Earlier today, we released our list of the 100 best movies of the 2010s. We think it’s pretty good, but we’re not naïve enough to think that it would satisfy everyone. Which is why we’re asking:
What movie should’ve made our best of the 2010s list?
Takashi Miike is sometimes celebrated more for the sheer quantity of his work than its quality—it’s become an advertising gimmick, even, with each new project billed as his “100th film,” or his “104th film,” etc. But for this fan, 13 is the lucky number; it’s the amount of swordsmen who set out to slay a cruel, fascist lord in one of Miike’s masterworks, his samurai movie par excellence 13 Assassins. Everyone appreciates the big climax, which pits the eponymous baker’s dozen against hundreds of opponents—it’s an all-timer of a battle scene, for sure. But I love everything leading up to it, too, from the Seven Samurai-style passage where they assemble the team to the moment where our fearless leader (played by the great Kôji Yakusho) accepts the suicide mission with a flush of noble conviction. In fact, I love this rousingly old-fashioned action picture so much that I’m starting to feel like a tyrannical lord myself, tempted to abuse my power and push it onto the list…
I figured I’d be alone in my belief that Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of the best films of the past decade, but I’d hoped some of my colleagues might joining me in rallying around Matt Reeves’ underrated 2014 blockbuster, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The work that Reeves and star Andy Serkis did in bringing simian protagonist Caesar to life remains one of the most impressive technical achievements of the past 10 years. And Dawn’s story of human/ape social conflict represents big allegorical sci-fi at its best. Ah well, maybe we just split the vote with Reeves’ equally excellent 2017 follow-up, War For The Planet Of The Apes.
I’m quite pleased with our list, but was startled by the lack of something I’d foolishly assumed would be a shoo-in: 45 Years, Andrew Haigh’s searing depiction of a marriage unexpectedly challenged after decades of seeming idyll. (Guess the inclusion of Weekend satisfied people’s Haigh quotient.) Aside from giving Sir Tom Courtenay an excellent late-in-life role, it provides Charlotte Rampling with one of the finest performances of her career—an agonizing spiral into mistrust and resentment that plays out like the dystopian counterpoint to Mike Leigh’s Another Year. Enjoy your never-reliable relationships, everyone!
I say this knowing full well that I will face ridicule from some corners (ahem, Dowd, ahem), but I love Cloud Atlas and I think its reputation will continue to grow. The 2012 epic required three directors—the Wachowskis plus Tom Tykwer—and runs through six interconnected stories in just under three hours, with those stories taking place in six vastly different times, from 1849 to 2321. Needless to say, trying to explain the plot in this space would be a fool’s errand, so let’s just say it’s about how a person’s soul and intentions can span time. And that it stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant, each of whom plays six different characters, often in heavy, distracting makeup. Yes, it’s kind of a mess, but a beautiful one. And don’t forget that Roger Ebert, patron saint of film critics, couldn’t get enough of it.
Reaction to The Last Jedi was mixed, to put it mildly. Even now, a scant six weeks from the release of Rise Of Skywalker, every conversation about the final chapter of the film still seems to be a referendum on Rian Johnson’s contentious middle episode. And to a point, I understand the division. It took me a while to formulate my own feelings about the film. But for whatever the film did wrong, what it did right was so much more interesting. Having essentially been a fan of the movies since in utero, The Last Jedi reconnected me with a series I was drifting away from. The way it handled themes of destiny, failure, and redemption –as well as some truly theatrical set pieces—with a daring confidence that showed Johnson really has spent a long time thinking about just what it means to be a Jedi.
Speaking of nitpicking over filmmakers who are already well-represented on our list: Noah Baumbach makes a fine showing, with Frances Ha in the top ten and his recent, terrific Marriage Story in the top 50. I nonetheless insist that Mistress America, his other major collaboration with star/co-writer Greta Gerwig, was robbed; I ranked it even higher on my ballot than Frances Ha (which I love, and blurbed!). All of Baumbach’s movies are funny, but the 86-minute Mistress America zips and zings like few comedies of the 2010s. It’s also a deft and era-appropriate portrait of twentysomething side-hustles turning into thirtysomething failure. Given Baumbach’s deserved level of acclaim (does he have the best 2010s output of any American director?) and the anxieties of hustling as a writer, I don’t see any excuse for not loving Mistress America.
Alex Garland’s 2014 film Ex Machina was a self-assured debut from the Danny Boyle collaborator, but four years later, that goodwill didn’t translate to Garland’s box-office bomb Annihilation. But Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel is an unapologetically ambiguous, visually beautiful film about grief, loss, and personal transformation. The film doesn’t offer many answers about Area X, the Shimmer, or that moving ouroboros tattoo, but its uncanny images linger. Consider the climactic face-off between Natalie Portman’s Lena and her double, set to Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s unsettling score. Annihilation’s mixture of horror and beauty deserved more of our attention.
I’m being greedy, and stumping for a film from someone who already appears three times on our list: Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, which finds the Greek director at his most bracingly nihilistic—i.e., exactly where I like him. Having attracted the supernatural ire of a deeply unsettling, spaghetti-horfing Barry Keoghan, a family of Lanthimos’ typically alien-seeming weirdos are forced to question exactly how much the lives of their “loved ones” are worth. It’s a film of endless nervous laughs, culminating in a climax that’s either one of the most absurd tragedies, or the most tragic absurdities, I’ve ever been miserable-happy to have seen.
Trey Edward Shults is already getting Oscar buzz for Waves, his Sterling K. Brown-starring festival hit, and I’m curious to see if I’ll end up loving it more than his first feature, 2015’s Krisha. As homespun as they come, Shults’ story of a troubled woman’s Thanksgiving visit to her estranged family was shot almost entirely in his parents’ house and features several of his family members in the cast. What it lacks in pizazz, though, it more than makes up for in emotional heft and livewire spontaneity. Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ aunt, delivers a violent, often terrifying performance against a fog of suffocating dread that turns this family drama into one of the scariest things released all decade.
It would appear that the majority of my colleagues boarded the Paterson fan-bus, and while I can hardly blame them, my cold stopped heart belongs to Jim Jarmusch’s previous film Only Lovers Left Alive. Taking cues from The Hunger and silent horror, Jim-Jarm deconstructs cinematic vampire lore to reveal the soul-sickness that would necessarily stem from living forever. They share in his world-weariness, having earned it from centuries of watching the human race cycle through the same repeating patterns of self-destruction, a concept represented here by the gorgeous decay of Detroit. Throw in some hypnotic Middle Eastern soundtracking, Mia Wasikowska as a bratty bloodsucker, an Anton Yelchin appearance adding an additional level of mournfulness for mortality, and how could it not be a high point of the last ten years?
A drum that I will continue to beat for the rest of my days: Steve McQueen’s Widows deserved way more credit than it received. Barrier-breaking elements abound, the 2018 heist film featured some of the most bone-rattling performances we’ve seen in a while, especially from Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, and Elizabeth Debicki. McQueen and Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn placed a narrative about corrupt power structures in the hands of the marginalized figures who stand to lose the most, resulting in stakes that felt both high and real. It also included one of the most subtly brilliant shots of the decade: Jack Mulligan’s (Colin Farrell) single-take car ride, which illustrated the four-block difference between two segregated halves of the same city. Widows rolled commentary that centered on class, race, gender, and grief into an intelligent, thrilling grab-and-dash flick. It gave way more than it got.
Most of my “best movie of the decade” candidates are ones I’ve watched multiple times, and would be happy to pop on again right now. I can definitely say all of the above about Brooklyn, a well-acted and visually splendid period romance, appealing to all ages. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby maintain the simplicity of Colm Tóibín’s novel, never over-dramatizing the book’s story about a meek immigrant shopgirl (played by Saoirse Ronan, who earned her first Best Actress Oscar nomination) who gets acclimated to 1950s New York, falls in love, and then is called back to her native Ireland for a family emergency, where she discovers that her new American approach to life has won her another suitor. Brooklyn is a crowd-pleaser of rare depth, with vivid characters, snappy dialogue, and an understanding of how one woman’s romantic dilemma can represent something larger, having to do with personal choice as an expression of freedom.
Technically, the highest-ranked film on my personal list that failed to make our communal list is Bart Layton’s magnificent semi-documentary essay about confirmation bias, The Imposter. But I’d rather use this opportunity to express my consternation that Darren Aronofsky made two of the decade’s most batshit psychodramas and neither of them placed. Most folks prefer Black Swan (#3 on the A.V. Club’s best of 2010!), but my own vote went to Mother!, in which Aronofsky stages much of the Old Testament within the confines of a single isolated house, building to a delirious choose-your-own-metaphor freakout. Regardless, one of them should have been honored. (Noah, however, we can politely pretend didn’t happen.)
Color me surprised that neither Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014) nor Personal Shopper (2016), Olivier Assayas’ meditations on celebrity and the individual’s relationship to the past, managed to make it into our collective top 100. What happened to all the love for Twilight star turned art-house darling, Kristen Stewart? In any case, my heart belongs to Clouds Of Sils Maria, a film as complex and melancholic as it is playful and pleasurable to watch. Above all, however, it remains a powerful showcase for its three actresses. The great Juliette Binoche, in meta-commentary on her own public identity, plays Maria Enders, a renowned middle-aged actress with diva tendencies considering a role opposite Chloë Grace Moretz’s bratty rising starlet. And then there’s Stewart’s revelatory performance as Maria’s assistant, whose warmth and unpretentious intelligence challenges the tortured pretenses of her employer turned friend. The pleasure alone of watching these three go head-to-head in long, erotically tinged conversations I would think is enough to merit honors.
There are many omissions that hurt. I’ll second Beatrice’s Assayas erasure and extend it to the excellent Carlos and Something In The Air. Ditto The World’s End, which now feels like a definitive statement on British generational nostalgia. But I’m going to go to bat for a smaller film more people should sample: John Magary’s The Mend, a stunning American independent debut that captures the destabilizing half-awake feeling of being alive right now better than many films with five times its budget. Deftly moving between different tones and situational terrain, The Mend filters acerbic, slow-burn despair through a story of brotherly reunion. The raw-nerve emotional frequency communicated through a sarcastic remove embodies the free-floating sentiments of this past half-decade.
A number of my absent faves have been spoken for, so I can put my Annihilation speech away for now. Yet like Vikram, I find myself torn. I’d like to stump for two films with permanent residence in the same section of my brain: Anna Rose Holmer’s 70-minute marvel The Fits, and Josephine Decker’s nightmarish Madeline’s Madeline. But I’ll dodge that Sophie’s Choice and instead express my wonder at the omission of John Wick, a symphony of world-building, tonal shifts, and combat, brilliantly executed by one of our greatest actions stars. Does it deserve a spot on this list? Yeah, I’m thinking it does.
I was so taken by Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Museo, which uses a heist as an engine for reclamation, when I saw it last year that I didn’t notice I was able to do so without the aid of subtitles (my Spanish is usually good, but not that good). But for the last 9-10 years, my heart has belonged to How To Train Your Dragon, which has more wonder, empathy, and gorgeous visuals than virtually any other animated film released in the last decade (except Into The Spider-Verse, of course). It’s a big-hearted adventure film, one that carries the torch of the original Star Wars trilogy by reminding us that heroes are found everywhere. The sequels haven’t quite recaptured the magic of the first, but the animation has gotten more impressive with each entry.
Crowd-pleasing comedies often get neglected on critics’ lists of the greatest films of any particular period—mine included. So it’s with a healthy sense of self-depreciation that I say that, although I’m happy for Bridesmaids, it’s a shame that Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s original 2014 film of What We Do In The Shadows
didn’t make the list. It’s the comedy I’ve come back to more than any other this decade, and its unabashed silliness and knowing, affectionate plays on vampire tropes remain just as fresh every time I watch it—a miracle for a mockumentary, a subgenre of comedy that often wears out its welcome before the end of an initial watch, let alone a fourth or fifth.
Edgar Wright directed my favorite 10 minutes in a movie this decade, with the beautifully orchestrated getaway car scene from Baby Driver melding into the intricate single shot coffee-run credits. But I’m surprised that his monumental 2010 entry hadn’t made it onto our list: I can’t let the decade wrap up without giving props to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. A perfect blend of garage rock, graphic novels, and video games, Scott Pilgrim played out as if the hero (Michael Cera)’s life was in fact a series of digital battles, as he must defeat his new girlfriend Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)’s seven evil exes. That’s entertaining enough (as are the myriad blink-and-you’ll-miss them witty gags and asides), but my favorite part is that Scott only defeats the final ex at the end by achieving not the power of love, but the power of self-respect—enabling him to emerge victorious at last.