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The Top 100 Films of the Half-Decade (2010-2014)
Page 6: The Top Ten

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Caesar is the leader of ape nation in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", which ranks tenth on our Half-Decade Hundred.

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2014, 130 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Matt Reeves / Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback / Stars: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston,
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If you had come to me in 2010 from the future and told me that in early 2015 I would make a list of the top one hundred films of the half-decade, I would believe you. Movies, lists, thinking about years, and ranking things are all pastimes of mine. Now, if you had told me that this list would feature not one but two Planet of the Apes films in the Top 25, I'd have called you crazy and doubted you were really a time traveler. But, as should be clear now, you'd have been telling me the truth. That the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes worked as well as it did, after other attempts to extend and revive this franchise did not, was utterly surprising. I consider it possibly an even bigger surprise that this obligatory sequel is somehow even better despite a drastic change in personnel and a dramatic shift in focus from humans to apes. It's almost inexplicable: a summer blockbuster whose human leads are played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell somehow outclassed nearly every other one of last year's films.
Though this list may indicate otherwise, I don't consider myself a sci-fi enthusiast. I also don't even think of this film as science fiction. It is, of course, but it's not as obviously so as the original 1968 movie was. Realism pervades this sequel, whose titular planet, of course, is our very own. You get used to the conceit of apes communicating largely through subtitled sign language quickly and simply get swept up in this tale of two different civilizations whose conflict believably escalates from misunderstandings and distrust. You can probably find parallels between this fictional turmoil and every documented war in history. Or you could just enjoy the drama, action, characters, and state-of-the-art visual effects at surface level. There is a lot to ponder and to appreciate about this dynamic sequel that reinforces the talent of everyone involved in its making. Full Film Review

9. Interstellar
2014, 169 minutes, PG-13 / Director: Christopher Nolan / Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan / Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Mackenzie Foy, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Timothée Chalamet, Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley
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Interstellar spent most of last year wrapped in secrecy. For a long time, all we knew is that it was an original science fiction film from Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote the script with his frequent collaborator, younger brother Jonathan. That was enough to render it a must-see event for many, including the thousands who rank most of Nolan's films among the greatest ever on IMDb. Then, it was released in November to very good but not quite excellent reviews. Nolan's fans loved it (current IMDb ranking: 20th, right between the original Star Wars and Seven Samurai), but the general public clearly wasn't as enamored. Expectations were for an even bigger and better film than Gravity, the rare sci-fi production to garner serious awards recognition. Interstellar, though, settled for just five Oscar nominations in minor technical categories. Does that align the picture with Stanley Kubrick's revered yet also somewhat polarizing epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which only won the Visual Effects award from four nominations? At least 2001 earned Kubrick writing and directing nominations, which Interstellar was puzzlingly denied across the board (next stop: Saturn Awards?). The mysteries of its marketing, from John Lithgow's deleted tweet to Matt Damon's secret role, and the eccentricities of its release, from rumors of Nolan's rules for Jessica Chastain's Interstellar-only public appearances to being unable to attend an advance screening with a guest (hence, no review) to opening two days early in theaters still equipped to screen genuine film, all seem preposterous in retrospect. They make Nolan look like a mad genius control freak who in his mind was not making a long, expensive film but a cultural milestone incomparable to its contemporaries. If there's any truth to that, it must kill Nolan to see his film sandwiched between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and How to Train Your Dragon 2 on 2014's domestic box office list. Faced with these facts, it's understandable to want to resist Nolan's legend and look for holes in his creativity. A more enjoyable exercise it to separate the art from the artist, buzz and noise, and simply appreciate Interstellar for the powerful experience it is. As technically ambitious as any movie, this one resonates most for its big picture story about trying to save humanity from extinction by any means necessary. It's long, it's loud, and, despite its much-touted research, I'm sure some will have qualms about its science involving space travel and wormholes. But in this age of ubiquitous sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and remakes, we should be celebrating a big budget movie with big original ideas and actual things to say. Full Blu-ray & DVD Review

8. The Social Network
2010, 120 minutes, PG-13 / Director: David Fincher / Writers: Aaron Sorkin, Ben Mezrich / Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Brenda Song, Rashida Jones, Steve Sires, John Getz, David Selby, Denise Grayson, Douglas Urbanski, Rooney Mara
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David Fincher broadened his horizons with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a big-budget, effects-laden fantasy romantic period drama seemingly tailor-made for awards season. He stayed in the realm of PG-13 for The Social Network, his next film. While a movie about Facebook sounds terrible on paper, Aaron Sorkin's script and Fincher's execution bring the website's origins to light as a reflection of our times and an exploration of invention in general. The results are captivating: words, images, and music all coming together to form something even bigger than they would be on their own. This did not fit the Oscar mold transparently, opening in October and dramatizing events that occurred just a few years earlier. That it wound up being a major contender is purely a testament to its achievements. It performed well at the box office, but not extraordinarily enough to become a cultural event. Critics loved the film, but the general public tended to just like it. That was enough of a window for awards powerhouse The Weinstein Company to sneak in with the crowd-pleasing, more conventionally Oscar-friendly The King's Speech, providing one of the more surprising Best Picture wins in recent memory (e.g. you could see it coming weeks, not months, in advance). While retrospect makes the outcome look predictable, it was surely one of the closer Best Picture races in Oscar history. Based on their rankings in this very list, there is little question which of the two strikes me as a more substantial and meaningful film.

"Zero Dark Thirty", #7 in our Half-Decade Hundred, centers on Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent dedicated to finding and punishing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

7. Zero Dark Thirty
2012, 157 minutes, R / Director: Kathryn Bigelow / Writer: Mark Boal / Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez, James Gandolfini, Chris Pratt
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The search for Osama bin Laden seemed as appropriate as any story for director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal to tackle after their little Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker held on to win the Best Picture Oscar, defeating among other movies the behemothic blockbuster directed by Bigelow's ex-husband James Cameron. The bin Laden project was announced shortly after real life gave it an ending.
I had my doubts, thinking Bigelow, Hollywood's rare female director, had made a really good movie in Hurt Locker but had not suddenly transformed herself into an elite filmmaker. No newcomer, her long resume was made up of not many films, most of them (like K-19: The Widowmaker and Blue Steel) not especially well-regarded. As involving as Hurt Locker was, a true account of such a fresh, hot topic issue was a much different and taller task. But Bigelow and Boal absolutely proved me wrong, managing to thoroughly and meaningfully depict the long journey that led to SEAL Team Six's heroic raid. Far from the TV movie such a current event would inspire a generation earlier, Zero Dark Thirty is hard-hitting, sharply directed, and positively absorbing. Following her breakout year, Jessica Chastain gives a command performance in her first true lead, playing an instrumental CIA agent. Chastain is surrounded by a cast of talented but rarely flashy veterans who lend a needed air of authenticity to this docudrama. Debates over the film's noncondemning depictions of torture sparked a political quagmire just big enough to be perceived as the chief culprit for why this film didn't do better at the Oscars, where Bigelow was shockingly snubbed a directing nomination, Best Picture went to the less timely, more feel-good, and still worthy Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty went home with nothing more than a Sound Editing Oscar it had to share with Skyfall. Nevertheless, the film reinforces Bigelow and Boal's talent, taking them to even higher heights than Hurt Locker did, albeit with touchier non-fiction material. Full DVD Review

6. The Artist
2011, 100 minutes, PG-13 / Writer/Director: Michel Hazanavicius / Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle
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First things first: The Artist is a gimmick and one that seemingly any fan of film could have conceived. But the one who did was Michel Hazanavicius, a French filmmaker whose career after this Best Picture-winning indie may well be just as obscure as it was before it. A mostly silent film about a silent film star whose career is derailed by the advent of talkies, The Artist recalls Singin' in the Rain in its story. It commits fully to looking and sounding the part of a silent movie, with authentic speech cards and convincing Academy Ratio black and white visuals. That presentation sounds like a chore to most modern moviegoers, for we as a civilization have moved on from silents as anything but historical curiosities and are never turning back from synchronized sound. Fortunately, you don't have to be too versed in or enamored with the medium being celebrated. The Artist has modern sensibilities when it comes to storytelling and drama. It moves us with a love story, a tale of redemption, and a photogenic little dog. Though the box office record may suggest otherwise (still, when was the last time a black and white silent movie or anything from France made $45 million domestic?), this funny, rewarding film is a crowd-pleaser. There was little doubt that it would win the major Oscars, even up against another film from a much better-known director similarly celebrating the legacy of silent Hollywood. It's quite possible that Hazanavicius never makes another movie that shows up on the world's radar to the same degree, but at least we'll always have this one.

Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) and Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) share a smile while rehearsing their dance routine in #5, "Silver Linings Playbook."

5. Silver Linings Playbook
2012, 122 minutes, R / Director: David O. Russell / Writers: David O. Russell, Matthew Quick / Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles
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The Fighter was more than career revival for David O. Russell. It was a complete reinvention. Just two years later, Russell brought the same sensibility to this adaptation of Matthew Quick's 2008 novel. Though Fighter is classified as drama and this competed in Comedy or Musical categories, the two films have similar DNA with their interests in large, short-tempered families, the world of sports, and trying to be better people. Fresh off the first Hunger Games (which had yet to open when filming this), Jennifer Lawrence became the second youngest winner of the Best Actress Oscar, putting the cherry atop her extraordinary 2012 (the middle of five consecutive years that each yielded something from her on this list). Lawrence is one of many bright spots in this film, which achieved the rare feat of getting Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Russell gives old pros (like Robert De Niro) and young talents alike juicy, complex characters in which to sink their teeth. Bradley Cooper proves his dramatic worth and even those in minor roles are well-cast and memorable. For what can be considered a romantic comedy and one that involves a dance competition and mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook is refreshingly devoid of convention and full of sharp humor and humanity. It wins you over with authentic depictions, a light touch, and an appealing view of the world. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

The title "American Hustle" is laid over this shot of Richie (Bradley Cooper), Sydney (Amy Adams), and Irving (Christian Bale) walking into an important meeting.

4. American Hustle
2013, 138 minutes, R / Director: David O. Russell / Writers: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell / Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Robert De Niro
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If you're immune to the charms of David O. Russell, this has got to be a rough stretch for you, but this is as high as the writer-director gets. Three for three this half-decade (and each movie better than the last), Russell gives us something different than his two previous practically contemporary dramedies: a funny dramatization of the FBI's Abscam sting operation of the 1970s. Built on facts but willing to depart from them to serve its own storytelling needs, the movie places the same winning emphasis on characters, who are exquisitely brought to life by four actors who starred in the director's two prior films, all of whom landed Oscar nominations (for both performances), plus Jeremy Renner, who would have been just as worthy of a nod. Each actor builds a character from the feet up, adopting an accent and/or a ridiculous period-accurate hairstyle to help define their personality. The delectable atmosphere is in the vein of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. While the homage is obvious, it's also a far more rewarding film than Scorsese's last foray into crime storytelling (the white collar Wolf of Wall Street), which arrived just days later feeling inferior. Providing equal amounts style and substance, this smart, funny, and flavorful tale is one for the ages. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

In "Hugo", #3, the power of cinema is unleashed as film author Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) cranks a projector for Hugo, Isabelle, and Mama Jeanne Méliès (Helen McCrory).

3. Hugo
2011, 126 minutes, PG / Director: Martin Scorsese / Writers: Brian Selznick, John Logan / Stars: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law
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I vividly recall hearing the puzzling news that Martin Scorsese would be a making a family film. Martin Scorsese of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Casino renown? Making a movie adapted from a children's book in 3D? Of course, if you were familiar with the 2007 Brian Selznick book in question, whose title was progressively shortened for the film, you could understand the legendary filmmaker's attraction. This was a story about film pioneers and preservation, historical fiction utilizing remarkable facts about the life and careers of Georges Méliès to tell a moving, universal tale of a 1930s orphan living in Paris' main train station. Scorsese used 3D as no one else has, moving us within the clocks Hugo Cabret maintains and around the station and platforms with grace and beauty. The film's technical splendor was recognized extensively, culminating with five technical Oscar wins. But Hugo was also the rare family film nominated for major awards. While its cast, from its talented young leads to a never-better Ben Kingsley as Méliès, was regrettably snubbed, the film vied for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay honors and likely wound up the runner-up in the first two of those categories to The Artist, a kindred French production which took its love for early cinema in a drastically different direction (full-on emulation) to nonetheless comparably delightful results. Though not recognized quite as widely, Hugo is a work of art of tremendous magnitude which will continue to endear dramatically long after its technical wizardry has become antiquated. Full Blu-ray 3D Combo Review

Sharing one tight car, the Muppets reunite with some montage and map driving in #2, "The Muppets."

2. The Muppets
2011, 103 minutes, PG / Director: Martin Scorsese / Writers: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller / Stars: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz
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Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller demonstrated their comfort working with puppets on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But there are puppets and then there are Muppets. The two proved they know the difference with The Muppets, 2011's impeccable resurrection. This film basically forgets all the sequels and literary adaptations to make a film that's just like The Muppet Movie, only better. We get inspired original songs perfectly conceived by Bret McKenzie (whose "Flight of the Conchords" director Nicholas Bobin is a master of musical comedy at the helm), including the one that got the franchise its long overdue first Oscar. We get no shortage of celebrity cameos, most of them creative and fitting story needs like a glove. We get the Muppets as they were meant to be: breaking the fourth wall, cracking some knowingly corny jokes, and being the lovable crew of misfits we want to see happy, together, and putting on an entertaining show. Rather than ignore characters' time out of the limelight, the film embraces it as a reunion and comeback tour of immense nostalgic joy. Rather than updating the personalities to suit modern moviegoers' tastes, the movie stays true to the timeless characters, assigning most prominence to the classic Jim Henson "Muppet Show" gang. Some may lament that star Segel, his "brother" Walter (a diehard fan destined for Muppetdom), leading lady Amy Adams, and unexpectedly game foe Chris Cooper get to do as much as or more than any of the core Muppets, that amounts to nit-picking on this colorful production brimming with fun and obvious respect for all things Muppets. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

Facing the incinerator of the Tri-County Landfill, the beloved toys of the Toy Story series band together and pray for a miracle in the best film of the half-decade, "Toy Story 3."

1. Toy Story 3
2010, 102 minutes, G / Director: Lee Unkrich / Writers: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich / Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Emily Hahn, Laurie Metcalf, Blake Clark
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There is a long list of sequels that arrive too late to live up to their predecessors. Generally, if more than a few years pass, the magic is lost and efforts to recapture it are futile, even if all the same elements remain in place. The Godfather Part III is the obvious example. More recently, there is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a spirited adventure that nonetheless was no match for a generation's memories and thus has been subject to curious and passionate backlash. Coming eleven years after Toy Story 2 drew comparisons to The Godfather Part II in quality, earning universal acclaim despite originating as a direct-to-video project, Toy Story 3 raised seemingly insurmountable expectations, having to endure comparison to two of the most beloved films of the late 20th century and ones that represented childhood bliss for millions. That it did so not with John Lasseter, director of the first two, at the helm but Lee Unkrich, the TS2 co-director making his lead directing debut was another cause for concern. Then again, this was Pixar, who up until that point had not made anything considered less than very good. Gladly, they would extend their record of practical perfection by hitting this threequel out of the park. It delivers everything we love about the franchise (those wonderful, colorful characters, ruminations about the importance of toys, a wide array of emotion) without directly repeating any of the first two films' rhythms. The passage of time has allowed Pixar to elevate this universe to astonishing new heights of technical sophistication. The writing and staging have all grown in maturity, while the untimeliness of the project only heightens its power to move, something felt profoundly in that beautiful, perhaps inevitably tear-inducing ending. News of a fourth installment has inspired feelings similar to when Michael Jordan returned to the NBA for a third time, joining the Washington Wizards in 2001. There was some hope that he could still possess the characteristics that made him the best despite the declines in athleticism that come from being 38 years old. But there was also the sense of "Why?!" Why would you try to top that storybook ending, a final minute that included two free throws, a lay-up, a steal, and a shot in a final minute that won a game and a sixth championship? We all hope that Toy Story 4 is not the equivalent of posting career lows on a losing team. Even if it is, it can't change the wonder of Toy Story 3, a transcendent would-be finale that defied everything we know about entertainment life cycles and lapses. Full Blu-ray Combo Review

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