The 2010s will bottom out in less than 48 hours, so to honor the great films that have been released within that time, I’d like to share my ten favorites from the last decade and invite you to share yours.
10. Hereditary (2018); Director: Ari Aster
The 2010s enjoyed an explosion of great horror (The Witch, It Follows, Get Out, The Insidious franchise, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Conjuring universe, A Quiet Place) but it’s Ari Aster’s unsettling family drama that had me the most invested, repulsed, and delighted as both an audience member and film nerd more than any other horror film this decade.
I saw it three times in theaters, twice by myself during the 10:30 PM showtimes (something I don’t advise unless you’re out for insanity) and have made it a Halloween ritual on blu-ray.
Who could deny Toni Collette’s powerhouse performance as the cursed, angry mother of doomed children (equally great performances by Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro) and frustrated wife to a powerless husband (Gabriel Byrne)?
The film looks, sounds, and feels like a demented invention from an auteur who clearly spent the better part of his childhood studying horror cinema from local and international masters. It’s the best horror film of the decade and also the most entertaining.
09. Carol (2015); Director: Todd Haynes
Carol to me represents the best romance film of the decade in that it’s equal-parts beautiful, tragic, and achingly accurate to how it feels to experience unrequited or perhaps forbidden feelings for another human being in a time and place where love can’t exist simply.
Rooney Mara has never been better as the demure Therese Belivet opposite Cate Blanchett’s warm and alluring Carol Aird, two women stuck in 1950s American societal snobbery and class. It’s elegantly photographed in warm 16mm film by Edward Lachman and scored to perfection by Carter Burwell.
There are other romance films that tug at my heartstrings (Her, Call Me By Your Name, Blue Valentine) but none that I simultaneously appreciate and enjoyed as much as Carol.
08. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014); Director: Jim Jarmusch
Adam and Eve are alive and well in Jim Jarmusch’s off-kilter, totally cool, deadpan-hilarious vampire film as two musician stoners seeking blood like rock stars crave heroine.
It’s a delightfully fresh take on the mythical beings, zapped to life by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. It takes its time in true Jarmusch fashion and enjoys every morsel of aesthetic pleasure (the opening spin montage is my favorite) while commenting on the nature of the arts, sciences, and the concept of immortality.
Jarmusch’s Patterson (2016) is probably better but I enjoy this film much more.
07. The Lobster (2015); Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
When I showed this film to my ex-girlfriend on Netflix she became disgusted while I gripped the couch with laughter during the scene when the biscuit-loving woman jumps off the hotel during Colin Ferrell’s botched attempt to ask a woman out. Evidently, I’d forgotten how much I hated this film the first time I saw it in theaters and had to remind mself that dystopian absurdist art films aren’t always what you watch with your S.O.
Yorgos Lanthimos is the closest we have to a new Kubrick; brilliant, visionary, hilarious and seriously disturbing. This to me is still his most striking film and definitely his funniest; although googling the film gives me serious pause when I see it listed as a Drama or Thriller.
It’s the best comedy of the 2010s (I like it just a smidge more than The Grand Budapest Hotel), and one of the most inventive dystopias to hit the screen. It’s a film that keeps flipping itself over and plays with your guts and mind.
06. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015); Director: George Miller
Did you see a better action film in the 2010s? I didn’t; not even Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018), Skyfall (2012), any of the Marvel movies, or The Raid sequels gripped me as much.
The images still flit through my mind: war boys dangling from dangerous spikes projected off sharp death rigs; Furiosa shouting to the dunes as she discovers the decimation of her people; Max screaming his ass off as he hangs tied to a blood bag amidst carnage, chaos, and fire bursting into the hot brown desert.
Fury Road feels like the Mad Max film George Miller always wanted to make. With its impressive display of practical effects, real-time stunts, and amazingly well-cut sequences, it’s an adrenaline rush of a movie; a high stakes chase in the desert with metal chains of destruction and fun.
The chase was one of the earliest actions to formalize continuity film editing during the silent era of filmmaking. And in 2015, Miller showed us that this tried and true genre still reigns the supreme entertainment model that hasn’t been beaten.
05. Ida (2013); Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Ida is about so much more than it lets on, cleverly providing the most mundane moments to express the deepest significance, meaning, and unspoken grief within two women: Anna, a Polish nun, and Wanda Gruz, her aunt that sent men to their deaths following WWII.
Wanda informs Ida of her true identity; she’s actually Jewish and her parents were murdered in the German occupation of Poland. So the two set out to discover what remains of Ida’s heritage, making haunting and illuminating discoveries about each other that test the strength of their faith.
Ida’s also a deconstructed road movie, a historical drama, an antiwar film, and a deeply personal odyssey akin to masterpieces of The French New Wave and international art cinema. It’s a sparsely constructed episodic tale of transformation that executes the most sublime film economy.
04. The Tree of Life (2011); Director: Terrence Malick
I was still in high school when The Tree of Life came out. I remember going to the theater not knowing anything about Terrence Malick, expecting very little because I hadn’t studied art films or understood what stream-of-consciousness was. I was a big sucker for action thrillers having come off last summer’s Inception and Shutter Island.
Half the audience talked aloud during the movie, and three quarters of them left before it was over. But I sat rapt, having never seen anything quite like it before and was overwhelmed by its sheer power and the breath of fresh air it offered amidst a summer of schlock blockbusters and routine comedies.
It still blows me away, even though I sympathize with people’s qualms about Malick’s indulgent filmmaking style. His films are poetic, and they represent a way of seeing the world, even if that way isn’t a two-hour road map rife with likeable characters, predictable action, and plot-by-plot life lessons.
Malick has since become a favorite of mine and The Tree of Life represents to me the best film he’s ever made. It’s the easy standout of the decade, and its influence couldn’t be understated; although many film scholars and professors would fight me on that, I’ve yet to see a cinematographer equal Emmanuel Lubezki’s work with Malick or a modern art film that better captures those tiny, unspoken, miraculous moments in life so many of us take for granted.
And, it’s the best coming-of-age story of the 2010s, if you consider it that. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) and the entire Harry Potter franchise (2001–11) are tremendous achievements but The Tree of Life contains colossal growth that echoes through eons.
03. Blade Runner 2049 (2017); Director: Denis Villeneuve
Despite being a complete box-office bomb, Blade Runner 2049 remains one of the great sequels to one of the best science fiction films of all time; Blade Runner, equally unsuccessful in 1982.
I’d agitate my film professors if I sat here and supported this movie, one they repeatedly found to be tiresome, boring and unnecessary (“Who cares about Blade Runner? Is it sellable?”). I found it thrilling, exciting, and deeply cinematic.
2049 takes the mythos of the original Blade Runner and expands it to include famine, overpopulation, and an abundance of technology that’s become so defunct one can hardly discern man from machinery. That’s the core topic of almost any Phillip K. Dick story, but 2049 examines the micro and magnificent implications of what happens when planet Earth decides to build robots for its salvation.
Its palette is dirty, menacing, and somehow enchanting all at once. Roger Deakins won his first Oscar for his photographic work in the film, and the film also won Best Visual Effects.
I love 2049 because it’s the most painterly of the science fiction films of the 2010s and perhaps requires the most patience (next to, say, Interstellar). It’s a film-lovers film, a science fiction feast, and a forebodingly prescient neo-noir for the new age.
02. The Social Network (2010); Director: David Fincher
The Social Network is, arguably, the most important American film of the 2010s, not simply for its content but for how David Fincher’s thrilling direction douses that content with serious weight and drama in a story concerning Harvard nerds who created a global phenomenon over the course of four years that has, in one way or another, shaped our modern digital infrastructure and the way we communicate to each another.
It’s the Facebook story, one influencers and Gen Z kids would remember scarcely but millennial snobs like me experienced the entire formation of. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay isn’t so much accurate as it is effective.
Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed by Jessie Eisenberg with scintillating jealousy and ambitious brutality. He’s the beta male, skinny and insignificant among the eligible buff bachelors of his age; rowers or sportsman or athletes. So what does he do? Build a digital empire that connects 500 million people worldwide and rapidly keeps growing.
But Sorkin’s Zuckerberg can’t connect with people in real life, so he digs into his laptop and spreads his site to third world countries where they have Facebook but not roads. It’s as if the twentysomething genius thinks that matching people online is the same as matching them in person, getting to know them, and being validated as a friend or someone meaningful in their lives.
Basically, what we do now.
Fincher takes this socially inept rebel and turns him into Charles Foster Kane; a man with sweeping talents but a piece of humanity missing in a swirling puzzle of lawsuits, greed, betrayal and heartbreak.
It’s how seriously Fincher treats this story that makes The Social Network a pleasure to re-watch. He’s described it as the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies, and that’s probably accurate; it’s a somewhat coming-of-age teen movie where friendship costs over a billion dollars.
01. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013); Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Inside Llewyn Davis is my favorite film of the last decade for many reasons. It’s downright funny and penetratingly sad. It expresses how I feel about chasing dreams, success, or even the daily bread of ordinary living. It articulates the nature of failure better than any other film I’ve seen this decade. And it makes the profound connection between extreme grief and the need to go out and do something, to create something through music or art in order to be heard, even if your voice is unpleasant and demeanor disagreeable.
Simply, the film depicts one week in the life of folk singer Llewyn Davis played by Oscar Isaac in a breakout performance. He traverses the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s with fellow musicians, most of them based on real-life folk singers like Peter, Paul, and Mary, just before the arrival of Bob Dylan.
We join Llewyn through all of his problems, most of which go unsolved. We observe him interact with friends, most of which he treats as enemies. There’s a sense throughout the film that Llewyn is holding out for something big and refuses to sell his image for even modest success. His contempt for commercial musicians but also himself makes him a complicated, fascinating, and all-around relatable character.
If the tortured artists Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allen Poe lived today, I think they’d find something of themselves in struggling folk singer Llewyn. Much can be said about stories depicting losers that shovel defeat with every step they take. The Coen brothers have long made losers the heroes of their strange and wonderful work, and Inside Llewyn Davis remains their most human film, and a testament to turning pain into art.