The decade kicked off with the likes of The Social Network and Toy Story 3 but 2010 was otherwise a pretty weak year. Between then and now we saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe take over not only the film world but popular culture in general. Star Wars made a generally successful return to our screens, Harry Potter wrapped it’s decade long journey up, while the likes of the Fast and the Furious and James Bond series continued their immense popularity. The likes of Spielberg, Anderson, Nolan, and Ridley Scott continued to make great movies, while names like Denis Villeneuve, Barry Jenkins, and Damien Chazelle announced themselves in the second half of the period.
As I’ve previously mentioned most 2019 films are still too fresh in my mind for a considered opinion, so I’ve decided to leave them out for now. If necessary, I’ll find a way to fit in any I deem suitable down the track.
25. Moneyball (2011)
Bennett Miller, working from a brilliant script from Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, somehow makes baseball, and more specifically, budgeting for and scouting players through metrics, interesting, entertaining, and even profound. Featuring one of Brad Pitt’s finest leading performances, Jonah Hill’s first (successful) serious foray into drama, and typically excellent work from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Moneyball is a polished piece of work with surprisingly high re-watch value.
24. Like Father, Like Son (2013)
This spot could have been filled by at least three of Hirozaku Koreeda’s other films during this decade, but this is the one I keep going back to. Another domestic drama from the master director, the film follows two families as they try and deal with the horrific news that their sons were mixed up in the hospital following their birth. As perceptive and thought-provoking as all of his filmography, Koreeda is once again able to get remarkably realistic performances out of his child actors that helps to give the film that real emotional kick in the guts.
23. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
This is probably an embarrassing choice for a serious film critic, but I am not one so here it proudly sits! The culmination of a decade’s set-up, from the moment Thanos, brilliantly played by Josh Brolin, curbstomps Thor and The Hulk we know things aren’t going to go quite as we expected. Even so, when that snap happens in the film’s final moments, almost everyone was completely blindsided. In the two hours in between we get pretty much everything Marvel had perfected over the decade, notably a tonne of personality be it humorous exchanges between characters or within the plethora of action. Endgame finished things nicely in 2019 but for me, Infinity War was where the MCU reached its peak.
22. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
I find that the Wes Anderson movies I connect with, I really love. 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom didn’t do a lot for me but two years later his 1930’s set dramedy about a concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy (Tony Revolori) in the fictional European country of Zubrowkan really hit the spot. M. Gustave is one of the great characters of the decade and Fiennes gives what is probably a career best performance in the role. Anderson’s usual quirky visuals are at an all-time high; creative framing and use of miniatures producing a brilliantly unique-looking film. There is a whodunnit as the main plot line, plenty of romance and sentiment but ultimately, it’s just a whole lot of fun.
21. Skyfall (2012)
After 2010’s Quantum of Solace threatened to immediately undo all the great work Casino Royale did to revive the James Bond franchise, Sam Mendes steps up and gives us what I consider to be the best film in the entire series. Excellent action, pacing, and editing, a complex and hugely threatening villain, and Roger Deakins gorgeous cinematography equates to a film that very nearly transcends the series and the genre. Basically a very good Bond film for the first two acts, the shift to Bond’s childhood home in Skyfall in the Scottish Highlands adds a whole new element and elevates the film, right up into my top 25 of the decade.
20. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
As probably the best expression of grief and loss I’ve seen on film it was always going to be hard for Manchester by the Sea to have the staying power of some of these other films. But I look back on my experience watching it and remember how hard it hit me. It’s not easy, but Kenneth Lonergan’s third film features some of the most powerful scenes of the decade that have stuck with me like few others. Casey Affleck, as a father who has lost his three children and must now take responsibility for his dead brother’s son, gives possibly the best performance of the decade. Lucas Hedges is more than able to stand up to Affleck’s career best work, and Michelle Williams has a huge impact in very limited screen time.
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A huge change of pace here as we move to the exhilarating, balls-to-the-wall action fest that is George Miller’s return to the franchise that made him famous. It’s the same apocalyptic world with a similar feel to previous Mad Max films, except everything is ramped up ten-fold. Tom Hardy steps into Mel Gibson’s shoes and does it well, but it is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa who leaves the biggest impression. The narrative is strong but that’s not why we keep coming back. The remarkable cinematography, choreography, set pieces, stunt work and effects make Fury Road as purely exciting and entertaining as any film not only this decade, but of all time.
18. A Star is Born (2018)
Despite having already been made successfully three times previously, everything about this version of A Star is Born seemed destined to fail. An actor making his directorial debut and a singer in her first substantial acting role, with a script that had been stuck ind development hell for years; there just didn’t look to be any way for it to rise above. But rise above it did, in as big a way as possible. Lady Gaga is excellent, Bradley Cooper perhaps even better, both in front of and behind the camera. The sub-plot with with a superb Sam Elliott as Cooper’s brother is under-cooked but everything else hits the mark perfectly. The moment when Gaga’s Ally comes on stage and performs ‘Shallow’ for the first time immediately entered film folklore and you’ll be seeing it again in the decade review.
17. Blue Valentine (2010)
This is the first of two Derek Cianfrance’s films on my list. I haven’t seen his 1998 debut (when he was just 24), but he obviously went away and did a fair bit of maturing before returning with this heart-wrenching piece of work. As a story, Blue Valentine is brilliant in its honest, adult look at love and relationships. This is the part of the film that gets the most notice. But it is also an expertly crafted film, the interwoven timelines, simultaneously showing us Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) as they fall and love and as their marriage crumbles, makes the impact all the more powerful. Gosling and Williams also deliver two of the finest performances of the decade.
16. First Man (2018)
And now the second of Gosling’s six films on my list, in what was a huge decade for the actor. This could also be his best performance, tackling a name everyone knows, Neil Armstrong, but a man of who we know so little about. It’s a pretty straight forward performance in a pretty straight forward film, but man is it all effective. Using the death of Armstrong’s daughter as the catalyst for his amazing feat, wunderkind Damien Chazelle gives the well-known story a personal touch but also some added gravitas. Unappreciated at the time, I am confident the film’s renown will grow as time passes.
15. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
A film about privileged people living in a gorgeous northern Italian town shouldn’t be as moving as this. A coming of age drama about teenaged Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and his brief love affair with the older Oliver (Armie Hammer), is able to transcend it’s billing as a ‘gay romance’ but depicting first love in such an honest and universal manner. Hammer is excellent, as are all the supporting players, but Chalamet is a revelation. The then 20 year old displays the kind of raw, multi-layered emotion that would be expected of someone twice his age. On top if it all, the film features one of cinema’s best fathers, played beautifully by Michael Stuhlbarg.
14. Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine moves away from the relationship between man and woman and instead focuses on parent and child. Cianfrance again experiments with his story structure, this time keeping a linear timeline but crossing a generation after the film’s opening section. This ambitious choice gives the film a sprawling, epic feel and while not everything completely hits the mark, most does and the sum of its parts is an exceptionally moving and powerful film. Gosling and Bradley Cooper are great, but it is the two youngsters playing their sons, Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, who leave the lasting impression.
13. Steve Jobs (2015)
If Gosling is the actor of the decade, Aaron Sorkin must be the writer. Aside from this and Moneyball, he also directed his first film (Molly’s Game) and wrote another that we will of course get to later. But Steve Jobs, a biopic covering the Apple founder’s life in three different periods covering fourteen years, is as much a reason as any to give Sorkin the title. Brilliantly directed by the more than competent Danny Boyle, this dialogue heavy film relies on top actors being able to handle and even elevate Sorkin’s brilliance. In the likes of Michael Fassbender, Jeff Bridges and Kate Winslet, that’s exactly what we get. A beautifully packaged look at a complex, extraordinary man.
12. Paddington 2 (2017)
The first Paddington film came out in 2014 and won over a whole new generation of fans with it’s wit, charm, humour, and warm-heart. Three years later its sequel blew away all expectations by being superior in every area, and immediately entering the top echelon of family films. The anthropomorphic title character, pitch-perfectly voiced by Ben Whishaw, is as lovable as ever, as are his adopted family the Browns. Add in a stronger narrative, prison sequences, a brilliant villainous turn from Hugh Grant, and all the whimsy and pathos one can handle, and the result is probably the biggest surprise on this list.
11. Birdman (2014)
Some may say it is pretentious and not as deep as it thinks it is, but they’re out of their mind. Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu leaped from a bunch of quite depressing slice-of-life dramas into this and completely elevated his game in every way. Everyone around him is working to his same ridiculously high level- the actors (Keaton and Norton especially), composer Antonio Sanchez, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, winning the 2nd of his hattrick of Oscars. A wild though not wholly original tale of a failing actor taking to the stage for redemption, the immaculately polished result seems a bit of a miracle looking back now. But Iñárritu must get most of the praise for even attempting this perfect storm, and the fact it actually gets better every time I watch it is testament to the fact he didn’t just get lucky.
10. Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan made four films in the 2010’s – Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar, and Dunkirk – and I like all of them to varying degrees. But the one I keep returning to is the one with the lowest critic ratings pretty much of Nolan’s entire career. No stranger to trying out different genres, a film about astronauts in a dystopian future travelling through wormholes to find a new home for humanity still seems a little unlikely for him. Regularly criticized for a perceived lack of emotion in his films (a notion I completely reject), Interstellar goes a long way to dispelling this myth. The use of gravity, wormholes, black holes, and relativity was enough to blow my tiny mind, but it is the emotion, at both a humanity and personal level, that brings Interstellar into my top ten.
9. Gravity (2013)
Mexican maestro Alfonso Cuarón made just two films in the 2010’s, Gravity and Roma, with both nabbing him Best Director Oscar noms and the latter a win. In my view, this is by far the better of the two and sits side-by-side with Children of Men (2006) as Cuarón’s finest work. After an extended opening that rivals any film for sustained tension, Gravity becomes a survival story as we follow Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone as she tries to make it back to Earth alone. Heavy on symbolism and light on plot, Gravity works so well because Cuarón is an absolute master film maker working with an amazing technical team, and in Bullock he found an actress capable of holding our attention and genuinely convincing the audience of how horrific her situation was.
8. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
A seemingly impossible task – revisiting Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi classic 35 years later – made to look as easy as you like by modern master Denis Villeneuve. What many expected to be a failure turned out to be possibly the best sci-fi film of the past decade. Villeneuve nails the aesthetic of Scott’s world while seamlessly blending in his more contemporary ideas and effects work. Ryan Gosling is perfect for this world and his dopey dourness makes for the perfect replicant. Much like Scott’s masterpiece, 2049 manages to make a profound statement on what it means to be human in a world so lacking in humanity.
7. Drive (2011)
I recently wrote about Drive in my Favourite Film series so it is suffice to say I’m a big fan. Dark and moody, with bursts of extreme visceral action, Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece works just as well as a modern art film as it does a throwback to the 80’s pulp action flicks. Likewise, Gosling’s Driver is reminiscent of someone McQueen would have played in the 60’s, yet still very much a ‘hero’ for our current times. Drive is a mish-mash of genre and era that won over a whole range of viewers, and I only hope Refn can approach this greatness again some day.
6. La La Land (2016)
My list’s theme of films that surprised me with how good they were continues and culminates in this, Damien Chazelle’s second feature film, and his second on this list. I don’t like musicals – I find the singing and dancing distracting, removing me from the story – but here, it was completely the opposite. A relatively common plot of two aspiring artists trying to make it in their respective themes, Chazelle imbues La La Land with authentic heart and soul, aided by Gosling and Emma Stone’s assured performances. After his dazzling debut Whiplash, Chazelle put an exclamation mark on his status as Hollywood’s up and coming superstar director with his ridiculously sure hand of material that could so easily have fallen into mediocrity.
5. Carol (2015)
On the surface an anachronism of the 1950’s – something I am all for – Carol has quickly become iconic because it is a story that goes beyond time and extends the boundaries of how a homosexual romance can be told. This affair between young photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett), a woman approaching middle age and going through a divorce with her husband, is done delicately, intimately and universally, never depicted as something unusual or wrong, and focusing on the positive not the tragedy. The dreamy imagery evokes not only a bygone era, but that feeling of love bursting to get out, despite all the fogginess blocking its way. A lack of nomination for the film and director Todd Haynes is one of the Academy’s worst ever mistakes.
4. The Social Network (2010)
By this time already known as one of the best directors in the world, David Fincher’s pairing with genius writer Aaron Sorkin had brilliance written all over it, even if the subject matter was an on-paper snooze. The story about the creation of the now ubiquitous Facebook ended up being one of the all time great character studies as Fincher and Sorkin delved into the machinations and motivations of founder Mark Zuckerberg. Aided by a terrific young cast headed by Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg and Andrew Garfield as his best friend Eduardo Saverin, The Social Network captured the zeitgeist and showed off all the respective tricks of masters Fincher and Sorkin.
3. Moonlight (2016)
Having not seen his 2008 debut Medicine for Melancholy, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight came from nowhere to hit me over the head like a tonne of bricks. Ostensibly the tale of Chiron Harris in three distinct phases of his life, growing up black and homosexual in Miama, Moonlight transcends these apparent restrictions to deliver a message on identity, growing up, and loneliness that appeals to all. Achingly melancholy but ultimately hopeful, the film is extremely light on action and even overt drama, with mood and fleeting moments the order of the day. Jenkins produces one of the great directorial displays of the decade, including getting remarkable performances out of every one of his actors.
2. The Tree of Life (2011)
I’m going to turn a few people away as I move into my top two, with two of the more divisive films, at least for the majority of regular movie-watchers. The fifth of notoriously divisive film maker Terrence Malick’s films, The Tree of Life is an experimental, existential journey through space and time, with some deeply affecting family drama mixed in for good measure. There has never been and never will be another film like it, as much as even Malick himself might try. Shaped by the story of a family in suburban America in the 60’s, featuring career best work from Brad Pitt and an early example of the ethereal Jessica Chastain’s ability, the film constantly mesmerises and surprises with Malick’s unbounded ambition given full bore.
1. The Master (2012)
Not content with making possibly the film of the 1990’s (Magnolia) and the 2000’s (There Will Be Blood), Paul Thomas Anderson decided to make yet another masterpiece and take my top spot. The Master is the kind of ambitious, challenging, layered film that PTA has made a career of perfecting, and thus has its fair share of haters. Personally, I found the tale of deeply damaged Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and charismatic charlatan Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the exploration of the bond and duality of the two man to be fascinating and deeply profound. With career best work from Phoenix and Hoffman (and possibly Amy Adams as well), gorgeous cinematography, and a penetrating score from Jonny Greenwood, The Master was a difficult but satisfying choice as my number one film of the 2010’s.
HMs: Toy Story 3 (2010, A Separation (2011), Warrior (2011), Life of Pi (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Before Midnight (2013), Whiplash (2014), Foxcatcher (2014), The Martian (2015), Macbeth (2015), Sicario (2015), Our Little Sister (2015), The Shape of Water (2017), Lady Bird (2017), Phantom Thread (2017), Coco (2017), Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), Sweet Country (2018), Burning (2018), Shoplifters (2018), If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), Parasite (2019)
This was clearly the decade of Ryan Gosling for me, with five entries in my top 25 he is the clear standout. Damien Chazelle (First Man, La La Land, Whiplash HM) and surprisingly, Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) are the only directors with more than one entry.
Please let me know your favourites of what has been a terrific decade in the comments.