Best Films of the 2010s: Part 4

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Best Films of the 2010s: Part 4

Andrew Eaton, Writer

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Her 

Directed by Spike Jonze

The plot: In the not too distant future, a man named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers a recent divorce from his wife (Rooney Mara) and after buying a newly developed sentient artificial intelligence (Scarlet Johansson), he falls in love with it.

What Makes It Great: Her is a film that asks many questions about both its main character and love as a concept. At first, this movie presents Theodore as a shallow person who can’t handle real emotions so he dates an A.I. However, as the film goes on and Theodore’s relationship with the machine grows, he becomes happier and he finds himself fully realizing the beauty of life and love. The main question Her asks is “Does love have to be intellectual or can it be based on pure emotion?” Not only is the theme itself interesting, but so is the subtle manner in which it is presented. Her also has a phenomenal lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix. I think that the best performances are the ones where the audience doesn’t see an actor playing a character but instead just the character the actor is bringing to life. Phoenix excels at this, making each character he plays nuanced and interesting. Scarlett Johansson is also wonderful as the A.I as she brings life to a lifeless machine. A surprising praise I feel Her must be given is that it has a great color pallet. Each set and piece of clothing is so vibrant in order to contrast the shallow people in this world. Her is a challenging and engaging piece of great filmmaking.

Drive

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

The plot: A Hollywood stunt double who lives a secret life as a heist getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) falls in love with his neighbor (Carey Mulligan) but after the driver gets involved with a heist rigged by the mafia, both he and his neighbor’s life are in jeopardy.

What Makes It Great: The first thing I must mention about Drive is that despite the premise, this is not a fast paced and action packed heist film. Drive is a slow paced and methodical character study of a mostly silent protagonist. This film requires that it’s audience think carefully about what every subtle detail means. In fact, this whole movie relies on subtlety through short but meaningful exchanges between characters, nuanced performances and symbolism. I will admit that I could not catch everything that Drive wants to say yet I feel that is a good thing because I think that’s what director Nicholas Winding Refn was going for. Speaking of Refn, he achieves some of the most well crafted directing of the decade (and possibly of the 21st Century) as each shot feels like it’s a great look into the driver’s mind. A great example of this brilliant directing  that was pointed out to me by another review is the camera placement during certain scenes. During certain important moments, the camera is cleverly placed downwards looking up at the driver to show that he is fully in control of a situation. The driver himself is masterfully played by Ryan Gosling who like the film itself uses subtlety to his advantage. The driver has a mostly blank expression throughout the movie, however when Gosling shows little hints of emotion in certain scenes, it feels so effective. These tiny displays of mood are so subtle but still show that the driver has feelings under his hollow mask. On top of all of that, this movie has an amazing soundtrack filled with lesser known genre song gems. Drive is a brilliantly directed and acted character study.

Knives Out

Directed by Rian Johnson

The plot: A private investigator (Daniel Craig) investigates the death of a rich mystery writer (Christopher Plumber) as he suspects that the writer’s family (Micheal Shannon, Jaime Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Toni Collete) and their maid (Ana de Armas) are involved.

What Makes It Great: Knives Out is easily the best murder mystery in recent memory.  It is very much inspired by Agatha Christie stories yet Rian Johnson still makes this film feel completely his own with great humor, social commentary that never feels ham-fisted and a brilliant way of making this formulaic genre feel new. That new way is how information is controlled. Most murder mysteries give you certain details about each character as the movie goes along. However, Knives Out tells you this information at the beginning of the film so it makes the audience double guess every character throughout the whole runtime. Johnson’s script is so smart and intricate since every loose end is tied up perfectly. The script also succeeds because of it’s great dialogue that feels witty and fresh. These great lines are helped by the great talent who speak them. There is not a weak link in this cast at all. Every actor exells in this film especially Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. Armas plays the innocent person who is caught up in the investigation very well and Craig is very enjoyable as this over the top Hercule Periot-type detective. Knives Out is a tense and thrilling mystery film. 

Zero Dark Thirty

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

The plot: Loosely based on a true story, a CIA operative (Jessica Chastain) embarks on a near-decade long hunt for terrorist Osama bin Laden after September 11, 2001.

What Makes It Great: Zero Dark Thirty is an incredibly disturbing film. In fact, when it came out in 2012, it was called “pro-torture propaganda” by some people for it’s realistic depiction of how American operatives treated men they were interrogating. I think that this accusation misses the point of this movie. Zero Dark Thirty is a dark reflection on our country’s time hunting Osama bin Laden and it asks if our quest for vengeance was really worth it after all the damage done because of the hunt. The uneasy tone is helped by Kathryn Bigelow’s incredible directing. Everything in this film is displayed in a very matter-of-fact way that makes all the film’s horrific events seem all the more real. This combined with the great pacing makes Zero Dark Thirty very engaging from start to finish. Jessica Chastain’s fantastic performance also complements these elements as she portrays a woman consumed by revenge in a very believable way. Zero Dark Thirty is a great film about vengeance and it’s costs.

Inception

Directed by Christopher Nolan

The plot: Set in a world where information can be stolen by entering a person’s dreams, a thief named Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is hired to enter a powerful businessman’s son’s mind and plant an idea to abolish his father’s wealthy empire. Although Cobb has a major obstacle: a mental projection of his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard) that haunts him while he works.

What Makes It Great: Christopher Nolan is easily one of the best filmmakers in my lifetime. From The Dark Knight to Dunkirk, he always makes great film after great film and Inception is one of his best achievements. The directing in this film is truly awe-inspiring as each shot of the dream world being altered feels as grand as possible due to Nolan. Speaking of said dream world, the concept is explored brilliantly. I won’t spoil it but each new idea in this film makes total sense story-wise and makes for one of the most original ideas of the decade. However, Inception is more than just great action sequences as it has a great study of grief at its core. Cobb’s grief is his defining trait in the film and it makes him a very relatable character. Inception is one of the most innovative and creative movies of the decade.