The Plain, Simple Review of the Decade: Top 20 Films of the 2010s

We’re about to say adieu to yet another decade, a big moment to be sure, so many out there on the ‘ol film blogosphere will be presenting their top films of the 2010s – a decade that brought us plenty of innovative and highly regarded movies by several great directors, some promising new talents, and other popular, established auteurs, and to name a few, this is the decade that gave us such films as La La Land, Moonlight, Get Out, Inception, Toy Story 3, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road, Drive, and a whole host of Marvel films which, let’s face it, dominated cinema in the 2010s.

So with the decade coming to a close, I’m going to take this opportunity to submit my top 20 films of the decade – the movies that, in my “professional” opinion, went above and beyond and should be held up high as examples of what film should be. Of course, with 10 years of great films to choose from, I hemmed and hawed over whether to compile a top 100, 50, 30, 20 or 10 and have ultimately decided to limit the list to 20; there are, of course, other brilliant films out there but I’ve decided here to be as picky as possible, here highlighting 20 of the absolute best.

But before we get to the very best ones, here are some excellent 2010s films that were in contention but didn’t make the top 20 – but they’re still the better offerings of the decade!

  • Amy
  • The Artist
  • Black Swan
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Favourite
  • Gone Girl
  • The Handmaiden
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Lady Macbeth
  • Moana
  • Nebraska
  • Nightcrawler
  • Room
  • Skyfall
  • Toy Story 3
  • Train to Busan
  • Warrior
  • What we do in the Shadows
  • Whiplash

And here are the very best, in my opinion:

20. Get Out

As the #1 most popular film on Letterboxd (as of now), Jordan Peele’s directorial debut seems to have become a defining film of the decade thanks to its genuine creep factor, recognisable social commentary, and its own brand of dark humour that blends brilliantly with the scares; the script is superb, the direction is masterful (Jordan Peele seems to truly understand horror, as proved by the equally impressive Us), Michael Abels’ score is a perfect fit, and the cast is excellent, particularly the breakthrough performance from Daniel Kaluyya as well as Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery, Caleb Landry Jones, Lakeith Stanfield and Stephen Root.

19. Her

An undeniably bright, colourful and offbeat film about our relationship with technology and where we’re headed, Spike Jonze’s film is a visual marvel but it’s also rather heartwarming and beautiful and it boasts excellent performances from the talented Joaquin Phoenix and the vocal prowess of Scarlett Johansson; it’s a very different type of love story (with a scene that Blade Runner 2049 later half inched), the dialogue hits the ear perfectly, the music is amazing (“The Moon Song”, anyone?), and it’s ultimately a very beautiful and well intentioned film that has struck a chord with a great many cinephiles.

18. Phantom Thread

Surely the best film about dressmaking there’s ever been, Paul Thomas Anderson’s triumphant film is one of the most beautiful movies that I’ve ever seen as it’s directed so meticulously and it has an absolutely phenomenal score by Anderson regular Jonny Greenwood – as in, I’d give the film a perfect score simply because of the score alone. But beyond the gorgeous visuals and lovely music, Phantom Thread has a very strong story focusing on the work and relationships of a particularly difficult man and later on, the film takes a brilliantly unique turn as the central relationship changes and ends up in a place you wouldn’t expect; it’s the kind of artistic film that I like, it’s a wholly beautiful experience, and the three central actors – Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville – are sublime.

17. Manchester by the Sea

The first time I watched this, I liked it but didn’t love it, but my appreciation of Kenneth Lonergan’s film only grows with each subsequent viewing as Manchester by the Sea is another of the 2010s’ most beautiful films as it treats us to so many lovely landscapes that are complimented by an equally divine score but beyond all that, it has an absorbing story about guardianship and coping with past trauma and it has a very strong cast, with Casey Affleck at the top of his game, Michelle Williams giving a perfect supporting performance, and Lucas Hedges, in perhaps his breakthrough performance, impressed me considerably from the very first viewing.

16. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is certainly one of the more popular and highly regarded directors of the decade (with another one of his films making this list) and his most recent picture is a very memorable entry into the war genre – a powerful and engrossing film that, while not too big on character or story, is a technical marvel that succeeds thanks to Hans Zimmer’s stopwatch-based theme, the crisp (and LOUD) sound mixing/editing, Hoyte van Hoytema’s marvellous cinematography, its strong ensemble cast, and the stellar writing and directing that provides an immersive and tense experience that features a non-linear storyline, telling the stories of soldiers on land, sea and air.

15. Gravity

Another huge technical marvel, Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar favourite manages to be. be both thrilling and nerve shredding as well as emotional and quietly contemplative and the film shows off a ton of unbelievably outstanding visual effects as well as telling a dramatic and unpredictable survival tale; this was the film that made me take notice of Sandra Bullock as she is excellent in this, as is George Clooney, who doesn’t appear for too long, and the film soars in all the technical categories – putting other sci-fi epics to shame with its brilliant cinematography, music, sound, and direction.

14. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

A film that works best when watched on the biggest screen possible, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s best picture winner is a perfect blend of both film and theatre and since it was made to look like it was filmed in a single take, it makes for a thoroughly absorbing experience that you just end up getting lost in; it has a great story that contains increasingly relevant messages about fame, popularity, family and the domination of comic book movies while also showing its clear love for the stage and for the great playwrights and directors; it boasts plenty of cool special effects, the locations are magnificent, the music soars, and the acting is first class – Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, in particular, have never been better, in my opinion.

13. Carol

Truly one of the decade’s finest and one of the very best LGBT films, Todd Haynes’ critically acclaimed drama is a beautifully designed, written, and performed literary adaptation that wins with its very appealing production design and soundtrack – establishing a 1950s atmosphere that you just revel being immersed in – as well as its lovely story about forbidden love and the two top tier performances at the centre; the gorgeous Rooney Mara (NOT a supporting performance, Academy!) and the luminous Cate Blanchett completely own their respective roles and work perfectly together, and the supporting performances of the great Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler are brilliant too. Quite lovely.

12. The Social Network

David Fincher is another director who I definitely find more hit than miss, with Gone Girl and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo also being among the decade’s very best works, and his telling of the odyssey of Mark Zuckerberg and of the founding of The Facebook has struck a chord with a great many film fans and critics, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s razor sharp script, Fincher’s typically finely tuned direction, its enlightening and dramatic story, and Jesse Eisenberg’s very impressive performance that confidently shows a character who’s brilliant but also very neurotic and emotionally distant.

11. Arrival

I have to start off by admitting that I don’t exactly love Arrival as I think that it’s more a film to admire rather than enjoy and, as excellent as Amy Adams is, her not getting the Oscar was hardly a travesty, but that being said, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi spectacle has definitely struck a chord with so many film lovers and it’s clear to see why: the film has an incredibly smart, cerebral and fascinating story that thankfully brings something new and innovative to the genre and though it may take a few viewings to truly understand it, the story is undeniably unique and very well written – playing about with time quite splendidly – the effects are incredible, Jóhann Jóhansson’s score is sublime, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner give career best performances, and there’s an emotional core that goes a long way.

10. Coco

In general, I’m an emotionally repressed person and only particular, well crafted films have the ability to move me and to make me want to cry but Pixar famously has a talent for coaxing both laughs and tears out of viewers of all ages and Coco is a film that I always say has come to closest to making me cry (I’d estimate it was about 85% of the way to opening the floodgates) because it’s a really beautiful and emotionally affecting film with a highly imaginative, fun story that also contains an important message about cherishing your family and remembering your ancestors; the cast is lively, the characters are brilliant, the animation is absolutely perfect and infinitely colourful, and the music is truly sensational – “Remember Me” is just . . . (starts sobbing uncontrollably)

9. A Ghost Story

Making it onto this esteemed list with an unbelievable budget of just $100,000 (and it’s FAR superior to so many million dollar blockbusters!), writer/director David Lowery’s existential ghost story is a haunting, thoughtful and absorbing experience that sees a recently deceased man go on a journey through time and it contains two quietly impressive performances from Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara; the music is chilling, the atmosphere is sublimely affecting, the 4:3 aspect ratio works perfectly, and what I perhaps love most about it is its examination of how one building, one piece of land, can have so much history, with the voices of the past unknowingly having an impact on us, and it’s quite something to see how the house/land changes through so many eras – it’s something that I occasionally think about.

8. Lady Bird

With her directorial debut, while also writing the script, Greta Gerwig cemented her place as a filmmaker to watch out for because Lady Bird is an exceptional coming-of-age film that has a fantastic script that’s full to the brim with Gerwig’s signature brand of witty, naturalistic dialogue and colourful characters as well as a superb story that charts the course of one rambunctious teenager and contains worthy messages about family, friendship, love, and the importance of your hometown; Saoirse Ronan is amazing in the title role of the title character, someone who can be great fun and a ball of energy and funny remarks but who can also be selfish, childish and inconsiderate, the rest of the cast (Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet) are equally as memorable, the score and soundtrack are great, and it’s wonderfully directed.

7. Spotlight

Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture winner is one of the most deserving films to have won the big prize at the Academy Awards because it has a particularly strong and coherent script (I’d say that it has the best script of any film in this list) that tells a very important and eye-opening real life story of the great many cases of child sex abuse committed by the Catholic church and the extremely diligent, dedicated and determined team at the Boston Globe that worked so hard to uncover the story. The film manages to keep you intrigued even when there are a great many names, dates, places and organisations to keep track of, and the entire film is efficiently directed and marvelously acted, with Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber on particularly excellent form.

6. The Shape of Water

From the mind of Guillermo del Toro, this “adult fairy tale” is just pure cinema magic, wonderfully weaving an enchanting (and often surprising) fantasy tale about an unconventional love affair, the monster that tries to destroy it all, and the many wonderful companions who help the voiceless princess on her quest; the story is imaginative and fantastic, Alexandre Desplat (whose compositions on many other 2010s films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs are also terrific) provides an utterly enchanting score, the green tinted visuals are lovely, and the cast is magnificent, showing Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg on particularly fine form.

5. Song of the Sea

Another sublime film, like Coco, that very nearly moved me to tears when I first watched it, Song of the Sea is an incredible piece of animation with an imaginative fantasy story based on Irish folklore and it looks at mature themes of grief and loss in a very touching way – I especially love how it explores the idea of how simply taking the pain away, rather than living with it, isn’t necessarily the best course of action. With its perfect balance of humour and sadness, as well as its lovely songs, music, characters and magical creatures, it’s an absolutely beautiful film that has admirably found its way into my all time top ten.

4. Inception

Truly one of the most inventive, imaginative, gamechanging, and spectacular movie experiences of the decade, Christopher Nolan’s incredibly popular film gave audiences everywhere something very different with its intricate story about dreams within dreams within dreams (within dreams) and it shows off plenty of amazing setpieces and special effects as it tells its exciting heist story, excites us with another typically brilliant Hans Zimmer score, and gives us some compelling characters who are brought to life by a strong cast. The film truly is INcredible and exCEPTIONal.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street

For some bizarre reason, I actually wasn’t initially planning on watching this in cinemas (the reason escapes me) but see it I did, and it easily became my favourite film that I saw in cinemas in 2013; long though it is, it’s an absolute blast from start to finish because it’s just so much fun to watch Leonardo DiCaprio – in his most energetic performance, appearing as though Scorsese pumped him full of sugar, caffeine, cocaine and adrenaline and then put him in front of the camera – get richer and richer and increasingly outrageous as his character takes every drug imaginable, drinks like a fish, swears like a trooper, and partakes in so many larger-than-life situations. The supporting cast includes a crazily fun performance from Jonah Hill, the breakthrough performance from the beautiful Margot Robbie, and the greatest Matthew McConaughey performance that I’ve ever witnessed, and the story itself is endlessly fascinating and engrossing and at the end of the day, The Wolf of Wall Street is simply a highly entertaining odyssey with an absolute powerhouse performance that you just can’t take your eyes off.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

At a time when comic book movies all seemed to be quite similar, when it seemed as though the genre couldn’t really give us anything new, this animated marvel came along and gave whole new life to CBMs and to the catalogue of animated films; it’s one of the extremely rare films that I would describe as both “perfect” and “a masterpiece” but Spider-Verse is exactly those things as it just gets everything right: the animation is unique and spectacular – appearing as the closest thing to a live action comic book that we’ve ever seen – the hip-hop inspired soundtrack and score is an absolute treat, the voice cast and characters are amazing, the tonal balance is perfect as it manages to be both really funny and very emotional, and, quite remarkable for a comic book/animated film, the script is perfect because it’s clever, imaginative, exciting, fun, and it humorously mocks and references previous Spider-Man escapades while always remaining heartfelt and genuinely respectful of its source material.

But the biggest compliment that I could pay the film is that it features a cartoon pig and yet, this is all perfectly normal and not silly in the slightest. It just works.

1. Paddington 2

One of the few films that can boast a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, this beloved film captured the hearts of so many people and for good reason, too – it’s a perfect family film that manages to be sweet, funny and endearing without being silly or pandering to the younger viewers, and it provides audiences with a fun, joyful and adventurous story that’s full of endearing, colourful characters who are given life by a sublime cast – Ben Wishaw is ideally cast as the sweet, adorable young bear, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as tough chef Kuckles McGinty, the cast who make up the Brown Family, the neighbours and the prison “family” are super, and Hugh Grant is absolutely smashing in his greatest ever role of the devious, washed up thespian Phoenix Buchanan. There’s truly nothing to fault in Paddington 2 and I few will disagree that it has been the most universally beloved film of the decade, thanks to its bright design, lovely characters, smart writing, and a genuinely wholesome message about the importance of friendship, family and being kind to your fellow man.

So say it with me now: ” If we’re kind and polite . . . the world will be right!”

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So thank you 2010s for the spectacular films that have thrilled, impressed, enlightened, amazed and inspired all of us movie loving folk and gave us reviewers plenty of material to yak about. Here’s to the 2020s – please give us loads more sensational movies for us to wax lyrical about!

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned for my summary of the best TV and film of 2019, coming at you tomorrow!