Best Movies of the Decade [The 2010s]
The 50 Best Films of the 2010s: Part Five
When the smoke finally cleared from our voting process, these last remaining films were the ones that stood the tallest among the carnage, impervious. While our staff could (and would again) debate the merits of nearly every other film that appears on this list, these are the cream of the crop that nearly everyone here at Goomba Stomp can agree has earned a place as one of the best films of the decade.
To earn a spot here required multiple, highly ranked votes; not an easy feat when there were so many beloved favorites from the 2010s. Yet here they are: our final choices for the Best Movies of the Decade. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this list, and let us know your favorites from the decade. Here’s to hoping the ’20s will be even better!
The individual ballots from our writers can be found here.
Much has been said in this decade of what constitutes as cinema. Whilst some lament the current trend of superhero movies, declaring them too child-friendly for adults, others wish for the Academy Awards to include bigger films in the nominations — not just those geared towards an older audience. Ironically, at the start of the decade, Christopher Nolan proffered the question “Why not be both?” as he created both a genuine summer blockbuster and an intellectual puzzle, and in the process made it one of the most influential films of the past ten years.
To call Inception influential is perhaps an understatement (almost ten years on, and trailers still use a bombastic score akin to that of Hans Zimmer’s), but it isn’t at all difficult to see why. Heavy CGI effects are already in full swing, but due to Nolan’s preference of making his films as real and grounded as possible, some of the film’s most memorable moments come from practical effects — a breath of fresh air to a CG-heavy cinematic landscape.
Take, for example, Arthur’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) anti-gravity fight scene. Wrapped firmly between the dreams of a rolling vehicle and an exploding fortified hospital, a one hundred foot-long revolving corridor was constructed that saw the actors tethered to the walls to perform a carefully choreographed brawl, creating one of the most visually compelling action scenes in recent years, and avoiding the occasional murkiness that comes with computer generating entire humans. The result is all the more satisfying for the audience.
It’s not without heart, either. Embroiled within what is essentially Nolan’s take on Bond is Dom’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) desperation to get back to his children, and the grief and guilt over the death of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), with which he must reconcile. A third-act confession of his true involvement in her demise is beautifully played by DiCaprio; it’s a subtler, more grounded performance from the actor, and his part provides the warmth the rest of the film lacks.
Inception remains one of the best films of the 2010s — not only for its imaginative special effects and great performances, but because it is one of the few blockbusters that asks you to sit up and pay attention. Holding up to repeat viewings, it is complex yet not convoluted, planted in your brain long after the credits roll. (Veronica Cooper)
9.) The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, is not only the best documentary of the decade, but it’s the bravest, the most audacious, and the most jaw-dropping. I’ve still never seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again.
Released in the U.S. in 2013, the film resulted from Oppenheimer and his collaborators — including Christine Cynn and an Indonesian co-director who remains anonymous, along with much of the crew — spending several years interviewing a group of local gangsters who led death squads in Indonesia in the mid-1960s. During the period of 1965 and 1966, the squads carried out mass killings that historians say victimized over a million people — mostly ethnic Chinese and those perceived to be communists.
These men, led by then-70-something Anwar Congo, were never punished in any way for those crimes, and are treated as national heroes in some quarters to this day. The Act of Killing shows Congo and the other gangsters, who had long said they were inspired by Hollywood movies, to actually re-enact their atrocities for the cameras.
So, we see them in costume, as well as on a television talk show and at a rally, where a current politician leads a bloodthirsty chant of “kill the Communists!”
The Act of Killing was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 2014, losing to the music documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom — which, while a fine film, wasn’t nearly the achievement.
Riveting as it is horrifying, and even darkly funny at times, the film shows the men acting out their crimes, flirting with remorse, and even exerting influence on present-day politics. The Act of Killing and its follow-up — The Look of Silence, which arrived in theaters two years later — is a rare documentary that the filmmakers literally risked their lives to produce. (Stephen Silver)
The end of the world stops being scary when it starts to look like a relief. This is the conceit behind Melancholia, Lars Von Trier’s disturbing look into a woman’s final days battling her depression.
As an astral body prepares to slam into the Earth, ending all life as we know it, the people in Justine’s life deal with the oncoming tragedy in a variety of ways. Some are in denial, others are angry, and others still are sad. Justine, however, feels next to nothing. Paralyzed with depression, the closest thing she can feel to an emotion about the end of the world is relief; finally, it will all be over with.
Powered by Lars Von Trier’s magnificent eye and Kirsten Dunst’s bravado performance, Melancholia isn’t just a brutal look into what depression does to someone over an extended period of time, but also a tragicomic treatise on what the apocalypse might really look like to a divergent group of people. (Mike Worby)
7.) Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen had a pretty strong decade, but the best film they made in the 2010s was Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens’ 2013 homage to New York’s downtown folk scene of the early 1960s.
Starring Oscar Isaac, a cat, a killer supporting cast that included Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan and Adam Driver, and a delightful soundtrack of mostly obscure period folk tunes assembled by frequent Coen collaborator T-Bone Burnett, the film tells a dark, somewhat nihilistic story about artistic ambitions that fall heartbreakingly short. The film is loosely based on the life of folk singer Dave Von Ronk.
Isaac’s Llewyn Davis is a talented singer/songwriter, but he’s still reeling from the death of Mikey, his singing partner, and struggling to make it as a solo act. Couch-surfing around New York City, Llewyn also struggles with money and just about every major relationship in his life.
It’s a rare movie set in the 1960s that’s not a pure exercise of boomer nostalgia, and it’s also far from a tale of underdog musical triumph. Everything we know about film conventions tells us that a third act road trip to Chicago will end happily, but what it leads to — F. Murray Abraham’s “I don’t see a lot of money here” — is a particular gut punch.
It’s become a cliche by now to rank their movies, but Inside Llewyn Davis goes alongside Fargo and No Country For Old Man as the very best of the Coens ’ work, one that tells the story of sonic failure through a soundtrack of sonic greatness, even before the Coens’ fellow Jewish Minnesotan shows up in the final scene.
The film was nominated for only two Academy Awards — for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing — and an eligibility snafu kept the great “Please Mr. Kennedy” out of the Best Original Song category, but Llewyn Davis was the best film of 2013, and of the decade. Llewyn is the cat. (Stephen Silver)
No American director has ever been so obsessed with the nature of time as Richard Linklater. Whether it’s the real-time film Slacker, the underrated travelogue It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, or the Before Trilogy, one can really feel the effect of time passing in his movies. Boyhood, which charts twelve years in the life of one boy and was filmed over the same course of time, takes this obsession to a new level.
It’s the boldest idea in a career full of them; its very existence is a miracle. Anything could’ve gone wrong — someone could have died in the midst of filming, or star Ellar Coltrane could’ve grown up to be a lousy actor. Instead, nearly everything across the film’s leisurely 166-minute runtime seems to go right, allowing us to see a person grow up right before our eyes. Taking a relaxed approach to storytelling, Linklater provides one of the most absorbing dramas of the 2010s.
For people born in the 90s, Boyhood plays like a documentary. Harry Potter comes out, Britney Spears is on the radio, and the Nintendo Wii dominates households; for many people across the world, it speaks to a very common shared understanding of life and experience, one made all the more special thanks to the way Linklater avoids the clichés — such as the big school prom — that dominates other American teen movies. Here it feels like experiencing a part of life itself. Containing acres of wisdom in its philosophizing dialogue, character moments, and narrative arc, Boyhood attempts to unravel the mysteries of existence. While this is, by definition, an impossible task, it gets closer than any other movie released this decade. With Linklater also committed to spending twenty years making a Sondheim musical, perhaps the Shakespeare of Austin, Texas can do it all over again. (Redmond Bacon)
5.) The Wolf of Wall Street
Maximalism has never looked so good as in Wolf of Wall Street, a three-hour extravaganza of excess. With endless amounts of cocaine, prostitution, swearing, and all-round bad-boy behaviour, it is a seductive look into hyper-capitalism run amok. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a career-best performance as white-collar criminal Jordan Belfort, it sees Martin Scorsese return to the hyper-fast and grandiose tone of classics such as Goodfellas and Casino. Aided by both a hilarious Terrence Winter screenplay and characteristically brilliant editing from long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, the Wolf of Wall Street is easily the most fun had in the cinema all decade.
This is not just empty provocation. While some finance bros will see Belfort as a hero when they go out and wreck the town on Wall Street, in the City of London or Hong Kong, the film’s moral ambiguity trusts that the viewer is smart enough to tell the difference. By the end, Scorsese even turns the camera back on the audience, showing that there will always be people like Jordan Belfort as long as people like us keep buying his books and taking his sleaziness for wisdom. Made only five years after the worst financial crash since the 1920s, Wolf of Wall Street may be the defining work of the 10s.
The Wolf of Wall Street, made when Scorsese was turning 70, proves that age is no barrier to energy, prompting my belief that the 10s was actually the director’s best decade From the bone-chilling thrills of Shutter Island to the childlike wonder and 3D innovation of Hugo to the brutal religious inquiry of Silence to the haunting deconstruction of gangster tropes of The Irishman, Scorsese has worked in various modes and aced them all. Here’s hoping he continues to make great films throughout the next decade too. (Redmond Bacon)
4.) Get Out
In the great annals of horror movie history, there are plenty of examples of backward, racist Southerners being used to amp up the terror in otherwise unremarkable places like small towns or nice Suburban neighborhoods. Get Out seeks to utilize this same strategy, but in a different way. By making the racist bad guys liberals who genuinely think they’re doing a service to the black community, Get Out supplants the idea that racism only exists on the right — or in the South — and forces wearers of the “Good Guy Badge” to take a closer look at their reflection.
With stand-out performances from Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror), Allison Williams (Girls), and Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Get Out is a surprisingly tight suspense-thriller that ratchets up the tension with great success throughout the entirety of its swift run time.
From Jordan Peele of all people (best known for his sketch comedy series, co-created with Keegan-Michael Key), a film like Get Out is a genuine surprise, and one that has been welcomed by audiences and critics almost unanimously. These kinds of new takes on racism as a plot device — and the place of the horror canon in general — are just what the genre needs every few years to remind folks that there’s still new ground waiting to be uncovered in this well-worn world of recurring horror tropes. (Mike Worby)
3.) The Social Network
Pulsing with calculated moments of revelation and regret, The Social Network doesn’t mince an abundance of (techno)babble in depicting writer Aaron Sorkin’s version of a Charles Foster Kane for the social media generation. His Mark Zuckerberg may analyze situations like a geeky Terminator, but behind the ability to deftly assess a market and skillfully place ones and zeros to satisfy it, there is a human yearning for something more emotional: an organic connection. Calculated, virtuoso direction from David Fincher peels back the layers of motivation for this future cyber magnate’s ascent to power, building toward a gut-punch of a finale that may not mirror actual events, but unflinchingly reflects real life.
Of course, to get to that point, one must first be able to put up with the egos in the room. Right off the bat, The Social Network lets audiences know that it’s much smarter than them, mimicking the speedy thought process of its protagonist with a likewise blistering conversation pace. Dialogue is raced through as if characters are annoyed at having to vocalize in the first place; these people are on another level, and mere mortals will need to pay close attention if they’re to have a chance at keeping up. It’s all designed to impress, of course (and get through a gloriously wordy script in an acceptable running time), much like Zuckerberg himself. His genius is without question; so why is he constantly trying to prove it?
A fascinating inferiority complex is at the cold heart of The Social Network, born out of technical supremacy that’s frustrated by its inability to fully understand or connect to the human-machine. That connection is Zuckerberg’s tragic Rosebud; what doesn’t compute is that the higher he climbs on the ladder of success, the further he distances himself from what he seems to want the most — and the more stunning The Social Network‘s character study becomes. (Patrick Murphy)
In some ways, Moonlight feels as if it has always existed. Barry Jenkins’ opus wasn’t just a statement that signaled a power shift for unseen identities on film — it was a marker on the timeline of the medium itself. We had been building toward this through all our ignorance and neglect. Moonlight was the film we deserved in 2016, and possibly the one we still need the most in a world consistently on fire. If such an extrapolation feels grandiose, it’s only because the film is monumental in its intimacy, explicating quotidian suffering without descending into preachy awards bait. So much could have gone wrong with its story of a closeted black youth, told through a triptych of visually sumptuous periods in his life.
Perhaps it soars because its inspiration is more Eastern than Western (Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times is a heavy influence); uncomfortable confrontations between characters play like set pieces, as color and music bleed through each story like sense memory, and empathy drives every aching performance. Moonlight was not new for blackness or for masculinity, but it was new for the world of film. It’s not enough to be seen, but felt as well. Close your eyes, and it might just be the film you feel most out of the 2010s. (Shane Ramirez)
1.) Mad Max: Fury Road
A magnificent symphony of maddening chaos tethered to the dusty earth by heartfelt emotion and pristine visual clarity, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is the knockout cinematic achievement of the decade. The surprising return of Max Rockatansky doesn’t waste a frame in telling its simple story of an apocalypse survivor increasingly tormented by visions of his past, and the unrelenting pace of this nearly feature-length vehicular chase is exhausting in a way that can only be caused by exhilaration. Supreme craft is on display all around here, from searing photography to meticulous editing to amazing stunts to towering performances. Everything is larger than life; this is epic movie-making.
Most impressive might be Miller’s confidence in centering his story not around his ceaselessly beleaguered hero, but instead around Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, whose mission to save the harem of a brutal warlord is really a plight to save herself, and thereby possibly restore some stability to all the disintegration. She is the soul of Fury Road, the most human character in the film, and serves to brilliantly counteract the otherwise alien atmosphere. Meanwhile, Max has never been more silent, but he becomes somewhat of an all-powerful observer — a stand-in whose expressions often translate for an audience trying to understand exactly what the hell is going on here between all the stick-shifting, bullet-firing, and flamethrower-guitaring perpetrated by pale ‘War Boys’ who spray their faces with chrome paint in hopes of a vaunted afterlife.
And yet, somehow Miller communicates even the most bizarre aspects of his tale, more often than not without the kind of expository dialogue sci-fi films tend to teem with. Instead, he utilizes impeccable staging to establish a coherent space, carefully composes his characters in ways that wordlessly convey relationships, and holds just the right shots for maximum emotional impact; the editing here is a marvel in itself, and somehow never spirals out of control thanks to framing that puts the image’s focus at dead center, allowing our eyes to instinctively know where to look even after a quick cut.
Awe-inspiring as the technicalities are (future filmmakers will surely be studying this one), Mad Max: Fury Road is not a sterile experience, but a visceral one. Feel the rumbling engines, bath in the ocean of dunes, smell the sweat mixed with grease, and taste the gravelly soil. Starkly beautiful, surprisingly poignant, entertainingly off-kilter, and bone-shakingly intense, Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie for the ages, and for all time. (Patrick Murphy)