Cinema Is Alive and Well: The Top 10 Films of the 2010s
These days it’s almost fashionable to bemoan the death of cinema. Perhaps the most high-profile example of this came with Martin Scorsese’s recent disparagement of Marvel, but he is by no means the first to voice that specific criticism, let alone to lament the state of film in general.
“The big franchises have killed movies”, has gone the common refrain, and while this case can certainly be made, it ignores the fact that a lot of great movies have been produced over the past decade.
The 2010s have brought to cinema an almost exponential rise in diversity, renowned directors have released acclaimed opuses, and while the Marvels and Star Wars of the industry have gobbled up studio budgets, independent creators have still been getting it done, producing films of outstanding quality with little to no resources.
…while the Marvels and Star Wars of the industry have gobbled up studio budgets, independent creators have still been getting it done…
In other words, cinema is alive and well, and if the past decade is any indicator, the decade to come will bring the same.
With this in mind, here are the top ten movies of the 2010s. It should be noted that these are not necessarily “the best” movies, because such a list would be little more than an exercise in subjectivity. Instead, these are a few of the movies that represent the most admirable trends of the decade.
Okay—and some of them are the best. The hell with subjectivity.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Now this was a goddamned movie. Part reboot, part sequel, George Miller’s continuation of the universe he had presumably perfected with The Road Warrior was somehow improved upon with what is undeniably one of the most enthralling movies of all time. The action was over-the-top without going overboard, the visuals and sound were captivating, the themes rich and relevant, and the acting couldn’t have been better. This was a 110% big screen experience.
I’m not sure if I’ve even been so enraptured by the opening scene of a film. This is Lars von Trier at the peak of his visual game, crafting a heart-wrenching meditation on depression that boasts a few career-defining performances from its astounding cast. It’s a movie that hurts to watch, and that leaves you hurting for days after watching it. With impact that profound, who cares if the science fiction makes sense?
With the rise of directors Alejandro Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuarón, Mexican directors dominated the industry by scoring half of the Best Director Oscars for the decade. Cuarón elevated this movement to its peak with Roma, which was not only a technical masterpiece, but that brought the trend home with its Mexican setting, use of the Spanish language, and a stellar performance by its untrained Oaxacan star.
Get Out (2017)
Few movies have ever made as big a splash as Get Out. Not only did it help breathe life back into the dwindling horror genre, but it revealed director Jordan Peele to be nothing short of a master of the medium. Somehow managing to present the perfect balance of humor, horror, and razor-sharp social critique, this is one of the few films out there that is as fun as it is thought-provoking.
Now, I don’t think Creed is one of the best movies of the decade, but I do think it’s one of the most reflective of the changing cinemascape. Directed by Ryan Coogler, this continuation of the Rocky saga focuses on a young black man who is given his shot to rise to the top while reframing a more inclusive, less white paradigm. This is a finely tuned meta-commentary not only on Coogler’s assumption of the Rocky mantle as a largely untested, African-American director, but on the growing social consciousness around race in general. Coogler went on to perform a similar feat in another historic franchise when he made Black Panther.
This is a masterpiece of independent film. Created by the then-unknown director Sean Baker, incubated by the renowned indie production company Duplass Brothers, starring actual transgender sex workers portraying transgender sex workers, and gorgeously filmed using nothing but an iPhone 5s. Tangerine is funny, heartwarming and impeccably well-crafted and acted. It’s a masterclass on how filmmakers with limited means can make something incredible.
Directed by the brilliant Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, Youth provides the opportunity to see genius actors Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel deliver career-high performances with the support of talented young actors Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano. The story of two aging artists coming to terms with the winters of their respective careers, it’s a movie that inspires both laughter and tears. The final scene leaves me weeping no matter how many times I watch it.
Lady Bird (2017)
This is another inclusion that I don’t think is necessary one of the best (though it is great), but that appears here because of what it represents. It culminates a new-high for accomplished writer/director Greta Gerwig, and it displays a wealth of generational talent from its two female leads. It’s a movie by a woman, starring women, about mothers and daughters, and it arguably opened up a door for directors like Olivia Wilde to bring truly female-centric stories to the mainstream.
Marriage Story (2019)
Noah Baumbach is one of those under-the-radar genius writer/directors whose work many of us have loved without realizing it. He cut his teeth writing alongside Wes Anderson, all the while directing his own small budget, big-talent films that received critical acclaim but limited audiences. Known for his sardonic, somewhat dark humor poking fun at and ruminating on topics like love, art, and aging, Marriage Story takes these elements to new heights and boasts genuinely astounding performances from Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and a strong supporting cast. It brings all the intelligence, humor, and heartbreak of peak-Woody Allen into the new millennium (minus the, ahem, problematic aspects that don’t bear mention here).
How many movies have made the audience sit up and take notice as much as Korean director Bong Joon Ho’sParasite? This is a masterpiece in every sense of the word—tonally rich whether humorous or horrifying, stunning to look at, filled with captivating performances, and powerfully thematic. Few movies are so purely enjoyable to watch. You’re rolling along just fine delighting in what is already a great film when the twist comes and knocks your head right off. Perhaps the reviewer at Rolling Stone said it best—”Let’s just say it: the South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho is some kind of genius.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
While it can certainly be argued that Quentin Tarantino has made “better” films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is his magnum-opus love-letter to the movies and directors that influenced him most—and it serves as a fitting bow-out during the closing chapter of his towering career. It’s an onion of a movie, layered with ideas about Hollywood, celebrity, art, and violence. It’s dense with allusions for the keen cinephile, cringingly brutal in some moments, but hilarious throughout. Whether you’re just looking for cursory enjoyment, or over-analytical deep dives, there’s something for everyone in this film.
Booksmart (2019), Moonlight (2016), Drive (2011), Midnight in Paris (2011), The Master (2012), Birdman (2014), Boyhood (2014), Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Us (2019), The Babadook (2014), The Irishman (2019), Whiplash (2014), Good Time (2017), Sorry to Bother You (2018), High Life (2019), Phantom Thread (2017), Under the Skin (2013), The Revenant (2015)