It is December 2019, I am looking forward to the new year. The hope that 2020 will bring a fresh start perhaps has added weight due to the events of the last decade. What my Top 20 of the Decade list will be, is a personal list. If you know me, some of these choices will not be a surprise, but hopefully there are enough ‘left-field’ choices to have you, the reader, surprised.
So, lets get going. 15 to 11.
15. THE RAID (2011, Gareth Evans)
Welsh director Gareth Evans conjured up an action movie which, whilst simple in its premise, delivered on the promise his sophomore feature MERANTAU did back in 2009. THE RAID is basically just about some cops going into a tower block to take down a crime boss who lives there. There are gunfights, and there are fist fights.
And, oh boy, the fist fights. Giving Iko Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian a chance to showcase Pencak Silat, a martial arts fight style originated from Indonesia. Before JOHN WICK delivered gun fights which you could actually see, THE RAID delivered a martial arts film where the fights were works of art. The sequel is like THE GODFATHER II, expanding the world, making it more grand and epic, whereas this is the genesis. It is small, contained, exhilirating and spectacular.
14. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013, Joel and Ethan Coen)
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is one of the best films about creativity. And I am not talking about BARTON FINK levels of creativity, I am talking about living with the fact you may just be too early for the boat to come. The final scene where Llewyn finishes his set to muted applause, and Bob Dylan comes on to perform in the bar is tragic. If only.
The film is darkly funny, following on from the 2009 masterpiece A SERIOUS MAN. Oscar Isaac understands that his character is agressively downbeat, never confident enough in himself to make it. Living on the sofas of friends and relatives, Llewyn is a lost soul. Much like the cat.
13. HER (2013, Spike Jonze)
We are glued to our phones. Glued to technology. Our relationships are pretty much defined by our digital avatars. Spike Jonze’s HER presents the next step. Relationships are hard work, with Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) presented as a broken man needing to feel loved, and to love someone. After finding that moving on from a break up is hard for him to cope with, he turns to buying OS 1 who becomes Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). And they fall in love.
The aesthetic of the film is futuristic, yet it feels as though it could be tomorrow. A.I. is presented as this wonderful human creation that can do wonders, a farcry from the warning signs of the technology we have been fed before. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema takes inspiration from photographer Rinko Kawauchi, the visuals are full of life and vibrancy. This is a beautiful film.
12. THE MASTER (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson)
In 2014, we lost the great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Out of all of his great performances, and there are a lot, THE MASTER is probably the best of them all. Taken inspiration from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Lancaster Dodd is a frightening yet utterly flawed creation. Yet Hoffman plays him with such an assured presence, that nothing can get under his skin. Enter the volatile, angry, erratic Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). The two men vie for supremacy, the fight over each other and themselves. They are two men who cannot be together yet should not be seperated.
Shot on 65mm, and released on 70mm, THE MASTER feels like Paul Thomas Anderson showing the doubters that after winning praise for THERE WILL BE BLOOD, he could do it again. He shows so much control of the picture, knowing when and where to place the frame. This is PTA at his controlled best. When he returns to the screen for the incomprehensibly hazy INHERENT VICE in 2014, he goes back to having fun. THE MASTER was something else.
11. BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017, Denis Villeneuve)
This shouldn’t have been good. Let alone be a masterpiece. Let alone be 2 and half hours of cinematic awe. Let alone be a sequel to one of the greatest films of all time. When this was announced, apprehension and dismay was what I felt. Honestly, couldn’t Hollywood just leave this be. We don’t need a sequel to BLADE RUNNER. Actually, we do. Expecially when directed by Denis Villennueve, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, and shot by the brilliant Roger Deakins.
What was so good about BLADE RUNNER 2049 was that it didn’t bother to answer the questions that Ridley Scott posited in the original. It just set out on it’s own trajectory. Led by a controlled Ryan Gosling as K, he sets out on his own path. And it is only only this path that we meet Deckard (Harrison Ford) again. I feel very lucky that I got to see this in the cinema. Especially seeing as though I feel like I was the only one (it bombed). BLADE RUNNER 2049 shows the future, and even through its bleakness do we see a glimmer of hope.