Something about making top 10 movie lists feels more serious than the other three. I guess it’s partly because it feels like it’s the medium where John, Colin, and I are closest to being on a level playing field. Like, there’s only so much music and TV all three of us have in common, and we don’t really talk about video games at all. But film, I mean, we have a whole weekly podcast dedicated to that! I think this phenomenon is even bigger than this blog, as tough as that might be to believe. The Oscars feel more important than the Grammys, you know? I guess it might have to do with how big theatrical releases are about as close as we get to shared culture these days. I wonder how that will change in the next 10 years?
Anyway, I made my list free of any pretension. I didn’t look at any critic’s top movies of the decade lists, and since I’m going first, I don’t even know what John and Colin are going to include on their lists. This is just me sorting through the movies I love the most right now. So know this: I could easily do a top 100 as there’s a helluva lot of great movies I would rate highly that didn’t make this list. Similarly, I have a shitload of movies in my backlog I still need to catch up with that could very well change this top 10 if I were to do it again. Which, hopefully, I will get the chance to do someday. I’d hate to have to try to defend this these picks for the rest of my life.
Honorable Mentions: Kedi, Minding the Gap, O.J. Made in America, The Queen of Versailles
The last decade has definitely been good to documentaries. What was once among the least financially viable genres of film has found new life thanks to the various distribution methods that have cropped up since Netflix started mailing DVDs. A lot of the first few months of Netflix streaming for me was dedicated to documentaries and comedy specials, and other services like Hulu and HBO Go made sure I kept watching these things. By the end of the decade, we got to the point that documentaries were such a big deal they provoked cultural moments, like last year’s Leaving Neverland forcing a lot of people to reconsider Michael Jackson’s legacy (although I didn’t see that one so I have no idea). Of all the docs I DID see in the past 10 years, I think my favorite was Mistaken for Strangers, the story of the band The National’s first world tour as told from the perspective of the lead singer’s loser brother. Tom Berninger is a lovable slacker who I could relate to extremely well at exactly the time in my life that this doc came out. How much of it was fictional? I still don’t care! And that applies to my next pick too.
Honorable Mentions: The Big Short, First Man, The Social Network, Spotlight
Wow, already getting into the big stuff. This decade wasn’t messing around, huh? I put all the historical/biopic movies into one bucket, and then picked a movie that almost certainly is not the best of them. I mean, pretty much everybody thinks The Social Network is in like the top two or three movies of the decade, right? And you can imagine some of the films that didn’t even get an honorable mention, like 12 Years a Slave, The Irishman, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty. Surely those are all better than Moneyball? But here’s the thing: I love baseball. I love the worst team in baseball, arguably the worst team in all professional sports. And any time I start to think wasting three hours on nine innings is stupid, I think about this little movie about one of the Mariners’ biggest division rivals. So whenever I took Moneyball off the list, I felt guilty about it and put it back on. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Honorable Mentions: Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, A Prophet, Room
This group is for indie dramas, which for me very specifically means movies I saw without knowing much about the director, writer, or principle cast. These are the best-case-scenario film festival movies (although I didn’t see any of my top five at SIFF). And, look, I know Whiplash has become overrated in the five years since its release. But I think Damien Chazelle was among the great breakthrough directors of the 2010s, and I still have a ton of fondness for his debut film. I think the Whiplash‘s central question – do you need someone to push you beyond your breaking point to achieve greatness – is fun to think about and I appreciate that it doesn’t directly answer that question. Also it made jazz drumming in college seem thrilling and dangerous, which definitely is not how I thought about that particular activity before this movie.
Honorable Mentions: Anomalisa, Inside Out, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Toy Story 3 (or Toy Story 4 depending on how I feel that day)
These were my favorite animated films of the last decade. The top five wasn’t that hard to figure out, but I had a bit more of challenge deciding between the big three of Inside Out, Into the Spider-Verse, and Isle of Dogs. I’m not going to lie, it really helped that I could put a Wes Anderson movie in this spot, because it made the decision in a later spot on this list easier to make. But I also think I really did like Isle of Dogs more than any other animated movie I saw in the past decade, because I love dogs and found this portrayal of them one of the most accurate to the actual experience of being around canines. Most movies about dogs depict them as noble heroes, just look at that Call of the Wild trailer. Isle of Dogs shows them as irrational, goofy, eager to fight and play, occasionally gross, and, ultimately, the best friends we could ask for. PLUS THEY’RE SO CUTE!
Honorable Mentions: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Knives Out, Lady Bird, The Nice Guys
In honor of the Golden Globes, these are my comedy/musical favorites. When it came to picking a favorite out of this group, I basically had a four way tie. It hurts that Taika Waititi didn’t get to make it onto my list, as he made three of the funniest movies of the last decade, including the funniest Marvel movie. I also really think Greta Gerwig, another of the big breakouts this decade, deserved to be here for something between Frances Ha, Mistress America, Lady Bird, and Little Women. Both directors have earned “I’ll see whatever they’re doing next” status for me. But Scott Pilgrim vs. the World just seems better and better as time goes on. First of all, the cast rules and helped introduce like a full generation of stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Brie Larson all popped up on my radar because of this movie. Secondly, it’s just so much stylish fun that it seems outright bizarre this was Edgar Wright’s first flop. Thirdly… maybe I should have found a way to further divide comedies into separate spots?
Honorable Mentions: Get Out, Sicario, Uncut Gems, The VVitch
It turns out nothing can make me doubt myself more than a best picture win! I enjoyed quite a few thriller/horror movies in the 2010s, despite it not really being a genre I follow. I guess good movies are good, no matter what. After all, how else can you explain the crossover success of Get Out, a movie that is beloved even by people like my parents, who completely refuse to see anything gory or scary. I guess another movie that has that potential is Parasite, although it throws up the additional hurdle of subtitles. But, as writer-director Bong Joon-ho says, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films” and this certainly proves that fact. I genuinely believe Parasite will stand the test of time. As long as there are poor folks and rich people who turn their noses at them, this movie will leave an impact.
Honorable Mentions: First Reformed, Marriage Story, Paterson, The Tree of Life
That’s right, another pick from 2019. I guess I’m settling into 2019 being the best year of the decade for movies? That’s wild, doesn’t feel like that should be the case. Anyway, I don’t have a snappy name for this group. I guess it would be something like “movies from established directors and/or with A-list casts.” From the honorable mentions, it might look like “indie dramas 2,” but guys like Paul Schrader, Noah Baumbach, Jim Jarmusch, and Terrence Malick all have a bit more clout than Lenny Abrahamson, you know? Anyway, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is certainly Quentin Tarantino’s best movie of the last decade. In the same way that I didn’t like Wes Anderson could make a movie that was affectionate about dogs (that dude’s killed so many dogs in his movies), I underestimated Tarantino’s ability to make a movie about friends. What a cool trick it was to followup a claustrophobic movie about eight people who want to kill each other with a sprawling epic about two bros who just wanna hang out. All you gotta do is bring a little lovin’ and you’ve got a great time.
Honorable Mentions: Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Edge of Tomorrow, Her
Finally, we’re getting into my wheelhouse. These were my favorite space/sci-fi movies, and boy did this group have a great decade. Denis Villeneuve is another one of those “I’ll see whatever they’re doing next” guys now, in no small part thanks to his three movies that made it all the way to the honorable mentions on my list (Sicario was in the mix for thrillers/horror movies, in case you missed that). But I have to go with Pacific Rim, the best giant robot movie ever made. It’s funny, of the three 2010s movies Guillermo del Toro directed, he made the ultimate Sean movie and the ultimate John movie (The Shape of Water). Does that mean Crimson Peak is secretly the ultimate Colin movie? Anyway, Pacific Rim also holds the distinction of being the best D-Box experience I ever had in theaters. And, like all my favorite sci-fi films, now it has a shitty sequel that I’ll have to pretend doesn’t exist!
Honorable Mentions: Furious 7, Inception, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Skyfall
The number two spot is all about action movies. I can only hope Christopher Nolan’s next mind-bending action film, Tenet, kicks off the 2020s as well as Inception jump-started the 2010s. This was also the decade that I fell in love with the Fast & Furious franchise, which undoubtedly peaked somewhere between five and seven, as ridiculous as that sounds. Spy action movies also got good again, as we got a few jaw-dropping Mission: Impossible movies and the best Bond movie in forever. But I’d be crazy not to fill this space with Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie so good it made the rest of that franchise instantly irrelevant. Hey, Tom Hardy, why are you wasting you time making Venom 2 while we’re still waiting for the next Mad Max?
Honorable Mentions: Dredd, Logan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Wonder Woman
Of course, when it came down to it, the 2010s were the decade of the franchise film. This is mostly the domain of comic book super hero movies, although Disney is having a go at turning Star Wars into a cinematic universe too. Of them all, nothing compares to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which I have written about extensively on this blog over the past 12 years. But I can’t pretend that anything else I saw meant as much to me, took up as much of my time, and cost as much money as the MCU. The MCU simply had to be on top. So the real trick was just picking one movie to sum it all up. Of course, 2019’s Avengers: Endgame made that decision easy too, as it put a button on the whole MCU by capturing all its best elements in one movie: irreverent comedy, dense action, inspiring heroes, and bad dads. I’ve been living in a post-Endgame world for nearly 10 months now, and I still feel warmly content when I think about it. Now, Marvel, please put out a Phase Three box set so I can complete my own Infinity Gauntlet of geekdom.