I tried calling this post the "Best" of the decade, but there's no me in the best. None of my heart would be in the best because I would be thinking and writing about films that I can acknowledge are objectively great, but my heart would be missing almost entirely. So, instead I focused on my favorites. I started with five candidates from each year of the decade and then picked the twenty-five standouts from that group and ranked them. Numbers twenty-six through fifty are unranked and listed alphabetically before the countdown begins. I know this list could change and evolve as I look at it and tinker with it, but I'm very happy with the ones I came up with and I hope you'll think about, revisit, or watch for the first time based on my recommendation.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
The Descendants (2011)
Ex Machina (2015)
The Favourite (2018)
Gone Girl (2014)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Inside Out (2015)
The Kids are All Right (2010)
Knives Out (2019)
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
The Lobster (2016)
Marriage Story (2019)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
25. ParaNorman (2012): I've always loved stop motion animation and Laika, which produced ParaNorman, has been consistently providing incredible stop motion features. ParaNorman is a very human story about a weirdo who embraces his unasked for talents and approaches the humans and the monsters that he fears with righteous empathy. It's a story that speaks to my weirdo, loner heart and keeps me honest about coming to every person with an open mind.
24. La La Land (2016): It's a musical, it's a romantic comedy, it's one of the most impeccably crafted films I've ever seen. La La Land is not perfect, but its challenges to genre, to story and the idea of happiness and what a happy ending is like is a joy and a sorrow I will revisit time and again. As the music swells so does my heart.
23. Fruitvale Station (2013): What is a life, but a constant striving to better ourselves? What is a man if he's never given the second chance he deserves? Film gives us a chance to let us explore humanity and social issues through a narrative lens and Fruitvale Station is a film that challenges us to see Oscar Grant not as victim, not as former convict, but as a human with flaws, with struggles, and with hope that was all taken away from him by a careless act.
22. Snowpiercer (2014): Science fiction is a window into the probable. It's a way for us to digest the ills of today within the context of an extreme situation. There is not a more poignant portrait of the class divide we continue to have with so few having so much. What I love about this film is that even as the poor rise to fight their oppressors, they find that it's still not enough and it never will be enough. The poor need the rich and the rich need the poor in a horrific symbiosis and the only way to change it is to destroy it and rebuild.
21. Whiplash (2014): Perfection is a myth. Perfection can drive one insane in the pursuit. And yet... Perfection is something that can be captured in a moment. After watching Whiplash, I had to take a long walk. I had to try and get my heart rate down, because it was beating so fast out of joy, anger, frustration, fear and desire. This film makes me want to be the best I can be and is a cautionary tale for what I could become if my striving for the best is all I ever am.
20. Baby Driver (2017): There are lots of films with style. Those films are cool to watch and everything, but I like my stylish films to have that substance with them. There's got to be those great characters, those moments of awe and moments of aww. Baby Driver has all of this with a banging soundtrack and some of the most incredible car chases ever put on film.
19. Selma (2014): There is nothing more powerful than when people stand up for a righteous cause. There is nothing more powerful in film as when a film never flinches when it comes to showing the most brutal aspects of American hypocrisy. I love this film because of the cinematic language it employs and that it's unflinching in its take on all aspects of its subjects. So often our heroes are infallible, but Selma shows them as fragile humans in the best ways.
18. Parasite (2019): A film is only as good as its story. A film is only as good as its actors. A film needs to go far beyond what you expect it to be. Parasite builds layer on top of layer, on top of layer until we are covered in a quilt we can't see our way out of and then as if it knows it's a lot to keep in, the film peels back that quilt and resolves all of itself in the most perfect of ways. I still think about the glorious twist in this narrative and it makes me want to rewatch this film as many times as possible to chase that high of the first time.
17. Super 8 (2011): Super 8 is a film that harkens back to a time when blockbusters were often a grand narrative surrounding the more important family drama. It recalls the Speilbergian blockbusters of single parent households and grand human events seen through the eyes of the everyman. Whereas those films had their aliens be benevolent beings, Super 8's creature just wants to go home. Regardless of its lack of purpose and connections with humans, it helps us achieve an emotional catharsis just as those other creatures did.
16. The Master (2012): The word masterpiece gets thrown around a lot. Especially when people refer to the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, but The Master is a masterpiece of a film. I love its loose structure that provides a meal for these masterful actors to chew the scenery with. I can't look away whenever Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are on screen together. They're riveting and mesmerizing in the way The Master himself hopes to enthrall you.
15. Sleeping with Other People (2015): I love a good romantic comedy, but what I love more is a romantic comedy where the two leads need to find ways to avoid getting entangled. Sleeping with Other People has sharp teeth underneath its charm. It will break your heart while it makes you laugh and lets you yearn for a relationship while also realizing the joy of friendship is incredibly fulfilling when it's with the right person.
14. Get Out (2017): Horror is as subjective a genre as any, but when that horror holds up a lens to society in a way that horror hasn't ever touched, we should sit up and watch more closely. The humor, the terror, the suspense and the drama of Get Out is spectacular. It's a movie that won't leave your mind and it shouldn't. As Jordan Peele once joked on his Twitter, "Get Out is a documentary." It begs us to get woke and fast because this horror is real and we need to change the old ways of thinking if we're ever to move forward.
13. Looper (2012): I love films that tackle time travel. I especially love films that tackle time travel and are complicated, but so intricately crafted that we can easily see the mechanics of how they work and why they work. Rian Johnson is one of the biggest brains working in film and its staggering what comes out of his head and develops into a great film. Looper has so many exciting pieces to its narrative, but never forgets the humanity within.
12. The Tree of Life (2011): The Tree of Life is a film that's far more of a metaphor for human life than it is a narrative feature. There is some structure and story bits, but the way it's put together, the way it's acted, is grander than a simple narrative. It's nature vs. nurture on the largest and microcosmic scales. It's a meditation on what it's like to be a human in a world that influences and pulls us in a thousand directions at once. All of that and it is one of the most beautiful looking films I have ever seen.
11. True Grit (2010): When is a remake not a remake? When it is a new adaptation of the source material. As I shouted from whatever rooftop I could find when it was released, True Grit is not a remake of the original film. It is the Coen brothers' interpretation of Charles Portis' novel and it is one of the most brilliant Westerns ever filmed. True Grit's use of sound, landscape and rumination on what it is to seek justice is exactly what one would think of when pondering this untamed country. It has brilliant performances by all of the cast and has that trademark, dry Coen wit throughout in speech and in visual gags.
10. Roma (2018): Roma is as immersive as a film experience can get. It lives and it breathes when we're not watching. There is so much life packed into every frame and at the beating heart of this story. I love the way it brings you in and wraps itself around and through you. There are films that bring a grand human vision to the screen and Roma is one of the most human I have ever seen.
9. Drive (2011): There are films that can get away with extreme stylishness and violence because they're at the service of story. Drive's best features are what would make another film pretentious. While those films don't stop yammering, Drive lives in the silence, in the pensive quiet. There are pulse-pounding and heartbreaking scenes to be sure, but the air is less filled with inanity than it is with an incredible soundtrack and our own rumination on morality.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): Is there a comic book adaptation more difficult to pull off than, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? Yet, with this impossible, sometimes inaccessible, source material, Edgar Wright created something hilarious, charming, cartoonish, and grounded. It keeps the tone of the original work while improving it with solid casting and incredible ingenuity in visual storytelling.
7. Booksmart (2019): The grounded, bawdy comedy with a large heart thrived especially in this decade. Rarely, though, were women at the center of those comedies and never did they have a prominent queer character who was allowed to want and seek a relationship. Booksmart is much more than a coming of age tale, it's a film about a ridiculously strong friendship and what it's like to love someone so completely. It's a film about acceptance and finding out the depths of the people we think we know. Booksmart is more than what you think it is, just like every character within.
6. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): Fairy tales used to be very different than the homogenized versions we get fed to us as kids. Beasts of the Southern Wild harkens back to that grim and gritty sort of fairy tale. Our heroine is thrust into a situation she never wanted and has to face challenges too great for her to fully comprehend. I love that the film pulls no punches about its characters, their circumstances or the crumbling world around us and yet still shows us magic and resilience in the unforgiving world.
5. Inception (2010): We began to see a trend in films of this decade where studios would rarely take a chance on something that is not already a known intellectual property. Yet, Inception proves that there are still brilliant original ideas floating around out there and if given the chance and the budget, filmmakers can make high art thrillers like this one. From the logic within the world, to the emotional pain of memory, to the truly mind blowing stunts and effects, Inception is a beautiful original.
4. Eighth Grade (2018): Middle school is the absolute worst. Your body changes, your brain tells you you're horny, but you're barely sure what horny is, you want friends, but like, the right friends, and compound it with school and parents and it's a mess. Eighth Grade balances all of the horribleness of that time into the modern era where it's so much more complicated with social media and the internet. Eigth Grade is a heartfelt, hilarious and affirming story that feels so very real and lived in.
3. The Social Network (2010): I often think about this film framing itself around two separate, but intertwined lawsuits that the main character is embroiled in. It gives us a window into the animosity and broken promises behind the idea that upended the world and made us all want as many "friends" as possible. The art of the script and the art of the dynamic score combine with what we can see to make a masterpiece of 21st century drama and so of its time that it's timeless.
2. Lady Bird (2017): We've all been this pretentious, right? We've all brought that false confidence and that utter contempt of mediocrity into our, raging, bubbling late teens. What Lady Bird does better than we ever could is that while we put on that false bravado to stem the deep well of sadness within us is, it shows that the only safe place is the place we're running away from. It shows that everyone is crumbling to pieces and we need each other to prop one another up.
1. Moonlight (2016): I still remember the way my hands shook as I walked home after seeing Moonlight. I remember how my heart pounded and my brain replayed it over and over again. I have yet to ever see anything else like it. It's not just rare to see a coming of age queer story play out it's rare to see one tackle it with the ferocity, empathy, and generosity of Moonlight. The story takes my breath away with every frame.