Posted March 9, 2020

Before taking a deep dive into my choices for the best films that were released over the last ten years, let's look back and reflect on the moviegoing decade.

The movie industry was riddled with seismic levels of change unlike few other recent decades, which that saw the rise and dominance of one overwhelmingly popular genre (the super hero event picture).  Tied to this was the gargantuan rise of Disney, which single-handedly dominated the worldwide box office in previously unheard of and unseen ways.  Furthermore, the ascension of social media and the manner that people consumed films fundamentally altered the landscape - and some would say, the future viability - of cinema chains the world over. 

Super heroes reigned supreme during the 2010s.  They, like, totally manhandled the competition.  Those doubting that need only look at the facts: Comic book centric films occupied multiple spots on yearly Top Ten worldwide grossers, with MCU owning that category.  The recently released AVENGERS: ENDGAME became the highest grossing film worldwide in history, defeating the once thought of unbeatable AVATAR (the former made nearly $3 billion).  Nearly every major MCU installment crushed their contemporary releases, with BLACK PANTHER in particular - the first MCU film featuring a black protagonist - not only becoming the ninth highest grossing film of all-time, but also a darling at the Oscars, even being nominated for Best Picture.  Last year's JOKER also received widespread critical acclaim and Best Picture nomination accolades, and unfathomably managed to out-gross the last STAR WARS film in cinemas last year.  This was a pure dominance genre during the 2010s, and one with no apparent trail off in public interest in sight.  If you're one of the few that think it's on the verge of hitting audience fatigue levels...give your head a shake.

Of course, the unparalleled might of the MCU is inexplicably tied to Disney, and they perhaps made the most shockingly unexpected move in the film world by purchasing STAR WARS (and Lucasfilm and all ancillary properties associated within) from George Lucas early in the decade, furthering tightening their monopolistic stranglehold on the industry (and some would say for the worst).  Eight of the highest grossing films of the last ten years belonged to the House of Mouse, with four from the MCU, two from STAR WARS, two from Pixar, and one of their own animated films occupying those eight positions.  Roughly 38 per cent of the movies seen in mainstream cinemas last year alone were Disney led properties, and the studio had a record number of seven films in the same year that made a billion dollars each worldwide.  Those are some truly staggering - and scary - figures. 

Lastly, no discussion of the 2010s would be complete without mentioning the prominence of streaming and the ripple effects it continues to have on the movies.  As more and more consumers cut the cord on cable subscriptions and opted for services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the recent Disney+, less and less people felt inclined to go out to the movies (despite the massive success of the aforementioned franchises listed above, movie theater attendance hit a 25 year low in 2017, and haven't fully or healthily recovered since).  On a positive, studios like Netflix - which began launching streaming content at the very beginning of this decade - started dabbling in financing and producing their own movies, which led to future Oscar nomination success stories like ROMA, MARRIAGE STORY, and THE IRISHMEN, with ROMA taking home statues for Best Foreign Language Film and Director respectively.  No streaming giant has managed to win a Best Picture Oscar...yet.  The debate about the Oscar worthiness of films produced for mainstream small screen consumption versus theatrical consumption is simply too large for the purposes of this article, but I imagine and fully believe that one of the major streaming giants will strike Academy gold in that high marquee category in the next ten years.  It's inevitable, as Thanos would argue. 

All of this lengthy preamble about the last decade finally brings me to my TEN BEST FILMS of the 2010s list, and one of the reasons for its lengthy delay was that I simply wanted to sit back and reflect upon trends of the last ten years, not to mention that I needed time to revisit and re-watch some of the films that I thought were among the best of their respective years.  I discovered that making this compilation was not as simple as taking my number one ranked film from each of the last ten years and inserting them in here.  For starters, there were some high ranked films from my Top Ten list in some years that I didn't think were better than some of the lower ranked films on different Top Ten lists from other years.  Also, minds can change, and some films have grown on me more than others upon repeated viewings, thus, leading to their inclusion - or lack thereof - here (granted, I have a cardinal rule to never re-rate a film or re-adjust a Top Ten film list after publication).  Lastly, and as I always aspire to do every time with a yearly and decade Top Ten list, I tried hard for qualitative variety here.  There are sci-fi thrillers here, a post-apocalyptic action thriller, a coming of age musical comedy, a war drama, a few period films, and, yes, a Netflix produced crime epic.  Most importantly, this list is mine and mine alone.  It's a personal reflection of the films that typified the finest in the last ten years of filmmaking from a wide and divergent assortment of uniquely talented directorial voices.  

One last note: The individual write-ups for each of the following films have been essentially copied and pasted from my discussion of them - albeit, with minor alterations here and there - as they appeared in their respective Top Ten Films of the year articles.  I did this for the sake of time, and to get this article out as soon as I could. 



1.   MAD MAX: FURY ROAD  (2015)


George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was easily the best two-plus hours that I had in a movie theatre in the 2010s, simply because this sort of sequel, sort of reboot of Miller’s landmark post-apocalyptic series did the most bravura job of transporting me as an escapist thrill ride.  Right from its opening few minutes, the 70-plus year old filmmaker's unbridled creative passion and boundless enthusiasm in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD shined through.  Everything here had a remarkably lived-in and tactile look and feel, showing Miller at his most cheerfully fetishistic in terms of conjuring up nightmarishly horrific costumes and makeup design, not to mention a ghoulish menagerie of vehicles that were the stuff of our most perverted collective car-porn fantasies.   And when the film unleashed its positively eye-gasmic orgy of vehicular mayhem – all choreographed astonishingly well with practical cars and stunts – I was in a state of action cinema Valhalla. 

Miller also had more up his sleeve than simply assaulting us with exhilarating action sequences.  The film also had a strong undercurrent of feminist empowerment, emphasizing the might and superiority of righteous female characters as positive catalysts of change in a deranged hellscape run by despotic men.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is the best possible MAD MAX film ever envisioned.  The gargantuan breadth of Miller’s crafty imagination and gutsy showmanship was on unparalleled display here, making the film one of the great pioneering visionary sagas of our current decade.  

This film will ride eternal...shiny and chrome. 


 2.   THE TREE OF LIFE  (2011)


How could I not put Terrance Malick’s film as one of the very best of the 2010s?  It is, as I stated in my review, perhaps one of the most awe-inspiringly ambitious films I’ve ever seen.  

Here’s a drama that, on one level, appeared to be a semi-biographical meditation on Malick’s own childhood memories of growing up in 1950’s Waco, Texas.  It was also a searing portrayal of family strife, the innocence of childhood, and a commentary about unavoidably dealing with loss, death, and grieving.  Yet, THE TREE OF LIFE also managed to have the tenacity and daring aspiration of framing that story within the larger and more cosmic one of the very origins of the universe.  In what has to be one of the most visually arresting and impressively sustained sequences of visuals ever committed to film, Malick took great pains and time (twenty minutes worth and virtually silent throughout) to depict a God’s eye-view portrayal of the cold blackness of space, the eruption of the Big Bang, the early expansion of the stars and planets, the birth of Earth, and the very first stirrings of biological life on the planet.  It was quite simply the closest that film viewers will perhaps ever get to witnessing a camera crew capturing and shooting the beginnings of...everything.  

Then again, THE TREE OF LIFE was about the interconnectedness of everything.  No matter how tiny and inconsequentially small or universally large, Malick pointed out how everything is connected (all of God’s creatures, from dinosaurs to young boys in the 1950’s, are both capable of cruelty against much smaller creatures, as shown in two mirrored sequences in the film).  Then there is randomness: the death of one character in the film was depressingly random, but so too was the randomness of the Big Bang or the asteroid, for example, that impacted the Earth, killed off the dinosaurs, and irrevocably altered life on it.  When it comes to the larger scheme of things, an asteroid or a boy dying is miniscule compared to the vastness of the universe.

THE TREE OF LIFE might be the first film to deserve worthy comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, one of the greatest of all films, perhaps because both are oftentimes unfathomably impenetrable and befuddling to explain.  Both films show man’s evolution through the bigger framework of the cosmos.  Both films have extraordinarily believable visual effects that show space and time (Douglas Trumbull served on both films, this being his first credited work in decades) and both films have surely agitated some critics and audience members alike.  Yet, both films have the resolve to leave their own inherent mysteries open-ended to speculation and demand patience from viewers.  2001 was not initially loved by critics, but it's now heralded as an unparalleled masterpiece; I believe that THE TREE OF LIFE, years after its release, has come close to being similarly received.


3.  BOYHOOD (2014)


I’ve been championing BOYHOOD since I screened the film earlier in the summer of 2014.  Richard Linklater’s pioneering film – a near three-hour family drama epic – was one of the great filmgoing experiences of my life.  On a basic level, the film could not have been any simpler: Linklater chronicled the upbringing a child from elementary school to his high school graduation…over the course of twelve years.  Here was the utterly fascinating hook, though: the character in question during this decade-plus time frame was played by the same actor.  No makeup.  No CGI special effects.  No movie trickery.  We get to see this child – and the actor that played him (Ellar Coltrane) effectively grow up on screen. 

How did Linklater achieve this?  He shot BOYHOOD every year over the course of 12 years and then edited the 39 days of shot footage together to create a rich tapestry of the lad’s upbringing.  Not only was this an endlessly audacious and courageous filmmaking endeavor (what if Coltrane – God forgive – died during the production?), but it also created a stark intimacy with this boy’s story.  We see this boy emerge from a precocious and inquisitive child to a somewhat rambunctious young adolescent to a thoughtful and independent minded adult on the verge of discovering what he wants to do in life.  And we see the adult characters grow – and age – on screen as well.  The results were nothing short of miraculous.  BOYHOOD cost just $5 million, which wouldn’t cover the catering of the last Michael Bay film.  Yet, it was a magical cinematic gamble that paid off.

BOYHOOD never felt like a three hour film; it sort of just rushed by at the blink of an eye.  Kind of, oddly enough, like life.  There has never been a film that has so meticulously captured the ebb and flow of life like this one.  BOYHOOD is a small-scale movie marvel of incalculable dramatic magnitude.



My CTV Review of BOYHOOD:




I guarantee you that this film was hardly on anyone's best of the decade radars.  

THE PLACE BEHIND THE PINES was my choice for the best film of 2013 - and is definitely one of the best of its decade - primarily because of the quiet and transfixing power that its vast and epically rendered storyline maintains.  It also cemented director, Derek Cianfrance as one of the most important and skilled filmmakers in American cinema.

He's the kind of inspired and intrepid new breed of director that only comes once in proverbial generation, and one that takes noteworthy risks, avoids criminally overused Hollywood clichés and conventions, and forges ahead by telling unique and authoritative stories that feel both familiar and novel at the same time.  Much like, as odd as this comparison sounds, THE GODFATHER saga, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES was a sprawling family drama that chronicles how the sins of two sets of fathers have unavoidable consequences for their sons.  Cianfrance’s film was atypically bold in the way it told a multi-generational story – in three separate vignettes, covering a period of two decades – and, in turn, simply, but brilliantly, showed how the first story arc segues into the second and, in turn, into the third.  There was a dark undercurrent of Greek tragedy to the film, seeing as the unsuspecting sons of the narrative are forced to deal with the past indiscretions of their respective fathers, and it all comes to a head in the film’s mesmerizing final act.  There were so very few dramas over the last ten years that existed with the same limitless narrative ambition of Cianfrance’s film.  




Paradoxically, I've been one of Paul Thomas Anderson's biggest fans and harshest critics.  I felt that he couldn't artistically do wrong when he made BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA in the 90s (which I felt were two of the best films of that decade), but then came experimental outings in films like PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, THE MASTER, and, most recently, INHERENT VICE that, to be fair, still showed the director's supreme command over technical artifice, but nevertheless displayed a somewhat undisciplined narrative approach that left me feeling more than a bit hollow and empty after watching them.   

PHANTOM THREAD - at least in my mind - represented a triumphant return to masterful form for the then 47-year-old filmmaker in telling an utterly absorbing tale of a courtship and marriage set in post-war London (a setting that felt refreshingly different and well removed from his previous films) and all set within the meticulous world of dressmaking.  Not only was this romance period drama as sumptuously realized as anything the auteur as ever envisioned before, but it also became so utterly hypnotizing as a perversely dark comedy about the nature of power struggles in relationships and how they become unyieldingly broken and then propped up again via some highly peculiar and macabre methods.  Anderson grabbed and held our attention from the first scene and built everything to a climax that was remarkably unpredictable and unnerving in equal dosages.  That, and PHANTOM THREAD contained the last performance (by his own admission) of Daniel Day Lewis (re-teaming with Anderson after THERE WILL BE BLOOD), whose work here as one of the most nitpicky perfectionist artists in recent movie history was a textbook exercise in stupendous performance immersion.  It's been a long time since I saw a movie that showed Anderson uniquely and wholly in his aesthetic wheelhouse and in complete command of his craft...and PHANTOM THREAD was most certainly made with the level of surgical precision and confidence that made his early films two decades ago such unqualified classics. 

6.  THE REVENANT  (2015)


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s sixth film, THE REVENANT, came hot off the filmmaker’s multiple Oscar winning BIRDMAN, and it emerged as an unforgettably extraordinarily rendered outdoor survival thriller, set in the early 1800’s and loosely based on the fact-based account of a frontiersmen that was viciously attacked by a bear, left for dead, and then traveled across 200 miles of harsh and uncompromising wilderness terrain to survive.  

Inarritu and company have expanded upon this real premise by making it a larger tale of the survivor’s thirst for ultimate vengeance against the man the ultimately left him for dead.  Featuring an astonishing physical and mostly non-verbal performance by Leonardo DiCaprio (who finally won his first Best Actor Oscar trophy for it), absolutely breathtaking cinematography that paints the screen with the intoxicatingly foreboding beauty of the terrain that comes to haunt the film’s characters, and bravura direction by Inarritu – who frequently used ultra-long and unbroken shots (especially during action sequences) – that gave the proceedings a startling sense of realism and immediacy, THE REVENANT was a tour de force display of filmmaking craft.  It was also a spellbinding tale of perseverance, anguish, and the dicey relativism of savage eye-for-an-eye frontier justice.  This film was an endurance test to sit through, but it was a visceral experience like few others in the decade that was.


7.   INCEPTION  (2010)


Just as he did with THE DARK KNIGHT in 2000s, Christopher Nolan made one of the the very best films of the 2010s in INCEPTION. 

Featuring the most wickedly ingenious script of 2010, shot on a grand and epic scale (with a reported $160 million budget) in six different countries around the world and featuring an all-star cast of respected actors performing at the top of their game, Nolan's masterstroke work here thoroughly and effortlessly transported viewers into this intriguing hybrid of the sci-fi fantasy, the tension-filled heist flick, and the riveting psychological thriller is noteworthy enough, but he also managed to immerse those genres into a dissection of some of the most prevailing themes of all fiction: the nature of reality and our perception of it.  All of it worked harmoniously together to create one of the most thoughtful, thrilling, and contemplative escapist films in a long time. 

The overall plot is far too dense to modestly disseminate: All you need to know is that it starred a rock-solid-as-ever Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate raider that uses methods no other movie thief has ever attempted: he doesn't break into buildings and simply rob them, but rather he uses cutting edge science and technology to infiltrate the minds of men to steal their ideas that allow him to profit in the real world.  One last mission that he attempts involves the incredibly convoluted and dicey proposition of “inception”, which involves entering dream states upon dream states of his unsuspecting victims and then planting ideas within their subconscious.  Now that’s fiendish ambition. 

Nolan has over time emerged as one of the most shrewdly sophisticated and accomplished directorial minds of his generation.  From early successes like his mind-bending thriller MEMENTO, the police procedural INSOMNIA, a virtuoso re-imagining of the BATMAN film universe with BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT sequels, epic sci-fi extravaganzas like INTERSTELLAR, and war drams like DUNKIRK, Nolan has managed to forge a career of astonishing  variety.  Moreover, all of his work, INCEPTION included, places an intimate level of trust in the attention spans and intelligences of their audience members.  He asks them to engage their minds in the stories and characters first while other directors bombard them with visceral mayhem and teeth-clenching noise.   No other populist filmmaker during the past two decades has taken audiences on such a ride as Nolan, and INCEPTION fully emerged during the last ten years as a dream worth entering.


8.   ZERO DARK THIRTY  (2012)


Just as she confidently did in 2008 with the multiple Oscar winning THE HURT LOCKER, director Kathryn Bigelow most certainly made the best film of 2012 year in ZERO DARK THIRTY, which chronicled the real-life decade-long manhunt to find and kill Osama bin Laden.  And it deserves worthy placement on this list as well.  

ZERO DARK THIRTY told a long, but briskly told story that we all know the outcome to, but it’s the manner that Bigelow and her writer Mark Boal (who collaborated with her on THE HURT LOCKER) manage to generate tremendous interest and suspense with building to its outcome that is the film’s crowning achievement.  We all know that SEAL Team Six killed the infamous terrorist on May 2, 2011 in a drab, dingy, but well fortified compound in Pakistan.  Calling ZERO DARK THIRTY anti-climatic misses the point.  It’s mostly obsessed with the obsessed CIA woman (played with supreme vigilance, authority, and raw guts by Jessica Chastain, in one of her best performances) that did the impossible by finding the ultimate needle in a haystack. 

The film was, to Bigelow’s credit, a technological marvel (the final climatic raid on the compound – shot with virtuoso hand-held, green-night-vision hued intimacy and authenticity – is a masterstroke), but Bigelow deserved more credit for crafting a film of haunting and complex thematic ambiguities.   Accusations that the film is pro-torture have been levied, among other things.  ZERO DARK THIRTY was far and away more intricate and compelling that this criticism.  It neither condoned torture, nor apologized for it.  Secondly, this film was not a documentary, but a dramatic document of a fact-based mission.  Furthermore, it never explicitly stated that torture was the only catalyst in finding bin Laden, but rather just one piece of a much larger puzzle.  Most crucially, though, the film was not a fist-pumping patriotic rallying cry for torture, and it never concluded with a sense of overjoyed happiness on the success of the mission as a whole.  In the end, we gained a sense - by looking at the teary-eyed exhaustion of Chastain’s damaged character - that perhaps all of the mission's efforts did not amount to a hill of beans, because the war on terror will unalterable carry on.  ZERO DARK THIRTY was one of the great films of our nihilistic times; superbly crafted, impeccably acted, intellectual stimulating, and morally complicated.   


9.   THE IRISHMAN  (2019)


The most recent entry in this list, THE IRISHMAN - a fact-based, Netflix financed and produced  crime drama - came out last year to unprecedented levels of anticipation.  It marked director Martin Scorsese's first return to the genre he made masterfully his own since his 2006 Best Picture and Director winning THE DEPARTED.  That, and it also showcased his first re-teaming with Robert De Niro since 1995's CASINO.  THE IRISHMAN also brought the long-in-retirement Joe Pesci back to the movies and alongside his frequent co-star in De Niro.  And finally, this film also astoundingly represented the first teaming of star Al Pacino and  In short, and if you excuse the sarcasm and referencing to a very recent public movie controversy, THE IRISHMAN was the AVENGERS: ENDGAME of Scorsese gangster films. 

More crucially, though, the grand and epically staged drama (clocking in at three and a half hours) felt like a superb culmination of Scorsese's entire crime centric film career, which kicked off 46 years ago with MEAN STREETS and then segued towards better films like GOODFELLAS, CASINO, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THE DEPARTED.  Utilizing an unprecedented partnership with the streaming giant (and a massive $180 million budget), Scorsese envisioned and executed one of the most ambitiously daring crime dramas in many a moon, one that spawned five decades in the lives of its respected characters (realized using some much publicized, thanklessly convincing and cutting edge de-aging technology).  And unlike previous gangster sagas, THE IRISHMAN separated itself apart from the pack for how melancholic it was in showing how mortality, loss, and regret deeply affected these men in crime (the wise guys here either died dreadful deaths or lived in isolated existences forever estranged from loved ones, leading to a pathetic and lonely death all alone).  This film was easily the biggest cinematic gamble of the past year, but one that highlighted Scorsese - the greatest living director - at the height of his aesthetic powers.  




10.   SING STREET  (2016)


If this film were a person...I would hug it.   

SING STREET, the most modest and unassuming entry on this list, filled me with euphoric joy while I watched it four years ago.  The glow of that screening has never subsided.  

This coming of age musical dramedy spoke to me on more profoundly personal levels than most films from the previous ten years, primarily because it was set in the era of my childhood and enthusiastically tapped into its neon-hued pop culture.  That, and John Carney's coming-of-age musical comedy was one of boundless feel-good optimism, made all the more engagingly toe-tapping because it celebrates music, music creation, and one young man's artistic ingenuity.  It told a tale of a young Irish lad in economically ravaged mid-1980's Dublin that decides to start a band and make music videos...all to impress a pretty girl.  That fairly bare bones premise could have been reduced down to petty genre troupes and conventional plotting, but there's an undeniably potent message at the core of SING STREET: no matter how impoverished and bleak life appears, there's salvation to be had in art and artistic creation.  Refreshingly lacking any semblance of annoying cynicism, this film reminded me of the vitality of movies to serve as escapist engines to fill out hearts with feel good happiness.  

And as far as feel good cinema goes, SING STREET still remains pretty much damn perfect and a work to be embraced.  


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