Even with 50 entries ahead of us, our Best Films of the Decade list was a herculean task to take on for our writers, as it was hard to limit ourselves. Each and every year has had its share of wealth for film fans and while there are some notable titles missing from our list that may differentiate it from others populating the interweb at this point in time, it is undeniably a true representation of our ideals as a group and our shared passion for an eclectic group of films. New and old filmmakers from around the world are represented, along with a versatile group of perspectives. As the world grows bleaker and the need for pure escapism seems all the more dire, the list ahead is a good example of the transgressive nature of cinema and how we’re able to unite beneath the understanding of art and how it can and will mold you into someone of empathy if you look beyond your nearby multiplex .
In this list you’ll find horror and straight comedy, westerns and innovative science-fiction alongside our favorite sequels, superheroes and a romantic-comedy or two. We may have had to draw the line at 50, but we didn’t stamper our want to showcase as wide variety as we could. The decade may be coming to a close, and perhaps there will be a few other titles that might’ve snuck their way onto this list, but for now, here is our Top 50 Films of the 2010’s.
50. Hell or High Water (2016)
For a genre that used to rule cinemas decades ago, modern Westerns seem like a diamond in the rough. So rarely are they done nowadays that one might forget whether they’re good just for nostalgia’s sake or good on its own merits. Fortunately, Hell or High Water is one of the finest examples of a modern-day Western to come out since its heyday in the 20th century. Written by expert analyzer of American machismo, Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Wind River), the movie focuses on the bonds of a pair of brothers: one pair bonded by blood and one by badge. The former being grisly bank robbers (Ben Foster and a never-better Chris Pine) trying to keep possession of their family ranch, while the latter are two Texas Rangers (career-best Gil Birmingham and icon Jeff Bridges) at the end of their careers looking for one last big bust. In the midst of car chases and bank robberies and a climactic shootout that Heat would tip its cap to is a story about age and what that does to the soul of a man. It can turn a man as bitter and dry and empty as the West Texas roadway director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) gives a soul to. Hell or High Water takes a faded film genre and turns into a fitting tribute to the failures of the American dream. [Jon Winkler]
49. Attack the Block (2011)
To the aliens raining down South London: Uh oh, you’re in trouble, for Moses’ crew is prepping a smashing hello! On top of the thunderous energy, sharp laughs, distinct creature design (bioluminescent vantablack primate-esque extraterrestrials in heat — what?!) and joyful narrative navigations, this uber-British introduction to writer-director Joe Cornish, actor John Boyega and composer Steven Price also presents tangible addresses about class and the heroism within that lends admirable replay value. So when someone you know suggests this cult hit for movie night, you best — and this must be stressed — allow it. [Nguyen Le]
48. Inside Out (2015)
Inside Out premiered at the midpoint of the 20teens, and in many ways it represents the mood and colorful boldness of the time, where animated films could effectively challenge audiences to reconsider their feelings, metaphorically and figuratively. A film essentially about mental health aimed towards kids has to have a lot on its mind to work, and in such a fashion, Inside Out not only carried out this task beautifully, it actually raised the bar. Its primary-color characters, Joy and Sadness, were like dueling forces of nature over the soul of a child, evoking the mysterious challenges of parenthood while also connecting authentically with the children themselves.
It’s through this sentimentality and shared understanding that Inside Out effectively connects generations through the powerful, wonderful, storytelling Pixar has always been relied upon to present, even in a decade filled with efforts of more varying quality than the era before it. Pete Docter, Jonas Rivera, and the many other filmmakers, animators, and voice actors who worked tirelessly on this project for five years deserve commendation for their painstakingly honest portrayal of how all emotions working together make us human, regardless of our age, background, and indeed, temperament. And Inside Out perfectly captures what the world loves most about animated films, especially these days, and that is the act of love itself through films made to bring us all closer together. [Jon Negroni]
47. The Master (2012)
Summing up The Master in one word is a fool’s errand, but perhaps we can at least settle on prescient. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 feature film about a WWII veteran, played by Joaquin Phoenix, venturing into the off-putting complexities of a cult leader, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a wonder-work of how the most extreme examples of organized religion can be undone by their own logic when a chaotic factor is introduced.
Even the most mainstream religions have been poked and prodded by good films in the last decade, but The Master is the best one to experience as both an outsider and insider to these philosophies. The film arrived years before the American political system would be upended by you-know-who, but it’s altogether refreshing for films of this kind to archive the dusted proverb what is new under the sun may in fact be nothing at all.
We want someone to solve all our problems with easy answers and bring relief to what breaks us. And in many cases, the only person willing to take on the personal action required is a charlatan. When it comes to examining the process of indoctrination through surrogate parental dynamics, The Master lives up to its own name. Anderson’s script is a relentless, unflinching testament of how our preconceived notions of the soul deserves to be tested, and how it is more possible than ever for redemption to be nothing more than a fantasy. Maybe even a sham. [Jon Negroni]
46. Prisoners (2013)
To call Prisoners this decade’s Gone Baby Gone is an understatement if only because the point of comparison begins and ends with a mystery thriller about child abduction of a certain intensity. But in addition to that, at it’s time of release it lacked the same kind of high profile directing and performance, as evidenced by Hugh Jackman as the top billing performer. As Denis Villeneuve’s break out fourth turn, and as his first collaboration with renowned cinematographer Roger Deakens, is undoubtedly a film where the original screenplay and strong visuals create a foundation of tension and drama. The screenplay was the first original work by writer Aaron Guzikowski, who’s award winning script took years to be made, but its powerful material is carried through with equally intense performances by Jackman as the girl’s father, Jake Gyllanhaal as a police detective and Paul Dano as the suspected abductor. The film’s subject matter makes it a hard recommendation for some, but it takes a very human approach in portraying the story’s main characters and the unbearably painful, imperfect nature of them. It’s a film where the results are more than the sum of their parts, and creates one of the most intense cinematic thrillers of the 2010s. [Evan Griffin]
45. Tree of Life (2011)
Even almost a decade later, it seems incredible that Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life actually happened. How on earth did a philosophical experimental art film snag a cast of Hollywood A-listers including Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain, become the only American film to win the Cannes Palme d’Or in the last 15 years, and come within spitting distance of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture? (For the record, it was beaten for that last honor by Thomas Langmann’s The Artist, a film most people had forgotten about by the time of the ceremony.) And all the while blending in esoteric sequences of the Big Bang, scenes of dinosaurs, and shots of sunflower fields, church ceilings, and waterfalls. The Tree of Life defies easy explanation or classification, tentatively focusing on the childhood of two brothers in 1950s Texas but branching out to become a haunting rumination on life, love, and the meaning of existence. Malick’s cryptic techniques and decentralized narrative so baffled audiences that some theaters posted disclaimers at their box offices warning away folks who wanted simple, digestible entertainment. An authentic cinematic prayer, The Tree of Life also signaled the start of the Decade of Malick where the infamous auteur who’d previously averaged one film every nine and a half years experienced a burst of creativity resulting in no less than six releases in the span of only eight, solidifying him as one of the decades most ubiquitous (and occasionally frustrating) auteurs. [Nathanael Hood]
44. Under the Skin (2013)
With stunning visuals and an equally riveting performance from Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin is a science-fiction opus that is equal parts haunting and somber. Under the Skin is purposefully alienating, both visually and within its script. Its visual presentation, alongside an indelibly atmospheric score from composer Mica Levi, give the film a distinct presence almost immediately.
This film is all about loneliness and becoming accustomed to a new home through the eyes of a literal alien. Act one of Under the Skin is a beautifully paced slow burn that sets up the rest of the film’s observations about humanity. Johansson, or “The Female” as she is known as, views the humans in the eyes of an outsider. She seems at first to be a predator, luring unsuspecting men into her embrace but as the film progresses, she begins to question her own motives and new questions start to arise. She has to ultimately wrestle with her newfound humanity and the tendency to stay dissociated and estranged.The harrowing imagery that accompanies the story along Levi’s minimalist score just exacerbates the underlying tension. [Mark Wesley]
43. Parasite (2019)
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a once-in-a-lifetime film; there have rarely been such forward-thinking, genre-hopping, awe-inducing displays of powerful storytelling as this South Korean wonder. Bong is not a stranger to exploring class dynamics, his entire filmography is replete with solid depictions of this divide, spanning several genres and aesthetic approaches. In this film, he collects a whole universe of visual and narrative tools and puts them all to work, in a manner that is both architecturally calculated and unpredictably fluid. Bong’s directorial arsenal includes heist film chronologies, Kubrick’s precise development, Hitchcock’s rhythmic exuberance, Claude Chabrol’s crude expressions of discomfort, and of course, the ominousness of decades of Asian horror, but the way all of these ingredients are used in complete harmony and put to the service of a solid, multi-dimensional story are his own. With Parasite, the Korean creator has perhaps invented a new school of filmic thought. The future of film seems so exciting after this. [Leonel Manzanares]
42. The Rider (2018)
Maybe the saddle doesn’t always deserve a comeback. In Chloé Zhao’s second feature about overlooked lives on star-spangled soils, after Songs My Brothers Taught Me, the cowboy (Brady Jandreau) and the traits that usually defined him are challenged with piercing subtlety. The danger has passed and the damage has been dealt, but the film’s journey is still a roller-coaster in more ways than one, especially when the performers are playing themselves and the way they portray that to us contains minimal-to-no illusion. A beautiful westerner’s sunset, and also a slice-of-life absolutely worth observing. [Nguyen Le]
41. The Shape of Water (2017)
What a wonderful world we live in where a film like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a Cold War fairy tale about love, disability, and authoritarianism would not only become a smash hit financially, win both the Golden Lion at Venice and the Oscar for Best Picture, but become a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Yes, many may have been drawn to the film by rumors of freaky fish sex—and del Toro certainly obliges—but if that was all the film offered it would’ve disappeared as quickly as it arrived. Not so for this love letter to classic movie monsters and Hollywood romantic melodramas. The film follows Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor in 1960s Baltimore who discovers a lizard-like Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) in the secret government laboratory she’s employed to clean. After helping him escape, the two outsiders fall in love and go on the run from the ruthless US Colonel charged with recapturing the “asset”…by any means necessary. But The Shape of Water does more than give audiences a simple “lovers on the run” story, instead using the plot as a springboard to dissect Cold War paranoia, racism, homophobia, and ableism. But even if one foolishly ignored its story and politics, they would still be awestruck by the sheer technical caliber of the filmmaking: Dan Laustsen’s storybook cinematography; Alexandre Desplat’s yearning music; the exquisite art direction; Hawkins and Jones’ anguished mute performances. For once, it seems, the awards all went to the right movie. [Nathanael Hood]
40. Bridesmaids (2011)
Bridesmaids does that rare thing where it centers the friendships between women. It examines the vulnerability and resentment that comes with a changing friendship, while exploring the importance of its role in life and the reluctance in letting said friendship evolve. Bridesmaids is an amalgamation of genuine comedy and introspection, grounded by the events leading up to the wedding. The film seamlessly weaves together laugh-out-loud comedy with the spiraling mental state and sadness of Kristen Wiig’s Annie Walker. Tasked as Maid of Honor in the wedding of her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), Annie’s lowkey plans for her friend’s bachelorette festivities are turned upside down after she’s one-upped by the rich, controlling Helen (Rose Byrne). However, the real struggle is watching Annie face the loss of her job, her business, and her best friend one right after the other. As her misery grows, it begins to seep into every facet of her life. It’s hard to properly convey interiority onscreen without losing a sense of thoughtful intimacy. But, Bridesmaids, whether intentionally or not, manages to convey it with tremendous nuance. The film delves into Annie’s myriad of emotions, centers womens’ friendships, and never fails to keep us laughing at every turn. A true classic. [Mae Abdulbaki]
39. American Honey (2016)
Cast in a warm, golden glow that offsets much of the trauma our leading lady endures in Andrea Arnold’s addition to the Americanah ouvere, American Honey doesn’t so much as whack you with an emotional wallop as it seeps deep into your skin. Sasha Lane is a revelation and Shia LaBeouf further demonstrates his uncanny ability to inject humanity into depictions of quiet toxic masculinity, the two weaving together a relationship that hinges on their first meeting set to Rhianna’s “We Found Love” in a middle America Big Box store. It’s vacant, powerful and looks awfully human under the bright fluorescent lights. Shot by Robbie Ryan, his work along with Arnold’s best, most profound direction to date creates an image straight out of a fairytale which makes the grim reality all the more potent as you think back of the image of Lane’s character sinking into than emerging from the water, borne anew and hopefully for the better. [Allyson Johnson]
38. Columbus (2017)
The first time I watched this movie was on my phone, which I know to every cinephile is a great sin. However, even on the (very) small screen, the grandness of Columbus was entirely evident and absolutely absorbing. Director Kogonada knows how to frame a scene so sumptuously that it makes the screen you are watching the film irrelevant. With a regard to the beautiful, clean lines of the architecture featured, Columbus explores the human condition, that of love and relationships that may never move in clean lines but are as vast as the architectural structures we see. With such a sparse setting, wide shots of empty buildings, it is amazing how Columbus creates a tender intimate atmosphere. Much of that warmth is attributed to a lovely performance by Haley Lu Richardson, whose natural charisma fills up the screen. John Cho, whose quiet sincerity and charm is a perfect chemical match to Richardson. Together, they help Columbus reach to a heart-stopping crescendo. It’s movie that starts slow, artfully composed to build upon each frame, moment, and interaction to create an indelible cinematic experience.[Gabrielle Bondi]
37. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Rian Johnson made the best Star Wars film. While The Force Awakens was a perfectly performed ode to the series before it (and was, in its own right, excellent) Johnson delivered upon an unspoken promise to make something new with the latest trilogy. Slight hiccups aside with certain characters, Star Wars: The Last Jedi asked tough questions about hero worship and idolization, about what constitutes true darkness and just how thin that line between light and dark really is. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver perform with tremendous chemistry and the fight choreography which they execute later in the film is an example of a filmmaker pulling from the archives of cinema to create something innovative and fresh. A sense of urgency drives the film and ends on a note of poignancy when, a series based on the significance of legacy and lineage, takes a quiet moment to suggest that great power can come from the unlikeliest of places and can be brought forth from anyone, no matter your parentage. [Allyson Johnson]
36. Weekend (2011)
Director Andrew Haigh has proved himself on multiple occasions. From the cold removal of 45 Years, the dread of loneliness in Lean on Pete or the awkwardness of dating and warmth of camaraderie in television series Looking, Haigh has shown himself an astute and versatile director. However, his best is still the one that broke him onto the scene, due to a magical synergy of creative outputs. Haigh’s honest and raw screenplay, his direction which made sure to center us strictly in the thrux of this mile per minute relationship and physical exploration, and the tremendous work done by performers Chris New and particularly Tom Cullen build a small idea into a world all in its own. At moments somber when we realize how alone these two men were prior to their random hookup and others deeply romantic in its silence, the film is a meditation on human connections and just how integral they are. The last scene leaves the audience on just the right note too, keeping us finally at an arm’s reach as these two men share one, possibly last, moment together in a deep embrace. [Allyson Johnson]
35. Before Midnight (2013)
In 2013 director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy returned once again to their romantic film saga this time nine years after Before Sunset. Instead of taking the easy, “happily ever after” route, Linklater writes the script in tandem with Delpy and Hawke, crafting a story centered around the messiness and reality of love and marriage. This includes the fallout of Jesse leaving a marriage and a child for another woman and life in another continent, and how relationships and intimacy can evolve and change over time. In the longest scene of the film, and one of the greatest dialogue exchanges in cinema history, Jesse and Celine are in a hotel room on a short retreat to rekindle their romance and just before they collapse on the bed together in a fit of passion, they deflate into a big argument, one that will have an impact on how they move forward together. But in it, they are expressing all sorts of complicated emotions; regret, resentment, sadness, lust and desire all of them and more revolving around, in and out from one another. This is never overwhelming either, it is the enactment of two people who have loved and do love each other expressing their own emotional truth after so much history and time spent as a pair. It is unfailingly honest and allows the films final silent moments to hold all the more meaning and poignancy. [Grant Jonsson]
34. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
It seems incredible—and not just a little frustrating—that a director’s first feature film could be as confident, as assured, as mesmeric as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. Shot on location in Louisiana with a largely non-professional cast of actors, the film is a phantasmagoric swirl of color, music, and emotion that plays like a witch’s brew of Creole folklore and kindergarten fantasy. It’s the coming-of-age story of six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis in her debut role), a young girl living in an isolated bayou community called the “Bathtub” with her devoted but emotionally unstable father Wink (Dwight Henry). As their community is devastated by a terrible storm reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, Hushpuppy struggles to keep her sense of self intact as her tight-knit community fragments and her father’s health starts deteriorating. The film’s ultimate coup comes in its astonishing blend of cultural anthropology and magical realism, alternating faux-cinéma vérité observations of rural poverty with Hushpuppy’s daydreams of giant, antediluvian aurochs awakening from an Ice Age prison. The effect is a perfect encapsulation of—to hazard a painfully overused, over-abused, and groan-inducing term—the magic of childhood. Here is a film that remembers how it was to be a child and know that you’re seeing the world for the first time in all its majesty and horror; when one believed they could still swim the ocean to freedom or stare down monsters just because the world hadn’t told them they couldn’t yet. [Nathanael Hood]
33. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Before Steve McQueen directed the excellent and underappreciated Widows, he directed the phenomenal 12 Years a Slave which examined the gross cruelty of slavery with nuance most films regarding the subject lack. It was a dark chapter in American history, the effects of which have reverberated through time, and 12 Years a Slave is able to capture anguish, pain, and the brutality of the institution. Intimate and compelling, John Ridley’s script is captivating in its intensity and forthcoming in capturing the experience of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in all its rawness and heartbreaking emotion. Never does the film feel exploitative, either. Rather, 12 Years a Slave is grounded in its indelible and unrepentant fear, never letting up on the frightening terror that encompasses Solomon and the plantation slaves’ lives. Even the exploration of Solomon as a former free Black man living among those who have never experienced such privilege presents a multifaceted and complicated conflict within the story. Elevated by the passionate and heartbreaking performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o and the wickedness of Michael Fassbender’s, 12 Years a Slave is meticulously crafted and gut-wrenching in a way that doesn’t sugarcoat the events of history, but lays it out in excruciating realness for all to see. [Mae Abdulbaki]
32. Beyond the Lights (2014)
Without the emotional vibrancy that is Gugu Mbatha-Raw in front of the camera and the humanistic approach of director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Beyond the Lights might’ve fallen into melodrama. Instead, it’s a stirring depiction of what it means to be trapped in a reality not of your making, under the scrutiny of never replenishable expectations. It’s also a moving romance, one soured by Raw’s acting partner who need not be named, but her shoulders are where the weight of the story lies anyway and she is, as we’ve come to expect of her, superb, almost painfully vulnerable. The music is sublime and the film is shot with a music video shine by Tami Reiker. Again though, it’s a two hander between Bythewood and Raw, both of whom who, at that point at least, had never been better, both injecting the film with a sun kissed warmth that made for one of the most engaging romantic dramas of the decade. [Allyson Johnson]
31. Your Name (2016)
Much to his disdain, Japanese animator Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as the next Hayao Miyazaki. He has been heavily regarded in the animation world for his beautiful stories of friendship and tragic romances. But the comparison seems to stem from his 2016 film, Your Name which has been deemed one of the greatest anime films of all time.
Taki and Mitsuha are two completely different teenagers living in completely different parts of Japan. Taki lives in urban Tokyo, while Mitsuha lives in the fictional rural town of Itomori. One day, they wake up having mysteriously switched bodies. The film plays out like a wacky body-switching comedy but soon turns into a heart wrenching romance that shows how far one is willing to go to save a loved one. Shinkai’s past films have illustrated the concept of distance in both a metaphorical and literal way. Your Name combines both ideals by illustrating a long-distance relationship using concepts from Shintoism. Taki and Mitsuha may be separated by distance, but their love for one another literally saves them. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
30. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
There have been enough coming-of-age dramas in recent years to fill a list like this hundreds of times over, but there is perhaps no more potent a love story of this decade than Call Me By Your Name from director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory, based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman.
Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer as unlikely lovers vacationing in the sun-scorched rural villas of Italy, Call Me By Your Name chronicles all of the stages of romance known by film lovers since the earliest days of the medium. But where this drama stands apart is in its equal and utter devotion to the sensory revival of emotion, where every scene is effortlessly dripping with sight, sound, smell, and taste without a single moment of interruption in the memorial spell cast by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom.
In Call Me By Your Name, characters don’t come and go, nor do they exist in a vacuum occupied by the headspace of single person. Instead, Elio and Oliver drift and come together in their own little worlds, and we’re gifted with the experience of feeling their story in all senses of the word. It would be enough for Call Me By Your Name to finish its complete thought with an ambiguous ending of hope, or something similarly treacly. Instead, the film ends as it begins; with raw, uncompromising emotion, incapable of hitting a false note. [Jon Negroni]
29. Drive (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a film that survives by the reputation of a sense of style bleeding through a film that was so refreshing to see in 2012 and is arguably a career turning role for Ryan Gosling. The immersive cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel, combined with Red Hot Chili Peppers Drummer-turned-Film-Score-Composer Cliff Martinez illustrate the night scape of Los Angeles from the view of The Driver’s windshield in almost a dream like, neon pulp fantasy throwback to cops and robbers b-movies and mystery novels of decades past. In the midst of it’s seeping stylish veneer, the film sheds light onto wonderful character actors like Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman, and introduced many filmgoers to Carey Mulligan and Oscar Isaac for the first time. It may not be the most cohesive package of an action movie that people were sold on initially, but reflecting on Drive upon the decade’s closure reminds us how it’s still talked about to this day for rewarding viewers who are patient with its pacing, and with its characters, and how it says so much more with a lot less in the pages of the screenplay through understated performance. The real thrill of the film is how it builds to a shocking and violent crescendo with the beautifully ugly skyline of LA at midnight serving its haunting backdrop. [Evan Griffin]
28. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)
Edgar Wright’s passionate whirlwind of an adaptation of the six part comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley has evolved from opening in August of 2010 in 5th place Domestic Box office to one of the most quickly successful cult classics of a generation. It is a film that is a love letter to all things related to comic books, video games, movies and being a hipster more than anything else, and is packed to the absolute brim with tongue in cheek detail. Edgar Wright truly has a masterful turn showcasing such technical magic that Scott Pilgrim vs The World is undoubtedly one of the most true film adaptations to a source material ever made, and yet it is so much more. The way it is edited, the way that subtle jokes are made, references and jokes in the background of the frame, and even sound effects and music edits throughout are a pure joy to rewatch and dissect. Even more so than the main characters in (500) Days of Summer, Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona Flowers display the true awkward nature of insecure men aggressively putting unrealistic expectations on women, and how it affects their world and the people around them in the shape of one of the strongest ensemble supporting casts from Anna Kendrick to Kieran Culkin, and the demons that follow them in the form of evil Ex Boyfriends and Girlfriends from Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman and so many others. It’s a film that understands the awkward nature of being a millennial, the structure of video games, and of comedy, and even more so, it understands film fans. It bleeds love for all of these things from every frame. [Evan Griffin]
27. Arrival (2016)
To have multiple films by Denis Villeneuve on such a list should speak to the quality of his work alone, but Arrival is evident of his ability to take elements like a high caliber cast and a really good script and concept, and weaponize it into an intelligent piece of art that appeals to fans across all kinds of genres. Arrival is a moody dramatic film, it is about language barriers, it is about human nature, it’s about interstellar space squids, it’s about the theory and relativity of time itself, and all of it is edited into a package that balances such themes in an approachable way that does not overstay its welcome. Amy Adams gives one of her greatest performances in a film where she spends half of it perceiving time like a Kurt Vonnegut character, and also conversing with non-verbal digital characters, and none of it feels like it diminishes the experience, and Adams’ performance keeps viewers on their toes. It’s the kind of science fiction of olde that reminds us of the questions posed by the works of Isaac Asimov and George Orwell. It makes a viewer not only consider the film, but it poses questions about the connotations on how and why people communicate and how it affects others. It does this about our present and our past just as much as it does about a distant (or not so distant) future where we communicate with minds not of this Earth, and instead of the usual terror found in films that explores this, it is a mindful, emotional result instead. [Evan Griffin]
26. The Farewell (2019)
In Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, there is a scene where the whole family is at the dinner table and start arguing about the values of raising your child in America versus raising them in China. At that moment, every child of an immigrant was Billy (Awkwafina) and related to her struggles of being too foreign for American standards and too whitewashed for Chinese society.
The Farewell is more than just about grief; it’s also about the feeling of being an outsider in your community and even rejecting your identity because of it. Wang lays it out bare and raw for the audience to take in, and, as a child of an immigrant, it never gets any easier to experience. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
25. You Were Never Really Here (2018)
One of the most harrowing and fresh moments of Lynn Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here is captured purely through security footage. Hired gunman Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is tasked with rescuing a senator’s kidnapped daughter. Antiheroes are nothing new, but Phoenix brings a brutality as well as a vulnerability to the film’s complicated protagonist. His violence is clear, but Ramsey understands when it’s time to pull back, and let the audience’s imagination take it from there. When Joe makes it to the building where the girls are being kept, the near-silent sequence takes place through the green imagery of the security cam footage, where Joe stealthily walks away from each kill he makes. It’s one of the best sequences from this decade, from one of the decade’s best films. It’s a story about violence, but most importantly, it’s a film about compassion. Lynn Ramsey finds there can be a balance between the two, even during the most troubled moments of our lives. [Katey Stoetzel]
24. Lady Bird (2017)
The success of Lady Bird seemed to take many people by surprise. If you had any familiarity with its writer and director, Greta Gerwig, however, I doubt you were as startled. Although she may seem like a sudden success, Gerwig had been working as an actress, writer, and occasional director for over a decade before she debuted her first feature. Her scripts with Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha, and Mistress America in particular, proved her as a multi-talented creative who has that truly rare thing: a unique voice. Sure, there have been films about teenagers, and teenage girls made before. But, despite what doubters want to believe none have sounded like Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played so winningly by Saoirse Ronan). An unashamedly opinionated and entitled teen, Lady Bird spends her last year of high school in “boring” Sacramento by trying on any hat she can find. At the same time, Lady Bird constantly comes up against her demanding but genuinely caring mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf, long overdue for this kind of film role), who wants the best for her daughter but doesn’t know how to tell her that. The enviable skill of Gerwig’s storytelling abilities is her swift balancing of naturalistic humor with organic drama and romantic optimism. And although this is Lady Bird’s story, Gerwig gives every single character at least one moment of humanity or insight, to remind us (and eventually Lady Bird) that everyone else is living their own story at the same time as her. Lady Bird is a funny, kind, warm film that reminds us that sometimes simply paying attention shows that you care. [Beth Winchester]
23. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel, in a way, is Peak Wes Anderson. The cast is huge and full of his regulars. The setting is fictional, a composite Central European country full of aesthetic pleasures like cobblestone streets and pastel-painted bakeries. The film is nestled into three timelines, with three corresponding aspect ratios. It’s all a bit more than seems necessary, and yet… it’s Perfect Wes Anderson. Inspired by the stories of Stefan Zweig from the 1920s and ‘30s, Anderson harnesses that very particular Central European trait of pragmatic melancholy amidst said cobblestones and bakeries and turns out his most heartbreaking story. The plot becomes a bit convoluted, with treacherous hitmen and conniving heirs abound, but the central story exists in the mentorship of lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) by Gustave H, the concierge at the titular hotel. Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Gustave is one of his absolute best, and a remarkably light-footed and comedic, yet sharp, portrayal of a deceptively complex character. The two men weave their way through a pre-War Europe, bonding over their similar lack of family in an unstable world. The artifice of this world comes to us through a story read in a book, as recorded by a man who hears the story from Zero. It’s all memories and flashbacks, which suits Anderson’s sometimes distancing artificial effect. The performances are exceedingly warm enough to burn through that distance with the audience and eventually break your heart. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson, at last, found the perfect balance for his heightened style and the ever-present sadness of his characters. [Beth Winchester]
22. Ex Machina (2014)
Living in a time where the line between humanity and technology continues to blur, Ex Machina was one of the first films of this decade to do what most science fiction films should aim to do: challenge the way we live and view these new innovations, while exploring how they can impact our safety, privacy, and freedom. Alex Garland’s directorial debut explores when technology and innovation supersedes humanity. Its spare style lends to creating an atmospheric horror as we watch as a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited by the company’s CEO (Oscar Isaac) to test a new humanoid robot (Alicia Vikander). As the programmer continues to test the robot, her human-like qualities draw him in, making him slowly forgot she is not human. This is acerbated by the CEO’s reclusive and eccentric behavior in which he also exerts control and dominance over his creations and even the programmer. The simple narrative allows Garland the room to visually capture the nuanced performances as well as explore the relationship between humans and their creations. It’s complex and intellectual without a whiff of pretension. Garland doesn’t want to condescend to the viewer, only discover what it means to be human and to be a god, and how that dichotomy is not always what it seems. [Gabrielle Bondi]
21. Tales of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Acting as master filmmaker Isao Takahata’s swan song, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is one of the most luminous, spellbinding and somber films you’ll ever set your eyes on. It lingers, buried so deep under your skin you don’t realize it until you come across an image or hear a note from the score and the flood of emotions that it brought forth nearly drowns you. A story about parental expectations and societal pressures, especially those placed on young women, the film more than anything sets you on the shoulders of our leading lady as she grows to endure, confront and enjoy the world around her, especially as she learns that it’s not an everlasting home that she’s found herself on. From minute one the film is outlined by something bittersweet, as we know that any moment of happiness will be cut down by grief, any sparks of bliss followed by melancholy. It’s a story about remembrance, ironically enough, about holding on to the feelings and emotions you had when the world was big, you were small and every few steps were an adventure. The animation is, unsurprisingly, beautiful as it grows with the film, white space taking up the majority of the screen when Princess is young, her world contained to her family and village friends, before exploding into reams of color as her life moves forward, her emotions outsized for her body, demonstrated in swirls of color that ignite above her. The last piece of the puzzle is the score by Joe Hiashi, which elicits any last emotions you may have been holding inwards, light and airy at the start and devastatingly celestial and orchestral as Princess remembers and recognizes the love of her parents just as she’s having to say goodbye. [Allyson Johnson]
20. Leave No Trace (2018)
Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a quiet, desperate look at the displacement of veterans, as well as the bond between father and daughter. As Will, Ben Foster delivers a powerful performance as a man who’s more comfortable on his own in the woods, but not willing to give up his daughter Tom (Thomasin Mckenzie) either. The two make their home in the forest, fending for themselves, occasionally making trips into town. But perhaps the most moving part of the film is the relationship and tension between father and daughter as they attempt to navigate their new life outside the forest. Sometimes, it’s our actions that have more power than words. As Tom fights for a meaningful life on her own, her understanding of her father leads to great emotional sacrifice. But Granik understands the power in letting these moments play out, and in that, Leave No Trace offers more truth than any film from this past decade. [Katey Stoetzel]
19. Frances Ha (2012)
Frances Ha is a movie that captures the uncertainty that comes for some young adults following college. A slice of life written by director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, the film centers on dancer Frances Halladay following a series of moves and new jobs while she finds meaning in her life during a period where she can’t find any serious work. And yet, despite the sometimes dire situations Frances finds herself in, she never loses sight of who she is or what she wants. The film is shot in monochrome by Baumbach, but Frances’ complex but usually cheerful personality seems to defy that stylistic choice. Music is used sparingly, which makes the few times it appears stand out, particularly a scene where Frances runs through the streets of Chinatown to the tune of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” in a scene inspired by Leos Carax’s “Mauvais Sang”. A sparse movie full of life and vibrance, Frances Ha stands as one of Gerwig’s best performances and one of Baumbach’s best directorial efforts to date. [Ryan Gibbs]
18. A Separation (2011)
Iranian cinema is poetic and raw, often laying out brutal criticisms of modern Iranian society. Whether it’s women’s rights, class inequality, or theocracy, these films do not beat around the bush. Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation deals with all three, circling around the aftermath of a middle-class couple’s divorce. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to move abroad to give her daughter a better life, but her husband, Nader (Payman Naadi) is obligated to stay in Iran to tend to his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.
A Separation lays out the difficulties of living in a theocratic nation, especially when you’re a woman. Sareh Bayat’s Razieh is a tragic character in the film because, despite having a thankless job in caregiving for a man with Alzheimer’s, she is still treated like a lower-class person among the family. She even has to call a religious hotline to ask if it would be sinful to clean a man who has wet himself. Farhadi isn’t compromising in his brutal look at modern Iranian society. To international audiences, it’s shocking what these women have to go through. To him and Iranian watchers, it’s just another Tuesday. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
17. Mustang (2015)
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s feature debut is one of the most harrowing and moving films of the decade. Following five teenage sisters in a small Turkish village, they are bound by the conservative traditions of their culture. After an innocent day at the beach with a group of boys, their grandmother is horrified by their “inappropriate” contact with the opposite sex. Since the girls are orphaned, their grandmother and uncle decide to shelter them, bounding them to the house, taking them out of school, and arranging marriages for them. The girls’ carefree spirits, especially that of one of the younger sisters, are hard to diminish as they do anything to break free and regain some sense of agency. Ergüven beautifully captures this story with an eye for mise-en-scene and talent for directing performances from the young actresses. She also is careful to keep the film focused less on culture and more on the individual, allowing them to form the perspective of the story. It all lends to a film that is both tragic and hopeful, drawing on reality in order to challenge us to face it instead of deny it. [Gabrielle Bondi]
16. Annihilation (2018)
Actors, writers, producers, directors and even audiences got tired of the constant male-dominated production and presentation of films throughout the decades. Change was demanded, therefore demanding more content starring strong, smart women. Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) responded in kind by adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s novel about four women (three scientists and a surveyor) exploring a mysterious realm while relying on their intelligence to solve problems. Annihilation was likely never going to be a general crowd pleaser, but it did show that smart, slow-burn science-fiction didn’t have to be stuck in a boys club. With five strong actors (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny) leading the audience into the gorgeous glow of The Shimmer that’s slowly spreading on Earth, Annihilation phases effortlessly between genres. It’s a creepy thriller, a moody character study and a restrained epic about the destruction and re-discovery of one’s identity. Garland and cinematographer Rob Hardy (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) shoot The Shimmer like a mirror gone sentient, aggressively reflecting the light of humans back at its subjects while the score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury shakes each scene with their warping synthesizers. Annihilation won’t answer every question it offers, but it’s still a hypnotic trip that isn’t afraid to show teeth or challenge the conventions of typical sci-fi fare. [Jon Winkler]
15. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Hurrah for the emergence of the great Taika Waititi! This is not Taika’s first film, but it is the one that helped him break out and get noticed by Marvel Studios before taking on Thor: Ragnorok. Partnering with Flight of the Conchords performer Jermaine Clement, the two direct and star in this mockumentary genre film about the lives of four old vampires living in an old mansion in New Zealand. Comedy and parody are top of mind here, with jabs on the idea of vampire cliches in media as well as direct pokes at the popular Twilight franchise version of the mythical bloodsuckers. The film though never limits itself to simple mockery, it uses the mockumentary style to be completely self aware with constant references to the safety of the human documentary crew and it also brings sympathy and feigned humanity to these vampires with Viago as an example, played by Waititi, yearning for a reunion with a long lost love, one he was to marry before he became a vampire. Any conflict that exists in this story is entirely simple. Vladislav, Deacon and Viago are just three flatmates going through life, drinking blood, fighting with werewolves not swearwolves, and ensuring the vampire race continues on with more and more recruits. Their shenanigans together just happen to come together in one of the funniest movies made in the last decade. [Grant Jonsson]
14. Snowpiercer (2013)
Utopias and dystopias offer us a universe of images, stories, possibilities and expectations that display the complexities of the human spirit in the face of forces beyond our limited materiality. Yet Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer’s main concern is not the glacial post-apocalyptic landscape in which it exists, but how the elements that take us there in the first place — inequality, the accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of elites, the various forms of oppression in order to ensure that power, and especially the climate catastrophe accelerated by capitalist consumption models — are still at play even in the wake of collapse. Bong, however, still brings a window of hope in the form of the heroes that guide the revolution, pointing not only at how necessary they are (then and now), but on how their true strength springs not despite the adversities, but because of it. It’s the oppressor that breeds the rebel. [Leonel Manzanares]
13. Burning (2018)
What truly makes Lee Chang-dong’s gripping noirish drama Burning so essential is how its exploration of the politics and ethics of antagonism and resentment transcend the text and jump into the cinematic craft itself. The South Korean director takes Murakami’s skeletal story and turns it into a fascinating box of surprises; every point unlocks the next, from the romantic story at the center comes a study on the fundamental psychological differences among social classes, and from this very material conflict, a view into the unpredictability of the spiritual. Yet the film’s most impressive achievement is the way it deals with both mystery and inevitability, the unknown and the bluntly certain, as forces with equal weight, in a manner that feels even more poetic than the written page.[Leonel Manzanares]
12. Obvious Child (2014)
Simply labeling Obvious Child the “abortion comedy” is painfully reductive to what the film actually is. Gillian Robespierre creates a film that’s not only funny but a coming of age story for women in their late 20’s/early 30’s.
Usually, with “reluctant pregnancy” storylines, women are typically convinced (or pressured) to keep their unborn child. Robespierre doesn’t beat around the bush with these societal pressures and instead uses the film to follow Donna on her road to maturity and self-discovery. You don’t judge Donna on her decision but rather applaud her for making it on her own and sticking to it. No comedy has been this brave in the 2010s, and I doubt we will get another one anytime soon. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
For every Bob Dylan in the 1960s folk scene there is someone like Llewyn Davis who never had nor deserved a shot. When we meet the struggling singer in this Coen Brothers film, he is at rock bottom: His singing partner has died, his solo album is a flop and he alienates all of his friends and patrons over the course of the film. He sleeps on couches and heckles better singers at folk clubs, which usually end with him beaten and bloodied in Greenwich Village alleyways. While the character is very loosely based on real folkie Dave van Ronk, Davis is nothing like him. And yet, we come to like and care about this guy over the course of the film, even as he sells out to record a novelty record, angers his only fans and keeps passing up opportunities to advance his career. This is in part due to Oscar Isaac’s excellent lead performance, which ranks as one of his best in a decade full of great lead and supporting roles. Carey Mulligan also put in a great performance as the multi-faceted Jean Berkey, while Adam Driver pops by to fully inhabit his cowboy singer character Al Cody. Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t the true-to-life document of the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene that it may have been promoted as, but it is a great character study of someone who fails in their dreams despite their talent due to self-sabotage, and that’s a story that has happened frequently in the history of popular music. [Ryan Gibbs]
10. Shoplifters (2018)
After films Still Walking, Our Little Sister, After the Storm and Like Father, Like Son, there was little doubt that Hirokazu Kore-eda was one of the finest directors working today. Then Shoplifters came around and we were rendered further dumbstruck by the sheer capacity for emotional storytelling that he had to display. A visceral film about a family of thieves who take in a young girl who has seemingly been neglected and abused by her parents and their lives are forever altered.
The entire cast is phenomenal, in particular Sakura Ando as the would be matriarch of the family. But it’s Kore-eda’s eye for humanism and his ability to find depth in the smallest moments that make it one of the all time best. It’s beauty leaves you breathless as you wait, tense, for the shoe to drop and this motley configuration of a family to be torn apart. It pulls no punches in the final, climactic moments too, as we watch children learn the follies of adults and adults face down the reality that they can’t keep their children safe from the harshness of the world forever, no matter how good at make believe they’d become. [Allyson Johnson]
9. The Handmaiden (2016)
Does hearing E.L. James’ 50 Shades series being an example of “sexy” tire you? If yes, replace the three books with the three chapters in Park Chan-wook’s (localized) adaptation of Fingersmith and be wired! Combining the Sarah Waters novel’s high-strung and twisty nature with the Oldboy filmmaker’s established mélange of passion, violence and violent passions — maybe a pinch of the amusing, too — the relationship between a lady (Kim Min-hee) and the one sent to steal her assets (Kim Tae-ri) closely resembles a New Year’s fireworks show. It is a director’s masterpiece and one of filmdom’s brightest gems. Now why was it not South Korea’s entry to the 2017 Oscars again? [Nguyen Le]
8. Mudbound (2017)
Post-World War II America, even after such a catastrophic, traumatic conflict that transformed the psyche and the very social composition of the Nation, was still deeply divided in every front imaginable; there was a common pain and a political will that functioned as a desperate form of cohesion, a Federal cause for progress, but the weakness in the ties that bind the country was visible in every state, in every town, in every household. Dee Rees’ masterful Mudbound, a triumph of craft and narrative, accurate in both its depiction of a period and in the collective emotions it conveys, places us in this bleak moment in History and brings us the tale of two soldiers, two men that served the same land, in the same cause, against a common enemy, only separated by the color of their skin, as they begin an unlikely friendship that would bring awful consequences not only for them, but for their entire families. Rees’ wonderful vision hits us with an America that was — and still is — deeply divided, but in which we can still see humanity’s infinite capacity for compassion and understanding, as these characters navigate a reality marked by injustice and intolerance. The war inside and after the War. [Leonel Manzanares]
7. Her (2013)
Spike Jonze’s unorthodox love story is breathtaking in the way that it portrays loneliness in a post-digital, near future society. The emotional resonance of Spike Jonze’s Her is not easy to replicate. A story about a lonely man who falls in love with his operating system can be an eyebrow raiser for some. Yet, the beautiful aesthetic visual palette and world-building in Her engulfs the viewer in its soft embrace. There is a warmth to the film that is both simultaneously reposeful and intensely passionate, which leaves pondering on its themes hours, months and years after. Her is film about healing and in that respect, it exceeds expectations far beyond its generalized means.
The aforementioned warmth also exists within the performances as well. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the despondent writer Theodore will reduce you to tears within minutes. As always Phoenix becomes lost in this role and despite the consensus that 2019’s Joker is his opus, Her remains his most emotionally poignant role to date. Scarlett Johansson as the AI Samantha shows a side of the actress that we have not seen all that often. The two have a chemistry that, despite the somewhat odd premise, is simply wonderful to watch unravel and between the two along with the optimism in the visuals storytelling, creates as romantic, heartfelt and devastating film as they come. [Mark Wesley]
6. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan is one of the last of a dying breed: the celebrity director. He’s one of the few remaining filmmakers—alongside Spielberg, Scorsese, and Tarantino—that even people who don’t pay attention to movies are aware of. By the start of this decade, Nolan was riding as high as ever off the steam of The Dark Knight (2008), a film which, for better or worse, proved that comic book movies could be serious Art with a capital “A.” Incredibly, he followed this crowd-pleasing cultural milestone with Inception, perhaps his single most complicated and cerebral film since his thriller-in-reverse Memento (2002). The sheer audacity! The film seemed almost combative in its contempt for viewers who expected the straightforward and digestible plotting of a superhero movie, telling the story of a group of special agents who infiltrate business people’s dreams to commit acts of corporate espionage, sometimes diving into dreams-within-dreams and dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams to trigger subliminal chain reactions to further their goals. Further complicating things is that each dream layer has its own spatiotemporal rules and logic that must be respected lest the agents get trapped in the dream world forever. Is Inception an action movie? A thriller? A big-budget blockbuster? An experimental art film masquerading as popular entertainment? It’s all these things and something more. Combined with some of the most jaw-dropping computer effects since the Wachowskis debuted “bullet time” in The Matrix (1999), Inception was that rare film that captivated audiences, thrilled critics, and pushed the cinematic medium forward kicking and screaming. [Nathanael Hood]
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
Modern cinema’s obsession with rebooting franchises is certainly a tiresome trend. Whether that be the seemingly endless amount of Disney remakes or “reinventions” of previous cinema classics, the trend of dredging up old IP’s to modernize them has gotten old fast. Just this decade, we’ve seen the much beloved Spider-Man franchise go through 2 different iterations. Yet, the latest entry into the Spider-Man canon is easily the best. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is not only the best version of the titular character, but it’s the best superhero movie of the decade. Gorgeous animation and storytelling propel a seemingly simple origin story into a film that is a triumph within animated cinema.
Spider-Verse subverts many of the tropes that fans of superhero films have become accustomed to over the endless slew of MCU and DCEU releases. It delivers an origin story in such a fashion that those individuals who hate origin stories can enjoy them. Colors in Spider-verse are so picturesque that they literally burst off the screen, creating more aesthetic identity that any other Spider-Man movie to date. It’s a shame that it took over a decade, but Into The Spider-Verse is a technical marvel that pushes cinema further and is a bright spot on the medium of animation. [Mark Wesley]
4. Get Out (2017)
No one expected Jordan Peele to make such a seamless transition from comedy to writing and directing horror films, but it might be the best thing that’s happened for his career. Serving as his feature directorial debut, Get Out is concise and compelling. It’s the perfect combination of horror and social commentary. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have gotten to the meet the parents stage. Chris is a bit weirded out by Rose’s mom and dad (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) at first because they try their hardest to acknowledge that he is Black, but work even harder to establish that they’re not racist because they voted for Barack Obama twice. It’s in these interactions that the film offers a self-aware perspective about the message it is trying to send. Get Out tackles racism and weaves it into the horror elements that simultaneously terrify and heighten suspicion of societal hierarchies. But what it does so well is showcase the way the Black community has been held hostage by the power structures of the system. The film, which exudes an underlying sense of discomfort, sits in its suspicious unease, its horror elements sprinkled into every crevice, but hidden behind pleasantries and politeness. The scariest part about the film isn’t the horror of it all but the seemingly normal setting Chris is in that turns into something else completely. Peele asks us to look deeper beneath the surface of these seemingly nice people to find the truth. [Mae Abdulbaki]
3. The Social Network (2010)
What does Mark Zuckerberg think a friend is? Did he end up changing humanity’s entire definition of a friend in the last 15 years? Is he happy about that? He might not show it as he’s grilled by the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, but will he ever show it? Does he see friendship and human interaction as nothing more than quantifiable data to brag about? Most of those questions are not properly answered in The Social Network, the semi-biographical mostly-dramatized telling of how Zuckerberg and friends founded Facebook in 2004. But there are horrifying hints of how people would soon treat those they call “friends” in the future peppered throughout this cold, sharp and electric drama. Nothing less from the dream-team collaboration of director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven) and writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men), both feeding off of each other’s vibe to make career-peak work. Sorkin’s hefty yet lightening-fast dialogue has never felt more at home then Fincher’s hands, who crafts films with the same precision of a robot building a car. Same goes for the electronic, haunting music of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, soundtracking the birth of social media with endless loops of drums and synthesizers. The sense of scary artificiality also comes through in the players of The Social Network. Everyone from the damaged yet pompous Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer in a double-duty breakthrough) to shallow swinger Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake going from sleek to wimpy) to even Zuckerberg himself (Jesse Eisenberg in a career-defining role, for better or worse), the fakeness of the characters and their desperation for something intangible seemed shocking in 2010 and yet oddly fitting for 2019. [Jon Winkler]
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road weaves together the past and the present, in more ways than one. At an economical two hours, George Miller’s return to The Wasteland was both sequel and reboot, a crash course in how to do both successfully. Whether you were familiar with the Mel Gibson-led original films or not, Miller immediately drops you into his post-apocalyptic desert world and allows that world to do its own storytelling. Backstory and history are carved into every single image, existing for the audience to discover in their own time as the present events unfold onscreen. Furiosa’s (Charlize Theron) escape from the Citadel, bringing along five women looking for their own freedom, set in to motion a story of hope, freedom, and redemption. Practical effects give life to exhilarating car chases. Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky, a man of few words, straddles the line between anti hero and wandering vagabond, our reluctant avatar into an unfamiliar reality, where humanity has eaten itself alive, reduced to its baser instincts. But hope prevails in the green place, the satellites circling above, and the stories and history we pass along to those left behind, in the hopes that one day, we’ll find our better selves, even at the end of the world. [Katey Stoetzel]
1. Moonlight (2016)
The worst thing we can do to remember Moonlight is to remember how it won the Best Picture Oscar. Yes, it was a mess, and unfortunately, it was shocking. But it shouldn’t have been, because Moonlight is an aesthetically beautiful, structurally efficient and startlingly compassionate film. With a script written by Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play was the source material, the film was merely the second feature under Jenkins’ belt as writer-director. The story seems simple enough as we follow one young man through three crucial stages of his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. During that time, he goes by three different names and struggles with corresponding identities. As Little (Alex Hibbert), he gets miraculously taken under the wing of Juan (Mahershala Ali, in a breakthrough performance). As Chiron (Ashton Sanders) he exists as an open wound of a teenager, longing for a connection and unexpectedly finding it with his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Chiron reaches his breaking point and makes a decision that morphs him into Black (Trevante Rhodes), a version of himself encased in muscle and style but just as vulnerable as ever. With a small cast rounded out by Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris and André Holland, Moonlight swiftly communicates the power and weight that any kind touch, or lack thereof, can have on a life. Moonlight is a terrific film because of its beauty, and its clear-eyed view of reality balanced with a faith in human connection. Moonlight made audiences realize what voices we were missing, and what stories could be mined from the corners of life often glanced over. Moonlight shines as a beacon for filmmakers and audiences in this next decade, for all that can be possible to say and to feel. [Beth Winchester]