Read on as I continue to reveal my favourite films of the decade!
9. Prisoners (2013)
‘Prisoners’ is the sort of crime thriller I absolutely love; and one I feel is seen less and less often in modern cinema. This being an edge-of-your-seat, suspense-ridden roller coaster which could make a sudden u-turn at any moment.
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are fantastic in the lead roles as, respectively, the dad with an increasingly irrepressible desire to take matters into his own hands, and the detective who becomes enamored with the mystery surrounding two missing girls. And Paul Dano does a great job of transforming himself into the main antagonist – possessing the IQ of a child whilst still emanating a chilling lack of remorse for his perceived actions.
It does have its flaws and the plot is contrived at times – probably more so than any other film on this list. Luckily, a combination of intriguing plot, brilliant acting and having a great director at the helm more than make up for ‘Prisoners’ shortcomings. Denis Villeneuve has been one of my favourite directors this decade and he nails it again here. Despite being 153 minutes long, I was never close to boredom, thanks to a masterful display of tension and atmosphere.
8. The Spectacular Now (2013)
On the face of it, this is your archetypal teen rom-com. And to be honest, it kind of is, but it’s also really well done so I don’t particularly mind. When it comes to rom-coms, I’ve always been of the opinion that it isn’t too difficult to engineer one of a passable quality (largely because the bar is set so low to begin with). The recipe doesn’t consist of ingredients much more complicated than avoiding vomit-inducing dialogue, creating a plot which isn’t entirely transparent and having good chemistry between the leads. The latter point is arguably the most important and is clear to see in ‘The Spectacular Now’. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley play off each other extremely well and the pair form such an interesting and (somewhat) unique dynamic which really helps to set the movie apart from similar entries.
The supporting cast is great, especially Bob Odenkirk, who shares a handful of great scenes with Miles Teller – particularly one which is especially moving and powerful. I don’t have too much else to say on this one, except that ‘The Spectacular Now’ was a breath of fresh air in a genre chock-full of mediocrity (and that’s being generous). The character development is excellent, the relationships feel genuine and the script doesn’t make you want to rush to the nearest bathroom!
7. Moneyball (2011)
Now I think about it, I shouldn’t be at all surprised that I’m such a big fan of ‘Moneyball’. After all, it manages to combine two things I love: sport (even if that sport is baseball) and sport statistics. I think the best sport movies are the ones which require little to no interest in the subject matter. ‘Goal’ (2005) was really enjoyable but I can’t imagine being anywhere near as into it if I couldn’t heavily relate to the tumultuous set of emotions experienced by fans during a football match.
With ‘Moneyball’ however, baseball is simply a lens through which we can observe the real focus of employing analytics and economic theory to gain an edge in a sport riddled with ancient and inefficient ways of thinking. This, combined with an underdog element (as the baseball team in question is hugely underfunded) makes for a very compelling tale of a sporting miracle unlike any other.
‘Moneyball’ isn’t your typical sporting movie. It shows little of the sport itself, or even the players. It’s a film with a focus on management, the behind-the-scenes. It is an underdog story, but one with a much fresher take, thanks to its straight-faced, forthright approach to story-telling. And the ensemble cast worked so well together. Brad Pitt was as good as you’d expect, but I’d give the most props to Jonah Hill. After all, ‘Moneyball’ is probably the film that set him on the more dramatic route his career has taken these last 9 years.
6. 50/50 (2011)
There is no one defining characteristic which elevates ‘50/50’ from a good movie to a great movie, or maybe even from a great movie to a brilliant movie. Rather, it just does everything really well and is an emotionally charged joy to watch.
‘50/50’ focuses on Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, an unassuming writer who is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. The relationships which form the bedrock of Adam’s support system also serve as how the viewer is able to discern what Adam goes through. The people who he forms attachments to each present their own idea of how he should be coping in the face of unfavourable odds and as a result, we’re given unique perspectives on the story. Be it from an overbearing mother (Anjelica Houston), a best friend (Seth Rogen), or a young and naive therapist (Anna Kendrick).
‘50/50’ is a pretty understated cinematic experience and I mean that in a good way. It’s a quiet film yet packs a significant punch.While not being hilarious, it uses humour brilliantly. After all, without humour, in a situation like the one Adam and so many others find themselves in, life may just become unbearable. This is compassionate comedy, pitched to near-perfection.
5. Dunkirk (2017)
Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ was unique, in that it cut between three different perspectives of the same story, told simultaneously, whilst also taking place during three unique timelines. These showed the attempt to evacuate soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk through the eyes of the soldiers trapped in France, a civilian boat crossing the English channel and three Spitfires heading towards Dunkirk whilst engaging in dogfights.
I found these to be equally engaging, with each presenting their own unique challenges and themes. Despite the film jumping between the three timelines, the tension is apparent from the start and consistently rises to near-breaking point.
This is hugely helped by Hans Zimmer’s score which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. Given the lack of sustained dialogue and the non-linear storytelling, this music becomes especially important as it provides the foundations upon which everything else is built.
There is little character development – a decision which I love (though a bunch of people seemed to hate). I saw this move as a statement from Nolan as to exactly what kind of film this is. Not one about heroes or villains, but about a collection of nameless, faceless soldiers who’re constantly facing death from every direction. I absolutely loved ‘Dunkirk’. It’s the best war film I’ve seen in a long time.
Next time, I’ll be revealing my picks from no.4-1!
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