It's the end of the decade, so it's time to take a look back at the past 10 years in film and highlight my favorites that stood out from that time. Now normally, I might take a little more time to let the most recent year settle in a bit more. But I figured, it honestly doesn't matter when I decide to do this list, I'm going to change my mind on it at some point anyhow (which will be highlighted through various stats along the way), so I may as well do it now!
I've spent quite a bit of time compiling this list, and at one point, it actually existed as a Top 50 list. However, I realized that after a certain point, it felt less like I was listing off my personal favorite films of the decade, and more like I was just naming a bunch of movies that had happened to release throughout the decade. And so I went with a Top 15, because that's honestly around where the actual ranking order still felt solid, before it began to feel a bit interchangeable after that. But I did still have a number of movies that I felt were worth highlighting all the same, even if they didn't quite get ranked and made it into the final list, and so here are my picks for the movies that I'd like to give an honorable mention to from the past 10 years:
A Ghost Story (David Lowery - 2017)
Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo - 2019)
Carol (Todd Haynes - 2015)
Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, The Wachowskis - 2012)
Creed II (Steven Caple Jr. - 2018)
Maggie (Henry Hobson - 2015)
Predestination (Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig - 2014)
The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans - 2012)
The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans - 2014)
Tangled (Nathan Greno, Byron Howard - 2010)
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins - 2017)
Zootopia (Byron Howard, Rich Moore - 2016)
And I could honestly keep going, as there's plenty of movies that it almost breaks my heart to have to leave off, movies such as Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski - 2010), The Avengers (Joss Whedon - 2012), It Follows (David Robert Mitchell - 2015), Captain America: Civil War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo - 2016), Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan - 2016), and Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow – 2017). But I had to cut it off somewhere, so that's what we're left with. All fantastic movies that are easily among the best that I've seen in the past decade, which all told, has been an absolutely tremendous decade in film (even if I haven't been the biggest fan of the last couple years specifically). And so with that, let's move on to the main list, starting things off with...
Blue is the Warmest Color
(Abdellatif Kechiche - 2013)
Previous Rankings: 2013 Honorable Mention
Theater Viewings: 1
While an all around excellent movie overall, the thing that's stuck with me the most about it, which has in turn left me finding myself thinking about this movie quite a bit over the years, is just how much of a feat of pacing that it is. At three hours in length, this is an epically lengthed foreign language romance film that somehow doesn't feel a minute longer than two hours, and I seriously don't know how they even accomplished this. Like, I'd love to just break this movie down to a science to try and figure out how they managed to pull it off, but this movie is seriously one of the best examples of pacing I've ever seen, which has helped this one stand out as being among the most impressive films I've seen this decade.
Guardians of the Galaxy
(James Gunn - 2014)
Previous Rankings: 2014 #2; Half Decade #10
Theater Viewings: 3
Great character work and ingenious use of music propel this to the top of the heap for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I love how the Guardians films feel more secluded from everything else happening in the expanded MCU, granting them a freedom to explore their worlds and characters without having to worry too heavily about tying back in with everything else happening in the grander scheme. And this film's use of soundtrack is done in such a way that makes it feel as if we, the viewer, are truly tagging along with this strange band of heroes, as everything that we hear is also being heard by the characters on the screen, making for a more immersive viewing experience unlike anything else in this 20+ movie series.
(James Mangold - 2017)
Previous Rankings: 2017 #1
Theater Viewings: 2
Perhaps the best proper film in the superhero genre since The Dark Knight, this is one of those rare movies that elevates an entire genre to something that's worth taking a little more seriously. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart not only give the best performances of their lives in this film, they quite frankly give two of the best performances seen this whole decade. This is an absolute gut punch of a film, and a fitting send off to both an iconic character, as well as the X-Men franchise as a whole.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(Zack Snyder - 2016)
Previous Rankings: 2016 #6
Theater Viewings: 2
On the polar opposite end of the comic book movie spectrum, this movie is just a beautiful disaster. It's ambitious to a fault, but I can't help but dig the hell out of this movie all the same. Snyder's signature style is all over this thing, including awesome action sequences and an infectious use of music, and it's refreshing to see that at least someone was trying to incorporate theme music in a modern day superhero film. It also introduced Wonder Woman into the fold in a big way, whose scenes are definitely a highlight of the film, and who would go on to become one of the most bad ass characters in the modern era of comic book movies.
(Christopher Nolan - 2010)
Previous Rankings: 2010 #1; Half Decade #6
Theater Viewings: 2
And now we get to our first non-comic book movie of the list, and a true game changer of a film at that. Its booming score is iconic, and would go on to influence countless other films and the way they're marketed. But I just love in particular how in addition to being a phenomenal piece of music, it's in fact also just as much an active a participant in the story as the characters on the screen themselves. And the movie is loaded with imaginative ideas and action and imagery throughout, all presented in Nolan's token grounded style that almost makes this fantastic world seem like it could really exist. This is a modern day classic, and one that definitely ingrains itself in your mind.
(Pete Travis - 2012)
Previous Rankings: 2012 #1; Half Decade #3
Theater Viewings: 4
This was one of the biggest surprises of the decade for me. I expected just some dumb fun action flick, and what I got instead was one of the most clever and kick ass action films I've ever seen. It quickly became one of my highest recommendations, and dragging various friends out to see it in the theater so they could experience this movie's awesomeness for themselves helped make this the first time I actually saw a movie in the theater more than three times. Sadly, it may have ultimately bombed in the theater, but I more than did my part to try and help it out!
(Pete Docter - 2015)
Previous Rankings: 2015 #1
Theater Viewings: 3
I simply adore this movie's existence. This is one of the most brilliant films I've ever seen, and it's in fact the first time I ever referred to a movie as being a miracle of a film. The vibrant ways in which this movie breaks down the inner workings of the mind and the various emotions we feel are nothing short of genious, and make for one of the most emotionally satisfying movies this decade.
Mad Max: Fury Road
(George Miller - 2015)
Previous Rankings: 2015 #3
Theater Viewings: 1
An absolute masterpiece of a film. It's a simple enough premise, but accomplished in a big and bombastic way that sets it apart from everyone else. It's one of the few examples of actual good progressiveness in modern films done right, both from a social standpoint, as well as from a filmmaking and artistic one. It's sort of insane to even think about how much of this movie was filmed using practical effects as opposed to green screens and CGI. And like other entries on this list, I simply love how this movie's score, in addition to being one of the most glorious film scores of the decade, is one that truly immerses us into this post-apocalyptic world, as it's blasted out at times by the characters on screen themselves, performing it amidst all the crazy action, meaning it's literally the soundtrack to said action even within the confines of this movie's world itself. This film is truly a work of art.
(Nicolas Winding Refn - 2011)
Previous Rankings: 2011 #2; Half Decade #4
Theater Viewings: 2
Speaking of soundtracks, I love how listening to pop music on the radio acted as inspiration for director Nicolas Winding Refn on how to tackle this movie, and you can see that inspiration in the finished product itself. This is one of the coolest damn movies I've ever seen, backed by one of the chillest damn soundtracks, and brought to life by some seriously great performances, including Ryan Gosling in perhaps his most stoic and bad ass outing to date. This is a movie that'll mesmerize you early on, only to turn around and shock you at various points along the way. A movie that's both super stylized yet super gritty, this is one that instantly made Refn one of my favorite modern directors.
(Zack Snyder - 2011)
Previous Rankings: 2011 #1; Half Decade #5
Theater Viewings: 1
Every time I rank both Drive and Sucker Punch, I flip flop back and forth on which should be ranked above the other, and here you can see I've done it yet again. Truly, if ever there was a year where I should've made my #1 pick of the year a tie, it should've been 2011 between Drive and Sucker Punch at the top of the heap.
But I simply love this movie, and feel it's perhaps one of the most underrated and most misunderstood movies of the whole decade. An absolute celebration of escapism, of getting lost in one's imagination and just letting it run wild, it's no wonder why this movie clicked with me so well. I was a big fan already of Zack Snyder prior to this film, but I'd personally say that this is easily his best yet, and it's one that makes me wish he would do more original work, as opposed to just working on big franchise properties all the time, so we could see what other wondrous ideas he's got for us.
La La Land
(Damien Chazelle - 2016)
Previous Rankings: 2016 #1
Theater Viewings: 5
What a wonderful movie. As can probably be assessed by a lot of my entries in this list by now, I'm a big proponent for music in film, and the ways in which it's used. And this movie hits all of the beats, featuring musical numbers that are both pre-recorded or at times even performed live on set, memorable uses of classic songs, and full on orchestral moments that allow for the music and visuals to tell its story, almost like watching a live action Fantasia. The plot and characters are charming and relatable, and the visuals and use of lighting feel inspired. This movie is like a dream, and one that I just couldn't get enough of.
(Christopher Nolan - 2014)
Previous Rankings: 2014 #1; Half Decade #2
Theater Viewings: 4
This is just such a massive movie. And it's one that in turn will leave you mind feeling as vast as the universe itself by the end at that, a phenomenon that I've never experienced with any other film before. In addition, add this to my list of the best paced movies that I've ever seen, as like Blue is the Warmest Color above, this is a three hour long epic that, yet again, doesn't feel a single second longer than two hours, even after four different viewings in the theater. This is Christopher Nolan at perhaps his most ambitious yet, with overwhelming visuals, an intense score, and grandiose ideas, as he takes his characters on a journey through space that goes big and hits hard.
The Neon Demon
(Nicolas Winding Refn - 2016)
Previous Rankings: 2016 #2
Theater Viewings: 2
One of the most stunningly gorgeous yet dementedly dark films of the decade, watching this movie feels like Refn letting us in on some of his deepest, darkest secrets, which is part of what makes this movie resonate so much with me. On the one hand, you can argue that the movie is little more than surface level deep. On the other though, there's something personal on the screen that I can't help but latch on to. It's a hard movie to recommend, as it's truly one of the most messed up films of the decade, and it's definitely not going to be for everyone. But for me at least, it totally clicked with me, and I loved it.
Also, this movie acted as my introductory point to Sia during its ending credits, so it scores bonus points for that, too!
(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee - 2019)
Previous Rankings: 2019 #1
Theater Viewings: 8
So this was one heck of a last minute wrench that got thrown into things. So much so, I actually debated putting off sharing this list, to allow for more time for this movie to really sit and see how confident I was with its placement. But alas, as I mentioned in my introductory passage above, I figured screw it, we're just gonna move forward with it anyways. After all, as you can see by the theater viewing count, I've already seen this one eight times so far. When I saw La La Land for the fifth time, I definitely felt like I had seen it enough, and I honestly found it improbable that I would ever see another movie so many times in the theater again. Eight viewings of Frozen II later though, I've obviously shattered that previous record, and I could still easily go for more. Movies that are this good are seriously a rare, rare breed.
It's actually a bit disconcerting to see that virtually nobody outside of the core Frozen fanbase has anything much to say about this film though. You won't find people discussing this on social media or film forums like they did with the first, and most people appear to be seemingly dismissing it. Which is a shame, because this is a movie that I feel has so much worth discussing about.
Like, the poetic writing in this film is seriously master class stuff, made all the more impressive by the fact that it never draws attention to what it's doing, but is more focused on telling its story and taking its characters on these emotional journeys. But the poetry remains there all the same for anyone looking to dig deeper.
And that's what else I love about this movie, is that it doesn't hold the viewers hand or dumb itself down for the lowest common denominator, like almost 99% of all other movies seem to do nowadays. I've seen so many movies that treat me like I'm an idiot, that's it's almost become expected by this point. But in a refreshing change of pace, especially coming from a big franchise film such as this, this film instead has a genuine respect for its audience, a trust it places in them to be able to fit all the pieces together, without having to put the movie on hold to spell it all out for those in the audience who were too busy playing on their phones to pay attention throughout.
And that's not even touching on the emotional core of this movie. Like, I can't recall any other movie where by the end of it, I seriously just wanted to give the movie itself a warm hug. Hell, my review of the film felt more similar to my review of a Babymetal show, where I spend most of my time discussing how much of an emotional ride it took me on, and how much it made me smile throughout, and how much of a puddle of tears it left me in.
And these are tears of pure joy, I feel I need to stress. I've seen so many movies that can make me cry tears of sadness that it almost doesn't even feel like a feat to be moved in that way anymore. Those are emotions that are in fact relatively easy to manipulate, and some movies aren't even subtle with the manipulative tactics that they use. But tears of joy? Of pure, overwhelming happiness? Yeah, those don't come easy. Those are the levels of emotion that one has to truly earn, and oh man does this movie ever. I've seriously never been so thoroughly wrecked by a single movie in my life.
The fact that on a technical level, it's a solid improvement over the original is just icing on the cake. And even after so many viewings, it never even begins to drag, and I'd lob this up along with Blue is the Warmest Color and Interstellar for champions of pacing as well. It may not be a three hour long epic like those films, but at an hour and forty-five minutes, this movie honestly goes by so quick, you'll think only a single hour has passed, even after so many viewings. And as a pure musical experience, this might be the single greatest outing I've seen in the theater this whole decade.
Seriously, this movie is simply a miracle. Heck, I honestly find it to be a rare example of a "perfect" movie, as I personally don't have a single word of criticism that I can say about it. Yet even so, it still gets outranked by one last film.
(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee - 2013)
Previous Rankings: 2013 #2; Half Decade #1
Theater Viewings: 2
I mean, is this even surprising by this point? Anyone who's been following me for even a little bit of time by now should've easily seen this coming. Obviously Frozen tops the list. It's not just my favorite movie of the whole decade, it's my favorite movie of all time, period. In fact, when that realization hit me that Frozen was my all time favorite, it was actually quite satisfying, as I don't believe I've ever had one single definitive answer to that age old question before, "What's your favorite movie?" I always had a number of movies that I'd say might be one of my favorites, such as Independence Day, or The Dark Knight, or Revenge of the Sith, but no one specific answer that I could reply with confidence. Until Frozen.
That's not to say that I think it's the "best" movie I've ever seen, as it's certainly got a number of technical flaws to it, which I've discussed quite a bit over the years. Yet even so, its flaws don't ever break the movie, and I've actually come to find a certain fitting charm to its imperfections. Because what this movie has going for it is its characters. And the depths that this movie goes to, and the magical ways in which it explores these character depths, is unlike anything I've seen.
I mentioned that Frozen II is the better movie technically, but the reason I can't rank it higher than the original is because, quite frankly, deep as that movie goes, it doesn't go nearly as deep as this one does. And that's not a knock against that movie either. Quite frankly, it can't go to those places again. And if this one hadn't gone to those places, that movie couldn't even exist as it does. But it is the reason why this one ranks higher for me, and why it affected me so deeply.
Elsa is seriously one of the best written characters I've ever seen in a film. And she's also the single most personally relatable character I've ever seen in fiction. She may be able to use magic, but in terms of her personality and her emotional demons and how they're portrayed, she genuinely feels like the most realistic character I've seen depicted in film. And you can really tell that the screenwriters truly understand what she's going through internally, her anxieties, her fears, her generally introverted nature, and the different ways this plays into how she acts around others depending on the setting or who she's around. She's not "movie shy" or "movie anxious". Her emotions are portrayed in an incredibly realistic way. Just with, you know, a little bit of magic sprinkled in, which is often used in creative ways to even further explore her psychology.
You hear a lot about people saying that they want to see themselves being represented in movies. Well that's what it was like watching this movie for me, was seeing myself being represented in the realest, truest form, as if the filmmakers themselves had spent some time following me around in my life and my various interactions and turned it into a fantasy.
I spoke about Elsa, but honestly, Anna is the opposite end of the spectrum from a personality standpoint, and while I may not personally see myself in her on the level that I can Elsa, I can still very much relate with her and what all she's going through. Like, I recently saw an interview where Kristen Bell mentioned how she put a lot of herself into the character, because she had a desire to see someone like herself represented on the big screen. And that mentality totally comes through in the end, which is why I feel these characters connect so deeply with so many. And I think that's a big part of why this movie took off and became such a big hit, wasn't just that the music was as fantastic as it was. But the character work was so relatable to so many, because it was executed in such a personal manner. And this movie's messages were so universal, that it was truly a movie for anyone.
Now, there was eventually quite a bit of a backlash against the film, which has since garnered a reputation for being "overrated". Personally, I'd actually argue that the film is in fact quite underrated, and perhaps also quite misunderstood, which is a conclusion I've been able to come to in my many interactions discussing the film both online and in person with those who didn't like it. And I've also realized that in fact very few people actually got to experience this movie in its rawest form, outside of those who saw it opening weekend like myself. For instance, almost everyone goes into the movie now already knowing that Elsa's not the villain. But if you went into it having only seen the theatrical trailers on opening weekend, Elsa's arc totally plays out like a classic villain's descent. And that she doesn't ultimately become the big bad is in fact one of the biggest twists in a movie that's filled with them.
And speaking more on those twists, I'm also still a bit baffled that to this day, nobody can bring up Frozen without feeling it necessary to assert that they're a bigger fan of either Tangled or Moana. The irony there being that, while Tangled and Moana are both Disney Princess musicals, Frozen actually probably has more in common with a film such as The Cabin in the Woods than it does with either Tangled or Moana, as it exists as a complete deconstruction of the Disney Princess genre. I believe this likely also plays into why it's so especially popular with adults (there were far more adults in the audience than there were kids at pretty much all of my screenings for Frozen II, for instance), who are bound to get a lot more out of it than younger audiences, having grown up on earlier Disney films and their various tropes which proceed to get turned on their head in this go around.
But yeah, this movie just speaks to me, like nothing else before. It's a wickedly deep and clever experience, with some of the best character work I've ever seen, and featuring some of the most outstanding musical numbers that've ever been graced on the silver screen. The Let It Go sequence is perhaps still the greatest and purest scene in any movie this decade, and its existence helped shape the rest of the movie and transform it into the beautiful monster that it is. It may not be perfect, but that's okay, because there's beauty in its flaws, and its the pure love in which it was all put together with that seeps through those cracks.
So there it is then, a whole decade of film wrapped up! I've been thinking about how this list would turn out since the beginning (and in fact, my very first post on this blog covered my list for the best movies of the previous decade at that), so it's cool to finally sit back and see how it all turned out, what movies stood that test of time, and which ones that I was super high on early on didn't quite make the cut in the end. And like I said, on the whole, it's been a tremendous decade for films, and I just hope that we see another upswing in the general quality of the films being released soon, so that the new decade may be even nearly as good as this one was.