The 1970’s were a decade of experimentation and freedom of choice; many consider it the last great decade of film. The 1980’s were characterized by high concepts and the birth of the sequel. The 1990’s saw the independent cinema world soar to new heights. The 2000’s was all about world building and getting the most out of a franchise. This leads us to the 2010’s, when film scholars and cinephiles look back on the 2010’s, what will they see? What defined the decade as far as movies are concerned? What did the decade bring to the table?
Overall, the 2010’s were a sequel to the 2000’s. It mostly took the business model of that was popularized in the 2000’s and pumped it full of steroids. This was a decade of excess franchises, excess world building for said franchises, and excess of whatever could make money. Smaller voices were drowned out at an alarming rate because everybody was chasing their own “shared universe.” They picked something they thought would be monetary and tried to get a decade out of it. The 2010’s, at surface value, was the most unoriginal and uncreative decade in a long time when it came to movies.
That’s one angle though.
I was feeling pretty pessimistic for most of this decade, and I was thinking of railing during this piece. But then I started putting my list together, re-read my Best of lists over the last ten years, and really began to think about which films stuck out for me. And you know what? The 2010’s really weren’t that bad. Sure, people will probably remember all the monolithic superhero movies that came out and the dawn of the streaming service wars. But with further analysis, the 2010’s were more for viewers than ever before. Not only could you see great movies, but chances are you felt seen by great movies. Movies this decade began to break barriers, challenge the norms of story structure, dared to change the status quo. They didn’t just “shove an agenda down our throats,” like several cynics may say. Film is language, and many of the greats, both new and veteran, did a spectacular job using film as communication. Many of the lessons learned this decade are no doubt continuing into the 2020’s, I just hope they take the great and make it better.
My decade started in January 2010 with “Daybreakers” it will probably end with (hopefully) “1917.” There are some 2019 films I haven’t seen yet, but I am just not sure if anything coming out the rest of the year will be so mind-bogglingly profound that it will earn a spot my list. I don't mind doing my list now as Premiere and American Film closed out the 80’s in October 1989 calling “Raging Bull” the best of that decade. I have a feeling my number one is equally clear cut. The passage of time has allowed some movies to grow in stature over the years, so it won't help to look at my past Top Ten Lists for help guessing what did and did not make the list.
Before we get into this countdown, I just want to make it clear that this is not a list of the 100 Most Important Films of the Decade, or the 100 Films That Will Endure The Test of Time. These are the 100 Films that resonated the most with me, movies I feel like endured with me as the decade wore on, these are the movies I continue to watch and be obsessed with the most. If you are going to get hung-up on what is or isn’t on the list, you might as well not read it. Different movies do different things for us and we all get different things from them. A list like this, no matter what somebody says, is always going to be subjective. So why not celebrate what we all like instead of getting mad about what we disagree upon? I just hope you all realize that this is my honest, unfiltered final word on this decade. I scrutinized the movies I loved; I have thrown entire versions of this list out. I tried to be as precise and vulnerable as possible, and I hope you enjoy what I’ve written.
I’ll be breaking down the list into four sections, each with 25 spots. In the final 25, I will also list the movies that were also in the running for this list, in case anybody is interested.
That seems like enough preamble, let’s get going.
100. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, dr. Gareth Edwards, scr. Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy)
It almost seems surreal that we are living in a time where “Star Wars,” which was a once-in-a-decade event has been turned into a yearly affair. As excited as I was about the continuation of the Skywalker saga, the results have been, all over the place. I always loved the idea of anthology movies within this universe. “Rogue One” ended up working better than I could have imagined. First, it takes an eye-narrowing flaw from “A New Hope” and make it make sense, only enhancing “A New Hope” as an experience. Second, the battles feel like actual, dangerous warfare, and I absolutely love the idea of a “Man on a Mission” movie set in this fictional world. Finally, it still has all the fun and the flair and the style that we have come to expect from “Star Wars” films. I’ll be interested just how far Disney is willing to push newer stories with newer characters. Also, “Rogue One” gets bonus points for including Donnie Yen.
99. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, dr. Wes Anderson, scr. Anderson & Roman Coppola)
Wes Anderson has cemented himself as one of Hollywood’s outstanding offbeat comedians. Every time he sits down to make a movie, he seems to be challenging himself to see if he can come up with a maddening or anxiety-ridden situation and see if he can wring any laughs out of it. If your children ran away with the opposite sex, there would definitely be some anxiety circling the parents, as well as the community. One of the pleasures of the film is watching Bruce Willis, a typical action hero, playing an emotionally stunted individual. The performances by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were some of the best young performances of the decade and the films brilliant color palette and use of visual symmetry made this film one of the best films to simply look at.
98. The Martian (2015, dr. Ridley Scott, scr. Drew Goddard)
When we get movies about a person trying to stay alive after surviving an impossible tragedy, it’s usually sad and dreary with a few uplifting moments to keep things moving. When Matt Damon’s Mark Watney accidentally gets trapped on Mars, he doesn’t simply resort to overwhelming sadness. Instead, he looks into his computer screen and literally tells the audience, “in order to survive, I am going to have to science the shit out of this.” For a movie about one man’s survival, I can’t think of one that was so seamlessly optimistic. Along with an all-star cast, “The Martian” is a trip in space worth taking.
97. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011, dr. Tomas Alfredson, scr. Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan)
There were plenty of spy movies that came out this decade, and many of them drew audiences toward the cool and the wild. So it was a nice change of pace to see a spy movie that was more grounded and just as shrouded in mystery. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a masterful little spy movie, taking place at the height of the Cold War where Britain finds out they have a mole for the Russians somewhere in their outfit and an operative named Smiley (Gary Oldman) has to find out who. The movie features a whose-who of great British performers; including John Hurt, Tobey Jones, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds all do stellar work creating the reality in the movie.
96. Baby Driver (2017, dr./scr. Edgar Wright)
The musical would have laid dormant if it nobody decided to modernize it. Genre will also step past their norms and clichés unless somebody redefines those norms and clichés. When I first saw “Baby Driver” back in 2017, and saw the opening getaway dance number, it is both delirious and delightful in equal measure. The action movie and the musical don’t seem like they’d be things that would mesh well together. But only Edgar Wright could format a musical set in the world an action-packed crime caper and still make it feel urgent and compelling. Much like any musical, Wright is able to etch character detail and development fast, and with using a great all-star cast, “Baby Driver” became one of the most original feeling films of the entire decade. Ansel Elgort and Lily James shine bright here, and lead through this whimsical world with ease and the film featured some of the most exciting action sequences of the last ten years.
95. Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012, dr. Lee Toland Krieger, scr. Rashida Jones & Will McCormack)
While I feel like I always give every movie a try, but one genre I can’t really stand are romantic comedies. The comedy in those movies is usually pretty safe and for a lack of a better word, unfunny. They also seem to teach lessons of fluff about love, relationships and marriage, anything grounded or authentic is left at the door for plastic emotions. So when “Celeste and Jesse Forever” came along, I couldn’t believe my eyes. First, it’s a comedy that’s actually funny, and sets up identifiable situations that are still silly. Second, it dares to take a look at the roller-coaster ride that is a typical relationship. Any serious relationship isn’t rainbows and butterflies, and sometimes problems are solved by simply saying the right ushy-gushy thing. Relationships take hard work and determination in order to go well, and even then, there are no promises for how long it is going to last. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” continues to hit hard when I see it because it feels fairly close to reality, I think almost anybody can find something to relate to here.
94. Sound of Noise (2010, dr. Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjarne Nilsson, scr. Simonsson, Nilsson & Jim Birmant)
Get a load of this premise; a tone-deaf music-hating detective has to stop the criminal plots of a group of anarchist percussionists. Imagine if “Stomp” was a crime thriller, that’s “Sound of Noise.” I didn’t see many films this decade that was this full of fun and laughs. It features everything you’d want from a movie, like development, originality, emotion and entertainment. Lots of movies played it safe and released lots of the same stuff this decade, so when someone makes something that doesn’t feel like anything else. That’s special.
93. What We Do In The Shadows (2014, dr./scr. Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement)
Like I said about musicals and rom/coms, there will be no evolution in any genre unless somebody comes along and is willing to push. Taika Waititi, for my money, was the most exciting filmmaker of the entire decade and I am convinced he is a comedic genius. In a mockumentary about the lives of a group of vampires living together, trying to cope with modern life while also showing off why its awesome to be undead, you get the see firsthand the flair of new comedy. Waititi and Clement take lots of time poking fun at vampires through popular culture, but not in a stupid spoof way but in an intelligently funny way. Just when you thought they couldn’t do anything else with vampires (well, something different and good with vampires, “Twilight” doesn’t count) just wait until you lay eyes on Waititi’s disco-ball soaked in blood, you won’t be disappointed.
92. Shutter Island (2010, dr. Martin Scorsese, scr. Laeta Kalogridis)
Martin Scorsese may only be a gangster guy to many, but that hardly seems fair. Sure, he’s given us plenty of classics in the genre and he rounded out this decade with “The Irishman,” but he’s been playing in other genres all his career and it seemed like the 2010’s was the decade where he really stretched his muscles. Not bad for a guy in his 70’s who has already been doing this for a while. My favorite kind of movie is the mind-bending stuff, psychological thrillers. I feel like we didn’t get enough of them in the 2010’s, which is one reason “Shutter Island” may have stuck so well. Leonardo DiCaprio as a Federal Marshall travels to an island with a massive prison for the criminally insane looking for a missing patient is enough to make any sort of compelling movie, but once the head games kick in, it makes a lasting impression. I watched this one a lot over the course of this decade, and it still works well each time. The films score, the haunting locations, the performances, all on que. Oh, and Emily Mortimer was the queen of my nightmares for many a year.
91. Django Unchained (2012, dr./scr. Quentin Tarantino)
After three whole decades, is there anything Tarantino can’t do? For a guy who never once set foot in a film school as a student, he’s got a grand command over the craft, he plays with genre with absolute ease and yet his movies are constantly overwhelmingly entertaining to watch. From the moment the speakers sing DJANGO as the film opens and we see Jaime Foxx traveling shackled through a hellish landscape, I knew I was hooked. The thing is, Tarantino can keep those hooks in for an entire movie. Action-packed, full of typical Tarantino dialogue and also being the first fairly conventional Tarantino movie in his filmography while still being surprising, Django is damazing with a silent d.
90. White God (2014, dr. Kornel Mundruczo, scr. Mundruczo, Viktoria Petranyi & Kata Weber)
In a town overrun by stray dogs, a little girl goes to live with her dog-hating father who lives in a complex that does not allow dogs. In a fit of rage after getting into it with the landlord, he throws his daughters dog into the street. It meets its other strays and has one hell of a journey getting back to her, while she intensely looks for him. On a surface level this is a modern “101 Dalmations” or you could even call it a dog version of “Planet of the Apes.” But that would be giving the movie too little credit. Having much to say about the love of dogs, comments on family dynamics and the courage and willpower to save the ones we love, “White God” left me worn out by the films unpredictable end.
89. The Master (2012, dr./scr. Paul Thomas Anderson)
“The Master” received some attention when it first came out because it was Joaquin Phoenix first starring role after a long hiatus that was phonily called a retirement. It was also supposed to be a fictional retelling of the story of the birth of Scientology. (The final film had Tom Cruise in an uproar), although not exclusively about Scientology, but a fake version called The Cause. Instead of piling the nonsensical traditions of the strange religion, Anderson explored how broken people are attracted confident, appealing figures and how one decides to dedicate themselves to a controlled and dark world. The Cause’s leader is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and its one of his last great performances before his untimely death. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead’s score is chilling to the bone. Plus, I think we all know that Phoenix was the true Oscar winner of 2012.
88. Miss Bala (2011, dr. Gerardo Naranjo, scr. Naranjo & Mauricio Katz)
You may have seen the overstuffed, boring version of this movie earlier this year with Gina Rodriguez. So goes it that it is a remake of a much better movie from Mexico. Instead of following the typical Hollywood action movie formula, the original “Miss Bala” tells the slow burn story of how people get trapped in a world of crime and how regular people become victims simply due to bad luck. I don’t mean to get too political here but if everybody saw this movie, perhaps the situation at the border might make a little more sense. Stephanie Sigman may only be known to American audiences as a quick Bond girl in “Spectre” but she absolutely throws herself at the lead role here and she’s amazing in it.
87. Warrior (2011, dr. Gavin O’Connor, scr. O’Connor, Cliff Dorfman & Anthony Tamabkis)
Sports movies in general kind of drive me nuts simply because they’re all the same, and perhaps “Warrior” works better because the sports in the movie serves more as window dressing to a much more compelling movie. “Warrior” isn’t about the mixed martial arts tournament. It’s about whether or not two estranged brothers will learn to love each other again and its also about their once abusive father who may have changed his bad ways far too late. He is a recovering alcoholic, but that doesn’t mean his sons are going to rush to him open arms. It’s a bruised performance by Nick Nolte. Sure, the movie’s climax is VERY convenient giving the source material, but again, its not about the fight, its about two brothers discovering that they need each other. If you aren’t crying when Joel Edgerton tells Tom Hardy he loves him for the last time in the movie, you have been cursed by a black heart.
86. Booksmart (2019, dr. Olivia Wilde, scr. Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman)
At 30 years old, it feels like its been awhile since I was a teenager, but the best teen movies can help you tap into that time when the small things felt like the world ending. When you felt very much alive by not doing much at all. Its easy to identify with two bookworms who’s entire goal throughout high school was to get into a prestigious college. When they find out their peers got into equally prestigious colleges without trying hard at all, they feel like their life’s work has been a lie. So it they take the last weekend before graduation and they live it up. We all have that one night when we’re young, that night where we tell ourselves “I’m gonna do this, and whatever happens…happens.” This certainly isn’t the first movie to cover this ground, but its done in such a confident, delicate, grounded way that is undeniable. Olivia Wilde proves herself more than a valid filmmaker for the first time behind the camera.
85. Gone Girl (2014, dr. David Fincher, scr. Gillian Flynn)
The 2010’s saw the fall of Lord Voldemort and the rise of Kylo Ren. We saw the return of the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, Pennywise and we finally saw who was responsible for all that paranormal activity in 2009. Of course, we also saw an endless parade of comic book villains. Despite all the bad guys we got to know over the decade, they all seemed to pale in comparison to Amy Dunne, simply because she won. “Gone Girl” is a movie that feels hard to shake, even today. Written by Gillian Flynn based on her own novel, this is a tight, calculated thriller that keeps you guessing throughout. But the secret weapon is the extremely dangerous yet heartfelt performance by Rosamund Pike. She was asked to run in this movie and she flew, a near-perfect collision of actor and material.
84. Sorry To Bother You (2018, dr./scr. Boots Riley)
There’s a furious righteous anger sweeping this nation and especially in the latter part of the decade, that rage has reached a boiling point. There are several who are concerned with the freedoms our first few Amendments grant them, but they want nothing to do with the responsibility of those freedoms. There are also many in this country who just want to be heard but are silenced for “selling an agenda.” The absolutely one-of-a-kind “Sorry to Bother You” at first glance seems to be a satire about Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), an African American telemarketer whose job improves after creating a “white voice.” That’s plenty for one movie right there, but its only one piece of the puzzle. The movie eventually tackles subjects like privilege, unionizing and how racism is still very prominent in our nation. Stanfield has had a career full of rich performances, both on movies and TV, but he’s officially leveled up after this.
83. Marriage Story (2019, dr./scr. Noah Baumbach)
I’ve seen many marriages fall apart in movies before, but I don’t think I’ve seen one fall in such a calculated, burning way. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen one where the director was brave enough to shake a few laughs out of the situation. Kudos to Noah Baumbach for knowing when to make us laugh and when we should let the drama hit the audience like a wave of ocean water. Also how much control he has over transitions between the two extremes is doubly impressive. Both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver go at each other like hungry lions in several moments in this film, and they both have cemented themselves as movie stars now, forever and always.
82. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018, dr./scr. Morgan Neville)
These are dark and depressing times for many, and usually, we can’t really rely on documentaries to help us navigate those feelings. Simply put, most documentaries are both dark and depressing. It was fairly timely of Morgan Neville to examine the life and times of Fred Rogers when he did, because I’m sure these times would even challenge him. This movie is a celebration, through and through and further proof that kindness and understanding are the two greatest tools we can ever have. Even though Rogers isn’t with us anymore, he never stops teaching us. While 2019’s “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is a great movie in its own right, nothing beats the up-close-and-personal vibe a documentary can give you. While I hate this sentiment, this movie really is “all the feels.”
81. Hell or High Water (2016, dr. David Mackenzie, scr. Taylor Sheridan)
On the surface, I am sure “Hell or High Water” looks like a standard crime movie that looks better than average. Taylor Sheridan proved this decade that he really has a knack for creating gritty, realistic crime stories. But if you investigate further, and figure out the greater game at play. You find out the reason why Ben Foster and Chris Pine are robbing banks, it becomes a lot more powerful. The film’s climax isn’t the typical shootout either, but kind of a confirmation that a crime for something good is still a crime, and the perpetrators will always be looking over their shoulders. This isn’t your typical crime thriller, which is why I continue to love the movie so much.
80. Eighth Grade (2018, dr./scr. Bo Burnham)
If “Booksmart” was about a couple of shut-in smarty-pant types deciding to let loose a weekend before graduation, “Eighth Grade” charts the course of wanting to get to the level in order to make that type of decision. Elise Fisher plays Kayla Day, and when we meet her in the film all she wants to do is survive the last two weeks of grade school with some dignity intact. Much like “Booksmart” there is such a deadpan authentic sincerity to the film that it feels undeniable. I was definitely the awkward kid in grade school, and I definitely see plenty of eighth grade me in Kayla Day. The movie super-charges the honesty and emotion so much that I just wanted to make sure nothing bad happened to Kayla at all. The 2010’s were a masterclass for the teen movie, so much so that I think it rivals the 1980’s.
79. The Adventures of Tintin (2011, dr. Steven Spielberg, scr. Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish & Steven Moffat)
The most unjustly neglected family film of the entire decade and it baffles me. From start to finish, “Tintin” is pure magic. From the amazing animation, to the unbelievable action sequences so amazing, you’ll wish you could see them in live action. But, can I be surprised? We have Steven Spielberg of all people directing the thing. Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson producing and the team behind “Shaun of the Dead” writing the script. Of course this wasn’t going to be anything short of brilliant. Gather the family together for this one if you haven’t had the chance yet.
78. The Witch (2016, dr./scr. Robert Eggers)
The backend of the decade was significant because it seemed like the horror genre had finally outgrew the found footage device, and while I don’t mean to sound like I’m talking smack, I am glad to see the device retire. Mood, atmosphere and just a plain scary setting took over in this last half and I couldn’t be happier. Robert Eggers is one of the many exciting new voices in the genre, and my one hope is that he’s left alone to make as many difficult, overt horror films as possible. “The Witch” still has the power to get under my skin every time I see it. I love that it constantly forces you to question reality. Is the family we see choosing a life of isolation after being kicked out of their puritan community being stalked by witches or they suffering some old-fashioned cabin fever? The kids in this movie…I can’t believe any of their performances. How do you explain the emotions you want them to emote and who are these parents that allowed their children to do this? And yeah, an entire essay could be written on what this movie says about faith and religion. So much packed into a terrifying package that hasn’t lost any of its ability to scare.
77. The Charmer (2017, dr. Milad Alami, scr. Alami & Anna Ingeborg Topsoe)
I went to my first film festival this decade and “The Charmer” was one of the first movie I saw at it. It has stuck with me in a big way and I ended up very happy that I saw the film. Esmail is an Iranian immigrant in Denmark who will be kicked out of the country for being there illegally. He has to prove a way he isn’t illegal or he gets sent back to Iran. So he begins dating women of Denmark in order to stay. What plays as a dramatic-comedy for most of its running time lands a very wicked climax, it features the most shocking ending of the decade and proof of just how desperate many people are all over the world who are risking their lives for a better life. Perhaps we can learn a little empathy for the situation.
76. Burning (2018, dr. Lee Chang-Dong, scr. Oh Jung-mi & Lee Chang-Dong)
What is it about the human spirit where we become obsessed with knowing things? When a mystery arises, particularly around ones we love, why do we get obsessive for the answers? We want to know what the ones we love are thinking at all times and it can tear us apart. Especially if you are part of a love triangle. “Burning” deals with a boy named Jong-soo who reconnects with a girl named Hae-mi, he asks him to watch his cat while she is away on a trip. When she returns, she returns with a really strange guy named Ben (played by The Walking Dead’s Steve Yuen). When Hae-mi abruptly disappears, Jong-soo immediately assumes Ben has something to do with it, and he begins stalking him, desperate for some answers. “Burning” was one of the most delightful mysteries of the decade, with a crazy ending that could only come from South Korea. A powerful ensemble of South Korean actors rip it up, and it still has its scars left on me.
Whoo! That’s a lot. Part II coming soon!