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.
# 90 BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (2006)
It is very easy to dismiss BORAT, Sacha Baron Cohen’s breakout film, as a pop culture passing fad. It isn’t his fault that so many people appropriated his broken English catch phrases so that they could look cooler at parties though. To dismiss this hit comedy would be a horrible shame because its satire is not only biting, and brave in a way that most satirists shy away from, but it is also just plain hysterical. Watching Cohen put himself in one uncomfortable situation after the next exposed so many of America’s ugliest sides and did so without any fear or hesitation. Even if some of the scenarios were forced, they still accomplished what they set out to do and many of the scenes were actually kind of dangerous. (We all know that rodeo stint could have gone horribly awry.) Cohen hasn’t come close to this comedic genius since but this was still, as they say, very nice.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Sasha Baron Cohen)
Mouton d’Or Award wins: Best Big Movie
# 89 DREAMGIRLS (2006)
I was not familiar with this musical before it became a movie. Also, full disclosure; I am a big fan of musicals but yet, this is one of only three musicals on this entire list. While musicals can be great fun, they don’t always translate well to film and even when they do, they don’t always resonate the way that they do with stage audiences. DREAMGIRLS stays with you. Yes, there are moments when people sing instead of speak to each other, but for the most part, the music is seamlessly integrated into the story, which revolves around an all girl singing group, reminiscent of the The Supremes. And the music is damn good too! Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy and Beyonce all murder their parts and the groovy vibes they create on screen will keep your toes tapping long after the credits roll.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Big Movie, Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy), Supporting Actress (Jennifer Hudson)
# 88 PERSEPOLIS (2007)
When you think coming of age story, you think adolescents coming to terms with their sexuality and how they see the world around them. You don’t usually think about adolescents coming to terms with themselves in Iran amidst the Islamic Revolution. Perhaps that makes my view somewhat limited but PERSEPOLIS was an eye opener for me. Not only is it a fresh take on this timeless genre but it is also a beautiful and refreshing approach to the graphic novel. It is unique in every sense, brilliantly hand drawn in black and white, and just plain captivating from start to finish. It is also heartbreaking and director and author, Marjane Sartrapi demonstrates an unflinching bravery to bring this young girl’s experience to life no matter how harrowing it gets. It is simply not to be missed.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Animated Feature
# 87 MAGIC MIKE (2012)
Yes, Channing Tatum is hot. I’m not denying that. In fact, I will proudly stand by that whenever necessary. That said, MAGIC MIKE, a film that is loosely based on his early career as a male stripper is so much more than just an excuse to watch him take his clothes off. Under the brilliant direction of Steven Soderbergh, Tatum’s personal history becomes a subtle exploration of class and sexual warfare in America. Through seemingly meaningless conversations, we learn how difficult it has become to make your American dreams come true and just how big a factor sex plays in our daily interactions. Of course, there is also a lot of hot stripping going on amidst all this insight but to reduce MAGIC MIKE to just the gyrating means you’ve missed the point entirely. (For an example of this, see MAGIC MIKE XXL – all stripping, zero insight, nowhere near as good.)
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Little Movie, Best Ensemble
# 86 MONSIEUR LAZHAR (2011)
Death is not an easy concept for most adults to fully grasp or come to terms with, this adult included. To come face to face with death as a small child is bewildering to say the least. This is exactly what happens in Philippe Falardeau’s Oscar nominated film, MONSIEUR LAZHAR, when two elementary school students come in from recess to find their teacher has hanged herself in their classroom. At that point, they aren’t only dealing with death but with a violent death that cannot help but seem calculated and aimed directly at them. Of course, it was simply a selfish act and not meant to teach any lessons from the beyond but when you don’t know how to process what you’re faced with, you ask yourself a plethora of questions to try to make sense of things. MONSIEUR LAZHAR is a fine example of Canadian filmmaking; it inspires hope without showing any fear of the dark.
# 85 SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
And so marks the second of three appearances on this list for David O. Russell. If this list has been made immediately after I saw SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, in a pre-TIFF press screening, it actually wouldn’t be on this list. I liked the film but I found it unfocused on first viewing and was baffled when it went on to win the People’s Choice Award at the close of the festival. I’ve since seen it a couple more times and I have succumbed to its charm, of which it has plenty. I still find it unfocused but I now admire it for this quality rather than see that as the film’s greatest fault. It may be messy but so is life and this film, just like all of us, is just trying to find its footing and make its way despite all of its hangups. Of course, Jennifer Lawrence, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress, is luminous as well, so even if you don’t dig on the film completely, there is still a silver lining.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Readers Choice Award, Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Ensemble, Adapted Screenplay
Mouton d’Or Award wins: Best Ensemble
# 84 WINTER’S BONE (2010)
Speaking of J. Law, I would be remiss if I didn’t include her breakthrough film, WINTER’S BONE, on this list. When the film was released, it was generating some solid indie buzz and the distributor was bringing Lawrence into Toronto for interviews. I had never heard of her and knew very little about the film so I didn’t make a lot of time to fit the interview into my schedule. I wanted to do it just to do it but in the end had to pass because of another commitment. And that’s the story of how I passed on the opportunity to interview one of the biggest stars in the world before she became famous. After I finally saw the film, I kicked myself even harder because it is fantastic. Also, anyone who thought Lawrence was too pretty to play Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES clearly never saw this film. I would have loved to have talked to her about her incredible turn as an Ozark Mountain girl, but just zigged when I should have zagged. Where was my silver lining when I needed it then?
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Little Movie, Supporting Actor (John Hawkes), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Adapted Screenplay
# 83 FRUITVALE STATION (2013)
Michael B. Jordan stars as Oscar Grant III in the true story of how he was shot and killed by the Los Angeles police department during a routine arrest on New Year’s Eve. The worst thing about this is that the routine part in this scenario isn’t the arrest itself but rather the profiling that went into it as well as the tragedy that came from it. Some criticized the film, a debut feature for director Ryan Coogler, for painting Grant as better than he was in order to draw even more sympathy from the audience but I don’t see it. Grant is trying hard to be a good father and to leave his drug dealing past behind in order to get his life on track but he’s far from perfect. In the end, as much as this is Grant’s story being told, Grant is more a symbol here for all the black men and women who have lost their lives to senseless police brutality. FRUITVALE STATION is an important film that addresses an issue that is becoming more and more serious with every passing day.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Little Movie, Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best First Feature
Mouton d’Or Award wins: Best First Feature
# 82 WHIPLASH (2014)
It’s all about the timing and every moment of Damien Chazelle’s second feature film WHIPLASH is on beat. Miles Teller stars as a drummer who dreams of being one of the greats. He’s got the talent and the promise to potentially make that happen but he operates under the belief system that one has to suffer greatly to go on to be great. And so, when a highly influential professor (Oscar winner J.K. Simmons) at his music school takes notice of him, and subsequently begins mentally abusing him in order to bring his game up, Teller’s drummer marches right along to that beat, believing that it is his only path to success. WHIPLASH is best enjoyed as an allegory for the abuse cycle rather than a realistic representation of a student / teacher relationship. Seeing it that way truly allows for one to see how crazy messed up it can get and more importantly, how incredibly difficult it can be to break the abuse cycle.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Little Movie, Readers Choice Award, Supporting Actor (JK Simmons)
Mouton d’Or Award wins: Supporting Actor (JK Simmons)
# 81 UNDER THE SKIN (2014)
This may seem a little trite but UNDER THE SKIN really gets under your skin. I know people who think this film is practically unwatchable. I on the other hand found myself unable to take my eyes off of it when I saw it in theatres. It is truly transfixing, as is its star, Scarlett Johansson, who plays an alien descended on Earth who drives around in a van luring unsuspecting men back to their homes in order to seduce them and eventually devour their bodies from the inside. Director Jonathan Glazer never reveals the purposes of her mission but he does make his audience complicit in every one of her victim’s demises. It is a uniquely disturbing experience but as we watch her ruin every man that crosses her path, we begin to learn more and more how men the world over are ruining women regularly and consistently, sometimes without even realizing what they’re doing. As an added bonus, Johansson has not been as good as she is in this since her breakout, LOST IN TRANSLATION.
Mouton d’Or Award nominations: Best Little Movie, Readers Choice Award, Best Looking Movie
Thus concludes the second instalment in our BSR Top 100 series. We will be back next weekend with ten more films, including one about just how far a gay man will go to find love these days, another that says plenty without saying anything at all and the most miserable musical on record.