As you may or may not have read by now, Black Sheep Reviews both recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary and simultaneously announced that it would be ending its run before the year is out. As a way of honouring that time and all the incredible experiences that came out of it, as creator, editor and chief film critic at BSR, I give you my favourite 100 films from what I am lovingly calling The Black Sheep Era, which is a fancy way of saying films released between 2005 and 2015.
This list is not meant to be definitive in any way. It is an admittedly biased list of 100 films that I will take with me after I leave Black Sheep Reviews behind that will always remind me of my 10-year run as a film critic. I’ve always believed that film appreciation is inherently subjective and that our personal experiences always influence the way we see film. For this reason, I wanted to look back at these 100 films and reminisce about what it was like to see them and why they have stayed with me all this time.
This series will run every weekend, showcasing 10 films at a time. It will finish in December, just a couple of weeks before Black Sheep Reviews will run its final review. I hope some of these films mean as much to you as they do to me.
#100 THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
I remember when THE HUNGER GAMES first went into production; I felt like there was a new casting announcement every day and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why anyone cared. Then I started dating this guy who was obsessed with the Suzanne Collins book series and I decided to read the first book to show him I was interested. Well, the guy disappeared shortly thereafter but my passion for this film franchise grows strong to this day. I have not enjoyed the second and third films as much as the first instalment but I am happy to be seeing this franchise through to the end. I recall worrying that the film wouldn’t live up to my expectations but it did that and more. Director Gary Ross was not afraid to go bleak and this is what allowed the film to make its points on youth and violence bravely without going so far as to bum everyone out.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie
#99 THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014)
At this point, you may be wondering if I am in fact a teenage girl but in reality, I am a 38-year-old man. I wanted to include THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, flawed as it is, because no film in the last 10 years made me cry as much as this one did. (50/50 is a close second.) I had also read the book by John Green in this case and was just as pleased with the film adaptation. The source material is precious and Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort bring it to life beautifully and without being too overly sentimental. I saw the film the second day of release in a near empty theatre. (I assume all the teenage girls had seen in the day before.) Thank God because I was heaving at one point and no one needs to see that. I was very disappointed to realize I didn’t have my sunglasses with me when it came time to leave the theatre.
Mouton d’Or Award Nominations: Best Big Movie, Supporting Actress (Laura Dern), Adapted Screenplay
#98 FROZEN (2013)
Just wait. Momentarily I will make a stronger case for my not being a teenage girl. In the meantime, I wanted to throw some love on the biggest animated phenomenon of the last 10 years. Disney has tried to tinker with their damaging princess story formula a few times since but FROZEN did it first and did it best. Rather than rely on men to save them from their own peril, sisters Anna and Elsa learn to draw their strength from within and from each other. It isn’t that the men aren’t there or aren’t willing to help; it is just that it makes more narrative sense to have these sisters sort it out for themselves. The fact that this film was as successful as it was only means that a whole new wave of empowerment will come into play when the FROZEN generation comes of age. The music is great too!
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie, Animated Feature, Readers Choice Award
Mouton d’Or Award wins: Animated Feature
#97 SHARKWATER (2006)
I told you it was about to change gears in here. I saw SHARKWATER in my first year as a film critic. BSR didn’t have the readership then that it has now but I felt compelled to do everything I could to make sure people saw this film. I may have had a crush on director Rob Stewart, who’s handsome face features prominently in the film, but it was the message of the film that truly moved me. To think about how our excessive need for extravagance could potentially wipe out an entire species was devastating, especially when you consider how wiping out sharks means wiping ourselves out too. The underwater photography is stunning as well. (I eventually interviewed Stewart and you can read that here.)
#96 SLEEPING GIANT (2015)
SLEEPING GIANT was the first film I saw in preparation for this year’s TIFF, and as we had a particularly uninteresting August, it was the first film I had actually seen to review in a month. It took me a minute to get back into critical mode but this debut feature from Canadian director, Andrew Cividino, left very little for me to criticize. This coming of age tale is like watching a National Geographic series on the modern adolescent male. We just sit back and observe as each action or statement resonates with subtle shifts in tone, affecting the way the others choose to react. The three boys at the centre of the film all demonstrate great potential and Cividino announces himself, albeit humbly, as a Canadian voice to watch. It’s great to see some Canadian talent come out of somewhere other than Quebec for a change.
#95 V FOR VENDETTA (2005)
This one goes back to Black Sheep’s first year in business. It goes back so far in fact that one of the writers was a man when the film was made and is a woman now. I was still finding my footing as a writer when I wrote this review. I open with a wordy description to set up the tone of the film; it is almost as wordy as the dialogue in the film itself. I wanted to recreate the feeling the film gave me, minus the violence and menacing fear. V FOR VENDETTA is a brave film even though it may not play that way today. At the time, just four years after the 9/11 attacks, Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski dared to write a film that glorifies rather than vilify a terrorist as a way to wake people up so that they might challenge the status quo their governments subjected them to. The Wachowskis have had a rough go at achieving the same kind of success they had early on in their career and this remains, in my opinion, the last great film they were involved with.
# 94 EASY A (2010)
Will Gluck’s throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1980’s may seem like an unlikely entry here given how light it is, but EASY A is just so darn watchable, I had to include it. I still remember seeing it for the first time, as a preview screening before it launched at the Toronto International Film Festival. Festival fare has a tendency to be a little heavy handed so a hilarious, witty romp was a welcome bit of levity for me. The other reason I feel this film to be significant is that it solidified Emma Stone as a bonafide movie star. As enjoyable as this film is, it is that much more enjoyable because of her sparkling presence.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie
# 93 AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)
David O. Russell makes three total appearances on this list as a director. When I initially saw AMERICAN HUSTLE, Russell’s Oscar-nominated ode to the lies we tell ourselves and each other to survive, I totally fell for its slick 70’s aesthetic and vibe. Eventually, after multiple viewings, I see it as more stylish than anything else, hence the reason it is the lowest ranking of his films on this list. All the same, if there is one thing Russell excels at, it is getting the best performances out of the people he works with, even if it means he has to beat it out of them, literally. This ensemble, from Christian Bale to Amy Adams to Bradley Cooper to Jennifer Lawrence, are all at the top of their game and Russell seems to bring his people to that same place every time. I’ve almost completely forgiven him for I HEART HUCKABEES at this point.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Readers Choice Award, Soundtrack/Score, Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Actress (Amy Adams), Original Screenplay, Best Picture
Mouton d’Or Award wins: Best Ensemble
# 92 WALK THE LINE (2005)
My brother will argue that if you have seen one musician biopic, you’ve seen them all. I still to this day cannot get him to watch James Mangold’s fantastic film, WALK THE LINE, which tells the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter, because he has already seen RAY. Yes, there are overlapping addiction and fidelity issues but the big difference here is the emotion that resonates between Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Individually, they each bring a certain electricity to their parts but when they interact, the sparks fly. The film also honours music itself by demonstrating how it can bring people together even at the hardest of times. Watching these two fall in love as they sing to each other on stage is truly inspiring.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie, Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Actress (Reese Witherspoon)
# 91 IRON MAN (2008)
The main reason that I am bringing Black Sheep Reviews to a close later this year is because I can’t sustain the energy needed to handle two full time jobs anymore. I would be lying though if I didn’t say that it wasn’t 5% because of superhero exhaustion. Superheroes rule the market place and when I look to the future, it just seems like there is a never-ending run of them still to come. You will only find two superhero movies on this list and the first is the film that started it all. When Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN came out, I was already annoyed by the prospect of having to sit through a film featuring a C-level comic book character but Favreau, along with a glorious turn by Robert Downey Jr., proved me very wrong by giving us an exciting and relevant picture that would ultimately become the prototype for all the Marvel movies that followed.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie
Thus concludes the first instalment in our BSR Top 100 series. We will be back next weekend with ten more films, including one about racial unrest, one about dealing with death at a young age and one that features a whole lot of male strippers.