By Jonathan Dorst
The decade spanning 2010-2019 was a great decade for film. It saw many new, ethnically diverse, voices behind the camera, such as Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Jordan Peele, Taika Waititi, Ryan Coogler, Asghar Farhadi, Alex Garland, and Damien Chazelle, as well as veteran directors like Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, and the Dardennes doing their thing. The rise of Netflix and Amazon gave a greenlight to many good films that would have never seen the light of day in a market increasingly intolerant to anything not franchise or horror-related. The rise of Movie Pass and other subscription services (I love being an AMC A-Lister, I have to say) proved that traditional theaters have a lot of avenues still to explore before ceding to the streaming services. Who knows what the upcoming 20’s will bring (hopefully not a stock market crash like the last century’s 20’s brought), but I can’t wait to see the stories that will be told on the big screen in the future.
Here is my list. It was very hard to whittle down to 40. If I’d kept going to 50, I would have included some combination of the following: In a Better World, Mud, Shoplifters, Beautiful Boy (2010), The Social Network, Birdman, Silence, The Lobster, The Salesman, The Big Short, The Mill and the Cross, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Hugo, A Separation, 12 Years a Slave, The Witch, Eighth Grade, Take Shelter, Frances Ha, Arrival, and The Light Between Oceans.
- The Tree of Life– a profound exploration of life and death, and the grace, pain, and beauty in between. More of my thoughts here.
- Whiplash– an intoxicating look at the thin line between pushing someone towards greatness and pushing them too far.
- Inception– a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as a sly commentary on film creation, this movie has big ideas and still works as an action/heist film.
- The Past (2013)- we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us, and reliving it is sometimes as hard as seeing through a rain-splashed windshield.
- Another Year– a touching, grounded look at the effect of a loving married couple and the normal, everyday kindness they show to those around them.
- Ex Machina– a retelling of the creation story in Genesis mixed with the standard, but piercing, questions that good sci-fi asks about humanity and artificial intelligence.
- Fences– a character drama that asks the questions, what is a life well-lived, and what do we owe one another in the midst of the struggles of life? Read more of what I thought here.
- Parasite– one of the best commentaries on class that works on so many different levels.
- The Kid With a Bike– I am just a sucker for the Dardenne Brothers’s style of storytelling- dropping you in the middle of a person’s life and giving you a compassionate view of their struggles without the paint-by-numbers plot or explanatory dialogue. This is one of their best films.
- Manchester By the Sea– not all tragedies end in understanding, not all pain gets healed; life is more complex than that, and this movie gets that in a profound way.
- Get Out– a tale about the commodification of black bodies and the fear implicit in finding out that even your allies don’t always have your best interest in mind.
- Marriage Story– a truthful, though not unhopeful, story that reminds us that dissolving a marriage is like pulling off a band-aid and realizing there’s a gaping wound there.
- Annihilation– a study in self-destruction with a great cast and solid sci-fi scenario.
- August Osage County– I’ve known dysfunctional families, where sometimes the only reason they see each other is out of duty, and this film’s characters rang true.
- Baby Driver– the best movie of one of our best working directors, Edgar Wright. You can read my thoughts on it here.
- Hell or High Water– a dudes’ movie, eminently rewatchable, with a great relationship between the two brothers at its core.
- L’Attesa– a film that boasts beautiful compositions and Juliette Binoche’s eyes which express so much grief and emotion. You can read what I wrote about it here.
- The Unknown Girl– a compassionate look at the question of what responsibility we have towards our neighbors who might be strangers.
- Us- a reminder that the line between the haves and have-nots is a lot thinner than most of us think.
- A Hidden Life– you can read my thoughts on Malick’s second best film here.
- Phantom Thread- a story about a controlling man changed by a woman is also a story about how love upsets our carefully laid plans, and is also a story about accepting death.
- Her– the truth at the bottom of this tale is spot on- we lose a lot when we substitute disembodied relationships for real relationships.
- The Immigrant– a criminally ignored work of art from the great James Gray; Marion Cottillard is brilliant.
- Inside Out– Pixar is operating on a different level from any other animation studio, and this is my favorite Pixar; all parents & would-be parents need to see this.
- Selma– a biopic that sidesteps the great-man-singlehandedly-changes-history fallacy and presents a rather balanced and insightful view of the period.
- Certified Copy– one couple experiences their whole relationship in a day, is what I think happened in this mysterious, but thoughtful film.
- Before Midnight– the realistic and hopeful conclusion to a wonderful trilogy about relationships; if Before Sunrise ponders what might be; Before Sunset, what could or should be; Before Midnight ponders what is.
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople– a family favorite, maybe the most re-watchable movie on this list.
- The Last Black Man in San Francisco– a mournful but playful look at gentrification, displacement, and the longing for home.
- Brooklyn– Brooklyn- a more romantic view of immigration than The Immigrant, but a thoughtful story with wonderful performances, particularly by Saoirse Ronan.
- Lady Bird– growing up is hard, and having your kid grow up is even harder.
- Spotlight– a somber, piercing look at one of the worst systemic crimes and cover ups the world has ever seen.
- Black Panther– if Wakanda is a stand-in for America, this is a thoughtful exploration of foreign policy with the background of America’s racial scars.
- First Reformed– what does God want from us personally when it comes to global issues like environmental catastrophe?
- The Act of Killing– a shocking documentary that reminds you that evil is banal and especially easy to encourage when a government sanctions it.
- Nebraska– a film that makes more sense the older you get. Bruce Dern forever.
- Ida– how much of your life is based on your parent’s religion and nationality, and how much would your life change if you found out those things were much different than you thought?
- Moonlight– a very honest (and cinematic) look at what life might be like growing up without love.
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi- a profound meditation on the beauty of work and the pursuit of excellence.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron– my daughter (the Madeleine who loves movies) opened my eyes to all that Joss Whedon had going on under the surface in this film, even if much of it didn’t pay off with future directors veering from Whedon’s vision.
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