(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
I don’t love making lists. Certainly not “favorites” lists. But because of the nature of this particular list, I knew it would be an opportunity to talk about movies that I might not ordinarily get the chance to talk about. And the last decade is filled with movies worth talking about. Which made making this list extra difficult. Which is why I’m including a list of honorable mentions before we dig into the meat and potatoes.
Honorable Mentions: Dredd (2012), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Locke (2013), Wind River (2017), The Rover (2014), Holy Motors (2012), The Handmaiden (2016), Sicario (2015), A Most Wanted Man (2014), Joker (2019)
Those are ten that didn’t make the cut. Why? Well, for one thing, favorites lists are hard, because I like different movies for different reasons. Different moods, different seasons. So to stay within the requirements of this list, I had to employ a few very subjective parameters of my own.
For one thing, I wanted to pick films that varied from genre to genre. I love science fiction, and I could have easily filled this list with movies from that single category. At least half of the list could have been Denis Villeneuve movies, also, but I allowed myself only one selection from his impressive filmography (cross your fingers for Dune, y’all).
The two biggest factors I considered for selecting films for this list, though, were 1) How much I’ve rewatched or think about rewatching a given film 2) How long a movie stuck with me after seeing it for the first time/how often I find myself thinking about a given film even months or years after seeing it.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s my 10 Favorite Films of the 2010s.
The Hunter (2011)
Sometimes you love a movie and that’s really all that needs to be said. You can’t really say why. Sure, you could talk about cinematography, acting, maybe the score, how amazing Willem Dafoe’sperformance is; but what it really comes down to is that you connected with the film. And the how or why doesn’t really need to be articulated. Because you’re not trying to sell it to anyone else. You’re not trying to get anyone else on board. Or tell them why it’s the best and their favorites pale in comparison. You just love it, and that’s enough. For me, that film is The Hunter. Take it or leave it.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Denis Villeneuve, more than any other director of the last decade, has the most impressive filmography. There’s not a movie in his oeuvre that isn’t above average, and, really, any of those movies could have made this list. But I chose BR2049, because it represents what I’d like to see from big budget science fiction films more often (which is not likely since it lost money). It’s also a master class in how to make a sequel to a movie that doesn’t need one. We don’t deserve another film in the series, but I kinda hope we get one.
I have a rule. If Brendan Gleeson is in a movie, I will watch that movie. It’s a rule that has served me well (though, admittedly, I have not yet seen Assassin’s Creed), and Calvary is no exception. Fortunately, I watched this before I saw The Guard, another film from director John Michael McDonagh and another film starring Brendan Gleeson (and also well worth watching), so I wasn’t expecting the same tone and humor that that very different film employs. Calvary, like Philomena, another great film from the prior decade, is grappling with the sins of the Catholic Church. It’s dark at times, but it has its moments of humor, and it handles the subject matter with care and nuance. It’s a small drama about a much larger issue that has affected millions of people, and it’s very much worth seeing.
Under the Skin (2013)
My wife got up and walked out of the room during this movie. It’s not an easy watch, but if you can muddle through the parts that make you uneasy or even downright angry, this atmospheric and oblique movie has a way of – how should I say it? – getting under your skin.
I was talking with a friend the other night about Dunkirk and he said, while he liked the movie, it wasn’t what he thought it was going to be. He, like my dad and others I’ve talked to, were expecting a more traditional war film. Christopher Nolan’s Saving Private Ryan, I guess. I realized that I went into the movie with the same expectations and instead of coming out slightly disappointed, I immediately wanted to see it again and knew that I’d be buying it the day it came out on disc. I never got back to see it before it left the theater, but I did buy the Blu-ray the day it came out and it remains one of my favorite war movies and it easily makes this list of favorite films of the last decade.
This movie lives and dies on Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, there’s much more to Nightcrawler than an individual performance and there’s more reasons to watch it than for just Gyllenhaal (Riz Ahmed, for one). But he sells it. His character. The world. The whole thing. And it you don’t buy what he’s selling, the whole thing falls apart. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and we got this disturbing little nugget that has a lot more to say than its logline lets on.
I don’t know why this movie didn’t get more love. Sure, exposition is almost nonexistent, but not having a Rosetta Stone for this strange world freshman director Ariel Kleiman drops us into makes this trip all the more interesting for me. But if you need a sales pitch, here you go: Weird, crumbling Eastern European near-future dystopian city, cultish patriarchy of child assassins, and Vincent Cassell’s finest performance on film. Sold?
Tron: Legacy (2010)
Tron: Legacy is in no danger of making many favorites lists, but I get it. It’s a flawed movie. But it’s a fun movie. And I think it actually improves on the original Tron – which I have no emotional attachment to at all. Joseph Kosinsky is kind of like a less successful JJ Abrams. He does setting and atmosphere really well, but slips when it comes to directing actors – especially when it comes to emotional beats. But I’m not in it for that. I know exactly what I’m getting with Legacy, and I know exactly why I’m watching. It’s a movie I can pop into the Blu-ray player and be transported to another world. And sometimes that’s all I need.
Winding-Refn is hit or miss for me. Drive is definitely a hit. Everything about it works for me. The tone, the plot, the cinematography, the performances, the pace, the score – Drive just pulses with dark, neon energy, and it was an easy choice for this list.
Inside Out (2015)
I rewatched this on Christmas morning last year with my wife, kids, and mother. At one point all of the adults were balling. I often hear the argument that the reason I don’t enjoy big budget movies as much as I did when I was younger is because I am older. Basically, the movies haven’t changed, I have. And every time I watch a Pixar movie I’m strengthened in the belief that that argument is bullshit. Pixar just gets it. They make genre movies with heart. The plots are almost always engaging and the characters are likable or interesting or both. Pixar reminds me how good pop/blockbuster movies can be, and it makes me a little sad that live action genre movies are rarely this good.
What do you think of my favorite films from the last decade? Anything you think I missed?