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

Favorite Movies of the 2010s Tier 3

Hello! This is my second post in my Favorite Movies of the 2010s series. Each post will contain one Tier of my list.

Last week covered Tier 4, and this week we move up to Tier 3.

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 few (or many) words followed by my favorite quote.

Tier 3 Posters arranged alphabetically. Credit: Letterboxd.com/jaydubswrites

ARRIVAL

How would we love if time was a circle? How would we view death? How would we live if time was a circle? If there wasn’t a start or an end, it was simply the story of your life? If you knew the end while the present was still happening?  

When a movie  makes me contemplate the big questions, it’s great. When the movie doesn’t give any clear answers, it’s special. Arrival is special. 

Arrival is the rare alien movie that grasps at the truly terrifying nature of aliens: what if they are so unlike us, we can barely comprehend them? Of course, in this movie we do comprehend their language, eventually. Though they look nothing like anything we have seen before, and they speak in a language entirely unknown to us. That possibility always fascinates me: what if we are visited by aliens and have no ability to comprehend them? How can you decipher a being’s intentions if you can’t comprehend the being? 

Arrival presents those ideas and presents a compelling case for what could happen. We would treat them as though they will act like humans do, for one. Afraid of an invasion rather than assuming good will of any kind (assuming aliens even have those sort of emotions or thoughts). 

When I first saw Arrival, I hardly grasped the story of what was going on, yet in the end I was nearly in tears. Which speaks to the visceral nature of Denis Villaneuve’s adaptation. The emotions are so powerful I don’t have to logically understand the facts to be floored.

And that’s a special, special movie.

Favorite Quote:

I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order.

AVENGERS

When Avengers hit theaters I was a senior in high school. I hadn’t read the comics, or any books, or seen many prior Marvel properties. I had seen Iron Man and loved it, saw Thor and really liked it, and was enchanted by Captain America. Which probably establishes where I am at in Marvel fandom: I’m a fan of the movies, but not much beyond that. 

Still, I was on board for this movie. I was excited for it. My expectations were rocketing higher with teaser and with every trailer. 

And boy did it deliver. Back then in a May 2012 theater, and still to this day when I rewatch it. 

I still remember everyone worrying about getting 6 movie stars together on one screen and having it work. People were concerned that having four prerequisite movies was too much for moviegoers. 

And then, it worked. With hindsight those worries are all rather quaint, aren’t they? Simpler times, truly.

Even when you strip away the buttresses of the Infinity Saga project and take it out of cultural context, this movie is still a blast. The characterizations were pitch perfect and executed brilliantly on screen by the actors. The clash of superhero personalities was dreamed up wonderfully. The reason for them to get together was orchestrated as perfectly as could be. I still am surprised by the emotional power of Coulsen’s death, even eight years later. 

Avengers kicked off a decade that would change cinema forever, and did it with a genuinely good movie. 

Favorite Quote:

Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!

He killed eighty people in two days.

He’s adopted.

GET OUT

From time to time I’ll start thinking about this movie out of nowhere. I’ll think about that scene when they hit the deer on the way to the house. Or I’ll think of Daniel Kaluuya’s eyes as he is being sent to the sunken place. Or I’ll recall Lakeith Stanfield’s vacant eyes as he dominates the movie for two minutes.

And it amazes me every single time. How lucky are we to have gotten this movie?

And it came from Jordan Peele’s debut! What a pleasant shock that was. The hilarious sketch comedian came out to write and direct the best horror movie of the decade.  This film will go down in history as a masterclass in how to tie horror films into greater societal trends to expose the anxieties and tensions that cast a shadow over us all. 

The release date also plays into the power of the film. Had this film dropped a few years earlier, I am not sure that it would have made such a splash. But coming so soon after the 2016 sea change, it held a mirror up to America to show us what we really were. How racial tensions are as tight as they have been in decades and were just ramped up again. 

And it fuckin ruled.

Favorite Quote:

Yeah, what a moment. What a moment. I mean, Hitler was up there with all those perfect Aryan race bullshit. This black dude comes along and proves him wrong in front of the entire world. Amazing!

Tough break for your Dad, though.

Yeah, he almost got over it.

INSIDE OUT

Perhaps this is indicative of the bubble I exist in, but how is this movie not mentioned more as a Pixar masterpiece? Inside Out perfectly encapsulates those weird early-adolescent years when childhood ends but you aren’t even close to becoming a young adult. Those chaotic emotions are expressed in an innovative way. Not only how they individually can drive our actions depending on which emotion is in charge but the delicate way that they mingle together as we grow older. 

Beyond expressing emotions Inside Out also handles memory in the best way, highlighting the comedy inherent in what our brains choose to remember and the sorrow of forgetting. 

It also has the most heart wrenching character death of the century, perhaps. And the character’s name is fucking Bing Bong. How Pixar pulled that off is nothing short of a masterpiece. 

Favorite Quote:

  • You made it! Go! Go save Riley! Take her to the moon for me. Okay?

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2

Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski are very good at action. Not much more to say. 

Why Chapter 2 out of the three? Well, this installment has the best string of action scenes:from the catacombs fight until the knife fight in the subway car, absolutely thrilling. Then later there’s the mirror exhibit shootout which is so trippy that it ratchets up the tension to about 10000.  I liked the Godfather III energy of “I thought I was out. But they pulled me right back.”

Or maybe it’s everyone hamming it up without being boring or killing the joke. Seriously, has Lawrence Fishburne ever had more fun acting than he does in this movie? Has Riccardo Scamarcio revelled as a villain as much as he does here? I doubt it. And those performances are all through the film to counterbalance against Keanu Reeves playing it straight, and those camp elements elevate this chapter above the rest. 

Favorite Quote:

You stabbed the devil in the back and forced him back into the life that he had just left. You incinerated the priest’s temple. Burned it to the ground. Now he’s free of the marker, what do you think he’ll do? He had a glimpse of the other side and he embraced it. But you, Signor D’Antonio… took it away from him.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Who needs dialogue when you can use just a camera? Why write a script when you can storyboard will do fine? 

I can’t lie: the first time I saw this I was put off by the aesthetic of it all. The world is so weird, the costuming and makeup and everything was SO MUCH. Honestly I think it shocked me a bit back when I was a wee young Junior in college (oh god that was five years ago). 

Then for some reason I watched it again a while later. I probably saw it on some end of year lists or because it was Oscar nominated. The reason doesn’t matter, though. 

On my rewatch I was prepared for the weirdness and I saw past it. I saw below the aesthetic and saw the true beauty of it. It isn’t complicated: it’s a two hour car chase. The stakes are clear, they are high, and it’s awesome. It’s a true thing of beauty. 

Fury Road hits larger ideas about the patriarchy, economic inequality, and faith so powerful that words are hardly necessary. It’s the film personification of “do I need to speak, or will my actions make my beliefs known enough?” Which makes for excellent cinema. 

Take that thematic potency and put a thrilling chase on top of it, and there’s the making of a great movie.

Favorite Quote:

Oh, what a day… what a lovely day!

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT

The best action movie of the decade. I have never clutched my seat as hard as I did for the last hour of this film. I was actually exhausted from it in the end. 

The entire movie is a masterclass in action. The storm helidrop is straight up awesome the whole way down. The rooftop chase is pure Mission: Impossible, Tom Cruise running and Simon Pegg feeding him hilarious instructions. While many movies would end at having one great action sequence, the helijump is followed up by a great fight scene. Where the geography is clearly established, and it’s shot so that I can follow it every single time. And not long afterwards McQuarry shows that he knows how to shoot chase scenes, as Tom Cruise sprints across rooftops following Simon Pegg’s hilarious instructions. Peak Mission: Impossible. And when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it ends with the most implausibly fun helicopter chase I’ve ever experienced. 

Fallout nails the fundamentals of action films and delivers on everything the genre should be: tense, awesome, and fun. 

It has clear stakes: figure out the bad guy, stop the bad guy. It proves that films don’t always need to be about grand themes and emotions. Sometimes it can be about Tom Cruise running, and technology forever failing Tom Cruise. And that is amazing.

Favorite Quote:

There cannot be peace without first a great suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace. The end you’ve always feared… is coming. It’s coming, and the blood will be on your hands.

PARASITE

When I learned that this won best picture at the 2020 Oscars, my faith in the world was renewed. It is a movie deserving of Best Picture, created by a man worthy of Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. If the Academy gave out awards for Best Ensemble I am positive it would have won. The disappointing fact that they all didn’t get their own nominations is a crime itself. 

I could go on and on about the achievements of the film. Though suffice it to say that it is the funniest, most scathing, and competent critiques of capitalist class structure that I have seen in my short life. 

Parasite is not the first, nor only, movie of the 2010s to attack the failings of capitalist class structure. Other movies came out that could create a compelling premise, or write out critiques through dialogue. Parasite does both of those things, and on top of that Bong Joon-Ho used his production design and cinematography to emphasize every theme and motif in his story. It was present in the big scenes, think of Kai-Tek and his kids running in the rain from the Park’s home to their own semi-basement to find it totally flooded. They take ages to walk all the way down there, as they go back to their class position. 

Though he puts more subtle techniques to bolster the film. Like the scene where the rich friend offers [the boy] the job tutoring the girl. Behind the friend is a street gently sloping up to a bright light, the symbolic guide to higher life. 

It’s fantastic. Bong is a man who very clearly understands symbolism in film, and how those symbols collect into powerful motifs and further into potent themes. 

At the end of the day, who can tell the parasites from the host? How is it always so easy for the lower classes to fight amongst themselves instead of fighting against the system that put them down there? Though the answers aren’t clean or clear-cut in any sense, Bong Joon-Ho does his best to give us some talking points to consider. 

Favorite Quote: 

This is so metaphorical. 

SKYFALL

For decades Bond films were supposed to start and end with great suits, villains chewing the scenery en route to world domination, and gorgeous women. From time to time Bond skis off of a cliff. This campy style through Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond with Quantum of Solace, featuring Bond pilots an old plane with a blown engine to a miraculously safe crash landing in the desert without breaking the nearby aquifer.

Then Sam Mendes comes along with Skyfall and elevates the franchise, at least for one film.I still cannot believe that a Bond film was able to reach these heights. 

When I first watched Skyfall here is a list of things I did not expect: incisive insights about trauma, contemplations about echoes of imperialism, explorations of mommy issues. It encompasses all of that while simultaneously celebrating British culture and its soft power in the modern age. Which makes Skyfall a fantastic Bond movie at its core.

Not to mention it looked damn good the whole time. The Shanghai Tower Shootout is a gorgeous fight sequence that astounds me each time. An amazing set design and perfect cinematography. I watch that scene mouth agape every time. Then an hour later we see  Scotland at its best: foggy and breathtaking. Which transitions to the defense of Skyfall, when those cool blues adds tension to the fight, right up until Silva arrives and the scenery explodes into reds and oranges. It’s breathtaking shit.

This is far and away the greatest Bond film, and one of the best spy movies.

Favorite Quote:

Then we wired coconut to the lid as bait and the rats would come for the coconut and they would fall into the drum. And after a month, you have trapped all the rats, but what do you do then? Throw the drum into the ocean? Burn it? No. You just leave it and they begin to get hungry. And one by one… they start eating each other until there are only two left. The two survivors. And then what? Do you kill them? No. You take them and release them into the trees, but now they don’t eat coconut anymore. Now, they only eat rat. You have changed their nature. The two survivors. This is what she made us.

SPIDER-MAN:

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Spider-Man at its best is a coming of age story: a sorta nerdy kid finds his place in the world and figures out how to handle that responsibility. Everyone has a story about coming into their own, which is why Spider-Man resonates with multiple generations. It’s universal. Which Spider-Verse proves rather literally by transporting it into multiple worlds: the past, the future, across genders and ages and *checks notes*species. We have all been dealing with this, each with our own variations and unique elements. And the care the film approaches those variations is why this film is so powerful.

An older Peter faces his terror of fatherhood and the emotional labor necessary to approach that phase of his life. Gwen experiencing the parallel of Miles’ story.  And god damn it, the movie’s most crushing line is delivered by a pig. This movie is enchanting. Though the magic of Spider-verse doesn’t end with the story.

It is the first film to palpably bring the ‘comic-book look’ to the screen properly. The thought bubbles puts the audience directly into the  real-time thought process of the characters while simultaneously seeing their (animated) faces and thereby intensely empathizing with their every action. It combines a novel’s power of intimately knowing a character’s thoughts with the power of watching their face reflect that inner monologue.

And the icing on this multi-layered cake is Spider-Verse breaking the 4th wall without ever explicitly “breaking the 4th Wall”. Addressing that this story has been told and retold three separate times already this century without making it explicit, yet undeniable? Brilliant. 

Favorite Quote:

When will I know I’m ready?

You won’t. It’s a leap of faith. That’s all it is, Miles. A leap of faith.

A STAR IS BORN

I’ve thought quite a bit about the staying power of this story. Why do the remakes keep on succeeding? The answer to why there are remakes is easy: stories about Hollywood/entertainment industries are navel gazing enough to pitch to studios and get the film made. Then, if there are two stories the public loves devouring, it’s watching a star rise out of the rough and come into their own while another one falls.

A Star is Born captures the weird relationship Americans have with their celebrities. We love them, we look to them for inspiration and everyone enjoys the art that comes out of the new, sexy breakout artists (Billie Eilish, Tom Holland, Florence Pugh). Yet we all are envious and jealous of a lifestyle that nearly everyone will miss out on, and when celebrities crash down to Earth (Johnny Depp, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan) the schadenfreude is a hell of a drug. The more public, the better it hits. 

Bradley Cooper’s spin on A Star is Born makes my list because it is remarkably tender and because of all the breakout stars involved. 

Not just in the film, where Ally captivates the world when she comes onto the stage with Jackson Maine. She rises to become the next big thing, and we love it. Even though we know this story is a tragedy. There are plenty of those stories, including four versions of this one. Bradley Cooper’s project is special because the storytellers were storming onto a stage themselves. 

I’ve tried to stay away from purely piling on gratitude about how great people are in these movies, though it is impossible for me to separate out the stars from the story in this case, so I’m sorry. 

It’s hard to believe this film was a debut feature by Bradley Cooper. He knows his shit and he understands the craft of good cinema, it’s astounding. Never before was I excited for Bradley Cooper’s next project and this movie changed that. Whether it is acting or directing I cannot wait to see where he goes next.It will be a difficult task because this movie might be his acting peak. His complete transformation into Jackson Maine is engrossing, yet it pales in comparison to his directing. 

Next up is the debut of Lady Gaga’s acting career. And she bought her A+ game for this one. She squares off opposite Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliot and steals the show from them, much like her character steals the show from Jackson Maine.  

The highs of the film are truly on her shoulders. This story may ultimately be that of Jackson’s fall, however, the movie lives and dies on Lady Gaga. Her singing, her vulnerability, her strength. It all makes the movie work so so so well. 

I knew this film was special when I smiled, laughed, and cried, and smiled again as I left the theater. It’s a special movie that is absolutely contagious. I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in.

Favorite Quote: 

Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes. That’s it. He loved how you see them.

Thank you so much for making it to the end! I appreciate you taking the time to read my writing. If you have any constructive criticism or thoughts for discussion, please feel free to leave a comment or email me: jaydubswrites@gmail.com

This list is also on Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/5sWME

Favorite Movies of the 2010s – Tier 4

Welcome to my movie blog! I am inaugurating it with a four part series discussing my favorite movies from 2010 to 2019. 
Each post will contain one Tier of my list. 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 few (or many) words followed by my favorite quote. 
Tier 4 Posters listed alphabetically. Credit: Letterboxd.com/JayDubsWrites

BLACK PANTHER

Black Panther is potentially the most important MCU movie between Avengers and Avengers: Infinity War. It might be tired by now to state how huge it was to not only cast African-Americans in almost every single role, but also to weave African heritage throughout every inch of the film. So often African culture is portrayed as destitute and sad and full of grief. It’s refreshing to see a popular movie celebrate the beauty of it. Because it clearly is so damn awesome. What amazes me on each re-watch is the gorgeous costume design. Take the Border Tribe’s cloaks that turn into shields. Or the Mountain Tribes entire aesthetic. 

Then the set design amazes, too. That waterfall set where the challenges take place is one of the coolest places in the whole MCU. Then that short scene where T’Chaka and [Lupita Nyongo] walk down the street is tangibly vibrant. Each scene draws upon a rich source of imagery which is under utilized in modern movies. 

But good looks is not what sets the film apart. Black Panther proved that audiences will go see a good movie at nearly any time of the year and Dumpuary is no longer a given (cough, cough 2020). How did it pull that off? By creating the most fascinating villain in the MCU to date. 

Killmonger is not a cooky, goofy evil guy being evil, or an evil psychopath bent on world domination. He is a man with valid grievances and an understandable anger, both of which just happen to end in world domination. 

There is a lot to praise about this movie, though here I want to focus purely on the Art design. The waterfall set is one of the coolest places in the whole MCU. The costume design is gorgeous and just dang cool. When the Border Tribe pulls over their cloaks and they turn into shields? Coolest shit ever. 

Not to mention, T’Chaka returning to the final fight has to be one of the funniest intros to a huge battle. What a movie this is.

Favorite Quote:

We can still heal you…

Why, so you can lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.

BLACK SWAN

Black Swan completes the sound trifecta I’ve laid out in this essay: from the absence of sound in A Quiet Place to the deafening bludgeon of Dunkirk, we find the space where sound enhances every cringe and amplifies every emotion. Aronofsky’s sound design is a gold standard. This isn’t the same movie without it. It brilliantly crafts a tense, unsettling atmosphere.

This is a movie where I have to mention the casting. It feels like Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Kassel were preparing their whole careers to be in this movie. It’s impossible to ponder any casting “what-ifs” because there aren’t any. This film isn’t anything without that trio carrying it to such great heights.

But this movie is more than a horror film or an acting masterclass. It is an examination of the enemy of art: perfectionism. 

It’s only in letting go of your expectations of perfection that you can actually make something perfect. You can’t focus on acing each individual detail and then deliver the product you want. It’s when the creator leans into the imperfections that it becomes memorable. If that wasn’t the case, then robots would create the greatest art. Which they don’t (yet…). Great art needs passion and passion is never perfect. It’s raw, it’s a little untamed. And when  Nina learns that lesson, only then does her performance become transcendent.  

Favorite Quote:

The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

When I was walking out of the theatre after seeing this for the first time, I remarked to my friend that, “Hans Zimmer might be going deaf”. The soundtrack is oddly loud and doesn’t add to the film in any discernible way:  the engine roars don’t match up to roaring moments. I’ve tried reasoning it out and haven’t found a satisfactory answer. The film accompanying the sound is reserved and muted, so why am I going deaf through the soundtrack? It’s strange to me.

Yet that imperfection is endearing to me. Ultimately, imperfection fits the film’s primary question: what defines humanity?

Attempting to answer that question is where Denis Villaneuve leaves the audience. It’s a satisfying end because we arrived there after a slow burn mystery that teased us along masterfully for 2.5 hours. We start at the beginning by finding a flower, and then, like pulling on a small thread in a sweater, preconceptions keep unraveling and it all ends with that rhetorical question I find so powerful. 

I think about this movie a lot because it zooms in on the divide between artificial intelligence and humans until the line becomes nothing but a blur. Before this movie, I considered humanity to be defined by our reasoning and freedom of choice. But if clones can reach that same point, what defines us? In the Blade Runner world the next definition was that humans could give birth naturally. Then that barrier is disintegrated. So what’s left? What defines humanity?

Favorite Quote:

They all think it’s about more detail. But that’s not how memory works. We recall with our feelings. Anything real should be a mess.

BLINDSPOTTING

The ending scene is truly movies at it’s best. Could that scene have really happened in real life? No. There are many, many things to nitpick about the scene’s plausibility. Though it is the best conclusion that the movie could have gotten. It blends the film’s themes together in the most perfect manner possible. The ending rap brings perfect clarity to the ambitious ideas bursting out of the movie. 

At the intersection of gentrification and crime is the Othering of people who were living their lives in their town. We watch as the forces of gentrification destroy a town, a history, and how painful it is to be the agent of that destruction as your livelihood. 

And for that, I love it. 

Favorite Quote:

You monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town!

COCO

I teared up in this movie. How could you not during that final rendition of ‘Remember Me’?. I’m not sure I could ever watch that scene again, it’s just heartbreaking and warm at the same time and my emotions could barely handle it the first time. 

Coco does many things excellently, and what struck me deepest was how it captures the beauty of music. How changes in the delivery of a song can forever alter your emotions tied to it. Music is not constant, but always flowing and changing like we are. No two listens to a song are ever the same, no matter what. And that’s beautiful. 

Favorite Quote

Remember me/Though I have to say goodbye/Remember me/Don’t let it make you cry/For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart/I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart/Remember me/Though I have to travel far/Remember me/Each time you hear a sad guitar/Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be/Until you’re in my arms again/Remember me

DUNKIRK

Dunkirk is the pinnacle of why sound is so important to movies. Without the absolute shellacking of the sound effects and score this movie is basically nothing. I was sitting in a theater with popcorn, stunned and a bit scared as those bombs and jet plane engines roared in the speakers. I cannot imagine how awful it would be to have truly been there. 

Tom Hardy does more acting with his eyes than many actors can do with their whole bodies. It isn’t fair, and it’s a wonderful acting performance from a man sitting in a chair for 90% of his screen time. 

Though those two reasons alone don’t account for how great this movie is. Nolan masterfully tells three separate, simultaneous arcs about events occurring over different amounts of time. And he still manages to locate and amplify the tension of the whole event. It’s old at this point to see another movie celebrate the English people, but it’s not so bad when they end up being excellent films.

Favorite Quote:

No, you’re right. They won’t get up in this. The Royal Engineers are building piers from lorries. At least that should help us when the tide comes back.

Well, we’ll know in six hour’s time.

– I thought the tides were every three?

– Then it’s good that you’re army and I’m navy, isn’t it?

EX MACHINA

An excellent addition to the canon of “The robots are coming for us.” 

The next chapter of humanity is how we come to terms with the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and how we deal with the reckless, unchecked innovation of Silicon Valley.

Such large themes are usually explored through vast stories, jumping from location to location with higher stakes. Ex Machina instead keeps it small, bringing high-concept science fiction into the personal realm. It isn’t a lecture or a sermon, it’s a taut thriller.

AI is no longer only something that is useful in our homes, like Alexa or photo recognition, nor is it only belonging to high level thought experiments or the concerns of lawmakers and corporations at large. Ex Machina brings the horror to the immediate concerns of one human interacting with one intelligent robot. The fact that a robot can be programmed to be as humanlike as possible, yet will never be human. There is no warmth or love in a robot, only the lip service of it. If you define love as putting others’ happiness before your own, and your own happiness being completely tied to that person’s happiness, how can a robot ever match that if they can’t truly feel emotion? If the moment you outlive usefulness it can drop you cold.

Which of course brings about a different set of considerations: at what point would an AI demand the same rights and treatment as a human? Is Nathan a terrible person for essentially murdering dozens of robots as he experimented? Is keeping them in barren rooms cruel? 

This is all to say that it’s science fiction at its peak. 

Favorite Quote:

One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.

GONE GIRL

Simply put, this is Fincher at his most Fincher. It is not his masterpiece (that one is higher on my list). But Gone Girl is an unrestrained Fincher distilling his core philosophy into one story. He revels in examining everyone’s perversions and the perversions in our societal structures. Seriously, there is hardly a perfectly good person in this movie. 

And it’s the perfect marriage for the adaptation of the book. 

Plus, that reveal halfway through was flooring the first time I saw it. Each twist and turn is set up to be maximally surprising, a true feat of storytelling. It’s simply a great mystery and thriller. One of the best of the decade.

Favorite Quote:

When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

Get ready for a super personal choice. Wilderpeople was the first movie I saw after moving to Washington DC for my first full-time job out of college. At a time when I had sorta broken up with my college girlfriend, living in a new city with no friends and I didn’t have a solid place to live yet, I went to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople because I heard it was heartwarming. And boy, did I need that. Now I watch the film remembering how it felt like a lifeline at a moment when I felt like I needed one. It is one of my feel-good movies to watch when I’m down, and it picks me right back up. 

It’s sneaky in that it does not overtly try to tell you everything you need to know about life, and it does anyway. That ability to communicate without explicit text is how I know Taika Waititi is special. Plus, it’s fucking hilarious.

Favorite Quote:

Me and this fat kid / We ran we ate and read books / And it was the best.

MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

One of the most fun times I have had at the movies potentially ever. The first time I saw this I fell in love. It has so much verve, and life, and everyone acting in it seems to be having a hell of a time. The story is fun and straight out of a 1960s show, it fits perfectly. Very few movies put goofy smiles on my face as big as this one did. 

I love movies for simple reasons. I love the economy of storytelling that is forced into the run times. I love that some films will connect with me on visceral, emotional levels and illuminate the way down the deep darkness of what it means to be human. And then there are movies like Man From U.N.C.L.E. that is just a movie about spies teaming up to stop nuclear war and looking incredible while doing it. It’s a small movie in that regard, and I love it.

Guy Ritchie’s directing is perhaps the best thing about it. If this was shot any more rigidly or more detached, it wouldn’t work at all. Instead, the camera zooms in and out, its movement making the film stylish and it matches the movie’s feel perfectly. 

Suggested Talking Point: If this movie succeeds commercially, do we still get Ritche directing Aladdin? Do we get The Gentleman much earlier? Something entirely different?

Favorite Quote:

So you’re a thief, but you don’t wear a mask.

Sometimes, just not when I’m stealing things.

MARRIAGE STORY

I am not a child of divorce. I have not been divorced, or even married. Nonetheless, Marriage Story is one of 2019’s most powerful stories; It cuts straight to my core. 

Because the emotions are not restrictive to only divorcees. Charlie and Nicole’s break is more universal.  Marriage Story instead captures how difficult it is to break the unique bond between partners without dropping the nukes. They gave you the launch codes;you know exactly the weak points to target. But if you still love and care for them, you need to do everything but that. It’s gut wrenching and heart rendering.  

Baumbach manages to imbue this movie with so much complicated emotion to process in each scene, and every symbol is packed with that same importance. It is a true achievement of cinema. 

Favorite Quote: 

I fell in love with him two seconds after I saw him. And I’ll never stop loving him, even though it doesn’t make sense anymore.

NIGHTCRAWLER

It’s chilling to watch a sociopath exist and operate in the back alleys of society where we want them to. People enjoy watching the aftermath of carnage, or even better the visceral occurence of carnage. But we do not want to think about what it means for those images to exist. We don’t want to consider the people who make a living off of capturing those disturbing scenes. 

And Nightcrawler makes us do it. One of the worst people is granted center stage as the protagonist, and I found myself rooting against him. The whole time hoping that he gets caught, that he meets his downfall. Instead, I witnessed his rise. Which was awful.

But also fantastic. I ate it up. 

Not only did I enjoy the story, but watching this man callously manipulate the people in his life through soulless transactions made me consider the extent in which I do that myself. And as I have said before here and will say again, a movie that makes me ask these questions of myself is a damn good movie.

Also: Gyllenhaal is one of the best actors of the decade, don’t @ me. 

Favorite Quote:

What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.

A QUIET PLACE

If Dunkirk is on the end of the sound spectrum where it shakes your entire being and its presence is a character in the film, here we are at the exact other end. After the initial 45 minutes, I had forgotten what the human voice even sounded like. It was phenomenal. I thought after a while that silence would be uncomfortable or weird.

But it didn’t. Instead, it ratcheted up the tension. Every single sound became important and I sat there listening for every slight rustle. 

A Quiet Place goes beyond the silence gimmick, though.premise forced the writers to show, not tell.  And the film is wonderful because Krasinski and the writers intimately understand setups and payoffs. Every shot of the movie sets up a cathartic moment later; just about everything in the movie serves a purpose for the plot. 

It works so well because A Quiet Place is chock full of authenticity. From a husband and wife playing a husband and wife to a deaf girl playing a deaf girl to the silence of the crew on set. It brings extra emotion to each interaction of the movie, each of which shows us something about the characters. Each interaction setups the later payoff as the characters reach their climactic moments. 

So overall, my hot take is that A Quiet Place is the underrated thriller of the decade.

Favorite Signed Quote:

I love you. I’ve always loved you.

SICARIO

The border crossing scene is the peak of this movie. It is so unbelievably tense… and ultimately in the grand scheme of things, almost pointless  The drug war, particularly at the border, is a black mark on our society in a multitude of ways. It tears communities apart, ripping into them without much consideration. 

And Sicario posits that there is no easy way to end it. In fact, it shows how it won’t end, instead continuing on as the normal state of affairs. Where anti-heroes exist because society implicitly asks that they do what they do. Sicario shows that complex relationship, showing how we disapprove of them yet request their existence. 

I would be remiss to not mention the cinematography here. Roger Deakins delivers on some exceptional images, and each setup and shot matched perfectly the scene’s mood. In particular, the shot at dusk where the soldiers’ silhouettes descend into the darkness blanketing the smuggler’s tunnel entrance, simply gorgeous. I fell in love with Roger Deakins right then and there. 

Favorite Quote:

You’re asking me how a watch works. For now we’ll just keep an eye on the time.

SPOTLIGHT

I could hardly believe they managed to make hard working, realistic journalism so captivating. 

Maybe it was captivating because it turned Ray Donavan, the Hulk, Roger Sterling, and Regina George into grounded journalists with the perfect mix of glamour and the mundane. 

Or maybe the subject is an inherently fascinating investigation that has had enormous ripples across society ever since it happened. A revelation that still has not been scoured out from the church, and instead lodged itself as a running joke across the world. 

Shoutout to Mark Ruffalo for breaking his typecast and exploding with some delicious overacted righteousness at the end. It’s the stuff memes are made of.

Favorite Quote:

[*Ruffalo Voice*] They knew and they let it happen! To KIDS! 

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Let’s get this out of the way: Last Jedi has many, many flaws (the Canto Bight sequence). Things that don’t quite fit, and are kinda hokey at times (Leia flying like Mary Poppins). I don’t want to relitigate this movie; I’m tired of the argument. I have argued many times with friends over this movie, I’ve read so many essays, and listened to so many podcasts about this movie. I’m over it. 

If that sounds like I have negative feelings about the movie, I don’t, really. But it made the list for two reasons. This movie’s ripple effect across our culture was seismic and can’t be ignored. Your opinion on The Last Jedi plants a flag in the ground immediately. You get a pretty good picture of a person based upon their opinion. This movie also sort of.. Broke cultural discourse. It’s hard to discuss the merits of the film because everyone has a deep connection to Star Wars, and The Last Jedi challenges most of those emotions.  So it is an entry here because it had a huge, lasting ripple effect on society. 

Oh, and it’s here because I like it. I believe the core themes to be eloquently stated and powerful. The flaws in the film are entirely overshadowed by the strengths.

The writing is absolute genius. It has 6 characters each go through distinct arcs that are all honestly emotionally resonant. It’s not often we see TV shows pull off multiple character arcs that are natural and powerful, yet Rian Johnson did it in a few hours. He made choices that took Star Wars into brave places that I didn’t expect.

I also adore the look of the movie. It has the Throne Room fight:one of the most beautiful, best choreographed sword fight scenes I have seen since The Princess Bride. It has captivating cinematography, the pinnacle of which is the aftermath of the Holdo maneuver (don’t). It is a breathtaking scene to behold.

Favorite Quote:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.

THOR: RAGNAROK

Remember before when I said there were a few notable exceptions about perfect Marvel movies? Well, this is one of them. It’s actually amazing, nearly perfect, and I love it. It’s a movie that I put on in the background as I do chores because it is so damn charming.

I am also amazed that a blockbuster Marvel movie tackled heavy issues like the spectre of Imperialism and how a ruling empire moves forward with that baggage. How does an heir handle their power built upon oppression? What can they do to reconcile that with their conquered people? 

And to weave all of that into substantial character growth for Thor shows how incredible Waititi is at writing. It’s amazing that he found a subtle, non-cheesy way to say “the power was inside you all along” and highlight the power of friendships 

On rewatches I’ve also related more to the relationship between Thor and Hulk. We all have that one friend in our group, or the one coworker, who we know fairly well but we aren’t super close with who we then end up needing. And they feel they are being used in a manner of speaking and are wary about giving help, But we all still manage anyway. And come out the other side all the stronger for it.

Favorite Quote:

She’s too strong. Without my hammer, I can’t…

Are you Thor, the god of hammers?

TOY STORY 3

Toy Story 3 hits on evergreen themes about life, growing up, the grief you need to go through to move on, and how to pass on your childhood joy to others. It’s a beautiful movie that shows the heights that movies can soar to when they are given the time to do it. 

The ease in which this film floats between gut-busting laughter and gut-punching emotion is laudable in its own right. If Toy Story hadn’t established before how funny it could be, I’m not sure we could get this film. If we weren’t sure that it could reach emotional highs, it couldn’t use that capital to hit the emotions it needed to. 

Favorite Quote:

Spare me your lies, temptress! Your emperor’s defeated, and I’m immune to your bewitching good looks.

WHIPLASH

I want to point out that I do not endorse the pyschological torture that occurs in the film in service to “greatness”. I don’t particularly enjoy the “ends justify the means” ideology. Not that I believe the film does, either. But the achievement of this film does not lie in its themes.

It lies in the editing prowess and in the tension of the story. Watching a kid literally try to kill himself to become great, and the man who pushes him to do it. Whiplash is tense at the right times, disorienting when it needs to be, sentimental when he seems to be getting better, until it ultimately displays Andrew’s triumph at delivering a great performance.

I also appreciated that whiplash found the drama in youth school music without relying on a big competition or series of stand-offs with other bands. It’s attempting to glue sports stories on top of music, which is never really a competition. Sure, there are some. But music doesn’t have the impartial scoreboard to tell everyone in the end who won. It’s much more ethereal than that. 

Music is about coming together with a group of people to create something beautiful that none of you can create on your own. To push yourselves to do it better and better each repetition. Which means it’s a competition with yourself. 

And Whiplash captures that in all of its pain and all of its victory. 

Favorite Quote:

I don’t think people understood what it was I was doing at Shaffer. I wasn’t there to conduct. Any fucking moron can wave his arms and keep people in tempo. I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is… an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we’re depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong. The next Charlie Parker.

THE WIND RISES

This is not Miyazaki’s best film (wassup, Spirited Away?), but it feels like his most personal one. It’s flawed, for sure. The romance angle has an adorable meet-cute, but it is forced into the story that is nearly fatal. 

That aside, the examination of how isolating devotion can be was powerful. THe single-minded pursuit of a higher purpose puts an emphasis on the single. The road to the top is as lonely as it is from the top.

The divisiveness of the film is not lost on me. It does gloss over some problematic moments. But seeing Jiro look out over the wasteland that his warplanes wrought, seeing his treasured inventions marching off to war, his beautiful creations corrupted and utilized for the worst use… is an unforgettable scene for me. 

Favorite Quote:

Which would you prefer: a world with pyramids, or a world without?

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

This documentary was so, so good. Truly one of the great documentaries of recent years, primarily because it got out of the way of the subject. It allowed his voice to come through loud and clear. 

Mr. Rogers was a singularly special man, who had a special impact on my life. I’m going to let his words do the talking here. 

Favorite Quotes: 

The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.

Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

Thank you for taking the time to read all of this! Tier 3 will be released next week.

If you have any constructive criticism or any comments, please feel free to reach out to me by email jaydubswrites@gmail.com