and although one of them snared Best Picture, The Hurt Locker is perhaps just as famous for being the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in modern history. People have a hard time going to the movies about this stuff. For whatever reason, the American public has never been as invested in southwest Asia as we were in southeast Asia once upon a time; maybe that’s why we are flooded with documentaries about the wars, but of movies, perhaps only American Sniper (probably for reasons having very little to do with the war!) has really captured the moviegoing public’s consciousness in a big way. Movies like Jarhead live to be reassessed after being largely ignored on the first go-round; movies like Zero Dark Thirty have wilted under that same pressure. Movies about the financial crisis are our Vietnam movies, the movies about political turmoil and the need for change and what it’s done to ordinary folks and how you can’t go home again and all that jazz. Charles Ferguson and Adam McKay are, for better or worse, two of our more active filmmakers, finding the same kind of rot in America’s handling of its wars for oil as it has in America’s handling of its economy. With the caveat that Eliot Spitzer is hanging around as a sort of disgraced paladin, this is a movie without malarkey, surprisingly adept at needling the nimrods who decided to opt into interviews into saying more than they ought to have said. By being completely serious, it demands the seriousness of the viewer, although it also does well to simplify some of the economic concepts which the fat cats would like very much to keep wrapped up in whatever gauzy mystery makes them seem impenetrable to laypeople. While virtually every documentary of note seems to grasp for moral force (we call this the “Minding the Gap delusion” around these parts),Inside Job actually wields it, a quality it shares with like, Citizenfour, The Act of Killing, 13th, and…I’ll get back to you, Gene.
Adam McKay’s movies on the benighted aughts are less concerned, I’d say, with moral force. They are angled for shock value, for grabby moments, a kind of cartoon enlightenment. In Vice, the attempts at making very famous Hollywood people look like very famous D.C. people is more or less successful, and most of them even do a decent job at sounding like their assignments, but it’s not like we’re in uncanny valley mode or anything here. Christian Bale is acting a lot, and so is Amy Adams, and so is Steve Carell, and on and on down the line, and the overacting hurts Vice. So do the celebrity cameos in The Big Short hurt their movie, because as tempting as it is must have been to put Margot Robbie in the bath or get Anthony Bourdain in the kitchen, they’re not explaining anything that isn’t already explained in the actual run of the movie! The single best metaphor in The Big Short is a visual representation Ryan Gosling does with blocks. So no: they aren’t great movies, and even though I liked the idea of squeezing The Big Short in somehow, I wasn’t going to work to find a place for it. What they have, though, is energy. They don’t have ideology—like so many Resistance liberals, McKay bucks at believing the other side has ideology like a horse spooks at a sudden gust of wind—but there’s something undeniable about how enlivening they are. Both movies are memorable, and even when they aren’t always successful, both movies are trying. I thought the credits scene midway through Vice was brilliant. It snapped. Couldn’t Dick Cheney have just happily faded off into the sunset? Wouldn’t he have been okay with that? No? Well, I guess there’s more movie to get through. Adam McKay, at least, is trying.
13) Support the Girls (2018), directed by Andrew Bujalski
There is, sadly, no Andrew Bujalski on this list, although at separate points I tried to squeeze this movie and Computer Chess into the mix. I think if I’d thought the last scene of the movie more powerful, it would have made it; I think what makes it feel special to me is how quiet it’s willing to be through so many other travails. (Yes, I get that the point is that the quietness gets blown up by that last scene; no, I still don’t think it works all that well.) The actors in this movie are so good, and they fit seamlessly as a cast. I don’t know that I would have predicted that there’d be a lot of chemistry between Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, and Shayna McHale, for example, but they are terrific as a group. Richardson is in serious danger of becoming the Rebecca Hall to Florence Pugh’s Anne Hathaway, but this was the movie that convinced me that she could honestly do anything. Hall is also so good; she has down pat the expression of someone who is used to being entirely exasperated, and who is never allowed to show it to anyone.
14) The Red Turtle (2016), directed by Michael Dudok de Wit
A sad movie, and hopeful. Beautiful again and again. Wondrous, never anxious, but sometimes fearful. One of my last cuts, and one of the movies from the past decade that I wish I could see again like it was the first time.
15) The Adventures of Tintin (2011), directed by Steven Spielberg
So this is probably my favorite Spielberg movie? I think it’s everything that makes people excited about Spielberg movies at all. He has always been at his best when he gives us the sense that even in a moment of quiet, something more is just around the corner; he has a gift at balancing that pulse of excitement with moments of more subdued enjoyment. He does it with the Indianapolis scene in Jaws, he does it while Indy and Miriam ramble around Cairo, he does it while Dr. Grant and the kids befriend a Brachiosaurus. In this movie, little asides to Thomson and Thompson as they, uh, uncover a mystery of a pickpocket fill much the same role, really engaging little moments that act as a cooldown before some remarkable action sequence. What this movie achieves in Bagghar, with absolutely soaring shots and uninterrupted action, is absolutely stunning; the same can be said of the way a desert turns to ocean and an old galleon falls over the dunes and turns them to waves. More movies should aspire to be the blast this one is, and it’s a shame that, in a decade where everyone and their brother got a shot at being an action franchise, it’s been almost ten years since what should absolutely should have been the starting point for one I would have been pumped to see in theaters for each new installment.
16) A Field in England (2013), directed by Ben Wheatley
I’m not convinced this movie is particularly good. It is unusual, and awfully ambitious, but there are long stretches that feel like they just kind of…are. All the same, I was absolutely riveted by a scene in slow-motion in which Whitehead, the would-be scholar and alchemist, emerges from a tent as a diving rod. It is strange, and it goes on and on, and it is disquieting, and it has the quality of a great individual scene in that you can see it when you close your eyes no matter how long it’s been since you watched it; if this were a list of the hundred best scenes of the decade, I would unquestionably include it, but alas. Reece Shearsmith’s tongue does a better acting job in this one scene than most actors do in their entire lives.
17) Leave No Trace (2018), directed by Debra Granik
One almost has to compare this movie, starring Ben Foster as a disillusioned man on the edge of society, to Hell or High Water, a movie starring Ben Foster as a disillusioned man on the edge of society. Hell or High Water got a Best Picture nomination and Reddit hype because it’s clever, or at least it passes for clever as long as you think that Joker is some kind of scathing social critique. In that movie, Foster’s character is vulgar and angry, possessed of the sort of chaotic energy that Supporting Actor nominations are made of. In Leave No Trace, there’s chaotic energy in his character again, but instead of flailing at some outside force, he’s directing it all at himself and avoiding the outside world entirely. Foster is great in this movie, and so is Thomasin McKenzie as his teenage daughter who is as open to solitude as her father, but who is also not fool enough, or hurt enough, to believe that he represents the only way for them to live. Leave No Trace was absolutely ignored by the Oscars—there’s no bank robbery or racism played off as humor, so—but it’s one of the best watches on Amazon Prime. This is another one of my very late cuts, and if I extended this list out another twenty spots it would demand a place.
18) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), directed by Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, and Bob Persichetti
Had about as much chance as making this list as Tintin did, even though I enjoyed it less. Definitely fun, definitely funny, does not overstep the bounds of seriousness even though there are some serious ideas being considered seriously in this movie. Its strengths are strengths that superhero movies do not typically have these days, but its primary weakness—a need to build up to some gigantic fight between hero and villain which is always, always, always less interesting than some previous fight scene in the movie—is on display here. Spider-Verse doesn’t quite have the guts to reject the goober, even though it scores some easy points by noticing that the goober exists, and a mostly disappointing ending to what was, for most of the movie, about as challenging as one of these movies can get, keeps it from seriously contending for a spot on this list.
19) Eighth Grade (2018), directed by Bo Burnham
Eighth Grade is, unsurprisingly, in an awkward place. Rated R when its best audience would be kids about Kayla’s age, but because its one sex-related scene is pure horror, is not likely to appeal to the teens and child-adults who would usually flock to generic coming-of-age comedies. This is an anxious movie, too, which I can’t imagine would make it more popular; one of the scariest things I’ve seen in a movie in the past couple years, and I mean this quite seriously, is the pool party. It was so unnerving! (People say that scores “really tie everything together” all the time, but in the case of Anna Meredith’s work on this movie, that’s quite true. The electronic soundtrack almost singlehandedly makes the basically innocent scenes of a middle school pool party into the basis for a panic attack.) Burnham gets something about positive thinking, which is that if you’re going to promote it, you have to be totally honest about it. You cannot just smile your way through and hope that no one will find the cracks in your armor, or spout some baseless happy nonsense and think that someone will think it’s deep. Eighth Grade is very much about coming to terms with oneself, which is why that McDonald’s-at-home-not-quite-a-date that Kayla and Gabe have reads so truly. Kayla has stopped trying to be someone else, and she has begun to recognize what kind of person she is, where she fits on the social ladder, and why that doesn’t matter a whit as long as the people she cares about care about her too. It’s like if Eric Rohmer started to branch out the moral tales for kiddie consumption.
20) Blackfish (2013), directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Weirdly enough, the movie I credit for getting me interested in writing about movies again? (By now this was six years and change ago, when I had seen very, very little, and when I was in one of those yearlong writing ruts I get into; it was clear to me what I wanted to say about the movie, and that sort of opened a door for me.) I think this is a very solid documentary on its own merits, and to its credit I think it also, almost singlehandedly, forced Seaworld to begin changing its policy about its killer whale shows. When Tilikum died in the first week of 2017, I was relieved for him; there is so much wrong that had been done to him, and no way for him to force a change.
21) November (2017), directed by Rainer Sarnet
I liked this movie so much, but I just don’t think the romance that fills the second half works all that well. I try to say less about that when I talk about this movie anyway, though: this is such a visually rich picture, one of those movies which threads that needle that so few movies can: beautiful for a reason. There are plenty of movies that are beautiful for their own sake, but November is beautiful, striking, unforgettable, all because the movie requires the visual might to lift the total strangeness. I don’t think I’ve been as hooked by a movie in its first five minutes in the past few years as I have been by the rolling kratt in November, popping into the barn and freaking out the cows, spiraling into the air. Perhaps no movie could have lived up to the gripping promise of those initial scenes, but November tries, and it deserves a wide audience to see the effort.
22) Contagion (2011), directed by Steven Soderbergh
Weirdly enough, another movie in the same boat as November. I think the whole movie is certainly compelling, but those first ten minutes or so, in which Gwyneth Paltrow’s character catches this supervirus, lingers briefly, and dies frighteningly, are among the most thrilling and scary of the entire decade. The rest of the movie fades from there, which is not disappointing, precisely, because it could only have kept up the energy of Beth Emhoff’s death for so long. All the same, there’s not enough there to chunk it into this top 100.
23) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), directed by David Fincher
The high points are high, but looking at it again with the benefit of hindsight makes you wonder if Fincher’s headspace was already turning to one for streaming television. There are these stretches of Girl which are absolutely thrilling, such as that cat-and-mouse game that Stellan Skarsgard is playing with Daniel Craig in which one man considers how strange it is that politeness should so totally rule why a person does what s/he does, even when it is obvious that making choices based on politeness rather than survival is quite possibly suicidal. To say that this is a stylish movie is to understate it a little bit, as there’s a good argument to be made that one of America’s most stylish directors hit his peak in this movie. Yet the structure seems a little off. The film’s epilogue ends with a searingly sad image, but it doesn’t quite keep us from feeling that the majority of the epilogue itself is doing the work to set up a sequel that’s never come.
24) Peterloo (2018), directed by Mike Leigh
A film that is absolutely dazzling in scope, and in fact is so willingly broad that it’s almost impossible to put a name to half of these characters we see. It still rates as one of the best movies of the decade for me, a seriously emotional experience which is as comfortable making us vexed, indignant, and ultimately scandalized as it is providing some tremendously stirring addresses and lists of grievances. When the Peterloo Massacre does occur, Leigh is following in the footsteps of a number of British and Irish directors who mean to show what it’s like when regular people are trampled under the feet of an armed force sent out to restore order, which is to say maintain power for the upper-class. However, the entire structure of his movie is different. Unlike Neil Jordan for Michael Collins or Richard Attenborough for Gandhi or Roland Joffé for The Mission or David Lean for Doctor Zhivago, who never give a particular focus to the little people who are being cut down by government swords, that focus is the entire point of Peterloo. I can’t believe DSA hasn’t pooled together the rights to just buy it outright from Film4 so they can propagandize with it on YouTube.
25) Shame (2011), directed by Steve McQueen
One of the century’s most unrelentingly bleak movies, the movie has the problem that the Spurs defense had with Kawhi Leonard a few years ago. Kawhi was the most fearsome perimeter defender in the league, but the team numbers with him on the floor were worse: it turned out that teams were basically sacrificing one of their better players at some edge of the court to keep Kawhi out of the play, and as Matt Moore put it, play 4-on-4 against the Spurs’ less effective defenders. Something similar is happening in Shame, a movie where Michael Fassbender is so good that every time we edge away from him it makes the movie less compelling. The scene where he stares down that woman on the subway is intense, as is the scene where all he can do to try to burn off his anger is run through the streets of New York late at night. The movie suffers when it tries to draw that kind of intensity out of Carey Mulligan, though; not only is burning hot not really in her wheelhouse, but it keeps us from the sheer heat of what Fassbender is doing. If there’s a real problem with the movie, it has to do more with the screenplay, which never really comes up with an idea beyond “being this hooked on porn is probably bad news.” That’s not so far away from what’s going on in Don Jon, which one can barely do more than roll one’s eyes at. McQueen’s best movies, Hunger and Widows, are intellectual feasts as well as masterfully made. Shame falters enough on the former that I can’t find a spot for it.