The 2010’s were a hell of a decade for film. Disney had a stranglehold on the box office. A24 cornered the market on low budget cinema. Blumhouse made horror great again. Moviegoers finally embraced foreign film (kinda) and critically acclaimed movies were being shot on cellphones. The age of the mega-blockbuster essentially destroyed moderately budgeted films. Streaming provided hundreds of hours of new content (some of which was provided by some heavy hitters, such as Scorsese and the Coen Bros). Weird independent filmmakers were allowed the opportunity to direct huge movies. And previously thought impossible to see films such as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and The Other Side of the Wind were actually released.
It was a decade in which the Oscars finally got it right (for two years at least) and which everyone tried and failed to be Marvel (RIP Dark Universe). Blank checks were cut regularly, resulting in some amazing titles such as Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Irishman and not so great titles like A Wrinkle in Time, The Last Airbender and Cats. Physical media started releasing every movie ever (right before it dies at the hands of digital) and a new generation of actors was getting ready to replace the movie stars of old. It was a controversial decade that had many highs and lows but at the end of the day, all that matters is that it provided a ton of great movies. This is what I consider to be, the best of the decade.
This is the 100 Greatest Movies of the 2010s.
20. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
I don’t know what it says about me but the cinematic romances that have hit me the hardest are the ones about love affairs that aren’t meant to last. Not the doomed ones that end in tragedy but the flings that only last for a handful of days. Perhaps it’s the sadness of the what if or the what could’ve been or maybe they stay with me longer because they have a definitive conclusion unlike your typical happily ever after, which lets be honest, are usually unearned or bullshit anyways. There’s no way the couple at the end of An Officer and Gentleman or The Graduate are going to make it. The whisper at the end of Lost in Translation has stayed with me way longer than any other cliched romcom ending ever has.
I have no idea what Murray whispered into Johansson’s ear nor do I want to know. It’s a secret that belongs to them and nobody else. Call Me By Your Name is that whisper stretched out to full length. The romance between the sensitive teen Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and the confident grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is a secret hidden from everyone else, partially due to the intolerance at the time (it’s set in the 80’s) but mostly because it isn’t meant for anyone else. Their time together in that hot summer in Italy, will last with them forever, whether they ended up together or not.
19. Holy Motors (2012)
Less a film and more a series of mini art installations, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is a film unlike anything else out there. In a world where every possible story has been told over and over again, finding something truly original is a real rarity. Even its detractors, who think it’s pretentious nonsense with no real meaning, have to admit that it’s unique nonsense. There have been cinematic art installations before this (Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series is the definition of self indulgent) and there will be WTF films released before and after this, but when it comes to WTF art installations, Carax made the definitive version.
We follow 24 hours in the life of a man (Denis Lavant, in an unbelievably great performance) moving from life to life, like an actor performing roles. Each of these interwoven lives, the being possesses an entirely distinct identity. Each one more bizarre than the last. Sometimes he’s a young man, sometimes he’s an old man and sometimes he’s not even a man. The meaning behind the identities is never revealed. Why is he doing this? What does it all mean? I have no idea but I’m left thinking about the Chaplin quote, “We think too much and feel too little.”
18. Good Time (2017)
With a handful of critically acclaimed shorts, a well received documentary and four excellent films under their belt, the Safdie Bros have proven without a shadow of a doubt, they are the future of cinema. While everyone else is obsessed with recreating nostalgia, these two are focused on manufacturing calamity. The duo don’t make films, they make panic attacks. They are so good at cultivating tension, they’ve turned it into an art form. Every element of their films, Good Time especially, is designed to give you whiplash.
The film, about a dumbfuck bank robber (an unrecognizable Robert Pattinson) who needs to earn money as quickly as possible in order to bail out his developmentally disabled brother from jail before he gets himself killed, is a ticking clock of dread. It starts at 100 and then escalates from there. You know from the first frame, the film’s title is a goddamn lie. It’s like watching a crack head tie his own noose as quickly as possible. It’s unbearable tense and frankly, sometimes too hard to watch. With its in your face cinematography by Sean Price Williams, a throbbing score by Daniel Lopatin and manic scripts written by the brothers themselves, Good Time is Martin Scorsese on speed.
17. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The one thing documentaries have over narrative features is, is that no matter how outlandish a story is, there’s a part of you that will believe it no matter what. There’s something about documentaries that brings with them an air of truth, even though every single one of them is staged to one degree or another. Obviously this doesn’t apply to politically motivated pieces that are trying to push an agenda. I mean docs about a specific subject or topic. A switch in your brain gets flipped and you immediately think “I believe this.” Even if it’s the craziest shit you’ve ever heard, the part of your brain that is still hardwired to believe the old adage “they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true” will fight against any doubts. And it’s that subconscious belief system Banksy takes advantage of in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Thierry Guetta — an eccentric French shop keeper turned documentary maker — attempts to locate and befriend the elusive Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. After Banksy takes over his “documentary” (the man filmed everything all the time), he convinces Thierry to become a street artist himself. He then documents Thierry’s evolution into the artist known as Mr. Brainwash and his meteoric rise in popularity. Is Mr. Brainwash real or just another elaborate prank pulled off by Banksy? The answer is: it doesn’t matter. It’s either a legit doc about an insane true story or mockumentary about the ridiculousness of art and the commodification of hype. Either way, it’s ridiculously entertaining.
16. The Master (2012)
Outside of There Will Be Blood, there’s not a single film in Paul Thomas Anderson’s oeuvre I care for. I go into every one of his films with the hope that it’ll be the one to finally turn me around. Like there’s some cinematic puzzle piece I’m missing or key that’ll unlock his filmography. I have yet to find it but the film that has come the closest was The Master. I still feel as though it’s as hollow as his previous films but what I or anyone can’t deny, is its presentation. It may feel like an Easter bunny to me but it’s at least a gourmet Easter bunny. Based purely on its technical merits, there aren’t many films that reach its level of excellence. The cinematography is outstanding, the score is hypnotic, the costuming rivals the best in the biz and the acting, my God, the acting.
Phoenix and Hoffman give the best performances of the decade and it’s not even close. Every scene involving them is electric; the intensity between them crackles with such extreme force, it’s in danger of destroying the film. Their talent is so white hot, protectionists were instructed to keep fire extinguishers handy while the film played because there was a chance that their combined heat could burn any theater playing it down. They’re operating on another level. A director is lucky if he gets just one great performance in his movie and extremely lucky if that performance becomes legendary. PTA somehow managed to get two of the best of all time in a single film.
15. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
It was immediately apparent with his first film, that Tarantino was a voracious cinephile who would not only reference everything from old movies, to forgotten TV shows, to obscure actors but did so lovingly. He wasn’t just throwing in pop culture references to be hip, clever or timely, he did so because he legitimately loves Hollywood and everything associated with it. Or rather, he loves his version of Hollywood.
Tarantino looks at old Hollywood much like a child does, in that he sees how everyone is connected through a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon like chain of links. A child naturally assumes that every celebrity knows and is friends with every other celebrity just because they’re both famous and while we all know that’s completely false, back in the day, it was a bit more complicated. One of the best elements of his latest film, is the way in which Tarantino connects everyone through pop culture. Unlike today where everyone is inundated with a constant barrage of something new (like shows and songs and internet “stories”), people back then all shared the same experiences. Cliff Booth may never meet Charles Manson but odds are, they watch the same TV shows and Steve McQueen may never cross paths with Roman Polanski but if they turn on the radio, they’re going to be listening to the same music and I think it’s this connectivity that Tarantino mourns the most in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
He’s obviously enamored with the alternate history of actors (which he himself helped shape with the casting of Clooney in From Dusk till Dawn, Travolta in Pulp Fiction and Grier in Jackie Brown among others) which clearly informs the Rick Dalton character but also the alternate history of history, which you can see in both the endings of this and Inglourious Basterds. And just like in that film, OUATIH rewrites history so that movies themselves are responsible for conquering heinous monsters. Hitler died at a movie theater and the Manson Family got beat to death because they decided to attack the wrong movie star. Which again, connects his fake Hollywood with the real Hollywood.
He’s rewriting history to not only give Sharon Tate and the other victims a happy ending and to strip away the power of Manson and his family by erasing their deeds from history but to expand his fake universe by giving Rick and Cliff the fame they so desperately deserve. When the credits start to role, Tarantino wants you to think about the future of these characters but he also wants you to be sad that this Hollywood, both real and fake, is dead. It’s simultaneously hopeful and melancholic; a love letter to a bygone era and a last hoorah before the lights turn off and the doors get shut forever. This is the culmination of Tarantino’s entire career and although it’s his penultimate film, I wouldn’t be sad if he decided to retire with this one. He said everything he needed to say with this film.
14. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Scorsese has spent his entire career making films about the criminal underworld; the day-to-day minutia of the gangster life and how it all comes tumbling down. He’s turned the lives of Henry Hill, Sam Rothstein and Frank Sheerin into Greek tragedies. Even though the films are based on real people, the energy Scorsese injects into their stories keeps them from feeling like biopics. They feel like wild stories that just so happen to also be true. And it’s that quality he brings to The Wolf of Wall Street.
If it wasn’t for the main character constantly breaking the fourth wall to remind the audience that everything they’re seeing really happened, you would forget that this was based on a true story. At three hours, this beast of a film is an exercise of excess. There’s far too much of everything. It has more nudity than a porno, more drug usage than a thousand Scarface ripoffs and more F-bombs than any other film ever. But that’s the point. It’s a full throttle, grab you by the neck and balls drug-fueled scathing indictment of American rapacity brought to us by our greatest living director. If Good Time is Scorsese on speed, this is Scorsese on all the drugs.
13. Inception (2010)
I think we take Nolan for granted. Sure we love his films and we all look forward to his next project but I don’t think a single one of us realizes how special it is that he does what he does. What a gift to cinema this man is. Big budgeted, high concept genre films are such a rarity, and since he’s pretty much the only one doing them, his films are almost a genre unto themselves. His brand of blockbuster — the crowd pleasing popcorn flick with a brain — has been done before but they’re almost always one offs. Nolan has been making them for damn near his entire career.
Mashing up every kind of film the director loves, Inception is a cinematic chimera of awesomeness. It’s a heist film with James Bond and William Gibson-esque elements set within dreams. It’s a heady sci-fi flick with some of the best and most inventive set pieces since The Matrix. It’s smart, it’s entertaining and it’s wildly original. His films, Inception in particular, are operating on such a different level than everything else at the time and that came before, the adage “they don’t make them like they used to”, doesn’t even apply to him. That adage is true for Hollywood in general but history will have a new saying after Nolan is gone: “They didn’t make them like Nolan.”
12. Drive (2011)
If I controlled the dictionary, I would replace the definitions of certain words with just pictures or gifs because while those old fucks Merriam and Webster have done a pretty solid job thus far, Refn just rewrote the meaning of cool. Instead of reading some long winded definition by some old geezer, future generations need to only look at a 4 minute clip of Gosling driving a cool car in his Scorpio Rising inspired jacket, toothpick in mouth, while Nightcall plays on the radio, to understand what cool means.
Drive isn’t just a cool movie, it is cool. It is the cinematic embodiment of cool. It’s a film that does the ol’ Patrick Swayze, “one for him, one for her” combo but in the same movie. It is a visceral action film with a good amount of violence and car chases, which appeals to the fellas but it also has a tender unrequited love story for the ladies. It has the sexy guy from the Notebook (for the ladies) brutally stomp to death some assassins (for the guys) in order to protect a girl he likes (again, for the ladies). Few films can merge two different genres that appeal to both men and women but Drive does so effortlessly. It’ll make you wince, it’ll make you swoon but more importantly, it’ll make you go out and buy the soundtrack and that jacket to get just a modicum of the film’s coolness.
11. Her (2013)
After years of directing nothing but Charlie Kaufman penned screenplays, Spike Jonze finally decided to write one of his own. The end result being Her, a charming and sublime romance that has a premise so strange and unique, it’s easy to make parallels to his former collaborator’s work due to his penchant for the fantastical but while the film is out there, it never alienates the audience. It’s a love story between a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) and an A.I. operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that’s played completely straight. Much like the equally bizarre love stories at the center of The Shape of Water or Spring, you never once question the romance. Because Phoenix is so earnest and lovably lonesome and because Johansson is so supportive and caring, you immediately buy why and how a man, this man, could fall for his phone. Her is the definitive love story of the technological age.
What have you thought of the selection so far? Have there been any noticeable snubs? What do you think will be in the Top 10?