The hardest list I've ever compiled in my life.
Let's get one thing straight before diving into this: Top 10 lists, especially for film, are never perfect. There are thousands of new movies that come out every year and only one of me, which means I've missed A LOT of good stuff over the past decade. However, the 2010s were a wild time for film, and of the ones I was fortunate enough to see, I was blown away by how far we've come as storytellers. Visuals have improved, yes, and cinematography is always advancing, but I'm focused on the stories. The decade of 2010 made one thing clear, and that's that filmmakers will always have unique and topical stories to tell. Originality is not flatlining, it's growing. Creativity, and more importantly, passion, is alive and very well.
When I sat down to compile my list of favorite films of the decade, I tried to find a connecting theme. What do I look for when I watch a movie, and what gets my heart skipping? What makes me emotional? What makes me angry?
It turns out, those aren't easy answers to come up with.
All film (at least well-made film) will utilize its own arsenal of characters, plot, and visual style to encourage audience reaction, whether positive or negative. Consider Darren Aronofsky's 2017 film "Mother!" When marketing the film, Aronofksy said that he didn't care if people loved or hated his film, just as long as they reacted to it in some strong way. I, for one, thought it was brilliant. It invoked claustrophobia, religious fears, and attacked my introverted brain. But for others, it was too self-indulgent. It asked the audience for too much, and ultimately made its lasting message overly pretentious and borderline insulting. However, which ever side of the fence you fell on, Aronofsky's goal was met.
Good film is something that sticks with you, that kicks you a bit. That doesn't mean you should dislike movies that play it safe or ones that are more traditional at their core, but the films that stray from these templates tend to get an audience's attention. And that's what the theme of this list is: films that exceeded my expectations by way of innovative storytelling.
Without further adieu, let's jump in!
10. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) - Directed by George Miller
This is about as loud and in-your-face as a movie can be. I remember walking out of the theater with trembling hands and ringing in my ears. George Miller's approach to wasteland warfare was full of carefully timed choreography, a brutalist set design, and frenetic violence that shocked audiences just as effortlessly as it entertained them. It was the action film of the year, and that much is undisputed.
However, the reason "Mad Max: Fury Road" is included on this list is less for its action and more for its subtle jabs at Hollywood's traditional portrayal of women. Charlize Theron shines as Imperator Furiosa. She rides the wasteland with a gang of rescued female prisoners, all with the hope of finding salvation among other women warriors. This plot point is what truly allows this "Mad Max" reboot to shine, and it's one of the main reasons I had to include it.
9. LADY BIRD (2017) - Directed by Greta Gerwig
Coming-of-age films are very common, but "Lady Bird" stands out for many reasons. Greta Gerwig, the visionary director of the film, presents a drama that is equally hilarious as it is gut-punching and raw. “Lady Bird” methodically kicked me in the heart, unleashing every single emotion within me, leaving me stupefied, untangled, and most importantly, speechless.
There is one line that encapsulates the complex themes being unraveled within the narrative. About two-thirds into the film, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), a fairly unpopular theater girl and best friend to the titular character, mutters under her disappointed breath: “Maybe some of us weren’t born to be happy.” However, instead of dwelling on this disappointment, the film intricately spirals these words into a beautiful mix of satire, romance, comedy, and heartache. The result is a representation of life that is far from joyless. It is the epitome of contentment.
8. SNOWPIERCER (2013) - Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
Before he was America's Ass, Chris Evans starred in one of the most criminally underrated sci-fi films of all time. I'm talking about "Snowpiercer," a savage, dimly lit jaunt into the very extremes of classism. The film takes place at the end of the world. The last surviving humans live on a train that never stops running, and it is this train where political tensions of today's real-world are represented. The rich and powerful sit at the front, indulging in their every fantasy, while the poor are subject to the back, where food, water, and livelihood are dwindling. That is, of course, until the rebellion.
Bong Joon-Ho mixes slow-motion, the use of light and darkness, and carefully placed silence to make every moment of violence unique. At points, all music cuts out and all you hear are the grunts of those fighting, and the slicing sound of flesh. It makes everything that much more barbaric, hard-hitting, and memorable. When you combine these filmmaking techniques with the thought-provoking story, you get an experience that can only be described as top of the line.
7. AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) - Directed by The Russo Brothers
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has combined decades of comic book lore with ever-changing pop culture, and created an empire of what can only be described as the filmmaking equivalent to comfort food. Whether you love them or hate them, these films produce maximum escapism. "Avengers: Endgame" is the culmination of the Infinity Saga, and not only did Joe and Anthony Russo hit the film out of the park, but they successfully provided a metric ton of fan service without sacrificing any plot. It’s a grand collaboration of actors, filmmakers, heroes, and villains that will leave you nostalgic of the last ten years of your life.
Say what you will about superhero films being "cinema" or not. Here’s the thing: this type of experience will come around once in our lifetime. Other franchises will attempt this, some may succeed, but there will only ever be one cinematic event as large and anticipated as "Avengers: Endgame." And for that reason, and because it provided the most fun out of any moviegoing experience I've ever been a part of, I had to include it on this list.
6. THE BABADOOK (2014) - Directed by Jennifer Kent
The 2010s was a wonderful decade for horror. One of the first films to really set the bar high during this time was "The Babadook." The film explores what happens when memories and heartache consume a person to the point of psychological collapse. It's a lot like fearing the boogeyman, except instead of physical harm, this pain is deeper; it hits on a mental level.
Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman lead the cast with exceptionally chilling and raw performances. Their relationship on screen feels effortlessly real, making the overall message and metaphoric climax all that much more disturbing. It hits home the dangers of dependency, untreated depression, and many other topics surrounding mental illness. Because of this, the film is scary for its wild imagery and visuals, but also for its topical narrative and real-world connections.
5. NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) - Directed by Dan Gilroy
Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most talented actors of our time. His natural creepiness commands the screen, and it is thrilling to watch the man play with mental illness in such a provocative way. In "Nightcrawler," Gyllenhaal is a freelance journalist named Louis, who specializes in video taping crime scenes the moment they occur. However, when he starts getting addicted to the money and the rush of filming these crimes, his psyche begins to spiral downward.
While the film itself is excellently shot and paced, it's the central focus on fake news and altered truth that is so fascinating. The audience watches as Louis interferes with crime scenes, how he manipulates media outlets, and just how fast he can turn on people if it means more money and better footage. This will always be a relevant film, and I can only imagine that it will age like the finest of wine.
4. HEREDITARY (2018) - Directed by Ari Aster
"Hereditary" is not only one of the best horror films of the decade, it's one of the best films period. It is a stirring example of when trauma clouds reality, and in a similar way to the previously mentioned "Babadook," it shows the intensity of one person's complete mental decay. Taking inspiration from tropes of classic ghost tales, such as “Paranormal Activity” (2007) and “The Exorcist” (1973), Aster opens up Pandora’s Box of fear, shoving jump-scares under the rug to make room for true, genuine terror, resulting in colossal bizarreness that exists in every corner of the frame.
It’s the narrative’s instability and disconnection of comprehensible reality that forces every moment to feel like it’s teetering on the edge of complete chaos. Toni Collette, who expels trauma and pain through her crackling and desperate voice, creates an image of motherhood that no child should ever have to see. The film's cinematography mimics Collette’s viciousness by way of quick cuts, pans, and a purposeful decision to never show the horror head-on. It is so stirring, so uncomfortable, that you might be on edge for weeks after leaving the theater.
3. MANDY (2018) - Directed by Panos Cosmatos
If you were to try and place Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy” into a single genre, you’d have an easier time trying to round up a swarm of bees with your bare hands. It’s unclassifiable, completely unchained yet full of tranquil delicacy, and if you succumb to its wild imagery, it will rewire how you view cinema as a whole.
The story itself is highly metaphoric, with Cosmatos’ consistent use of slow-motion and long takes pushing surreal visualizations. It attempts to hypnotize the audience with carefully placed dissolves and fades that melt scenes together, which may stupefy you into submission whether you like it or not. The swells of electric guitars and drums emphasize the shock of every image on screen, and as the film crawls on, it becomes apparent that “Mandy” could just as easily be classified as a feature-length music video as it is a work of cinematic innovation. Simply put, "Mandy" is modern day avant-garde perfection.
2. BABY DRIVER (2017) - Directed by Edgar Wright
"Baby Driver" is one of those films that comes around just to shatter genre barriers. It exists in many categories, and excels in every single one of them. First a satirical comedy, “Baby Driver” puts music and stunt choreography before everything else, and yet, the plot never falls behind because of it. The film is a musical, but it's also not a musical at all. The central character's iPod is the puppet master; it drives everything: the characters, the action, the pacing. Everything. Literally.
It's difficult to describe how seamlessly the many tones of "Baby Driver" come together. In many ways, it is the perfect date film: it has relentless, brutal action; a love story that feels genuine and organically crafted; and a sense of moral dilemma that is equally thought-provoking as it is entertaining. It defies genre, and has quickly become my favorite heist film.
1. GET OUT (2017) - Directed by Jordan Peele
There is no question: "Get Out" was the most transfixing, perplexing, masterfully crafted film of the decade. Peele surprised audiences by weaving satire and horror together into one relentlessly unsettling film, and this comedic terror is still unmatched three years later. Societal flaws are the focal point, the piñata that Peele whacks, and it's the hyper-exaggeration of these flaws that gives the film its distinct tone.
Rarely do cinematic stories come around that are as demanding and memorable as Peele's "Get Out." It is a human study, an autopsy of stereotypes and opposing beliefs, and not once does that study lose its balance. Whether you agree or disagree with the film's provocative statement, "Get Out," has defined the decade, not just in terms of cinema, but for the broader term of art.