Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Live Schreiber
Oscars: 6 nominations, 2 wins (Picture, Original Screenplay)
#2 Critically acclaimed movie of 2015, #13 of the decade so far
Favourite Line: Walter Robinson: “We’ve got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.”
Spotlight handles its subject matter with brutal frankness, but at the same time a delicacy and respect for the film’s (and real life) victims that is rare in any kind of movie. Religion-bashing has become fashionable and acceptable and it would have been an easy route for this film to take. Instead, Spotlight understands the difference between the system and the faith.
The movie is a retelling of the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered and published and damning series of Pulitzer Prize winning articles, outlining systematic abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. How the victims were most often boys; poor, fatherless and vulnerable. The reporters digging into the story are themselves life long Bostonian and mostly Irish-Catholic, so the seismic effect of this story on their own lives, communities and cities is not lost on them.
Liev Schreiber plays Marty Baron, the Executive Editor of the Boston Globe at the time. Spotlight refers to the name of the special investigative team, lead by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton). The team is assigned to further investigate the sexual assault allegations of six priests in Boston that appear to have been covered up by the church. Baron insist that this is not about an individual, its about “the system”, from the top down, that let it happen.
On the surface, Spotlight is an engaging procedural movie, documenting the research, interviews, court appeals and anonymous tips that lead to the story. On a deeper level, it’s shows the life long effect on the victims, their guilt, anger, needle tracks on their arms, their desire for answers and closure.
The Oscar winning original screenplay by director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer is as close to perfect as a movie gets. It wastes not a scene or a line. It does not trivialize or sensationalize the subject matter and is singularly focused on the story. It holds company with “All the President’s Men” as one of the great films about investigative journalism. And like “All the President’s Men”, Spotlight is an equally entertaining and important film.
Side note: Michael Keaton achieved the rare feat of having the lead role in back to back best pictures, Birdman in 2014 and Spotlight in 2015. When the real Walter Robinson saw Keaton perform as him, he quipped “To watch Michael Keaton become me on film, makes me want to apologize to many people I have interviewed.
Favourite Line: Louise Banks” “Now THAT’S a proper introduction”
The best Science Fiction movie of the decade. And it is Science Fiction in its truest sense.
Don’t for a second get me wrong. I love big, flashy space operas and super-hero movies. I never miss one. Arrival does not have laser weapon fights or warp drives. It tells one ever expanding story while it narrowly focuses on another. It challenges viewers, demands conversation and is the best First Contact movie ever made.
The genre of first alien contact films is littered with the likes of Independence Day – movies about giant hideous creatures with no motive other than jumping out from behind things and eating humans. Arrival starts with the mysterious arrival of twelve oblong space crafts hovering above Earth at seemingly random locations.
Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a world-renowned linguistics expert who is tapped by the military to open a line of communication between humans and the “heptapods”, seven-legged octopus like creatures that inhabit the space crafts.
As the movie expands to show the larger effect of the arrival – global distrust, attack or not, governments disagreeing in potentially deadly ways – the movie also focuses down on Louise’s tragic past and grief. The film uses a non-linear time line and requires at least a second viewing.
There are excellent movies that give you a Hollywood ending, where every is safe, the long-lost lovers reunite, there are cheers and parades and you leave the theatre happy with all questions tied up nicely. This is not one of those films. Arrival leaves you in deep and philosophical discussions about alien life, origin of the species, love and loss and so much more.
Of all movies I saw in the 2010s, Arrival had the greatest impact on me from an intellectual perspective. No movie made me think more about who I am and what I would do in the same situation. I have seen it three times now and like all great films, it gets better every time.
Favourite Line: Mildred Hayes (talking to a deer near the site of her daughter’s death):
“Hey baby… Yup, still no arrests. How come I wonder? ‘Cause there ain’t no God and the whole world’s empty, and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other? I hope not. How come you came up here out of nowhere lookin’ so pretty? You ain’t trynta make me believe in reincarnation or somethin’ are ya? ‘Cause you’re pretty but you ain’t her… She got killed. Now she’s dead forever. I do thank you for comin’ though. If I had some food I’d give it to ya. All I got is some Doritos, ‘n’ they might kill ya, they’re kinda pointy… Then where would we be?”
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is at the same time a study of grief, guilt, revenge, justice and healing. It’s a complex film that combines drama, police procedural and truly dark comedy in perhaps the best script of the decade.
Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes. Its has been seven months since her daughter’s brutal rape and murder and the police trail has ran cold and there seems to be no effort to find those responsible. Mildred decides to take matters into her own hands and starts by renting three old billboards outside of town. In giant black letters on red background they say “Raped While Dying”. “ And Still No Arrests”. “Why Chief Willoughby?”
The movie follows several strands of the story. The towns reaction to the billboards. The effect they have on her son and his attempt to get back to a normal life. The conflict with an overtly racist, dim witted cop (Sam Rockwell) and the relationship between Mildred and the chief (Woody Harrelson).
Rockwell and McDormand both won Oscars and both were richly deserved but its Frances McDormand as Mildred that is the key and centre to this exception film.
She is angry. Frustrated. Determined. She will not budge from her plan or her mind set. But at every moment, you can see behind her eyes, her biting her lip and know that at any moment, this character is ready to collapse in grief and give up.
The script offers wonderfully unique characters and a disquieting, unexpected ending that is at the same time, spot on perfect. It’s a clinic in acting and there is not a single bad choice from writer/director Martin McDonagh. It will have a place in my top 100 and be a movie I will watch many more times.
#2 Critically Acclaimed Movie of 2013, #9 of the decade so far
Favourite Line: Ryan Stone: “I hate space!”
Gravity had to be seen on the big screen, preferably in I-Max. I saw it three times in theatres, 2 regular one I-Max, and each time was a gut wrenching, exciting and visceral experience. I have since seen it on TV and its good, but lacks the punch of the theatrical experience.
It’s a brief 91 minutes and a perfect length. It following the story of a small group of astronauts who find themselves in the path of some space debris that destroys the International Space Station and leaves them, apparently, stranded. There is not much story, its more about the experience.
Gravity was almost never made. It went through numerous casting changes and had trouble securing financing. The end result was 7 Oscars and one of the highest grossing movies of 2013.
The film is anchored by Sandra Bullock’s career best performance. The opening scene of the movie is a dizzying 12 ½ minute tracking shot that required precise movement and choreography that was as physically demanding as anything you will see on the screen. Its great work and a role that 9 others passed on before her.
Gravity tells a simple, single story in close to real-time. Its compact running length is one of its great strengths. Running the film too long would have reduced its impact.
Gravity already sits in my Top 100 films (a revised list is coming out soon) and will remain there. I greatly admire the use of CGI to serve the story, Alfonso Cauron’s tenacity in stick with the project for 4.5 years and it ranks amongst the most impactful theatre experiences I have ever had.
Four films really stood out for me at the top of the list of the 2010’s – so I will reveal and write about those all separately. The harder task was filling spots 5 through 10 – simply because there were so many movies I loved that were worth including.
Here are films 10 through 5 of the 2010’s .
Release Date: 03 March 2017
Director: James Mangold
Oscars : 1 nomination, 0 wins
#14 Critically acclaimed movie of 2017
One Minute Review
Easily the best super-hero movie of the decade. And less of a super-hero movie than a compelling film about a super-hero. The X-Men franchise is tired and needs to be put aside for a while. Logan, on the other hand, takes us a few years into the future, few mutants are left and Wolverine is living a quiet life as a limo driver. The films examine aging, death, loss of power, family and signs off this franchise and Hugh Jackman’s time as Wolverine with elegance and action combined. Its violent, too much so for some but a great film.
Favourite line: “This is my father …. Chuck.”
#9 “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Release Date: 25 Dec 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese
Oscars : 4 nominations, No wins
#6 Critically acclaimed movie of 2013
One Minute Review
For five consecutive decades, Martin Scorsese has created a film in the Best of the Decade list. (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, Wolf and arguably The Irishman as well). Wolf of Wall Street examine 80s excess, corruption, stock swindling and the Wall Street life style but also its consequences and where that life eventually leads. Its Leonardo DiCaprio’s best role, it introduced the world to Margot Robbie in the most spectacular fashion. Its brilliantly entertaining. And it wasn’t even the best movie of 2013!
Favourite line:” Sides? Sides? $26,000 worth of sides? What are these sides? They cure cancer? “
Release Date: 10 Aug 2918
Director: Spike Lee
Oscars : 6 nominations 1 win (Adapted Screenplay)
#6 Critically acclaimed movie of 2018
One Minute Review
Spike Lee’s best movie since his legendary Do the Right Thing in 1989, and that’s saying something. Even when Lee misses the mark for me, his films are never boring. In BlacKkKlansman, he tells a nearly 40 year old story with the expressed, overt intention of making a statement about America and the POTUS today. John David Washington stars and Ron Stalsworth, the first Black detective in Colorado Springs. With the help of another officer (Adam Driver) he infiltrates the local KKK and even talks directly to David Duke, brilliantly played by Topher Grace. Loved every second of the important, audacious film.
Favourite line: “ Let me tell you something sergeant. The day of the Toads in The Records Room is over.” (There are better but not many I can repeat here!) (The best line is spoken by Stalworth at the end to David Duke)
#7 “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood ”
Release Date: 29 Jul 2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Oscars : Eligible 2020, expect 8 to 10 nominations, maybe QT wins for Director
#3 Critically acclaimed movie of 2019 so far
One Minute Review
Some found this overly long and a little tedious. I was sucked in by every frame. (A working knowledge of the Manson Murders and Sharon Tate is helpful). Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood recreates the Golden Age of Hollywood when many of the stars who are now legends where just starting out. It follows a fictional, past-his-prime 50’s TV Western Star, Rick Dalton (Leo) and his stuntman/gofer Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt in what may be an Oscar winning role). Impeccably recreated for the time, it also follows the life of Manson victim Sharon Tate. The film brilliantly juxtaposes the old and new of Hollywood of that time period while slowly building to an epic, unpredictable Tarantino ending.
Favourite line: “Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans. “
#6 “Tree of Life ”
Release Date: 17 May 2011
Director: Terrance Malick
Oscars : 3 nominations 0 wins
#1 Critically acclaimed movie of 2011
One Minute Review
At this surface, Tree of Life is the story of an unremarkable family in the 50s in Waco, Texas. But it is so much more than that. At its core, it’s a vast, sweeping ambitious film that encompasses that examines all aspects of human existence. Score (Alexander Desplat) and Cinematography (Emanuel Lubezki) are among the best of you will ever encounter. Just before his death, Roger Ebert included this on his list of the 10 Best films ever made for Sight and Sound Magazine.
Favourite line: “Your mother’s naive. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you’re good, people take advantage of you.”
#5 “Inside Out ”
Release Date: 19 June 2019
Director: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
Oscars : 2 nominations 1 win (Animated Feature)
#3 Critically acclaimed movie of 2015
One Minute Review
Who other than Pixar could make a movie where the protagonist is the sub-conscious of the 11 year old girl. Inside Out follows the journey of 11 year old Riley and the five emotions live in her head; Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger and Sadness. Amy Poelher as Joy is brilliant in the lead but it’s Phyllis Smith as Sadness and Richard Kind and Riley’s forgotten imaginary friend Bing Bong that give the movie its soul. Funny, deeply moving and original. Pixar’s best film since WALL-E and the best animated film of the decade (even over Toy Story 3 and 4).
Favourite line: “ I sure am glad you told me earthquakes are a myth, Joy. Otherwise I’d be terrified right now!”
I though about dividing this like Oscar categories but then decided to just a 10-Best list which expanded to 15. The top two really stand out. All of them I will long remember and made their movies better.
Honourable Mention (Voice Over Work)
Scarlett Johanssen as Samantha in “Her”
Phyllis Smith as Sadness in “Inside Out”
Billy Eichner as Timon in the “The Lion King”
Tony Hale as Forky in “Toy Story 4”
Michael Keaton as Riggan in “Birdman”
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa in “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien in “Tree of Life”
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”
Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliot Dunne in “Gone Girl”
John David Washington as Ron Stalworth in “BlacKkKlansman”
Here are my 15 favourite performances of the 2010’s
#15 Jared Leto – “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Oscars : Won, Best Supporting Actor
Leto’s supporting role as Rayon, who in the time context of the movie (mid 80s) would have been called a drag queen or transvestite. Rayon meets macho Texan Ron Woodruff when they both find out they have AIDS. It’s a complex role that Leto brings to life and eventually death with amazing poignancy. Leto won his Oscar though for the scene where Rayon dresses male to go meet with his father to ask for money.
#14 – Cate Blanchette – “Blue Jasmine”
Oscars : Won, Best Actress
Blanchet’s Jasmine is a disgraced New York Socialite, whose stock swindler husband end up in prison. She runs to San Francisco to stay with her more down to earth sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine remains in denial of her change of life while the world closes in around her. Cate brings incredible humanity to the role of a genuinely dis-likable character with one of Woody Allen’s best every scripts.
#13 Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Character: Jordan Belfort
Oscars : Nominated, Best Actor (lost to Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyer’s Club)
Leo did some great work this decade. For me, this stands out. This character is not a villain or a hero, just an asshole. Its combination of great dramatic skills, physical humour, wall breaking voice over and scenery chewing monologues.
#12 J.K. Simmons “Whiplash”
Character: Terrance Fletcher
Oscars : Won, Best Supporting Actor
Nearest point of reference is the Drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. An onslaught of profanity that is just as compelling as it is disturbing. Terrance is a tyrant music teacher but do his means justify his ends. Loved this movie and JK is one of my favourite current actors.
#11 David Oyellowo – “Selma”
Character: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Oscars : Not nominated
One of the main drivers of #OScarSoWhite was Oyellowo getting snubbed for this uncanny performance as MLK. His ability to capture King’s charisma and oratory skill make this perhaps the best performance of Martin Luther King ever. Definitely deserved a nomination, especially in a weaker year for nominees.
#10 Lupita Nyong’o – “Us”
Character: Adelaide / Red
Oscars : Eligible 2020, outside chance of nomination
She won her Oscar for 12 Year’s a Slave but this for me is the stand out. (Mild spoilers). Nyong’o plays Adelaide, a mom on vacation with her family and Red, her creepy, murderous doppelganger from an underground world. The movie does not work without this character and Nyong’os performance is memorizing.
#9 Saorise Ronan – “Brooklyn ”
Character: Ellis Lacey
Oscars : Nominated, Best Actress (lost to Brie Larson, Room)
Ellis is a small-town Irish girl in the 50s who emigrates to Brooklyn to start a new life. She meets a local and falls in love but is forced back to Ireland for a family emergency where she reconnects with an old flame. It’s a simple story, told and acted with sheer elegance. Second of three nominations for Ronan who will likely get one again this year for Little Women.
#8 Denzel Washington – “Fences”
Character: Troy Maxson
Oscars : Nominated, Best Actor (lost to Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea)
I would watch Denzel read a phone book. But in Fences, which he also directed, he plays Troy, a retired, talented ball player from the “Negro League” who aged out before Black players were allowed in the Majors. His life is simple in one way, steady job, loving wife, good friends. But he is a harsh father and husband with a dark secret.
Oscars : Eligible 2020, lock for a nomination, one of three front-runners
Lock for a nominee this win and possible winner. I have a feeling this performance will be talked about for many years. Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is a loner with mental health issues, with a job, family, city and medical system that causes a horrible downward spiral. It’s a good movie made far better by this all-in performance.
Oscars : Nominated, Best Actress (Lost to Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine)
Bullock’s performance here is a mixture of comedy, drama, gymnastics and choreography. She in on screen for almost the entire run time of this movie, much of it alone. One of the most physically demanding roles of the decade.
#5 Jessica Chastain – “Zero Dark Thirty”
Oscars : Nominated, Best Actress (lost to Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook)
Maya does not have an easy job. She is a CIA operative in the middle East on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. She faces incredible obstacles, including sexism, death of colleagues, lack of faith from her co-workers, threats on her own life. Maya is singly focused on her job and her complete faith that she is right.
#4 Colin Firth – “The King’s Speech”
Character: King George, VI
Oscars : Won, Best Actor
Firth makes “Bertie”, the eventual King George VI, both feeble and regal. Both self assured and plagued with crippling self doubt. The Royal with a horrible stammer who was never meant to be in the spotlight. The film’s best scenes are Firth and his “doctor” (Geoffrey Rush) firing dialogue.
#3 Viola Davis – Fences
Character: Rose Maxson
Oscars : Won, Best Supporting Actress
One of my favourite Actresses puts on a clinic, no other way to say it. To watch her and Denzel on screen together in this amazing film is as entertaining as anything you will see from the 2010’s. A character driven by doing what’s right no matter what happens around her. Arguably this was a leading role but a richly deserved Oscar either way.
#2 Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln”
Character: Abraham Lincoln
Oscars : Won, Best Actor
A master class in method acting. It was said that Lewis never lost character between takes or even for days at a time. The accent, mannerisms, walk, look – all down pat. Lincoln opposed slavery but also knew that passing the 13th Amendment would cut out the heart of the economy of the Confederates. This movie and Lewis portray not the hero but the crafty politician whose keen sense of human nature helped him win that victory in the end.
Positions #1 and #2 and interchangeable for me but I had to go with ….
Part grieving mother, part Navy Seal. Its hard to describe the power, subtlety and nuance of this performance. Mildred is angry. Angry that her daughter died so horribly. Angry that a lack-lustre local police force seems to have stopped looking for her killer. She seems determined to stop at nothing but at all times, seems almost ready to collapse in grief and exhaustion. Rarely have we seen such a great character arch performed with such depth. This stands right beside and even exceeds her legendary performance in Fargo. For me, narrowly edges out DDL in Lincoln as the best of the Decade.