Favorite Films of the 2010s

See also: my favorite books, TV shows, and albums of the 2010s.

My initial list for this endeavor had 77 movies. After I barely managed to winnow it down to 50, I just couldn’t figure out how I’d get to that arbitrary yet appealing round number of 10.

But once I realized most of the movies could be grouped pretty cleanly into 10 different categories (some of which I devised myself), that allowed me to compare movies of the same genre or subgenre to each other rather than to movies doing something completely different. Using that system, my top picks of each slot fell almost immediately into place.

Note that the list ranks the movies, not the categories they represent. The categories made picking the top 10 easier, but the finalists in each one—consider them my honorable mentions—wouldn’t have necessarily ended up in the same ranking and often could fit in several of the categories.

As with all best-of lists, I strove to use an alchemy of my head and my heart to make the final determinations, consulting my yearly best-of lists and trusty logbook to make sure I didn’t miss anything. It was at once overwhelming and rewarding to consider all I’ve seen and decide both what has stuck with me the most and what best represents a decade in cinema.

Here’s what I got.

10. This Is Martin Bonner


A serene and sure-handed film about two men with a faith problem, which inspired one of my favorite blog posts.

Category: Quiet Drama

Finalists: Moonlight, The Rider, Paterson, Ida, Columbus, A Ghost Story

9. Arrival


How could I not love a movie exploring the intersection of language and love across the space-time continuum?

Category: Sci-Fi/Dystopian

Finalists: Interstellar, Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, Snowpiercer, The Lobster

8. Minding the Gap


A stunning documentary about teen skateboarders that’s about one thing before it becomes about many others.

Category: Documentary

Finalists: Nostalgia for the Light, Tower, These Birds Walk, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, California Typewriter

7. The LEGO Movie


What should have been just a brainless cash-grab brand-stravaganza was also a surprisingly rich, hilarious, sunnily dystopian meditation on creativity and existence.

Category: Comedy

Finalists: Coco, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, They Came Together, The Muppets, Midnight in Paris

6. Mad Max: Fury Road


Submitted without comment:


Category: Action

Finalists: Creed, Noah


5. Spotlight


This video by Nerdwriter1 gets at what makes this movie so compelling and why I’ve returned to it repeatedly, despite the heaviness of the subject.

Category: Searing Drama

Finalists: The Florida Project, Like Someone In Love, Calvary, First Reformed

4. The Social Network


The final confrontation between Mark and Eduardo might be the best scene of the decade. I’d wish for more collaborations between David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, but how would they top this?

Category: Creative Nonfiction

Finalists: The Founder, The Favourite, The Death of Stalin

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


An electric, vivid, and original vision that I hope instigates a sea change in film animation and superhero movies.

Category: Superhero

Finalists: Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Wonder Woman

2. Lincoln


A biopic done right: not as a shallow, decades-spanning survey treated like a greatest hits album (cough Jersey Boys) with bad aging makeup (cough J. Edgar), but as a focused, intentionally contained story that captures its subject and his times with an appropriate mix of reverence and rigor.

Category: Historical Drama

Finalists: Selma, Brooklyn, Inside Llewyn Davis, Roma

1. Hell or High Water


But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

—Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”

Lots getting tangled up in this steely, ruggedly graceful, no-bullshit modern western: family, friendship, the past, the future, tragedy, redemption. A dangerous momentum drives the two bank-robbing brothers and the lawmen hunting them through a dust-choked Texas toward their fates. All we can do is buckle up and hold on.

Category: Family Drama

Finalists: Wildlife, Boyhood, Before Midnight

Film Review

Favorite Films Of 2012


With a fortnight now between us and 2012, I’ve had time to consider which films I liked in what I think was overall a weaker year for films than previous ones. Keeping in mind I’ve yet to see a few key films, here (in alphabetical order) are seven movies from last year that grabbed hold of me in some way:

The Avengers. How fun was this one? Sure, there was nearly too much going on and the villain was sub par, but this band-of-misfits story was popcorn fare at its most alchemic and thrilling. And though it’s a clear money-grabbing ploy, Marvel’s inter- and multi-film thread between the Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Avengers movies thrills me to no end.

Les Misérables. I hear and understand all of your protestations, Les Mis Haters, but I still don’t care. This being my first experience with the show, I was thoroughly impressed by the simultaneous scope and intimacy in this hugely emotive (if occasionally uneven) epic. Seeing the stage version might change my mind, but right now I’m immensely satisfied with Hugh “The Dancing Wolverine” Jackman and his crooning compatriots.

Lincoln. Ever since this project was originally announced—way back when Liam Neeson was set to play Lincoln—I’ve followed every rumor and development, attempting along the way to telepathically convince Spielberg to stop wasting his time on dumb movies (Tintin and Indiana Jones 4 anyone?) and get to the good stuff. It finally worked, and once Daniel Day-Lewis signed on I knew it would be gold. Seeing those pre-release images of Day-Lewis in half and full Lincoln regalia brought on history-laced tears. My only complaint is that this wasn’t a miniseries; if John Adams can get the 8-hour treatment, why can’t the most documented and revered American figure ever?

Looper. Complaint up front: this seemed like two movies, with the first act feeling like a gritty, sci-fi noir with a great concept, and the second part morphing into a child-centered domestic drama. Despite this uneasy bifurcation, writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) deserves much adulation for crafting such a creative and emotional story, and for boosting Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s already burgeoning career.

The Master. Like other P.T. Anderson films, this was a confounding and compelling narrative that was won by its performances yet greatly supported by a rich production design and savory soundtrack. Casting either Philip Seymour Hoffman or Joaquin Phoenix will give any film a heavy dose of tortured gravitas, so having both of these men together, working at a high level, makes for an intense ride. Though rightly labeled as an enigma, it’s one of those movies that requires multiple viewings for a worthy commentary.

Oslo, August 31st. A Norwegian cinéma vérité-style film, this is an engaging portrait of a man in quiet despair who tries valiantly to get out of it. Roger Ebert said this film was “quietly, profoundly, one of the most observant and sympathetic films” he’s seen, one that spotlights a life of what must be constant brinksmanship and inner turmoil for the recovering drug addict main character. The choices he makes, or doesn’t make, are the same ones we all make in our own lives—if not about drugs, then about the other things that keep us captive.

Zero Dark Thirty. I consider this a “clinical” thriller, because it trimmed all superfluous frills and subplots for the sake of a clean and concise story (despite being 160 minutes). I second Jessica Chastain’s comments at the Golden Globes, which lauded her character as a strong, capable, independent woman who stands on her own—an unfortunate rarity in Hollywood. The debate surrounding the film is a good one to have; meanwhile, I enjoyed this second recent high-wire thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow.

A few of my other favorites: ArgoEnd of Watch, Flight, Frankenweenie, Moonrise Kingdom, Queen of Versailles, 21 Jump Street.

Etc. History Life

The Weight Of History

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.   —Shirley Abbott

Today, as on every veterans’ themed day, I thought of my grandfather. A lieutenant in Patton’s Third Army in World War II, he earned a Bronze Star for bravery. It is now on display at my parents’ house, encased with the citation letter and his other decorations and badges. He later served under Hoover in the FBI, stationed in Superior, WI, because he could speak Finnish.

It’s funny how something small like that – being able to speak a foreign language – can affect the future so drastically. Had he not been assigned to northern Wisconsin, my grandparents would have never built the cabin on the lake I cherished visiting as a kid. And if we go Back to the Future Part II alternate-reality on this, maybe I would not have even been born. It’s a scary thought.

But that’s why I’m so grateful to my grandpa and all of those in my family line who lived as they lived, for better and for worse. We cannot escape history, as Lincoln said seven score and ten years ago. Everything our family was and is, we are too. This thought may disturb some, but for me it’s a blessing. I consider myself fortunate to have a grandfather from whom I most assuredly inherited my love of history, desire to learn new words, and my penchant for crossword puzzles and squinting.

So more than a simple thank-you for military service, let’s take days like Memorial Day to remember our ancestral heritage and cherish all that our progenitors gave us.