My favorite films of the decade

Revisiting the best flicks of the 2010s

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The 2010s saw a reinvigoration of independent cinema, pushing for new voices to be heard across the globe and the rise of streaming gave access to these works like never before. 

With 2020 just around the corner, there’s no better time to reflect on some of the past decade’s great cinematic achievements. Here are some of my favorite films to have come out this decade. 

2010 - “Toy Story 3”  

Runner-Ups: “The Social Network,” “The Fighter”

 In a decade full of inventive animated hits, Pixar proved that it still reigns at the top of the genre with arguably its best film to date. Released 11 years after the franchise’s last installment, “Toy Story 3” works not just as a joyous blockbuster where the term “fun for all ages” really does apply, but also as the best prison escape film since “The Shawshank Redemption.”

2011 - “Shame” 

Runner-Ups: “A Separation, Drive”

“Shame” is an unflinchingly raw portrait of sex addiction and the loss of self-control. It stars Michael Fassbender as a loner in New York City who soon finds his life complicated when his sister overextends her visit. Director Steve McQueen’s fixation on the darkest places that humans can go when left unchecked is found across all of his work, and here it is complemented by a cold and blue, yet beautiful, color saturation. 

2012 - “The Master”   

Runner-Ups: “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

 Legendary filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson cast now-“Joker” star Joaquin Phoenix and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman alongside one another in this Scientology-inspired film, which asks its audience to look at the effects of indoctrination. Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is a navy veteran in the 1950s who fails to find purpose after the war. He crosses paths with Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, who convinces him “the cause” will change his life for the better. 

2013 - “Inside Llewyn Davis”  

Runner-Ups: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “12 Years A Slave”

The best films allow its audience to leave their comfort zones and step into the shoes of an unfamiliar world. 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the story of a struggling folk singer (Oscar Isaac) who seems to be a day late and a dollar short of Bob Dylan, epitomizes that notion. The Coen Brothers have created an emotional journey that is nothing short of cathartic, and by the end of it, we are left wondering how much people will change to truly feel alive. 

2014 - “Under the Skin” 

Runner-Ups: “Mommy,” “Boyhood”

 Scarlett Johansson reaches new levels of brilliance with a quiet, unsettling performance in this art-house film. Playing a newly-landed alien who roams the streets of Scotland in search for her next pray, she ends up on a path of discovering what it means to be a human being. Many have compared “Under the Skin’s” hypnotic feeling to Kubrick’s work, as it requires multiple viewings for a better understanding. 

2015 - “Mad Max: Fury Road” 

Runner-Ups: “Sicario,” “Steve Jobs”

George Miller’s post-apocalyptic, high-octane action masterpiece was arguably the movie of 2015. At 70 years old, Miller and his editor/wife Margaret Sixel returned to the industry with what was at equal parts visually stunning, brilliantly choreographed, endlessly rewatchable and, most importantly, feminist (Charlize Theron’s Furiosa stands alongside the best female action stars). There is so much confidence to be found within the insanity. 

2016 - “Manchester by the Sea”   

Runner-Ups: “Moonlight,” “American Honey” 

 “Manchester by the Sea” works best at its restraint portraying the empty, unspeakable feelings that can take over without notice. The film balances this tragedy with great moments of humor and levity. In a lightning-in-a-bottle performance, Casey Affleck solidifies himself as one of the greatest working actors. 

2017 - “The Florida Project”  

Runner-Ups: “Phantom Thread,” “Call Me By Your Name”

 Sean Baker has a keen eye for capturing the wonder that is often missed in our day-to-day lives. Casting a group of six-year-olds to lead this story of impoverishment and life on the margins was a bold directorial choice but is why “The Florida Project” resonates so dearly. Willem Dafoe co-stars in one of his most underrated performances to date. 

2018 - “If Beale Street Could Talk”  

Runner-Ups: “First Reformed,” “ROMA”

 “Trust love all the way,” says Regina King’s Sharon Rivers to her daughter after her boyfriend is falsely charged. His true “crime,” however, is being a happy man and a black man at a time where that was seen as binary. Director Barry Jenkins followed up the acclaim for his indie masterpiece “Moonlight” with this breathtaking study of love in the most difficult circumstances. The camera is more concise here, making every frame unique and essential. 

2019 - “Parasite”  

Runner-Ups: “The Lighthouse,” “Once Upon A Time...in Hollywood”

 “Parasite” initially plays out like an identity-swap comedy. A poor family in South Korea begin working for a rich family in a neighboring town. Then, without notice, the film transforms into a horrifying thriller that furthers its message of the dangers associated with economic inequality. It is a testament to great filmmaking when a movie can blend multiple genres. Bong Joon-ho’s magnum opus does so with ease. 

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.