Ok, we’re almost done with our multi-month long onslaught of lists. While making my list, it became apparent that my list is not going to be that exciting because I seem to have the taste in movies of your average unadventurous film critic. Still, every single movie on my list does have some sort of special significance for me, even if a lot of them were critical consensus favorites when they were released. I was hoping to rewatch all of the movies on my list before constructing my top 10, but didn’t quite get there. I’m sure my list will not be the same a few years from now, especially considering the most recent year was such a good year for movies that I’m having a hard time contextualizing it in the grand scheme of the decade. Anyways, on to some movies I guess…
The Grand Budapest Hotel
If Beale Street Could Talk
I had to throw something in here to make my list a little less boring. The Fast & Furious franchise was perhaps the oddest franchise juggernaut of ’10s, as this formerly mediocre saga hit its stride with Fast Five 2011, and forged a sublimely dumb trio with Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7. These movies walk the finest of lines of going way-over-the-top while never winking too hard at the audience, and in the process, the stakes seem unbelievably high, even if we know Dom and his crew are gonna drive away clean in the end. Furious 7 had some of the series’ most ridiculous stunts (which is saying a lot), and even in its own over-the-top way provided a nice bit of emotional closure with its “one last ride” epilogue serving as a sweet goodbye to the late Paul Walker.
Strange that this is one of the movies I regret not revisting, even though its status as a Netflix movie makes such a thing incredibly easy. This felt like one of the first truly legitimate Netflix movies, though I have no regrets about paying money to see it in theaters when it was released. It’s the kind of movie that could only come from someone like Alfonso Cuarón, a director who has told his share of more intimate, personal stories, and yet his experience making bigger budget Hollywood movies allows for Roma to have a kind of scope and breadth that takes your breath away. It’s also a film that juggles so many tones, and fits in so many little vignettes of storylines, that you come away not just feeling like you’ve walked in this housekeeper’s shoes, but also many others’.
I already hailed Marriage Story as my favorite movie of last year a month ago, though I’m still wrestling with how much (or whether) I like it more than The Irishman or Little Women. But either way, I feel comfortable putting Marriage Story on the list considering Noah Baumbach had such a remarkable decade. After being an indie director of somewhat infrequent output, he just went on a tear of directing great movies starting at the beginning of the decade with 2010’s Greenberg. I have a hard time choosing between Marriage Story and the wonderful Frances Ha as my favorite Baumbach joint of the decade, but I’m going with Marriage Story because, as I’ve said before, it feels like such a potent summation of everything he’s done in his career so far.
I never feel like I see enough foreign movies, but I suspect most cinephiles feel this way. I don’t know that there was a foreign director this decade whom I particular clung to as a personal favorite, but I certainly feel a deep need to catch up with more Asghar Farhadi movies. I suppose I haven’t so far because his films do tend to be a little more on the heavy side. And yet, despite all of its dire situations and wrenching misunderstandings, I would say A Separation is far more thrilling than depressing. It’s a film where everybody feels a bit like the villain, and yet at the same time, no one does because you can’t help but empathize with the fact that they’re all just doing the best they can under shitty circumstances.
I’d be very surprised if there was another film from the ’10s that I’ve seen as many times as The Social Network. Part of this has to do with the fact that it’s just been around longer than most of the movies I’ve loved from this decade. Though it also has to be because it reaches Goodfellas levels of rewatchability for me. There’s just something beautiful about the fusion of Aaron Sorkin’s crisp dialogue being sprouted from the exact right kind of over-confident, eager young actors with David Fincher’s airtight direction holding it all together. There’s plenty to take away from the movie as a document of big tech’s meteoric rise in the last two decades, but at the same time, its a story of ambition that feels as tried and true as America itself.
To quote Jerry Maguire, we live in a cynical world. This makes it very easy to shit on a movie as full of boundless joy as La La Land, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture (which I’m still totally fine with, but Jesus Christ, what a mess). I’ve always had a soft spot for classic Hollywood musicals, so the way La La Land embraces an aesthetic that’s so optimistic in the face of our bleak times feels far more daring than another “edgy” night at the movies. It’s also one of those movies where if you love it, it’s hard to put into words why. It’s just the kind of film that floats you along (much like the Sebastian and Mia in that planetarium) with a sense of perfectly-crafted playfulness, and yet has the good sense to temper your expectations with a finale that mixes the realities of modern love with the kind of fairytale romance Hollywood tricked us into accepting as reality.
Is a movie pretentious if it completely pulls off the grandiosity it’s attempting? This was what was going through my head a couple weeks ago when I revisited The Tree of Life, a movie that seems to tell a very autobiographical story based on the director’s childhood as well as a story about God and the cosmos and dinosaurs. It’s a movie that’s far from tidy, and yet is such an exquisite blend of visuals and imagery that it feels like it almost created a language of cinema all its own. Of course, Terrence Malick had been drifting towards this style for his entire career, while it’s hard to say why his subsequent films after Tree of Life didn’t hit quite as hard (though it sounds like A Hidden Life was a solid rebound). I also feel inclined to put this movie on this list because it was maybe the most transcendent moviegoing experience I had at the movies this decade, as I remember come out of it in a daze that feels like it still hasn’t worn off.
Whatever it is that La La Land seems to evoke in me, Inside Llewyn Davis does the opposite. This is a showbiz story that rarely gets told. One about the iconclasts and has-beens and almost-wases. One that so clearly understands the desperation and frustration of being an artist, but also the kind of difficult personalities that such a life attracts. This is a movie so subtly devastating that I remember seeing it opening weekend at the Cinerama Dome in L.A. and I could just feel the life in the room get slowly sucked out of it. It’s also a movie that captures such a specific feeling and vibe that you feel a weird kind of comfort breathing in its foggy visuals, even if a kind of quiet futility hangs over everything.
Just give Greta Gerwig an Oscar already! After spending the first half of the decade as one of the better indie actresses of her generation, Miss Gerwig established herself as one of the better directors of her generation with Lady Bird and recently Little Women, two movies I find to be just about perfect. The 2010s were mostly an abysmal decade for big-screen comedies, so it should come as no surprise that one of the funnier comedies of the decade was also loaded with enough pathos to make every moviegoer (and their mom) cry their eyes out. It’s a film that’s oddly likable for only having a handful of likable characters. But I suppose it’s Gerwig’s warmth as a director and writer, as well as her affection for these characters that makes everything feel like a bittersweet hug of a movie.
I’m not really sure what to make of the fact that 3 out of my top 4 are coming-of-age movies. I suppose it’s just a genre I’ve always liked a lot, and one that’s timeless because everyone’s adolescence is both similar and completely unique to that person and their circumstances. Of course, Boyhood is a unique case in that it actually captured its actors’ growth, year-by-year, while writer/director Richard Linklater seemed to be making up an overarching narrative as the years went by. It’s an insane way of telling a story, and unsurprisingly the movie is by no means perfect from a narrative or thematic standpoint. Yet, there’s something incredibly charming about the way the movie manages to feel as shaggy, spontaneous, and perplexing as life itself.
A lot of the movies on my list feel like honorary picks for directors who had particularly good decades, and Richard Linklater certainly had one of those, as I easily could’ve made room for Everybody Wants Some!! or Before Midnight on my list. But it’s hard to look at Boyhood as anything other than a culmination of the director’s fascination with artsy outsiders, adult relationships, time as a concept, and about a million other things. It’s also a movie that digs incredibly deep into one of my favorite themes in art — the idea that life is ultimately mysterious and completely impossible to make sense of. So in the face of that, all we can do is keep moving forward, waiting for the moment to seize us.