As the new decade approached, the thoughts of many turned toward Best of the Decade lists. I got the bright idea that we should give our picks on our podcast – see below – and for those purposes, we had to limit things to the Top 20. But, I was determined not to just run through our yearly lists and pull out the first and second place films. I wanted to go back through the decade with new eyes and see what stuck out, what I still loved, and what I might have soured on.
Not only did I go through my own reviews, and the release charts of every year, but I also looked at a lot of other people’s lists, mostly because I wanted to make sure I didn’t overlook any gems. In doing so, a few things caught my eye, and I want to share some of the “data” that came out of the effort with you.
Oddly enough, the thing that stood out most was the number of films that fell by the wayside on so many people’s lists. There were also some surprising inclusions, but really there were only a couple. Magic Mike XXL and Spring Breakers were on a lot of people’s lists (keep in mind that most of these lists only go to 20 at most), and if you want to test your favorite critics right now, those people are all insane.
As I said, what stood out far more were the films were absent. One key was that – Argo, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Birdman, Spotlight, The Shape of Water, and Green Book – were all on very few lists I found, which means that one of the best ways to get left off a Best of the Decade list is apparently to win the Best Picture Oscar.
Other films that weren’t on many lists, or at least not nearly enough of them, despite getting a lot of attention when they came out were – Black Swan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Theory of Everything, Vice, La La Land, Crazy, Rich Asians, Brooklyn, Inside Out, Darkest Hour, and Hidden Figures.
One key note that became apparent in going over dozens and dozens of other people’s lists was that they seemed heavily influenced by proximity in time. The farther back you go in the decade, the less likely a film would show up. Thus, Black Panther was on several lists, but The Avengers was on very few. That’s nuts. This has perhaps inspired my list in that I hope to go the other way… the more recent the film, the harder it is to get on the list.
Those notes out of the way, I should tell you that this list started at 155 films and the “almosts” can be found at the end.
When I started making this list it was really just a bit of a lark, and an excuse to go through a lot of films I loved. But, now that we’re all spending a lot more time staring at the Netflix menu, I figured I could share not only all of these great options, but try to help you find them. Unfortunately, a lot of these are difficult to stream free, but I have included links for each film to stream where I could find them, or at least where they can be rented at Amazon or iTunes. I definitely encourage you to seek these out via cable networks, etc. for further options. I’ve also linked to IMDb.com for ease of reference to get more info.
I’m also including a bit of a rundown, or some quick thoughts on the films. And, in case you want to tune out now, there are 20 foreign films on this list. Some films I actually try to sell you on and give some explanation as to why you should seek it out, but some films are Frozen and I assume you know what it is, and my take on why it’s good isn’t relevant for the purposes at hand.
This is rather large, so I’ve broken it into several pages so it doesn’t go on forever and try to load everything.
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Finally, don’t try to get my attention with comments or emails about why 86 is actually better than 32, or how much higher 77 should be or whatever. Just assume I agree with you and move on.
Here we go.
100. Easy A
Though it may seem an odd choice to make it onto a best of the decade list, Easy A is a High School effort that holds up and is as watchable today as it was ten years ago. Emma Stone shows off abilities that will shine over the rest of the decade, and the supporting cast is a treat.
Most importantly, it’s a different approach to a lot of the High School staples, and it’s a film brave enough at least to avoid the pitfalls of trying to be for everyone. It’s among the lightest fare on this list, but it manages more depth than it was ever given credit for.
Likely the most unknown film on this list, (Untitled) sees Jonathan Parker take on the art world in much the way he would take on the world of architecture in 2016’s The Architect with Parker Posey. Adam Goldberg is utterly brilliant in this feature that tries to poke fun at an insular world that seems to have taken every possible step to make itself – un-poke-fun-at-able – by embracing a level of absurdity that is truly difficult to comprehend.
Goldberg plays composer Adrian Jacobs who meets up with Madeline (Marley Shelton), who runs a modern art gallery. Adrian is at once hoping to move into an avant-garde world with his own art and is as befuddled as the rest of us by the “art” on display (and at times, not on display) at Madeline’s gallery, causing him to question himself and everything else.
The film is a treasure just in its ability to honor and question something at the same time, and for cinephiles offers up some of the best conversations filmed… at least during the decade.
Purists may want to call this a 2009 film because it managed a festival screening, but there is no legitimate sense in which people could have seen this pre-2010.
98. Attack the Block
Fans of John Boyega and the latest Doctor Who (Jodie Whittaker) have the perfect excuse to go back to one of the decade’s most interesting and inventive efforts. Fun, wild, creepy, and filled with social commentary without being “social statementy,” Attack the Block earned a cult status that allowed this low budget number the word of mouth it needed to manage a huge fanbase.
For all that it is hard to see as anything more than a screwball bit of fun, because that’s what it is, it took its characters surprisingly seriously, which allowed Boyega, Whittaker, and the rest of the cast to show off. As much about “the block” as anything else, it’s a film that holds up over time and is surprisingly rewatchable.
Beyond everything else, including the banter between these kids during an alien invasion, there’s a certain charm to the effort itself, which turns aliens into a metaphor for the life this block deals with.
97. Big Hero 6
There are going to be a lot of animated films vying for a spot on a list in any decade, but this one has a lot of very strong options as the industry itself seemed to turn a corner with studios trying to compete with Pixar. That’s probably the only reason Big Hero 6 ended up so low on this list, despite winning the Academy Award.
Not only did the film provide a great focus on character over infinite gags, but it also had a lot of heart and managed a crew of rich characters (animated efforts usually avoid whole crews). It’s also a nice effort to engage geek/STEM culture that hit at the right time.
96. The Handmaiden
There is probably a case to be made for Chan-wook Park’s other big feature of the decade, Stoker, and it’s one you should catch if you missed it, but The Handmaiden is a glorious spectacle of cinema that not only showcases incredible acting, but is all but a primer on directing mood.
It has a certain similarity to last year’s Parasite, in that it recounts a scheme that winds through events we couldn’t predict, and like that film, The Handmaiden works a level of tension that is surprising even to the most avid cinephiles. There’s a wild difficulty to delivering characters that are torn by several motivations at once and this is a film, and story, that capitalizes on the nuances.
Also like Parasite, there is a cultural tinge to the storytelling itself that adds a lot of depth to the performances and overall tone.
95. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Years after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright launched into the decade with a cast that would go on to dominate many facets of the cinematic world, and he did it with perhaps the most bonkers film imaginable.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has to defeat his new girlfriend’s evil exes in order to… well, win her over? Maybe. And, while that doesn’t explain anything, nothing else would explain this weird and wonderful story either, because the world we’re building here is all metaphor. It’s a lot like only printing the subtext of a book, if such could itself make any sense.
It’s on this list though, not because it’s crazy, but because it is such a strange, unique effort to translate themes, emotion, and indeed angst itself, directly onto the screen. It’s funny, might as well have been written with Cera’s trademark throwback to deadpan in mind, and it actually delivers on impossible promises it makes in its setup.
Looking back, if you missed this one with – Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Alison Pill, Kieran Culkin, and more – you should be immediately aware that you missed something you need to seek out.
94. Into the Woods
Into the Woods is a film that had nothing going for it, for me personally, except that I was a fan of much of the cast. It’s a film I entered (and perhaps many avoided) assuming it had about as much to offer as a film version of Cats. Instead, it’s a lively and fun story pulled along by a comedic sense of wonder that the cast makes into a stunning treat. The somewhat corny mashup of efforts works for the screen, and even the decision to make grander stages feel like they’re still stages is one that adds to the overall feel.
While everyone is solid, James Corden really holds things together and is surprisingly effective in a role that requires more than it seems to really shine.
93. We Are the Best
Another fairly obscure entrant to the list, We Are the Best is the kind of achievement that really is nearly impossible. It’s enough to be a fairly low-budget film that relies heavily on young actors, but this one is also about spinning teen angst into an oddly straightforward yarn.
Teen angst isn’t a new subject, but stories that address it rarely tell you that’s what they’re about so directly. They’re about teens who do something, or are caught up in circumstances, while underneath the surface we express or reveal their angst. We Are the Best is about three semi-bullied, semi-filled with self-doubt girls who want to form a punk band, despite having no ability to play the instruments they don’t have, because they want to yell at the world. That’s not only daring, it’s a whole different level of taking young people seriously.
Young actors have rarely been this good, and the direction masterfully reveals the raw, and sort of… sketchy, honesty of the original comic the story comes from.
92. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy could almost make it on this list purely on its ability to inject itself in the collective consciousness. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it is its own step in ’10s culture. From the viewpoint of the world of cinema, it also represents a serious step in the Marvel takeover, in that it demonstrated the studio’s ability to win over audiences with characters that were all but completely unknown.
But, beyond the film’s ability to get people to say, “Groot,” and sell T-shirts, it’s actually good. James Gunn will probably never get the full credit he deserves here, because not enough people think of Marvel films and their directors in a way that lends itself to real recognition, but getting the variety of style and mood efforts to work together is a higher level of difficulty. Most Marvel films have their comic relief, and even extended moments of levity, but Guardians is “comedy adventure” to a degree that has rarely been seen in movies for decades, and that is a thousand-story house of cards.
91. Blue is the Warmest Color
Though it managed some notoriety by way of an extended sex scene, and a lot of award attention (including from Cannes, The Golden Globes, and winning the Broadcast Film Critic Association Award – now Critics’ Choice Awards – for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Young Actor/Actress – along with over 80 other wins and 100 other nominations) Blue is the Warmest Color only managed the success of something the general public is only vaguely aware of… and is foreign.
Like We Are the Best, this is a coming-of-age story with a very different approach in mind. Here, part of the point is to dispense with the niceties to try to bring to bear the “weight of life” those within the coming-of-age moment actually feel. As opposed to, perhaps, the nostalgia-tinged reminiscences of those who are far beyond it as they wax poetic on the subject. One of the stumbling blocks of any coming-of-age story is that the “problems” of youth are hard to convey as the crushing moments they are… to the youth.
It’s ultimately a haunting delivery of the dissection of self everyone goes through, one way or another, when they realize that they are perhaps made up of other people, and when the delusion that they know who they are falls away.