My Favorite Movies of the 2010s: Tier 2

Hail and well met! Welcome to my blog. This week is the penultimate post of my Favorite Movies of the 2010s series. Next week, we come to the end with my Tier 1 post. It’ll be a shorter read, I promise.

Within each tier, the movies are not ranked because they are all equal to each other. Instead, the movies are listed alphabetically. Each movie will get a whole bunch of words followed by my favorite quote.


ANNIHILATION

It is thanks to this movie that I am here writing all of this. 

My childhood was full of movies. My family watched them almost every week. My Dad would make the popcorn, and we would sit down to watch a movie that my sister and I had picked out. We saw the classics, some new movies, and some pretty weird ones. Midnight premieres were a regular occurrence. I remember how happy I was to see the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before my sister had seen it. It was the first time I beat my sister to the theatrical release of a movie we both were excited for. 

For 20 years, movies were entertainment that my family bonded over. Then, in 2018, Annihilation came out.

When I saw Annihilation for the first time, I was thrilled. I went home to immediately solve the puzzle in the movie. I sat and attempted to figure out what the Shimmer was, figure out what happened in there, trying to make sense of it.

A few hours deep into my research,  I found Film Crit Hulk’s article about the movie, and my view of movies was upended. I began thinking deeper about semiotics, I began assembling the tools to discuss cinematography:  why the camera is showing what it is showing, or critically what it is not showing. I learned enough to know that I knew so, so little about movies. After this deep dive, I saw the movie again and had an even stronger emotional reaction to it. 

Annihilation is functionally about a group of scientists investigating an alien phenomenon. Really, though, it’s about change, about self-destruction and the paths that both can lead you down. When the film cuts to black it doesn’t matter if it is the same Lena that entered the Shimmer or her Shimmer doppelganger. Her transformation and rebirth during her journey in the Shimmer, and how she shed her guilt enough to continue living, that is what matters. The Lena at the end of the film isn’t the same Lena, but I mean that in the emotional sense. Not the physical, literal one.

I will be the first to admit that the film isn’t perfect. The first 30 minutes are all awkward, clunky exposition and at times the dialogue is pretty pedestrian (Shepherd and Lena in the canoe, particularly). 

Through all of those flaws, I love it. The cinematography and art design is fantastic; the Shimmer is entrancing. Natalie Portman’s performance is compelling and heart-wrenching. The Nightmare Bear to this day terrifies me, and that scene is one of the most horrific scenes I have sat through in a long, long time. And at the end, I found it’s main thesis to be particularly poignant.

From then on movies became an obsession for me. With my MoviePass (RIP) I went on to watch over 50 new movies, and nearly double that in rewatches. In 2019, I saw nearly 90 movies in total and wrote some kind of review for 80 of them. I bought tomes of Pauline Kael reviews and her biography, I read books about editing and devoured Film Crit Hulk’s entire oeuvre.

All of this because I saw Annihilation on a rainy day with a friend. This film has lots of significance in my life and this list could never exist without it.

Favorite Quote: 

Then, as a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke, we destabilize the good job… and a happy marriage. But these aren’t decisions, they’re… they’re impulses. In fact … [i]sn’t the self-destruction coded into us? Programmed into each cell?

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Many people more eloquent than me have written about the MCU dominance of the 2010s The rise of Marvel is the story of the decade for my own life, too.I have seen every single Marvel movie that has been released to this day. I saw every movie opening weekend in theatres up until Spider-Man: Far From Home. I skipped on that one (for a few weeks, at least)because I’ve grown tired of the movies. After multiple rewatches of the MCU, the formula is too apparent for me to ignore. The flaws of the franchise as a whole are too much. Why doesn’t anyone fuck? I mean that half-flippantly, half-seriously. Now that the Infinity Saga is over, I see more clearly that these stories don’t focus on emotional storytelling, but reshuffling the cards to keep the machine rolling and audiences buying. They are very successful at that, and I am not devaluing that. It has a time and place. You bet that on lazy Sundays or when I am sick that I turn on Thor: Ragnarok or I replay Civil War.  

Walking out of Endgame was emotional for me on multiple counts. Ten years,24 movies, and over 3000 minutes of my life spent basking in the MCU and loving the characters. Now, I can look back on these movies with nostalgia and love. As I watched the movie, I could feel that building up inside me. It made everything so much more resonant as I began bawling alongside a hundred other people in that movie theater on opening night. 

These movies were hardly ever the perfect movies. Though for me, they were all special in their own way. 

Endgame is a watershed movie for me. A chapter of my life closed with Endgame, it feels like a rite of passage, in a way. I struggled through my teenage years with the help of Marvel movies, and now in the new decade I’m moving on. I’ll still put on Ragnarok when I vacuum, but I won’t be rushing out to see Guardians 3 on opening night. 

And that’s okay. 

Favorite Quote:

Avengers! Assemble. 


INCEPTION

Every time I watch this film I am amazed over and over again. Not only because of a super fun plot, but the exquisite craft that went into the writing. Few movies have ever made exposition so much fun and injected so much verve into each scene and each act without sacrificing the heart or emotion of the entire movie. 

It’s a joy watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy flirt the whole movie. It’s fun watching Ellen Paige mess with physics in the dream world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt fights in a rotating hallway! It’s awesome. 

Through all those good times, Christopher Nolan sneaks in a devastating movie about grief and emotional closure. Inception is a cautionary tale about ignoring your inner turmoil. When you don’t tie up your emotional loose ends you endanger everyone around you. It makes you think less clearly. You act guarded when you need to be vulnerable; it makes you build walls to keep people out when you most need to welcome them inside. 

Mixed in with this emotional resonance is the moral quandary of the film’s climax where Cillian Murphy learns that his father did love him, he simply despised that his son wasn’t making a name for himself. Which was all a lie. A man’s life changing moment was entirely orchestrated and set up to achieve one outcome. Which makes it all more emotionally devastating to watch. It makes me consider how many of my life-changing moments were ‘lies’, as it were. How many times did my life change because of an event I misunderstood? 

Then I watched it again and found an allegory for creating movies. You can find real-world parallels in each character, depicting the complex nature of how a movie comes together. 

And in the end, the creator (Cobb) vocalizes the tough lesson about movies: they never depict real life. A movie can be overflowing with rich characters that are complex to deal with. And no matter how much someone tries, they will never amount to more than a mirage of reality. You can do your best and it won’t be good enough to recreate the real world.

That is why Inception is rewatchable for me. There is a lot to unpack about the movie, throughlines that you can’t find the first time and themes that don’t surface until the third viewing. Which you’re gonna do, because above all of that it’s a hell of a good heist movie.

Favorite Quote: 

I can’t stay with her anymore because she doesn’t exist.

I’m the only thing you do believe in anymore.

I wish. I wish more than anything. But I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.

LADY BIRD

I’ll come out hot: Lady Bird is a perfect movie. 

Every single facet of this movie is top notch. Greta Gerwig’s direction is impeccable. Every scene is set up in the exact precise way to communicate the subtext needed for the story. I was never once bored or ever wondered why the hell a scene was there or what I was watching. Because every single scene was shot perfectly. Where characters were on the actual screen related to their importance in Lady Bird’s life at that moment. Or the bookend car scenes, where at the start Lady Bird and her mom are at the edges of the frame desperate to get out, complemented in the end by all three of them staring off into the sunlight as Lady Bird begins her next chapter.

Lastly, the movie is edited so wonderfully. Every cut lands on the exact moment that is indescribably the only place a perfect cut could have occurred. Right up until the end when Lady Bird takes a deep breath in and we cut to black, because when she breathes out it’s the start of a new story. It’s incredible. It’s a perfect movie. 

The common critique I heard about the movie is that Lady Bird isn’t likeable. Which is something I fundamentally disagree with on two fronts. First, in general protagonists do not need to be likeable for a film to be good, or for the film to be worthwhile. Often, the unlikable protagonist is more captivating than the likable one. Forgive the diversion outside of cinema, but take Breaking Bad for an example. We can understand and empathize with Walt and his journey. Though he is the villain, no doubt. As the film progresses, he does not become more likable. He hardly was likable at the start. Yet it is one of the greatest TV series of the decade, and perhaps all time.

Secondly, we come to this particular example. Lady Bird being a little prick of a teenager is exactly what makes the movie so incredible. Gerwig strikes at the essence of being a teenager who doesn’t like their hometown, who is aching to escape, and lashes out because all of that emotion is too big a burden. Then in the instant they leave, and they realize they’ve left home and can never go back… you realize how truly special it all is. 

Lady Bird captures senior year in ways few other movies do. It doesn’t glamorize the efforts of making the final year epic, nor does it glamorize the goodbyes (notably we don’t see her graduation ceremony. Lady Bird instead dives into the tumult of senior year at home, where the messiest of emotions are found.

It floored me. 

Favorite Quote:

I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.

What if this is the best version?


Thank you for making it to the end of this post! I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

If you have any constructive criticism or want to discuss any of the films, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at jaydubswrites@gmail.com

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