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Favorites of the Decade (2010-2019)

Saturday, January 18, 2020
This is an impossible exercise. I will have regrets. And I will cheat.

First, some movies that need to be mentioned, even if I can't put them in my top lists: Jack Reacher, Dredd, Source Code, Crazy Stupid Love, The Raid, The Ides of March, Gone Girl, Phantom Thread, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moonlight, Moonrise Kingdom, The Drop, The Nice Guys, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, About Time, Sing Street, Lion, Game Night, Annihilation, Black Panther, Mission:Impossible - Fallout, and Little Women.

Deep breath.

Now for my official list runners up (I told you I would cheat):

- The Town
- Drive
- Bridesmaids
- Moneyball
- Skyfall
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
- The Fighter
- Edge of Tomorrow
- Hell or High Water
- Dunkirk
- Blade Runner 2049
- Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood
- Frank

And now, my top 15 favorite movies of the decade:

15. Brooklyn
14. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
13. The Big Short
12. Arrival
11. Ex Machina
10. Looper
9. Lady Bird
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
7. Inside Out
6. Parasite
5. La La Land
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Whiplash
2. The Social Network
1. Inception

I ranked these with pure instinct and adrenaline. A big part of the criteria for what made my list was how these films impacted me the first time I saw them in theaters. Virtually all fifteen moved me in some significant way that first showing.

Inception feels like a controversial pick, but this movie was huge for me when it came out in 2010. I saw it in theaters seven times! I thought about it endlessly that summer and that sticks, even if I haven't watched it a whole lot since then.

The Social Network may be the best movie of the decade, in addition to being one of my favorites. The rare combination of Sorkin and Fincher is magic we may never see the likes of again. I'm ready for the sequel. The parallel film for me here is The Big Short, which I still find eminently rewatchable, so entertaining, and yet eye opening on the subject matter at hand. Pretty easy to draw a line from that to The Wolf of Wall Street - the movie that actually won Leo his Oscar in my head canon. It literally stretches reason that the filmmaker who made this movie, also made Silence (very good, not on my lists).

You could program a lovely Saoirse Ronan double feature with Brooklyn and Lady Bird. Both perfect in their own way. Brooklyn is so beautiful I almost can't handle it.

As far as experiencing pure adrenaline in a theater, it's hard to beat Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the greatest action movies of all time. It feels almost criminal to put Whiplash above it, but however thrilling that car chase is, I don't know if I my heart has ever beat faster than it did during the climactic scene of Whiplash. The final frame hits and I was ready to jump out of my seat and applaud. While music is the key connection, it is incredible to me that Chazelle went from Whiplash to La La Land, as they could not be more tonally different. A pure pleasure to watch, with movie star chemistry that is rare to see.

Looper, Ex Machina, and Arrival make for a sci-fi trifecta that could not be more different from each other. Three outstanding directors. Completely different tones, each going for something truly unique in the genre, while achieving something greater in the process. All three explore larger ideas, while Looper leans into the mystery and action, Ex Machina is very interested in the idea itself, while Arrival seems to be aiming more for the feeling behind the idea.

Finally the two animated entries. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse may be the best comic book movie ever made. While Inside Out just had me crying my way through the whole thing. Both great on their own terms.

I just wrote about Parasite on my favorite movies of 2019, so I won't repeat myself here.

And that's it! See I already regret it.


Favorite Reads of 2019

Babies really cut into reading time. But my son is the best so I guess that's an okay trade off.

I broke down some of my reading stats in this other post, so let's just jump into the favorites.




12. Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman

This book basically sets forth arguments on three topics: 1) Universal basic income, 2) Open Borders, 3) 15 hour workweek.

While I'm still not sure where I ultimately land on some of this stuff, Bregman makes great arguments and backs it up with impressive studies and data. It's a fascinating, thought provoking book, and it made me reconsider and rethink each of the topics it addresses.

If nothing else I think it's a meaningful read for that reason, but it's also hard not to read through all of the data presented and be just a little bit swayed. So read at your own risk.



11. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

High suburban drama. This follows two families across multiple generations. It's a love story. It's a tragedy. It's full of hope. There is something about following the same characters over a longer span that lends to depth and insight. It's easy to zoom in on a situation and think we know what's going on, but seeing how things play out over decades re-contextualizes and ultimately changes everything.

Also, pretty entertaining read.



10. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlisch

Dash of crime, dash of science-fiction, dash of police procedural, dash of time bending mind trip. I love this kind of genre mash-up.

This book was quite the ride, and then really stuck the landing for me. A little dense reading at times, but ultimately I was hooked.



9. The Chain by Adrian McKinty

So glad this man is finally getting his due. His irish crime fiction has been on my top lists before, but this seems like it will be his true breakthrough novel. A good agent really makes a difference.

The Chain refers to a series of kidnappings by parents. Someone kidnaps your child. To get them back you have to kidnap another child and come up with a large sum. Then you relay the message to the new set of parents, who continue the chain on and on. So we follow a single mother whose child is kidnapped and now finds herself in this predicament.

Basically a perfect little thriller. Loved it. And I'm still eagerly awaiting the next Sean Duffy novel.



8. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I've seen this on a bunch of year end lists so I don't know if I have a lot to add. I'll just say that I found it moving, and was especially rocked by the ending. It put me into the experience of these boys, and it's just devastating how we treat each other. Really experiencing that, feeling that, is the power of this book.



7. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Infuriating. Enlightening. Eye opening. Should be mandatory reading for everyone, especially policy makers.

I was about to attempt to explain the premise of this book, but I'm afraid I'll botch it, so here's the official description:

Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.

Read it.



6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyen

Fleshed out characters. Interesting world. Unique and intricate magic system. Fantasy at its best. So excited that the sequel to this book just came out.

I think this was also optioned for the movie treatment, and I'm confident this will turn out amazing.

Want goosebumps? Just check out the first part of the back cover:

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Come on. It's so good.



5. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

This is more adult fantasy. A little detective story sprinkled in, set on the Yale campus. Secret societies all messing with forbidden magic. The main character is part of a group that monitors and supposedly keeps in check the other houses that all have their own brand of magic and mischief. Throw a murder in the mix, and some ivy league pomp and circumstance, and a good time is had by all.

I loved the characters in this book, and I hope this becomes a long running series.



4. Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

I really loved this book. A recently separated couple in New York City. Rachel Fleishman drops off their son for the weekend and then just disappears. Toby Fleishman suddenly has to figure out how to make all of that work, while also wondering what his ex is up to.

The thing that I really appreciated about this book is how the perspective change allowed me to experience and feel the different sides of this conflict in a meaningful way. We start from Toby's perspective, and he obviously paints the situation in a particular way. One that is unsurprisingly flattering to himself. Then later when we see it from Rachel's perspective, suddenly everything is painted in a new light, and we take in Toby's version of events through the prism of Rachel's experience, and everything is different.



3. How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

I borrowed the digital copy of this book from the library based on the title without really looking at the cover, assuming it was about how we caught up in rigid thinking, and that the book would present ideas and strategies for opening ones mind and seeing ideas from new angles.

It's actually about psychedelics.

None the less, I was intrigued from the start and ended up finishing the book. I found the history of psychedelics (specifically LSD and Psilocybin mushrooms) to be fascinating, and as he explored some of the research that has been done my fascination increased. I had no idea that these substances were being studied as potential treatments for depression, addiction, trauma, as well being used to deepen individual's connections and spirituality.

The neurological component, how these substances literally "change the mind" was also so interesting to read about. All in all, the book was a very enlightening experience.



2. Recursion by Blake Crouch

The premise of this story is so good. People are going crazy as they suddenly have "memories" of lives they never lived. A detective and a neuro-scientist end up on a journey to figure out what is going on and what they unravel surpassed my expectations in every way. Entertaining. Thought provoking. Mysterious. Emotional. With a killer ending.



1. The Border by Don Winslow

I love Don Winslow. I've loved every book of his that I've read, and his Cartel Trilogy is by far my favorite. I re-read The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, so that the characters and events of the first two books would be fresh when I read The Border. Not only were those re-reads just as great as the first times through, the conclusion to the trilogy was just a good, and maybe even more satisfying in how it wrapped up everything so well.

This is a true American Crime epic unlike anything else I've ever read. It deals with the war on drugs, and with this last novel, the trilogy covers a time span of almost fifty years. It's a little hard to talk about The Border without thinking about the trilogy as a whole, but I'll just say that these have been life changing books. Not only are they so well researched, so entertaining, full of rich and detailed characters, but also they inform in a way that no other fictional book experience I've had has ever done. These books have shaped the way I feel and think about the drug policies in this country, and the world. They have impacted the way I understand the different parts of this problem at every link in the chain.

If all of that isn't enough, they are also some of the most entertaining and well written novels I've ever read. The Border is especially satisfying for how it ends the stories of characters that I've come to love in the first two books. While also being relevant to the current political situation in this country (Trump enthusiasts are likely not to find a lot of joy in the conclusion to this trilogy).

I can't wait to see what they do with this on FX, although I'm a little skeptical at how they are going to realistically portray this world on a cable network. Anyway, amazing stuff.

Finito.

Any recommendations of books that you adored in 2019?      

Favorites of 2019 (Movies/Books/TV)

Friday, January 17, 2020
Everything in one place! Just lists, no fuss. If you want detailed breakdowns of my thoughts about my favorites I have a post for movies and for books.

Favorite Movies of 2019:
15. Booksmart
14. Long Shot
13. Fighting With My Family
12. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
11. The Farewell
10. Jo Jo Rabbit
9. Uncut Gems
8. Avengers: Endgame
7. The Irishman
6. Ford v. Ferrari
5. Little Women
4. Knives Out
3. Marriage Story
2. Parasite
1. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Favorite Books of 2019:
12. Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman
11. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
10. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
9. The Chain by Adrian McKinty
8. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
7. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyen
5. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
4. Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
3. How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
2. Recursion by Blake Crouch
1. The Border by Don Winslow

Favorite TV of 2019 (alphabetically):
Atlanta
Barry
The Boys
Catastrophe
Chernobyl
Fleabag
Game of Thrones
Glow
The Good Fight
Killing Eve
Mindhunter
Russian Doll
Succession
Veep
Watchmen
What We Do In The Shadows

But there is a number one, and it is...

1. I Think You Should Leave


Seriously I've watched every episode of the first season three times (maybe more?). I don't know who is reading this but you'll probably hate it? I love it so much.

So that's all folks! Bring on 2020.

Favorite Movies of 2019

*Update 1/17/20* I wrote all of this before Oscar noms were announced. Will insert post nomination blurbs in BOLD throughout.

Let's start by setting the table. As always, there are several movies that I highly anticipated but still have not seen. I don't know which of these could have changed my top fifteen, if any, but each of these has something I am still really excited to experience.
  • The Lighthouse - I tried desperately to see this in theaters, alas I have an 8 month old child now (fill in that excuse all throughout this thing). I bought it on iTunes and can't wait to find the time. 
  • High Life - I'm realizing I've really failed Robert Pattinson this year. 
  • The Goldfinch - I loved this book. Heard good things from some people, then saw the bad reviews. Still want to see it.
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek - bought this a while ago and still pretty sure I will like it.
  • Dark Waters - love me some Ruffalo.
  • Pain and Glory - This and the next few I'm guessing will play a role in the Oscar convo but I just haven't gotten a chance yet to see them. There is still time. 
  • Honeyboy
  • Waves
  • 1917 - I feel like I have to see this, but I don't really want to. War movies just generally aren't my bag.
There are two movies that come to mind that people are raving about, that I liked, but that weren't quite for me (I guess?): Midsommar and The Souvenir. I enjoyed both, loved neither.

Biggest personal disappointment... I don't really want to talk about Rise of Skywalker. Now is a good time to reflect on the greatness that was The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson is too pure for this world.

All right, let's get to it. First I will just say, another fantastic year of movies. There are so many of these that I think I will still be watching years from now. Honorable mentions:

Booksmart - I laughed. I loved the energy of this movie. The music. The editing. It felt propulsive in a way that I really enjoy. Add to that some solid characters, a pretty decent story, and a claymation sequence and we are there!

Long Shot - a rare breed. Studio romantic comedy with stars. These two actually had great chemistry, which is impressive when you look at Seth Rogen next to Charlize Theron. No offense, Seth. This movie was just fun. Great concept. Great actors. Killer execution. And of course the obligatory scene of Seth Rogen pleasuring himself.

Fighting With My Family - I was surprised how much I liked this movie. It's about wrestling. I don't care about wrestling. But Florence Pugh was amazing, and the story was actually pretty moving. I felt very invested in her journey and how it mirrored the experience of her brother and family back home. I didn't expect to be moved by this movie, but I really was. One of the most underrated movies this year I think. Easy to dismiss based on the premise and the poster, but it's really so good.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood - love Matthew Rhys. I actually really liked the framing device for this movie even though it wasn't what I was expecting. Basically I cried my way through it.

The Farewell - this was just a delight. Awkwafina was so great. I loved feeling immersed in another culture and family. Hopefully this doesn't get forgotten come awards season. *It did. The Academy really blew it on this one*

Without further ado, my top ten:


10. Jo Jo Rabbit

Taika Waititi is a national treasure... for New Zealand I guess. Either way, this guy makes great movies. He is on a run for the ages: What We Do In The Shadows, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, and now this? Come on people.

I don't know if I have anything meaningful to add to the discourse on this movie. It walked a tightrope of funny and sad and charming and crushing and joyous and weighty. If the little boy saying he needs to go home to his mom because he needs a cuddle doesn't warm your heart cockles then I don't know what will.


9. Uncut Gems

*Speaking of the Academy really blowing it...*

Have you ever wanted to have a panic attack? No? Then skip this one I guess. I think I might be in the minority of people who prefer Good Time to this one, but oh my goodness what a ride. You really love to see filmmakers leveling up like this. And the fact that this set some box office records for A24 hopefully bodes well for the Safdie Brothers continuing to make exhilarating/stressful movies.

I have always loved Adam Sandler. Loving Happy Gilmore is one of my formative memories as a wee lad. Seeing him flex his actual acting muscles (a la Punch Drunk Love) is really a breath of fresh air.

I don't know if I enjoyed watching this movie, though. I felt constantly amazed by what I was seeing and how things were unfolding, and then the ending punched me in the gut. At that moment my thought was, "Good, but glad that it's over." Then it continued to stick with me. I keep thinking about it. I keep reliving certain parts of the movie. I don't know if I really want to watch it again but I also know that I will. There is something powerful about a movie that can do that.

I am guessing most audience members will not like it. That's okay.


8. Avengers: Endgame

 I don't know how this works as a standalone movie. I do know that as a resolution to a decade worth of films, it is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I've had this year. Endings are hard. Ask J. J. Abrams. The fact that they were able to juggle so many characters, so many story lines, and make it feel fun, surprising, emotional, and fulfilling is just an incredible magic trick.

This movie was satisfying on so many levels. So enjoyable. Basically just 2.5 hours of pay off. The experience would be impossible to replicate in any other context, so that impressed me. Kind of iffy on their slate moving forward, but they have surprised me before, so we shall see.


7. The Irishman

I was lucky enough to see this in a theater, and I think that helped shaped my experience of the film. Every time I have tried to rewatch it at home, life intervenes. There is something to be said about experiencing this movie all at once, with no interruptions or breaks. The emotional punch at the end hits that much harder.

I love Scorcese. I love Goodfellas as much as the next guy. This is something else. Come for the gangster epic, stay for the moving portrait of aging, the ravages of time, and the impact of choices on our lives. It's not what I was expecting. I expect death in a Scorcese gangster movie. I don't expect a deep meditation on death that has me pondering my whole existence.

On top of all of that, it's actually really fun to watch. So many great scenes. Pesci, DeNiro, and Pacino just going for it. The movie has stayed with me. I keep thinking about it. I keep being amazed by it. I don't think I'll ever be able to get my wife to watch it.


6. Ford v. Ferrari

A dad movie if I ever saw one. Well. Now I'm a dad so I'm allowed to love it.

Honestly I think this movie is becoming slightly underrated. In some of the awards conversations, it seems like people are forgetting just how good this movie is. Bale and Damon giving some real movie star performances. Thrilling direction by James Mangold. Some of the driving sequences are so visceral, so electric, I just couldn't believe it as I was experiencing it in the theater.

I don't care about cars. I don't care about racing. I don't care about Le Mans. But I love a process movie, about people trying to do something extraordinary. An underdog story. It's also just so fun to watch. You have to appreciate just a fun time at the movies.


5. Little Women

*Ugh... Todd Phillips over Greta? Really people? Is this what we're doing in 2020?*

God bless Greta Gerwig. This is not what I expected her to do after Lady Bird, but it's absolutely wonderful. It's a real showcase of her directing prowess and range as a filmmaker. Making a period piece feel this urgent and relevant is quite the gift. Not to mention this being the umpteenth adaptation of this source material. Basically Little Women has no business being as great as it is.

I have no relationship to the book, or previous film/tv versions of the story. All I knew about Little Women was from the episode of Friends where Rachel and Joey are reading each others favorite books. Spoiler alert Rachel. Not cool.

Anyway, I love how she bounces back and forth between the younger and older versions of the sisters. I love to see their relationships develop and unfold. I love to see each personality of the sisters play out. This is just a murderers row of great actors. Saoirse Ronan. Timothee Chalamet. Florence Pugh (again!). Laura Dern. Meryl Streep. Emma Watson. Okay, I realize I'm just writing the names of the people in this movie. You get what I'm saying though. They are all great.

Cried my way through it. Can't wait to see it again.


4. Knives Out

Rian Johnson is one of my favorite filmmakers working today. Brick and The Brothers Bloom are both solid. Looper is one of my favorites of the last decade. The Last Jedi is just a revelation.

If you think Rise of Skywalker was better than The Last Jedi then Chris Evans has a message for you:

Sorry I had to do it.

Anyway, Knives Out. I love murder mysteries. I love a good whodunit. I love a good chamber drama. Basically I will say nothing about this movie other than I loved it. It's funny. It's smart. It plays fair with what it gives the audience and the twists are satisfying and well earned. More of this please. Fewer maguffins.

*Justice for Knives Out... should have gotten a best picture nod*


3. Marriage Story

This movie was devastating. If you can get past the fact that the central conflict revolves around a guy not wanting to move to L.A. then this will blow you away. I've never been huge into Baumbach, but this really did it for me. Driver and Johansson are both electrifying.

I think what really struck me about this one is how it really is a portrait of a marriage, not just a divorce. You see how easy it is to get caught in the trappings of the legal system, even when everyone means well and wants the best for each other. I felt like I had taken a journey with these two by the end of it. Who can't relate to a story about marriage and divorce in this day and age?



2. Parasite

This is the movie Joker wishes it was. A statement on class, wealth, ambition, family, all wrapped up in this entertaining masterpiece made by one of the best filmmakers working today.

It's the kind of movie you want to go into knowing nothing, if possible. I'll just say that I've been wowed by it each time I've seen it, and can't believe what Bong accomplishes in the film. It starts off as one movie, and then slowly transforms, and then suddenly it all comes crashing together in ways that are horrifying and surprising.

*Do we live in a world where this could win Best Picture? Probably not? Also why no acting nods for this cast? What a waste. Still, good to see it recognized elsewhere.*



1. Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood

Leo and Brad in a movie together was really all I needed to know. Then add Tarantino and I'm there twice. I didn't even care what it was about. Some people were apparently bored by this movie, which I can understand, but for me this was just pure pleasure all the way through. It's this perfect intersection of so many things I'm interested in. I loved watching Rick and Cliff's relationship. I loved see Rick on set (Leo's trailer meltdown is one for the ages!). I loved watching Brad Pitt just drive around in old Hollywood. And ultimately I quite liked how it all tied things together with the Manson family bit of it.

With Tarantino there is always going to be outrage, and the last scene is over the top, but I loved all of that too. I mean if you're going to introduce Chekhov's Flamethrower in act one...

Anyway, burst of violence aside, this is one of Tarantino's most sentimental and tender movies. Not only with regards to his characters but old Hollywood itself. It's obvious how much care was taken on every detail that makes this movie such a pleasure to just live in. And I'll be there for his Bounty Law mini series, even without DiCaprio.

SO that's that! What were your favorites?