90. Leave No Trace (2018) – Eight years after Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik directs another movie showcasing a slice of life in rural America. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie give heartbreaking performances as Will and Tom, a father and daughter who have been living off the grid for years. Once a jogger spots them, the authorities separate them for questioning until they come to terms with living in an actual home. This is a poignant film with gorgeous cinematography and characters that feel like real people. Rare for a PG-rated movie to be more suited for adults.
89. Shutter Island (2010) – Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller has divided audiences since its release. It definitely requires repeated viewings. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo star in this disturbing yet engaging film about two U.S. marshals investigate the disappearance of a mental patient at an island facility. Throughout its 139-minute runtime, there are plenty of twists and turns (its imaginative sets make the institution feel like one long maze), clever use of neoclassical music, and startling performances from its cast including Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, and Michelle Williams.
88. The Martian (2015) – In my review back in 2015, I described Matt Damon’s portrayal as astronaut Mark Watney as a “classier Bear Grylls”. The audience sees him use his wits “and science the shit out of” to survive and get off Mars after his team, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), leaves him behind after a stream of debris strikes. Ridley Scott returns to top-form in a science-fiction, pop-culture odyssey with a screenplay written by Drew Goddard that is hilarious, suspenseful, and visually stunning. Also, gotta love the use of David Bowie’s “Starman”.
87. First Reformed (2018) – Known for writing screenplays for Martin Scorsese’s early films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Paul Schrader writes and directs this existential character study that is required to be shown in film criticism classes. Ethan Hawke gives an understated performance as Reverend Toller, a pastor at a Protestant church struggling with his faith and the loss of his son who died in Iraq. Then, he learns from a woman named Mary (Amanda Seyfried, in a surprisingly superb supporting role) that there is something wrong with her environmentalist husband. Things begin to get incredibly tense. And BOY–do they!?
Also starring Cedric the Entertainer (credited as Cedric Kyles), First Reformed is a disturbing and breathtaking masterpiece. The last few minutes will have you on the edge of your seat as well as leaving plenty of room for discussion.
86. Eighth Grade (2018) – I hope comedian Bo Burnham keeps directing movies that are as funny and brutally honest as Eighth Grade. His directorial debut tackles the anxieties of an awkward teenage girl named Kayla (an astounding Elsie Fisher), who spends most of her time on her phone and making inspirational YouTube videos that garner little attention. The audience understands where Kayla is coming from. She wants to have friends despite struggling to get out of her comfort zone. Her pain is almost impossible not to relate. Don’t let the R-rating fool anyone. This is essential viewing for teenagers who are about to head into high school.
85. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – This Spider-Man reboot doesn’t fall into the “origin story” territory as opposed to a continuation of the MCU. Director/co-writer Jon Watts and five other screenwriters do not their waste their time to retell the story of how Peter Parker becomes the “friendly neighborhood superhero”. Everybody knows the story after seeing two movies about his origins (2002’s Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire, and 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield). Tom Holland graces the screen as both the smart-ass high school student and the web-slinging superhero. He provides the wit and physicality to give Homecoming the energy it needs. Michael Keaton’s Vulture feel more like a real person than all the other villains in the MCU. I think John Hughes would love this movie!
84. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) – Joe Talbot, a native of San Francisco, makes his directorial debut about his hometown. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. This movie, inspired by the actual friendship between Talbot and actor Jimmie Fails (playing a fictional version of himself) is the whole package: funny, thoughtful, raw, smart, and devastating. It might not move at a fast pace, but there is a lot that feels right at home for the director and the actors. There is a sense of diverse beauty through its cinematography and music, including Michael Marshall’s marvelous rendition of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, that sums up the city as a whole.
83. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – This three-hour long epic of the rise and fall of penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a raunchy, hilarious movie only Martin Scorsese could direct. This is a film that takes so many risks yet it will never leave you bored due to its lightning-fast pace. The massive cast including Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler (in one of three movies this decade where he plays a government official), Jean Dujardin, Bo Dietl, and Matthew McConaughey all give great performances, no matter how long (or short) their appearances are. The scene where Belfort and Donnie are high on Quaaludes is such a great example of physical comedy.
82. The Avengers (2012) – The original members team up for the first time under the direction of Joss Whedon. The Avengers is a movie buff’s dream come true! The wit is unstoppable, the action dazzles, and the pace never lets up. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki couldn’t be more charming. The Hulk provides some of the funniest scenes in the movie.
81. Moneyball (2011) – I’m surprised Brad Pitt has not won a single Oscar for acting. If Jean Dujardin didn’t get nominated for The Artist in 2011, Pitt would have easily won for his outstanding performance as Billy Beane, the general manager for the Oakland Athletics who, with the help from Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, equally great), an Economics graduate from Yale, signs players on a budget, based on their on-base percentage (also known as sabermetrics), to play for the 2002 MLB season. Director Bennett Miller and co-writer Aaron Sorkin create a baseball movie that is far from your average baseball movie. It’s a witty, tense, thought-provoking, and patient movie about the love of the game.