By John H. Foote
Again, no introduction, just the films, which speak for themselves.
25. A STAR IS BORN (2018)
Beautiful performances, lived in characters are the highlight of a very fine directing debut from Bradley Cooper, who also gave the finest performance of his career as a singer on the way down, falling in love with a singer about to explode into the stratosphere. Lady Gaga is simply magnificent in this familiar, often told love story that Cooper and Gaga made fresh.
24. HOSTILES (2017)
Like The Searchers (1956) this western seethes with the anger and contempt of its lead character, Block, portrayed with stoic silence by Christian Bale, ordered to escort a Native family to their burial ground. On the way they find a woman who has lost her entire family to a vicious tribe of marauding natives. She feels safe with Block, insisting on remaining with him. The film is filled with violence and racism, but teems ultimately with redemption and forgiveness. Brilliant work from Bale, Rosamund Pike and Rory Cochran.
23. WHIPLASH (2014)
Oscar winner J. K. Simmons’s stalks the screen like a tense panther, his corded muscle wrapped tight around his bones. As the vicious music teacher and conductor of the college jazz band, no treatment of the students is to terrible to find perfection. In a gifted, hard working drummer, played by Miles Teller, he meets both his nemesis and the single student to elevate his work to genius. Exceptional.
22. JOJO RABBIT (2019)
Brilliant, bouncy black comedy set during the last days of Nazism in Germany. With the Americans and Soviets closing in on the city, a ten year old Nazi zealot waits for his chance to serve the Fatherland. Buoyed by his imaginary friend, Hitler himself he is thrilled to be attending a Nazi Youth camp where he is inceremoniously blown up and sent home. There he discovers his goofy upbeat mother, a saucy Scarlett Johansson, thrilled the war is ending has been hiding a Jewish girl in her closet. Taika Waititi is hilariously goofy and warm as Hitler, as well as directing the film with perfect tone, all wide eyed charm, and Johansson is a revelation as the doomed mother. Causticly brilliant.
21. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the sixties, a beautiful sun kissed film about a fading TV star, his lethal stuntman, Sharon Tate, andnthe Manson Family. As he did with Inglourious Basterds (2009) he bends and plays with history, much to the delight of the audience, and provides a lyrical, haunting ending that leaves us thinking we have seen an encounter with ghosts. It might be the most breathtaking sequence he has ever directed. , in all its vibrant neon becomes a secondary character in the film and there is a frightening, unsettling encounter with Manson’s murderous minions at the Ranch they commandeer. Leonardo Di Caprio is deeply funny as an actor who thinks he is washed up, Brad Pitt has never been better as his dangerous stunt man and Margot Robbie is luminous as Sharon Tate. Brilliant, funny, violent, and oddly, just.
20. JACKIE (2016)
Natalie Portman gives the best performance of 2016, of her career, and one for the ages as the grieving First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in the hours and days after her husband, JFK was assassinated. Covered in blood and brains as the limo speeds to the hospital, watching the swearing in of a new President still covered in the blood of her husband and trying to give her husband the funeral her deserves, Portman is absolute perfection. Never did I think I was watching an actress, she inhabited the very soul of Jackie. The scenes in the back of the limo are harrowing, but her war to honour her husband shows her to be made of steel.
19. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
Powerful, compelling study of Solomon Northrop (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped into slavery afterliving his life as a free Northerner, widely admired and respected. Stunned by the harsh treatment he endures and experiences as a worker on a plantation, he is shattered in spirit. Broken by what he sees he never stops trying to be freed, trying to get word to friends in the North. Ejiofor is magnificent as the dignified man turned slave, Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar as Patsy and there are fine performances from Paul Dani, Brad Pitt, and Michael Fassbender. Directed with quiet power by Steve McQueen.
18. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)
A time travel movie without a single visual effect? Who would have thought? Woody Allen directed and wrote this lovely comedy about a struggling screenwriter walking thevstreets of Paris, picked up one night by the Fitzgeralds, Scott and Zelda and plunged back in time. He encounters Hemingway, befriends both Fitzgeralds and many other greats of the time. Incredibly he finds love, allowing him to leave his hateful, harpy of a fiancé to destroy someone else. Owen Wilson is perfect, Corey Stoll shines as Hemingway. One of Allen’s very best.
17. THE DESCENDANTS (2011)
George Clooney was never better than he is here as a wealthy lawyer and land owner, his wife on life support after a boating tragedy who is told by his daughter his wife had been cheating on him, preparing to divorce him. Reeling with blind anger and grief, he attempts to deal with the impending passing of his wife, damaged beyond repair, his two angry daughters, also grieving, his wife’s angry father whom he will not tell the true story, and his wife’s lover, who he tracks down. Clooney is a miracle in the film, I still am stunned he lost the Oscar. Superbly directed by Alexander Payne.
16. THE MASTER (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson directed and wrote this fascinating film about abtroubled young war veteran, Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) pulled into a cult in the fifties. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gave his last great performance as the opportunistic leader of the cult Lancaster, who his son States “is making this up as he goes along.” The highlight of the film is the daring performance of Phoenix, jaw leading him, tucked into himself, hands backwards on his hips all but daring anyone to challenge him, filled with contempt for mankind. Their scenes together, Hoffman and Phoenix, crackle with excitement and tension, as Lancaster slowly realizes Freddie is onto him. Beautifully acted, with Amy Adams and Laura Dern doing exceptional work too. Brilliant.
15. HER (2013)
A wildly original futuristic film about anlonely man portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix as a guy who falls in love with his computers operating system. Voiced by sultry Scarlett Johansson, we understand why he falls for her, they can talk about anything, they have deep conversations and she adores him too. The physical attraction is conquered, you just have to take a leap of faith. His friends get it, why should we not? But while he is sleeping or offline, she is not and he realizes she is having hundreds of relationships and must break free into the online universe to truly be free. Directed and written by Spike Jones, the film is an original unique love story. Phoenix is sublime…again.
14. ARRIVAL (2016)
Amy Adams is a brilliant linguist, brought in by the military to decipher the language of an alien race which has landed in key positions around the globe. An alien visitation film unlike anything ever experienced, the intelligence with which this was made is breathtaking. Denis Villeneuve directed the film, with stunning power, drawing a career best performance out of Adams. The effects are remarkable, the aliens absolutely unique, their language more visual than vocal. Filmed with a near documentary like precision, the film felt plausible, which is its genius as though documentary crews were filming. Time is bent so pay attention.
13. MARRIAGE STORY (2019)
The vicious argument between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) becomes appalling in its toxic rage, as they hurl hateful comments at one another before breaking down, exhausted, ashamed, spent. Noah Baumbach brings divorce to the screen in all its ugliness, as we join them in the midst of their divorce, a couple who cannot be together but who clearly love each other. Driver is as good as young Brando, raw, primal in his realism. Johansson joins the big leagues here with a monumentally powerful performance that will stun even her biggest fans. The pain of the two is left on the screen, but a glimmer of hope exists after the bloody divorce. Visceral, punishing but altogether brilliant.
12. THE REVENANT (2015)
In a near silent performance, Leonardo Di Caprio is tracker Hugh Glass, left horribly attacked and mauled by a grizzly in the woods. His son murdered, Glass is buried alive in a shallow grave, but crawls out, and slowly his broken bones mend. Moving across the harsh, rugged landscape he moves back towards civilization to exact his revenge on the coward who killed his boy and left him to die. Brilliantly directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, shot by the gifted three time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lebezski, the film is a showcase for the Oscar winning performance of Di Caprio, truly breathtaking in one of modern cinema’s great physical performances. Stunning, raw, visceral, the lush green forests mask danger at every turn.
11. LA LA LAND (2016)
From the energetic opening dance sequence on a California freeway, where this film explodes into motion, Director Damien Chazelle has the audience in the palm of his hand. A love story, featuring an Oscar winning performance from Emma Stone, and soulful work from Ryan Gosling, the Picture is wonderful, buoyed by these two major stars. Chazelle establishes himself as a major filmmaker, winning the Academy Award and DGA as Best Director along with a litany of other awards for this gentle love story, filled with heartache. It never quite goes where you think it will.
10. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
A beautiful, quirky, sprawling comedy from the mind of Wes Anderson, one of the most daring and original directors working today. A rare comic farce, the film involves the antics of Gustav (Ralph Fiennes), the fussy, very demanding yet fiercely loyal manager of the Once opulent Grand Budapest Hotel. Taking special care of the many equally loyal guests, his duties include (apparently) sexual favours to the old and elderly women. Accused of murder, he and his ever loyal lobby boy flee, and during their adventures Gustav mentors the boy, who will eventually own the hotel. Fiennes has rarely been better and Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham and Willem Dafoe are all superb.
9. FIRST MAN (2018)
By far the very best film of 2018, the Academy should be forever ashamed of ignoring the film. The Film explores the sad life of Neil Armstrong, forever a part of history after being the first man to set foot on the moon. As portrayed by Ryan Gosling, Armstrong is a taciturn quiet man forever locked in grief over the death of his infant daughter of cancer. Cool under pressure he is a valued part of the team headed towards the moon and once there he is awed by how small mankind truly is. Directed with intimate beauty and soaring awe by Damien Chazelle, the film, from top to bottom is perfection. Claire Foy is a standout as Jan Armstrong, perfectly matched to Gosling. Exquisite visuals and cinematography complimented by a magnificent score.
8. THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)
Bold, daring and infectious, this science fiction fantasy deals with a creature captured in the Amazon during the Cold War and brought to a top secret lab where it is studied by scientists, tortured by a smug military monster and loved by a deaf janitor. She develops a language with him, signing, and engineers his escape, aided by her gay neighbour and a Soviet spy masquerading as a scientist. Sally Hawkins is luminous as Eliza, while Michael Stuhlbarg brilliant as the gentle spy, and Richard Jenkins warmly wonderful as her neighbour. Watch close and in some shots you might considernthe creature a super hero, or God as the military thinks. The final moments are breathtaking, captivating and pure movie magic. Del Toro rules.
7. TRUE GRIT (2010)
The Coen Brothers made it clear that their western was not a remake of the John Wayne Oscar winner but a retelling of the novel by Charles Portis. A handsome western, nicely adapted, the film is anchored by a simply stunning performance from newcomer Hailee Stenfield as Mattie Ross, the whip smart fourteen year old who wants her father’s killer brought to justice. She hires a drunken but fearless Marshall, one Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to find him, and together with a sly, arrogant Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) they track the killers down. The rugged landscape seems burnished, shot by candlelight, the characters tough and lived in andveach demonstrates they to posses the grit of the title. Bridges and Stenfeild shine and we’re both deserving of Oscars.
6. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)
Grief guts you, takes away all your joy, can become physical pain if you let it. I know this because I fell into this pit of despair after my beautiful, young wife died in 2012. The portrayal of grief by Casey Affleck in this film is stunning, realistic, simply a work of art from this obviously gifted young actor. As a father who lost his children in a fire, he cannot climb out of the hole he has fallen into. When his older brother dies, he tries to care for his nephew but as he tells the boy, “I can’t beat it.” The scene between Affleck and his ex-wife beautifully played by Michelle Williams might be the greatest acted scene in recent American film. An aching film, filled with pain, and finally just a shred of hope, directed and written with urgent care by Kenneth Lonergan.
5. LINCOLN (2012)
Steven Spielberg’s magnificent recreation of the days of perhaps the greatest President to ever live was bolstered by a miraculous Daniel Day-Lewis performance in which he inhabited the soul and spirit of Abraham Lincoln. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones as superb as Mary Todd and Thaeddus Stevens, respectively, and the astute, literate, Screenplay is among the finest of the decade. The opening scene, with Lincoln speaking with a black soldier from the North allows us to see Day-Lewis as Lincoln for the first time. Seconds into the scene, the actor is gone, replaced by Lincoln. Spielberg and Day-Lewis give us Lincoln in the flesh, an astonishing achievement.
4. ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
An intense, thrilling finally searing study into avwoman’s quest to find Osama Bin Laden. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA analyst who devotes years of her young life to finding the location of this wanted terrorist. She has no life, only Bin Laden, she has no friends, only her work and she fearlessly harangues her superiors into doing the right thing, killing this terrorist. She knows with everything in her being that she is right, he is there. Tightly directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow, she deserved a second Oscar for this film, superior on every level to The Hurt Locker (2009). The execution is startling and eerily authentic, as though we are right there.
3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
An extraordinary film. The topical story of Facebook, created by a brilliant, but socially awkward Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the film focuses on the creation of Facebook, which in three short years revolutionized the entire world, and made Zuckerberg obscenely wealthy before he was twenty five years old. Told in flashback at a legal deposition where Zuckerberg seems indifferent to being sued, we see his astounding sharp mind at work, always thinking, always in motion. Eisenberg is perfect, and David Fincher made a truly superb film, one for the ages. Like numbers one and two, it is flawless. Future generations will watch this film and see, truthfully, this was how it was. Exactly.
2. THE IRISHMAN (2019)
As Francis Ford Coppola so dominated the seventies, so did Martin Scorsese rule the last ten years with an array of masterpieces. The Irishman is inter changeable with the number one film of the decade, meaning they could and do switch positions for me often. Right now I stand with The Irishman as the second best film of the decade. This completes the study of gangster films for Scorsese, a melancholy, haunting film about accepting the consequences of your actions, potentially losing everything that matters to you. Not money nor material things, but family, people, those who surround yourself with. Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) became a trusted bodyguard and hitman for labour giant Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) through his friendship with mafia chief Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Drunk with power, Hoffa crosses the most dangerous allies he has, the mob, leaving them no choice but to get rid of him. And who does it fall too? His closest friend, Frank. The killing haunts Frank for the rest of his life, echoing across the landscape of memory in the quiet, lonely halls of the seniors home where in his later life, he resides. De Niro gives his finest performance since the last time he worked with Scorsese in Casino (1995), while Pacino is electrifying as bombastic Jimmy Hoffa. The revelation within the Film, however is Joe Pesci, talked out of retirement as Bufalino, a soft spoken, gentleman Don, who never raises his voice because thebsteel in his voice speaks volumes. The trio of performances are an absolute triumph, beautifully directed by Scorsese in what will be considered among his finest work. 2019’s very best film, bravo Netflix for producing this when all the studios said no. Yes, no, to Martin Scorsese.
1. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
Quentin Tarantino famously, with typical arrogance recently quipped that film directing was for young men. I guess no one told this to Clint Eastwood (89), Woody Allen (78), Steven Spielberg (72) or Martin Scorsese (77). Scorsese was seventy two years old when he directed this wickedly explosive tragi-comedy about Jordan Belfort. A Wall Street stock market broker, Belfort (Leonardo Di Caprio) discovered penny stocks and made a fortune, which he turned into hundreds of millions in a short time, breaking every rule in the stock game, attracting the attention of the FBI for money laundering. Shot with astonishing energy, the film treats Belfort like a spoiled rock star, gleefully living the expensive life style his millions allow, marrying a goddess whom he refers to as the Duchess (Margot Robbie) and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, taking drugs several times a day, and filling his bed with an array of hookers. Make no mistake, this is a cautionary tale but a black comedy as well, as black as you can get. We watch Belfort achieve everything a man can achieve, but want more, and then lose it all because he indulged far too much. Di Caprio is utterly breathtaking as Belfort, the performance of his career, portraying Belfort with an alarming intensity, and arrogance that will bring him down. Jonah Hill is brilliant as his sidekick Donny, Robbie excellent as his beautiful but long suffering wife, and Rob Reiner is bombastically hilarious as his father, forever raging at the insane expense accounts. Like a rock star, Scorsese directs with extraordinary confidence, and a boldness we have not see before. Astonishing.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.