May 9, 2019
As the Avengers Era hits a new peak with the unthinkable, record-setting success of Avengers: Engame, I couldn’t help but begin reflecting on the past 10 years at the movies.
As the decade comes to a close, critics, journalists, and cinephiles alike have already started the Best of the Decade discussion. I’d like to jump in.
As I’ve been revisiting films and starting to put together my list, I’ve come up with another list: My picks for the Most Underrated Films of the Decade.
And here we go, the 12 ugly ducklings I’d consider essential viewing:
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Lonergan is one of the five best screenwriters of the current generation and probably one of the five best playwrights of his generation, too. Along the way he has made three masterful films, two of which have been widely celebrated — You Can Count on Me and Manchester by the Sea.
Margaret is the third film, and it’s not just Lonergan’s masterpiece and a film with a brilliant narrative structure, but one of the most authentic modern New York City-set films.
Look for this one to eventually be documented in updated film history books as one of the great artist-versus-industry stories since Longeran fought with the studio for five years over the final cut of the movie before the studio gave up and spitefully released Margaret on just 14 screens nationwide.
2. Inherent Vice
Director: P.T. Anderson
Perhaps the most exhaustingly strange and abstract film of P.T. Anderson’s career so far, Inherent Vice sees the LA-based auteur translating a very complicated Thomas Pynchon text to the screen through the gorgeous lens of Robert Elswit. It’s a wild one, this flick.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Every time I watch this film I end up texting someone about how I believe it to be one of the 10 best films ever made. My passion is film, and that includes both watching/studying and making movies.
Along the way, as I’ve made my own movies, I’ve met a lot of other filmmakers around the country. I’ve talked with every one of said friends about mother! Like a Tarkovsky, Fellini, or Kubrick film, mother! is the kind of movie that other filmmakers have a deep admiration for.
Even if you don’t appreciate the story or the style of the movie, the filmmaking itself is as good as it gets. Aronofsky is a true master of his craft.
4. The Place Beyond the Pines
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Essentially a trilogy of 45-minute dramas about fathers and sons, the first act of Derek Cianfrance’s masterpiece is my favorite 45 minutes of the last decade. (The rest of the film is very good as well.)
5. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
I wanted to put Popstar at No. 1, as I think it’s the funniest film of the decade, as well as maybe the most rewatchable. Everyone is in it and everything works, yet somehow Popstar flopped.
But that’s OK. Like the other Lonely Island feature, Hotrod, Popstar has already achieved cult classic status.
6. Only God Forgives
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
The follow up to Refn’s breakthrough film, Drive, didn’t give people what they wanted.
Only God Forgives is an artsy, strange, violent revenge flick that’s as much about lighting and sound design as it is masculinity, performance, or script.
It’s as good as any David Lynch film and one of the best looking and sounding art films I’ve ever seen. It’s also deranged and often off-putting.
7. The House That Jack Built
Director: Lars Von Trier
My favorite film of last year and a movie I obsessed over for a solid week. I’m not a big horror fan, but like most post-Bundy Americans, I’ve long been fascinated by serial killers.
And next to only Henry and The Silence of the Lambs, Von Trier’s serial killer epic is next to none. A drop-dead psychological masterpiece from one of the great film artists of ... well, all-time.
8. Un Prophete
Director: Jacques Auidard
Like mother!, Auidard’s breakout film is the kind of brilliantly crafted genre film that other filmmakers obsess over. I won’t be surprised if this one makes it onto some Best of the Decade Top 10s come December.
9. Maps to the Stars
director: David Cronenberg
By my count, David Cronenberg, one of the great living auteurs, has now made 10 masterpieces over the course of his almost-50-year career. Maps to the Stars is on that list.
This strange, clever, uber-stylized film slipped through the cracks because, well, people don’t care about films like this anymore. That, and there are just too many movies being made right now.
10. I Saw the Devil
Director: Jee-woon Kim
A cop psychologically and physically tortures a serial killer who killed his girlfriend in this remarkably stylized action-horror-thriller hybrid film out of South Korea.
This violent style-fest has been building a passionate cult following since its release in 2010.
11. The Skin I Live In
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Almodovar will make you squirm. He’ll make you think. He’ll show you very pretty things one second and terrible, haunting things the next.
Like many of the films on this list, The Skin I Live In is dark, violent and weird. And the design of the film? It’s beautiful. Every frame. This is a gorgeous, hideous film.
12. Not Fade Away
Director: David Chase
The Sopranos creator quietly made the coolest rock n’ roll film of all-time (about college-aged hipsters in the ’60s falling in love with the Rolling Stones and starting a band), and no one seemed to care.
If people continue to value film in an academic way, look for this one to get a reappraisal someday. Brilliant writing and filmmaking. It feels perfect.
Numbers 13 through 30
13. Everybody Wants Some (dir. Richard Linklater)
14. Borg vs. MeEnroe (dir. Janus Metz Pedersen)
15. Midnight Special (dir. Jeff Nichols)
16. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller)
17. American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)
18. Drinking Buddies (dir. Joe Swanberg)
19. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth)
20. Rust & Bone (dir. Jacques Auidard)
21. Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh)
22. Beats, Rhymes and Life (dir. Michael Rappaport)
23. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
24. The Color Wheel (dir. Alex Ross Perry)
25. The Kid With a Bike (dir. Dardenne Brothers)
26. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt)
27. The Old Man and the Gun (dir. David Lowery)
28. Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
29. Support the Girls (dir. Andrew Bujalski)
30. An Elephant Sitting Still (dir. Hu Bo)
Do you have a favorite “underrated” film from the past decade? Or, better yet, do you have a list of your favorite films from this decade? If so, please email it to me at email@example.com.
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