Right around ten years ago, I gave myself an ambitious but manageable task. In response to the torrent of lists tallying up the best films from the ten-year span that ended when 2009 gave way to 2010, I took my own crack at assessing a decade’s worth of film and ranking the movies that I found most exceptional. Naturally, my list of fifty was presented in countdown format, as I did my best to explain why the offerings in question spoke to me. It was a lot of writing, some of it presented in a wild, exhausting rush (five lengthy reviews delivered in the last four days of the calendar year), and I didn’t stop there.
Because it was actually the films of the preceding ten-year span — the nineteen-nineties — that represented more of a genuine expertise and nostalgic adoration for me (it was in 1990 that I first wrote movie reviews serious, as one-half of the Central Wisconsin radio program The Reel Thing), I decided to look a little further backward and track through another list of fifty films. After a year parceling out those retrospective reviews, I just kept going. Before it was all done, I’d engaged in year-long endeavors covering all the way back to the films of the nineteen-forties.
And now, here I go again.
Between now at the end of 2020, I’m going to go one-by-one through my Top 50 Films of the 10s, presented in reverse order, of course. The usual caveats apply. While I make an effort to more comprehensive in my viewing habits than the average moviegoer, there are still sizable gaps in my personally curated, lifelong film festival. The list I pulled together also relies on an informal algorithm that puts more weight on personal enjoyment — especially how excited I am to repeatedly revisit the film — than my yearly ten-best lists. Put simply, that nebulous feeling associated with the concept of favorite counts more. I’m not aiming for some grand statement about the evolution of filmmaking across recent years or any other assertion of artistic canonization. This is a highly personal list. I suspect the story of me lies in the spaces between these films I’ll write about for the next several months.
There’s one more tradition to revive. For whatever reason, my comfort in selecting and ranking films grows shaky when it comes to essentially the last spot on the list, the cutoff that makes a legion of other cherished cinematic achievements into runners-up. So I tend to cheat when it comes at #50, inserting a film that, if pressed, I’d have to say is superseded in quality by others that qualify in the mandated chronology. But that slot is also always reserved for a film that gives me a very particular delight, that holds embedded in its charms and flaws everything I love about the movies. Anyway, that’s for tomorrow.
Until then, here are three hundred and fifty entries’ worth of “Previously” for your perusal: