Yeah, not with a fizzle. Well, we’ll see about that. This is my final post as Second Breakfast, a blog I’ve been writing since October 2012. I’ve published every Sunday since then (I even once published from JFK airport). I think, having done that, I have achieved what I wanted to when I started. Without visible room for growth, I’m ready to move on and try some new things. Now, a smattering of people have expressed some disappointment in my decision. Apparently some of you actually do take movie recommendations from me. So, for those of you who don’t want to see me go, here’s one last hurrah. 100 movies you should watch from the past six years:
100. Skyfall (2012)
Upon review, Skyfall lacks some of the charm of Casino Royale, but Daniel Craig’s third turn as James Bond raised the stakes cinematically for the franchise. Director Sam Mendes (who totally dropped the ball on the follow-up, Spectre), treated Skyfall with the production values of a prestige picture, and it greatly paid off (the movie even landed an Oscar nomination for cinematography). The action occasionally leans over the top, and the villain is flat, but as blockbusters—and Bond movies—go, Skyfall remains a winner.
99. Iron Man 3 (2013)
This Marvel movie, like most Marvel movies, really had no right to be good at all. Unlike most Marvel movies, Iron Man 3 actually was good. Quippy dialogue, inventive action, and some decent character development are the only things a blockbuster truly needs to succeed, but most superhero movies fall utterly short. Iron Man 3 manages all of these ingredients at once, and I think it might be my favorite Marvel movie.
98. Robin Hood (2010)
Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Look, a lot of people really hated this movie, but I think its only considerable flaw is that they named it Robin Hood. If it had been about some random Robin-esque figure, no one would have cared. Ridley Scott’s medieval adventure does transcend this flaw, delivers some fun action, and most importantly, has a morally grounded protagonist who does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. That’s becoming increasingly rare in blockbusters.
97. The Danish Girl (2015)
When The Danish Girl came out (in theaters), I had almost no interest in it at all. I didn’t watch it until about a year later. Despite Alicia Vikander’s Oscar win, the film still got a lot of bad reviews, mostly for its blatant attempts at awards-grabbing. I did not find this ostentatious (Eddie Redmayne was a bit ostentatious, but there were other things going on with the movie). Stunning cinematography and some excellent direction—along with Vikander’s performance—save the day.
96. The Nice Guys (2016)
Writer/director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also Iron Man 3) makes a Shane Black movie. If you like Shane Black movies, you’ll like this, too. It has his signature witty banter and black humor, and a convoluted, entirely inconsequential plot. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have unexpectedly amazing chemistry, and really should team up more often.
95. The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Have you ever watched a Twilight movie and wondered whether or not Kristen Stewart could secretly act, and just chooses not to? Well, I have some news for you: she can, and she does here in The Clouds of Sils Maria, a drama about an actress asked to play the older role in a revival of the play that made her famous when she was twenty. Kristen Stewart has a supporting role, but absolutely steals the show.
94. Fury (2014)
It’s got some problems here and there, but it also has some of the best tank combat scenes ever put to film, and surprisingly decent character development. I did not expect to like Fury, and I especially did not expect Shia LaBeouf to be one of the best parts. Another favorite thing about this movie: it’s based on a true story, but they never tell you that at any point, not even in the ads. Check it out.
93. American Hustle (2013)
I did not expect to laugh as much as I did, but American Hustle was surprisingly funny. Apparently a good deal of it was improvised, and while I knew that Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner were all talented to varying degrees, talent in acting does not always translate to talent in comedy. Did it deserve its ten Oscar nominations? No, but it’s a pretty fun watch.
92. The Past (2013)
Asghar Farhadi strikes me as one of the most outwardly empathetic filmmakers in the business right now. No matter the character, no matter the circumstance, he somehow manages to create unbiased, realistic portraits of everyday human suffering. That’s great, but it does make his movies difficult to watch. The Past has no violence or drug abuse or sexual cruelty; instead, it focuses on pretty normal family issues. The realism that Farhadi captures is what makes it tough.
91. A Bigger Splash (2016)
It’s hard to say exactly what kind of movie A Bigger Splash counts as. I wouldn’t quite call it a comedy, or a tragedy, or even fully a drama in the contemporary sense. At turns funny, at turns disturbing, A Bigger Splash presents a disconcerting indictment of culture, our obsession with celebrity, and the vapidity of millennials. Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson (who proves once and for all she can act), all do a killer job.
90. American Sniper (2014)
Bradley Cooper’s performance makes this movie. I did not particularly care for him prior to American Sniper, and haven’t really loved him in anything since, but his turn as Chris Kyle—the sniper with the most confirmed kills in US military history—is one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in recent years (but you may end up reading that statement a few times in this article).
89. Warrior (2011)
Possibly the only movie where someone outshines Tom Hardy (in this case it’s Joel Edgerton giving an unnecessarily good performance), Warrior distinguishes itself as the rare sports movie that clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, but doesn’t feel that long. It holds your interest, posits a strong emotional conundrum, and has some really dope MMA fight scenes.
88. Argo (2012)
Was it the best film of 2012? Not by a longshot, but Argo is a rare type of smart, riveting spy thriller that combines excellent filmmaking with real history to produce one hell of a good time at the movies. With unforgettable supporting performances from Alan Arkin and the always unforgettable John Goodman, what’s not to like?
87. Odd Thomas (2013)
If you pitched me the story from Odd Thomas, I’d interrupt you half way to list all of the stupid things you’d just said. Against all odds (pun intended), this production managed to make a funny, poignant, surprisingly original supernatural comedy adventure. It features the late great Anton Yelchin and the exceedingly marvelous Willem Defoe. Look it up, think to yourself, “Gee, that sounds like a dumb movie,” and then watch it anyway and love it to death.
86. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
I have a theory that children’s movies teach really unhelpful lessons about death. Too many films teach kids that death is reversible, or temporary, or “he wasn’t really dead.” It’s not. He was. Kubo and the Two Strings, from the people who brought you Coraline and ParaNorman, delivers one of the strongest and most useful children’s stories about death I’ve ever encountered. I think all kids should watch it.
85. Mr. Holmes (2015)
Old Man Holmes. Sherlock Holmes has become one of the most prolific characters in fiction, making appearances all over the damn place since the Victorian Era. Regardless of how you feel about Cumberbatch, though, you have to admit it had been an incredibly long time since anyone did anything new or interesting with the character. At least until Bill Condon and Ian McKellen got their hands on him. If you want to see a bold, insightful take on an old character who’s been done to death, look no further than Mr. Holmes.
84. The Way Way Back (2013)
In The Way Way Back, a kid takes a summer job at a waterpark so that he doesn’t have to hang out with his mom and her irritating new boyfriend. He hangs out with Sam Rockwell, he makes friends, and he learns a good deal about life. It’s a simple story, but my goodness do they ever tell it well. It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you think, and more importantly, it’s just a really rewarding viewing experience.
83. Only God Forgives (2013)
Only God Forgives is probably not for you, dear reader. That’s not me trying to sound like a hipster. It’s an acknowledgement of the statistical fact that most people just flat-out hated it. I loved Nicolas Winding-Refn’s eerie neon color pallet, his unsettling, yet smooth violence, and of course, his use of Thai karaoke. Let’s not forget the Thai karaoke.
82. 13 Assassins (2011)
Approximately the last forty minutes of 13 Assassins consist of one elongated fight scene, and it is a glorious achievement. Usually that much continuous violence just gets boring after a while, and you sort of feel dirty for watching it for so long, but not here. Takashi Miike’s take on the samurai film combines the gritty realism that’s so popular today with the classic sensibilities of his filmmaking predecessors and the rich narrative tradition of Japan.
81. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an honest to goodness feel good movie and I didn’t hate it. Ben Stiller directed and starred in this remake (which has almost nothing to do with the original), and despite that, and despite its objective to inspire and warm hearts, there’s no ego at play here. It’s just a fun time.
80. ParaNorman (2012)
Akin to Coraline and Corpse Bride, this macabre stop-motion animated adventure delivers an important message to kids amid its ghosts and zombies. I think any kid between ten and fourteen who has been involved with bullying in any capacity should watch this movie. It has a great deal to say, and it says it so well.
79. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
I didn’t care much for the original Cloverfield from 2008. It’s a found footage disaster that probably would have been effective if it were only twenty-five minutes long. Its spiritual sequel doesn’t hinge on gimmicky camera work, but instead pours its energy into a tight screenplay, smart problem-solving, and engaging character development.
78. The Help (2011)
I got dragged to this movie when it came out and did not expect to like it one bit. Instead, I liked it several bits. It tells an old story, steeped in sentimentality, but through its all-star cast of ladies (including Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, and Bryce Dallas Howard), makes it feel fresh and new. Plus, it was part of the dynamite year that introduced the world to Jessica Chastain.
77. John Wick (2014)
John Wick is a movie about a retired assassin played by Keanu Reeves embarking upon a bloody rampage through the world of organized crime after some thugs kill his puppy. Somehow it takes this premise and produces a beautiful thing. The fight choreography and the camera choreography complement each other so seamlessly as to generate a kind of cinematic dance. A violent, pretty, mesmerizing cinematic dance.
76. All Is Lost (2013)
All Is Lost is a movie about Robert Redford on a boat. Said boat begins sinking in the middle of the ocean, and he’s all alone with no radio or other form of communication. It doesn’t sound like this concept should work for a full length film, but Robert Redford’s incredibly strong performance, coupled with a series of clever MacGyverisms, carries us through this harrowing adventure in top form.
75. The Raid 2 (2014)
This movie has some of the best fight choreography I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of fights in movies. I grew up on a steady diet of Jackie Chan. Unlike most of Chan’s fights, though, those in The Raid 2 are extremely violent, and usually quite bloody, but nonetheless demonstrate astounding skill and athleticism matched only by the incredible camerawork. A rarity for martial arts movies, I forget these are actors, and truly believe these men are trying to kill each other.
74. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
They make musical biopics every year, but you won’t hear about most of them because most of them aren’t very good. Straight Outta Compton is the rare exception to that rule. An insightful, relevant, excellently produced documentation of N.W.A.’s meteoric rise to fame, and their instrumental innovation of the rap music genre, Straight Outta Compton got plenty of praise, but it definitely deserved more.
73. Blue Ruin (2013)
This is a sad movie about the consequences of violence and blood feuds, so yeah, I liked it a lot. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier presents what is essentially a classical literary tragedy through the medium of modern cinematic realism. His unflinching brutality is matched with an achingly relatable human element, resulting in a hard-hitting piece of indie filmmaking.
72. The Impossible (2012)
Man, don’t watch The Impossible unless you find yourself in the exact right mood. Although really, really good, this tsunami drama is not for the faint of heart. In the end, though, I reserve the greatest praise here for Naomi Watts, whose performance did not deserve to lose an Oscar to Jennifer Lawrence.
71. The Grand Seduction (2014)
This charming Canadian comedy conjures the feeling and tone of Local Hero, and that’s never a bad thing. The Grand Seduction takes the premise of an entire town lying to one person for their own gain and turns it into a delightfully subdued comedy.
70. War of the Arrows (2011)
War of the Arrows should not have been a good movie for a number of reasons. It shouldn’t even have been a good action movie. How interesting can dudes firing bows at each other really be? Answer: very, very interesting. In the end, War of the Arrows exhibits some of the best medieval combat I’ve ever seen.
69. Selma (2014)
Selma isn’t so much a biopic as it is a depiction of a particular event. Martin Luther King Jr. happened to be the central figure of that historic event, but the movie isn’t exclusively about him, and that’s the key to its success. So many biopics flounder devoting too much attention to the biographical character at the expense of story, theme, and heart. Selma delivers a powerful representation of a time and place in history, and of an important historical figure.
68. Midnight in Paris (2011)
I know a few Woody Allen fans who really dislike this movie. Incidentally, I dislike pretty much all of his other movies, but Midnight in Paris is more genuine and melancholy than his usual timewasting dribble. It’s a movie about nostalgia, why we feel it, and how important it is to move past it. Plus, it’s immensely charming and has a terrific cast including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston, and Adrien Brody.
67. The Gift (2015)
As The Gift got started, I was sure I’d seen it before. It’s a tired premise, and I knew exactly how it would end. Or, I thought I did. Writer/director/co-star Joel Edgerton takes an old cliché and transforms it into something bold, thought-provoking, and totally unexpected. I’d love to see him step behind the camera and/or write again, because his debut was fantastic.
66. Winnie the Pooh (2011)
The Hundred Acre Wood is one of the most perfect places ever imagined, a childhood wonderland of gentle humor and innocent adventures, completely devoid of peril or threat. It’s the happy, safe place that only a child could craft for himself. Disney’s latest outing with Winnie the Pooh pays homage to the classic cartoons, hand drawn with care and featuring beautiful watercolor backgrounds, plus a narration from John Cleese. It’s a happy place movie.
65. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
I read all of the Scott Pilgrim books in high school just before the movie came out, and had some ideas about how they should transition to the big screen. Unsurprisingly, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) did not disappoint. His adaptation perfectly strikes the balance between capturing the aesthetic of the comics and altering just enough to fit the new medium, which is something a discouraging number of adaptations struggle with.
64. The Illusionist (2010)
This French animated film takes place in Scotland and focuses on a failed Parisian magician trying to make a go of it in a foreign seaside town. The movie has almost no spoken dialogue at all, instead relying on its melancholic animation and understated musical score to tell its story. Based on an original, unproduced screenplay from French comic giant Jacques Tati (1907-1982), The Illusionist captures a nostalgic feel of homage without falling prey to it.
63. Furious 7 (2015)
Most of the movie is a pretty standard, albeit above-par car-based action adventure movie. It’s great to see the old characters that we know and love at it again, plus The Rock FLEXES OFF AN ARM CAST, but the main reason Furious 7 is featured on this list is because of its wonderful send-off to the late Paul Walker. No joke or exaggeration, Furious 7 features one of the very best crossovers of fiction and reality to pay tribute to Paul Walker. I was not expecting to cry at a Fast and Furious movie, but I did.
62. The Muppets (2011)
Built on a foundation of puns and hilarious song lyrics (mostly hilarious punny song lyrics), The Muppets rekindles the magic of Jim Hensen’s original creation, taking the characters in a slightly new direction, but never let going of the past genius that made them worth watching in the first place.
61. Macbeth (2015)
Macbeth is, for whatever reason, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays to translate onto screen. Most who try, fail. Justin Kurzil’s ambitious undertaking falters for about the first fifteen minutes, but when it picks up, it does so with immense depth, insight, and thoughtful consideration. It is not just sound and fury. Incomparable performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard elevate this Macbeth above the experimental arthouse mess it could so easily have been.
60. True Grit (2010)
Less a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film as it is an adaptation of the 1968 novel, the Coen Brothers’ foray into the Western genre sees a gloriously grizzly and incoherent Jeff Bridges as the eye-patch-wearing drunken US Marshall Rooster Cogburn. He’s not quite The Duke, but he holds his own. Stunning cinematography and costumes awe the eye, but perhaps True Grit’s greatest strength is Hailee Steinfeld’s Oscar-nominated performance.
59. Hugo (2011)
Remember how all of the trailers for Hugo made it look like Martin Scorsese had directed a children’s adventure movie and really should not have. At no point did I expect this to be a love letter to film pioneer George Méliès, but then again, I didn’t read the book. Scorsese delivers both a heartwarming adventure for kids and a sincere homage to one of history’s great innovators.
58. Song of the Sea (2014)
In 2009, Irish animator and director Tomm Moore brought us the haunting and magical fantasy film, The Secret of Kells. I liked it. In 2014, he directed Song of the Sea. I loved it. Moore flawlessly combines Celtic folklore in a contemporary setting to tell a story that is both adventurous and pleasantly heartwarming. As an added bonus, the art of the film is simply beautiful.
57. Nightcrawler (2014)
Nightcrawler presents in its central figure, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a rare and incredibly difficult form of characterization. He doesn’t actually develop or change over the course of the movie, but rather little snippets of his true self leak out in instances of subtle dialogue and small actions, building to a truly unnerving climax, and a powerful criticism of sensationalism in the news media.
56. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Coen Brothers’ exploration of the 1960s folk scene is melancholy, introspective, and bittersweet, but what makes it truly great is its soundtrack. Featuring Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake among others, I could listen to that album over and over again without getting tired of it. But that’s kind of the point of the movie, and indeed of folk music in general. It cycles. As Llewyn says, “It was never new and it’ll never get old.”
55. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Never Let Me Go: a relentlessly sad movie. While that statement is true, Never Let Me Go is also a relentlessly pretty movie. Its cinematography and mournful musical score (and noteworthy presence of Carey Mulligan (her presence is always noteworthy)) give this sci-fi romance about death a gentle, relatable tone. Don’t watch it if you’re not in the mood to feel really, really sad, though.
54. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
I missed Mel Gibson. At least, I missed his artistic presence, because while he has certainly made some bad movies, the good does outweigh them. Hacksaw Ridge indicates a return to his past professionalism and a new artistic genius. At turns horrifying, nauseating, and genuinely inspiration, this war movie is one memorable watch.
53. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Say, here’s a movie that had no right to be as good as it was. Guy Ritchie’s take on the classic Cold War series combines his signature wit and flashy editing with sleek 60s chic, resulting in the most stylish, entertaining, and clever spy adventure in recent years. He gussies up the classic for modern audiences, but at its core, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t depart too much from the flashy spy thrillers of the 60s and 70s. It’s a shame more people didn’t see this movie.
52. Shutter Island (2010)
Quite possibly my favorite Martin Scorsese movie, this taught, delightfully thought-provoking thriller turned me around Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I must confess I really did not like before 2010. Dripping with atmosphere, technical prowess, and featuring a twisty-turny script to keep you on your toes, Shutter Island is the perfect movie for a rainy day in October.
51. Hell or High Water (2016)
In many ways an old fashioned, cops and robbers Western, Hell or High Water nevertheless distinguishes itself as a quintessentially contemporary film. By using this well-worn story in a modern setting with modern characters, director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan manage to capture a place where and a people with whom history, family, and the cowboy legend all hold real value.
50. Frozen (2013)
Listen, y’all. I just really liked Frozen, and I ain’t sorry. Most of it plays out like a pretty straightforward Disney Princess adventure, but it twists the plot and the themes in just the right ways. The central relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa brings to light a version of the “true love” trope rarely present in Disney movies, especially princess stories. The animation is lovely, the characters genuinely likable, and the songs catchy, damn it.
49. Boy (2010)
Now, admittedly, I didn’t grow up in New Zealand in the 80s, but I gather from people in the know that Taika Waititi’s depiction of doing so in Boy really hits the nail on the head. A quirky indie coming-of-age movie that perfectly balances comedy and tragedy, realism and childhood magic, Boy sets the bar for films of its ilk, and has yet to be matched (except perhaps by Taika Waititi, but that’s another entrant).
48. Her (2014)
I found Her mostly very sad. It’s beautiful, thought-provoking, funny, cinematically flawless, but there’s an inescapable tone of melancholy surrounding its main character, played by Joaquin Phoenix. We’ve seen a lot of cautionary tales about artificial intelligence, and what happens when our creations gain sentience and rise against us, etc., but Her approaches this issue with a different question, “What happens when we develop emotional connections to these artificial personalities?” And yeah, it’s sad.
47. Lost River (2015)
More than with any other film I’ve ever seen, the experience of watching Lost River recalls the experience of a waking nightmare, a beautiful, unsettling, bizarre nightmare. I emerged on the other side completely dazed, and was the better for it.
46. A Most Violent Year (2014)
A lot of people didn’t like A Most Violent Year, but I think that’s because they were anticipating a different movie, based on its title and all of the trailers. It’s not an action movie. Instead, it’s a slow-paced drama about a decent man struggling to remain decent in a vicious, cruel world. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain deliver fabulous performance, to exactly no one’s great surprise.
45. 22 Jump Street (2014)
The joke density, you guys. Chris Miller and Phil Lord write and direct their comedies like very few others in history: with an impossibly high joke density. Every line in 22 Jump Street is a joke, and if no one is speaking, there is a visual gag somewhere on screen. It’s like the very best of classic Simpsons. A sequel to a remake of an 80s cop show should not be this good. The fact that they’re helming the upcoming young Han Solo standalone film fills me with excitement.
44. Brooklyn (2015)
Brooklyn will make you cry good, reaffirming tears. It’s a straightforward romance about moving on, growing up, and letting go, but telling a simple story beautifully is often better than telling a complicated one without heart. Brooklyn has an abundance of heart. It has a little to share and spread around. Its lovely score and Saoirse Ronan’s performance only elevate it higher.
43. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
A lot of movies are pointlessly bleak. They’re difficult to get through, and when you reach the end, you wonder what the hell you were supposed to get out of it. That is not the case for 12 Years a Slave. It’s a hard movie, but an important one, too. And incidentally, through its three pictured stars, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o, it includes three of the very best performances of the decade.
42. Gravity (2013)
All Is Lost: In Space combines groundbreaking special effects and cinematography (spectacle in its truest form) with a powerful human story. I remember seeing it on the big screen. It was a big deal and left me totally gob-smacked, and a little dazed. This effect is lost somewhat on a smaller screen, but Gravity nonetheless remains one of the most awe-inspiring viewing experiences I’ve had this decade.
41. Inception (2010)
What makes Inception so good, and indeed worth watching at all, is not its convoluted plot or misdirecting twists, but the fact that once you strip those away, it’s a very simple story about a father who wants to see his kids. An all-star cast, top-notch score from Hans Zimmer, and groundbreaking special effects all work together to bring Nolan’s ambitious take on the “one last job” story to life.
40. The Big Short (2015)
Is it a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy? Either or, The Big Short produces some genuine laughs amid its grueling account of the housing crisis. With a script that bends if not breaks pretty much all of the hard and fast rules of screenwriting, and editing that creates a gently humorous atmosphere of confusion, The Big Short is a fun watch, despite everything, and a very important movie.
39. Fast and Furious 6 (2013)
The defining feature of this movie must be its extended climax, which takes place on and alongside an airplane driving down a runway about to take off. Given the apparent speed of the vehicles and the length of time the scene takes, this runway measures approximately twenty-eight miles in length, or roughly the diameter of London. Fast and Furious 6 might have a casual disregard for reality, but it makes up for this in genuinely fun action, a surprisingly witty script, and lovable characters.
38. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Magical realism can be tough to pull off, especially if you’re tilting full-force into the fantasy elements. Here, they reach us through the imagination of a young girl separated from her father during a hurricane. Beasts of the Southern Wild tells a sad story in the guise of a family adventure, and contains one hell of a performance from then seven-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis.
37. Stoker (2013)
Acclaimed Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park (who brought us such cheerful fare as Oldboy, Thirst, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance/Lady Vengeance) made his English-language debut with Stoker, a visually haunting modern Gothic fairytale brought to life by a career-defining performance from Mia Wasikowska and a chilling score from Clint Mansell.
36. Easy A (2010)
Steeped in homage to the John Hughes high school classics from the 80s (but not drowning in said homage), Easy A is one of the best comedies of the decade, and with the added bonus of introducing us all to the infinitely perfect Emma Stone. Worth a laugh (or several), and positing a very positive message for teenagers and real people alike, Easy A is an all-around great movie.
35. 99 Homes (2015)
Although roughly a hundred minutes of eviction scenes, and therefore incredibly tough to watch, 99 Homes is an important movie, providing a pretty evenhanded look at the housing crisis of the last decade, proving once and for all that Andrew Garfield can act, and providing a career-best performance from Michael Shannon’s career of career-best performances.
34. Pacific Rim (2013)
Guys, Pacific Rim is such a great blockbuster. I’d say it lacks substance and poignancy, but it doesn’t lack those things just because it doesn’t have them. It doesn’t need them. Giant robots fight giant monsters. Idris Elba shouts inspiration speeches. Ron Perlman. Characters who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do and don’t just recycle that tired old reluctant hero angle. Amazing electric guitar soundtrack. Ron Perlman. Nuff said.
33. Locke (2014)
Tom Hardy drives a car. That is the plot of Locke. He plays a normal guy caught in a bad situation (and no, his situation isn’t criminal and does not involve high speed chases), trying to set things right as best he can. Hardy’s incredible performance brings to life an equally inspired script to produce a movie that transcends its gimmick to achieve something emotionally resonant and cinematically impressive.
32. Captain Phillips (2013)
Confession: until I saw Captain Phillips, I didn’t get why everyone thought Tom Hanks was so special. I sure get it now, though. Hanks’ performance joins an ensemble of cinematic perfection both behind and in front of the camera. Not a great movie to watch if you’re prone to seasickness, though.
31. Two Days, One Night (2014)
There is a genre out there called the “Sad Foreign Movie” genre. It is as much a genre as the “Stupid Blockbuster” or the “Oscar-bait Drama.” As with all genres, these have their highs and their lows. Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Sad Foreign Movie than Two Days, One Night (okay, there are two higher up on this list). This grimly realistic, yet oddly hopeful film redeems the general pretentious crappiness of realistic indie dramas, and as an added bonus features a great performance from Marion Cotillard.
30. Prisoners (2013)
Prisoners is two-and-a-half hours of grueling child abduction drama, but it showcases some incredible performances Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, plus some beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins. Although a hard watch, Prisoners is really worth it, and for director Denis Villeneuve, a style-defining precursor to Arrival.
29. The Congress (2014)
A vicious indictment of CGI and the Hollywood machine, The Congress blends genres and styles, live action and animation, features a career-best performance from Harvey Keitel, and is—as the kidz say—totally fuckin’ nuts. All the while, though, writer/director Ari Folman delicately straddles the line between pretentious garbage and clever criticism, in the end finally managing to avoid the former completely in favor of the latter.
28. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s ambitious Dark Knight Trilogy brings Bruce Wayne’s character arc to a satisfying resolution as he faces Bane. The Batman nerd inside me was squealing his heart out when this movie hit theaters, and pretty consistently through its two-hour-and-forty-minute runtime. Nolan does epic scale in an old fashioned cinematic style, and his screenplay does an excellent job reconciling Batman with Bruce Wayne to complete a classic heroic arc.
27. Crimson Peak (2015)
I know a lot of people who didn’t like Crimson Peak, and what’s more, they didn’t like it for all the exact same reasons that I loved it. Diff’rent strokes, I guess. Just as Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale about why we tell fairy tales, Guillermo del Toro’s spin on the gothic ghost story explores why people tell gothic ghost stories. Add del Toro’s vision with stunning art direction, sets, costumes, and a flawless cast including Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Charlie Hunham, and you’ve got a winner in my book.
26. Much Ado About Nothing (2013)
Exhausted and worn out after making The Avengers, Joss Whedon invited a bunch of his friends over to his house for a relaxing party. They ended up doing a reading of Much Ado About Nothing just for fun, and everybody liked it so much they decided, on a whim, to just make a movie out of it. Whedon’s signature sense of humor perfectly complements the innate wit of Shakespeare’s play, and the cast—all Whedon regulars—perform wonderfully.
25. La La Land (2016)
Damien Chazelle made quite the entrance in 2014 with his masterpiece Whiplash. His follow-up is, thankfully, getting all of the buzz and praise it rightly deserves. In essence a throwback to the classic Hollywood musicals of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, La La Land adapts an old story into a new world. Chazelle’s musical is as much an homage to the past as it is a story about moving forward. Through the songs and the music, he and his exceptional cast and crew capture that simultaneous feeling of happiness and sadness that comes with aging. After all, you can’t go forward without leaving something behind, a lesson I feel is especially resonant in this particular article. Everyone in it is great, but Emma Stone steals the show. She’s stupid good. Why is she perfect at everything she does? What’s up with that?
24. The Artist (2011)
Every time I watch The Artist it puts me in a good mood. Few movies embrace their gimmick with such grace as this. I don’t detect any pretention or award-grabbing, just people who love what they’re doing shrugging and saying, “Let’s do it!” It’s a silent movie, but it doesn’t bury itself in tribute and nostalgia. It tells its own story and does it well. It just makes me feel good. Who couldn’t fall in love Jean Dujardin?
23. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Writer/director/actor Taika Waititi (of the aforementioned film Boy, as well as Eagle vs. Shark and What We Do in the Shadows) has been referred to as New Zealand’s answer to Wes Anderson, and while this is in some ways accurate, he is so much more. Hunt for the Wilderpeople showcases the full force (although doubtlessly not the full extent) of his talent. It focuses on a troubled young man who disappears into the New Zealand bush with his foster parent Heck, prompting a nationwide manhunt conducted by child services. Funny, exciting, heartwarming, and clever, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has something for everyone, I think: a family film in the truest sense.
22. Mud (2013)
If you were curious as to whether or not the McConaissance was duly earned, look no further than Mud. I didn’t like Dallas Buys Club, but Matthew McConaughey’s performance here is fantastic. In the hands of Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories), he delivers a layered, meditative character study. I must admit, though, his was not the most impressive in Mud. That distinction belongs to Tye Sheridan. Actually, Nichols’ script steals the show. Hell, it’s all good.
21. It Follows (2015)
It Follows is one of the most original and inventive movies of the decade, if not the century, so far. A brilliant, unsettling premise is perfectly complemented by a flawless cast and expert direction. The killer soundtrack doesn’t hurt it either. Not for the easily scared, though. It Follows will jack you up.
20. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as vampires in a Jim Jarmusch movie. The supporting cast includes Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt. It’s two hours long and pretty much nothing happens, just vampire Swinton and Hiddles bumming around Detroit. Jarmusch’s vision of vampirism is the best non-horror one out there: just a couple of deathless bohemians using their immortality as an excuse to read more.
19. The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Doomed to obscurity due to corporate politics, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest nonetheless earned a high place on this list. Amid humor and adventure, Spivet harbors a relatable and emotionally poignant tale of loss and love. It simultaneously warms and breaks your heart, and I love it dearly. Plus, the cinematography and music are simply amazing. It’s funny how great cinematography and great music always seem to go hand in hand.
18. Arrival (2016)
I knew Denis Villeneuve could direct from Prisoners, but Arrival caught me completely off guard. It exemplifies the rarest kind of film, where all of the parts cohere without exception, without the slightest discord, without surplus or inadequacy. To match its technical perfection, though, it also boasts an astoundingly moving story. I cried. Amy Adams is perfect in this movie. The music is perfect. The sound design is perfect. The visual effects are perfect. The script is perfect. Everything is perfect. I loved Arrival, you guys. If you haven’t seen it yet, y’all should get on that.
17. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The latest installment in the post-apocalyptic Australian action franchise is basically just a two hour car chase, but every moment of it showcases some of the very best in cinematic technical savvy. George Miller creates his most visually rich, exciting, awe-inspiring film to date, and while it doesn’t have much of a script, Fury Road delivers a surprisingly strong message through its cast of characters and their actions. All this aside, Mad Max: Fury Road is, simply put, dope as hell.
16. Inside Out (2015)
If you’re willing to count all three Toy Story movies as one entity, then Inside Out immediately forced its way into my top five Pixar movies ever, and that’s saying something because Pixar knows how to make movies. Like many of its predecessors, Inside Out appropriately takes its audience on an emotional rollercoaster, painting a moving and relatable portrait of the emotional process of growing up. Sometimes things need to be both happy and sad, like memories of things we’ve left behind. That’s the whole message of Inside Out, so it works that the movie strikes that tone itself. Never going full tilt in one direction or the other, but always maintaining a balance between the two not-so-mutually-exclusive sentiments.
15. Whiplash (2014)
The production of Whiplash (not including pre- or post-, just the filming portion) took seventeen days. Two and a half weeks. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t done a whole lot in the past two and a half weeks. I certainly haven’t created a masterpiece. Whiplash is nothing short of that: a masterpiece. Like Arrival, this is a film where every element, every component of its cinematic makeup coheres to a common theme. The editing, the sound mixing, the direction, the music, the costumes, the cinematography, the acting; it all moves in unison. Very few films achieve that synchronism.
14. A Separation (2011)
I only saw this movie once, and I’ll probably never see it again, and that’s okay. Some movies you only need to watch once. Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi demonstrates in this and his follow-up film, The Past, a rare and unmatched knack for empathy. He does family drama without melodrama, without self-indulgence, and without judgment, because he manages to see an argument from every conceivable angle. A Separation focuses on a crumbling marriage, and brings us every perspective, personal and societal, to deliver a hard-hitting, unforgettable movie. But one that I will probably never re-watch. That’s just how it is.
13. Short Term 12 (2013)
I can’t explain exactly why I loved Short Term 12 so much. I mean, technically there’s nothing to criticize. Artistically, it’s a rich, beautiful movie. As for why it spoke so deeply to me, I think the greatest portion of the credit has to go to the cast. This movie made me realize just how talented Brie Larson truly is. She won her Oscar for Room, but this has to be her greatest work. Kaitlyn Dever and Lakeith Lee Stanfield bring to life incredibly difficult roles for such young actors, each playing troubled teens living in a kind of halfway house for juveniles. Larson guides them through the motions just as her character guides them through their problems, and together, with writer/director Destin Cretton, they create a powerful and important story about youth and growing up.
12. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Many fans and critics called Wes Anderson’s latest his best. Although not my favorite Anderson, I find it hard to argue with those accolades. A masterpiece of audiovisual prowess, a story of wit and charm, a cast of thousands, an air of melancholic nostalgia, The Grand Budapest Hotel offers it all, and in the most classic sense, it will make you laugh and it will make you cry. They don’t make movies like this anymore, but Wes Anderson does, and that is a huge comfort.
11. The Martian (2015)
The unexpected feel-good movie of 2015, Ridley Scott’s latest directorial foray strands its main protagonist in an unthinkably awkward situation. Alone on Mars, the only human on the entire planet, astronaut Mark Watney must struggle to survive and make contact with Earth to orchestrate his return. Rather than panicking or despairing, Mark—and every other character in the movie—just roles up his sleeves and gets to work. He tackles every problem that arises with the same attitude, he listens to ABBA, and he gets the job done. Although it seems unlikely any of us will ever find ourselves in his position, The Martian nonetheless presents a feeling of positivity, which we can adapt to our own lives.
10. The Grey (2012)
A plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness. A gang of oil drill workers struggle to survive as a pack of wolves hunts them, picking them off one at a time. We’ve all seen this movie a million times, so what lands The Grey at number ten? Insight. Thoughtfulness. It fits snuggly into the survival subgenre, but this is not a movie about survival. After a point, the characters realize that, too. The Grey offers up a meditation on death. It comes for all of us, and a scarce few get the benefit of seeing it coming. If you do see it coming, though, how do you act? How do you meet it? The Grey fascinates itself and us by exploring these questions and answering them. And I don’t care what you say, this is Liam Neeson’s best performance.
9. Life of Pi (2012)
Like all of the movies in the top ten of this list, Life of Pi has a perfect ending. In this case, as with the book upon which it is based, the ending is what makes the movie. It gets to the core of why we tell stories and, by extension, in the hands of the incomparable Ang Lee, why we make movies. What he does throughout to the cinematic medium through this story pushes the technological and narrative boundaries CGI, and uses this tool as indispensably as he uses his camera and actors. Its incredible vision and spectacle are matched only by its immense sense of humanity and depth of theme.
8. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 hit theaters right around the day I graduated from high school (so yeah, I’m the same age as Andy, nbd). This gave it an extra poignancy. The first two Toy Story movies came out during my childhood, and I have always cherished them deeply. I know that Toy Story 4 is slotted for release in the coming years, but Toy Story 3 offered the perfect conclusion to the series. It’s funny and entertaining, but like most Pixar movies these days, it has some solid tear-jerking moments. Anyway, it meant a whole lot to me personally, and so it slips easily into the top ten.
7. Ex Machina (2015)
The coolest thing about Ex Machina is how writer/director Alex Garland managed to make three movies at once. He presents a multivalent narrative that focuses simultaneously on the dangers of artificial intelligence and unfettered scientific progress, on the complicated gender dynamics between men and women that still exist in society, and on entertaining (it is, on one level, just a sci-fi thriller). The nice thing is, whichever of these three movies you saw, you’re not wrong. The skill involved in creating such a complex and thematically layered narrative is staggering to say the least. You pair that with career-defining performances from Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac, and jaw-dropping yet understated CGI, and you’ve got one of the most captivating and memorable films of the decade.
6. The Hunt (2013)
The first time I saw The Hunt, I happened to work in a nursery looking after children under the age of five. This story about the dangers of an innocent lie, about how easily a petty accusation can spin out of control, really hit home for me. Danish Superstar Mads Mikkelsen delivers one of the finest performances mentioned on this list, bringing to life an innocent man who suffers under wrongful accusation. Although unjust—and normally I hate injustice in movies—The Hunt was never frustrating to me. It’s unflinchingly realistic, gut-wrenching, and yes, like every other entrant in the top ten, has a perfect—albeit unsettling—ending.
5. Take Shelter (2011)
I’ve only seen Take Shelter once, and have intended to re-watch it since that time, but it’s a hard movie. Few movies have ever put me in such a long-lasting funk as this (although it should be noted that in the days following my first viewing of Take Shelter, I also watched The Grey and Bicycle Thieves, and they helped that mood considerably), but one cannot simply define Take Shelter by its devastating narrative arc, or even by the unparalleled performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, or by Jeff Nichols’ visionary directing. Take Shelter is a seamless amalgam of all its parts, and still more than this basic sum. Few movies have ever affected me so deeply.
4. The King’s Speech (2010)
The climactic scene from The King’s Speech is one of the finest in dramatic cinema. Without action, without melodrama, without violence, the film culminates in a stirring instance of spoken word, one of the most important speeches of the twentieth century. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, with the aid of some good old Ludwig Van, and some top-notch editing, carry us through one of the most moving scenes of the decade. This scene does not make the movie all on its own, though. The King’s Speech maintains this excellence from start to finish, all the while capturing the mood of an England that was about to change forever with the onset of the Second World War. Although it focuses on one story, that of King George VI, his is that of a nation. The monarch is the perfect example of metonymy, after all. It was a time when each individual would have to overcome his or her own personal battles for the sake of the national endurance. Albert’s story is that on a grand scale.
3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson is one of few filmmakers whose entire filmography I have viewed. As with all careers, his has some highs and some lows and a fair amount of in-betweens. In my humble opinion, none of his highs are higher than Moonrise Kingdom, arguably the most genuine portrait of childhood love in cinema’s brief history. Anderson’s slightly wooden approach to dialogue and comedy finds its predestined home in the awkward but sincere love between two preteens. In short, he totally nails it. I never absconded with my lady love, but Moonrise Kingdom nevertheless takes me back. It captures a mindset that I once had, and does it in a way that never feels false, creepy, overtly nostalgic, or in any other way artificial. The events depicted in this movie are entirely fictional, but it is a true story.
2. The Lego Movie (2014)
The Lego Movie is unequivocally my favorite movie of the decade so far. Everything about it, to a lifelong Lego fan like me, is absolutely perfect: the animation that imitates stop-motion; the Easter Eggs that reference sets I built as a kid; Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s nonstop comedy and incomparable joke density; the lesson about creativity and exploration. To me, it was so much more than a ninety-minute toy commercial. It got the heart of playtime; it took me back. I now realize just how many movies on this list “took me back.” Incidentally, The Lego Movie was pretty important to this blog. It currently reigns as Second Breakfast’s most-viewed article, it won our first ever March Madness (a victory that even got retweeted by one of the directors), and I still consider that review among the finest I’ve written. Just thinking about The Lego Movie makes me feel happy. Who knows? Maybe I’ll watch it again tonight. I could watch it any day.
1. Drive (2011)
I remember seeing Drive in theaters. I was aware of it in my periphery, but none of us expected it to play anywhere nearby (we lived in the middle of nowhere; our nearest city was an hour and a half away and in a different country). That was an important experience, though, going to see Drive. I couldn’t stop thinking about that movie for weeks afterwards. Something about its melancholy, its artistic design, its understated performances, its violence, just stuck with me. Drive came out about a year before I started writing Second Breakfast, and in the years since, I’ve never written about. It’s safe to say, though, that without Drive, there wouldn’t be a Second Breakfast. I was already a student when it came out, and I’d been thinking about movies for a long time, but Drive was the first one I analyzed in earnest after only one viewing in theaters. It changed the way I watched new releases, and I have yet to go back to the old way. I watch movies on the big screen differently now, because of Drive. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back now. It’s a flawlessly made movie from start to finish, I still listen to its haunting synth soundtrack (actually, I’m listening to it right now), and I think that even though it means a little less to me now than it did when it came out, Drive is the most personally important movie of the last six years.
Well, that’s all folks. It’s been fun. If you need more intelligent movie criticism, a bunch of other people do write on this blog. You should read their stuff. Also, I have published well over 200 reviews and articles, so there’s quite a backlog. Other than that, I guess there’s nothing left to say, except that it’s been great. Thanks for reading.