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.
50. Marriage Story (2019)
Marriage Story is the most entertaining film about divorce you’ll ever see. That isn’t to say it isn’t emotionally devastating (which it is) or extremely painful to watch (which it is) but compared to say, Scenes From a Marriage or A Separation or Amour, it’s practically a breezy feel good time. What separates this film from the aforementioned titles and all the other films about the topic, is that at the end of the day, these characters still love each other. This isn’t a film about the slow disintegration of love or a bitter custody trial. It’s a sad character drama about two people who can’t be together anymore.
Even if you side with one character over the other, you’re not left feeling as though either was underdeveloped or underrepresented. Both characters are given equal screen time and are properly motivated and while the film does introduce a plot element to try and even the playing field, your sympathies never wane for that particular character nor are you more on the side of the other. It’s not a film about winners or losers or a good guy trying to win over a villain, like say Kramer vs Kramer. It’s a thoughtful and honest portrayal about what happens after a marriage ends when a child is involved. Both want what’s best for the boy but have two completely different ideas of what that is. Driver and Johansson have never been better and this is far and away the best work by director/writer Noah Baumbauch.
49. Son of Saul (2015)
Before Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane, he originally wanted to do an adaptation of Hearts of Darkness filmed entirely through the point of view of the main character, like the film Hardcore Henry or the Smack My Bitch Up video. The producers thought it was too ambitious and shot it down immediately (I believe their actual words were “bitch, you crazy”), so he scrapped it and decided to troll Hearst instead. Cut to 2015 and Director László Nemes has a similar idea except he doesn’t want to do Hearts of Darkness, he wants to do Schindler’s List and he doesn’t want to shoot in POV but in extreme close-ups. The result is the astonishingly powerful Son of Saul.
Saul (Géza Röhrig) is part of the ‘Sonderkommando’, a group of prisoners in Auschwitz who are tasked with cleaning up the gas chambers, removing the bodies of executed Jews and burning their bodies in the crematorium before the next are sent to their deaths. One of the corpses he has to bury is that of a child boy, a child boy who looks a helluva lot like his son. The rest of the film we follow Saul in his attempts to find a rabbi to give his “son” a proper burial. Whether or not the boy is or is not his actual son, is irrelevant. As is whether or not Saul thinks it is or knows it isn’t. It’s about a desperate man in a desperate situation who desperately wants something to believe in. It’s not about the boy.
The burial of the boy is a burial of sin. A burial of regret and guilt. Beyond whether it’s the right thing to do, it’s the only thing he can do. He’s run out of reasons to keep going and this will give his life purpose. Uniquely shot in that the camera is tight on the actor at all times, never leaving his point of view. Everything in his periphery is blurry and out of focus, which forces you to never take your eyes off of him. It forces us as an audience to bear witness, which is the most important thing a film about the holocaust could do.
48. Looper (2012)
While the dilemma the film presents—which is essentially whether or not you would change the past to save yourself, change the past in order to protect the present or change the present to save the future—is nothing new or novel among time travel films, I don’t think a film has done it as well before or since. Rian Johnson didn’t just craft a well constructed time travel story, he created a unique vision of the future. There’s the silver bars as currency, blunderbusses as means of assassination, people who can levitate coins with their mind and time travel as means of human disposal. There’s a ton of new rules and lexicon you gotta pick up but once you do, it’s off to the races.
Once the film disposes of the exposition (which it does rather quickly), the film starts moving and it never stops. In addition to the remarkable world-building, uncommon story and fantastic lead performances (Willis hasn’t been this good in a long time and probably never will be again), it somehow finds time for a romantic subplot. The two hitmen maybe the stars of the film but Blunt is the film’s true MVP. She commands the screen as effortlessly as fellow sci-fi legends Ripley and Sarah Connor but feels far more real and relatable than either one of them. She’s the glue that holds this film together and helps it pull off a near impossible hat trick: a film that’s equally cool and smart as it is heartfelt.
47. Roma (2018)
Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood maid serves as both a memory piece and a time machine. It transports you back to the 1970s Mexico City of the director’s youth, where the streets were teeming with Chihuahuas, riots were breaking out due to civil unrest and how an ice cream stand and the beach could be as magical as Disneyland. Whether or not the film accurately portrays his home is irrelevant. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a reconstruction of a memory. Cuaron does something here that Tarantino just did with his latest film, he’s creating an alternate history based on a specific time that he loves. Tarantino rewrote Sharon Tate’s tragic demise to give her the life, however fantastical it is, the happy ending it deserves and Cuaron does the same thing but with his maid, but instead of rewriting history to alter a tragedy, he’s creating an empathy piece to better understand her.
There’s a scene late in the film where the main character is at the hospital and the family she’s been taking care of for years is there and not a single one of them knows enough about her to properly fill out her medical forms. I feel as though that scene, in particular, was the impetus behind the making of the film. Whether true or not, I guarantee it was grounded in some reality. The director felt guilt about not knowing more about a woman who obviously made a huge impact on his life, so he decided to tell her story. A story filled with compassion, with love and most importantly respect. The movie loves this woman because he loves this woman and because of that, you will love this woman.
46. The Revenant (2015)
Maybe it’s because there are too many films being released within a year or maybe it’s because everyone with access to the internet suddenly had the power of a critic but I feel as though it’s a lot harder for films to get recognized nowadays and they certainly don’t believe they have the same kinda staying power they once did. The Revenant was a critical darling that was nominated for a staggering twelve Oscars (four of which it won) but I feel as though it’s already slipped from the public consciousness. The only thing people remember about it is the fact that it’s the film DiCaprio finally got his much deserved golden statuette for and for all the “Leo gets raped by a bear” memes it somehow generated. Oh, and that it’s slow and that there’s a ton of shots of trees.
Which makes me wonder how Lawrence of Arabia or Citizen Kane would’ve been received if the internet had been around when those films were released. How anyone could be bored by this film is beyond me. Every twenty minutes there’s another show-stopping set piece, every five or so minutes has either a great scene involving DiCaprio, Hardy or both and every second is filled with some of the best cinematography captured on film. It’s a mythical revenge tale that rivals the poetic lyricism of the best Malick film and the epic grandeur of any Lean masterpiece.
45. Lady Bird (2017)
When it came to great high school dramedies, 2010’s cup runneth over with amazing titles but few hit as hard as Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. Lady Bird is the culmination of all of Gerwig’s work within the mumblecore sub-genre. She took everything she learned from every movie she ever worked on and everything she loved about teenage romcoms and threw it on the screen. The end result is a sweet, deeply personal portrait of female adolescence anchored by phenomenal performances by everyone involved.
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a California high school student who can’t wait to escape from her family and small town by going to college in New York, much to the disapproval of her deeply opinionated and strong-willed mother played by Laurie Metcalf. If the film was just about them and their interactions, it would still be head and shoulders above damn near everything else this decade but Metcalf ain’t the only scene-stealer in this movie. Timothée Chalamet and Beanie Feldstein also make appearances and they’re both great, as per usual. You’d have to go all the way back to 2007’s Juno to find a coming of age film from a newcomer that was this assured, this confident, this well written. And just like that film, Lady Bird will definitely stand the test of time.
44. Green Room (2015)
A white knuckle nail biter, Green Room escalates tension as effectively as pulling back a rubber band on your wrist or slowly cranking a jack in the box. You know something terrible is going to happen but no amount of mental preparation can save you from the inevitable shock. One of the best siege films in recent memory, Green Room is about a punk band that plays a gig at a Nazi club, then witness a murder and then must fight their way out of the deadly lockdown. Taking place in a single location for most of its run time, the film is a claustrophobic nightmare filled with blood and broken bones and vicious violence. It’s a harrowing experience made all the more suspenseful due to the likability of the leads. The punk rockers (which include the late, great Anton Yelchin, the always fantastic Imogen Poots and the underrated Alia Shawcat) have amazing chemistry together and feel like a real band. On the flip side, the Nazis (lead by Patrick Stewart in arguably his greatest screen role) are all believably evil. It’s a relentless thriller that gets under your skin and stays there.
43. Eighth Grade (2018)
This film depicts the life of a middle school girl with such pinpoint accuracy, that if you told me Bo Burnham was actually a thirteen-year-old girl masquerading as a twentysomething-year-old man, I’d believe you. The protagonist at the center of Eighth Grade (Elsie Fisher) is so well written, so wonderfully developed, It’s hard to believe her story is fictitious. It has all the earmarks of an autobiography but that’s impossible since it deals with life in the age of social media which didn’t exist fifteen years ago.
That and the fact that Burnham, as previously established, is not a little girl. Seeing as how he’s an ex-YouTuber, I get why he knows so much about the all consuming nature of social media but how he knows so much about the teenage girl experience, I have no idea but whatever research he did for it paid off. It’s a brutally honest look at the youth of today that makes no judgments, avoids every cliche in the book and never criticizes or looks down at its subject. Every teenager in it (minus one creep) is handled fairly, there are no bullies that pick on the lead and there’s no prank or scandal that ruins her life. It’s just a film about an awkward teen trying to make it through high school. Which as anyone knows, is hard enough.
42. Hell or High Water (2016)
There’s just something about this film that feels like it should exist in the 70s. There’s an alternate universe in which Taylor Sheridan was born way too early and made this film with Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood as the Robin Hood-esque leads and Bruce Dern as the sheriff who’s hot on their trail. It would’ve been hailed as a masterpiece and would be considered one of the great American films of the decade. That’s the reputation this film should have but unfortunately, Sheridan wasn’t born early and those actors didn’t star in it. I say unfortunately not because the film we have is in any way inferior to the imagined one I know would be deemed a classic, but because this one isn’t. The beauty of Hell or High Water is its simplicity. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or try to punch above its weight. It’s about morally ambiguous cowboys stealing from evil banks and the good guys who try and stop them. It’s a good old fashioned western and a great one at that.
41. The Act of Killing (2012)
I say this without a shred of irony or exaggeration, I believe this film might be the single greatest achievement in the arts of the 21st century. The fact that this film exists, is almost unfathomable. Fifty years ago, a million communists were massacred in Indonesia and because of this, the leader of the death squads responsible for these atrocities (Anwar Congo) became a hero and local celebrity. Shedding light on a mass genocide most people had never heard of before, as well as getting some of the men responsible for it to finally talk about the events, would be enough to make this film an important historical document but the film does more than just rely on facts.
It has these men recreate these extremely wicked acts in the style of their favorite films. Some dress like cowboys, some reenact an interrogation as a noir-ish thriller and there’s even a surreal musical number involving a giant fish. Director Joshua Oppenheimer uses art to recontextualize the past and has these men confront what they did for the first time. It, along with its follow up The Look of Silence, is an act of catharsis. The truth has finally been revealed. Who knew all you needed to get mass murders to finally commit to their heinous crimes was a couple of silly hats.
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!