It’s strange to think that we now live in the far off future of the 2020s. But with that new and strange future waiting for us, we also leave behind a decade filled with some of the best movies we have ever known. While there are a lot of negative and overwhelming things about the 2010s that we’ll always remember, whether we want to or not, I believe it is safe to say that this past decade was one of the best for cinema. It allowed the widest range of filmmakers to tell their unique and awe-inspiring stories that forever changed the landscape. From “Get Out” and “Moonlight” to “Lady Bird” and “Roma,” this was the decade of imaginative storytelling.
For me, I got to see far more wonderful movies than I can count. Not only did I get to see nearly every major release in my small town from 2014 onward, but this was a decade that significantly expanded my world view and tastes in cinema, allowing me to see pictures I would have never expected and now I can’t imagine a world without movies like “Spotlight” or “The Social Network.” But there are so many of those stunning films that forever changed cinema that it’s daunting to even narrow them all down to one list.
So rather than talk about the best movies that changed the decade and movies forever, I’m going to stick with what I know and talk about the movies that changed me. The movies that I will remember forever from the 2010s and ones that I could watch again and again. I also couldn’t do any of these films justice with a short description here, though I do have full length reviews for nearly all of them elsewhere on my blog, so links to those will be included for each of them. These are not necessarily my picks for the best films of the decade (though some of these would be on that list too), but rather these are my absolute favorite and most memorable films of the 2010s (in no particular order…except for the last one).
“The Artist” (2011)
Out of all these picks, “The Artist” is the only one I haven’t talked about at length. But to get to the heart of it, “The Artist” is cinema at its purest. Raw, emotional, visual storytelling at its finest, celebrating how beautiful and tragic cinema can be by crafting a tale that hasn’t been told for nearly 80 years. It’s one thing to make a silent movie in 2011, but it’s another thing entirely to make about the story of how silent cinema faded and the lives that were crushed by that transition. At times, it evokes the whimsy and energy of “Singin’ in the Rain,” while other times the tragedy of being lost in an ever-evolving world like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” It is a timeless tale about why we love movies so much and why they’ll always be relevant, a love letter not just to silent cinema but cinema in general.
Simple, yet innovative. This is a science fiction piece that understands technology in cinema is not just fiction, but can be relatable and logical yet still fascinating and imaginative. I found myself just as invested in the futuristic Los Angeles as I was in the romance between Theodore and Samantha, finding a love story set in a world not too different from our own. A world where technology might have advanced further than us, and has replaced us in many capacities. Yet “Her” finds a middle ground where humans and technology make each other more desirable. That we wouldn’t be complete without the other. With the same quirky, off-the-wall craziness you can only get out of a Spike Jones film, “Her is one of the most creative and heart-warming films of the decade.
“La La Land” (2016) and “Whiplash” (2014)
After a lot of consideration, I’ve come to the decision that I cannot decide which of Damien Chazelle’s masterpieces I love more. So rather than pick one, why not just include both in one spot? Though both films do tell me the same thing – that the musical is not dead. Chazelle’s take on the genre uses music more as an emotion or a state of mind that is complimented by a passion for why music, moving music, needs to be shared with the world. In “Whiplash,” this is taken to its most extreme through J.K. Simmons’ character and his anger at a world that doesn’t share his enthusiasm for music and can’t understand why his students don’t care about it as much as he does. While in “La La Land,” that passion is splashed all over the screen through vibrant colors, long shots of stunning choreography that demonstrates why musicals are beautifully unique without ever sacrificing that same harsh reality that “Whiplash” started. While both films are joyous in their own way, they never sugar-coat anything and often show just how cruel and unforgiving the world can be, but also why that passion is something worth fighting for.
“The Lego Movie” (2014)
There were a large amount of noteworthy animated movies over the last decade – “Inside Out,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Zootopia,” “The Wind Rises,” “Kubo and the Two Strings” just to name a few. But none of them made quite as much of an impact on me as “The Lego Movie.” As strange as this is to say about a film meant to sell tiny bricks of plastic that are a pain to step on, “The Lego Movie” might have been the most creative, heartfelt, nostalgic and visually-striking film of the decade. Say what you will about some of the best cinematography of the decade, none of those movies were made up entirely of legos. But beyond the vast cast of characters that seems to cover nearly every franchise in existence and makes it all feel connected, what makes this so important is the twist near the end and the message that comes from it. No other animated movie hit me nearly as hard as that moment when you find out who has really been pulling all the strings and how it fits right at home with the imagination of legos. I didn’t know that I ever wanted a movie about yellow bricks that has Batman, Shaquille O’Neal and Charlie Day playing a crazy astronaut obsessed with spaceships, but now I can’t imagine a world without “The Lego Movie.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
This film still blows me away. So much is conveyed with little dialogue and visually-rich imagery, creating this hellscape built on madness and cars. It is not only the most high-octane movie of the decade, but also the most authentic action movie of the decade too, with little CGI and epic level action sequences that would make David Lean blush with jealousy. This is what every action movie should aspire to be like – beautiful, detailed in its simplicity, deliciously hand-crafted and satisfying. Any day with “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a lovely day indeed.
“The Martian” (2015)
As time has passed, the more I have fallen in love with “The Martian.” I’d describe it now as a comedy that laughs in the face of certain death and takes delight in the small moments of happiness, anything to remind us why it’s wonderful to be alive. Despite films like “Gravity” or “Interstellar” taking giant leaps for exploring the universe in new and creative ways, it’s the heart and honesty of “The Martian” that wins me over every time. Matt Damon gives the best performance of his career, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of having a planet to yourself while refusing to succumb to the dread of dying and working towards another chance to live. “The Martian” is as uplifting as it is hilarious, striking the perfect balance between crisis and serenity.
If I had to include one gritty and unsettling film from the 2010s, I’d certainly go with the irresistible “Nightcrawler.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance might be my second favorite of the decade, as a man so engrossed in his own uncaring and unsympathetic world that he has to go out to prove his worth in any meaningful way. The way he treats others like his pawns or tools yet how it plays so well into the world he creates for himself and the “Man bites dog” mentality of journalism is so highly captivating. Watching this man try to conquer the world in his own way is a treat all on its own, especially once he starts to succeed at it.
While I tried to stay away from more recent films that haven’t had as much time for reflection as the other films on this list, I keep coming back to Bong-Joon Ho’s immensely captivating genre-bender. Not only is the film able to effortlessly bounce between being a thriller, comedy and social commentary, but it is the most unpredictable experience of the decade. With each scene, it feels like the film could spring off a million different ways, always keeping the audience guessing as to which path it will take, and yet Bong-Joon Ho often picks none of those million possibilities and goes off in a completely different and yet still fascinating path no one could have expected. “Parasite” makes storytelling as creative and original as it was when we first heard stories and reminds me why cinematic storytelling can be so fun in the first place.
“Shin Godzilla” (2016)
I tried desperately to think of a movie that I loved more than “Shin Godzilla” from the 2010s, and I could only come with a few movies, and certainly no other kaiju films. When I think of a modern monster movie, one that portrays a honest depiction of what would happen if there ever was a giant monster running around, “Shin Godzilla” captures that perfectly. The dread and uncertainty of a creature that defies all the laws of nature and the cold reality that scared, tired and confused men are in charge of dealing with that creature is terrifying in its own right. Democracy was not meant to handle a nearly indestructible monster that destroys everything in its path. And even beyond that, this version of Godzilla is the most terrifying since the original monster, leading to monster scenes that are just as intense and gripping as the scenes with the government, and helped by wonderfully dynamic cinematography. Lastly, there’s the national identity of Japan on full display as the film makes Japan the main character with its demeanor, ideals and fears bared for everyone, leading to a climax that is triumphant as it is exhilarating.
“The Shape of Water” (2017)
Despite everything else being in no particular order, “The Shape of Water” is, without a doubt, my favorite movie of the 2010s. From the opening scenes of finding joy in the small moments of happiness like the smell of chocolate in the air to tap dancing after watching in on TV, to the transparently wicked Michael Shannon soaking up every minute he has a chance to assert his authority, to the hauntingly beautiful dream dance sequence that brings me to tears every time, there is no shortage of wonder and awe in this movie. But what really brings it all together is Sally Hawkins giving my favorite performance of the decade, so raw and emotionally gripping as she acts her heart out in every scene without ever saying a word. She commands the screen, not like Michael Shannon’s intensity, but through her vulnerability. “The Shape of Water” is joy in its purest form, capturing the majesty and imagination that cinema can offer without ever shying away from the darker, more horrific sides of that imagination that leads to powerful emotional moments that I’ll never forget. And it is because of Guillermo del Toro’s passion for filmmaking, passion for the fantastical and passion for life that makes “The Shape of Water” the most rewarding movie of the decade.
This has been a decade of so many wonderful movies that I’m sure there’s a bunch that I missed or left out or possibly some that I didn’t even see. So if you have any of those, be sure to let me know what your favorite movies of the 2010s were!