Writing about a decade, by one’s self, is not for the faint of heart. I don’t recommend it. There’s never the worry of disappointing someone else, at least there shouldn’t be. Still, there is the real potential of forgetting about a movie that you love that deserved to be in the scuffle with the other 24 movies swirling around in your head. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here. I’m almost ninety-percent sure it won’t, but mistakes are like hair — everyone has some everywhere.
I have also not seen every film I am going to see in 2019. Some of which I am very much anticipating (Marriage Story & Rise of Skywalker being two that come to mind). List’s are subject to change anyways, especially ones that dare to rank works of art next to the other. It’s subjective, and that, naturally, changes over time. But this list has consumed a sizeable sector of my bandwidth over the last month and a half. After a great deal of fine-tuning, I’ve decided to shoot it out into the world in hopes of people finding themselves taking away one undeniable fact: It has been an impressive decade of filmmaking.
From artsy dramas that pluck at the heartstrings to bombastic blockbusters that soar higher than we’ve seen in some time, the 2010s have been a great time to see a story on the biggest screen possible. Though there have been the troubles of expressing that love, as social media became the frenzy of toxicity and opinionated judgment it is today in the same length of time. Nevertheless, there’s so much to love about the stories we were privileged enough to see. Twenty-five of which, find themselves on the list before you. I’m sure I didn’t do all of you proud, but boy am I happy with it, and that’s kind of all that matters when doing something like this. Subjectivity is key.
“The Avengers,” “The Martian,” “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” “Deadpool,” “The Boy and the Beast,” “Sing Street,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Green Room,” “Warrior,” “ The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Nice Guys,” “Swiss Army Man,” “Train to Busan (BUSANHAENG),” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Prisoners,” “The Edge of Seventeen,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Looper,” “The Master,” “Django: Unchained,” “Skyfall,” “La La Land,” “The LEGO Movie,” “John Wick,” “Wonder Woman,” “Nightcrawler,” “Interstellar,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Baby Driver,” “Spider-man: Homecoming,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Dunkirk,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Gone Girl,” “A Ghost Story,” “Sicario,” “Spotlight,” “Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi,” “The Shape of Water,” “Paddington 2,” “Coco,” “Black Panther,” “Annihilation,” “Toy Story 3,” “Inception,” “Shutter Island,” “Toy Story 4,” “Slut in a Good Way (Charlotte a du fun),” “Parasite (기생충),” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Scott Pilgram vs. the World” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Incredibles 2,” “MANDY,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” & “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
25. The Social Network (2010)
There’s always been a soft spot in my heart — at least since I was 17 — for Aaron Sorkin. Whether it be the works that aren’t all that good (“Newsroom”) or the ones that most definitely are (“West Wing”), Sorkin writes with a ferocity and an almost academic dialect that hits me just right every time. And if there’s any film that fits as a fair representation of the 2010s, it’s “The Social Network.” With director David Fincher, Sorkin crafts another dismantling narrative of an egotistical genius that lines up with everything else he’s done in his career. Teaming with a craftsman-like Fincher makes it all the better, but I doubt either of them would be able to guess the sheer impact of the social media conglomerate nine years later.
24. Drive (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn is, in a word, an eccentric filmmaker. Throughout the 2010s, he’s made a polished, dull crime-story in “Only God Forgives” matched with the similarly thin-written but stylishly crafted “Neon Demon.” Sharing those qualities of visual language over actual language, but for the better, is his 2011 hit, “Drive.” Definitely his best work to date, “Drive” is a movie that lives in the shadows of its hero. A crime-noir, with a slick, midnight design that matches a stoic performance from Gosling. If there was ever a movie that made style over substance actually work, “Drive” is one of them.
23. Lincoln (2012)
During the post-blockbuster filmography of iconic director Steven Spielberg, he has chosen to delve down historical avenues that line up much more with his ability to block scenes rather than insert magic into reality. Either way, “Lincoln” is one of the best of them. Despite my love for “Bridge of Spies” (a film that narrowly missed its placement on this list), “Lincoln” is a hallmark to the man who Daniel Day-Lewis so masterfully resurrects with subtle soft-spoken, confidence, and a needed willingness to play the game of politics. Its scope is sleek with a distilled color, rarely dealing with anything that happened on the battlefield. Of the movies in which old-white men examine racism and the white man’s role in it, Spielberg’s is the best.
22. Fast Color (2019)
For all the Marvel-movie talk to be had over the last couple of months, few who oppose the simplicity of the typical Marvel blockbuster have used a fantastic example of that same genre being used differently. To be fair to them, if there were a list for least-known great movies of the decade, Julie Hart and Jordan Horowitz’s “Fast Color” would be on it. A poignant and rhythmic X-men movie without the brand name, “Fast Color” is a generational feature in which three black women of three different eras band together to save one another, and, in the process, the world itself. There’s so much deft and skill at work in “Fast Color,” it’s incredible that more people haven’t spun their yarn talking about one of the best movies of not only 2019, but of the 2010s as well.
21. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Speaking of Marvel blockbusters, I hate to break it to anyone hoping not to see any of those works on this list, but they are. The first of which is Joe Johnston’s “Captain America: The First Avengers,” which manages to reinstall the unabashed nobility and charm of its hero. I’ve said it before — though it’s not my line — if Tony is the mind of the MCU, Cap is the beating heart. And a period-piece film that manages to accomplish that without ever feeling cheesy or on-the-nose deserves to be on the list among its peers. Evans is doing so much more heavy lifting than the rest of his Marvel family because of it, and on every re-watch, it shows.
20. I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
I literally grew up in this decade. I was 13-years-old when the decade began, I’ll be 23 when it ends. A lot has changed in that time: my hair, my style, my religion, my philosophies, my politics, etc. All of it, deriving from the people in and out of my life. One of them being the author and intellectual James Baldwin, a voice that at the time of Ferguson and the mass focal point on police brutality in America was there to tell me the truth about the world in which I was living. A truth that wasn’t there before I heard him say it, which irrevocably changed my perspective. Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” a documentary based on one of his lost manuscripts, discusses the subjugation and the relationships between the black leaders of that time (MLK and Malcolm X) and juxtaposes it with the current race relations. Narrated by Sam Jackson, it’s a prescient work that displays the tragic relevance of Baldwin’s words from nearly fifty years prior. The sticking quote of which is: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I have learned a countless number of lessons over the decade, most of them being in the last five or six years. This was one of the most important.
19. Whiplash (2014)
Out of the many filmmakers that broke-out into the spotlight in the 2010s, Damien Chazelle is perhaps the most notable. A young cinephile whose musical work in “La La Land” led to one of the more memorable Oscar moments, and “First Man” manages to capture a level of ferocity in space travel that few discuss. But, his 2014 hit, “Whiplash,” is his best work to date. When a young, almost obsessive Jazz drummer (Miles Teller) meets his equal in the vocally vulgar J.K Simmons, “Whiplash” becomes the question of is there a needed hyperbolic pressure to create great artists. It’s a movie that could’ve been too loud for its own good, but Chazelle manages to find the crux of his material that lends to one of the better final sequences in film.
18. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2014 was sort of a restoration year for me. I wasn’t necessarily reading comics again yet, but I spent most of the year rereading and rewatching nerd-ish things. I was still a fan of the Marvel movies though, despite my pretentious outlook on filmmaking back then. James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was supposed to be the movie that broke the streak though, a cut too deep for an audience not deep enough. From then on, it became clear that these movies were both here to stay and meant to be nothing more than a good time. The mission statement of all these movies is partly honoring the characters, but also making sure no one leaves the film without laughing at a joke, without watching an action sequence that makes their palms sweaty, without tearing up. They’re emotional thrill rides, and the story of a ragtag group of traumatized people banding together to heal one another’s trauma is right up there with some of their best work to date. And that soundtrack is killer!
17. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
About a year ago, Marc Bernardin (one of my favorite writers/people on the planet) wrote this article for EW about the “Black Panther’s” Oscar nomination. Initially, thinking a superhero movie wouldn’t be nominated, Marc believed the reason for that would be that movies about blackness that get nominated are almost always about tragedy and suffering. It’s never about hope in the way “Black Panther” is, but few films capture that historical terror like Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” Adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir about his twelve-year enslavement, McQueen crafts one of the most unflinchingly honest and wrenchingly authentic portrayals of the pre-Civil War era. It is the perfect guide for modern viewers into this nightmarishly oppressive prison. But some of the film’s most upsetting violence is psychological, as tyrannical plantation owners distort Bible verses to justify their righteous racial domination. All of which lenses the generational trauma of being black in America, a life that has inched closer to true freedom one century at a time.
16. Creed (2015)
Few scenes are as guaranteed to make a tough, masculine man cry than Rocky climbing up the steps in Ryan Coogler’s “Creed.” In addition, few movies helm the art of boxing with the same deft as Coogler. The camera spins and swirls, juking and jabbing with the same skill as its title-lead — the bastard son of Apollo Creed. Led by a charismatically haunted performance from Michael B. Jordan, supported by aged and poignant work from Stallone, “Creed” is the best of the franchise for me. Though “Rocky” finds a special place in my heart, “Creed” feels like the same indie movie that operates like a remake and a sequel in the way few films can. Its primal in the best way sports movie can be, and when it hits those emotional cues, they sucker-punch you before you can put your guard up.
15. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
At the time of seeing the Russo Brother’s “Captain America: Civil War,” I held “Guardians of the Galaxy” as my favorite MCU movie with the first “Captain America” movie being a close second. At the same time, I was finally delving back down the panels and pages of comics, rereading Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s comic just before the premiere. And I left the theater realizing that not only do these movies have much more to offer than a good time. But that storytelling is not something that needs to be about real-world political issues or social issues to resonate in the same way those kinds of movies do. It’s a movie about two brothers ultimately discovering a rift that can’t be healed by anything else but time. A family divided by politics, and a movie that introduces the sheer scope this universe would have three years later with a mere 12 characters sharing the same screen. It’s the introduction of T’Challa, Spider-Man, and all of it is as intimate as it is grand. However, ranking the MCU movies now, it’s a close second to another grand spectacle.
14. Silence (2016)
Not every movie on this list I have reviewed at full length. Most of the reason for that being that I didn’t start writing reviews until 2015, really bad ones that I have since gone back and revised. Nevertheless, one of the movies that I fell in love with that somehow never ended up on this site was Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.” The 77-year-old filmmaker is amidst a hot-bed of controversy for his statements, though their 95% accurate, but he remains to be one of the greatest living filmmakers working today. His continued artful examination of religion that has underlined so much of his career has never been done better than it is here. To press your foot on the deity you worship is a cruel thing to picture, and the poignant weight of it all is captured with a rawness that only Scorsese could depict. Why more Christian movies don’t examine the limitations of belief is astounding, because “Silence” is a subjective, raw, and intensely passionate work that depicts the emotional and physical suffering of individuals who dare to believe in a higher power.
13. Fruitvale Station (2013)
The 2010s were a unique time in America. We lived through a time where Ferguson happened, where Eric Garner happened, where white-liberal America and young white minds alike were exposed to the reality of police brutality. It was a different experience for me. I watched all of these things as the son of a cop. And when watching Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” for a film class with this perspective was an enduring experience. I hadn’t yet begun to learn about the unspoken truths of black life in America (unspoken around my family table). But Michael B. Jordan’s depiction of murder victim Oscar Grant was an indelible experience. I watched it at my old desk, which barricades the doorway in my room, on my desktop. I was hunched over and wiping tears from my face. The credits rolled in which Coogler introduces real footage of the incident next to the names on the screen. I sat there for a while, in silence, asking myself: where do I go from here? How do I become different than those who came before me? Questions I’ve only barely to begin to answer with the help of mentors, black voices, and art like “Fruitvale Station.”
12. Roma (2018)
Alfonso Cuaron is perhaps the most underrated filmmaker working today. Helming one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever put to screen in “Children of Men” and the visually breathtaking “Gravity,” Cuaron has managed one of the better craftsmen of the 2000s that continues to go unnoticed for his efforts. Though “Children of Men” is my favorite movie from him, “Roma” is a gorgeous, intimate, intensely personal work worthy of recognition. It’s a movie with its heart in the past and present, every sequence meticulously crafted like a moving painting. It’s a romantic and raw portrait of Cleo, matched with an empathetic portrayal from Yalitza Aparicio. All of it is deriving from the early memories of the domestic worker from his childhood, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez. And it plays with a sense of femininity in which this one woman’s life is torn asunder by the men in her life, much like the family she works for. If Cuaron doesn’t rank higher in your filmmaker standings, you’re just mistaken.
11. Her (2013)
I’m sure the premise of a man falling in love with the A.I software in his pocket isn’t exactly ringing any bells in the charm department. But, Spike Jonze’s “Her” is as resonant as any other romance feature. It shares a lot of its DNA with another sci-fi romance, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a story about the difficulty of moving on from relationships that once seemed destined to last forever. The earnestness of which stems almost entirely from a soft performance from Joaquin Phoenix. A loner of a man, sweet and tender in voice and character. He hugs himself as he walks, wants love instead of sex. But he’s riddled in heartbreak, the kind that doesn’t leave after a month or two. Discovering this software (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), “Her” slowly churns into a wistful, beautiful meditation on the aftermath of love lost, who we become, where we are, and where we might be going.
10. Inside Out (2015)
All of us, as adults, are dragged to movies built for kids at some point. Sometimes, we do it out of choice in the case of an anime movie like “Boy and the Beast.” Rarely is there that sweet spot in which both audiences can sit and watch the same film and feel the same things. “Inside Out” is one of those movies. It is this amazingly strong Pixar movie in which a young teenage girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), is on the verge of puberty and the emotions inside her head (joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust) have various roles in her growing-up. As a youngster, you predominately feel joy. As you get older though, sadness becomes common company, and it slowly begins to suggest that sadness is not only a part of life; it’s an integral part of growing up. Loss is a necessary part of life. In a decade in which I was diagnosed with mild depression and mild anxiety and found myself attempting to end my life on more than one occasion, “Inside Out” is a necessary movie I needed to see at a time I needed to be told it’s okay to cry.
9. Hereditary (2018)
I have probably said everything I can say about Ari Aster’s debut work from 2018, “Hereditary.” I wrote a lengthy editorial about it for Halloween, and its unique ability to be both a drama about a family amid grieving and slowly moving farther and farther away from each other. All the while, some nefarious activities take place in the darkness, manipulators doing all they can to get closer to the only male descendant of a cult leader. Aster is a bright student of horror, executing the lessons of genre manipulation taught before him from movies like “The Exorcist” and “The Shining,” all of which is assisted by a phenomenal performance from Toni Collette. I haven’t seen “Hereditary” more than some other movies ranked behind it, but that’s for a good reason. Few films get underneath my skin, and stay there, like “Hereditary.”
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
There are few things you can say about the tri-directed (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman) co-written (Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman) that haven’t already been said. It perhaps the most imaginative adaptation of comics ever put to screen, capturing the panels and interior dialogue of a character’s 55-year-history. It’s a love letter to the masked web-slinger as well as an origin story for the newest member of the family. It is so uniquely specific to what it’s like in your own head when you read a comic book. While also being so uniquely specific to the Black and Afro-Latinx experience without being about being Black. It distills the discovery of your own uniquely authentic self into one sequence that remains one of the most spellbinding scenes I’ve seen in this decade. It’s a comic book movie doing so much work in both homaging, creating, reshaping, and bringing nuance to a legacy created by the immortal Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. Stan passed a month before its release, and yet the message of this movie is something we all know he would’ve loved: Anyone can wear the mask. Anyone.
7. Get Out (2017)
There’s this SNL skit, not too far after the inauguration of President Trump, in which host Dave Chappelle (alongside Chris Rock) joked about white-liberal America realizing the current racial status of America on election night. A work of honesty that derives from the work in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” A movie that has changed the landscape of filmmaking in more ways than one, raking in $255 million worldwide on a reported $4.5 million budget. It captured the continuing hypocrisy of a post-Obama America, challenging the notion of racism being a relic of America’s past. It’s subtly but directly speaking about the awkwardness of being the only black person in a room full of white people, being asked racist questions by older white people at a party. And it’s also a genre movie that is about something called the “Coagula” and “The Sunken Place.” Since that time, it has been a wave of black filmmakers voicing their concerns, their fears, their history. All of which leads to a show like “Watchmen” studying and examining race in a way that few shows have. All because of Jordan Peele. A terrifically mood-inducing filmmaker with a lot to say who was one of the best surprises of the 2010s.
6. Logan (2017)
I remember back in 2017 when I wrote, “There’s no other way to say this than to just come out and state that James Mangold’s “Logan” is the best live-action comic book movie I have ever seen.” And that’s still the case in regards to solo-movies, comic book films dealing with one character, one titular hero. Only one other movie has managed to accomplish what this film has in that regard, a movie taking advantage of the permanence from a character and actor dynamic that lasted almost twenty years. It’s an exodus story, one last ride for a gunslinger on his dying breath that looks the fantasy of comics in the face and calls “bullshit.” It’s a movie showcasing the nuance and change this genre must continue to undergo, stories that meld the lesson of the western and comics together. Jackman is fantastic as always, and the action is all the better for the R-rating, but “Logan” is a movie favoring melancholic mood and themes of mortality and deterioration over-inflated, end-of-the-world stakes. In the decade of the comic book film, few have left me as emotionally devastated as “Logan,” a movie necessary for the furthering of a genre that refuses to spin its wheels in mediocrity.
5. Arrival (2016)
Throughout the decade, I — as pointed out here — have grown in many ways. One of which is discovering the love I have not only for stories, but for telling my own stories. And if we’re talking screenwriting, if we’re talking about the ability to weave together a narrative, Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” has to be atop the list. It’s a work of the craft that manages to instill anxiety, curiosity, beauty, and an academic understanding of the significance of language. It was the first screenplay that I printed out and studied, examining the structure and choices of dialogue. And how screenwriter Eric Heisserer is able to dictate the nonlinear nature of time while also managing to suggest it’s circular nature by having the beginning of the film be the future and the chunk of the movie take place in the past — all of which is unbeknownst to the viewer. It’s a masterful work that brings with it a unique lens from cinematographer Bradford Young and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, accomplishing the deft and emotional manipulation that the best films do — capturing your mind and your heart. It’s a cherished gift, far too under-appreciated by nerds, screenwriters, and cinephiles alike
4. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
I’m sure this will come as no surprise, but I love the Marvel cinematic universe. I am a nerd, a child of science-fiction who was once lost but is now found in what is the greatest decade to be a nerd. There have been many great works on both the page and the screen. All of which attempt to capture the fidelity I have for these larger-than-life characters. Few of them do so with the magical heft, epic scope, and sheer emotional intensity as “Avengers: Endgame.” I’m a Marvel kid, and to see these characters in the best representation possible, to see this universe of 23-movies-and-counting looking back on its work and relishing in the accomplishments of its labors is astonishing. It’s a thrilling, at times, intimate work of blockbuster filmmaking that I’ve seen 28 times thus far (13 of which were in the theater). Few movies provide me with this obsessive fandom, this emotional relation, and “Avengers: Endgame” is the most magical among them. Ending with heartbreak, triumph, and a thank you for attending it’s 11-year-run. If there was anyone to thank, it’s not me; it’s them. Thank you for the stories, and more importantly the memories they granted me.
3. Moonlight (2016)
After it was released and then honored in one of the wackiest Oscar ceremonies of all time, there was a tendency on red carpets to say that Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” was successful because it felt “universal.” Some will say this is correct because of the varied emotional avenues it offers because I’m sure most people (like myself) didn’t expect to resonate so much with the coming-of-age story of a gay black kid in Miami named Chiron. It undercuts the specificity of this movie though, not only in terms of its details, characters, setting, and emotion but also in its staying power. Because, ultimately, “Moonlight” is this tryptic story about how the labels of life are so profoundly inadequate. No one is just a dealer, a mother, a son, a teenager, an addict, a gay man, or black. We are all far more complicated than the nicknames, brands, and labels that society casts upon us, and as a young man who was slowly unveiling his sexuality at this time, it was a message I needed to hear. Jenkins deeply understands the means and modes of human connection. He knows how it changes our trajectory and makes us who we are, how movies, such as this one, can define us. It is truly mesmerizing and quite possibly one of, if not the, best dramas I’ve seen in my lifetime. Well deserving of being on this list.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
You rarely see a movie as simple as George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and manage to leave drained of all of your emotional capacity. It’s pure kinetic storytelling, written through storyboarding. It’s the language of cinema at its most basic form, and yet entirely original and enigmatically capturing. It’s a film that almost entirely remains mobile: speeding, chasing, bouncing, exploding, and bursting across Miller’s scorched landscape of pandemonium. And it’s a feministic movie, ignifying that women, as creators of life, will consequently be the sole gender in control of our future in a world such as the one laid out in the “Mad Max” films. Furiosa is the symbolic manifestation of a woman fed up with the dooming results of male leadership. Refusing to stay on the long and rehashed road of masculine bravado, becoming the exception to the macho nonsense that so often defines the action genre. Her entire mission is to take these women to the green place where they’ll be safe, only to learn that there is no safety. There is creating the world you need out of the world you have. It’s gorgeous, mechanical, ferocious, and is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before it — despite it being a sequel. It’s the best blockbuster movie of the decade, and it’s so easy to watch over and over again. That is if you’re willing to spend the sweat and the investment asked of you by one of the greatest movies of the decade.
1. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Measuring films is a difficult task; at least it can be. Not all of them are so easy to judge, sometimes you leave a theater liking what you’ve seen and unsure of what you didn’t — but you know you didn’t like something. Other times you leave on cloud nine, knowing you experienced a film that hit all the beats it was supposed to. Rarely, do you see a work of filmmaking that irrevocably changes you. In late 2017, I was on the verge of accepting who I was and who I wanted to be. I was a bi-sexual man. The boy I was hooking up with at the time, who would later become the man I love the most, sat next to me as we watched Luca Guadagino’s “Call Me By Your Name.” A work that is about a boy discovering the pain of love, real love. It’s a lush and vibrant masterpiece with a tactile quality that heightens the sensations, fabricating this primal element to it all. But the sun-drenched vignettes, Sufjan Stevens’ sorrowful composition, or either of the actor’s poignant performances are what has kept this film in my thoughts since I first saw it. It is the speech Ellio’s father gives him after Oliver departs, a soft-spoken speech between an emotionally open father and a vulnerable son. I came out in 2017, not to the response I hoped, or to the response I feared. It was two parents who would rather I’d not be who I was, but wouldn’t exactly tell me not to be that person. Watching “Call Me By Your Name,” I longed for the father who would tell me he loves me no matter my sexual preference in the way Ellio’s father does in that scene.
A film can be a lens to escape, a reflection of the world around you, but it can also be the voice you need to hear the most. At a time where I couldn’t find someone else to tell me the things I needed to hear, Michael Stuhlbarg was there. As was “Call Me By Your Name” in what is the film dearest to my heart. And, therefore, the best movie of the decade.