Below you’ll see #’s 10-6 in my 2016 update of The Top 75 Movies of the Decade (so far). We’re into the top 10. To see an explanation of the list and what was bumped this year, click here.
#10) Inception (2010)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanbe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy
Box Office: $825 million
Rotten Tomatoes/MetaCritic: 86%/74
Inception is the type of movie you get to make only after you’ve proven yourself capable of using visual motifs to piece together an unconventional narrative (like Memento) AND handling the enormous set pieces/tricky action sequences that come with a nine-figure budget (like The Dark Knight). This movie shows off the best of both Christopher Nolan’s. As a pure box office case study, it’s fascinating. An original concept with no franchise tie-in that runs 2 & ½ hours makes over $800M???? Credit the draw of Nolan. Credit the mysterious promotion that showed just enough without giving anything away (those were the days). Credit the bulletproof star power of DiCaprio. Also, the movie just kicks ass.
Inception isn’t really the perplexing psychological thriller some make it out to be. After its first sequence and all the way up to its final one, it’s pretty clear “where” we are at all times. What makes the story so fascinating are some of the subtle, odd details within any given dream. Really though, Inception is just a near-perfect action-heist movie. It’s got the charismatic cast –one of DiCaprio’s better turns, an uber-cool Tom Hardy, a perfectly out of her element Ellen Page- to go with a globe-spanning premise that makes use of both creative CGI and impressive location selection.
There are many filmmakers who can handle the action of Inception, and there are many who can work to hone in an otherwise silly concept. Few can do both. That’s why Nolan is such an important filmmaker. Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises may have been overly ambitious for my personal tastes, but Inception proves that Nolan is a director deserving of the gigantic budgets and complete control he receives. Any movie he makes is an event.
#9) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Box Office: $378 million
Rotten Tomatoes/MetaCritic: 97%/90
Little I can say about George Miller’s dystopian masterpiece that wasn’t said amidst the onslaught of think pieces on the film last year. Mad Max: Fury Road is simply a perfect singular action movie (it’s not really connected to Miller’s three others). Every technical/design element is word class. The story brings about weightier themes than you’d expect from a chase film. And it’s littered with dedicated performances. This is a tight, exhilarating movie. That’s a rarity in the age of the overlong franchise holdovers.
If directing a movie is about combining one’s vision with the art of oversight, it’s hard to find a clearer directorial achievement than Mad Max: Fury Road. It combines stunt work with gorgeous CGI. It’s very much a Point A-to-Point B story, but its characters each have their own fleshed-out motives during the chase. Miller’s original Mad Max trilogy was ahead of its time in regards to both its dystopian design and brisk pacing. The film world needed this Australian dude to reinvent the American action movie.
Miller’s new film is in line with his original vision but executed with newer, better technology and a bigger budget. This was a risky move by Warner Bros. Trying to reignite a long dead franchise by making an R-rated movie with a $150M dollar budget. Ten Oscar nominations later (and six wins), I think it’s safe to say it paid off. Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action movie of the last twenty years, and somehow that statement makes me feel like I’m selling it short.
#8) Ex Machina (2015)
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
Box Office: $37 million
Rotten Tomatoes/MetaCritic: 92%/78
Ex Machina is such a confident directorial debut. It’s certainly weighty; as both a play on both the male sexual fantasy and a “technology is getting dangerous/do robots think?” movie, but at no point does Ex Machina feel pretentious or overly ambitious. Credit a script that finds tension through dialogue, setting up the protagonist (Gleeson) as a nervous lens through which we experience the story. All three principal performances are pitch perfect. Gleeson reacts, mostly. Oscar Isaac plays a great drunken reclusive billionaire genius. It’s the rawest of his performances.
And of course, there’s Alicia Vikander in the role she should’ve won her Oscar for. As the manipulatively seductive artificial intelligence Ava, Vikander shifts between seeming to be in full control and the complete opposite. She manipulates by pretending to acting as if she’s the one being manipulated. Vikander can do so much with her eyes alone. This role requires that since she moves and speaks robotically. It’s a pantheon-level performance.
Consider some creative VFX work and sleek, futuristic production design and it’s clear that Garland’s visualization of this film from the writers chair came to fruition. At no point is this movie not chilling and thought-provoking. Even when it ends in a “that’s all?” fashion, you’re still thinking about it. It’s damn near perfect minimalist science-fiction.
#7) The Social Network (2010)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer
Box Office: $225 million
Rotten Tomatoes/MetaCritic: 96%/95
Aaron Sorkin’s writing suggest he believes all geniuses are, naturally, sort of douchey. Using Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as the subject, Sorkin and David Fincher create a film about ego more so than about social media. As Facebook grows, Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) becomes increasingly off-putting. We see relationships crumble.
The cast is great all-around. This was the “Oh Jesse Eisenberg is actually #good” moment for most people; and also a huge breakout for Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer. David Fincher never lets the film to lose an ounce of tension, despite it more or less being a collection of conversations between smart dudes. This is every bit as enthralling as his murderous films like Se7evn and Zodiac.
The music kicks ass, and the film is pieced together perfectly. Fincher found the best way to tell this story, even if it tends to get a bit too Sorkiny at times.
#6) Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Director: The Coen Bros
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver
Box Office: $33 million
Rotten Tomatoes/MetaCritic: 93%/92
Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coens quietest film, and I’d argue it’s their darkest as well. It may not contain stylized violence but it carries a tone a little too cynical to call it melancholy. Llewyn (Oscar Isaac, tha gawd) is a starving artist, literally, hoping to make it in the 60’s folk scene in Greenwich Village. He doesn’t want to compromise his art for financial gain. He’s homeless. It’s getting cold and he doesn’t have a coat. He’d be easy to root for; except he’s a total asshole.
Llewyn makes for one of the best protagonists ever put on film, and Isaac plays him with this perfect sense of unearned pretention and bitterness towards everyone. The supporting cast makes for a great contrast since the characters are generally happy. There are hilarious moments –the scene in the studio with Driver & Timberlake, the car ride with John Goodman- to go with the sobering ones. Again, Inside Llewyn Davis is all about its contrasts.
It works as a period piece due to the cool costumes, music, and set design. There’s also this Vonnegutian subplot with the cat that helps create tangible conflict when most of the films conflict comes from Llewyn’s head. This is the Coens most personal film. It may just be their best as well.
CHECK BACK SOON FOR THE TOP 5.