Scene one, hot take one: Three (more) top films of the decade

An illustration of a segment of a roll of film. In each window, there are three characters: a man in a blue suit being showered with gold confetti, a man with his hand to his mouth and furrowed brows, and a woman in a red top with her arms outstretched upwards.
(Waverly Wang • The Student Life)

CW: violence

As we’re all stuck inside and looking for ways to entertain ourselves, now is a great time to reflect upon and (re)watch some of the best films of the past decade. Previously, I wrote about three of the era’s best films, but here are three more films that also deserve recognition, as well as one scene from each film that embodies why that film deserves the accolade of “best of the best.”

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

Martin Scorsese has made at least one top-five film of the decade since 1970, and in the 2010s, his decade masterpiece didn’t come in the form of a brooding dark film about the dangers of masculinity, but instead in the funniest and most terrifying film: “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The film follows Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio at his best) — a Wall Street stockbroker who is addicted to drugs, sex, power and money, as he narrates his rise and fall on Wall Street. 

While some could argue that the endlessly energetic depictions of Belfort scamming the financial system glorify the greed of financial crooks, they would be missing the point. Scorsese emphasizes Belfort’s excess to show how seductively dangerous wealth can be, and, when Belfort’s luxury finally collapses, Scorsese reveals that the core of this excess stems from nothing but idiocy.  

Take for example the funniest scene of the decade, where Belfort is attempting to avoid arrest from the FBI while high on a ridiculous amount of quaaludes that have made it impossible for him to move or speak. What makes this scene so immediately iconic is DiCaprio’s physical comedy. I still remember how hard I laughed in the theater when Belfort, inspired by the classic cartoon sailor Popeye eating spinach to gain superhuman strength, snorts an insane amount of cocaine to regain his movement.

However, the true punchline of the film resides in its thesis — these seductive wealthy men are nothing but stupid and spoiled children. 

“Uncut Gems” (2019) 

Perhaps it’s recency bias, but I can’t help but claim the Safdie brothers’ gritty and grimy gambling thriller “Uncut Gems” as one of the five best films of the 2010s. The film follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a down-on-his-luck jewelry store owner with debts to pay as he attempts to pull off one of the biggest bets of his life.

The entire film relies on Sandler’s ability to charm the audience into rooting for his character, even if he seems doomed to fail. Each bet Ratner makes is truly idiotic, and has you almost screaming at the screen to stop but still unable to look away, leading you to start believing that maybe he will win. 

This feeling of rooting for Ratner — despite knowing he is doomed to fail — is especially prominent in the now-memeable “This is how I win” scene. The scene depicts Ratner explaining to NBA star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) that Ratner’s compulsion to scheme and bet everything on a big win is the same as Garnett’s compulsion to win on the court. 

While Ratner is monologuing to Garnett, two thugs at his door demand the money Ratner owes, but he convinces himself that he could bet all the money he owes on Garnett and the Celtics to win. 

Throughout this scene there is a palpable anxiety — we know that Ratner should just take the money and pay off his debts. Yet, as Ratner explains his compulsion for winning to Garnett, I found myself slowly being convinced that this bet, this time, could be how he finally wins. 

By the time Ratner decides to bet the money on the Celtics, I found myself fully on his side, in 100 percent agreement when Ratner finally says, “Let’s fucking bet on this.” 

“The Act Of Killing” (2012)

Unlike the other films on this list, “The Act of Killing” is a film I’ve only seen once and do not plan on returning to in the near future. My lack of desire to return to the masterful documentary recounting the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66 stems from the brutal honesty through which the story is told. 

The film doesn’t take the standard documentary approach of using archival footage and narration to tell the story of the political unrest in Indonesia and subsequent human tragedy. Instead, the film takes a different route, opting to allow the perpetrators of this brutal violence to make their own films, reenacting their killings in stylized shorts.

This device allows the audience to peer into the minds of men who killed thousands in a deeply provoking and unsettling manner. The most memorable of these men is Anwar Congo, an ex-movie ticket salesman who was personally responsible for over 1,000 executions.

Throughout most of the film, Congo is disturbingly jovial regarding his killings — at one point, he dances on rooftops in blood when recreating his acts of violence.

Eventually, when asked to play the part of one of his victims, Congo begins to break down as he wonders how he is different from any of the men he slaughtered. Finally, holding back tears and nausea, Congo utters that he is a sinner, beyond redemption. In this one scene, the full power of the documentary’s narrative comes to fruition. By making these killers recount their murders, the documentarians not only exposed the deep personal history of these killings, but also fully interrogated and confronted its killers.

Ben Hafetz PZ ’20 is TSL’s film columnist. He is a media studies and politics double major who likes to not only see movies, but also tell his friends why they should or should not like certain ones.

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