Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Top 15 Animated Films of the 2010s

15. Over The Garden Wall
Created by Patrick McHale

Yes, to start off my list of animated films of the decade, I have indeed already included a miniseries. But there is a concise, cinematic feel to this show that makes it more like a movie than almost any other show I've ever seen. At about 100 minutes, it runs the length of a traditional movie, and is much more effective and well-structured than most movies I've seen, so I think it deserves to at least be included here -- even thought I have deliberate left it on the bottom of the list because of its stretched qualifications. Full of creativity and imagination, this series manages to be funny, engrossing, and even quite creepy at times. It may be for kids, but it's never childish enough to keep adults from enjoying it as the great fantasy tale that it is.

14. Hotel Transylvania
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

I was as apprehensive going into this movie as you could probably imagine, considering just how dumb this movie looked from the trailers, but I am happy to say this was actually a really fun and exciting movie that kept me completely entertained the entire way through. I haven't been able to scrounge up the scruples to venture into the sequel with any real confidence, but I could easily recommend this movie to anyone in the mood for a fun Halloweeny adventure with fast-paced animation, all of your favorite classic monsters, and a surprisingly strong voice performance from Adam Sandler.

13. Zootopia
Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore

I am not one who generally appreciates being preached at and told what to think, especially not by people whose job is to sucker families into buying a ticket to sit through 100 minutes worth of talking animals making lousy pop culture references. That being said, this movie is basically everything I just said...but it does a good job at doing these things. Some of the jokes miss, but the message is on point thanks to a script that's far too clever in its plotting to be dismissed as just for kids. Yes it's very preachy, but it's also emotionally satisfying and very funny when it needs to be. Much better than Disney's past several efforts, if you ask me.

12. How To Train Your Dragon
Directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois

Cute, whimsical, and really damn beautiful (seriously, the flying scenes in this movie are some of the best uses of CG I've ever seen), HTTYD is another kids movie that has a lot to offer older audiences, although the messages found here aren't nearly as poignant as several others of its type. Still, this is a very charming movie about the bond of friendship between a young scrawny viking and the rare and powerful dragon he has elected to keep safe and watch over, in spite of his tribe's rivalry with dragons. It's funny, sweet, predictable and I don't care that it's predictable, so whatever. It kind of makes me want to check out the TV series now that I think of it...

11. Frankenweenie
Directed by Tim Burton

The movie that single-handedly restored my faith in Tim Burton after that idiotic Dark Shadows movie and Alice In Not-So-Wonderful-Land (only to crap all over that faith after the abomination that was Big Eyes. Seriously, what the hell is up with this guy nowadays?). Based off the short film Burton made way back in the day, this story obviously borrows a lot from Frankenstein. But in this adaptation, we get to see a lot more of those classic Universal monster influences come to the surface than in the original, and does so in a totally different way than in the previously-mentioned Hotel Transylvania. Pretty much at the top of his game here, Burton showed once again just how effective he can be as a filmmaker when he doesn't substitute Depp and Carter dressing up in poofy wigs and white facepaint for plot and character development. Here's hoping for more like this one in the future.

10. Paranorman
Directed by Sam Fell & Chris Butler

Yet another Halloweeny movie, this is one that took a few viewings for me to fully appreciate. I enjoyed the first half of the movie and felt it fell apart by the end, trying to force a sappy conclusion, but maybe my cynicism has died down a little bit because I find the ending totally perfect for the movie now. This is a funny film, the animation is of course wonderful, and even though Laika has produced movies I prefer over this one, Paranorman is still one of the best stop motion films to come out in the past several decades. This is another one the entire family should enjoy -- assuming your family isn't, like, stupid or something.

9. How To Train Your Dragon 2
Directed by Dean DeBlois

The emotionally mature sequel to an already wonderful movie, this one picks up several years after the previous film left off (the time in-between supposedly being when the TV series takes place), and take the risky maneuver of actually allowing its characters to grow and change between films. Though several aspects of this movie are rehashed from the first one, there's no doubt that the emotional punch this movie packs is far more powerful than its predecessor. The animation is still beautiful, and with a whole new set of conflicts, we get to see the characters develop in new ways that expand on the original, as opposed to just reiterating what we already knew about them. Less funny, but way more engaging.

8. Zero
Directed by Christopher Kezelos

A short that runs only 12 minutes or so, this stop motion film about social class, bullying, and isolation is not an entirely pleasant thing to watch in spite of its almost overwhelming cuteness. Whenever a film can get me this emotionally invested in such a brief period of time, while also delivering with a satisfying conclusion, I feel it's worth noting how incredible of filmmaking that is. This is a small-scale production from the Kezeloses, and one that makes you laugh, cry, and feel all sorts of other feelings. It may not be the most subtle story, but its simplicity works, and that's what matters most.

7. Kubo And The Two Strings
Directed by Travis Knight

The newest film from Laika, I almost feel bad putting this movie so high on my list considering how recently I watched it for the first time, but when you watch something this great, it doesn't really matter how much time has passed before announcing how damn great it was. From the very beginning, this movie had (and kept) me totally sucked in to its story, world, and characters. The plot "twists" don't twist too much, but the movie doesn't rely on such trickery to keep you invested. It just tells a strong story in an effective way, and does so in a very real, very adult way. This is a movie that teaches valuable lessons, but never hammers them into your head in a condescending way. The voice cast is terrific, and though I know I've said this a lot today, the animation here is truly amazing. As a huge fan of stop motion, this is about as beautiful as this particular style can be made to look.

6. Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich

Alright, so this movie is basically the same story as the second one, but not being a big fan of Toy Story 2, I am willing to look past this and view TS3 as a whole new adventure with the characters we know and love. An emotional roller coaster that brings the series to a satisfying end (at least, it WOULD have, but Disney are money-grubbing assholes), this movie offers plenty of laughs, introduces some fun characters, and all builds up to an ending that makes me cry like a stupid annoying baby on a plane that won't shut up even though I have a world class migraine and I haven't slept for 23 hours and it's keeping me up and I hate it OH GOD I HATE IT...but yeah. Pixar have made some questionable movies over the past 5-10 years, but this one still stands as one of the few shining beacons of light in their now-tainted filmography.

5. The Lego Movie
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

The guys behind the 21 & 22 Jump Street movies, as well as the criminally overlooked Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, deliver once again with this hilarious and inventive film all about the evils of branding and giant corporations...kind of ironic, isn't it? But that kind of self-awareness is what makes this movie work so well. Everyone has played with legos, and this movie connects its audience through this collective childhood pastime in fun and clever ways. Watching this movie is a kind of shared experience, and while the product placement is more than evident, the cleverness of the script manages to utilize this to its advantage, allowing the Lego company to make fun of itself while also showing the benefits and ingenuity of their product. This is an amazingly clever movie that doesn't lose its edge on rewatches and makes you feel like a kid all over again.

4. World Of Tomorrow
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt

Another short film (running just over 20 minutes, if I recall correctly), this one by one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Don Hertzfeldt. Using hand drawn stick figure animation with brightly colored geometric backgrounds, don't be fooled into thinking that just because the animation is simplistic means the ideas behind this movie are anything less than profound and thought-provoking. Packing more ideas into 20-some minutes than you'll see in most seasons of a TV show, Hertzfeldt doesn't just use this sci-fi set up to spout off his own thoughts on a futuristic society, but also manages to make the whole thing quite moving. He has this weird ability to do that. Definitely among my favorite sci-fi movies of this decade, and also the only short film I've ever put in a year-end (non-retrospective) top 10 countdown.

3. Inside Out
Directed by Pete Docter

When I said Pixar hasn't made much lately that's wowed me, this was obviously the major exception. Sure, it shares some similarities with other films, but it isn't just the technical setup of this movie that makes it work so well, but in how good it is at making you feel every single emotion the characters are going through as if they're your own. One could argue this plot is just another example in a long line of people trying to not take responsibility for their own actions, but this is all fantasy, and the way it's implemented into the story is clever, funny, and often quite heartbreaking. This movie is a powerful emotional experience, especially for anyone who has ever sunk to the lowest of lows and felt the walls of that pit of depression were too impossible to climb up out of. And, being Pixar, it stands to reason that the character design and animation quality is totally top of the line. All in all, this is quite possibly my favorite movie they've ever done.

2. Anomalisa
Directed by Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson

While most movies on this list are fairly kid-oriented, this is a movie no child should ever watch. And it's not just because of one particularly intimate sex scene nor is it because of the strong language used throughout the film. No, this movie is just far too depressing for any kid to ever understand on any level. In fact, I might argue most adults wouldn't even be able to fully realize the emotional depth this movie has to offer. One of the most fully realized dramatic efforts of the decade, this movie tackles isolation and disillusionment like few films I've ever seen before. This is a quietly devastating movie that doesn't make itself easy to love, never compromises, and ultimately does little more than give you a slice of reality that's almost painful to sit endure. And the result is a movie that has remained etched in my memory like a depressing nightmare I just can't shake.

1. It's Such A Beautiful Day
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt

And finally we've come to this. Much like Anomalisa, this movie isn't one that can be gone into lightly. Though not as emotionally devastating as that one, this movie still manages to succeed in several very bold tasks that almost seem impossible when looked at objectively. For what is one of the most crudely animated films ever, it still manages to draw you in and empathize with its lead character in spite of the fact that he doesn't even talk. Logic defying and expansive like almost nothing I've ever seen before, this initially-small scale production with a darkly hilarious comedic edge takes off in its later segments into existential territory that handles its themes of loneliness and searching for a sense of purpose and literalizes them in an almost terrifying way. The complete sense of isolation and the sense of futility of human existence becomes so difficult to shake while watching this movie, you wind up forgetting you're just watching a hand drawn film with stick figures getting comedically hit by trains. A difficult movie to effectively describe, just imagine 2001: A Space Odyssey if it were animated by a sadistic cartoonist and you might have a decent idea what you're up against here. Definitely not for everyone, and though this was released in several parts over the course of several years, I'm still counting the completed film as being made in the 2010s, making it my very favorite of this decade.

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