Best Of The 2010s

Compiling a list of the best films of the decade is not as easy as recounting my number one films of the last ten years. In fact, some years rendered no entries on this list at all (2012, 2018), while others have multiple inclusions (2011, 2016). Time is also a factor, as not all movies age well, even in less than 10 years. Thus in some cases it wasn't even my number one movie of the year that endured -- it was a film lower on the list.

Not on the list, but worthy of mention when discussing the decade, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has released 23 movies since 2008. Its broad appeal, homogenized style, and visual splendor consistently captivated audiences; in total, the films earned roughly $22.6 billion worldwide. This success, and the rip-offs it inspired, dealt the biggest blow to adult dramas, many of which are now accessed on a streaming service rather than the big screen.

Curiously, though, more than half the films on this list of the ten best movies of the 2010s are dramas, which suggests there are still essential stories to be told, regardless of where they are seen. Note: next to each title is its ranking on my list of the top ten movies of its year.

10) The Martian (#1 in 2015)
A work of sci-fi perfection from director Ridley Scott, the man who also gave us the sci-fi classics “Alien” and “Blade Runner.” The visual effects, production design, musical score and more were top notch, but it was Matt Damon’s performance as the astronaut abandoned on Mars, Mark Watney, that made the film great. Consider: He spends a substantial amount of screen time alone, so if we don’t like and root for him, the entire premise becomes faulty. But we do, and my goodness was the film awesome.

9) A Separation (unlisted in 2011; not available for screening prior to creation of the top ten list)
It earned Iran’s first Oscar of any kind (for Foreign Language Film), but more importantly it has endured because (like so many movies on this list) its themes are timeless. Care for an elderly loved one, civil misunderstandings, and a couple’s communication breakdown are at the heart of the story, but so are the norms of Islamic culture, and figuring out the ambiguities of legal and moral right and wrong.

8) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (#1 in 2017)
Frances McDormand’s tour-de-force performance was the highlight, but the work of Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson should not be overlooked (McDormand and Rockwell won Oscars for this). Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s acerbic and witty script, combined with the performances, perfect pacing and clever twists, created an idea dramatic film.

7) Inception (#1 in 2010)
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller only gets better with repeated viewings. The layers, depth of thought, and master craftsmanship of all elements of filmmaking are astonishing. What’s also great is that in the decade that’s followed Nolan has tried to top himself with each new film, and often comes close. Someday, we can only hope, he will.

6) Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol (#5 in 2011)
My palms still sweat at the sight of Tom Cruise dangling from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Of course the film, the fourth in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, was much more than daring stunts. The plot was smart without being overcomplicated, every action scene was extraordinary, and overall it remains an exhilarating viewing experience. Every film (except the second one) in this franchise has been at least good, and this was undoubtedly great.

5) The Insult (unlisted in 2017; not available for screening prior to creation of the top ten list)
In this Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee from Lebanon, a minor verbal spat along ethnic and religious lines escalated into a wonderfully written and acted national dispute in which neither side was entirely right or wrong. The film was thought provoking, moving, and all-around terrific.

4) Whiplash (#1 in 2014)
J.K. Simmons’ Oscar-winning performance steals the show, but at its core was  the question of what Miles Teller’s aspiring drummer, Andrew, was willing to sacrifice for greatness. What’s inherently fascinating was that some will understand why Simmons’ Fletcher does what he does, while others will easily dismiss him as cruel, not realizing that Andrew was willing to do whatever it took to be great (though yes, he certainly wished Fletcher’s methods weren’t abusive).

3) O.J. Made In America (#3 in 2016)
Outside of the work of Ken Burns, this remains the best documentary ever made. Its incisive look at not just O.J. Simpson but American society as a whole maintains an eerie relevance to this day, and its truths are not a good look, to be sure.

2) 12 Years A Slave (#1 in 2013)
Without a doubt, the best movie ever made about slavery. It is a film that has stayed with me, haunted my dreams. By focusing on a free man’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) horrid experience as a slave it became even more infuriating, and even more unfathomable, that such atrocities could occur. For good and bad reasons the movie is unforgettable, which is exactly how it should be.

1) La La Land (#1 in 2016)
To this day it's the only film I've ever dared describe as "a new classic" upon its release. It was at once a beautiful homage to classic Hollywood musicals, and a lovely Hollywood musical on its own, with a twist. It’s earnest, sentimental, and daring, and still chokes me up every time I watch it. How I still love it so.

Honorable Mention:
“Marriage Story” (#1 in 2019) was the best movie about divorce since “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979); “Ready Player One” (#3 in 2018) was still the perfect package of ‘80s nostalgia and new age excitement; “Eighth Grade” (#1 in 2018) was arguably the best movie ever made about the horrors of middle school; “Hell or High Water” (#4 in 2016) remains an absolute delight for the waitress scene alone; “Nocturnal Animals" (#8 in 2016) is still one of the best movies I've seen about art and its subjectivity; the style, performances and ambiance of “American Hustle” (#2 in 2013) were an exuberant thrill; the last half hour of “Argo” (#1 in 2012) was among the most suspenseful sequences ever filmed; “Warrior” (#1 in 2011) was a heartbreaking story about two MMA fighter brothers and their terrible father; and Darren Aronofsky’s vivid, surreal “Black Swan” (#2 in 2010) earned Natalie Portman a Best Actress Oscar, and was an ingenious mind trip for the rest of us.