And here are the rest of the 8/10s. Definitely see these films if you haven’t already.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
So good, they had to name a film festival after it. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is every bit a buddy comedy as it is a tragedy. The memorable lines, smart quips, and excellent chemistry between its two leads belie a story of two men born a little too late to live the lives they wanted. The film itself isn’t especially melancholic, and while I can envision some people claiming that makes it campy and hard to take seriously, I give Mr. Hill credit for successfully mixing tones.
How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois, 2010)
Once How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was released, I saw fit to discover the entire trilogy. I had somehow missed out on the original film and its sequel when they were released, and I wanted to catch up on them. Unfortunately, I later learned that the only one truly worth seeing is the first one. The second was sunk by an unsympathetic character whereas the third is mired the worst storytelling trends of its day on top of having a terrible ending that failed to do any of the character arcs justice. This leaves the trilogy’s inaugural film as the sole unequivocally good entry. Even so, I have little doubt that it is a keeper. It provides a unique take on the fantasy genre that lends the film a timeless quality many of Dreamworks’ earlier efforts (and certain later ones) simply didn’t have.
In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison, 1967)
Hey, remember back when artists could be progressive and tell a good story at the same time? Neither do I, which is why I really appreciate these older films. I can imagine certain people saying that the ending of In the Heat of the Night shoots holes in its own message, but I actually feel it allowed Mr. Jewison and company to tackle another touchy subject. Like Dog Day Afternoon, it succeeds at doing so because while it’s upfront about its messages, it never turns them into A Thing™. By discussing these topics naturally, the film says what it wants to say and it never feels convoluted or forced.
Us (Jordan Peele, 2019)
Whether it’s Alex Garland, Ari Aster, or Neill Blomkamp, I’ve noticed that modern-day auteurs tend to be one-trick ponies. This results in many instances in which they enrapture critics with their debut efforts only to receive diminishing returns on investment for subsequent works. I think the common problem among them is that by trying so hard to be original, they inadvertently become brands, thus resulting in predictable developments even when they’re trying to push to push the envelope. The reason this bears mentioning is because I was a little worried that Jordon Peele could have fallen victim to the same trend. It’s true that Get Out is far better than Ex Machina, Hereditary, or District 9, but it was still possible for him to fall victim to the sophomore slump. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all; Us is easily one of the best satires of its time. It has a message, but it doesn’t overshadow everything else or get in the way of the very creative premise. Also, N.W.A.
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2018)
Infinity War was exactly what the MCU needed in 2018. By then, the series had become somewhat stale. Everyone knew what an MCU film entailed by then, so seeing the writers throw a major curveball in the form of Thanos was highly refreshing. I don’t really buy into Steven Spielberg’s notion that one can only enjoy films in theaters. If a creator needs to rely solely on their visuals to make up for a weak story, they’re doing it wrong. That said, I really enjoyed seeing this film in theaters. It was easily the most agitated I’ve ever seen a film audience – and it wasn’t because they were angry (or at least not at the writers); they knew what they witnessed was a capital-E Event that put the previous Avengers films to shame in one fell swoop.
Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2019)
With filmmakers having become significantly less ambitious in the 2010s, getting to see Endgame was a treat. Other than The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, neither of which have held up well, I don’t recall getting this excited to see a film that ended up completely living up to the hype. I kind of see both Infinity War and Endgame as more competent executes of what Rian Johnson tried to do with The Last Jedi in that both films go out of their way to subvert expectations. However, while Mr. Johnson’s work quickly devolved into a disorienting mess, the Russo brothers clearly knew what they were doing, and created a two-part epic that celebrated eleven years of one of the medium’s most ambitious projects.
F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973)
F for Fake is a strange beast. It’s not exactly what one would call work of fiction, yet it’s not quite a documentary either. What it manages to be is a truly intellectual reflection on the nature of art and the criticism thereof. After all, what is the point of criticism when those in the know can get hoodwinked just as easily as a common person? Naturally, this is another one of those films I think would have no chance against the current wave of critics, so if you’re tired of the bland fare getting praise nowadays, I’d say it’s worth hearing the words of a real intellectual.
Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)
Pixar got off to a great start with their debut film, didn’t they? As a friend of mine said, the visuals have aged better than they had any right to. Then again, it helps that the story is great as well. Sure, there are certain aspects that don’t make a lot of sense (such as Buzz acting like a toy before realizing he is one), but as a high-concept animated film, it ranks as one of the best ones out there all these years later.
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The release of Toy Story 4 prompted me to finally check out Toy Story 3 earlier this year. As mentioned before, trilogies tend to be tricky propositions, but I think the original three Toy Story films managed to be universally solid efforts with not a single weak entry among them. While I do admit this is my least favorite of the original three, it is undeniably a great sendoff for the series – or at least it was before Toy Story 4 came along, but points for effort.
The Farewell (Lulu Wang, 2019)
By the time The Farewell was released, I openly wondered why I kept giving A24 films a chance. I can actually sympathize somewhat with critics in that the corporate nature of modern-day filmmaking ensures that very few risks are taken with auteur passion projects, but I feel A24 is a favorite of theirs not because the company is an especially good alternative, but because it’s arguably the only one they’ve got. Films aren’t like video games wherein anyone can easily become a creator within the medium, yet the audience is savvy enough to prevent duds from succeeding in the long term.
Nonetheless, The Farewell did seem interesting enough based off of its premise, and I have to say that after seeing it, Lulu Wang can claim to be one of the very few directors who actually used the company’s ethos to a great effect. With stuff like Gloria Bell, Lady Bird, or The Witch, you get the sense that these auteurs can’t really handle having complete creative control. Ms. Wang, on the other hand, used the auteur voice to ensure the film came out exactly as she wanted it without any cynical Hollywood boardroom types telling her she couldn’t, and the narrative was made all the better for it. Even better, in defiance of what film critics would think, the film was a modest hit with the general public as well. Guess they enjoy films wherein people actually act like people and not grotesque amalgamations of 2010s, pseudointellectual, film theorist sensibilities. Who knew?
Aparajito (Satyajit Ray, 1956)
I really think cinephiles do themselves a major disservice by underestimating the power of a good sequel. It really says something that out of all the sequels to pass through the ranks of some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, Aparajito remains the only one to have won the grand prize at any of them. It’s true that sequels, by their nature, have much more trouble standing on their own, but they also allow creators to build upon and enrich their canon, which is exactly what Satyajit Ray did with this film. Seeing Apu become a teenager seeking knowledge simply wouldn’t have carried the same level of pathos had we not seen his childhood in Pather Panchali.