I can’t quite come up with a better easy label than “Top 10.” These are certainly ten of the best films I watched this decade, and they are also ten of my favorite. The most accurate way to describe this list is these are the ten films I’ll really take with me from this decade, the ones that moved me and made me think in notable ways. So, briefly, and in chronological order:
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – I love the Coen Brothers’ films, and this is my favorite thing they did this decade. It’s sad and lonely and aches to watch as someone with artistic aspirations, but it’s also sincere and funny and beautiful. I can’t think of a movie with better musical numbers. It’s a terrific performance from Oscar Isaac with whom I am in love. It doesn’t have the same epic scale of Lebowski or Fargo, the visceral thrill of No Country, or the capital letter Big Ideas of Serious Man, but instead the Coens are channeling their quirk and craft into something more subdued, something more mellow, and something great. Also there’s a cat and Adam Driver before he was Adam Driver.
John Wick (2014) – Really quite out of nowhere, this movie changed the action genre in America. It’s not the genre I normally go for, but John Wick hits all the marks while gun-fu’ing its way to a few new ones as well. As many have noted, Wick is so effective in showing not telling and thus building a mythology that has generated two well-deserved sequels (so far). I know the action in 2 and 3 is bigger and better (although the Red Circle Club is one of my favorite action set pieces in years), but the original is the game-changer.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) – I’m not sure I’ve ever actually written about this coming-of-age tale of friendship, art, and death and how much I love it. And I really, really love it. It’s one of the films that actually improves on the written source material, taking the off-beat wit and keen teen insights of the novel and refining it into a funny, stylish, aching depiction of teens reckoning with growing up and dying young. It’s one of my most favorite films, and one that I think every young person from this generation should see, as it has something to say about what it means to connect with other people experiencing loss and looking for love and meaning in our postmodern world.
Moonlight (2016) – I mean what is there to say? It looks amazing. It sounds amazing. It’s a dissertation in race and sexuality in film. There are a couple moments in the film that made me audibly gasp on first viewing, and I can’t really get over how remarkable the imagery in the swimming lesson scene is. Sometimes the Oscars end up getting it right, and the fact that Moonlight exists and was recognized with Best Picture gives me such optimism about independent film.
Manchester by the Sea (2016) – Casey Affleck is a problematic fave, and I wish I could fully separate his bad behaviors from this performance which, along with Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams, makes this one of the best-acted films I’ve ever seen. It expresses the inexpressible and is human to a painful fault. It’s the kind of emotional, artistic storytelling I aspire to, and I use the ending of this film to describe how I like endings to feel. Some of the films on this list are ones I’ve rewatched a number of times (John Wick), but even if I only ever see Manchester once, it’s going to be one that defines this decade for me.
Lady Bird (2017) – A film for my generation that any generation can (and should) enjoy. It takes some of our most basic shared experiences – being a teen, fighting with your parents, finding yourself, moving away – and explores and depicts them with humor, wit, and heart. It’s a knock-out cast (shouts to Lucas Hedges being the only actor to star on this list twice) a superb script, and a brilliant coming out party for Greta Gerwig. This movie is really likable and relatable, while also challenging me to think more about myself and my place in the world. And it’s pretty admirable for a film to be likable, relatable, and provocative.
Coco (2017) – I wanted to include at least one animated film on this list. Inside Out is maybe too much of an emotional wrecking ball Trojan horsed in a “Kids'” movie. The Lego Movie is a little too on the nose as an off-beat deconstruction of consumerism. I don’t have the love of comic books and superheroes to include the innovative Into the Spider-Verse. I like those three films quite a lot, but I think the animated feature from this decade which captures most fully the potential of that art form is Coco. It’s fun and funny, tells a coherent story, is visually arresting, has great songs, expands cultural representation in animated films, and grapples with massive themes. If you don’t cry when Hector sings to Chicharrón, I’m a little concerned; if you don’t cry when Miguel sings to Coco, well…I mean what happened to you?
Minding the Gap (2018) – It’s the most affecting documentary I’ve ever seen. Bing Liu’s documentary about domestic trauma and economic decline, following young men suffering within familial and societal systems, is so masterfully woven together, forming a coherent mosaic out of a vast landscape of human experiences. It’s not about skateboarding, but skateboarding still manages to represent the film – a free-spirited search for escape and expression in a world of limitations.
Shoplifters (2018) – I briefly discussed Shoplifters when I wrote about how much I love the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda. All I’ll say here is this film is perfect. It understands humanity so well, dramatizing the familiar and the overlooked with compassion and artistry.
Roma (2018) – I wrote an entire post about Roma last December in which I said: “Every once in a while, I watch something that breaks parts of me I didn’t know I had. There are rare pieces of art that take pieces of humanity and compose them in a tapestry so fierce and vivid so as to make me feel so spent, and – by feeling what has gone out from me – realize what is there in the first place.” So, yeah. Definitely goes on this list.
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria