When is the best time to look back over the 2010s? Most certainly one month into January 2020. It’s not because I put off this list… anyway…
“Best of the Decade” is a markedly different list than “Best of the Year”. There’s less room for slip up. We frequently discuss, on our “Best of the Year” list, how factors outside of the movie’s merits play in: I’m likely to rank a movie I just watched and enjoyed higher than one I watched at the beginning of the year, simply because it’s fresher in my mind. If I’m hungover, movies are more likely to make me cry! (I blame my initial feelings towards La La Land on this!!) What’s more, we can’t consider the film’s ability to stand the test of time, to have a legacy. “Best of the Year” visceral, from the gut. When we do a “Best of the Decade,” we have some distance. We can ask ourselves “do we think this movie will still be beloved (by us/the public) ten years from now?” because there’s a decent chance we’ve already sat with it for a year, or two, or seven.
So, when looking at this list, I thought about longevity and legacy more than I do with my “Best of the Year” lists. What movies have I truly loved since I’ve seen them? Which movies have I happily rewatched? Which would I willingly rewatch again and again?
It’s tough too, because I changed a lot over the course of the 2010s! I started the 2010s with a passing interest in film, and little understanding of the world at large. I started the 2010s in the middle of my teens. I loved Midnight in Paris! That was the 2010s!! Brutal. What a chore to sit through it now. What a magnification of how foreign my 2011 self feels.
Instead of a “top ten,” which I found both too challenging and reductive, I’ve come up with a series of things I think I’ll return to (and even those I couldn’t quite get down to 10). So, in no particular order:
1) Silence / First Reformed
There are a few movies in the 2010s which I would categorize as affecting, but not films I liked sitting through. Silence and First Reformed both fit into that category, albeit for different reasons. Silence was punishing, and glacial, and repetitive, and as I said in my original review I’m glad I saw it in theaters because I’m not sure I would have finished it otherwise. First Reformed was oddly paced, bleak, and thoroughly unpleasant (purposefully so). But both are films I think of constantly – in both cases the 2-3 hours of discomfort was worth it, because it generated hours of reflection.
2) PTA Films
When I was just getting into “serious film” I watched There Will Be Blood. I thought it had all the traits of a good, grown-up film, because it dark and melancholy. Since then, my definition of a good film has drastically changed, to include humor, and sincerity, and love, along with the occasional melancholy and brutality. I recently saw it for the first time in a long time, and in a theater too, and discovered it fit my new definition well! It’s a hilarious film! PTA is so good because he goes in every direction at once. Inherent Vice is one of my absolute favorite films ever – impossibly convoluted, uproariously funny, with a heart of gold. Phantom Thread is a dangerous and deeply sweet love story. For some reason, I hated The Master, but as is often the case: I might rewatch it and discover I was totally wrong the first time through!
I will probably watch this film once a year forever. I’ve written about it at length already. But I couldn’t not include it. That day-for-night sequence…
Blade Runner: 2049 is a great, impossible triumph. It honors the original film without feeling like a retread: it is an evolution plot-wise, stylistically, and thematically. If we must make sequels to every old film, they should all be like Blade Runner. I remember sitting in the theater, about an hour and a half in, and suddenly thinking to myself: “wait, isn’t Harrison Ford in this??? Where the hell is he?” Stunning.
5) The Assassin
I love this film. Magic and (extremely complicated) politics play out in the back, but its primary focus is a wonderful story about a woman who decides to quit her job because she is tired of being defined by other people and their morals, as well as her own past. She gets to go live on a farm in the end. So, so, so good.
Into the Spider-Verse is a blast, but I don’t know if I love it as dearly as the other movies listed individually. That being said, it looks incredible. Much like Mad Max, it was a film that was so innovative that it doesn’t feel anything like its neighbor films. It was a movie that screamed originality, and, again like Mad Max, made a convincing case for abandoning the safe conventions, even if they’re working well, and choosing to be daring instead. Pixar is great, but not all animation has to look like that. It’s the same argument I frequently make for video games. Codification is never good. Spider-Verse feels like a comic book in every way, while simultaneously feeling like its own whole thing.
7) The Well-Done Marvel Movies
Marvel movies aren’t great, and most of them aren’t even good, and I frankly can’t imagine them standing the test of time (it’s tough to show someone just one of them, because their whole appeal is their “cohesiveness,” and I can’t imagine anyone in 2030 forcing anyone else to watch all of these…). That being said, a few of them do work, and work for the same reason, which is that they make the heroes you know clash in interesting ways, and they focus on a pared down plot so that characters can take the forefront. Winter Soldier has some genuinely fun action and music. Civil War is sprawling, but the central conflict primarily works, and the characters make compelling and logical choices. Infinity War is incredibly focused and honors the restrains of essentially taking place over the course of a day, and though one finale is a standard CGI monsterfest, the Thanos fight on Titan is the best Marvel has done. Guardians of the Galaxy barely gets its team together at all (again, a positive!), and features surprisingly few airplane hangers and military labs, trading them out for a giant space skull. They’re not great films, but they’re at least a cut above the rest in this stupid series that I love. To round out superheroes: Logan. It seemed to steal a lot of its story from… a movie they actually watched within the film itself, but it was still fantastic. The self-driving trucks? The enormous fields of corn? The Logan Clone? Caliban? Awesome.
Speaking of our Disney Overlords – The Last Jedi was a pretty awesome movie. It’s not perfect. It’s honestly sort of a mess. But it’s got some ideas to reinvigorate Star Wars (even if those ideas were… immediately thrown out). It’s approach to the Force as something mystical and connective is both concrete enough to feel satisfying, and vague enough to not fall apart. The editing of that scene where Rey reaches out to everything on Luke’s island, along with the reversed shot of water being sucked into the dark pit, and the strange mirror world Rey finds in the pit itself, and the Holdo lightspeed massacre… all genuinely audacious. It’s not an insanely daring or innovative film, but within the confines of the corporate Disney cogs, it sort of is. Rogue One, meanwhile, is by far the best structured of the new films. Like the original Star Wars its story is simple. It’s got some truly arresting shots. Everyone dies. (As I said before, I am frequently wrong about movies the first time – I hated Rogue One both times I saw it in theaters!). We should cherish these GOOD Star Wars movies, because Disney is sure to iron out even the smallest scintilla of originality or innovation or daring in future flicks!
[From this article.]
9) Movies Too Recently Viewed To Reflect On
Here are some movies I viewed too recently to feel comfortable saying they’d stand the test of time. The trouble is I haven’t rewatched them yet (or saw them quickly back to back in theaters). A great teacher I had would always tell us that once you finish reading a book for the first time, that’s when you’re ready to read the book. You see how all the pieces fit together, so you can unlock their deeper meaning. I haven’t had that chance with these movies yet, but they’re all contenders for “top ten of the decade” when I do. Parasite, The Lighthouse, Thoroughbreds, The Favourite, Widows, The Handmaiden.
10) The Moonlight at the Oscars Kerfuffle
The Oscars are a snoozefest. They pick boring, boring movies, and rarely allow in new voices – both filmmakers, and voters. The only exciting thing they did this decade, as far as I’m concerned, is when they messed up and pretended for a second that La La Land won. It was hilarious. I also enjoyed when Mad Max swept the technical awards, and when Deakins won for Blade Runner, but mostly that Moonlight thing.
Prometheus came out this decade! Who would have thought. I saw Prometheus before any other Alien(s) movie, and absolutely frickin’ loved it. I’d say I recognize that it’s not a great movie… but I don’t. I unabashedly love this movie. The spacesuits look so cool! The ships look so cool! The production design is rad! The way the movie deals with Gods and creation is well done. Deep, depp Sci-fi is best left to books, the best movies simply present the tip of the iceburg and let you do the rest – they simply suggest a direction and let you dig down deep on your own. Blade Runner: 2049 did it this way. I think Prometheus did too. I wouldn’t shove it down someone else’s throat, but my love for it hasn’t diminished, and I have to admit I deeply enjoyed Covenant as well, more and more as I’ve sat with it, even if I wish there were fewer xenomorphs in these movies and the androids got all of their time.
12) Honorable Mentions
These are other movies I deeply liked, but don’t have much to say about. Again in no order. Nightcrawler, Spring Breakers, Whiplash, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Force Majeure, Ex Machina, Paterson, and The Lost City of Z. I liked how slowly the robots moved in Pacific Rim.
13) Looking Back & Going Forward
Looking back, I’d have to declare 2017 the best year for movies. I’d also have to say… I need to do better with where I put my money and time. I mention (by my very quick and rough count) 37 movies in this article. Every single one of them is directed by a man. A huge, huge majority of those men are white. Just because the industry has a problem with what stories it elevates doesn’t give me an excuse. I truly thought I was doing better! Nothing makes things clear like looking back at ten years and noticing trends. So: in 2020, and onward, I’ll seek out a more diverse cast of stories. Because, as this list attests, there’s endless good stories out there! I just have to look.