Since the 2010s officially drew to a close a few months ago, I've been thinking about which of the decade's films stood out to me most. Now that we are all sheltering in place for the forseeable future, now is as good as time as any to reflect on my favorite films of the past decade. The following are not the ten films I think are of the highest quality from an execution perspective; rather, they are the films that I enjoyed or that impacted me the most. I have listed them in chronological order, as it would probably be too difficult for me to actually rank these films.
The Social Network (2010)
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
The Social Network is one of those films that I truly believe is flawless. With nearly every movie I watch, I can usually find one or two minor issues, even if I enjoy the film immensely overall. But The Social Network just doesn't have anything like that. I've seen it multiple times, and each time I am simply blown away by the incredible pairing of David Fincher's visual style and Aaron Sorkin's rapid-fire dialogue. Sometimes Sorkin's pretentious writing irritates me; certain episodes of The West Wing come to mind. But in this case, his dialogue perfectly matches with the smugness and arrogance of all the main characters in The Social Network. No one in the film is without flaws and each character is full of himself. Yes, I say "himself," because the film features basically zero prominent female characters, a biting indictment of the nature of start-up and Silicon Valley culture more broadly. Long before we had a name for it, The Social Network gave us one of the first cinematic depictions of the "CE-Bro".
Jessen Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, and Andrew Garfield all give career-best performances, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide one of the best film scores of all time to round out the complete package.
|Facebook co-founders Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg)|
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Directors: Dean DeBlois; Chris Sanders
Screenplay: Will Davies; Dean DeBlois; Chris Sanders
Sometimes you just need a film that makes you smile and feel warm inside, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. HTTYD is that film for me. I can watch it over and over again and never get bored. The story is equal parts touching and exciting, the characters unique and memorable, and the animation holds up remarkably well nearly ten years later. What makes this film stand out for me though, more than anything else, is its amazing original score, composed by John Powell. Powell's gorgeous compositions and use of motifs elevate many scenes to perfection, especially the memorable "Test Drive" and "Forbidden Friendship" sequences. The YouTuber Sideways put out an excellent video essay on what makes the score so memorable; check it out!
|One of my favorite moments of HTTYD|
A Separation (2011)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi
Like The Social Network, A Separation is a flawless film, to me at least. I watched it in the theater, and remember my first thought upon seeing the credits roll: "That is a perfect film. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it." I won't spoil any of the plot here, but needless to say this film is one of the best family dramas I've ever seen. But it's more than that. It's an examination of the clash between progress and tradition. It's an exploration of faith and dogma. And it's a portrayal of contemporary challenges in modern-day Iran. Featuring some of the sharpest writing and most naturalistic acting of the decade, I'd recommend this film to anyone who doesn't mind reading subtitles. Farhadi's film is one that has so much to say, and does so more efficiently than most movies could ever dream of doing.
|Simin (Leila Hatami) seeks a divorce from Nader (Payman Maadi)|
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Director: Drew Goddard
Screenplay: Joss Whedon; Drew Goddard
The Cabin in the Woods is one of those films that you just need to go into blind. Granted, I generally think most films are better-watched without knowing anything beforehand; but Cabin requires it. Although it's certainly not for everyone, Cabin blew me away with its creativity and ingenuity. It's certainly one of the best horror films I've ever seen, and one of the wittiest meta-commentaries on any genre, ever. For those who have watched it, I think this essay by Karl Delossantos captures much of what makes Cabin such a strong film, one which led the vanguard of the horror renaissance of the 2010s.
|Our victims first arrive at the Cabin|
Director: Alexander Payne
Screenplay: Bob Nelson
I've already written at length about my love for Nebraska in a prior blog post, which you can find here. Needless to say, few films have hit me as hard emotionally as Nebraska. It didn't quite bring me to tears, but it got real close. Bruce Dern delivers one of my favorite performances of all time, and the beautiful black and white cinematography of Phedon Papamichael captures the decaying landscape of a bleak Nebraskan town, mirroring the socioeconomic crisis that has engulfed much of rural America.
|Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) and his son, David (Will Forte)|
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
I've never been a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. I find most of his movies vastly overrated, including Inception and The Dark Knight. So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dunkirk. Nolan has always had a keen visual eye, so the film of course looks incredible. His attention to detail -- from the use of authentic vintage WWII airplanes to shooting on location in Dunkirk -- ensures that the film feels supremely real. Sound design, cinematography, visual effects, and production design are all top notch and will surely stand the test of time.
However, Dunkirk isn't just a visual feast. The film is also flush with understated yet convincing performances, especially from Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh. I know many have criticized Dunkirk for its supposed lack of character development, and I see where that critique comes from. However, to me it was obvious the film isn't really about the characters. It is about depicting the anxiety and sheer terror of war. And in that regard, Dunkirk succeeds brilliantly.
Finally, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually like Hans Zimmer's score here. It builds almost unbelieve tension to accompany the horrific events that unfold on screen.
|Dunkirk perfectly captures the fear and anxiety of war|
The Death of Stalin (2017)
Director: Armando Ianucci
Screenplay: Armando Ianucci; David Schneider; Ian Martin; Peter Fellows
Oftentimes, movies that try to put a humorous spin on otherwise evil people can fall completely flat. I think Jojo Rabbit falls in this category.
On paper, it seems a rather difficult task balancing slapstick humor with the cutthroat political maneuvering that followed the death of Josef Stalin in 1953. Yet Armando Ianucci manages to pull it off brilliantly, crafting one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. The constant jokes and bumbling machinations of Soviet leaders as they each seek to fill the power vacuum left by Stalin's death don't downplay the horrific actions they take; in fact, the humor in some way magnifies their malevolence. After all, who could crack a joke following a brutal execution, if not a supremely messed up person? A stellar ensemble cast of British and American actors, led by a dynamite Steve Buscemi as Nikita Krushchev, bring the film's hilarious dialogue to life and left me gasping for breath as I laughed at scene after scene.
|The Death of Stalin features one of the funniest ensemble casts I've ever seen|
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Directors: Bob Persichetti; Peter Ramsey; Rodney Rothman
Screenplay: Phil Lord; Rodney Rothman
I'm not a comic book film aficionado. I've only seen a handful of films in the MCU, and generally haven't been impressed. In fact, I only went to see Into the Spider-Verse in theaters because of its high Metacritic score. It was worth the price of admission and then some. Despite my comparatively limited knowledge of Spiderman lore, I had an earnest grin plastered across my face for much of the film. This movie is not only hilarious but also heartfelt, and features a supremely satisfying arc for its protagonist, Miles Morales. The animation is unlike anything I had ever seen before, and works so well for a comic book aesthetic. I can only hope the sequel reaches the same level of excellence.
|Infinite universes; infinite Spider-people|
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón
Simply put, Roma is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Each and every shot in the film would not look out of place in an art gallery. Cuarón's direction and cinematography are deliberate and meticulously-crafted, with long and sweeping tracking shots that frame the characters and action perfectly. The ensemble cast is strong, and the story carries quite a lot of emotional weight. By the time I made it to the now-famous beach scene near the end of the film, I could barely move in my seat. Roma is Cuarón's undisputed masterpiece, and I don't think I'll ever get over the fact that it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Green Book.
|One of the most intensely emotional scenes I've ever witnessed on film|
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Screenplay: Bong Joon Ho; Jin Won Han
What more is there to say about Parasite? Not much. A well-deserved winner of the Palme d'Or and Best Picture Oscar and an all-around dynamite film in every way possible. It's a rare film that simultaneously provides maximum entertainment and social commentary. I've enjoyed many of Bong's films, but Parasite represents an entirely new level of excellence for him. I can't wait to see what he does next.
|Who are the parasites in Parasite?|
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Dir. Doug Liman
I went into this film with very low expectations, due to a terrible trailer and all-around poor marketing. I was pleasantly surprised to experience one of the most well-directed and well-written action films I had seen in a long time. A perfect mixture of action, humor, and drama, all with a compelling sci-fi plot and excellent performances from leads Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Dir. George Miller
MM:FR has been labeled by many the best action film of the decade, and for good reason. Mindblowing stuntwork and practical effects combine with phenomenal visual storytelling and minimal exposition. This movie builds a world and sells it so convincingly: the audience is hooked and along for the ride from the get go, and barely gets a moment to breathe until the film ends two hours later.
Shoplifters (2018) Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
In many ways, Shoplifters addresses a lot of the class commentary issues highlighted by Parasite, yet didn't get quite the same level of buzz and international attention. It's less comedic and over-the-top generally, but still serves as a timely portrayal of wealth inequality and poverty in modern Japan.