If film is truly dying, then it’s putting up quite a fight on the way to the grave.
The 2010s saw the rise of superhero franchises to box office dominance, the near-death of the romantic comedy, and Disney‘s transformation from an already powerful studio to a Galactus-like behemoth, a consumer of worlds and intellectual property. It was also a remarkable decade for LGBT films, adult-oriented science-fiction, and critically acclaimed horror.
Netflix was both a villainous traditional theater destroyer and the heroic producer of films by acclaimed artists who couldn’t get their work made elsewhere. Television now rivals movies in both budgets and as a venue for dramatic storytelling. Streaming services like Filmstruck, The Criterion Channel, and Kanopy have made classic and foreign films available to a wider audience than ever before. The mid-tier film for adults seems all but gone. David Lynch basically can’t get financing to make films anymore, but Showtime let him make eighteen episodes of a weird-ass tv show. In short, film is going to change in the next decade, but its death is exaggerated. It’s going through growing pains, and we’re undoubtedly going to lose some things we used to love.
A farmer from 1800 would probably be shocked to see modern census data about how few people today make their living from farming, but he could never have envisioned a world where software engineering and ecological technology are careers. It’s the same with the movies. We can’t yet fully envision the new world of film, and that’s scary. Instead of clutching pearls, let’s celebrate the great films of the 2010s. It was a decade of change, but if that environment can still produce films this great then there’s hope yet for the future.
Even expanded to 20 movies, there’s not enough space on this list for a dozen other great films. Where’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Sicario, Ex Machina, Inception, and Coco? And what happened to several films you once ranked as the best of their year? In short: I kept the list to one film per director, there’s only so much room, all lists are subjective, and feelings change over time. If I remake this same list in 2030 I suspect it will look different. It changed several times even while I was writing it. But why pick nits when there’s so much to celebrate? Let’s take a look at the best films of the 2010s for the last time before we move into our bold new future.
20. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (2019)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is among Tarantino’s very best films, a modern fairytale that’s a love letter to 1960s Hollywood, a showcase for old-school star power, and a celebration of a life cut short. Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances as a washed-up actor facing self-doubt and an uncertain future, and Brad Pitt is even better as his personal stunt man/assistant who finds himself wrapped up in the travails of the Manson family.
Pitt’s effortless cool and DiCaprio’s go-for-broke bi-polarity make the film a hilarious romp through a meticulously recreated LA. With its star power and attention to recreating the past I’m actually shocked the film only cost $100 million dollars. It’s a meditation on male ego and purpose in the face of a changing age at a fictional intersection of real historical figures and long-forgotten Hollywood projects. Anyone who would decry Margot Robbie’s largely wordless portrayal of Sharon Tate should give a second thought to how the film’s emotional climax lies not with its two male protagonists, but with a sequence celebrating Tate in an LA theater as someone who deserves to be remembered for her talents and not just as a victim in one of the 60s’ darkest moments. It’s perhaps the sincerest moment in Tarantino’s storied career.
19. The VVitch (2015)
Directed by Robert Eggers
The 2010s were a great decade for critically acclaimed horror films with standouts like The Babadook, It Follows, Hereditary, and Get Out all pushing the genre forward in intelligent ways. For this reviewer it’s Robert Eggers’s debut The VVitch that stands above all the rest with its chilling story of a puritanical family beset by witchcraft, religious hysteria, or both. Natural light cinematography is often noted for its warm shots of glowing candles and burning fireplaces, but The VVitch uses the dimness of a dreary, grey New England to elicit the chill of both autumnal weather and dark forces at work. Anya Taylor-Joy leads a small cast of character actors in this folktale complete with period appropriate dialogue gathered from contemporary texts, and gravel-voiced Ralph Inneson is perfect as a fundamentalist father forced to raise his family outside of society for his extremist views.
Alone in the woods the family grapples with eerie natural surroundings, unexplained disappearances, and bewildering livestock behavior, and the film is tantalizingly unclear if the events are demonic or something more mundane. The film’s scares are existential and intellectual, and anyone expecting something more overt may find themselves bored, but The VVitch offers terrors all its own. It’s a toneful film about intolerance and repression. These Puritans live a difficult existence. Who wouldn’t rather live deliciously?
18. Whiplash (2014)
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Director Damien Chazelle claimed his goal with Whiplash was to make a war movie set at a music school, and that’s undoubtedly true…as long as the war movie he wanted to emulate was Full Metal Jacket. Whiplash is an exercise in psychological warfare as music teacher/drill sergeant Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) beats promising jazz drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) into submission to form his musical talent. Simmons and Teller are both great in a film built around their tense relationship. Whiplash is so intense that I left the theater with muscles that physically ached from being wound so tightly during the film’s riveting climax. Enormous credit goes to editor Tom Cross for matching the film’s rhythms to its jazzy subject matter, creating sequences that are relaxed and electric in turn. You don’t have to know a thing about drumming to understand the physical achievement of Andrew’s labors, and Cross and Chazelle make the drum kit a landscape and help you track a song’s journey atop mountains, through valleys, and across the jolting jumps between the two.
Whiplash is the best role of Simmons’s career and he made the most of it, winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It’s the best type of villain role — one that isn’t flattened by evil, but buoyed by it. None of this works if you can’t believe that Fletcher thinks he’s doing the right thing by bullying Andrew to greatness. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job,” he says chillingly. The film got some negative responses for its portrayal of brutality as an effective route to greatness, but those people have missed the point. You will jump out of your seat cheering at the film’s climax, but later you’ll wonder why you did. It’s not a triumph but the culmination of a dark bargain, and anyone who thinks Andrew is happy and healthy in the years to follow is sorely mistaken.
17. Her (2013)
Directed by Spike Jonze
This film was scientifically designed for me to fall in love with; a deeply emotional examination of what it means to be in love, even when that relationship seems crazy to the rest of the world. Set in a not-so-distant future, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a man struggling with a disintegrating marriage who finds himself falling in love with the new operating system on his phone. Scarlett Johansson brings the digital OS Samantha to life with an outstanding vocal performance, and their relationship is as vibrant as any other put on film in recent memory. Phoenix has nothing but a voice to act against, and Johansson’s vocals were recorded after filming had wrapped. Somehow, they overcome those limitations to deliver a pair of performances that rank among each’s best.
It’s easy to read Her as an examination of writer/director Spike Jonze’s own divorce, thus making him the second party of his relationship to win an Oscar for writing a screenplay about its dissolution (ex-wife Sofia Coppola also won for writing 2003’s Lost in Translation). The human-technology love story is easy for unwilling audiences to dismiss, but this is masterful filmmaking. Her is deeply sympathetic to Theodore, not because it argues that he’s the aggrieved party in the separation, but because divorce is painful, and anyone going through it deserves to find empathy and comfort again. Every film requires suspension of disbelief. Some just take more than others.
16. Moneyball (2011)
Directed by Bennett Miller
Moneyball is a sports movie for the Information Age, telling a story not about athletes or coaches, but a sabermetrician general manager. Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances as Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, who adopts analytics to give his financially strapped baseball team a competitive edge. Beane and his assistant Peter (Jonah Hill) finds themselves fighting against 100 years of baseball tradition, discounting traditional baseball scouting and accumulating talented players who’ve been dismissed by the sport because they don’t look the part.
Undergirding Beane’s non-traditional approach is his own experiences as a first-round draft pick flop. He knows firsthand that the eye test can lie, and is determined to succeed as a GM where he once failed as a player. Moneyball is adapted by acclaimed screenwriters Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, and aptly directed by Bennett Miller who saved the film after Steven Soderbergh exited the project in pre-production. It’s an impressive achievement to wring as much excitement from scouting meetings, draft rooms, and deadline trades as a normal sports film does from gameplay, and a lack of knowledge about deep baseball analytics doesn’t hamper the viewing experience. It’s a story about one man vs society. The baseball is only set dressing.
15. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Directed by Tomas Alfedson
There are only two films I keep on my DVR so that I can watch them at a moment’s notice. One is Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo, and the other is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. George Smiley is the opposite of James Bond, solving cases through intellect and mastery of tradecraft rather that seducing and shooting his way around the globe. There’s a reason one of those characters is described as a secret agent and the other as an intelligence officer. Tinker Tailor follows Smiley, played with quiet intensity by Gary Oldman, as he pursues a mole inside the highest levels of the British Intelligence Service. The film has a steep learning curve, filled with complex jargon and interwoven plots. It asks a lot of viewers, and it might take multiple viewings to fully understand the intricacies of the plot, here compressed to a tight two hours from John le Carré’s source novel. The labyrinthine plot is all there if you’re enraptured enough to take multiple trips through the film, but Tinker Tailor works well enough without understanding every single detail.
Alfredson’s film features an ensemble cast of all-star British actors including John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, and more set against an impressive recreation of Cold War Europe. Tinker Tailor shares thematic similarities with Zero Dark Thirty without any of that production’s uncomfortable political entanglements. It presents espionage and counter-intelligence as frequently boring, methodical work done not out of ideological belief, but out of vindictiveness, and for personal gain while openly questioning the moral foundation of any so-called victory. It’s a film about things not said, and secrets lurking below the surface. None of that should imply that the film is somehow unenjoyable to watch. I get as many thrills from watching Benedict Cumberbatch sneak documents out of The Circus as I do watching a Bond car chase. George Smiley appears in nine le Carré novels so additional source material already exists, and there’s no movie I want a sequel to more than this one.
14. Phantom Thread (2017)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is a delectable feast for the senses. The film is as gorgeous as you would expect for a movie about fashion design as art, but Anderson’s camera is equally interested in the intimate tactile feel of measuring tape on a human body and the sounds and aromas of the breakfast table. Daniel Day-Lewis gives his (supposedly) final performance as refined fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock in this surprisingly funny portrait of artistic romance, where Woodcock’s love for his work is matched only by his muse’s (Vicky Krieps) adoration of him.
Phantom Thread is hardly a swoony love affair, however, instead delving into the gamut of emotions that a relationship can bring. Anger, jealousy, boredom, and more are all on display in Krieps’ performance, and she never wilts under the pressure of matching her acclaimed costar. It’s a film about politics and power in relationships, and one can’t help but wonder if it’s a winking gift from the director to his wife acknowledging the difficulty of being in a relationship with an artist. Anderson’s films always ask the audience to think, and Phantom Thread is no different, but any viewer with an open mind will discover a fantastic film as gorgeous as a designer dress and as savory as a warm mushroom omelette.
13. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s paean to first love is so delicate that it seems the film itself would fall apart if handled too roughly. Timothée Chalamet catapulted into the public consciousness with his subtle performance as Elio, a teenager in the midst of a sexual awakening with his father’s research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Chalamet and Hammer’s work is quiet and piercing, nakedly honest in its revelations, and wholly naturalistic. That naturalism extends to the cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom whose work with light and nature is a character in and of itself, recreating a hot 1983 Italian summer above and beyond the ability of the immaculate production design alone. Combined with James Ivory’s Oscar-winning script, these elements combine to evoke a Proustian journey to a specific emotional moment in time.
There are some complaints that Call Me by Your Name isn’t explicit enough in its subject matter, but Guadagnino obviously made the gentle romance he intended. Explicitness would rob the film of its delicate magic. As Michael Stuhlbarg’s character points out in a moving final monologue, some things in life are meaningful for the powerful emotions they allow a person to experience, and the film itself is one of them.
12. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
This spiritual successor to O Brother, Where Art Thou? shows a week in the life of a down-on-his-luck folk singer in New York in 1961. Oscar Isaac gives a star-making performance as the titular Llewyn Davis, struggling to keep his stagnant career alive and retain an idealized “artistic integrity” that doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. The songs are almost all covers, but the actors imbue them with new life. They’re not lip-syncing either. These are live recordings of actual performances, and Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Adam Driver are all convincing enough to keep the movie’s magic from breaking with a little help from musical advisor T Bone Burnett.
Supplementing the cast of characters is an elusive housecat that serves as one of those wonderfully enigmatic Coen Brothers symbols. Is he representative of Llewyn’s career, Llewyn himself, or something else entirely? He’s not telling. The film ambles through a gorgeous recreation of the 1960s East Village, and though usual cinematographer Roger Deakins wasn’t part of this particular Coen Brothers film (credit to Bruno Delbonnel), it still looks great. The film was mostly ignored at Oscar time, but that disappointment is something Llewyn himself would intimately understand. It doesn’t matter. Llewyn’s voice still gets steady play from my copy of the soundtrack, and the Coens got the last laugh.
11. The Favourite (2018)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
In a decade that saw Yorgos Lanthimos make such great films as Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, his last film of the decade proved to be his masterwork. The Favourite is an anti-costume drama that revels in hilarious palace intrigue and a biting wit while showing Hollywood the incredible feast that awaits it if they’d simply write better parts for their great actresses.
This was Lanthimos’s first time directing a script that he hadn’t written, but Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara gave him the punchiest script of his career without losing any of his trademark black comedy. Gone are the stilted monotones of his previous work, and in its place are lines that let cousins Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) hilariously backstab each other while battling for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) favor. Weisz gives the performance of her career as the supportive if stern guiding hand behind the throne who is fighting to keep Queen Anne’s affections from shifting to the more fun-loving usurper, Abigail. It’s Colman, however, who wins the crown (and won the Academy Award for Best Actress) with her manic-depressive turn as a regent desperate to be loved. It’s a deliciously wicked Mexican standoff between three actresses at the top of their game in a film that’s antique in setting, but never in action. Throw in the gorgeous historical costumes, Robbie Ryan’s candlelit and naturally-lit cinematography, and another excellent supporting performance from Nicholas Hoult and you’ve got a devilishly delightful (and surprisingly historically accurate) film.
10. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
This was my hardest choice for this list since I’m working hard to have only one film from any director. Martin Scorsese’s Silence is an equally great, if astoundingly different masterwork and could easily have made this list. It was a coin flip, but this list is filled with meditative emotionally driven film so I ultimately decided to select The Wolf of Wall Street instead.
It’s a wildly debauched ride that initially gave me some reservations. It asks viewers to understand that its decadence is supposed to ring hollow, and that’s rung truer and truer to me over time. Leonardo DiCaprio gives his greatest performance as Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who enriches himself by selling junk stocks to suckers for a high commission. Belfort is despicable, and the film doesn’t pull any punches because Scorsese wants the viewer to understand just how little he cared about the lives he ruined. When he’s not doing business, Belfort and his friends engage in some of the wildest exploits ever put on film. It’s drugs, sex, and money to the max, and Scorsese turns an unflinching eye on Belfort and his associates.
The cast features an array of excellent performances, but it’s Jonah Hill who steals the show with his hilariously manic showing as Belfort’s right hand man, able to match DiCaprio’s unbridled energy blow for blow. Wolf was also the breakthrough for Margot Robbie, who’s proved time and time again that there’s incredible acting skill behind a sexpot performance that could have typecast her. It’s one of the most purely rewatchable films of the decade for its collection of riveting and quotable scenes. Just never forget that it comes to damn, not to praise.
9. Roma (2018)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Six years after Gravity proved him to be one of film’s greatest tacticians, Roma finds Alfonso Cuaron returning to his Mexican roots with a reflection on class, privilege, and family set in the hometown neighborhood of his youth. This story of a Mexican maid and the upper-middle class family who employs her shows that Cuaron didn’t lose touch with emotional storytelling while employing the technical wizardry that won him his first Academy Award for Best Director. Roma won him a second, and the film’s three incredible one-shots flawlessly meld drama with Cuaron’s stunning camerawork to make something that hits the heart as much as the brain. They’ll leave you shaken in the way that only truly revealing art can.
The film has hurdles for the viewer to clear. Roma is a slice of life drama with a cast consisting of non-professional actors speaking a mix of Spanish and Mixtec. If subtitles aren’t a roadblock, then hopefully the sumptuous black and white photography won’t be either. Anyone watching casually will miss out on Roma’s charms. It demands attention, begging the viewer to succumb to its innate quiet rhythms. Do yourself a favor and lock your phone away for a truly transcendent experience. Films that attain this type of fragile magic are a rare thing indeed.
8. Arrival (2016)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
The public spent years begging for Leonardo DiCaprio to win an Oscar, but what about Amy Adams? You can easily make the claim for her as the lynchpin in a dozen critically acclaimed projects over the last decade, and Arrival is no exception. Adams stars as a linguist conscripted by the Army to discover how to communicate with an alien spacecraft that has landed in Montana, one of twelve that has suddenly appeared unannounced around the world. I’m a huge fan of adult-oriented science fiction, and Arrival is a film about aliens that centers the stakes not around global domination and genocide, but on how we would learn to communicate across cultures, species, and planets. The story is framed with a meditation on loss that takes an unexpectedly powerful turn in the film’s last half hour. How can someone continue on in the face of unbearable pain? And would you do so if you knew that pain was yet to come?
The 2010s were an incredible decade for this particular subgenre (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Snowpiercer, and Edge of Tomorrow among them), and Arrival is the crown jewel of the lot. Denis Villeneuve has a strong claim to being the best director of the 2010s, having made the equally strong Sicario and Blade Runner 2049. He’s approaching the rarified air of Christopher Nolan as one of the few remaining directors who can continually deliver critically acclaimed films for adults that are also hits. Arrival is his greatest achievement.
7. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Blue is the Warmest Colour tells the story of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a high school student with an unexpected attraction to a blue-haired stranger (Lea Seydoux) she passes one day on the street. It’s a coming of age film that dares to show the complications of first love — its passions, brawls, and tears, in all their intensity. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are both magical, giving deep, natural, emotive performances. Director Abdellatif Kechiche and his camera are a part of every kiss and fight, in such a strong collaboration between filmmaker and actors that all three were jointly awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Kechiche’s camera never flinches, and in the end we’re reminded that life and relationships are too complicated to have an easy ending.
Now that the controversy over the film’s sexual content has subsided in the years after its release, I find myself continually coming back to Blue is the Warmest Colour as one of the truest, deepest examinations of a relationship ever put to film. Kechiche’s career has floundered in the film’s aftermath as he’s produced two critically derided films, but Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have thrived. It’s an argument against auteur theory. Film is collaborative, and Blue is as much their creation as Kechiche’s. I completely understand that a sexually explicit three-hour long French film about a lesbian relationship isn’t for everybody, but I was enraptured when I first saw film. I remain so now.
6. Parasite (2019)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
After two English language films director Bong Joon-ho returned to his native Korean for this tone-shifting story about class. Parasite tells the story of the destitute Kim family insinuating themselves into the service of the Park family, an affluent economic negative image of the Kims. It’s an obvious parasitic metaphor, but Bong’s film is smart enough to question whether it’s actually the wealthy Parks thriving on the work of Korea’s underclass. Not that the film is ever that directly simplistic. Parasite is a masterwork in almost every aspect, from the masterful breadcrumbs dropped throughout the script to its gorgeous shot compositions. It’s a film about eyelines: the poor gazing up at the wealthy, and the wealthy looking down at the poor. How apt then that the desperately class-mobile Kims live in a split-level dwelling, living half-above and half-below the bustling city street. Parasite is at times sharply funny, at others a vicious satire, and at still others a frightening thriller. Plenty of films aspire to this type of genre shifting to their peril, but Bong’s film pulls it off effortlessly. You spend the first hour in awe of one film, and then Parasite becomes wholly another.
Don’t let the film’s language be a barrier. You do so at your own peril. Director Bong Joon-ho already made the argument for foreign language films while accepting the Golden Globe: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many amazing films.” This is one of them.
5. The Tree of Life (2011)
Directed by Terrence Malick
The Tree of Life is the most ambitious film on this list, aiming to tell the story that ranges from a man’s remembrance of his childhood to the origins of the universe itself. Director Terrence Malick’s crowning achievement is a film that joins those two ideas in a story about harmony and spirituality. It begins with a quote from the book of Job and never looks back, tracing a story about the emotional and metaphorical choice between the path of nature and the path of grace. No one but Terrence Malick could have made such a film, and, indeed, the famously spiritual director spent the rest of the decade wandering in a wilderness of esoteric, plot-averse films as though he had nothing else left to say. The Tree of Life was the first of a series of masterworks by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki that would later see him win three consecutive Oscars. Here his shots of nature, Jack Fisk’s production design, and Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous score are the perfect coupling for Malick’s story about nature, loss, and faith. Even if The Tree of Life doesn’t work for you on a divine level, it’s still gorgeous to experience.
Brad Pitt plays a strict authoritarian father in 1950s Texas, and Sean Penn plays his adult son physically and emotionally separated from his father decades later as the pair struggle to handle their grief after a family tragedy. Jessica Chastain is the film’s spiritual and emotional heart as the wife and mother struggling to reconcile the world’s light and darkness, and bridge the separation between father and son. It’s a film that requires patience from the viewer, but one that’s willing to repay that patience with treasures and catharsis that few others can match. You get back the effort that you put in, a philosophy not just for The Tree of Life, but life itself.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Directed by George Miller
There’s more inventiveness in a single shot of George Miller’s film than there is in the entire runtimes of other films. A visual spectacle, Fury Road only functions under its own internal logic, but that’s half the fun. Furiosa and Max’s adventures are soaked in adrenaline and gasoline, always toeing the line of insanity as Max, Furiosa, and a war-rig full of fertile women attempt to outrun a tyrannical warlord. Miller’s film is so visual that it could almost function as a silent movie. In fact, Tom Hardy’s Max only has 52 lines across the film’s runtime, but that clears plenty of room for Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa to dominate a surprisingly feminist film.
Miller and his team leaned on practical effects to create a sandy desert of Frankensteined hotrods and flame-spewing guitars. There’s simply nothing else like Fury Road’s nearly two solid hours of car chase, and the action spectacle never gets old with Miller, cinematographer John Seale who unretired to make the film, and editor Margaret Sixel inventing endless new takes on forty years of stale action sequences. Fury Road is a feminist tale, an ecological horror story, and an economic investigation if you want to delve into it, but first and foremost Mad Max is a reminder that movies are a spectacular visual medium. May we all arrive at the gates of Valhalla together, shiny and chrome!
3. Lady Bird (2017)
Directed by Greta Gerwig
I was not prepared for just how much Greta Gerwig’s hilarious and poignant debut feature would blow me away on first viewing, and it continues to impress me more and more with every rewatch. Gerwig spent over a decade as an actress in Hollywood before she got the chance to make a film all her own, and it’s obvious that she’s spent that time perfecting her craft in preparation for this opportunity. When her shot finally came, she did not miss. Lady Bird is a coming of age story about the self-fashioned Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her turbulent relationship with her mother played by Laurie Metcalf. Gerwig’s script is full of nuance, shading in these characters with details that define them over time. There’s so much to learn about a character in the way they unnecessarily make a hotel bed or share their tiny birthday cupcake. The ensemble cast of fantastic actors includes Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet giving life to the supporting characters who make the film’s world so perfectly realized.
There’s not enough praise in the world to heap on Laurie Metcalf, who was robbed of an Oscar for her funny and heartfelt performance as Lady Bird’s loving but oft-critical mother. Too many films about mother-child relationships boil them down to sensationalized revelations about teen pregnancy or tyrannical parenthood, but Gerwig’s script is too smart for that. Lady Bird remembers what it’s like to be a teenager on the edge of adulthood, pushing boundaries and fighting one minute only to find yourself hugging and laughing the next. Anyone who would dismiss the film as feminine domestic drama is missing the point. Life is about the relationships you make, and Lady Bird brings them beautifully to the forefront.
2. Moonlight (2016)
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Before the Best Picture envelope fiasco (which is my own personal Zapruder film), I found in Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight a film that touched me in a way very few films ever have. Jenkins uses one man’s story as an examination of black lives and gay identity, following a young boy named Chiron through puberty and into adulthood with a different actor playing the character at each stage of life. Mahershala Ali’s performance as a drug lord with a soft spot for the young, bullied Chiron is the one that usually gets the most focus, and he’s undoubtedly great. A criminal with a soft side. A cliché, you say? Definitely, but Moonlight steers directly into its clichés, shattering stereotypes in the process.
However, he shouldn’t overshadow the rest of the stellar ensemble which includes Naomi Harris as Chiron’s mom, Andre Holland as the adult version of Chiron’s closest friend, and all three actors playing the main role of Chiron as he ages (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes). Moonlight is a film of uncommon grace, depth, and wisdom matched with Nicholas Britell’s haunting score and James Laxton’s swirling, fluid camera work. Many good filmmakers work their whole lives to make a movie as great as this one.
1. The Social Network (2010)
Directed by David Fincher
So what’s the best film of the 2010s?
The Social Network is a marquee example of the truth that a film’s first allegiance shouldn’t be to the historical record. There’s plenty of evidence to disprove the factual events of David Fincher’s film about the founding of Facebook, but it’s more and more evident how little that matters with every turn of the news cycle. The Social Network uses dramatic license to get to the heart of the story it wants to tell: Facebook is an inherently flawed mechanism because, despite its standing as a social platform, it was created by a man who lacked social skills and empathy. It’s a business as much as Exxon and Halliburton are, so why are people so surprised when it treats its users information as a commodity? For a film that could have seemed quickly outdated in the world of fast-paced tech development, The Social Network somehow seems more prescient and incisive than when it debuted a decade ago. The film itself mirrors its own characters. It’s brilliant, brash, and at times disdainful as it details Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) rise from Harvard undergrad to world’s youngest billionaire and the relationships he destroyed in order to achieve that stature.
When Aaron Sorkin was told his script was too long for a two-hour movie he simply asserted that the actors would have to talk fast. The result is a movie that flies. You’re supposed to see Zuckerberg and his associates as arrogant and impatient, and the film’s crafting bears that out by necessity. A discussion of the film quickly devolves into a list of superlatives. Jesse Eisenberg gives one of the greatest performances of the decade. Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script is a masterpiece, containing a half dozen of the most quotable lines of the decade. The Social Network’s casting team struck gold and launched Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, and Rooney Mara to stardom. Even Justin Timberlake is good. And perhaps nothing has aged better than Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s iconoclastic yet iconic score. It’s the rare film where everything works. An achievement that’s both electrically vibrant and a sobering punch to the gut.The Social Network is the best film of the decade. “Does that adequately answer your condescending question?”