It is difficult to choose just ten films to highlight from a decade that brought the world of cinema so many great pictures. I can confidently say that I saw more films during the 2010s than any other time in my life and as hard as it is to narrow them down to one list, here are my picks for the top ten films of the decade.
10. “The Revenant” (2015) Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu:
After the wide critical success of his previous film “Birdman” (2014), Iñárritu somehow managed to top himself with a more instinctive story about survival motivated by revenge. From the beautifully choreographed opening battle sequence, to the nearly flawless performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, walking out of the theater left me with the sense that this film was truly something special. Aside from the finished product, which arguably has the best cinematography of the decade, the story behind the grueling production is legendary. I may be reaching a bit here, but I consider “The Revenant” to be this generation’s “Apocalypse Now”.
9. “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) Dir. Martin Scorsese:
Easily the most excessive film on this list, and likely the most over the top film of the decade, “The Wolf of Wall Street” takes off like a rocket and never takes the foot off the gas. The film has so much energy in every frame that I can’t imagine any filmmaker other than Scorsese being up to the task. There are so many superlatives to highlight, but what is truly the most memorable is Jonah Hill’s fearless and unapologetic performance. As one of the greatest filmmakers in American film history, it is no surprise that Scorsese has easily made a top ten film for every decade since he began his incredible career.
8. “Nebraska” (2013) Dir. Alexander Payne:
I cannot express enough my deep adoration for this beautiful film about an aging father who wants to walk to Nebraska and claim a prize from a mailing sweepstakes scam and the patient son who agrees to take him if only as a last-ditch effort to make a genuine connection with the man who was never around while growing up. The film is as meaningfully touching as it is hilarious. I will admit the slow burning narrative and dry humor isn’t for everyone, but this one just hits me in all the right places.
7. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) Dir. Joel and Ethen Coen:
Like Scorsese, It is hard to go a decade without an absolute masterpiece by the Coen Brothers and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is no exception. They managed to make the 1960s Greenwich Village folk music scene so tangible. You get lost in the desperate and lamentable life of its protagonist as he navigates feelings of grief, desperation, and the internal conflict of artistic integrity vs. commercial success. Oscar Isaac’s performance goes extremely underrated as you can see the pain and angst in his face and feel it to your core through his music.
6. “The Social Network” (2010) Dir. David Fincher:
Sometimes a great film is the result of a single visionary doing everything in their power to make their statement. Other times, it is the result of a collection of talented artists who use their own strengths to bring a picture together. In the case of “The Social Network”, I believe it to be the latter. From Aaron Sorkin’s perfect screenplay with its razor-sharp dialogue, to the flawless editing and pacing, to David Fincher’s direction, the film is something that should be studied by film students for generations to come as an example of master class filmmaking. “The Social Network” may very well be the most captivating movie on this list as it presents a story about one of the most defining events of our generation and how our world has never been the same since.
5. “Midnight in Paris” (2011) Dir. Woody Allen:
This is a film about escapism and ultimately, why we go to the movies in the first place. Just like the protagonist who travels back in time to the golden age of 1920s Paris every night at midnight, we immerse ourselves in a story to suspend our reality and escape to a place we romanticize. We hope that doing so will eliminate the bad or mundane reality of our lives, but in the end we must realize that no matter what time or place we live in, whether it is our golden age or not, the harsh reality of life will always present itself. I don’t want to make it sound like the film is pessimistic in nature because it isn’t. It is a beautiful and charming story about nostalgia and an ode to modern American literature, specifically the lost generations artists who defined 20th century culture.
4. “The Master” (2012) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson:
American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 masterpiece is as hypnotic of a film as I can think of. “The Master” is on the surface a story about a returning WWII veteran who cannot assimilate into society and the religious cult that takes him in. It is hard to put into words how much more is actually going on, but I can speak to the undeniably incredible acting by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix, who delivers one of the all-time great and haunting performances in cinematic history. “The Master”, like PTA’s previous film “There Will Be Blood”, demands multiple viewings as its enigmatic nature is reminiscent of films by the great Stanley Kubrick.
3. “A Separation” (2011) Dir. Asghar Farhadi:
This incredible Iranian film is proof that a great film does not need to rely on images to be effective and that storytelling and acting can carry a piece when done at such a high level as this. Farhadi is one of the most masterful filmmakers working today and this breakthrough film about divorce in a country where religious oppression dictates the lives of its citizens manages to be the most humanistic film of the decade. It is a story not about right and wrong, but instead about doing the best one can given the situation.
2. “Inception” (2010) Dir. Christopher Nolan:
I’m not the biggest Nolan fan in the world, but walking out of the theater after “Inception” is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Although the story is essentially a variation on the heist genre, “Inception” hits on every level in terms of critical and commercial appeal and is an absolute classic that I believe will stand the test of time. Shots like spinning a top and locking it in a safe to represent planting an idea in someone’s mind, or a van slowly falling from a bridge as a time tracking device are so iconic that it was impossible to ignore its cultural significance in the world of film. The ending will likely be debated forever and with everything considered, “Inception” is a watermark in blockbuster cinema.
1. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012) Dir. Benh Zeitlin:
Most certainly the least known movie on this list, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a modern folktale that is easily the most creative and original film of the decade. The film beautifully mixes the very real effects of Hurricane Katrina with a world of fantasy as told through the eyes of an incredible little girl named Hushpuppy who lives with her dying father in a simplistic community south of the levy. This is a prime example of the limitless nature of cinema and how putting the camera in the hands of a creative individual can truly bring magic to life.