20. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai)
This film has incredible rhythm, led by Shigeru Umebayashi’s elegant, repetitive score. It plays out much like a perfectly choreographed dance – the two lovers, constrained by their own delusions of nobility and morality, as well as society’s expectations of each other, circle each other endlessly, moving in, drawing back, never fully coming together. It’s a bit frustrating, but so is life; sometimes it’s not what happens that defines us, but what doesn’t, what is left unsaid, what longings are unexpressed, what love is unconsummated.
19. All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green)
In the same vein, All the Real Girls deals with a love that is broken, subverting expectations of how these narratives should play out. David Gordon Green treats his characters with tender empathy even as they self-sabotage, and the result is a film that feels warm and familiar, despite its confrontation of the hard truths that come with first love and experience. His vision of small town American life captures both its simple beauty and the frustration that comes with it, that feeling of being trapped.
18. The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana)
Often films containing so many characters and events can be distancing, never letting the viewer become intimately acquainted with any one moment or scene. The Best of Youth, however, uses its six hour runtime to great advantage, letting characters breathe and move throughout the loose narrative as they please. Certain scenes last interminably, like a New Year’s party, slowly, imperceptibly moving towards a game-changing climax. That isn’t to say, for its leisurely pace mostly resembling the ebb and flow of a great, sprawling novel, that the film is ever less than compelling. Its characters are so fully and warmly drawn, but left with enough ambiguity to draw you in, up until its stunning conclusion.
17. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)
I find it difficult to write about comedy; it’s hard to pin down the essence of something as creative, outrageous, and fast-paced as this. What I love about Edgar Wright’s particular brand of humor is that it combines so many different elements of comedy, from incredibly sharp dialogue, to gory slapstick, to subtle visual gags, but the whole affair is grounded by a deep affection for his characters and the genre being parodied. Hot Fuzz actually contains some of the best action of the decade, as well as a fairly compelling mystery underneath all the elaborately staged death scenes and hilarious performances. It never gets old for me, consistently revealing new layers in the dialogue and inventive editing. It’s endlessly rewarding.
16. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)
I find it incredibly difficult to write about this film, as well. Even after multiple views, I don’t feel like I have a complete grasp on its themes, perhaps because I’m resistant to seeing it as being as nihilistic as most readings are. Regardless, I find it fascinating, and it’s a thrilling cinematic experience, full of brilliantly constructed suspense. Much has been said about its immediately iconic villain, Anton Chigurh, but just as instrumental in the creation of a sublimely tense mood is Roger Deakins’ striking cinematography, and the sound design, which understands better than perhaps any other film the agony of silence.