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The Top 100 Films of the Half-Decade (2010-2014)
Page 4: #40-26

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The Eiffel Tower lights up behind Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) during another magical "Midnight in Paris."

40. Midnight in Paris
2011, 94 minutes, PG-13 / Writer/Director: Woody Allen / Stars: Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Owen Wilson, Nina Arianda, Kurt Fuller, Tom Hiddleston, Mimi Kennedy, Alison Pill, Lιa Seydoux, Corey Stoll
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Many have such a skewed perspective of Woody Allen's career that they insist his best work is long behind him. I disagree and would go far enough to call this crowd-pleasing fantasy his finest film to date. While it conforms to its maker's formulas, it also exceeds them with witty jaunts through Paris' rich past, a paradise for someone whose tastes in art and culture skew as old as Allen's do. Owen Wilson may be Allen's sharpest surrogate yet and the charming atmosphere and scenery are unrivaled by anything else in the filmmaker's long, steady canon. Full DVD Review

On a father-daughter reconnaissance mission, Matt (George Clooney) and Alex (Shailene Woodley) get their first look at Brian Speer in bench advertisement form in #39, "The Descendants."

39. The Descendants
2011, 111 minutes, R / Director: Alexander Payne / Writers: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings / Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause
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Perhaps no contemporary filmmaker is as capable of making you laugh and cry in the same film as Alexander Payne. Payne's intimate dramedies always manage to convey meaningful moments of the human experience in honest, relatable fashion. Virtually every emotion makes its way into this Hawaiian tale of a father who's ill-equipped to raise his two kids alone but has no choice while his wife lays comatose. It's profound, heartbreaking, funny, and endearing, often all at once, and the wonderful cast will be hard-pressed to find other characters as rich as these. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

In #38, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits", The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) reveals the best thing about being a pirate: Ham Nite!

38. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
2012, 88 minutes, PG / Directors: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt / Writer: Gideon Defoe / Stars: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed
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I am well aware that this countdown isn't shedding light on a ton of undiscovered gems. Many of the films I've picked have either been widely recognized or widely seen. But my goal isn't to impress you with obscure titles you haven't even heard of; it is to come up with a definitive list of the movies of the last five years I hold in highest regard. The Pirates!, though, may be one selection that takes you by surprise (especially if you haven't read my review or realized I appreciate animation). This very British stop-motion comedy is simply a great deal of fun and deserves a larger audience than it's gotten. All five of Aardman's features have been highly enjoyable, but this cheeky seafaring adventure is the best yet. Full Blu-ray 3D Combo Review

With Samantha in his ear, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) takes in the sight of the future Los Angeles in #37, "Her."

37. Her
2013, 126 minutes, R / Writer/Director: Spike Jonze / Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt
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A romance between a man and his operating system might sound like a dumb joke or a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that doesn't work. That premise becomes the foundation of a visionary film from the creative mind of Spike Jonze. Set in the future, Jonze's first original screenplay (which, incidentally, won that Oscar) has so much to say about the present and society's increasing reliance on technology. Beautifully designed, thoughtfully conceived, and imaginatively executed without the drop-off of Jonze's past efforts, Her is a wise film that is likely to be treasured for a long time to come. The faces found in Joaquin Phoenix's sideways forehead wrinkles are just an added bonus. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

In #36, "Snowpiercer", a revolution led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) happens upon a colorful children's classroom that fills one of the train's countless varied cars.

36. Snowpiercer
2014, 126 minutes, R / Director: Bong Joon Ho / Writers: Bong Joon Ho, Kelly Masterson, Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette / Stars: Chris Evans, Song Kang Ho, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ko Asung
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Snowpiercer may be the best film on this list whose studio did not believe in it. Despite possessing many of the elements you find in the biggest global blockbusters of our time (international star power, dynamic visuals, and high-concept sci-fi action), The Weinstein Company feared this would be a tough sell and, after having its plans to edit thwarted by director Bong Joon Ho, kind of buried it in limited release despite glowing reviews. Perhaps the modest business this did stateside (after playing very well in Asia) and sharply dropping IMDb user rating confirm the studio's fears of niche general public appeal. Ignore all the buzz and critical raves. You'll find a wonderfully inventive, dazzlingly produced adventure with real world relevance and social commentary. Full Blu-ray Review

35. Life of Pi
2012, 127 minutes, PG / Director: Ang Lee / Writers: Yann Martel, David Magee / Stars: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Gιrard Depardieu, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Shravanthi Sainath, Ayush Tandon
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I devised this list of the Top 100 Films of the Half-Decade largely from memory, just thinking about the recent films that made the biggest impression on me and the ones my thoughts most frequently turned to. Later on, I created a spreadsheet comparing my yearly rankings of all the movies I'd seen from the last five years to the Half-Decade Hundred and found that, inevitably, some movies had risen in my mind and some had fallen. No film seems to have shot up as much as Life of Pi, which barely cracked my Top 20 of 2012 and yet now nearly makes my Top 20 of the past five years. I've only seen the movie the one time in theaters (thanks for being the absolute worst at sending Blu-ray review product, 20th Century Fox!), but it has lingered on my mind, simmering like the curry sauce served in the film. You can credit that to a few things: the film's strong showing at an unusually enjoyable Oscar night, fond memories of a unique critics' screening that included an agreeable reception and discussion afterwards, and, perhaps most of all, a close friendship with an unforgettable orange cat whom the tiger Richard Parker greatly reminded me of. None of that really directly relates to the film, but it shows how viewing conditions and personal experiences shape our opinions. And while circumstances may have bolstered Pi for me, it is the film itself -- with its strange and beautiful survival story, upbeat attitudes on faith exploration, and angle of interpretation -- that earned this high ranking. Full Film Review

The X-Men -- Professor X (James McAvoy), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Havok (Lucas Till), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) --  suit up for the first time in preparation for the Cuban beach climax of #33, "X-Men: First Class."

34. X-Men: First Class
2011, 132 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Matthew Vaughn / Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer / Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Kevin Bacon, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoλ Kravitz
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When the X-Men first made it to the big screen in 2000, the model for what a successful superhero franchise could be was Warner's Batman series, which had flamed out in spectacular fashion just a few years earlier. The Bryan Singer-directed first film and subsequent sequels were colorful entertainment, but not much more. In the time that they were being released, Hollywood fell in love with comic book heroes and epic multi-film sagas. The realm of superhero movies soon had better poster children in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films. Popular fantasy series sprung from literature, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, weren't the same thing, but they had similar intentions. Then with Disney's purchase of Marvel, the publisher had the opportunity to develop something called a "cinematic universe" with multiple phases and different parts that all fit together. When it came time for Fox to reboot X-Men, in between two somewhat standalone Wolverine movies, the moviegoing world needed a lot more than just colorful entertainment. And they got it in this slick, inventive 1960s-set prequel which rounded up some of the best young talent in the business for the capable creative team of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (along with some others). A significant improvement on prior X-Men movies, this cinematically sterling and dramatically involving production made this the most exciting active superhero series around. Full Blu-ray Review

Where there is darkness, Groot provides light for the Guardians of the Galaxy.

33. Guardians of the Galaxy
2014, 121 minutes, PG-13 / Director: James Gunn / Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning / Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker
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Despite the high caliber, consistent entertainment value, and reliable commercial appeal of their productions, Marvel Studios could be on the verge of growing tiresome with their long-view schedule full of sequels and team-ups.
Too much of anything, no matter how good, breeds familiarity, predictability, and fatigue. Enter the Guardians of the Galaxy. When Disney bought Marvel, many news articles made note that the acquisition included over 5,000 characters. While it must be tempting to producers and shareholders to keep trotting out the handful of personalities guaranteed to draw crowds for big standalone adventures and the occasional Avengers assembly, Marvel showed some nerve and foresight when they took a chance on this obscure comic series centering on unconventional heroes like a talking raccoon and a terse tree-like humanoid. They also took a chance on James Gunn, a filmmaker whose rιsumι wasn't exactly an invitation for confidence. Both paid off, with Guardians becoming one of the most quotable, rewatchable, and acclaimed films of last year. The joys of meeting these offbeat original characters and going on a funny space adventure (set to some appealing yesteryear tunes) with them are innumerable. This diverting trip thankfully distinguishes itself from the rest of Marvel's fine canon and lays the groundwork for a sequel to inspire not just obligatory interest but real hope. Full Blu-ray Review

If you thought you'd seen the last of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) walking and talking around Europe, think again!

32. Before Midnight
2013, 109 minutes, R / Director: Richard Linklater / Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke / Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
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Every nine years, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy get together to catch up with Jesse and Cιline, a couple who first shared a train ride and a memorable evening together in 1995's Before Sunrise. The writer-director and his two writer-stars are committed to these characters, who always walk and talk their way around scenic European locales. The creators return to them with evolving perspectives on life and incorporate their thoughts on aging, family experiences and so on. While I can't say that the series has gotten better with each installment, it has improbably maintained a high quality while growing more meaningful with the passage of time and every new peek into these lives. It is a great privilege to be able to watch these characters bare their hearts and eloquently voice their views of the world around them. I hope that the success of Boyhood inspires more people to discover and appreciate this one-of-a-kind trilogy. I also hope that the universal acknowledgement and inevitable accolades of Boyhood do not make Linklater feel he has to develop new fascinations and close the book on what must be cinema's most dimensional and longest-running romance. Full Blu-ray Review

This breathtaking footage from #31, "The Imposter", shows Beverly Dollarhide, the mother of missing boy Nicholas Barclay welcoming home her son -- really Frederic Bourdin, hiding behind sunglasses, a hat, and a scarf -- at the airport on October 18, 1997.

31. The Imposter
2012, 99 minutes, R / Director: Bart Layton / Subjects: Frιdιric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker, Nancy B. Fisher, Bryan Gibson, Philip French
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Calling this 2012 film a documentary does not do it justice. That is not a swipe at its extensive use of dramatic re-enactment, but a testament to how incredible, chilling, and unpredictable this true story is and how effectively it is presented. The 1994 disappearance of a San Antonio boy appears to be solved when he calls authorities three years later from a phone booth in Spain. But, as the title implies, this man is not who he claims to be, hence the noticeably different appearance and inexplicable French accent. That this imposter could move in with the boy's family without them being the wiser is nothing short of bizarre. While there's probably a knockout narrative film to be made from this tale, there is little chance of matching Bart Layton's film in impact. This haunting unsolved mystery unfolds with shocking accounts, invaluable footage of the inconceivable deception, a private eye that feels like a Coen brothers character, and terrifying implications regarding the family in question. It all adds up to one of the greatest documentaries I've ever seen and one that rarely feels like a documentary. Full DVD Review

In a setup clearly resembling video games like "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat", Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) prepares to do battle with Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), the flamboyant first of seven evil exes to be conquered in #30, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

30. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
2010, 112 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Edgar Wright / Writers: Bryan Lee O'Malley, Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright / Stars: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber
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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World probably knows better than any other film what it's like to be a young adult today. In the capable hands of British director Edgar Wright, this adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels is full of flair and vitality. It depicts a young man's pursuit of a young woman with no shortage of absurd flourishes paying homage to the video games a generation grew up on. The comic battles that pervade the film display audio-visual ingenuity, but the movie is more than just consistently entertaining. Its thoughtful exploration of romance and exes renders it something like a younger cousin of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, down to a leading lady with brightly-colored hair. Its disastrous showing at the box office, then a newsflash to studios that Comic-Con excitement doesn't always translate to hearty returns, now seems obvious, inevitable, and unimportant. Wright's technical brilliance and dramatic dexterity has yet to yield mainstream success, but as long as he can continue making the movies he wants to in his reliably inspired fashion, the world of cinema is lucky to have him on its fringes. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

A tin can provides Rango with a brief respite from a hawk's pursuit.

29. Rango
2011, 107 minutes, PG / Director: Gore Verbinski / Writers: John Logan, Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit / Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant
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People often refer to animation as a genre rather than a medium. It's an understandable mistake to make because when you think of animated cinema in America, you're generally thinking of one kind of movie: a family comedy. There are variations within that mold: some skew more action-adventure, others are proud fairy tales, and some embrace the musical format. But, by and large, though animation is celebrated for its ability to visualize anything, filmmakers working in the medium often stick to a narrow section of the vast storytelling palette. With its PG rating and plentiful laughs, Rango could be called a family comedy. But it's also a bona fide western and a small-town mystery which shows a great deal more interest in honoring and embodying those traditions than in keeping the little ones entertained. That design may have hurt it at the box office, where by barely tripling its opening weekend gross, it had pretty weak legs for an animated film. But it also went a long way to distinguishing this as an animated film that did things its own way. Not a single one of the animation industry leaders had a brand at play on this film, the first feature produced by Industrial Light & Magic. Gore Verbinski, whose once promising directing career unfortunately became intertwined with Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series (an entertaining franchise stretched too thin before he jumped ship), brings an outsider's touch that makes this film content not to conform to CGI film conventions and subscribe to commercial wisdom. Verbinski and Johnny Depp have a great deal of fun with the premise and with telling a story that doesn't have to do all those things that their Pirates must do. This noble endeavor, more appealing to adults than children, made for a much worthier Animated Feature Oscar winner than the sequels, spin-offs, and general sameness that were occupying Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky in 2011. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

"Winter's Bone", #28, stars Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old Missouri girl responsible for her younger siblings while her father's absence puts possession of their home in doubt.

28. Winter's Bone
2010, 100 minutes, R / Director: Debra Granik / Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosselini, Daniel Woodrell / Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt
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I'll always remember Winter's Bone as an exciting discovery. Its DVD arrived one fall day, a pleasant surprise from probably the least dependable PR agency I've dealt with, and soon after just totally blew me away. This was a film so different from other films: small, raw, and pure in its storytelling. Set in the backwoods world of the Missouri Ozarks, it tells the story of a hardened teenage girl providing for her younger siblings who has to find her deadbeat father to keep her family from losing its home. There isn't an inauthentic note in the presentation and the film is carried by the fearless performance of then-teenaged Jennifer Lawrence. Who'd have thought that this young actress, a recent alumna of TBS' "The Bill Engvall Show", was just a little over a year away from being the biggest movie star in the world? Ree Dolly now looks like the perfect warm-up act for playing Katniss Everdeen and though the stage has grown and she now has as many fans as any living person, Lawrence remains an excellent actress who consistently chooses the best of the surely countless projects currently being offered to her. This little movie is a humble beginning, but a powerful one you wouldn't change a thing about. Its nomination for the Best Picture Oscar makes a pretty compelling argument for the Academy to keep that award a ten-nominee category or at least not return to just five. Winter's Bone remains the lowest-grossing film in modern history to earn a Best Picture nomination and it's tough to imagine a film more worthy of that distinction. Sadly, director Debra Granik has yet to make another narrative film, and her attachment since 2011 to a film called Rule of the Bone almost seems like a joke (it would be her third straight movie with the word "Bone" in the title). Full DVD Review

Ryan Gosling plays the laconic, unnamed protagonist of #27, "Drive", seen here spotting his neighbors at the grocery store.

27. Drive
2011, 100 minutes, R / Director: Nicholas Winding Refn / Writers: James Sallis, Hossein Amini / Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman
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A bold and original movie that seemed to come out of nowhere, Drive hails from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose first two English language films played in a grand total of ten American theaters. It is adapted from a fairly unknown 2005 James Sallis novel by Hossein Amini, an Iranian-British screenwriter who had previously specialized in UK period dramas like Jude and The Wings of the Dove. It hooks you in from its gripping opening scene of a driver eluding authorities skillfully and proceeds to arrest and disarm with a crime story that may resemble others but somehow stands on its own, with an almost inexplicable power to captivate. Style is a huge part of it. Refn shuns obvious dialogue whenever he can, preferring to tell the story with images and music. From Cliff Martinez's ethereal electronic score to '80s-sounding synthpop songs by groups you don't know, Drive has a musical sensibility all its own, which perfectly complements the sleek, striking visuals and the often pulse-pounding action. Grounding it all is a fine, laconic performance by Ryan Gosling, who makes you see the cool in driving gloves, toothpicks, and a silver jacket with a scorpion on its back. Though it induces some cringes with some moments of brutal violence, this film also unearths heretofore unseen possibilities in the medium. After the disappointments of Refn and Gosling's follow-up effort, 2013's Only God Forgives, I'm skeptical that this movie could be less a launchpad than a fluke for its director. Still, what a beautiful fluke it would be. Full Blu-ray Review

"The Fighter", #26, dynamically opens with half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) strolling through their beloved working-class hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts.

26. The Fighter
2010, 116 minutes, R / Director: David O. Russell / Writers: Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, Keith Dorrington / Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O'Keefe, Jack McGee
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The film that revitalized the career of director David O. Russell and began the hottest hot streak of any active filmmaker in Hollywood, The Fighter is much more than a "boxing movie." In fact, the boxing angle regularly takes a backseat to the other issues in Micky Ward's life: his older brother's drug addiction and incarceration, the relations between the rest of his family including a mother/manager and seven tough sisters, and his romance with a bartender who believes in him. All of these subjects make a deeper, more lasting impression on viewers than the success in the ring that made Ward a light welterweight champion. Russell, who also made uncredited contributions to the script, stumbles upon something too few filmmakers realize: the importance of characters. Where others telling true stories concern themselves with the facts and making their heroes heroic, Russell treats his subjects like they are: real people with quirks, faults, and, most of all, personality. As a result, his film is so much more entertaining and enjoyable than your standard issue biopic. While his peers are busy canonizing historical figures, geniuses, and world leaders, Russell makes you prefer to spend time with some working-class guy from Lowell, Massachusetts who won a few fights. Full DVD Review

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