To celebrate Cinematic’s 5th Anniversary, I’ve put together my 10 favorite films of the past five years, between August 4th, 2011 and August 4th, 2016. During this time we’ve seen some veterans like Michael Haneke and the Coen brothers continue to hit home runs as well as newcomers like Jeremy Saulnier and Damien Chazelle make some of the most startling original work in recent years. There are certainly many great films that just barely missed the list (Zero Dark Thirty, Son of Saul, and Boyhood are some of the few I regretted cutting out), and hopefully the next five years will be just as good.
- Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
David Fincher’s latest feature immediately became renown for its midway twist, but what stood out to me in Gone Girl was Fincher’s eye for Kubrickian craftsmanship. The detail and order is so finely tuned that only makes the film all the more powerful. Gone Girl is Fincher’s most intriguing and compelling work since his magnum opus Zodiac and a continued demonstration of the filmmaker’s prowess.
- Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
The Coen brothers’ tale of a failed folk singer stars Oscar Isaac as the eponymous protagonist who unwillingly stumbles from misfortune to misfortune. Though its gloominess offset more casual fans, Inside Llewyn Davis is a sharp and clever feature that’s one of the duo’s most poignant pictures yet.
- Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
Imagine if Full Metal Jacket had been set in a jazz band classroom and you would have gotten Whiplash, a frantic and wild tale about the limits of devotion. Featuring a powerhouse performance by J. K. Simmons, Whiplash is an excellent ode to jazz as well to the lengths of what it takes to become a legend.
- A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
The recent death of Abbas Kiarostami has had the world search for an heir to the great humanist’s throne. In this writer’s opinion, no one stands as a better successor than Aghar Farhadi, and A Separation may be the best example to why the director carries on Kiarostami’s legacy. Farhadi has the unique ability of constructing films that feature no villain or definitive obstacle; though his characters are always in conflict, they are never malicious or unjust in their intent and instead find themselves in a situation they cannot avoid. A Separation is one of the most fascinating and strongest human dramas of this decade thus far and a movie that reflects both the best and worst of society.
- Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
In my review for Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, I deemed the picture as the collaboration between David Lynch and Terry Gilliam that never happened. Containing the frantic energy of Looney Tunes to avant-garde cinema, Holy Motors is a celebration of showmanship, a movie that can alternate between laughs and horror within a blink of an eye.
- Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2016)
The most recent film on this list, Green Room is a violent, terrifying thriller that’s as provocative as Haneke and as sly as Carpenter. Saulnier captures both the ethos and authenticity of hardcore to create one of the most maddeningly fascinating and brutal pictures in recent years.
- The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film has earned accusations from critics for being overly bombastic and self-indulgent. Those people are correct in their assessment, but that’s the beauty of The Hateful Eight, taking upon Tarantino-staples of violence and snappy dialogue to their fullest extent. Projected in gorgeous 70mm footage and featuring a magnificent score by Ennio Morricone himself, The Hateful Eight is a wild roller coaster of a film that exhibits Tarantino at the peak of his form.
- Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
It may be surprising that Michael Haneke, who has established a career based on sadism and human viciousness in films like Funny Games and Time of the Wolf, would make a movie called Amour. Though Amour at times is difficult to watch due to its realistic portrayal of assisted suicide, it is the first Haneke picture that puts morality into play front and center as its characters struggle to do the right thing. A new turn for the director, Amour is amongst Cache, Code Unknown, and The White Ribbon as Haneke’s strongest work.
- The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
In his review for The Master, J. Hoberman declared that the film “confirms Paul Thomas Anderson as the only American filmmaker of his generation who could be mistaken for a junior member of Hollywood’s golden age.” Indeed, Anderson exhibits the power and Americana that defined directors such as Coppola, Scorsese, and Altman through The Master, an epic as sprawling as The Godfather, as emotional as Mean Streets, and as deep as The Long Goodbye. The Master is a beautifully surreal and dreamy piece on religion, sexuality, and the human psyche, and a film I suspect scholars will be debating over for a long time.
- her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
While we’ve certainly have had a platitude of great films within the past several years, no film has quite resonated with me quite like Spike Jonze’s her. Continuing along Jonze’s line of sadsack protagonists, Joaquin Phoenix stars as a lonely writer who finds solace and romance with an A.I. program voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Cleverly satiric and emotionally devastating, her is the most unique spin on the sci-fi genre in decades, and like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation achieves a poeticsense of wonder and fantasy.