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Movies of the Decade

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Best Movies of the Decade [The 2010s]

The 50 Best Films of the 2010s: Part Two

Before we move on, I’m sure plenty of readers are throwing their keyboards in the air asking why their favorite film(s) haven’t yet appeared. It should be noted most of our staff participated in the voting process (that’s about twenty writers), and trust us when we say that every one of us voted for movies that didn’t make the cut. There were thousands of movies released over the past ten years, and it is impossible to make a list that will satisfy everyone. With rankings like these, every one of us must live with the fact that several of our picks will be left out. This list, however, represents our staff as a whole, and what sort of movies we as a team tend to enjoy most. With that out of the way, here is the second part of our list of the best movies of the decade.

40.) First Reformed

You will be left feeling cold and alone by the time Paul Schrader’s latest film ends. It’s a movie that demands you go back into it and mine beneath the surface, as it’s more than just a man having a conflict of faith — it’s a man holding onto a dark past, coming to terms with a dark future, and contending with a dark present. First Reformed is a deeply moving film that wallows in its moodiness; equally atmospheric and thought-provoking, there isn’t much room for joy in Schrader’s misery — just a constant sense of personal insignificance.

Ethan Hawke delivers one of his greatest performances, and surrounded by a small, dependable cast, he burrows deep into the role of a reverend at odds with his beliefs while hurting himself and trying to guide others through their own troublesome thoughts. Hawke feels barely alive, on the verge of collapse throughout the entirety of First Reformed. Place him up against Amanda Seyfried’s Mary, and there’s a kindness to him that fluctuates between genuine and appeasing to her innocence. Put him next to her significant other, and you feel his powerlessness. Hawke runs the gamut to anchor Schrader’s exploration of despair and eternal sadness.

Schrader tackles heavy subject matter with an importance that could endure for a very long time to come. The damage we do to ourselves can be just as damaging as what we do to our planet, but it takes the love of others to give pause to that damage. And that’s just one of many ways to look at First Reformed — a movie that will undoubtedly reveal more of itself with every viewing. (Christopher Cross)

39.) Lady Bird

Portraits of youthful aspiration rarely come so authentic and honest as the sometimes touching, often funny, and always charming Lady Bird. Set in the Sacramento of her teenage youth, Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story contains the types of off-beat observations and unflattering comic scenarios she has written into previous leading roles, but never has this offbeat “character” worked so well; perhaps because this time it isn’t Gerwig performing it. That task instead belongs to Saorise Ronan, who goes beyond merely doing her best Gerwig impression, and crafts a bitingly sharp version of an aspiring young artist who deeply believes herself to be something greater than what she currently is — or may even be capable of.

All of the buoyant energy and awkward ugliness of formative years are on display, from the social politics of high school to the ever-increasing urge to break free from the cage of parental control. Lady Bird (as she has pretentiously dubbed herself) can be both magnetic and repulsive in a span of seconds, but Ronan plays scenes of selfishness and egotism with the same matter-of-fact approach as those when she is more considerate of others, and the frankness captivates — even when eliciting winces.

Writer-director Gerwig beautifully takes advantage with a script that unveils poignant yearning and tender nostalgia cloaked in quirky wit and uncomfortably real confrontation, while wisely shooting in a straightforward manner that doesn’t draw attention away with shallow indie flash. Bold, brave, and never less than sincere, Lady Bird hits all the right notes without compromising its own song — one of the most melodious of the decade. (Patrick Murphy)

38.) Inherent Vice

The third film in a loose trilogy of features centered on lost men in times of American conflict, Paul Thomas Anderson’s mystical stoner-noir tragicomedy matches its predecessors for subtextual riches and aesthetic indulgence, while also tapping into a new vein of absurd humor and sly pathos well beyond the reach of either There Will Be Blood or The Master. Anderson is uniquely suited to the unprecedented task of translating Thomas Pynchon’s sensibilities to film, attentive as he is to dramatizing the psychic topography of truly bizarre characters, but there’s a lot more to Vice than eccentricity.

Underneath the gloriously schticky performances (especially Josh Brolin’s very funny turn as an old-school detective turned unlikely renaissance man) and ostentatious formal devices (particularly Joanna Newsom’s near-omnipotent narration) and dozens of purposely meaningless plot contortions lies a relatively stable core n the form of a feeling — that of glimpsing the death throes of a set of ideals, or maybe just the shadows of its smoke as it disintegrates like rank weed. Inherent Vice manages to be simultaneously lighter and heavier than its predecessors, laughing as its characters confront the cruelty of a universe that is, ultimately, indifferent. (Simon Howell)

37.) Tabu

With his third feature, Portuguese critic-turned-auteur Miguel Gomes has proven himself to be a director in complete control of his craft. Tabu is a film of artistic cool — breaking classic genre conventions in the most crafty and affectionate way by consistently subverting the narrative in a beautiful dreamlike style. Much like his previous feature (Our Beloved Month of August), the Portuguese director presents an allegory fastened by an animal: in this case the crocodile, a reptile that symbolizes forbidden passions, deceit, treachery, and hypocrisy. Tabu is a universal tale about love, passion, friendship, and betrayal as seen through the teary eyes of the crocodile.

Gomez has directed a film that channels the look and feel of classic Hollywood, and one that will transport you back to the golden age of cinema. Tabu is an exquisitely-cut gem, a rarity for our time, and perhaps the best film released in 2012. (Ricky D)

36.) Parasite

The last few years of the 2010s have been, shall we say, tumultuous. It seems impossible to turn anywhere online without stumbling upon a fiery political debate, tirade, or angry late-night tweet from unnamed world leaders. Films are often used to reflect the times, and very few films in the last few years have managed to capture the spirit of the time without getting too overtly political quite like Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite.

As Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and his family struggle with living in a basement and folding pizza boxes in order to make ends meet, he humbly accepts an opportunity from his college student friend to be a tutor for an affluent family, despite not having the education or credentials. It doesn’t take long for him to fall in love with the lavish lifestyle of the gullible and over-privileged Park family, and he slowly sneaks his entire family onto the staff in various positions. The film starts as a black comedy about a working-class family lying and scheming its way into taking over a household, but as it progresses, Parasite becomes a dark story focusing on the egregious difference between the socioeconomic statuses. The Park family is a seemingly pleasant and gracious family, particularly the clueless matriarch, Park Yeon-gyo, but she and her husband, Dong-ik, still display elitist “Let them eat cake” levels of naivety when it comes to the working class. Before long, the story develops twists and turns that turn a simple social satire into a genre-defying thrill ride.

Bong Joon-Ho’s engaging and insightful direction depicts a clever and eye-opening story about the codependent relationship between the classes. It is a universal cautionary tale about the cloying struggle to the top and the blatant poverty problem in a flawed capitalist society, and certainly has proven itself as one of the best films of the decade. (Sarah Truesdale)

35.) Birdman

At its heart, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) is a drama about acting, both literally and figuratively. Centered on washed-up movie star Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), Birdman follows Riggan’s attempts to get a play on its feet and restore his image in the public eye. As the debut approaches, Riggan’s sense of self blends with the characters he’s inhabited, and the line between reality and fiction begins to disappear entirely.

Pieced together by various scenes that are shot in one take, Birdman often feels like a fever dream. As the camera floats from scene to scene, the unbroken sections emphasize Iñárritu’s skills as a director, and place the talents of his actors (Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone among them) at the forefront. The lack of cuts and pauses allow the theater actors to explore the space of city streets and brightly lit stages in equal footing, chewing scenery and baring their teeth at each other as they squabble about egos and identity. It seems suitable that a movie about actors would highlight the triumphs of its own cast with such a self-reflexive nature.

There’s no question that Hollywood loves to make movies about its own medium, but Birdman differentiates itself from other dramas by allowing itself to make truly bizarre choices. For instance, a car explodes with a snap of Riggan’s fingers as a superhero identity taunts him from the corner of his brain. In another scene, a drummer suddenly appears on the screen, playing the non-diegetic score as if he was always there. And in one of the best sequences, Riggan flings himself off a high-rise as an orchestra swells to lift him through the air.

As Birdman progresses, it becomes less clear what is objectively true and what is just an illusion springing from Riggan’s mind. When it’s all presented in a whirlwind sequence, with reality given equal weight to delusion, Iñárritu seems to ask: does it matter what’s real? Situating itself in an oft-explored genre, Birdman manages to reach within itself and pull up moments of pure gold time and again, resulting in a gem that feels fresh and surprising at every turn. (Meghan Cook)

34.) Inside Out

It’s no secret that Pixar has concocted an enviable formula over the years when it comes to storytelling, bottling up tears, laughter, and pixel-perfect animation with box-checking precision. As with all good things repeated indefinitely, the mastery at which Pixar plucks at audience members’ heartstrings has become an exercise that borders on predictable, however well-earned it feels when our hearts swell and the tears flow. Still, with no shortage of noteworthy films that the studio has put out in the last decade — eleven among them — Inside Out somehow goes a step beyond the rest.

Although at first it appears cut from the same cloth as those predecessors which bank on telegraphing every emotion with near clinical precision, Inside Out boldly demystifies the greater Pixar formula. By exploring the inner psyche of an 11-year-old girl, it posits that emotions are unpredictable, confusing, and beautiful in their complexity.

Inside Out presents viewers with a world in which every person is led by five main emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The protagonist, Riley, is a scrappy, happy-go-lucky kid, so the personification of Joy (voiced by an aptly cast Amy Poehler) usually controls the console in Riley’s head in an effort to keep her happy. With a loving family and a well-rounded life, there’s little need for the other emotions.

However, when her family is abruptly uprooted and moved to San Francisco, Riley has trouble expressing her worries and fears to her parents. Used to keeping up a cheery demeanor, Joy wrests control away from Sadness in an effort to keep Riley happy. Through a series of mishaps, Joy and Sadness are both whisked away into long-term memory, and are faced with a long trek back to headquarters.

From there, all the standards of a great Pixar yarn are folded into the mix: memorable characters, pointed humor, and inventive imagery. But the main arc of the story lies in what Inside Out has to say about emotional intelligence, particularly the emotions of children. Not only does the plot hinge on Riley giving herself permission to feel negative emotions and share them with her loved ones, but it also places great importance on the ability to experience multiple emotions at once. Pixar somehow crafted a picture about mental health without ever feeling heavy-handed or emotionally manipulative, and that — ironically — conjures up nothing but joy. (Meghan Cook)

33.) Hereditary

The latter half of the 2010s has seen something of horror renaissance, from Robert Eggers’s The Witch to John Kransinski’s A Quiet Place, but few have had quite the impact as Ari Aster’s audacious debut, Hereditary. In a genre that can often be whittled down to how many jump scares one can fit into a 90-minute running time, Aster’s take is a far more unsettling affair — a look at what we inherit from our parents, and what we might pass down to our children.

What makes the film’s slow-burn a more entertaining watch than it sounds is its almost interactivity. Rather than being told by music or moments which traverse from quiet to loud that something is scary, the camera often sits stationary, inviting us to find the disturbance the character has already focused in on. Silence is far more effective than a Bernard Herrmann-esque score could ever be, and once you spot what they see, you can’t unsee it.

To perfectly convey the horror this family goes through, Aster assembled some of the most impressive talent working today. Newcomer Milly Shapiro impresses as daughter Charlie, whilst Alex Wolff is fantastic as son Peter, particularly in the second act. It is, however, entirely Toni Collette’s film, and as mother Annie she is put through the wringer while more of her family members succumb to whatever has attached itself to them. As she goes from depression to grief to petrified, Collette maintains the same level of quality throughout, and it’s stunning to watch.

Hereditary might be one of the best horror films of the decade, but this isn’t just due down to its scares and terrific performances; it has tremendous relatability — which one of us hasn’t experienced some form of familial dysfunction over the years? As a mid-movie scene around the dinner table exhibits, horror hitting a little too close to our literal homes may be the scariest thing of all. (Veronica Cooper)

32.) Silence

Martin Scorsese’s utterly entrancing Silence covers a lot of lush, misty ground, wafting through questions of doubt and morality versus faith with supremely meditative patience. While the allusions to the one-sided communication inherent in religion may occasionally feel like familiar philosophical territory, a rarer look at the mentality and repercussions of martyrdom proves powerful and fascinating, turning this story about two Jesuit priests on a mission to reclaim an apostate colleague into a masterfully thoughtful and moving exploration of the struggles that true believers face both outward and in.

But answers do not come easy in Silence, if at all, which is what makes it so stimulating and haunting. Regardless of what personal feelings he may have, Scorsese views his subjects through his usual stark and impartial lens, letting characters express opposing motivations with their own valid logic, free from invisible proselytizing from behind the camera. Few filmmakers have been able to tackle religion with the frankness and confidence that Scorsese has showcased over his career, and Silence feels like the culmination of the director’s intelligent examinations. He finds both rapture and rot in this festering “swamp,” and smartly chooses to let his audience decide which is which.

Prayers sent to heaven evaporate like radio waves into space, never to get a response, leaving humans to anguish over their festering sores as the pain brought on by stalwart belief only intensifies. If God exists, why doesn’t he stop such misery? How can he respond to countless desperate cries with such indifference? The logic in doubt permeates Silence, and therein lies Scorsese’s desired battle. His Jesuit priest believes himself ready to give his own life for the cause, but for a compassionate and dutiful man, perhaps there are more painful ways to suffer than mere physical persecution. One thing for sure is that few depictions of such consequences of piety are as masterfully done as Silence. (Patrick Murphy)

31.) Mission Impossible: Fallout

It’s debatable whether or not Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the greatest film in the series, or merely one of the best, but it’s safe to say that no other entry gets one’s adrenaline pumping quite as effectively. That’s because returning director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie is a master of pacing and escalating tension (even if his dialogue is occasionally not so fresh). Combine those skills with the ever-capable Tom Cruise, as well as the most extreme stunts he has ever filmed, and you’ve got a pinnacle of the M:I series.

One striking difference between Fallout and all the previous entries is that it’s a direct sequel to 2015’s Rogue Nation. The M:I films have — until now — been mostly disconnected; characters essential to one film are usually absent in the next (except for Ving Rhames, the only actor besides Cruise to appear in all six). Here, however, the action picks up right where it left off. The fate of the IMF is still uncertain, and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is still inescapably tied to Rebecca Ferguson’s talented assassin and Sean Harris’ genocidal psychopath.

Some critics have detected a Nolan-esque slide toward the dark side in Fallout, both emotionally and visually — which isn’t wrong but is still somewhat misleading. The Hunt of previous M:I films has been a cipher; we come to see him defy death, not feel sad. Fallout‘s dream sequences change that, giving us one of the first signs of an interior life for Hunt. That, coupled with the ability to further develop its cast, suggests an interesting future in which the M:I films might become something radically different. (Brian Marks)

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE

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