Happy Turkey Day, Everyone! It’s Andy Larson, host of the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast and resident turkey drumstick killer! That’s right, you put that bird down on the table later this afternoon and you’ll see a massacre. I’ll be ripping off arms and legs so fast you won’t even be able to say “Would you like white or dark meat?”. Dark Meat, baby! All Dark Meat. It’s the best for dunking in your gravy soaked mashed potatoes that’s for sure.
Anyways, Thanksgiving is probably one of my favorite holidays of the entire year for multiple reasons. The Feast, the parade, the football games, the Black Friday deals, the excitment about the start of the Christmas season, and oh…did I mention watching MOVIES?!?
Yeah, for me this holiday is also special because it’s that one time of year I’m also apt to sit down with a slab of pumpkin pie and watch some cinematic treats. It’s all thanks to MST3k which cultivated a need in my brain to watch movies in between gorgings. Of course, most of those movies are of the cheesy variety as I still can’t pass up a whole Thanksgiving without watching at least one episode of Mystery Science riffing. However, I used to suppliment that with a couple different Oscar winners I might have missed over the course of the past year, as a way of reasserting my cinephile creed.
So, when Stew announced that this month’s “GotS List Shared Topic for Twitter voting” would be the Top 10 favorite Non comic movies of the past decade, I thought that I had this list in the bag. I mean I’m the Insomniac Cult Movie Theater guy! If there’s one thing I do well it’s watch movies!
Unfortunately as I started to put my list down in writing, a stark and painful realization set in.
I haven’t really seen that many movies in the past decade.
Well, that is I haven’t see that many “Non comic book related” movies in the past decade. All the comic book ones have been watched more times than I can count, and that’s a sobering reminder of how much these films have dominated my life over the past decade. But it’s not just that. Through a combination of this decade being the one in which I raised and continuing to raise young children and my dwindling attention span that has arose as movies continue to become more and more unoriginal, I have found myself putting more and more movies every day on the back burner.
Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Get Out, Midsommar, Dunkirk, Moonlight, Roma, John Wick, Wolf of Wall Street, The Artist, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Arrival, Manchester By The Sea, Boyhood, and countless others all heaped together in a pile of films that I swore up and down that I would watch, but never came to be. Mostly because of that 2 hour + run times. I mean, who has time for that when you got rugrats climbing all over the good furniture!?!
So anyways, this list which you are about to read are in no way shape or form the “greatest” movies of the past decade. They are just some of the best ones I’ve actually seen. Sure, some of them are finding themselves on “Top 10” lists everywhere around the internet, but I’m sure a couple you might feel are more appropriate for a MST3k “worst” list.
That’s the great thing about top 10 movies lists though. Just like butt cheeks, everybody’s got a set and trust me, every one is uniquely different.
10.) 12 Years a Slave
Might as well start the list off with the movie that some around the GotS offices would call “controversial”. Not because of the subject matter mind you. It’s mainly because they will accuse me of pandering for votes to the Oscar snobs and critics by including an “important” film on my list.
Sorry, gents. Not all of my movies can be “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil“, some have to be legitimate works of art. The pinnacle of why film making is an important enterprise to begin with. To tell stories that matter and shine a light on the struggles of those that may not have a voice.
Sure, this is one of those movies like Schindler’s List that I’d only ever watch once in my list time just simply because of the depressingly serious content, but it’s also one of those movies that I feel has enriched my life because I saw it. It’s insanely well directed by Steve McQueen (no not the Cooler King from The Great Escape), and in that direction the movie does capture the crushingly claustrophobic and hopeless reality that slavery is. The total lack of individualism and freedom, the absence of pride in ones self, the isolation of never knowing who you can trust and confide in, it’s all there.
And expertly acted by the way by Chiwetel Ejiofor, in that the main character of Solomon Northup tries desperately to maintain a sense of self worth and dignity even in the face of the horrible injustices being dealt him, that it is indeed as life affirming as it is something that makes your blood boil with rage over his unfair treatment.
Yes, this makes my list not just because it was a Best Picture winner, but because its sincerely an important movie that makes you think and feel differently after watching it, opening your eyes in important ways to how intrinsically important liberty is to every person and how we should fight so hard to ensure nobody denies that to anyone.
9.) The Social Network
I’ll say this from the start. I do love David Fincher movies. I don’t think I’ve seen a bad one. Whether it was Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, even the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, all of these movies were time well spent for me mainly because of the incredible intensity and unique vision that David Fincher brought to the film.
That’s why I was originally a little skeptical when I originally heard that he was going to direct a movie all about the birth of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to power from his “humble” beginnings as a college kid trying to get even with some girls that made fun of him to the king of a world conquering social platform that connected everyone from 6 to 60 in a real way for the first time (yeah..yeah..I know there was Myspace…shush).
But once I saw the movie I knew that this story was one that fit perfectly into David Fincher’s wheel house. The war over the creation and control of this billion dollar enterprise, the calculated coldness and cock sure attitude of actor Jesse Eicherberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, it’s all done with a methodical pace similar to the building of the suspense in Seven as each scene ratchets up the stakes and builds a unstoppable freight train of inevitability.
Sure, this is just about the foundation of a company, but it’s given such frank “life and death” stakes, that it can’t help but suck you in. I feel like if this had been directed by any other person, it would not have been the same movie or made this profound of an impact. But that’s David Fincher for you. He makes a mundane boardroom meeting as tense as a hostage negotiation, and keeps you on edge of your seat with an strange impersonal sense of looming dread.
Plus that ending with the choir singing that cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”, it was so picture perfect! Giving teenage angst (which some could argue is how Facebook was created) some divine and holy purpose as the catalyst for universal change. It still gives me chills!
8.) Super 8
You remember this movie?
Nah, you don’t. You probably didn’t even remember it was released in this past decade. You were probably saying to yourself “Oh yeah! I remember that one! Wasn’t it released in like 2005…?”
Nope, it was released in the summer of 2011 among tons of internet buzz as JJ Abrams did his best to build suspense about what could be locked inside of that derailed freight train trying it’s best to break out on audiences all over. We all remember those teaser trailers. What could Super 8 be!?!
And the movie did ultimately deliver on at least the promise of recapturing that young Steven Spielberg feeling of unbridled imagination that we felt in the 80s from movies like Close Encounters and E.T. Sure, some may fault this movie as in some ways blatantly ripping off Spielberg and movies of that ilk that he was involved with indirectly like say the Goonies, but that’s sort of what JJ Abrams excels at. He’s like the tomato soup of directors, delicious comfort food, reminding us on those cold dark days of uncertainty of those “mythical” days of the past when “things were so much better” than they are now. Of course, the reality is that they might not have been “so much better”, but the fog of time tends to do that to our memories, just like oldies might not be the best songs, but they instantly make us feel happier.
I for one really enjoyed Super 8, mainly because of those reasons I listed above, but also because it dealt with kids making movies with a borrowed video camera. That was my childhood in a nutshell so I instantly felt camaraderie and fellowship with all of the characters. Plus, although the reveal of the “Super 8” being a captured alien creature desperate to escape captivity was somewhat cliche, it again retold that same old story in a super competent way that made for an enjoyable 2 hours of film watching.
Also, remember “Stranger Things”? Yeah, that show doesn’t happen without this movie. Super 8 paved the way for the kid based uber creepy nostalgic 80s thrill ride we’ve been enjoying on Netflix for years. Don’t you forget that.
Next up on the list of movies from directors I have the utmost respect for is this entry that still has armies of geeks world wide on different sides of the fence on what exactly happened and whether Cobb ever did wake up from his dream and become reunited with his kids. Something about the fact that the top wasn’t his totem but the wedding ring was, so that’s how he knew he was awake at the end because he’s not wearing it…whatever. It’s a cluster flock of a mind twisting maze within a maze wrapped in an enigma cloaked in a question encased in bacon. Okay so I made the bacon part out, but I will say for me this movie was every bit as tasty as bacon is.
I have loved Christopher Nolan’s movies since I first saw the Prestige, and this one has yet to be supplanted in my mind as his magnum opus. Even more than Batman: Dark Knight, because I feel like he got shortcuts with good movie making in the Batmans because he was handed the characters on a silver platter already. With Inception, he had to come up with that dream thievery concept all by himself, so it’s worthy of some extra praise.
Although I will say that anyone that’s read any Phillip K. Dick science fiction will tell you the notion of blurring the lines between what is reality and what is make believe is a very old concept, and messing with people’s sense of perception especially in terms of what they believe to be the truth is even an older one. So for those that cry foul that this movie is too far fetched or confusing to be believable, I just ask them “Haven’t you ever had a dream in which you wake up in the middle of it and swear you awake yet you are still dreaming?” 9 out of 10 folks I betcha would raise their hands.
Honestly though, the main reason I love this movie though is because of the spinning room sequences and how that was all done with practical special effects instead of CGI. Bravo to a director who dares to push the envelope in what you can do without resorting to the magic computer box to fix all your film making inefficiencies. Hitchcock didn’t have CGI. John Ford didn’t have CGI. Nor Bergman or Coppola or Kubrick or Frank Capra.
Practical film making. That gets my vote every damn time.
6.) La La Land
What would a good movie list be if you didn’t include at least one musical?
Movies that make you hum the tunes for weeks on end after you’ve seen them, and fill you with a sense of joy at what the world beyond movies about concentration camps and/or massive high speed car chases would be like. Musicals are just good for your soul with all the singing and dancing and whatnot. And this movie has that in spades from all the colors in the women’s dresses in the “Someone in the Crowd” scene to the original choreography such as the traffic jam scene. Just wonderful!
However I will say that although I do love La La Land to death, I have yet to see it more than once. And that’s because of that ending.
Oh, boy, that ending. Talk about tugging at the heartstrings and giving you the feels in such a bittersweet way. It’s just too much to take when Mia walks into Sebastian’s club at the end with her husband and he plays her their love song that one last time.
Oh, that sequence where they imagine their lives together if they had committed to the success of their relationship as much as they did their careers. Oh, the beauty of the end of that sequence when she snuggles up against him as they listen to some other jazz musician in some other imaginary club. They are content and happy and oh…it makes me cry in such a good way.
But immediately, they both snap back to the reality that they have gone their separate ways and all of that is but a lost dream. And then it makes me cry in a bad way. It’s that abrupt cold splash of water in my face and having to wake up to the stark reality that not everything is the happy ending you want.
Unrequited love. It’s just the pits.
Still though, I was singing “City of Stars” for like weeks after this movie, so it did do it’s job as a musical.
I can’t remember the last movie I watched in which I seriously got so anxious that it made my palms sweat and filled by stomach with nasty butterflies. Oh, never mind, I remember now. It was Argo and that ending scene on the airplane. Boy, my heart still beats a mile a minute even thinking back on it.
Ben Affleck’s retelling of the “Canadian Caper” in which CIA agent Tony Mendez led the rescue of six U.S. diplomats during Iran hostage crisis, under the guise of filming a science fiction film is nothing less than masterful. Sure, in the years since it’s release, it’s been criticized for being somewhat historically inaccurate, but c’mon it’s a god damn movie, people! The Godfather wasn’t historically accurate either, but we all still sit on the edge of our seats when Michael has the sitdown at the Italian restaurant with Sollozzo.
That’s the same way I felt watching Argo. It felt like a movie from another time, when the tense atmosphere came not from explosions or car chases but from the serious life and death stakes of every decision being hammered into you by the narrative. Things could go south at any moment during this all important yet harebrained scheme, that it’s like watching someone expertly build a house of cards or pull the next Jenga piece out. You are waiting for everything to fall apart because you feel it’s inevitable, and that anticipation is so palpable that you can taste it.
Yet the success has already been established. It says so in the history books. Everything works out, so why are we worried so much? It’s because that’s what good movies do. They make us forget the truth about what we are seeing. They suspend our disbelief so much that we can’t see past the unfolding story. We get caught up in the tense moments waiting for the fake Hollywood production company the CIA set up to pick up the phone and confirm the fake identities of the hostages as they attempt to get through security. I mean it’s a phone call, but it might as well have been a bomb under someone’s chair. It’s directed and paced that well.
Plus this movie brought attention the awesome production drawings Jack Kirby did for the real Canadian Caper when they were pretending it was really going to be an adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. That stuff is just gorgeous!
4.) Jodorowsky’s Dune
And here comes the token documentary pick. I will say that Stew thought that my list would be dominated by documentaries, and it’s true that of all the genres other than “comic book”, I’ve seen the most documentaries over the past couple of years. However, the problem is that documentaries can be a weird argument point for movie buffs in whether or not they actually count as a “Movie”. This is mainly because they often times don’t get full blown theater releases and as a result some people will cry foul.
For example, I was going to include “OJ: Made in America” on this list because I thought that was insanely good. However, I knew that like counting peppermints as candy, Stew or Chad or someone would get their panties in a knot and say it doesn’t count because it was shown on ESPN, so it’s a “tv show” not a “movie”.
So I decided to bypass that controversy by just including one documentary and one that indeed had a solid theater release. It premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in May 2013 and ran in theaters for 2 months in 2014 making it to Entertainment Weekly’s list of the top 10 movies of that year.
Mainly the incredible story of trippy 60s director Alejandro Jodorowsky quest to get a movie adaptation of the science fiction epic, Dune, off the ground in the early to mid 70s, it’s really a tale of how really big ideas even when they are failures can create unexpected successes later down the road.
Indeed, the storyboards drawn by comic book legend Mobius would later bring forth such comic books as The Incal and Metabarons which would in turn create more properties such as The Fifth Element. Additionally, H.R. Geiger also did a lot of design work for the film which would later be incorporated in the creation of the Alien franchise as well as advances in special effects work spearheaded by Dan O’Bannon which would also make its mark in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film.
In fact, they make the case that films like Star Wars and the Terminator would have also never been made if not for the pioneering work this failed Dune project. This movie opened up people’s minds to addressing the challenges that making good science fiction films posed to filmmakers and helped come up with viable solutions through the pushing of those creative envelopes.
For a fan of those franchises, this movie was like visiting the well spring from which everything I loved sprouted from, which is always going to make it memorable. Plus it ultimately convinced me to read those comics that were inspired by this project, which hopefully some of the fans of GotS enjoyed!
Remember how I said Musicals are good for your soul? Well, Disney animated musicals, they count double in that regard. So much so that they hold a special place in my heart above the normal song and dance routines you might see trotted out in front of you. These have endearing characters drawn with exquisite artistic flair which tug at the inner child that lurks deep down in all of us.
The only issue is that I haven’t really liked a Disney animated musical since Aladdin. Yep, you ask anyone and they will tell you I’m not really the biggest fan of anything the House of Mouse has given us over the past 30 years, and that includes the Lion King, which I just never got the appeal of. I know that statement is probably going to lose me quite a lot of votes on Twitter for sure, but it’s the truth.
That is until I took a chance and watched Frozen. That movie with its catchy tunes, intriguing almost Marvel mutant like character of Elisa, the quirky love affair between Anna and Kristoff, and of course Olaf the Snowman, that movie won my heart in a big way.
In fact, you could say that Frozen is the movie that brought me back into the Disney camp and made me believe again that this 100+ year old studio could actually churn out movies that I would give a damn about. Move over Pixar! The Sheriff with the big ears is back in town. And as a father of young kids, having quality animated movies like this is HUGE when that’s really the only movies you can actually sit down and watch without distractions most of the time.
In fact, I can honestly say that Frozen II is one of the films that this year I was looking forward to the most just simply because I wanted so much more of this charming snow covered kingdom they had created for this movie. If you don’t think I’ll be seeing that movie over this Thanksgiving holiday, you are surely mistaken!
And to think this all was based off that Hans Christian Anderson story “The Snow Queen”…I’m glad for once Disney took some liberties with the source material and didn’t stick to original.
Ah, the James Bond franchise. Something near and dear to my heart. Some of my favorite movies came out of this series of movies including From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Goldeneye, and Casino Royale. In fact, when most of you see this list, you’ll probably ask me why I included this movie on the list and not Casino Royale. Well, the simple answer is that movie came out in 2006, so it’s not in the past decade (yes, that’s also a fact that seems to trip up a lot of non James Bond movie goers as they “remember” it only came out a “couple years ago”).
But an equally great James Bond movie did come out in the past decade, and that was Skyfall in 2012. In some ways redeeming the Daniel Craig interpretation of Bond after a clunker in “Quantum of Solace”, this movie was the perfect Bond movie for the modern audiences, hungry for a more nuanced portrayal of the world’s most dangerous super spy after 50 years of bedding ladies, drinking, and shooting. Again, filled to the brim with that quiet tortured vulnerability that Craig has made a hallmark of his interpretation, this is Bond that has suffered physically, mentally, and emotionally through his line of work, and yet continues with almost mechanical efficiency to be the best at his job.
And so when he comes face to face with a possible future of himself in the broken vengeful ex agent Raoul Silva, he must decide at that moment what makes him different from this shadow version of the ideals he struggles so hard to embody. What turns out to be his saving grace though his inherent selflessness as he sacrifices everything to save the life of his superior, M. Speaking of M by the way, played by the wonderful Dame Judi Dench it’s terrific that she finally gets to actually do something after multiple movies of just barking out orders from a secret headquarters.
But yeah, I still get chills when Bond is about to blow up his ancestral childhood home to stave off the invading bad guys, and mutters under his breath “I always hated this place…”. It pretty much is one of the all time perfect scenes for what I’ve described above as well as continuing the legacy of Bond being the very definition of bad ass.
Plus, this movie has one of the all time great Bond songs with Adele channeling her best Shirley Bassey to deliver the title track. It’s so good that it might just make my list of Top 10 songs of this past decade as well…
1.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
And finally we get to number 1. Like there was any doubt.
If you are reading this list and paying attention to my top picks, you will see a pattern in that they are films that are parts of great franchises. Not only that but they contain films that reinvigorated my love of those franchises in profound ways. Yes, I love Disney animation and Frozen rekindled by love of those movies. Yes, I love James Bond movies and Skyfall helped deliver the goods once again.
However, there is no film franchise that I love more (and that includes the MCU) than the Star Wars franchise. I mean The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. As I’ve said on the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast, it’s better than broccoli. So to have a film come out that got me excited about the Star Wars property once again, especially after the awful 2000s and having to sit through those prequel movies, that was a monumental feat. But Force Awakens did more than just rekindle my love of all things Star Wars, it actually became the Star Wars movie that hooked my kids into loving the franchise too. And as a result, it will always have a special place in my heart.
I honestly said when I was making this list that I wasn’t going to put two films by the same director on this list, but once again JJ Abrams did his job well enough that I had no choice.
Sure, some people might say that all he did was dry hump nostalgia in retelling the original Star Wars movie a second time, but I think that discredits the amount of skill that has to be involved to do that right. I mean anyone can just be a Star Wars fan boy, and regurgitate the original movie back at an audience. But doing it well, with genuine love and a tactful approach, that’s extremely tricky. Most audiences would balk at seeing the exact same movie a second time, so you have to crafty and have a deft subtle touch to suspend their disbelief just enough into believing they are seeing something brand new.
That’s why I say that JJ Abrams is the master of the homage. He doesn’t strictly make copies of movies, but he does understand the feelings and emotions that these original films created and goes about the difficult task of recapturing that. And most of the time, he succeeds as he did with this movie.
Yeah, who here didn’t want to want to see that Falcon chase over the sandy dunes of Jakku, or Han Solo try to swindle talk his way out of a bad situation one more time, or a lightsaber battle that wasn’t completely made up of flips and back somersaults but raw emotion. I had been waiting almost 30 years for this stuff, and boy did The Force Awakens deliver on that.