Top 10 Movies of the Decade

It’s fun to look back on a decade of moviegoing. 

I’ve seen over a hundred movies in the theater, hosted many memorable Oscar parties, started (and more or less ended) this very blog, and survived the hubristic rise and fall of Moviepass. I still remember getting Netflix DVDs in the mail. My phone blew up with texts the night La La Land won, then lost, Best Picture.

When I tried to come up with 10 movies representative of the decade, I had a lot to sift through.  There were the perfectly good movies I enjoyed, but haven’t thought much about since: Silver Linings Playbook, Birdman, A Quiet Place, Gravity, True Grit, If Beale Street Could Talk. There were the movies I suffered through (Interstellar) and the ones that lulled me to sleep (Argo). 

What can I say about this “top 10”? It’s not necessarily a list of favorite movies, or the best movies. Mostly I picked movies that really stuck with me, where I can’t get a certain scene out of my head, or I can’t shake that feeling I got when I first watched. Looking back, I noticed that I didn’t see a lot of blockbusters, animated movies, documentaries, or (sadly) non-English language movies.

It’s been interesting to think about how I watched movies. Back in 2010, I was much more critical. I felt like a movie needed to impress me. Now, I go into each theater hoping the movie will be good. I want to give it a chance. Even with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a less-than-ideal ending to a nine-episode saga, I still felt a kind of catharsis in the theater, feeling like my 11-year-old self seeing the original for the first time.

So. Ten movies from 2010 to 2019, in chronological order. Plus 20 more after that. Here we go:

1. Bridesmaids (2011)

“Civil rights. This is the ‘90s!” The movie I’ve watched the most from the last decade, and surely one of the most endlessly quotable. You can’t get more 2010s than the surprised reactions each time a female-led film is successful. Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy were anointed comedic royalty… and who knew that Rose Byrne was so funny? It holds up because it feels less like a big studio product, and more like a bunch of friends getting together and riffing all night long.

What kind of a name is Stove anyway?

2. The Master (2012)

I haven’t been as haunted by a movie since. Paul Thomas Anderson’s hypnotic take on Scientology and PTSD is so delicately etched, so miraculously acted, and so stubbornly mysterious that you’re never quite sure what to make of it. That last scene with the great (and sadly missed) Philip Seymour Hoffman gently singing “Slow Boat to China” to Joaquin Phoenix still enchants. Phoenix staring out at the ocean, shell-shocked. Amy Adams’ inscrutable face; are we looking at Lady Macbeth or a Stepford wife? It’s a movie where there are no answers, whether the real and the surreal blur together. Purely cinematic and endlessly fascinating.

3. Before Midnight (2013)

Jesse and Celine’s final chapter (for now, at least), and the most earthbound of Richard Linklater’s trilogy of star-crossed lovers walking and talking across Europe. What began as a sweet, intellectual exercise of two strangers destined to meet on a train–and reunite nine years later–dares to explore the reality that follows their happily-ever-afters. It’s ugly, it’s personal, almost too uncomfortable to watch. And it’s an essential, and bittersweet, corrective to their swoon-worthy courtship, more than justifying our return to their lives each decade.

4. Her (2013)

I just rewatched Joaquin Phoenix fall in love with his operating system (Scarlett Johansson), and I’m amazed how prescient Spike Jonze’s script feels six years later. Phoenix–on this list yet again–is a revelation, tender and relatably human (rare for him). At its core, this is a romantic comedy, the type they don’t make anymore. So what if boy doesn’t get girl in the end? (Sorry, Kristen, this isn’t the ‘90s.) But Jonze gives us a film that uniquely grapples with the implications of our technological world: the wonder and imagination, the intimacy we’ve gained, the terrifying loneliness that comes with it.

5. Moonlight (2016)

One of a handful of times I’ve thought, “that was a perfect movie.” In Barry Jenkins’ hands, Chiron’s journey to adulthood, marked by poverty, abuse, and loss, is lovingly photographed and scored with a haunting string orchestra. There is beauty in each frame. Jenkins looks head-on into his actors’ faces, bold and unafraid to show us who they are. There may be no more sensuous scene on film than André Holland making a meal for Trevante Rhodes and watching him savor every bite.

6. Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Call me a romantic. I’ve seen Luca Guadagnino’s movie several times, and I’m amazed each viewing at how he captures the warm Italian light, the ripe fruit and lush greenery, the intoxicating glow of summer. This is a love story almost removed from time and space, existing only in the immediate present, without any threat from the outside world. Maybe it’s real love, or maybe just a first passionate crush (with the first heartbreak that follows). The movie, wisely, never tells us, just lets us into this tactile dream world where everything feels possible and the possibility of sudden, impetuous connection is tangible. Beautifully un-cynical escapism, capped in a perfect Timotheé Chalamet crying for everything lost and learned.

7. First Reformed (2017)

Sometimes, out of nowhere, I think about Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried floating through space, their bodies levitating off the ground, traveling together into a utopia all their own in a moment of surprising connection. This movie is a damning statement on the decade we’ve just left behind: our planet is in crisis, moving closer and closer to the point of no return. We haven’t taken care of this earth, and now we must reckon with the consequences. What if there’s nothing to save us from the inevitable? What can we still believe in? Paul Schrader’s eerily spare movie wrestles with itself; I’m not sure whether I felt more or less hopeful after watching. But I know I’ve never seen anything like it.

8. The Florida Project (2017)

Sean Baker follows the 6-year-old Moonie and her adventures living in a rundown motel just miles away from Disney World. Baker lets her be a kid, unaware of what living day to day in this motel means, or what her single mom has to do to scrape by and provide for her daughter. It would make a good double feature with Moonlight, capturing the magic of youth and reminding us how we’re shaped by where we grow up.

9. The Favourite (2018)

An instant camp classic. Magnificently opulent, deliciously savage, grotesquely charming. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz are all delights as they play out their twisted triangle of seduction and backstabbing deception, with Colman’s ailing queen at the center of it all so earnestly needing companionship. Yorgos Lanthimos has given us a surreal, often disturbing decade at the movies; this, his most mainstream story, is also his most fun. 

10. Parasite (2019)

My top film from this past year. I went in knowing nothing, which is the best way to experience the twists and turns of Bong Joon Ho’s darkly comedic, satirical thriller. A family in need of employment finds themselves in the company of a rich family that resembles theirs, and soon their paths become entangled. I recommend Jordan Peele’s Us as a companion piece; while Parasite isn’t a horror movie, it’s terrifying in its own right.

Let’s see if it holds up ten years from now. I suspect it will. 

Honorable Mention: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

In a decade dominated by franchise hell, Episode VIII of Star Wars may be the most controversial, and the most emblematic, of the genre. In an unusual reversal, The Last Jedi was critically praised but sharply divided audiences — or so Rotten Tomatoes wants us to think. We’ll never really know how much of the backlash came from Russian bots (just like Ghostbusters, which ultimately was too lightweight to bear the brunt of the misogyny it inspired). I know friends who strongly disliked The Last Jedi, so it’s not just fanboys opposed to female-driven storytelling and mixed-race romance. But let’s be honest, those friends are WRONG! 

Now that The Rise of Skywalker is finally out, it’s even easier to admire the audacity of Rian Johnson’s adventure, one of the stranger and bolder movies in an increasingly safe, seemingly endless, media empire. Even the goofiest moments remind us of how delightfully silly and un-self-conscious the whole series began. In a just world, its success at the box office should encourage creators not to be afraid of studio overlords and China’s box office spend. Take risks! Tell the story you want to tell!

And more favorites from the decade:

Black Swan (2010)
Melancholia (2011)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
A Most Violent Year (2014)
Carol (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
20th Century Women (2016)
Arrival (2016)
Jackie (2016)
BPM (Beats per Minute) (2017)
Get Out (2017)
Lady Bird (2017)
Eighth Grade (2018)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Hereditary (2018)
Private Life (2018)
The Farewell (2019)

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