I’ve been counting down the best films of the decade all the way from #500 to #1, and today we finally reach the top one hundred best films of the last ten years. Here are entries #100 through #51.
As blunt and aware as its protagonist, Submarine is astute to the aspirational yearning and desire to compartmentalize relationships that come with being a young person, and how crossing things off lists and defying expectations are signs of achievement, but not necessarily progress.
- The Ides of March
The most important figures in a political campaign are -those who have the least visibility- Ides of March is a depiction of one such figure, a staffer played by Ryan Gosling who suffers a crisis of faith when he discovers something about his Presidential candidate, played by George Clooney. It’s taught and suspenseful in its breakdown of morality throughout a campaign, and Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are seemingly having a contest to see who can steal the most scenes.
Dabbling in the surreal but grounded in a perplexing narrative, Enemy is the sort of film that prompts immediate rewatch thanks to the eerie, perpetual dread that Denis Villenueve perpetuated throughout the course of the mystery. The groundwork for its meaning is all there, but even on its surface level this is a gripping mystery that is perplexing without being frustrating.
Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and let the beauty of the world surround us- Paterson doesn’t go looking for the huge and exciting, but examines the passive wonders of everyday life through the eyes of a bus driver and poet. Adam Driver is the perfect lead for this; on the surface he seems normal, and slightly goofy, but as an actor he’s developed a unique voice that slowly shows us how special he really is.
- Frances Ha
Greta Gerwig’s performance is infectious; the black and white world of Frances doesn’t play by the rules or adhere to any discernible structure, and its Frances’s charming frankness and warmth that makes this collection of moments so enjoyable to watch. As a massive Bowie fan, the use of “Modern Love” has got to be one of the greatest Bowie drops in any film.
One of the most cathartic and emphatically personal films I’ve seen; beginning with the crushing final moments of youthful innocence and ending with an artistic journey of healing, Trey Edward Shults is able to use this bifurcated structure as an immediate message of love and restraint for families in crisis.
- While We’re Young
Ben Stiller remarks that Adam Driver’s character isn’t “evil, he’s just young”- this brilliant generational comedy about a middle aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) and a younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) perfectly navigates the idealized vision of youth, in all its excitement and its lack of wisdom.
I don’t think there’s ever been a movie that understands the journalistic process better than Spotlight– it’s a movie that dives deep into the details of fact checking, legal red tape, getting sources, and navigating public opinion, and the details are only exemplified by the fact that they’re dealing with material this sensitive. It’s the actors that bring these roles to life, because behind each journalist is someone who really is passionate about the truth and believes that people have the right to know.
- Logan Lucky
Nobody does ensemble movies like Stephen Soderbergh. Each character in this movie is letting an actor show a different side to themselves, be it Channing Tatum as a downbeat, out of work dad or Daniel Craig as a goofy, wisecracking recent convict. It’s a blast of fun about those that try to screw the system that screwed them, and it has the best use of a John Denver song in any movie.
Jake Gyllenhaal takes his performances really seriously, but any interview he does makes it seem like the guy really likes to laugh and have fun. Thankfully, Gyllenhaal’s greatest role to date is a combination of both- the idiosyncratic character of Lou Bloom makes us laugh as he cons and tricks everyone, and sometimes we’re not even laughing because its funny, but laughing because we cannot believe what we are watching.
Purposefully punishing, Silence defeats us with its length, beats us with its will, and berates us with the power of its scope- a literal comparison to the point where Andrew Garfield is in the closing moments of the film. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a theater that got this quiet during the ending of a film- it’s a story that literally takes our breath away.
It surprises me that it surprises people that Martin Scorsese made a great family film- he’s someone who has never been able to be put in a box, and it’s no shock that he wanted to make a film that celebrated the magic of movies for a new generation. It’s about kids discovering the magic of movies, and hopefully, it’s a movie that will introduce the medium to a new generation.
- The Lighthouse
David Eggers has shown a Kubrickian level of talent when it comes to building at atmosphere; this is an overbearing, loud, and visceral jawdropper that is unnerving with a wicked sense of humor. Robert Pattionson gives one of his best performances as a wickie slipping into madness, and Willem Dafoe is damn near unrecognizable as a wacky lighthouse keeper.
- Last Flag Flying
I don’t think there’s a single person in this country that doesn’t have at least one personal relationship with someone who was a service member- it’s such an important part of so many lives, and Last Flag Flying is an exploration of just that. Here we have characters who have moved on, done other things since their time in Vietnam, but their days in uniform will always be a part of them, and they’ll never forget what they saw and did.
- Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic doesn’t have to explain to us what the family dynamics are like in Viggo Mortensen’s unique household, and it doesn’t stop the story to iron out the details for us. We understand what’s happening because every actor slips effortlessly into the role of a real family member; this cast works as a unit and we feel a part of it as we travel on this adventure.
- Game Night
What a revelation. What a wonderful surprise. In a time where most major studio comedies pander to the masses and refuse to innovate, Game Night has a great concept and is really well made- its composition is specific and creative, its characters are fun and relatable, and its ending is fulfilling, yet ironic. It’s simply a marvel that it exists- this is a movie about grown ups who have real things going on, but also want to have some fun.
- Bridge of Spies
Among many things, including being one of the greatest filmmakers and artists to ever live, it’s clear that Steven Spielberg really cares about his country. Bridge of Spies emulates everything that works about this justice system and the dignity it grants people, as well as the spoken word and its power, and who better to represent these qualities than Tom Hanks?
“I can feel your incriminations and your judgment, and I am fine with that. You want to be loved, you want to be a movie star. The world is as you find it, you gotta deal with that reality and there are monsters in this world. We saw 3,000 innocent people burned to death by those monsters. And yet you object when I refuse to kiss those monsters on the cheek and say pretty please. You answer me this: what terrorist attack would you have let go forward so you wouldn’t seem like a mean and nasty fella? I will not apologize for keeping your families safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done, so that your loved ones can sleep peaceably at night. It has been my honor to be your servant. You chose me, and I did what you asked,”- Dick Cheney.
At the beginning of Foxcatcher, Channing Tatum sternly explains his status as an Olympian to a group of elementary school students and passively corrects those that would confuse him with his brother, another champion played by Mark Ruffalo. It’s a perfectly unnerving opening to a film that is designed to be distant- Steve Carrell makes for a chilling, yet also sad coach turned killer that, like everyone else in the film, questions what victory even means.
- Ad Astra
Brad Pitt is one of my all-time favorite actors, and Ad Astra is a performance of an actor who knows restraint; through means of a rough exterior, Pitt breaks down someone desensitized to feeling by pulling them into the deepest moments of isolation, and becomes a powerful lead for this masterful space epic.
- The Spectacular Now
To call back to the Roger Ebert quote that I used in my intro, this is a movie of great empathy (coincidentally enough, this is one of the last films Roger Ebert reviewed and the last one he gave 4/4 stars). It’s a movie about teenagers who have big hearts and do dumb things, about young people who look for the absent figures in their lives and want for a better life. Is a better life one that involves them being together? Who’s to say. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley bring an authenticity to the uncomfortable nature of growing up that elevates the entire picture because they feel real.
- The Hateful Eight
Tarantino has always had a knack for playing around with genre, and here he’s clearly having the best time with the premise- stick a lot of great actors in a room and have them just riff off each other. Among the best is Walton Goggins as the seemingly simple lawman who may have just outsmarted everyone, and Samuel L. Jackson who gives one of the best monologues in memory that leaves us screaming for more at the end of the first half.
The music of Elton John is like no one else- it’s broad, yet specific, and bombastic, yet intimate. Perfect for a musical! Rocketman is structured like a transitional biopic, but it takes the key moments and adapts them as fantastical, visually engrossing numbers that show us all we need to know about the icon. Taron Egerton commands our attention as a performer and showman, but allows us to see the real pain it took for Elton to reach his status as a legend.
- Inside Out
The best thing Pixar has ever made, Inside Out would probably be great enough if it just played into how emotions affect us as adolescents and how memories shape us, but beyond the fun gags there’s a great message here- it’s okay to be sad sometimes, and it’s also okay to let go of the past.
- Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol
Perhaps they should start naming Mission: Impossible movies like episodes of Friends– this would be “The One Where Tom Cruise Climbs the Dubai Tower.” Outside of that incredible stunt, Ghost Protocol showed a future for what Mission: Impossible could be, where we have an equally great team to play off of, action scenes that consistently improve themselves, and a sneaky sense of humor that revels in the glorious absurdity of the situation.
- Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation
“The One Where Tom Cruise Hangs Off the Side of a Plane”- and that’s how the movie starts! Rogue Nation doubled down on the relentlessness of the previous installment by giving us examples of different types of action we could see, from an opera scene that feels right out of Rear Window to a one-shot underwater escape to one of the greatest motorcycle chases of all-time. It’s also the best that Alec Baldwin has been in a long, long time.
- Mission: Impossible- Fallout
“The One Where Tom Cruise Flew a Helicopter Into a Mountain,” or “The One Where Tom Cruise Broke His Ankle Jumping Off a Building,” or maybe just “The One That Was A Masterpiece.” Fallout operates with a scale and artfulness that action movies haven’t been before, with the most eye popping color and most haunting score of any of the series. This is a film that wrestles with saving your friends or saving the world, a dilemma only someone like Tom Cruise could have.
- I, Tonya
Ever since her emergence at the beginning of this decade, I’ve felt that Margot Robbie deserved better than what she was given; here is a very funny, very nuanced performer who’s been regulated to side roles and non-characters. Here Robbie is given the role of her career, making Tonya Harding into the sort of relatable, yet still unlikeable smart-talking schemer that is both funny and tragic. Paul Walter Hauser is so good in this movie that they should invent some special award just for him.
- The Two Popes
A delightful buddy comedy about the papal succession that considers these monumental figures as people; seeing these two Popes go about their everyday lives and talk in contemplation of each other is just fascinating, and surprisingly humorous and touching.
- The Martian
Pro-science, pro-NASA, pro-America, pro-globalism, and just pro-humanity, this is what a great crowd pleaser looks like and envisions a future where the best of us work together to help each other. It’s cheerful and gleefully optimistic, and while there are events that divide its characters, they’re brought together for a mission that values one person- credit is due to Matt Damon and the flawless ensemble in making us believe something like this could exist.
There’s a lot to unpack in this mind-bending sci-fi thriller about what communication is, but for all its twists and turns, it’s the gorgeous final moments about the power of choice that left me in an emotional wreck. Arrival dazzles us with its own achievements and payoffs before closing with a statement about its humanity.
- Ex Machina
This is smart, sexy sci-fi, a sleek and stunning take on the consciousness debate that never fumbles its own sense of claustrophobia. Domhnall Gleeson is great, and Oscar Isaac is weirder than he’s ever been, but the film’s breakout performance is from Alicia Vikander who brings all the dramatic levels out of an A.I.’s transition from object to person.
- Captain Phillips
To say that Tom Hanks is one of the treasures of American cinema isn’t a new assessment, but even this deep into his career he’s still able to surprise us. Captain Phillips is his greatest exercise in restraint; after two hours of edge of the seat thrills, Hanks breaks down in a haunting finale as the suppressed emotions of the previous hours wash over him.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
All artists are struggling, and Inside Llewyn Davis is the epitome of what a daily struggle in the life of a beaten down folk singer could be. Oscar Isaac is just phenomenal, and beneath the melancholy of his miserable struggle to make it is a warm humor mined from the irony of all those that fight against impossible odds to achieve their dreams.
If the warm, emotionally resonant and exhilarating adventure of Steven Spielberg and the cold, austrist introspection of Stanley Kubrick are the pinnacle of cinematic achievement, then they’re also direct opposite. Somehow, Interstellar captures the essence of both with a mind blowing space adventure that asks the biggest questions whilst also giving us all the heart of a father’s love for his child.
- Zero Dark Thirty
There’s been a lot of discussion about what is or isn’t justified in this war epic, but I don’t think Kathryn Bigelow is arguing one thing in particular as much as she’s presenting the tremendous effort, maneuvering, and manpower taken to go on the greatest manhunt in history. Jessica Chastain makes us care about this journey not because it’s personal, but because it’s her job, and she’s really, really good at it.
- The End of the Tour
This is one of the most honest depictions of what it’s like to be a writer- writers hate other writers, they hate people who talk about writing, and they certainly hate writers that talk about their writing. I didn’t know Jason Segal had it in him to bring out the prickly genius of David Foster Wallace, but the way his character inspires both genius, tragedy, and humor is immensely rewarding.
- Jojo Rabbit
Unabashedly sincere, Jojo Rabbit is keen to show kids how to confront hate through heart and humor, with Roman Griffin Davis’s all-time great child performance serving as the epicenter of adolescence and war. It’s comic timing is in line with Chaplin, Keaton, and all the greats, but the child’s perspective never distracts from the gravity of what’s going on.
- The Farewell
A terrific family drama that both questions the nature of a traditional cultural practice and celebrates the idea of a family unit, The Farewell is an observant film that unites a strong ensemble to illuminate a family of different backgrounds and experiences. In particular, Awkwafina’s lead performance and that of her grandmother, played by Zhao Shuzhen, bring a warmth and love to the screen.
- The King’s Speech
Yeah, The Social Network should have won Best Picture, but that’s not an indictment of the similarly excellent The King’s Speech. A story of friendship between the highest and the lowest born, this is just a fun, touching story about how wisdom transcends class and optimism overcomes trauma.
My pick for the single most underrated and underseen film of the decade; Mr. Robot auteur Sam Esmail showed a relationship in crisis over six alternate realities, each reaching different interpretations of the same conclusion. Maybe Emmy Rossum and Justin Long can’t end up together, but Comet gives us a complete portrait of what could have been.
- Sing Street
How could anything be more fun than this? Sing Street deserved to be a colossal hit, but sadly that’s not how it went. The soundtrack is truly fantastic, building up all the aspirations and energy that fuel both teenage angst and 80s rock into a charming personification of everything that coming of age stories should be.
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Talent is making a film with a great story, genius is making one with six. The Coen Brothers are geniuses, and this gorgeously shot series of cinematic memories of death is a great summation of all that makes them unique. I don’t think there’s been a more perfect twenty minutes of film this decade than Tim Blake Nelson’s opening stint as the fast talking, singing bounty hunter that grants the film its title.
- Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is a western where we’re on the side of both the cops and the robbers- at the end of the day we’re just watching them play out the game, because the banks control things either way. Chris Pine and Ben Foster are great as the brothers who devise a plan to beat the system, and Jeff Bridges tunes into every element of a stereotypical lawman to make an often uproarious, yet tragically antiquated icon. There’s a tremendous awareness of southern culture, and as a Texas resident, I can confirm that “only assholes drink Mr. Pibb.”
As a depiction of politics, Lincoln has an unparalleled awareness of the difficulty of the process, but also a gripping sense of emotion- there’s something potently powerful about the duty of a representative to better the lives of those they command. Abraham Lincoln sure is great at playing himself- it’s weird that this Daniel Day Lewis guy gets all the credit.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The most spiritual and thought provoking of all the Star Wars films, The Last Jedi wrestles with legacy and the fallouts of the past whilst paving a vision of the future that looks different, but emulates the same values and feelings that the Jedi Order always had. Mark Hamill is just brilliant; this is the Luke Skywalker that would exist following the transpired events, and his triumphant third act return is the perfect thematic closure to everything that Yoda taught in The Empire Strikes Back.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin really knows how to make boring things interesting- who knew that baseball stats could be thrilling, emotional, and thought provoking? Brad Pitt has always been one of the best actors of his day, and here he channels the middle aged crisis of a man who’s potential has passed him by.
Drive is pulp, but it’s expertly done pulp; the idea of a lonely grifter who flirts with the idea of a normal life and fights back against his seedy companions is not unique, but Nicholas Winding Refn turned the genre’s greasy roots into an operatic, idiosyncratic experience anchored by some of Ryan Gosling’s most sensitive and endearing work.
- The Town
Ben Affleck sure knows how to direct exciting movies, sure knows how to make you like a character, and he sure loves Boston. The Town is a great summation of these skills- an old-fashioned bank heist thriller with a strong sense of character, and a killer performance by Jeremy Renner as Affleck’s wilder, dangerous brother.
- The Lost City of Z
If there’s any worry that we’d never seen another great historical epic, James Gray brought us along for the adventure of a lifetime as Charlie Hunnam’s explorer character scoured the Amazon in search of a mythic city. Gray’s command of the environment is unparalleled; we feel as if we’re trapped within this dangerous, sweaty rainforests, yet we’re willing to continue the adventure for the chance to see what’s on the other side.