Below you’ll find #’s 75-51 in my 2016 update of the Top 75 Movies of the Decade (so far). For my info as to why/how I do this and to see which movies were bumped in order to create room for 2015 movies, click here.
#75) Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken
Box Office: $33 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 83%/66
While not quite a darkly comic masterpiece to the levels of In Bruges or McDonagh’s plays, Seven Psychopaths still brings a story that reveals itself as it moves forward in twisted ways that also provides an outlet for a talented cast to do their most unrestrained work. The idea of an alcoholic screenwriter struggling with writer’s block isn’t exactly new, but being pure McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths doesn’t use its premise as anything more than a jumping off point in the truest sense of the term. No writer knows Colin Farrell’s voice better than McDonagh, and Sam Rockwell is perfect here in the type of role he should do more often. By the time the film reaches its wacky climax, you’re not entirely sure what you’re witnessing. But you sure as hell are laughing and feeling a bit bad about laughing. What more could a McDonagh fan ask for?
#74) Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Director: David O’Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jackie Weaver
Box Office: $236 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 92%/81
This movie lost a lot of its power on second viewing for me. It works because of the undeniable chemistry between its two leads; but its oversentimentality causes it to lose luster, and it really only plays around with one theme (people you think are crazy deserve love too!). There’s still plenty to love, however. Jennifer Lawrence gives off this unhinged sex appeal thanks to her ability to handle her characters unpredictability in a relatable way. Bradley Cooper proves himself as a dramatic actor, never going over-the-top with the highs and lows of his bipolar character. While there are moments in Silver Linings Playbook that belong in a Lifetime movie, for the most part, those moments are able to successfully hide behind the talented performers acting them out.
#73) Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Director: J.J Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Ubran
Box Office: $467 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 87%/72
Before that little movie that could from 2015, J.J. Abrams successfully rebooted another sci-fi franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness, while not as fresh as its predecessor, is still a very solid summer blockbuster. It’s funny. It understands what made its characters work the first time around. The CGI looks great. And most importantly it brings with it a great villain (Benedict Cumberbatch as…never mind). There are Trekkies who had a problem with the way this film attempted to rewrite the universes history, but who cares what the Trekkies think? When you’re making a $180 million movie, you have to concern yourself with a lot more than just the diehards. Abrams made this movie as bubblegum entertainment for the average moviegoer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
#72) Kick-Ass (2010)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicholas Cage
Box Office: $96 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 76%/66
With Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn finally found the source material required to make his irreverent, uber-violent fantasies work on screen. In the years since, we’ve seen many superhero movies be more comedic takes on superhero movies than actual superhero movies themselves. But Kick-Ass felt fresh in 2010. Even Nicholas Cage looked like he had fun with this one. Vaughn showed off his ability to handle both complicated fight choreography and immature bathroom humor in equal parts. His style can be off-putting to some, but his films are never self-serious which makes me wonder how anyone gets “offended” by them.
#71) Godzilla (2014)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanbe
Box Office: $529 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 74%/62
Gareth Edwards did such a fine job with this movie and I’m glad he got the chance to do a Star Wars movie because of it. Its slow pace in its first hour works as both an homage to classic monster films and as a way to outline some semblance of characters before the destruction begins. Of course, that wouldn’t matter if Godzilla himself didn’t look and sound fucking awesome. The creature design, digital execution of that creature design, and sound design are all something to behold. Godzilla really had to be seen in theatres (or at least on a good-ass home system) to be fully appreciated.
#70) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
Box Office: $682 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 93%/75
Has any franchise naturally found second life to the extent that Mission: Impossible has? Rather than try to modernize itself too much or add social relevance, these movies continue to put the action first. The results are exhilarating. The “I’m on the plane” scene, the opera house melee, the underwater “heist”, the motorcycle chase. All near-perfect action sequences built around stunt work as opposed to CGI overloads. McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit stage and shoot them in a way that always allows for perspective. Quick cuts become an extended shot which becomes more quick cuts. It’s action porn, really. Then there’s Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise-y as ever in the role of Ethan Hunt. Simon Pegg is there for the comedic relief. Somehow Rebecca Ferguson manages to upstage both of them. A very fun movie. The second-best in the franchise (hint hint).
#69) Margin Call (2011)
Director: J. C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto
Box Office: $20 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 88%/76
J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut, Margin Call is the nuanced, clever Wall Street dramedy that The Big Short thinks it is. It’s very talky, but so many ideas stem from the talking. Not just the financial jargon, but from the different beats and tones these well-acted characters take with one another. Margin Call is just as much a simple office comedy as it is a high-reaching thinking man’s movie. This is why the film works better than other Wall Street movies that try to teach us something. Rather than mock its audience or take a highbrow approach, it gives the everyday individual moments we can relate to, with those moments just happening to take place at an investment bank during the 2008 Financial Crisis.
#68) 127 Hours (2010)
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco
Box Office: $61 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 93%/82
A very ballsy movie. 85% of it is set in one location, with the camera on one man, and everyone knows the ending going into it. This movie should’ve been a snoozefest. But Danny Boyle keeps it tight. It’s just 93 minutes long, the music/editing make it feel even shorter than that, and James Franco gives a career-best performance playing off nothing but himself. He’s Matt Damon in The Martian basically, only without the gorgeous 3D photography behind him to distract.
#67) This Is the End (2013)
Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride
Box Office: $126 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 83%/67
With its cast of frat comedians playing exaggerated versions of themselves, This Is the End is basically a group of dudes clowning each other with in-jokes, only in this case those in-jokes often reference popular movies and celebrities. Its script is entirely built on you having seen all these guys’ earlier movies. While that overreliance on pop culture references can make it tough to approach, modern movie nerds will find plenty to laugh at. There are specific moments (the Michael Cera/Rihanna scene, the Emma Watson “rape” scene) that I can’t believe I actually saw on film. The shit was hilarious, to put it eloquently. Goldberg and Rogen as a writing/producing team know their audience.
#66) Contagion (2011)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet
Box Office: $135 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 84%/70
Dealing with the outbreak of a deadly virus as its subject, Contagion tells many stories. There’s the actual medical efforts made to contain it, the political/social ramifications, and a smaller personal story in play as well. The ensemble cast all put in great work despite limited screen time and very carefully constructed scenes on a directorial level. This film shows Soderbergh in complete control of his craft. It’s not a cynical film, but it feels so documentary-esque that you can’t help but think “what if” for most of the film. In that sense, Contagion is a horror movie. It’s also a thriller that moves briskly and packs a ton of material into its 106-minute runtime (credit editor Stephen Mirrione? Soderbergh usually cuts his own films). This is one of the most efficient movies I’ve ever seen, in terms of both the plot’s larger scale and its semi-intertwined character conflicts.
#65) Shame (2011)
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Box Office: $12 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 79%/72
Before he made 12 Years a Slave (which, spoiler alert, ranks high on this list) Steve McQueen made Shame, a movie that got slapped with an NC-17 in the US. It’s not some gimmicky film. It’s about a sex addict (Michael Fassbender), basically. But it dives deep into the darkness and never lets up. It’s difficult to watch at times, not because of the explicit nature of its sex scenes, but because of how it treats its protagonist. It’s more about addiction in general than sex specifically, and it explores the addiction-ladled mind like no other film I’ve seen. Fassbender is something to behold here. Like McQueen’s story, his performance refuses to commit to making you sympathize with or strongly despise the character. It’s remarkably human. His best performance to date, which is saying something.
#64) End of Watch (2012)
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña
Box Office: $58 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 85%/68
It’s better than other modern cop films because it strays away from a “who done it” or story of corruption. It manages to be better than other handheld camera films because it puts its emphasis on the relationship between its two leads rather than some cheap thrills. When shit goes down in End of Watch, you’re invested in Gyllenhaal and Peña because those actors appear to be invested in each other. Two of the finest actors around playing off each other like they’re buds in real life. Even handicam gimmicks can’t ruin that.
#63) Enemy (2013)
Director: Dennis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Box Office: $3 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 75%/61
From Dennis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners). Enemy is his least approachable English-language movie. Its tension isn’t obvious, at least not in the early going. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as two very different characters (ooooooh or are they the same?). The experiences those characters have after learning about one another offer many jumping off points for discussions on individuality, totalitarian states, and of course the character’s actual identity. The film is also ripe with visual motifs that fuel whatever your analysis may be. Theories aside, the movie is simply GOOD. Impressive photography, Gyllenhaal at his best, and a very tight narrative that never wanders too far from its rather simple plot. The final shot has sparked many think pieces, and it’s something to behold. Surprising, yet not too surprising when you think about it in hindsight.
#62) Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, Sophie Cookson
Box Office: $414 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 74%/58
Perhaps even more Matthew Vaughn-y than Kick-Ass, this surprising R-rated hits adapts the graphic novel series that pokes fun at, while also imitating, action/espionage franchises such as Bond. Everything about Kingsman is so heavily stylized, from its fighting to its use of music to its actual costume style (“Oxfords, not brogues” is sound advice) that it has no problem staying human while bordering on the ridiculous. The entire cast is great. Mark Strong and Colin Firth channel their unprecedented coolness. Samuel L. Jackson has never been this silly and free of restraint. And relative newcomer Taron Egerton proves himself as a potent leading man who should now be near the top of every franchise’s wish list. The extended massacre in the Church has brought about much controversy, as have the films supposed “anti-environmentalist” motives (not to mention the anal sex joke at the end). Were the PC police watching the same movie as the rest of us? To take Kingsman: The Secret Service seriously and try to draw anything from it is to miss out on the fun this movie successfully integrates. Not everything has a “point”. This movie has a character who literally had razor blades for legs.
#61) Chronicle (2012)
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Alex Russell, Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan
Box Office: $126 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 85%/69
For my money, the “found footage” style of fillmaking wore out its welcome the moment folks saw what The Blair Witch Project did and tried to replicate its success, not realizing that film is great for reasons beyond the camera gimmick. Chronicle manages to succeed despite its basic style due to its creative visual effects and outstanding young cast, whose characters are fully realized in a script that pushes them close enough to stereotypes to be relatable but not too close so to seem fake. The movie has plenty of surprises along the way; and its whips through its 84-minute runtime like a bullet. This is compact, fun filmmaking that shows off the talent involved. It’s easy to see why Hollywood would hand Josh Trank something like Fantastic Four after seeing this. If only that had worked out.
#60) Blue Jasmine (2013)
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay
Box Office: $98 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 91%/78
While not Woody Allen’s smartest or funniest work this decade, Blue Jasmine rises above any possible criticism because Cate Blanchett is just that damn good. Maybe it’s a little too close to A Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe it is a little too “narcissist, first-world problems” (though I personally don’t think either of those are legitimate gripes). While many of these characters are infuriating it can still be quite entertaining to watch their pretention crumble. Even if you don’t like the movie itself, Blanchett’s performance is an all-timer. This is the best actress of her generation operating at the peak of her powers.
#59) The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner
Box Office: $392 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 77%/75
The Wolf of Wall Street is either a hilarious but shallow take on typical male fantasy or a scathing satire of the American dream and its potential pitfalls, depending on how you watch it. You can root for Jordan Belfort and his shenanigans, or you can view him as a drug-dependent piece of shit and leave it at that. Depending on how you watch the movie, certain scenes are other laugh-out-loud funny or appalling. The films refusal to commit to one or the other ultimately limits its message, but bravo to Scorsese for being able to capture this unique tone over the course of three hours, and bravo to DiCaprio for leaving it all onscreen (this is a far better performance than the one he just won an Oscar for). Add in some beautifully filmed sequences as well as a breakout turn from Margot Robbie and you’re looking at an enjoyable movie, albeit a deeply flawed one.
#58) The Drop (2014)
Director: Michael R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini
Box Office: $19 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 89%/69
The story loses itself the more it reveals and there are many elements you’d see on a bad TV show, but those problems are easy to overlook when you have both Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini working at their usual levels. Gandolfini is perfect as man doing bad things with the best intentions, even if that concept is a bit played out in crime drama. Hardy is even better as a man who more or less amounts to a bystander in terms of plot early on, but who’s personality prevents him from staying out entirely. The photography and music give Brooklyn life, which helps the contained feel of this film. There’s no mass conspiracy at play or gigantic stakes. The Drop plays as a story that is probably going somewhere right now at a neighborhood bar you visit. The human touches Hardy and Gandolfini give their characters –little things like walking patterns and subtle throat clearing- only add to that.
#57) Spotlight (2015)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Live Schrieber, Stanley Tucci
Box Office: $74 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 96%/93
I’ve seen it three times now, and I’ve appreciated more each time. I still feel the way it keeps character as a device on the sidelines holds it back from being the movie it so clearly wants to be (All the President’s Men), but the extremely journalistic approach Spotlight takes to journalism does its story justice and allows for the script to stand out (a rarity nowadays). The cast is exceptional, with Ruffalo being the scene-stealer. The way he holds his body and gets excited over little details in his colleagues’ dialogue shows careful attention put into the words. I also found that the photography, which cuts no corners when it comes to showing the prominence of the Catholic Church in Boston on an architectural level, reinforces the odds these journos were up against without ever rubbing your face in it. Spotlight is a movie so concerned with staying tight and agile at all times. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s certainly a good movie. And, dem khakis yo.
#56) 22 Jump Street (2014)
Director: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum
Box Office: $331 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 85%/71
What Deadpool is to superhero movies, 22 Jump Street was to Hollywood sequels as a whole. This is a movie that openly lampoons the “make it bigger and louder!” formula, all the while playing into that very formula. It manages to do this without become pure self-parody because Hill and Tatum are so, so good together. Lord & Miller have proven themselves to be filmmakers (both here and with The LEGO Movie) who genuinely understand their large audience; what they relate to and what they like mocking. Moving forward, this franchise will crossover with Men in Black. My interest depends directly on if Lord & Miller are involved in any major capacity (which doesn’t seem to be the case).
#55) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell
Box Office: $710 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 90%/79
This is what imaginative, big-budget filmmaking is supposed to look like. Rather than create a clusterfuck of purely digital images, the effects teams here double-down on the facial motion-capture that made Any Serkis’ ape come alive in the first one, and then broaden the horizon by bringing in more apes. Everything about this movie –from the apes close-up, to the detailed shots of them in groups, to the sets they inhabit- looks incredible. It also helps that the story has something on its mind and the human cast is up to snuff (specifically Oldman). Filmmaking technology has reached the point where any studio SHOULD be able to make a movie this awesome if the throw $150 million and halfway fleshed-out script into it. Why then, does Dawn of the Planets of the Apes feel like an outlier rather than the norm?
#54) Warrior (2011)
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Nick Nolte
Box Office: $23 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 83%/71
Another film that manages to circumvent genre clichés (in this case, those of the sports movie) thanks to a noteworthy, transformative performance from Tom Hardy. Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte are very good as well. The film sets itself up in a way that creates a few semi-climactic moments, also refusing to allow you to really “root” for one of the two brothers over the other (Edgerton and Hardy star as MMA Fighters/estranged siblings, fyi). The actual fight scenes are quite intense. Along with Miracle, this gives Gavin O’Connor two of the finest sports movies of the century thus far.
#53) Snowpiercer (2014)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer
Box Office: $87 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 95%/84
Joon-ho’s first primarily English-language film shows off his style, complete with slow motion sequences and sudden tonal shifts. While the premise (world is over, surviving humans are on a train, front of the train is the rich, back is the poor) is a bit elementary in terms of a class warfare story; the physical plot of the film quite literally being about moving forward/onward/upward at all times reinforces its ideas. The set design is great, giving each car on the train a life of its own. Action sequences are unflinching and intense. Chris Evans leaves the Vibranium shield at home and gives his best performance (he has a few scenes in the final act that show his stuff as a dramatic actor). Octavia Spencer is great too, as always.
#52) Brooklyn (2015)
Director: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Box Office: $55 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 97%/87
A perfectly quiet love story rich in period detail and emotional heft. Brooklyn is very old-school not just in its 1950’s setting but in its sense of bewilderment about everything, as any great movie dealing with young love should be. The film never tries too hard to extend its reach beyond its own intimate story (and given the larger context of the main characters “choice”, it easily could have). Saoirse Ronan proves herself (again), and what a breakout from Emory Cohen. Brooklyn isn’t the type of film that shamelessly tries to spark debate. It just tells its story in the purest way imaginable. What a relief.
#51) The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Director: Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kanz, Jesse Williams
Box Office: $67 million
Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 92%/72
Another film that jumps on the recent trend of mocking its own genre, The Cabin in the Woods is perfect for anyone (like myself) who finds horror movies as a whole to be stale at this point. Very little in this film isn’t meant as a joke. The characters are intentionally written to fill the teenage/college stereotypes you always see. Played out visual/narrative motifs –the “warnings”, certain shots pre-jump scene- are so obvious. When the source of the terror is fully revealed you simply have to chuckle at its ridiculousness. Despite all of this, the movie contains some genuine thrills. It’s an achievement in tone. The type of film only geek Gods like Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard could come up with.
Come back soon as the next 10 in my updated rankings will be revealed.