New Years 2020 brings in not just another year, but the dawn of a new decade. We look back on the top 50 films of the last decade and how they have transformed cinema forever.
The 2010’s was a very interesting and varied decade for film. Perhaps the most profound occurrence has been the near-elimination of the moderately budgeted picture. These days, film releases are almost all either large blockbusters or small scale productions. Part of this is because of the profitability of large tentpole style franchises, and part of this is because of the development of non-traditional movie production companies such as Amazon or Netflix. Big name celebrities are just as likely to star in a small production or mini series as they are in the next Star Wars movie. We have also seen the proliferation of computer-generated technology to the point where even small productions can afford sophisticated special effects. The line between A and B movies is not necessarily how they look anymore, but how much they cost to make.
More importantly, audiences are demanding more quality than ever from the movies they see. Movie critics are no longer the only ones with a say in how we remember a film. The internet has given everyone an opinion, which has resulted in both celebration and bitter resentment towards all sorts of films. Finally, what we may consider as a “great” film is not as constrained to a certain type or genre of film. Blockbusters, once known for being vehicles of mindless entertainment, have become much more sophisticated in more ways than just their special effects. Likewise, “indie” films are big business now. The internet has made niche films not only more accessible, but more prominent in terms of their impact on pop culture.
But how do you define a great film? Is it something that moves you – makes you laugh hysterically or brings you to tears? Is it a film that critics lauded, or one which audiences couldn’t get enough of? Should a great film have to also have a large impact on pop culture? Should strong box office proceeds be necessary to show acceptance into the mainstream? Or are great films the ones which change the art of filmmaking themselves, innovators which change the format or even history itself?
When approaching such a task, these are the types of questions which must be considered. In order to make a definitive statement about the top films of the decade, we have to be able to define what is a great film in the first place. As you can see, this is a very difficult thing to do. Everyone has their own opinion on what can make for a great film. Your individual life experience, your career, even your age may impact what factors you consider to be most important in a movie.
In the face of such an overwhelming task, I turned to the cold comforts of math by creating a sophisticated algorithm to compare important aspects of each film. This algorithm is a retooled version of a program I used three years ago to assemble a list of the top 100 films of the 21st Century. Today, this algorithm has been tweaked to focus on four main areas: 1) the critical and audience appeal of a film, 2) the popularity and box office success of a film, 3) a film’s acknowledgment in awards circles and pop culture, and 4) a film’s achievements in regards to awards won and influence on its audience. We then selected a large number of films to compare against each other and ran them through the algorithm to determine which 50 ranked highest.
This algorithm is a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data. It takes into account inflation, the decline in popularity of films over time, and for 2019’s Oscar-hopeful films will estimate how successful they will be on the awards circuit. We also asked our contributors to rank their top 50 films of the decade and used those selections to influence this final list.
Note that we have decided to leave off documentary films. There are plenty of fantastic documentary films that have been released over the last 15 years, some of them among the best films released in a particular year. But the truth is that a documentary is difficult to compare to a traditional film for purposes of ranking when taking into account the criteria mentioned above.
With all of this taken into account, here’s what we came up with. Presenting the 50 Best Movies of the 2010’s (in alphabetical order):
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o
When a movie is difficult to watch it is for one of two reasons: one it is insultingly bad, or two it is emotionally overwhelming. This films fits into the second category. We have seen films depicting the difficult topic of slavery before, but never like this. Never in such grizzly detail, never with such pace and with so much at stake. Director Steve McQueen brings a modern perspective and style to this film, a movie which motivates its audience to be better people. It is also an important film because it promoted an Afircan-American perspective in cinema, something which hadn’t really gotten consistent attention in the mainstream. This movie began changing things in the right direction.
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
From the old-school Warner Brothers logo that starts the film to the pictures that argue for its historical credibility at the end, Argo is a lovingly crafted, superbly paced political thriller that easily earns the Oscar buzz it has generated. Chronicling the story of the hostages held in Iran in the early 80s, Argo utilizes an impressive sense of humor, perfectly chosen shots, and subtle but incredibly powerful acting to draw in its audience and create an emotional connection that is often so lacking in this type of film. This emotional connection in turn leads to an edge-of-your-seat tension that carries throughout the movie and…creates such [viewer] involvement that the audience can’t help but burst out with an emotional outpouring at Argo‘s powerful conclusion. – Nick Vollmer
Directed by: Denis Villinueve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner
Arrival combines stirring visuals with a meaningful script. Arrival doesn’t necessarily push the boundaries of what we have come to expect in modern filmmaking, but it does elevate science fiction. It leaves the audience in a better place than when they started. The mark of a great film is one that pushes the viewer beyond the immediate experience of watching the film. Arrival is one of those films that teleports you someplace else. Both in the way that it delivers its message, and that message itself, it is an inspirational achievement.
The Artist (2011)
Directed by: Michael Hazanavicius
Starring: Dean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
Of all the best-picture winners on this list, The Artist may be the most derided. Yet, it easily earns its place among the best films of the decade for two reasons. The first reason is difficult to deny – how enjoyable the film is to watch. Comedies don’t show up often on best-of lists, but here we go. This is a film with a heart and charm. A movie which makes you love watching movies. The second reason this movie belongs on this list is because of what it represents; our fascination with the past and with nostalgia. You can’t deny that our culture is always looking back fondly at our past successes. This is a movie which looks back towards the birthplace of film, it fondly reminisces about the days of yore. Movies, after all, a form of escapism, and The Artist fulfils that role admirably.
The Avengers (2012)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
While the 2000’s brought us the bigger, more enhanced blockbuster, the 2010’s showed us how big-budget filmmaking could be taken a step further. The Avengers was the first proof of concept. Crossover films have, traditionally, not been well-achieved, but by tying together the first phase of its popular superhero franchise, Marvel had a hit on its hands. The Avengers works not just because it is a fun action flick with high stakes, but because it was able to harness anticipation and meet those expectations. Marvel’s ingenious plan to continuously hint at what is coming next made audiences feel like they had to keep showing up to theaters, or else they would be left behind. The Avengers was the first big payoff of all of that fan loyalty. Seeing our heroes together, finally, fighting a common enemy was fun. Fun because we had never seen anything like this before. It was, in many ways, bigger than just one movie.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Directed by: The Russo brothers
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson
But in the grand scheme, as a conclusion to a 22 film journey on which we have all been a part of, Endgame is more than just the sum of its parts. It carries over our own individual experiences from the previous 11 years. It manages to remind us of those moments that inspired, entertained, and taught each of us. There’s nostalgia in seeing some of the past again, and empowerment in seeing our favorite characters in action when it matters the most. They may not be at their best, the franchise may not be at its best, but it doesn’t have to be because we’ve each already taken from it what was of the most value to us individually. It may sound cliche to say, but it’s not about the destination – it’s about how you got there. Endgame is a fantastic reminder of how the MCU took us on one of the most impressive cinematic journeys of all time.
Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)
Directed by: Alejandro Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone
Every once in a while a film comes along which is so creative in its presentation that it takes you by surprise. Birdman is one of those films. It is a bit of a gimmick, but you can’t deny the creative genius of framing an entire film like one continuous shot. It not only brings a continuity to the plot, but offers infectious pacing and energy to the audience. Furthermore, the film’s presentation is fitting to its subject matter. The audience is observing a piece of art depicting the struggles of an artist. We are not all actors/artists, but the movie impacts us anyway. That’s the sign of a great film.
Black Panther (2018)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N’tyongo
While the MCU has been the epitome of modern big-budget filmmaking, it hasn’t just rested on its laurels. Bringing superheroes to the big screen may be the cinematic equivalent of lightning in a bottle these days, but just going through the motions is not enough. With so much superhero saturation, these films have to have something new to say. Black Panther not only has something new to say, it has a new way of saying it. Applaud Marvel for giving the opportunity to new types of storytellers who haven’t traditionally had their opportunities with something like this. Coogler gives us an African hero in a film which isn’t just lip service to the culture. It fully embraces the character and his world. It brings it to life with vivid imagination and excitement. It gives us a new type of hero to cheer for, and it opened up the opportunity for many other filmmakers to express their diverse ideas and backgrounds on the biggest screens.
Black Swan (2010)
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Aronofsky makes movies that are on edge. So, it was a little surprising when he announced his next movie would be about ballerinas. What is so crazy about ballerinas? Well, when it comes to the world of sports-where-you-dedicate-every-waking-moment-of-your-life-to-be-the-best…a lot. Black Swan is psychological horror at its most choreographed. It is the pressure of trying to be perfect, and the terrible things people would rather do than fail. It is a film full of contrasts – the beauty and soft visuals of dance mixed with broken bones, severed friendships, and the consequences of essentially selling your soul to the devil. It is at times mesmerizing, and at others very disturbing. Overall it is a creative tour-de-force with an incredible central performance by Natalie Portman which holds it all together.
Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)
Directed by: Denis Villinueve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto
This long-delayed sequel to Blade Runner may not succeed in the same areas as the original 1982 film, but it more than makes up for it in others. What we have is one of the most spellbinding films ever created. It is an artistic masterpiece, more so than a poignant harbinger with something profound to say. It is both sparse but also claustrophobic and suffocating. The film is full of wide open spaces for the impressive visuals to seep into your mind, but the plot is chock full of uncertainty and gloom. With top-notch cinematography, it finds beauty in what is the struggle to be alive. Blade Runner: 2049 finds room to be a compelling and mesmerizing piece of art all on its own, without taking away anything from the original.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer
In the realm of both fiction and non-fiction, romance sells. In books, across television, and in film, love rules. Part of it is escapism. We see ourselves as the main characters, and imagine what it is like to fall in love and be cared for. Part of it is the idealism. This life we see, which isn’t ours, seems too perfect to be true. We want it to be us. Call Me By Your Name adheres to many of the same traditions of romance films which have come before, but it stands out as one of the best because it is more than just an ode to the power of love between two people. Call Me By Your Name doesn’t just find its characters falling for eachother, it makes you, the audience fall in love with cinema. From vivid cinematography to expertly crafted sets, to a script which is as powerful as it is endearing, Call Me By Your Name will lure you in. This is seductive cinema.
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Coco is everything you’d want out of a Disney/Pixar film. It’s engaging, fun, comedic, and has an important lesson to teach. Inside Out gave us an interesting look at growth and how we mature. Up taught us acceptance in death. Coco teaches us about death and remembrance. For kids, it’s a nice way of learning about it. For adults, it’s one of the motivating factors for getting misty-eyed. It is such a remarkable, emotional tale you can’t help but be moved by it. It’s got twists and turns with a finish that is one to remember. There’s a song throughout called Remember Me that plays a pivotal role in the film and exemplifies the feelings we’ll have for this movie for a long time. – Matt Malliaros
Django Unchained (2012)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Django Unchained is Tarantino’s take on a Western. That being said, it’s not a particularly good representation of the genre. Historical inaccuracies run rampant, and a majority of the film isn’t spent in the Old West, but in the deep South. Don’t worry though; this unfocused devotion to the genre shouldn’t be of concern. Tarantino didn’t set out to make a Western. He set out to make a Tarantino movie. Tarantino movies have certain qualities that can’t be found in other places or made to fit in specific genres. Quentin knows a good idea when he sees one. This film felt more fluid and natural than any previous Tarantino film. There is less juxtaposition between scenes and stylish interludes are kept to a minimum. When the action picks up it is as violent and gruesome as you’d expect a Tarantino film to be. If you can embrace such embellishments, you’ll find one of Tarantino’s most entertaining films yet.
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan
For every instance of where the 2010’s went bigger, it also went smaller. For every Avengers: Endgame there was a well-made, hidden gem of an action flick like John Wick. Filmmakers found ways to create entertaining films without massive budgets. Drive is one of the best examples of these so called art-house action flicks. Just because it is essentially a B-movie doesn’t mean it gives up anything in terms of star power, action sequences, production value, or artistic vision. In fact, Drive’s small scale is its greatest attribute. It gives it an edge, a singular focus and….uh….a drive. Unlike most action movies, it isn’t loud and brash either. It’s cool, calm, and collected, just like its mostly-silent main character. Oh, and did I mention how it is also kind of a romance movie? It’s got a bit of everything. But mostly it’s just really cool. That cool factor is what makes it stand out, and remain endlessly rewatchable.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead
Dunkirk is a masterpiece of filmmaking not just because it is well made, and tells an interesting story in an inventive way. Dunkirk is a great film because it is also exciting to watch. Everything that has gone into it, from the visuals to another stellar soundtrack courtesy of Hans Zimmer really come together to have a maximum impact on the audience. Where war films of the past have been known to rely on a fast pace or hard-hitting action to draw in the audience’s attention, Dunkirk is more subtle. With his picture and his sounds, Nolan creates a large sweeping adventure, yet the commitment to structure and storytelling allows for a rare intimacy with the audience. In many ways Dunkirk feels like the type of grandiose epic film that Hollywood no longer produces, yet is also something that technologically could never have been achieved before now.
The Favourite (2018)
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz
Historical dramas are not supposed to be like this. They tend to be artistic creations, celebrating the past with a certain artistry and sense of dignity. They give us a glimpse of what was, and exist as an escape from our modern dilemmas. On the surface, The Favourite checks all of the boxes. Impeccable 18th century costumes and set designs. Wonderfully colorful makeup and hairstyles. Speech and social arrangements correct for the time period it is set in. Despite this effort, there’s nothing “correct” about The Favourite. It is not at all what it seems. The Favourite is actually a comedy set up to look like a historical drama. A raucous, harsh, biting comedy that hides its teeth beneath a classy exterior. It is, by all accounts, glorious.
Get Out (2017)
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Get Out was an important breakthrough on many different levels. On the basic level you have Jordan Peele, an actor/filmmaker best known for his comedic creations releasing a disturbingly dark and impactful film about race relations. Second, you have the film itself which straddles the distance between satire and horror, successfully delivering a film which is both effortlessly entertaining but also unapologetically poignant. Get Out is one of the most important films of the decade because it finds a way to say something profound in a manner which doesn’t have to upset mainstream expectations for entertaining filmmaking. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Gone Girl (2014)
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris
Movies based on books are hit and miss. Great, or even just popular books rarely make for great cinema. Gone Girl is one of those exceptions. It is an adaptation that went right. Credit goes to King of the Thrillers himself, David Fincher. Fincher has a magnificent eye for detail. He finds the most disturbing details he can, and delivers them to his audience in a slick, polished package. The film is so professional looking that you almost can’t look away. It’s engineered to draw you in, and then twists happen and the next thing you know you’re gasping for air on the floor. David Fincher knows what he is doing. Gone Girl is both comforting and uncomfortable at the same time. That’s what makes it such a top-notch thriller.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Tony Revolori, Ralph Fiennes, Willem Defoe, Saoirse Ronan
Wes Anderson’s films are known for their handcrafted construction, homey attitude, and whimsical nature. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception, but that’s not the only reason it is so great. The Grand Budapest Hotel is great because Anderson’s style has evolved to become more proficient at captivating his audience. The story is very adventurous, which makes the visuals that much more meaningful and exciting. The characters are dynamic, exciting, and it’s easier to root for them. The story is complex but not hard to follow, and the layering he uses gives it a very sophisticated feeling. All of this makes The Grand Budapest Hotel an easy film to love, and it clearly shows off Anderson’s merits as an innovative and influential filmmaker.
Directed by: Alfonso Cauron
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Gravity is a movie about surviving disaster in space. It basically has two characters and very little dialogue. But despite the seemingly simplistic approach, I would label it as one of the most important films of the decade. First, it started a trend of foreign movie directors getting more attention in Hollywood for the types of films we usually don’t see in mainstream cinema (the first of three Mexican directors during the decade to win Best Picture!). Second, this is a science fiction movie that won Best Picture. THAT HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. It was a tour-de-force of developing new technology for filmmaking, expertly directed and exquisitely/excitingly executed. Audiences showed up to theaters in droves. Finally, the main character was a women, persevering against the odds. This aspect also showcased a growing trend in cinema to represent the genders more equally in leading roles.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper
The Avengers surprised us all, but besides the original Iron Man, Marvel hadn’t really given us a ground-breaking comic book movie until this one. Guardians takes obscurity for many of us and blows it up as larger than life on the big screen. This film is simply a lot of fun to watch. It has everything you would want in a summer blockbuster. Amazing realistic special effects, memorable and endearing characters, plenty of quotable lines, and enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat. Chris Pratt does a memorable job as the main character, but he’s not the only highlight as far as some of the acting performances. These are actors who seemed to have a lot of fun making this film and as a result it is fun to watch. Perhaps the best part is that despite having some dark moments, it doesn’t dwell on them. It picks you up and makes you smile.
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlet Johansson
Most of the time, movies with this much social commentary in them feel forced, but Her never falls into that trap. Instead, it carefully builds its characters, crafting them into people you fully believe in and that impressively represent you on almost a subconscious level. We follow the main character through moments of pain, joy, embarrassment, hurt, and anger…and these emotions become our own and feel genuine. By the time the credits role, you’ll have gone through an incredible range of emotions, feel a deeper connection to people and the world, and consider your relationships in new and positive ways. I can’t imagine an audience that couldn’t get something valuable out of it. – Nick Vollmer
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Inception proved that action blockbusters didn’t need to be dumb. Maybe Christopher Nolan had already proved that point with his Batman trilogy, but Inception solidified that statement. The plot of this film is like nothing we had seen before. It was creativity to the max, teamed up with an incredible cast at the top of their game, wonderful special effects, and that type of emotional connection which adds fuel to everything the film is trying to accomplish. Inception opened the doors to all sorts of risk-taking blockbuster movies over the course of the decade – movies which not only restored our faith in the medium, but also allowed new perspectives to be noticed.
Inside Out (2015)
Directed by: Pete Docter
Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Inside Out was a welcome return to form for Pixar. For one, we have an original concept with original characters. I really enjoyed the performance by the actors giving life to these characters. The animation, as always with Pixar films, was great too. What really set this film apart from other Pixar films of this era is the concept more so than the story. It’s a new environment for audiences to explore while also teaching us important lessons. The filmmakers obviously put a lot of thought into making it all work, and it’s enjoyable seeing this vision come to life. I’m happy for an original concept in a well-executed film which appeals to audiences of all ages. We don’t get enough of those these days.
The Irishman (2019)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
If you looked at the cast list of this film you would think it was a film from the 90’s. Yet through the magic of Netflix, Scorsese was able to get the gang back together again to make…another crime drama. But just because it is the kind of movie we’ve seen from Scorsese before, with the same people in it we’ve seen before, doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. In fact, it’s very good. 3 hours of ingenious storytelling and tasty intrigue. The script has an impressive depth and is told from a very interesting perspective. This is the work of a filmmaker who has made a name for himself making this type of film and a group of veteran actors who could do this type of thing in their sleep and still win Oscars. It shows.
The King’s Speech (2010)
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffery Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter
How Tom Hooper went from making films like this to 2019’s Cats, I’ll never know. But what I do know is that The King’s Speech is a solid historical drama. It is the type of movie we see a lot of – bringing to light a perhaps overlooked story from history in order to teach us modern folk an important lesson. Those films fall tend to fall into Oscar-bait territory, and The Kings Speech is no different in that regard. However, what elevates this film above its kin is how everything comes together perfectly, and enjoyably. The acting, the production, the focused directing are all great. But at the end of the day what you will remember most about this movie is how uplifting it is. No matter who you are, we could all use a bit of inspiration in our lives, and this film delivers it.
Lady Bird (2017)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf
The 2010’s have seen their fair share of coming-of-age dramas. From more experimental films like Boyhood or Eighth Grade to the more crowd-pleasing examples such as The Spectacular Now, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower – there are a lot to choose from in this particular niche and it is difficult to really stand out. And yet, Lady Bird does despite neither being exceptionally different nor comfortably familiar. Lady Bird finds the perfect balance of quirky and conventional. The main character herself if spirited, full of energy, but without a clear sense of purpose or direction. Greta Gerwig’s script elevates her from becoming yet another youth lost in the maze that is growing up. She champions her protagonist, and instead of scolding her for her mistakes, she accepts them as part of the process. Lady Bird isn’t just fueled by charm, artistry, or nostalgia. It takes the everyday and makes it inspirational.
La La Land (2016)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
While it could be easy to write-off La La Land as nostalgia porn for the good-ole days of MGM musicals and tap dancing to happy endings, Chazelle shows his mastery with the camera making it feel like Scorsese added musical numbers to Goodfellas. It swings around, dips and bows, speeds up and slows down. But beyond the music, the beautiful rainbow cinematography, and the dancing is a message. One we shouldn’t forget. We should dream. Not just of being famous or financially secure, but a dream of a world where our children and beyond are allowed to dream, too. – Collin Llewellyn
Life of Pi (2012)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Surah Sharma, Irrfan Khan
The Life of Pi is chock full of philosophical musings on life, God, fate, religion, truth and nature. Based on the international best-seller by Yann Martel, the film is a visual feast, as well as being a powerful spiritual experience. Ang Lee has never been more artful than he is here, outdoing himself in sumptuous, captivating visuals. There are many wordless sequences that are so engrossing, words would have ruined them. Ang Lee uses his camera in spectacular ways, sometimes shooting upward from the water, and at other times, using panoramic shots of the sea and sky. No one since Spielberg has filmed the starry night sky so evocatively. – Rob Young
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field
Steven Spielberg’s evolution as a director continues with the outstanding bio pic Lincoln, a film that will likely be remembered as a talky but riveting political drama with an iconic performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Rather than providing a rousing theatrical drama or a historical tale intertwined with the sorrow of war, Spielberg takes a very smart approach to bring Lincoln to life. Using the book “Team of Rivals” as a basis, we see a very human Lincoln through a series of personal and political interactions. Rather than going for a theatrical impact with unrealistic overacting, we get a living, breathing, approachable Lincoln. It is masterfully done, and sets a new standard for historical epics that hopefully, Hollywood will continue to aspire to. – Victor Medina
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Directed by: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
As a sequel more than a decade after the last installment, and as one of those action-first movies that seemed perfect for massive amounts of physics-ignoring CGI, we had good reason to be skeptical. Instead, Fury Road turned out to be nothing like what our expectations lead us to believe. It proved how a franchise could be extended by playing homage to the past but also advancing the story and introducing new, meaningful characters. It proved that action films don’t need to rely on CGI to be entertaining and have an impact. It showed that a director with a strong vision can make a film cohesive, and important. It showed us strong female characters, the impact of colorful cinematography, and yes the cures-all-ills ability of massive car chase sequences. Fury Road kicks so much ass it is difficult to fathom – also, it was the victim of one of the worst Oscar robberies of all time.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Directed By: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges
Compared to many other films on this list, Manchester by the Sea might seem pedestrian. It isn’t innovative or ground breaking, it is a simple drama about people struggling to survive in modern society. What makes this film great is how realistic it is. This film depicts people you know – the type of people we interact with on a daily basis who struggle day to day with real problems. It isn’t melodramatic for the sake of making an artistic statement. It is soul-crushing reality brought to life on the big screen. Disheartening? Yes. But in one of the most beautiful, impactful, and intelligent ways you can imagine. Despite seeming like the type of movie we would easily forget, this is one you will never be able to.
Marriage Story (2019)
Directed by: Noah Baumbaugh
Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johanssen
Every now and then a movie comes along where the performances of the cast elevate the film to another level. Marriage Story is one of those films. It is a drama which discusses a difficult topic: the prospect of divorce. So right away, the premise isn’t exactly inviting. But it is the performances which make you keep watching. The realism of the situation, and the emotional power that those performances convey to the audience. So, Marriage Story may not be easy to watch, but it is a necessary one.
The Martian (2015)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Chiwetal Ejiofer, Jessica Chastain
The Martian is The Castaway on Mars. A man marooned alone must use what he has in order to try and survive, and his greatest resource is his own mind. The film follows suit. Like its main character, Mark, The Martian is clever. The audience feels like they are stranded along with Mark. We are part of the struggle, but also the solution. We feel the same excitement as Mark when something works out, and are devastated when it doesn’t. On top of this adventurous premise, the film offers awe-inspiring visuals, a charming sense of humor, and wonderful acting. The Martian is a film which entertains in more ways than one.
Directed by: Berry Jenkins
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris
Moonlight is poetry on screen. It is love and pain combined, united in the struggles and excitement of coming-of-age. It is a tale told from a perspective we don’t see enough of. It also isn’t trying to force anything on us, only show us reality. The purpose of this film is to detail the complexities of love and life itself – not tell us how to live or exact criticisms against those that have tried to do so. It is lyrical because it is beautiful and challenging at the same time. Moonlight is film as art, and this one is a masterpiece.
Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho
Starring: Choi Woo-sik, Jo Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Song Kang-ho
Parasite is a movie which gives you the chills because of how savage it is. The beginning beckons you in, soothes you as it rallies for the improvement of characters who are living in tough times. But the plot contorts itself, becomes jagged and rough. Instead of smooth sailing, it becomes shocking and thrilling. At the end, audiences find themselves in a place that is 180 degrees from when they started watching. It takes a master of filmmaking to pull off something like this. They have to be in total control of their craft, able to understand precisely the interaction with the audience and how to use it to create something both entertaining and shocking. Parasite is everything a great movie should be, and maybe a little bit more.
The Revenant (2015)
Directed by: Alejandro Inarritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
The Revenant is a simultaneously harrowing and beautiful tale of revenge set against the theme of man versus nature. Man is mainly played by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his finest performances to date. DiCaprio is known for giving his roles everything he has, but in this one he really takes it to another level. His struggle against the odds is quite a sight to behold and is worth seeing this film for by itself. Nature, captured here in brilliant cinematography and creative direction, envelopes the viewer. The fierceness and the danger really grab the attention of the audience and make this an unforgettable experience.
Directed by: Alfonso Cauron
Starring: Yalitza Aparico, Marina de Tavira
A black and white foreign family drama is not supposed to make waves in the film community, but that’s exactly what this film did. Cauron breaks down the language barrier to depict a story that has universal intrigue and appeal. It is about the type of struggle we see on a daily basis – it is about people living their lives, lives which they seemingly have little control over. And yet, it finds beauty in all of the chaos and hardship. We see moments of tenderness and moments of mistakes. The fact that the film was based on the director’s life gives it that extra little something special.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer
If I told you about Guillermo del Toro’s most successful movie, what should I say? If I told you about it, would I explain how it embodies his unique vision, obsessed with odd creatures and historical time periods? I wonder. What type of homages and stylistic nods would this film contain? Would I explain how it continues his love for the strange, but in a more direct way than we’ve seen before? Would it have humor and terror, love and hate? Would it contain the artistry we’ve come to expect from a filmmaker with such unique vision and attention to detail?
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Directed by: David O. Russel
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper
Silver Linings Playbook excels at being a character-focused drama because its characters are so full of energy. The movie features a wide range of personalities, a few emotional meltdowns, and enough shouting to make you wonder why this film didn’t also get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing. Playbook takes these powerful characters and then sets them up in wonderfully complex relationships. The result is a film that is seemingly documenting a freight train of human futility heading towards disaster. It chugs along fueled by the interest that is created as the power in these relationships shifts back and forth. These characters are tugging at each other, pulling themselves apart for their own needs and desires. We just get to sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Berenice Marlohe
Just like the franchise itself, Bond is seemingly rising from the ashes with fists of fury to counter new foes that are arguably more challenging than anything he has encountered before. Here we have a deep, complex, and exciting story written to such a high degree that few other Bond films have shared. It is the type of story that was missing in the last Bond film, and an artistry that hasn’t been seen in the franchise since the 70’s. Credit Daniel Craig for maintaining the same level of performance as he did in Casino Royale. Credit Sam Mendes for crafting a well-made film that will certainly stand the test of time. Credit Javier Bardem for giving us something (or someone) we haven’t seen in a Bond film yet. Overall, Skyfall finds Bond at his best.
The Social Network (2010)
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Can a movie about recent history actually teach us anything? The Social Network says yes. It teaches us about how we got where we are, it teaches us why we do the things we do, it gives us a new perspective on modern life so that maybe we can see where we made mistakes. The Social Network isn’t just a solid all-around film with great acting, impeccable direction, fantastic score, and endlessly quotable script. Its importance has grown over time – and not just because of the topic it depicts. The Social Network opened up the door for movies like The Big Short, or Bombshell, movies which tell the type of story you probably won’t read, or at least understand as well, from the news.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
Directed by: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfield
[Into the] Spider-Verse looks ridiculously good. It’s almost like a comic book come to life, but even that seems like underselling it. The film incorporates a bunch of different animation styles throughout the film, but manages to mesh them together seamlessly, giving it an altogether unique feel that’s vivid and refreshing. The attention to detail is evident in every scene. From the animation, the story, engaging characters, and strong themes, Spider-Verse manages to deliver in each and every aspect. More than just being one of the best Spider-Man films, this is easily among the best superhero movies in general. – Jordan Maison
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Shrieber
Like a documentary, Spotlight reveals a problem that took place in real life. The title may be too fitting. In earns its name from the investigative team at the Boston Globe who uncovered a scandal of sexual abuse inside the catholic church. This detailed recount of the work required to break a major story is not unlike that 70’s darling All the President’s Men. We see the mistakes and successes along the way. We appreciate how much impact we can have in our own work, and as such, it’s inspirational. A great film gives us something to talk about besides just the actors or the scenery. A great film changes the way we approach our own lives, and Spotlight is one of those films.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Adam Driver
While the last two Star Wars films in the newest trilogy have experienced their fair share of controversy, Episode 7 got the new era of Star Wars off to a strong start. J.J. Abrams did what he does best, combining the new with the old to create an exciting, and entertaining adventure. As a big-budget Star Wars film, the special effects are top notch, the music is grand, and the action is great. The Force Awakens is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster with excellent execution and energy.
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Three Billboards has a little bit of everything. It’s a crime thriller, a drama, and a comedy. It is about love, loss, racism, and revenge. It takes place in a quaint American town full of colorful characters who speak in charming ways. You’d be surprised that you’re not watching a Coen brothers movie. But this very American drama is brought to you by a man who comes from Britain. A man known for his witty comedies that have as much bite as they have bark. Three Billboards is a continuation of this trend, even if it has a more humble wrapper. That is what makes it so fascinating. It is a film not tied down by genres. It doesn’t pigeon hole its characters into stereotypes. It doesn’t rely on perfect, orchestrated plotlines or sappy emotion to get a response. Like its characters, it is a little jagged around the edges, imperfect, but purposefully so, and yet soft and delectable in the middle.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen
Name a franchise where the third film arguably the best one. It’s rare. Sequels aren’t supposed to better than the iterations which came before. Toy Story 3 is different. Toy Story 3 is the rare sequel which not only adds to the story of the franchise, but improves it. Pixar didn’t want to make sequels of its films because it feared that doing so would water down the original idea. Somehow, Toy Story 3 does the exact opposite. It adds a new dimension – the passage of time since the previous installment in the series allowed for exploration of new topics, namely, the impact of growing up. For a movie about toys, the film has a lot to say about maturity. It is one of the most impactful and emotional Pixar movies so far, and that’s saying a lot.
Tree of Life (2011)
Directed by: Terrence Malik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain
Malick didn’t just make an art film that he wants you to see. He made an art film and he will hit you over the head with a shovel to ensure you understand that it IS AN ART FILM. Sometimes very little is enough, sometimes a lot is. But often too much is simply too much and Tree of Life will test the boundaries of many an “art film fan”. Every aspect of the film is like a flawed diamond. The trained eye may see the yellowed shades and faint occlusions marking the clarity and maybe the cut is a little uneven, but from a distance, to the innocent of heart, a diamond is a diamond, forged within the furnace of the Earth and declared as an object of undying passion and devotion. Malick has forged his diamond and he offers it to you unabashed, unashamed, and with a terrifying honesty that will shake your very foundation.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Turner, J.K. Simmons
[Whiplash] questions the human obsession to become something great. It’s a greatness essentially defined by inhumanity, accomplishing great feats unnatural to man. The peak is an abstract ecstasy. Andrew [, the main character,] is willing to sacrifice everything to reach a state of questionable divinity. He has a singular drive, to not just excel as a drummer, but be one of the greats. That one all consuming passion, orients itself only in soundscape. I was aware of an impressive rhythm to the cinematography and the cuts, but I did not foresee the ensemble or even assume it would build to one. Sophomore director Damien Chazelle doesn’t slip once at the helm. Look what he’s done with the most conventional of narratives, a student and his demanding teacher. It’s been spread out to abstraction and lingers like a cautionary dream. The whole film has variation in feel and pattern, it floats a wave and somehow manages a three act structure. The film feels like Jazz. But this is the mean Jazz you rarely hear, it’s less lethargic and more aggressive. It’s got sax but it roars. It’s intense as hell, the competitions make you anxious, and the end will grind your teeth to the gums. – Aaron Hunt
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Directed by: Katheryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clark
This is a film that will come to define a specific time in history. While there is controversy over the exact details and truthfulness of the story it spins, the bigger picture that it presents to its audience is what really matters. This isn’t meant to be a retelling of facts with a cinematic flair. Those movies, like Lincoln, take years of research and preparation to pull off. Zero Dark Thirty has been released only 20 months after the events depicted took place. This is a fictionalization. The importance is how the film feels. That, more than accurate facts and faces, is what will allow future generations to watch this film and understand what it was like to live in this time.