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.
30. Django Unchained (2012)
Considering he’s listed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly among his top favorite films, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Tarantino directed a western. Him tackling a genre he holds in high regard wasn’t a surprise to anyone; it was a damn near an inevitability but few could’ve predicted he would make this kind of western. Instead of drawing upon the John Ford model or diving into the Spaghetti Western subgenre like everyone predicted, he instead set Django Unchained in the antebellum South, where films like Mandingo, Drum and The Legend of Nigger Charley were set.
Mashing together Spaghetti Western tropes, German folklore and modern rap music while simultaneously depicting the horrors of slavery, is such Tarantino thing, it’s the only type of western Tarantino could make. Blending the real with the outlandish and the hyper violent with the cartoonishly over the top is his stock in trade and it’s never never suited him better as it does in this film. This is the first time he gets to be as nasty as he wants to be without any repercussions due to the fact that A) slavery truly was that horrific and B) nobody is going to complain that some slave owners are getting massacred. Putting all of his stylistic mastery into good use, QT made an exploitation film that has real targets, a blaxploitation film with great characters and a history lesson that doesn’t sugar coat the past. It’s a revenge story, a love story, an ultra bloody fable and a great western tale all rolled up into one.
29. The Favourite (2018)
At first glance, The Favourite looks like any other period drama. It employs the same genre trappings as say a Barry Lyndon — immaculate set design, gorgeous costumes, beautiful cinematography and highbrow accents — but every so often, an idiosyncratic element will pop up to remind you that this isn’t your typical period drama. It is directed by the guy who made The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer after all. Besides the fish eyed lenses and occasional modernized dancing, the story — centered on two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) trying to backstab and outwit each other as they try and manipulate the queen (Olivia Coleman) for their own personal gain — feels far more progressive than history would’ve allowed.
Bordering on a sub/dom relationship, the love triangle is as tantalising as it is complicated. Watching Stone’s wolf try and manipulate her way into the ornate henhouse is a delight, until it isn’t. The way in which she plays everyone around her and how secrets and sex are used as currency, is gratifying until you realize the two she’s ruining, who from the outset look like terrible people, might actually be in love. It’s a wicked black comedy only Yorgos could make.
28. The Shape of Water (2017)
When Guillermo del Toro first saw the Creature From the Black Lagoon as a child, he was left crestfallen. Not because the creature died at the end but because he didn’t end up Julie Adams. He carried that emotional devastation with him for decades until he was able to rewrite cinematic history and give the Creature the happy ending it always deserved. He gave it a love story. Even though it’s been criticized for being derivative and outright sued because it allegedly stole the premise from an old obscure play or some shit, The Shape of Water is 100% del Toro. It’s critics and attackers have no leg to stand on because while it’s kinda sorta similar to other stories, it’s wholly original in its approach. It’s a weird as hell modern day fairy tale about a lonely mute (Sally Hawkins) falling for a fishman, a bad guy (Michael Shannon) trying to stop her and friends who don’t kink shame her. It’s essentially Beauty and the Beast but with fucking.
27. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Endlessly entertaining, thoroughly engaging and totally delightful, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the simple story about a man and his passion for sushi. Passion may not be a strong enough word. Nor is obsession. In fact, there is no word to adequately describe Jiro’s fixation with the food. You see, for the last 70 or so years, Jiro has dedicated every minute of his waking life to the pursuit of mastery. The mastery of Sushi. Through decades of extreme hard work, strict perfectionism and a drive to be the best, Jiro has become the world’s greatest sushi maker. He has no other passions, no other drives.
Everything else in his life, including his own sons, take a backseat to sushi. His profession is his entire being. He’s so devoted to his craft, that he only takes one day off of work a year. He didn’t even take a day off when he received an award by the President of the United States. It’s a compelling study of a man who built a legacy out of perfectionism and the two sons who are cursed to live in his shadow. His demeanor maybe cold and his parenting a bit controversial but there’s no denying the skill. Whether you end up liking him or not, it’s hard not to be inspired by his work ethic.
26. The Florida Project (2017)
Sean Baker said he was inspired to make this by a real life documentary he saw on the subject and by juxtaposing that real life trauma with that of the Little Rascals. He figured if the Little Rascals were done now, they would be part of the “invisible homeless”, which is another term for the semi permanent residents of motels. And while I can definitely see where the Rascals influenced the film (the kids in this are straight up hooligans), I see a lot of Life is Beautiful as well. For most of the film, we follow a six year old girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and a couple other motel kids, as they run around causing all sorts of havoc, all while the motel manager (Willem Dafoe) tries to keep em out of trouble. That part of the film, is a beautiful slice of life dramedy that isn’t afraid to linger on the day-to-day goings of the motel and its occupants.
But then there’s the other part of the film involving Moonee’s mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, who Baker found on Instagram) and her desperate attempts to stay afloat and to provide, however trivial, some kind of distraction for Moonee. Like the father in Life is Beautiful, Halley is doing whatever she can to distract her daughter from the harsh realities of poverty. She isn’t a great mother, but she’s trying and much like Dafoe’s character, it’s hard not to empathize with her. Even if it’s against your better judgment. You want a better life for her and her kid but you know that’s never going to happen. The Florida Project is a heart wrenching portrait of a family stricken by poverty that you won’t soon forget.
25. Arrival (2016)
No other director had a better run of films last decade than Denis Villeneuve. Each of the six films he made within that decade easily could’ve made the list but I decided to limit it to just two: the ambitious Blade Runner 2049 and the emotional Arrival. In addition to being near perfect masterpieces that happen to be sci-fi stories, both films have a lot in common. Not on a story level mind you (although I’m pretty sure a smarter man than I can find some parallels between the two) but on a technical level.
The films both have immaculately designed shot composition, gorgeously framed cinematography and amazing soundtracks. And they’re both stories with an emotion center that end on a twist. The Blade Runner 2049 reveal is technically more of a plot revelation than an out right twist but within the context of the film, it’s a moment that comes out of nowhere and leaves the main character emotionally fucked up, which ties it directly to Arrival.
After twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, a linguist (Amy Adams) teams up with the military to communicate with the alien lifeforms in order to find out what their intent is. Do they come in peace or are they here to destroy us. The film interweaves its themes (that of memories and the concept of time) within the narrative in such a brilliant way, that its structure itself is the twist. It’s a perfectly constructed story executed flawlessly.
24. Inside Out (2015)
While it was no where near as bad as the 80s were for Disney, the 2010s were not a great decade for Pixar. Of the eleven films they released, only four of them were non-sequels and of that four, only two were good. With each new cash grab sequel and mediocre entry they released, their reputation as the world’s greatest animation studio was becoming less and less ironclad. Just when everyone thought they had lost their ability to make original films filled with magic and emotion, they proved everyone wrong. Enter Inside Out— a film that’s literally nothing but emotion.
Set inside the mind of an eleven year old girl, the film follows Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and some other emotions as they try and deal with the little girl’s uncontrollable mood swings and unpredictable mental state. By making the emotions characters and putting them front and center, the film joins Winnie the Pooh as the only children’s films that I can think of to address the topic and in the case of Inside Out, the only one that tells children it’s ok to be sad.
23. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Based on the true story of musician Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped and enslaved for, you guessed it, twelve years. The film recounts how he was shanghaied, illegally sold and then shipped from one plantation to the next and how, even through all that, he never sacrificed his morality, compromised his ethics or more importantly, gave up. While his journey, and the film for that matter, become increasingly more harrowing and unflinchingly brutal by the minute, the film’s ultimate message isn’t to burden whitey with guilt or to impart a history lesson (even though it accomplishes both) but to show how powerful one man’s spirit is. No matter how bad they beat him, no matter how severe the treatment, Northup never broke. There have been many films that have covered the same subject matter (slavery that is, not specifically Northup) but none have been this fearless in their depictions of realistic violence and none have been this powerfully moving.
22. A Separation (2011)
It’s been proven time and time again, that it isn’t the quality of the story that separates a good storyteller from a bad one, but how they choose to tell it that does. This story could’ve been told a million different ways by a million different writers but it’s how Asghar Farhadi chose to tell it that makes all the difference in the world. A variation of this film’s plot can be found in a ton of Lifetime movies and dime store paperbacks, which proves that a master can turn what is essentially a standard potboiler thriller wrapped up in a marriage drama, into one of the best films ever made.
A married couple (played by Leila Hatami and Peyman Maadi) are contemplating getting a divorce because of her insistence that they move to another country due to the sudden unsafeness of Iran and his reluctance which is born from the need to look after his father, who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s and needs constant supervision. Neither wants a divorce but neither wants to compromise their respective priorities either, so they’re stuck at a stale mate with their daughter in the middle. On top of that, an incident occurs involving a potential murder and a lie to prove one’s innocence that might sever the fragile ties keeping them all together. It’s a brilliantly told custody battle/murder investigation that ranks among the best of foreign cinema.
21. Parasite (2019)
Take the film Borgman but remove the supernatural killer imp man and replace him with an entire family and then add a less bizarre People Under the Stairs subplot and you got Parasite. That’s a completely reductive comparison because it’s far better than those films and because it’s way harder to classify but that’s kinda Parasite in a nutshell. Trying to sell it with the cliched pitch of “it’s this plus that” is futile. It’s a con man thriller that’s part comedy, part social drama that shifts between tones so effortlessly, it also feels part ballet. Like the majority of the director’s work, it deals with the disparity between the rich and the poor but again, it’s way more than that. After every act, you’ll be wondering where the hell the story is going to go but you can’t– it’s impossible to predict the film’s ultimate endgame. It’s shocking without having to resort to twists, unpredictable without feeling manipulative and good god is it suspenseful. It’s one of the few films that out Hitchcock’s Hitchcock.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of the best movies from the 2010s? Maybe they will show up further on the list!