Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

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I Watched ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and ‘Artemis Fowl’ on the Same Weekend: Here’s What Happened

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CREDIT: David Lee/Netflix; Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Screenshot

Da 5 Bloods

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Victoria Ngo

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time:

Rating: R for Sometimes Shocking, Sometimes Not-So-Shocking Graphic Violence

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Netflix)

Artemis Fowl

Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Goofy Fantasy Action

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)

I was so worried that I was going to spend so much of my time watching Da 5 Bloods bemoaning its lack of a theatrical release. For one thing, the event status of a Spike Lee joint is unavoidably diminished by an at-home debut, and furthermore, I was concerned that even if I was really feeling it, there would be too many distractions fighting for my attention. Regarding the former, I just had to make peace with that fact. As for the latter, I can’t tell you the last time a Netflix release pulled me in with such a firm grip and refused to let go. A prologue swoops in hard and fast with real-world contextualizing footage from the Vietnam War era: Man goes to the moon! Muhammad Ali refuses to serve! Riots at the DNC! Nguyễn Ngọc Loan is executed! If you look away for even a second, you’re going to miss something essential.

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‘Cats’ is a Jellicle-Only Affair

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Francesca Hayward, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Ray Winstone

Director: Tom Hooper

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG for CGI’d Cat-People Lifting Their Legs Up Suggestively

Release Date: December 20, 2019

I admire the people who have made Cats, including all versions of the musical and this here film adaptation. The whole premise is thoroughly ridiculous, and all the little details only make it more so. So anyone who has given it their all at the Jellicle Ball has no time for the shame that such an enterprise might convey. That sort of pluck and resilience will get you far in life. It doesn’t necessarily make for good filmmaking, though. In this case, at least, it just transfers something truly baffling in one iteration into something just as baffling, in the same ways and more, in another medium.

The plot, such as it is, is immensely inconsequential, but it has something to do with new cat in town Victoria (Francesca Hayward) trying to find her place in cat society while devious cat Macavity (Idris Elba) plucks away his competition for the Jellicle Ball, which I’m pretty sure is some sort of talent show. Meanwhile, all the other cats prance about and sing their signature songs to let us know who they are. So far, so phantasmagorical. This could be appreciated as a bizarre theatrical extravaganza if the staging and choreography were decent. But director Tom Hooper has a way of shooting every scene that makes it feel like everything is so far away, even the close-ups. It confers an elusive nature that is the opposite of the extreme intimacy of high-frame rate, and thus it is difficult to connect with whatever emotional resonance the actors are able to summon. If something is going to be as unbelievable as this, it ought to also be unforgettable. Alas, Cats is just a piffle that my subconscious doesn’t even want to bother with.

Cats is Recommended If You Like: Thorough nonsense

Grade: 2 out of 5 Jellicles

This Is a Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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CREDIT: Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds and Attempted Gun Wounds

Release Date: November 10, 2017

Kenneth Branagh’s take on Hercule Poirot, one of the most famous and prolifically portrayed detectives in English literary history, is the sort of man who cannot enjoy his breakfast unless his two eggs are perfectly symmetrically arranged. As he puts, “I can only see the world as it should be.” His skill at identifying culprits so precisely derives from his distaste for his surroundings being askew in any capacity. And when a crime has been committed, things are certainly askew. For a Poirot newbie like myself, this thesis statement is clear and compelling enough. It points to a tradition that has led to a recently predominant style in which brilliant detectives do not fit on a normative intellectual scale.

As for how this version of this most classic of Poirot cases plays out, Branagh is eager to put his many new spins on locked room mystery tropes. But first, certain typical patterns are unavoidable. Each passenger must be introduced with just enough color to make everyone a legitimate suspect, and the camerawork must be painstakingly particular to note every cabin, door, and hidden compartment. But once the setup is through, there is fun to be had (or at least attempted) in mixing up expectations. Oftentimes, characters in these stories try to get away with little lies or hide pieces of their identities that ultimately prove to be quite telling. In this case, the experiment – and alas, mistake – is that everyone gives themselves away with such dishonesty.

A good mystery should be a few steps ahead of most of its viewers. Branagh does indeed pull that off, but he is also a few steps ahead of his own movie, which is not similarly advisable. The result is an end product in which the love for the genre is clear, but the volume at which it is being poked and prodded is too much weight to bear. Most of the performances are overly stiff, stuck in roles within roles in which the unnatural seams start to show. Only Michelle Pfeiffer manages to truly cut loose. Branagh’s formal openness is a good start, but ultimately a star-studded affair like this one requires much more lasting personalities to really hit.

Murder on the Orient Express is Recommended If You Like: Agatha Christie completism, Marvelous mustaches, the Michelle Pfeiffer Renaissance

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Symmetrical Arrangements

This Is a Movie Review: Victoria & Abdul

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon

Director: Stephen Frears

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Uptight Brits Trying (and Sometimes Failing) to Avoid Cursing and Discussing Naughty Bits

Release Date: September 22, 2017 (Limited)

With Victoria & Abdul, Judi Dench returns to the role that earned the dame her first Oscar nomination 20 years ago, and the Academy may very come calling yet again. Of course, such recognition is a distinct possibility for every Dench performance, but that is no reason not to say it again whenever it is called for. As with Mrs. Brown, the narrative focuses on the widowed Queen Victoria’s deeply close relationship with a servant. This time it is Abdul Karim (played with boundless oomph by Bollywood star Ali Fazal), an Indian man whose trip to England was originally meant to be a quick appearance to present the queen with a gift from her subjects but who ultimately became her confidant and spiritual teacher.

Looking over some of the other reviews of Victoria & Abdul, I must admit that I am probably lacking the best experience with which to approach this film. I am not a British citizen, nor do I hail from any country that has ever lived under the kingdom’s imperialist rule. The film might be guilty of whitewashing or revisionist history. I cannot speak sufficiently to its value as a document of record, but I can say that as storytelling, it is dynamic and morally engaging. It might make its heroes and villains more clear-cut than they actually were, but that approach does paint a valuable picture of what it means to be human towards each other.

As he proved with Philomena (the last time he guided Dench to an Oscar nomination), director Stephen Frears knows how to gradually suss out the seriousness from what at first appears to be a happy-go-lucky buddy flick. This could have just been the story of a woman in her twilight years who serendipitously developed a new close friendship that was surprising in many ways. And that would have been perfectly charming. But Victoria and Abdul’s story is much more than that.

Victoria uses the powers of her throne to insist that all subjects be treated justly and properly, thus bucking the push for decorum from the more openly racist members of her court. This is relatively low-risk for someone in her position of power, but that does not make it any less admirable. Much more complicated is Abdul’s behavior. He is encouraged by a fellow Indian servant not to prostrate himself so readily to the oppressor, but he finds a higher spiritual calling in the work of a servant, no matter what the greater context. Those who detect a problematic approach in Abdul’s portrayal are not necessarily wrong, but it is worthwhile to test out the more transcendent approach.

Victoria & Abdul is Recommended If You Like: Philomena, Any and all British royal pictures, Judi Dench at her Dench-iest

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Carpets

This Is a Movie Review: Tulip Fever

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At the end of Tulip Fever, I thought, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.” It ultimately becomes clear that there is an incredible amount of kindness inherent to the main characters. They struggle because they find themselves in situations that are far from ideal and beyond their control, but they ultimately find a way out. That is a fine bit of satisfaction. But for the first 95%, the floral mania is totally confounding and there is little in the way of enjoyability beyond the (not-that-out-of-place) comedic relief from Zach Galifianakis and Christoph Waltz’s nicknames for his penis.

I give Tulip Fever 1 Bulb Just Barely in Bloom.