Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

Tag: Spotlight

No Marvel Included – My 40 Favourite Films of the Decade

Fully aware of everything I haven’t seen, these are what I consider my 40 favourite films (all categories included), released in the decade now coming to an end. An era seemingly defined by the superhero genre, which, I might add, is not represented here. Now you know. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a Marvel or DC adventure now and then, but – how many of them are truly great cinema? SPOILER ALERT 2: a few filmmakers have stood out more than others in these last ten years; Nolan. Villeneuve. Garland. Cuarón. It will show. Also, I will emphasize the difficulty in ranking these films in a particular order. The difference in quality and impact between number one and, say, 20, is not really huge. These are all works of art and storytelling that I deeply appreciate for somewhat varying reasons. 

1. Spotlight (Directed by Thomas McCarthy, 2015). Classic storytelling. Traditional. Methodic. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Dealing with a sort of traditional, painstakingly thorough investigative journalism that might fall prey to the great extinction. Hopefully not. And hopefully these kinds of films are not a completely dying breed either. 

2. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). Layers on layers of dreams and adventures in the subconscious. Maybe more than a strictly speaking healthy dose of food for thought. But it does provide lasting impressions of an ambivalent variety that clearly shows a master has been at work, playing with our minds and stirring our senses. 

3. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018). “Mean Girls”; 18th Century version. Could have been insufferable, but turns out so improbably right in all aspects that it becomes irresistible. 

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015). Basically all action and no plot, but what action! And what visual extravaganza! I surrender. 

5. The Handmaiden (Chan-wook Park, 2016). Basically all advanced plotting and no action, at least not action action. But consistently surprising, mesmerizing and maybe the working definition of infernal affairs. 

6. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014). Who is most real? What is conscience? And which is Alicia Vikander’s best role so far? Maybe this one. Maybe. 

7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016 ). One of the decade’s most significant auteurs explores humanity confronting the unknown, but probably most of all, the very concept of time. Doesn’t have to be completely comprehensible to be absorbing and more or less unforgettable. 

8. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014). More on the unknown. More on time and what it really means. Seemingly dystopian vision turns into something mindbendingly magnificent.

9. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016). War is coming. So is an evil spirit in the house. Mother and daughter struggle to maintain sanity and a grasp pf reality – whatever that means – in a sensational directorial debut that deserves a bigger audience. 

10. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013). Basically just about the urgent struggle for survival, alone in space, for 90 nail-biting minutes. 

11. Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, 2014). Different tales, yet it seems like one coherent story about, well… people. Our fragile nature and sensitive ego. Entertaining and disturbing in equal measure. 

12. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017). Taking on a cultural heritage like this and moving forward with it demands a visionary mind equipped with nerves of steel. Like the intrepid monsieur Villeneuve.

13. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010). So sad, so unrelenting, so deeply existential and still beautiful in spite of telling a story about people growing up with no real future, or hope or being valued as individuals. 

14. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018). These impossible missions for Tom Cruise et al just keep on getting tougher. And the films are getting better and better. Sometime I guess they will have to pull the brakes and at least put a younger hero in harm’s way, but when? 

15. Coco (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, 2017). Death. More colourful than ever. Still offering more depth and dimensions, not least regarding memory and how we handle the inevitable – like loss. 

16. Sound of Noise (Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, 2010). Films like these aren’t really being made. Especially not in Sweden. Probably it’s an illusion that it actually seems to exist, but I put it on my list anyway. Don’t wake me up and tell me it was just a dream.

17. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010). So, this is how it all began? And now we’ve all handed our lives over to him? Interesting… 

18. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017). Some laughs but mostly horror in a directorial debut you didn’t see coming from one half of comedy act Key & Peele. 

19. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010). Perfection until death, as told by a perfectionist who always seems to elicit strong reactions of the more polarized variety. He has to be rewarded here. 

20. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018). Rich, nuanced drama with an almost unparalleled attention to mundane details and subtle changes in relationship dynamics.

21. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018). Another inspiring trend among the most memorable movies of late is the plot doesn’t have to be 100 percent comprehensible to be – yes, memorable. Not as long as it provides food for thought and intriguing impressions. 

22. Spring (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, 2014). Lost American hiding out in the south of Europe meets a woman that is anything but ordinary. Horror-romance story turns unexpectedly inspiring and frankly uplifting in the midst of a macabre premise. 

23. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013). I am pretty sure Danny Boyle has directed objectively better films than this one, but more outright entertaining? I doubt it.

24. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013). The creative combination of sensible science fiction and sensitive relationship-oriented drama has been one of the most encouraging trends in filmmaking during this decade. And yeah, obviously it says something about us and our time. Something that may or may not be equally encouraging. 

25. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012). The rest of the quadrilogy didn’t fully deliver the same punch that this first instalment promised. It wasn’t bad, but not as gut-punchingly gorgeous in a weird way that made this first chapter a must-see. 

26. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010). Dennis Lehane wrote the story. Scorsese directed. DiCaprio starred. Questions?

27. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017). Priest with environmental angst struggles with just about everything. Films like these hardly ever get made. Let alone made this well. 

28. Vanishing Waves (Kristina Buozyte, 2012). ”The Cell”, the Lithuanian version. Only, I would say, even better. Has to be seen to be believed. 

29. Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2012). What’s it about? What isn’t it about? An epic, challenging adventure anyway.

30. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011). Uplifting? Not so much. Definitely thought-provoking and in a weird way almost inspiring. Is it about the end of the world or is it a metaphor for something else? You make the call. 

31. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014). Over and over again, the same groundhoggish day fighting invading aliens. Underrated scifi-action piece, also one of Tom Cruise’s most underrated performances. 

32. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011). For some reason I like his darker side more than the lighter one, and his has to be one of the darkest things he ever did. Antonio Banderas might be doing his best work ever here, incidentally. 

33. Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017). Yeah, you might hate it. Hate it, and I will not hold it against you. Personally I find it a magnicent mess, or rather spectacularly messy but in a magnificent way. 

34. Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong, 2013). Ride this train! Well, if you’re still alive in this post-apocalyptic vision, you don’t have much choice. 

35. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, 2014). Vampires! Comedy! Vampires and comedy! Yeah, you’ve seen that combination before. But you didn’t see this combination before. 

36. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013). Heavy, hard-hitting history that just about everyone ought to watch at least once. If you can stomach it. 

37. Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012). Probably not entirely truthful, but imminently entertaining about unlikely hostage rescue operation in Iran, post-revolution 1979. 

38. These Final Hours (Zak Hilditch, 2013). Heartbreaking rendition of a world about to end – yes, really end – and one man’s final attempt to do something meaningful for someone else before it’s all over. 

39. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014). Priest in a small town gets a very specific death threat. By whom? And how should he spend what might be his last week alive? 

40. The Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011). Norwegian thriller set in some sort of corporate world, keeps the suspense going with nasty surprises, one after the other, until… You’ll see.

 

Some close competitors and honourable mentions:

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle), Four Lions (Chris Morris), The Secret in their Eyes (Juan José Campanella), Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo), 127 Hours (Danny Boyle), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Baby Driver (Edgar Wright), Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood), Snowden (Oliver Stone), Gone Girl (David Fincher), Kill the Messenger (Michael Cuesta), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos), Atomic Blonde (David Leitch), The Martian (Ridley Scott), Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley), Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow), Silence (Martin Scorsese), Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve), Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson), Skyfall (Sam Mendes), Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga), Contagion (Steven Soderbergh), Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)…

 

Coming soon: My Favourite TV Shows of the Decade. With or without superheroes.

Intrepid Investigators, Intelligent Innovators and Insightful Invasions – My Favourite Films of 2016

So, these are the best ones. I think. From what I’ve seen in 2016. Also, bear in mind, these are films that opened in Sweden some time during the course of this past tumultuous year. In some cases, their world premieres took place in 2015. Just to clarify. And of course, I haven’t seen everything I should have. So, there you go. And here they are, my personal favourites: 

1. Spotlight (directed by Tom McCarthy)

A real old-fashioned drama about Old Media when it’s working they way it should. The truth just has to emerge, one way or the other. Behind one of the year’s least extravagant and eye-catching titles you will find of the most extraordinary and eye-opening pieces of storytelling. Comparable with ”All the President’s Men”, ”The Insider” and ”State of Play”. Actually superior to those distinguished works in some aspects. A true ensemble effort where the director seems to make himself invisible in order to emphasize everyone else – and the story.

2. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)

Not to be confused with a documented, definitve true story of the legendary innovator. But screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has done what he tends to do best: deliver almost annoyingly clever and multi-layered dialogue for intelligent but sometimes emotionally disabled characters, stuck within confined spaces.

3. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Claustrohopia, guilt, existential issues. What’s not to enjoy? And talking about confined spaces… A large portion of this film really does take place in one room. Is it above all a celebration of the power of imagination and creating your own world in order to endure extreme situations and prolonged suffering? Whatever it is, it works.

4. Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore)

Maybe not a straight documentary, devoted to presenting both sides of a story. Michael Moore – yeah, he’s back – is not even trying to do that. Who knew? But he cheerfully picks his favourite features from (mostly) European nations’ selections of benefits, and then proceeds to market those ideas to his own homeland. A kind of mischievous moviemaking that feels particularly welcome a year like the year that was.

5. The Revenant (Alejando González Iñárritu)

They really laboured in every possible way to make this film, and it shows, for better or worse. But the final result cannot be called anything else than a feat, an impressive ground-breaking work that needs to be rewarded. Like finally handing that Oscar to Leo. And putting it on this list.

6. Bridget Jones’s Baby (Sharon Maguire)

Not to be confused with ”Rosemary’s Baby”. Bridget is back! And we missed her, didn’t we?

7. The Big Short (Adam McKay)

OK, I still don’t get it, completely. How the world of finance works and what exactly went wrong with everything a few years ago. But they sure do try to educate us here. And entertain. Groovy.

8. Snowden (Oliver Stone)

Not as explosive as he used to be. More subtle. Still, Stone makes this highly relevant recent-history retelling pretty powerful. Once again, it’s not easy to figure out exactly how all of this works, in this case surveillance, but after this film you at least get the feeling it’s worth reflecting on.

9. Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood)

A decision has to be made. Sooner rather than later. Literally, it has to do with life and death. But who exactly will have to decide? Again, surveillance is in focus, and specifically drones. ”Good Kill” raised the same issues recently, but here it’s even more intense and morally ambiguous.

10. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

Back to the 70’s. And worn out private eyes trying to make a living. This is not the most pretentious production of 2016, but we need some of this stuff too sometimes, right?

 

Honourable Mentions:

Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass), Hail, Caesar (Joel & Ethan Coen)

Disappointments:

Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich)

You would think that 20 years of figuring out an idea for a sequel to one of the most financially successful cinematic projects ever, would result in something slightly more inspired than this. It didn’t.

Ben-Hur (Timur Bekmambetov)

I respect what they’re trying to achieve. It does have some good stuff in it, but as a whole it just never convinces me this remake was necessary.

The worst: The Do-Over (Steven Brill)

Dear Mr Sandler: You need therapy. Or a baby-sitter. Or both.

 

Films I wish I had seen already – but hopefully will sooner rather than later:

Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Son of Saul, A Bigger Splash, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Nocturnal Animals…

Films  from 2015 I regretted not having seen before this time last year, but had the opportunity to see later on and turned out to be more or less as good as I hoped: Sicario, Rosewater and Wild Tales.

 

By the way, here’s my ’Best of’-list from last year. Just because.

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