Sunday, December 29, 2019

On the 2010s movies and TV shows

On the 2010s in movies
Every February I rank the movies that defined the past calendar year. With the decade coming to a close, it felt natural to do the same exercise for the entire 2010s - and to throw in the defining TV shows for good measure. I don't have the energy to do more than write a long list, but I've linked to everything I've written in the past. But before that, some FAQs:

  • Are these your favorite movies of the 2010s? Or the "best" movies?
    • Some combination of the two.  Let's call it 50/50.
  • How dare you exclude movie XYZ????
    • Perhaps I didn't see it. Or I didn't saw it and didn't like it (or at least didn't like it enough to mention here). Or I simple forgot, because I'm getting old. Don't worry, the sun will still come up tomorrow.
  • Where can I find your old rankings and tear them to shreds?
  • Wait, why are you contradicting some ranking you wrote months or years ago?
    • My mind changed? Critical re-examination? Different perspectives from growing older? I'm in a different mood on this particular day than I was on the day that I wrote that other thing? Think of this as (and any ranking I've written) as a snapshot more than a mathematical equation.
Honorable Mention:
  • Super 8 (2011)/Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): I enjoyed these movies on first watch but over time I soured on them, and on J.J. Abrams in general. Both of these movies are engineered to make you feel thrilled in the moment by evoking images of classic movies that you love, but neither of them holds up to any thematic scrutiny. Also, this is probably a good time to mention that I hated The Rise of Skywalker; it had all of the same macro issues as The Force Awakens, but without any of the kinetic, well-paced, and well-edited individual scenes.
  • Knives Out (2019)
  • Your Name (2017)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2011)
  • Selma (2014)
  • Phoenix (2015)
  • The Lego Movie (2014)
  • The Disaster Artist (2017): Rarely have I ever been as excited for a movie as I was for this one. But it lost a lot of luster on second viewing.
  • Logan (2017)
  • Gone Girl (2014)
  • Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)/Fallout (2018)
  • Interstellar (2014)
  • Source Code (2011)
  • Personal Shopper (2016): There is a mounting pile of evidence that Kristen Stewart is a great actress who got horrible direction in the Twilight saga. I would pay an irresponsible amount of money to see her and Richard Linklater team up to make Before Twilight.
  • Booksmart (2019)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  • Black Panther (2017)
  • The Founder (2016)
  • Columbus (2017)
  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012): The only movie from its year that even sniffed the list.
  • Edge of Tomorrow (2014): My favorite Tom Cruise movie.
  • Hell or High Water (2016)
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2014): The last movie that I cut from the list, and my favorite Ghibli movie of the decade.
  1. Blue Valentine (2010): The start of Ryan Gosling's run as the best actor of the decade.
  2. Enough Said (2013): Rest in peace James Gandolfini.
  3. Top Five (2014)
  4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): I rewatched this after seeing Rise of Skywalker, and I am even more impressed than I was two years ago. The editing and overall thematic clarity are actually better than I remember.
  5. 20th Century Women (2016)
  6. The Muppets (2011)
  7. Blue Jasmine (2013)
  8. The Ides of March (2011)
  9. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
  10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
  11. Arrival (2016)
  12. The Shape of Water (2017)
  13. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
  14. Widows (2018)
  15. The Nice Guys (2016)
  16. Bridesmaids (2011)
  17. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
  18. Inside Out (2015)
  19. Toy Story 4 (2019): Before this year, I had Toy Story ranked as the fourth best movie trilogy of all time (1. Before Trilogy 2. Star Wars 3. Godfather). Now, I think it is pretty uncontroversial to call Toy Story is the best movie tetralogy of all time. I am not opposed to Pixar extending the series, but it can't be centered on Woody anymore. His journey is complete.
  20. True Grit (2010)
  21. La La Land (2016)
  22. Sicario (2015)
  23. Nightcrawler (2014)
  24. Moneyball (2011): Why are baseball movies so much more interesting than movies about much more exciting sports?
  25. Parasite (2019)
  26. Moonlight (2016): I imagine if you polled 1000 film critics, this would be the most popular pick for "best" film of the decade, and deservedly so.
  27. Little Women (2019)
  28. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  29. Fort Tilden (2015)
  30. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
  31. Ex Machina (2015)
  32. Pitch Perfect (2012)
  33. Spotlight (2015)
  34. Mustang (2015)
  35. Dunkirk (2017)
  36. Two Days, One Night (2014): Marion Cotillard owns the best performance of the decade.
  37. First Man (2018): The apex of Ryan Gosling's run as the best actor of the decade.
  38. Dope (2015): If I were running Disney, Shameik Moore would be my first choice to get his own Star Wars or Marvel franchise.
  39. Game Night (2018): Pictionary and charades are cute, but I look forward to Max and Annie (and their hypercompetitive toddler) graduating to going ballistic over actual hardcore tabletop games like Settlers in the inevitable sequel.
  40. The Social Network (2010): Our generation's spiritual successor to Citizen Kane. The 2011 Oscars featured one of the all-time great best picture races, and somehow the worst movie of the bunch (The King's Speech) snuck off with the trophy.
  41. Get Out (2018): My favorite horror movie of all time, and it's not particularly close.
  42. Eighth Grade (2018): This blog is my lame adult version of Kayla's video channel.
  43. Beginners (2011): Mike Mills is - by far - the most underappreciated filmmmaker of this generation.
  44. Boyhood (2014): In the Summer of 2014 happened to be in Pasadena to see Manchester United play at the Rose Bowl in the summer (but really the game was an excuse to meet up with my college friends that I hadn't seen since graduation a month earlier). To kill time before the game, I went to the local Laemmle's to see what was playing. I saw they had a new Richard Linklater movie with a sparkly 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Curious (and shocked that I had somehow missed the news of my favorite director releasing a new movie), I went in. Clocking in at 165 minutes, this movie did not fail to kill time, but inside the theater those three hours flew by instantaneously. Linklater doubled down on all his aesthetic quirks, and I can see why this movie isn't for everybody. But I cannot wait to revisit this movie every few years, especially if/when I ever have kids of my own.
  45. Zootopia (2016): My girlfriend sometimes makes fun of me for being terrible at diagnosing movie trailers. This is exhibit A. At a showing of Inside Out in 2015 they had trailers for Charlie Brown, Minions, The Good Dinosaur, The Secret Life of Pets, and Trolls - all of which I was excited for, and none which merited that excitement. That showing also featured the Zootopia trailer, which I thought looked like a waste of time. Nine months later, Zootopia passed Spirited Away as my favorite non-Toy Story animated movie.
  46. The Tree of Life (2011): This is one of my favorite movie trailers of all time. I remember wanting to see it at Laemmle's during the summer of 2011, but ultimately not doing so. I always suspected I would adore this movie, but I never got around to watching it until this past October. I was blown away - not just by the famed creation sequence, but also the opening monologue that immediately establishes the themes of life's duality, and the stellar performances that manage to mine that duality out of an intentionally sparse script.
  47. Toy Story 3 (2010)I have always had a soft spot for this franchise, in part because Toy Story II is (to my memory) the first movie I saw in a theater. This sentiment doubled when Andy graduated high school and left for college the same summer that I did. Based on how often this movie came up at grad parties that summer, I know I'm not the only one in my class who simply can't help but view the third Toy Story installment as the best one.
  48. Before Midnight (2013): When I first saw the Before Trilogy (at that time a duology) in 2010, I liked Before Sunrise better. The older I've gotten, the more I've gravitated towards Before Sunset being my favorite movie in the series. I have little doubt that in 30 years, this will be my favorite of the three movies.
  49. Midnight in Paris (2011): The first time I watched this film was during the summer after my first year of college, at the Laemmle's playhouse in Gil Bender's hometown of Pasadena, California. It was my first taste of "arthouse" cinema, and I haven't looked back since.
  50. Inception (2010): This is my litmus test for whether I would ever want to watch or discuss movies with you; I have pulled the plug on many a podcast over this movie. Every Inception criticism I have encountered falls into one of three categories: 1) "Inception has a lot of exposition, which I read online is bad. I believe that pointing out places where the director didn't hide exposition makes me sound clever." 2) "Inception has plot holes, which I try to catch like Pokemon. I watch movies because of how closely they follow real life, not because of how they make me feel," 3) "I wanted Inception to be an emotional romantic drama, not an analytical heist. Movies that don't pander to my preferences are bad." I have never found any of these criticisms valid. The first one is especially grating: movies need exposition to have proper setups and payoffs; this is especially true for Inception, where all of the initial exposition is what allows the movie to move through such an intricate, lightning-paced heist without losing the viewer. Also, rather than hiding his exposition, Christopher Nolan does something more impressive: he makes exposition fascinating by wrapping it in conflicts and character delineation; I have watched this movie seven times, and the exposition has never bothered me because I am always fascinated to re-learn the rules of the world Nolan created. Overall, Inception is a masterclass in world building, and a beautiful exploration of cinema itself, and its cathartic powers. Inception is my favorite (and in my humble opinion, the best) movie of the decade - but it's only a movie for people who are willing to put on their critical thinking caps.
On the 2010s in TV
This was the decade where television traded quality for quantity. I get the sense that most people are more than happy with this trade - it's impossible to run out of shows to binge, streaming allows shows to have more flexible formats, and more shows has undeniably led to more inclusive representation. But streaming simply hasn't reproduced the iconic, culturally ubiquitous shows of the traditional TV era, and I don't think that's a coincidence. Traditional TV's best quality was the idea that we were all watching shows together -  we would make a ritual out of going in front of our TVs at the same time, taking in the episode simultaneously, and all having access to the same information when we talked about it at the water cooler. The shared experience of watching network TV is an unfortunate but direct casualty of streaming; long gone are the days when Frank Sinatra's ambulance experienced zero traffic on the way to the hospital because everyone was busy watching the finale of Seinfeld.

The 2010s were also the decade when the Emmys became completely irrelevant.  The Emmy's are a relic of times when we all watched the same shows on the same three networks. In 2019 there's just too much TV right now for any voting bloc to possibly give every show its merited attention.

Anyway, to my list. Any show that aired episodes between 01/01/2010 and 12/31/2019 is eligible, but I only evaluated shows based on the episodes that aired in this decade. So while The Office is one of the greatest shows of all time, it didn't make the list because I was only judging it based on the last three seasons (including the two unwatchable ones with no Steve Carrell). The caveats above apply doubly here: there is such a  massive volume of TV out there that if I didn't include your favorite show, it's probably because I didn't get around to watching it.

Honorable Mention
  • New Girl/Brooklyn 99: I followed both shows from the start and eventually tapped out. The 2010's was the decade in which I slowly gave up on the formulaic network sitcom that always ends every episode with obligatory hugging and learning.
  • Single Parents
  • Glee: I could write a thesis on how much I adore the first season of this show, and how disappointing everything that followed was. Unfortunately, the first half of season 1 didn't count for this exercise. The back half of season 1 is still fantastic, and the last two episodes of season 3 would have made an all-time great series finale...if they had been the series finale. But I just can't put Glee on the list when everything outside of season 1 (and outside those last two season 3 episodes) was total garbage.
  • Dollface
  • Veep
  • Game of Thrones: So, I have actually only seen the first two episodes of the series. That said, I still want to acknowledge how much I appreciate what just might be the last instance of "appointment viewing" television we ever see.
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Modern Family: The most critically acclaimed sitcom of the decade was something I just never could get into.
  • Arrested Development: I liked the overlapping timelines format of season 4, but I just couldn't get behind the bloated episodes. I never got around to watching season 5.
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Loved the first season (which was edited for network TV), hated the second season (woefully under-edited). I still haven't watched season 3 and beyond.
  • Workin' Moms
  • Love Bites: Awesome cast, and this show actually gave Arrested Development the blueprint for overlapping timelines.
  • Zero Hour: Not the best show of the decade, but undoubtedly the wackiest.
  • iZombie
  • Chuck
  • Black Mirror: I've only seen a couple episodes so I couldn't put it on the list. But that Star Trek episode sure was a doozy.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Rick and Morty
  • Broad City
  1. The Good Place
  2. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  3. Orange is the New Black
  4. Better Call Saul
  5. Breaking Bad
  6. You: I made sure to finish binging season two before writing this.
  7. Silicon Valley
  8. Archer
  9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  10. Master of None
  11. Stranger Things
  12. Stumptown: Yes, I feel that strongly about the first half of the first season. I'm all in.
  13. Great News: This, and not The Good Place, is the best sitcom that debuted this decade. It's the kind of show NBC used to churn out with regularity.
  14. Jane the Virgin
  15. Parks and Recreation: Cheers. Seinfeld. Frasier. Friends. Scrubs. The Office. 30 Rock. Community. Parks and Rec. For three decades NBC was a factory of iconic sitcoms. Not great sitcoms - iconic, culture-defining sitcoms. And then they inexplicably stopped investing in their signature product. When Parks and Recreation aired its finale in 2015, it wasn't just the end of the show - it was the end of an era.
  16. American Crime Story
  17. Shark Tank
  18. How I Met Your Mother: If this list were based on the 2000s, HIMYM might have finished number 1. No show struck a better balance between whimsy and gravity, and for many millennials this show supplanted Friends as the platonic ideal for what we wanted from our adult friendships. That said, when I first wrote this post, I put it in the honorable mention section because I really wasn't a fan of Seasons 7 or 8, or the infamous finale. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I do still love season 6, and the final season (finale non-withstanding) is just so good that I couldn't leave it off of the list. If I listed my 10 favorite episodes, I might have half of them come from the final season - including Sunrise, which is my favorite episode of the whole series. 
  19. Scrotal Recall Lovesick - HIMYM with a British twist (including a not-so-great finale).
  20. 30 Rock - This ranking unfortunately can't account for the spectacular first season and flawless second season.
  21. The Good Wife
  22. Mad Men
  23. Person of Interest
  24. Timeless: This show inspired me to tap into my enthusiasm for American history that I always knew I had but had never done much to develop. After I started watching this show I started reading American history non-fiction on my bus rides to work. In that time I've gotten through two books on the Mexican-American war, an Antebellum book, two Civil War books, and a reconstruction book; I just started a book on the Gilded Age. The other reason why I love this show is that I think this, more than any other show, represents the triumph of this decade's push for more diversity in our pop culture. I think it's great, and necessary, to tell more stories about historically underrepresented groups. But I don't want black actors to relegated to competing with each other for the precious few spots on shows with all-black casts. Ditto for other minorities, women, LGBTQ+ actors, disabled actors, etc. To me, the ultimate goal of diversity initiatives should be for all actors to get the same opportunities that cishet white men have monopolized for decades. Timeless epitomizes this. The main cast features multiple black actors and women (gay and straight), and they always made an effort to spotlight history's most unappreciated women and people of color. That said, the show never tries to pat itself on the back, or grandstand about identity politics. It simply uses its cast and its stories to give an authentic representation of our society as it was/is.
  25. Community: #SixSeasonsAndAMovie